Rogue One Vs Force Awakens: Why the Second Installment is Better

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Vader Blends a Few Rebels. His sporadic appearance on screen proves less is more.

The Trilogy Formula for Survival

Evolution is the survival technique of franchises, adaptation and character development, moral progress or providing insight into the changing cultural environment are the basis of continued engagement. Take Back to the Future as an example. Each installment explored different themes and moral conundrums. The first installment touched on core American values, family and Freud, and preserving the treasured aspects of our society and daily lives. The second installment flipped that wholesome narrative on its head. Biff Tannon was an expression of Trumpian arrogance and American gluttony and Marty McFly destroyed his life through abuse of power and hunger for riches. The final installment investigates America’s relationship with the Old West. The conquering, wilderness taming male, Mad Dog Tannon, is tamed and Marty’s foolish pride is wrestled under control. The formula can be witnessed in other trilogies. In Alien, Ripley is a forceful female lead whose will to survive surpasses that of perfectly engineered killing machine – she alone triumphs over a perfect parasitic nightmare. In Aliens Ripley faced superior numbers. Self-reliance was insufficient in these circumstances. Trust, inter-dependence and forgiveness are important building blocks in walling off the Xenomorph hoards. Terminator followed similar lines. The first movie looks outwards and poses the question: Where could the digital revolution terminate?  The second movie looks inwards and asks:  How do we suppress the human capacity for hate and destruction?

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Aliens Mixed the Major Themes to Differentiated the Sequel from the Original

Star Wars: The Force Awakens failed to diverge significantly from previous franchise installments.  Episode VII received positive reviews from critics. The Guardian, the Telegraph, the Sunday Times and the BBC’s Kermode all lauded the installment as a brilliant cinematic experience. The danger is that the critic is swept away and carried in the euphoric wave, an event that distorts reviews. To an extent this happened with the Force Awakens. On the crest of nostalgic anticipation, the Disney production received incredible reviews. As the excitement rolled back and the hysteria simmered to a point where honest reflection was possible, the Force Awakens was scrutinized with a beady eye. JJ Abrams work appeared safer, slightly over-produced, and too closely resembled a New Hope.  There was after all a moon-sized planet destroyer owned by the Empire and the familiar Shakespearean family dynamics, the Skywalker dynasty splintered in a galactic power struggle for the soul of galaxy. Trading in nostalgia is emotional dynamite; each movie fan adored the Force Awakens because it twanged the thread of longing. Therein lies the problem, the Force Awakens was forged under the immense pressure of a post-Lucas production. The formula was consistent with the previous trilogies and brought nothing new to the party, the emergence of a female aside. The stakes were too high.

The Force Truly Awakens

Rogue One offers an alteration in the Star Wars Franchise in a way that the Force Awakens did not.  The Force Awakens was a straight up Manichean dual, no blurred grey area existed; Rogue One deals in moral ambiguity in spade fulls. In one scene, Cassian Andur, the main rebel spy, and one of his informants are cornered by Stormtroopers. Knowing the informant cannot escape, due to a broken arm, and will undoubtedly bend to an Imperial inquisition, Cassian unflinchingly shoots the informant in the back. This is murky territory. Later Jyn Erso accuses Cassian of blindingly following immoral orders in the face of reason. In both cases, the brutalising nature of war is brought forward for us to ponder: War coarsens our morals and good men can swiftly transition into tyrants in pursuit of what they perceive as just. Moral dubiety is present in other characters. The Imperial scientist Galen Erso balances the nuances of survival, redemption and exquisite revenge. Caught between the immorality of collaboration and the morality of justice he embodies the complexity of war beyond the good vs evil paradigm. Our modern tastes are accustomed to moral tension. The Dark Night, Breaking Bad, and Iron-Man: Civil War demonstrates the evolution in audience taste, they demand nuance and complexity. Rogue One has definitely taken note.

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Rogue One Meditates on the Sacrifice of War

The simple pattern has rarely shifted significantly and Star Wars rarely fleshed-out in any substantial way the weighty ideals that surround war. As any historian will testify, sacrifice is the cost of liberty and freedom is built on the dead bodies of the fallen. That human but exceptionally salient point is often missed. The Star Wars franchise is often prioritized pure fantasy over gritty realism. Cost is a pillar of the movie without the movie being overpowered by emotional indulgence. There is a war going on against the most powerful force in the universe, Lord Vader. The battle cannot be won without sacrifice and struggle. In the final scenes, individuals fall in the name of higher ideals. The incredible march of Darth Vader through a platoon of helpless rebel soldiers only serves to highlight the personal cost endured in war in the face of impeccable terror.  Rogue One is more visceral than the Force Awakens and better for it.

Flaws Don’t Diminish the Force

Technical issues should be addressed. The Force Awakens edges out Rogue One on acting.  In almost every department the acting is superior; Daisey Ridley blooms brighter than Felicity Jones; Oscar Isaac is superior to Diego Luna; Adam Driver is slightly sharper than Ben Mendahlson; and Riz Ahmed is awful. The script flirts excessively with cliché, almost falling into the orbit of farce. But these are scratches on the canvass rather than crippling flaws in the brush-stroke: the qualities far out-strip the shortcomings. Mads Mikkelson is the best Star Wars performance since Sir Alec Guinness. The philosophy that less is more is clearly effective. The Force Awakens is compelled to be visually spectacular and Kylo Ren’s malevolence is required to be the centre-piece of the movie. Darth Vader, on the other hand, is used sparingly and greater potency; Vader punctuates the movie with his terror creating a powerful impact when on screen. Horrible beasts are infrequently

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Paranoia Brought to Life: Loathsome

observed. The exception being rebel leader Saw Gerrera’s  terrifying pet octopus that reads minds by coiling its victims in its gelatinous tentacles, a striking symbol of untrustworthy paranoid rule.  Chirrut Inwe is the correct portion of Jedi mysticism to satisfy the palate. The movie is also a better story. For the first time in a long time, Rogue One is a blockbuster with a beginning, middle, and end. It’s stands alone and is not open-ended. Reverting to an original plot sequence was deeply satisfying; there is a pleasure in finality. There was definitely a pleasure in finally seeing a Star Wars movie worthy of the name again. It only took 30 years but once again I am one with the force and the force is with me.

Rio 2016; The Perfect Games for Our Times

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International sport is ‘war minus the shooting’, according to George Orwell.  When reflecting upon the brutality of the 20th century, Orwell may well have been right. Propaganda, wild  national chauvinism, and sport combined to create an international spectacle that vaunted the virtues and superiorities of nations.  The Cold War did little to dampen international one-upmanship and transformed the Olympics turned into a political theatre, a battleground for ideological pre-eminence.  Today viral nationalisms are rare but Orwell’s key observation remains:  the Olympics are an insight into world affairs. Rio de Janeiro was a microcosm of world and national issues; most notably elitism, corruption, and crony corporatism.

One can imagine the IOC’s vision of a Rio Olympics back in 2009; Christ the Redeemer the spectacular backdrop to the cycling; Copacabana the arena  for the beach volleyball,  providing an iconic tableaux for sporting eternity. Brazil’s world-renowned culture – from striking visual art and funk dance parties in the favelas to street dancing – would infuse the Olympics with a raw democratic energy. Brazil could afford the arenas and transportation costs; heralded as one of the BRIC’s, the South American powerhouse was destined for prosperous sunny uplands,  a glorious spectacle and prestigious Olympic debut for the region. In 2016 Brazil would emphatically announce itself into the Pantheon of great world democracies by hosting the ‘Greatest Show on Earth’; the Olympics!

That was the vision, the reality was exceptionally different!  Brazil is an economic, social, and political basket case.  Massive expenditure/budget cuts have decimated public services, universities are on strike, police stations are without stationary and road-worthy vehicles, half-a-million state workers received their wages late, and unemployment is increasing.  Healthcare spending has decreased significantly at a most inopportune time; during the height of the Zika epidemic. The Olympics will fade into insignificance when a generation of children are born with serious deformities.

To  fund the Olympics, the Brazilian federal government undertook a bail-out of the city of Rio de Janiero to the tune of one billion dollars.

To exacerbate this precarious situation there has been an increased prevalence of violence from which not even Olympians were immune. The murder rate for police and citizens is at a record high.

The establishment that oversaw these catastrophes is now embroiled in unprecedented corruption scandals.  Between 2002 and 2008, profits soared in Brazil’s state-owned oil company Petrobras; from $2(US) billion to $19 billion. Since then successive governments have somehow squandered billions of dollars so much so that today Petrobras debt stands at $100 billion. In the greatest political scandal in Brazilian history, politicians siphoned off $2 billion into their own coffers. Instead of distracting the general public the Olympic Games agitated public distrust and scepticism.  The Rio Games  exceeded its $13 billion budget long ago and the final figure is yet to be determined.

Demolition Of Rio Favela Continues Ahead Of Summer Olympics

The Signs of Inequality

Ironically the IOC mirrors Brazil’s political degeneration; they  share a culture of elitism and corruption governed by an entitled capitalist aristocracy. Norway’s 2022 Winter Olympics bid illustrated the dysfunction, decadence and hubris of the organisation. The Olympic Games contract requirements are more akin to requirements of Victorian royalty or a self-indulgent musical diva than to sporting ambassadors. They demanded:

‘to meet the king prior to the opening ceremony; afterwards, there shall be a cocktail reception, the drinks should be paid for by the royal palace or the local organising committee; separate lanes shall be created on all roads where IOC members will travel, which are not to be used by regular people or public transportation. A welcome greeting from the local Olympic boss and the hotel manager should be presented in IOC members’ rooms, along with fruit and cakes of the season.’

Asking for your own personal road, is this not the height of megalomania? Donald Trump appears humble in comparison to these self-anointed and sanctified elite.

In many ways, the Ryan Lochte robbery fiasco exemplified this attitude of privileged entitlement. Lochte and his frat house douche bag cronies; too much slang) acolytes believed they could arrive in Rio and treat it as their own. Turning up in a financially broken city, Lochte decided to cause more damage. Taking inspiration from the Simpson’s episode ‘the Simpson’s Go To Brazil’, the American swimmer spun a convoluted yarn about being robbed in a cab at gun-point by assailants dressed as police officers. The  scanty attempt to cover his tracks unravelled quicker than a Taylor Swift relationship. Lochte had actually urinated all over a gas station, kicked off a toilet door, and then, like some 18th century feudal lord, flung some money at a gas attendant in a token effort to offset any inconvenience.

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Homer could Teach Lochte How to Behave

Corruption stained the Rio games well before the opening ceremony. The IOC was guilty of ignoring doping allegations and revelations. Its failure to eliminate Russia for state-sanctioned doping was a dismally toothless response that failed to protect clean athletes and the integrity of the Olympics. The IOC’s inaction was evidently influenced by the possible financial implications of one the largest nations not competing and consequently they abrogated their responsibility by cunningly transferring the final decision to individual sports’ federations.

Predictably, corruption reared its ugly head during the games. In the pocket of Moscow, corrupt boxing judges cost Irish boxer Michael Conlan a gold medal.  Incredibly, Conlan (literally) beat his opponent Vladimir Nikitin so badly he could not compete any further in the Olympics. One would think the IOC would clamp down on such obvious sporting criminality.  Instead of decisive action the IOC passed responsibility onto the boxing federation. Although sent home, the cheats remained anonymous but were neither named nor shamed. Michael Conlan put it best in a tweet, ‘Wow, this says a lot about AIBA, sending judges home who ruin dreams, what happens 2 the ppl whose dreams were ruined?’ The message is clear: Money succeeds principles. Is it any wonder that vast swathes of empty seats were embarassingly visible in so many Olympic arenas? The Olympics is not a symbol of hope but of inequality and injustice.

Rio was the truthful Olympics; the perfect Olympics of our time. The unscrupulous Brazilian politicians that destroyed Brazil emulate the IOC ambassadors that are slowly extinguishing the Olympic flame. They could be twins separated at birth, they have identical features and manners; both are elitists, embroiled in unprecedented corruption scandals that threaten their very existence. We can draw this Olympics out into a global context. The same injustices that fuel Brazilian political discontent and antipathy to the IOC are the same wrongs that charge Trumpism and Brexit. Privileged elites are above accountability grazing in the good-paddock at the public’s expense, while the rest are forgotten. Perhaps many tuned out for this reason; perhaps it was the perfect Olympics for this time in history.

 

War Dogs Review

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War Dogs is on Target with Performances but Misfires on Meaning

War Dogs is a divergence from Todd Phillips previous work. Mixing elements of Lord of War, Scarface, and the Big Short, Phillips attempts to scrutinise the shadowy world of arms industry with a comedic twist. War Dogs, rather loosely, retells the story of Efram Diveroli (Jonah Hill) and David Packouz (Miles Teller), a pair of college drop-outs who make a fortune selling arms to the US government at the height of the War on Terror. Initially, their operation is small, manageable, covert and profitable. Predictably, the stakes rapidly escalate; they stumble into a massive contract selling 100 million AK-47 bullets to the American government. As reason subordinates to greed and power, the house of cards emphatically collapses and a reckoning ensues.

The true story of two confused males rekindling a bromance while ripping off the American government would have been attractive to Phillips; he has form in this field. He directed the Hangover Franchise and Starsky and Hutch, both of which pivot on the interaction and personality clashes of their male characters. This chemistry imbalance often has hilarious consequences; the straight-laced Starsky is corrupted by the free-thinking liberal Hutch; and Bradley Cooper’s Phil Wenneck instigated the moral descent of dentist Dr Price.

On this familiar ground, Phillips looks most comfortable, absurdity and reckless male ego hold War Dogs together. Both characters are directionless but for different reasons. Packouz is completely lost professionally. He works as a masseuse – his sixth position in two years- or as Diveroli likes to say “jacks men off for a living.” He needs a change and the arms trade offers a highway to riches. Diveroli is morally shipwrecked. Bloated, foul-mouthed, racist, vulgar and an unashamed financial braggart he thrives on emotional manipulation and financial exploitation. Jonah Hill is fantastic as this repellent machismo blob. At times his timing on a turn of phrase is deliciously devastating,“we drive all triangles, especially your mums” he tauntingly says to a GI. Packouz’s good-guy persona contrasts well with the despicable Diveroli; we can tell the difference between an individual who with good intentions sleep-walks into iniquity to a wicked, maniacal, miscreant.

Hill Excells as the Loathsome Diveroli

Comedic highlights include a pursuit through the Iraqi Triangle of Death. While under attack from Iraqi insurgents their guide screams “Must go faster! Fallujah bad! Must go faster Fallujah very bad!” to which Packouz incredulously replies “We stopped for fuel in Fallujah, bro?!?” Yes, indeed. Fallujah 08’ was not the site of the bearded craft beer revolution. It’s an absurd Jeff Goldblum Jurassic Park moment with a War on Terror twist.

War Dogs is not trying to be an absurd male comedy, however; it’s trying to be a serious movie. In this pursuit, it falls into too many cliched traps. Firstly, violence is juxtaposed with a classic score. In one scene, Hill shoots an AK-47 along to Pink Floyd’s anti-war anthem Wish You Were Here, a contrived copy of Scorcese’s use of Cream or the Rolling Stones in Goodfellas. Teller’s voice over is also too forced. In one example, he calls an arms convention “Comi-con with grenades”; this is a script pleading to be taken seriously, desperately trying to frame the characters as witty raconteurs. Bradley Cooper looks buffoonish as the superstar of the illegal arms trade, Henry Gerard. Adorned with red sunglasses and slick-back hair he looks more like Bono’s evil twin.

Bradley Cooper as Bono's Evil Twin

The problem is clear: War Dogs is trying to be too many things at once to be anything meaningful. When their grand scheme inevitably falls apart the audience is told the duo can again sell guns to the American government in 2022, a development that surprises us, if for the wrong reasons. This statement doesn’t fit in with the trajectory of the movie: suddenly War Dogs is an indictment on the American government and the military industrial complex. For most of the movie, we have been invited to enjoy the journey and laugh with the characters. On shooting for meaning War Dogs misfires badly.

 

Six Jim Carrey Performances that Capture the Essences of that Nigel Farage Brexit Speech

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Liar Liar

One of Carrey’s best performances. Through sheer comedic talent the Canadian takes a thin script and manufactures a robust, enjoyable and memorable yarn. There are deeper elements at play, however. As Seth Rogen’s character Cal says in The 40 Year Old Virgin “I watched this movie called Liar Liar and the message was don’t lie and that was a smart movie.” Truth, right there. Clearly Farage has never seen the 90’s classic and appreciated the subtle nuances and sub-plots. Instead, the speech was an incoherent political nightmare and reminded the viewer of Liar Liar’s court room speech.

 

2. Dumb and Dumber

Farce at its finest and Carrey excels as the hapless failed human being, Lloyd. Farage is more arse than farce, though, and is unfortunately not limited to the  world of low-budget Hollywood fiction; God’s creation of the perfect annoyance. For any sane member of the homo-sapien family this classic scene from Dumb and Dumber  frames their views on that Brexit speech

3.The Mask

Everyone is fond of the early 90’s rib tickler. Carrey is brilliant; overblown, rude, and uproariously selfish. Most people would agree that the unctuous UKIPPER is all of these and should wear a mask as he daily robs refugees and immigrants of their dignity and human decency. This scene contains all the intellectual complexity of Farage’s speech and our response to the unearthing of such momentous political revelations.

 

Bruce Almighty

Not Carrey’s finest work but a fitting tribute to a narcissist with a God-Complex. In the most memorable scene, Bruce enacts his vengeance by channeling his Godly powers through his nemesis, Evan Baxter. Hilarity ensues. During his Brexit speech Farage decided to channel his Bill Pullman. No hilarity ensued. Always willing to fail at topical wit Farage re-enacted President Whitmore’s Independence Day speech and declared “Today we celebrate our Independence Day.” No surprise for a man who views foreigners as aliens who must be resisted. In the end, Farage sounded a lot like poor Evan Baxter.

 

Ace Ventura Pet Detective

Where Ventura is fascinated by animals; Farage is obsessed with portraying people as animals. Jim Carrey does a stellar turn at a re-enactment of Farage’s speech.

 

The Mask Again

As Family Guy and the Simpsons have resoundingly proven, it is always fit and proper to close a topic with a musical. Many issues fueled the Brexit Campaign, immigration was Farage’s hot topic. This distorted reality and the real issues. Where people needed fundamental truths a veil appeared riddled with fear and loathing of foreigners. The British people were conned and intellectual injustice prevailed. In the Mask, Carrey escapes justice by performing an outrageous Caribbean musical. Caught in the moment the police and authorities take their eye of the ball and Carrey eludes justice. Politics is the art of deception. However tenuous both deceived on a monstrous scale and Cuban Pete could be interpreted as a meditation on the art of political misdirection. You could say, it’s not very nice and full of vice.

 

The Problem with Brexit and Scottish Independence

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The Scottish nationalist’s grievance arsenal is being loaded with a new theme should Brexit materialise.  In their minds, a Brexit would be the silver bullet that demonstrated the unbridgeable chasm between Britain and Scotland, triggering a new referendum, and a replay of the 2014 Referendum. But a Leave vote is potentially loaded with dangerous ultimatums for the SNP. The British people would have decided to create their own unique economic system that works in their best interests, an incredible political action that would raise the economic stakes and may leave Scotland with two blunt choices: the Union or the EU.

Post-Brexit the currency union becomes a critical debating point. During the Scottish Referendum, this was an emotive topic, as was membership of the EU; Salmond never convinced on both. Should a Brexit materialise these will become key talking points. In 2014, Salmond’s currency union was predicated on both Scotland and England being in the EU, a shared currency linked Scotland’s powerful financial sector to the City of London, ensuring co-operation, and safe-guarding the important financial hubs of Edinburgh and Glasgow. Post-Brexit a currency union becomes impossible as Scotland and England will be operating in two completely separate markets. In these circumstances, Salmond’s currency vision vanishes; you cannot have an EU member state with the same currency as a non-EU member state.  A Brexit kills Salmond’s position on currency and raised deep questions about what separate Scotland’s currency would adopt; Scotland would be forced towards the Euro.

Trade becomes a Gideon Knot, an intractable economic problem that works against Scottish separation. The UK and America are by some distance Scotland‘s most valuable trading partners; they out-strip the EU and provide the vast majority of our exports. According to the Scottish Government, Britain comprises of £48.5 billion (64%) of our total exports; the rest of the world accounts for £15.2 billion; and the EU, £11.6 billion. Our prosperity is more dependent on Britain than the EU by a considerable distance. This raises profound questions for the SNP. Should this be 2014 and Scotland voted to Leave, the EU would have secured trade between Scotland and Britain. A Brexit would irrevocably alter this reasoning; the island of Great Britain would be comprised of two completely separate markets. Our biggest trading partner would be alien.
This raises important questions and brings forth the striking hypocrisy of the second referendum proposal. A UK referendum is bringing us out the EU, one of our key markets (15%  of trade). This has a major effect on our material circumstances. Therefore we must have a referendum to come out of our largest market, the UK (70% of trade) an act that would be severely detrimental to our material circumstances. An incredible proposition, really. Do we opt out of Britain, our most valuable market, diminishing our relationship with our largest trader to integrate with the EU? Do we create an island comprised of separate markets? Do we hanker so hungrily for the EU? Brexit is a perfect fiasco that alters the calculus of the constitutional question profoundly.

With Britain deciding to go it alone to create its own economic model, Scotland would have to decide between Europe and the Euro or Britain and Sterling. This is nowhere near as smooth as what was proposed in 2014; Brexit would result in greater risk and higher stakes. This time you are not leaving your biggest trading partner – Britain – and then working with them in the same market, the EU. But you would be abandoning your biggest trading partner for another trading partner, the EU. In this scenario, a second independence referendum would be based on two choices: do you want the European Union or do you want the British Union; the Euro or the Pound; Westminster or Brussels. Should Scotland be independent and join the EU there will be no currency union and no free trade with Brexit Britain.
In this case “Project Fear” may become a reality. Scots will squirm at the prospect of Euros being deposited into their bank accounts instead of  Sterling. According to polls, the Union will survive a Brexit, there is no hunger for independence. Paint this picture – the Euro or Sterling – and independence becomes more difficult. Scotland loves Britain, but does it love Europe more? In the last election Scots voted Tory to bolster the strength of the Union. This time the SNP will not have the fantasy oil figures to rely on. Serious questions will also be asked about the public purse. Not mention that entry into the EU demands that you balance your budget, neoliberal talk for austerity. This is a potentially toxic cocktail.
Politics is the art of controlling your environment; for the SNP a Brexit flares up too many unknowns. Ideally they want Remain to win; the implications would be more favourable. Britain may have a rejuvenated UKIP, the positions of Cameron and Osbourne will be insecure, with the possibility of a right-wing coup in the Conservative Party. This is familiar terrain, the nationalist movement is defined against the Tories, these factors you can control and exploit; it’s a chaotic right-wing government run by a platoon of usurping bandits, running head-long to oblivion. Critically, however, Scotland would still be able to trade with its biggest trading partner, the UK, under the EU umbrella. That’s the SNP’s best option, and probably the likely outcome. However, should a Brexit materialise, the UK would have emphatically rejected the EU model. Current polls suggest Scotland will vote Remain. Sturgeon will rightfully make hay out of this outcome and raise the possibility of a second referendum. But with that comes a host of potential, unprecedented problems.  The labyrinthine constitutional question would take another unexpected turn.

 

SNP Hypocrisy: Top Three Brexit Contradictions

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1 – Austerity

The SNP’s followers vaunt their glorious queen, Frau Sturgeon, as a Joan of Arc moral crusader fighting against the offensive iniquity of austerity. She fights for the little guy, for the people, for you and me comrade! In the Great Leap forward – the 2015 General Election – our Stalinista said admirable words on the topic, rooted in principle and ethical conviction ‘I will not do any deals with parties of austerity.’ Words for the ages, yes?! No! In Olympic speed she has reversed this stance in a move that would give the most cynical commentators political whiplash

For those in doubt let me explain – the EU has enacted the most toxic austerity program in European history, administered fatal doses of austerity directly into the body of nations across the continent. Brussels performs an economic blood-letting intended to make the economically sick better but only serves to put nations on life-support.  We all know the stories. The EU inserted Troika officials into the Irish Government, abolished the Irish National Minimum Wage and massacred social services. In Greece, austerity measures were pushed through against the Greek peoples’ will and the IMF sold the state assets. In Latvia the health service has been cut by 36%. The country still lags behind its 2008 living standards. Since 2008 austerity is now enshrined in law and the EU constitution. The EU is the Kingdom of Austerity.

Morals only extend to the Cliffs of Dover, apparently. The very saviours of Scotland, the SNP, and their phalanx of the intellectually inert, are now willing to get in bed with this unholy corporate alliance. The SNP have such unyielding love for neoliberal austerity that it will trigger another referendum, should their membership be withdrawn. Let me see here, the SNP wanted independence because neoliberal austerity, but now want to join an international austerity union that will have austerity written in our constitution, forcing all new members to implement austerity. Wow! How the Frau in fuchsia manages to get out of her bed in the morning without a spine is a miracle worthy of Vatican investigation.

2 – Self-Determination and Independence

We know the SNP narrative. Scotland should be Independent – Hurrah! The people of Scotland should make their own laws – Damn right!! After all we are an ancient and proud people, if somewhat liberal about wounding our fellow countrymen with kitchenware. Err, quite right,sir! To be ruled by a foreign power is foregoing our birth right as Scotsmen. Bravo! We will certainly not tolerate wretched Tories making our laws, who, by the day, have the coherence of a Gilbert and Sullivan play performed by Tourrete’s sufferers. This is just the jab of nationalistic adrenaline that exercised the nation during that circus of political depravity, the Scottish Referendum. A mendacious ideological mantra as familiar to the SNP as vomit and abject despondency is to your regular Glasgow First Bus journey. This is the oxygen of the SNP; their very existence depends on this grievance. Surely they would support self determination and independence for others? Wrong.

The SNP are horrified when other politicians employ this nationalistic charade for national independence. When Boris Johnson said on the most recent debate that the people of Britain are the best people to handle their affairs it was considered a momentary bout of mania. Sturgeon rubbished the idea of British self-determination. The people? Running their own affairs? Impossible. An idea entirely antithetical to imperatives of globalisation; sovereignty is shared and must be sacrificed to the EU. What she conveniently labelled ‘interdependence.’ She even had the temerity to call other EU countries independent. In 2015, a referendum was held in Greece where 61% voters rejected austerity. The EU rejected the result. In 2008, the Irish people returned a no vote to the implementation if the Lisbon Treaty. The EU rejected this mandate. In 1992, Denmark refused to terms of the Maastricht Treaty twice at the ballot box. The EU rejected the outcome. Now the SNP is promoting this organisation; the same SNP who vaunted democratic ideals so powerfully during the Scottish Referendum. Self-determination is definitely a marriage of convenience, a means to an end, the clarion call for free Caledonia, but not for anyone else

Here is the SNP’s hypocritical logic laid bare. The SNP believe in self-determination and independence from the Union; the English people and the Leave campaign are wrong to pursue self-determination and independence from a Union; Scottish self-determination and independence should be sacrificed for another Union. The level of surrealism and confusion makes one think they are trapped in a John Malkovic movie, or part of some horrific political opera where the characters traverse a series of deep identity crises. But maybe there a more obvious explanation. Maybe the SNP are a capricious rabble with political expediency as their true guiding principle with no honest conviction to the principles of self-determination. Yeah, that is it. That is politics. The SNP are a con, rogue traders; Sturgeon and Salmond, the Sultans of Sham.

3 – The Democratic Deficit

The SNP political buzz-word, Salmond has uttered this noxious phrase with such regularity he is beginning to sound like a political robot with Aspergers. The inscrutable lump and impressive manufacturer of useless twaddle said recently ‘The best way to correct the democratic deficit across the UK is to breakup the UK.’ Well on that logic, we must break the EU because the democratic deficit is a galactic gulf. Laurie Penny put it best in the New Statesmen, the EU has been damaged ‘by decades of neoliberal gerrymandering, of power being shunted towards an unaccountable centre – these injuries are profound and systemic.’ This is not a deficit but a democratic black-hole, matched only in size and incomprehension by Salmond’s all consuming face-hole.

As ever, his Robin to his Batman – wait, perhaps I am being too kind – his Linda to his Neil Hamilton; his Mary to his Fred West; the First Minister of Falsehoods, Wee Nicola, matched his hypocrisy. On the most recent EU debate she said that England had no place querying the EU’s shadowy unelected council because Britain has the House of Lords. Here! Here! I hear you say, a fairly clear, straight forward and inoffensive position, guided by solid democratic principles. The people and only the people should have the power to make laws. Indeed, the Irritant of Irvine has repeatedly offended our lugs with calls for the ‘relic’ Lower Chamber to ‘be dismantled.’

The only thing that was dissolved was Sturgeon’s principles, however. Like re-united twins separated at birth, she now wishes to embrace an unelected chamber with open-arms. It’s the kind of spectacular betrayal of loyalties, and rekindling of a vested love interests, that puts one in mind of the Blair-Gaddafi bromance in the Libyan Desert. Unelected foreign officials who make our laws are actually our bag, baby! The SNP not only want to be part of this clique but they are willing to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Tories to defend it. What foul hypocrisy. This can only be imagined as some form of political swinging, where instead of car keys you place your party membership card in the bowl, and, hey presto! You pull supporter of despotic official instead of Social Democrat. With these contortions Sturgeon and Salmond are a sure thing for World Twister Champion 2016.

Robinson Crusoe and American Economic Providence

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Daniel Defoe’s timeless masterpiece, Robinson Crusoe, may seem like an odd starting point for a discussion on American politics, but in times of fear it presents important lessons.

Crusoe is a paragon of 18th century English entrepreneurialism, a man of ordinary stock but ambitious and tenacious. He imagines his financial and personal greatness will be forged in plantation America. In pursuit of this ideal the adventurer becomes stranded on an island in the Caribbean, the only survivor of his crew. Never one to be disheartened by incredible misfortune, against fantastic odds the stranded Englishmen begins to fashion a means of existence. He survives the violent heat and hammering rains; the inhospitable terrain is mastered; and the seas conquered. Goats are tamed to provide milk, food, and eventually cheese; barley and rice are harvested bi-annually; and an impenetrable fort and country house retreat is assembled for comfortable living. Unashamedly proud of this new-Eden, Crusoe conceptualises himself as the lord and governor of the island. He has shaped a perfect environment, and, but for the want of society, the marooned mariner is perfectly contented with his existence. Importantly, Crusoe perceived that the luck and fortune that contributed to this survival was the work of the original architect, God. Providence, therefore, is the reason for his ascent from moral and physical to desolation to plantation king.

America has experienced many of these vicissitudes and could be Crusoe’s island brought to life. On arrival settlers found the land  uninhabitable, the soils dry and unfruitful; the weather destructive and fatal. Indeed many of the early colonists failed to survive the first winters. But they braved the brutal climate, and by slow degrees, society emerged in embryonic form. Natural resources nurtured the colonies; timber, iron ore, oil, coal and fish were readily available. Crusoe’s island became their continent and through work and faith the Thirteen Colonies flourished. Such was their success, the colonists designed to cut the umbilical cord with the mother country and create a society as close to Enlightenment ideals as possible. The Founding Fathers’ self evident truths were incarnations of Defoe’s enlightened crusader. God guided the citizens’ spirit; he is independent, at liberty to build his property, and a diligent labourer working in ‘pursuit of happiness.’

Together these fundamental principles have had terrific staying power and are commonly understood as the American Dream. Like Crusoe, an entrepreneur in search of his betterment can cross the sea, build his modern day plantation, and become emperor of his own island. It is understood as such in society, everyone is encouraged to do their best, reach their pinnacle, work their hardest, and will be rewarded with a comfortable lifestyle. Beyond the individual the culmination of this philosophy is a richer and more successful society with unbound aspirations. Together Americans dreamed of human possibility and overcame the impossible, Neil Armstrong’s Moon-landing the example par excellence. When Armstrong alighted from the Lunar module and christened the lunar soil, he was not alone. Every American took that step with him because every member of society had contributed to making that step possible.

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Providence it would seem has looked on America favourably; for centuries the Dream was real. During the 20th century American living standards out-stripped all other industrialised nations, the average American was a property owner with an array of commodities, including cars, fridges, microwaves, and televisions. Health care and education were universal, sacrosanct services that guarded the well-being of every citizen. Life expectancy grew from 45.2 years between 1890 to 76.7 in 1998; on average men were three inches taller by 1950 than they were in 1910; American real wage growth increased above inflation from 1900-1970; between 1950-1970 the median family income grew by 99.3%; unemployment was consistently less than 4%; and consumer spending rose by 60% from 1945-1960. Should you be a working-class American you could afford a home, send your child to college, and were guaranteed a steady job. Society was working for everyone.

Since the fall of Communism Liberals have championed this democratic capitalist model.  Francis Fukuyama declared the end of history , the Fall of the Berlin Wall heralded a new dawn, the end of ideological conflict, and freedom from nuclear obliteration. Economists supplemented this optimism, neoliberalism was lifting millions out of poverty and brought an end to economic cataclysms such as the Great Depression.

FP Stephen M. Walt rightly observed that one of the problems was liberal defenders over-sold the product. The western model should be a Church on the Hill to the world, an example of how to construct a successful society. The end-point of this arrogance was the moral quagmire, Iraq –   democracy by the barrel of the gun. The catastrophic War on Terror has left us riddled with insecurity about our values. The 2008 Recession compounded this great unease. The ideological pillars of the liberal order are beginning to crumble.

There has been a visible change in peoples’ lives as the deification of economics has destroyed the American working class. Since 1980 the bottom has fallen out of life for the lower third of society. When you compare white society, both rich and poor, today with fifty years ago the data signals the death knell of the Dream. In the 1960’s there was virtually no difference in social capital between the top and bottom. All the indicators of success and failure – teenage pregnancy, employment, mortality, infant mortality, drug and alcohol abuse – were, generally speaking, equal. Today this is completely reversed. The White working-class is the only social group in American society whose mortality rates are increasing; unemployment is endemic; teenage pregnancy is up by a factor of 12; there is an increased addiction to self-destructive habits like drugs and alcohol; elevated infant mortality rates; and shocking suicide rates. To take one example since the millennium life expectancy for white women has fallen by three years. On the surface this appears innocuous but when we consider that life expectancy should always move forward it becomes increasingly problematic; this social groups  has lost 20 years of progress. The American Dream has turned nightmare.

Such violent shifts in circumstances ignite our less edifying qualities, as Defoe acknowledged. When Crusoe discovered an unknown foot-print on his island he understandably concluded others inhabited his paradise. Since this mysterious people did

Robinson Crusoe - Discovery of the Footprint on the Beach

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not share his European ideas, he begins to reason that his island project was imperiled. With such a rapid material change, Crusoe’s behavior shifts erratically, he becomes enthralled to paranoia, fear and wild hysteria. Alarm and danger are imagined everywhere, trees take the form of men, shadows startle him,  his crops and livestock are feared destroyed, and his fate is to be devoured by cannibals. In a Trump-esque resolution, he resolves to build wall ten-feet thick to keep the invaders out and protect his colony. He even considers ambushing the ‘natives’ and destroying them in a pre-emptive strike.  Defoe is making an important point here. The cannibal threat brings sharply into focus the unforeseen consequences of the shifting nature of our existence. What was once successful can quickly ravage, but for the grace of God and with it we abandon reason and good judgement.   ‘How strange a chequer work of Providence is the life of man’, Crusoe laments.

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It is no surprise that certain Americans have succumbed to similar tendencies. As Defoe acknowledged fear disturbs our values ‘today we love what tomorrow we hate; today we seek what tomorrow we shun; today we desire what tomorrow we fear; nay even tremble at the apprehensions of.’ Forty years ago white working class America was successful, now it has completely collapsed. They see the establishment fight for feminism, they see immigrants flocking over the border receiving Federal aid; and they see bankers getting bail-outs. Is it any wonder they are fiercely anti-liberal, want to stop immigration, and demand a show-down with the banks? But the problem extends far beyond the lazy redneck stereotypes of Trump supporters; fear has led to an identity crisis, where social values that were considered axiomatic and were the glue of society are becoming irrevocably altered. Where the individual reigned supreme, the tribe has taken hold; tolerance has became intolerance; happiness has submitted to fear; love has folded to hate. Muslims, Mexicans, China and women, are the objects of this new fear. We must remember that however unpalatable we consider this behaviour these expressions are human and a completely natural reaction to their rapidly deteriorating social conditions. Is it any wonder they are attracted to “Make America Great Again”? They want to rebuild the past were their lives made sense, where they were not living in perpetual hopelessness and fear, where the American Dream existed.

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While Crusoe’s conditions were caused by an abstract capricious Deity this social crisis is the culmination of our economic and political choices. The establishment has refused to ameliorate the conditions of those suffering; instead they place their faith in economic providence. Globalisation was and is inevitable and the decimation of small industrial towns are the victims of progress. We cannot escape this inevitability. The white working class have been forgotten, sacrificed to the economic gods. As Crusoe was cut off from mankind, they have been left in an island of economic despair, stranded, destined to live a silent life. Who are they to question the sovereignty of economics? We are merely creatures in the economic cosmos. For Crusoe, Providence ‘could dispose of me absolutely, as he saw fit.’ In the 21st century economic providence can eject people from their seat of prosperity and comfort without consideration. The economy moves in mysterious ways, it is Provident; and can both give with one hand and take with another. The fear that creates,however, will not diminish but grow, unless addressed. This language of violence does not begin and end with Trump. The antidote will be found when the conditions that are fertile ground for fear are addressed.