Saturday, October 30, 2010

Poetry, history and sarcasm - the Irish poets of the seventeenth century hated Cromwell, and with good reason. His policy was to exterminate them and destroy all their works. The bards and members of other learned professions were spokespersons for the class the Cromwellian planters were displacing, families such as those whose names are listed here. According to Frank O'Connor the Irish peasantry were better off under the planter landlords who appreciated their capacity for hard work. A common theme of the Gaelic poetry of this period of transition is the Bards' contempt for the landless peasantry as well as for the planters. But it was the same peasant class that kept their poems alive as the Irish language became a spoken language only, when the Catholic Gaels were barred from schools and universities. Educating Catholics became a punishable offense, but Gaelic literature remained alive in the "Hidden Ireland" described by Daniel Corkery, and among exiles in the Catholic nations of continental Europe.

(John Montague)

More power to you, Cromwell,
O king who crowned clodhoppers:
From your visit flowed peace,
The honey and cream of honour.

We pray the neither Kavanagh,
Nolan nor Kinsella.
Burke nor Rice, nor Roche,
Ever hold sod of their fathers.

And that only Cromwell preside,
That noble king of Clan Lout,
Who gave all to the flail wielders
And left the true heirs - nothing.

And may all in this house
Be even healthier and wealthier
A year from today; together
With all whom we like.

The Irish original, which I can't find, was the work of that old misery, Egan O'Rahilly (Aogán Ó Raithile), who was born too late to enjoy the privileges of the bardic order, and never stopped bemoaning his luck.

Friday, October 29, 2010

"None of them grasps that the main reason people don't put money aside for a pension is they don't have any spare. Even then the advice in these money columns would be: 'If your outgoings seem to revolve around food and housing, you could remove this expenditure from your budget by spending a few years living naked in the forest while your children are raised by wolves.'"
(Mark Steel)

Thursday, October 28, 2010

"Channel 4 has revealed that along with two other Cabinet ministers, George Osborne is avoiding paying tax. He pays accountants to find loopholes which help him dodge £1.6 million."
All in it together, eh? No wonder he's always smirking. (Pay up, George!)

More on Mick Hall's blog, where Cameron and Clegg's nice little earners are aired.

Meanwhile, back at the trough -
"UK boardroom pay leaps 55% in a year"

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

"No matter how you look at it, it's an embarrassing thing to do for a tenner when you're worth millions."
Cherie has denied the auction took place as a mere money-making scheme, her spokesman explaining that it was a philanthropic gesture.
"Cherie Blair was cross that people were selling Tony Blair's signature when you can get one free," the spokesman said.

Yes you can get one free, but not from Cherie Blair.
(Cherie Blair sells Tony Blair's autograph on eBay for £10)

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Europol Report: All Terrorists are Muslims…Except the 99.6% that Aren’t

via Arabist

Monday, October 25, 2010

Part of a poem by Nizar Qabbani, entitled-


O you in the atoms of whose cells
Feudalism hatches and nestles,
Of whom the very desert is ashamed
Even to call
When will you understand?
O oil prince
In your pleasure
Like a mop
Wallow in your sins
Yours is the petroleum
Squeeze it then
At the feet of your mistresses
The night-clubs of Paris
Have killed your magnanimity
So you sold Jerusalem
Sold God
Sold the ashes of your dead
As if the lances of Israel
Did not abort your sisters
And destroy our houses
And burn our Qur’ans
As if her flags were not hoisted
Over the shreds of your flag
As if all who were crucified
On trees in Jaffa
In Haifa
And Beersheba
Were not your kin.
Jerusalem sinks in its blood
While you are
A victim of your passion
You sleep
As if the tragedy
Is not part of your tragedy
When will you understand?
When will the human being wake up in your soul?

In spite of the efforts of TGIA the whole poem in English evades us, but this stands on its own for me.
In the course of his search TG found a poem by a young Palestinian named Tamim Barghouthi, called "In Jerusalem", which can be read here -
STS Bulletin no. 31

"As we control our borders and bring immigration to a manageable level, we will not impede you from attracting the best talent from around the world."


"Your supply of cheap and disposable labour is assured."
Charlie Brooker on Cleggspeak -
It's only a matter of time before the word "Clegg" enters the dictionary as a noun meaning "agonised, doe-eyed apologist". Or maybe it'll become a verb. Years from now, teachers will ask their pupils to stop "clegging on" about how the dog ate their homework and just bloody hand it in on time.
Next week: Clegg defends his decision to force the Chilean miners back underground, claims 2 Unlimited were better than the Beatles, and explains why the coalition's proposed oxygen-rationing scheme will usher in an age of peace and prosperity for all.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

I read in yesterday's paper that Brendan Gleeson is to make a film of Flann O'Brien's "At Swim-Two-Birds". Good luck with that, was my first thought.
Now having a look round the net for further information I learn that the project may be shelved because of the recession. Furthermore I learned that an Austrian version of the novel is in existence, made in 1997. My mind went into boggling overdrive. A reviewer declares that it's funny because it's so bad. Still, according to Frank O'Connor the city of Vienna bears the name of Finn MacCool (Wien=Fionn, allegedly), who makes an appearance in the book.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

“the economic crisis is the disaster the Conservatives have been praying for. The government’s programme of cuts looks like a classic example of disaster capitalism: using a crisis to re-shape the economy in the interests of business.” (George Monbiot)

No Shock Doctrine
On October 19, the French international TV channel France 24 ran a discussion of the strikes between four non-French observers. The Portuguese woman and the Indian man seemed to be trying, with moderate success, to understand what was going on. In contrast, the two Anglo-Americans (the Paris correspondent of Time magazine and Stephen Clarke, author of 1000 Years of Annoying the French) amused themselves demonstrating self-satisfied inability to understand the country they write about for a living.
Their quick and easy explanation: “The French are always going on strike for fun because they enjoy it.”
A little later in the program the moderator showed a brief interview with a lycée student who offered serious comments on pensions issue. Did that give pause to the Anglo-Saxons?
The response was instantaneous. How sad to see an 18-year-old thinking about pensions when he should be thinking about girls!
So whether they do it for fun, or whether they do it instead of having fun, the French are absurd to Anglo-Americans accustomed to telling the whole world what it should do.
(Diana Johnstone)
"It's one of the most difficult things I've ever had to do – to own up to pledging things I now feel I cannot deliver." (Ratfink Clegg on lying about university tuition fees). But surely not THE most difficult; that must have been posing as a Liberal for over eleven years.
So coalition leaders have used the absurd claim that the country is on the brink of bankruptcy to force through an array of sweeping changes, any one of which would normally be the focus of a prolonged political battle. It is a kind of political coup, and the result has been policymaking chaos, with a 16% cut in the BBC's budget imposed in the middle of the night and a Ministry of Defence deal that promises aircraft carriers without any actual planes.
It is women, families and the sick who, it turns out, will be picking up the bill for the bank-triggered meltdown, along with low-income teenagers and public sector workers in their millions – while Cameron and Osborne are hoping local councils will take the blame for their 30% cut, universities for the 40% bite taken out of higher education funding and local operators for the 20% cut in bus subsidies.
In reality, the ballooning of Britain's budget deficit mirrors the average deficit rise across the 33 most developed countries, from 1% of GDP in 2007 to 9% in 2009, as tax receipts slumped and dole payments mushroomed in the wake of the 2008 crisis.

(Seumas Milne)

Allez, France!
While searching for another poem by Hugh Magauran (Aodh MagShamhráin) I came across this dinky little piece by the Blind Carolan, and had to copy it -

He's a fool who gives over the liquor,
It softens the skinflint at once,
It urges the slow coach on quicker,
Gives spirit and brains to the dunce.

The man who is dumb as a rule
Discovers a great deal to say,
While he who is bashful since Yule
Will talk in an amorous way.

It's drink that uplifts the poltroon
To give battle in France and in Spain,
Now here is an end of my tune-
And fill me that bumper again!

He was fond of the 'water of life' according to this account. I once read that the tune of the national anthem of the United States is from a harp tune by Carolan, but have yet to find confirmation or refutation.
I'm now in search of the Irish original of the above.

Addendum, 23rd October: found it -

Is duine leamh do thréigfeadh an t-ól,
Bheir sé beós do dhuine gan chroidhe,
Eineach don té bhios cruaidh,
Meisneach is stuaim don daoí.

Bheir sé freagra don té bhios mall
An focal i n-am a rádh,
Is an té nár chorruigh a bhaill
ó Nodlaic do chainnt ar mhná.

Bheir sé meisneach don té bhíos fann
Go dtroideadh an Fhrainnc is an Spáinn,
' Nois os mian lion sgur de mo rann
Cuir agam an dram sin lán!

The English version is by an unknown hand.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

"Seventeen of the 35 chairmen or chief executives who signed yesterday's letter were among the businessmen who endorsed a similar round-robin before the May election backing Tory plans to reverse Labour's proposal to raise national insurance contributions by 1 per cent. Mr Osborne later cancelled it for employers but retained it for employees."

"Prominent Tory donors among business leaders who backed Osborne's cuts"

It's called 'quid pro quo', or as an old conman of my acquaintance used to say, "You've got to speculate to accumulate".

Monday, October 18, 2010

A Poem by Bertolt Brecht, about the workers' uprising in East Germany (GDR) in 1953. I thought I'd posted it before, but can't find it -


After the Uprising on June 17th
The secretary of the Authors' Union
Had leaflets distributed in the Stalinallee
Which said that the people
Had forfeited the government's confidence
And could only win it back
by recoubled labour. Wouldn't it
Be simpler in that case if the government
Dissolved the people and
Elected another?

(translation, Michael Hamburger)


Nach dem Aufstand des 17. Juni
Ließ der Sekretär des Schriftstellerverbands
In der Stalinallee Flugblätter verteilen
Auf denen zu lesen war, daß das Volk
Das Vertrauen der Regierung verscherzt habe
Und es nur durch verdoppelte Arbeit
Zurückerobern könne. Wäre es da
Nicht doch einfacher, die Regierung
Löste das Volk auf und
Wählte ein anderes?

Saturday, October 16, 2010

So Washington has vetoed Osbourne's defence spending cuts. They dictate our foreign policy, they order British troops into illegal wars, it makes sense that they decide the UK's defence expenditure allotment. Poor 'Smirks' hasn't got the hang of it yet. He must pray that Hillary and Petraeus haven't ordered Cameron to sack him.

Friday, October 15, 2010


The government and the press say we are in the grip of a debt crisis caused by the ‘bloated’ public sector. Here, Red Pepper debunks the myths used to push cuts to jobs and public services

MYTH: Government debt is the highest it’s ever been

The UK’s government debt is at around 70 per cent of GDP (the total amount of goods and services produced in one year). That is certainly high, but it is far from unprecedented.
Government debt never fell below 100 per cent of GDP between 1920 and 1960. It is only in the past decade or so that it has become normal to think of government debt being stable at around 40 per cent of GDP.
It is worth noting that government debt reached 250 per cent of GDP around the end of the second world war, as the result of a ‘once in a generation’ economic and political crisis. It is certainly arguable that we are now living through a similarly momentous crisis.

MYTH: The UK’s debt crisis is one of the worst in the world

Just as the current level of government debt is not unprecedented historically, neither is it substantially higher than that of other countries.
IMF data (IMF World Economic Outlook Database, April 2010) shows the UK has the lowest government debt as a proportion of GDP among the G7 countries (the US, Canada, Germany, Britain, Japan, Italy and France).
Much has been made by Cameron and Osborne of Gordon Brown’s ‘imprudent borrowing record’. They say that before the spending to stabilise the financial system, public debt was high.
But again, IMF comparisons of the level of public debt prior to 2007 showed the UK in a much better position than many comparable countries, such as France, Canada, the US and even Germany, the home of fiscal rectitude.

MYTH: Government debt is ‘unsustainable’

The sustainability of government debt is not just dictated by its size, but by its make up. We have already seen that government debt is at a comparable level to other similarly sized economies. Where the UK is in a much stronger position, however, is in the nature of its debt.
While countries such as Greece tend to owe money to external financiers, the vast majority of UK debt – about 70 to 80 per cent – is held within the country.
And the UK’s debt is not so short term. Countries such as Greece, Ireland and Portugal have average debt maturity rates of between six to eight years, but UK government debt stands out among international comparisons as being much longer term at well over 12 years on average.
This means that the UK has to ask the financial markets to refinance its debts much less frequently, making it less vulnerable to short-term speculative pressures and much more able to continue to finance its debts on a sustainable basis.

MYTH: The government shouldn’t get into debt, just as your own household shouldn’t

This overlooks the fact that, for the past 30 years, governments have positively encouraged households to get into debt.
In fact, it can be prudent for households to take on debt – particularly if they are borrowing to pay for something (a house or educational qualification) that might reasonably be expected to improve the household’s income and well being in the long run.
In just the same way it is often sensible for governments to take on debt to pay for investments (such as housing or transport infrastructure) that will make the economy work better and so pay for themselves over the longer term.
But the public economy is also different from the household economy. What might make sense for a household could, for the government, deepen a recession. When times are hard households tend to tighten their belts – reducing their spending and borrowing. But if everyone does this at the same time, the effect is counterproductive: total demand for goods and services falls, which makes it harder for businesses and individuals to generate an income, and everyone ends up worse off.
This is exactly what is happening now, which is why it is essential for the government to compensate for households’ reluctance to spend and invest.

MYTH: Public spending got ‘out of control’ under Labour

It is true that the Labour government gradually raised public spending in the early part of the decade, but it was from what were historically very low levels.
Levels of public spending are now about the same as they were in the early 1990s, at the time of the last economic crisis. This is because spending always rises during a recession as a result of welfare spending on unemployment.
In fact, levels of public spending as a proportion of GDP were much lower for most of the 2000s than they were than at any point since the 1960s.
Where Labour did spend more in the years after 2000, it was necessary to repair the visible effects of long-term under-investment. Who can forget schools and hospitals with buckets in the corner to catch the leaks, or grim city centre landscapes with crowds of homeless people sleeping rough?
Labour’s increased spending also addressed workforce shortages in schools and the NHS, where more staff were needed to raise educational standards and care for an ageing population.
Rather than cutting such spending, the crisis could be an opportunity to build the infrastructure of a more energy-efficient, green economy. That would prepare us for the longer-term structural barriers to growth presented by climate change and the depletion of natural resources.

MYTH: The UK has a big public sector compared to other countries

Public spending in the UK is lower as a proportion of the economy than in the likes of France, Italy, Austria and Belgium, as well as the Scandinavian countries (OECD World Factbook 2010).
And spending on core areas such as health and education remains comparable or low in relation to other OECD (broadly speaking, ‘rich’) countries.
For example, the UK spent just 8.4 per cent of its GDP on health in 2007, roughly half that spent in the United States (once the large private sector is taken into account) and well behind Germany, France and most other west European nations.
On education, the UK again spends less per pupil than most comparable OECD countries.
The UK is not profligate in public spending and does not have an oversized public sector compared to similar countries.

MYTH: Spending on the public sector is ‘crowding out’ private sector growth

It is argued that public spending comes at the expense of overall growth, because potential investment is being re-directed into taxation to fund an ‘unproductive’ public sector. But in fact investment in public infrastructure and services is essential to private sector productivity, and so is no less critical to future growth than private sector investment.
Furthermore, the UK is not a highly taxed economy. The OECD’s comparative figures on taxation as a proportion of overall economic output show the UK way down the list, only just above the average.
It is sometimes suggested that taxes hit the private sector in such a way as to discourage job growth. Again, though, the data shows the UK to have very low levels of taxation per job: far lower than the OECD average.
The second way in which the public sector might be said to be crowding out private sector growth is by taking workers it needs, but this would only really be the case where the labour market was operating close to full employment.
With the unemployment rate at about 8 per cent, this is clearly not the case. and in many areas of public provision – from child protection, to education and training, to care for the elderly – there is a pressing need for more, not fewer, public service workers.
Finally, some argue that public investment ‘crowds out’ private investment, because government borrowing pushes up interest rates and inflation. But there is no evidence that this is currently a problem – real interest rates are low, and the economy is still operating well below its potential output, which means there is lots of room for non-inflationary public sector expansion.
In fact, in current circumstances, public spending is more likely to stimulate private sector investment by maintaining levels of demand and preventing a deeper collapse of economic activity.

MYTH: Public sector workers are overpaid

It is true that very recently average wages in the public sector have moved marginally above those in the private sector. This is mainly because privatisation has pushed many low-paid jobs out to the private sector.
The trend is not that public sector wages have risen sharply, but that private sector wages have fallen – a characteristic of the economic crisis. If we take a longer view, since the 1990s average public sector pay has not seen significantly more growth than the public sector.
And when private sector wages are split up to consider different sector and occupational patterns, a rather different picture emerges. Wage rates differ widely, with the average pulled down by very low wage sectors such as distribution, retail and hospitality.
What the data shows, therefore, is not that public sector workers are overpaid, but that some private sector workers are severely underpaid.

MYTH: The financial crisis was caused by a lack of money in circulation

This one is true to some extent, but it requires careful explanation. The system of finance capitalism pursued in the UK and US since the 1970s has continuously recycled economic surpluses away from the poor toward the rich. In both countries, the share of economic output taken up by wages (as opposed to profit) has fallen, and inequality has risen. The very affluent have got wealthier, at the expense of the rest of the population. In 2007/08 the richest tenth of the population had more than 30 per cent of total income (‘Income Inequalities’,
In the post-war period, part of the role of the state was to redistribute economic surpluses to the wider population so that they could keep spending on goods and services. This was seen as so important precisely because large inequalities had been identified as one cause of the 1929 stock market crash and the subsequent depression.
For a while, the problem that rising inequality presented for growth was overcome by the use of credit and the super-exploitation of workers in the developing world, which allowed consumers to keep buying cheap products. This is one of the factors that fed the debt crisis.
So, yes, there is not enough money in circulation – but this is precisely because it has been captured by the super-rich.

MYTH: Cutting public spending will help us avoid economic disaster

A range of economists, from Larry Elliott of the Guardian to Nobel prize winning professors like Paul Krugman and Joseph Stiglitz, are warning that making cuts now raises the very real possibility of undermining the fragile economic recovery.
As every first year economics student knows, there are four main components of economic growth: (1) exports; (2) investment; (3) household spending; and (4) government spending.
Over the past two years, governments around the world have stepped in to bridge the gap in the first three by providing debt-financed public sector stimulus packages. There is precious little evidence that the private sector or households are ready or able to step up their activity to fill the gap, or that exports will increase in a world where our major trading partners are also reining in spending.
As such, any austerity programme may prematurely remove the foundations of the recovery and lead to a return to recession – a ‘double dip’. This would be disastrous, not just for growth, but in turn for tax receipts and the capacity of the state to reduce the deficit and government debt.
How will that help to stabilise the world economy? How will it deal with the frequent, persistent and cumulative financial crises that are endemic to it, or overcome the pressing resource and environmental constraints that are so clear for all to see?
The economic crisis was a golden opportunity to move toward a more economically, socially and environmentally sustainable national and international economic system. For a while all countries were so concerned about the whole system that there was at least a chance to overcome narrow self-interest and look toward a more co-operative and sustainable future.
We are about to squander a once-in-a-generation opportunity for progressive change – unless, that is, we organise and campaign for an alternative.

MYTH: There is no alternative to cuts

The beginnings of an alternative have already been discussed. For example, Unison’s alternative budget (‘We can afford a fairer society’, Unison Alternative Budget 2010) suggests that almost £4.7 billion could be raised each year from introducing a 50 per cent tax rate on incomes over £100,000.
About £5 billion could be raised every year from a tax on vacant housing; £25 billion a year could be raised by closing tax loopholes; and the IPPR think-tank has estimated that a ‘Robin Hood tax’ on financial transactions could raise another £20 billion a year (T Dolphin, Financial Sector Taxes, IPPR 2010).
All these taxation measures would be ‘progressive’ in the sense that they would divert wealth from the rich to the poor, in contrast to measures such as the government’s VAT increase, which hits the poor hardest.
In addition, some of these ideas might have behavioural advantages: they could work against destabilising speculative financial flows, or lead to fewer empty houses.
Similarly, we could look at spending that really should be cut. For example, while estimates of the true costs of replacing the Trident nuclear weapon system vary widely, they tend always to come in above £80 billion over 25 years.
Getting rid of the cost of the war in Afghanistan, massive consultancy fees on private finance deals and contractors’ profits in privatised public services would also make a difference.
We could also decide to manage the deficit and public spending in a long-term manner, targeting social issues such as inequality, under-investment in education and child poverty, and strongly regulating international financiers, banks, hedge funds and the like.
All of these are political choices.
We don’t have to live in a world where unemployment co-exists with a long-hours culture in which workers are so stressed that mental health problems are on the rise.
We don’t have to live in a world where bankers gamble millions across the world in elaborate financial casinos at the same time as 1.4 billion people live on less than $1.25 a day.
We don’t have to live in a world where there is no limit to how much of our collective economic output goes to the rich, yet others do not have enough to eat.
It is worth remembering that after the last crisis of this scale and significance, and with public debt something like three and a half times the size it is today, we established the NHS, created the welfare state, put in place comprehensive education and built a vast number of public housing estates.

History tells us that there is more than one way out of an economic crisis.
How to win friends and influence the BBC.
"... if any news stories critical of Israeli policy do surface there are hosts of media watch dog groups that monitor and pressure journalists and media outlets, and most important of which is HonestReporting. There are active pro-Israeli organizations that very effectively monitor (read harass) journalists and their editors and try to make sure that the coverage is objective, by which they mean is pro-Israel. There are even pressure groups to write campaigns and letters to editors and news outlets asking to boycott certain news agencies, demanding the stories to be changed or the reporter to be fired. This becomes so twisted, that the dearth of reporting, the absence of images, lack of analysis, the void of voices of describing the experience of Palestinians under occupation is so vast that the people has no idea that a military occupation is going on."

(via Angry Arab's Comment Section)

Thursday, October 14, 2010

here's a poem written a millenium ago, against war, and against the merchants of death who profit from war. It's the work of a monk named Eugenius Vulgaris -


O sorrowful and ancient days,
Where learned ye to make sepulchres?
Who taught you all the evil ways,
Wherein to wound men's souls in wars?

Woe to that sacrificial priest,
First craftsman of the blacksmith's forge,
Who saw strange shapes within his fire,
And hammered out illgotten swords.

Whoever fashioned first the first the bow,
And flight of arrows, swift, secure,
Launched anger on the air and made
The bitterness of death more sure.

Who tempered spearheads for their work,
He breathed upon the anvil death;
He hammered out the slender blade,
And from the body crushed the breath.

He gave to death a thrusting spear,
Who first drew up his battle-hosts.
Long since hath fared his vaunting soul
To dwell a ghost amid the ghosts.

English version by the poet and medievalist, Helen Waddell. I've tried to find the meaning of the title without success. Parhemiacum?

O tristia secla priora,
que vos docuere sepulcra
animisque parando nociva
belli fabricare pericla?

Heu quis prior ille piator
qui cusor in arte fabrina
variavit in igne figuras,
cudens gladii male formas?

Quis denique Martia primus
arcus volucresque sagittas
ignivit et edidit iras,
mortes stabilivit amaras?

Qui spicula cudit in usus,
conflavit in incude funus;
lamne tenuavit et ictus,
ventris vacuaret ut haustus.

Docuit quoque cuspide mortem
qui duxit in ordine martem;
amiserat et quia mentem
umbre tenuere tumentem

Change of subject; a fellow worker, a retired miner has commented on the media's reporting of the rescue of the Chilean miners. He used the word 'hypocrisy', and quoted a poem of Joe Corrie's from which I lift a snippet -

But a week today all will be forgotten,
And the Member of Parliament,
The coalowner,
The parson,
The Press,
And the public,
Will keep storing up their venom and their hatred,
For the next big miners' strike.
“Only the Single Transferable Vote in multi-member seats would abolish MPs’ meal tickets for life, and we will fight to amend this proposal to give people a real choice for a more significant change.” (Chris Huhne, pre-election Liberal Democrat, post-election Conservative)

Finally, the Liberal Democrats have the chance, in the committee of the whole House, to fight for STV.
Reader, they voted against.
What do the Liberal Democrats stand for now?

Anything that will maintain their illusion of power.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Andrew Marr, one of the BBC's eunuchs, has described bloggers as "socially inadequate, pimpled, single, slightly seedy, bald, cauliflower-nosed young men sitting in their mother's basements".
Somebody has rattled his cage.
I once heard heard Marr say on the television "In the eighties we all got rich." I knew then that he was a 22 carat prat.
In an article about the controller of BBC4 I read, "Klein, a Tory with a pierced ear and a German background, belies the image of the traditional BBC boss". So he's the only BBC boss with a pierced ear and a German background.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The UK Taxpayers' Alliance is in bed with the headbangers of the US Tea party.
The Tea Party is in bed with the racist English Defence League.
Ergo the Taxpayers' Alliance is in an alliance with the English Defence League (though they probably don't inhale).
Syllogism? Maybe I've missed something.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Safer a hostage of the Taliban than rescued by the Americans.
From our Foreign Secretary, "As soon as the Taliban got her she was doomed, so forget it." Well that was then, I believe he's got another version today.

When Cameron came out with the facts at a press conference he was standing in front of TWO Union flags. Are we doing the yankee thing now, the more flags the more patriotic? "How dare you call me a lying shit when I'm wrapped in the Union Jack?"

Addendum: my mistake, Hague's still saying "So what?"
(Alex Comfort)

All night I've heard the sea on Bunduff strand
like a cross child, or a dog shut out by a door.
Today the weed is piled, the children will find
the sky full of the last chips of the storm:
then from their holy hive upon the dunes
come out the gentle piebald nuns.

Every good morning I have seen them
never alone - drifting in grazing knots
over the sand, with Friesians of their own colour
or in full sail along the coastguards' road
planted on earth as though a gale fills them,
each one a walking miracle:
and out of each like a drizzle from a cloud
falls constantly the honeyless buzz of prayer

Their plumage, saint-designed to make them seem
elderly shadows of a living girl,
once plucked, like shag no more than skin and bone -
yet frames in each the sweet face of a doll,
in every mound of clothes a living girl.

I pass them walking. They in Irish voices
gravely with bowed heads take my greeting,
look kindly but not long
in case a man's eyes should pull out their souls
to dance like tinkers at the road's edge,
to dance like tinkers but in less attire.

But I know better than dance with another man's girl,
God is their lover, so I wish him well
and may he treat them as he should.
For that would be the meanest trick of truth
to find in age, for all that has been given
the solitary coffin-bed of Heaven
less tender than the dangerous beds of Earth.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

"From now on, we will be living in a new, officially approved, ethnocratic, theocratic, nationalistic and racist country. Anyone who thinks it doesn’t affect him is mistaken. There is a silent majority that is accepting this with worrying apathy, as if to say: 'I don’t care what country I live in.' Also anyone who thinks the world will continue to relate to Israel as a democracy after this law doesn’t understand what it is about. It’s another step that seriously harms Israel’s image."
(Gideon Levy)
I heard this for the first time today. I'd never heard of Sara Thomsen before this. It was played on a film on Russia Today about the media's reporting of the Iraq war, what Americans don't see that the rest of the world does.
I also learned that the coffins that carry fallen US service personnel home have been renamed "transfer tubes".

Friday, October 08, 2010

I've no time to copy out a poem of decent length and depth, so here's a one line poem from the Chinese -

I will lay down beneath the apple tree and be a soldier no more.

"Lay down", I'm guessing the translator was American. I bet it looks good written in Chinese characters.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Looking at the Guardian online I learn that today is National Poetry Day. Good timing on my part, though I'm of the opinion that if you have to impose a day of celebration for something on the populace the cause is already lost.
This one's by Robert Graves, who claimed that it's from the Welsh. I wish I could find the original, not that I would be able to read it -


May they stumble, stage by stage
On an endless Pilgrimage,
Dawn and dusk, mile after mile
At each and every step a stile;
At each and every step withal
May they catch their feet and fall;
At each and every fall they take
May a bone within them break,
And may the bone that breaks within
Not be for variations sake
Now rib, now thigh, now arm, now shin
but always, without fail, the NECK.

I do love a good cursing poem, "The Curse of Doneraile" is a good example, although literary folks might look down their noses at it. The curse was laid upon the town by a priest who had his watch stolen there. When the watch was recovered the curse was lifted, again in verse. A similar curse was laid by the poet Ian Duhig on the gouger who nicked his fountain pen.
I also like a dose of invective in verse, useful for expanding one's vocabulary of insults. Apollinaire's Cossacks' reply to the Ottoman Sultan is particularly scabrous -

Poisson pourri de Salonique
Long collier des sommeils affreux
D'yeux arrachés à coup de pique
Ta mère fit un pet foireux
Et tu naquis de sa colique

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Having spewed out the hate-filled verse of P. Larkin I feel the need gargle with the waters of the Pierian Spring. So I'll hazard another poetry season.
In part this decision comes from finding an old notebook of scribbled poems that took my fancy. It's been missing for a while but, searching for some old papers I promised someone, I chanced upon the dog-eared anthology. Some pages have been torn out as poems lost their appeal. Others are clipped out of magazines or photocopied. Nothing against long poems, just don't like copying them.
I'm surprised at how many are in Irish (with translation); Jemmy Hope's Celtic period.

So here goes with a short one of Kurt Vonnegut's. I do like 'em short -


Evolution knows exactly
what it is doing,
and why.
That's how come
we've got giraffes
and the clap.

(Keith Douglas)

He was a reprobate I grant
and always liquored till his money went.

His hair depended on a noose from
a Corona Veneris. His eyes dumb,

like prisoners in their cavernous slots, were
settled in attitudes of despair.

You who God bless you never sunk so low
censure and pray for him that he was so;

and with his failings you regret the verses
the fellow made, probably between curses,

probably in the extremesof moral decay,
but he wrote them in a sincere way:

and appears to have felt a refined pain
to which your virtue cannot attain.

Respect him. For this
He had an excellence which you miss.

Monday, October 04, 2010

Here's a couple of verses by that adopted son of Kingston upon Hull, Mr. Philip Larkin. For some reason they haven't yet made it into any collection of his works -

Prison for the strikers
Bring back the cat*
Kick out the niggers
What about that?
Chorus: niggers, niggers ...(ad nauseam)

Trade with the empire
Ban the obscene,
Lock up the commies -
God save the Queen!
Chorus: commies, commies ... (ad nauseam)

There's more of the same, privately circulated to those who appreciated such sentiments.
Not surprisingly Thatcher wanted to appoint Larkin Poet Laureate.
Somewhat surprisingly someone decided to celebrate Hull's connection to this crypto-fascist rather than disown him. This was done by dotting fibreglass models of toads about the place. I'm not sure how much public identification with Larkin was made by most of our citizens. The toads were very popular, especially with kids. Also with vandals, though no-one thought to paint swastikas on them.

*The cat was a whip used on men convicted of violent crimes, sentencing to which was an addition to prison sentences. I believe it was still in use in my lifetime.
The CamCleggCons have five years in which to -
Dismantle the welfare system
Complete the ongoing privatisation of the National Health Service
Carve up the BBC and hand over the juicy bits to Rupert Murdoch.

Can they do it?
Faites vos jeux, Messieurs, Dames.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Ms. Emma Thompson (lovely lady) has had a go at the way young people talk, something she calls 'slang'.
"Just don't do it ... because it makes you sound stupid ... We have to reinvest, I think, in the idea of articulacy as a form of personal human freedom and power."

I have to agree with the lady. Most 'snotnoses' (J.H. slang for the young) get on my wick when they come out with the same old tired words, 'wicked', 'minging'. 'Bling', like 'cool' is now an essential part of middle class vocabulary, and should be abandoned by any self respecting laicophone*. As the old Readers' Digest used to preach, it pays to increase your wordpower. My ten-year old granddaughter says "wicked", which, to me, means that the word is not slang but baby talk.
Ms. Thompson, it seems, is not referring in the main to slang , but to the inability of some to form a sentence without resorting to the the words 'like' and 'innit'. Robert McCrum seems to be alluding to this lazy terminology when he calls slang "sloppy language". Real slang is no such thing.
G.K. Chesterton claimed that all slang is metaphor and all metaphor is poetry. Far too sweeping a statement. Metaphor has part to play in slang but it's not the whole story.
I don't know when I became interested in the subject of unconventional language, but it must have been at an early age. I remember hearing the word 'palooka' in an American film, liking the sound, wondering what it meant, and how it came into being. I knew instinctively that it wasn't a regular dictionary word.
At school I was introduced to a slang, perhaps the proper term is cant, spoken by some of my schoolmates. It was language that nobody else spoke and for a long time I thought it the monopoly of my particular sub-culture (the poor kids of Hull). After school I found that some adults spoke it. Then, when serving queen and country I learned that it was known, with local variations, in other parts of Yorkshire.
Much of this nameless tongue was a debased version of Romany, words like -

Cushty - 'good' (or general approval)
Chavvy - 'child'
Nash - 'go' (in Romany meaning 'run away'?)
Kenner - 'house'
Peeve ken 'pub'.

Other words that may have been Romany were -
Musker - 'police officer'
Mingra - (same meaning)
Mang - 'speak, talk, say, tell'
Looer - money
Divvy - 'daft', not right in the head (sometimes "divvy in the mundy" [?])

Then there were other words, such as -
Bewer - woman (or girl, but not pre-puberty)
Scran - 'food'
gage - 'pint' (spelt gauge?)
Noggins - 'testicles' ("Kick him in the noggins!")

To this vocabulary, not universally recognised, therefore a true slang, I added other languages over time. Rhyming slang -
Jockeys' whips - 'chips'
Holy ghost - 'toast'
Joe Baksi - 'taxi'
Irish rose - 'nose'
Napper Tandy - 'brandy' (also 'Mahatma Gandhi')

Then there was the army slang, much of it not transferable to Civvy Street; fizzer, monkeys (MPs), jankers. In North Africa, some Arabic and Italian was added to the mix -
Shoofti - 'look' see'
Imshi - 'clear off!'
Floos - money (mafeesh floos, 'no money')
Bint - 'female' (all ages)
Quanta costa? - 'how much? (Italian, recte, quanto)
plus some strange lingua franca from round the Mediterranean and further afield -
Chico - 'child'
Mongheria - 'food'
Klefti-wallah - thief
Queenie-wallah - homosexual.

And many more sources to enrich my vocabulary and add to the unintelligibility for which I'm noted in some circles. This subject fascinates me, if no-one else, and shows that all slang is not stupid or sloppy. I may return to it sometime.

*A word have just coined, which may turn out to be meaningless. It's supposed to mean a speaker of true slang.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Some advice to Alberto Contador -
Go veggie.
(Thinks) I wonder if there is such a thing as a vegetarian road racing cyclist. Come to think of it, are there any vegetarian sportspersons?