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Thursday, 26 March 2015

Jeremy Clarkson

Jeremy Clarkson is a marmite personality, loved by many, loathed by others. I understand why some like him and why others despise him. I don't even have to leave the couch to understand the polarity of opinion. The internet allows those of like minded views to read like minded blogs and God help anyone who deviates from the party line on these like minded blogs. 

I don't watch Top Gear, can't abide cars though I like to be driven, but an aspect of the whole furore niggles me. Clarkson has been sacked for punching his producer who failed to do his job. The BBC's position  is that Clarkson 'crossed a line' in doing so and this is being propagated in  its various outlets.

 One could ask the question why top Premier League footballers are not sacked when they kick, or stamp on opponents in the heat of the moment. There would have been uproar on Merseyside if Steve Gerrard had been sacked for one such recent offence. In fact the Premier League would be decimated if everyone was immediately sacked for 'crossing a line.' Then again one could ask who defines 'crossing a line'.

This leads on the more serious question. In 1988, the BBC's Mark Thompson made an apparently unprovoked attack on a senior television journalist, Anthony Massey. He lunged at him snarling and sank his teeth into Massey's upper left arm. In Massey's words: "I pulled my arm out of his jaws, like a stick out of the jaws of a labrador. The key thing is, we didn't have a row first, or even speak." The affair was hushed up.  When he complained that Thompson hadn't even apologised or explained, his boss told him 'This whole place is full of f…. ...  headbangers." Massey was still unhappy about it, and was promptly sent on a dangerous assignment to Rwanda. 

There are stories, too, that Thompson once tried to strangle a video editor for handing in an obituary too late for broadcast. Another well known broadcaster, Jeremy Paxman remarked about Thompson "The bloke is quite clearly insane. Bloody hell. If any of this came out, he'd be toast."

Well, Mark Thompson wasn't made toast. He was promoted to the post of Director General of the BBC, (where he tried to hush up the Jimmy Savile paedophilia scandal,) and is now CEOof the New York Times.

So the question to be answered is not why you like or dislike Jeremy Clarkson, but why there is one law for some and another law for others?

 * This image was originally posted to Flickr by eirikso at http://flickr.com/photos/47402349@N00/3029958618. It was reviewed on by the FlickreviewR robot and was confirmed to be licensed under the terms of the cc-by-sa-2.0.

Thursday, 19 March 2015

By God, Sir! So you have.

On the evening of June 18th 1815 the Duke of Wellington and Lord Uxbridge were riding side by side when a stray volley of grapeshot struck Uxbridge's right leg. Lord Uxbridge turned to the Duke and said:
By God, Sir! I've lost my leg
And Wellington replied:
"By God, Sir! So you have."
                                                                    Lord Uxbridge

The battle of Waterloo saw others less fortunate.  55,000 were killed or wounded. In one key respect it was worse than the first day of the Battle of the Somme. There 234 lay injured per mile of front. At Waterloo 2,291 lay injured per mile of front - many left bleeding to death. A few days later the London dentists arrived and extracted their teeth, revolutionising dentistry.

Waterloo Teeth

 All a far cry from the evening before at the Duchess of Richmond's Ball:
Brilliantly evoked in Thackery's 'Vanity Fair' but the pictures are good too.
 Bad news. Napoleon is almost upon them. Party-pooper!

                                                   We're coming for you Party-pooper!

Michael Crumplin, in his book, The Bloody Fields of Waterloo reveals that there were 2000 amputations that evening and the following day. The amputation was usually conducted standing up for speed was essential.  In Crumplin's words:

"They would cut the flesh with large capital amputation knives and then divide the bone with a saw. That would take only a few minutes but then you had to make sure you had control of all the arteries, which had to be tied off individually. Then you would dress the wound. In all it would take about fifteen minutes." (About the time needed to make and eat a round of cheese on toast.) Just as well because there were no anaesthetics other than spirits and on rare occasions, a small dose of opium. 

Lord Uxbridge apparently didn't flinch, except on the one occasion the saw jammed on the bone. The leg was buried in the garden where the amputation took place, and a plaque marking the spot was a tourist attraction for some years.

Crumplin makes the point that most injuries were from spent musket balls that penetrated the skin. "Being round, although they didn't have the destructive power of modern bullets, they did carry items of clothing into the wound - cloth infested with bacteria - which was a huge problem." It was why soldiers queued for the surgeon's saw. After twenty years of warfare they had seen the speed of gangrene, and its horrific effects. 

One final, interesting statistic from Crumplin's book is that of the 6,800 men wounded at Waterloo, 75% of them had rejoined their regiments by 1816. Injury and death were obviously preferable to the alternative as an agricultural labourer. Their officers, equally brave but having more options, resumed their dancing.

Thursday, 12 March 2015

Any Questions

Friday March 6th got off to a poor start. I found myself seduced by a packet of bread. (I'd be easy pickings in the red light district of Amsterdam) It was a Waitrose Duchy Organic wholemeal 'without reliance on artificial chemicals or fertilisers.' I was looking forward to it all day, deciding on a cheese and tomato sandwich prior to attending 'Any Questions'.

The bread left a dry, acrid after-taste. It was horrible - even with half a bottle of mayonnaise hurriedly applied to disguise it. How was this possible, with its tasteful packaging, its wholewheat grown on the sun-kissed estates of Prince Charles? Try it by all means, but I advise you to stick with his eggs. 

In consequence I was quite hungry when I walked the one and half miles to the Blake theatre, where Any Questions was due to be held. We were advised to take our seats by 6.45, and it was packed to the gunnels. I followed a bunch of schoolgirls, all quite excited, some brandishing their tickets. The foyer was full of pupils from both the Girls' and the Boys' school, along with parents and a full crossection of Monmouth's finest, some of whom, judging by their resigned expressions, might have sampled a Waitrose Duchy Organic wholemeal cheese sandwich. 

The 'warm up' began at 7.30 and was conducted by a tall sprightly lady with short hair and quite a deep voice. She reminded the audience of the program's history, how it was now 67 years old, and how it all began - an impromptu alternative to a radio quiz. There had been a hitch and moments before going on air the quiz audience were treated instead to four politicians and an invite to ask them any questions they wished. The rest, as they say, is history.

She asked us had we listened to Any Questions the previous week, and reminded us, with some relish, how the UKIP spokesman on the panel had been given a slow handclap by the audience. I thought it a weird thing to say in terms of the famed 'impartiality' of the BBC. We were being invited to laugh at the fat boy who had farted in class. 

Just before eight, the panel came on to the stage, along with the chairman, a BBC stalwart, Jonathan Dimbleby, and his producer who sat alongside him. She seemed to be staring at an iPad during most of the programme, occasionally scribbling a note and passing it on to Dimbleby, who would then 'spontaneously' interject with a question to whoever was speaking. 

The panel consisted of Baroness Brinton, President of the Liberal Democrats, Chris Bryant, Shadow Culture Minister, Mark Harper Minister for Disabled People, and Efyn Llwyd WestMinister Group Leader for Plaid Cwmru. They were an interesting bunch of people to watch, not necessarily to listen to. 

Baroness Brinton cultivated an 'incisive woman of sense persona.' Efyn Llwyd came across as everyone's favourite uncle, with his small moustache and bulging waistline. He twinkled. You could imagine him giving children a polished silver sixpence and dancing at Christmas in shirt and braces. You would go to him for advice if you had a suitably small investment. 

   Mark Harper, famed for breaking his leg dancing on a Soho restaurant table.

Mark Harper on the other hand looked like Richard III. He was sober suited and did not seem to be enjoying himself - a crucial failing before a live audience - as any teacher will testify. In contrast, Chris Bryant played the crowd with gestures and pantomime winks - something those listening on radio can't see but a live audience responds to. He was glib, and quite patronising to Richard III. On several occasions he told the sombre suited Harper how deeply he loved him despite him being an absolute fool. 

 Chris Bryant, famed for taking selfies in his underpants. The rich underbelly of Parliament.

Afterwards several old ladies congregated round the boyish Chris Bryant who looked suitably pleased.

Friday, 6 March 2015

Waking up. The ritual

Once upon a time, getting up was easy, a well-defined pleasure. It was a simple matter of arising before anyone else, making a huge pot of tea and sitting in darkness listening, and every so often cursing, at the radio. Grumpy man. Lacking a cat. 

And then two things happened. We bought an iPad. 

And Osbaston, a tiny suburb of Monmouth was hit by a wave of burglaries. This was great news for our local paper, The Beacon. With over 28 burglaries in just a few months in said tiny Osbaston, it positively salivated with headlines like Terror Hits Osbaston. Burglar alarm companies salivated even more, selling their products like hotcakes. 

And yes, we are now the proud possessor of a burglar alarm. If a mouse twitches in our house, all of South Wales knows about it. 

Problem is, getting up in the morning. I'm usually halfway down the stairs before a ferocious beeping warns me I have only 15 seconds to switch the damn thing off!

Then there is the aforementioned iPad.

This has changed my morning routine completely. I still make the huge pot of tea and sit in the dark with the radio, but now I'm scanning cyberspace as well--- the early morning mail, one or two select blogs and online news sites, and the Devil's own timesink---Facebook. And all the time the radio is weaving in news. A sensory duelling banjos, a rich and diverse pattern of neural activity, synaptic overload - it's a fine balance, but the tea helps.

Inbetween refilling my cup I'm flipping through cartoons, pictures of cats, online campaigns, people selling their books, things friends find funny (and many of them are) And then the Scylla and Charybdis of 'Waking Times' and the sciencey '109' 

I've forgotten now how they came to be on my Facebook page, but get sucked into them, and your doomed, your brain reduced to that of a magpie.

Waking Times is preoccupied with GM foods, the effects of fluoride. (apparently it's very bad for the pineal gland, and in consequence your spiritual growth, which is all part of an establishment conspiracy) They're very big on 'The Establishment':
"Being considered 'crazy' by those who are still victims of cultural conditioning is a compliment." Gave me a warm feeling until I realised Jihad Johnny would probably agree with that, too.
And all the time my half-awake brain is oscillating between radio news: events occurring in Greece or Iraq, who's to blame in the Ukraine, Ed Milliband's promise to posthumously pardon every homosexual breaking the laws of times past, (but not presumably past victims of witch-trials. He may be saving that for next year)
And Waking Times.
The finger hovers over hidden warnings:
Ten top eating myths you probably believe.
Are smartphones becoming a substitute for thinking?
Leavened with Fridge Magnet nuggets of wisdom:
Are you really going to let fear control your life? Easy to give a firm shake of the head in Monmouth, perhaps not in downtown Miami or some parts of London.
Where attention goes energy goes.
A book is like a garden carried in the pocket
Wherever you are, be all there.

It doesn't like organised religion but wallows in a weird mix of yoga, paganism, eastern mysticism and exhortations to fight the dark forces wilfully cloaking our minds.

It has pictures of penguins in sweaters, tells you what your sleeping position reveals about your personality, how to use mathematics to find your true love on Valentines Day, how to choose your genes

I skip an interview with a reptilian being. The thought of listening to two sources of noise frightens me. Instead, I move on to a question: Do I realise time has three dimensions?
Waking Times is bursting with answers to rhetorical questions.
I stop, with relief, at this last little pearl:
'Silence is loaded with answers.' On that basis, Waking Times must be the most silent site in all of cyberspace. 

In comparison the site 109 is positively prosaic with its best cos play costumes, its regular sci fi 'spoilers' its attacks on sexist tropes in the genre. Today I saw a video of deer eating birds, learnt how Charles Babbage attempted to summon the devil, and how CGI added pubic hair to Fifty Shades of Grey. And then an item on women's football on radio.

By 9 am I've slipped into aboriginal Dreamtime that only a brisk country walk will wake me from…after I've put on the burglar alarm.

Friday, 27 February 2015

Games and Distractions

Mark Twain once wrote: "If voting made any difference they wouldn't let us do it," and I think, by and large, this is true, but not always. There is no doubt that in western societies the demographic is skewed towards the old, and since it is the old that vote the argument is they exert undue weight on government policy. Funny, I thought that was how democracy worked. 

It is in this context that some argue there should be a maximum age, beyond which you should not vote. In short, disenfranchise the old. One argument goes that just as you have a minimum voting age on the basis that children do not have the mental capacity to understand complex political arguments and might vote for the candidate offering free icecream, so to might the elderly, entering the second childhood, fail to understand the consequences of their vote. Mark Twain might have had something to say about that, too.

Others argue that this demographic enjoys considerable wealth, and are a drain in terms of pensions and welfare provision; this is at the expense of the young who face student debt, pressure to save for their own pensions, and the unliklihood of ever getting onto the housing market. 

This is a compelling argument --- as all arguments whose ultimate aim is to divide and rule---must be. Capitalist societies, and I suspect pre capitalist societies, have always employed this weapon. Redirect anger from ruling elites to another section of society. 

It may be the ground is being prepared for redistributing the wealth of the old to the young. I have only one problem with that.

I want to redistribute my little wealth to my children not society's children. The problem with the latter is that other people and paid bureaucracies decide how the money is best spent. And by 'other people' I mean the exclusive elites, who 'know' what is good for us, and demand iniquitous salaries as a God-given right.

Their other God-given right is tax avoidance. Lesser families might have their 'wealth' redistributed, but not them.

There are parents who scrimp and save, and strive to avoid the exorbitantly priced nursing home, for they know this may be the only way their children will inherit enough to buy a moderately priced flat. And then there are the extremely rich who will strive to avoid taxes to perpetuate dynasties. The unfairness there is transparent. The Establishment's more opaque.

It will be interesting to see whether a maximum voting age ever gains traction. Personally I think it is a divide and rule distraction rather than - for the moment - anything more serious. It would be a bit like Turkeys voting for Christmas.

Thursday, 19 February 2015

Nothing is True and everything is Possible

On February, Friday 13th the thoughtful commentator and journalist, Ben MacIntyre, wrote a piece in the Times extolling the virtues of a book: Nothing is True and Everything is Possible, by Peter Pomerantsev. He uses the book to highlight the flaws of the Putin regime. I'm in no position to defend the Putin regime. I'd simply be walking from one cultural airlock to another, but much of what MacIntyre writes has a haunting familiarity. To quote:

"...amidst the smoke and mirrors of disinformation and deception, Russians have been inducted into distorted reality in which the decadent West is plotting to destroy Holy Russia, and confusion, conspiracy and corruption are endemic.
Pomerantsev paints a surreal portrait of counterfeit democracy ruled by television, where all the trappings of freedom are present - elections, an opposition, a functioning judiciary, a free media - but little of the reality.
The regime itself adopts multiple disguises and shifting identities… a strange and effective concoction of propaganda, disinformation and entertainment. As one Russian television celebrity observes chillingly: "We all know there is no real politics…Politics has got to feel like a movie." MacIntyre sums up Putin's government as "a  regime in which propaganda reigns as truth"

And as I said at the start, reading the article brought to mind three words: pot, kettle, black. What are we supposed to do about the Russian disinformation bubble in which ordinary Russians live? Shake our fists and pull faces from our own disinformation bubbles? I'm conversant with American politics, the vast wealth of a few families and the power of corporative media, but I don't live there so lack sufficient knowledge to pontificate. (Though that rarely stops me) As William Blake wrote, "To to generalise is to be an idiot." I'm not too sure he's entirely right, but its a useful warning, and so I'll limit myself to saying Americans inhabit their own disinformation bubbles as we do ours. 

We don't use ugly words like 'regime' when we refer to our respective governents. Regime. It has such a negative feel to it. Lesser cultures are governed by 'regimes'. No, we have 'Establishments,' a far nicer word but with much the same flaws that MacIntyre criticises in Russia. 

We are more practised; our disinformation is all pervasive and shimmers with subtly but essentially our respective 'Establishments' play much the same game as Putin's Russia with its fake choice of electoral candidates from the same monied elite. 

When the Russian commentator said: "We all know there is no real politics…Politics has got to feel like a movie," it resonates here, a reason perhaps why the elites, in order to give themselves the trappings of legitimacy, are making noises about state funding of parties and compulsory voting. And, in the meantime, our respective media play much the same game as the Russian media in terms of managing news, highlighting 'the message' and deselecting anything more inconvenient. 

So over here, too, there are 'counterfeit democracies where propaganda reigns as truth. It may be the best we can manage in a complex and selfish world, and ultimately stability trumps everything as Syria, Libya and Iraq have found to their cost - and which China understands. Thing is just don't be hypocritical and look for the splinters in other people's eyes and ignoring the plank in our own.

Friday, 13 February 2015

The Yellow Menace

I heard on the radio people talking about daffodils. I was cleaning my teeth at the time so something may have been lost in the gurgle of tap-water and the spitting of foam, but they seemed to be saying that daffodils were not good to eat, in fact they were dangerous. I dried my mouth and tuned in. Who in God's creation ate daffodils?
No one apparently, unless by accident, and this was the point of the interview. Demands were being made on supermarkets to move daffodils well away from the vegetable and fruit section in case they were mistaken for spring onions, or asparagus or chives. Another step in the relentless infantilisation of our culture. I mean, there are first world problems, and first world problems. 

 Okay, this verges on the reckless. The Co-op in Monmouth has daffodils dangerously close to apples.

And of course there is no rhyme or reason for this. I haven't seen a single supermarket where Daffs have been segregated from their companion blooms, and suck by themselves in a vegetable rack. A flower section may be adjacent to fruit and veg, but it would have to be a noggin with an IQ of 14 to rummage amongs the roses and chrysanthumums, pick out a daffodil and mistake it for a spring onion. 

There is also no consistency in this.

A few days later in the Times there was an article on the edible Dahlia. Not the flowers, you understand, (they are reserved for the garnish, until the next interview on The Today programme warning us of the dangers or eating garnish). No, what is edible is the Dhalia tuber, a cross between celery, carrot and potato. Some apparently taste like asparagus. Can't wait.

But will I find them in the vegetable section or stuck with the flowers some distance away? And what about the edible flowers? I sampled them all as a very young paperboy - rose petals, marigolds, nasturtiums, geraniums - all picked at and nibbled as I walked down long drives. Some had a nice, peppery taste, though privet leaves were more problematic. They were bitter on the tongue and left your teeth green. But what I'm thinking now is: I should have been warned! Why did no one warn me against daffodils?

The Aztecs didn't have this problem. They apparently ate chocolate, chillies and Dahlia tubers like there was no tomorrow. (Well, there wasn't for them) Perhaps the conquistadors should have come bearing daffodils.