Regime Change

The word dance done by politicians around the world not to want to change the regime in Libya (or for that matter any Muslim country currently undergoing upheavals this spring) because they do not want to give fuel to to al-Qaeda but nonetheless do want to support the democracy movement has its detractors. Not the least because who do they think they are fooling? No one. But if they can do what the Muslims who are rioting want it gives Muslims who hate the west fewer recruits to plants bombs and kill civilians in Western countries. Not that there seem to be any lack of volunteers.

If, of course, this is not the reason for siding with those who want to change the regimes while not stating we agree with them, then we are lead to ask what it might be? Perhaps the parlous financial state of most Western democracies precluding moves towards more war, or the possibility of present party incumbents gaining more unpopularity with their voters.

It is of course the old political game of supping with tyrants because it is good for business. One of the many things that proves expediency governs human thinking as it does with all children. I am one who would be happy to see democracy come to Arab countries and see in the present revolutions a decade of Internet access opening people’s minds – the way TV did for the British in the 50s and 60s.

There really is a world out there that doesn’t hate just offers possibilities. Take to it.

Copycats

Human beings are great copycats. As soon as we find a thing that works hundreds of us all bound to become experts or a part of it, suddenly placing it in any of a series of mythic feelings and suggestions which then become a part of the culture. We invent a car and before we know it its an extension of a man’s libido, its special if its new, its a reason to work and save, its a way to tell others how rich we are. Somehow one just knows though the paradigms are lost in history, we were the same when we invented the wheel making sure there were carts and carriages to send a message about status, when we domesticated the horse or the elephant and we put great store on colour and ‘blood stock’.

Then our children grow up with the status symbols firmly embedded in their heads and the new generation recalls the symbols they had as Christmas presents and how they make them feel in the general community and through it all some lone voice asks, is this really what we are about? Is this indicative of any depth of thought whatsoever? Expensive this or that?

And of course the answer is yes it is what society of largely about and no, it is not indicative of deep thought.

Why And Again Why

I read an horrific story on the Internet yesterday about a Libyan woman from one of the rebel held towns bursting into an hotel where journalists were questioning the regime, and revealing she had been gang raped by fifteen men. As Libyan security officials shouted in her face and bustled her out, I as did much of the world, watched the hasty, angled videos being taken by the journalists and read how some tried to stop them and one such was arrested and taken to the border and thrown out. How the woman calling for justice was taken away screaming she would be taken to jail.

Most of all I saw her face. I am not bigoted. This is not a cavil  against Arabs or Muslims, I am ware of the rapist tendencies in the men of the UK and all over the world, and especially of the ease with which they attack women in war. And I am given to wonder of this is really a sex drive they cannot control, or something much worse. That this is how men think they can suppress; that this is not about a quick ejaculation but the elation of dominance.

And I look. And I read. And I understand why many women think this kind of man should be wiped from the face of the Earth.

A Poem

A series of poems on the many loves of humanity is coming out later this year. This is love in old age:

 

Your eyes speak of my youth and my hand holds
Yours with that ease of emotion only
Years can grow; suppleness has changed to folds,
Wrinkles crease our nakedness, laughingly
The young would fun. What do they know? Your breasts
Suckled our children (and me once or twice),
And now our skins are thin, our love’s contests
Are tactile drawings of our minds, which slice
Into our hours, sending ripples of sex
Around the day – I kissed your body in
To my being so now it is the text
From which I read – for everything – loving.

Tenderness does not age, how then can we?
Look into my eyes, see your youth in me!

How To Write a Masterpiece

There seem to be two main ways to choose the subject matter to a work that will be considered a masterpiece. In the first you choose a huge subject filled with human suffering and triumph with a protagonist or main characters that many people may associate with even though they have no direct experience of what the characters are doing. Few of us have experience of the Napoleonic wars but we all know where Pierre is coming from in War and Peace, not all of us have been in prison but we identify with the trials of Jean Valjean’s life in Les Miserables. At a stretch we may even identify with Don Quixote’s attempt to get back to a halcyon period in human history.

The second way is more quixotic (literally) and produces a book that simply speaks to a nation in terms that become grounded in their culture.  The deep love inspired by readers over generations almost cements the work into the psyche of the nation. Pride and Prejudice for England, Moby Dick for America. Some critics argue this makes the book only a  ‘classic’, but to be a masterpiece it really needs to touch the universal.

In actual fact there are not many books that translate well enough to be universally adored but there are a few. Nearly all tragedies.

 

Stress And The Single Mind

I was feeling in need of doing something different today from the editing and home bound lifestyle that seems to rule my days so I went into the garden on a warm sunny afternoon and weeded around the roses. I have always known that doing something ‘physical’ if you spend most of your life using your brain, and doing something ‘brainful’ if you spend most of your time doing physical work, is like taking a holiday. As long as you do not overdo things.

But gardening is actually a pleasant if sometimes hard experience. The smell of earth on your hands, the refreshing of a beautiful flower, assisting its growth, tending and harmonising the ‘look’ to come in the later months of summer when the roses are in bloom, is extremely satisfying.

Of course if you are a professional gardener and doing this hours and hours a day then I am sure coming into a warm drink and editing your latest book on gardening would have the same effect. It is the difference that takes away the stress. Because stress builds up a little like toxins in the body, until one ‘feels’ out of sorts and to propel that feeling into something positive, like planting and weeding, is therapeutic on many levels.

At least that’s my excuse.

Underlying Management

I have often wondered about how one kind of evolved brain could hold so many contrary options about the same things given the same senses and facts. Why is one person’s brain socially minded and another not so. I think the underlying ways in which assumptions are laid down in human thinking is one of the reasons when crisis hits so many can be relied upon to become fascist.

Children are taught and there is no doubt at all that opinions can be taught because the assumptions they are formed upon are never questioned. It is also a matter of argument which strands of thought are taught, but not that we have set pathways in our brains. Meaning that once we are taught a certain response to an idea, that response remains a constant. It takes a lot of planning to alter the direction of a road once it had been built. People who think their ways out of their childhood teachings are few and far between and highly intelligent.

Then there are the responses that are natural to our animal behaviour, including the ones that say we are not animals. The need to be supreme in our own eyes, part of a set way of doing things, part of a community.

When you take all these together you begin to see why human beings congregate into nations and why nations vie with each other. You begin to understand why sports exist, why we need leaders and how easy it is to despise each other.

None of thee things are rational but they all have a rationale.

Income Taxes

Income tax started in the UK when the Government found itself fighting the French and needing the money to do it. Quite apart from holding in suspicion anything that is started because of war, and recognising the present society is far more sophisticated in its wlefare, policing and other areas than the society of of the 1800s, I do not actually like Income Tax as a system.

Firstly it views everyone as a working ‘taxpayer’ and links people to contributing to society or not. Everyone contributes this is a narrow view of participation.

Secondly it makes politicians lazy because they have a pool of money they can continually dip into without apology. It also makes personal income a political issue – not a good idea.

Thirdly  it produces the awful dichotomy between salary  and ‘take home pay’ and everyone trying to manipulate their ‘take home pay’ to get the highest possible.

Fourthly it means we do not tax consumption which would be the primary tax on a planet with finite resources if we had rational politicians.

I think a smaller income tax to fund police, hospitals and a few essentials services would be fine, but the bulk of it should be shifted to taxes on the things we buy. It is much fairer to tax people on what they consume than to consume people into the tax system.

 

Lovers’ Wars

It seems to me we choose our wars quite carefully but there are a series of ways in which they remind me of experiencing love-making:

The heat of battle attracts the young. They are full of the thinking that takes offence easily, stands beneath a flag, fights for a cause. They have the energy wars and sex need to be at their height.

It is the older with grey hairs who have seen it all before to whom the young go for their advice. It is always the older who govern the aims and objectives of wars these days, though in the past only those who could take to the battlefield commanded which meant leaders were far younger men than they are today.

No matter how well you plan or how enthusiastic you are, love and war never go quite the way you envisage it. They take on a life of their own as wrought with chance as emotion.

You will always be hurt.

It goes without saying both produce a good many unwanted children.

You can lose yourself utterly in both, almost transfigured into someone who is no longer thinking rationally but wholly immersed in something that has taken you over.

There is always the time when you come to.

And you will come  out of them with a host of stories and quite often a drinking problem.

The Moment Of Revolt

With the events in North Africa and Arabia unfolding, I am reminded of the Iranian Revolution in the late 1970s seemingly sparked by one event but all revolutions though the event itself seems furious and spontaneous, have deep roots.

Oppression is  defined by extremes – extremes of poverty, lack of power, lack of legal redress – but all oppression is a feeling as well as a knowledge for as every thinker can tell you no one can imprison your mind. Or as Gandhi once said they can kill my body but they will never have my obedience. And that’s the point – oppression is all about getting your obedience against your best interests and against your will. That takes time. Lifetimes.

We can look at the commencement of revolutions down through history and every historian will take you further back than the fact of the people on the streets. And these antecedents to the revolution proper are easy to trace – except for one thing. You need the right people to interpret for the populace their grievances and their future. No one starts a revolution merely to get rid of what is oppressing them, they start a revolution to have  the better life their oppressors forbid them.

You can put them down year after year, as they are doing in Saudi Arabia, but eventually they will find a voice, a leader, and then oppression haunts the mighty.

The Primrose

The Primrose (Primula veris or vulgaris) is an unassuming flower that suggests yellow in its petals buoyed up by a rosette of green, crinkly leaves, and grows in hedges and woods. There used to be right up to the First World War a Primrose Day in the UK in memory of Benjamin Disareli because this flower was his favourite.

Milton mentions it as ‘The rathe Primrose that forsaken dies,’ and it is of course my mother’s favourite Westcountry flower. She especially loves the ones that had to fight to grow in hedgerows as they had the longest stems and looked much nicer in our vases. It comes out in spring and continues to give flowers here until near Christmas – which makes it one of the most generous plants of all in the western hemisphere.

Of course today they have crossed it with Primula that have many heads and thick stems and a hundred other colours. These are more common in gardens especially the pseudo yellow one which looks like a daffodil it is so yellow. The beauty of the true primrose is it looks yellow next to the green or any other colour but alone its yellow is subtle.

I am not sure gardeners know much about subtlety.

 

The Art of TV Comedy

I was brought up on the second wave of black and white comedies to come over to the UK from America and thence the colour ones. Besides I Love Lucy which my mother thought hilarious (and some of the stuff Lucille did took a huge amount of practice and stage craft) I was a child of Rhoda, Happy Days, M.A.S.H, Mork and Mindy and many others.

The art of writing scenarios that make people laugh has been honed down in recent years to one funny line every three. Whilst this works for character’s like Blanche in Golden Girls or Woody in Cheers where the character can always be relied upon to deliver the funny line (think Chandler in Friends) the real skill of humour is to traverse a half hour with such hilarity you move in your seat, you almost cover your eyes at the ludicrous, nutty things going on with the characters you have come to enjoy living with.

It is hard enough to write to a formula but to build up to punch lines is a rare event in today’s comedies and the minute of outright laughter the audience engage in as Lucille comes on stage dressed as a clown, or with her hair ruined, has all but gone. Now the laughs must last as long as a few seconds for even the audience response is timed.

The greatest laughter of all is the comedian who comes on, says one line and has you rolling until you cry. They should bring them back.

Affirmation

It’s a strange business listening to my mother go over the same things time-and-time again in her illness. To ask the same questions during the day and across the weeks. I wonder what her mind is seeking and why her mind cannot retain the answers any more. This is not the repetition of teaching the young, when rote teaches. This is a brain seeking for things it knows. Searching whether there is truth in what it knows, every hour, every week.

Are these people really dead? Is that person really old? Is it really so long ago when . . .?

The abstractions of a mind in crisis looking for continual affirmation not for the good things in life but of all the negative things. She remembers the good things quite well but the negative things hurt, they well up and to stem the pain maybe she asks if it is really true. And should I lie she knows the truth anyway so what does she accomplish?

Perhaps these questions well-up in her because of her illness, that the anxiety rips though her and she focusses upon those sad moments that fuel the anxiety instead of fighting the anxiety with thoughts of the good moments, which she hasn’t the mental strength to do.

These are not the questions of the mother I have known all my life, nor her voice.

The Right To Life

I was chatting about the ‘abortion debate’ with a friend who told me about a woman whose baby was terminally ill and in pain in her womb and how her doctors refused to abort and how the baby died within a few hours of being born. It reminded me of the essay I had to write about saving the mother or the baby and at twenty coming down on the side of saving the mother on the basis that she might be able to bear a healthy child later.

Couldn’t the baby grow up to have a healthy baby? I was asked.

It has struck me very forcibly over the last days of thinking that the abortion debate is not about the rights of life, which we in any case disparage when we have occasion. The issue arises because of the far more intractably question, about how we love. Ethics arises because human beings have to respond to the world around them and each other. A huge amount of our responses fall short of any ethical quality whatsoever because we sacrifice ethics for money, but on this issue we put a value on life as we love it. The mother is known, a daughter, wife,lover sister. the baby is not yet known – a potential love.

Even so the tears are the same. Ethics can often make cowards of us.

Its All In A Name

I read part of a conversation about pseudonyms and writers. I know many writers in the past have used different names depending upon what they are writing. Some have had reason to mask from readers the fact that they are writing romance trashy novels as a woman whilst writing serious novels as men. And vice-versa for women writers. Sometimes the trash makes more money but makes them feel guilty.

But mainly the suggestion from publishers that writers use another name is purely to do with marketing. They don’t want to get their genres mixed up. Readers I have known are often genre specific and might never find their favoured authors other works, but most readers love to take a dip into another shelf, another world, see what else is being written. Its part of the enjoyment of reading. Where would we have been in Hugo had changed his name when writing political treatise? Or being  a journalist?

I am writing across several genres and to my mind a writer should be able to master many styles and show their readers they can master those styles. If their readers want to travel with them all to the good, if not that is the reader’s choice. I think writers who change their names are not achieving very much even when one of those names is Ed McBain.

The whole idea of having a name one writes with and another in real life is one of privacy. Its affectation in other places.

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