The Death of Manchester United

February 6, 2018

When I was 8 years old, my parents had very little money and we lived in what today would be called a slum. We couldn’t afford magazines or anything of the sort, but we did get the Daily Mirror. The walls of my bedroom were covered in smudgy newspaper black-and-white photos of my heroes, Manchester United, and, most especially, their young superstar Duncan Edwards.

Sixty years ago today, an aeroplane carrying the team on a flight from Munich back to England crashed on take-off in the snow. Twenty people died at the scene, including ten players and trainers, and three others, including Duncan Edwards, died later from their injuries. It was a tragedy that brought England to a standstill.

 

Clubs didn’t have huge bank accounts in those days and the disaster almost caused the club to fold.  In the end it took manager Matt Busby (who had been seriously injured in the crash) ten years to rebuild the team and win another championship.  Being young, I didn’t have the patience to wait and I had already switched my allegiance to Chelsea by then.

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The Coup In Hawai’i

January 17, 2018

Today is the 125th anniversary of the takeover of the Hawai’i Islands by American trading interests, overthrowing the native kingdom.

America already had a long history of violent and genocidal imperialist annexation on the mainland (“Manifest Destiny”).  The coup in Honolulu was a logical, if long, step of the same impulse into the Pacific.


A Modern Political Platform, From 1918

January 15, 2018

 

One hundred years ago today, Mary Ellen Smith (or “Mrs Frank Smith” as she was usually known) published her platform for the Provincial by-election in Vancouver that year.  Many of its planks are remarkably still relevant today, including minimum wage, equal pay for equal work, juvenile justice reform, and proportional representation:

“Vancouver World”, 15 Jan 1918, p,5

 

She won the by-election, becoming the first woman elected to the BC Legislature.


Driving Right-eously

January 1, 2018

Today is the 96th anniversary of the change in British Columbia from driving on the left side of the road to driving on the right.  I think quite a lot of Vancouver drivers are still learning about this.

 

driving-change

Vancouver World 1922 Jan 3, p.1


Fly Me To The Moon …

December 14, 2017

Harrison Schmitt was the last of only twelve humans ever to walk on the moon. Forty-five years ago today — yes, way back in 1972 — his ship took off from the moon and we have not been back since.

Manned space flight was the dream of my father’s generation.  We boomers pushed us into the unmanned and more machine-driven discovery of space at the same time as we were inventing programmed stock trading, robotic automation, and plugged-in entertainment.  We love machines apparently.

I wonder where the millennials will take us?


Site C: A Personal Reflection

December 13, 2017

Yesterday was the worst of days for British Columbia. A government we had achingly hoped would inspire British Columbians has instead bowed to its Big Labour masters (often as reactionary as the most plutocratic tycoon), played fast and loose with its implied campaign promises (and overall economic analysis), and kicked the First Nations in the teeth once again. Reflecting on just how significant this betrayal is took me back a long time, back to the days when I realised I could never be a unionist, or a social democrat.

A Londoner, I grew up in a strongly union family: my grandfather, a railwayman, was involved in the General Strike, and both his sons — my uncle Alf who eventually became mayor of Brentford, and my Dad — though professionals, were active supporters of the Labour Party. As a very small boy I remember folding brochures for campaigns, and labour matters were always on the agenda when we visited my uncle.  By my mid-teens, I was a member and volunteer at both the local Labour Party and a Transport Workers Union office. It was the mid-1960s and Harold Wilson’s white hot technological revolution was leading us all to the labourite paradise.

By then I had started to read deeply in left wing theory and history, and I developed quite the revolutionary zeal against the evils of capital and the systems of oppressive inequality that were fostered by it. I shared these thoughts and ideas at the labour hall and the Labour Party offices. And I was laughed off, brushed off, told not to worry about “abstract theory.” At first I assumed I was being ignored because I was a young kid. But I swiftly realized that the party and union leaders were plainly uninterested in the failures of the capitalist and “democratic” systems.

They didn’t want to change the systems at all, they just wanted their share of what the systems could give them and their members; seats, sinecures, and power for the party members, washing machines and a small car for the workers even if it meant sweetheart deals exploiting labour in other ways. Those leaders with intellectual pretensions argued for the value of “incremental benefits” and for the postponement of radical change until some indefinite future.

Even after this realization, I continued to make my arguments at the halls until, quite quickly, I was shuffled out the door as a malcontent.

Today, I feel just as disappointed as I did fifty-plus years ago. I am disappointed in the NDP and the unions, of course; but I am equally disappointed in myself for hoping that social democrats and big labour could ever accept real change and the challenges it offers.

 


False Memory Syndrome

November 22, 2017

Fifty-four years ago today, my mother and father visited their closest friends, Ron and Betty, who lived a few miles from us in West London. I was in the backseat of the small black car.  It smelled of leather and my parents’ cigarettes. I was sullen because I was just turned 14 years old and I had far better things to do than visit my parents’ old fogie friends to play cards.

I remember this all so clearly because, just as we pulled up outside Ron and Betty’s row house, the car radio broke off its normal programming and a solemn voice replaced the happy chatter.  The voice announced that President John F. Kennedy of the United States had been shot and probably killed.  I can still feel the goose-flesh that crawled over my skin. I remember the loud gasp as my father realized what had been said.  John Kennedy was one of my father’s heroes, and he was mine too. He was our hope for the future, and now he was dead. Nothing else about that evening do I remember. I’m sure my folks and their friends discussed the assassination, but that has passed from recall.

Within two years of that day, though, JFK had — in my eyes at least — fallen from the pedestal upon which his charisma, his beautiful family, and his martyrdom had placed him.  He was quickly revealed as just another centre-right US politician who was happy to send the boys to war, who was happy to squander the nation’s wealth on weapons and imperialism, who had no answer to segregation but brother Bobby’s federal agents.  We also learned (perhaps we always knew) he wasn’t quite such a great family man, either; that Camelot was an expensive sham.

Kennedy and his people lived in the tuxedoed world of High Society that was soon to be swept away by the real world of Soul on Ice and Revolver.  We might have hated that big Texas bully who followed Kennedy, but it was Kennedy not Johnson who pushed the US into South Vietnam, and it was Johnson not Kennedy who brought forward the Civil Rights Acts. Looking back, we can now see that both Kennedy and Johnson were equal participants in the cabaret that is America the Superpower. Unfortunately for the truth, Kennedy will always have the smile, the beautiful wife, the cute John-John and Caroline, while Johnson will always be pulling the ears off those damn beagles.