Saturday, 24 December 2011

Marie's Festive Jukebox

1. Esquivel - Jingle Bells.

2. The Ramones - Merry Christmas, I Don't Want To Fight Tonight.

3. Thomanerchor Leipzig - Es Ist Ein Ros Entsprungen - attributed to Michael Praetorius.

4. Magpie Lane - The Boar's Head Carol.

5. The Beach Boys - Little Saint Nick.

6. Monty Python - Ho Ho Fucking Ho. Foul language from the very beginning. You have been warned.

7. Slovak State Philharmonic Orchestra - 'Troika' from 'Lieutenant Kije' - Sergei Prokofiev.

8. Ballet Company of the Mariinsky Theatre, St Petersburg - 'Arabian Dance' from 'The Nutcracker' - Tchaikovsky. Not obviously Christmas music, but the ballet is traditionally performed at Christmas, and the action of Act 1 at the Stahlbaum's house takes place on Christmas Eve.

9. The Modern Jazz Quartet - England's Carol. Unfortunately YouTube has no clip of the original recording of this wonderful jazz treatment of 'God rest Ye Merry Gentlemen' (it does have a recording with added orchestral accompaniment - DO NOT WATCH THIS as the music is dire, uncharacteristically for the MJQ). Listen instead to this recording of their 'Softly As In A Morning Sunrise'.

10. The Copper Family - Shepherds Arise. Traditional two-part harmony from rural Sussex.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Emma Goldman's 'What is Patriotism' speech, San Francisco, 1908

"Men and Women:
What is patriotism? Is it love of one's birthplace, the place of childhood's recollections and hopes, dreams and aspirations? Is it the place where, in childlike naiveté, we would watch the passing clouds, and wonder why we, too, could not float so swiftly? The place where we would count the milliard glittering stars, terror-stricken lest each one "an eye should be," piercing the very depths of our little souls? Is it the place where we would listen to the music of the birds and long to have wings to fly, even as they, to distant lands? Or is it the place where we would sit on Mother's knee, enraptured by tales of great deeds and conquests? In short, is it love for the spot, every inch representing dear and precious recollections of a happy, joyous and playful childhood?
If that were patriotism, few American men of today would be called upon to be patriotic, since the place of play has been turned into factory, mill, and mine, while deepening sounds of machinery have replaced the music of the birds. No longer can we hear the tales of great deeds, for the stories our mothers tell today are but those of sorrow, tears and grief.
What, then, is patriotism? "Patriotism, sir, is the last resort of scoundrels," said Dr. Samuel Johnson. Leo Tolstoy, the greatest anti-patriot of our time, defines patriotism as the principle that will justify the training of wholesale murderers; a trade that requires better equipment in the exercise of man-killing than the making of such necessities as shoes, clothing, and houses; a trade that guarantees better returns and greater glory than that of the honest workingman.
Indeed, conceit, arrogance and egotism are the essentials of patriotism. Let me illustrate. Patriotism assumes that our globe is divided into little spots, each one surrounded by an iron gate. Those who have had the fortune of being born on some particular spot consider themselves nobler, better, grander, more intelligent than those living beings inhabiting any other spot. It is, therefore, the duty of everyone living on that chosen spot to fight, kill and die in the attempt to impose his superiority upon all the others.
The inhabitants of the other spots reason in like manner, of course, with the result that from early infancy the mind of the child is provided with blood-curdling stories about the Germans, the French, the Italians, Russians, etc. When the child has reached manhood he is thoroughly saturated with the belief that he is chosen by the Lord himself to defend his country against the attack or invasion of any foreigner. It is for that purpose that we are clamoring for a greater army and navy, more battleships and ammunition.
An army and navy represent the people's toys. To make them more attractive and acceptable, hundreds and thousands of dollars are being spent for the display of toys. That was the purpose of the American government in equipping a fleet and sending it along the Pacific coast, that every American citizen should be made to feel the pride and glory of the United States.
The city of San Francisco spent one hundred thousand dollars for the entertainment of the fleet; Los Angeles, sixty thousand; Seattle and Tacoma, about one hundred thousand. Yes, two hundred and sixty thousand dollars were spent on fireworks, theater parties, and revelries, at a time when men, women, and children through the breadth and length of the country were starving in the streets; when thousands of unemployed were ready to sell their labor at any price.
What could not have been accomplished with such an enormous sum? But instead of bread and shelter, the children of those cities were taken to see the fleet, that it may remain, as one newspaper said, "a lasting memory for the child." A wonderful thing to remember, is it not? The implements of civilized slaughter. If the mind of the child is poisoned with such memories, what hope is there for a true realization of human brotherhood?
We Americans claim to be a peace-loving people. We hate bloodshed; we are opposed to violence. Yet we go into spasms of joy over the possibility of projecting dynamite bombs from flying machines upon helpless citizens. We are ready to hang, electrocute, or lynch anyone, who, from economic necessity, will risk his own life in the attempt upon that of some industrial magnate. Yet our hearts swell with pride at the thought that America is becoming the most powerful nation on earth, and that she will eventually plant her iron foot on the necks of all other nations.
Such is the logic of patriotism.
Thinking men and women the world over are beginning to realize that patriotism is too narrow and limited a conception to meet the necessities of our time. The centralization of power has brought into being an international feeling of solidarity among the oppressed nations of the world; a solidarity which represents a greater harmony of interests between the workingman of America and his brothers abroad than between the American miner and his exploiting compatriot; a solidarity which fears not foreign invasion, because it is bringing all the workers to the point when they will say to their masters, "Go and do your own killing. We have done it long enough for you."
The proletariat of Europe has realized the great force of that solidarity and has, as a result, inaugurated a war against patriotism and its bloody specter, militarism. Thousands of men fill the prisons of France, Germany, Russia and the Scandinavian countries because they dared to defy the ancient superstition.
America will have to follow suit. The spirit of militarism has already permeated all walks of life. Indeed, I am convinced that militarism is a greater danger here than anywhere else, because of the many bribes capitalism holds out to those whom it wishes to destroy.
The beginning has already been made in the schools. Children are trained in military tactics, the glory of military achievements extolled in the curriculum, and the youthful mind perverted to suit the government. Further, the youth of the country is appealed to in glaring posters to join the Army and the Navy. "A fine chance to see the world!" cries the governmental huckster. Thus innocent boys are morally shanghaied into patriotism, and the military Moloch strides conquering through the nation.
When we have undermined the patriotic lie, we shall have cleared the path for the great structure where all shall be united into a universal brotherhood -- a truly free society."

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Marie'Jukebox, 10th/11th October 2011

All of the following should be accessible on iTunes or YouTube. Get in there and check them out.

  1. Take Me Away (New Orleans Bounce Remix by B.Ford) ~ Keyshia Cole
  2. Only Ashes ~ Something Corporate
  3. Frappe dans tes Mains ~ Yvette Horner
  4. My White Bicycle ~ Tomorrow
  5. Theme from Robinson Crusoe ~ The Art of Noise
  6. Snow [Hey Oh] ~ Red Hot Chilli Peppers
  7. Kiss (Aon Mix) ~ The Art of Noise feat. Tom Jones
  8. Brother Can You Spare A Dime ~ Al Jolson
  9. Rolling in the Deep (New Orleans Bounce Mix) ~ Adele
  10. Angels in the Snow ~ Sam Duckworth
  11. Don’t Sit Down ‘Cause I’ve Moved Your Chair – The Arctic Monkeys
  12. Katyusha ~ Red Army Choir
  13. Love Minus Zero / No Limit ~ Bob Dylan
  14. I Gotta See Jane ~ R Dean Taylor
  15. Low Self Control (feat. Tender Forever) ~ Mirah
  16. Can’t Buy Me Love ~ The King’s Singers
  17. Gay Bar ~ Electric Six
  18. Desdemona ~ John’s Children
  19. Wondrous Place ~ Alice Gold
  20. Darkness Within (acoustic track) ~ Machine Head
  21. Cinema (Skrillex Remix) ~ Benny Benassi feat. Gary Go
  22. I’m Getting Ready ~ Michael Kiwanuka
  23. Now Or Never ~ UnterArt
  24. Shake it Out (The Weeknd Remix) ~ Florence and the Machine
  25. Coronation Scot ~ Sidney Torch and the Queen’s Hall Light Orchestra
  26. Shut The Hell Up ~ Noisuf-X
  27. Long Black Veil ~ Johnny Cash
  28. Hoobaale ~ K’naan
  29. Broken Promise Land ~ Linda Chorney
  30. Once in a Lifetime ~ Wolfsheim
  31. Beverley Hills Cop ~ Harold Faltermeyer
  32. Dreadlock Holiday ~ 10cc
  33. Part of Your World ~ Florence Welch

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Voicemail of a glass-half-empty person

"Hello. You have reached the teepee of Marie Marshall and Consuela Sanchez. There's no one here right now, but please leave your number and comment after the beep."


Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Oligarchy and freedom - a brief note

The American dictionary Merriam-Webster defines ‘oligarchy’ as: “1) government by the few; 2) a government in which a small group exercises control especially for corrupt and selfish purposes, also a group exercising such control; 3) an organization under oligarchic control.” As examples it gives: “Their nation is an oligarchy”, “An oligarchy rules their nation”, and “The corporation is ruled by oligarchy”.

Why do we consistently and persistently refer to ‘Russian oligarchs’ but Western ‘CEOs’?

Any structure or system in which power devolves upwards is an oligarchy by the definition above. Even our ‘democracies’ in countries like the USA and Great Britain, even with American ‘checks and balances’, even with British ‘supremacy of parliament’, even with the presence on our active political stage of maverick representatives who try to keep alive in their minds that they are there to serve the people who voted for them, even with the consensual act of the electorate’s placing an ‘X’ on a piece of paper, even with the prospect of governments coming and going every few years, power nevertheless devolves upwards into the hands of fewer and fewer people – a ‘political class’, a handful of political oligarchs.

I know the above is arguable at best, but what I submit is not arguable is my assertion that capitalist corporations are oligarchies. I have said before that corporations are the least accountable structures since medieval feudalism (the notion that they are somehow ‘accountable’ to consumers is laughably disingenuous). So why not call a spade a spade. Rupert Murdoch, just to give an example, is an oligarch.

Our laws keep these oligarchies in place. Our political constitutions support the upward devolution of political power. Our civil and criminal laws though having a social component are broadly oriented towards the defence of whatever is proprietary. If we desire freedom, if we desire liberty, especially if we want to wrest those words back from people who champion political or economic oligarchy then – will we, nill we – we are going to bark our shins on these laws.

The following linked video is forty-eight minutes of lucid wisdom from the late Murray Bookchin on the subject ‘forms of freedom’, in which he expounds succinctly the democratic structures and movements, mostly suppressed from our history/ies, from which we can learn and from which we can draw inspiration in our drive to achieve real freedom. The lecture was given in 1985.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Diary of a Chief Replicator Technician. (No Smurf porn, just Star Trek)

“Pass me the number seven molecular wrench, honey,” I said without looking up from my work. I needed to keep an eye on what I was doing because I had three micro-clamps and a positron patch in place, and the neutron flow was temporarily in reverse across two junctions in the common matter circuit. Tricky stuff.

Consuela (my Tejana subordinate) rummaged in the tool kit and handed me the wrench. Then the sat back against the bulkhead with her long, Latina legs stuck out across the corridor and blew through her lips.

“I’m bored, Skip,” she announced.

I made a tiny adjustment with the molecular wrench, returned the neutron flow to its proper direction – there, that should hold for now – and relaxed.

“I know, I know. It is boring sitting there while someone else does the work, but shipboard regulations state that each job on the replicator system has to be attended by at least two specialists, even if one of them has to stand around and scratch her bahookie while the other one grafts.”

“Hey!” Consuela objected, and I laughed.

“Anyhow,” I went on. “I just have a couple more tweaks to make and this wee fella will be replicating anything from the Works of Shakespeare to a planet!”

I could make a replicator sing the Marseillaise, and Consuela knew it!

I was just removing the last mirco-clamp and was about to pull my head out of the hatch and secure the cover, when there were footsteps along the narrow corridor.

“You there! Technicians! You’re in the way,” snapped a young voice. Consuela and I stood up to look at whomever it was in whose way we were. I rolled up the sleeves of my overalls just enough to reveal the skull tattoo with the words “Freedom or Death” in Romulan. We were, it appeared, in the way of four Starfleet Academy types. To us they seemed to be little more than teenagers. Two young men, two young women.

“Is this what they teach at the academy these days?” I said. “How to disrupt the most vital work on the ship? How to throw your insignificant weight around?”

The tallest of the group stepped forward, his face reddening.

“Is that how you address superior officers? Stand to attention! You’ll be on a charge for this!”

Consuela began to come to attention.

“As you were, Leading Replicator Technician Sanchez,” I said, glancing over my shoulder. Then I turned back to the young Academy type. “Superior officers? Three Ensigns and a Third Lieutentant in a uniform so new it hasn’t even developed a sweat-wrinkle yet. Four new-aboards who probably don’t know what part of the ship they’re in. Four pips who have yet to squeak. How long have you been on the USS Enterprise – a week? Two?”

“That’s beside the point. You’re insubordinate…”

“And you’re presumptuous. Check regulations, check the chain of command in this ship, check who is answerable to whom. You’ll find that Senior Technical Ranks in the Main Systems Groups are not answerable to Ensigns and Third Louies in Bridge Relief. In fact if anyone has to get out of the way, it’s you.”

The three Ensigns looked confused, but the Third Louie was still black-affronted and stood there with his hands on his skinny hips. I sighed.

“Okay,” I said “Let’s not make this any bigger than it needs to be. You’re new on board and you don’t know how things work. You’re full of Starfleet Academy and probably the applause of graduation is still ringing in your ears. Hey, that’s not a problem, everyone has to start somewhere. I can remember when I was an apprentice technician who had never left earth gravity and didn’t know one end of a gravitational torque meter from the other. We’ve all been there. But the more time you spend here on the Enterprise or any of the other Starships the more you will realise that ‘chain of command’ isn’t quite what you think it is. Okay, tell me – what do you think the most vital functional collectives in this ship are.”

“That’s easy,” said the tall one. “Bridge Command, Astro-Navigation, Main Engineering, and Weapons.”

I shook my head. “Straight out of Year One text book. And totally wrong. Anyone else care to hazard a guess?”

One of the ensigns, a young Vulcan with knitted brows, took a breath and said, “With all due respect to the Third Lieutenant, logic demands that the Scientific Division headed by the Science Officer should be in the first quartile, although strictly speaking it is a sub-division of Bridge Command. Similarly Warp Drive Division, although theoretically a sub-division of Main Engineering. If you insist that the rest of the Third Lieutenant’s selections are wrong - and I have to say the logic of that escapes me, then the Security and Away-Team sub-divisions seem the only remaining candidates of any relevance.”

I shook my head again. “No cigar, Logic-Boy. Anyone else?”

“Communications?” That was a small, slender girl with dark hair.

“Life support? Transporter?” That was her mousy friend.

“Miles away. Light years even. Okay, allow me to give you a lesson, if the Leff-tenant has no objection.” The young man in question turned bright red. Since Standard American had become the lngua franca of Starfleet some greenhorns tended to object to British pronunciation of their ranks. I ignored him and continued.

“As you all know, the working collectives on board a Starship are divided into what used to be called ‘Departments’ but what are now called ‘Divisions’, with an Officer of Commander level at its head. These may contain ‘sub-Divisions’, and both Divisions and sub-Divisions contain ‘Units’ with responsibility for specific duties. These duties are divided into ‘task areas’ and each task area is the responsibility of a ‘Team’. An individual operatives responsibility, whether command, executive, or active, is contained in a ‘Seat’ - one talks about ‘Navigation Seat’ and ‘Helm Seat’ on the Bridge, ‘Energiser Seat’ in Transport, and so on. All fairly basic...

Now, the four most important working collectives on a Starship are as follows, in reverse order. Number four - the Jeffries Tube Maintenance Team, headed by the Senior Jeffries Tube Technician. The Jeffries Tubes is vitally important to any Starship because it gives access...”

“Excuse me,” interrupted the knitted-brow Vulcan, his brows now at ‘purl one, take two together, cast off’. “You just said the ‘Jeffries Tubes is’. Didn’t you mean ‘the Jeffries Tubes are’?”

I shook my head.

“A common misconception,” I said. “The Jeffries Tubes, although grammatically a plural, is always referred to on board a Starship in the singular. It’s tradition, a bit like referring to the ship as ‘she’. Also, when you think...”

“I’ve never got that either,” broke in one of the other ensigns. “Even the USS Richard Millhouse Nixon is referred to as ‘she’.”

“... of it, the Jeffries Tubes is a single system throughout the whole ship. It is a single tubes. One tubes. A discrete tubes. Each segment has a different designation - Port Upper Decks Transfer, Lower Engineering Third Junction, Accommodation Straight-through, Aft Fluke, Gunnery Deck Archangel Moroni Passway...”

“Pardon me?”

“... Don’t ask. Anyhow, as well as giving access to all vital systems and carrying all the major functional trunking, cable, and busbars, the Jeffries Tubes is invaluable when the ship is boarded by unfriendly aliens. They may occupy the whole ship and lock the Bridge Command in Sick Bay, but they never think of the Jeffries Tubes, and the Bridge Command always manage to out-flank them by going through the Jeffries Tubes. Voila!

Okay, at number three we have the Inertia Damping System Maintenance Unit. Now the Inertia Damping System are the...”

“Er... “ interrupted the young Vulcan. “... nothing. Please carry on.”

I heaved a melodramatic sigh and continued.

“The Inertia Damping System are the most important element of a Starship’s mechanical function. Without it even the most sophisticated Starship would have to take several weeks to accelerate even to quarter impulse power if its crew was to survive. It would have to function as nothing more than an un-manned probe.”

It’s truly remarkable how the words ‘un-manned probe’ always cause laughter amongst young Academy types. I allowed the sniggering to die down and continued.

“Number two - the Heisenberg Compensator Maintenance Team. If the circuits on which compensating for the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle relied were so much as a thou out of whack, then the whole transporter system would have to be shut down and everything would have to be transported by shuttle. The HC is the thing that stops a transporter beaming your molecules randomly across all points in the Universe simultaneously. That compensation is, of course, impossible, so the HC is incredibly complex and incredibly important. Without it all Away Team work, prime freight transference, etcetera etcetera would be slow, expensive, unviable.”

“I must ask you this, as you’re a technical... person... officer... um...” The Third Lieutenant was now much less sure of himself than he previously had been. “How does the Heisenberg Compensator actually work?”

“It actually works very well, thank you,” I said and went on without a pause. “Top of the list and undeniably the most important working collective on this and any other Starship is the Replicator Maintenance Unit. On this ship that means me – I’m the head of the Replicator Maintenance Unit on the USS Enterprise and I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking she would say that. Well yeah, of course I would. But also it happens to be true. Just look around at everything that isn’t welded down in this ship, and a good many things which are. Where did you draw that tricorder from, Third Leff-tenant?”

“Stores… er… Ma’am.”

“Uh-huh. Logic Boy, your communicator, where did you get that?”

“Stores, Chief Technician Marshall,” he answered, reading the designation on my overalls.

“Okay. All of you, the shipboard uniforms with the Enterprise’s own cuff-flash, where did those come from?”

“Direct from the Quartermaster, Chief,” said the mousy young woman.

“And where did you all eat last?”

“Mess Deck,” they chorused.

“Right. In that case everything you have used or consumed in all those activities has been made possible by the efficient functioning of the Replicator System,” I said. I paused and looked at them.

The Third Lieutenant thought for a few moments.

“So… the Replicator System is… are… er… is…” he faltered. I didn’t help him out. He settled on ‘is’. “The Replicator System is the most important… thingie in the ship, right?”

“Exactly,” I said. “Keep up this standard, Third Leff-tenant, and you’ll go far! Now then ladies and gentlemen. Would any of you like to hazard a guess at the basic principles of replication?”

The mousy one put up her hand, as though she was still in school. “Please Ma’am, it responds to a verbal, visual, or electronic command by searching a database in which is stored the precise, sub-atomic template for several trillion objects and substances and constructing the object or substance specified in the command.”

I nodded and she beamed.

“Yep,” I said. “Straight out of ‘Starship 101’! But can you tell me what it constructs the ‘object or substance’ out of? Anyone?”

They looked around at each other as though reluctant to speak, as though they had an answer but were reluctant to give it, knowing that it would only reveal their ignorance when my follow-up question came. Then the dark-haired young woman piped up.

“Common Matter, Ma’am.”

“Yes, Ensign,” I said. “Full marks. Good old Common Matter. Anyone know what that is? No? Well it’s a kind of soup made from cosmic particles gathered at the forward nacelle scoops and the main saucer scoop.”

They looked relieved that they hadn’t been required to answer, and interested even.

“Look,” I said. “No it bloody well isn’t. I only said that to see if you would be daft enough to swallow it. What ‘forward nacelle scoops’? What ‘main saucer scoop’? Look, here’s a schematic of the Enterprise on this bulkhead – point them out to me. Go ahead. Okay you can’t, because there aren’t any such things, and you ought to know that! But I wasn’t kidding about Common Matter, it exists. Which of you bright sparks is going to tell me where we get it from?”

I looked at them. They were not so much bright sparks any more as they were four pieces of damp kindling. If you have ever back-packed on the planet Monsoonia and tried to light a camp fire you’ll understand the metaphor.

“Oh-kaaaayyy,” I sighed. “Common Matter is the product of every redundant and wasted item that the ship might produce. Anything we don’t need, anything we discard, is converted to its basic sub-atomic nature, compressed, and stored in the Common Matter Tank… right here… see the schematic? It’s maintained by a specialist team, full title the Replicator Maintenance Unit Common Matter Tank Maintenance Team – ‘the Tankers’ for short. They’re headed by a Senior Replicator Technician who reports direct to me. The USS Enterprise is a green ship, it recycles everything it wastes. Even the urine and fecal matter you flush away in the heads…”

There was a silence in the corridor that you could have driven a screw into as what I had said sunk in. The young Vulcan spoke first.

“But that means…”

“Uh huh. You have been eating your own poop since the day you stepped on board.”

I never realised before that people really did turn green with nausea. Of course the Vulcan didn’t, being already green – it’s the copper in Vulcan blood – but his companions now had the same skin tone exactly.

“Er… may we be excused, Ma’am?” said the Third Lieutenant.

“Dismissed.” I said, and they legged it down the corridor. I could hear retching as they fled into the nearest turbo-lift. I hoped they could hold it.

“You’re bloody evil, Marie,” said Consuela.

“What? Why? It’s perfectly true that sewage from the heads goes into Common Matter.”

“Yeah, I know that. It’s more that you’ll now have three Ensigns and a Third Louie saluting all the Technicians in the ship, talking about the Archangel Moroni, and sounding like idiots when they mix up their grammar.”

“By the time they realise they’ve been had, they’ll have grown up enough to see it was all part of their learning curve” I said. “Anyhow, I’ve got news for you – you’ll like this – I booked the Warrant Officers’ Forward Conference Room for oh eight hundred…”

“So what?”

“Well, I also hacked into the electronic diaries for Yeoman Janice Rand and Lieutenant Nyota Uhura and scheduled a meeting for them in the same room for the same time.”

“I just know there’s more to this,” said Consuela.

“Damn right. Here’s the good bit,” I said, not able to suppress a grin. “I also tweaked their personal replicator out-ports so that when they ask for a spray of their favourite ‘Hyper-kitteh’ perfume it comes laced with a powerful Sapphrodisiac.”

Consuela thought for a minute, then said, “I’ll fight you for Uhura.”

“Hold that thought,” I replied.

We picked up the tool kit and jack-and-jilled it down the corridor. Consuela shook her head as she walked.

“Totally, utterly evil…”

Thursday, 1 September 2011

The Top Ten

I have been playing around with my site stats, and I thought you might like to know what my most popular pages have been. There are some surprises.

1.  Survival, psychopathy, and Smurf porn was the page which first reminded me that there was a stats facility which would give me details of how many hits a page had had and where they came from. In this case the very words 'Smurf porn' had ensured that this post featured on the first page of Google if you mentioned those words. You could have knocked me down with a feather. I hope the Googlers weren't too disappointed with the almost total lack of Smurf porn in the post!

2.  Smurf porn! Smurf porn! Smurf porn! Well, it worked once...

3.  The 10 best mass protests was actually reproduced directly from an article by Ed Vulliamy, published originally in The Observer.

4.  Свобода або Смерть (3) was the last of three articles I wrote about Ukrainian anarchist leader Nestor Makhno. It attracted a number of long and interesting comments.

5.  The Five Champions was my attempt at writing a 'mumming play', plus further observations about the blackening the face in English traditional ritual. One of the most difficult aspects of this topic has been persuading American readers to separate it from stage 'blackface' entertainment. The post includes clips to some interesting examples of traditional British sword dancing.

6.  Smurf porn: 'Legally Lesbian Smurfs' ... well... okay I had another go, this time satirising mainstream porno. I'm actually surprised this doesn't sit at No.3!

7.  Of Anarchism, Lies, and Sports bras. It does exactly what it says on the tin!

8.  Brain-teasers. I asked three questions, two of which were (slightly) trick questions and the other was a plea for information on a simply matter of physics.

9.  More of Keats and Chapman - one of many!

10.  Brain-teasers and guns, where you will find the answers to the brain-teasers in No.8 and a history of gun control in the UK.

Any of these might be worth revisiting, don't you think? :-)

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

... stops here!

President Harry S Truman looked around the Oval Office. His eye took in the rich, red drapes, the deep carpet in the same shade, the mahogany of the furniture. He glanced over each shoulder – right, left – to take in the Stars-and-Stripes and his own Presidential Standard, and reflected that the room was still very much to the taste of Roosevelt his predecessor. How could it not be? FDR was such a dominating personality. He asked himself whether he had the courage (or the energy, or the time…) to redecorate.

Perhaps at this moment he doubted himself a little, but Truman was indeed a man of character. He looked down at his desk. Yes, here was the new Truman Presidency, ordered, workmanlike, symmetrical – that’s how he would be. A place for his pen, a place for his presidential blotter, a place for everything, yes everything was in order, so why was he frowning?

“What is missing?” he thought.

His frown deepened when he caught sight of something he had been trying to avoid looking at. A tarpaulin had been laid on the carpet, and on that was the carcass of a freshly-killed white-tailed deer, a fine male with a single bullet hole in its forehead. It was a gift from an eager, young White House aide who had heard that the President liked hunting. In that the aide had miscalculated – Truman shot grouse, not deer.

The President got up and walked round to the front of his desk. The carcass would not go away of its own accord, it had to be dealt with, a decision had to be made and it was the Commander-in-Chief who had to make it. No one else would make it for him.

“What the hell use would there be in a President who knew how to skin a damn deer?” he asked aloud. The walls of the Oval Office echoed his rhetorical question. He looked down at the white-tailed buck, then to the empty space on his desk. His frown melted. An idea formed in his mind and he made a decision. He lifted the Presidential phone and spoke to his secretary Matthew Connelly.

“Matt,” he said. “Get me the Presidential Butcher. And while you’re at it, get me the Presidential Carpenter and the Presidential Signwriter too…”

Saturday, 20 August 2011

John Pilger on the recent riots

I am grateful to blogger Ian Bone for drawing our attention to John Pilger's article in the New Statesman 18th August 2011. John Pilger is a left-wing journalist whose writings are always worth attention even if you find yourself in disagreement with him. In the light of that, if you do follow the link above and read the article don't forget to check out readers' comments too. I was glad to see the comment I reproduce below, because I have noticed that the main thing to emerge from analyses of the riots is the strengthening of the various analysts' prejudices.

"Turns out these riots really are a blank canvas for one's own views to be liberally painted on. On the left? Its the rise of the proleteriat. On the right? Its the breakdown of social order through years of lefty government. Are you a racist? Turns out these riots were the result of them coloured types. Interested in employment issues? Turns out the riots are all about youth unemployment. It's boring and it adds no new insight whatsoever. Can all writers and leaders on all sides of the fence at least make an effort to understand these riots instead of simply using them to legitimise their own ideologies? Is that really too much to ask?"

Friday, 19 August 2011

Diary of a glass-half-empty person 32: Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition.

There was a knock at the flap of the tepee this morning. Consuela (my Tejana maid) being busy in the scullery, scullering, I answered the knock myself. Pulling back the flap I was surprised to see what appeared to be a UPS delivery man, or something very like one. Let me enumerate the differences for you.

Difference the first:- being the scarlet of his uniform, as opposed to the brown of UPS.

Difference the second:- being the rococo, crowned escutcheon bearing an upright cross upon a small Calvary flanked by a wild olive branch and a rapier  embroidered on the left breast of said uniform in place of the UPS logo.

Difference the third:- being the red beanie on his head, somewhat in the likeness of a yarmulke, in place of the UPS cap.

Difference the fourth:- being a heavy silver crucifix on a chain of the same around his neck, this being totally lacking in a UPS uniform.

“Spanish Inquisition,” he announced, holding out one of those hand-held gizmos and a plastic stylus. “Sign here please.”

I choked back the obvious reply to his announcement but did not take the proffered gizmo and stylus. He continued to hold it out, meanwhile looking quizzically at me and shifting his balance from one foot to the other.

“Spanish Inquisition?” I queried.

“Yes. Spanish Inquisition. You are Muzz Marshall, yes?”

“I am.”

“Muzz Marie Marshall, The Teepee, The Sidlaws, by Dundee?”

“Yes indeed, I am she, but I know nothing of any ‘Spanish Inquisition’.”

He retracted and reversed his gizmo and looked at it with some puzzlement. “Yep, that’s what it says here – ‘Muzz Marie Marshall, The Teepee, The Sidlaws, by Dundee; one all-in discount package Spanish Inquisition, including auto-da-fé and execution in effigie’.”

“Well, I’m a little surprised,” I said.

At that he brightened up and held out the gizmo and stylus. “Ah, well, you see, ‘surprise’ is one of the diverse elements amongst our weaponry.”

“Yes I heard that. I also heard that ‘ruthless efficiency’ was another one, but I’m afraid that you’ve rather let the side down in that respect. No Inquisition, Spanish or otherwise, has been ordered at this address.”

His face fell and he looked around.

“Is there another Marshall household in the area?” he asked.

“Not to my knowledge,” I said.

“Another ‘teepee’ perhaps?”

I gestured, and he looked around again at the bare, uninhabited hillside, and at the surrounding and equally bare hills.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “You appear to have had a wasted journey.”

“Okay, Madam. Sorry to have troubled you,” he said and walked off back down the faint sentier that winds from the tepee to the nearest track that will accommodate vehicles. He was staring at his gizmo and talking into his Blackberry. A few words drifted back on the nagging, Sidlaw wind.

“Chief? Cardinal Ginger here… yep… yep… nope, you gave me the wrong name and address… I mean, it’s not bloody rocket science, is it...”

I shut the flap of the tepee and settled down on my chaise longue to watch TV again. I hugged my secret, dark, dangerous heresy to my bosom and smiled a smug smile.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Time for a bit of good news

After a decline to near-extinction in the UK, otters can now be found in every county in England. Terry Nutkins (what an ideal name for a wild-animal conservationist) expressed his delight. What makes that last fact so great is that Terry had two of his fingers bitten off by an otter when he was a boy. I kid you not.

I'm delighted too, by the way. I love 'em. My only regret, and that of Consuela (my Tejana maid), is that the teepee is too far from water for us to see them on a regular basis.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

3 Lessons from History and Current Affairs

I am currently looking at three posters and going back in time as I do.

The first one is from one of the many anarchist blogs that I read. The blogger, Ian Bone, posts compulsively and has a long train of followers. His thoughts are explosive and controversial, sometimes questionable (for example I don’t expect him to change his mind about the recent riots in the UK but I do wish he would take a step back and review his assessment of the rioters as a revolutionary force – to my mind that is ascribing motives to them that they did not have, or at best didn’t know they had), but always worth reading.

The poster advertises a forthcoming protest to take place outside Eton College. The illustration demonstrates the scattergun approach of the blog. The poster mentions Eton, the illustration pertains to Oxford.

 It shows the Bullingdon Club of a few years ago. The Bullingdon Club is a socially exclusive dining club for the sons of the rich and influential. In the picture above amongst the formally-dressed, indolent loungers is the young David Cameron (now Prime Minister of Great Britain) and Boris Johnson (now Mayor of London). The behaviour of members of the Bullingdon Club is often mentioned these days in comparison and contrast to the recent inner-city rioters. I shall give some examples. 12th May 1894[1] and 20th February 1927[2] were two occasions when club members, after dinner, smashed almost all the glass of the lights and 468 windows in Peckwater Quad of Christ Church, along with the blinds and doors of the building. Andrew Gimson, biographer of Boris Johnson, reported about the club in the 1980s: "I don't think an evening would have ended without a restaurant being trashed and being paid for in full, very often in cash. [...] A night in the cells would be regarded as being par for a Buller man and so would debagging anyone who really attracted the irritation of the Buller men."[3] There is also an unverifiable quote currently circulating on Facebook, attributed to David Cameron: “Things got out of hand & we’d had a few drinks. We smashed the place up and Boris set fire to the toilets.” And yes, this is the same David Cameron who said recently about less-socially-favoured smashers and burners: "The looting and arson last night were criminality, pure and simple. Justice will be done and the people will see the consequences for their crimes”. I know it’s a comparison that has been milked and milked lately so I’ll leave it at that.

The second poster I’m looking at is this one from 1942, which announces the internment of Japanese-Americans in the Presidio of San Francisco CA following the attack on Pearl Harbour. It does not relate directly to the first poster except that it is of historical interest. I came across it whilst researching the photography of Dorothea Lange who documented the 1930s and 40s in America, focusing on the conditions of the then-socially-excluded such as migrant workers, people of Japanese heritage, etc.

The final poster is one of which I can’t find an image. It dates from 1912 and contains the following words: “Soldiers, don’t betray your class. You may soon be ordered to open fire upon Workers. Refuse!” It was the publication of this poster by British syndicalists[4] which resulted in the cause célèbre of the so-called ‘Syndicalist Trials’ of 1912, at which the Incitement To Mutiny Act 1797 was invoked and used to prosecute and silence trade union activists.

The reason I am drawing these three things together is this. Even in states that pride themselves on their ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy’ the law can be used as a spiked bludgeon to stifle political dissent. They can be used against whole sections of society bluntly and indiscriminately. I want to sound a warning and to sound it now. I want people to bear in mind that any new laws, any toughening of existing law, any resurrection of archaic law, any hike in sentencing policy, that are now used against the recent rioters in Britain – people for whom there is little public sympathy and against whom there is understandable anger – will be used in the future as a threat against dissent and activism. It is inevitable.


[1] New York Times, 13th May 1894.

[2] J G Sinclair, A Portrait of Oxford, 2007

[3] BBC News: Cameron photo is banned, 2nd March 2007.

[4] Actually I am not sure whether it was ever published as a poster. It was certainly published in the January 1912 issue of The Syndicalist.

Monday, 15 August 2011

I never promised a rose garden

(reproduced verbatim from the blog of an artistic collaborator of mine - Marie Taylor)
I was reading a book the other day – nothing really memorable except the passage I am about to relate. It was a science fictionbook in which the hero finds the ‘ancient artifact’ that gives him a glimpse into his future. Hero is happy to discover he will live to a ripe old age, be admired and respected by others, and died surrounded by his many loved ones. What a great future! I thought to myself – one that I would like to have but doubt I will achieve.
Anyway, this belief in his future gives the hero courage and a sort of trust in life and in himself that he hadn’t had before and he plunges, with a careless grace, into all sorts of adventures. But further on in the story, when confronted by a dangerous adversary, he has to make the choice of two actions. In that crisis he suddenly thought that the future the ancient artifact has presented was not the future that ‘would be’ but the future that ‘could be.’
In an instant his understanding of the vision changed. There was no Guarantee. The future he had seen was not a certainty, only a probability, or perhaps at best, only a possibility. Since his rosy future was not guaranteed, the hero’s courage wavered; fear took up residence in his heart.
Before this revelation, the hero would plunge blithely forward – the Fool, the Innocent – but he now began to analyze situations, to weigh and balance options. Before he made no plans and set no goals because the future was assured; he now began to devise tactics and set strategies to manifest the future he desired. Instead of living in Faith, he began to live in Hope.
How much control do we have over our lives? How much power do we have to influence outcomes, achieve goals, to determine our futures? Is it better to live in Faith or in Hope?
I remember a few years ago when the book “The Secret” was such a sensation. As I understood it, if you just desired hard enough, if you just affirmed strongly enough, if you just believed deeply enough, if you prayed hard enough, you could have anything you wanted. And there was an implied lifestyle to accompany this.
If you set goals, met deadlines, uncovered subconscious assumptions; if you stop eating meat, did yoga and meditated, rode a bicycle and saved energy; if you recycled, championed peace and human rights, you would become spiritually worthy of all good things – and all good things would eventually come to you.
In other words, if you played the spiritual game according to the rules, you would be safe, happy, healthy, loved, etc. The vision of yourself you pictured in your personal ancient artifact would come true. Your ‘could be’ would become a ‘would be.’
But real life doesn’t exist in a world of Newtonian physics. Causality is not the ultimate arbiter of destiny. Goals, deadlines, affirmations, belief systems don’t work with that level of certainty. Just ask the vegetarians who developed cancer, the yoga experts who had a heart attack, the ‘good’ people who suffered economic or emotional devastation. Just ask the Jobs of this world.
This life is not a rose garden and it is naïve to believe playing by the ‘rules’ will get you what you want. Life is not an academic course that comes with a text book and mid term exams; nor does it come with a roadmap with carefully marked rest stops.
Maybe it would be more correct to say it is a Fun House at the carnival, filled with unexpected twists and turns, a bumpy ride with the occasional bogeyman jumping out, a hall of mirrors in which reality has many dimensions. Maybe life is just an adventure to be lived, rather than a lesson to be learned or a trophy to be won. Maybe life is an experience in which hope is not needed, and is, in fact, a place where hope keeps us from experience by placing the emphasis on the destination rather than the journey.
So I say give up hope and deadlines and goals and achievements. If you must have a vision, see yourself in total surrender to what life brings; that way all decisions and stresses and indeterminations are set aside, along with worry and suffering. All is meant to be exactly as it is; we are all doing the very best we can right now; and we are all part of the Great Game that does not keep score.

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Juan Guzmán – a remarkable photographer

Whilst researching for striking images I came across the two below by the same photographer. Hans Gutmann was German by birth and upbringing, but came to Spain at the time of the Revolution* and changed his name to Juan Guzmán. He was a war photographer and spent his time with the International Brigades. Apart from that I can find very little about him.

The first photograph is of the Catholic priest Martin Martinez Pascual.

The photograph was supposedly taken immediately before his execution on 18th August 1936. He is counted as a martyr amongst some Catholics and is supposed to have called out “Viva Cristo Rey!” (“Long live Christ the King”) before he was killed. I can’t substantiate the claims about when this photo was taken nor about his last words; however, if there is any truth in that it is indeed a remarkable photo. The subject is relaxed, hands on hips, looking directly at the camera, and there is even a smile on his face. It’s a picture of courage. The Catholic apologist on whose blog I found the photo said of Guzmán, “We may assume that he was a communist”. Fair bet, although I can find no record of his having been a combatant.

The second picture is of the Miliciana Maria Jinesta.

Maria was a member of the Socialist Militia associated with the UGT** and she is pictured here on a high spot in Barcelona, again in 1936. Again the subject is smiling and looking directly at the camera. It is almost as though Guzmán’s technique is to get his subjects to look directly at the camera, saying “Show us who you really are, show us your truth”. How much his photographs are contrived or staged, beyond this liking for the full face, I couldn’t say.

As I say, very little seems to be known about Gutmann/Guzmán. His work is virtually unknown in his native Germany. He survived his time in Spain and WW2 and his death date was possibly 1982 (which would put these images outside public domain) but again I can’t confirm that. The latest photo of his that I have seen was of Frida Kahlo in 1951. Anyhow, I want to mark his work here, and that’s that.

Juan Guzmán


* Better known as the Civil War, but it was in fact a revolutionary situation first and foremost.

** Unión General de Trabajadores (General Union of Workers)

Smurf porn: ‘Legally Lesbian Smurfs’

‘Law Offices of Strappitt, van Smurfen, and Fuchs’ is how the brass plaque by the door read. I straightened my seams, pulled my skirt down a little, cursing under my breath at my decision to wear such a short one, and went in.

I had the impression of wood, deep leather, and fittings of burnished brass everywhere. Class. There was even a touch of class about the receptionist who greeted me – at least there was a hint of a raised eyebrow, a suggestion of a smirk, and when she asked “May I help you?” a soupçon of superiority. I almost beat a retreat, but I straightened my back and announced myself.

“Lisa McBlue,” I said. “To see Ms van Smurfen.”

“Take a seat,” said the receptionist, her fingers clicking on the computer screen. I sat in one of the leather fauteuils, sinking deep into it, my heels leaving the floor, my skirt riding up. I picked up a copy of Harvard Law Today from the low table and pretended to read it.

“Ms van Smurfen, I have a Miss McBlue to see you… mhm… mhm… yes, I’d say she is, very. Certainly Ms van Smurfen, right away.” A single click on the computer keyboard, and the receptionist look up. “Miss McBlue, Ms van Smurfen will see you now. Second door on the right. Just knock and go straight in.”

“Thank you,” I said, getting up and straightening my skirt and stockings once again, this time under the appraising eye of the receptionist. I didn’t care now and I didn’t care that I could feel her eyes on me as I walked down the corridor.

“Watch my ass if you must!” I thought, and gave it a bit of a wiggle as I walked.

When I reached the office door. The sign on it said ‘Meryl van Smurfen, Senior Partner’. I knocked but somehow I didn’t care to walk straight in, maybe it was the intimidation of the sign on the door. Instead I hesitated. There was a pause.

“Come!” called a voice from inside the office. I pushed the door and walked in.

I don’t know what I had expected my prospective boss to be like, but I got a surprise as I walked through the doorway. Across an expanse of rich, burgundy carpet, behind a leather-topped desk, was a beautiful woman. As she rose to greet me, coming round the side of the desk with her hand extended, I took her in. Hair the color of summer sunshine topped by a white Phrygian cap set at a racy angle, charcoal business suit over a crisp, white blouse, high heels holding a perfect figure in an impossible balance. She had a baby-face with cupid-bow lips, but her eyes were shrewd, knowing, her whole face sensual, sapphire blue…

“I’m Meryl van Smurfen,” she said, taking my hand and shaking it with gentle firmness. “You must be Miss McBlue – Lisa isn’t it? Take a seat Lisa.”

As she dropped the handshake her fingertips briefly traced a curve on my palm. I felt slightly prickly under my arms, slightly damp… elsewhere. I looked at the only chair this side of the desk. It was set far back across the room. Ah, this was part of the interview, I was being tested. Instead of sitting down on it, I moved it closer to the desk – not too close. Ms van Smurfen watched and smiled.

I sat down, my legs together, trying to look alert but relaxed. Ms van Smurfen opened a file on her desk.

“I have your CV here, Lisa. It’s pretty impressive. I think you are just what we are looking for in an intern at this law firm,” she said.

“Thank you.”

“I think we can dispense with much of the usual interview nonsense and cut to the chase. If you are to work with us here you will have to buy in to the culture… get used to our way of doing things, not just in the way we work but the way we play.”

I said nothing. I didn’t know what to make of what Ms van Smurfen had just said, so I didn’t reply. She got up from her seat and came round the side of the desk again, seating herself on the desk-top. There was a whisper of nylon-on-nylon as she crossed her legs. The top of a stocking appeared at her hemline – I couldn’t help looking, her legs were so shapely – and there was a whiff of Poivre by Caron of Paris. I was embarrassed to catch a different scent also, one of arousal. Was that me?

“You know what I mean, I’m sure, don’t you Lisa,” she said, lowering her voice.

“I… I… don’t know, Ms van Smurfen.”

She leant forward, her sky-blue cleavage right at my eye-level, put two azure fingers under my chin, and lifted my face so that our eyes met.

“Oh I’m sure you do know,” she said. “And it’s Meryl, call me Meryl. I insist.”

“Meryl,” I breathed as she leant forward and touched her lips lightly to mine. She drew back slightly, again looking into my eyes to see if there was any reluctance there. There was a little surprise and some timidity but – oh! – I can tell you there was no reluctance! Her eyes closed and she brought her face to mine again, capturing my lips again in a soft yet insistent kiss. My eyes closed too as she held the kiss. I felt my cheeks flush, my heartbeat quicken. When I opened my eyes again she had deftly shed not only the jacket of her suit but also her blouse, and her round, enticing, cerulean breasts were cradled in a white halter-bra.

I scarcely noticed that while she was kissing me her fingertips had strayed from my chin to my neck, and from there to the neckline of my blouse. I scarcely noticed that she had unfastened two buttons. All I knew was that her nails were tracing a line along my bra-strap and the top of the cup. A thrill ran through me as her fingers dived inside and glided over my [continued on page 94]


pic Tim Hodge