Bit of a commotion.

Cole

Back in the 1980’s it was very important for musicians to look serious about their craft.  Otherwise they would be lumped in with Wham or Yazz.  The way to look like a serious musician was to have a portrait of yourself or band in black and white, staring into the distance.  Very cool, very artistic.

Lloyd Cole was born on this day in 1961.  He is probably best remembered for that Lost Weekend in a Hotel room in Amsterdam.  That’s how I remember him anyway, from those days in the college disco, throwing shapes in front of girls, mouthing the lyrics, staring into the distance, artistically.

Lost Weekend

 

Beginnings

IMG_20180130_083540791

Early morning and the day begins.

On the bank of the lake the daffodils strain their buds against the sepal, turgid with expectation. Spring begins.

In the school young minds are moulded and formed as children metamorphose.  Adulthood begins.

I too have beginnings to contend with.

A moment to reflect, a breath, and a beginning.

 

Serendipity

Serendip

In the year 1754, on this day, Horace Walpole invented the word Serendipity.  He was an art historian who discovered a lost painting.  In a letter to his friend Horace Mann he explained the fortunate discovery by reference to the fable of the 3 princes of Serendip.

Serendip is an old name for Sri Lanka.  The three princes in question had many adventures where they made good fortunes by figuring out things by good chance or through wisdom.  Some of the stories are a bit like Sherlock Homes stories where they use logic to figure out puzzles.

Serendipity is considered to be one of the most difficult words in the English language to translate.  It is a ‘fortunate and unplanned happy coincidence’.

I wish a serendipitous 2018 to anyone patient enough to read my scribbles.  Hope you enjoy them.

Now, since the word was written from one Horace to another we have to end with another Horace.  This time THE Horace, the Roman poet.  A poem on a similar theme.  Live in the now, let the future come and may it be serendipitous.

Ode I. 11: by Horace (Burton Raffel, Trans)

Leucon, no one’s allowed to know his fate,
not you, not me: don’t ask, don’t hunt for answers
in tea leaves or palms. Be patient with whatever comes.
This could be our last winter, it could be many
more, pounding the Tuscan Sea on these rocks:
Do what you must, be wise, cut your vines
and forget about hope. Time goes running, even
as we talk. Take the present, the future’s no one’s affair.

 

 

The one and only “Elmore James”

elmore-james

King of the Slide Guitar and a leading influence on the Delta Blues, Elmore James was born on this day in 1918.  He died the year I was born, aged only 45.

After leaving the US navy at the end of WW2 he worked in his brothers electrical shop.  While there he experimented with electrical equipment and built his own unique electric guitar in a hollow body acoustic and his playing was described as “violent” by George Adins.  James used the bottleneck slide technique, which in those days usually meant the bottle was attached to the neck!

If you cleaned up his recordings a bit to cut the crack and hiss this stuff sounds fresh today.

Scratch the surface of any later blues act such as John Mayall or the Rolling Stones and you will find the bones of Elmore James in there.

Shake your Moneymaker

Can womens clothes drive men mad?

Short answer: Sexy outfits get men interested but there is never an excuse for assault.

Beautiful naked person standing before you in the supermarket, clutching a large knife?

“Sexy fun time” is the wrong response here.

Slut

Misguided outfit choice by Missguided

Extract from article in Guardian newspaper by Dean Burnett:

Original Article

EXTRACT:  So, is it biologically possible for a typical man to be sufficiently aroused by the sight of woman that it overwhelms his restraint? To answer this, you need to look at exactly what’s going on in the brain when we experience arousal.

We’re still far from a thorough understanding, but current evidence suggests that arousal, or perhaps more accurately “desire”, has many cognitive components, beyond the basic physical characteristics. We observe something, our prefrontal cortex – via links to the more fundamental emotional and reward systems – analyses it and determines if it’s sexual in nature, and if so, if it is “sufficiently” sexual (eg we find some people sexy, but not others). If it is, our attention is directed towards it, and emotional and motivation processes are activated via our amygdala and anterior cingulate cortex respectively. It’s incredibly complex in detail, but the neurological systems that regulate arousal and desire do indeed have many potent effects via important regions throughout our brains.

One thing that could be said to support the notion that men are vulnerable to being sexually aroused by appearance, is evidence that suggests male arousal is far more visual in nature than female arousal. It does seem that the old stereotypes about men having less sophisticated sexual desires than women (men like porn, women like erotica etc) has some basis in fact. Some might argue that this is because males have evolved to “spread their seed” with whoever is available and desirable, whereas females, who do all the childrearing, evolved to look for more complex, enduring qualities in a partner, beyond just visual characteristics. Of course, this explanation relies on only one half of our species evolving to be monogamous (pair bonding, in scientific parlance). That seems … unlikely. Maybe the whole notion is just reverse engineered from modern stereotypes? Who can say.

There are more plausible explanations for this gender-asymmetry. Perhaps it’s due to the different sex-hormone makeup? Or maybe it’s a result of the fact that our sexual desires and the systems that support them develop along with the rest of our brain, so are influenced by the world around us. And in the world around us, the sexualised female form features so often in almost every medium that it’s essentially a type of punctuation. You could argue that the reason men have a stronger visual element to their sexual arousal is because we live in a world where sexy images for men to see are everywhere, whereas women have tended to need to be more creative, and the brain develops accordingly. Perhaps this is changing too, what with women now being regularly presented with marvels of sexy buff Chris’s (Hemsworth) on a regular basis.

And yes, I’ve decided that the collective noun for sexy Chris’s is a “marvel”, for obvious reasons.

So yes, it’s arguably easier for men to be aroused by a sexy appearance. But does that mean they can be provoked beyond self-control?

Not exactly, no. Sexual arousal may be a powerful thing, but the brain also has many processes that counter it. The orbitofrontal cortex, for example, is implicated in regulating/suppressing sexual behaviour. One of the more sophisticated neurological regions, it’s the part that says “this isn’t a good idea, don’t do it” when you’re aroused or excited by an opportunity, particularly a sexual one, which won’t have great long-term consequences.

The amygdala, mentioned earlier, also seems to play a role in determining appropriateness of arousal in context. Beautiful naked person standing before you in your bedroom? Sure, be aroused. Beautiful naked person standing before you in the supermarket, clutching a large knife? “Sexy fun time” is the wrong response here. And it’s the amygdala that’s believed to work this out.

However, it’s possible for these restraining systems to be compromised. Alcohol can hinder the higher, complex areas like the orbitofrontal cortex while leaving the more primitive urges governing arousal intact. And the amygdala does what it can, but can only work with the information available. If the situation is ambiguous, or uncertain, it may make the wrong call.

Does this mean that men who sexually harass/assault women for what they’re wearing are innocent after all?

No, of course not. A woman may choose to wear an alluring outfit, but it’s still the man’s choice to grope her without permission or invitation. If he’s too drunk to hold back, it was his choice to get that drunk. “I couldn’t help myself” is never an acceptable excuse for things like drink driving, and the same is true here.

Happy Birthday John Cooper Clarke

Dr. John

Amongst all the famous names of the punk rock era and often on stage with them was performance poet John Cooper Clarke, born this day in 1949.  Not as well remembered as the likes of the Sex Pistols, New Order, Elvis Costello or Siouxsie and the Banshees and yet I think his material has stood the better test of time.

He gives a unique, almost diary-esque, point in time view of the UK of the 1970’s.  His references below to the TUC, Kremlin, Whitehouse etc are reminders of the politics of the time.  Whitelaw I am inclined to believe is Gordon, the Scottish footballer.

The Daily Express is a middle market, middle class rag. Not the Times, it is just as trashy in content as the nipple flaunting tabloids with their page 3 girls. Cooper Clarke neatly uses it as a way to lampoon the status hungry readers who lack the class authenticity of the Working or Upper classes in the UK of the time.  A clear attack, for those of us who remember it, on Thatcher’s new middle class home owners with their British Gas shares and their Axminster rugs.

In 2013 Salford university awarded this home grown hero an honorary Doctorate.  His comment : “Now I’m a doctor, finally my dream of opening a cosmetic surgery business can become a reality.”

 

You Never See a Nipple in the Daily Express: by John Cooper Clarke

I’ve seen the poison letters of the horrible hacks
About the yellow peril and the reds and the blacks
And the TUC and its treacherous acts
Kremlin money – All right Jack
I’ve seen how democracy is under duress
But I’ve never seen a nipple in the Daily Express

I’ve seen the suede jack boot the verbal cosh
Whitehouse Whitelaw whitewash
Blood uptown where the vandals rule
Classroom mafia scandal school
They accuse – I confess
I’ve never seen a nipple in the Daily Express

Angry columns scream in pain
Love in vain domestic strain
Divorce disease it eats away
The family structure day by day
In the grim pursuit of happiness
I’ve never seen a nipple in the Daily Express

This paper’s boring mindless mean
Full of pornography the kind that’s clean
Where William Hickey meets Michael Caine
Again and again and again and again
I’ve seen millionaires on the DHSS
But I’ve never seen a nipple in the Daily Express

Ursula le Guin : Galactic Queen

lefthandbanner

Ursula le Guin was a great writer.  Not just a great sci-fi writer.  As she said herself, the focus of literature on realism as the epitome of literary excellence throws out many excellent babies with the bathwater.  Le Guin ascended to the heights of recognition in Sci-Fi circles at a time when the genre was entirely dominated by men.  She was a true pioneer of feminism both by achieving greatness for herself, and by representing heros in her work who were outside the white male paradigm.

We shall not see her like again.  RIP.

Maenads: by Ursula le Guin

Somewhere I read
that when they finally staggered off the mountain
into some strange town, past drunk,
hoarse, half naked, blear-eyed,
blood dried under broken nails
and across young thighs,
but still jeering and joking, still trying
to dance, lurching and yelling, but falling
dead asleep by the market stalls,
sprawled helpless, flat out, then
middle-aged women,
respectable housewives,
would come and stand nightlong in the agora
silent
together
as ewes and cows in the night fields,
guarding, watching them
as their mothers
watched over them.
And no man
dared
that fierce decorum.

Superbowl 1984

Mac

On this day in 1984 they held an annual football game in the USA called Superbowl XVIII.  Barry Manilow sang the national anthem.  Los Angeles Raiders defeated the Washington Redskins by 38 points to 9.  The next day nobody was talking about the game.  Nobody was talking about Barry Manilow.  Nobody was talking about the half time show, a salute to the superstars of the silver screen.

Everyone was talking about an ad that played during the game.  An ad that ran on that day only and never again.  An ad that became the stuff of legend.

Chiat/Day ad agency commissioned Ridley Scott to direct the slot.  He took inspiration from George Orwell’s novel 1984.  He depicted a controlled society in the future, similar to the dystopian vision of Orwell’s book.  Then a blonde girl in a white shirt and orange shorts throws a hammer through a very large screen.  We are then told that Apple is about to change the world.  And to be fair they did.  They launched the Apple Mackintosh, the first mouse driven GUI computer, the things we all use now.

Apple 1984 Superbowl Ad

Some said the “Big Brother” in the ad represented IBM.  Others suggested it represented Bill Gates.  Everyone wanted to know what exactly Apple was about to launch.  The ad was made before a working prototype was available so the product does not feature in the ad.  The important thing is that the ad, like all good ads followed the mousetrap analogy.  If you want the trap to work you have to leave room for the mouse.  A good ad has a certain amount of the unknown about it, the observer has to walk into the ad and try to figure out what is going on.

In this case the analogy is doubly profound because it launched a computer with a mouse.

Still considered the greatest every Superbowl ad the Apple Mac launch 1984 ad generated millions of dollars in publicity and was aired for free thousands of times in news and reviews shows.  It then went on to win multiple awards at the Cannes Lions, generating further publicity for Apple.

It took me 4 years post launch before I got my hands on an Apple Mac.  It was still fresh and new then.

The thing about martyrs

Kevin_Barry

Kevin Barry in his Belvedere Rugby Shirt

Born today in 1902 Kevin Barry was the most perfect of martyrs.  A smart lad, educated by the Jesuits in Belvedere College Dublin.  He played on a championship winning junior rugby cup winning team and also represented the school on the senior cup team.

He went on to study medicine in University College Dublin.  Aged only 18 he was involved in a shootout with British Soldiers and was the only member of his squad caught.  He refused to give up his comrades under torture.  He was tried, found guilty and hanged by the British like a common criminal.

For Sinn Féin (the IRA) the events could not have been orchestrated more favourably.  The British immediately found themselves on the losing side in a world-wide PR campaign.  In Ireland tempers were already high.  The hanging of Barry occurred in the same week when Terence MacSwiney, Lord Mayor of Cork, died on hunger strike.

The British had plenty of ammunition to fight a counter PR campaign but they failed miserably.  For instance the soldiers attacked by Barry’s squad were about the same age as Barry himself.  Barry was armed with dum-dum bullets, banned by Geneva convention.

Described as a “sensitive poet-intellectual” MacSwiney was presented to the world as a pacifist playwright intellectual forced by the brutal British to take up arms in defence of his rights.  Killed by a callous and cold-hearted monarchy.  Barry was presented as little more than a child, a young gentleman of great potential, beaten, tortured and hanged by violent beasts.  Who could not shed a tear?

Money flowed in from abroad for the cause.  The IRA guerilla campaign went into all out war and within a year the British Government found their position in Ireland untenable.  They went to the negotiating table.

The thing about martyrs is never to create them.  The British were slow to learn this lesson.  The execution of the 1916 leaders should have opened their eyes to the power of martyrs.  But the British were still creating martyrs in 1981 when 10 Provisional IRA prisoners died on hunger strike in the Maze prison in the Britain of Margaret Thatcher.  The leader of that strike, Bobby Sands, was elected to the Westminster parliament while on hunger strike.  The British Government suffered a dreadful loss of face and had to pass legislation to prevent nomination of prisoners for election to prevent a repeat incident.

The hunger strike is a very ancient tradition in Ireland and goes all the way back to pre-Christian Ireland and Celtic Hospitality laws.  It was compulsory for a host to feed a guest under his roof.  As a protest against injustice a subject might starve himself outside the hall of his lord.  Such an action usually led to resolution of a dispute because the lord could not bear the shame of a man starving himself on his doorstep.

The IRA began active use of the hunger strike in May 1917 to protest their status as political rather than criminal prisoners.  Under international pressure the hunger strikers were released.  Thomas Ashe was subsequently re-arrested and went back on hunger strike in Sept 1917.  The British Government initially ordered the forced feeding of fasting prisoners.  When Ashe choked to death during force feeding in 1917 his funeral became a major IRA recruitment drive.  The hunger strike as a modern weapon of non-violent resistance was born.

The world paid due attention and in India Mohandas Gandhi saw its potential.  As a form of non-violent protest it complied with the philosophy of satyagraha.  In 1929 Jatin Das died after 63 days on hunger strike.  On the same strike Bhagat Singh set a hunger strike record of 116 days and ended the strike when demanded concessions were granted.

Prison authorities have become more scientific about the force feeding of hunger striking prisoners.  As a result of direct stomach feeding via a Ryles tube Irom Sharmila was able to remain healthy despite 16 years refusal to ingest either food or water through her mouth.

One final thing about martyrs, they need to be special.  A good martyr every ten years or so serves as a beacon of defiance, bravery, resistance to oppression.  It serves as a rallying cry, a call to recruitment , an incentive for contributions to the cause.  In the middle east today Islamic groups create a handful of martyrs every month.  Too many martyrs for any individual martyr to stand out from the crowd.  Martyrdom is no longer special, it just become the norm and eventually it becomes meaningless.  A pointless death.  A waste of life.

 

Kevin Barry: Anonymous

In Mountjoy jail one Monday morning
High upon the gallows tree
Kevin Barry gave his young life
For the cause of liberty
But a lad of eighteen summers
Yet no one can deny
As he walked to death that morning
He proudly held his head on high

Just before he faced the hangman
In his dreary prison cell
British soldiers tortured Barry
Just because he would not tell
The names of his brave companions
And other things they wished to know
“Turn informer or we’ll kill you”
Kevin Barry answered, “no”

Calmly standing to attention
While he bade his last farewell
To his broken hearted mother
Whose grief no one can tell
For the cause he proudly cherished
This sad parting had to be
Then to death walked softly smiling
That old Ireland might be free

Another martyr for old Ireland
Another murder for the crown
Whose brutal laws may kill the Irish
But can’t keep their spirit down
Lads like Barry are no cowards
From the foe they will not fly
Lads like Barry will free Ireland
For her cause they’ll live and die

Jindyworobak Club

Drover

Sharing his birthday with Edgar Allan Poe is Australian poet Reginald Charles (Rex) Ingamells.  Originally he followed the trail of poets like Banjo Patterson and wrote the songs of the bush as experienced by the whites.  In the 1930’s he founded the Jindyworobak movement.  Although exclusively white artists, they made the first forays into recognition of indigenous Australian art and culture.

The absence of native Australian Aboriginal artists from the group has undermined its validity.  Some might say the current status of Aboriginal art owes much to the groundwork done by the Jindy club.  Who knows?

Shifting Camp: by Rex Ingamells

Glint of gumtrees in the dawn,
so million coloured: bush wind-borne
magpie-music, rising, falling;
and voices of the stockmen calling.

Bellowing of cattle: stamping,
impatient of the place of camping:
bark of dogs, and the crack-crack-crack
of stockwhips as we take the track.

Neighing of night-rested mounts…
This is a day that really counts:
a day to ride with a hundred head,
and a roll of canvas – that’s my bed.