Me Tarzan You Jane


Today is the birthday of Edgar Rice Burroughs who never saw himself as a literary man.

He said:  “if people were paid for writing rot such as I read in some of those magazines, that I could write stories just as rotten. As a matter of fact, although I had never written a story, I knew absolutely that I could write stories just as entertaining and probably a whole lot more so than any I chanced to read in those magazines

And so he did.  In the process he created the character of John Carter in the Barzoom novels and Tarzan of the Apes.  Tarzan has become one of the stock remake stalwarts of Hollywood and is re-created for every generation.  I grew up with the black and white Johnny Weissmuller movies and the 1960’s colour TV series starring Ron Ely.  I was in college when “Greystoke” was released in 1984 with Christopher Lambert in the lead role.  I brought my kids to the Disney version released in 1999.

The poem I chose for today is Helpline.  It is a bizarre journey beautifully rendered.  At first it will bring to mind the suffering of disaster victims and the heroism of the support service workers like those in Texas, Mumbai and Bangladesh today.

Then it segues into the pressure cooker environment of the modern day call center, environments described as the “dark satanic mills” of the 21st century.

Finally it resolves into the personal relationship of a daughter with her ageing lonely mother for whom her missing dog does seem like the end of the world.

Helpline; by Suzannah Evans

In the call centre at the end of the world
everyone is wearing the rags
of the clothes they came to work in two weeks ago.

From floor ten we count fires in the distance
the smoking remains of suburbs.

Tea breaks are strictly monitored
and the internet is still there
but we are getting tired of news.

We sleep where we’re comfortable –
stairwells, carpet, canteen chairs.

Lateness for shifts is not tolerated
although at this stage few of us
have homes to go to.
Demand for the service is high.

I don’t know why I’ve stayed so long in this job
when the world in which I could spend its ample wage
has disintegrated –
politicians in hiding
supermarkets forced open on burst streets

perhaps it’s because they all tell me
that my voice could be the last one they hear

perhaps it’s because almost every worried caller
reminds me of my worried mother

or because we talk about wallflowers,
the hunger, the smell of burned paint
reminisce about summer in the park.

Her dog went out two days ago and hasn’t come back
If I’d died he could have eaten me
she says
it sounds like a regret.

Happy Birthday Thom Gunn

Thom Gunn

I could write a lot about the biggest show in the USA down in Texas.  The American media should get an Oscar and a handful of Pulitzers for turning a storm into a thousand stories of human suffering.  They managed this disaster much better than Hurricane Katrina.  What you want is a low body count but powerful images of uprooted lives caused by homes being flooded or slabbed.  Plenty of affirming narratives of ordinary folk helping each other out, instead of those awful stories that were made up about the murders and rapes in the Louisiana Superdome.

Yes indeed cynic that I am I believe the US media organs learned good lessons about reporting from Louisiana.  At the same time we see a federal government that responded correctly, support without interference, Trump got this one right.

Also in the news Kim Jong Un just upped the ante by straddling Japan with a Missile.  That cannot sit.  Watch this space.

More importantly this is the birthday of a great poet.  He is the only person I have come across to date where cause of death was given as “Acute polysubstance abuse”.  Usually you just hear of “drug overdose”, but that’s for heavy metal rock stars, a poet demands something more…elegant, subtle, sophisticated?

Tamer and Hawk; by Thom Gunn

I thought I was so tough,
but gentled at your hands,
cannot be quick enough
to fly for you and show
that when I go I go
at your commands.

Even in flight above
I am no longer free:
You seeled me with your love,
I am blind to other birds—
the habit of your words
has hooded me.

As formerly, I wheel
I hover and I twist,
but only want the feel,
in my possessive thought,
Of catcher and of caught
upon your wrist.

You but half civilize,
taming me in this way.
through having only eyes
for you I fear to lose,
I lose to keep, and choose
tamer as prey.

The Crude Game


The greatest game in town today is the Crude Oil Game.  If you want excitement, look at what is happening with the price.

The world runs on oil.  If environmentalists tell you otherwise they are misinformed or delusional.  The price of oil determines the price of gas.  It also determines the price at which bio-ethanol becomes a viable fuel source.  So when the price of oil rises to a certain break-even point it affects the prices of bio-ethanol inputs, like Wheat, Soy and Maize.

Energy, Food and Water are the three most important components of human life.  In the modern world you need energy to produce food and water.  Oil to drive pumps to move and purify water, to irrigate crops.  Oil to power tractors and combine harvesters and spray systems.  Oil to power sewage treatment plants to prevent us all dying from cholera.  Food and Water depend heavily on Oil.

Yes, eventually we will be able to replace crude oil with sustainable energy sources, but only when those sustainable energy sources are cheaper than oil.

At present in Saudi Arabia it just takes someone to open a few taps, and the oil flows out of the ground, cheap and fast.  And that is what the Saudis are doing today.  But why?

The Saudis were instrumental in setting up OPEC in the 1960’s to wrest control of oil pricing away from the “Seven Sisters” oil conglomerates.  In the 1970’s OPEC flexed its muscles, cutting flow and strangling the west.  In response the price of oil skyrocketed.  Since then the price of oil has been artificially managed from Saudi Arabia through OPEC.

Not all OPEC members can simply open the taps.  Some nations need a higher oil price to make their marginal fields profitable.  They also need high oil export prices to balance their domestic budgets.  But over the years these higher oil prices have opened up the doors for non OPEC players.

There are now oil companies that specialize in re-opening wells that were considered to have run dry.  In fact the issue was that the flow rates were too marginal to turn a profit at low prices.  With high prices, and improved efficiency through better recovery technology, these wells are now profitable.

Oil reservoirs in more difficult to reach locations become more interesting to the market as the price rises.  We see more development of off-shore drilling, shale oil and tar sands.  There are vast reservoirs of oil in shale and tar sands, especially in North America and Canada.  In recent years production from these sources has increased dramatically.

Heavy oils have a different dynamic to light and sweet oils.  Texas and Saudi type light and sweet crude is low density and low sulphur.  It is under good pressure and has high flow rates.  You drill it, you cap it and you make money.  It is hard to find, but is literally a goldmine when you do find it.

Heavy shale oils have a dynamic more like coal mining.  Easy enough to find the stuff.  The difficulty is in turning a profit from production.  You need massive volumes and fantastic production efficiency to generate profit.

The USA has become Oil self-sufficient in recent years, by ramping up heavy oil production.  Now the Saudis have had enough.  They want to close down these “alternative” sources, and regain price control from the Americans.  So they have opened their taps and allowed a glut of oil.  Prices have fallen.

And now we are seeing a classic Texas Hold’em poker game.  On one side the Saudis.  They have a great hand and they can outplay the table.  They want to shake out the table and get rid of some of the producers.  Beside the Saudis are their erstwhile friends in OPEC, the marginal producers.  They are sweating, their cards are not so good.  Across the table are the heavy oil producers, like Continental, Husky, PetroCan.  If they can hold out just a little longer than the OPEC marginal producers they can keep their production facilities going.

Meanwhile, the lower oil prices are having positive benefits for energy hungry companies.  Airlines are having a field day.  Transport company profits are up.  Energy intensive industries are making supernormal profits on concrete, glass, aluminium, steel etc.  Anything that needs lots of heat, such as milk drying plants.

Sadly the consumers will see little of the benefit of the lower oil prices.  Businesses cannot plan long term production prices on the basis of what might be a short term oil price war.  Until we see stability don’t expect to see a large fall in the price of your heating oil and if you think electricity prices will fall, dream on.

Slane Girl and Texas Rose


Edward Armitage:  The Siren (Leeds Art Gallery)

A dreadful tale of woe broke in Ireland over the last few days. Pictures of a girl engaged in sexual acts with young men at the Eminem concert in Slane went viral. As the story matures you get the sense of it unfolding layer after layer like an onion.
As with anything that goes viral, you get imagery or happenstance with no back story. The photos from Slane were greeted with black and white reaction. Half the world celebrated her “freedom” of sexuality while the other half condemned her as a slut. How many even commented on the young men involved, other than to laugh and say “good man”?
The double standards we apply to men and women in such situations are really quite sickening. He is given a pat on the head for sowing his wild oats and she is vilified and disgraced.
But then the details of the back story begin to emerge. She reported a sexual assault to the police at the concert. So, maybe this was not all “free love” and promiscuity. Or did she make the report to cover her embarrassment? Another layer of the onion peels away.
She is admitted to hospital in a distressed state. She has to be sedated before they can even carry out tests. There are suggestions that her drink was tampered with at the event. Another layer of the onion peels away.
Suddenly the image of a gang of young males cavorting around the young girl in the photo takes on a far more sinister look.
The layers of the onion keep peeling. With every layer her life is ruined further. Only a small population saw the images before they were removed by internet service providers for breach of terms. But the bottom feeding frenzy continues to trawl up copies of the images and the story. The news media are all over it like a juicy bone. And as for Slane Girl, well she is just collateral damage.
What is very clear is that we continue to live in a society beset by double standards. Male chauvinism is alive and well and women remain largely confined to the role of sluts or “lovely girls”. We saw all the lovely girls doing their little party pieces down in Tralee. Congratulations all round to the Texas rose. A lovely girl. A nice clean and respectable girl that you might marry.
But in the western male dominated sexist society is there any real difference between Slane Girl and Texas Rose? The point here is that women are dangerous, unless they are under the control of men.
Our literature is replete with the tales of men who have been seduced and subsequently ruined by women. The Sirens on the rocks sang beautiful songs to lure sailors to their deaths. Queen Circe used magic to transform men into animals, and Odysseus was instructed by the gods to subdue her with force to bend her to his will. Only then was she safe to take to bed (for a year).
Look at the fascination we have with women like Sada Abe, Mata Hari, Wallace Simpson or Christine Keeler who lured men onto the rocks with their siren song of sexuality.
The Christian church began with a woman, Mary Magdalene, in a position of power. It did not take long to root out the women and turn it into a men’s only club, at least in the power positions. Men may rule the church, but women may only serve.
Look at what happened to “wise women” and women healers through history. They were labelled as witches and burned at the stake. Medicine is too profitable a business to allow any control to women.
Westerners frequently criticise oriental practices such as purdah and the Arabic attitudes to covering up women. What short memories we have. Western women are only recently freed from their own forms of “control” clothing. In many countries (Mediterranean especially) widows are expected to don black for the remainder of their lives as a means of desexualising an available woman. Here in Ireland it was expected that women would cover their heads with a hat, or scarf or shawl as recently as the 1970s, and it was insisted upon in church.
Some African societies employ the dreadful practice of female circumcision as a means of amputating the sexual power from the female.
Slane girl was controlled by capturing her image and posting it to the world. She immediately became labelled as a slut, and that is a powerful form of control. What hope does she ever have of rising to a power position without that little indiscretion coming out? She will have to bow her head and hide away below the radar for the rest of her life.
Texas rose of Tralee does not have to hide away. She can celebrate her celebrity. We men will allow her that, because it is a celebrity given to her by men, for being a lovely girl.
A free-thinking, mature, powerful, sexual female is the most frightening thing in the world for the average male chauvinist. The male fantasy of the nymphomaniac is in truth a nightmare.

Siren Song; by Margaret Attwood
This is the one song everyone
would like to learn: the song
that is irresistible:

the song that forces men
to leap overboard in squadrons
even though they see beached skulls

the song nobody knows
because anyone who had heard it
is dead, and the others can’t remember.
Shall I tell you the secret
and if I do, will you get me
out of this bird suit?
I don’t enjoy it here
squatting on this island
looking picturesque and mythical
with these two feathery maniacs,
I don’t enjoy singing
this trio, fatal and valuable.

I will tell the secret to you,
to you, only to you.
Come closer. This song

is a cry for help: Help me!
Only you, only you can,
you are unique

at last. Alas
it is a boring song
but it works every time.