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Friday, 27 February 2015

Games and Distractions

Mark Twain once wrote: "If voting made any difference they wouldn't let us do it," and I think, by and large, this is true, but not always. There is no doubt that in western societies the demographic is skewed towards the old, and since it is the old that vote the argument is they exert undue weight on government policy. Funny, I thought that was how democracy worked. 

It is in this context that some argue there should be a maximum age, beyond which you should not vote. In short, disenfranchise the old. One argument goes that just as you have a minimum voting age on the basis that children do not have the mental capacity to understand complex political arguments and might vote for the candidate offering free icecream, so to might the elderly, entering the second childhood, fail to understand the consequences of their vote. Mark Twain might have had something to say about that, too.

Others argue that this demographic enjoys considerable wealth, and are a drain in terms of pensions and welfare provision; this is at the expense of the young who face student debt, pressure to save for their own pensions, and the unliklihood of ever getting onto the housing market. 

This is a compelling argument --- as all arguments whose ultimate aim is to divide and rule---must be. Capitalist societies, and I suspect pre capitalist societies, have always employed this weapon. Redirect anger from ruling elites to another section of society. 

It may be the ground is being prepared for redistributing the wealth of the old to the young. I have only one problem with that.

I want to redistribute my little wealth to my children not society's children. The problem with the latter is that other people and paid bureaucracies decide how the money is best spent. And by 'other people' I mean the exclusive elites, who 'know' what is good for us, and demand iniquitous salaries as a God-given right.

Their other God-given right is tax avoidance. Lesser families might have their 'wealth' redistributed, but not them.

There are parents who scrimp and save, and strive to avoid the exorbitantly priced nursing home, for they know this may be the only way their children will inherit enough to buy a moderately priced flat. And then there are the extremely rich who will strive to avoid taxes to perpetuate dynasties. The unfairness there is transparent. The Establishment's more opaque.

It will be interesting to see whether a maximum voting age ever gains traction. Personally I think it is a divide and rule distraction rather than - for the moment - anything more serious. It would be a bit like Turkeys voting for Christmas.

Thursday, 19 February 2015

Nothing is True and everything is Possible

On February, Friday 13th the thoughtful commentator and journalist, Ben MacIntyre, wrote a piece in the Times extolling the virtues of a book: Nothing is True and Everything is Possible, by Peter Pomerantsev. He uses the book to highlight the flaws of the Putin regime. I'm in no position to defend the Putin regime. I'd simply be walking from one cultural airlock to another, but much of what MacIntyre writes has a haunting familiarity. To quote:

"...amidst the smoke and mirrors of disinformation and deception, Russians have been inducted into distorted reality in which the decadent West is plotting to destroy Holy Russia, and confusion, conspiracy and corruption are endemic.
Pomerantsev paints a surreal portrait of counterfeit democracy ruled by television, where all the trappings of freedom are present - elections, an opposition, a functioning judiciary, a free media - but little of the reality.
The regime itself adopts multiple disguises and shifting identities… a strange and effective concoction of propaganda, disinformation and entertainment. As one Russian television celebrity observes chillingly: "We all know there is no real politics…Politics has got to feel like a movie." MacIntyre sums up Putin's government as "a  regime in which propaganda reigns as truth"

And as I said at the start, reading the article brought to mind three words: pot, kettle, black. What are we supposed to do about the Russian disinformation bubble in which ordinary Russians live? Shake our fists and pull faces from our own disinformation bubbles? I'm conversant with American politics, the vast wealth of a few families and the power of corporative media, but I don't live there so lack sufficient knowledge to pontificate. (Though that rarely stops me) As William Blake wrote, "To to generalise is to be an idiot." I'm not too sure he's entirely right, but its a useful warning, and so I'll limit myself to saying Americans inhabit their own disinformation bubbles as we do ours. 

We don't use ugly words like 'regime' when we refer to our respective governents. Regime. It has such a negative feel to it. Lesser cultures are governed by 'regimes'. No, we have 'Establishments,' a far nicer word but with much the same flaws that MacIntyre criticises in Russia. 

We are more practised; our disinformation is all pervasive and shimmers with subtly but essentially our respective 'Establishments' play much the same game as Putin's Russia with its fake choice of electoral candidates from the same monied elite. 

When the Russian commentator said: "We all know there is no real politics…Politics has got to feel like a movie," it resonates here, a reason perhaps why the elites, in order to give themselves the trappings of legitimacy, are making noises about state funding of parties and compulsory voting. And, in the meantime, our respective media play much the same game as the Russian media in terms of managing news, highlighting 'the message' and deselecting anything more inconvenient. 

So over here, too, there are 'counterfeit democracies where propaganda reigns as truth. It may be the best we can manage in a complex and selfish world, and ultimately stability trumps everything as Syria, Libya and Iraq have found to their cost - and which China understands. Thing is just don't be hypocritical and look for the splinters in other people's eyes and ignoring the plank in our own.

Friday, 13 February 2015

The Yellow Menace

I heard on the radio people talking about daffodils. I was cleaning my teeth at the time so something may have been lost in the gurgle of tap-water and the spitting of foam, but they seemed to be saying that daffodils were not good to eat, in fact they were dangerous. I dried my mouth and tuned in. Who in God's creation ate daffodils?
No one apparently, unless by accident, and this was the point of the interview. Demands were being made on supermarkets to move daffodils well away from the vegetable and fruit section in case they were mistaken for spring onions, or asparagus or chives. Another step in the relentless infantilisation of our culture. I mean, there are first world problems, and first world problems. 

 Okay, this verges on the reckless. The Co-op in Monmouth has daffodils dangerously close to apples.

And of course there is no rhyme or reason for this. I haven't seen a single supermarket where Daffs have been segregated from their companion blooms, and suck by themselves in a vegetable rack. A flower section may be adjacent to fruit and veg, but it would have to be a noggin with an IQ of 14 to rummage amongs the roses and chrysanthumums, pick out a daffodil and mistake it for a spring onion. 

There is also no consistency in this.

A few days later in the Times there was an article on the edible Dahlia. Not the flowers, you understand, (they are reserved for the garnish, until the next interview on The Today programme warning us of the dangers or eating garnish). No, what is edible is the Dhalia tuber, a cross between celery, carrot and potato. Some apparently taste like asparagus. Can't wait.

But will I find them in the vegetable section or stuck with the flowers some distance away? And what about the edible flowers? I sampled them all as a very young paperboy - rose petals, marigolds, nasturtiums, geraniums - all picked at and nibbled as I walked down long drives. Some had a nice, peppery taste, though privet leaves were more problematic. They were bitter on the tongue and left your teeth green. But what I'm thinking now is: I should have been warned! Why did no one warn me against daffodils?

The Aztecs didn't have this problem. They apparently ate chocolate, chillies and Dahlia tubers like there was no tomorrow. (Well, there wasn't for them) Perhaps the conquistadors should have come bearing daffodils.

Thursday, 5 February 2015

There are fairies in my garden

 There are fairies at the bottom of my garden. Well, may be not. Then again why not? Monmouth seems to be the epicentre of witch-lights and fairies, though admittedly sightings have been down of late.

 Cusop is a small village adjacent to Hay on Wye. It has an ancient church, a castle mound, and apart from a few houses, that’s just about it. Except for the sightings.

In 1912 Mrs Leather wrote: "Fairies have been seen dancing under foxgloves in Cusop Dingle within the memory of some now living there." And witch-lights wherein the whole landscape has been lit up have been reported in the late C20th. 
                                          Cusop Dingle, courtesy of Tim Heaton Geography Project

 But it's the fairies that grab me, along with sightings well into 'modern times'. 

“A story used to be told of one little old fairy woman who was known to visit Monmouth Market with a basket to buy things. No one knew where she came from or where she went, although she was always watched very closely. Her eyes were white as was her hair, which was arranged in an old fashioned way.” This was reported in the South Wales Argus in 1936 though there is an earlier account in 1905. 

There are many accounts of fairies dancing. On the whole they preferred the dry, light ground beneath oak trees but they were not averse to barns. Rees John Rosser from Hendy in the Parish of Llanhilleth lay to rest in some hay after feeding is oxen. After a time he heard music coming from the barn and when he went to investigate a fairy woman gave him a tasseled cushion to sit upon and allowed him to watch the fairy dance. 

More usually they invited humans to dance with them, though their dances tended to go on… 

Edmund William Rees returned from such a dance only after a year had passed. He was lucky. Some never came back.

 In 1905 Beatrix A Wherry told of fairies dancing in Trellech. Two men were walking past a meadow called Pontcwm at Midnight and saw fairies dancing around a tree. They joined in the dance until, without warning, the fairies and one of the men vanished. The other man scouted around and found nothing. When he returned home he was accused of murdering his friend so he returned to the tree the following night. There was his friend, large as life, still dancing with fairies and not wanting to come back. At last he was persuaded to do so just to prove he hadn’t been killed - but just for one day, he said. The following night he vanished again and never came back.

 In Trellech the fairies came from underneath toadstools to dance at the Parkhurst rocks nearby, and drank water from harebell cups. This is one of their favourite dancing spots
                                                                    St Annes Well Trellech
When a farmer cut out the discoloured turf where the faires danced he found that he was the only one in the village who was unable to draw water from the well. When he restored the turf the fairies relented.

 There were also fairies sighted at Llanover near Abergavenny, Basseleg in Newport.  In fact there are so many reports this post would be as long as a fairy dance. The high-lighted links have some great pictures, though one of the links (you decide which one) suggests the author has been touched by the fairies.

In 1865 A girl from Penallt near Monmouth would go out every night through her bedroom window to dance with the fairies (at least that’s what she told her mother) 

In the late C19th one of Lady Llanover’s gardeners told of servant girls sweeping the floors clean every night and then strewing them with bread crumbs for the fairies before retiring to bed.

But God help you should you treat them unfairly. When John Rhys visited Llanover in 1885 he was told of the servant who left a cup of milk and some bread on the hearth every night for the fairies. One night he decided to play a trick and urinated in the milk. The following morning the cup was found across the room, its contents staining fabric and curtains. That night the servant was warned by the fairies that because he had wronged them, they would be revenged on him and his descendents. Henceforth to every generation would be born an idiot child. 
So be warned. Feed the fairies at your own discretion, but never urinate in the milk. 

For anyone who wants to read more, there is Alan Roderick's excellent book The Folklore of Gwent