Friday, June 27, 2008

Growing up in the '60s,

it was kinda hard-wired
that things
were gonna get
better ...

"Never doubt
that a few committed individuals
can change the world"
Sphere: Related Content

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Accentuate the positive

Danny Finkelstein has a nice comment piece for today's Times.

The essence of the article reflects on Gordon Brown's homily about social mobility:
The Prime Minister spoke for 40 minutes about social mobility, setting himself goals, declaring himself committed, reeling off statistics and announcing initiatives, but he never once addressed the fundamental questions - what causes children to behave as they do? What drives social mobility?
With typical style, Finkelstein glides into the "nature versus nurture" argument (using a riff from Judith Rich Harris) on a neat glissando:
I have always been fascinated by Henry Kissinger's accent. That sort of low Germanic rumble. I ponder it at the oddest of moments ...

It is not especially odd that a child who came to America at age 15, should retain the accent of his childhood. What is a little strange is that his younger brother, Walter, does not. Strange though this may seem, it isn't uncommon. The children of immigrants usually speak the language of their birthplace without an accent, even if their parents speak with a heavy accent.
Malcolm was disappointed that, either on the word-count or by uncultured sub-editorial deletion, we presumably lost one of the best (and, here, singularly relevant) Henry Kissinger stories.

President Richard Nixon was cosying up, in his blundering way, to the Israeli Prime Minister, Golda Meir. Golda, born in the Ukraine, brought up in Milwaukee, the original Iron Lady of the Israeli Labour movement, didn't do cosy.

Nixon passed the remark that he and she had one thing in common: they both had Jewish “Foreign Ministers”.

Kissinger (Nixon's Secretary of State, and thereby his "Foreign Minister") was hard of nose and harsh of speech. On the other hand Abba Eban (left), a Cambridge "triple-starred First", was donnish, urbane, literate and polished in speech and thought.

Golda's response: "Yes, but mine speaks English". Sphere: Related Content
Elsewhere ...
at Malcolm Redfellow's Home Service
the sagacious Malcolm wrestles
Sphere: Related Content

Tuesday, June 24, 2008


We arrived across the Sound at Church Bay. We've climbed up, and now we pause, panting. That's the view south, over Rue Point and the South Lighthouse, back towards Fair Head and Torr Head on the North Antrim Coast. It is rarely as bright, blue, calm and placid as this:
A natural silence, slowly broken
By the shearwater, by the sporadic
Conversation of crickets, the bleak
Reminder of a metaphysical wind.
[Thank you, Derek Mahon, once of Trinity College, Dublin. Now a stalwart of the Irish Leaving Certificate.]

Rathlin, Eileann Rathlainn, sits on the map like a sharp bracket, or an elongated apostrophe, off the Antrim Coast. Along the eastern shore, we see basalt columns, part of the same geological feature that appears at the Giant's Causeway and Fingal's Cave. Until an Gorta Mór, the Great Famine, it supported a population into four figures. The main industries were kelp (to produce soda and iodine), illicit stills, and smuggling.

So, from Cathy Ryan, back in the Famine days of 1847:
Ochón is ochón, the ship is sailing:
Carve our name in cloch na scríobh.
Ochón is ochón, the hills are wailing
In ainm Dé, in ainm Dé, a rachfaimíd.
Today, there are perhaps 80 permanent residents. The school has one teacher for seven pupils. The island received an electricity supply, mainly derived from three wind turbines, as recently as the 1990s: someone with a soul named the turbines for the Children of Lir.

The Island is only part of Ireland because, in 1617 at the Court of King James, the snake test decided it was not another of the Outer Hebrides: no snakes, so therefore, it's Ireland. That's why the recently-restored, toy-town St Thomas's Church (right) is of the diocese of Connor, linked to the parish of Ballintoy. However, reptilian behaviour may yet feature in this story.

Spiders, however, are definitively a feature of Rathlin. After all, this is where the legend of Robert the Bruce and the spider is supposedly based. Bruce's cave is under the lighthouse at Altacarry Head. Tangled webs are also integral to the story.

Rathlin grows low bushes, but no trees: the wind sees to that. It can be equally a wild and a beautiful place, even simultaneously. There should be, Bruce's cave apart, metaphorically no place to hide.

The immediate episode, however, is not Malcolm's to tell. It properly belongs to Nevin Taggart:
Those three links, in sequence, tell the whole sorry story to date, as it is so-far known.

In essence the matter is how did a Mr Ciaran O’Driscoll of the County Cork, about whom previous questions have been asked (reliability, employee rights ...) persuade the Northern Ireland Department of Regional Development [DRD] to prefer his plan for a swish "new purpose built high speed catamaran" to the existing service? Where's the catamaran to come from? Is it viable for such a short run, to a barely-populated island, and across a vicious tide-race?

Those feeling queasy should look away now:

Otherwise, Malcolm has said his piece at his Home Service site.

Remember: this is Northern Ireland. They do things differently here.
Sphere: Related Content

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Who killed Cock Robin?

For those who missed it, the Irish Times has a full review of the aftermath of the Referendum vote on the Lisbon Treaty.

There are several articles which all deserve consideration.

When all is said and done, the two outstanding questions are (from the pro-Euro view):
  • what went wrong?
  • what next?
The "what next?" case was effectively dealt with by the cover-article in The Economist (from which the graphic above is shamelessly thieved). So, say no more.

The post-mortem "why?" argument is dealt with by a piece by the Irish Times's Jamie Smith:
No campaign convincing -- Yes voters

EVEN PEOPLE who voted in favour of the Lisbon Treaty thought the No campaign was more convincing than the Yes campaign, a survey shows.

Some 57 per cent of Yes voters said they thought the campaign against the treaty was more convincing than the Yes campaigns managed by the Government, the Opposition parties and other pro-European groups.

Overall, 68 per cent of voters felt the No campaign was more convincing, raising serious questions over the strategy and commitment of the Yes campaign.
Asked about the Government's lacklustre campaign yesterday, Taoiseach Brian Cowen said he accepted responsibility for the result.

A post-referendum Eurobarometer survey published yesterday by the European Commission, also shows that 80 per cent of No voters say they support Irish membership of the EU. Some 98 per cent of Yes voters and 89 per cent of all voters said they supported EU membership. Despite the referendum defeat, 42 per cent of voters told pollsters they thought the treaty would be good for Ireland, compared to 41 per cent who said it would not.

The survey of 2,000 voters found that over half the people who did not vote in the referendum said this was due to a lack of understanding of the issues. Some 45 per cent of people who did not vote said they did not have time on the day of the referendum.

Young people were much less likely to participate than older people. They were also much more likely to vote against the treaty with 65 per cent of voters between the age of 18 and 24 rejecting the treaty. Older people were more likely to support the treaty, with 58 per cent of over 55s voting in favour of the treaty. One-fifth of No voters pinpointed a lack of information on the treaty as the primary reason why they rejected it. The second most popular reason for voting No was a desire to protect Irish identity. Other reasons for voting no were: a lack of trust in politicians in general; a wish to safeguard Irish neutrality, the desire to keep a commissioner in every commission and the need to protect the Irish tax system.

The survey found just 1 per cent of respondents said they rejected the treaty to avoid an influx of immigrants, despite anecdotal claims made by TDs in the wake of the referendum defeat that immigration was a factor.
Most Yes voters (32 per cent) supported the treaty because they felt it was in the best interests of Ireland or because the EU had benefited the State.
Almost three-quarters (74 per cent) of manual workers voted against the treaty, while 60 per cent self-employed people supported the treaty. Most people (57 per cent) who left education after tbe age of 20 voted for the treaty, while 58 per cent of people who left school at the age of 15 voted against it. But most (69 per cent) students rejected the treaty.

Just over three-quarters of No voters also thought it would be easy to renegotiate the treaty to accommodate their concerns.
Malcolm is instinctively suspicious of a piece like that: it seems to ignore the realities in favour of blaming the medium for the message.

Anyway, that article is accompanied by a "post-referendum survey in Ireland. Eurobarometer, preliminary results", which looks like this:

So, pick the bones out of that. Sphere: Related Content

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Maine-line to the Mendocino County Line

As Malcolm has pointed out before, it's the fillers that catch the imagination: those colour pieces on the property pages, the bits from the intern that go between the ads. Frequently that's where the real writing happens.

So, today, his attention was caught by Lucy Mangan doing Cable Girl, on the side-bar of the Guardian's TV schedules:
Have you been to Cabot Cove recently? You really should. At least one person a week is killed there. But honestly, it is remarkably good for the spirit.
For those not with us yet, "Cabot Cove" is the milieu of Murder, She Wrote, one of the stand-bys of day-time TV, whose eighth series (originally from 1996) has finally gone to DVD in the UK, featuring:
Angela Lansbury, who plays widow, thriller writer and amateur sleuth Jessica Fletcher. Much of Lansbury's previous career had been in Broadway musicals, and she still carries with her the faint suggestion that she might just break into song at any moment and galvanise the rest of the cast into following suit.
Now, we hear, has Malcolm gone that far down market?

For a start, Malcolm reckons that this was a unique US series that recognised that age did not necessarily mean senility. Nor did it involve braying of dubbbed laughter.

On the other hand, it wasn't original (Agatha Christie would have recognised where it was coming from). It was, from beginning to end, a transplant of the English "cosy" mystery. And, perhaps, none the worse for that.

The essential concept was
Miss Marple taken to the State of Maine:
Widowed Jessica Fletcher, a retired high school English teacher, became a best-selling mystery author after her nephew, Grady, sent a manuscript to a book publisher. She quickly became world famous and affluent, but she maintains the rambling, old house that she and her longtime husband, Frank, shared in Cabot Cove...

In the earlier seasons, a matronly Jessica frequently bicycled across town, boiled lobsters, planned fishing trips on a friend's trawler, or dropped in at the beauty parlor. She wore conservative pantsuits and spoke with an occasional New England influence.
Except, Malcolm's been to "Cabot Cove"...

... and wears the Big Yellow Cab tee-shirt from the Mendocino Wine Company (see left for label: Geddit?) And it drinks even better than the marketing.

That immediately solves the essential enigma, the only one never properly explained by "Jessica Fletcher": why the sun rises in the west and sets in the east in this part of "Maine".

Mendocino, about 150 miles north of San Francisco, stood in for "Cabot Cove".

When Malcolm spent a overnighter at the Mendocino Hotel, just next door to the Mendocino Wine Company. He wandered the streets,and couldn't quite place why it was he felt everything so familiar. It was worse than déjà vu.

Then he realised.

This was Frenchman's Creek, "Cape Breton" in Johnny Belinda, the Salinas Valley of East of Eden, Nantucket in The Summer of '42 and many more. If only, when one turned a corner, the location stayed in synch ...

So, thanks to Lucy Mangan for recovering a memory. Sphere: Related Content
Vain, ridiculous and thrasonical

The headline is from Love's Labours Lost, V.i.13: the word "thrasonical" is used again by Shakespeare in As You Like It, V.ii.34. Not many people know that.

All those words that seem to have slipped out of currency -- like that "thrasonical", or "vainglorious" -- are epitomised in the personality and actions of the Rt Hon David Michael Davis. It may be that he has a lot to be arrogant about, but arrogance accompanies him as the "great smell of Brut" pervades a cheap gymnasium.

Yet, as Michael White is suggesting in the Guardian, he has attracted a significant following in British Bloggerdom:
David Cameron's whips are so cross that they only half-joked about delaying the contest until November, to teach Davis a lesson for what they still regard as a reckless, egotistical stunt. That is the overwhelming Westminster verdict ("attention-seeking," says one shrewd Labour judge of character), not shared by bloggers, letter writers and activists in all parties who proclaim him a hero.
This is a piece that, typical of White's polished style, is neatly topped and tailed with the brutal and unspoken truth of modern British political life: living with the near-certainty of unannounced imminent atrocity. Take just the opening and closing sentence of White's piece together, and one has this:
But what if there's a bomb in the London Underground before [Davis's] byelection? ... What [Davis] needs is luck.


The truth is that Davis's bubble reputation, among a certain cyberspatial underclass, stems from the fawning admiration of the likes of Iain Dale (who was Davis's major domo in the disaster of the Tory Leadership campaign) and Paul Staines, the all-purpose attack-dog and general smear-merchant.

In many ways, it is very much in the interest of the Government, pursuing its 42-days detention policy, to have Davis continuing what would otherwise be settled Commons policy. On one level Davis (along with the Conservative Party line, and indeed the LibDems as well) is faced with having to explain why 42 days is so wrong, if 28 days is "acceptable" even to Chris Huhne:
I am very happy with a period of 28 days. We should stick with that period because that is what we voted for...
At another level, the whole point of 42 days is that it relates specifically to the most serious, the most heinous offences imaginable. As Jackie Smith asked:
Does the hon. Gentleman realise that one of our amendments would limit the use of an extended period of pre-charge detention to the most serious terrorist offences, which would carry a life sentence for those found guilty?
We need to remember here, as always, how fragile the Tory line on 42 days has been, and remains. There is a not-inconsiderable number of Tory MPs who would settle for 90 days. We have heard rumblings that Osborne and Michael Gove tried to dissuade Davis from opposing 42 days. The Politicshome panel reckons on 37% of Tory MPs actually favouring 42 days, despite being whipped into opposing the measure. Tim Montgomery's Conservativehome weblog warned that opposing 42 days was misguided. CentreRight was as consistent. The bell-wethers of Rightist opinion -- Norman Tebbit, Melanie Phillips -- also favour of 42 days.

Against these views stands Davis:
Alexander: They say he is a very man per se,
And stands alone.
Cressida: So do all men, unless they are drunk sick, or have no legs.
[Troilus and Cressida; I.ii.15]

Malcolm made a comment on Slugger O'Toole about the DUP backing 42 days. Mick Fealty's Brassneck column for the Telegraph now recycles that to close a brief blog discussion:
A clean liberal conscience is a nice warming feeling; but for once the tabloid press, and the general public mood have it right. The right of my wife and family, and millions like us, safely to use the London underground and British airports is superior to the rights of a few individuals to exploit present law.

The DUP, despite the last minute theatricals, were doing the proper thing, in policy as well as short-term advantage. The Opposition Tories were, and are playing partisan politics: but don’t worry—in a similar situation the Tory Whips will be prepared to pay the Ulster pipers in even-more devalued currency. Politics is a grubby business.
Malcolm stands by that.
  • It isn't fear (but Malcolm's lady came home on 10th September 1973, with whiplash injury from the IRA bomb at Euston Station).

  • It isn't illiberal bloody-mindedness (but Malcolm's eldest daughter was at Hoboken station, trying to reach the World Trade Centre for 9 a.m. on 9/11).

It's what Michael White's piece was all about: calculating the luck


For those who have forgotten, it was the morning after 12th October 1984. Five were dead and several dozen had to be dug out of the ruins of Patrick Magee's bombing of the Brighton Grand Hotel. The IRA announced:
Today we were unlucky, but remember we only have to be lucky once. You will have to be lucky always.

Malcolm started with Shakespeare on vain boasting. Let him end there, with Parolles in All's Well; IV.iii.370:
Who knows himself a braggart,
Let him fear this, for it will come to pass
That every braggart shall be found an ass.


This post also appears on Malcolm Redfellow's Home Service.

Sphere: Related Content

Monday, June 16, 2008

If you ever plan to journey west...

Over on his Normblog, Norman Geras has been doing a fine job on Songs of the States (he’s getting through his first draft at a rate of knots, but Malcolm confidently expects updates).

One of the great themes, perhaps the main thread of American popular music is movement.

So what about American highways as a theme to match Norm’s effort?

Since the Eisenhower Interstate system uses even numbers from South to North, and odds from West to East, it’s really only a case of counting. This is complicated, of course, by the numbering of the earlier US Highways from 1926, and by the identifications of State highways. That means it’s all the way from the Waifs on Highway One:
I'm not that hard to find:
I live on Highway One,
12 hour drive.
to Emmylou on 95:
I have come to listen for the sound
Of the trucks as they move down
Out on ninety five
And pretend that it's the ocean
Coming down to wash me clean.
For those who don't get the implications, that's an elegy for Gram Parsons.

Michael Nesmith goes even further on Highway 99, with help from lyrics by Michael B. Cohen:
Anyway, it takes a certain amount of blind faith
To make ninety-nine in an old car ...
Emerson Drive (a Canadian country band out of Alberta) exceed even that with:
There's three in the front and four in the back:
Slid'er into gear boys were headed for fun,
Cruisin' down Redneck Highway 101.
In fact, as far as Malcolm can establish, the enumeration of US highways goes all the way up to US 830 (which 209 miles used to run through Washington State, until it was replaced by I-5, WA-4 and WA-14).

The trouble with using roads as as a long-term project for identifying with songs is that the US Federal Highway Administration have already been there, done that and probably trademarked the tee-shirt.

Beyond that, there are numerous sites on the Net which have made their own road-song lists. Even Rolling Stone was reduced to this expedient, with a Top 25 last year (the reader contributions are better than the original list). Better still is The Great American Roadtrip listing (for all sorts of reasons, that's a Malcolm favourite site). Then there's the CMT 40 Greatest Road Songs (the Numero Uno of which, inevitably, is Willie Nelson On the Road Again though not the version with Sheryl Crow in the inserted YouTube vid).

We're nearly there, except for the Big Daddy of all road-song listings. That's an on-going labour of love by Frank X. Brusca and his merry band of contributors. And it's great gas.

So, Malcolm, what's your best road song?

Well, any biker knows the Byrds did good with Ballad of Easy Rider. That's the coincidence of Bob Dylan and Roger McGuinn.

Then there's the closely-related Born to be Wild, which invented heavy metal (though the metal came out of Milwaukee on two wheels).

But the best bike song (and probably the best bike) of all-time is 1952 Vincent Black Lightning:

As for a road, that's nearly easy. It's either Ventura Highway

or Bobby Troup's Route 66:

Enjoy that one: it's not the most dramatic rendering, or even the most memorable, but it is the original. And it brings us, full circle to Norm's blog.

Except, of course, that left out the very best of the best, that road through Freehold Borough, New Jersey:
In the day we sweat it out in the streets of a runaway American dream:
At night we ride through mansions of glory in suicide machines.
Sprung from cages out on Highway 9,
Chrome wheeled, fuel injected and steppin' out over the line --
Baby this town rips the bones from your back,
It's a death trap, it's a suicide rap.
We gotta get out while were young,
'Cause tramps like us, baby, we were born to run.
Sphere: Related Content

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

A small Fix for a Malcolm, a great step for Blogkind

Malcolm happily adds Chris Cillizza's hot-link widget (see right and sidebar).

He has found Cillizza unfailingly thoughtful and informative about the doings of the DC elect, electable, and downright disgraceful.

Cillizza was on the button with Obama over the last two years. Now he is surveying the fields for Veep-nominations. He may, just may, be about to downgrade the chances of one whom Malcolm thought a good bet: Kathleen Sebelius, the Governor of Kansas:

The Fix will tackle one candidate a week, making the case for and then against. We kick off the series today by arguing that Obama should select Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius to join him on the Democratic ticket.

Sebelius, close readers know, currently holds down the No. 2 slot on the most-recent Veepstakes Line. (Huffington Post's Sam Stein penned a Sebelius profile of his own just yesterday.)

Sebelius' rating on Cillizza's "Veepstakes" is complicated by two factors:
  1. The number one (and a very good one, too) on Cillizza's list has been Ted Strickland, the Governor of Ohio. Strickland ticks so many boxes -- swing State, ordained Methodist Minister, academic, budget-balancer, good record on education and tax-cutting. Yet Strickland has pronounced, using the same terms General Sherman did back in 1884; "If drafted I will not run, nominated I will not accept and if elected I will not serve. I don't know how more crystal clear I can be."
  2. As Cillizza puts it: "It's hard to know whether Obama can (or, more importantly, would) name a woman whose name is not Clinton. Clinton's most ardent supporters would almost certainly see such a move as a final indignity in a race they believe has been chock full of them."
The Sam Stein profile, mentioned there by Cillizza, is worth the link, and explains why Sebelius is high with many Democrats:
In May 2007, after a devastating tornado had wiped out the town of Greensburg, Sebelius was quick to highlight one of the unspoken truths of the recovery episode: Kansas lacked the resources and manpower it needed because much of the state's National Guard resources had been sent to Iraq. Going public, she repeatedly took jabs at Bush, scolding his Iraq policies for creating a readiness gap at home. Her rebukes earned her accolades in Kansas and with the press. It also prompted the scorn of several Bush lackeys -- a not-too-unfortunate wrist slapping for an emerging Democratic official.
Stein then balances that by mentioning Sebelius' lack of whump! in replying to Bush's State of the Union, which was then seen as a downer.

Read both sources, and be enlightened. Sphere: Related Content

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The refrain from Spain still not plain

Just when Malcolm's attention was moving on, a response to what is now an antique post came from Geoff Lawes.

Since it revives a niggle that Malcolm has also had for some time, here is Geoff's message in full :
I have been trying to track the provenance of the song Viva La Quince Brigada for some time. Your information about Bart Van Der Schelling was new to me and I have not been able to subsequently track down anything more about him on the net. But I shall continue to pursue this lead.

This topic has been discussed on many threads of the folk music site Mudcat and a lot of confusion has reigned as well as a great deal of clarification.

1 There is continuing confusion caused by the fact, to which your blog alludes, that Christy Moore wrote and recorded a completely different song about the Irish component of the XVth International Brigade, the Connolly Column, and to which he gave the same name, Viva La Quince Brigada.

2 The song that we are concerned with is based on a popular Spanish folk song dating back to the Peninsular War of 1808 when Napoleon invaded Spain. This song is often referred to as the Ay Carmela song and, as I understand the situation, it underwent variations through the 19th Century when it was adapted to suit events in Spain's turbulent history. This will account for the references to 'traditional folk song'in the reviews you quote.

3 During the Spanish Civil War, the Ay Carmela underwent transformations to produce at least two new versions on the Republican side, one also known as Crossing The Ebro and the other aka Viva La Quinta Brigada (Fifth Brigade). These can be seen and heard on this site:

4 Since the end of the Spanish Civil War there has been the song made famous by Pete Seeger in praise of the fifteenth Brigade Viva La Quince Brigada. Pete Seeger says it was taught to him by repatriated Volunteers from the International Brigades and other people say that they heard it from former XVth members but I have not, before now, found any more-contemporary source that shows that the song in praise of the XVth may have been sung during the war itself. If Bart Van Der Schelling did record the song before Pete Seeger, then this perhaps pushes the songs provenance back far enough for the song to have been written in the Spanish Civil War and therefore a song that repatriated IB volunteers could have come home singing. If Schelling did originate this variation of the Ay Carmela himself then there is at least a direct link to the International Brigades.It would be interesting to know whether Schelling fought at Jarama, where, as you show, the Republic had air superiority, or whether he only fought later in the war when the Germans and Italians had ensured the lack of Republican air support.

The evidence of the lyrics suggests that the writer of the XVth Brigada song was not at Jarama but given the traditional nature of the Ay Carmela song it seems likely that a version of the song would have been known, if not marched to, by the XVth Brigade prior to Jarama. ( It would have been strange if they had marched off to fight at Jarama singing a song about the then unfought Battle of Jarama.)

Here is a link to Pete Seeger recounting how he learned the song and you will notice that he sings "Ay Manuela" as a refrain and not Ay Carmela. I wonder when this variant first appeared.

Here is a link to the Mudcat site where you can see extensive discussion of the various songs I have mentioned.

I would be grateful if anyone is able to shed any more light.
Right, then. That's as concise and complete a history of the song as we have so far.

As Malcolm recalls, his original post, now some nine months old, derived from the likes of Gabriels's Unrepentant Communist blog, reading history, and listening to the Bear Family boxed set of Songs for Political Action.

About the only thing Malcolm contributed to the discussion of the origins of ¡Viva la Quince Brigada! was the link to the Time Magazine Article of 4th August 1941, which bought up the name of Bart van der Schelling as the original recording artist for the song:

World War II has yet to produce a great song, but last week some of its saddest were heard in the U.S. The League of American Writers produced an album of records ($2.75) called Behind the Barbed Wire—six songs of the French, Spanish, Italian and German antiFascists who now rot in the French concentration camps of Gurs, Vernet d'Ariège, Argelès-sur-Mer.

The six songs were recorded in Manhattan by a Netherlands-born fighter in the Spanish Civil War, Bart van der Schelling. He wears his chin in a brace, is called "official singer" for the U.S. survivors of the International Brigades of the Loyalists. Singer van der Schelling is backed by an "Exiles Chorus" directed by Earl Robinson (Ballad for Americans). Some of the songs—the Spanish Joven Guardia, the Italian Guardia Rossa, the German Thaelmann-Bataillon, the French Au Devant de la Vie (music by Soviet Composer Dmitri Shostakovich)—were composed during the Spanish War. Most of them are in rough, plodding march time.
A passing thought: is it significant that ¡Viva la Quince Brigada! is not one of the he songs listed here as "composed during the Spanish war"?

Hot stuff

Then, out the the blue, Malcolm hit upon The Flames of Discontent, a New York based radical duo, offering serious leftist stuff.

They do (and it is available for download as an mp3), a convincingly and appropriately fiery version as:
... the showcase selection from our latest CD, Revenge of the Atom Spies. Viva La Quince Brigade is one of the great anthems of the Spanish Civil War, the war between freedom fighters of the Spanish Republic and the fascist regime of Franco.
Their description of the song is:
This song, Viva La Quince Brigade was written by Bart Van Der Schelling, a musician, activist and member of the Dutch segment of the International. It addresses the plight of the Spanish militias in light of the frightening take-over of their land by a fascist dictator. Our recording of it opens with guest percussionist Rafael Figueroa singing the intro in Spanish, accompanied by John Pietaro's acoustic guitar. Once the tune proper begins, John is singing lead in an English translation, accompanied by his own solid-body electric banjo, Figueroa's frantic congas and Laurie Towers' powerful lead electric bass, including a searing distorted solo midway through. The song was composed in the late 1930s, during the time of the United States' second Red Scare.
Notice, again, the implication that the song is an after-thought: "in light of the frightening take-over of their land by a fascist dictator".

This version is going to shock the pants off the purists (and, yes, Malcolm could spare the "searing distorted solo midway through"); but it has the combination of authenticity, poignancy and anger missing so often from too many performances. This is not a song to be preserved in aspic, or brought out as a "tribute" to past heroes and present "success": it should be as violent and angry and painful as the time in which it was created.

Continuing agenda

A Google search on the name "Bart van der Schelling" produces enough "hits" to suggest he had a valid place in the radical fringe of New York during the 1940s.

As late as the early '60s, Folkways are re-issuing that 1941 recording, mentioned in the Time piece. It seems still to be included in Songs of the Spanish Civil War, volume 2, which concludes with four tracks by "Bartholomeus van der Schelling" (mp3 samples available).

There are aspects here still to be explored: not all are Geoff Lawes's musical interests. Sphere: Related Content

Monday, June 9, 2008

Tattoo you

Sunday lunchtime: the Gatehouse, Highgate.

Service was slow at the bar. This gave Malcolm the opportunity to observe the female shoulder edging him aside. Being a warm June day, that shoulder was bared, so the tattoo was in full view.

Later, Malcolm found his mind reverting to something like "Ta-ra-ra-bom-de-ay!", with a link to that shoulder. It took him a while to make the connection to the Kingston Trio:
Oh, we came to town to see
That old tattooed lady.
She was a sight to see,
Tattooed from head to knee
My uncle Ned was there,
He came to gape and stare:
"I've never," he declared,
"Seen such a freak so fair!"

And on her jaw was the Royal Flying Corps,
And on her back was the Union Jack,
Now could you ask for more?
All up and down her spine,
Were the Queen's own guard in line,
And all around her hips
Sailed a fleet of battle ships,
And over her left kidney
Was a birds-eye view of Sydney;
But what we liked best,
Was upon her chest
Our little home in Waikiki.
Malcolm has not yet found an authoritative source for that ditty. The copyright on the Kingstons' version is "Jack Splittard, ©1959, Highridge Music Co.", which does not take us any further. A Google search brings Malcolm to a Mudcat thread on the topic, where the most useful suggestion is:
A Royal Navy version of The Tattooed Lady c.1960 [which] goes
I went to gay Par-ee,
And paid five francs to see
A bloody great French cherie
Tattooed from head to knee.
This is, as the musicologists might say, a variant on the other.

Nor should we lightly discard Mudcat's passing hint of an Australian connection:
This, it would seem, is an example of the "loosely defined Adelaide art movement of the early 1970s dubbed Skangaroovian Funk, which was characterised by an anti-art, anti-establishment attitude":
This is a painted clay sculpture made in 1974 by Bert Flugelman (1923-). Measuring 116 cm x 84 cm x 46 cm, the work is in the shape a figure of a nude woman standing with her hands on her hips and staring straight ahead. The figure is truncated just above the knees and at the upper part of the head. The proportions of the figure, particularly the waist and hips, are highly exaggerated. In contrast to her three-dimensional arms, her hands have been drawn onto the figure. Her entire body is covered with tattoo-like illustrations in rich colour which depict Japanese couples engaged in sexual activity. Some of these figures are completely naked, while others wear traditional Japanese clothing.
That said, the Ozark singer, Skeets McDonald ( author of Don't Let the Stars Get in your Eyes) has yet another version of the same song:
Once I married a tattooed lady,
It was on a cold cold grey winter day,
And tattooed all around her body
Was a map of the good ol' USA;
And every night before I'd go to sleep
I'd lift the covers and take myself a peek ...
(spoken) Well good God almighty ...

Down on her leg was Arizona,
On her knee was Tennessee,
Tattooed on her back
Was good ole Hackysack
That's the place where I long to be.

Down on her (whistle) was West Virginny
And in them hills I love to roam.
When I saw the moonlight on her Mississippi
I recognized my home sweet home.
Which instantly gives us four entries to Norman Geras's ongoing United States of Song.

But, wait! Where else might this lead us? Well, for a start there's Kermit doing it:

Phew! Steamy stuff.

But even that's derivative:

This seems to be the original for Lydia, the Tattooed Lady. Detective J. Cheever Loophole's song has a definite provenance: it is music by Harold Arlen and lyrics by Yip Harburg.This version also turns up, in part at least in M*A*S*H, The Philadelphia Story, and The Fisher King.

Then, diverging from the main topic, by coincidence Malcolm found himself listening to Josh White's Free and Equal Blues, which starts explicitly from and takes the tune of St James Infirmary:
I went down to that St. James Infirmary, and I saw some plasma there,
I ups and asks the doctor man, "Now was the donor dark or fair?"
The doctor laughed a great big laugh, and he puffed it right in my face,
He said, "A molecule is a molecule, son, and the damn thing has no race."
The full lyrics (by the same Yip Harburg) and some useful background are on Elijah Wald's site.

One further place to visit is the astoundingly-deep Pseudo-intellectualism site. There Sol Bellel knows more about New York's Lower East Side and its many graduates (including Yip Harburg) than is credible from any one intellect, pseudo or not. Sphere: Related Content

Friday, June 6, 2008


Malcolm's classical education means that, half-a-century on, he has brain-cells imprinted with useless knowledge like:
fero, ferre, tuli, latum.
If you weren't there, don't bother about it.

Other paradigms are better known in the modern world, and more relevant:
I like an occasional drink; you're a bit of a boozer; he's a right dipso.
Equally, no modern "-ology" is complete without a set of paradigms:
We have presently three paradigms of depression: the psychoanalytic, the cognitive-behavioral, and the biological.
Their function is to render the topic impenetrable to all outside the select circle of intimates.

These thoughts come together in Malcolm's re-evaluation of the female psyche.

He came to the conclusion that the feminine mind allows of just three pronouns:
"I", which means exactly what it says;
"We", which means "you", as in "We need to shift that wardrobe"; and
"She", which invariably translates as "that bitch down the road."
Sphere: Related Content

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Return to Gove County, Kansas

As soon as the Cameron advance on power stumbles, or the Notting Hill omnibus opens the succession, one of those golden political opportunities should fall properly into the lap of the more-deserving Michael Gove.

Cameron, perhaps recognising his own limits, has the sense to employ a puppetmaster to pull his strings (now shuffling off to California, to tug those strings at a greater distance). Gove, who performs largely unsuspended, has added ingredient X: sensibility -- most of the time.

Goves' lighter side (as evidenced in the revamped Times Notebook yesterday) was a trip down journo-nostagia lane. In passing, Malcolm noticed that so much effort had been expended buffing up the print edition that odd things happened to the on-line site (as with the headline to Goves' piece).

On one level, Goves' effort was a Venture Out (Maricopa County, Arizona) into the reliable Wilderness of Sin (Exodus, 16.2) that involves odd English place-names. For example:
Corbetting (v) - constantly delaying getting to the point in the hope that you can buy time and sympathy with digressions - apart, here goes with some more.

Bourton-on-the-Water (n): That feeling you have after imbibing something between 15 and 20 units of alcohol when you realise you haven't drunk any of the Badoit on the table, you have to go to bed imminently and your bladder won't now allow you to absorb any liquid that could provide hydration.

Moreton-in-the-Marsh (n): That feeling which hits you in your stomach, about five hours after you've been through Bourton-on-the-Water, when you know your system needs purging ...
This is all good Monday-morning stuff: the kind of head-clearing -- Corbetting, indeed -- required before the brute-force-and-ignorance of a party political sally (which, inevitably, comes next).

It is not, in itself, original. The late, great Douglas Adams exploited it at book-length in The Meaning of Liff, as with:
Plymouth (v): to relate an amusing story to someone without remembering that it was they who told it to you in the first place.
Michael Frayn (who has some claim to be Malcolm's unacknowledged antecedent) used to do something of the same.

Beyond that, appropriate names were a stand-by of the great English novelists. Dickens (a favourite of Adams, and it shows) did it for most of his characters; and, of course, for his locations.

The Times Notebook is obviously intended to be a parallel to the likes of the Guardian's Diary column (now, happily, back in the hands of Hugh Muir, after a couple of weeks aimlessly batting about the universe). The bourgeois-gentilhommerie of the Times rules out the true bitchery achieved by Muir, as here:
... imagine the agonies endured by Sarah Jessica Parker as she discovered that the silver gown she wore for the New York premiere of her Sex and the City movie had previously been worn by Lindsay Lohan and the socialite Lauren Santo Domingo. "It's unethical and disappointing that they [the designers] would allow the dress to be worn again," the actress told the New York Times; "Dress Whoring Scandal Snares Sex Star," was how the website Gawker described it. China, Burma. Now this.
[It has to be admitted there are at least two names there that evinced Malcolm's pained "Who she?". It was, however, naughty of the Guardian not to italicize the word "sex", as in the original headline.]

So, yesterday, Gove was reaching for a separate topic for his supporting paragraphs: they turned out to be a Miltonic puff for Philip Pullman wait for it!) and this:
The report that The Guardian columnist George Monbiot disrupted a session at the Hay-on-Wye literary festival when he attempted to arrest the American former diplomat John Bolton for war crimes is One of Those Moments. Like Antonia Pinter's Holland Park dinner parties that were designed to bring down The Hated Thatcher Junta. Or that book by Graydon Carter that was going to halt Bush'n'Cheney in their tracks. Or indeed any interview with Gore Vidal in which he pledges to restore the virtues of the original American republic. They all prompt you to ask - is it possible to be an author and have no sense of irony at all?
Graydon Carter, since 1992, is the editor of Vanity Fair, which has at least as honourable a record as any media outlet over the whole Iraq débâcle. His book on What We've Lost: How the Bush Administration Has Curtailed Our Freedoms, Mortgaged Our Economy, Ravaged Our Environment, and Damaged Our Standing in the World deserves better than Gove's put-down:
In making his final decision to launch an invasion of Iraq, President George W. Bush did not seek the advice of his father, a veteran of World War II and a former president who had gone to battle with the same foe a decade earlier. Nor did he seek the final recommendation of his secretary of defense, or of his secretary of state, the only man in his cabinet who had been decorated for military service in wartime with the medals befitting a national hero. Instead, as Bob Woodward wrote in his book Plan of Attack, he consulted his God, a God that the president presumes takes sides in disputes between peoples.
Gove has, of course, consistently been a right-on warmonger and Bushie throughout, with some Islamophobic Melanie-moments. It was, then, strangely appropriate that Gove (star of those Notting Hill dinner-parties) ironically shoots himself in the foot by the final apothegm on Pullman:
Like Milton's fallen angel, [he] ends up making the case for the divinity against whom he's in rebellion.
However, Gove's dig at Gore Vidal seems even more off-target: pretty well the entirety of Vidal, written and spoken, on the page or off-the-cuff, is self-confessed ludic irony:
... much of what I say and write tends to the ironic (without, however, the cute bracketing fingers) ...
The suggestion that Vidal would ever promise "to restore the virtues of the original American republic" is equally a gross exaggeration. Of which, doubtless, from Malcolm much more anon.

All that said, Gove deserves encouragement. In due course, he may, he should, (or, as Malcolm hopes) he will rise to lead his Party. He will be a more convincing, more cerebral, more sympathetic, less opportunist occupant of that role than the present incumbent.

More substance, less style.
Sphere: Related Content
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