Sunday, February 27, 2011

Continuing where I left off last time: I read that the mothers of America (and some fathers too I guess) are pressing schools more and more to withdraw books with bad language or sexual content. But should children's books be restricted in this way? The skirmishes evidently see concerned parents challenging books while other parents are fighting for the right of their children to go into their school library and pick up those very same books. The issue is being highlighted by the American Library Association during its Banned Books Week. 460 attempts to have a book withdrawn from a library or classroom were recorded in 2009. Part of the problem it would seem lies in the rise of young adult fiction that isn’t afraid to call a spade a spade.
More surprising to many people would be that established literary classics on the list of the 10 most challenged books include The Catcher in the Rye, The Color Purple and even To Kill A Mockingbird. But with most challenged books, the issue is usually sex or sexuality though in one school even Harry Potter was banned because of the magic. It would seem that American parents are not so much worried about the loss of innocence as they are about the overcoming of ignorance. For example one book was banned because it describes a girl figuring out how to put in a tampon. There's a disparity between the US and UK. While in the US, formal challenges to books in school libraries are routine, they are most unusual in the UK. It is said to be an exaggeration to refer to this as book banning. There is nothing preventing books from being written or sold, nothing to prevent parents from buying or children from reading it, but not in schools!
In the US one struggle has been played out in the small town of Stockton, Missouri, over Sherman Alexie's book “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.” The work has won a National Book Award, but the story of a 14-year-old Native American on a poverty-stricken reservation, touched by tragedy, upset many parents in Stockton after they learned it was being used in lessons in the school. The opposition to the book was led by lawyer and parent Mike Holzknecht. “The book is just chock full of vulgarity, profanity, obscenity and sexual explicitness involving minors,” he says. “People around here, where it's pretty rural and conservative, they will go a long way, but this book was so far over the edge. It doesn't belong in a school.” After a number of meetings spread over several months, the book's opponents succeeded. The school board voted to withdraw the book from the curriculum and the school library.
Mr. Holzknecht accepts the book is a "nice story" but can't accept the language or the sexual explicitness. He moved his family to Stockton because he felt it was a place with good, shared values. “This is a community with the type of values that are consistent with the way we like to raise our children.”
The fundamental split is between those who think teachers should be able to challenge and engage children with edgy books, and those who think only the parents should be allowed to do that. And of course the net result of a battle over a book, like Stockton's, is that more children end up reading the suddenly controversial work and the author sells more books. Even Mr. Holzknecht has to admit he's purchased three copies. (why three I wonder?) The school boards are fooling themselves thinking that if they ban the book the kids aren't going to get hold of them. To kids, contraband is cool and obviously a banned book needs to be read to find out why.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Is anyone these days familiar with “Lamb’s Tales from Shakespeare,” cleaned up bowdlerised story versions of the plays? Mind you, these aren’t the only cleaned up versions; there are editions of the actual plays that have had the rude bits cut out. I don’t know why anyone in this day and age would bother. These days Elizabethan saucy wit is pretty obscure unless it is something perfectly obvious like Malvolio’s letter reading speech in “Twelfth Night.”
‘By my life, this is my lady’s hand: these be her very C’s, her U’s, and her T’s; and thus makes she her great P’s.’ And if anybody doesn’t get that they either have to be extremely na├»ve or as thick as two planks and if the wooden O had had aisles it must have had the groundlings rolling in them. The fundamentalist university in Greenville, South Carolina, the Bob Jones University (most famous alumnus the Rev. Ian Paisley) produce a Shakespeare play every year and I believe every bit of sauce is religiously cut. Was “religious” the most appropriate word to use there? But acting in Shakespeare’s plays one can’t help but notice that if a bit of unexpurgated rudery does appear, it’s always the kids who seem to get it first. What started me off on this line of thought is that a new edition of Mark Twain's “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” is causing controversy because of the removal of a racially offensive word. The use of the word "nigger" had prompted many US schools to stop teaching the classic. In this edition, the offending word is replaced with “slave” and “injun” is changed to “Indian”. But evidently hundreds of people have complained about the edits.
The novel has often been criticised for its language and characterizations and it is reported to be the fourth most banned book in US schools. The "N-word" appears 219 times in the story.
"Trying to erase the word from our culture is profoundly, profoundly wrong," said Randall Kennedy, a Harvard Law School professor and Dr Sarah Churchwell, a lecturer on American literature, told the BBC that it made a mockery of the story. “It's about a boy growing up a racist in a racist society who learns to reject that racism, and it makes no sense if the book isn't racist.”
Twain himself was evidently very particular about his words and didn’t take kindly to editing. He is quoted as saying that “the difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter”. And when a printer made punctuation changes in “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court,” Twain wrote later that he had “given orders for the typesetter to be shot without giving him time to pray.”
The publisher of this new edition of “Huckleberry Finn,” New South Books, says dozens of people have telephoned to complain and hundreds have sent e-mails. The press has also weighed in to the debate, generally in defence of the original version. “What makes Huckleberry Finn so important in American literature isn't just the story, it's the richness, the detail, the unprecedented accuracy of its spoken language,” the New York Times said in an editorial. “There is no way to 'clean up' Twain without doing irreparable harm to the truth of his work.” In the UK, an editorial in The Times called the new edition “a well-intentioned act of cultural vandalism and obscurantism that constricts rather than expands the life of the mind.” The sanitised version is published in a joint reissue with “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer,” which also has the offensive epithets replaced. Oh, boy! The political correct brigade is once more triumphant. Mind you, as the controversy is not about religion but only about racism, I’m sure Bob Jones can carry on using the old version with a clear conscience.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Would you believe with all that money behind him and with all the wisdom of his sixteen years, young Justin Bieber has evidently taken it on himself to issue advice to his elders and betters? Do the words young whippersnapper or precocious brat spring to mind? As the son of a devout born again Christian mother the advice is of course quasi-religious and pseudo moralistic. Those born again can not only be a pain in the arse they can be highly dangerous. Look what happened to the world when George Bush gained the presidency, gave up the booze, accepted Christ as his saviour, said his prayers every day and marched boldly forth to war followed by his acolyte, Mr. Toady Blair, converted Roman Catholic. Young Mr. Bieber is not being a very good Christian if he’s hugging all that lovely lolly to himself. Someone might advise him that Christians should believe in charity and good works and so store up their goodies in heaven.
And I haven’t quite finished with money yet, not about the bankers any more but moving on to theatre. Evidently last year London’s West End broke all records with takings at the box office, a cool £512million and more. Despite the price of tickets, people obviously in the depression feel the need for some relief and the theatre can provide it. Musicals and children’s shows seem to have done the best though even opera and ballet were up in numbers and this despite the weather, volcanic ash cloud, and travel difficulties. But talking about the price of tickets, the sporting world, particularly football, can lay claims to unashamedly picking a pocket or two. The price of some tickets for the final at Wembley has been doubled to £176! On top of this there is also an administration fee of £26 so two tickets will cost a cool £404. As a sop to Cerberus a “youth package” is available, the cost for one adult and one child being a staggering £364! That works out at £182 a ticket. What with worldwide TV coverage and sponsorship from major corporations plus the price of tickets, plus expensive merchandise it’s little wonder that footballers can be paid such outrageous wages and Chelsea could afford to pay a transfer fee of £50million for Torres. Mind you, the Russian, Roman Abramovitch, Chelsea’s owner ain’t exactly short of a nickel or two. He has 22 bank accounts, shares, ocean going yachts, private planes and helicopters. His Chelsea club holding is valued at £402million, he has four homes in Russia, two in the US and three in France and in England he owns six flats and a house in Belgravia and is allegedly seeking permission to convert the flats into a mansion which will be worth £150million. What more could a young lad want? He’s only 44, a mere stripling. Next to Mr. Abramovitch, Justin’s millions are small change. But what about the multi-millionaires of the theatre? Andrew Lloyd Webber for starters and Sir Cameron Mackintosh for finishes to name but a half dozen. Cameron’s company owns seven West End theatres and its turnover last year was£31.2million and Cameron’s personal fortune is estimated as between three and six million pounds. Now here’s a funny story for those who like a good joke. When our musical “La Belle Otero” was submitted to the Mackintosh office, Cameron was heard to scream ‘No money! There’s no money!’
I doubt very much ‘La Belle Otero’ will ever see the light of day. Two new musicals are scheduled for the West End this year, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s ‘Wizard of Oz’ which opens in March and ‘Shrek. The Musical’ opening in May, as described in the paper, both of them likely to prove box office gold. And I am willing to bet you Cameron will still scream ‘No money! There’s no money!” if something comes along that, good as it may be, isn’t obviously a sure fire hit.

Monday, February 21, 2011

When, according to journalists, does a boy become a man? If a seventeen, eighteen, nineteen year old is a victim of some sort he is classed as a boy. If the boot is on the other foot and he is a perpetrator of some kind he has become a man. A nineteen year old man from Torbay has appeared in a Devon court accused of sex offences against two girls aged fourteen and fifteen. If the nineteen year old in his turn was to bring a case against a sexual predator I am quite sure he would be classed as a boy.
Still on the subject of money; and why not? A section of the world seems to be awash with the stuff while the rest exist at subsistence level or maybe don’t even exist at all. When I mentioned teenage pop stars fortunes in my last letter I was way too conservative. Sixteen year old Justin Bieber, after a singing career lasting all of two years, is reputedly worth £64million! The question I ask is one I have asked before; don’t these people ever pay taxes that they can accumulate their fortunes at such a rate?
According to David Cameron Labour’s economy was built on the worst deficit in the developed world, the riskiest bank lending, the most indebted households, the biggest housing boom and unsustainable levels which brings me to that old gripe – bank bonuses. What is the reason for them (apart from personal greed) and how can the banks afford them or even excuse them when they were in the deepest cesspit of all time such a short while ago and were baled out with billions of taxpayer’s money? It’s the same old excuse. “The chief executive of the Quango set up to monitor taxpayer investments in the state backed banks said bonuses are needed to ensure ‘top talent’ was retained.” Evidently the government is resigned to banks paying out billions of pounds in bonuses despite its call to curb the payments. The best they can hope for is that the banks will pay out less. Fat chance. The Royal Bank of Scotland will evidently pay out nearer £1billion while Barclays will pay £5 to £6billion. At a time when the incomes of most British people are being squeezed by low nominal pay rises and inflation and small business are crashing daily are bankers' bonuses really acceptable? A Labour MP and member of the Treasury Committee has criticised what he described as the government's lack of action over bonuses. Considering the mess Labour got the country into somehow I think this is a case of the pot calling the kettle black – oops, I’ve used that politically incorrect word! The UK government has pumped billions of pounds into the banking sector, and has bailed out both Royal Bank of Scotland and Lloyds Banking Group. As a result, many have argued that it should have a greater say in how much banks pay out in bonuses. However, the banks argue that they cannot dramatically reduce bonuses without the risk of losing top staff to banks based overseas, which are under less pressure to cut the payments. There it is, but as a comment on Google from a Keith Lewis in Hants says, “No bonuses should be paid until the banks have paid back the money put in by government. Losing these ‘top staff’ is a red herring as they put us in the mess in the first place. I doubt other countries will be falling over themselves to recruit them.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Linda La Plante was inducted into the “hall of fame” as part of the Crime Thriller Writer Awards and used the opportunity to lay about her into today’s big-shot publishers on the subject of chiclit as it is called and celebrity publishing. It would seem that today the way to hit the best-seller list, unless you are extremely lucky, is to have a name of sorts; be it politician, sportsman, X Factor participant, film star, model or celeb no matter how minor or obscure. So I presume if any of my work (thirteen published so far and more in the pipeline) had been published under the name of David Beckham or Wayne Rooney or Geoff Boycott or even a sportsman wife or girl friend, it would be up there in the top ten. As it is I see on Amazon for example that ‘Dead On Time’ in the popularity stakes comes in somewhere around the million and a half mark. It was evidently an impassioned tirade from Miss La Plante saying that publishers should stand up to the celebrities and cut the dross But the best seller list is dominated by memoirs and novels “written” by celebrities who are sometimes paid enormous advances, £1million is not unusual, and squeezing out genuine talent whose work might have some literary merit. The word “written” is in inverted commas because most of these books are not written by the supposed author anyway but are ghosted. And just who are these celebs who are making fashionable literary waves read by millions? I know I have been out of circulation some considerable time but in the article I read I wouldn’t know any of them, not from Adam as they are mostly female, but from Eve.
Martine McCutcheon has her debut novel published and when asked in an interview how she found the experience of writing replied, “Yeah, it were great!” Sharon Osbourne (who is she?), Coleen Nolan (who is she?) and Cheryl Cole are all bringing out novels. I recognise the last name because in my doctor’s waiting room there are various magazines like OK, and being the wife of a famous footballer who has been playing more than the football field, the trashy mags have been full of her divorce proceedings. Isn’t that sad? Then there is Kerry Katona, who the hell is Kerry Katona? The rot was evidently started by the model Naomi Campbell who admitted at the time that she hadn’t even read her own novel. Last Christmas the entire top tern for non-fiction was taken up by celebrity memoirs, all written by ghost writers. Now it looks as if the entire fiction list will be taken up by celebrity novels all written by ghosts. Well good on the ghosts, if they’ve cornered a lucrative market. I hope, I’m sure they are, making hay while the sun shines which still doesn’t solve the problem of where does the good writer fit into all this money making machine and brouhaha? Now I suppose I ought really to be just a wee bit jealous of all that unwarranted success but somehow I can’t find it in me to be so. I doubt in my entire life I have earned what an international footballer makes in a matter of months. Admittedly theirs is a very short life but I have been into all that before. It’s strange to think also of the teenage multi-millionaires in the pop world and in film: £12million, £14 million, £20million and counting, so much money that it is generating itself and here I sit wondering if the bills can be paid this month. Again I suppose I ought to feel just a twinge of envy but how many of these kids are going to find satisfaction in the future when they need never work again in their lives? So no, I don’t envy them. Sure it would be nice at my age not to have to scrimp and save and worry but what the hell, it’s been a long and very fulfilling life and more than that one cannot ask for.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Two interesting snippets of information that caught my eye in last week’s Athens News. ‘More than 2000 Orthodox Christian fundamentalists converged in Syntagma Square in central Athens on February 6 to protest the government plans to issue new electronic ID cards which, they say, includes the number 666, the “Number of the Beast” as described in the Book of Revelation (Shades of “The Omen”). The demonstrators were joined by a far right group!’ Of course, naturally, only to be expected, anything for the chance of a dust-up. I’m only surprised windows weren’t broken and a few cars vandalised or set on fire. That’ll show them.
‘All purchases over 1500 euros must be made using a credit card, a debit card or a personal cheque, according to new measures included in the new tax laws which will take effect as of April 1. The new law also provides that in cases of companies or professionals the measure will be effective for transactions above 3000 euros.’ The question I ask is, suppose you want to buy a car, minimum price about 9000 euro, and you do not have a credit or a debit card and the banks are no longer accepting cheques, what happens then? Greek banks have always been more than bit dubious about handling cheques. Such a thing as a personal chequebook is unknown. Presumably the bank might issue its own cheque on your behalf. I read that banks in the UK are now being just as stupid, expecting payments to be paid electronically. They never take into account there are those who simply might not have this facility.
Christopher’s cousin has sent us (well to him actually for his birthday) DVDs of ‘Sunday Night At The London Palladium’ so we’ve been having a rare old time watching those, going all the way back to the fifties and weren’t there some simply naff acts around including pop singers of the day? Adam Faith, Cliff Richard, pretty boys with charming personalities and simply no talent. Adam Faith had the most peculiar way of saying ‘baby.’ It came out as something like ‘boybai!’ Of course with Faith all the girls in the audience screamed themselves hoarse and with Richard all the elderly ladies creamed their knickers. He was to elderly ladies what Judy Garland was to gays. ‘This can’t be Kansas, Toto!’ Douglas wants to know what would have happened if Dorothy and friends had followed the red brick road instead of the yellow. Apart from the dancers and the singers and naff comedians whose jokes went down like lead balloons there were any number of what can only be called tumbling acts, two to five people doing unbelievable things with their own and other people’s bodies, especially the poor girls being thrown about like so many sacks of potatoes. What happened to all these acts when shows and venues like the Palladium were no more? Of course amongst the dross there were some real entertainers. Larry Grayson is still a hoot to watch and there was a marvellous evening during the Equity strike at the time when Bruce Forsyth and Norman Wisdom did the whole evening on their tod. That took real talent. One young pop artist who did impress was Allan Stewart who I see on the internet is still going strong. As a soloist he is fortunate enough to be able to perform at private functions.
And so to my news – my novel “Angel” that Douglass entered for the Commonwealth Literature Competition 2010 got absolutely nowhere, not even making it to the short list. I can’t say I am all that surprised. I have never in my entire life won anything from a competition and I see no reason why my luck should change at this late stage of the game. They say you can’t win ‘em all. With me it’s a case of you can’t win ‘em at all.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

David Cameron has now followed Mrs Merkel of Germany in stating that multi-culturism just hasn’t worked. He says one should recognise the difference between Islam and Islamist and treat the latter as it deserves. About time. Sharia law is beyond the pale. A fourteen year old girl under a fatwa in Bangladesh has died after having received eighty of a hundred lashes and the authorities have decided at last to do something about it and punish those responsible. But if the girl hadn’t died, and she wasn’t the first, would they have bothered? And even now will they carry though with the threatened punishment or is all hot air? The same as they have decided to do something about honour killings. What makes it even more terrible is there appears to be every reason to believe the girl was raped but under Sharia the victims of rape are evidently as culpable as the perpetrators and liable to punishment. Hundreds of years ago an animal subjected to bestiality was also considered guilty of sin and destroyed as was a machine that caused a death. Are there those still in the same thought mould in the twenty-first century? Well, yes, obviously there are, and the dear old Archbishop of Canterbury feels a touch of Sharia in the UK wouldn’t be amiss? Sometimes one wonders if the American Christian fundamentalists aren’t right; they don’t go in for barbaric punishment and death, just hope, believe and pray you go to hell!
The purported theory at the moment, even by some atheists and agnostics, seems to be that, despite all religions being man made, (did God really speak to Moses on the mount? Did the angel Gabriel really speak to Mohammad? Did Paul really have a revelation on the road to Damascus? Was Christ really the result of a virgin birth? Do tree spirits exist?) they are necessary for the binding of peoples and communities together and are therefore a good thing. The problem arises when someone believes implicitly that their religion is the one and only one and sets about proselytising or condemning those whose beliefs don’t match theirs. For example it’s not enough that we have Sunni versus Shia, we also have Sunni versus Sunni. (Nothing new there, Christians have been fighting Christians for centuries).A court in Pakistan has sentenced a Muslim prayer leader and his son to life in jail for blasphemy, a charge they obviously deny. Mohammad Shafi, and his 20-year-old son, Mohammad Aslam, had been running a grocery shop in a small market town in the Punjab. The complainant alleged that the pair had ripped down and trampled a poster of a gathering to mark the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad. It had been posted on a pillar outside their grocery shop. Their lawyer said they would launch an appeal against the sentence in the Lahore High Court, as he claimed the allegations had been motivated by sectarian differences. He said his clients followed the Deobandi school, while the complainant was from the Barelvi sect - both are Sunni Muslim branches of Islam.
A Christian leader said this was the first time a jail term had been handed down under the blasphemy law, which carries a mandatory death sentence. A Christian woman, Asia Bibi is on death row for allegedly insulting Islam. Critics say the blasphemy law has been used to persecute minority faiths in Pakistan and is exploited by people with personal grudges (a phenomenon well known under dictatorships). Barelvis have been in the forefront of a recent campaign against reforms to the blasphemy law. Pope Benedict XVI, who has led calls for the woman’s release, said this week the blasphemy law should be scrapped, provoking a backlash from protesters in the Punjab capital of Lahore.
Over Christmas Coptic churches in Egypt were attacked and now more than 1,000 Muslim protesters have stormed a courthouse and burned two churches in central Java, Indonesia. The attacks happened after a Christian man was sentenced to five years in jail for distributing leaflets deemed insulting to Islam. Indonesian police said the crowd considered the sentence too lenient and were demanding the death penalty. The incident came two days after Muslim villagers in western Java killed three members of a minority Islamic sect. And so on and so on and so on and so on.
If almighty God is as omnipotent as so many believe why doesn’t he just bang a few heads together? Knock some sense into them.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

In the Sunday Times Kultur section (thank you the Maffins for the new batch) AA Gill is bemoaning the fact that television is riddled with cookery programmes: “The specialist Good Food Channel must be furious that all the big terrestrial stations seem to be eating its breakfast. I haven’t added up how much television is spent in the kitchen but I bet it’s more than we spend actually eating each week.” There are not just cookery programmes but food related reality shows. He should come to Greece (except that he hates Greece having evidently at some time or other had a bad experience here) where you’re bound any night at any time to find at least one channel airing a cookery programme. Is it all Jamie’s fault do you suppose? Is it the reason for the growing problem of obesity in the western world?
I believe I mentioned once before that, no longer taking The Sunday Times, apart from Mr. AA Gill, I really miss India Knight and I more than likely said I had found a replacement in the writing of Jan Moir in The Daily Mail. Here is a recent section “The National Television Awards. Otherwise known as the graveyard of good taste, the place where bad frocks go to die. Every year it’s the same eye-watering spectacle; a parade of lovely and talented women clattering off the cliff of No-Hope like spangled lemmings in their stretch sateens and unsuitable shoes. It’s as if they’re gripped by a collective annual madness; knocking each other down in a hormonal stampede for the gaudiest fabrics in the most unflattering shades, run up into ill-fitting designs by a blindfolded Catweazle moonlighting as a machinist in the Coronation Street knicker factory.” Don’t you just love it? She goes on to name names and give examples and then continues with, “And if this isn’t bad enough can I just have a quick word with all our adorable pregnant red carpet stars. Holly Willoughby, Myleene Klass, Emma Bunton -please stop posing with a hand on your stomach and an expression that says ‘Whoopsie! Look what I’ve gone and done. You all look as if you’re auditioning for a part in Carry On Up The Duff.
It’s reductive and appalling. Not to mention really really annoying.”
The lady should really really have a one woman comedy show. If she could perform as she writes she would go down a treat. Maybe she, together with India and AA, could write a comedy routine that would knock their socks off and simply wow them in the aisles.
What more can I say?
Jan Moir

Friday, February 11, 2011

Eskom, the South African electricity company has evidently put out a notice - Eskom would like to remind its customers that it is no longer politically correct to refer to power failures as “black outs.” Reference must now be made to “previously lit” areas. Ben Herman from New York uses the word “outage” a horrid hybrid word like “insightful” but certainly an advance on “previously lit.” But what about when the electricity is restored? Is that an “inage?” Obviously the word black should no longer be used in the English language at all though all attempts at euphemisms have failed. All right, maybe black was once a derogatory term but is it any longer and is it really such a sensitive issue these days that anything black has to be renamed? Sure there is still racism in abundance but then unfortunately so is anti-Semitism still with us but do Jews baulk at being called Jewish? I don’t think so, at least I hope not. It is high time being black is no longer an excuse for taking no responsibility or engendering a feeling of inferiority but rather it should be a reason to be proud. ‘The bus hit me because I am black,’ or ‘The bus hit me because I didn’t look where I was going when I stepped off the sidewalk.’ Which is the more credible? Yet there are still instances of the first example being used. Even the great man, Nelson Mandela once fell into the trap and used it, much to his discredit, in reference to the one time Secretary General of the United Nations Kofi Annan who was criticised according to Mandela because “he is black.” Tch tch tch! In other words a white head of the UN would definitely not have been treated in such a fashion.
Staying in Africa how about this for the latest piece of human idiocy? In Malawi there is a row over whether a new law bans farting. The justice minister said local chiefs would deal with those caught breaking wind in public
Two of Malawi's most senior judicial officials are arguing over whether a new bill includes a provision that outlaws breaking wind in public. Justice Minister George Chaponda says the new bill would criminalise flatulence to promote public decency. "Just go to the toilet when you feel like farting," he told local radio. Easier said than done if there ain’t a toilet handy or you have to let rip before you can make it.
The Solicitor General, Anthony Kamanga, says the reference to "fouling the air" means pollution. How any reasonable or sensible person can construe the provision to mean criminalising farting in public is beyond me," he said, adding that the prohibition contained in the new law has been in place since 1929.
The Local Courts Bill, to be introduced next week reads: "Any person who vitiates the atmosphere in any place so as to make it noxious to the public to the health of persons in general dwelling or carrying on business in the neighbourhood or passing along a public way shall be guilty of a misdemeanour." Mr. Chaponda, a trained lawyer, insists that this includes farting. When asked whether it could be enforced, he said it would be similar to laws banning urinating in public. What if it’s a deadly silent one in a group of people and no one takes responsibility or owns up for fear of punishment? Like naughty school children will they all be punished until the culprit comes clean?
The next step of course is to ban the sale and eating of cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, beans, peas, artichokes, in fact anything likely to cause the slightest bit of wind.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

What is it about cats that, if they are not loved, they are treated with such callousness or wanton cruelty? They have been killed because it was believed they acted as witches’ familiars. Alive they were torn apart by Elizabethan gents to prove their strength and masculinity. In China they have been (probably still are) together with dogs being flayed alive for their pelts to make furry toys. There was the case a short while ago of the woman who, after stroking and making a fuss of it, dumped a cat in a green bin and ostensibly left it there to die. By the way she scuttled off, caught on camera, she knew she had done wrong. Later in court she could not explain her behaviour. Now we have the case of a “teenage mother” who purposefully dropped a kitten from the eleventh floor. Here in Crete there are stray cats everywhere and it is estimated the length of their lives to be three years. Every taverna has its quota of cats that get fed by tourists during the season but are left to their own devices during the winter, except for the few people who take the trouble to feed them. Every now and again, despite it being against the law, someone puts poison down to get rid of them. What is it with these beautiful creatures that they are so often treated so unkindly? In ancient Egypt of course it was quite a different matter. Here cats were sacred or totems and even gods, the goddess Bast for example. On death cats were mummified and bowls of milk, rats and mice placed in the tomb. Cats were not only protected by almost every occupant of Egypt, but also by the law. So extreme in fact was the devoutness of the Egyptian culture to the cat, that if a human killed a feline, either intentionally or unintentionally, that human was sentenced to death. There’s a turn-up for the books! Laws were set that also forbade the exportation of cats, though more often than not, many were smuggled to the neighboring Mediterranean countries. Documents state that armies sometimes were set out to recapture these cats from the foreign lands. The historian Herodotus explained there was even greater significance to the cat. He tells a story concerning the Egyptians at war with Persia. The Persian general had decided to collect as many cats that his men could find or steal, knowing the great importance of the cat to Egypt. The soldiers then returned to the town of Pelusium and set the cats free on the battlefield. Horrified, the Egyptians surrendered the city to the Persians rather than harm the cats. Cats were treasured in ancient Rome too of course because they kept the vermin population down, also in Japan. Unfortunately in the Middle Ages, being associated with witchcraft and the devil, thousands were killed leading to a rise in the rat population leading to bubonic plague, the Black Death.
Has any other animal wild or domestic had such a history?

Monday, February 7, 2011

The front page of US Weekly showed a photograph of Elton John and David Furnish with their new toy, baby Zachary (they would call it ‘Sugar’ wouldn’t they?) and the Harps supermarket chain, deciding it was unfit to be seen by families, put a grey modesty shield over it – It reads “Family Shield to protect young Harps shoppers.” Obviously the powers that be considered it on a par with pornography and only removed it when there was a barrage of complaints from individuals, gay rights and civil liberty groups. Why didn't they just ban the magazine altogether?
Homosexuality seems to be very much in the news recently, with the murder of a gay activist in Uganda, the French upholding the constitution and forbidding same sex marriage, a long article in the paper by a woman who discovered both her daughters, her only children, are gay, as is the daughter of Jonathon Ross, and the daughters of a couple of film stars now saying they want to be boys, the military in the United States starting “gay exercises,” whatever that may mean, and the Christian hoteliers in Torquay who one has to feel truly sorry for as they are now unfortunately receiving a spate of lying hate mail, one of the sad bad aspects of the internet that allows cruds to anonymously vent their spleen (the world is full of basket cases). But back to the happy couple and their surrogate infant. Homosexuality has been blamed at various times throughout history for any number of natural disasters but the one disaster, and in my view the biggest impending, for which it cannot be blamed is the over population of the planet. What is the imperative that causes men, even some gay ones, to want to be fathers? How do they know what they’re going to get? There’s a song in the musical “The Fantasticks” about vegetables and children on that very subject. “Plant a cabbage, get a cabbage, not a Brussels sprout. That’s why I like vegetables you know what they’re about.” Our friend Bexie in Spain has e-mailed us the most horrifying series of pictures, what in Victorian times would have constituted a freak show; still does I suppose though not live and visited in person. Those parents most certainly didn’t know what they were getting. Now that surrogate babies are available will more and more gays takes advantage of it? The over population of the planet is of little if any concern to me, when thinking of what time I may have left, but I do worry for the younger generations who might have to face up to the impending disaster, and I do mean younger generations plural. If my eldest great nephew was to sire a sprog now, and he’s well old enough to do so, I would be a great-great uncle. That’s three generations down the line. Without wars to reduce the population or the Pol Pots, Stalins, Hitlers and Idi Amins of this world, (though there are still minor ones around, particularly in Africa, and the Muslim fanatics seem to be having a good go at reducing the population), and fatal illnesses being conquered because of the amazing advances in medicine so our lives get longer and longer, the imbalance is already being felt as far as pensioners are concerned and the workforce whose taxes have to pay their pensions. Also, according to the scientists and economists of the doom and gloom brigade it is estimated that in twenty year’s time the earth’s resources will be so depleted that hunger and thirst will become more or less universal. Already the cost of food rises yearly causing riots in some of the poorer countries. What is the answer? Maybe the answer is Armageddon after all and all because god told his people to go forth and multiply and by god they have! Repent the end of the world is at hand is written on the placards!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

It was a bit of a disappointment, the reading of my play ‘Third Drawer From The Top’ at the University of Alabama, Huntsville, due to some of the kids being ill, was put off from January 24 and is now due to take place February 7. Not so far off now, just a couple of days. I wonder if the weather will keep people away and it might have to be postponed again. I wrote this play the second time I was teaching in America. It is a comedy, almost a farce in fact, that I call my Neil Simon play and, as the action takes place in a small college in the Mid-west it’s fitting it should get its first airing at an American university. I’ve just read it again and still got the giggles so, hopefully when I get a recording of the performance I’ll hear gales of laughter – hopefully.
What a thunderstorm the other night! There we were happily watching “Evil Under The Sun” one of Agony Christie’s better efforts with a fabulous cast headed by Peter Ustinov and Maggie Smith when suddenly in a nano second there was the most almighty bang right above the house that had the three of us jumping out of our skins and the world was suddenly black. The bang was so loud we thought the house had definitely been struck especially as the street lighting was unaffected but Douglas, armed with flashlight, discovered all three main switches had been tripped and there was apparently no damage to the house. With electricity restored we went back to finish watching the movie. Poor Keppel was the one that suffered the most. He’s a fraidy cat at the best of times, freaking out and running for his life at the slightest thing (for example, even though he’s never been threatened in his life, if I pick up the swatter to swat a fly he’s off like a bullet) so the violent noise scared him absolutely shitless. Chris discovered him cowering under the piano stool and it took a goodly while and a lot of petting and cuddling to calm him down.
The Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has survived a vote of confidence in parliament. If he hadn’t and an election was triggered, would Nichi Vendola have been the man to challenge him? They are opposites, Mr. Vendola and Mr. Berlusconi. Vendola is the left-wing, openly gay governor of the southern region of Puglia, is campaigning to become Prime Minister, whereas Mr. Berlusconi, the man who has dominated Italian politics for 15 years, is struggling to remain in the job. Many believed the Prime Minister was targeting Mr. Vendola when he joked on television: "It's better to love beautiful women than to be gay." Mr. Vendola immediately retaliated with a statement, "The time for jokes is over," he said. "Your jokes can't amuse a country that's exhausted, impoverished, scared, insecure and abandoned." Does Mr. Vendola have ambitions to take over as leader of Italy? "Absolutely, yes," he says without hesitation.
The 52-year-old has been politically active since he was 14, when he joined the Communist Youth Federation. He studied literature at university, where he started to write poetry. He is also a devout Catholic, and has no problem combining his faith with his sexuality. "Catholicism is like my homosexuality, like my political beliefs," he says, "All these things are part of my identity." Mr. Vendola is leaping ahead in the polls, buoyed by divisions in Italy's main opposition, the Democratic Party. He created national headlines with radical schemes in Puglia to support green energy, young people, women, immigrants, small businesses and arts festivals. He has been called the Pied Piper of Puglia but could the next top dog in Italy be gay? Very interesting.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Schoolchildren, eight to thirteen years old, drugged up to their eyeballs and teachers are to blame? That seems to be the thinking and the current criticism. But who can blame the poor school teachers who have absolutely no way of controlling or instilling discipline in unruly kids other than to feed them Ritalin, described as a ‘chemical cosh’ in order to keep them quiet. In the good old bad old days the cosh of course was spelt c-a-n-e and pupils were generally afeard of it. There were exceptions of course, there always are, to whom threat of the cane meant nothing, and they are always the big problem as regards any sort of punishment – those to whom it means little if anything. I can’t say I approve of children being physically abused but which is worse, to inflict temporary pain on their bodies or abuse their minds? Because who knows what these drugs do and what effect it has on their futures? Except for those few real trouble makers who are determined to put the boot in come what may and for whom any kind of restraint is for the birds, they are kids after all, is it natural to expect them to sit still for hours and not get restless? It would seem true their attention span is short and getting shorter by the day and boredom can quickly set in so maybe the way out is to try keeping that boredom at bay. Don’t ask me how. I’m not a teacher. Except for a very brief foray in a boy’s junior school in Pietermaritzburg when I was at university, and theatre schools, my teaching has been limited to young adults at university level which is a whole different ball game as one might say. As far as the theatre schools were concerned the kids were there because they wanted to be so discipline was never a problem. As for the boys’ school I have only one memory of it and that was them sending me up sky high by collectively doing what they knew would get to me. It happened like this: It was a maths class as I recollect and I don’t know why I was taking it as my maths is pretty putrid to say the least but I was trying to instil some information into one little thickie’s head (actually he wasn’t thick at all, he was just pretending to be) and finally, unintentionally and without being aware of it, he did something that really got my goat – while my back was turned for an instant he picked up his ruler and sucked it. When I turned back and still couldn’t get the information into his head I picked up the ruler and dropped it like a hot coal or as if it were a snake about to bite me. Saliva should be in the mouth and not on the end of a ruler so I gave him a little clip across the ear and that, I thought, was the end of the matter. But, oh no, not as far as they were concerned. The next time I walked into that class every single boy was sucking something; pen, pencil, rubber, ruler, you name it. What does a teacher do in those circumstances? I know what I did, I burst out laughing which might have spoilt their little game but gave me any number of brownie points. (If you are reading this in America, for ‘rubber’ read ‘eraser.’)

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Still on the subject of religion, I remember as a kid in Durban going to watch a Hindu festival with fire-walking, long needles, or skewers really, thrust through tongue and cheeks and great heavy carts pulled to the river by means of ropes attached to hooks imbedded in a person’s back. As far as the fire-walking was concerned it was certainly no cheat as one could feel the heat from the coals standing well back from the quite lengthy pit. Why the feet weren’t burnt to the bone I will never know. I didn’t know either what the festival was all about. Its origins and the reason for it were a mystery and I wasn’t particularly interested enough to find out; the reason being that we had no respect for Indians or their culture apart from enjoying curries. (What did Afrikaners call samosas? “Drie hoekie coolie cookies.” Three cornered coolie cookies). As far as we were concerned all Indians were coolies or churruhs who fertilised their soil with human faeces, held their nostrils between finger and thumb as they squatted on their heels and blew their noses on the ground and wiped their fingers on their clothing, chewed beetle nut that made their mouths horribly red as though they were constantly bloodied, wore funny little dots on their foreheads, wore rings on their toes, hung marigolds over their doorways, a rather evil smelly flower, and were themselves not all that pleasant as far as the olfactory sense was concerned. They came round to the back door of the house with baskets of fruit and vegetables (lychees I remember were always terribly expensive) or sold peanuts on the beach. But I have now discovered what the festival is all about. The Hindu festival of Thaipusam is about faith, endurance and penance. Thaipusam is a time for Hindus of all castes and cultures to say thank you and show their appreciation to one of their Gods, Lord Murugan, a son of Shiva. Thaipusam is held in the last week of January or the beginning of February, depending on the alignment of the sun, moon and planets. This is a colourful event. Women wear jasmine flowers in their hair. Yellow and orange, the colours of Murugan, dominate. Orange is also a colour of renunciation, and is worn by those whose pilgrimage is a temporary path of asceticism. Is this the reason for the marigolds? Like the Greeks every Easter making the sign of the cross with candle smoke on the lintel of their front door. On the day of Thaipusam itself devotees go to different lengths to show their devotion. Some simply join the crowds. Some carry pots of milk or "paal kudam" (Whatever that is and this is in Malaysia) on their heads as a show of devotion and love to the god. Others carry elaborate frameworks on their shoulders called "kavadis", which have long chains hanging down with hooks at the end which are pushed into their backs. (Kavadis can be carried in honour of other deities as well as Murugan.)Many of these pilgrims are pierced with two skewers or 'vels' - symbolic spears; one through the tongue, and one through the cheeks. The piercing by skewers symbolises several things:
• that the pilgrim has temporarily renounced the gift of speech so that he or she may concentrate more fully upon the deity
• that the devotee has passed wholly under the protection of the deity who will not allow him/her to shed blood or suffer pain
• the transience of the physical body in contrast with the enduring power of truth
Still others go even further and pull heavy chariots fastened to metal hooks in the skin of their backs. The skin tugs as they go, and they grunt and growl. The devotees who go to these extremes say they don't feel any pain because they are in a spiritual and devotional trance which brings them closer to Lord Murugan. The trance can be induced by chanting, drumming and incense.
Still on the subject of religion a gay couple, legally spliced, wanted to stay in a hotel in Cornwall and were turned away as the husband and wife who own the hotel are dedicated Christians and only married couples are allowed to sleep in a double bed in their establishment. So the gays took them to court, won their case, and the Christian couple was given a four figure fine each. The question I ask is this: are homosexuals getting just a bit too belligerent and damaging their own cause with actions like this? Surely the publicity they got out of it would have been satisfaction enough without being so mean as to take the husband and wife to court. They are, after all, entitled to their beliefs and to act on them accordingly. With that argument though carried to its extreme Jihadists are free to kill without conscience as much as they like. However, on the other hand I ask the question, if David and Jonathan appeared on the doorstep wanting to stay the night would they too have been turned away? As much as Christians might like to deny it, it is one of the greatest love stories ever told. It’s right there in the good book. How about Achilles and Patrokles then? No, no way, they are legend. All right then, how about Alexander the Great and Hephaisteon? No no, they were pagans. Hadrian and Antinous.? No no, they were ancient Romans. In Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire there is a piece of homophobia worthy of any Christian. ‘The deification of Antinous, his medals, statues, city, oracles, and constellation, are well known, and still dishonor the memory of Hadrian. Yet we may remark, that of the first fifteen emperors, Claudius was the only one whose taste in love was entirely correct.’ Tch! Tch! Note that, “dishonour.” And there’s a bust of Antinous in the Vatican museum yet. Out! Out! I say! All right then, what about Richard the Lionheart and the French Dauphin? They were Christians. Didn’t Richard go to The Holy Land to fight those heathens? Well, maybe not, despite the fact that there’s a statue of Richard in front of the houses of parliament and despite his love for the Dauphin, Richard was pretty liberal in his sexual favours, or should I say appetite? which is why he was abjured by the church to give up sodomy and evil practices before he brought the wrath of God down on his kingdom. So maybe the hoteliers were right as well as within their rights when they turned the lads away. God has been appeased. The kingdom is safe.