Posts Tagged ‘‘The Great Shark Hunt’’

The Cheltenham Festival is Decadent and Depraved

February 12, 2016

Shark Hunt Pic

A few weeks ago I blogged about how a group of my friends had come back dazed, shocked and annoyed from a day at the races in Cheltenham. They’d been in one of the beer tents when I group of hunt supporters from the surrounding country gentry came in. They were shocked at how personally graceless, arrogant and condescending they all were, combined with their physical repulsiveness. ‘They had no chin!’ wailed one of my friends. They were all agreed that they were fairly hideous. I put it down to the proverbial inbreeding in the British aristocracy and the horsey set.

Reading through the collected journalism of Hunter S. Thompson, The Great Shark Hunt, it seems that Dr Gonzo had the same experience of the type of Southern aristocracy, who attended the Kentucky Derby, in a piece he wrote for Scanlan’s magazine, ‘The Kentucky Derby Is Decadent and Depraved. This was the first piece to have the term ‘Gonzo’ applied to it. It’s an account of how Thompson and the caricaturist, Ralph Steadman, went to cover the 1970 Kentucky Derby. This took place against a backdrop of political tension and the expectation of violence by the Black Panthers, expectations that were gleefully stoked by Thompson himself. As drugs were very definitely banned and unavailable there, he and Steadman got drunk instead and caused chaos in their own way. Thompson hit various people with the can of Mace he was carrying, while Steadman innocently nearly started fights by showing people the drawings he’d made of them. They reacted angrily, to Steadman’s astonishment. In Britain people had only ever taken the caricatures as a good-natured joke. Not so in the Southern US, and at the Kentucky Derby, which Thompson described to Steadman as like a giant outdoor loony bin.

And the inmates Thompson particularly wanted Steadman to sketch in this alfresco madhouse were the inbred, horsey aristocracy. Thompson says

He had done a few good sketches, but so far we hadn’t seen that special kind of face that I felt we would need for the lead drawing. It was a face I’d seen a thousand times at every Derby I’d ever been to. I saw it, in my head, as the mask of the whisky gentry – a pretentious mix of booze, failed dreams and a terminal identity crisis; the inevitable result of too much inbreeding in a closed and ignorant culture. One of the key genetic rules in breeding dogs, horses or any other kind of thoroughbred is that close inbreeding tends to magnify t5he weak points in bloodline as well as the strong points. In horse breeding, for instance, there is a definite risk in breeding two fast horses who are both a little crazy. The offspring will also be very fast and also very crazy. So the trick in breeding thoroughbreds is to retain the good traits and filter out the bad. But the breeding of humans is not so wisely supervised, particularly in a narrow Southern society, where the closest kind of inbreeding is not only stylish and acceptable, but far more convenient – to the parents – than setting their offspring free to find their own mates, for their own reasons and in their own ways. (‘Goddamn, did you hear about Smitty’s daughter? She went crazy in Boston last week and married a nigger!’)

So the face I was trying to find in Churchill Downs that weekend was a symbol, in my own mind, of the whole doomed atavistic culture that makes the Kentucky Derby what it is.

Thompson and Steadman don’t actually find that characteristic, Southern decadent face, until the end of the Derby. They finally see it as days of boozing and a diet of fish and chips and French toast, when they look in the mirror. It’s a funny piece, with Thompson’s trademark vitriolic wit. And it seems on both sides of the Atlantic there is a stereotypical face belonging to the local equestrian gentry. Thompson saw it at the Kentucky Derby. My friends saw its English counterparts at the Cheltenham Races. Thompson did get one thing wrong in his description of that part of the sporting gentry. They may have been decadent, but they weren’t doomed. The influence of such inherited wealth was declining, until Maggie Thatcher and Ronald Reagan revitalised it. It led to what Hugh Montgomery-Massingberd hailed as a ‘social restoration’. And it has led to some fine examples of decadent atavism, like David Cameron, George Osborne and the Eton toffs, getting into power.

Never mind the Cheltenham Races or the Kentucky Derby. The entire British cabinet is decadent and depraved.

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The Nixonian Politics of David Cameron

February 10, 2016

Shark Hunt Pic

As I mentioned a few blog posts ago, I’ve been reading through the works of the great Gonzo journalist and drug fiend, Hunter S. Thompson. Thompson was part of the Hippy scene in the 1960s, and knew Ken Kesey and Jefferson Airplane. He was politically liberal, and had a visceral hatred of the Republicans, including Ronald Reagan, George Dubya and, quintessentially, Richard M. Nixon. Thompson covered the Watergate trials and its aftermath, writing some truly blistering pieces on the man, who has become the epitome of American political corruption.

Now, it seems, history is repeating itself here in Britain, and we have another politico who shares many of Nixon’s worst characteristics – paranoia, a need to spy and control the lives and beliefs of ordinary citizens, and whose policies favour the rich at the expense of the poor.

I found these telling passages about Nixon, which so resonate with the current situation in Britain, in Thompson’s 1974 piece about Watergate, ‘Fear and Loathing in the Bunker’, reprinted in the collection, The Great Shark Hunt.

Thompson believed that Nixon’s corruption had done some good by shaking average Americans out of their political apathy, particularly regarding the massive rise in the unequal tax burden between rich and poor:

The Watergate spectacle was a shock, but the fact of a millionaire President paying less income tax than most construction workers while gasoline costs a dollar in Brooklyn and the threat of mass unemployment by spring tends to personalise Mr Nixon’s failure in a very visceral way.

Rises in petrol prices, mass unemployment and a leading politician, whose a millionaire, who pays less tax than blue collar workers. Well, that all sounds like Cameron. He is an old Etonian toff, and he has radically shifted the tax burden onto the working class.

And on the totalitarian character of Nixon’s administration:

George Orwell had a phrase for it. Neither he nor Aldous Huxley had much faith in the future of participatory democracy. Orwell even set a date: 1984 – and the most disturbing revelation that emerged from last year’s Watergate hearings was not so much the arrogance and criminality of Nixon’s henchmen, but the aggressively totalitarian character of his whole administration. It is ugly to know how close we came to meeting Orwell’s deadline.

Meanwhile in Cameron’s Britain, we’re still on the journey there. Cameron is the man, who introduced secret courts, and has massively extended the remit of the intelligence services and the secret state to spy on British citizens. He also wishes to get rid of the European human rights act, and replace it with a much weaker British bill of rights. And, of course, he and his fellow authoritarians, including Jack Straw, wish to water down massively the Freedom of Information Act, so that the public doesn’t get hold of any information that might embarrass him and the other poor dears in his wretched and corrupt administration.

Well, at least they impeached Nixon. For whatever reason, at least two members of the press kept up and did the job of bringing him down. Our modern media seem just about ready to roll over for him, including the BBC.

Nixon Cameron Pic

Pride’s Purge on the Daily Mail Calling Pegida ‘Decent, Rational People’

February 7, 2016

I’m linking to this again today, 7th February 2016, nearly two months after it was written because it’s again relevant. This weekend Pegida rallies were due to take place all over Europe. And the Daily Mail’s comment about their members being ‘decent’, ‘rational people’, is chillingly like the phrase about ‘good Germans’ – those Germans, who kept quiet and did absolutely nothing about Hitler. The phrase has become a byword for those, who stand by and don’t combat tyranny and Fascism. In one of his pieces collect in The Great Shark Hunt, Hunter S. Thompson surveys the grim prospects for America with the collapse of the New Left opposition and the election of Richard Milhouse Nixon. He saw it as the end for democracy and freedom in the US. He argued that resistance had to continue, and that people had to keep fighting the forces of reaction, as he did not want their children asking them why they were ‘Good Germans’. We’re at that point with Pegida now.

As for the organisation itself, for all that it claims to be non-partisan, like the EDL in its time, many of its members and leaders seem to be the same old Nazis that marched with the BNP and the National Front. We have been warned.

https://tompride.wordpress.com/2015/12/03/daily-mail-backs-edl-tommy-robinsons-new-far-right-movement-pegida/

Jimmy Carter on the Corporate Corruption of Regulatory Authorities

February 4, 2016

I found this very pertinent piece from former US president, Jimmy Carter, in the collection of pieces by Hunter S. Thompson, The Great Shark Hunt (London: Picador 1980). It’s in Carter’s 1974 Law Day address to the students at Georgia University.

We had an ethics bill in the state legislature this year. Half of it passed – to require an accounting for contributions during a campaign – but the part that applied to people after the campaign failed. We couldn’t get through a requirement for revelation of payments or gifts to office-holders after they are in office.

The largest force against that ethics bill was the lawyers.

Some of you here tried to help get a consumer protection package passed without success.

The regulatory agencies in Washington are made up, not of people to regulate industries, but of representatives of the industries that are regulated. Is that fair and right and equitable? I don’t think so.

I’m only going to serve four years as governor, as you know. I think that’s enough. I enjoy it, but I think I’ve done all I can in the Governor’s office. I see the lobbyists in the State Capitol filling the halls on occasions. Good people, competent people, the most pleasant, personable, extroverted citizens of Georgia. those are the characteristics that are required for a lobbyist. They represent good folks. But I tell you that when a lobbyist goes to represent the Peanut Warehouseman’s Association of the Southeast, which I belong to, which I helped organise, they go there to represent the peanut warehouseman. They don’t go there to represent the customers of the peanut warehouseman.

When the State Chamber of Commerce lobbyists go there, they go there to represent the businessmen of Georgia. They don’t go there to represent the customers of the businessmen of Georgia.

When your own organisation is interested in some legislation there in the Capitol, they’re interested in the welfare or prerogatives or authority of the lawyers. They are not there to represent in any sort of exclusive way the client of the lawyers.

The American Medical Association and its Georgia equivalent – they represent the doctors, who are fine people. But they certainly don’t represent the patients of a doctor.

Obviously, there are some differences between the situation Carter and Thompson describe. I think we do have legislation in this country, which requires gifts to ministers and civil servants to be declared. And some of the most determined opposition to the Tories’ campaign to privatise the NHS has come from the ranks of the British Medical Association.

But the substance of what Carter said is as true today as it was when Carter said it. If you read Private Eye in the 1990s, you saw fortnight after fortnight yet more news of someone from one of the industries getting a job in the body that was set up to regulate it. And it’s gone on. Private Eye are still running stories about banks and the leading accountancy firms, who were most notorious at dodging tax sending senior staff to act as interns or advisors to the Inland Revenue and the financial regulatory authorities. Or else a former managing director or chairman of the board from one these industries him- or herself gets a place there.

As for the lobbyists, Mike over at Vox Political the other year ran many pieces describing the Tory act that was supposed to limit their influence. Except it didn’t. What it did instead was try to cut out the influence of smaller, grass roots activist groups campaigning against some injustice or piece of misgovernment, and try to limit the ability of trade unions to campaign against particular issues. The lobbyists themselves were left largely untouched. As you can expect from a government, whose annual conferences are paid for by the big corporations, and which is headed by a PR spin merchant: David Cameron himself.

Carter was right to attack the corruption of the regulatory bodies by the very corporations they were meant to be overseeing, and his remarks on the pernicious influence of the lobbyists is still very timely. It’s time to clean up politics, and get rid of them and the Tories.