Archive for the ‘Popular Culture et al’ Category

I lie next to you, a long wait into tomorrow
and listen to you gently snore.

Whoever invented that phrase
~ gently snore ~
they knew. There is ungentle snoring,
when I nudge you in the back and roll you
half awake into silence
but that is not this.
This is a soft rhythm
like the sea caressing white sand.

The rain on the new tin roof
suddenly changes tempo
as if to accompany you.

For a while there, it rises and falls
in time with your chest
in time with your dreams.
And the life in your breath
and the life in the rain
soothe me.

Suddenly I am assailed by images.
Unbidden. What would happen
if you were taken out of our lives?
A truck, a tree branch, your heart.
Seeing the police, our daughter’s face.
The nights.
I could manage the days, I think.
But not the nights.
I listen for the gentle heave of air.
And again, and again, the gentle heave of air,
and I am comforted.
Do not distress yourself with imaginings.
Not yet. Not yet awhile, at least.
Go to sleep.

The rain falls on the world like a balm.
And by the light of the clock
I see your face perfectly calm and think
how you would hold me, if you knew.

To purchase my collection of poems, “READ ME: 71 Poems and One Story”, please head to:

http://www.lulu.com/shop/stephen-yolland/read-me-71-poems-one-story/paperback/product-6314418.html

Any profits donated to charity.

The Warren Cup, from the British Museum. Roman man anally penetrating a youth, possibly a slave. Circa 1st century AD.

Many ordinary Christians are deeply conflicted by their desire to embrace homosexual brethren in the fellowship of the church, when some of their leaders are telling them that these people are sinners.

Numbers of people feel very discomfited by the current debate.

So what is the “Biblical” teaching on gays?

Opponents of homosexuality almost always treat scripture as being “literally true” in a historical sense. Certainly, that is the case currently.

It follows, therefore, that any rebuttal of their claims should also adhere to this assumption, if it is to convince them that they are wrong.

I personally believe the early stories in the Bible are no more “literally” true than ancient Norse myths. But I am prepared to put that aside for one moment, and consider this issue under the rules that the “literalists” would apply, because many argue that the oft-trotted-out “Biblical” case against homosexuality simply doesn’t appear to “stack up”.

Genesis 19: 1-28

The ancient story of Sodom and Gomorrah has been used throughout the centuries as a condemnation of homosexuality, to the point where anal sex is referred to as “Sodomy”.

And that’s the problem. It’s become a cliché. We assume it’s true, because it’s been around so long.

The verses in this story most commonly referred to as proof that the Sodomites were homosexual are verses 4 and 5: “Before they could lie down, the men of the city, the men of Sodom, surrounded the house,from boy to old man, all the people in one mob. And they kept calling out to Lot and saying to him: ‘Where are the men who came in to you tonight? Bring them out to us that we may have intercourse with them.”

Examining this scripture, the first thing we see is that all the people, in one mob, demanded that Lot bring out the visitors to them. If we are to believe that the account of Sodom & Gomorrah is a condemnation of homosexuality, then we must also accept the conclusion that the entire city consisted of homosexuals.

But if we look in the previous chapter, Genesis 18: 16-33, we see an account of Abraham negotiating with God to spare the people of Sodom, with the final outcome of God promising “I shall not bring it to ruin on account of the ten” (verse 33).

God promised Abraham that Sodom would not be destroyed if only ten “righteous men” could be found I the city.

If we are to accept the previous logic, this would mean that the “righteous men” referred to were, per se, heterosexuals.

Now it is a matter of Biblical “fact” that God (or rather, his angels) didn’t find anyone at all worth saving. But at this point, we then need to ask ourselves: what would be the odds of less than ten people in the entire region of Sodom & Gomorrah being heterosexual?

The obvious answer is “impossible”, of course.

If for no other reason than to ask, “where did all the population come from?” They were all gay immigrants, presumably, begat by parents left behind in other places that were heteroesexual? I think not.

So if homosexuality was not being referred to in this passage, then what was? Looking at the scriptures in Hebrew, we find an interesting usage of a couple of different words.

When the mob cries out “Where are the men who came in to you tonight?”, the Hebrew word that is customarily translated men is actually ‘enowsh which, literally translated, means “mortal” or “human”.

This indicates that the mob knew that Lot had visitors, but were unsure of what sex they were.

We can divine this because the Hebrew word for “man” (utilized in this same passage in Genesis 19:8) is entirely different. And one really has to ask: why would homosexuals want to have sex with two strangers if they were unsure of what sex they were?

The passage translated as “Bring them out so that we may have intercourse with them” needs further examination as well.

Other Bible translations read “so that we may know them”. The Hebrew word that is commonly translated as “have intercourse”, or “know” is yada.

But this word, yada, appears in the Hebrew Scriptures a total of 943 times. And in all but ten of these usages, the word is used in the context of getting acquainted with someone.

Had the writer intended for his reading audience to believe that the mob wanted to have sexual intercourse with the strangers, he could simply have used the Hebrew word shakab, which vividly denotes sexual activity.

Many people argue, therefore, that the correct translation should be rendered something to the effect of: “Where are the people who came in to you tonight? Bring them out to us that we may get acquainted with them.”

So then, if the story of Sodom & Gomorrah was not a condemnation of homosexuality, what was it trying to convey?

Two verses in Exekiel sum up the story this way: “Look! This is what proved to be the error of Sodom your sister: Pride, sufficiency of bread and the carefreeness of keeping undisturbed were what happened to belong to her and her dependent towns, and the hand of the afflicted one and the poor one she did not strengthen. And they continued to be haughty and to carry on a detestable thing before me, and I finally removed them, just as I saw [fit]”. (Ezekiel 16: 49, 50.)

It is commonly assumed, because we’re referring to Sodom, that the “detestable thing” referred to in this passage is homosexuality.

But in fact, the Hebrew word utilized here is tow’ebah, which translated literally means “to commit idol worship”.

This can be seen in the original Genesis passage, chapter 19, verse 8: “Please, here I have two daughters who have never had intercourse with a man. Please let me bring them out to you. Then do to them as is good in your eyes.”

One has to ask: If Lot’s house was surrounded by homosexuals, which presumably he’d know as everyone in the entire region was gay apart from him and his family, why would he offer the mob women?

Note also that these women were virgins. And that the Sodomites were pagans.

Virgin sacrifices to idols were a common practice in this era. Therefore, it can easily be concluded that Lot was offering his daughters as a virgin sacrifice to appease the mob in an effort to protect the visitors.

In the Greek scriptures, the story of Sodom is summed up this way: “and by reducing the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to ashes he condemned them, setting a pattern for ungodly persons of things to come”.

This corroborates Ezekiel’s summation, once again showing that these were “ungodly persons”; in other words, idolaters, not worshippers of the true God.

If we have difficulty with the logic of 100% of any population being gay, can we rather believe in 100% of a population being adherents of a particular pagan cult? Yes, we certainly can. If for no other reason that there was no tolerance of those who didn’t share pagan beliefs in many early societies. Not to agree was to invite exclusion or execution. You were in, or you were out. The Jews themselves exercise this attitude continually throughout the Old Testament.

So the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, therefore, is almost certainly intended as a condemnation of idol worshippers, and of a greedy and inhospitable society that sought to treat visitors in a threatening manner – which was also a sin, to the early Jews, by the way.

Many people argue, therefore, that it is perfectly reasonable to propose that this key text on the judgement of this region had nothing, absolutely nothing to do with homosexuality!

Leviticus 18:22 & Leviticus 20:13

The message was clear to the ancient Israelites: semen was to be used for one purpose alone – procreation.

Spilled semen, whether by masturbation, anal penetration, or homosexuality, was not to be tolerated.

We have to place these edicts in some sort of historical context in order to understand them, if not to agree or disagree with them.

Life in those days was a “numbers game”. One of the Bible’s earliest edicts, a theme repeated through the Old Testament, was to “be fruitful and multiply”. If your tribe was numerically stronger than those around it, then good things would flow from that dominance.

(The same argument is currently used by the British National Party to argue for white Anglo-Saxon women having more children, but that’s another story.)

It’s an undeniable fact that many strict regulations were imposed on the ancient Israelites. The “chosen ones of God” understood each of these regulations to be equally important.

In the Greek scriptures, James points this fact out by stating: “For whoever observes all the law but makes a false step in one point, he has become an offender against them all.”

Fundamentalist Christians, however, selectively cite the two scriptures in Leviticus as a condemnation of homosexuality, overlooking James’ words which state, in essence, that if you’ve broken just one of the laws, you’ve broken them all.

So why do we focus so frequently on homosexuality?

Leviticus 19:27, for example, condemns haircuts and shaving. How many long-haired, bearded males attend your local Church? Or to put it another way, do we have agonised debates about Ministers who might have short hair?

Leviticus 19:19 also condemns wearing clothing made of more than one type of thread. Anybody reading this wear clothing made of 50% cotton and 50% polyester?

Taking the Bible literally, such individuals are equally guilty as homosexuals.

This leaves aside, of course, any concerns about whether or not it is still OK for us to grab our neighbours and use them as slaves, or to go around killing anyone who works on the Sabbath.

When questioned by the Pharisees regarding these ancient laws, Jesus’ reply was “I came, not to destroy, but to fulfill”. In other words, Christianity and love of God and fellow man was a replacement for the strict ancient codes, many of which were no longer practical or relevant.

But let us forget, for a moment, putting things in an historical context, or the fundamentalists will simply argue that we’re “messing with the truth”.

Let us look at the arguments of those who believe these two passages don’t really condemn homosexuality at all.

Looking at the scriptures in Hebrew, one sees a different condemnation. Leviticus 20:13 states, in part, “When a man lies down with a male the same as one lies down with a woman”.

Had the writer intended to convey homosexuality being condemned here, he would have probably used the Hebrew word ‘iysh, which means “man”, or “male person”.

Instead, the author utilizes a much more complicated Hebrew word, zakar, which literally translated means “a person worthy of recognition”.

Zakar was used to refer to high priests of the surrounding idolatrous religions.

In ancient societies, surrounding the early Jews, it was believed that by granting sexual favours to the high priest (a fertility rite), one would be guaranteed an abundance of children and crops.

Taking Leviticus 18: 22 into proper context, then, one should also look at the preceding verse 21: “And you must not allow the devoting of any of your offspring to Molech”.

So what we almost certainly see here are warnings to the Israelites not to engage in the fertility rituals of the worshippers of Molech, which often required the granting of sexual favours to the priest.

Many believe that if this been a mere condemnation of homosexuals, the writer would undoubtedly have used clearer language.

Romans 1: 26-27, 1 Cor. 6: 9-11, 1 Tim. 1: 9-11

Greek, like Hebrew, is a much more descriptive language than English. As an example, while we have the word “love”, Greek has agape, storge, philia, and eros – each describing a different form of love.

Further, just as with English, the meanings of words can change over generations.

Ironically, “gay” is a classic example.

Some say that it is easy to understand why words in ancient Greek could be misinterpreted, as are the terms “men who lie with men”, “abusers of mankind”, “homosexual”, and “pervert” in the above referenced scriptures.

The two words in Greek used in the above scriptures that are commonly mistranslated as such are arsenokoites and malakoi.

Bible scholars now believe arsenokoites to mean “male temple prostitute”, as mentioned in the Hebrew scriptures at Deut. 23: 17-18.

The actual meaning of this word, however, has been lost in history, as it was a slang term which, literally translated, means “lift bed”.

The Greek malakoi, literally translated, means “spineless” (some linguistics scholars translate it as “limp”, or “coward”).

What is important to note here is that both of these words are nouns. In ancient Greek, there is no known noun to define homosexuality. It was always expressed as a verb.

So just as in the Hebrew scriptures examined earlier, it appears that the Greek scriptures actually make reference to those who engaged in idolatrous practices, much of which, as we know, centred around sex in return for favours.

Neither the homosexual nor the direct idea of homosexuality appears anywhere in these passages. Had the writer intended to make a clear point about condemnation of gays, surely the Greek verb for homosexual behaviour would have been utilised rather than these nouns which are directly related to cowardice and idolatry?

But last – and by no means least – what of Paul’s apparently incontrovertible statement at Romans 1 where “females changed the natural use of themselves into one contrary to nature and likewise even the males left the natural use of the female and became violently inflamed in their lust towards one another”?

This would appear to be a simple, trenchant condemnation of homosexuality.

But perhaps, yet again. the truth is more subtle than that.

A clue lies in Paul’s words in the earlier verses 22 & 23: “Although asserting they were wise, they became foolish and turned the glory of the incorruptible God into something like the image of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed creatures and creeping things.”

So obviously, again, Paul’s reference here is to worshippers drawn into the ever-present danger of idolatry, one danger of which is unbridled sexual licentiousness of the kind that a conservative Jew like Paul would have found abhorrent. Especially when seen against his mission to the Roman Empire, with its endless parade of cults and religions, and very lax sexual behaviour generally.

As mentioned above in examining the Hebrew scriptures, many pagan idol-worshipping religions of Paul’s day also taught that by granting sexual favours to priests, the one giving the favour would be rewarded with fertility of crops and offspring.

Many such cults were, in reality, little more than brothels with quasi-religious overtones.

Unfortunately, of course, we have to read Paul’s words without the benefit of knowing all the background to his letters, but it certainly seems reasonable to suppose that his attack here is on a complex set of behaviours to do with people who reject the message of Christianity and continue to adhere to older religions. It seems clear that Paul’s reference was not a dedicated attack on loving same-sex relationships, but his condemnation focused on people who were normally heterosexuals who had been prevailed upon to rebel against their own sexual nature, in the granting of sexual favours to the leaders of pagan religions, in expectation of reward by the pagan gods.

So whilst his apparent rejection of homosexual behaviour seems unambiguous, the context of the comments is much more complex.

In conclusion, nowhere in the Bible, according to many Biblical scholars, is any unambiguously negative reference made to stable, loving same-sex relationships. And after all, it is now widely agreed that anything up to 5-10% of the population identify themselves as predominantly “gay” as regards their sexual preferences. Are 5-10% of those sections of the Bible discussing relationships dedicated to condemning their choice? Undoubtedly not.

In fact, many gays argue that two positive references appear in the Hebrew scriptures of love between two people of the same sex:

2 Samuel 1:26 states: “I am distressed over you, my brother Jonathan, very pleasant you were to me. More wonderful was your love to me than the love from women.”

Ruth 1: 16, 17 states: “And Ruth proceeded to say: ‘Do not plead with me to abandon you, to turn back from accompanying you; for where you go I shall go, and where you spend the night I shall spend the night. Your people will be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I shall die, and there is where I shall be buried. May Jehovah do so to me and add to it if anything but death should make a separation between me and you’.”

And while it must immediately be conceded that no mention is made of actual sexual activity between these people, it must also be pointed out that these couples had therefore made covenants with each other. And to the ancient Israelites, a covenant was viewed as a holy bond; a powerful uniting of two people.

We all have to wrestle with the truth of this matter in our hearts. Personally, I find it much more helpful to see what the Bible is arguing for, rather than what it is arguing against. Those who are currently affected by some Christians’ negative stance towards gays and lesbians should perhaps also seek comfort in the much greater preponderance in the Bible of messages of inclusion, acceptance, tolerance and understanding.

And the injunction, “Judge not, that ye be not judged.”

Post Scriptum

A correspondent kindly reminded me of this hilarious spearing of the literal truth of the Old Testament, from 2002. The introductory quotation is from that era:

The power of logic and quiet humour – “Dr Laura’s” anti-gay viewpoints – for which she later apologised – sparked a worldwide internet phenomenon which did more to mock anti-gay beliefs based on the OT than anyone could have imagined.

Dr. Laura Schlessinger is a radio personality who dispenses advice to people who call in to her radio show.

Recently, she said that, as an observant Orthodox Jew, homosexuality is an abomination according to Leviticus 18:22 and cannot be condoned under any circumstance.

The following is an open letter to Dr. Laura penned by a east coast resident, which was posted on the Internet. It’s funny, as well as informative:

Dear Dr. Laura

Thank you for doing so much to educate people regarding God’s Law. I have learned a great deal from your show, and try to share that knowledge with as many people as I can.

When someone tries to defend the homosexual lifestyle, for example, I simply remind them that Leviticus 18:22 clearly states it to be an abomination. End of debate. I do need some advice from you, however, regarding some of the other specific laws and how to follow them:

When I burn a bull on the altar as a sacrifice, I know it creates a pleasing odor for the Lord – Lev.1:9. The problem is my neighbors. They claim the odor is not pleasing to them. Should I smite them?

I would like to sell my daughter into slavery, as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7. In this day and age, what do you think would be a fair price for her?

I know that I am allowed no contact with a woman while she is in her period of menstrual uncleanliness – Lev.15:19- 24. The problem is, how do I tell? I have tried asking, but most women take offense.

Lev. 25:44 states that I may indeed possess slaves, both male and female, provided they are purchased from neighboring nations. A friend of mine claims that this applies to Mexicans, but not Canadians. Can you clarify? Why can’t I own Canadians?

I have a neighbor who insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2 clearly states he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him myself?

A friend of mine feels that even though eating shellfish is an abomination – Lev. 11:10, it is a lesser abomination than homosexuality. I don’t agree. Can you settle this?

Lev. 21:20 states that I may not approach the altar of God if I have a defect in my sight. I have to admit that I wear reading glasses. Does my vision have to be 20/20, or is there some wiggle room here?

Most of my male friends get their hair trimmed, including the hair around their temples, even though this is expressly forbidden by Lev. 19:27. How should they die?

I know from Lev. 11:6-8 that touching the skin of a dead pig makes me unclean, but may I still play football if I wear gloves?

My uncle has a farm. He violates Lev. 19:19 by planting two different crops in the same field, as does his wife by wearing garments made of two different kinds of thread (cotton/polyester blend). He also tends to curse and blaspheme a lot. Is it really necessary that we go to all the trouble of getting the whole town together to stone them? – Lev.24:10-16. Couldn’t we just burn them to death at a private family affair like we do with people who sleep with their in-laws? (Lev. 20:14)

I know you have studied these things extensively, so I am confident you can help. Thank you again for reminding us that God’s word is eternal and unchanging.

Your devoted fan,
Jim

Very early in the Koran, in verse 62 of the second book, it says this:

Those who believe, and those who are Jewish, and the Christians, and the Sabeans—any who believe in God and the Last Day, and act righteously—will have their reward with their Lord; they have nothing to fear, nor will they grieve.

In the Koran, Christians are often referred to as among the “People of the Book,” that is to say people who have received and believed in previous revelation from God’s prophets. There are verses that highlight the commonalities between Christians and Muslims, as well as other verses that warn Christians against sliding towards polytheism in their worship of Jesus Christ, in that the Muslims believe Christ to be a Messenger (a prophet) and not a part of the indivisible Divinity.

Despite this disagreement, a number of verses stress the commonality between Muslims and Christians.

“…and nearest among them in love to the believers will you find those who say, ‘We are Christians,’ because amongst these are men devoted to learning and men who have renounced the world, and they are not arrogant” (5:82).

“O you who believe! Be helpers of God – as Jesus the son of Mary said to the Disciples, ‘Who will be my helpers in (the work of) God?’ Said the disciples, ‘We are God’s helpers!’ Then a portion of the Children of Israel believed, and a portion disbelieved. But We gave power to those who believed, against their enemies, and they became the ones that prevailed” (61:14).

In addition, during his lifetime, the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) sent a message to the monks of Saint Catherine in Mount Sinai. It is worth quoting at length:

This is a message written by Muhammad ibn Abdullah, as a covenant to those who adopt Christianity, far and near, we are behind them. Verily, I defend them by myself, the servants, the helpers, and my followers, because Christians are my citizens; and by Allah! I hold out against anything that displeases them. No compulsion is to be on them. Neither are their judges to be changed from their jobs, nor their monks from their monasteries. No one is to destroy a house of their religion, to damage it, or to carry anything from it to the Muslims’ houses. Should anyone take any of these, he would spoil God’s covenant and disobey His Prophet. Verily, they (Christians) are my allies and have my secure charter against all that they hate. No one is to force them to travel or to oblige them to fight. The Muslims are to fight for them. If a female Christian is married to a Muslim, this is not to take place without her own wish. She is not to be prevented from going to her church to pray. Their churches are to be respected. They are neither to be prevented from repairing them nor the sacredness of their covenants. No one of the nation is to disobey this covenant till the Day of Judgment and the end of the world.

Indeed, Jesus is mentioned with the deepest respect 70 times in the Koran.

So why do we turn to these matters today? Simply because of the brutal attack, claimed by Daesh, on Coptic Churches in Egypt. 44 are dead and 100 or more inured. Daesh claimed responsibility for deadly bombings at two churches in on Palm Sunday targeting a vulnerable religious minority on one of the most important days on the Christian calendar.

When it is so obviously not any part of a valid Muslim tradition, why would Daesh perform such an horrendous act? Why, indeed, did they previous stage a mass beheading of Coptic Christians in Egypt?

The answer is, of course, that Daesh are committed to bringing others into the Mid-East conflict, in order to radicalise Muslims with the oppression of their efforts which that would entail. The Sunni resistance in Iraq and Syria (for that is really what Daesh really is) is, in the simplest armed conflict terms, losing. That is why they are prepared to ignore the teachings of their own religion, and commit atrocities.

(The instant response of the Egyptian Government – to slap on a three month State of Emergency which allows the military to arrest whomever they like without warrant on suspicion – will also delight Daesh – nothing like provoking an extreme reaction from the governing elite to radicalise a new generation of footsoldiers.)

It is very important that worldwide we do not confuse or conflate the Muslim religion with the political actions of those who are prepared to perpetrate horror to advance their cause, whether they are the main Daesh actors in the Middle East, or their “lone wolf” followers in Bali, France, Britain, Germany, Australia and Sweden.

A generalised fear of the Muslim world by Christians is simply an over-reaction born of ignorance. As we have said many times in various social media, “There are 1.3 billion Muslims worldwide. If they really wished us dead, we probably would be by now.”

We remember as a young child growing up in an era when there was still awkwardness, if not outright hostility, between Christian sects. Driving home in the trusty Triumph Herald from our Anglican (Episcopalian) Church, we would point out the local Methodists leaving their much more boring-looking Church, to be met with “Yes, well, they’re quite like us, but not really. Not bad people though.” This was oddly faint praise, given that much of the rest of the family were non-conformist Chapel people in South Wales. Round the corner, we would pass the Roman Catholics tipping out. The response to them was more purse-lipped. “They don’t really believe what we do. They’re not like us.” To the best of our ability, we cannot recall ever even speaking to a Roman Catholic when we were growing up. We were in Belfast? Glasgow? The East End? No: we were growing up in an impeccably peaceful and strife-free middle class seaside resort. Nevertheless …

It seems hard to fathom such attitudes just 50 or so years later, yet they were a subtle hangover from religious conflicts that had raged for centuries. The conflict between Shia and Sunni has similar rolled on for hundreds of years – but we should not be bamboozled into thinking that it is a natural state of affairs from which the world has no escape.

‘The situation between the Shiites and the Sunnis varied a good deal over time and place. There was often a good deal of cooperation and coexistence between the two,’ said Professor Juan Cole, Professor of Middle East history at Michigan University and the author of Sacred Space and Holy War. ‘For instance, in the 9th and 10th centuries you had the rise of the Buyid dynasty in Iraq and Iran, which had apparently a Shiite tendency in the ruling family but employed many Sunnis and seems to have gotten along fairly well with Sunnis. So it hasn’t always been the case that the two have had rancorous relations.’

During the Ottoman Empire’s four-century rule over Iraq, Sunni religious leaders were favoured over the Shiites. Despite this, though, both the Sunnis and the Shiites in Iraq united in their opposition to the Ottomans during World War I.

One of the key historical differences between the Shiites and the Sunnis has been their attitude towards government. The Shiites have always rejected earthly authority, whereas the Sunnis have had a much closer relationship with those in power. In the aftermath of the two world wars, Shiites once more found themselves on the outer.

‘The Shiites of southern Lebanon, the Shiites of Iraq, Bahrain, of what became Saudi Arabia, all faced a new situation in which they were being incorporated into modern nation states, most of which were dominated by Sunni politicians and in which the Shiites were often very poor and marginalised,’ says Professor Cole. ‘So the history of modern Lebanon or modern Iraq has in some sense been a history of Shiites struggling back against this marginalisation and seeking greater political participation.’

In the 20th century, Shiites were increasingly drawn to leftist and communist parties across the region. In Iraq, the mainly Shiite Communist Party backed the government of Abd al-Karim Qasim, which was overthrown by the Sunni-dominated pan-Arabist Ba’ath Party in 1963. While the Ba’ath government, first under Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr and then Saddam Hussein, was secular and included representatives from various religious backgrounds, there was often tension between religious Shiites and the government.

Repression under Hussein ensured that religious tension never boiled over in Iraq, but the US-led invasion in 2003 opened the door to, and some say actively encouraged, sectarian conflict once more. According to Sami Ramadani, an Iraqi writer and academic, widespread opposition to the occupation was a situation US forces were unwilling to tolerate:

‘The United States quickly realised that this situation would defeat them in an even bigger way than in Vietnam, so they instantly resorted to violent type divide and rule tactics,’ he says. ‘They inflamed the situation, and unfortunately they did succeed in gaining political forces in Iraq, organised political forces, which were based on religion, on sects, on ethnicity, to divide new institutions set up by the United States along sectarian lines.’

The US withdrawal from Iraq left the country under the control of Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who was criticised for his increasing authoritarianism and his exclusion of Sunnis from political life. Critics of al-Maliki say that the government’s policies have sown the seeds of the Sunni insurgency, now known as Daesh or IS, just as Assad’s Shia dictatorship (although Assad is technically an Alawite) in Syria provoked a Sunni resistance there, too.

If history shows anything, it’s that there are long standing issues between the two denominations, but that their working together is not an impossibility. And a healing of the Shia-Sunni divide is the last thing Daesh want, which is why they continually employ “spectacular” terror attacks to keep the pot bubbling. This is a political struggle, under the cloak of religion.

We should not be fooled by their tactics, either into condemning or fearing Muslims generally, or, for that matter, of being dragged into a centuries old conflict that the protagonists really have to end for themselves.

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World-renowned and much-loved Australian satirist John Clarke has died suddenly at the age of 68.

Known and hugely appreciated for his regular appearances with Brian Dawe on the ABC, puncturing the double talk and pomposity of politicians of all kinds, Clarke is believed to have died from natural causes while hiking in the Grampians mountains.

He will be terribly sadly missed, by his many fans, and the body politic more widely. This well-known excerpt displays Clarke in full flight, demonstrating his superb comic timing.

Here’s Clarke brilliantly channelling “Treasurer Scott Morrison” on the coming Budget, just five days ago.

He was also the brains behind the genius that was “The Games”. Still the funniest show about the nonsense of government and quasi-government activity ever made.

Do yourself a favour:

John Clarke has been farewelled today with innumerable heartfelt messages from his fellow performers and, uniquely perhaps, from the political sphere that he pinioned so caustically, and yet, somehow, so affectionately too. It was obvious from the twinkle in his eye and his ineffable timing that this was a gentleman, perpetually at the top of his game. He never resorted to nastiness. He didn’t have to.

Genius is definitely not too strong a term.

Recently, Dear Reader, we have been pondering the matter of free speech.

Specifically, should it be absolute? Anyone able to say anything they like, unrestrained by the law.

We are referring, of course, to the Western world. It is clear that in authoritarian regimes the world over nothing like “free speech” exists, or ever has. But as we argue that liberal democracy is the best form of government to adopt, no matter who or where you are, it is surely fair to ask – sensible, indeed – to ask whether all the shibboleths of free speech are, in fact, practically defensible.

One of the key schism lines in world opinion is around the concept of “Criminal Defamation”, where the expression of an opinion is taken to damage a Government, and therefore put the civil peace at risk. What are (or should be) the rights of the state in seeking to restrain comment that can be considered injurious to the whole.

(This is not the same as Civil Defamation, where an individual has a a right to sue another individual (or corporation) for saying or printing something about them that they consider to be both untrue and harmful of their reputation, causing loss. No one seriously argues that Civil Defamation should be abolished – although the bar is set so high in the United States, for example, that defamation laws are essentially unenforceable, with predictable consequences.)

With Criminal Defamation, ironically, Great Britain, the country which bequeathed the infamous legacy of criminal defamation to states like India, where it is currently being heatedly debated, abolished the law in 2009.

Such laws are believed to date back to the early 17th century, when the invention of the printing press enabled political writings to be circulated far and wide easily and inexpensively through pamphlets, thus broadening the scope of public debate. The Court of the Star Chamber (the English court of law from the late fifteenth to mid-seventeenth century), fearing that criticisms against the royal authority, regardless of their truthfulness, may disturb public peace, began charging the critics with the criminal offence of “seditious libel”.

Evidently, a kind of faux civil peace, resulting from the English citizenry’s ignorance of their State’s corruption, was preferred over the knowledge of truth because any exposure could have potentially led to the downfall of the government. This perhaps explains the origin of the well-known adage, “The greater the truth, the greater the libel.”

Not surprisingly, famous England-American political theorist Thomas Paine, who helped inspire the American Revolution, was also charged with seditious libel in England because of his insistence on the right of the citizens to overthrow the government in the second part of his work Rights of Man. Even though Paine would have been happy with the fact that seditious libel was finally abolished in England, such laws continue to thrive to this day in many countries, and even in some democracies.

Indian law, for example, provides for imprisonment to anyone “who brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards, the Government established by law in India”. This law was enacted by the British to keep the Indian freedom movement in check. Not surprisingly, both Bal Gangadhar Tilak and MK Gandhi were charged with sedition, arrested, and jailed for six years and two years respectively. Like the pigs taking over the farm in the novel 1984, the incoming Indian authorities duly left the laws on the books.

But isn’t it reasonable to disallow unfettered free speech is the result is the overthrow of a peaceful, beneficial state? The answer, of course, is that the question is a fallacy. In a democracy, the government’s behaviour should withstand any such scrutiny in the “court of public opinion”, and if it does not, well, essentially the Government does not deserve to survive. Even if the change of Government may be painful. Truth, here, is elevated above social discord, and few would argue, for example, that a corrupt or inept Government should not be subject to completely free criticism.

The problem is that the view of what constitutes a “peaceful, beneficial state” can vary widely. Just as someone may consider a Government corrupt or inept, but another may not, even when presented with the same evidence. This is before we even get into utilitarian considerations such as “the Government may be corrupt, but it’s helping a lot of people and things are going pretty well, so let’s all pretend it isn’t corrupt and leave things be”. That’s the pertaining situation throughout much of Asia currently, for example.

Currently Governments around the world are reserving the right to restrict free speech where that speech is designed to overthrow their rule by violent means. But from a libertarian point of view, this can be problematical. Many would argue it should be illegal to say “Government A is evil, so go and get a gun and shoot someone, in pursuit of overthrowing the Government”.

But should it be equally illegal to say “Government A is evil, in my view it is morally justified for someone to get a gun and shoot someone, in pursuit of overthrowing the Government”?

The difference is the width of a butterfly’s wing, but it could be argued that the latter is legitimate comment – a bona fide intellectual opinion – whilst the other is incitement to murder. Yet the latter will today get you just as locked up just as quickly in many Western democracies as would the more direct statement. The argument employed here is that the fractionally milder comment might have exactly the same effect of encouraging violent action, and therefore seeking to discern a difference is mere semantics, especially if the Government’s primary goal is to preserve its status and prevent violence.

Where the line is drawn in such matters is an on-going debate.

How, for example, does one parse the case of Bradley Manning (now Chelsea Manning), the American soldier of Wikileaks fame, who dumped vast amounts of classified information onto the world stage in pursuit of his belief that the public had a right to know what was being done – often illegally – in their name.

Manning languished in a dire mental condition in an American military prison – arguably the subject of ongoing mental torture from the authorities – for telling the world … what? That American helicopter gunships were cheerfully slaughtering Reuters journalists and innocent civilians on the ground through hopelessly loose rules of engagement? Or that world leaders say one thing to each other’s faces, and another to their advisors, and yet another to the public? What part of what Manning revealed – do people think they were either too stupid or too irresponsible to be told – which resulted in no harm to anyone, you will recall, as confirmed by the CIA –  whether they were told by Wikileaks or by the newspapers round the world who gleefully re-reported the treasure trove of documents.

The incident was hugely embarrassing for many Governments, to be sure, but was it truly harmful? And why was Manning not protected by concepts of free speech? By all means argue that he contravened the rules of his military service (which is what he is technically being punished for) but should he have, if we believe what we say about free speech being sacrosanct, actually have been praised? Feted, even?

Why was he banged up in solitary when the journalists who re-reported him are free to pursue their careers, and the media barons free to bank their profits?

What led us to this pondering?

Yesterday, on radio in Melbourne, a “One Nation” Senator, recently elected in Queensland through the vagaries and lunacies of Australia’s Senate voting system, was given free range to spout his ludicrous theories that the United Nations were trying to impose “One World Government” on the planet through fear mongering on man-made climate change, change which wasn’t happening. That there was no empirical evidence that CO2 was causing global warming, or that if we scrapped all human fossil fuel emissions overnight it would make any difference to the state of the planet at all.

Mr Roberts has apparently also written numerous reports claiming climate change is an international conspiracy fostered by the United Nations and international banks to impose a socialist world order. According to the Sydney Morning Herald at least one report cites several anti-Semitic conspiracy theorists, including notorious Holocaust denier Eustace Mullins among its “primary references”.

According to the SMH Mr Roberts, who used to work in the arch-polluting coal industry, also sent a bizarre affidavit to then Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard in 2011 demanding to be exempt from the carbon tax and using language consistent with the “sovereign citizen” movement.

Anti-government, self-identified “sovereign citizens” claim to exist outside the country’s legal and taxation systems and frequently believe the government uses grammar to enslave its citizens.

NSW Police say such people “should be considered a potential terrorist threat”.

In an affidavit he sent to Ms Gillard in 2011, Mr Roberts identified himself as “Malcolm-Ieuan: Roberts., the living soul”, representing a corporate entity he termed MALCOLM IEUAN ROBERTS.

In the document, Mr Roberts demanded to be exempted from the carbon tax and compensated to the tune of $280,000 if Ms Gillard did not provide “full and accurate disclosure” in relation to 28 points explaining why he should not be liable for the tax.

Mr Roberts addressed the affidavit to “The Woman, Julia-Eileen: Gillard., acting as The Honourable JULIA EILEEN GILLARD” and presented her with a detailed contract he expected her to sign.

That stylisation of names is said to be commonly used by “sovereign citizens” who believe the use of hyphens and colons is a way to evade governments’ use of grammar to enslave their citizens. Roberts has recently confirmed that he wrote the affidavit, but has stated that he is not a ‘sovereign citizen’.

The new Senator, who received 77 below-the-line first preference votes, will take his Senate seat on August 30 and will receive a taxpayer-funded base salary of $199,040, plus staff and entitlements.

The price of free speech is often very high indeed.

But the biggest price we pay is not monetary. It is seeing our public institutions – our broadcasters, and Parliaments – invaded by rogues, charlatans, and the frankly deluded, spouting theories that seek to mislead and derail intelligent debate under the guise of promoting “truth”.

 

Whatever you think of Martin McGuinness, or of his remarkable journey from senior IRA commander and reputedly Army Council member to Deputy First Minister in the Northern Ireland government, one thing is clear.

He was engaged in secret peace discussions with the British Government from 1972 onwards. And there is little doubt that, along with Gerry Adams, McGuinness was instrumental in turning the Republican movement away from continued violence and towards political engagement. He was a man driven in his eyes to violence, who came to reject violence as a political tool.

What is also certain is that without him, in all probability, Ireland and Britain would still be mired in violence over the future of the six counties.

He took huge personal risks for peace. His critics, he said were afraid of change.

“They would love the IRA to go back to war. I’m delighted that we have not fallen into this trap.

“I’m delighted that we have an organisation which understands the political dynamics [of the peace process].

“There is a confidence and assertiveness among nationalists,” he continued.

“We know who we are, we are Irish, we are proud of it.”

His republican credentials remained impeccable to his death. And ultimately, we all owe him respect for playing a fundamental – perhaps the most fundamental – role in stilling the guns.

McGuinness was living proof that we really can – and sometimes do – beat the swords we grasp all too readily into ploughshares.

Ireland is poorer for his passing.

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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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.

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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?

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?

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.