Julian, Neil and me

April 13, 2019

It’s fair to say I’m basking in some reflected glory this morning. The author and great mind, Neil Gaiman, has engaged me in a lengthy Twitter conversation on the vexing subject of Julian Assange.

It started with this exchange between Gaiman and an author who’s science fiction I love, Charlie Stross.

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I sent a rather snarky response, but to his credit, Neil Gaiman engaged and then we had a respectful dialogue about the Assange case.

Our basic disagreement is that Neil seemed exclusively focused on the outstanding rape and sexual assault allegations against Assange, while I was trying to point out that the plan to extradite him to the US was the bigger picture issue today.


“Socialism or Barbarism”? What the Communist Manifesto says about climate change

April 8, 2019

Regular readers will know that my columns sometimes take a philosophical turn. I do this because, as any writer must, I am constantly reading to supplement and refine my knowledge of the world and of ideas.

Today I want to return to one of my favourite short books that will be familiar to some of you and perhaps horrifying to others. I am, of course, as the title of this piece suggests, referring to The Communist Manifesto, authored by Karl Marx and Frederick Engels and first published in 1848.

manifesto cover

My interest in delving back into this text flies in realising the value and importance of a particular passage that is often overlooked. Perhaps this particular paragraph is not considered important because it occurs very early, before the main arguments are fleshed out, but it is a reminder that there is nothing inevitable or pre-determined about revolutionary struggle.

[In] a word, oppressor and oppressed, stood in constant opposition to one another, carried on an uninterrupted, now hidden, now open fight, a fight that each time ended, either in a revolutionary reconstitution of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes.

It is the final stanza here that has caught my attention: “the common ruin of the contending classes”. What Marx and Engels want us to know at this point is that while the class struggle is inevitable, there is no certainty as to the outcome.

Engels returned to this point in his 1878 work critiquing the ideas of the German social democrat Eugen Dühring, funnily enough in a pamphlet published as Anti-Dühring, in which he argued that the bourgeoisie could no longer determine the exact course of history, as it had done during its own revolutionary period:

its own productive forces have grown beyond its control, and, as if necessitated by a law of nature, are driving the whole of bourgeois society towards ruin, or revolution.

Other Marxists have since taken up this point, Rosa Luxemburg famously coined the aphorism ‘socialism or barbarism” to describe the stark choice facing the European working classes during the First World War. According to reliable sources, Luxemburg was paraphrasing another German revolutionary, Karl Kautsky who wrote in 1892, who wrote:

“As things stand today capitalist civilization cannot continue; we must either move forward into socialism or fall back into barbarism.”

Read the rest of this entry »


#artschool: documenting art practice

April 7, 2019

We are now seven weeks into Term 1 at art school and I thought it might be fun to document some of my work.

I have been studying drawing and painting along with a bit of digital photography and in this post I have catalogued my drawings and paintings to date.

The key thing is to notice that I’m actually getting better and I think this shows most clearly in my life drawing exercises.

Well, at least I hope you can see some improvement. The other drawing subject is mostly about still life in the studio.

And then there’s my painting class where the focus is also on still life maquettes painted “a la prima” which means all in one go. Usually these are done in about 90 minutes. This is a study in the use of complementary colours.

I’m also doing a few bits and pieces at home. I’ll have more to say about this series of abstracts as I develop my ideas. The theme is “Precision and Decay”.


I don’t want governments or corporations curating my news feed. Here’s why.

April 3, 2019

This week, Facebook and the government of Singapore announced new plans to combat the spread of fake news and disinformation. However, why would we give up our freedom to allow corporations or governments to control the news media.

Are we in the middle of a fake news pandemic? The issue has certainly got the attention of people who care about, or who claim to care about, such issues.

The President of the United States certainly thinks fake news is a huge problem. He tweets about it constantly and has even called the American news media the “real enemy of the people”.

For Americans who believe passionately in the First Amendment, this is horrifying and scary rhetoric; particularly when it butts up so closely the Second Amendment. (That’s the one about carrying a locked and loaded machine gun slung casually over one camo-covered shoulder while strolling around the shopping mall on the lookout for a bad guy with a gun.)

Journalism and media academics are also taking the fake news threat seriously judging by my recent trawl through the journal articles on the subject. According to the EBSCO Complete database, of 268 academic pieces written on fake news since 2002, 210 were written in the two-and-a-half years.

I am left wondering though if the news-consuming public is really all that concerned about fake news and sorting out news-truth from news-fiction. We are consuming mountains of fake news on a daily basis. Perhaps overall we are intellectually poorer as a result, but it is actually hard to tell. Maybe, our BS filters are now highly attuned to fakery and we weed it out without thinking. Or, in a darker vein, have we just given up even trying?

It would be a shame if we just cynically give up on truth and lean into fake news with a defeated shrug of the shoulders. Sometimes this must seem like a tempting option to some people. How can we stem the tidal flow of junk and fake news? How can we prevent ourselves from being overwhelmed? Read the rest of this entry »


Photography Assignment – Portraits of my cat

April 1, 2019

A collection of cat photos taken with my DSLR in manual mode and lightly edited in Lightroom.
The cat’s name is “Callie”, which is short for “Calliope Cutlass, the pirate cat”.


Protected: The Stanistreet family portrait

March 30, 2019

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Art School: Landscape assignment

March 30, 2019

This week I’ve been preparing to submit an assignment in my photography unit.

Part one of the submission is six landscape photos. I’m having a hard time choosing my top six from this selection.