Wednesday, March 31, 2010

A political bombshell

The Pert Young Piece (for new readers, that's Malcolm's youngest daughter) regaled the dinner table with the odd bit of "news". Her university mate, a young subaltern in the British Army, had volunteered for bomb disposal. A messy job, and potentially personally more so, but someone has to do it. Since she regards the mate as being high-strung and reckless anyway, she does not see bomb-disposal as his best career option.

That ties in, albeit approximately, with a thread running on (where Malcolm finds he has just qualified as a "Senior Member". This thread runs under the headline (note the exclamation point) of:
FF Senator suggests Brit army operate in 26 Co.'s !
Inevitably this was regarded by many comers as treason of the highest order.

It seemed, to say the least, a curious story. So Malcolm checked it out. He found, inevitably, it was not all that it seemed, or had been presented.

He went looking for the on-line Derry newspapers. He was unable to satisfy the hard-liners with any account in the Derry Journal, which seems to have missed this story. Across the Great Divide, in the Londonderry Sentinel, there was this:
Fianna Fáil senator Cecilia Keaveney made the call for cross-border co-operation between British and Irish army bomb disposal units following separate alerts in Letterkenny and Bridgend at the weekend.
That's after:
  • a potential car-bomb caused havoc on the border at Bridgend;
  • a device was found, and detonated in a Pearse Road, Letterkenny, "Head Shop".
Got that, patriots all?

Not the whole British Army (who are otherwise engaged, and a trifle over-stretched, at this juncture), just one technical detachment.

Not on a unilateral basis, either. Senator Keaveney expects two-way traffic.

Malcolm is sure either side could do it in plain overalls and send the bill, should that be the wish.

Since the Irish Defence Forces are likely to have been trained, in part or in whole, by their UK counterparts, and there is no copyright on knowledge in such a specialist trade, we can be reasonably asssured there would be adequate expertise on either side.

What stuck in Malcolm's craw was the pettiness and deceit of the original posting, and the froth and mendacity of the subsequent contributions (which had to include gratuitous sexism and much else).

Is he the only one who recalls the days when Irish fishermen had to be rescued by RAF helicopters and RN patrols? Isn't it grand the Irish forces can now repay the compliment, in some small part? On the other hand, for true patriots it would be an honour to be blown to blazes by a good guaranteed-republican IED!

Moreover, since the nearest (only?) base for the Irish Defence Forces bomb disposal team is Athlone (some 120 miles and 3½ hours away), Senator Keaveney of Donegal may have a point.
Sphere: Related Content

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Malcolm doesn't learn anything new ...

This evening Farce First Minister Peter Robinson is on the defence against accusations of sharp practice over land dealings:
According to an investigation by the BBC's Newsline programme, the land deal enabled the Robinsons to sell part of their back garden for nearly £460,000.

They sold the land for £5 to a different developer, allowing the deal for their garden to go through.

The DUP has accused the BBC of a smear campaign against Mr Robinson.
There will, of course, be the conventional denunciation by the DUP press office.

Only a few weeks back, the Belfast Telegraph was asking questions about ther better part of a quarter million involved a Robinson daughter. The Tele was on the receiving end of a similar response:

The DUP has reacted angrily to questions from this newspaper on the Dundonald property and other issues including planning-related lobbying by Mrs Robinson.

It claimed: “Belfast Telegraph Newspapers continues its despicable campaign against the First Minister. By lies, smears and innuendo it attempts to besmirch his name ..."

The DUP obviously has a bulk order with Tippex. Just change the name of the inquisitive party, and send.

Sphere: Related Content

Thursday, March 25, 2010

South of the border, down Muinchille way ...

Today's Irish Times property section must be provoking a collective drool:

The inside's not too bad, either:

And it's in a location to die for:

Plus a thousand acres from Cavan up into Monaghan Your own lake, river, woodland. Asking price: €7.5 million, at Knight Frank Ireland. And worth all of it.

For once Malcolm has no hesitation in a bit of unofficial advertising. Sphere: Related Content

Monday, March 22, 2010

Momento mori

It's one of those senior moments: the report of a death which ... doesn't seem quite timely.

The New York Times has a neat reflection, by Charles McGrath, on the death of Fess Parker:

If you grew up in the 1950s, then the character Davy Crockett, played by Fess Parker, who died at 85 late last week, is an essential part of your mental furniture. His ballad most likely still plays over and over in your head, especially the fourth line, with its odd Appalachian spelling and suggestion of folk tale strangeness: “Kilt him a b’ar when he was only 3.” Cosseted in your urban or suburban television room in Eisenhower America, how could you fail to be impressed by a feat like that?
It was, as Malcolm can testify, nearly as impressive in Eden/Macmillan East Anglia.

McGrath continues:
In truth, Davy Crockett was less the “king of the wild frontier,” as the song goes on to say, than the king of a merchandising juggernaut that convinced millions of children that they needed to own Davy Crockett pajamas and lunchboxes and coloring books and official Davy Crockett coonskin caps. We actually wore these little ratty-looking toupees with no irony or embarrassment at all.
For the Seattle Times, Dennis McLellan expands on this commercial epiphany:
TV's "King of the Wild Frontier" also touched off a merchandising frenzy: 10 million coonskin caps were sold, along with toy "Old Betsy" rifles, buckskin shirts, T-shirts, coloring books, guitars, bath towels, bedspreads, wallets — anything with the Crockett name attached.

Viewers also fell in love with the show's catchy theme song. Bill Hayes' version of "The Ballad of Davy Crockett" soared to No. 1 on the hit parade and remained there for 13 weeks.

"It was an explosion beyond anyone's comprehension," Mr. Parker recalled decades later. "The power of television, which was still new, was demonstrated for the first time."

Even Disney was taken by surprise.
Disney planned three Davy Crockett adventures, with the hero dying heroically at the Alamo as the conclusion of the third. Sticking with McLellan:
"We had no idea what was going to happen to Crockett, " [Disney] later said. "Why, by the time the first show finally got on the air, we were already shooting the third one and calmly killing Davy off at the Alamo. It became one of the biggest overnight hits in TV history, and there we were with just three films and a dead hero."
Crockett and McLellan (both names from Galloway, both among the Border reivers), Parker (the North of England), McGrath (Donegal and, as McGraw, the County Down) ... is there a pattern developing here?

The title of the NYT piece, by the way, is:
An Enemy of Raccoons but a Friend of Marketeers.
The death of innocence

Malcolm recalls a time when any Norfolk moggie or squirrel went in fear of imminent re-invention as pre-adolescent headgear. Television came late to our part of the world. Image-making pyjamas and lunchboxes were bourgeois steps too far, too grand, too alien for our comprehension. But wildlife and the neighbour's pet pussy ... that's what catapults were for. After that, and a bit of amateur taxidermy, you, too, could act out the last episode. With added verisimilitude and confidence, if all other heads were crowned with mere rabbit pelts.

The Walt Disney Corporation (which Carl Hiaasen, much later, properly nailed as Team Rodent) was already getting into commercial exploitation of the dream-factory, and thereby of the impressionable young to be separated from their limited loot. Disney apparently withheld Parker from more grown-up pictures, working with John Ford (Jeffrey Hunter's part in The Searchers) or Marilyn Monroe (Don Murray got that one), for fear of contaminating the brand.

And thereby hangs another tale

McGrath's delicious punchline is:
It seems entirely fitting that in later life, having come to the end of his acting career, Mr. Parker reinvented himself as a successful vintner. Once an idol of baby boomers, a model of coonskin fortitude, he now became for them a source of middle-aged balm and solace, making wine they could sip in the evening as the shadows lengthened. Davy would probably have abstained, but he lived in an America where people were nobler and firmer of purpose.
So, Ave atque Vale! Fess Elisha Parker.

We shall not see your like again. It doesn't sell in the 21st Century.
Sphere: Related Content

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Malcolm Redfellow learns something new every day ...

Sunday, 21st March, 2010: Malcolm learns to love the French

The BBC reports:
President Sarkozy's centre-right party has suffered a heavy defeat in the French regional elections, early projections of the voting suggest.

Exit polls suggest the Socialist-led opposition alliance took 54% of the vote with Mr Sarkozy's UMP on 36%.

If confirmed the results leave the UMP in control of only one of France's 22 regions, the Alsace region in the east.
Sarkozy had over 53% at the 2007 Presidential election: Ségolène Royal had less than 47%. That's a swing of 12% to the good.

Suddenly, Malcolm forgives yesterday's robbery at the Stade de France. Sphere: Related Content

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Malcolm Redfellow learns something new every day ...

Monday, 15th March, 2010: Malcolm rediscovers some roots
Anticipating a wait in the clinic, Malcolm intended to take with him a book. Nothing new there.

He went rooting in the attic stacks and found (to his small surprise, having forgotten he had either) not only D.George Boyce’s Nationalism in Ireland but also, alongside it, A.C.Hepburn’s anthology of documents on The Conflict of Nationality in Northern Ireland [out of print].

The coincidence of two books, vaguely relevant to each other, adjacently shelved, astounded Malcolm, so he had to rest for a moment to admire his own organisational efficiency.

He leafed through Hepburn, and found a prescient and durable abbreviated essay, lifted from Ralph Miliband’s (that’s the dad’s) Socialist Register for 1972. And here it is:
Anders Boserup: Contradictions and Struggles in Northern Ireland [1972]

As is nationalism elsewhere, Catholic Irish nationalism is a relatively recent phenomenon dating from the mid-nineteenth century and the period of the Gaelic revival. Like other nationalisms, it has sought to establish a continuity with a past which has been reinterpreted in romanticized terms. It thus incorporates an entire set of myths about the Irish struggle against English domination and the Protestant Ascendancy and about a pre-plantation Gaelic society of a communistic type -- all of them myths, the foundations of which in historical fact are as tenuous as those of the corresponding Protestant ones.

British domination is thus seen as the root of all the problems of Ireland. In the socialist ideology British domination becomes British imperialism. In this way everything fits nicely into place in what appears to be a consistent socialist theory. The severing of the links with the British oppressor becomes the precondition for socialism in Ireland. The Orange oligarchy in the North (as well as the Green Tories in the South) become the middlemen, the neo-colonialist agents of British imperialism, and the Unionist workers, lured by petty privileges, its helpless tools. Most important: the existence of the common enemy, British imperialism, fuses Catholics and Protestants into one 'people' in so far as their objective interests are concerned. National differences conveniently recede into the background ...

Theories which ultimately reduce to notions like these are held with only minor variations by such diverse groups as the Communist Party, the IRA and People's Democracy ...

… Few nationalist ideologies could have provided a more fertile soil for socialist ideas than did the Irish since the socialist and anti-imperialist struggles were so easily shown to be two aspects of the same thing. In fact, of course, the Catholic left did not 'take over' a nationalist ideology; it was born of it and grew up in it. Its own ideology remained a variant of it, with somewhat different priorities, certainly, but with the main concepts and beliefs unchanged. This fusion of nationalism and socialism is particularly marked in the writings of James Connolly in the first decades of this century. Piety towards him has been such that all socialist groups today claim to be his heirs, and no-one even begins to ask whether his demand for an all-Irish Socialist Republic is as valid today as it was in his time. Instead, he has become part of the myths and the dogmas -- a further 'proof', if any had been needed, that a Socialist Republic is a 32~county Republic as a matter of course …

* * *

If it is to engage effectively in the struggle against the Orange system the left must necessarily dissociate itself from 32-county nationalism and accept the existence of the Northern State. As long as the left does not do this but. more or less wholeheartedly, plays the tune of Catholic nationalism it is in fact shoring up that system by providing it with a badly needed scarecrow to frighten Protestant workers.

The affirmation that Northern Irish Protestants constitute a separate national entity with a right to refuse incorporation in the Republic is usually considered to be divisive of the working class and therefore anti-socialist. On the contrary I think that it is the stubborn affirmation of unity and solidarity where none exists and the extravagant claim of Irish Catholics to the whole island which is divisive. The Catholic left demands a 32-county Republic and tries to sweeten the pill for Protestants by affirming that this will be a socialist, and ipso facto a secular Republic. Protestants would be fools if they believed it. Socialism in Ireland is not for tomorrow, and, even if it were, deeply entrenched ideologies do not disappear overnight. The Catholic left, by its espousal of the demand for a united Ireland. has demonstrated that even those who claim to constitute the socialist vanguard are trapped in nationalist ideologies.

Ultimately it is to put the cart before the horse to demand a 32·county Republic and hope that it can then develop towards socialism…

The unity of Ireland will come after the feudal and colonial remnants in the North have been swept away and after the South has given up its demands. Then, to paraphrase Marx, after the separation there may come federation, but federation on the basis of equal rights for nations and international working-class solidarity. To start with an imposed unity is to betray the ideals of internationalism, socialism and democracy....

To conclude I submit that there is a need for a reorientation of the struggle of the Catholic left, by which it would leave aside the windmills of British imperialism and the wholly counter-productive demands for Irish reunification, and would concentrate on the real issue of today: crushing the Orange system; and doing this in a revolutionary, rather than a reformist way, exploiting the opportunities it gives for raising the revolutionary consciousness of the workers -- which simply means their understanding of their own objective situation. Both among Protestants and among Catholics it is widely assumed that the Protestant ascendancy and the Union with Britain are two sides of the same coin: that the interests of'colonialism and those of imperialism, those of Orange rule and those of Westminster and British capital are coincident. I have tried to show that on the contrary it is here that the principal contradiction is to be found. To develop correct insight and hence revolutionary consciousness among Irish workers the best strategy seems to be to expose and to sharpen the contradiction. For in so doing both Protestant and Catholic workers will be forced to revise their received notions. As this contradiction is brought out into the open they will have to align with one side and against the other, but they cannot continue to align (or to believe they align) with both as do the Protestants, or against both as do the Catholics. Thus, whatever realignments occur they will facilitate common action by workers on both sides of the fence. The most pernicious aspect of the current struggle against 'British imperialism' is precisely that it perpetuates the false identification of Union with Unionist rule which lies at the very core of those ideologies which divide the working class ...

[source: R. Miliband and J. Savile (eds.) The Socialist Register 1972, pp. 181-90]

Sphere: Related Content

Monday, March 15, 2010

Right ... out!

It seems that only yesterday (give or take the last month or three) we were being told that the Right were taking over in Europe. Frau Merkel had cleaned up in Germany. Sarközy was walking tall in France. The loathsome Berlusconi had nailed down Italy. Cameron was the coming-man in Britain.

The Left, everywhere, were on the defensive.

Suddenly, all is changed.
  • Angela Merkel had stated that she wanted her coalition to be judged on creating employment: at the turn of the year German unemployment was 3.43 million. Unemployment continues to rise, and the IMF reckon it could go to 5 million.
  • The IMF have a mission in Italy this week, doing the books. Meanwhile, the grossly-overdue review of the Italian tax system is still three or more years into the future.
  • All the opinion polls have David Cameron's Tories dead-in-the-water, and desperately hoping for a hung Parliament as their best hope.
Which leaves:
HE MAY have steeled himself for a poor result in the first round of French regional elections, held on Sunday March 14th. But the outcome for France’s president, Nicolas Sarkozy, must nonetheless have felt crushing. Polls had suggested that his ruling UMP party would be neck-and-neck at this point with the opposition Socialists. Instead, the Socialists bagged fully 30%, with the UMP trailing at 26%. At the second round vote next Sunday, Mr Sarkozy can now hope at best simply to hold on to Alsace and Corsica, the only two regions out of 22 in mainland France which the UMP governs. At worst, he might even lose both.
Ah, bless! Sphere: Related Content
Malcolm Redfellow learns something new every day ...

Monday, 15th March, 2010: Malcolm gets Frenched

It's Monday, so it's take-in-the-trash day, and bulk mailings pile through the letter-box.

This week's include The Traveller in France
, the French tourist office's semi-annual puff. Free, and worth every centime. Loads of pretty piccies, loaded with happy memories (Albi and its Toulouse-Lautrec museum; Fontevraud, an ad for Serre-Chevalier) and come-ons for places yet to be enjoyed. There are far worse ways to spent an odd hour.

The "something new", please, Malcolm ...

Does anyone outside l'Hexagone get French comedy films? The ones that export (Jacques Tati, most obviously) do so because they transcend language. Then there are the Jacques Demy '60s musicals: Les parapluies de Cherbourg and (a personal favourite) Les desmoiselles de Rochefort:

Ah, the Dorléac/Deneuve sisters: can an old man cope with such excess!

Malcolm, the point ... now!

Well, it's this, from Roger St. Pierre's piece, That's Funny, in The Traveller in
In humour, a common tongue does not always help. Bienvenue Chez les Ch'tis was a runaway 2008 box office smash in France -- claiming to be the fastest grossing movie of all time, in any language -- yet its humour was lost on most French-speaking Belgian and Swiss moviegoers, let alone French Canadians and the Francophone Cajuns of Louisiana ...

In France they laugh about the Belgians, and the perceived lazy peo
ple of the south, about allegedly tight-fisted Normans and Auvergnats and, especially, about the inhabitants of Northern France -- the Ch'tis -- whose accent they find almost unintelligible ...

The film opened in 793 French cinemas, sensationally grossing some $
31.67 million in its first week. Seen in its first 20 weeks of screening by more than 21 million people -- close on a third of the population -- it comfortably broke the record for a French language movie ...

Bienvenue Chez les Ch'tis however then went on to surpass Titanic as the most successful film ever in France.

We are then invited to visit Bergues (within an easy 45 minutes' drive of the Channel ports -- if Malcolm remembers correctly, that's all of six miles from Dunkirk), where the film was made. The town is one of those places, like so much of north-eastern France, knocked about a bit in 1940-1944.

Ummm ...

Until reading that, Malcolm had somehow missed the story in The Guardian, and had no awareness of
Bienvenue Chez les Ch'tis:
Bienvenue chez les Ch'tis, set in a small town near Dunkirk, has proved such a hit in its opening days that Hollywood has bought the rights to make its own version set in a US backwater. Despite viewers from Marseille and even Normandy admitting they can't follow parts of the Ch'timi dialogue - a mixture of the Picard dialect of early French with the odd bit of Flemish - ticket sales are predicted to reach 10m, rivalling the mega-budget Asterix at the Olympic Games. Extra prints will be distributed to new screens after Paris cinemas were full this weekend.

The film tells the story of Philippe Abrams, a post office manager from Provence in southern France who is relocated to Bergues, a small town in the north - a prospect that fills him with dread and panic. But the town's local postman, his overbearing mother and northern friends ultimately win him over, despite ordeals like the local ritual of dipping stinking cheese on toast into coffee.
He was even unaware that les Ch'tis existed. However, it might explain why Malcolm's French, learned so painfully at school, didn't work out in the Sticks.

Sphere: Related Content
Bash Baggott!

There's a small head of steam building over Matt Baggott, the in-coming Chief Constable for Northern Ireland.

Mark McGregor, on Slugger O'Toole, lays out his stall thus:
God is his co-pilot. Will he prevent a crash landing?

Seems our latest English Chief Constable, Matt Baggot, has decided on policing by easy sound-bite or completely lacks any understanding of dissenting republicanism.

Describing armed republicanism as ‘the same as street gangs in Brixton’ indicates serious naivety or a penchant for media spinning over addressing the situation he faces.

That's it. No more. No explication. Just light the green touch-paper and stand clear. Sure enough, the regular window-lickers piled in. Equally ill-informed. Equally careless of the detail.

Malcolm skims lightly, but contemptuously, over McGregor's inability even to spell correctly the name. McGregor's antipathies come down to these:

  1. McGregor believes deism is a disqualifier.
  2. McGregor is hardline Anglophobe.
  3. McGregor believes there are differentiations of violence. His thugs are tougher, more brutal, more motivated than any others.

On the contrary, Malcolm believes Baggott has it right: the "dissident" republicans, and their parallels among the Proddy hard men, are murder-gangs seeking to impose their authority on their petty parochial patches. "Useless" Eamonn McCann, in the Daily Mail of all places, is allowed, at some length (presumably because he is paid by the line) to polish the same McGregor turd:

The RIRA may be tiny (perhaps 200 members) and with marginal support even in alienated, Catholic working-class areas. But the gunning down of Cengiz Azimkar and Mark Quinsey at the gates of Massereene Barracks will have confirmed Chief Constable Hugh Orde’s assessment that they pose a military threat which has to be taken seriously.

The occasional, and pathetic attempt at a "spectacular" (last month's revisit of the Newry courthouse, for an example) owes more to the need to recruit fresh muscle than any serious political gesture.

So, Malcolm went on record:

Baggott is not an “English” policeman, per se. He is a good, professional copper. He proved himself in the front line: Brixton, Tooting and Peckham are where the lads come as well-tooled up and brutal as any of Derry's or Ballymena's local boyos. The Stephen Lawrence inquiry was no doddle, yet Baggott was one of the few officers to emerge with anything like a clean skin. His work in Leicester (now there’s a divided community!) won applause on all sides.

In itself policing NI should be no different from anywhere else in these islands. Agreed? Which is why the interchange of senior officers, across the North Channel and with the Garda, is a “good thing”.

Baggott, then, arrived with a very particular mandate: to bring policing to the people (for the first time since the RIC days), and slashing an over-inflated budget.

Quite how deism and Baggott's Sunday mornings affect the issue is beyond Malcolm.

Unless, of course, one is terminally blinded by prejudice.

Or has a very alternative agenda.

Sphere: Related Content

Saturday, March 13, 2010


This evening's BBC4 documentary on the history, decline and devastation of Detroit City was as good as it gets.

End of story. Sphere: Related Content

Friday, March 12, 2010

Malcolm Redfellow learns something new every day ...

Friday, 12th March, 2010: Malcolm makes a Scandinavian connection

Today the BBC web-site has this:
The burial pit (Copyright: Oxford Archaeology)
Archaeologists are trying to link the find to historical events

Weymouth ridgeway skeletons 'Scandinavian Vikings'

Fifty-one decapitated skeletons found in a burial pit in Dorset were those of Scandinavian Vikings, scientists say.

Mystery has surrounded the identity of the group since they were discovered at Ridgeway Hill, near Weymouth, in June.

Analysis of teeth from 10 of the men revealed they had grown up in countries with a colder climate than Britain's.

Archaeologists from Oxford believe the men were probably executed by local Anglo Saxons in front of an audience sometime between AD 910 and AD 1030.

The Anglo Saxons were increasingly falling victim to Viking raids and eventually the country was ruled by a Danish king.

The mass grave is one of the largest examples of executed foreigners buried in one spot.

Now that rings bells.

So Malcolm went back to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, which reported local skirmishes with Danish invaders in:
A.D. 837. This year Alderman Wulfherd fought at Hamton with thirty-three pirates, and after great slaughter obtained the victory, but he died the same year. Alderman Ethelhelm also, with the men of Dorsetshire, fought with the Danish army in Portland-isle, and for a good while put them to flight; but in the end the Danes became masters of the field, and slew the alderman.
A.D. 845. This year Alderman Eanwulf, with the men of Somersetshire, and Bishop Ealstan, and Alderman Osric, with the men of Dorsetshire, fought at the mouth of the Parret with the Danish army; and there, after making a great slaughter, obtained the victory.
Both those dates lie outside the predicted period in the story above. Then we have:
A.D. 982. In this year came up in Dorsetshire three ships of the pirates, and plundered in Portland. The same year London was burned.
A.D. 998. This year coasted the army back eastward into the mouth of the Frome, and went up everywhere, as widely as they would, into Dorsetshire. Often was an army collected against them; but, as soon as they were about to come together, then were they ever through something or other put to flight, and their enemies always in the end had the victory. Another time they lay in the Isle of Wight, and fed themselves meanwhile from Hampshire and Sussex.
and finally:
A.D. 1015. This year was the great council at Oxford; whereAlderman Edric betrayed Sigferth and Morcar, the eldest thanes belonging to the Seven Towns... At the same time came King Knute to Sandwich, and went soon all about Kent into Wessex, until he came to the mouth of the Frome; and then plundered in Dorset, and in Wiltshire, and in Somerset. King Ethelred, meanwhile, lay sick at Corsham...
Pick the bones out of that lot.

Sing a song of ...

At some point in there, we had the origin of London Bridge in falling down ...

Then another link came to Malcolm's mind.

When it came out in about 1972, Malcolm acquired a copy of Karl Dallas's book of folk songs, The Cruel War [out of print: ISBN-13: 9780723404934; ISBN: 0723404933]. It's still there on Malcolm's shelves, and (like so much of his library) he wouldn't part from it this side of the crematorium.

The Cruel War includes a song Ruth Tongue, in her The Chime Child [out-of-print SBN: 0710029675/ ISBN-13: 9780710029676], claimed to have collected in 1918:
I had just finished a Folk Song Recital in London, and made my way back to sink exhausted into my dressing-room chair, when there came a hearty bang on my door which opened, and an elderly sea captain came in. He was smart, grey-haired, scarlet-faced, and as full of enthusiasm as a young westerly gale -- and he had a ballad for me. His family had been Porlock folk right back to Drake's time and before, and they had treasured and kept strictly to themselves this ancient ballad. Now having listened to that evening's Somerset wealth, he had decided regardless of family traditions that it must be brought to the free air of a singing world and that I was the one to do it. Before the force of this Severn Gale, I found my weariness blown clean away, and was soon singing too. He had a tremendous voice and it hit like hammer-blows into my memory. He sailed tomorrow he said, so I must learn it then and now. I did, every verse, and sang it back to him. He gave me a delighted smile, a hearty farewell and a handshake that clamped my fingers for the rest of the evening, and went away, forgetting to leave his name.
There are all kinds of suspicions about Ms Tongue's "accuracy", and her anecdote here seems as bit ... fishy.

However, hers is a good story. The ballad is Three Danish Galleys:
Three galleys come sailing to Porlock Side,
And stole me away a new-wed bride,
Who left my true love lying dead on the shore,
Sailing out and away.
I never shall see my dear home no more.
What makes that even more curious is a reference, again from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle:
A.D. 918. This year came a great naval armament over hither south from the [Breton-based pirates]; and two earls with it, Ohter and Rhoald. They went then west about, till they entered the mouth of the Severn; and plundered in North-Wales everywhere by the sea, where it then suited them; ... but the men of Hertford met them, and of Gloucester, and of the nighest towns; and fought with them, and put them to flight; and they slew the Earl Rhoald, and the brother of Ohter the other earl, and many of the army. And they drove them into a park; and beset them there without, until they gave them hostages, that they would depart from the realm of King Edward. And the king had contrived that a guard should be set against them on the south side of Severnmouth; west from Wales, eastward to the mouth of the Avon; so that they durst nowhere seek that land on that side. Nevertheless, they eluded them at night, by stealing up twice; at one time to the east of Watchet, and at another time at Porlock. There was a great slaughter each time; so that few of them came away, except those only who swam out to the ships...
These things come back to haunt us. Sphere: Related Content

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Malcolm Redfellow learns something new every day ...

Wednesday, 10th March, 2010: life can go down the toilet

Yesterday was Barbie (39-18-33, and looking good as she reaches 50).

To carry the birthday theme forward, tod
ay marks the anniversary of the equally-surreal Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk.

So, happy 474th, Tommy!

This was the guy whom Elizabeth sent to the Tower in 1569, for attempting a marriage with Mary, Queen of Scots, and who was beheaded, 2nd June 1572, for the treasonous Ridolfi plot to put Mary on the English throne. Neither were good career moves; but religion and ambition are equally blind to reason.

Howard's Dad was the Earl of Surrey, the inventor of English blank verse (for his translations of the Aeneid). With his mate, William Wyatt, he translated Plutarch's sonnets and invented the English sonnet. Surrey, too, had an appointment with the axe-man, but was rescued by the overnight death of Henry VIII.

Phew! A close shave, that!

Howard's Mum was Frances de Vere, daughter of the 15th Earl of Oxford, which means she was aunt of Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl, and favourite among anti-Stratfordians to be the real "Shakespeare".

Today is also the anniversary of Caesar crossing the Rubicon.

Memo: to aspirant take-over artists:

Some you win (Julius Caesar).
Some you lose (Thomas Howard).

Or as
Sir John Harington (the DNB's preferred spelling), that eponymous inventor of the "John", had it in his Book of Epigrams:
Treason doth never prosper: what's the reason?
Why if it prosper, none dare call it treason.
Toilet humour

The "John" was devised at Wardour Castle, in Wiltshire. There was what the DNB article (over the name of Jason Scott-Warren) calls a convivial gathering, and most would recognise as a booze-up. Present were:
  • Harington,
  • the host Sir Matthew Arundell,
  • the Earl of Southampton (Henry Wriothesley, Shakespeare's pal and patron)
  • Wriothesley's sister, Mary (who married into the Arundell family, and whose daughter went on to become Lady Philpott -- so no laugh in that).
Out of this evening came a plan for a working flush toilet, which Harington published as a pamphlet entitled New Discourse of a Stale Subject, called the Metamorphosis of Ajax (1596).

The pun, of course, is on the word "jakes". In any case, Harington acquired the nickname "Ajax".

Harington was "saucy god-son" to Queen Elizabeth, and she soon had an ajax installed. Two centuries later, Harington's device would be improved by Joseph Bramah. The ball-cock was allegedly patented by Thomas Crapper (his sole contribution, apart from his name and a flair for advertising). Crapper's nephew, George, finally got the syphonic bog perfected and patented it in 1898.

Which only leaves the question: did Shakespeare have a coded reference to all this in the gloomy Jacques of As You Like It?
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Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Malcolm Redfellow learns something new every day ...

Tuesday, 9th March, 2010: did we really need to know that?

Today is the birthday of Barbara Millicent Roberts, born 9th March 1959.

She is better known as Barbie.

Today is also:

Baron Bliss Day in Belize. No connection with "Lord" Ashcroft of Sleaze.

The Day celebrates the death of Suffolk-man
Henry Edward Ernest Victor Bliss (who seemed to have created his title for himself. He made a fortune in oil shares, contracted polio, and set off for the Caribbean in a yacht. He found Honduras (now Belize) so suited to his health, he remained moored at Belize, never left his yacht, but on his death, 84 years ago today, left the people of Belize $2 million. This financed arts and culture.

Definitely no connection with "Lord" Ashcroft of Sleaze. Except for the dubious title. Sphere: Related Content

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Malcolm Redfellow learns something new every day ...

Sunday, 7th March, 2010: Don't stand too close ...
Llama spit is ejected at 9 metres per second.
Source: Eureka, The Times monthly supplement on Science, Life, The Planet.

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Saturday, March 6, 2010

Malcolm Redfellow learns something new every day ...

Sunday, 7th March, 2010: military intelligence

It is a well-known truism that the British War Office was always prepared to fight the last war. That needs a whit of modern updating, "... and the next spending review".

There are certainly quite a few retired brass-hats now able to assure the world that the military deficiencies shown up in the Irag campaign were all the fault of the Treasury.

It all goes with perfect 20/20 after-vision.

Now Malcolm is still recovering from the long effort of striving for the end of James Ellroy's Blood's a Rover. Perhaps labour worthy of a better cause. The effort was a month in the achieving, with delightful intermissions such as
  • Jasper fforde's Shades of Grey [get it in hard back for £8.49, rather than wait for the paperback at £7.99 in the late autumn], which owes something to Brave New World, to John Christopher's The Guardians, and to all those other dystopias;
  • Malcolm Pryce's From Aberystwyth With Love, the latest of his Louie Knight stories, in which West Wales becomes a hardboiled parallel universe.
So, what next?

Well, here by the bed is an unread, mint copy (Oxfam books at £4.99, and still over-priced) of The War Within, the fourth of Bob Woodward's investigative-journalist contemporary-histories of the Bush Administration.

That is where Malcolm found his insight for this "something new everyday". Here is Woodward's account of Colin Powell before the blue-ribbon Congressional Iraq Study Group:
Perhaps more than anyone in the administration, Powell had been the "closer" for the president's case for war. A month before the war, he appeared before the United Nations and the world to make the public case, displaying what he said were the "facts" proving that Iraq had threatening stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction (WMD). The 76-minute presentation had proven effective, too effective, with Powell displaying all his powers of persuasion.

Four years later, no WMD had been found, many saw the war as a catastrophe, and Powell's reputation was irretrievably linked to it, forever damaged. So the 10:30 A.M. meeting on this Friday was both a mission of accommodation and penance. He was going to have to confront the war and its aftermath for the rest of his life, and this was but another stop on the road to sort out his anguish.

As he entered the small conference room, Powell was greeted warmly by the members of the group. He gazed around the room. There must have been a jailbreak, he joked. The room erupted in laughter.

There was an obvious camaraderie between Powell and the group members, most of whom had dedicated much of their lives to building up American power and credibility, winning the last phase of the Cold War and shaping a world in which the United States was the only superpower. Now Iraq threatened to undermine all they had built.

[President GHW Bush's Secretary of State, James A.] Baker and [Chair of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Lee] Hamilton sat together at the head of a table, with Powell directly across from them. The other members lined the sides of the table, and staff sat along the wall.

Did Powell have something to say up front? Baker asked.

"I have no opening statement."

Okay, then why did we go into Iraq with so few troops? Baker asked.

It was an unusual starting point. The study group was supposed to focus on future remedies, not past troubles. But the question of troop levels seemed to be at the heart of the problem, and the relatively small invasion force of some 150,000 troops had contradicted Powell’s philosophy of warfare—namely to send a large, decisive force that would guarantee success. For the 1991 Gulf War—a far simpler military task of ejecting the Iraqi army from its occupation of Kuwait—Powell, then JCS chairman, had insisted on a force of 500,000.

Baker’s question sparked a monologue that went on for nearly 20 minutes.

"Colin just exploded at that point," Perry recalled later.

"He unloaded," [Bill Clinton's Chief of Staff] Leon Panetta added. "He was angry. He was mad as hell."

Powell cited pages 393 to 395 from American Soldier, the memoir of General Tommy Franks, who was in charge of Central Command at the time of the Iraq invasion. Quoting from memory, he noted that Franks had faithfully reported a call that Powell had made on September 5, 2002, six months before the invasion. "I've got problems with force size and support of that force, given the long lines of communications" and supplies, Powell had warned Franks.

"Colin Powell was the free world's leading diplomat. But he no longer wore Army green," Franks had written. "He'd earned his right to an opinion, but had relinquished responsibility for the conduct of military operations when he retired as the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in 1993.

"I picked up the Red Switch and spoke to Don Rumsfeld. 'I appreciate his call,' I said. 'But I wanted to tell him that the military has changed since he left.'"

Franks reported that "Rumsfeld chuckled," but wanted to make sure that Powell's doubts were aired. "I want him to get them on the table in front of the president and the NSC. Otherwise, we'll look like we're steamrolling," Franks quoted Rumsfeld as saying.

Again citing Franks's memoir, Powell noted that he had raised his concerns at an NSC meeting held at Camp David with the president two days later. According to Franks's account, "Soft-spoken and polite, ever the diplomat, he questioned the friendly-to-enemy force ratios, and made the point rather forcefully that the Coalition would have 'extremely long' supply lines."

Powell did not mention that two pages later, Franks wrote that he had outlined his war plan without objection. "Colin Powell didn't debate the brief I gave, and he didn't ask any more operational questions," Franks wrote, suggesting that Powell did not persist.

Powell acknowledged to the study group that he couldn't have predicted the insurgency or the chaos of post-invasion Iraq. But he did know that such a mission required plenty of troops. It was the Powell Doctrine: Go-in big. Go in to win.

Seven months before the war, Powell had asked for a private meeting with President Bush to layout what he felt were the consequences of an invasion of Iraq that the president and his team had failed to examine. Powell and his deputy, Richard Armitage, summed it up this way: "If you break it, you own it."

At the study group meeting, Panetta later recalled, Powell said he had warned the president. "I did make clear that once this happens, you're the one who is going to have to pick up the pieces and put it back together again. And it's not going to be easy to do." Or as he put it later: "We not only did not have enough troops to stabilize the country and act like an occupying force, we didn't want to act like an occupying force. But we were the occupying force. We were the government."

In the classic sense, Powell told the group, there had never been a "front" to this war. The insurgency had begun from behind.

After his recapitulation on force levels, Powell moved without pause to the lack of postwar planning. He said he was stunned that Rumsfeld, when asked publicly about rampant looting in Iraq, had said, "Stuff happens." At a Pentagon press conference three weeks after the invasion, Rumsfeld had said that freedom was "untidy" and the extensive looting was the result of "pent-up feelings" from decades of Saddam Hussein's oppression. Powell quoted the defense secretary's "stuff happens" with utter disdain, suggesting it was an absurd evaluation and an abdication of responsibility.

Throughout that spring of 2003, Powell said, he'd kept thinking to himself, "When are we going to get this together?" All the Pentagon would say was, "Chalabi is coming, Chalabi is coming," a reference to Ahmed Chalabi, the Iraqi exile with a checkered past who had long opposed Saddam Hussein. Chalabi had been the poster boy for a new democracy in Iraq, but Powell was dismissive.

"It was just Chalabi and 600 thugs," Powell said, noting that Chalabi failed to live up to the promise he'd made to the Pentagon to show up in Iraq with 10,000 men.

As secretary of state at the time of the invasion in 2003, Powell said he wasn't told about the decision to dissolve the Iraqi army until it happened. It was a monumental decision that disbanded the entire Iraqi army with the stroke of a pen, and its enactment was contrary to previous briefings that had been given to the president and to Powell. Nor was Powell told in advance about the sweeping de-Baathification order banning members of Saddam's Baath Party from many levels of government. It had effectively pulled the rug out from under the bureaucracy that made the country run, as many Iraqis had needed to be Baathists simply to get a job within Saddam's government.

Powell expressed astonishment that officials who lacked proper credentials had been sent to Iraq. He specifically mentioned Bernard Kerik, the troubled former New York City police commissioner, whom Bush had named to head the Iraqi national police and intelligence agency. "Bernie Kerik is in charge of police?" Powell asked, with a mixture of mock surprise and disgust. "Where did Bernie Kerik come from?"

Though he had been out of government for a year and a half, Powell's anger seemed fresh and raw. And now it had risen to the surface for them to see as he channeled years of accumulated resentments into his testimony.
Now, Malcolm reckons that teaches us a great deal:
  • Powell's Go-in big. Go in to win is conventional orthodoxy. It has been shown to be the most dependable strategy for most of military history and was Eisenhower's in North Africa and Normandy. One can assume it is the most basic rule taught at West Point. Yet, for the Iraq campaign and its lamentable aftermath, up to Bush's last-throw "surge", it was discounted.
  • If the supply lines were "extremely long" for the US logistical potential, they must be even more difficult for British forces, operating well out of their usual theatres. Did any UK military figure point this out to his political masters?
  • Not all the responsibility can be dumped on the Bush cronies. As Woodward comments (in connection with General George Casey being appointed to take over the Iraq command in May 2004):
The general attitude in the US military was "We can do this. Get out of our way. We'll take care of it. You guys stand over there."

This did not sell itself to Donald Rumsfeld. With such disconnection between the Pentagon and the Washington politicians, then, again, the British were further back in the queue.
  • If Powell, Secretary of State, was regularly by-passed on major decisions, we can reasonably assume that the British were equally kept out-of-the-loop. The whole of Woodward's book makes this clear by omission: Tony Blair achieves a single mention (pages 224-5): even Lawrence of Arabia gets two.
Throughout the book Woodward keeps coming back to what Powell says there, which is later defined as "the Pottery Barn rule": you break it, you own it. Deficiencies in US strategy, implementation and planning smashed the shop in Iraq (and, arguably, continue to do so in Aghanistan). Yet the opposition parties in Britain, and some political brass hats, seek to place the ownership of the breakages entirely on Blair and, now, Brown.

Surely something wrong?

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Malcolm Redfellow learns something new every day ...

Saturday, 6th March, 2010: improve your word power

Gerard Woodward reviews Waking Up in Toytown for the Times Literary Supplement:
John Burnside's second volume of memoirs, following closely behind his acclaimed A Lie About My Father (2006), begins by describing thje species of schizophrenia from which he has recently recovered: "When I was a full-scale lunatic I suffered from a condition called apophenia." First identified by Klaus Conrad, apophenia is characterized by the "unmotivated seeing of connections, coupled with the specific experience of an abnormal meaningfulness".
Now there's a term Malcolm seeks to find early cause to employ. Sphere: Related Content

Friday, March 5, 2010

Malcolm Redfellow learns something new every day ...

Friday, 5th March, 2010: The Ham & High is crap

Someone did well to get together an obituary - half a tabloid page - for Michael Foot, albeit a cut-and-paste job, from freely-available sources. This was an important local story: Foot lived and died in the patch, in a fine terraced house stuffed with books, books, and books, as the archetypal Hampstead intellectual.

Foot's morning dander, with the shaggy Dizzy leading, out of Pilgrim's Lane, past the children's playground, and onto the Heath was a feature of Hampstead life. As was finding him on the 24 bus, with senior citizen's pass, on the way to Parliament. Virtually a door-to-door service.

Then, twice in the obituary we read the same error:
In 1949 he married his sweetheart and faithful supporter Jill Craigie, with whom he had three children...

Mr Foot was predeceased by his wife Jill Craigie and is survived by his three children.
That must come as a surprise to the three imaginary children.

For the record, Jill Craigie had a daughter by her first marriage to Claude Begbie-Clench. While still married to her second husband, Jeffrey Dell, she and Foot had a ten-day stay in the Negresco, Nice, and Jill became pregnant . She had an abortion, and was unable to conceive thereafter.

When the Ham & High had Gerald Isaaman as editor, it was
the finest in the land, famously, the only "local" with a foreign policy.

Standards continue to slide.

Now it is little more than a resting place for Lib Dem hand-outs.

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Thursday, March 4, 2010

Malcolm Redfellow learns something new every day ...

Thursday, 4th March, 2010: The Word of God is Copyright

It was published in 1611, and four centuries on is still copyrighted.

A letter in the current issue of The Times Literary Supplement:
Bible copyright

Sir, -There has been some discussion recently in the TLS about copyright and the internet. On March 3, Cinnamon Press published my novel Livingstone's Funeral. In an early section, set c1880, an Anglican missionary to southern Africa is challenged by chiefs to prove the power of the new religion by making rain. He responds with a service which features a reading from 1 Kings 18, describing the confrontation between Elijah and the prophets of Baal. The passage is quoted from the Authorized Version.

It turns out to be very expensive to quote from the AV, in which the royal family holds a perpetual copyright. The Authorized Version was (in Joan Bridgman's words) "mostly cribbed" from William Tyndale's Bible of 1537. Tyndale was burnt at the stake for putting the Bible into the hands of any Englishmen who could read. An act of royal plagiarism, followed by an act of perpetual copyright. Is this what is meant by the title "Defender of the Faith"?

A minor consequence is that my novel is forced into anachronism, as my publishers use an alternative translation. Meanwhile, there are currently 300,000 internet sites from which the Authorized Version may be downloaded.

Quinta Terra da Vela, rua do Rigueirinho 19, Carapinheira, 2640-308 Mafra, Portugal.
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