Archive for March, 2002

The Queen Mother has died

March 31st, 2002

Score one for all my friends playing in this year’s round of Deadpool.
Today’s press says she used to have her first gin at 11.45am. That’s very fine.
OK — That’s enough appreciative comments about royalty.

Tom writes [6.4.2002]: Another Queen Mum thing for you: this page has a large number of not-quite Burroughsian cut-ups of Blair’s eulogy. All small, and mostly including the word “tits”. Ho hum.

Cheloniana

March 31st, 2002

Recent material at the Voice of the Turtle includes two essays by E. Lovemore Moyo on Zimbabwe, one on the trade unions and another on the election fix itself; another piece on the elections by Raj Patel and Patrick Bond; an article by Sean Jacobs on the apathy of young people in South Africa; some comments from Aziz Choudry on the Australian government’s hypocrisy about children; J. Carter Wood’s German perspective on the War on Terror; the ruminations of Ted Vallance on regicide; the poetry of Trevor Landers; and the Situationists’ meditative Theses on the Paris Commune.

New Books!

March 31st, 2002

As I observed last year: what’s the point in having a weblog if you don’t plug new books by friends and comrades? Three to recommend:

Leo Zeilig, ed., Marxism in Africa: Class Struggle across the Continent, New Clarion Press, 2002. Leo Zeilig’s new book of essays on politics in contemporary Africa contains valuable essays by — among others — Dave Renton and Anne Alexander on class struggle in Egypt, by Peter Dwyer on the crisis in South Africa and by Leo Zeilig on the Marxism and Eurocentrism in Africa. It should be a very good read, and I’m looking forward to getting a copy.
E. H. H. Green, Ideologies of Conservatism, Oxford University Press, 2002. The first chapter of E. H. H. Green’s second book revisits the terrain of his excellent The Crisis of Conservatism with a re-evaluation of the political career of Arthur Balfour, before heading off through the twentieth century to examine the twists and turns of Conservative political thought — with Arthur Steel-Maitland playing a surprisingly prominent role. Green’s assault on the notion of the “postwar consensus” continues, and he approaches dangerously close to the present for an historian with his penultimate chapter on the origins of Thatcherism. Excellent, exeedingly well-researched stuff.
Patrick Bond and Masimba Manyanya, Zimbabwe’s Plunge: Exhausted Nationalism, Neoliberalism and the Search for Social Justice, Natal University Press, 2002. From running an exemplary social policy in the post-independence 1980s through the years of IMF-induced Structural Adjustment to the disasters of the recent past, Bond and Manyana are excellent guides to the political economy of present-day Zimbabwe as the Mugabe regime lurches towards something not entirely dissimilar from fascism.

Sillinesses

March 29th, 2002

Three lovely pieces of silliness, only two of them concerning the Catholic Church. The SatireWire has Knives, Tanks, Whales – Airport Screeners Now Failing To Catch Anything and Police Must Notify Residents When Catholic Church Moves Into Neighborhood. Meanwhile the Onion has an article on Excited Catholics Already Lining Up For Pope’s Funeral.

Nick writes [2.4.2002]: Crikey, you’re recommending the same things I do (though my recommendations come out on a less industrial scale than your mighty blog). So you might like this, too: Government Proposes “Hunting With Cats”.

Nick writes again [3.4.2002] to recommend Is your Catholic Priest putting something other than a Communion wafer into your mouth?.

High Windows

March 29th, 2002

My interest in people falling out of windows goes back a few years. Here’s a bit I inserted into the 1998 edition of the Let’s Go Eastern Europe guidebook, which I had the pleasure of helping to put together over seven weeks in the Summer of 1997:

High Windows

At decisive moments in European history, unlucky men fall from Prague’s window ledges. The Hussite wars began after Catholic councillors were thrown to the mob from the New Town Hall on Karlovo n�m., July 30, 1419. The Thirty Years’ War devastated Europe, starting when Habsburg officials were tossed from the windows of Prague Castle’s Bohemian Chancellery into a heap of steaming manure, May 23, 1618. These first and second defenestrations echo down the ages, but two more falls this century continue this somewhat macabre tradition. Fifty years ago, March 10, 1948, liberal foreign minister Jan Masaryk fell to his death from the top floor of his ministry just two weeks after the Communist takeover, and murder was always suspected but never proved. And then on February 3, 1997, Bohumil Hrabal, popular author of I Served the King of England and Closely-Observed Trains, fell from the fifth floor of his hospital window and died in his pajamas aged 82. Nothing unusual here – except that two of his books describe people choosing to fall – out of fifth-floor windows.

(Seeing the word “pajamas” in its American spelling irresistibly calls to mind Groucho Marx’s remark from Animal Crackers: “Last night I shot an elephant in my pajamas and how he got in my pajamas I’ll never know.)

Life Imitates Art, Again

March 29th, 2002

A couple of days ago I went to see The Battle of Algiers at a local cinema, and posted a snippet from the script in the paragraphs below, from the press conference where Colonel Mathieu discusses the death in captivity of Lardi Ben M’Hidi, one of the leaders of the Algerian resistance to the French occupation. And now the news from Paris (reported, for example, in the Independent) reminds us that, as ever, life imitates art, not only Battle of Algiers but also Dario Fo’s wonderful play, Accidental Death of an Anarchist:

SUSPECT: And why do they always demonstrate here at police headquarters? Right here, under the main window

SERGEANT: It’s always the same story. We’re always caught in-between. It’s only one week since that anarchist we were interrogating jumped out the window.

SUSPECT: That window? But it’s only two stories up.

SERGEANT: Another window – upstairs. On the fourth floor. (He walks away from the window.)

SUSPECT: Oh.

Needless to say, poor Richard Durn fell to his death from the fourth floor, too.

The Bank of England has lost the Pound…

March 28th, 2002

I was listening to some episodes of the old Chris Morris radio show On The Hour yesterday and today — the tapes were a very welcome present once upon a time from comrade and weblog reader Richard — and I’m delighted to report they remain extremely funny indeed. One might have thought that this kind of satire would become very stale very fast, since the programme is a parody of BBC news radio shows, with many of the jokes driven by references to contemporary politics. But ten years later On The Hour is extraordinarily fresh, and has borne the test of time far better than – for example – the near-contemporary political monologues of Ben Elton or the jokes of Spitting Image.

On The Hour also was very much a document of the Major years in British politics, and as Tony Blair tries to continue to push the Major agenda that little bit further with every passing year, the political arguments and attitudes which the show relentlessly mocks are still very much those of our ruling elite. But there is also an element of exceedingly good fortune: history has this well-documented tendency to repeat itself, of course, and America has, now as then, a President Bush with a whiney voice and a tendency to say silly things. In addition, several of the segments seem curiously prescient: one report concerns the British tourist who finds himself briefly in charge of the Argentinian government after its sudden collapse, and who has to be guided over the phone through some tricky negotiations with international financial agencies.

But what is most remarkable of all, I think, is the fact that ten years later, the BBC radio shows which On The Hour parodies still sound exactly the same as they did back then. Chris Morris and his fellow presenters caught the mannerisms, the emphases, the little abuses of the language which BBC presenters tended to perpetrate back then absolutely perfectly, and they still do. On the Today programme in its current incarnation, to take a trivial example, it’s impossible to listen to the regular business correspondent or any of the sports reporters without Alan Partridge coming to mind — especially when they conduct their own mini cross-examinations of people in the news.

And the immediacy with which the jokes in On The Hour hit home suggests that — all the widespread guff about the internet, Cool Britannia, etc., notwithstanding — there was actually very little or no fundamental cultural change in the decade since those shows were recorded, which is a very interesting thought.

The spam explosion continues

March 27th, 2002

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How can I resist?

More on booze – and on Scottish Home Rule

March 27th, 2002

The Demon Drink

Oh, thou demon Drink, thou fell destroyer;
Thou curse of society, and its greatest annoyer.
What hast thou done to society, let me think?
I answer thou hast caused the most of ills, thou demon Drink.

Thou causeth the mother to neglect her child,
Also the father to act as he were wild,
So that he neglects his loving wife and family dear,
By spending his earnings foolishly on whisky, rum and beer.

And after spending his earnings foolishly he beats his wife –
The man that promised to protect her during life –
And so the man would if there was no drink in society,
For seldom a man beats his wife in a state of sobriety.

And if he does, perhaps he finds his wife fou’,
Then that causes, no doubt, a great hullaballo;
When he finds his wife drunk he begins to frown,
And in a fury of passion he knocks her down.

And in that knock down she fractures her head,
And perhaps the poor wife she is killed dead,
Whereas, if there was no strong drink to be got,
To be killed wouldn’t have been the poor wife’s lot.

Then the unfortunate husband is arrested and cast into jail,
And sadly his fate he does bewail;
And he curses the hour that ever was born,
And paces his cell up and down very forlorn.

And when the day of his trial draws near,
No doubt for the murdering of his wife he drops a tear,
And he exclaims, “Oh, thou demon Drink, through thee I must die,”
And on the scaffold he warns the people from drink to fly,

Because whenever a father or a mother takes to drink,
Step by step on in crime they do sink,
Until their children loses all affection for them,
And in justice we cannot their children condemn.

The man that gets drunk is little else than a fool,
And is in the habit, no doubt, of advocating for Home Rule;
But the best Home Rule for him, as far as I can understand,
Is the abolition of strong drink from the land.

And the men that get drunk in general wants Home Rule;
But such men, I rather think, should keep their heads cool,
And try and learn more sense, I most earnestlty do pray,
And help to get strong drink abolished without delay.

If drink was abolished how many peaceful homes would there be,
Just, for instance in the beautiful town of Dundee;
then this world would be heaven, whereas it’s a hell,
An the people would have more peace in it to dwell

Alas! strong drink makes men and women fanatics,
And helps to fill our prisons and lunatics;
And if there was no strong drink such cases wouldn’t be,
Which would be a very glad sight for all Christians to see.

O admit, a man may be a very good man,
But in my opinion he cannot be a true Christian
As long as he partakes of strong drink,
The more that he may differently think.

But no matter what he thinks, I say nay,
For by taking it he helps to lead his brother astray,
Whereas, if he didn’t drink, he would help to reform society,
And we would soon do away with all inebriety.

Then, for the sake of society and the Church of God,
Let each one try to abolish it at home and abroad;
Then poverty and crime would decrease and be at a stand,
And Christ’s Kingdom would soon be established throughout the land.

Therefore, brothers and sisters, pause and think,
And try to abolish the foul fiend, Drink.
Let such doctrine be taught in church and school,
That the abolition of strong drink is the only Home Rule.

By William McGonagall, of course.

Films

March 26th, 2002

I haven’t seen the film, and I doubt I’m going to see it, but I rather liked this comment from the Independent:

It’s a shame. Ali G is essentially a Great British fabulist, like Just William or Billy Liar; but those characters work because you believe in the domestic clutter – the too-solid reality – they’re trying to escape. A feature film was the perfect place to pin Ali down; instead, it becomes a showcase for his delusions…

Thinking of films, I saw The Battle of Algiers again last night: the Phoenix here in Oxford only managed to get hold of a DVD (they let the audience in free by way of compensation), and they played the soundtrack far too quietly: even so, it is still a smashing piece of cinema.

Journalist: Colonel Mathieu … the spokesman for the residing minister, Mr. Gorlin, has stated that “Larbi Ben M’Hidi committed suicide in his own cell, hanging himself with pieces of his shirt, that he had used to make a rope, and then attached to the bars of his cell window.” In a preceding statement, the same spokesman had specified that: “… due to the intention already expressed by the prisoner Ben M’Hidi to escape at the first opportunity, it has been necessary to keep his hands and feet bound continually.” In your opinion, colonel, in such conditions, is a man capable of tearing his shirt, making a rope from it, and attaching it to a bar of the window to hang himself?Mathieu: You should address that question to the minister’s spokesman. I’m not the one who made those statements … On my part, I will say that I had the opportunity to admire the moral strength, intelligence, and unwavering idealism demonstrated by Ben M’Hidi. For these reasons, although remembering the danger he represented, I do not hesitate to pay homage to his memory.

The rest of the script is here.

Situationists and Dead People

March 26th, 2002

Not that I’m going through a Situationist phase or anything, but here are a couple of links to recent obituaries of Ralph Rumney, one of the founders of the Situationist International (and expelled shortly thereafter) in the Guardian and the Independent.

Thinking of dead people, it has been a bad year for philosophers: Nozick and Bourdieu a few weeks ago; more recently Hans-Georg Gadamer. Still, he at least was very old.

Chris adds [28.3.2002]: The deaths of the philosophers are even more widespread than I realised: I missed the death last month of R. M. Hare.

Friendly Fire

March 26th, 2002

Nick writes to the weblog [25.3.2002]: Two things. First, www.gagpipe.com is a Good Thing which I commend to you. Second, it helped me find this piece, from urbanreflex.com:

British Troops Sent To Afghanistan “Will Inevitably Be Shot By The Americans” Warns Minister

UK Defence Minister Geoff Hoon has told the British public to brace itself and expect casualties in Afghanistan as a result of British soldiers being shot by American troops.

“No government sends its troops to fight alongside the Americans without a great deal of consideration,” Mr. Hoon told reporters today. “It is not a decision that is ever taken lightly. We know there will be casualties.”

Around 1,700 Royal Marine commandos are on their way to Afghanistan to join the 1,500 troops already stationed in the country.

“We know for a fact that the Americans have highly sophisticated weapons easily capable of wiping out an entire squadron in a matter of seconds,” Hoon told MPs in the Commons. “We cannot underestimate the capacity of the Americans to kill people on their own side by mistake. They are ruthlessly efficient in that respect.”

But he warned that the potential risks should not divert attention away from the operation’s goals.

“Let us not lose sight of the aims and objectives of this very dangerous mission,” he said. “I do not know what those objectives are at this moment in time, but I will let you know what they are just as soon as I have received them from my counterpart in America.”

Al-Qaeda were unavailable for comment.

A friend also forwarded me the entertaining Hunt the Boeing link, which I hadn’t seen before; the rebuttal is here.

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