Saturday, May 05, 2007

There is a thing I feel the need to share for the benefit of one of my readers (he'll know who he is). I can now look back at the behaviour of my hosts on that awful trip I had to New Zealand, and, well, just laugh at it. I drew the conclusion a little while ago that the attitudes and behaviour of some people just is not worth getting angry or upset about. All it does is empower them anyway. If people's behaviour is either very strange or very unpleasant in your view the best remedy can be to make light of it. Political Umpire told me that such a day would come and I did not believe it at the time. I do now, even if it is impossible to recall the trip with any fondness due to my personal experiences. I won't say any more about my hosts as they don't know I'm writing this, as far as I know don't care to read this blog so it's not really fair bitching about people online who aren't in a position where they can defend themselves.

What the trip did do was tell me that I could not live in New Zealand for any extended period. It is just way too remote and small population wise for my liking. Christchurch and possibly Auckland I could handle temporarily. But Wellies, or God forbid New Edinburgh? I think I'd rather curl up and, you know the rest. I cannot articulate for why I feel this way exactly. I don't believe that it was just my personal experiences on the trip, I believe there was something which I picked up about the actual places. Wellington with it's green belt of hills felt claustrophobic to me, although the locals felt that was part of the towns beauty. But I don't think it was just that really.

As for Dunedin I recall wondering where the Maori were, and I then heard most had been slaughtered there by the British settlers. I noticed it was a very white town. Who knows, perhaps the place had bad karma? The noticable protestantism and the prominent Queen Victoria statue was also telling. I also dislike the fact that it has been and still is an ongoing tradition in that country of pretending that it does not have a problem with racism.

New Zealanders tend to see themselves as South Pacific Canadian (being to Australia what Canada is to the United States. But I think they are still more English than they care to admit, as one very honest man on the West Coast of the South Island admitted to me. Funnily Dunedin seemed proud of it's Scottish background while the English settlements seemed to wish to shun theirs. It aint cool to be English these days, even in England itself one appears more attractive and exotic if they can claim foreign ancestry. I get told quite often that I appear Eastern European. I believe my grandmother had some Roma in her background so that may have something to do with it. At least I get looked at more often! It seems that the English have a bad reputation and a sense of guilt due to having been blood soaked imperialists.

Don't get me wrong, I don't want to be unfair on New Zealand. It is a lovely place for scenery, the pace of life is a lot slower and the people are for the most friendly. But I found the national insecurity that often expressed itself in an immature patriotism very grating (don't worry, I find Brit patriotism just as irritating, if not more so). I received a particularly nasty dose of it (combined with an anti English feel) from a girl who had two English parents. New Zealand as a country appeared to believe it had something to prove, probably because it is a young country which has not yet fully developed a full sense of it's own identity, like for instance Canada has, and Australia. This would account for a lot of the anti English sentiment there. There is also some anti American and anti Australian sentiment, but the anti English thing stands out more because it seems a little closer to self hatred. A prejudice seems to exist in that country that the English are lax in matters of personal hygiene. I think this might be due to the tradition of baths in England as opposed to the shower. However, I disliked being at a party when the person right next to me stated that 'English people don't wash' not knowing that I was British until I opened my mouth and said 'Don't they?' in the poshest voice I could speak in. I should have sniffed under my armpits. It also turned out that the person in question was a meat lover and seemed to have a slight distaste for vegetarians (I notice that this attitude is not uncommon among meat eaters of a certain class, i.e those who enjoy their fancy cuisine, I really haven't encountered much of that attitude among the proles, who seem pretty indifferent to the eating habits of others, whether or not they deem dietary preferences strange or not). That is a thing that probably does not matter wherever you go. However, when I left that night one of the guests nearby said it had been nice meeting me. I repeated the courtesy to my bette noir as well as to the person who gave the initial farewell. The result? I was not only ignored but given a dirty look. Perhaps being not only English but a vegetarian too was too much for that individual, who had should I say very Anglo features and if average demographics are anything to go by most likely had grandparents or great grandparents, if not an actual parent, who had grown up in England.

It is small things like that which made much of it seem incongruious, although on an intellectual level I can see the reasons. The country strikes me as being slightly akin to a surly adolescent child of what was the British Empire.
Here is a column from the death row prisoner Mumia Abu Jamal:


(Column written 4/14/07 by Mumia Abu–Jamal)

( With the ending of Don Imus’s radio and TV career has arisen a perverse (if utterly stupid) caterwaul from conservatives, who are (to hear them tell it) newly–born converts of free speech, and equally frenzied adherents of attacks on the Reverends Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson, as if, but for their activism, their pal Imus would still be on the airwaves.

Some have added the oral antics of various rap artists, to somehow prove that Imus was treated unfairly for using equally ugly terms to refer to Black women.

This noise from the fascistic rightwing of American political life is a vital clue into how they see the world, and thus a reflection of how they sell this view to others.

It shows how deeply race dwells in white consciousness, and how it is like an inner searchlight that blinds as much as it illuminates.

These so–called conservatives see Imus as ‘one of us’, and as such they shared his pompous, good ole’ boy, spit–on–the–rabble racism that passes for the norm in the nation: it just so happens that he spat on the wrong group of girls this time.

And neither the Revs. Al nor Jesse starting the ball rolling against Imus, although it may’ve seemed so from TV.

The videotape of Imus went from an almost unseen perch on MSNBC to the net, where it spread like a virus. Nonetheless, bloggers picked it up and passed it on, and the more folks saw it, the more it spread. It became a living thing, nastier and nastier each time it was replayed.

The almost juvenile rant against rappers also fades upon a moment’s reflection; for, while it is undeniable that some of what is said is naked misogyny–a profound hatred of women–it’s obvious that rappers have no where near the social or political clout of Imus.

When’s the last time you’ve seen a rapper kick it with a candidate for U.S. Senator? When’s the last time you’ve heard of a rapper poppin’ some questions to a Mayor–or a Governor?

People who wanted to be president flocked to Imus, like supplicants kissing the ring of a bishop, because he had the daily ear of millions, and his blessings meant votes.

No rapper in America can say the same.

Ultimately, it’s not about power, and precious few rappers have any power. In fact, their ‘bling’ is an attempt to project a power (or wealth) that most of them do not possess.

Sociologist Zine Magubane, of Boston College, made that point in dramatic terms in his article, “Globalization and Gangster Rap: Hip Hop in the Post–Apartheid City” (citing the work of journalist Norman Kelley):

In an insightful article on the political economy of Black music, Norman Kelley describes how the relationship between the six major record firms (Warner, Polygram, MCA, BMG, Sony, and CEMA/UNI) and African–American artists as a ‘postmodern form of colonialism.’ He notes that rap music, although it ‘forms the very foundation of the $12 billion dollar music industry in the United States’, exhibits an history pattern typical of African–American aesthetic products like jazz and blues which, although created largely by Blacks, were under the corporate control of Whites. Black–owned production companies like Uptown Records, Def Jam, and Bad Boy, Kelley explains, ‘do not control a key component of the music–making nexus, namely, distribution.’ For example, the albums produced by Master P’s No Limit Records as well as those by Roc–A–Fella Records (owned by Damon Dash) are distributed by Priority Records. Those produced by Cash Money Records are distributed by Universal, while Sean Combs’ Bad Boy label is distributed by Arista. Thus, although young Black entrepreneurs have ‘been able to swing the balance of power somewhat in their direction, they are still far from having complete dominion (because) in the music business distribution is the final battle ground. Because African–American artists have virtually no control over the domestic distribution of their music, they likewise have no control over international distribution. Thus, white owned and controlled media conglomerates determine which African–American cultural products enter the global arena. (Fr.: Magubane, Z., in: Basu, Dipannita and Sydney J. Lemelle, eds., The Vinyl Ain’t Final: Hip Hop and the Globalization of Black Popular Culture. (London/Ann Arbor, MI.: Pluto Press, 2006), p. 211.)

Imus was a creature of white corporate and political power, who made millions playing to the smallmindedness of millions, who wanted to snicker at the lot of those worse off than them.

Unless I miss my guess, someone will hire him to do it again.

There’s always a market for that.


I to believe that while the cretin he writes of can say what he likes no radio station is obliged to have him on their airwaves.

A few words about music, though. I must confess that I quite like rap, in spite of (or maybe even partly because of) the violence in some of it's lyrics. Whether it's intention is satire is to me not the point - the point is that it reads as a satire of the excesses of American capitalism. So does the whole 'bling' or 'ghetto' culture, large cars, big gold chains etc. It hence works as an exposure of capitalism by taking it's excesses to the most extreme, with no subtlety whatsoever, and showing us that it is all ultimately fake. The fact that it is an act resulting from a lack of power rather than power gives it a subversive edge.

Now - I do not wish to be accused of being pro guns, violence, sexism and all the rest. I am not. But those who sing about such subjects seem to me to be simply tallking about what they have seen and the conditions they have grown up in, whether they do so critically or not isn't the point. Realism is not obliged to be critical. If people complain about the lyrics in such music I would tend to suggest that they take measures to allieviate poverty and crime. If they did so people would feel less of a need to sing about them and issues related to them. If the music sometimes seems to glorify crime it is only because people have ways of coping with their lives. One way of tolerating conditions that are, on the whole, negative, is learning to put a positive spin on them if not exactly enjoying them.

As for the misogyny of the lyrics - All those unsubtle men are doing is making explicit in a not very subtle way the way that most men, with their distrust of women, feel from time to time. It is no crime to expose what is already implicit in society. I'm not saying that distrust of the opposite sex is unique to men - women no doubt often distrust men as much as the other way round. However, although this is changing men have traditionally held more power in society. Black men who produce rap music perhaps feel this power (i.e over women) is the only power they have, although it is an illusory power. Black women, I have often noticed, can be extremely strong, not exactly downtrodden or oppressed. The women who tend to revel in victim status are those who are white, middle class, and very privileged in comparsion with many of their Black sisters.

As far as rap goes, though, sisters are quite capable of fighting back. Anyone heard Lil Kim, Missy Elliot? I'll end with a pic.....

Monday, April 30, 2007

This explains why the proposed restrictions on underage drinking are purely absurd. The logical conclusion of it would be to employ State inspectors to attend people's houses and have people prosecuted for, umm, putting too much sugar in their cake?

Again the puritans show their nasty police State mentality, calling for State intervention into every aspect of people's lives. It is the same type of logic displayed by do gooders both of the right and the left who support the drug laws and any other piece of legislation which determines what people can and cannot do with their personal time.

Friday, April 27, 2007

While browsing I came across this. Now I have not yet mentioned that I now live in Bournemouth. The reasons for it are a bit drawn out. But it does seem necessary to mention it now it appears relevant politically.

I have noticed, having known the town quite well for a while, that it does appear to have a climate where racists feel relatively welcome. The hostile (and sometimes racist) remarks the journalist received say quite a lot. Bear in mind that the Echo is owned by News West (who also own the Mail, not exactly a bastion of liberalism). She seems to get accused of being a 'wet liberal' simply for writing a straightforward report on the issue. It also appears that she has a point - I can imagine the council would hesitate to allow them there due to fear over the activities of anti fascists, a large proportion of them being communists of some stripe.

I am a believer in freedom of speech and believe the BNP should be entitled to air their views, no matter how obnoxious they may be. I have come to realise that such is the price you pay in a democracy. If you silence one group - the question remains of who will be next. It would not be logical to suppose that those who wish to silence the far right would stop there. There are no doubt some among them who would ideally like the 'no platform' principle applied to anybody who questioned their views, even those from the left as well as from the right.

I was for a time an activist on the far left and did have my reservations about the tactics of 'anti fascism'. I always suspected that it may have had the potential of being the mirror image of what it claimed to oppose. Fascists support the use of force - does this mean I must become like them and get involved in breaking up the meetings? Breaking up the meetings of opponents by force seems to imply that you cannot handle opposition. This is a tool which fascists have in fact used against the left in order to prove it's undemocratic nature. It can be a gift to them.

I believe in counteracting racist propaganda by challenging it. Challenging the BNP by exposing who they are. There is nothing wrong in standing outside a hall with leaflets and banners, but to physically stop a meeting? Count me out.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Human Rights Abuses in China.......

Forced abortions appear to still be continuing in China. No matter what you think about abortion you must agree that this is a travesty of human rights and of reproductive freedom. Please help draw attention to the issue by circulating this story.

A far too sympathetic obituary of the late Boris Yeltsin. The Western media tend to be soft on Yeltsin due to the fact he helped end the communist tyranny. All he did however, was replace one form of dictatorship with another. This man was no democrat.

In 1993 Yeltsin sent tanks against parliament when it disagreed with him. There is little evidence to prove his re-election was fair. He brutally crushed the drive for independence Chechnya. Putin's war in the region is a mere extension of Yeltsin's prior policy there.

Putin, who is often criticised by the West, was Yeltsin's appointed sucessor. The system seen today in Russia is Yeltsin's system.

Yeltsin's shock therapy of the early 1990s consigned many Russians to lives of unemployment, hunger, homelessness and despair. Freedom of speech means relatively little to those who have no food or no home. And besides, how deep goes freedom of speech in Russia?

Putin long ago passed anti trade union laws (i.e a curb on the right of the masses to democratically self organise for their own einterests). Journalists are afraid to speak their minds lest they um, get killed. The State controls a very large proportion of the media. What kind of democracy is this?

Monday, April 16, 2007

God, I have not updated this blog in ages - partly because I have been too busy, secondly because I have only just recently re-acquirred a reliable internet connection.

Meanwhile I saw this in relation to the topic of blogging. Some may put the guy's dislike of the medium down to the snobbery of the professional elite towards the amateurs, although he does point out the fact that many professional journalists do also have blogs. He does make a few very valid points though on the nature of much online debating. Much of it is little more substantial than the antics of a playground, and you even find the same kind of hierarchy developing on many boards - i.e the cliques, the bullies, the losers who are their victims and the cool and popular. The Graun's own talkboard, Unlimited Talk, is very much of this nature. If anything it was the most unfriendly and hostile site I had ever come accross. But perhaps much of that is due to the nature of internet debate itself. The fact that being behind a computer screen enables one to say things they would not have the audacity to say to somebody in person leaves plenty of scope for abuse. This makes the internet an ideal refuge for immature cowards and bullies. People tend to be less likely to monitor and think over comments they make online than they would be with a more traditional debating forum, so the nature of the comments is far more likely to be flippant. What tends to annoy me more than anything is the way that people tend to make dogmatic statements without thinking them over properly.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Two Controversies Surrounding the Issue of Racism


Most people agree that racism is wrong. More under debate is the issue of what constitutes it.

Does, for example, voicing the view that there are too many immigrants in Britain amount to racism? Some may hold that it does. I would dispute this and say it depends on what one's motivations are. If it is a question of wishing to preserve 'racial purity' or something along those lines then there can be little doubt. If, on the other hand, it is due to worries over Britain being 'overcrowded' or the potential costs of immigration then I would not call this in and of itself racist. I believe it is possible to hold this view without necessarily discriminating inherently against people of a different race or culture, or believing that people of certain ethnicities are inferior in whatever area you wish to attribute. Although it may of course lead to propping up or giving ammunition to people who do hold racist views. I for one do not hold such views and have no objection to immigration, I believe it can often bring benefits. But by simply writing off all those who disagree with me as being racist I will not do my own argument any favour; it will simply be intellectual laziness and a disingenuous method of arguing.

This issue was brought to the news last week, the story being outlined here. I understand why 'Star' wished to raise attention to the matter. What I am suspicious of is the demand for Oxford to fire Coleman, which Oxford has said it will not do anyway. I go along with the freedom of speech argument. Academic institutions should be places where any views should be open for discussion and argument. If a view is simply not credible it will not be taken seriously. Take David Irving, the holocaust denier in jail in Austria. Despite the fact that his persecution by the authorities played into his hands as it enabled him to play the victim and be a martyr for the far right, nobody save for a few groupies took his ideas seriously. The fact that 6 million Jews did die in the holocaust has been established as a historical fact, and no credible historian would claim otherwise.

On the other hand it is possible to debate on the benefits of immigration. It is one thing argue that migrants should be welcome on humanitarian grounds, another argument to say that they bring economic benefit to the country at large. It would appear that the jury is still out on the issue.

Coleman has not, to anyone’s knowledge, been putting forward his own views as being those of Oxford. Star argued that advertising his appearances at the Migrant Watch events as being ‘David Coleman, Professor of Demographics, Oxford University’, would be using his status and the name of Oxford to give the organisation academic ‘credibility’. Hmmm. Whether they like it or not, Coleman’s position and his subject matter do give him some qualification to speak on related matters, whether or not you agree with the conclusions he draws.

At a university students are able to disagree with and to challenge the views of an academic when they wish. In fact, education is supposed to facilitate critical thinking in individuals.

The Head Office of Star stopped the campaign in the end, and have distanced themselves from their Oxford branch. This could well be due to the fact that they are publicly funded.

Meanwhile, is Coleman actually a racist? Not having attended any of his lectures nor read his papers I cannot say for certain. However, I looked online and found nothing that looked heavily incriminating in that direction. Yes, he is the co-founder of Migration Watch (see here). The titles of some his papers seem to indicate that he argues from a Malthusian standpoint (i.e. that overpopulation causes poverty and other social ills). Racists can seize upon this view, and it does tend to blame the poor for their problems, rather than focusing on inequality and exploitation, prime causes of poverty. Malthusianism was sometimes tied in with eugenics early last century.

But it is not necessarily racist in and of itself, although it is very easy to use it for such ends. Some people’s views of what constitutes racism are clearly broader than others.


Secondly there was the Mercer affair. Patrick Mercer had made some comments that were insensitive, especially in the current climate. But they did contain an element of truth – namely that the army is a place in which bullying is common. He stated that soldiers with ginger hair were also subject to bullying, which he interestingly claimed was more severe.

Now I don’t wish to claim that the bullying of ginger haired people is the same as racism. It does not have the same historical significance or context. Gingers have not been sold into slavery, deported, been victimised by imperialism or sent into concentration camps. This is partly what makes race such a sensitive issue. Having said that, though, I do not believe that the bullying of ginger haired people is acceptable. Indeed there are wider issues of bullying concerned. Race can simply be a pretext for bullying. Then again, there are wider factors surrounding racism, it is not a simple discrimination along grounds of appearance in the form of one's skin colour, or the way one dresses, what food they eat etc.

Another factor is scapegoating – finding an ‘out group’ then blaming them for your own grievances and for social ill in general, attributing to them traits you find repellent or are afraid of in yourself (also known as projection). I have no idea where the anti ginger tendency originated from – but one thing it does have in common with racism may be fear of ‘the other’ – an irrational fear of anybody who looks different or who is different in other ways (having ginger hair is less common than say, blonde or brown hair).

I blogged on the Celebrity Big Brother issue at around the time of the incident. While there was racism involved in the treatment of Shilpa Shetty this was far from the only or even the primary factor. Shetty was different from the others in ways besides race – she was smarter and more successful than they, for instance, and not on their wavelength. Much of the bullying seemed down to jealousy, along with the fact she was not one of them.

What focusing on the race issue seems to do is mask the wider issue of bullying. The question can reasonably be asked as to why it is deemed unacceptable to call somebody a Black c*** but not a ginger c***. And you will come to the stark truth that there are all manner of insults and bullying remarks. Yet you cannot pass a law as to make anti ginger insults illegal, as where would you stop? It would be impossible to make every form of insult a crime, even if they are designed to provoke hatred towards an individual. This is why legislation cannot solve the race issue. To forbid people voicing a sentiment will not cure them of it. At the most it will simply let it fester while driving it underground. The far right are fond of claiming victimhood by stating that they are being persecuted.

The wider issues surrounding bullying deserve some investigation. The State has a tendency to fetishise race. But in order to fight racism we should first understand what it is and what it is not. Arguing for censorship or other measures to extend the arm of the State does no favours. Neither does belittling racism by simply using it as an insult and/or a way of attempting to discredit somebody. It will get to the stage where people are frightened of even raising certain issues lest they offend someone. People may rather remain silent rather then suffering the insults of racist, sexist, homophobe etc.

It probably goes without saying that I do not believe Mercer should have been sacked. His remarks were careless but I by no means consider him to be a racist and neither should any other reasonable person.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

"The Great Global Warming Swindle"

I have no scientific qualifications and I have little knowledge about the science surrounding global warming. Unfortunately I did not see the offending television programme on Thursday either. This article, however, does raise some interesting points. Despite my disagreement with many of their views I have always quite liked 'Spiked'. I tend to go with them on their 'culture of fear' arguments (how the media has a tendency to scaremonger).

It does pose the question: Why are those without scientific qualifications allowed to write about climate change or contribute to the discussion only if they agree with the accepted theory? The scientific world, as always, has it's dissenting and minority views. Although it is hard to believe that Spiked had nothing to do with the programme as they claim, the questions the article poses are nonetheless valid.
George Monbiot and his pals at the Graun put it down to a sinister conspiracy theory, and so do other environmentalists. I believe it os not so simple, and until I see the evidence of both sides and understand the science behind it better than I currently do I shall not adhere rigidly to either side. Yet man made global warming appears to have become the established truth in the current climate. Only a maverick loon or somebody in the pay of big business would doubt this allegedly incontrovertible 'truth'. Why do the media (and for their part, the majority in the scientific community) wish to shut down debate and discredit those who dissent? If one was to claim the Earth is flat they would simply not be taken seriously, as the proof that it is a sphere is taken for granted today.
Global warming perhaps only provokes such feeling because the proof is not so irrevocable as that.

Red Maria posted on this matter herself and I thank her for alerting me on it. Something which I find extremely irritating about the Green movement is the sanctomoniousness and self righteousness displayed by some of it's adherents and promoters. George Monbiot most readily springs to my mind, and so do some of the other Graunistas. Bear in mind that they have no more scientific credibility or expertise than the people they like to discredit. They fail the test themselves, so by their own standards would fall short of the qualifications they demand from the dissenters. They hold the dissenting scientists to be part of a big capitalist conspiracy, which doesn't wash.

Sensationalism sells newspapers. There is always something we should be very afriad of. People should be scared, so silence the dissenters as to better sell this package. Silencing debate is not going to save the planet. Looking at the issue from a less impassioned and calmer standpoint would surely be far more productive in the way of finding solutions as to dealing with potential problems? But no, people must be made to feel guilty. They must be scared so as to make them act.

It seems like a cause like that gives some people a sense of moral righteousness. Perhaps it is an attempt of the middle classes to gain credibility and assuage their liberal guilt. Case in point: A television clip showed a queue of cars outside a recycling unit, causing more pollution than dispensing of their rubbish in the normal manner would have done. Being 'green' is an easy thing for someone to hold up as proof they are kind and caring people, and to hold themselves above those who are wasteful. So easy to moralise about and install guilt into others.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

House of Lords....

I was very surprised to hear about the majority of MPs last night voting for a wholly elected second chamber. It rather took me aback. It must partly be due to the cash for honours scandal, which lost the chamber any shreds of credibility it still possessed. Blair had simply been replacing hereditary peers with his own cronies.

I support this move in principal. I can't think who would defend the House of Lords as it is presently constituted, as it is undemocratic by it's very nature. Then again I do believe in the need for some kind of a second chamber. Giving the commons all the power would not do, as something is needed to keep the government in check. It would result in too much concentration of power.

The issue is on how a second chamber is going to run as not to resemble a mirror image of the commons. It should be somewhat different in it's composition. If it is to be directly elected then a large number of independents (not affiliated to any political party) should be given room to stand, along with some from smaller parties that would benefit from proportional representation. Voting reform should be another thing on the agenda, another issue that has been delayed for years. Most candidates for the second chamber should be people with a track record in a profession such as law or academia, or another field that does the public a service such as medicine or the trade unions. Spokespeople from religious organisations should be allowed to stand but their numbers should of course be limited. A wholly elected second chamber should mean that the Anglican bishops do not automatically get a seat, especially when it is not even the majority faith among those who are religious. How the candidates are to be selected is another issue, as is when the elections would take place. They should be held at a different time from the commons vote, by all account.

It is worthwhile to bear in mind that this is not yet cut and dried. There may well be opposition, not just from the Lords but by rebel MPs. It may end with something of a compromise, such as 20% appointed and 80% elected.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

This has really made me angry. Yet it is so typical of this government to stifle the media when it is it's own interests. But they will only look worse for doing so.

This country has a government riddled with corruption. It's authoritarian social policies (i.e I.D cards, detention without trial), along with cronyism and now media censorship make it look less like a democracy but far more like a corrupt dictatorship. Taking one look at the opulence displayed by the Blairs says quite a lot.

I, for one, won't be too sorry to see them go. I somehow doubt the Tories could be very much worse. The results of what little good this government has done don't stand up to very much. The harm seems to outweigh any good that has been achieved.
'Education, Education'

When my parents were at school high hopes were put into the prospects of comprehensive education. It had been noticed that there had been a high socio-economic gap between the children attending grammer schools and those in secondary moderns. Comprehensive schools, it was hoped, would alleviate this. Education would no longer discriminate, and all children from all classes and all abilities would be given equal opportunites.

Alas, it was not to be. What we have instead is a new form of two tier education. Well performing state schools look more like grammer schools with their large intake of children from middle class backgrounds, while those not born in such fortunate circumstances tend to be segregated in what look like badly run secondary moderns.
The government could not afford to ignore this problem, but their proposed measures seem to be doing little to change it.

The rhetoric of parental choice did nothing to address the issues surrounding children in those 'failing' schools, as what kind of parent would 'choose' to send their children to a badly performing school? In reality there is no substance behind the rhetoric, save for appealing to the consumerist tendencies of the class it seeked to impress.

I understand parents wanting the best for their children. But the very idea of professing to believe in a religion you do not truly believe in in order to get your child into the right school is abhorrent to me. And what do you tell the child in question when you are taking him and her to the services? Do you lie and tell them you believe everything they are taught in catechism/Sunday school is all true? Or do you tell the truth and say you don't believe it but you are putting them through it for their education? Either way you would be a fraud.

Segregation in schools by class is not easy to tackle. The poor don't have the same choices that the more prosperous have. A school in a wealthy suburb is likely to be high on the league tables, which is not the case for a school in a run down area of the inner city. Knowing the system the middle classes can move to the right catchment areas, guaranteeing their child a place. Besides the fact that they may not know how to work the system so well, poor families have fewer options on where they live anyway. A sought after school is likely to drive property prices in the surrounding area up.

I don't see the idea of poorly performing schools taking on a quota of middle class children as being workable. Their parents simply will not have it. Yet perhaps hihg performers being forced to accept a quota of children from lower socio economic backgrounds/lower achievement record may just be workable.

Poorer children do not tend to underachieve because they are stupid, it is due to a myriad of factors. Culture is one issue. Poorer children may have fewer aspirations, for one thing. If you know the result may well be a dead end job or welfare as you see your parents and their peers then there would seem little motivation. The exceptional may pull themselves out of this but not everyone is exceptional. Somebody born in the right circumstances may do very well, while go with the flow if they were not so fortunate. Doing well when you are in a run school where studiousness is frowned upon by your peers, and your parents don't have a computer or a range of books on their shelf requires much harder effort.

Singling out failing schools and 'naming and shaming' them was an unpleasant measure which the already stressed teachers could have done without. Rather those schools could be given extra help and facilities. A few of the city academies seemed to have worked out well, while others have not been so fortunate.

It is very sad to still see this problem in the 21st century. It certainly shows we are not 'all middle class now', and it brings shame on the UK for being one of the most unequal societies in the West. It is needless to say that educational segregation, whether or not it is a deliberate policy, further obstructs social mobility.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The Stars Down to Earth.....

The spare (and rather old) pc I have been temporarily using is near it's dying day. Hopefully I should have a new one by the weekend (fingers crossed). My own phase of depression right now has stopped me also from keeping abreast with the current affairs as I do normally. Hence my recent absence from the blogosphere in general. But while this pc may be dying I can assure you all that I am still alive and so will this blog be. I will soon update my links as to include Ms Melancholy's interesting blog among them, and Elle's too.

Something I have found worthy of blogging about - I have been reading a curious essay by Theodore Adorno, a philosopher who was involved in what was known as the 'Frankfurt School'. It is the first time I have given him a shot. It is not easy reading but nonetheless it is worth persevering with. The name of the essay is 'The Stars Down to Earth' - it is an indictment of astrology. I intend also to read 'The Culture Industry' when I get the chance.

'The Stars Down to Earth' has made me think. While I have never presumed to take astrological columns seriously I have regarded them as mostly being for their part harmless. I have thought twice after reading that.

As far as Adorno was concerned their insidiousness lied partly in the fact that nobody really professes to read them for anything other than a bit of fun. He compares their sense of unseriousness with some of the exagerration involved in some fascist propaganda. However, if the columns had no psychological appeal they would not be so widely read. He points to the fact that their 'predictions' usually say nothing or at least very little about the source from where their supposed authority derives. There is also the irrational belief that astrology not only can predict what may happen in our day and how our time should be used but can also tell us about our respective personalities.

What the newspaper and magazine columns promote is a very bland form of social conformity. They both condescend to and similtaneously flatter their readers. The intended audience is comprised of what Adorno termed the 'semi erudite', or the lower middle classes. The columns address their audience as though their actions are far more important to the scheme of the system than they actually are.

The status quo is taken for granted, and the readers are advised (no matter what their date of birth) to roll along with it so that things run smoothly. Work and pleasure must be kept strictly seperate and one may never intrude upon the other. Hence work must remain pure drudgery while no seriousness should intrude on leisure, making it in effect rather empty. This is one of the legacies of the protestant work ethic and the effects of industrialisation and a technological society, bringing in work which is largely monotonous, tedious and even pointless a lot of the time.

The stars are an external authority that cannot be challenged. The only control the believer has over his or her fate is to behave according to the advice of the experts so that disaster may be averted and they may prosper in the system which is taken as pre-ordained. The columns give the illusion that the reader is in control while at the same time promoting obedience to a higher authority which is as impersonal as the social system itself.

The appeal of these superstitions is largely down to people losing what was their animistic attachment with nature (dependence on the will of the gods and the seasons, etc) while not yet developing the maturity to be able to think with complete independence and rationality. Hence the contradiction with modern superstition. Astrology columns are also unique in the sense that they find their circulation via mass media, there is no direct contact with the witch doctor or shaman. Hence Adorno's description of them as being a 'secondary' rather than a primary superstition. They do not fulfill the function of religion yet they are a small daily dose of comfort rather like a soap opera.

I will not go too far in debunking astrology myself - but I have long been amazed at the unquestioning faith displayed by believers. By modern calculations there should not be 12 but 13 signs of the zodiac. Everybody's sun sign by traditional standards would therefore be wrong as it would be one month ahead. Hence I would not be Pisces but Aquarius, the preceeding sign. Yet the 'experts' have ignored this and so do their followers when it is pointed out to them. See: here and here.

I have a friend who bores me endlessly with her astro babble. Every quirk in a persons' behaviour is, according to her, down to when they were born. Despite my protests that I am not a believer she still works on the assumption that I am or must be deep down as who can deny what is to her the ultimate truth? My mother is also a believer and I recall having that nonsense rammed down my throat even as a child. I tire of men using astrology as a chat up line on me, working on the assumption that all women believe in astrology. Unfortunately more women do seem to go for this than do men, and I don't have the time in this post to explore the reasons why. Perhaps it is partly due to the fact women have been more likely to be in a subordinate or dependent position. People who are or have been oppressed in a particular way may be more inclined to look for certainties, when they themselves have little control over their lives. This, for Adorno, was one explanation for the general appeal of astrology. Also it offers a sense of comfort to a weak ego or a low sense of self worth. Whatever one's educational level or place in the hierarchy they can still find themselves 'in the know' via possessing knowledge not shared by the ignorant or uninitiated.

The only grain of truth this superstition may have is the simple law of gravity. The phases of the moon do affect women's menstrual cycles and it has been speculated that it may affect our moods too (both sexes). Maybe the location of other bodies can have some impact on our bodily chemistry and our minds, but this is by no means a scientific fact but a mere speculation. And it gives me no reason whatsoever to treat an entire superstititon with no scientific basis or rationality at all as though it were fact. There is far more sense behind traditional religion as while unproven the existence of a creator may be a philosophical possibility. Not astrology, though.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

UK Worst Place for Kids....

This story has distressed me for several reasons. It serves to remind me of why I have strong doubts about bringing children into this world for one thing. Living in a non child friendly country like Britain does not help.

Like most people I can only speculate on the reasons for it. The individualism of the 1980s with it's economic restructuring went a long way towards breaking down community ties and led to a greater degree of social atomisation, for one thing. The Scandinavian countries with their strong Welfare States seem not to have so much of a problem with their youth, and neither do countries where family ties remain strong.

Alongside this goes the long work hours culture of Britain. Most two parent families these days have little choice but for both parents to work, often full time, and this results in them not being able to spend as much time with their children as is ideally needed for their growth. The State is still trying to grasp an idea of flexible working hours and a family friendly workplace but much of it remains hot air. A rush to make profits now appears not to make for good investment in the future - children of course being the future.

It is little wonder that the birth rate is declining as the incentives for having children are highly neglible in the UK. But something will have to be done to reverse this trend if the government do not want to struggle with an ageing population with not enough people of working age to support them.

Aside from the obvious things which spring to mind such as flexible working, better welfare for poor families and children, accessible child care etc we could also do with treating our children as human beings in their own right, not as mere extensions of ourselves. A child friendly society recognises children's needs and accepts them as part of that society. We have a long way to go. The constant demonisation youth receive in the media is a big part of this problem.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

I have a working pc once again at home so I should be back in circuit. It has not only been that inconvenience which has kept me away but a slight lack of motivation for writing. Not having a pc always to hand does not really help with a case of writer's block (for want of anything better to call it).

But I shall get myself back in gear by beginning my musings once more, starting with a controversial subject (as is my nature!).

What dominated the news when I returned from my disaster of a trip was the issue surrounding Catholic adoption agencies and gay adoption. It may be a bit old now but the issue has had me thinking.

To be blunt I have been wondering what the big fuss is really all about. To begin with it strikes me as unlikely that a gay couple would use a Catholic adoption agency to anyway. If it is the issue of public money being spent then a clause could have easily been added that obliged the respective organisations to refer the hypothetical couples elsewhere in the unlikely scenario in which they were approached. Who would be hurt by this, really? But as always this has brought out the usual chorus of Catholic bashers in the form of militant secularists and intolerant liberals.

Now it may be argued that an exemption on religious grounds could set a dangerous precedent. It could be speculated, for instance, that a Muslim restaurant could refuse to serve Hindus, or vice versa. Or that religious hoteliers of any persuasion could refuse to admit gay couples. However, accessing a public service such as a hotel or restaurant is not the same thing as adopting a child. It raises a different set of issues.

However, setting an exemption clause for religious organisations alone on this matter raises other problems. For instance, an organisation could conceivably object to gay adoption on non religious grounds - merely on a traditionalist belief that a child needs both a father and a mother. Why should such a secular group have to comply while religious groups have an opt out clause?

Surely a simple solution would have been to allow it to be a matter of conscience.
A simple clause that obliged organisations which objected to refer potential adopters to other organisatons which would be able to help them would have seemed a fair enough compromise. There would of course have been some people on either side of the spectrum who this would not have sufficed for but you cannot please everyone. Most reasonable people understand that in life there will come situations where one must compromise.

Despite the commonly held liberal orthodoxy I do not feel that objecting to gay adoption on the belief that children need both a father and a mother amounts to homophobia or even discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation. Ask me honestly if I think a child would be better off in a traditional family set up and I will give the honest answer that I simply do not know. Who can say in all seriousness that they do? There have not been enough case studies to find out and it may be unlikely that there ever will be.

The closest parallel I can think of is the opt out clause doctors and other medical staff have been given in regards to performing abortions. 'Pro choice' extremists have sometimes opposed this, voicing the ludicrous idea that it amounts to a form of discrimination. This idea is ludicrous simply because refusing to perform an operation because it is against your ethical code is not the same thing as refusing to treat somebody on the grounds of their colour.

Enforcing by law adoption agencies to serve gay couples may indeed set a dangerous precedent. It may well encourage people like those described above to be bolder in demanding that abortion be recognised as a legal right. If this was to be the case then the right to opt out could become a thing of the past. Doctors who refused to participate could find themselves struck off on the grounds that they would be refusing patients what is their legal right. Or people with ethics not unlike my own would cease to enter the profession in the first place. Catholics and Muslims would in effect be barred from the practice.

Such a framework is not what amounts to tolerance. Paradoxically it is an authoritarian form of liberalism that is unable to accept that not everyone shares it's value system. It is willing to use the force of the State to ensure that everybody does share it at least in practice. Whether or not they really do in their hearts is secondary - why use a carrot when the stick suffices to do the job?

Using the might of the State does nothing to shift people's basic value systems. All this will result in will be Catholic adoption agencies shutting up shop, organisations which by all other means have provided a good service over the years. What it will not do is change the view of the church towards homosexuality. A view that for the record I will say that I would like to see change. But I certainly do not believe that this is the way to change it. If anything it has merely created more pain and tension with the gay and Catholic communities (leaving aside gay Catholics for the moment, who I would suspect don't like being once more in the middle of this). I for one would not like being pitted against my own organisation by an agressive and intolerant 'liberal' State.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Aside from the usual issues surrounding coming off a long haul flight I'm out of sorts generally now. But one small comfort is to be home, at least. For the first time in what seems ages I am enjoying the winter, finding it refreshing. What little of the Southern summer I saw before I arrived back I was unable to enjoy, knowing that it would not last for long anyway.

What can I say? Perhaps with time I will see things in a broader perspective. I will no longer look a fool by saying I went on a trip and disliked where I stayed, focusing on all that appears negative about a place and neglecting the positive aspects of my surroundings. But to repeat a cliche that someone repeated to me - right now I don't have feelings. They seem to have me. Perhaps when I come out from the other end of this tunnel (or at least see the light at the end of it) I may see this differently.

I am also screwed because my home pc is not working right now. Often writing is how I help work through my issues - so I'll have to continue drafting my book in longhand for the time being, along with any other notes and musings I have. Also find the time and the mindset to think about other things apart from my problems which are doing nothing but looming magnificantly on the horizon, and they seem to have no end in sight and no immediate solution either.

So I may continue to be a little quiet. However, watch this space as you will still see some comment. It will just continue to be sporadic for a while longer.

Thursday, January 18, 2007


Hey, I saw the infamous Popetown. My opinion? The BBC axed it because it was not funny. And it would upset a religious group in the bargain, so why take such a risk for what is essentially a load of rubbish? If I was in the position of the BBC I'd probably have made the same decision, not so much for fear of upsetting people but because showing complete rubbish that will upset people at the same time is not worth it. Those who want to can buy it on video, nobody should pay a license to watch crap TV. Not because they have the right not to be offended. To show something that is offensive yet funny is worth it. To show what is unfunny yet inoffensive may be worth a gamble, a rubbish cartoon can fill the spaces. But a crap cartoon which may offend in the meantime? No point at all.

Jerry Springer The Opera was funny. But this aint. One word? Yawn.

'Reality' Shite....

For once in my life I am with the Graun and it's commentators entirely (see link). I will plead with my friends on the blogosphere who give this vile show credibility and treat it as harmless fun to stop and think again.

Shilpa may be famous and can probably handle it. That is not the case with everyone who enters the Big Brother house. Most of them are ordinary people who are very often vulnerable with mental health problems. Which makes them prime candidates for bullying.

The treatment of Shilpa on CBB appears to say more about the mentality of the contestants than it says about her. Which isn't funny either. Ignorance and bigotry are not fun to watch, neither are the people who display them. Neither is it fun to see one person singled out like that.

I was bullied at school so I recognise the mentality of many of the contestants and the audience. A 'freak' or somebody who is at least different (Shilpa is Indian, don't forget) is singled out to be a scapegoat and along with being filmed gets their face rubbed in the dirt of the British tabloids. You may say as much as you want that they go on the show voluntarily - indeed they do. But people do all kinds of stupid things voluntarily. Does that mean you must validate it by watching the spectacle?

Now don't get me wrong - I would oppose any kind of censorship. Ultimately if the contestants want to make idiots of themselves by taking part in what is a modern day freak show ( I believe Victorian circus freaks got paid as well, or they got some kind of a living at least) the decision must rest with them, and alas, the producers who have the idea of filming such a thing. Whatever the intelligence or mental health of the contestants I don't want to strip them of free will and look like a patronising middle class moraliser. But that does not mean I have to watch the show. Neither does anyone else.

To the left of the shows viewers I'll posit to them that most of the contestants they laugh at are members of the class they claim to champion - the working class. How can you claim to champion a group of people yet revel in their (partially self inflicted) humiliation at the same time? Most of the people on that show are working class because they are the ones poor and desperate enough to need the money. Toffs don't need it, neither do the 'educated' middle classes. Celeb BB may be slightly different - but hey, we have a new kind of celebrity, don't we?

What does the show say about the mentality of the audience? That you are following what is in essence a pack mentality. You should know better, and if you don't so far then please think about it a bit. Viewing that stuff is worse than viewing S&M porn - hell, there is not even any direct sexual release. It serves to satisfy a kind of sadism but one which is repressed in the British masses, one which has its outlets in the likes of this show. It serves the voyeur but there is nobody naked.

Just some poor idiot being ganged up on, for God's sake. Is it really what it's cracked up to be? True, some of the people who participate may well be exhibitionists. Good luck to them. But what about those who are not exhibitionists but are simply vulnerable for whatever reason? Why engage in what is essentially an act of voyeuristic sadism? If you inclined that way there must be other means. Join a fetish club or something.

As I've stated, the racist treatment of a wealthy actress by a few ignorant people may not in the long run be much to get worked up over. She may well be together enough to handle it by now, having been in the limelight for so long. Actors are used to this, they are exhibitionists by trade. But not everyone who goes on BB is a professional actor. Most are not, despite their hopes of becoming famous.

I forget who it was who said that acting was the most masochistic form of exhibitionism. But they were wrong. Reality TV has turned out to be, a media which is yet at the same time is not acting. It is midway between acting and 'reality'. It is not 'reality' yet it is not a film or play either as it is not scripted. Yet it would also be wrong to call this improvised acting. The 'actors' are playing themselves and they do not know when they may be filmed.
Dead Avian Mule.....

There was a strange story on New Zealand radio yesterday concerning drugs being smuggled into a prison via a dead pigeon. The offending mule was thrown over the wall of the prison yard, after which the prisoner caught it. Alas, he was caught by the guards and had both his mule and its booty confiscated.

What touched me more than anything was the naivety displayed (probably wilfully for the benefit of his listeners) when talking to the prison spokeswoman. It did not transpire until the end of the interview that the bird in question was a pigeon and not a hmm, penguin or albatross. ‘Surely you’d need a big bird to fit drugs into?’ he said.
‘Well, no’, she replied. ‘People today still assume the drug of choice would be cannabis, for which you would need a bird the size of an albatross. These days the drug of choice in prisons tends to be crystalised methamphetamine, for which a pigeon suffices as it can be measured in spoons’.

Crystal meth! The same evil which has plagued rural Montana!

Can you imagine such an interview taking place on the BBC? No chance. People know that the drugs of choice taken in prison would be cocaine or more likely heroin, which can easily be measured in teaspoons. The Brits are not so naïve to assume that somebody would go to that trouble for a bit of weed. I assumed immediately the bird was a damn pigeon and had no need for it to be explained to me!

To speak frankly I don’t know whether this is something I like or dislike about this place, as it is only a sign of its isolated nature and its provincial tendencies. Yet at the same time it makes me slightly nostalgic for the innocent days of my parents.

What more can I say?

Saturday, January 13, 2007

The Man in the Mask......

I’m not normally one for Batman type comic book action movies. I did, however, enjoy ‘V for Vendetta’ on video yesterday, based on an old comic book.

It was disturbing as it was set in a futuristic Nazi Britain. With concentration camps, a fuhrer, the cross of St George in red with a black background, uniforms and all the other paraphernalia. It was also set in a modern context, with Muslims replacing Jews. The poisoning of London’s water supply by the fascists (for which they blamed the terrorists) was the Reichstag fire which consolidated their power. References were made to the Iraq war and protests.

However, it is highly unlikely that fascism would take on its classic form were it to come into power. It would be far more subtle. Britain is not a fascist State at present, but the increasing surveillance we live under and the added powers given to the State do pose cause for concern to anyone who cherishes liberty.

The superhero goes simply by the name of ‘V’. He wears a Guy Fawkes mask to cover his burns. His aim is to get revenge on the government who were responsible. One by one he kills party members, gaining support among the population to eventually topple the regime by blowing up parliament. His supporters show their solidarity by donning a mask to match.

What makes it most interesting, in my view, is the relationship between him and his lover. Young Evey never completely knows the man who has taken her under his wing. This is symbolised most obviously by the mask, which he never removes due to his disfigurations. But the mask symbol goes way back into ancient mythology. The marriage of Eros and Psyche springs to mind most readily, where the Olympian God would not show his face to his mortal wife. Psyche is in turns enraptured by him then frightened of what he might do. His distance does not allow her to fully know him.

The comic-book love affair depicted in the film is in part a retelling of this ancient myth with its many layers. To an extent we all wear a mask, as Carl Jung was keen to stress. The persona we show to others does not tell everything about us. This is why the mask has long been used to symbolise the theatre. But what kind of lover is Eros, or Mr V? What kind of a man keeps himself from a woman in this way, and what kind of woman loves such a man? The answers can be many. The masked man is more of an evocative symbol than ‘the masked woman’, which should tell us something about sexual roles and behaviour. Most important is the fact that we can never completely know another person. After even many years together a woman may not completely know her husband, and vice versa.

Not knowing whether the masked man is a hero or villian (due to his unpredictable nature and the part of himself he deliberately keeps back) is part of his allure.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Dr Fell and New Edinburgh.....

Investing people and places with symbols is an ancient thing. Some of us may be able to divorce our experiences from our surroundings, but I think more of us tie them together than do not.

I have been writing of my travels, relating both good and bad experiences. Recently my musings have been negative but they are just a reflection of my state of mind. It is no insult to the place.

I wrote earlier of the Southern city of Christchurch. I liked it, despite it being a very English town (or perhaps because of - who can say?) Despite all what I heard about it being a crime capital with traces of English snobbery, puritanism etc and all the things I moan about back home I still received good vibes from it. But what the hell do I know just being a visitor?

I later wrote of Dunedin and I felt obliged to say good things about the place so as not to look like a complete idiot. Sure, I could see there was a lot of art there, and it had a lot of culture for a town which is small by British standards.

But if I'm going to be totally honest - it was a case of 'Dr Fell' as far as me and that town went. I got bad vibes, I didn't like the place and was unable to articulate what it was. Perhaps something to do with me being Catholic and it being a noticably Scottish protestant settlement? It being a university town off season and quiet due to the students being away? But no. Neither of those things defined my feelings and my wishes to leave the place asap. And I don't know if it was actually anything to do with the place or if it had anything to do with my circumstances (which looked brighter then than they do now, although there probably had been a storm brewing in the background without my knowledge).

The 'deep South' (for want of a better term) is said to be a bit of a mad place. Dunedin once had an alternative rock scene (something I would have liked) but that died with the collapse of the 'Flying Nun' record label. The boys in the region have been known to do mad things like throw surfboards out of windows and self harm. Janet Frame, one of New Zealand's best known authors, was born and grew up there. Her work is very intense because she suffered mental health problems.

Was it the madness in the region that I was picking up on? God knows. Seeing the touches of madness in myself it may be something I am sensitive to. But so as not to look a total idiot I shall just put it down to old Dr Fell.

Monday, January 08, 2007

What began as a news blog appears to have turned into more than this since I have been away from Blighty.

It has become what a blog literally was first thought to be - an online diary.

I will be back in England in two weeks. I will visit Napier and a few other places before I spend a few days in Auckland and get the plane home.

I don't blame the city - I know that this feeling is completely subjective, animistic and irrational. But the city of Wellies right now gives me nothing but bad vibes due to the events which have transpired here. I wish I could say otherwise but wishes aren't horses. I may be at a turning point in my life. When I return to the UK I should be better able to deal with my problems.

When I am back in the UK this blog shall return to what it was - a commentary about news and culture.

Meanwhile I would like to thank my friends on the blogosphere for their support and for keeping me writing through these days.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Seven Achievements of 2006....

Political Umpire of Fora tagged me for this. It may be hard but I'll try....

1. Starting this blog.
2. Getting other people to read it and receiving positive feedback. Especially from Dave Hill, China Blue, Ellee, PU, Gracchi, James etc. Thanks to all who have put me on their blogroll.
3. Managing to read a few more of the classics which I have neglected for a few years. Finally read Thomas Hardy's 'Jude' and 'The Woodlanders'.
4. Started my own first novel and actually have a full plot and characters worked out.
5. Getting a little more of my non fiction published and getting my ideas accross.
6. Reconciling myself at least partly with my past mistakes.
7. Learning to appreciate what I have.

The Queen.....

Happy new year all.

As to keep this blog one which is a commentary on news and culture I shall lay off the personal stuff for a while. Washing my dirty linen in public is not a pretty sight.

Any more than the debacle involving the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, ‘People’s Princess’, ‘Queen of Hearts’ etc was a pretty sight.

I saw Helen Mirren star in ‘The Queen’ the other night. And I was impressed by her performance. Along with the convincing portrayals of the Duke of Edinburgh and Alistair Campbell. The political machinations behind the scenes of the newly elected Blair government were interesting, to say the least.

I hate to say this – but the royals came off better in this than did the British public. Don’t get me wrong – I felt very sorry for Diana and her premature death was a tragedy. Her troubled marriage and her mental health problems made her a figure who could be related to by people of all classes. I don’t buy the line promoted by many leftists that she was nothing but a rich bitch. She may have been an aristocrat but she was by no means a happy one. One who did not have the skill of keeping her emotions under control. But, I did not know the woman personally. Therefore her death meant little more to me than would that of any other stranger. I did not buy into the mass hysteria, although I understood why she was a figure related to by ordinary people. That is as far as it goes.

During the movie the Duke of Edinburgh remarked on the hysteria over the death of a woman they never knew and said ‘And they think we’re mad?’ Likewise, the Queen Mother advised her daughter not to capitulate to the whims of ‘a bunch of hysterics with candles’. They wanted it kept private, but in the end the Queen had no choice but to give the fans of her former daughter in law what they wanted – a personal visit with a live address on television, having already conceded to the demand for a public funeral. It could not have been easy as the Queen is not of the same generation of Charles and his siblings, with their messed up love lives and their public relations disasters. Charles was portrayed as being more empathetic to the public’s feelings for his former wife than was his mother. And face it, the Queen could not have had much love for Diana, who since the marriage had been from her perspective nothing but trouble to her family. Any affection was nothing beyond the fact that Diana was the mother of her grandchildren, William of course being in line to be king one day.

I found myself not exactly liking, but to some extent respecting and admiring the Queen’s character. Neither am I a fan of the institution. But she was brought up to keep her emotions under wraps and never to express them in public. She can be admired for keeping it together, at the very least, which is more than could be said for poor Diana, the product of a fairytale that was not to be. The cold and stiff upper lip portrayed by Queen Elizabeth contrasts with the open displays of vulnerability displayed by Diana during her lifetime. Both may have their ups and down sides – but it seems to be the Queen’s path that wins through in this world, for now. Although the cult of celebrity may indicate a shift, as many people speculated during the Diana spectacle.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Take the Weather....

It is a cold day here, the first of Jan is the equivalent of the 1st of July in British seasons. But it is colder than I remember any English July day ever being, and that is saying something. Folks here don't believe in contral heating so I am snuggled up with a sweater or by a single radiator. It cold very well be an English New Years Day!

Reminds me of a song by Crowded House...'Everywhere you go, always take the.......'

So far Weather in the city of Wellies is worse than any English weather I recall in an earlyish summer. C'est la. If it was a hot day (as it was the day before yesterday) it may not match my mood as I was homesick with all that implies (yep, including the British winter). As they say, be careful what you wish for! If I don't have London't scenery at least I have it's seasonal weather.

Makes me think of another song, it was called 'Winter in July'. I forget who it was by though.