One of the good things about the Oscars season (or the Baftas season, if you’re British) is that you get so much information about which movies are good and which aren’t that you have to be some sort of a klutz not to be able to find something to go and see at the local flea pit.

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But one movie doing rather well in the glitz- and glamour-loaded awards stakes has divided audiences. Not the professional audiences – critics have almost universally loved it, and it’s tipped to pick up plenty of gongs yet awhile. No, it’s the ordinary punters who seem to range from utterly under-whelmed to utterly over-whelmed and every possible reaction in-between when they go and see La La Land, driven there by the studio’s relentless publicity machine and, you know, the “buzz”.

So we thought we’d better eyeball it in order to tell you, Dear Reader – should you be the only other person on the planet apart from us who hasn’t seen it yet – whether or not you should shell out your hard-earned and see it.

Well, in short, go and see it. And go and see it soon while it’s still on at the multiplex, so you can enjoy it in all its primary-coloured glory and big speaker luscious sound.

As everyone must know by now, it’s a studied – even mannered – revival of the old-style Hollywood musical, where realism is set aside and people burst into song (or dance) in the middle of dramatic moments as if that’s the most natural thing in the world. And done as well as this, it feels as natural as any glorious Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire movie flickering away on late night TV, and that’s really the goal of the movie maker here, as well as the highest praise one can offer him. Because young director Damien Chazelle pulls off this tricky task with great aplomb, and we should be grateful to him (and the Producers who backed him) for even attempting such a ridiculously old-fashioned task. And for the vast majority of the movie he makes it look easy, which it unquestionably wasn’t.

There are moments of delightful hyper-realism, too, where things that just can’t happen in a world dragged down by miserable killjoys like the laws of physics nevertheless can and do happen, and when these unlikely events occur we realise that we are being invited in to a sort of cinematic guilty pleasure – a place where the world is frequently very funny, or charming or sad or even heart-wrenching, but where somehow you just know things will turn out OK, and it’s OK for an hour or two to forget about how nasty the world has become, or, indeed, whether or not it ever actually stopped being nasty to begin with.

It isn’t, by any means, a great movie. In years to come it will not be seen as setting (or more like reversing) a trend. We won’t see a rash of new musicals as a result of it, simply because they’re so damned hard to do well. But it is a very, very good movie, and for some very specific reasons.

La La Land received critical acclaim upon its release and is regarded as one of the best films of 2016. Critics praised Chazelle’s screenplay and direction, Gosling and Stone’s performances, Justin Hurwitz’s musical score, and the film’s musical numbers. At the up-coming 89th Academy Awards, the film is nominated for a record-tying fourteen Oscars (along with 1997’s Titanic and 1950’s All About Eve), including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (Ryan Gosling), Best Actress (Emma Stone) and two Best Original Songs, “Audition” and “City of Stars”. The film also won in every category it was nominated for at the 74th Golden Globe Awards with a record-breaking seven wins.

But that list of facts doesn’t tell the story of the movie. Indeed, it may over-state the movie’s worth, because it implies it is somehow the Greatest Story Ever Told, but it isn’t that. What it is a thoroughly decent feel-good tale of young love that rubs every academy member and film buff up the right way, and could hardly be more tuned to have them gushing their praises (and votes) in response. The luvvies will, in simple terms, love every minute of it, because it’s all about a time when movies that simply made you feel good – not just to watch them, but to make them – were the norm rather than the exception. And no, no-one would turn the clock back holus bolus to the sanitised days before gritty realism, gruelling depictions of violence or emotional distress, and grunting, inavriably perfect sex between twenty-five foot high naked bodies and all the rest of it. But oh my, it is nice to get a rest from all of that, just every now and again.

The real story of this movie, though, is that parts of it are perfect. And here, Dear Reader, we are going to cut the crap and get to the point.

Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling are beautiful. And we don’t mean easy-on-the-eye. We mean smack-you-in-the-eye heart-stoppingly “Dear God, how does anyone ever end up as cute as that” beautiful. Which is all very well, except that it’s not just their physiognomy or physique that makes them so. What makes these two actors so sigh-inducingly gorgeous is that their very niceness shines out of them throughout this ambitious film.

Indeed, it could be argued that Stone doesn’t fit the cookie-cutter layout of a typical starlet. If you wanted to (unfairly) rip her looks to shreds then her eyes sometimes somehow seem a bit big for her head, she’s got pale skin and freckles not an LA tan, and a noticeable over-bite, which the actress blames on sucking her thumb till she was 11. In so far as anyone’s hair colour these days is set in any one part of the spectrum, she’s a redhead in a town of blondes. (Although actually, and not many people know this, she is naturally blonde.) And whilst she has an adorably husky voice, she has a lisp, for heaven’s sake. She explains her famously throaty tones as follows: “They were actually deeper when I was younger. I have nodules and calluses on my vocal chords from suffering from colic as a baby. I had to do speech therapy when I was a kid to learn how to speak in a higher register,” she says. “But I still have a little lisp. I didn’t fix it all.”

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So how does Stone pull off secreting herself in our hearts so thoroughly in this movie? Simple: you’re looking not at her features, whether or not you think she’s gorgeous, (we do), but at who she is inside.

Everything is on open display here, a smorgasbord of feelings from a young actress now effortlessly hitting her stride. She is by turns ditzy, thoughtful, passionate, romantic, sensual, funny, sad, broken-hearted, tearful, angry and resentful. And her emotional range as displayed here is not only enormous, it is utterly convincing. Indeed, at many points in the film – the show stopping song “Audition”, for example, and when Gosling seeks to persuade her that she has the talent to succeed, and riven with fear and self-doubt Stone petulantly disagrees – that we feel like we are actually watching Stone as Mia as Stone as Mia and where, we wonder, does the dividing line actually lie?

Emma Stone left nothing to chance in this career-defining performance, and we’ll be mildly astonished if she doesn’t walk away with the Best Actress statuette, despite some magnificent opposition (in particular from Natalie Portman in Jackie.)

Perennial heart-throb Gosling is equally good. For one thing, he makes room to let Stone shine, which was a generous act by a hot-as-the-sun star lead who also seems like a genuinely nice guy, as evidenced by his sincere thanks to his partner Eva Mendes for looking after the home front as he waded through the intense preparation for the role, which included actually learning to play the piano and to tap dance.

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By not over-powering the whirling tornado of a performance from Stone, Gosling deserves praise for delivering the film balance and poise with his light touch. If he had been chewing the scenery there would simply have been too much to watch – the love affair would have become a caricature, the career strivings a mere artifice. As it is, we suspend disbelief and believe in the two lovers completely. His jazz-pianist cum latent club-owning businessman character is thoughtful, full of repressed humour and passion, and under-stated to the nth degree. In his smouldering eyes, whimsical smile, and rampantly out of control lick of hair, he is also completely credible, and we get the strong impression that a night in a jazz bar sharing a beer with this soulful dreamer and then listening to him musingly tinkle the ivories would be a rather wonderful way to waste an hour or three. Again, the over-riding impression is not of his frame and facial features – ideal though they may be – it is of the person inside.

With so much else going on in this film, for these two young actors to both deliver performances so nuanced and deep is remarkable.

And there is so much more going on. Some of the dance sequences are truly charming, and the choreography superb, and well judged. Neither Stone or Gosling are asked to do the impossible, and what they do in return for this consideration is smart, sassy and flawless. Similarly with the singing – neither would consider themselves singers first and foremost, but they hold a tune well, and much more importantly, deliver it as if it’s the most natural thing in the world to be singing to one another while waltzing. As the LA Times noted of their dancing:

“La La Land” shows that you actually don’t have to have professional dancers with brilliant technique for a dance pairing to work. Put attractive people together, have them lock eyes, move feet in unison and you can get a believable love duet. What is dancing but full-body, kinetic expression exploding outward for everyone to see? And it may be just about the best way to expose the raw and visceral emotions of new-love, fireworks feelings. A choreographer must be attuned to the message conveyed by every step, every swing of the leg or wave of an arm. For “La La Land,” Mandy Moore deserves much of the credit in translating the story’s love narrative so well into dance language.

Amen to that. As for the singing, the film is worth seeing for Stone’s performance of ‘Audition’ alone. You’ll see what we mean. Remember to breathe, people.

Not all the set-pieces work, to our eyes. Some have raved about the film’s opening sequence – a mass dance-in that occurs spontaneously in a traffic queue on a LA freeway. We thought it felt a little forced. And a little too “Fame” for our liking, too. But that is quibbling: in a brave movie, one can’t get everything right, and anyway, as we say, lots of people liked it.

One of the best things about this film is the way Director Chazelle has eschewed lots of jiggly-fiddly editing and allowed the actors and the scenes to do their job. Just like back in the good old days, the actors fill the screen with both their dancing and their singing. It’s unvarnished movie making, in a way, though that would be to fail to praise the effortlessly good cinematography and especially the exceptionally precise use of colour and lighting to convey mood. It hardly needs to be said that the score, and the lyrics, are simply fantastic, and never better than when the film focuses on its core act of theatre, the jazz itself.

So: it is not a perfect film. But it tries very hard to be so, and there is a great deal to admire. It has already taken ten times at the Box Office what it cost to make, which is decent recompense for the courage shown in making it in the first place.

And most importantly, you’ll walk out of it with a smile playing on your lips, and realise you haven’t thought about Donald bloody Trump for more than two whole hours.

For that reason alone, it is surely worthy of high praise, and well worthy of your time.

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A 42-year-old Indian woman was in deep slumber last Tuesday night until she awoke around midnight to a “tingling, crawling sensation” in her right nostril.

At first, the woman, a domestic worker named Selvi, brushed the feeling off, assuming she might be catching a cold, the Times of India reported. But she soon felt something move.

She spent the rest of the night in discomfort, waiting for the sun to rise so she could go to the hospital.

“I could not explain the feeling but I was sure it was some insect,” she told the New Indian Express. “Whenever it moved, it gave me a burning sensation in my eyes.”

As dawn arrived, with her son-in-law in tow, the woman visited the clinic closest to her home in Injambakkam, in the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu.

Finally, in her fourth doctor visit — at Stanley Medical College Hospital — doctors used an endoscope to find the culprit: a blob with a pair of antennae.

“It was a full grown cockroach,” M.N. Shankar, the head of the ear, nose and throat department, told the Times of India. “It was alive. And it didn’t seem to want to come out.”

The insect was sitting in the skull base, between the eyes and close to the brain, Shankar said.

Doctors first tried to use a suction device to remove the cockroach, but the insect clung to the tissues. After a 45-minute process, using suction and forceps, doctors were able to extract the bug, still alive.

Because of the critter’s location, doctors had to first drag it to a place from which it could be extracted. It had been lodged inside for about 12 hours, the Times of India reported.

“If left inside, it would have died before long and the patient would have developed infection, which would have spread to the brain,” Shankar added.

Shankar said this was the “first such case” he has seen in his three decades of practice, the New India Express reported. In the past, the hospital’s ENT department has removed a leach, houseflies, and maggots from patients’ nasal cavities. “But not a cockroach, said S Muthuchitra, one of the doctors, “especially not one this large.”

This is by no means the first time a cockroach has crawled and nestled into a human body. A 1994 story in The Washington Post described a similar local case involving a one-inch cockroach that crawled into a George Washington University graduate student’s ear.

Shannelle Armstrong, the student, woke up screaming before dawn with a piercing pain in her left ear. She was taken by ambulance to the emergency room, where doctors flushed out the live cockroach.

One ear specialist quoted in the story said hospital doctors are sometimes called upon to remove different kinds of bugs from patients’ ears, especially in the summer. In urban areas, he said, roaches are the most common.

The graduate student’s medical report added the following advice: “Consider sleeping with hat on.”

So … the other night, Dear Reader, a cockroach climbed onto our hand in bed, causing a big yelp, a hurried leap out of bed, and frantic smashing with a slipper.

And then the other day, Mrs Wellthisiswhatithink popped her bathrobe on which had been drying on the washing line, and found a cockroach inside.

Thinking we may invest in a few cans of whatever passes for industrial-strength DDT nowadays.

Interestingly, cokroaches are much more sophisticated than we might imagine.

Collective decision-making

Gregarious cockroaches display collective decision-making when choosing food sources. When a sufficient number of individuals (a “quorum”) exploits a food source, this signals to newcomer cockroaches that they should stay there longer rather than leave for elsewhere. Other mathematical models have been developed to explain aggregation dynamics and conspecific recognition.

Group-based decision-making is responsible for complex behaviours such as resource allocation. In a study where 50 cockroaches were placed in a dish with three shelters with a capacity for 40 insects in each, the insects arranged themselves in two shelters with 25 insects in each, leaving the third shelter empty. When the capacity of the shelters was increased to more than 50 insects per shelter, all of the cockroaches arranged themselves in one shelter. Cooperation and competition are balanced in cockroach group decision-making behavior.

Cockroaches appear to use just two pieces of information to decide where to go, namely how dark it is and how many other cockroaches there are. A study used specially-scented roach-sized robots that appear to the roaches as real to demonstrate that once there are enough insects in a place to form a critical mass, the roaches accepted the collective decision on where to hide, even if this was an unusually light place.

Social behavior

Gregarious German cockroaches show different behaviour when reared in isolation from when reared in a group. In one study, isolated cockroaches were less likely to leave their shelters and explore, spent less time eating, interacted less with conspecifics when exposed to them, and took longer to recognise receptive females. Because these changes occurred in many contexts, the authors suggested them as constituting a behavioural syndrome. These effects might have been due either to reduced metabolic and developmental rates in isolated individuals or the fact that the isolated individuals hadn’t had a training period to learn about what others were like via their antennae.

But frankly, we don’t give a sh*t. They could be insect Einsteins. They ain’t coming anywhere near our ears.

Image Copyright Amnesty International- Amnesty International says Saydnaya prison may hold between 10,000 and 20,000 people.

Image Copyright Amnesty International – Amnesty International says Saydnaya prison may hold between 10,000 and 20,000 people.

As many as 13,000 people, most of them civilian opposition supporters, have been executed in secret at a prison in Syria, Amnesty International says.

A new report by the human rights group alleges that mass hangings took place every week at Saydnaya prison between September 2011 and December 2015.

Amnesty says the alleged executions were authorised at the highest levels of the Syrian government.

The government has previously denied killing or mistreating detainees.

However, UN human rights experts said a year ago that witness accounts and documentary evidence strongly suggested that tens of thousands of people were being detained and that “deaths on a massive scale” were occurring in custody.

Amnesty interviewed 84 people, including former guards, detainees and prison officials for its report.

A detainee before his imprisonment, and after, his release from the prison.

Image Copyright Amnesty International – Former detainee Omar al-Shogre before his imprisonment, and after his release from the prison.

It alleges that every week, and often twice a week, groups of between 20 and 50 people were executed in total secrecy at the facility, just north of Damascus. They are by no means all opposition fighters. They include lawyers, doctors, journalists, and other professionals whose only “crime” is to be “on the other side”, even if their relationship with “the other side” may be nothing more than a geographical location.

Before their execution, detainees were brought before a “military field court” in the capital’s Qaboun district for “trials” lasting between one and three minutes, the report says.

A former military court judge quoted by Amnesty said detainees would be asked if they had committed crimes alleged to have taken place. “Whether the answer is ‘yes’ or ‘no’, he will be convicted… This court has no relation with the rule of law,” he chillingly said.

According to the report, detainees were told on the day of the hangings that they would be transferred to a civilian prison then taken to a basement cell and beaten over the course of two or three hours.

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Then in the middle of the night they were blindfolded and moved to another part of the prison, where they were taken into a room in the basement and told they had been sentenced to death just minutes before nooses were placed around their necks, the report adds.

The bodies of those killed were allegedly then loaded onto lorries, and transferred to Tishreen military hospital in Damascus for registration and burial in mass graves located on military land.

On the basis of evidence of the testimony of its witnesses, Amnesty estimates that between 5,000 and 13,000 people were executed at Saydnaya over five years.


Witness accounts

A former judge who saw the hangings:

“They kept them [hanging] there for 10 to 15 minutes. Some didn’t die because they are light. For the young ones, their weight wouldn’t kill them. The officers’ assistants would pull them down and break their necks.”

‘Hamid’, a former military officer who was detained at Saydnaya:

“If you put your ears on the floor, you could hear the sound of a kind of gurgling. This would last around 10 minutes… We were sleeping on top of the sound of people choking to death. This was normal for me then.”

Former detainee ‘Sameer’ describes alleged abuse:

“The beating was so intense. It was as if you had a nail, and you were trying again and again to beat it into a rock. It was impossible, but they just kept going. I was wishing they would just cut off my legs instead of beating them any more.”

Source: Amnesty International


Although it does not have evidence of executions taking place since December 2015, the group says it has no reason to believe they have stopped and that thousands more were likely to have died.

Amnesty says these practices amounted to war crimes and crimes against humanity.

It also notes that death sentences have to be approved by the grand mufti and by either the defence minister or the army’s chief of staff, who are deputised to act on behalf of President Bashar al-Assad.

The human rights group says it contacted the Syrian authorities about the allegations in early January but has received no response.

Last August, Amnesty reported that an estimated 17,723 people had died in custody as a result of torture and the deprivation of food, water and medical care between March 2011 – when the uprising against President Assad began – and December 2015. That figure did not include those allegedly hanged at Saydnaya.

These are the people that the West have stood by and idly watched as Putin and others have rained bombs on civilians. Certainly some of the Opposition in Syria are bad guys, too. No question. But many – and many of those killed in the war or in prison – are democrats who thought they could wrest their country from the grip of a cruel fascist dictator and turn it to democracy.

Wellthisiswhatithink says:

Those who have been freed from Saydnaya, and those who have escaped its clutches, and those who have avoided being murdered by the secret police and paramilitary forces, and those who have escaped the barrel bombs and the poison gas, largely make up – with their families – those who have desperately fled Syria looking for refuge. Looking for the right to live in peace, free from fear of persecution.

You know: the ones that Donald Trump thinks are dangerous. To us. But Mr Putin and his cronies? They’re OK.

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May we correct a much-repeated mistake in coverage of the petition to the UK Parliament to prevent Donald Trump making a State Visit to the UK?

This has often been erroneously reported in Australian and United States media as a desire to prevent Mr Trump visiting the UK per se

This is not so. In fact, the petition refers specifically to such a visit being a State visit, the highest possible honour conferred on a visitor, and specifically so that he would not have to be entertained by the Queen.

As the petition states, Donald Trump should be allowed to enter the UK in his capacity as head of the US Government, but he should not be invited to make an official State Visit because it would cause embarrassment to Her Majesty the Queen. The petition continues “Donald Trump’s well documented misogyny and vulgarity disqualifies him from being received by Her Majesty the Queen or the Prince of Wales. Therefore during the term of his presidency Donald Trump should not be invited to the United Kingdom for an official State Visit.”

This is a little detail, perhaps, but surely a significant one. 

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Britons are presumably concerned that a man who used his Twitter account to encourage Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, (then known as Kate Middleton), to sunbathe topless so that paparazzi could photograph her would be especially offensive to the Royal Family, who have frequently had to protest at the unwanted attentions of photographers, and who successfully sued to have the Middleton photographs restricted. The Royal Family would be far too polite to point this out, so the public are doing it for them.

And just days after Princess Diana died in a car crash, in which the paparazzi were again involved, President Trump notoriously asserted on the radio that he could have slept with her.

Howard Stern asked him: ‘Why do people think it’s egotistical of you to say you could’ve gotten with Lady Di? You could’ve gotten her, right? You could’ve nailed her.’ ‘I think I could have,’ Trump replied. 

The internet is full of funny memes about the Queen and Donald trump. This is our personal favourite.

The internet is full of funny memes about the Queen and Donald Trump. This is our personal favourite.

On the same radio show three years later, he referred to Lady Diana as ‘crazy, but these are minor details’, again saying he would have slept with her ‘without even hesitation’.

Presumably more than 1.8 million people feel the Queen shouldn’t be forced to share a royal carriage with such a man, much less have to make polite chit chat sitting next to him at dinner.

And no doubt similar considerations were behind House of Commons Speaker John Bercow’s overnight decision not to ask Mr Trump to address Parliament when he visits.

In a post-truth world, it surely pays to remember facts.

It seems like Donald’s election is causing a few problems for American companies doing business abroad, if this is anything to go by.

Just made us laugh to be honest … and struck us as a very funny piece of marketing given Trump’s approval rating in Europe, which would struggle to register on any opinion poll.

 

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Meanwhile, we see a petition to the UK Parliament to stop Britain offering him a State visit, as that means he would have to be met and looked after by the Queen, has currently reached over a million and a half signatures.

Will anything ever get through his thick skin? Probably not.

australia aborigines

If you are genuinely unsure, simply read these stories, which represent the tip of the iceberg as regards the effect of white colonisation on our native brothers and sisters.

The Cape Grim massacre was an incident on 10 February 1828 in which a group of Aboriginal Tasmanians gathering food at a beach in the north-west of Tasmania is said to have been ambushed and shot by four Van Diemen’s Land Company workers, with bodies of some of the victims then thrown from a 60-metre cliff. About 30 men are thought to have been killed in the attack, which was a reprisal action for an earlier Aboriginal raid on a flock of Van Diemen’s Land Company sheep, but part of an escalating spiral of violence probably triggered by the abduction and rape of Aboriginal women in the area. The massacre was part of the “Black War”, the period of violent conflict between British colonists and Aboriginal Australians in Tasmania from the mid-1820s to 1832.

The Convincing Ground massacre at Portland Bay south-west of Melbourne probably resulted from the Gunditjmara people’s determination to assert their right to the whale as traditional food and when challenged by the whalers, were aggressive in return. The whalers withdrew to the head station only to return with their firearms. Robinson’s journal entry says “And the whalers then let fly, to use his expression, right and left upon the natives. He said the natives did not go away but got behind trees and threw spears and stones. They, however, did not much molest them after that.” No mention was made in the conversation as to casualties. Later reports arising from a meeting in 1842 that Robinson had with Gunditjmara people stated only two members survived the massacre. Accounts vary, but the number of Aborigines killed is believed to be between 60 and 200.”

The Pinjarra Massacre was an attack that occurred at Pinjarra, Western Australia on a group of up to 80 Noongar people by a detachment of 25 soldiers, police and settlers led by Governor James Stirling in 1834. After attacks on the displaced Swan River Whadjuk people and depredations on settlers by a group of the Binjareb people led by Calyute had, according to European settlers, reached unacceptable levels, culminating in the payback killing of an ex-soldier, Stirling led his force after the party. Arriving at their camp, five members of the pursuit party were sent into the camp to arrest the suspects and the Aborigines resisted. In the ensuing melee, Stirling reported 15 killed (eleven names were collected later from Aboriginal sources but because of local religious beliefs many dead would not be named); police superintendent T.T. Ellis later died of wounds and a soldier was wounded. A more realistic figure for the Aboriginal dead, including many woman and children, is 40-50. The flood-scoured slopes gave the men, women and children little cover as they tried to hide behind what logs or bushes there were. Many ducked into the water, holding their breath as long as they could. Some tried to float downstream out of range, but the water was too shallow to permit their escape. They, too, were shot. A white attacker’s journal records “Very few wounded were suffered to escape”.

massacreThe Waterloo Creek massacre occured when a Sydney mounted police detachment was despatched by acting Lieutenant Governor of New South Wales Colonel Kenneth Snodgrass, to track down the Namoi, Weraerai and Kamilaroi people who had killed five stockmen in separate incidents on recently established pastoral runs on the upper Gwydir River area of New South Wales. After two months the mounted police, consisting of two sergeants and twenty troopers led by Major James Nunn, arrested 15 Aborigines along the Namoi River. They released all but two, one of whom was shot whilst attempting to escape. The main body of Kamilaroi eluded the troopers, thus Major Nunn’s party along with two stockmen pursued the Kamilaroi for three weeks from present-day Manilla on the Namoi River north to the upper Gwydir River.

On the morning of January 26 – ironically – in a surprise attack on Nunn’s party Corporal Hannan was wounded in the leg with a spear and subsequently the police reported four or five Aborigines were shot dead in retaliation. The Aborigines fled down the river as the troopers regrouped, rearmed and pursued them led by the second in command Lieutenant George Cobban. Cobban’s party found their quarry about a mile down the river now known as Waterloo Creek, where a second engagement took place. The encounter lasted several hours, and no Aborigines were captured. It is this second clash where details of its occurrence contrast substantially. Estimates of Aboriginal dead range as high as 70.

Murdering Gully, formerly known as Puuroyup to the Djargurd Wurrung people, is the site of an 1839 massacre of 35-40 people of the Tarnbeere Gundidj clan of the Djargurd Wurrung in the Camperdown district of Victoria, Australia. It is a gully on Mount Emu Creek, where a small stream adjoins from Merida Station.

Of particular note for this massacre is the extent of oral history and first hand accounts of the incident and detail in settler diaries, records of Weslayan missionaries, and Aboriginal Protectorate records. Following the massacre there was popular disapproval and censure of the leading perpetrator, Frederick Taylor, so that Taylor’s River was renamed to Mount Emu Creek. The massacre effectively destroyed the Tarnbeere Gundidj clan.

The Campaspe Plains massacre, occurred in 1839 in Central Victoria, Australia as a reprisal raid against Aboriginal resistance to the invasion and occupation of the Dja Dja Wurrung and Daung Wurrung lands. Charles Hutton took over the Campaspe run, located near the border of Dja Dja Wurrung and Daung Wurrung, in 1838 following sporadic confrontations.

In April 1839 five Aborigines were killed by three white men. In response Hugh Bryan, a shepherd, and James Neill, a hut keeper were killed in May 1839 by Aborigines identified as Daung Wurrung, who had robbed a hut of bedding, clothes, guns and ammunition and also ran a flock of 700 sheep off the property, possibly as retribution for the earlier Aboriginal deaths. Hutton immediately put together an armed party of settlers who tracked and finally caught the Aborigines with a flock of sheep 30 miles away near the Campaspe Creek. An armed confrontation between the settlers and Aborigines occurred for up to half an hour. Hutton claimed privately that nearly 40 Aborigines were killed.

The Aboriginal people of East Gippsland, Victoria, Australia, known as the Gunai/Kurnai people, fought against the European invasion of their land. The technical superiority of the Europeans’ weapons gave the Europeans an absolute advantage. At least 300 people were killed, but other figures estimate up to 1,000; however, it is extremely difficult to be certain about the real death toll as so few records still exist or were even made at the time. Diseases introduced from the 1820s by European sealers and whalers also caused a rapid decline in Aboriginal numbers. The following list was compiled from such things as letters and diaries.

1840 – Nuntin- unknown number killed by Angus McMillan’s men
1840 – Boney Point – “Angus McMillan and his men took a heavy toll of Aboriginal lives”
1841 – Butchers Creek – 30-35 shot by Angus McMillan’s men
1841 – Maffra – unknown number shot by Angus McMillan’s men
1842 – Skull Creek – unknown number killed
1842 – Bruthen Creek – “hundreds killed”
1843 – Warrigal Creek – between 60 and 180 shot by Angus McMillan and his men
1844 – Maffra – unknown number killed
1846 – South Gippsland – 14 killed
1846 – Snowy River – 8 killed by Captain Dana and the Aboriginal Police
1846-47 – Central Gippsland – 50 or more shot by armed party hunting for a white woman supposedly held by Aborigines; no such woman was ever found.
1850 – East Gippsland – 15-20 killed
1850 – Murrindal – 16 poisoned
1850 – Brodribb River – 15-20 killed

The Flying Foam massacre was a series of confrontations between white settlers and Aboriginal people around Flying Foam Passage on Murujuga Burrup Peninsula, Western Australia.

The confrontations occurred between February and May 1868 triggered by the killings of two police officers and a local workman. The confrontations resulted in the deaths of unknown number of Jaburara (or Yaburrara, Yapurarra) people with estimates ranging between 15 and 150 dead.

The confrontations followed the killings on 7 February, on the south west shore of Nickol Bay, of Police Constable William Griffis, an Aboriginal police assistant named Peter, and a pearling worker named George Breem, by some Jaburara people, along with the disappearance of a pearling lugger captain, Henry Jermyn. Three Jaburara were arrested and convicted of Griffis’ murder. Sentenced to death their sentences were commuted to twelve years’ penal servitude on Rottnest Island.

Pearlers and pastoralists from the surrounding region, with the approval and support of the Government Resident in Roebourne, R. J. Sholl,organised two armed and mounted parties, which travelled overland and by sea to Murujuga, the heartland of the Jaburara. The two parties moved towards each other on the peninsula in a pincer movement. Anthropologist T. J. Gara – utilising official sources and oral tradition – suggests that one attack by the parties, on a Jaburara camp at King Bay, on 17 February, killed at least 15 people, including some children.

The Mowla Bluff massacre was an incident involving the murder of a number of indigenous Australians at Geegully Creek, near Mowla Bluff, in the Kimberley region of Western Australia in 1916.

Mowla Bluff is a cattle station 140 kilometres (87 mi) south of Derby and 75 kilometres (47 mi) southwest of Jarlmadangah. Responding to the brutality of the white station manager, some local men gave him a beating. In reprisal, an armed mob which included officials and residents rounded up a large number of Aboriginal men, women and children who were then shot. The bodies were burned.

One account states that three or four hundred people were killed and only three survived.

The Forrest River massacre, or Oombulgurri massacre, is a disputed account of a massacre of indigenous Australian people by a law enforcement party in the wake of the killing of a pastoralist, which took place in the Kimberley region of Western Australia in 1926. The massacre was investigated by a Royal Commission in 1927 which subsequently determined that 11 people had been killed. Charges were brought against two officers but dismissed for lack of evidence. A local man, Lumbia, was convicted of the killing of the pastoralist Frederick Hay. The findings have recently been disputed by journalist Rod Moran, whose analysis has received some academic support while other academic historians accept that a massacre did take place but disagree over the number of victims.In January 1968, Dr Neville Green interviewed on audiotape Charles Overheu, the brother of Hay’s partner and co-owner of Nulla Nulla station Leopold Overheu:

They all got together up there and there was a bloody massacre because I think they shot about three hundred natives all in one hit and there was a hell of a row over it. It was all published in the papers and somebody let the cat out of the bag and anyhow the government and the judges in those times they realised what the trouble was and the whole thing was hushed up you see.

In the same year, Forrest River Aborigines specified that the massacres had taken place at five different sites, and a German scholar, Dr Helmut Reim, from interviews with three Aboriginal elders, concluded that between 80 and 100 Aborigines had been killed in the massacres on the Marndoc Reserve, of which the Forrest River Mission was a small part.

The Coniston massacre, which took place from 14 August to 18 October 1928 near the Coniston cattle station in Northern Territory, Australia, was the last known officially sanctioned massacre of indigenous Australians and one of the last events of the Australian Frontier Wars. People of the Warlpiri, Anmatyerre and Kaytetye groups were killed. The massacre occurred in revenge for the death of dingo hunter Frederick Brooks, killed by Aboriginal people in August 1928 at a place now known as Yukurru, (also known as Brooks Soak).

Official records at the time stated that 31 people were killed. The owner of Coniston station, Randall Stafford, was a member of the punitive party for the first few days and estimated that at least twice that number were killed between 14 August and 1 September. Historians estimate that at least 60 and as many as 110 Aboriginal men, women and children were killed. The Warlpiri, Anmatyerre and Kaytetye believe that up to 170 died between 14 August and 18 October.

screen-shot-2017-01-27-at-3-35-08-pmThese records are merely the best known of the mass murders committed by the white settlers of Australia. That some of them were in response to provocation or retaliation is irrelevant. The indigenous people had been invaded and forcefully dispossessed. They saw themselves as fighting for justice according to laws developed over 40,000 of habitation. This, to a large extent, is why the native peoples of Australia still call for a formal treaty to be signed between the Government of Australia and its first peoples. For them, the war that was visited on them has never formally been recognised, or ended.

It should be obvious to anyone that 26th January is a needlessly provocative day to celebrate as Australia Day, and that a number of other dates offer themselves as equally significant and worthy of celebration. Anyone denying this simple proposition is merely continuing the assertion of white privilege and domination that these stories tragically demonstrate.

Remember, the killings of groups of Aborigines continued to within living memory, let alone later injustices which are just as well known.

We are big enough to acknowledge the past. It is time we made the change. Simple as that.

 

 

Dear President Trump

Congratulations on your election. We never supported your run for office, and we were frankly somewhat dismayed that it succeeded, as the trend in politics that you represent is far removed from our view of the world.

But we have to put that aside now. You’re in. And we have to work with you.

Of course we wish you well. The world needs a strong and successful America. You are still the locomotive at the front of the train that is the world’s economy. Or at the very least, one of the locomotives.

You are still the home of much of the most fortuitous innovations that will help us manage and preserve civilisation and the world. We need you to do well, which is why even those who oppose your brand of politics wish you success. Who knows? You may surprise us all.

But in saying that, Mr President, we have a problem.

It seems to us that a lot of what you’re saying simply doesn’t make sense. So we have some questions for you, which we hope you feel able to answer.

Your new White House website says the following:

The Trump Administration is committed to a foreign policy focused on American interests and American national security.

Peace through strength will be at the centre of that foreign policy. This principle will make possible a stable, more peaceful world with less conflict and more common ground.

Honestly, this strikes us as short-sighted.

 

Free the shit out of you

Whilst we understand that you need to protect American interests, “peace through strength” just sounds to the rest of us like “if we’re big enough and ugly enough to make you do what we say, we’ll get along just fine”. Or in other words, more of everything that has managed to piss the rest of the world off about America on regular occasions since WWII.

There’s every chance that this type of attitude won’t result in a more stable or peaceful world with less conflict and more common ground, but possibly the very opposite. More chances for your country and others to rub each other up the wrong way, to create distrust about your motives, and to lead to more conflict, not less.

Next, we will rebuild the American military. Our Navy has shrunk from more than 500 ships in 1991 to 275 in 2016. Our Air Force is roughly one third smaller than in 1991. President Trump is committed to reversing this trend, because he knows that our military dominance must be unquestioned.

“Military dominance”? There you go again. But hang on a minute here, yes, you might have retired some ageing ships and aircraft – replacing them with better ones – but you still spend as much on defence as the NEXT TEN countries in defence spending in the world PUT TOGETHER.

So, Donald, if you don’t have military dominance now, we strongly urge you to look more closely at how you’re spending your trillions. Because you should be far and away the most powerful country in the world already.

And you are, of course.

You know that. Everyone knows that.

So what’s an increase in military spending really all about?

0053_defense-comparison-full

You know, since Eisenhower warned about the military-industrial complex in the first place, we have seen the taxes of Americans and the profits from American trade ploughed into a vast, bloated military, making some American corporations richer than Croesus. Is America really safer, as a result, or are just a bunch of banks and Wall Street types much richer?

Also, you said:

Defeating ISIS and other radical Islamic terror groups will be our highest priority. To defeat and destroy these groups, we will pursue aggressive joint and coalition military operations when necessary. In addition, the Trump Administration will work with international partners to cut off funding for terrorist groups, to expand intelligence sharing, and to engage in cyberwarfare to disrupt and disable propaganda and recruiting.

See: we’re not awfully sure what you’re getting at here. Sure, it sounds good, but honestly, what has the world been trying to do for more than a decade now? We’ve all been busy cutting off funding, expanding intelligence sharing, engaging in cyberwarfare and all the rest of it.

So the only thing that’s really different here is pursuing aggressive joint and coalition military operations when necessary.

 

Iraqi dead child is prepared for burial

A violently killed young Iraqi girl is prepared for burial. The photograph originally appeared at Salon.com some years ago.

 

It might be an idea to explain what that really means. See, we’ve just seen America endlessly tied up in Afghanistan and Iraq for what seems like forever. Apart from American losses, civilian losses in Iraq alone are up to about 600,000 and counting. We’re certainly not doing a great job of bringing enduring freedom to the Iraqi people, are we? And we’re getting out of Afghanistan with our butts kicked, and the probability that we will have achieved nothing very much at all. Honestly, we don’t really think the American public has the stomach for much more of that, do you?

So how about an alternative idea?

Sooner or later – and this is a very simple thought, but we encourage you to consider it carefully – the West is going to have to accommodate itself to an Islamic world with some very different agendas to ours, and different rules. As Churchill said, “Jaw Jaw is always better than War War”.

It would be hard to imagine more implacable enemies in the Cold War period than Russia and America – the titanic, historic struggle between state socialism and capitalism. And yet, ultimately, it was talking that wound back the tension levels, and created opportunities for both sides. Many, many more people died in the proxy wars fought to promulgate the cold war than have died in conflicts between Islam and the West. Yet we managed to talk our way to a better place.

So who in the Islamic world are you going to talk to, to try and bring some conclusion to the current conflicts? Yes, we know there’s no point talking to the leaders of IS, but they are only a very small part of the problem, and frankly most of the Islamic world hates them as much as you do. So where in your world view is the great West-Islam dialogue that must, inevitably, be the real solution to the problems we now face? What’s the plan? A few words about embracing diplomacy doesn’t really cut it, Donald. Would you care to be more specific?

Now. Trade.

Your website says:

For too long, Americans have been forced to accept trade deals that put the interests of insiders and the Washington elite over the hard-working men and women of this country. As a result, blue-collar towns and cities have watched their factories close and good-paying jobs move overseas, while Americans face a mounting trade deficit and a devastated manufacturing base.

Forgive us, Sir, but trade deals are not why blue-collar towns and cities have watched their factories close. Nor why America has a trade deficit. Nor why your manufacturing base is devastated.

All these things have happened because the American people have been sold a dream of an endlessly expanding consumer paradise with everything one could need for a modern lifestyle provided ever more cheaply, whether it’s cars or phones, or TVs, or white goods, or clothes.

 

china

And overseas – especially, but not exclusively, in Asia – clever, determined people produce those things at a fraction of a cost to them being produced in America. That’s why some of your very own private businesses manufacture over there, right?

So, Sir, the only way you can protect those all rust-belt manufacturers is either to forbid people from buying cheap consumer goods from overseas (good luck with that project) or by slapping tariffs on goods made overseas. That’s what your policy really means. And as soon as you do that, the countries currently supplying you will simply do the same to you, so the things you ARE selling into those countries (less and less already, as you know) will be priced out of their markets. (And the growing middle class in China and India and other such places will simply buy their own products. After all, they’re just as good. That’s why your own population buys them so enthusiastically.)

It’s called a trade war, Mr President. And like some other wars we could mention, it’s a war you can’t win.

Or we suppose you could try and persuade American workers to accept much lower pay and conditions. Somehow we don’t think you’re going to attempt that.

Sure, you can try and re-negotiate trade deals, but who’s to say anyone is going to want to negotiate with you? When you stand on the steps of the Capitol and call out “America First” like some sort of mantra, don’t you realise that what the rest of us hear is “And you guys second. Or last. Or nowhere. We really don’t care.”?

If you don’t believe us, can we suggest you watch this video from Holland? It’s not only very funny, but it explains the problem better than we can.

You see, if the success of a trade deal is no longer to be a quid pro quo – as the Jews say, “leaving a little something in the deal for everyone” – then can you explain, please, why you think anyone is going to want to negotiate with you?

Sir, the ONLY solution to America’s economic decline is to work harder, and more innovatively. To produce things that the rest of the world hasn’t worked out how to make yet, and to continue to produce those things at the lowest feasible cost until everyone else catches up, and then to repeat the process. Endlessly. That is your only defence against the new Tigers, wherever they are.

But we don’t hear anything about that from you.

Instead, for example, when the world is desperate for new, non-fossil fuel energy sources, smarter batteries, new power transmission technologies and all the rest, what do you offer us?

A huge increase in fracking and coal consumption. Have you walked down the streets in Beijing and Mumbai recently? Why would you want to visit more pollution on the people of the USA?

 

The inevitable result of an economy based on coal-fired energy. If we're wrong, please tell us why.

The inevitable result of an economy based on coal-fired energy. If we’re wrong, please tell us why.

And you say:

Lastly, our need for energy must go hand-in-hand with responsible stewardship of the environment. Protecting clean air and clean water, conserving our natural habitats, and preserving our natural reserves and resources will remain a high priority. President Trump will refocus the EPA on its essential mission of protecting our air and water.

But Mr President, even with “clean coal” technology (assuming it can be successfully developed, at a reasonable price, which is still highly uncertain) and even with the most careful rules over fracking, you can’t protect the water and air of the United States no matter how hard you try. And your statement completely ignores the effect on the climate of burning more and more fossil fuels.

Even if you don’t think climate change is man made, or entirely man made, or whatever your position is this week, surely you must appreciate that expanding fossil fuel production is taking a vastly greater risk with the environment that we don’t need to take? Renewable energy sources are now more than capable of taking up the slack, as Europe is demonstrating successfully in an incredibly short timescale.

If climate change disrupts American agriculture, the cost will be way higher than the cost of phasing out fossil fuel dependence.

If climate change means Americans cannot live in safety in the forests, deserts, or coastal plains that they live in now, then the cost will be way higher than the cost of phasing out fossil fuel dependence. In lives, and in dollars.

If climate change alters the make-up of the oceans so that fish stocks migrate away from your shores, or disappear altogether, then the cost will be way higher than the cost of phasing out fossil fuel dependence.

If climate change increases the severity of weather events – hot and cold – across your nation, then the cost will be way higher than the cost of phasing out fossil fuel dependence.

See, Mr President, this is our real problem. It seems to us that you must know all these things. You are clearly an intelligent and ambitious man. You surround yourself with bright people.

Yet despite the fact that you must know better, you are simply not levelling with the American people, or the world, about the depth and the scale of the problems in trade, manufacturing, energy, and defence.

We could keep writing on and on about other areas of your program, but that doesn’t seem fair.

Lord knows, there’s more than enough here to be going on with.

So, Sir, we respectfully invite you to address the questions we have for you. We’re genuinely interested to know what you think.

Or if it’s all just politics – if it’s all just a con, playing to the gallery, shoring up a base of domestic support, then why not admit it? As you have said, it doesn’t seem to matter what you say and do, they’re gonna love you anyway. But the rest of us would really like to know what you’re on about, because from over here, it simply doesn’t make any sense.

At all. Not even a bit.

Yours sincerely

The World

Fascinating story from the BBC about how falconry – hunting with birds of prey – influenced Shakespeare and the English language generally.

As a falconer, for example, tightly pinches the bird’s jesses, or tethers, under his or her thumb to stop the bird flying away at random, we get the term ‘under your thumb’, meaning controlled, although the term nowadays is more common when describing hen-pecked husbands than hunting birds of prey. (Hen-pecked also having its roots in medieval observation, of course.)

Another phrase we get from falconry is “wrapped around your little finger” which is when the bird’s owner uses his or her little finger in conjunction with the thumb to hold on tight to the bird’s jesses.

When the bird’s eyes and head are covered with a small leather hood to keep it from distraction until it is needed we get the term ‘hoodwinked’.

This rare jargon of English 16th century falconry entered our colloquial language thanks in part to one amateur falconer, William Shakespeare.

Experts still argue about how much falconry Shakespeare actually practiced in real life, but he was no doubt personally acquainted with the sport, as his plays carry more than 50 references to the sport.

Macbeth advises “scarfing the eye”, a reference to hoodwinking a falcon to prevent the bird (his lady) from distraction. He continues the falconry metaphor with holding the lady back on her perch while other falcons prepare to “rouse”, or take flight. French terms like “rouse” (from the Old French ruser, when a hawk shakes its feathers) entered English with the Norman invasion of 1066. But it is Shakespeare who helped forge a new meaning: “to rouse” as in “awaken”.

“Eyes like a hawk,” is well-known, of course, and with good reason. A hawk’s eyesight is ten times stronger than a human’s eyesight: like reading a newspaper across a football field.

A hawk’s eyesight is ten times stronger than a human’s (Credit: Credit: Andrew Evans)

There are lots of other examples of words transferring from medieval falconry to modern English.

Bate Birds beating their wings while still tethered; from the Old French batre (to beat), eventually “to hold back, restrain”, as in a bated breath.

Fed up A bird that is no longer hungry has no incentive to hunt.

Booze From the 14th-century verb bouse (Dutch origin), to drink excessively. A bird that drinks too much water will not hunt, similar to those who are “fed up”.

Haggard A wild hawk that’s difficult to train. One of Shakespeare’s favourite terms.

In Shakespeare’s play The Taming of the Shrew, the male lead Petruchio likens taming his new bride to training a hawk:

My falcon now is sharp and passing empty;
And till she stoop she must not be full-gorged,
For then she never looks upon her lure.
Another way I have to man my haggard,
To make her come and know her keeper’s call …

A falcon or hawk that is fully gorged, or “fed up” will no longer work for her master. On the other hand, a “haggard” is a wild hawk that may never be fully trained. Shakespeare uses the term five times to describe different women in his plays, which in later English came to mean wild, unkempt and dishevelled.

What’s your favourite piece of curious etymology, Dear Reader?

Read the facts, and make your own mind up.

Read the facts, and make your own mind up.

Wikipedia has a thorough and excellently sourced article on Chelsea, formerly Bradley, Manning, and his life, actions, trial and imprisonment.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chelsea_Manning

It should be required reading before anyone – anyone – comments on her case, or on Obama’s commutation of her sentence.

Manning’s story is a modern heroic tragedy. More than anything, it is an exemplary lesson about the difficulties faced by gay and transgender people in a strongly machismo-rich environment like the United States armed services. Given her challenges, and the way she was treated in the Army, Manning was essentially a mentally fragile train wreck waiting to happen, who should never have held such a sensitive position. The US Army must at the very least being considered morally culpable for her transgressions, especially as Manning herself made them aware of the difficulties she was experiencing on multiple occasions.

There is no question that Manning is highly intelligent, strongly motivated, and ethically-driven. She may also suffer from a variety of mental challenges, such as Asperger’s. Whilst this would normally elicit sympathy for her, because of her role in Wikileaks it is ignored. It certainly wasn’t taken into account in the brutal 35 year sentence she received, of which she has served 6, often in appalling circumstances that were officially judged to amount to torture.

Ironically, the West awards and applauds a movie like The Danish Girl, addressing exactly the same topic, and yet Manning receives little or no care, no understanding, and plenty of abuse.

Let us be absolutely clear: whether born of personal distress or a sense of rage at the injustices she discovered – and it was in all likelihood a mixture of the two – what Manning did when she realised what was being perpetrated by American forces and diplomats was morally entirely supportable, and resulted in a wide-ranging re-assessment of international relations and the conduct of war both specifically and in general.

Those who believe she should not have been a “whistle-blower” need to ask themselves, “What is it that was in the Wikileaks Iraq files that you consider that you personally – because that is where we must reduce this matter to, in making a moral judgement – that you personally are either too stupid or too dangerous to be trusted with?”

The answer of course is “Nothing”.

Manning shone a torch on the machinations of armies and their political leaders, and the world is much better for it. She exposed murder, committed in our name. She exposed double dealing and bare-faced lying. She exposed corruption. She was the agent for the oxygen of publicity on a variety of topics that we needed to know, and we should thank her for it.

Did anyone suffer harm as a result of her disclosures? No. Multiple intelligence sources have confirmed that no one was hurt as a result, because of her own redacting of the files to remove personally identifying information, and subsequent redactions by media organisations.

Was she embarrassing to those in power? Yes – hugely. Did she do anything wrong? Strictly legally, yes, but then so do many whistle blowers. Is she a hero? Yes, she is.

We owe her a great deal, and that should include, we would argue, making every effort to help her get on with rebuilding her life.

It’ll all make a great movie, too. And when Oliver Stone (or someone similar) makes that movie, we are certain that history will come down very sympathetically on her side. For today, we just rejoice that she will soon be free.

We were recently enjoying reading a discussion of Koan on Huffington Post, those unique Zen buddhist stories that deliberately leave the mind searching for meaning and discernment. We were prompted to do so by the observation of a reviewer that Scorsese’s latest film – Silence – is not a parable, but a koan. Never having heard the word before, we beetled off in search of enlightenment.

Anyhow, a bunch of practitioners of Zen were asked their favourites, and this one stood out for us over here at the Wellthisiswhatithink temple.

Koshin Paley Ellison
Co-Founder of the New York Zen Center for Contemplative Care

Once a monk made a request of Joshu.
“I have just entered the monastery,” he said. “Please give me instructions, Master.”
Joshu said, “Have you had your breakfast?”
“Yes, I have,” replied the monk.
“Then,” said Joshu, “wash your bowls.”
The monk had an insight.

That fascinating little snippet was attended by this work, entitled “Mumon’s Poem”:

Because it is so very clear,
It takes longer to come to the realisation.
If you know at once candlelight is fire,
The meal has long been cooked.

The Gateless Gate

Ellison’s discussion of the koan was instructive:

“I love this koan. I am the student in the midst of my life, waiting for life to happen. I am the teacher pointing to this latte on my desk. I am the bowl that needs washing and the breakfast already eaten.

How do we enter our life fully? It is right here. How do we want to live? Can we allow all the joys and sorrows to enliven us? Or do we just go along with all our patterns and habits?

People who are dying always remind me: ‘I can’t believe I wasn’t here for most of my life.’ That’s one of the most common things I hear, and the biggest regrets.

Many people have not inhabited their life because they’re just waiting for other moments. Are we waiting for life to happen in the midst of life? How can we give ourselves fully to our lives, moment to moment? Don’t wait. Life is always right here.”

empty-rice-bowl1

That is powerful ju-ju right there.

The comment ‘I can’t believe I wasn’t here for most of my life’ stuck us very forcefully. We can all find it easy to be distracted, both by the immediacy of what is going on around us, our “worries” and “cares”, and also by our hopes for the future. As John Lennon once put it, “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.”

We left the reading full of determination to live more in the now.

To value each moment – every single moment – as being full, valuable, with purpose.

Not purpose to do something, or even to prepare for something, just full, in and of itself.

As we write, a desk fan blows cooling air onto us on a hot day. Listening to the world around, we become aware of music we were not consciously listening to, and of birds singing outside. Calm descends. It was always there, this calm, but we were ignoring it, choosing a busy – and ineffectively busy – mind, instead.

Wash your bowls.

286f2d946e60b55f7a0c7e69bcb3ae14North and Central America was populated by the Native Americans about 13,500 years ago. In that time, they have been a source of much interest and were “first” with a few things you might not know about.

Abstract art

Abstract art was used by nearly all tribes and civilisations.

Native American art was believed to be ‘primitive’ until the 1990s, when it served as inspiration for the modern abstract art movement.

The apartment block

The Anasazi and other tribes which once thrived in the present day South-West of the USA, developed complex multi-story apartment complexes, some of which are still in use today. Indeed, the Native Pueblo communities in present-day New Mexico continue to reside in some of these ancient multi-story apartment complexes which were constructed by their ancestors many centuries ago, even before the first apartments were built in the United States during the 18th century.

peublo-bonitoPueblo Bonito, one of the seminal archaeological sites in America, is a marvellous example of this ancient Native American complex construction technology, originally built during the Anasazi and Hohokom time periods of about roughly a thousand years ago.

The bunk bed

Was invented to squeeze more members of the family into Iroquois longhouses, where they lived communally.

They gave us words you use regularly

A number of Native American words have become a part of the English language. Just a few of these include: barbecue, cannibal, chocolate, hammock, hurricane, potato, skunk, squash and more.

Our personal favourite is the word ‘avocado’ which is from the Nahuatl tribe and actually translates to ‘testicle’.

Technology

Native Americans were actually quite advanced by “hunter-gatherer” standards.

Not unreasonably, their technology was sourced from the world around them.

toothbrush

They would use porcupine hairs to make hairbrushes, and sticks were cut into the right shape and frayed at the edges to make toothbrushes. Their dental decay was much less than their historic equivalents in Europe.

Native Americans in present-day Pennsylvania lit petroleum, which seeped from underground to fire ceremonial fires. In addition, they also used petroleum to cover their bodies against insect bites and as a form or jelly to prevent their skins drying out.

Drugs and Anaesthetics

The Native Americans possessed a huge knowledge of plants and how to to cure ailments with them. They had been using willow tree bark for thousands of years to reduce fever and pain (as were the ancient peoples of Assyria, Sumer, Egypt and Greece).

When chemists analysed willows in the last century, they discovered salicylic acid, the basis of the modern drug aspirin.

Historians have also discovered that they were the first developers of anaesthetics. While European patients were dying of pain during a surgery, Native healers utilised plants in their procedures to help them.

Indigenous people also realised the antibiotic property of peyote and used the extract to treat fevers and enhance the energy in their bodies, and as an anesthetic.

Oral contraception

There are recorded instances of Native Americans who took medicines which prevented pregnancies. Such instances date back to the 18th century, which are centuries earlier from the time modern oral contraceptives were developed by western scientists. The Shoshone tribe used the crushed powder of stone seed as a form of oral contraceptive, while the Potawatomi nation used herb dogbane, which when taken orally would prevent pregnancies.

A Third Sex

Pre-dating current LGBT+ debates by hundreds of years, some Native American tribes recognised a third gender that was separate from male and female. A “two-spirit” was one whose body manifested both masculine and feminine spirits simultaneously. They were often male – and they sometimes married other males – but weren’t seen as homosexual among their tribe.

small_indian-ball-game_catlin

A rich sporting life

Native Americans enjoyed sports and games. All the tribes played some kind of stickball or hand game which was popular and entire villages participated as games weren’t seen as strictly for children. Many of them are akin to games that Europeans would recognise like hockey and lacrosse.

North American Indians also invented the spinning top, used as a toy and made out of wood.

Farming

Among the many items developed by the Native Americans were tomatoes, pumpkins, corn, the domesticated turkey, manioc, peanuts, vanilla, the muscovy duck and cranberries. They were also responsible for a number of breeds of domesticated dogs, including the xochiocoyotl (coyote), xoloitzcuintli (known as xolo or Mexican hairless), chihuahua, the Carolina dog, and the Alaskan malamute.

Tobacco

One of the less wonderful things the Native peoples bequeathed us was tobacco, which was used in the Americas for many centuries prior to the arrival of white Europeans. Consumed in high doses, tobacco can become highly hallucinogenic and was accordingly used by many in the Americas to inspire dreams and dream time. Tobacco was also often consumed as a medicine amongst some tribes, although this was strictly practiced by experienced shamans and medicine men. Eastern tribes in mainland USA also traded tobacco as a trade item in exchange for food, clothing, beads, and salt and would often smoke tobacco during sacred and ritualised ceremonies using pipes. Tobacco was considered to be a gift from the Almighty and it was believed that the exhaled tobacco smoke generated from smoking a pipe would carry one’s thoughts and prayers to the creator up above in the heavens.

Calendars

Were developed by Native Americans throughout North America, Mesoamerica, and South America. They are known to have been in used since 600 BC. American native calendars were so precise that by the 5th century BC they were only 19 minutes off.

Government

Think the Europeans dreamed up democracy and the American republic? Think again.

fig3Indian governments in eastern North America, particularly the League of the Iroquois, served as models of federated representative democracy to the Europeans and the American colonists.

The United States government is based on such a system, whereby power is distributed between a central authority (the federal government) and smaller political units (the states).

Historians have suggested the Iroquois system of government influenced the development of the Articles of Confederation and the United States Constitution. In 1988, the United States Congress passed a resolution to recognise the influence of the Iroquois League upon the Constitution and Bill of Rights.

A close relationship to nature

Like many “uncivilised” peoples – some would argue that should read “more civilised” – the Native Americans believed strongly in nature; they believed that all living things such as humans, plants, animals, and even the rivers and wind were all connected. They believed that these elements of nature were sacred as some of their religious beliefs involved the origins of the world and nature itself. There was no one religion that united all the peoples, but they all had common elements.

As we noted on our recent trip to Vanuatu, we risk losing so much if we let ancient civilisations wither and die.

zsa zsa gabor

And now Zsa Zsa’s gone
Darlink, a ray of sunshine!
Year ends. As it starts.

 

 

See also: Goodbye 2016. And good riddance.

 

 

You’ll have your own list. This is ours.

Alan Rickman

David Bowie

George Kennedy

Gary Shandling

Muhammad Ali

Billy Paul

Anton Yelchin

Robert Vaughan

Arnold Palmer

Bobby Vee

Steven Hill

John Glenn

Sir George Martin

AA Gill

Gene Wilder

Keith Emerson and Greg Lake

Elie Wiesel

Jo Cox

Victoria Wood

Terry Wogan and Sir Jimmy Young

Ron Glass

Peter Vaughan

and especially

Ronnie Corbett

and

Andrew Sachs

and the one we felt most:

Leonard Cohen

“Jesus was a sailor

 when he walked upon the water.

 And he spent a long time watching

 from his lonesome wooden tower.

 And when he knew for certain only drowning men could see him, he said:

 ‘All men will be sailors then, until the sea will free them!’

 Oh but he himself was broken.

 Long before the sky would open.

 Forsaken, almost human.

 He sank beneath your wisdom like a stone.”

 

Entertainer. Thinker. Priest. Poet. Mentor. Musician. Our world is much the poorer without him.

See also: A Haiku for Zsa Zsa.

partridge-in-a-pear-tree

The Twelve Days of Christmas” is an English Christmas carol that enumerates in the manner of a cumulative song a series of increasingly grand gifts given on each of the twelve days of Christmas (the twelve days after Christmas). The song, published in England in 1780 without music as a chant or rhyme, is thought to be French in origin. The standard tune now associated with it is derived from a 1909 arrangement of a traditional folk melody by English composer Frederic Austin, who first introduced the now familiar prolongation of the verse “five gold rings”.

Anonymous broadside, Angus, Newcastle, 1774–1825

 “The Twelve Days of Christmas” is a cumulative song, meaning that each verse is built on top of the previous verses. There are twelve verses, each describing a gift given by “my true love” on one of the twelve days of Christmas. There are many variations in the lyrics. The lyrics given here are from Austin’s 1909 publication that first established the current form of the carol. The first three verses run, in full, as follows:

On the First day of Christmas my true love sent to me
a Partridge in a Pear Tree.

On the Second day of Christmas my true love sent to me
Two Turtle Doves
and a Partridge in a Pear Tree.

On the Third day of Christmas my true love sent to me
Three French Hens,
Two Turtle Doves
and a Partridge in a Pear Tree.

Subsequent verses follow the same pattern, each adding one new gift and repeating all the earlier gifts, so that each verse is one line longer than its predecessor, as in:

4 Calling Birds
5 Gold Rings
6 Geese a-Laying
7 Swans a-Swimming
8 Maids a-Milking
9 Ladies Dancing (or Prancing)
10 Lords a-Leaping
11 Pipers Piping
12 Drummers Drumming

Variations of the lyrics

“Mirth without Mischief” (1780)

The earliest known version of the lyrics was published under the title “The Twelve Days of Christmas sung at King Pepin’s Ball”, as part of a 1780 children’s book, Mirth without Mischief. Subsequent versions have shown considerable variation:
  • In the earliest versions, the word “On” is not present at the beginning of each verse—for example, the first verse begins simply “The first day of Christmas”. “On” was added in Austin’s 1909 version, and became very popular thereafter.
  • In the early versions “my true love sent” me the gifts. However, a 20th-century variant has “my true love gave to me”; this wording has become particularly common in North America.
  • The 1780 version has “four colly birds” – “colly” being a regional English expression for “black”.

    This wording must have been opaque to many even in the 19th century: “canary birds”, “colour’d birds”, “curley birds”, and “corley birds” are all found in its place. Frederic Austin’s 1909 version, which introduced the now-standard melody, also altered the fourth day’s gift to four “calling” birds, and this variant has become the most popular, although “colly” is still found. (Especially in our household.)

  • The “five gold rings” may become “five golden rings”, especially in North America. In the standard melody, this change enables singers to fit one syllable per musical note.
  • The gifts associated with the final four days are often reordered. For example, the pipers may be on the ninth day rather than the eleventh.

Scotland

In Scotland, early in the 19th century, the recitation began: “The king sent his lady on the first Yule day, | A popingo-aye [parrot]; | Wha learns my carol and carries it away?” The succeeding gifts were two partridges, three plovers, a goose that was grey, three starlings, three goldspinks, a bull that was brown, three ducks a-merry laying, three swans a-merry swimming, an Arabian baboon, three hinds a-merry hunting, three maids a-merry dancing, three stalks o’ merry corn.

Faroe Islands

One of the two “Twelve Days of Christmas” Faroe stamps

In the Faroe Islands, there is a comparable counting Christmas song. The gifts include: one feather, two geese, three sides of meat, four sheep, five cows, six oxen, seven dishes, eight ponies, nine banners, ten barrels, eleven goats, twelve men, thirteen hides, fourteen rounds of cheese and fifteen deer. These were illustrated in 1994 by local cartoonist Óli Petersen (born 1936) on a series of two stamps issued by the Faroese Philatelic Office.

France

The French folk song “La Perdriole” (“The Partridge”) is a cumulative song with the same kind of lyrics and a similar (but slightly different) melody. One variant iterates over the 12 months of the year (“Le premier mois d’l’année”, etc…). Another version may be found in the Rondes et chansons de France, Vol. 10. It iterates over the first 12 days of May (“Au premier jour de Mai”, etc…)

Origins and meaning

The exact origins and the meaning of the song are unknown, but it is highly probable that it originated from a children’s memory and forfeit game.

The twelve days in the song are the twelve days starting with Christmas Day, or in some traditions, the day after Christmas (December 26) (Boxing Day or St. Stephen’s Day, as being the feast day of St. Stephen Protomartyr), to the day before Epiphany, or the Feast of the Epiphany (January 6, or the Twelfth Day). Twelfth Night is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as “the evening of the fifth of January, preceding Twelfth Day, the eve of the Epiphany, formerly the last day of the Christmas festivities and observed as a time of merrymaking.”

(Which is why we are supposed to take our Christmas decorations down on the 6th of Jan, even though in our household we never do, we like the pretty lights too much!)

The best known English version was first printed in English in 1780 in a little book intended for children, Mirth without Mischief, as a Twelfth Night “memories-and-forfeits” game, in which a leader recited a verse, each of the players repeated the verse, the leader added another verse, and so on until one of the players made a mistake, with the player who erred having to pay a penalty, such as offering up a kiss or a sweet. One hundred years later, Lady Gomme, a collector of folktales and rhymes, described how it used to be played every Twelfth Day night before eating mince pies and twelfth cake (also known as “King’s cake).

Writing around 1846, Edward Rimbault stated that “[e]ach child in succession repeats the gifts of the day, and forfeits for each mistake.”

Salmon, writing from Newcastle, claimed in 1855 that the song “[had] been, up to within twenty years, extremely popular as a schoolboy’s Christmas chant”.

Husk, writing in 1864, stated:

This piece is found on broadsides printed at Newcastle at various periods during the last hundred and fifty years. On one of these sheets, nearly a century old, it is entitled “An Old English Carol,” but it can scarcely be said to fall within that description of composition, being rather fitted for use in playing the game of “Forfeits,” to which purpose it was commonly applied in the metropolis upwards of forty years since. The practice was for one person in the company to recite the first three lines; a second, the four following; and so on; the person who failed in repeating her portion correctly being subjected to some trifling forfeit.

“Twelve days of Christmas” was adapted from similar New Years’ or spring French carols, of which at least three are known, all featuring a partridge, perdriz or perdriole, as the first gift. The pear tree appears in only the English version, but this could also indicate a French origin. According to Iona and Peter Opie, the red-legged (or French) partridge perches in trees more frequently than the native common (or grey) partridge and the red-legged variant was not successfully introduced into England until about 1770.

Cecil Sharp observed that “from the constancy in English, French, and Languedoc versions of the ‘merry little partridge,’ I suspect that ‘pear-tree’ is really perdrix (Old French pertriz) carried into England”; and “juniper tree” in some English versions may have been “joli perdrix,” [pretty partridge]. Sharp also suggests the adjective “French” in “three French hens”, probably simply means “foreign”.

(The French are very foreign, of course.)

In the northern counties of England, the song was often called the “Ten Days of Christmas”, as there were only ten gifts. It was also known in Somerset, Dorsetshire, and elsewhere in England. The kinds of gifts vary in a number of the versions, some of them becoming alliterative tongue-twisters. “The Twelve Days of Christmas” was also widely popular in the United States and Canada. It is mentioned in the section on “Chain Songs” in the Motif-Index of Folk-Literature (Indiana University Studies, Vol. 5, 1935), p. 416.

There is evidence pointing to the North of England, specifically the area around Newcastle upon Tyne, as the origin of the carol. Husk, in the 1864 excerpt quoted above, stated that the carol was “found on broadsides printed at Newcastle at various periods during the last hundred and fifty years”, i.e. from approximately 1714. In addition, many of the nineteenth century citations come from the Newcastle area.

kennedyIn recent times, we have seen an upsurge in a rejection of the status quo and the success of populism, overwhelming the accepted norms of political discourse. The litany of events is very obvious … Erdowan in Turkey becoming progressively more authoritarian, the election of Syriza in Greece to oppose the EU-imposed austerity, the British public voting (albeit narrowly) for “Brexit”, the near-defeat of the Liberal-National coalition Government in Australia, the ascent of a virtual fascist to the Presidential run off in Austria, the likely ascent of the far-right National Front in France to a run-off in the coming French elections and the inability of a left-centre candidate to even make the frame, the rejection of Prime Minister Renzi’s attempt to rationalise decision-making in Italy leading to his resignation, the likely future success of the ultra-right in Holland, and above all, the election of businessman and reality TV star Donald Trump to the most powerful position in the Western world, President of the United States.

In reality, this trend can be traced back even further, to the velvet revolutions in Eastern Europe and the collapse of the Soviet Union (although this was also a more complex situation than mere discontent with the failures of the incumbent power structures). It could also be argued that the ultimate example is the steady move towards a command-capitalist model in China, with attendant liberalisation – creeping, at times reversed, but inexorable in its trend – of the media, of criticism of Party officials, and of the material expectations of a growing middle class. Indeed, in unleashing the forces of capitalism on Chinese society, Deng Xiao Ping can be said to have headed off a more dramatic and cataclysmic change in China.

When people are asked why they are participating in these quiet (or not so quiet) electoral revolutions they invariably answer with comments like “I am just sick of all of them”, “I am tired of the status quo, we need someone to shake things up”, “Politicians have failed us”, “We need someone to fix things up.”

The danger, of course, is that the people wreak major changes based on their discontent, without necessarily taking the time to consider whether those changes are what they really want. Fed a diet of rubbish and lies by both the media and their political leaders they simply cannot work out what is true or not, and therefore fall back on their gut instinct. And their gut instinct is that they are being badly led – which they are.

This is emphatically not to say the people are stupid – not at all. It is simply to note that in their desire to punish the under-performing elite they place rational decision-making of what might come next as secondary to their desire to give the establishment a damn good kicking. They argue, if questioned on precisely this point, that “it couldn’t be any worse”.

Winston ChurchillThe fact that it could, definitively, be much worse, is ignored because of the same anger that created the switch to populist idols in the first place.

Churchill’s warning that “democracy is the worst form of Government, it’s just better than all the others” is forgotten as the public elevate people who do not essentially subscribe to democratic ideals to run their democracies, with as yet untested outcomes.

In Russia, for example, the putative glasnost and perestroika of the Gorbacev era has now been thoroughly replaced by the quasi-fascist rule of Putin and his cronies, with uncertain outcomes that could be argued to threaten peace in Europe, at least. The Brexit vote at a minimum calls into question the “Union” part of the European Union, which is now on the nose throughout most of the EU, and the great dream of a peaceful, co-operative Europe that transcends mere trade freedom seems to lie in tatters. We might also note Churchill’s prescient remark that “Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm.” People used to understand the limits of Government to “fix things”. No longer, it appears.

How did it come to this?

It is important to see this collapse of the ruling consensus as more than any desire to attend to this particular problem, or that, because the matters creating the angst vary from theatre to theatre.

Unquestionably, above all, the refugee flood around the world (and not just from the Middle East, at all) has created great tensions – great fear of “the others” – because it has happened at a time when the world seems to be collapsing into an ongoing conflict between the West and extremist Arabist/Muslim sects. But when massive population shifts occurred immediately after the Second World War there was considerably less social angst about an inflow of refugees, although by no means was there none, as any of the Italians, Greeks, Albanians and others who were shipped en masse to Australia (and America, and Canada) can attest. But it produced no mass revolution against the status quo. As recently as the late 1970s, huge inflows of refugees from the communist takeover of Vietnam produced barely a ripple of protest. So something different is happening here.

Unquestionably, economic uncertainty is playing its part.
The lost of traditional jobs has devastated some areas,
and not been replaced withtightrope anything else. That politicians seem unable or unwilling to recognise and successfully the problem is a staggering failure. During the 1930s, a huge “whole of Government” effort in some countries prevented the compact between the governing and the governed from breaking down altogether. The “New Deal” in America being the best and most successful example. But the mass unemployment caused by the breakdown of capital in that decade led inexorably to World War 2 and all that meant. That Western politicians can look at societies with 50% youth unemployment, can gaze on as we witness the wholesale collapse of traditional industries, can make mealy-mouthed contributions when someone brings up the obviously inadequate funds to support the aged and the ill, and yet imagine that such a cataclysm could not occur again? This is the ultimate desertion of responsibility.

It seems to us that the world is experiencing a “perfect storm” of fear – endlessly beaten up by politicians and the media – at precisely the same time as politicians are struggling, and usually failing, to come to terms with the stresses and strains created in economies by “instant” international banking (which can change the dominant rules of a market in seconds), globalisation (which has led to the wholesale demise of “old” industries in the established economies), a series of scandals that imply that our political leaders are little more than a series of ever-hungry pigs with their snouts so deep in the trough that their eyes can’t see anything over the top, and, and this is critical, a failure of leadership.

On the one hand we have the populists, with their broad brush stroke slogans, their breathlessly simple solutions, and their fellow travellers that constantly beat the drum praising the perspicacity of their chosen flag bearer. Only he (or she, in the case of Marie le Pen) have the strength and vision to ram through “the change we need”. And like parched wanderers in the desert, the people turn inevitably to the promise of relief. Tongues hanging out for any water, no matter how brackish.

But this is just a mirage of “we can fix it”. It’s a big lie. A big con. So big, indeed, that people swallow it, because surely no-one could be so ruthless, so uncaring of the effect they are having, so roguish in their pursuit of power, as to promise relief with no real idea of how to deliver it. But they can. As Stalin so chillingly said, “one man’s death is a tragedy, a million is a statistic”. The same hideous calculation is made by the populists when they promise change they cannot deliver, and solutions that are paper thin in their analysis.

But what has the response of the liberal democracies, the “ruling elite”, been to this challenge? It has been to bury themselves in perpetual over-intellectual obfuscation, to sneer at the populists as if they do not represent a threat, to blithely fiddle as their Rome burns. It has been to bleat “but we are doing our best”, when Blind Freddie can see that their best is woefully lacking. It is to lock themselves in their ivory towers – towers made of parliamentary walls, and TV studios, and offices – and to make little or no real attempt to explain to the people why they are doing what they are doing, and that is assuming they are doing anything much, at all.

How has this situation been allowed to persist?

The reasons are many and various, but in our view they come down to this:

THE FIVE GREAT FAILURES

The failure of vision

Politicians are no longer driven by a desire to create better societies – to serve their people – but by careerism. There is no doubt that no one succeeds in climbing the slippery pole without a strong streak of self-regard, but until the relatively recent past politics was still full of people whose primary, over-riding motivation was the betterment of their electorate, and more widely, humankind. There were more “enthusiastic amateurs”, drawn from all walks of life, chock full of useful experiences. To be sure, they never turned their noses up at the perks of office, nor the thrill of handling the levers of power. But at the core was a desire to conserve what was good, and to develop what was promising, and – based on evidence – to eschew what was failing. It is highly questionable whether that still applies to most politicians today – certainly those of reach the top of the heap – and the people smell the rot with absolute accuracy.

The failure of honesty

It is now a dispiritingly long time since any politician, anywhere in the West, dared to say “Actually, we’re not really sure what to do”. And yet, in huge swathes of decision making, it is perfectly clear that our leaders do not know what to do. The pace of change, and the relentless news cycle, is leading them to pretend they know what they’re doing when they really don’t. In vast areas of public policy – balancing the structural changes in economies, achieving unanimity on climate change, reducing the proxy conflicts in the Middle East and elsewhere, preventing a new Cold – or Hot – war, it is plain they are thrashing about, confused and dispirited. And yet, turn a camera and a microphone on and they act like Mastermind contestants with all the answers.

This has two linked effects. Firstly, it destroys trust, when it becomes clear that the assurances and calming words are so much hogwash. Second, it removes responsibility from the public to be part of the solution to intractable problems, leaving them reliant on blowing up the entire system when they are – inevitably – disappointed, as they had no part in devising the solution, and no ownership of the outcome.

The failure of communication

Politicians seem to no longer be able to phrase their goals in simple language, without succumbing to the temptation to reduce everything to focus group-led slogans.

It would be hard to think of a single major Western politician – with the possible exception of Angela Merkel, although her days may well be numbered – who still has the required “common touch”, although Justin Trudeau in Canada is undoubtedly a standout exception – and he, it should be noted, is of the left, and is an intellectual, thus giving the lie to the assertion that all this change is merely a revolt against “left intellectualism”.

A politician like Churchill, for example, could be autocratic, even waywardly so, but he never forgot the absolute need to take the people with him. Perhaps in war-time this need is more obvious. But in the recent past – much as we disagreed with some of her policies – a politician who widely admired Churchill – Margaret Thatcher – also had the ability to communicate broad themes in a popular way, while making changes that many argue were long overdue in Britain despite being sometimes achingly difficult.

Where are the democratic politicians who offer us soaring rhetoric, yet rooted in common sense, to enliven and inform civic debate? Certainly Obama offered the soaring rhetoric, but outside of campaign mode he so often failed to return to those heights, and was too often hidebound by a toxic combination of an obstructive Congress, a swingeing economic crisis, and his own innate conservatism.

The cupboard is depressingly bare.

The failure of thought

The West, in particular, but by no means exclusively, is failing itself. The essence of democracy is free, vibrant and deep debate, the development of philosophy, the parsing of solutions. One of the inevitable results of the dumbing down of Universities – through the diversion of their funds increasingly to commercial “applied science” rather than humanities such as literature, politics, and philosophy – even theology – has starved our system of thinkers. The problems we face are massively complicated, yet those who used to work diligently behind the scenes in thousands of “thinking hives” are increasingly no longer there, and no longer contributing. Political parties are increasingly less full of thinkers and increasingly full of yar boo sucks partisans. Where political thought across the political divide was once welcome and respected, now it is virtually unheard of. While politicians of different ilk may well be friendly “behind the scenes”, for them to acknowledge the thoughts of an opponent as having value, of being worthy of consideration, is apparently political death. Little wonder the public don’t trust them, faced with such ludicrous and childishness obstinacy.

The failure of media

Our media organisations have become helplessly addicted to the brief, and the sensational.

Whilst this was always true of the tabloid media, it is now true of all media.

The people they employ are largely intellectual pygmies, and in television in particular they are in the job because they look good and can follow a producer’s brief.

Across all types of media, they don’t scare the horses, because they rarely ask any hard questions. Hard questions require that the journalist has knowledge and the politician can address that knowledge intelligently, taking whatever time is required. Neither is true, and anyway there is no time.

There are exceptions, to be sure, but they are very few and far between, and becoming more so. The success of the series “Newsroom” showed the public’s deep desire for a form of journalism that is principled, erudite and independent. But of how many journalists today can those three qualities be said? And increasingly, anyway, mainstream media is being over-taken by social media, where the provenance of any story is impossible to divine, and where the impact is so transient that clear nonsense is forgotten almost as soon as it has trended, but not before it has added to the dominant zeitgeist, whatever that may be. If we are in the era of “post truth politics” – a terrifying concept in itself for admirers of democracy – then the most brutal criticism of all must be levied at the media – all of the media – that simultaneously tolerates and encourages the situation.

So what’s to be done?

It may indeed be way too late to close the stable door after watching an entire herd of horses bolting in all directions. Or to mix our metaphors, we may all be just a bunch of well-boiled frogs who should have acted to redress the decline a long time ago.

Yes, we will be accused of being pessimistic because it appears “our side” of politics is currently losing, and we will also be accused of succumbing to conspiracy theories.

In fact, we confidently expect we will be today’s Cassandra, doomed to wail on the battlements while all around mock us.

But in our view, the first step in redressing this danger – the danger of the collapse of modern liberal democracy – is to acknowledge the problem and seek to persuade others to address it. Others, we note, regardless of their native political bent. This is a task for all of us, whatever our political persuasion.

As we do not have the influence to turn the ship around on our own, we simply point to the mounting evidence, and suggest the general shape of a solution.

It will take a mighty effort to reverse the trends outlined here. But as Horace said 2000 years ago, “A journey, once begin, is half over.” To begin this journey, we have to agree that there is a problem, yes?

15241400_10154227620278869_1594286058828515718_nUnder the pressure from the relentless pro-Brexit propagandists (which we view with some concern given the American Presidential election experience where literally hundreds of pro-Trump websites were set up by the Russians, and when countless anti-Clinton memes were generated from “invisible” overseas sites that might very well be funded by Putin as well, or by his big money backers in the extreme right in America, both of whom would love to weaken the EC) we have been giving some thought to the concept of a mandate in politics.

And it is simply this.

If a mandate is gained through what can clearly be shown to be a deliberate and oft-repeated lie – in other words, a deliberate con – is it actually a mandate at all? In a world where we blindly talk about “post truth” politics, is the concept of a mandate obsolete as well?

In deciding such a question, it is surely instructive to look at some of the other “estates” of the modern democratic society, and see how they deal with lying.

In the courts, for example, being caught lying brings with it swingeing penalties, even jail time.

In the media, uncovered lying can result in civil damages, or worse.

Yet suddenly we seem not only prepared to countenance a world where politicians are held to (much lower) standards, but where when their calumnies are discovered, no one seems to really care.

“Ah well, all politicians lie!” is the stock response, as in “You can’t trust any of them, so give it up.” As if this is somehow an adequate substitute for holding them to account and demanding they treat us with the minimal respect due to anyone whose support they are demanding, that is, to tell us the truth.

We are not naive. We know that all politicians have lied from time to time. But that is a world of difference from a situation where any attempt top tell the truth is overwhelmed by deliberate falsehoods, often promulgated through social media, which become part of the zeitgeist before any official denial or rebuttal can be issued.

brexit-busThe most egregious example of this in the UK during the Brexit campaign was the so-called Brexit bus, promising to return to the UK the funds that it devotes to the EU budget.

Only two things were wrong with this very prominent promise, which was repeated in tens of thousands (at least) of targeted leaflets issued in official-looking jargonese immediately prior to the Leave-Remain poll.

One, it was a barefaced lie. It virtually doubled the amount the UK donates to the European project.

Two, it was a barefaced lie. As conceded by arch-Brexit campaigner the very day after the Brexit vote, such a compact (to devote the money to the NHS instead) was unworkable, a fact confirmed by others like fellow Brexiteer Boris Johnson, and later the incoming Prime Minister, Mrs May.

If there is one sentence that explains the referendum result, though, it’s this one from the website of the Advertising Standards Agency. “For reasons of freedom of speech, we do not have remit over non-broadcast ads where the purpose of the ad is to persuade voters in a local, national or international electoral referendum.” In other words, political advertising is exempt from the regulation that would otherwise bar false claims and outrageous promises. You can’t claim that a herbal diet drink will make customers thinner, but you can claim that £350m a week will go to the NHS instead of the European Union.

The money was “an extrapolation . . . never total”, said Iain Duncan Smith on the BBC. It was merely part of a “series of possibilities of what you could do”.

Does that picture look like “a series of possibilities” or a simple, cast-iron commitment, to you?

brexitMore (slightly more nuanced) rubbish has been pouring out of the Brexit camp which has been trying to tell people that they can keep access to a single market without agreeing to the EU’s freedom of movement. That there is not the slightest possibility of such a deal being agreed to by Junkers, Merkel, Hollande and all the rest is clear and has been stated repeatedly by the Europeans – the impossibility of such an outcome is perfetly obvious to Blind Freddie. Yet the Brexiteers continue to repeat it, albeit increasingly desperately.

And what about the Turkey lie? The fact that staying in the EU means Britain will be flooded with Turkish migrants when that country accedes to the EU. Apart from the again certain fact that accession to the EU by Turkey looks increasingly like a pipe dream, and a decade or more off at the very earliest, on leaving the EU, we, of course, have no vote as to whether Turkey becomes part of it.

The very next day after the Brexit vote, the Tory MEP Daniel Hannan told Newsnight that “taking back control” of immigration didn’t necessarily mean cutting it. That would come as something of a shock to millions who voted for Brexit egged on by spurious talk of “taking back control” of Britain’s borders, clear code for “cut immigration”. He also advocated joining the single market: meaning that if Turkey does join the EU, Britain will be obliged to accept freedom of movement for its citizens anyway.

When Britain leaves the EU, it will also lose automatic access to the scheme by which failed asylum-seekers are returned to the country in which they first claimed sanctuary.

All this monument of untruths is not lying on the scale of a few convenient fibs or quibbles over minor details, of being “economical with the truth”. There is a reason that calling someone a “liar” in the House of Commons is forbidden. It is that Members of the House are considered to have reached the pinnacle of social advancement, to be honourable people, dedicated to “doing the right thing”, on a par with judges, bishops, captains of industry, and others. To accept a British Parliament that is “post truth” is to throw away any semblance of what Britain and its parliament represent.

Brexiteers argue that the incredibly narrow advisory referendum win for Leave mandates the British Parliament to support “the will of the people”, and implement withdrawal from the EU post-haste. But leaving aside that this assertion is based on the highly morally dubious conduct of the Leave campaign – reason enough on its own to ignore it in our opinion – this argument fails to understand the British constitution in any way or shape at all. It is another entirely despicable lie that is intended to stick through being continually repeated.

Firstly, let us be crystal clear, the referendum was never, and never could be, legally binding on Parliament. In the British constitution, Parliament is sovereign. It is entirely up to a vote in Parliament as to whether any negotiation on Brexit should be agreed to. There is no way round this very obvious fact, recently confirmed by the High Court in a damningly unanimous decision.

“Ah!” cry the Brexiteers, “but Parliament is morally obliged to follow the will of the people! You are anti-democratic!”

Not so. If we are to debate on the basis of morality, let us consider (a) the vote was never legally binding – this is not an opinion, it is undisputed fact and presenting it as otherwise is another lie (b) the victory was secured by lying on a scale never seen before, (c) the outcome was very close, and in a previous speech Nigel Farage has argued that a 52-48 vote in favour of staying in the EU should trigger a second referendum – but not, perhaps, when the vote goes his way? –  (d) in other democratic exercises such as elections there will be OTHER elections coming along down the line when a decision can be reversed, if desired – but that opportunity does not exist in this situation, hence the vital need for both Houses of Parliament to consider their next step with great care. As what looks like a “once and for all decision”, Parliament is morally obliged to consider the timing and terms of any Brexit extremely carefully. Quite apart from the also oft-measured and very obvious – if inconvenient – fact that the mood in Britain has now swung badly against the Leave camp.

Let us now, though, consider the single biggest argument in favour of Parliament retaining a perfect right to vote against the terms of Brexit, or of Brexit itself, if it so wishes.

One might have to be a member of the derided “intellectual liberal elite” to understand this incredibly simple point, but Parliament is sovereign, and in Britain at least, the Westminster system is that of a Representative democracy, not a Delegated one.

The difference being that our system allows – nay, demands – that our MPs vote according to their best deliberations, and not merely at the whim of how they perceive the electorate’s bidding, however that bidding is delivered to them.

For centuries, our MPs have been held to a higher standard.

As Edmund Burke put it back on the 1700s, in the “trustee model” of democracy, Burke argued that his behaviour in Parliament should be informed by his knowledge and experience, allowing him to serve the public interest above all. Of an MP he said that in giving “his unbiased opinion, his mature judgment, his enlightened conscience, he ought not to sacrifice to you, to any man, or to any set of men living … Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion“.

Essentially, in the British model of democracy, a trustee considers an issue and, after hearing all sides of the debate, exercises their own judgment in making decisions about what should be done. He added, “You choose a member, indeed; but when you have chosen him, he is not member of Bristol, but he is a member of Parliament“. (Burke, 1774). Burke made these statements immediately after being elected in Bristol, and after his colleague had spoken in favour of coercive instructions being given to representatives.

J.S. Mill also championed this model. He stated that while all individuals have a right to be represented, not all political opinions are of equal value.

This is why, for example, Britain has no death penalty, despite it frequently receiving 80% or more support amongst the population.  It is why homosexuality was de-criminalised long before the public would have voted for it, ditto the legalisation of abortion. In short, MPs think they know better. And sometimes, frankly, they do. Pointing this out enrages members of the public who cynically choose to denigrate all politicians. Nevertheless, it is true. This principle lies at the very heart of British democracy. If we discard it, we discard the entire box and dice.

It’s this simple: despite what rabble rousers and Brexit-bots sound off endlessly about, the referendum result does not have equal value to the will of Parliament. That is why MPs, of any party, are not obliged to slavishly follow the referendum result, and are, in fact, quite to contrary, obliged to consider the matter on its merit.

Opposing a blind Brexit with closer consideration is not, in any sense, anti-democratic. In fact, it is the epitome of British democracy.

sarah-olney-for-rp-600-300x157

In what will be rightly reported as a massive rejection of Brexit by the voters, we predict that Liberal Democrat Sarah Olney will deliver the Lib Dems’ first by-election win in 10 years, beating a famously anti-European candidate, and not in recount territory either.

This will quite rightly be seen as the latest green shoots in a Lib Dem revival, a disastrous result for Labour (who should never have run a candidate here but did so out of sheer mulish stubbornness), a disastrous result for UKIP who very volubly backed the dilletante right winger Zac Goldsmith, and will support many Parliamentarians’ calls for a second referendum to be held on the terms of any “Brexit” before it is approved.

48We wouldn’t be at all surprised to see the pound firm overnight. And we look forward breathlessly to all the excuses from Farage, Johnson, May, Rees-Mogg and the rest of the Brexit rabble, who, of course, will blithly deny it has anything to do with Brexit at all.

We estimate a Lib Dem majority of between two and four thousand, a massive swing in itself.

If Brexit never happens, its demise will be tracked back to this day.

 

RESULT:

Sarah Olney (LD) 20,510 (49.68%, +30.41%)

Zac Goldsmith (Independent former Tory) 18,638 (45.15%)

Christian Wolmar (Lab) 1,515 (3.67%, -8.68%)

Howling Laud Hope (Loony) 184 (0.45%)

Fiona Syms (Ind) 173 (0.42%)

Dominic Stockford (CPA) 164 (0.40%)

Maharaja Jammu and Kashmir (Love) 67 (0.16%)

David Powell (ND) 32 (0.08%)

LD maj 1,872 (4.53%)

Electorate 77,243; Turnout 41,283 (53.45%, -23.01%)

Well we got one right, fractionally under-estimating the Lib Dem majority with overturned a previous Conservative Party 20,000 majority for Goldsmith, breaking our string of ducks recently.

Sarah Olney’s victory speech was gracious and historic. After the shock Conservative victory in 2015 and collapse of the Lib Dems, the lie-riddled farce of the Brexit advisory referendum, the weak-kneed response by the Conservative Party, and the ludicrous election of Donald Trump, it makes cheering reading. And as for all those who have gleefully predicted the demise of the “liberal elite”, this is what a fightback looks like … We know you’ll just rush to your keyboards to agree.

Here is an extract.

A year and a half ago I was not involved in politics, I was not a member of a political party, I had never been involved in a political campaign, I had never thought about being a politician. But I knew I was a liberal. I believed in openness, tolerance, compassion, working with our neigbours around the world.

When I saw what happened at the general election last year I felt I had ot get involved.

I think a lot of people in this community had the same feeling after the referendum. Richmond Park is full of people like me who felt something was going wrong, that the politics of anger and division were on the rise, that the liberal tolerant values we took for granted were under threat. We perceived the Ukip vision of Britain in the ascendancy, intolerant, backward-looking, divisive, just as we see it in America and across Europe.

Well, today we have said no. We will defend the Britain we love. We will stand up for the open, tolerant, united Britain we believe in. The people of Richmond Park and North Kingston have sent a shockwave through this Conservative Brexit government and our message is clear: we do not want a hard Brexit, we do not want to be pulled out of the single market and we will not let intolerance, division and fear win.

 

Quite.

Quite.

Ah, yes, the F*** Ups keep rolling in: this one from the Newcastle area, where they have clearly developed a whole new way of recruiting the teachers they need.

As always, it just beggars belief that no one paid any attention to this when it was in preparation.

We guess that’s what happens when you don’t empower your staff to pipe up when they notice a mistake.

Or maybe no one noticed it, which is perhaps even more worrying.

college

 

Any more for any more, people? It does remind us of one of our all-time favourites, below. For more F*** Ups, just put “F*** Up” in the search box top left of this page and hit Return or Enter or whatever your keyboard says. There are dozens to enjoy.

 

Oh, those crazy whacky British private schools ...

Oh, those crazy whacky British private schools …

NOT meant to be served cold. Not, not, not.

NOT meant to be served cold. Not, not, not.

 

When one leaves the country of one’s birth to travel to somewhere else permanently – well, as far as one knows it’s a permanent move – it is inevitably a wrench, no matter how exciting the “new start” is. Nowadays, one considers oneself more Australian than British, but a deep affection for the land of my birth, with all its quirks and wonderments, persists and will never leave me.

Initially, of course, one misses friends and family enormously, no matter how one makes new links overseas. This is an experience known to millions worldwide, and when yours truly made the jump it was long before such things as Skype and so on. Even email was in its infancy. (Some would say ‘the good old days’.)

But distance can make the heart grow fonder, and welcoming one’s nearest and dearest to experience the new life one is creating is a joy. We will never forget going to the butcher’s with Mum and asking what she’d like for her first “Aussie BBQ”. She shyly indicated some lamb chops – one of her favourites – but was horrified when we simply told the butcher we’d take the whole tray. A lamb chop at a pound apiece was a luxury for her back in Blighty, but lamb isn’t something we’re short of Down Under. We also regularly piled her plate up with King Prawns, which are plentiful in warm Southern oceans, but an eye-widening world away from the tiny shrimps she enjoyed so much growing up in East Anglia and South Wales, coming in little pots sealed with melted butter.

Other friends have variously loved sweet and peppery pumpkin soup served in hollowed out pumpkins – a ridiculously kitchy 1970s thing to do, but a revelation to those visiting from a country where it’s called “Squash” and mainly served to pigs as fodder – and one memorable Christmas with friends disappeared into a comforting blur under the influence of vodka and homemade fruit punch cocktails that complemented the rock lobster.

But for all that entertaining overseas guests always offered a frisson of pleasure, everyday life proved less amenable in some important ways.

It was some time before one could get past asking incredulous barman to microwave our pint of English ale to bring it nearer room temperature rather than struggling with the ice-cold version served in Australia. (The precise time to do this in a 600w microwave is 47 seconds on full, by the way. Just in case you need to know. Then stir the beer with a straw or something to distribute the warmer beer at the outside of the glass to the middle, and wait 20 seconds before drinking – if you can.)

Everyone in Australia knows that Brits drink their beer warm. To see someone actually do it would frequently stop all discussion in the bar, and produce much sad shaking of heads.

Nowadays, of course, one has come to appreciate the frigid beauty of a lager-style beer on a forty degree day – or plenty of them – but like stout, (Guinness is also served everywhere at near-freezing), British ale is meant to be drunk at room temperature to release its gorgeous flavours. Now, at least, one can easily buy bottled ales that one can keep and serve at any temperature one likes, but it would be great to be able to have them served at the right temperature in a pub, especially during Melbourne’s frequently chilly winter. Still: one adjusts. But in the early years nothing emphasised one’s distance from “home” as a pint of Boddington’s served with pearls of condensation on it.

Globalisation, though, has its upsides. In the early years, friends were obliged to stuff their suitcases with packets of Paxo Sage and Onion stuffing and Colman’s Bread Sauce so a Sunday roast chook still tasted something like a roast chook should. One dear amigo, stopped at customs with at least 20 packets of Bread Sauce in his suitcase, had to patiently explain for some time that it wasn’t cocaine artfully packaged, and that if the packets were confiscated there’d be hell to pay from his irascible host.

Better than cocaine any day.

Better than cocaine any day.

Eventually, bemused, the customs guy waved him through, and the immortal phrase “Bloody Poms” was heard clearly in a stage whisper as he exited the green channel, head held high. Nowadays both items are freely available in Aussie supermarkets, where they walk off the shelves and into the grateful pantries of expatriates and their ever-patient families. The same is true of Heinz Salad Cream, which goes perfectly with both french fries and mashed potato, to the eternal horror of Aussies who were brought up with slightly healthier food habits. A bottle of HP Sauce peeking out from the shelves now restores a beatific grin when sausages are on the menu. And despite a wonderful range of home-grown biscuits on offer, still nothing complements a cup of tea quite like a McVities Digestive. As the immortal ad campaign once said, “a drink’s just too wet without one”.

Once upon a time one was thinking of a starting a business called pommygrub.com but neither international transport nor the internet were up to snuff in those days. Needless to say, time marches on.

We might have to order ourselves a pot of Marmite for Christmas. I mean, Vegemite is great, but there’s only ever been one Marmite. And some Bara Brith seems indicated for Christmas afternoon. As it says: “From a bakery in the heart of Pembrokeshire, Tan Y Castell Bara Brith is a delicious and traditional fruit loaf baked with fruit, tea and mixed spices.”

You can take the boy out of Wales …

Traditional Welsh recipe for Bara Brith

Bara Brith translates to ‘speckled bread’ and is an especially rich fruit loaf made with tea. Produced all over Wales, but especially in my “home country” of Pembrokeshire, the spiced fruit loaf is delicious when spread thickly with good Welsh butter.

bara-brith

Bara Brith ingredients

  • 450G/1lb self raising flour
  • 1tsp mixed spice
  • 175g/6oz Muscavado sugar
  • 1 medium size free-range egg
  • 1tbsp orange zest
  • 2tbsp orange juice
  • 1tbsp honey
  • 300ml/½pt cold tea
  • 450g/1lb mixed, dried fruit
  • Extra honey for glazing

How to make Bara Brith

Put the mixed dried fruit into a mixing bowl, pour over the tea, cover and leave to soak overnight. The next day mix together the sugar, egg, orange juice, zest and honey, add to the fruit. Sift in the flour and spice, and mix well. Pour the mixture into a buttered loaf tin, 1.2L/2pt. Bake in a preheated oven at gas3/160c/325f for about 1¾ hours. The loaf should be golden in colour and firm to the touch in the middle. Baste with honey whilst still warm. Allow to cool thoroughly before storing in a cake tin.

The recipe for Bara Brith can be altered slightly by adding a few flavours. When soaking the fruit, substitute ¼ of the fluid with a whisky liqueur. Replace the honey and fruit juice with 2 tablespoons of marmalade. Alternatively, replace two tablespoons of fruit with chopped stem ginger, and replace the juice and honey with lemon marmalade, and the orange zest with lemon.

You’re welcome.

In loving memory of Simon Titley, who would have understood.

AIDS

 

We warmly recommend you pop over to Time and have a look at their wall of the most historic photographs ever taken – to both remind yourself of the brilliant photos, but also to read the “back story” of any photo that interests you particularly.

http://100photos.time.com/

It is a very considerable effort by Time and they are to be commended for it.

Some celebrate or expose great moments in history. Some track societal trends. Some are simply the first time a photo was ever taken like that.

All remind us of the debt of gratitude we owe photographers for capturing what we need to know. A picture sometimes tells not just a thousand words, but many thousands of words; often much more immediately than tens of thousands of fractious, argumentative, disputatious words.

A picture frequently says much more, and without argument.

Sadly, in today’s “Photoshop” world, it is becoming increasingly difficult to trust the evidence of our own eyes. Nevertheless, a great photograph taken in context can still inform the world, like the little refugee boy drowned in the Mediterranean a little while back.

A fascinating read. Enjoy.

 


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