Saturday, 24 July 2010

Oka, Golf Courses and Billy Two Rivers

I am always amazed at the small coincidences that occur over the course of a lifetime. Despite the fact that I know that among the myriad events that occur in the universe some events, for a particular person or penguin, will have a tenuous connection with at least one other event; in an infinite universe, it would surely be impossible for it not be so. Still I am still surprised, intrigued when it happens.

Now, back in the days when TV was in black and white only and there were still 240 pennies to the pound, there was a long forgotten phenomenon called British 'professional wrestling'. I say long forgotten because it was little akin to the kind of glitzy razzamatazz so beloved at the WWE. This was fully in keeping with the television of those far off days. Staged in little 'local' arenas, seating perhaps a few hundreds, an evening's cheap 'entertainment' could be had watching two, sometimes four, men act as though they were engaged in some kind of competitive sport. Boxing without the gloves, gladiators without the gladius*.

Then, as now, there would be good guys and bad guys and you could pretty much guess who was going to win; it was always set up before the fight. Well MG tells a story of his Gran who used to live downstairs in the two up, two down 'Victorian artisan dwelling' that was home for the first 18 years of his life, complete with no running hot water, no central heating and a 'privy' in the garden. His Gran used to religously watch the 'wrestling' every Satuday afternoon at 4:00pm and would just as religiously shout mild obscenities at the TV (Gran didn't swear or cuss) about the digusting behaviour of some of the performers, the bad guys. The same guys, week in, week out, Jackie Pallo, Steve McManus, Steve Logan (who all came from the 'rough' areas of London), cheating, 'punching', hitting the man when he was down, you know the kind of stuff, and every week his mother, on hearing voices, would go downstairs to check that one of her sisters or brothers had not come to call on their mother. This itself just goes to show what kind of dysfunctional family MG actually was bred into. After months of this, still it fails to register. It's 4:15pm, it's Saturday, of course Gran is railing at the TV again! Of course no-one would visit without calling up the stairs first.

Anyways, as a child MG too would watch the wrestling, upstairs on his parents' TV. They weren't affluent but, God, you'd better have your own TV set. Now MG, like every little boy who thinks there might be some justice in the world, would always be rooting for the 'good guys'; Mike Marino, Tibor Szakacs, Les Kellet, Catweazel and, most of all, Billy Two Rivers. Billy was perhaps the most flamboyant of wrestlers in an age when flamboyance just didn't sit very well with the Brits. Pallo had his gold lame cape but Rivers came on in full cheiftain's headdress, like Geronimo in the movies, and a full on raiding, Mohawk haircut; just a track of hair down the middle, front to back, spiked up, just like some proto punk!

Now as gimmicks go, this wasn't bad for austerity Britain and the general concensus was that he proably came from Bolton or Manchester. After all Kendo Nagasaki came from Stoke!

Now, recently I came across something called the 'Oka Crisis'. The town of Oka, in Canada, sits alongside a Mohawk 'reservation' called Kahnawake. In 1990 a dispute arose over some sacred, to the Mohawks, ground outside of Oka. It was believed by the Mohawks to be held 'in trust' by some Christian 'brotherhood' who had built a 'mission' on it but when the mission was abandoned, the Canadian government did not agree that the Mohawks had any right to the land, despite the fact it was a major burial ground for the Kahnawake people.

The crisis came when the Mayor of Oka decided to extend the 9 hole golf course that ran adjacent to the 'sacred' ground. Needless to say, the golf course was going to go right over the disputed land. Where else? After all, these were only indigenous people we were talking about, it's not like they mattered.

Anyways, the Mohawks armed themselves, set up road blocks and basically staged an occupation. It all got a little nasty when a policeman was shot when the police tried to break up the occupation and the state government called in the Federal army. Eventually, after a couple of weeks, with the army only five yards away from the barricades, it all ended 'amicably', ie bloodlessly. The Mohawks retired back to their reservation and the Mayor never got around to extending the golf course.

And one of the leaders of the Mohawk occupation? Billy Two Rivers!

Not from Bolton, after all. I wonder if the soldiers ever got to feel the 'tomahawk chop'.

* gladius - a short, Roman sword, whence is derived 'gladiator'; he (or she) who fights with a gladius.

Thursday, 22 July 2010

The Young, Vanadium and Diabetes

You know the young! Feckless, irresponsible, senseless; we've all been there. But sometimes they do things that make you proud, ay?

I was reminded of this by something that happened off the coast of South Africa the other day. How a youngster took his/her revenge for all the senseless cruelty visited on his/her brethren by generations of the thoughtless, the uncaring, the downright cruel. How one small act paid back at least a small part of the suffering, the torment, the anguish.

Yep, you guessed it, the Southern Right Whale youngster who did a fine job wrecking a pleasure boat! Now, note that the whale did not completely destroy the boat, just left it with a wrecked mast. It didn't kill anybody, did not repay wanton cruelty with more of the same. Just did enough damage to make you think twice.......maybe.

The photo is courtesy of Paloma Werner, I am sure she won't mind me using it. At last one that's not Photoshopped.

Of course, you're all saying that it was an accident. The whale didn't mean to do it. It just breached too close to the boat, pure happenstance. Now I know this was only a youngster but you're telling me that the whale couldn't see the boat? That it didn't realise the boat was in the way. No, the whale knew perfectly well what it was doing. Occasionally these gentle giants just take it into their head to put a small downpayment on the lien for all the whales (and penguins) you've managed to slaughter over the years. Who knowns, this may be the start of something.

I got an email today from a service that I used to subscribe to - basically how the US f**ked up its economy and is ruining/has ruined all those little nest eggs salted away for the soon to be retired - the email was a lengthy advert extolling the vitues of vanadium supplements in managing type 2 diabetes (late onset diabetes). Now this has to be one of the most dangerous emails I have ever received from this mob (who naturally wish to deny all responsibity for putting this out and who do not in any way endorse the product - cowards!)

Now lot of people get Type 2 diabetes when they get older. Insulin production starts to shut down or the insulin ceases to be as effective, either way there's a whole raft of stuff you can get, heart disease, blindness, kidney failure, gangerene, if you don't conrol your blood sugar levels. On the whole, insulin is not prescribed because it's like taking a bomb to get rid of the tree stump in your garden. So diet is all. The problem is, I think, that US citizens are so bad at eating properly that doctors there prescribe drugs to artifically lower blood sugar level. The problem is that the drugs are not entirely safe. Enter vanadium.

In lab tests, animal studies and cell cultures, vanadium seems to mimic insulin. Wow, you're thinking, a cure for Type 2 diabetes. Except that there have been no long term clinical trials in humans. More to the point, as far as I can tell, vanadium, like chromium, is stored cumulatively in the body. What you don't use gets salted away. What are the long term effects? No-one knows, but generally vanadium-like elements, only found in trace amounts in the body, have a tendency to be toxic in sufficient quantities. So we have a potentially toxic substance being sold to some of the most vulnerable people in the western world.

What some people will do to turn a buck!

Vanadium occurs in trace amounts in all kinds of beans, wheat, parsley etc. Eat properly and you no doubt get all the vanadium you need and probably control your diabetes as well. But no, much better to buy a quack cure and potentially let that do you in instead. Sometimes I wonder whare all that accumulated wisdom that you're all supposed to have has gone.

Clinical trails exist for a reason!

Monday, 19 July 2010

Lamguage, Conformity and universal Understanding!

Now as we all know language, whether spoken or written, is in a constant state of flux. Spoken language tends, I think, to move faster; etymologists have traditionally attributed the creation of phrases, idioms, new words to the spoken language before they first appear in print. There are some exceptions, such as portmanteau words in German or inventions, either ideas, processes or objects, which often occur in journalism, the scientific press or goverment documents before becoming, de facto, a part of the spoken language. But, I think, by and large*, the spoken word generally 'evolves' faster, although in an ever increasing volatile environment, linguistically, due to the ease with which people can communicate on a global scale, the lag is probably getting less and less with each passing decade. After all, what are twitter, facebook, wikis, if not the printed word?

The primary purpose of language is surely to communicate? I expect you will agree. After all, there is no point in asking someone to have sex with you if they then go and produce a vacuum cleaner out of the cupboard under the stairs and reply "OK!". (I'm talking 'most' people here not the freaks who think you can get a cheap 'blow job' from a Dyson. I'm not saying a Dyson is safe but what you should avoid is the 'Hoover Dustette', a 'mini vac' for the car or upholstery. The blades of the fan which create the suction are only 14-15cm away from the entrance to the nozzle! Documented cases of.....well we'll just leave at that, ay? But they exist!) So, if language is to have any purpose it must communicate an idea, a suggestion, a request etc to another individual who speaks the same language, no?

What is so remarkable about language is the humans have increasingly tried to refine the rules, words, grammar, punctuation, whether consciously or unconciously, to make the comprehension of the spoken and written word as universally comprehensible to the native language speakers as possible. Before the advent of dictionaries, Ambrose Bierce's** notwithstanding, spelling, in the written language, was notoriously idiosyncratic. Punctuation likewise chaotic. Grammar is probably a special case, as humans seem to have an inate ability to formalise the grammar in which their native language is spoken; almost as if there is a universal grammer, which however local conditions may modify it, humans instinctively know, from an incredibally early age. That "Sat on the mat the cat" is 'wrong', intrinsically. You know it means "The cat sat on the mat", you just have to work that much harder to make sense of it. And it has nothing to do with 'learning the rule' that simple sentances are constructed with the formula 'Predicate + noun(subject) + verb + Predicate + noun(object)' for transitive verbs. A three year old can do it! And not just by mimicry! And they 'know' the first example is wrong. (Try Chomsky's 'Syntactic Structures' if you don't believe me.)

So, from Ug and Glug grunting in a rudimentary fashion, we arrive at something akin to 1950's 'received English'. Now granted, a foreign (not English - and here I include the Americans; American English is a different language. In the race for the universal language, we'll see who wins, suckers!) language speaker has to 'learn the rules' of grammer, puctuation, style but they didn't for their native language, did they? A few arcane, little used consructions maybe, but, on the whole, they knew them already.

But from the 1950's onwards, and it is exponentially rising, the pace of change is accelerating so rapidly that I am increasingly of the opinion that 500 years of language 'evolution', but more importantly 'standardisation', is about to go down the toilet, l'Academie Francaise' notwithstanding. Poor education? Laziness? A desire to be different? The latter is always a good thing but when you can no longer communicate with your fellow human beings, what kind of life is that? At some point 'standardisation of language' is good. It lets you communicate with the maximum amount of people who speak the same language.

I am only writing this because of a question asked of the 'Straight Dope', required reading in my view, if only to find all of the questions 'Trivial Pursuit' got wrong! Someone asked a question which is reprinted below (verbatim):

"first of x-files and the video game are just another thing to incourage sceptics and futher more talking to any1 about it and the abduction theories they don't care and it gets me a lil' pissed off i've treid streiber and another and they don't return anything by looks the government has sold our souls to the greys and i think any concerned people about this area 51 crap is nothing compared to what evidence there is in the past are possesions of these inteligent intergalctic beings after all we where created by them why do u think that after all this time there still isn't peace in the world plus there are so many religons although we have changed hands many times --BIRDDOG21"

Do you have any idea what this means? Can any other human being have any idea what was in BIRDDOG21's mind when he wrote it? He obviously thought it made sense and, perhaps, have even liked an answer.

It's easy to pull one example out of the hat and deem it the collapse of western civilisation as we know it. But this kind of comment gets posted to stuff on the web all the time. Blame education? Well, there are some people who are born thick. But this? Either drugs, alcohol or the worst education I've ever seen. It's quite clear that this came from an American citizen (Area 51?).

And who controls the world's most powerful nuclear arsenal?

Be AFRAID. Be VERY afraid!

* By and large - comes from a nautical order to the steersman. "Sail as close to wind as you can".

** The Devil's Dictionary by Ambrose Bearce (American journalist of the the late 19th and early 20th centuries). An absolute hoot! Almost as quotable as 'The Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy'
The definition of 'Insurance' is too long to quote, but is priceless. So "Happiness" - An agreeable sensation arising from contemplating the misery of another." Cynics of the world unite, I'm with Ambrose!

Sunday, 18 July 2010

Song and dance at Auschwitz

So, does anybody have a right to sing and dance at Auschwitz?

A viral doing the rounds at the moment, or at least until YouTube pulled it, pictures an 89 year old holocaust survivor doing the conga with his relations (grandchildren?) at Auschwitz, seemingly under the entrance, you know, the gate that has 'Arbeit Macht Frei' (Work makes you free) over it, to the tune of Gloria Gaynor's 'I will survive'. The question is: was it appropriate? In bad taste?

Now I suppose that if anybody has a right to do as he/she pleases at Auschwitz, it is a holocaust survivor, more so if that was the very camp that they survived, but isn't it a little disrespectful to all those unfortunate enough not to have survived? Or their relatives, friends? It's an extremely knotty problem, don't you think? On the one hand, why shouldn't someone who lived through such an experience celebrate the fact that, 65 years on, they're still around to bear witness? On the other hand are they not guily of, at the very least, very bad taste? Perhaps even more so as the impetus for the viral's success appears to be the gusto with which neo-nazi groups were circulating the link to other like-minded sh*tbags. After all, there are enough people who want to deny that Auschwitz was ever a 'Vernichtungslager' (extermination camp) set up with the stated purpose of gassing as many Jews as possible, or at least those unfit to toil at back-breaking labour from before dawn until dusk and there are many more who are quite prepared to admit it happened but would like to repeat the exercise.

It's difficult to know why YouTube pulled the video. It claims that it was 'copyright infrinement', presumably for using 'I will survive' without permission. However that flies in the face of all the other videos that have been put on YouTube using the same backing track. I'm inclined to think that the bad taste police have been at work again and may have missed the point about the video depicting a survivor and not some neo-nazis taking the p*ss.

So on the one hand you have penguins like me who think people should be able to say and show what they like and on the other hand, you have four fingers and a thumb. OK bad joke, but it difficult to see how censoring this video, ie deleting it totally, normally they just remove the offending soundtrack, serves any purpose. YouTube may have thought it more likely to attract unsavoury comments but, again, in the light of some (most) of the comments on YouTube videos, they are unlikely to have any worse that a whole host of others.

Besides, Jews as a group have a long history of using humour to defuse the almost universal persecution they have had to endure, Mel Brooks' 'The Producers', the 'SS officer's glass eye' joke that did the rounds at Auschwitz, Seinfeld to name but a few. Shouldn't they be allowed, even encouraged? Not everyone can be Primo Levy, can they? In the end, it comes down to a personal value judgement, doesn't it?

Free speech notwithstanding, I am inclined to agree with MG who would not tell jokes about people's speech impairments, complete with 'funny voice', despite the fact that, like the 89 year old Israeli, he has a 'right' to, having suffered a similar affliction. Fine, you can do it in the comfort of your own home but posting it on the internet? Dumb!

Saturday, 17 July 2010

Gride, Crabs and Bribes

You know the sound you get when you scrape YOUR fingernails (not mine, which are non existent) down a blackboard? How it fair puts your teeth (not mine, I don't have any) on edge? One of those sounds that gets really on your wick. Like 'Kagagoogoo' or a nuclear detonation just above your head? But not quite like them because 'Kagagoogoo' succinctly sums up that nauseating sound and 'boom' very loudly will quite suffice for a 10 megaton hydrogen bomb; but 'the sound of fingernails scraping down a blackboard' just doesn't have the same brevity, the same succinctness, does it? It's merely a description and a long winded one at that. Well, fear not! I have the perfect word. Archaic but if enough people start using it again it will re-enter the modern-day lexicon. Become fashionable. The 'in' word. The word is 'gride'. So start using it and reinvent the language!

"Sir, will you please stop griding and put on some Kagagoogoo! Your equations are getting on my t*ts"

Look it up if you don't believe me. And shame on you if you don't believe me! Would I lie to you? Invent stories just for fun? Am I not a penguin? Is the Pope catholic? Does Monica Lewinski smoke cigars?

Talking of ML, did anyone do a DNA test of the dress? I mean, was it really Bill's? After all, with little danger of impeachment, Bill might just have admitted it to avoid Hilary accusing him of impotence these past ten years. Mind you, you'd be impotent if all you had to look forward to was getting into bed, bath, bathroom floor, back seat of the car, airplane toilet, hot air balloon with Hilary. About as much sex appeal as a horseshoe crab.........and that is being unfair to horseshoe crabs. Which, incidentally, I have always found to be mildly erotic in a 'Botticelli's Venus' kind of way.

Which leads me nicely on to the topic of day! Would it be better, and cheaper, to bribe the other side to just put a sock in it rather than fight a war? I was drawn to this realisation by an article in the 'Straight Dope', a service provided to people who have more time on their hands than I do and who insist on asking ever more silly questions. (It started out as a newspaper column, what doesn't, and has now taken over America!).

Now the SD used the Vietnam war as an illustration and, to be frank, I can't be arsed to do the research about the Second World War, which would be the real killer (oh, I know it was). Maybe, one day. So we'll just stick to Vietnam.

Now from the cursory research I've done, the figures for cost etc pretty much pan out give or take a few billion dollars so we'll let those figures speak for themselves. The cost of the war was $140 bn dollar over a ten year period. The population of Vietnam was approximately 40 million at the mid-point of the war. So that equates to about $3,500 per capita per year for the duration of the war. Average earnings for the Vietnamese per year, about $120.

Now, here's where I'd like to issue with the Straight Dope's analysis.

One. You can't include the South Vietmanese in the equation. They could already count on shedloads of US dollars to prop up a corrupt government, see Israel. And nobody wants a war, do they? Especially if you might get shot at....or bombed.....or napalmed. So, tentatively that doubles the pay off to the North Vietnamese to $7,000 per year.

Two. Vietnamese adults have children. Therefore lets argue that 1/4 of the population is below 18. This then gives a figure of $9,300 per year for every adult for 10 years.

A couple could cream $18,600 per year for ten years. Or $186,000 lump sum. Invested at a nominal 5% per annum, this would garner around $9,300 per year WITHOUT depleting the capital. There's a lot of difference between $120 and $9,300, isn't there? That's a 90 fold increase. Would you avoid a war for that?

So why isn't the bribe more common? In fact, it seldom appears at all although it makes sound economic sense.

Quite simple, really. The economic costs don't ever tell the whole story. Politics rears it's ugly head, always. Not counting the advantages to the American political system from dissing on the 'commies', you get the added bonus of the appearence of econimic prosperity due to surge in profits of armanents companies, to name but one beneficiary. The problem is that the 'taxpayer', you, is just building debt that YOU will one day have to pay off through increased taxation. Nice game, if you can play it.

And think of the lives it would save. No deaths, no maimings, no lives ruined because of amputations, napalm. No feet blown off through land mines; no disfigurements due to agent orange; no vets in wheelchairs; no vet alcoholics.

I don't understand why you keep electing these bozos to run countries!

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Life, Aliveness and Monk

So, I promised you 'alive'. What it is to be alive? How do we know that something is alive? What separates organic from inorganic? Are you well stocked with margueritas?

Now it isn't such a dumb question really. We all know that a tree, an insect, a cat is alive, but how we can 'know', not just believe it be so? Do we have some sixth sense. I know I'm alive so therefore I recognise 'aliveness' because it's an integral part of me and so I recognise it in the same way I recognise my own mother. (We won't get into the question of how I know I'm alive, it's a self defeating proposition if I have any doubt about that and the arguments are going to be pretty short, I think. So we'll just take it as read.)

Now I think most people would answer the question of 'aliveness' by pointing to DNA, assuming they know about DNA. If it's got DNA within it, it's alive in some basic sense. But how do we know it's got DNA in it? In most cases we don't, at least empiracally. We derive our knowledge from books, the internet, somebody else's research. We believe what we are told. But doesn't our certainty extend beyond this, beyond book learning, beyond experiments written up in obscure journals that none of us read? I KNOW my fellow penguins are alive and you know that your partner, children, cat, dog, the damn crane fly that won't get off the wall are alive. But how?

They grow, reproduce, perform acts that seem to have purpose. They eat, have sex (sometimes :), they produce waste. Is a river alive? It seems to have purpose, it carves out ever-deepening, widening channels; it eats, mainly rocks; bar a few exceptions it flows to the sea; sometimes it reproduces; it changes its environment. And yet we only attribute life to its inhabitants, some but not all, of its constituent parts, not to the river itself.

But are we any nearer to defining life? After all, the vehicles that we deem to be alive, our bodies; are they in any way different? A motley collection of mindless cells, different to be sure, but still a motley crew of willing helpers, all working to the common good, our common good, but essentially as lifeless as the water in the river. What is it about the emergent phenomena which makes a simple and not so simple collection of cells alive?

Is a virus alive?I suspect most people, and penguins, would say yes. But is it? It certainly has an effect but it's even more mindless than a liver cell. The only way it can survive and reproduce is by attacking and inhabiting a 'proper' cell otherwise it just strands of DNA and RNA, the simplest parasite we know. Do you still think it alive when it exhibits no vestige of life as we think we recognise it? If it weren't for its ability to hijack our cells we might give it no more chance of 'aliveness' than table salt.

Perhaps Lovelock has it right after all. Perhaps we need to think of the God forsaken rock we all inhabit as alive. Perhaps then the distinction between what we see as life and the so-called inorganic processes which fuel or world would start to blur, smudge, vanish into so much mist that we would no longer see ourselves as separate and merely a part of an all encompassing whole.

Since we talking about life, you try telling me that this manic depressive monkey is not alive!

Monday, 5 July 2010

God, Booze and those damned bubbles

One of the joys of 'enforced' idleness is the plentiful opportunities to garner little snippets of trivia. Information which couldn't be more useless (and meaningless) other than to gain a reputation as someone you do not want to play 'Trivial Pursuit' with.

I was reading about computational fluid dynamics (CFD) the other day. (Yes, I know, I have some weird interests) Now CFD is way of simulating fluid dynamics using software and a computer which saves all the hassle in trying to set up experiments with moving liquids without the inevitable "I've got it all down the front of my trousers" moment, which can be acutely embarassing especially when going on a blind date after work.

So what piece of research was I reading up on? How to deliver water more efficiently to drought-ridden villages in Africa? How to make propellors that were more fuel efficient? How does liquid helium creep UP the sides of containers? No! Why do bubbles in a pint of Guinness go down instead of up!

Now, it has to be said, that this has been a major issue for Guinness drinkers for centuries, especially after five or six pints of the stuff. Is it all an illusion brought on by copious quantities of alcohol? After all, bubbles are formed of gas which is lighter then stout and so all the bubbles should rise to the top, yes? Well most of them do, but in fact the smallest bubbles do descend, sort of. And it's not an optical illusion. So what is happening?

Well, thanks to the wonders of computational fluid dynamics all can be revealed. The smallest bubbles in the centre of the glass do, as predicted, attempt to work their way up to the top to join their compadres in the 'head', shamrock or no shamrock. However, in floating to the surface they 'drag' liquid molecules in their wake. Now this liquid has 'nowhere' to go, there's liquid above. So eventually the liquid starts to descend again, this time dragging the bubbles in THEIR wake. And so it goes on. Now at least the mystery of the 'lava lamp' beer is solved and we can all sleep more soundly as a result. What we owe science, ay?

(In case you're interested, the paper is here.)

Talking (writing) about Guinness, pubs, copious quantities of alcohol got me thinking. Why do conversations in a bar usually go through a quite clearly defined routine? For the first hour or so the only topics of conversation are sport (if you're male) and clothes/handbags/shoes (if you're female). After two or three drinks, the topics are largely centred around how 'hot' is the guy/woman sitting 'over there' which usually leads to ribald discussions about how you once had three-in-a-bed (usually involving the cat or the dog - we're not getting into the gerbil, OK?) which then leads to ever more smutty jokes about a very limited number of bodily functions. At some stage, the supply of 'fart' jokes runs out and after six or seven drinks, the conversation turns to: "Do I exist?", "Do you exist?", "Is there a God?", "Whose round is it?".

Now it's strange, don't you think? Questions that have taxed the minds of the greatest thinkers down the ages, Plato, Socrates, Descartes, Leibnitz, Hobbs, Lockes et al should become the preferred topic of conversation of the great unwashed largely incapacitated, physically and mentally, by the 'demon drink'? It does seem odd. Even if your booze-addled brain did come up with the definitive proof that God does/does not exist, a flash of insight to equal E=m(cXc), you're not going to remember it tomorrow, are you? It will vanish in a puff of dying and dead brain cells! It will be no more remembered than the fact that you 'mooned' the barmaid just prior to getting forcibly ejected by the bouncers. So why bother? Why not save that conversation for when you are sober, clear thinking, rational?

Perhaps it is mostly to do with the fact that everyone thinks, after a jar or two, that they really can compete with Plato, Russell, Nikki Lauda, Dennis Bergkamp, Michael Jordan, Iman, Claudia Schiffer, Marie Curie, Mother Theresa? Perhaps that's why God invented booze. Otherwise you'd be drowning in a sea of your own inadequacies!

Tomorrow we'll talk about life and how you know something is alive. Better start getting stoked up on the margheritas!

Saturday, 3 July 2010

Er, Onan and a rather dubious casserole

Now, let's be quite blunt here. Human beings are a very weird sort of species, no? You foul up the planet, drop bombs everywhere, crash planes into the sides of buildings, gas six million people whose only crime appears to be believing the Torah is a good idea and you shouldn't work on a Saturday and all you can say, individually, is, "It's not my fault, guv! It's those other guys!

Now given that you're probably the worst thing that's happened to the planet since it first coelesced out of the primeval dust cloud, a remnant of the last supernova God forgot about, the enormous piles of brontosaur poodoo notwithstanding, you have some strange habits, I think. Now, quite reasonably, it seems to you, you have this awfully widespread view that cannabalism is not a very good idea. Now quite why this should be, defeats me. It seems such a good idea on the face of it. You are tasty, well sharks, lions, tigers etc seem to think so, and once you're dead, you're dead, so why not pack some of that spare protein instead of just incinerating it? Could cure an awful lot of the famine issues you have. (I bet you're all going 'eugh' right now) But seriously, why not? There are real evolutionary arguments for the incest taboo (just look at the UK's Royal Family) but why cannabalism? Oh well, I guess you're just squeemish!

I came across something the other day (prepare for another 'eugh' moment here) which made me think about 'eating people'. A recipe for 'placenta casserole'. No, really, no joke, sans blague! How to derive the maximum amount of bonding with your new born child, eat the placenta! True, this is not uncommon among non-human mammals, it is after all protein, but why on earth, with all the strictures placed upon you by culture, by religion, peer pressure to avoid cannabalism would you want to eat yourself? And invite your best friends around to join you? Apparently it's the only meat a vegetarian will eat, no animal was killed to provide it. Is this all not just a little weird?

Now after the joys of placenta casserole and........ polenta? Chips? Brown rice?, I decided that I needed to take my mind off it with a little light reading. So, quite naturally, I picked up my King James'. I am always up for a bit of smiting, it truth be known, and you don't get much more of a smiteamaniac than the Old Testament God. To be fair, I'm surprised that there were any Israelites left after God had finished with his smiting! Well, purely by chance (honest) I came across what must be worst job (best job) of character assassination* in all of Christendom. Onan!

Now we've all heard of the 'sin of Onan'. The 'sin', beloved of all adolescent males everywhere. The 'sin' of racked-up testosterone levels and no outlet. The 'sin' of sleeping with your hands under the bedclothes, not on top of them. Since the days of the early Church Fathers, Onan has always been held up as an example of what happens when you 'spill your seed on the ground' (God did smite him, mightily!) and therefore, unless you wanted to be smitten mightily, you better lay off 'spanking the monkey'!

Now this is all well and good if you believe that it makes you go blind; makes you sterile; causes feeblemindedness, insanity (well that explains a lot about MG that is otherwise unexplainable); brings you out in a rash or worse still, causes your willy to drop off, but ONAN DID NOT DO THIS! Onan was NOT playing the rattleshake snake in the wee small hours in his tent. Onan was practising BIRTH CONTROL! That's why he was smitten!

For those of you ignorant of the story, Onan's brother Er (his parents could not think what to name him, so just called him 'Er', they always wanted a girl) died childless and as was custom at the time, Onan got saddled with Er's wife, Tamar. Now because Er had not fulfilled his manly obligation to impregnate Tamar, it fell to Onan to finish things off. (We all have a brother like that, ay?) Now, Er's death was a bit of surprise to Onan and he certainly didn't expect to be prodding his sister-in-law with the beef bayonet anytime soon. More importantly, he was fagged if he was going to have any more mewling brats hanging around, spongeing off him, pooping in the dishes and throwing up all over the curtains.

So, Onan went to see his local 'Family Planning Clinic and, in the absence of condoms, IUDs, Dutch Caps, vasectomies and the Pill, got pretty short shrift; all they offered him was the rythmn method, which is all well and good except Onan had about as much rythmn as a one legged, white boy trying to do M C Hammer to Basement Jaxx, NONE.

So what was left? Coitus interruptus. Quod erat demonstrandum!

So, next time you castigate your adolescent son and threaten to tie his hands behind his back if he doesn't stop commiting the 'sin of Onan', just remember, he would dearly love the chance of even a merest glimpse of an opportunity to do as Onan did!

Just in case you think I'm making all this up, the relevant passage is below. How would you read it? :) Bit tough on Judah, if you ask me. Far too much smiting going on in that family. Must have sorely tried the faith, I reckon. Like piles.

"Judah got a wife for Er, his first-born; her name was Tamar. But Er, Judah's first born, was displeasing to the Lord and the Lord took his life. Then Judah said to Onan, "Join with your brother's wife and do your duty by her as a brother-in-law, and provide offspring for your brother." But Onan, knowing that the seed would not count as his, let it go to waste whenever he joined with his brother's wife, so as not to provide offspring for his brother. What he did was displeasing to the Lord, and He took his life also. "

* assassination - Interestingly enough - always happy to educate, instruct, enlighten - this comes from the Arabic, 'hashishim'. And yes, you got the 'root' of the word spot on. So, if you want to be Carlos the Jackal, Lee Harvey Oswald or Claus von Stauffenberg, you gotta get yourself some SERIOUS WEED, man!

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

A Dog's life

I got an email from MG the other day. While the bulk of the email was taken up with a long joke about what a domestic dog would ask God, the real reason, tucked behind and beneath the aforementioned story, was to celebrtae the fact that Mugwump (the cat) had for the first time, in two years, leapt onto his lap! And let himself be 'petted'. It's nice to know that finally the 'crazy' cat feels comfortable enough not to see MG as a wild, homicidal maniac, intent on mayhem and slaughter.

Ah bless!

So here's the joke. I could not resist the temptation to play 'God'!

Dear God:Is it on purpose our names are the same, only reversed?
GOD: So you’re called HEWHAY now already?

Dear God:Why do humans smell the flowers, but seldom, if ever, smell one another?
GOD: They do, all the time; just not in the park

Dear God:When we get to heaven, can we sit on your couch? Or is it still the same old story?
GOD: Just wait for me to get the blanket over the seat. And one at a time!

Dear God:Why are there cars named after the jaguar, the cougar, the mustang, the colt, the stingray, and the rabbit, but not ONE named for a Dog? How often do you see a cougar riding around? We do love a nice ride! Would it be so hard to rename the 'Chrysler Eagle', the 'Chrysler Beagle'?
GOD: Look. I named a whole car manufacturer after you, ‘Rover’. Is it my fault they went bust?

Dear God:If a Dog barks his head off in the forest and no human hears him, is he still a bad Dog?
GOD: No, he’s only a bad dog if he wakes his master, or the neighbours or his master’s friend who’s passed out on the sofa.

Dear God: We Dogs can understand human verbal instructions, hand signals, whistles, horns, clickers, beepers, scent ID's, electromagnetic energy fields, and Frisbee flight paths. What do humans understand?
GOD: Hurting and killing each other. Be content, little one. You are well off out of that!

Dear God:More meatballs, less spaghetti, please.
GOD: You need your carbohydrate as well as your protein. A balanced diet is the key to long life.

Dear God:Are there mailmen in Heaven? If there are, will I have to apologize?
GOD: No, there are mailmen angels here just so as you can chase them. This is heaven, remember?

Dear God:Let me give you a list of just some of the things I must remember to be a good Dog:

I will not eat the cats' food before they eat it or after they throw it up.
GOD: I invented recycling before anyone else. Recycling is not a sin. The cat doesn’t want it? Recycle!

I will not roll on dead seagulls, fish, crabs, etc., just because I like the way they smell.
GOD: Your owner likes to roll on Sadie Smith because he likes the way she smells. Don’t worry about it, keep rolling!

The Litter Box is not a cookie jar.
GOD: I’ve told you before! Recycle! Recycle!

The sofa is not a 'face towel'.
GOD: No, the face towel is. Or the carpet, your master’s trousers, the duvet. But at a pinch, if none of the above is available, the sofa is kosher.

The garbage collector is not stealing our stuff.
GOD: No, but he might be. So chase him, you can never be too careful.

I will not play tug-of-war with Dad's underwear when he's on the toilet.
GOD: Why not? It’s the only laugh I get round here!

Sticking my nose into someone's crotch is an unacceptable way of saying ‘hello'.
GOD: Well, if it’s good enough for your master and Sadie Smith, it’s good enough for you!

I don't need to suddenly stand straight up when I'm under the coffee table.
GOD: I endowed you with intelligence. I did not make you Einstein. We are all entitled to a mistake once and a while. (Except me, of course).

I must shake the rainwater out of my fur before entering the house – not after.
GOD: Rainwater is the purest water there is, I know I made it. Why wouldn’t your master want to clean his walls, furniture, carpets with it?

I will not come in from outside and immediately drag my butt.
GOD: I invented carpet with that express intention. I realised afterwards that grass has a tendency to lodge small blades of itself up your ass.

I will not sit in the middle of the living room and lick my crotch.
GOD: Humans don’t like the fact that you can (lick your crotch) when they can’t, so they get jealous. Best to do it behind the sofa to avoid antagonising them.

The cat is not a 'squeaky toy' so when I play with him and he makes that noise, it's usually not a good thing.
GOD: Don’t worry. The time to worry is when the cat get its claws out and goes for your eyes.

PS. Dear God: When I get to Heaven may I have my testicles back?
GOD: Not only will you get your testicles back, I’ll castrate your owner!

Don't you just like playing God?

Saturday, 12 June 2010

Final score: Dalila Hotspurs 5, Patels United 0

I never cease to be amazed about the surprises people have in store for you. You want to believe that they can accomplish something but deep down there is always this nagging doubt that somehow they might not be up to it, however much you might like them to be.

A e-chum of mine was dismissed from her job just before Christmas last year, unfairly in the view of just about everyone who was not the employer. Now I'll say this for Queen Elizabeth II's realm, they have some shit-hot legislation to protect workers, the great unwashed to me and you, from the money grubbing, ruthless capitalists, the fur balls of the western world to me and you. All kinds of laws to stop the employer from shafting you at every turn. If you don't play by the rules you get punished financially! While no system is perfect, the protection afforded to the wage-slave in the UK (and elsewhere in Europe) is probably second to none. It strikes an almost perfect balance between the demands of the employers for unrestrained exploitation and the claims of the working masses for justice and fairness.

As a result of all this beautiful legislation, my e-chum brought a claim to an Employment Tribunal (a court specially set up to hear employment disputes) for unfair dismissal. Now these things are exactly the same as a conventional court of law. There is a judge, plus two pseudo-magistrates, not legally qualified, and the whole business is conducted as though it was a court sitting in a murder trial. Witnesses have to take on oath, parties are represented, normally, by qualified lawyers and the rule of law always prevails. Prove your case beyond a reasonable doubt. The only difference is there's no jury, more of the great unwashed to you and me.

Well, these things, like all legal cases, take a long time to come up on the calendar. Three days ago, my e-chum's finally came up. Scheduled to last two days.

As any lawyer knows, the preparation for a case takes an inordinate amount of time. Every 'i' dotted, every 't' crossed, papers exchaged, papers buried on soft peat for three months, witness signatures, statements lost, statements recycled as firelighters, more signatures, the usual business. Now my e-chum had lots of help from a paralegal in the preparation, exchange and so forth but turns up on the day with NO legal representation!


Are you crazy? Your opponents have legal representation! This is like trying to fight Mike Tyson with one hand tied behind your back! Running the 100m hurdles with one leg tied to your back. Are you serious? The solicitor for the other side has done this before. You haven't! And to boot, none of your witnesses have either! This is a legal process and all that it entails! Not a cosy little meeting between friends! (MG just put a bag over his head at the start of proceedings , he was a witness, so he didn't have to watch)

Round (day) 1 - the respondents, capitalist sh*tbags to you and me, are up first. Never has the phrase 'economical with the truth' been more apposite! I'd be less generous but I might wind up in court. It was like listening to the synoptic gospels, you know how Matthew, Mark and Luke all sound the same, tell the same story, however unlikely, and you get the impression only John might actually have been there. Well it was just like that, only John wasn't there!

Now to be fair, I don't think the judge was going out of way to favour the employer, quite the contrary, but there's only so much you can do when you are bound by due process. After all, the judge must make sure the niceties are observed and there were a few mild 'you can't do this, that and the other' - cue smug solicitor from the other side beaming all over his face. Anyways, apparently MG took the bag off near the end and the future certainly wasn't looking 'bright', wasn't looking 'orange' and the next day, my e-chum has to give evidence.

Round (day) 2 - I don't what know happened overnight between round 1 and 2 but something did. Maybe a little too much alcohol, maybe the multiple orgasm to end all multiple orgasms, maybe a hot bath and a decent nights sleep, maybe God had a quiet word, a little God-like moral support; whatever, it worked! Gone was the hesitation, the 'fumbling'; to be replaced by a sense of purpose, of righteousness! Calm, collected in the face of provocation (all the witnesses were; do you like be called a liar to your face just because you're somebody's friend), she handled it all with aplomb, water off a ducks back! The other side played every trick in the book, every trick that gets lawyers a bad name. Every trick that makes anyone engaged in the legal profession seem like an organism only slightly higher in complexity that an amoeba (with virus-like qualities). Still that's what they're paid for, ay? It's an adversarial system, after all.

Round 3 (day 2) - Summing up. A few short paragraphs to precis the case from each side. Put it all in focus for the tribunal. The claimant, the great unwashed to you and me, gets to go first, the respondents, f**king crooks to me and you, get to go last.

So what does the judge do? Reverses the order! He knows as well as we all do, she hasn't got a 'summing up' prepared, not in any real way, why would she; how could she? The solicitor agrees. Maybe he knew deep down what the real, objective 'truth' was and that's why he agreed. I don't know, but, for his sake, I'd like to think so. Perhaps there's hope for us all!

He gets near the end and the judge breaks for lunch! The solicitor has raised something that has to be addressed, in law.

There's 45 minutes over lunch to refute the main thrust of his argument, first raised in his summation. Otherwise, it's thrown out on a legal technicality.

Over lunch, the poor hapless Indians, surrounded by the calvary, manage to cobble together a defence (with the help of two phone calls to a paralegal). The solicitor for the other side smiled when it was read out - 'OK you win, that was my best shot' (Perhaps he didn't think anyone would notice).

Well, she won! Although she was held to be half responsible, she had unilaterally done something to jeopardice the business, which was kind of indefensible :), she won!

I don't know what happened between days one and two. From an 'embarrassment' to a 'winner', it's hard to conceive; but it seems to me that a lawyer could not have done any better, in terms of the final result.

You see, people are full of surprises

I don't think I could have gone against representation without being represented myself. I would have been too scared. To place so much faith in yourself (and your friends) sends a message to us all.

If only we will hear it!

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Shopping scams

I had an email from MG yesterday. With a dire warning for shoppers in the UK:

"Latest Shopping Scam
This is serious. Please BEWARE!

Over the last month I became a victim of a clever 'Eastern European' scam while out shopping.

Simply dropping into Sainsbury's for a bit of shopping has turned out to be quite traumatic. Don't be naive enough to think it couldn't happen to you or your friends. Here's how the scam works:

Two seriously good-looking voluptuous 20-21 year-old girls come over to your car as you are packing your shopping into the boot. They both start cleaning your windscreen. Their large firm young breasts almost falling out of their skimpy T-shirts. It's impossible not to look, especially with all the wet weather we’ve been having.

When you thank them and offer them a tip, they'll say 'No' and instead ask you for a lift to another store. You agree and they both get in the backseat.

On the way, they start undressing, and both get completely naked. Then, when you pull over to remonstrate, one of them climbs over into the front seat and starts crawling all over your lap, kissing you, touching you intimately, and thrusting herself against you, while the other one steals your wallet!

I had my wallet stolen May 4th, 9th, 10th, twice on the 15th, 17th, 20th, 24th, and 29th. Also June 1st, 4th, twice yesterday and very likely again this coming weekend.

P.S. Aldi have wallets on sale for £1.99 each but Lidl are £1.75 and look better."

I just thought I'd pass this along as a public service :)

Sunday, 23 May 2010

There's no title...Oh, what the f**k!

You have to feel sorry for Queen Elizabeth II, don't you? That's the monarch not the ocean going ship. She spends her whole life dedicating herself to her job. Trying to do her best at being a queen and while there may be many compensations, obscene wealth not being the least, I would be loth to give up everything that I might enjoy in a desperate, last gasp, attenpt to save the UK's constitutional monarchy. Out with the girls after one too many Bacardi Breezers, the occasional line of coke in some swanky restaurant's toilets, the occasional quickie up against the wall of the palace with a 'bit of rough', burning down a public building.

Disagree with the monarchy or not, no-one can doubt Elizabeth's committment to the job. And yet she is surrounded by the most stupid, imbecilic individuals, not to mention an intrusive press, that she must wish that she had been born in earlier times; the Victorian era perhaps? When the Royals knew how to be 'discrete', circumspect. When she would not be surrounded by scandal, embarrassment and out and out idiocy at every step of the way.

Now undoubtedly society has moved on, for better or worse, but what the poor old dear has had to put up with. Her philandering husband (hearsay and rumour I hasten to add, I'm not getting sued over this - no-one dared print it in the 70's); her idiot of a son and a marriage made in hell; her other idiot of a son and a marriage made in another kind of hell; her ex-daughter in law in bed with the son of the 'fugger' (how did that wanker get control of Harrods? At least there are no worries on that score now!); her doubly idiot of a son and his ludicrous affair with someone else's wife, sort of. How she must long for the power of her namesake.

And now Fergie rears her ugly money-grubbing head again. When will that women ever learn? Not ever, probably, too stupid; but how can you get caught in a sting like that? On tape? £500,000 for 'access' to Andrew (an unpaid trade envoy). I may be old-fashioned but, when you buy into that whole 'Royal Family' thing and all that it brings with it, wealth, fame, prestige. does that not give you certain 'obligations'. Like you maybe 'owe' something? Like you don't embarrass them too much? Like you don't drag the family into mud for a financial gain? Your financial gain?

Now, of course, Fergie had the perfect mentor, Lady Diana Spencer, but I still find it amazing that someone would stoop so low without any consideration for the position which she originally put herself in by marrying into the family. Her 'publicist', read 'Damage Limitation Expert', said she was 'naive'. Well, that doesn't begin to describe it.

It is only the general 'love' the Brits have for the actual person that is the Queen that sustains the monarchy. When she is dead, the whole edifice will collapse within twenty years and the Brits will have a republic, a president. Why? Because the people around her never accepted that 'with great power comes great responsibilty' (to quote Uncle Ben. No, not the rice, Peter Parker's, Spiderman's, Uncle Ben). They're too thick to understand that they're queering their own patch! And it damn well serves them right! But the rest? Lord only knows!

You can say what you like about constitutional monarchy but if it stops people like Rayguns, Dubya, Mitterand, Wilson, Putin from totally controlling nations, then I'm all for it! But only when you have a monarch like the Brits have got right now. Any of the other wankers, and it's pushing a 'handcart to hell'!

Saturday, 22 May 2010

Atlantic triangular trade and the dumbing down of our children.

Sometimes it is difficult to understand why people purposely shoot themselves in the foot. Obviously, they just might be as stupid as we naturally think they are but I rarely believe that; humans are simply too devious, too prone to deception, to make me think that there is not some ulterior motive for wanting to look as crassly idiotic as possible.

Take Texas' attempt to have the African slave trade re-branded as the 'Atlantic triangular trade' in school textbooks. On the face of it, it seems ludicrous to suggest it. I mean, what else do you call taking people from one place, incarcerating them against their will, selling them for profit and denying them all rights to which residents of a place might believe appropriate. What do you call being treated as one more possession in a bag of goodies that includes your washing machine, your cows, your house, if not slavery? And if you agree with that, what's wrong about referring to commerce, trafficking, in human beings for profit as the 'slave trade'. Why would you want to call it something else just for the sake of it?

After all, the people who engaged in it had different values (thankfully not values to which people now, generally subscribe). As far as they were concerned, they were doing nothing wrong. We might have a more enlightened attitude towards the dignity of man, all men and women, than they had but this doesn't seem to be much of reason to change the terminology, does it?

And while we're on the subject whatever happened to genocide as the perfectly good word to describe the attempted annihilation of a group of people on 'racial' grounds? When did this start to get supplanted by 'ethnic cleansing'?

Obfuscation. Not now, not in the near future. But eventually, if you hold onto power long enough. If Hitler had won, how long would it have taken for 'die Endloesung dem Judenproblem' to have become just that. A solution to a 'problem'. No longer the systematic, bestial destruction of European Jewry. How long before Texas schoolchildren forget the horrors of the slave trade because of the words used to describe it? Surely not in our lifetimes? Perhaps not. But that's not its purpose. Its true purpose is to to deflect attention away from the wider issues of what it's wise to teach the children.

For a nation built on the foundations of a desire for religious tolerance, a nation built on the principles of no taxation without representation, a nation built on the principles of government of the people, by the people, for the people, it seems a strange route to take. This desire to teach half truths to the children; give them little or no opportunity to draw their conclusions, make their own judgements. To talk of redressing the balance; that education needs to address the 'over-liberalisation' of school curricula misses the point entirely.

Children do not grow up to be responsible, rounded human beings, capable of independent thought, whether for good or evil, by being taught in a conservative manner. To teach such state sanctioned garbage only increases the risk that the adult that these children become will be twisted betond repair. Not as wishy-washy, do good, liberals but as thinking human beings!

There is a reason why the education of the young has been transformed in the last fifty years. It's because previous methods DID NOT WORK! We should have trust in our offspring; that they will make 'good' decisions, irrespective of the 'facts' we teach them.

Because we taught them to think!

Saturday, 8 May 2010

Brown, Cameron and Clegg - fill the stage with flags!

You didn't think I wasn't going to comment on the UK's General Election now, did you?

So, we got a hung parliament. No surprise there then! It's been predicted for weeks especially as the Conservatives made little or no effort to sway the voters who turned to Mrs Thatcher in the eighties and who returned to the Labour fold in the nineties. As a consequence, Labour managed to hold it's own quite well, given the economic abyss that is now staring the Brits in the face. When all's said and done, Margaret Thatcher has probably done more to undermine support for a political party in the long term that any individual over the last 100 years. Given the see-saw nature of the British electoral system, the Tories should have romped it!

So what next? The UK simply joins Europe! Nearly every country in Europe has a minority or coalition Government. Only France, Greece and I think Italy have parliamentary majorities for a single party and they scarce hold up any kudos for a 'single' party mandate to govern. Especially Greece! The only reason that the Brits are so frightened of the notion is that, outside wartime, the only time they tried it was in 1974 and it collapsed and ushered in the 5 years of the Callaghan government and the so-called 'winter of discontent' and thence Margaret Thatcher.

Now, quite clearly, the Lib Dems hold the balance of power, although in the case of Gordon Brown and the Labour Party the issue is complicated because they would need, probably, the nationalist parties in addition to the Lib Dems to actually get a working majority and, as a consequence, brokering a deal will be much trickier. Cameron's job is much easier; he only has to get one 'bloc' on side not four (or more).

However, irrespective of who forms a Government, it raises the ugly spectre of a deal done behind closed doors and the voters don't get what they asked for. It's all very well pundits choosing to see the electorate as one amorphous mass but it isn't like that. The electorate have not voted for a change in the system (except those who voted Lib Dem). The electorate are composed of individual voters and whatever their motivation for voting the way they did, and the motivations are many, each individual voted for the party that the deemed would best serve their interest; or in the case of the altruistic, society's interests.

Amidst all the talk of 'National Interest' (and to quote Ricky Tomlinson, 'My ARSE!'), the leaders of both the main political parties are acting out of pure self interest. They both know the Lib Dems want proportional representation (PR), again out of self interest, not because it is 'fairer', and they both know that will almost certainly stymie the possibility of a majority government for either of the two main parties. All Cameron and Brown can do now is to effect some kind of 'damage limitation' which postpones the inevitable; the Lib Dems get too many votes (around 20-25% most times). Once they have any kind of influence, they will seek to change the system in such a way as to favour themselves and in effect become the power brokers in successive goverments. To me, that sounds inherently dangerous and inherently undemocratic.

While the system as it stands today can scarcely be described as fair, a party which polls around a quarter of the votes only secures representation in about 7.5% of the seats in the commons, would proportional representation be any fairer? After all, if talks break down between the Conservative and the Lib Dems, the UK could still find itself with ostensibly a Labour Government which the electorate, it would seem to me, don't want; at least they don't want a Government led by Gordon Brown! The real danger of PR, to my eyes, is that nothing is overt and everything is covert! It's how deals are done; after the event, not before! And not subject to the wishes of the electorate.

I'm happy for PR to work if everybody is up front on 'coalitions' before the election so voters can see what effect their vote may have on the manifestos of each party, how much they will be 'watered down', but a system which allies parties 'post hoc' is, I think, less fair than the one the Brits have now!

One of the main 'problems' the Brits have is that, unlike most 'Western-style' democracies, they do not have an elected President, they have a constitutional monarchy. This, to my mind, makes a fundamental difference to the way in which PR might work. If you elect a President, you are in effect electing that President's programme. It might be watered down by a senate or some kind of 'Parliamentary body' but 'Presidential Veto' usually puts paid to any 'rebellion' :) However the Brits have a system whereby the electorate as a whole to do not elect the leader, the Prime Minister, they elect 'party candidates', senators, deputes etc but by and large, irrespective of might be said, the Prime Minister effectively commands the power of a President; it is. after all. a 'constitutional' monarchy. The Queen, or King, has the power of veto, he or she doesn't sign the bill, but to exercise it in 99.99% of cases would destroy the Monarchy.

As long as the current system remains, and there are sound reasons in support of a constitutional monarchy, PR would be less fair, involve machinations on a truly Machiavellian level and would do the British people no good in even the medium term.

In the end, the last people you should vote for in an election are the people that are standing. By the very act of standing, they disqualify themselves as being fit to run a country, a society. Those who don't stand, seek to make a difference to society by persuasion, by dialogue, by discussion. Those who stand, seek to impose their will, their decisions, hopefully by being the largest 'bloc', and thereby in a position to do so.

All of this does not take into account that value of the 'local Member of Parliament' which the Brits have an enormous affinity for. No one can doubt the value of this and the sincerity of what lies behind it, however these people, whether they like it or no, are at the mercy of their party! They will ultimately 'toe the line' whether in Westminster or elsewhere. To do otherwise would risk 'deselection'!

Spare a thought, and a prayer if that is your way, for Meredith Kercher; brutally murdered. Maybe one day, I will understand human beings, what makes you do the things that you do, believe what you believe; but I very much doubt it. A penguin's brain is not large enough to encompass all that you have done; and sadly all that you will do!

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Winos, Junkies, Avatars and Jeff Healey

I have decided. No apologies. No explanations. Nothing. We'll just pick up where we left off. OK?

Just like I haven't been away, stuffing my face on fish, fish and more fish......and squid! Oh, those tentacles feel so good when they go down!

Went to see 'Avatar' yesterday. The station had got their copy earlier in the week. Yes, I know I am a little behind the times but hell, I've been out at sea these past months. No dvds in the ocean! So was it worth the wait? Later! I said later!

First I'd like to examine the nature of comedy. :) It's said that all great comedians have to be actors; and good ones at that. I am inclined to agree with the majority view. Think about it! Telling a gag is one thing. You have to have good timing; there's nothing worse that a punch line without the exact, right amount of pausing between the lines. And it has to be done in just the right tone of voice, timbre, otherwise it just doesn't work. But.

More importantly, you have to believe the character's funny, don't you think. There has to be something intrinsically funny about the comedian. It's not just about the script. Well I watched something I hadn't watched for ages. Richard Pryor - Live and smokin'. Shot in a dingy 'comedy club' by one camera in 1971, before the 'good times', before the freebasing :) (Cut to comedian with a lighted match bobbing up and down - RP after the 'accident'. Or Michael Jackson after the Coke advert! Depends on who's telling it!)

Well. Pryor goes into this 10 minute monologue about the winos who used to hang out where he lived as a kid. The drunken, exaggerated claims, the slurred speech etc. Taking on the 'character of an old wino. Then into the mix, he introduces a black junkie, desperate for his next 'fix', who proceeds to banter with the wino. A lot like Lenny Bruce it's true, the two character 'skit', but a more poignant evocation of the despairing helplessness of addiction you could not hope to see. And not a laugh in sight. Just Pryor 'free-forming' characters. Maybe Richard thought it was funny, holding up a 'wasted nigger' to the white folks. Maybe he didn't. But I sure as hell don't think the 'white folks' expected that during a comedy routine!

So Avatar. The most hyped movie in the history of the planet. The largest grossing film of all time. The only film in which Signoury Weaver DOESN'T get her tits out.


Like all James Cameron's films, a triumph of technology over substance! A movie made for the masses to stream into IMAX theatres and marvel at how wonderful it looks! "Wow! They do that all with computers!" They all say. Hell, the Abyss was only good because Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio was in it! (Stop drooling MG). I'm sorry, I don't care how polished the CGI is, it still doesn't look real! It seems to me that somehow the over-reliance on CGI has caused a major component of the appreciation of 'fantasy' to come adrift; the willing suspension of disbelief. You know it's all CGI so you don't bother to suspend the disbelief. How much more 'real' is, say, 'the Dark Knight', however equally preposterous the fantasy, because, by and large, it IS real. A real 'Tumbler', a real 'Bat-Bike', a real Batman!

Even the mildly subversive nature of Avatar, humans waging war on indigenous populations for profit, couldn't disguise its inherently 'twee' nature. After all, these are mercenaries, not US troops, tho' they might as well have been. The 'renegade' was not chosen, but a poor substitute. And there isn't a 'foreigner' amongst the mercenaries. Not an Arab, not a Russian, not a South American. No, they're all American! What are we supposed to read into this? A 'thinly veiled' attack on American expansionism? No! Just you can't be seen to criticise another ethnic group in mainstream American cinema, that's all. Ergo, no ethnic groups! And where were the Pandoran Penguins?

And to cap it all, the film goes against all the tenets of the 'fairy story'. You see, a major component of stories in which a human character is thrust into 'faerie' is their eventual departure and the aftermath. The dislocation on arrival and the dislocation on departure. Avatar fail on both counts. It's not subversive, it's TWEE!

It's a pity, because this could have appealed to the mainstream (ignorant American) cinema audiences and still been intelligent and thoughtful. Ah well, you can't win 'em all!

I came across this last night. One man's homage to the late and great Jimi Hendrix. 'All along the watchtower'. The late Jeff Healey. No rebooting, no reinterpretation of either Hendrix or Dylan, just an out and out steal! Still bloody awesome whichever way you look at it!

I sent the link to MG last night thinking it might amuse. Of course, he saw him in the late eighties! Just after 'See the light' was released! Typical!

Oh, by the way I forgot to mention, he lost his eyes to retinoblastoma before he was a year old!

Saturday, 1 May 2010

Cicero Subrubreo, anti-prophet and historian. Part 2

Well, I'm back! Fricka too! I'm enormously grateful for MG for carrying on this blog, as best as he was able, it must have been an awful shock to suddenly wake up and find you cannot speak! It is however nice to know, for this Penguin at least, that he didn't manage to lose language altogether, otherwise the wait might have been TOO long for you!

After my disappearance last year, I wasn't sure if I would have the courage to resume. It was, after all, pretty cowardly of me to go off without even a farewell. But I have steeled myself and am now ready to jump back into the fray. MG can get his own blog! Ok, I don't mean that and to show that I am truly grateful, I attach one last example of his meandering, unintelligible prose to kick of my return. (Until next year!)

Going to watch 'Avatar' now, Fricka and I like a little romance mixed in with our mayhem. It's so nice that ALL dvd's come with subtitles now - so long as you can find them! Anyways, some more of MG ramblings. No doubt you'll know what came in part one (this doesn't make any sense to me at all - must read intervening blogs) and so it will make some kind of sense to you - who is Cicero Subrubreo, when he's at home? Well, anyways........

Wherein lies the power of the Monocracy? How does one man rule the Imperium. How does one solitary man withstand the plots, the stratagems, of those of his retainers who might wish to supplant him? How does he prevent the multitude of hosts, his armies, his sky-borne navies, his cosmanauticons, dealers in death all, from rising up in revolt? What stops the populaces across a myriad of different planets from attempting control over their own fate? A fate without the intervention, the whim, of the Monocrat?

Tradition, nothing more and nothing less. History is the key to the Monocrat’s power.

Accident, chance, even luck may have played their part in the millennia-old longevity of the Monocracy but the key to its power ultimately lies in its initial success and the lasting influence of that success.

From the earliest days of Osirisu’s conquest of the planet Ganth, a myth has arisen of the infallibility of the Monocrat. How all that he touches becomes a metaphorical gold. How he cannot lose; be it a battle or the hearts and mind of his people, even the conquered ones! Osirisu, it must be said, was fortunate to be born with, and schooled in, such ruthlessness, avarice, an over-arching lust for power. His savage treatment of his parents only fuelled the respect he was given, insane as though it may seem. With each ruthless and indiscriminate conquest, he added to that respect until the people came to believe he was infallible. A true demi-god amongst mere mortals.

Who would dare, even if power hungry himself, to rise up against the Monocracy. Who would dare go against the wishes of so successful a ruler? Is it not better to be riding the wake of a man that unifies a planet , a wake that brings enough power to satisfy all, except a man of Osirisu’s ambitions, than chance that you might be brought low by challenging the power that steers the ship; seek to provide your own course? Would the risk be worth it?

It is a truism that no-one thought to challenge Osirisu’s power, or if they did so think they thought better of it, for challenging someone so mighty, second only to Creator in power, or so the people of Ganth believed, could only lead to disaster; for the individual, for Ganth.

And so became the birth of a myth.

So strong was the belief in Osirisu’s power, that it, in all its glory, passed to his son and thence to his son’s son and so on in a never-ending cycle until the present. Who can deny that divinity does not pass from father unto son? As the Creator’s divinity passed to his son, Osirisu? How can it be otherwise? To think otherwise would question the Creator, in his omnipotence.

And so, the people do not rebel, the armies do not revolt, the bureaucracy does nothing overt to withstand the fancy of the Monocrat. To do so would be to court disaster, divine retribution. The overthrow of the Monocracy could only be conjured by a madman.

History, as you can see, both explains and defines the Monocracy.

Cicero Subrubreo, anti-prophet and historian, ‘Ruminations on the Monocracy, vol III (incomplete) CE110,357

Interdicted by Monocratic decree, 1.672.803.201, CE110,357.

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Cicero Subrubreo, anti-prophet and historian

If you seek after the origins of the pharaonic Monocracy, do not be deceived by the self serving, sycophantic musings of the imperatorial scribes. It is an old saw, but true nonetheless, that history is written by the victors; seldom do the vanquished earn, or take, the right to tell their side of the story. The only history that exists is in the imperatorial archives. There is not one book, not one data store, not even a letter written with ink and quill that exists in the whole interstellar expanse of the Monocracy which does in any way deviate from the history as it is told. Every new research, every fellow historian’s perusal of the vast store of official documents, every millennia-old record, every last Monocratic shopping list confirms the official story.

And yet, no-one thinks that this is strange, least of the all the subjects of the Monocrats. Not one word of dissent is spoken. Not one word voiced in disagreement. All concur, no other interpretation is possible. Is this not then the truth? Does this not constitute the only truth? The word of the divine creator who speaks through the mouth of his chosen one, the Monocrat? And thence his scribes, his biographers, his analysts, his historians?

Does there exist, can there exist, another path to another truth? A different truth which is not to be found in the writings and transcriptions of the official scribes? Perhaps. However it can only be found in the spoken tales handed down from generation to generation; tales told in guarded whispers lest the Monocrat should come to hear of them. These are the tales told by the vanquished.

However one should be as guarded in assessing such oral traditions as exist, even those of ancient provenance, as one should with the official histories. There is always a reason for telling a story which is other than a mere recounting of a tale, however heroic or mundane. One, as a historian, must be mindful of all the possible interpretations which can be attached to a tale, both intended by the writer or minstrel or unintended by its audience. For is it not so that the truth can mean different things to different men, however much the Monocrat may wish otherwise? And does not the intended or unintended audience give forever new and wondrous meanings to a tale, meanings undreamt of by its author?

You have all heard the tale of Osirisu from whom all Monocrats claim descent. How he sprang fully formed out of the coupling between the Creator and the Queen of Kareliar, a small principality on the planet Ganth. How, by dint of his Creator-given power, he was able to subdue first the continent, then the planet, then the solar system and so forth. A Demi-God amongst men! Destined to rule a vast empire; an empire whose borders would know no bounds.

The fisher folk of Ganth however tell a different story of the rise of the Monocracy.

The fishermen of Ganth tell of how the young Queen of Kareliar became great with child from a adulterous coupling with one Horusui, a retainer at the King’s court. Handsome he was, so it was said, and much in demand for the services he provided for many an unwed maiden; and oft-times the wedded ‘scarce-a-virgin’, both at court and without. The Queen maliciously deceived the old King as to the child’s heritage, pretending it be the contrived intercourse between them both shortly after the adulterous infamy.

She had high hopes of the child and bought (and bedded) the finest tutors in the land to school the child in mathematics, in physics, in literature, in the arts of war. The child, Osirisu, was an apt pupil and most studious in his lessons, mastering all of the arts befitting a king, though in truth that right was not his. The paths of the stars in the heavens, the stately hexameters of the Master Poets of Kareliar, the infinite possibilities of the Aleph cubed; all were imbibed by the child, as is blood sucked by a leech.

However the Queen slowly but surely poisoned the child’s mind with thoughts of kingship, grandeur, conquest. How he would be named ‘Osirisu the Golden’, ‘Osirisu the Mighty’, ‘Osirisu the All-Conquering’.

Slowly, in steps too small to notice, the child, in becoming the man, grew shallow, wanton, cruel, base. Under the influence of his mother, he turned from scholar to bloody warlord, if yet only in thought not in deed, until, finally, he began to plot the King’s downfall and his ultimate takeover of the reins of power.

Little did the Queen realise what she had come to wrought.

When all of Osirisu’s plots had come to full ripening, he poisoned the old king with a draught of antiminium mixed with the King’s favourite wine. Upon the King’s death, slow and painful as it was, Osirisu immediately proclaimed himself King, this bastard son of deception, and took the name ‘Osirisu the Golden’, as his mother had foretold.

After the coronation had taken place and the people of Kareliar had thronged the streets to usher in a new order, Osirisu the Golden had every one of the now dead King’s retainers murdered. All bar one. His biological father! He had him brought to his chambers and, in the presence of his mother, Osirisu, the knife in his own hands, cut off that organ which had been so dear to Horusui and had boiling pitch poured to staunch the wound. The new king furthermore cut off Horusui’s nose and hands, sliced his cheeks many times, to the very bone, and had pitch poured onto those wounds also.

“No more will you father offspring with your debauching, scum! All will look upon you now and turn away with horror at the very sight of you!” Osirisu said. “I banish you to the far wilderness! I will have no rival sired by your seed!”

Yet, still was Osirisu not done with his schemes, his plots. As his mother screamed and wailed at the plight of her erstwhile lover, carried away between the arms of two guards, Osirisu raped and sodomised his mother. Amidst her howls of pain, he silently ripped open her belly. Two deep slashes, one up and down, one side to side. It is said that as she lay dying, violated by her own son, her entrails spilling out on to the floor, Osirisu knelt by her side and gently whispered in her ear: “No more brothers shall I have, I wager. The time of your spawning, my dearest mother, has come to an end. Yet I pity you for you shall not see the greatness of light that will shine from your golden one!”

He later had her corpse, her entrials obscuring her face, nailed by the feet to a tree in the courtyard, her uterus between the palms of her now, limp, hanging hands. Such is the wisdom, and mercy, of the Monocrats!

The truth? Or just the wishful thinking of the vanquished? A sop to the pride of the people of Ganth cowed into submission by the actions of a matricidal, blood-thirsty tyrant? A tyrant that would stop at nothing, even the violation of his own mother; the maiming of his father. How could anyone hope to stand against such evil as this?

To disentangle the truth, if there be any, from the fiction of such tales, that is the work of the historian.

Cicero Subrubreo, anti-prophet and historian, 'On being an historian - the collected essays', CE 110,354.

Interdicted by Monocratic decree, 1.545.453.761, CE 110,355.

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Emails, Biedermann and 'Should I stay or should I go?'

I got an email today. Yes, really! A whole one email! Well actually more than one but this was the only one (so far) which didn't tell me about all the amazing bargains on offer at places where I have, somewhat stupidly, bought things on-line before. Don't you just love spam? Especially when it's of the "You recently bought 'Advanced Toad-Sexing' from You may be interested in the following titles: 'Toad-Sexing: beyond the text books', 'War with the Newts'*, 'Salamanders: a marxist-lesbian-feminist perspective'." Google and its bloody search algorithms have got a lot to answer for, if you ask me.

Well contained in this email was: "Carl Orff...I've always liked his work despite the fact that he was a Nazi...." Yes, see, I do get the occasional cultural reference, not just endless scatological 'jokes' and links to the latest 'viral' on YouTube.

Well it got me thinking. No surprise there, then. About all the people, intelligent, cultured human beings who stayed behind in Nazi run Germany in the 1930's. The people who should have known better than to allow their country to be run by a bunch of pseudo-scientific, myth obsessed, anti-clerical, expansionist thugs with a predeliction for 'Jew-baiting' (We won't go into the involuntary euthanasia of the mentally ill, the remilitarization of the Rhineland, the Racial Purity laws, the scapegoating of Marinus Van der Lubbe, Kristallnacht, the Star of David etc etc etc). But then again, hindsight is always 20/20, isn't it?

Shortly after the war, people in Germany, and elsewhere, started to question the whole preceding 25 years; as well they might given that they acquiesced in the annihilation of 6,000,000 Jews, 20,000,000 Soviets (oh alright, Stalin and his Commissars no doubt 'did' for a proportion of those), a quarter of a million Romanies and in the case of the British and Americans (lest we forget), the fire-bombing of civilian targets with little or no strategic or tactical value.

One of the upshots of this was the birth of a kind of 'navel-gazing' radio play. It all started with a play called 'Biedermann and die Brandstifter' (Biedermann and the arsonists - 'Biedermann' is the name given, in German, to a typically middle-class male {usually}, 'bourgeois' to borrow from yet another European language) by Max Frisch. The basic plot is that Biedermann allows two arsonists to rent his attic, all the while completely oblivious to the fact that they are 'fire-bombing' the city where he lives. Even after it is pointed out to him, amongst other things, that there is no necessity for them to be storing gallons and gallons of petrol in the attic.

Whatever Frisch may protest, and the same goes for 'Andorra', which stems from the persecution of the Jews, this is quite clearly, on one level, an indictment of German society's blindness to the horror of what was actually going on, both before and during the war in Germany. It can obviously be seen as more generic than that - it is also 'swiping' at the Swiss themselves for sitting on the fence, but nonethless......

It is also, however, on another level, blisteringly funny!

Frisch did however make one mistake. He was Swiss! And therefore resolutely neutral during the whole episode. (It did not help either that the Swiss were happy to salt away in 'numbered accounts' all the looted art treasure, money, knick-knacks hoarded by Nazis who had the wherewithall to do so.) Who was some arty-farty Swiss playwright who didn't even speak proper German to be telling the Germans how they should have behaved? (To be fair to Frisch, he did write the play in 'High' German - but possibly out of necessity. I defy anyone to understand Swiss German who's not Swiss. Even the Bavarians, closest geographically, just the other side of the Alps, have problems!)

So, piqued by this upstart, the Germans started their own little movment and it was a (very) brief extract from one of these, 'Der Besuch des Fremden' - 'a stranger's visit' - by Walter Jens that I chose to illustrate my reply, such as it was. Jens' little radio play was about a University Professor (Hartmann) who decamps from Nazi Germany and who returns after the war with no money, no job and having lost his family; his children died fighting on the American side. He meets a former colleague (Lauenfels) who stayed put in the University and retains most of his 'prestige', money, position etc post-war as pre-war.. However he too has lost his sons to war.

Hartmann asks why his former colleague did what he did when all around could see what was coming.

Lauenfels: ”I had to stay.... for the children’s sake.”

Hartmann: “You’re wrong, Lauenfels. It’s all the same, whichever side your children die on. The only thing that counts is, they had to die; that alone is important. And they didn’t have to die, if only everyone had broken their oath (to Hitler - ed).”

(Author's translation. Hell the text doesn't appear to be in print in German, let alone English!)

(Everyone in a university had to swear an oath of allegiance to Hitler, otherwise you were kicked out.)

So what would you do? Hartmann's argument, taking the moral highground, is clearly that if Hitler wasn't supported; if everyone reneged on the oath, then Hitler would have fallen and there would have been no war and their children would not have had to die, pointlessly, as it turned out. But, how can Lauenfels be sure that everyone will act the same, and deny the oath? After all, Hartmann merely runs away. What would happen if everyone ran away? Those that disagreed with Hitler. Wouldn't that have still left those that did agree with Hitler, a very sizeable number? (In the last election held in 1933, the Nazi party polled around 43% of the vote)

So what would have been different?

The war would still have happened. 6,000,000 Jews would still have been gassed. Dresden, Hamburg, Munich, Berlin would have been destroyed. Millions of civilians would still have died. What would have been the point? To 'revolt'? To suffer and still have nothing to show for it!

It's a very difficult question to answer, unless you are the type that thinks ideas, whether political, religious are worth dying for, alone. And there's the rub. To fight in a war, with your comrades, friends, with your fellow man, that is not being alone. You fight, if needs must, in defence of your way of life, whatever that may be, with your fellows and there is possibly comfort to be had there, I think.

But alone? Potentially, the only one? For an idea? A principle? To be a martyr for a cause? Potentially for nothing?

Something tells me that few of us are made this way. It is perhaps why we revere martyrs so much. Why we vaunt heroism so much. Because we know that we are not like them.

Do we have the right to criticise Orff, Strauss, Furtwaengler because they stayed? And laud Brecht, Einstein, Mann because they 'ran away'. I can't help thinking that if we condemn the former, we have no choice but to condemn the latter!

I don't normally do this but the post is dedicated to Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Sophie Scholl who chose to stay and to fight in whatever way was open to them. And to the October '44 Sonderkommando in Auschwitz who chose a bullet rather than the gas.

* War with the Newts - a real book, by Karel Capek, and a damn fine book it is too!

Monday, 12 April 2010

Breasts, Zulu and the strange case of Buckingham/Nicks

Curious film, 'Zulu'. It's hard to watch it without expecting Michael Caine to shout to the serried ranks of soldiers: "You're only supposed to blow the bloody doors off!"* (Instead of "First rank, fire!" - In a cod upper class accent.) What was even stranger, given the time it was made, 1963/64, was the massed ranks of half naked Zulu women in the opening scene. Ni**ples and all! In full view! Lovingly shot in close-up! The nearest that one got to nudity at the time was 'Health & Efficiency', a naturist magazine, with air-brushing all over the shop and naked tennis playing ladies! And during a supposed mass marriage ritual! It didn't take two guesses to work out what everyone was going to be doing after that was all over!

Now this was at a time in British movie history when 'a glimpse of stocking was looked on as something shocking, heaven knows, anything (most definitely not) goes' and piano legs were still covered up in case they displayed 'piano ankles'. But, I suppose, with Empire only recently on its death bed, it was OK to picture naked breasts on film in a mainstream movie, so long as it was colonial, black breasts, not white ones! After all National Geographic could get away it all the time, why not 'Zulu'?

It does betray a certain mindset tho', doesn't it?

And I do not for one second believe that the Director was aiming at veracity. God, they didn't even get Jack Hawkins to make a stab at a Swedish accent (he plays a Swedish missionary) even after they cast a Swede (with one hell of an accent, Liv Ullmann on speed) in the role of his daughter! So much for veracity.

Tits and ass! Nothing more! As much as you can get away with! I'm surprised they didn't go further. I can, however, confirm that the dancers were all wearing 'knickers' under the ornamentation (I checked. What I do for research to help mankind, ay? In slow motion!). No, I wouldn't have put it past them. Exploitation is only ever a matter of degree.

Interestingly, Chief Buthelezi, Head of the Inkatha party in South Africa, makes a brief appearence in the film; as the elder who exhorts his men to attack, I think. I wonder what he thought about it? Bit like getting Sarkozy to play Napoleon in a film about the Battle of Waterloo. Still dollars is dollars when you're a penniless African chieftain trying to make his way in an apartheid coloured (no pun intended) world.

Talking of exploitation.

The American public, but curiously not the European public, I think, have a strange fascination with the idea that Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks are going to finally realise that it was 'true love' (to quote the 'Princess Bride') and after 40 years are going to get back together again!

Now LB and SN joined Fleetwood Mac (as a couple - LB's stipulation) back in the early seventies and as a result of their song-writing skills propelled the jobbing rythmn section of Mick Fleetwood and John McVie (and his wife on keyboards - no good in Chicken Shack and no good in the Mac) to mega stardom, lots of dollars, millions of them, and a shed load of cocaine. Alright a studio-load full of cocaine!

Shortly after this jet-propelled rise to mega stardom SN and LB broke up, somewhat acrimoniously. (You can find out the names they called each other on Google) Ever since then, succeeding generations of 'fans', not just the original fans, have resolutely looked for signs that it's all going to end 'happily ever after' and 'our Wesley will find, at last, his Buttercup'! Even to the extent that one 'fan' posted on you tube that they were sleeping together again!

Now this would be adolescent nonsense, wishful thinking, as anybody knows who's dealt with 'water under the bridge'. However, Buckingham/Nicks whether unconsciously or consciously since the reformation in 1997 promote this very idea in their fans heads with every gig! The way they look at each other, the duets on one microphone, the way they wrap around each other, especially when LB plays a solo, the songs they do it to.

The only trouble is, they've always done it! Even when they were not mature enough to get over it properly! (I'm hoping they are now.) When you have to imagine that they hated each other's guts! (Personally, whatever HE did, to find your 'old lady' taking up with the drummer in the band, well that would have done for me with the band, I think! And yet it still took more than 5 years. 'The lure of easy money, it has a very strong appeal.') They still did it.

So are they exploiting the fans 'wish list'. I think so. But to be fair to both, they are performers. On stage, like any actor, they perform. To give the audience what it wants, needs. No-one would suggest that Helen Mirren as Pheadra has anything but an actor's 'affection' for whoever, and it is 'whoever', plays Hippolytus. It's what acting, performing, is all about. So why should LB and SN be any different?

They're not. But as Borges pointed out, art lies at least 50% of the time in the reaction/perception of the reader, listener, viewer.

Dream on, kids. It ain't ever gonna happen! But the coffers of Fleetwood Mac Ent. will continue to grow!

* A reference to 'The Italian Job'. A 1963 film featuring Caine, Noel Coward and some Mini Coopers!

Friday, 9 April 2010

Anjin-sama, the 47 Ronin and a Universal History of Infamy

Fascinating the Japanese, don't you think? For a European, or someone of European descent? Not so much post-war Japan, but earlier times. Medieval, the era of the Tokugawa shogunate, the time of Bushido; the 'way of the warrior'. We don't have much to compare with it. Even the 'Age of Chivalry', the age of the Minnesaenger; the age of Sir Launcealot, Sir Galahad, Arthur and the tales woven by Mallory don't quite measure up to the code of the samurai.

And yet, it is a mind set far removed from what we can imagine; we of the twentieth century. Victory or defeat is of no consequence, only that you fight (and die) with honour. To die, merely because of shame. It is hard for us to think in this way, I feel. And yet, it holds an endless fascination for us Westerners. 'Shogun', the novel and the 'film'; the cinema of Kurosawa, Yojimbo, Kagamusha, Ran; the tale of the 47 Ronin. All these involve a different way of thinking, a different interaction with the social order and yet we somehow desire to make the effort; to understand this strange culture, far removed from what we know.

Perhaps we have inherited this from our parents, our grandparents, who struggled with comprehending the Japanese attitudes in the second world war; understanding Bushido which still formed a way of life for the elite.

I was reminded of this when I re-read the tale of the 47 ronin as told in 'Tales of Old Japan', by Algernon Bertram Freeman-Mitford, a diplomat (crazy name, crazy diplomat) better known as A B Mitford. The story goes something like this:

A minor feudal Lord (daimyo), Asano Takumi no Kani, was to be instructed in court etiquette by one Kira Kotsuke no Suke. (It didn't pay to unintentionally insult the Shogun, however innocently). Now whatever the specific reason, lack of respect, on both sides, lack of a bribe to Kira, accusations of stupidity by Kira, Takumi and Kira did not get along, at all! Matters came to head when Takumi attempted a ham-fisted assassination on Kira, in the Shogun's palace! Now given that bowing incorrectly in the Shogun's presence could have you executed or dispossessed, or both, or worse, the Shogun didn't exactly take this lying down.

He ordered Takumi to commit seppeku and his entire fiefdom to be dissolved. The upshot of which was that Takumi died, his whole family were disinherited and all of his retainers became unemployed. (Such unemployed retainers, samurai, were called ronin and were not looked on favourably in feudal Japan.)

Needless to say the the retainers were not happy about this! One, they were unemployed ronin; two, they had little prospect of gaining future employment (they were after all retainers of a disgraced daimyo); three, they felt it was all Kira's fault anyway for dishonouring their daimyo.

So they hatched a plan.

They would become dissolute ronin until such time as Kira let down his guard (he was obviously well aware of the potential for retribution) and then they would strike to avenge their daimyo. Well that part of the plan took 18 months. The leader of the ronin sank just about as far as was possible to get, even allowing a native of Satsuma to spit in his face, calling him a coward for not avenging his daimyo. Eventually they deemed the time was right. They assaulted Kira's home, saw off his retainers and eventually cornered the 'master of etiquette' and asked him to commit seppuku in atonement for the shaming of their daimyo.

Kira, according to the story, refused many times, on his knees, quaking and trembling the whole time, until the leader of the ronin, Oishi Kuranosuke, in frustration, cut off his head. The severed head was brought to the grave of Takumi and the head placed on the grave. The ronin then gave themselves up to the Shogun; Takumi's honour was restored.

All were commanded to commit seppuku. And 47 did. Except one, who had been sent on an errand by Oishi at the time of the assault on Kira's home. He was, as the story goes, pardoned by the Shogun, on account of his extreme youth.

The ronin were buried before their daimyo.

Now, to modern eyes (and ears), this begs the question: 'Why did the ronin wait so long?' If Bushido lay no weight on success or failure; if Bushido merely asked for the vengeance to take place, whether successful or not, why did the ronin wait so long? Perhaps they felt they had something to gain? Perhaps they felt that the Shogun might be lenient; after so long to wreak their vengeance. Perhaps they just waited until they were certain they outnumbered the defenders of Kira. Who knows?

But doesn't the question reveal a mind set which we cannot eradicate? Might this not demean the samurai who fought, and died, to save their master's honour and reputation? Is is possible that it mattered so much? That self interest didn't even occur to them?


Jorge Luis Borges writes (in the 'Universal History of Infamy', 'The Insulting Master of Etiquette, Kotsuke no Suke'):

"Among those who come is a boy, dusty and weary, who must have travelled a long way. He prostrates himself before Oishi Kuranosuke's tombstone and says aloud: 'I saw you lying drunk by the door of a brothel in Kyoto, and I did not think you were were plotting to avenge your lord; I thought you to be a faithless soldier, and I spat in your face. Now I have come to offer atonement.' So saying he performed harikiri. (seppuku. ed.).

The abbot of the temple, feeling sympathy for his deed, buried him alongside the retainers.

This is the end of the story of the forty seven loyal men - except that it has no end, for the rest of us, who are not loyal perhaps but we will never wholly give up the hope of being so, will go on honouring them with words."


Seppuku (often called harakiri): ritual disembowelment. In practice, all that was required was that the knife, short sword, was inserted into the abdomen; at which point your 'second' took your head off with a clean sweep of the sword. (Making sure he left a flap of skin still attached to your body so your head didn't wing its way into the audience as a football might on a 60 yard pass to the running back!)

Anjin-sama, anjin-san - the name given to William Adams, an English sailor, by the Shogun, Tokugawa Ieyasu, on whose story the Clavell novel 'Shogun' was based.