The French political system has been described as a gerontocracy, in other words a society ruled by old men. This description could equally apply to authoritarian governments around the world. The ‘old boy network’ helps to maintain the status quo, where privilege and wealth are tickets to political power.

Emmanuel Macron is a 39 year old, former Socialist,running for President in France. His style is similar to Obama’s.  En Marche! has the marketing appeal of ‘Yes we can’ with the additional excitement of an exclamation mark. Not only that, but En Marche! is the name of his focus group/party/think tank – delete as appropriate. His researchers widely canvassed the electorate to ask what works? and what doesn’t work? With that in mind, the party’s policies have been crafted for mass appeal.

He projects an image of anti-establishment, a man of the people and is tetchy when quizzed about his privileged private education and investment banker past. His campaign seeks to have broad appeal to disgruntled Socialists and those on the right. Globalisation and free trade the keys to unlocking the potential of France’s economy with a relaxation of employment laws dangled in front of employers to extend the 35 hour week.

Hollande is encouraging voters to steer clear of Le Pen, and Macron could benefit from that advice.

Punk poetry

If you haven’t come across the punk poet, John Cooper Clark, you’re in for a treat. Here’s an example of his wit and verbal dexterity:

I wrote the songs that nearly made
The bottom line of the hit parade
Almost anthems, shoulda been hits
Songs like… Puttin’ on the Ritz
Some enchanted afternoon
Twenty-four hours to Levenshulme
Dancin’ in the daylight, singin’ in the smog
You ain’t nothin’ but a hedgehog
So close and yet so far
Do you remember the way we are
I’d like to get you on a speedboat to China
From an idea by George Steiner
Ain’t no blag – uncle’s got a brand new jag
Ain’t no slouch – mama’s got a brand new couch
She ain’t heavy, she’s my sister
Not to leave out twist and whisper
Brand new leapardskin pillbox glove
Baby you and me we got a greasy kind of love


Back to Poetry

This blog wanders down many lanes that have nothing to do with poetry. Except that everything has to do with poetry. It is a concise way of holding up a mirror to the world, exploring ideas and playing with language.

Emotions are explored by neuroscientists, philosophers and poets because of their complexity and essential part of the human experience.

Martha Nussbaum, the philosopher, has some interesting thoughts about anger and society. This extract demonstrates one aspect of machismo that puts men to shame:

“Men in particular think that they have achieved something if they can make a woman mad, particularly if she is calm and intellectual. Often, they use the attempt to make you mad as a way of flirting, no doubt thinking that unlocking the pent-up emotions of such a woman is a sexual victory. (And note that they assume these emotions are pent up in general, not merely unavailable to them!) This exceedingly tedious exercise shows that they have few or no interesting resources for flirting (such as humor or imagination), and it really has the opposite effect from the one intended, boring the woman, who has certainly seen this before, and making them look very silly.”

Her book Anger and Forgiveness is now on my reading list.

Here is a poem that conveys the rage of anger:

Anger against Beasts by Wendell Berry

The hook of adrenalin shoves

into the blood. Man’s will,

long schooled to kill or have

its way, or kill the beast

against nature, transcend

the impossible in simple fury.

The blow falls like a dead seed.

It is defeat, for beasts

do not pardon, but heal or die

in the absence of the past.

The blow survives in the man.

His triumph is a wound. Spent,

He must wait the slow

unalterable forgiveness of time.



Visual Art

Having become a curmudgeon, it behoves me to criticise art exhibitions that get my goat. One such travesty was the Lost in Narration art exhibition at the MAC in Belfast. A slow motion film following a rhino called Sudan wandering about with its armed protectors in the wilds of Kenya is one way to feel time dragging you down. Projected with surround sound on a huge screen gave this work every opportunity to impress. Sadly it did not.

Sensational visual arts can grab the headlines. I remember seeing a film at the Tate in London in which the artist filmed his mother’s deathbed and her dying breaths. All very shocking, but is it art? There’s a question that has become a parody of what matters.

Tolstoy took a long while to formulate his thoughts on the matter and put them in writing in What is Art?. He came to the conclusion that art had a purpose and that the aim of art is to be uplifting. The relationship between art, artist and viewer should be a sincere endeavour to raise spirits and endorse high morality. Leo drifted off brief and did not so much give a definition of art, as see art for what it could do for society.

Art can be shocking, beautiful, gross, perplexing but boring? No. I do not need to be uplifted, although some aesthetic experiences have been awe inspiring in their beauty. I am not insistent that art conforms to standard ideas of beauty and craft, but I want to be engaged in sharing the conceptual space and not feel that it was a waste of time and effort on my part, or that the artist had no intention beyond self indulgence.

By the  way, the wee animals in the foyer of the MAC were gorgeous. The two kids in the bucket were my favourite.


The taking of a human life can serve many purposes. Revenge is the most understandable. A victim’s nearest and dearest would probably want to see the life of their loved one’s killer ended. A life for a life. The state might endorse that sentiment, but dress it up in judicial terms to justify taking the life of a human being.


The sanctity of human life is defended by pro-life and anti-euthanasia campaigners. Would they be so keen to preserve the lives of child rapists and murderers, torturers and the perpetrators of crimes against humanity including genocide?

electric chair


There is an argument that whole life imprisonment is a greater punishment than the swift end to the murderer’s life. It certainly avoids the risk of executing the wrong person. Frequent appeals for death row prisoners can extend their imprisonment to decades.

In Arkansas they have seven such death row prisoners sentenced to die by lethal injection. One of the three injections necessary to kill the condemned is nearing its use by date and the pharmaceutical company that makes the drug refuses to provide further supplies on moral grounds. There have been reports of executions going badly wrong and prolonged tortuous suffering the result of the drugs not working as they should.

Execution should not hang over the condemned prisoner for decades and the killing should be swift and humanely carried out. That’s if you approve of capital punishment.

If it is your opinion that taking a life is wrong and is not a fitting punishment for murder, then you might argue that humanity is best served by life imprisonment. Murderers facing a death sentence have nothing to lose by taking more lives. A death sentence is not a deterrent for murder.

Humane justice comes at a price. Rapists and murderers have served their sentences, been released and carried out further rapes and murders. Execution would have prevented that possibility. There have also been prisoners sentenced for rapes and murders they did not commit. Their decades of detention at least made their exoneration possible and their release a possibility.

Some would judge society by the way we treat the worst offenders. Justice should not be an instrument of retribution, but the measured judgement of what is the right and appropriate punishment for wrongdoing.

We might find it easier to condemn war criminals and child murderers to death, But we have to weigh up the possibility of executing those wrongly accused with the permanent removal from society of its worst elements.

It is no surprise that the Turkish president with his newly extended powers is now calling for the reintroduction of capital punishment in Turkey. With the judiciary in his pocket and many of his political opponents in prison, the power to use state killing would not be in safe hands.

Clean Thursday

Easter is upon us and there are various customs and traditions associated with this religious festival. There is the welcome end to Lent’s fasting with gastronomic delights such as Simnel cake and hot cross buns.

easter parade

Clean Thursday is a Russian tradition to prepare the house for the Easter festivities with a spring clean. For some there is a midnight mass on Saturday that ushers in the Easter festivities. Children forced to stay up until the small hours may be too exhausted to stuff their faces with chocolate eggs or just give their parents a lie in for a change.

Good Friday or the day to commemorate the execution of Jesus is a sombre occasion, or a day off work depending on your beliefs. On the the third day, Sunday, the resurrection is celebrated. Conquering death is fundamental to Christian belief and is the bedrock of many faiths. Valhalla, Nirvana, call it what you will, eternity beckons.

Heathens like myself have difficulty believing in an afterlife or the supernatural. Resurrection for us non-believers has no appeal except in zombie movies.  But like Christmas, we are not going to spoil the party..

All right thinking people

European response to migration has been fragmented. Germany’s Angela Merkel opened the borders to offer the hand of friendship to thousands of refugees fleeing war in the Middle East. The UK voted (37% of the electorate) to leave the EU in a referendum prompted by scare stories of unlimited emigration from Europe. The refugee camp in Calais known as ‘the Jungle’ was forcibly cleared by French police and Islamophobia was fuelled by recent terror attacks across Europe.

tilting at windmills

Economic migrants and refugees are dispersed around Europe. Turkey secured a deal with the EU to act as a holding station for refugees. The situation is a continuing tale of suffering for families whose homes have been destroyed and family members killed in the ongoing conflicts.

There are millions of European voters who oppose immigration on nationalist/racist grounds. Here is a link describing the far right parties in Europe.

Fear of the foreigner has been used for political advantage for centuries. Immigration has shaped our culture, contributed to our prosperity and enriched our society. Waves of invaders have redrawn borders across Europe since Roman times. Medieval Europe emerged from the dark ages thanks to the contribution made by the Islamic colonisation of Europe.

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

Martin Niemöller (1892–1984)