Polittering


Political littering?

This is round the corner from my house. At my house, if I let the grass on the front lawn grow more than an eighth of an inch above regulation height, the self-appointed jackboots on the local home-owners association threaten to fine me. Yet this sort of political littering–“polittering”–is an accepted part of the democratic process. Really?

You want to know what’s wrong with American politics? Take a close look at this picture. These people are competing for local elections and raising money from campaign donors to do so. They are freely allowed to use that money to make my neighborhood unsightly. Not only are they not punished for wasting so much money on this polittering campaign, one of these barstewards will be rewarded with political office, at which time the people who donated to their campaigns will be expecting to be considered next time a policy needs to be decided or a vote cast that may impact them.

Right from the very start, partaking in local elections and grass roots politics involves fundamental lessons in graft, votes for dollars, and funded favoritism. It’s no wonder we can’t get away from political corruption and Government, LLC, run by businessmen for businessmen.

The money wasted on political campaigning in this country is exactly the reason why politics will always be corrupt, why people will never be represented, and why the drive up to my house looks like a Vegas phonebooth. At least with Vegas whores you get something for your money…or so I’ve been told.

I vote that Polittering should be a crime, that political campaigns contributing to the litter problem should be heavily fined and politicians partaking should be disqualified from office, and that the money subsequently raised should be spent on something worthwhile for a change. Maybe that way politicians can finally give something back to the communities they say they represent, and maybe they’ll finally be more concerned with what they do in office rather than how they get there in the first place.

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Same as it ever was. Riots unknowingly reflect government policy.


Riots and looting continue in the UK - Picture from The Guardian newspaper.

David Cameron, British PM, talking about either politicians or rioters. His description could be equally applied to both groups:

“Its all too clear that we have a big problem with gangs in our country. For too long there has been a lack of focus and a complete lack of respect shown by these groups of thugs.

I am clear that they are in no way representative of the vast majority of young people in our country who despise them frankly as much as the rest of us do.

But there are pockets of our society that are not just broken, but frankly sick.”

Unfortunately, the seeds of the current problems were sown when his own blue gang, the Tories, destroyed the communities that stood up to chief thug Margaret Thatcher’s union-busting policies. When she destroyed whole communities and her henchman Norman Tebbit told people that people should then get on their bikes to go find work, the social fabric was torn and it has never been repaired.

That’s not to excuse the rioters in any way. Let’s be honest about this, they’re nothing more than opportunist sociopaths with a sense of entitlement who have so far killed 4 innocent people and beaten and injured many more. They have caused millions of pounds worth of damage, terrorized neighbourhoods, and destroyed the livelihoods of many by burning out the businesses that have kept the communities somewhat functioning. They’re not thinking about social inequities and years of government policy. They’re not opposing economic policy. They’re not protesting inner-city conditions and the ongoing corruption of the nation’s political and economic leaders. They’re just scum.

Unfortunately, from here on in, valid political protest will be treated as nothing more than self-centered gangs of looters and rioters intent on nothing more than filling their pockets with whatever they can get away with. What they are doing is invalidating and debasing any form of popular protest that should, and needs to be, a continued right. In their own way, they have made freedom of expression and freedom to protest yet another victim of their actions.

But while we think about what punishment should be meted out to socially destructive gangs that have, hopefully, finally been brought under control after 4 days of riots, let’s think about how we re-instill a sense of responsibility and community, a joint social conscience if you will. While police analyze pictures and CCTV footage and arrest the culprits on the streets, let’s think about how to arrest the decades-long decline in social values started when Thatcher’s gang led the charge by declaring a return to austerity and “Victorian values.” And let’s not forget that after 14 years of Tory corruption, union busting, community-razing and entitled self-indulgence at the expense of the working poor, Labour, the champions of the working man, failed to rectify any Tory policies and became as bad, No, WORSE, than those who they were created to fight.

We can, and should, decry the gangs on the streets all we want but nothing will change until the gangs in Whitehall and the gangs in Parliament are brought to order and made accountable for their 3-decade long looting spree that has torn the heart and soul out of Britain and created this generation of sociopathic hoodies. The idiots in the streets aren’t rioting for social change. They’re rioting for kicks and for consumer goods and because they can. They feel no conscience or responsibility towards their own society. And in that, they are simply an inverted reflection of the sociopathic hoodies in government who have also been given free reign to express their own greed, egomania, personal interests and vices with absolutely no sense of responsibility or accountability.

In a perfect example of self-fulfilling prophecy, Nick Clegg, Liberal Party leader, last year warned that there could be riots this summer if the Conservatives were given power without a clear mandate. The Conservatives didn’t win a clear majority in the elections but, thanks to Nick Clegg and the Liberals, they formed a coalition government to force through austerity measures after years of bloated budgets from Labour governments that ultimately looked more Tory than the Tories ever were. But Nick Clegg and David Cameron are not the ones reaping what they’ve sown. They’re not the ones being beaten to death or run down outside their places of worship. It’s the communities that are once again bearing the brunt.

Same as it ever was.

Cigarettes, alcohol and "coke" for Winehouse

We are all addicted


 

Cigarettes, alcohol and "coke" for Winehouse
Cigarettes, alcohol and "coke" left as tribute to Winehouse

Amy Winehouse died this weekend at the age of 27. Her death is being mourned by her family, friends and fans. Others with a predilection for celebrity schadenfreude or capital to be made for their anti-drug agendas are reveling in her demise.

Her excessive drug and alcohol use was very public knowledge and among the flowers, candles, prayers, personal notes and other items normally associated with grieving and loss, alcohol and cigarettes have been left along with an empty coke bottle that not-so-obliquely references a penchant for cocaine. It’s a polarized picture that paints the thousand words being written around the world by well-meaning fans and celebrity-column mawks alike.

Whatever the reason for leaving alcohol, tobacco and a “coke” bottle (signifying her drug use) as tributes to Amy Winehouse, it shows a staggering lack of understanding of the disease that took her life. Perhaps it was intended as a salute to her perceived rebellion or as a last offering for her to enjoy herself now that death can no longer touch her. It’s as ignorant as leaving bullets at the spot of John Lennon’s murder. These are the things that killed her, not the things she could control and enjoy. Perhaps it’s a stretch but then maybe the gross misunderstanding of the problem would be clearer if people had left syringes in “tribute.”

Some of her fans and fellow celebrities have declared that her death marks the loss of possibly the greatest British talent to emerge in decades. Others refer to the wonderful human that lay behind her public persona. Expressions of tribute are often the strongest in times of deep emotional pain and it is to be expected and accounted for.

But hyperbole isn’t exclusive to those who feel the pain and in some quarters Winehouse is being described as a typical, self-obsessed druggie, willing to abuse family and friends and unwilling to do anything about it. A waste of talent. Scum.

Unfortunately, the real issues get lost somewhere in the middle among the shouting proponents of extreme views and we often lose sight of many things that would help us understand.

The first is that addiction is an illness not a choice. We lose sight because we blame the addict for making an initial choice to use drugs. We blame the alcoholic for choosing to take the first drink. We blame the lung-cancer victim, if they smoked, for their decision to smoke. And we blame the drug addict for their first choice to use a drug. It’s that element of the first choice that makes people regard addicts as willing participants in their own addictions.

For some reason, many people have the idea that the addict has a choice to continue with the addiction. Every cigarette, every drink, every injection or snort is seen as an option that the addict is perfectly capable of choosing not to do. But addiction is an insidious illness that makes its victims believe they don’t need help, that they are smarter than their habits and that they are in control.

The implicit argument is that Winehouse knew hard drugs could kill and therefore it’s her own fault that she’s dead at 27. But the addict does not make the decision to be an addict any more than a boy makes the choice to be an obese man by biting into his first hamburger. But it’s that idea of the initial choice and all the subsequent, incremental choices along the way that makes it all too easy to condemn the addict as something less than human.

Many of the politicians and journalists and public who are slating Winehouse for her addictive behaviors have tasted alcohol, or smoked pot, or had a cigarette. They knew the dangers. They knew the consequences. They still tried it. And yet here they are demonstrating a staggering lack of compassion because they were not afflicted by the same addictive illness that leads all addicts to the brink and beyond. It’s not a lack of willpower that makes an addict but a genetic predisposition to succumbing to the illness.

The second thing that we commonly lose sight of when we start polarizing the public debate is the human being afflicted by the illness. When we hear about addicts dying, we often hear about the person within, the “real” Amy, the wonderful spirit destroyed by addiction. We habitually diminish the person consumed by the addiction and allow the addiction to take the person’s place until ultimately the human is supplanted by the illness.

If we haven’t condemned the addict as scum, then we supplant the person with the disease. It’s a cognitive dissonance we maintain so that we can deal with the idea that the human was dead a long time before the body stopped breathing. The person becomes the addiction so we can maintain the memory of the “real” person and blame the disease instead.

I’ve been guilty of it too. My first wife was addicted to drink and drugs and even now, years after her death, I bitterly regret my inability to separate her illness from her humanity. She was a smart, vibrant, capable woman who could not overcome the illness that made her believe she was in control. She was not in control but no amount of treatment and counseling could make her see that. She was not selfish but her addictions made her do things that severely impacted those around her. She had a disease and the actions that I berated her for were not a deliberate choice she made any more than it was my choice to be emotionally destroyed by witnessing it.

We also lose sight of the fact that drug use does not make a drug addict and that alcohol doesn’t make an alcoholic. Plenty of people use drugs and never get addicted. Plenty of people use alcohol but are not drunks. Plenty of people make these choices and are still able to function. Yet plenty of people are still willing to talk about the talent that Amy Winehouse threw away, the people she hurt and the low-life scum she was, and all while sipping a beer or a scotch. Addiction is not only something addicts cannot control; it’s also something non-addicts can never relate to without broader education or deep personal experience of the disease, or both.

It is conveniently simple to dismiss addiction as a personal choice made by worthless people and to characterize addicts as people battling personal demons, predisposed to self-destruction. It’s easy because society itself is addicted. But society’s addiction is to laziness and convenience, to a penchant for pigeon-holing, compartmentalizing, demonizing and condemning that which we cannot understand. We are addicted to an unwillingness to think, learn, accept and change.

There are, of course, exceptions to every rule and no single attitude is appropriate to every case, but punishing a drug addict to stop the addiction is as patently ridiculous as punishing a cancer victim to cure the cancer. The sooner we understand that, the sooner we can move away from a one-size-fits-all idea of punitive justice and create compassionate and effective models of treatment.

 

Disclaimer: I am not a fan of Amy Winehouse and doubt I have heard more than one song I would recognize as hers. I don’t use drugs and I’m not an advocate of them. I rarely drink but enjoy it when I do. And I’ve been battling nicotine addiction since I was a teenager.

When the revolution comes…


Brand Che – what the fashionable rebel is wearing… for the last 50 years.

“When the revolution comes, marketers will be the first against the wall. Closely followed by lawyers.”

It’s a pretty strong statement to be throw-away, but it was thrown away in my direction a couple of weeks ago and, to be honest, I was in a quandary as to how to respond.

I was at a cast party held to celebrate the end of the run for a play that my wife had starred in, hosted at the theater owner’s home, when my wife mentioned that I worked in marketing. Out of the blue, or maybe red, the significant other of one of the actresses decided that it was perfectly okay to inform me, someone he’d never met,  of my rank in the revolutionary firing squad.

Despite having only a short tenure in the world of marketing, I felt the urgent need to defend myself and attack him. I wanted to tell him that his choice of jeans was the result of that manufacturer marketing the brand as the ‘western” jean and that he fell for it. I wanted to point out that his “skate” shoes were a statement he’d made because of of the way the shoes were marketed to hipster skate-y type people and not over-aged teenagers eager to hold on to fading youth. I really wanted to point out the huge marketing that went into his choice of a Dickies shirt and how, despite his feelings about marketing, he’d entirely bought into it with his money and earnings and mixed-up image.

But I didn’t.

I didn’t even point out that the smartphone he was flipping through, browsing his iRebel app, was demonstrated him buying in to the millions of dollars of marketing that put his phone in his hands. I didn’t even mention his stupid greasy haircut with some hyper-marketed hair product in it that, even when brushed forward, still didn’t hide his receding hairline.

I did nothing. I just ignored him.

And it’s still eating at me.

What I did was to ignore him and continued talking with the theater owner about why the shows suffer from (sometimes) low attendance, what efforts are made with connecting with a larger audience and letting them in on the fun, and why the local chamber of commerce seems to be ineffective in better demonstrating the town’s charm and appeal.

I ignored the statement in part because I didn’t want to cause a scene or create an argument in someone else’s house. That’s poor behavior regardless of almost any provocation. The larger reason for not responding, however, was that I was conflicted.

You see, for a long time I may have said the same thing. “Come the revolution, advertisers will be the first against the wall.”

Notice I said “advertisers.”

It’s a common belief that advertising and marketing are the same thing and, probably due to my relative inexperience in marketing, it’s not easy to see the dividing line. It took me a while to really come to some sort of idea about why I am in marketing.

So, why am I in marketing? It wasn’t a path I decided upon when I was a kid, that’s for sure. When all the other kids wanted to be train drivers and firemen, I didn’t stand up and declare my intention to be a marketer. I kinda fell into it.

But that’s not to say I’m not fully invested in it. I am. And the reason I am is because I believe in the things I market.

I market a couple of things for two distinctly different products, for want of a better word. One of them I am paid to market and one of them I do on my own time. But the one common theme is that I absolutely, 100-percent, believe that by marketing these two very different products I am fighting for the rights of the consumer to be absolutely aware of and educated about their choice and to provide them with the best possible product that gives them the best available outcomes.

Both of the things I market are, to a degree, misunderstood and/or not well-received because there has been a vested interest in keeping the status quo. But I’m driven by a core belief that I’ve always had the rights of the consumer, the underdog, the individual are more important than the profit motives of the big corporations. In doing what I do, I believe I am fighting for the rights of the individual by showing them what they are not seeing, illuminating their choices, showing a better, more empowering way of doing things and forcing industries that hitherto ignored those consumer rights to recognize them and do things differently.

And if I can show the consumer to the corporations, and the corporations to the consumer, and make that mutually beneficial connection, or build that collaborative relationship, then the market will improve. Consumers will be better served and the service providers will prosper by it, not despite it.

That’s why I am in marketing.

So why am I not in advertising?

Funnily enough, or maybe not if you’re in advertising, I’m probably about to piss a whole lot of you off because the only real ethical differentiation I can make is that, apart from the advertising segment of a whole marketing campaign, I perceive advertisers, certainly agency advertisers, as money-driven mercenaries unafraid to push a poor product for the cost of a cup of coffee or a new BMW. Perhaps advertising needs a pr campaign?

I’m not saying that advertisers necessarily disbelieve any product they advertise, but I can’t really see that there’s a relationship-building element behind the campaigns. It’s a monetary rush to create an unnecessary market or exploit an existing one without an ethical belief in the mutual advantage to producer and consumer or a regard for the consumer beyond the necessary handing over of large amounts of cash.

I’ve just painted a whole lot of you with the same broad brush, haven’t I? Sorry, but I saw this definition that describes the difference between the motivations of advertisers and marketers:

Advertising: The paid, public, non-personal announcement of a persuasive message by an identified sponsor; the non-personal presentation or promotion by a firm of its products to its existing and potential customers.

Marketing: The systematic planning, implementation and control of a mix of business activities intended to bring together buyers and sellers for the mutually advantageous exchange or transfer of products.

It’s the bit in bold that’s really the clincher for me. I could never do what I do for a product or service that I don’t believe is mutually advantageous. Please correct me where I am wrong.

Meanwhile, when the revolution comes, middle-aged Brand Che teenagers grasping feebly onto a rapidly diminishing youth by shopping the grunge brands and combing and gelling their hair forward while being flippantly unenlightened about their own choices and in denial of their susceptibility to advertising will be the first against the wall.

Andrew Gold


Just found out that Andrew Gold passed away last month at the age of 59. Music can bring back strong memories and feelings that are indelibly linked with a particular time or place or person and I can’t ever hear this song without experiencing a surge of that delicious, fuzzy lovesick feeling from my early teen years.

RIP Andrew and thank you for providing a part of the rich soundtrack to my early adolescence that, 30 years later, I still blush at.

Apocalyp$e $till on $chedule


http://youtu.be/_eyFiClAzq8

Radio host now says Judgment Day coming in October – US news – Life – Faith – msnbc.com.

Seriously fella, give it up already. The only thing that was raptured this weekend was the last remaining shred of credibility you may have had amongst your hard-of-thinking followers. Oh, and the top hose on my Dodge and $260 from my account. But I suppose $260 was a small price to pay compared to the $100 million donated to Harold Camping and the Church of the Invisible Rapture over the last 7 years, some of it representing the entire life savings of a few of his adherents.

Don’t get me wrong, I do not for one moment blame Camping for these people’s losses. That blame must lie with the individuals gullible enough to buy his spiritual snake oil. But then, by extension… Nope, I’d better not go there.

There are calls for Camping’s Family radio group to give back the money. Why? I mean, not only has he spent most of it anyway (although he could probably sell the 70+ radio stations and cover the refund) but what lesson would that teach? That it’s okay to buy your redemption rather than just being a good person anyway? Mind you, that’s not exactly new or unique behavior. It’s been happening for at least a couple of millenia.

There are a few ads on TV right now that elevate consumerism above accomplishment, so it’s hardly surprising that people want to buy their way into heaven. In one, the first of two women can speak 6 languages, a couple of degrees etc, but the second woman declares her superiority because she just vought 3 dresses for $20 or something like that. Another ad has a voice-over about who cares if you have never been to the moon, won a world series, cured an illness or some such, so long as your car looks like a million bucks with the application of a no haze car wax.
What. The. Frog!

It is no surprise, then, that a tranche of morons want their money back because the Rapture was invisible. What’s the big deal? To 90% of the world, every other guy’s religion is invisible. You paid to promote something you believed in, so believe in it. Who cares if no one else believes it? Most of us didn’t anyway.

No, these people, sad as it may be for them to have lost all their money, jobs, houses through NO ONE’S FAULT BUT THEIR OWN, should learn the lesson that it’s not okay to be an idiot. In fact, where it has caused real hardship for their dependents, they should be investigated for criminal neglect though, also without doubt, their children are just a few in a long, long list of people to suffer at the hands of religion.
There are also calls for Camping to be prosecuted for false promises, failure to deliver, and fraud. Why? He said there was a Rapture coming. He didn’t promise to deliver it. He promised to advertise it. And he did. He may be a deluded old fool, but anyone with half a brain knew that anyway.

No, if anything, the only action taken against Camping should be a lawsuit that prosecutes him for the waste of millions of dollars of taxpayer money, for advertising everything and delivering nothing. But, despite the hospitals and schools and medical research and medicines for the poor, and homes for the homeless, and food for the hungry that the money Camping wasted on advertizing the end of the world, that would be extremely dangerous and politicians would never allow it. They would never vote to prosecute a man guilty of the egregious waste of millions of taxpayer money because it would declare open season on every religious organization in the world. And every politician.

May 21, 2011 Judgment Day!


The second coming of Debbie Harry-The Rapture starts Saturday.
Blondie – Rapture

I think I have two weeks vacation to use but apparently Judgment Day begins next Saturday so I can only fit in 5 days. I wonder if I can be paid out for the remainder or if I’ll just lose it. Why did no one tell me this so I could plan my time off around the end of the world? Just why do they call it The Rapture anyway? Personally, I’m not too thrilled about it.

Actually, reading through it a bit more, Judgment Day starts next Saturday, but The End Of The World doesn’t happen for another 5 months. Phew! That means I can still go to San Antonio next weekend and enjoy myself. Just a thought… am I the only one that hears  Da! Da! Daaaaa! when I read the words “The End Of The World” as though it’s part of an episode of The Goon Show? Eccles and The End Of The World! Da Da Daaaaa! Neddy Seagoon and the Phantom Rapture Blower of Old London Town! Da Da Daaaaa! Thrrrrrp!

Anyway, I digress. What I’m really curious about though, is why it takes 5 months between Judgment Day and The End Of The World? Is there an appeals process? Is there a small problem with the omnipotent/omnipresent thingy? Or is that who long it takes to persuade all the men to castrate themselves, put on white sneakers and drape themselves in purple? (The order is important here, I think. After all, if you’re headed for The Rapture, and you’re about to meet your maker, I don’t think you want blood spatters on your shoes. First impressions and all that.)

Not that I’m complaining, of course. In that extra 5 months I’ll accrue another week and a half vacation and I’ve been wanting to go home to England for a visit for about 16 years now, so maybe I can squeeze it in.

So, errm… yeah, Judgment Day starts Saturday folks. Do everything you’ve always wanted to do ASAFP… and then repent like mad before October 21. I don’t know what time October 21, but I know it’s a Friday so I think it will probably be okay to leave work early.

Don’t say you haven’t been warned.

What’s Up, Papa Doc?


Prince Harry - following in the family's goose steps.
I’ve been asked a few times lately what I thought of The King’s Speech. I’ve been told there are some fantastic acting performances by Colin Firth, Helena Bonham Carter, and Geoffrey Rush. I can’t answer that question on a critical level because I haven’t seen it and have no intention of seeing it. Ever.

My wife is an actress and through her expertise and critical eye I’ve learned a lot about why an actor’s performance is good or bad, effective or not. Her expert knowledge has enabled me to crystallize those vague evaluative feelings into specific thoughts as to what I did or didn’t like and provide reasons for those opinions. In many ways, learning why I feel something works, or does not, has opened my eyes to movies I never would have watched before. Films that I would not normally enjoy because of the theme or storyline become engaging because I can examine the performances detachedly, while movies that I like often become doubly enjoyable for the same reason.

Even so, would be more likely to watch a musical comedy about Papa Doc Duvalier than I would be to watch The King’s Speech. I can’t help but get the feeling that somewhere the spirit of Max Bialystock, played by Zero Mostel in The Producers, has been channeled and created a Springtime for Hitler for the 21st century.

To all intents and purposes, The King’s Speech is a light-hearted tale of an ordinary, everyday, impaired and abused member of the monarchy who is thrust onto the throne by the abdication of his brother who ran off with a divorced American woman leaving the crown behind. The new king struggles to overcome a stammering stutter to deliver an important radio speech to the nation at the outbreak of the war against Hitler’s Nazis. And he does it by employing a, gosh… he employs a commoner. And an Australian one at that!

Those poor old royals, eh? Struggling with ordinary impairments just like us common folk but with the added weighty burdens of privilege and power and public expectation. Oh, those poor suffering royals. How awful it must be.

Not only is the idea of a monarchy, constitutional or otherwise, anachronistic, unfair, and unsavory in this modern age, that their lives are financed by taxes on workers and the inherited wealth of dubious inbreeding adds injury to insult.

Oh, but it’s nice to have a royal family, eh? It’s nice to have a national figurehead to bring in tourist dollars and to sing about in anthems at sports games. And of course the British film industry would be much worse off if it didn’t have a film about the class system and the inconsistencies of privations of nobility to portray.

Of course it’s not just about being angry that a family enjoys privilege at the expense of the rest of us. It’s the Nazi sympathies and connections I object to. George VI, the king whose speech is the subject of the film, was christened Albert Frederick Arthur George Saxe-Coburg-Gotha but was endearingly known as Bertie to his family. At the outbreak of World War I, the family changed its name from Saxe-Coburg-Gotha to Windsor to counter the rising anti-German feeling in Britain.

Of course renouncing a name doesn’t renounce sympathies. At a time when Jews were being rounded up and placed in concentration camps, Bertie didn’t need a speech coach when he entreated Lord Halifax to encourage the Germans to stop Jews fleeing the country. The Jewish Chronicle, in an article written in October 2010 stated that good old Bertie “tightened the noose around German Jewry’s neck” and details a list of the royal family’s Nazi connections.

More notoriously, his [King George VI’s] brother, the former King Edward VIII, who became the Duke of Windsor after abdicating in 1936, was sympathetic towards Hitler. Even in 1970 he told one interviewer: “I never thought Hitler was such a bad chap.”

Other royals also had links to the Nazis. Baron Gunther von Reibnitz, the father of Princess Michael of Kent, was a party member and an honorary member of the SS. And the brother of Princess Alice, a great-aunt to the Queen, was a Nazi who said that Hitler had done a “wonderful job”.

But surely that’s all in the past now. Let’s just ignore the Nazi connections and enjoy a nice little movie. 70 years is a long time to forget such grievances even if Prince Philip, the notoriously racist husband of Queen Betty the Second, still occupies Buckingham Palace. And Windsor Castle. And Sandringham, etc, etc. This is the same Prince Philip (whose family name was Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glucksburgs) who once said on a state visit to China “If you stay here much longer you’ll all be slitty-eyed.” And the same Prince Philip whose nieces were married to Nazi officers and weren’t invited to the wedding in 1947 in case the public found out. (Philip’s youngest sister, Princess Sophie of Hanover, had married Prince Christopher of Hesse-Cassel, who was an SS Colonel attached to Heinrich Himmler’s personal staff and became head of the sinister Forschungsamt – a security service under Hermann Goering’s command that carried out surveillance on anti-Nazis.)

But surely the next generation will be better. We’ll have the pomp and circumstance of Prince William’s royal wedding coming up soon and what better way to show the world how regal we are than to flaunt the unearned wealth of a family of inbred Nazi’s learning to live again. The next generation will provide a much better example. Prince Harry’s a bit of a worry though. He seems like a chip off Philip’s block. Let’s hope he never has to make a speech to the public denouncing Nazis and racism because, well, he’s got a little bit of a track record there, referring to people as “pakis” and “ragheads” as you can see in this YOUTUBE link.

Still, in a few years time I’m sure it will make a nice little film. And I won’t be watching that one either.

What's Up, Papa Doc?


Prince Harry - following in the family's goose steps.
I’ve been asked a few times lately what I thought of The King’s Speech. I’ve been told there are some fantastic acting performances by Colin Firth, Helena Bonham Carter, and Geoffrey Rush. I can’t answer that question on a critical level because I haven’t seen it and have no intention of seeing it. Ever.

My wife is an actress and through her expertise and critical eye I’ve learned a lot about why an actor’s performance is good or bad, effective or not. Her expert knowledge has enabled me to crystallize those vague evaluative feelings into specific thoughts as to what I did or didn’t like and provide reasons for those opinions. In many ways, learning why I feel something works, or does not, has opened my eyes to movies I never would have watched before. Films that I would not normally enjoy because of the theme or storyline become engaging because I can examine the performances detachedly, while movies that I like often become doubly enjoyable for the same reason.

Even so, would be more likely to watch a musical comedy about Papa Doc Duvalier than I would be to watch The King’s Speech. I can’t help but get the feeling that somewhere the spirit of Max Bialystock, played by Zero Mostel in The Producers, has been channeled and created a Springtime for Hitler for the 21st century.

To all intents and purposes, The King’s Speech is a light-hearted tale of an ordinary, everyday, impaired and abused member of the monarchy who is thrust onto the throne by the abdication of his brother who ran off with a divorced American woman leaving the crown behind. The new king struggles to overcome a stammering stutter to deliver an important radio speech to the nation at the outbreak of the war against Hitler’s Nazis. And he does it by employing a, gosh… he employs a commoner. And an Australian one at that!

Those poor old royals, eh? Struggling with ordinary impairments just like us common folk but with the added weighty burdens of privilege and power and public expectation. Oh, those poor suffering royals. How awful it must be.

Not only is the idea of a monarchy, constitutional or otherwise, anachronistic, unfair, and unsavory in this modern age, that their lives are financed by taxes on workers and the inherited wealth of dubious inbreeding adds injury to insult.

Oh, but it’s nice to have a royal family, eh? It’s nice to have a national figurehead to bring in tourist dollars and to sing about in anthems at sports games. And of course the British film industry would be much worse off if it didn’t have a film about the class system and the inconsistencies of privations of nobility to portray.

Of course it’s not just about being angry that a family enjoys privilege at the expense of the rest of us. It’s the Nazi sympathies and connections I object to. George VI, the king whose speech is the subject of the film, was christened Albert Frederick Arthur George Saxe-Coburg-Gotha but was endearingly known as Bertie to his family. At the outbreak of World War I, the family changed its name from Saxe-Coburg-Gotha to Windsor to counter the rising anti-German feeling in Britain.

Of course renouncing a name doesn’t renounce sympathies. At a time when Jews were being rounded up and placed in concentration camps, Bertie didn’t need a speech coach when he entreated Lord Halifax to encourage the Germans to stop Jews fleeing the country. The Jewish Chronicle, in an article written in October 2010 stated that good old Bertie “tightened the noose around German Jewry’s neck” and details a list of the royal family’s Nazi connections.

More notoriously, his [King George VI’s] brother, the former King Edward VIII, who became the Duke of Windsor after abdicating in 1936, was sympathetic towards Hitler. Even in 1970 he told one interviewer: “I never thought Hitler was such a bad chap.”

Other royals also had links to the Nazis. Baron Gunther von Reibnitz, the father of Princess Michael of Kent, was a party member and an honorary member of the SS. And the brother of Princess Alice, a great-aunt to the Queen, was a Nazi who said that Hitler had done a “wonderful job”.

But surely that’s all in the past now. Let’s just ignore the Nazi connections and enjoy a nice little movie. 70 years is a long time to forget such grievances even if Prince Philip, the notoriously racist husband of Queen Betty the Second, still occupies Buckingham Palace. And Windsor Castle. And Sandringham, etc, etc. This is the same Prince Philip (whose family name was Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glucksburgs) who once said on a state visit to China “If you stay here much longer you’ll all be slitty-eyed.” And the same Prince Philip whose nieces were married to Nazi officers and weren’t invited to the wedding in 1947 in case the public found out. (Philip’s youngest sister, Princess Sophie of Hanover, had married Prince Christopher of Hesse-Cassel, who was an SS Colonel attached to Heinrich Himmler’s personal staff and became head of the sinister Forschungsamt – a security service under Hermann Goering’s command that carried out surveillance on anti-Nazis.)

But surely the next generation will be better. We’ll have the pomp and circumstance of Prince William’s royal wedding coming up soon and what better way to show the world how regal we are than to flaunt the unearned wealth of a family of inbred Nazi’s learning to live again. The next generation will provide a much better example. Prince Harry’s a bit of a worry though. He seems like a chip off Philip’s block. Let’s hope he never has to make a speech to the public denouncing Nazis and racism because, well, he’s got a little bit of a track record there, referring to people as “pakis” and “ragheads” as you can see in this YOUTUBE link.

Still, in a few years time I’m sure it will make a nice little film. And I won’t be watching that one either.

I was a mail order bride


Mick Fleetwood pioneered the British "male" order bride business.
An article from the Association of Psychological Science got me thinking about accents. To make myself more easily understood to American work colleagues, I’ve made a conscious effort to adapt my speech. Consequently my family thinks I sound American while most Americans think I sound like a Brit—although one they can generally understand. I soften my natural Liverpool accent and use American words rather than British ones and, generally, I don’t have much of a problem being understood. It’s an effort but it’s worthwhile to avoid repeating myself half a dozen times to make myself understood.

The one thing I absolutely don’t do is try to sound American. For one thing, I do a horrible American accent; it sounds like Eric Idle in a bad Monty Python sketch. The second reason. More importantly, is that I consider it insulting when strangers hearing me immediately launch into a fake, Dick Van Dyke in “Mary Poppins” accent that they seem to think is amusing and, worryingly, accurate.

While those occasions are more overtly offensive, although most certainly innocent in intent, I’ve worked with a couple of Germans here in America and never once heard an American start saying things like “Yah vole, mine hair.” I dated a French woman and never once heard an American launch into “Wee, wee, ooh lah lah.” And I’ve certainly never heard an American start talking like Apu from the Simpsons when meeting someone from India for the first time. Why? Probably because it would immediately be construed as racist to make fun of someone’s accent like that. So perhaps I should take it as a complement when people start talking about the funny way that “other” people pronounce words. By forgetting that I’m also a foreigner, maybe that’s their little way of accepting me. I once had a work colleague, oblivious to the inherent racism and any possible insult to me, ask for my help rather than the on-call programmer, who happened to be Indian, because, “You’re one of us.”

Consequently, while it’s not usually overt or deliberate, it’s almost impossible to forget that I’m a foreigner living in the US so it’s nice to get out fishing with my friend, Keith, who is also a Brit. I can relax doing something I love and don’t have to worry about whether he’ll understand my natural accent and any particularly British idioms. I also don’t have to translate any British references into an American equivalent.

It’s relaxing to drop the almost continuous effort to fit in, so it was particularly unwelcome when some idiot, who’d bothered him before because he disliked people who fish, told Keith to “Go home!” And then ran away. Kids, eh? Except that this fella was probably older than me and as offensive as they come.

It was quite a shock actually because in all the years I’ve been here, with the exception of the in-laws, I can probably count the number of times when I’ve been made to feel unwelcome. For the most part people I meet while out fishing are friendly, interested in the fancy equipment I use for fishing, and welcoming. The only real problem I have is, apparently, pronouncing the word “carp.” For such a simple word, it’s amazing that I simply can’t pronounce it in a way that is understood.

“You’re after what? Cop?”

“No, carp.”

“Cap?”

“No, CARP.”

“Corp? What are they?”

“No. Carp. C-A-R-P. Caaaarp.”

And then the realization finally hits. “Oooooh. Carp. Do you eat them?”

I’ll sometimes try to avoid this frustrating exchange by saying “Smallmouth Buffalo.”

And then they’ll sometimes be a bit funny, at least I hope they’re trying to be funny, saying“You don’t catch buffalo in a lake.”

“You do if they’re water buffalo.”

It does get a bit frustrating but I realize that for the most part the intent is innocent and, after all, I’m the foreigner here. Something I am made tediously aware of whenever I go to the shops, or Starbucks, or anywhere else where I have to speak. More so in Texas than anywhere else I’ve lived, people seem insatiably curious about why a Brit should be living here. When you’ve explained the story of your being here at least once a week for 15 years, it tends to get a bit old, so I started having fun with it.

“How did you get here?” I’ll be asked.

“I drove. I only live up the road.” I smile as I respond.

“Nooo, how did you get to America?”

I’ll push it a bit further. “Well, they have these things called airplanes. They’re like big shiny metal tubes with wings, like a bird in the sky, but big enough to carry people.”

“Okay, but are you visiting?”

“Oh no,” I’ll say. “Apparently America got over the whole revolution thing and allow us to live here now.”

Eventually they get the message that I’m still not American enough to want to spill my life story to complete strangers… yet.

But even a bit of light-hearted fun gets a bit old after a few thousand times, so, being the storyteller (i.e. habitual liar) that I am, a few years ago I started making stuff up.

I’ve informed a lady at the local grocery store that I was kidnapped by pirates and shipwrecked off the coast of Florida. Another clerk was told that I escaped the draft in Canada by slipping across the border. I think she actually believed that one. Another passerby, having watched me land a good sized carp (C-A-R-P), was wide-eyed as I spilled the story that I was working as a biologist for the British embassy, on a special assignment to study American fish. I once convinced a US marine in a bar in San Diego that I was here to set up a dairy for my family back in Italy. I didn’t even change my accent. On a stag night in Denver (honest!) I told a stripper that I was an Oxford University professor writing a paper about the American adult-entertainment business. There have been a few stories told and usually people take it all in good fun.

I do this, of course, to hide the fact that I’m really a transgendered mail order bride.

Naming the Ghost


What sadist places a maze of pre-fabricated, high-rise flats to re-house the inner city slums between two wealthy golf courses?

I consider myself a skeptic and, in the absence of the dis-proof of a “God”, an agnostic rather than an atheist. That doesn’t mean to say I don’t believe in a higher power, I do. And she manages the money, pays the bills and tells me when I forget to put stuff away. But while I don’t tend to be the hard-nosed “show me the science” type of naysayer, at least not anymore, the fact remains that I don’t put any faith in a conscious spiritual power that is responsible for my existence and capable of helping me win the lottery. But equally, that skepticism about taking an absolute stance on matters of our spiritual and physical selves means that there are things I believe in at which, perhaps, other skeptics would scoff. Like ghosts.

But then, I find ghosts easier to believe in because I’ve seen one.

At ten years old, I was already displaying proto-atheist tendencies and refusing to go to church with my Mum who, accidentally, had rediscovered her own faith when she decided the kids needed the moral guidance of a church she’d stopped attending. We were Catholics, of course, as many Scousers of Irish heritage were, so I attended St Cyril’s Catholic primary school.

Cyril’s was lodged in Naylorsfield, the more westerly of a string of three council (for which, read “public,” “government,” or “cheap houses paid for by the local authorities to keep the poor people from dying in posh neighborhoods”) housing estates. Netherley, where I lived, sat between Naylorsfield and the snooty-sounding “The Woodlands.” St Cyril’s Junior School wasn’t that large, perhaps 300 children (75 children to a year spread across 2 classes, and ages from 7 through 11) and we were all from one of the three council estates. Posh kids had their own schools up the hill in Woolton and Gateacre and Allerton.

The council estates were fairly new-built on the outskirts of Liverpool, abutting farms and open countryside. They were built to house the people who had previously lived in the inner-city slums and, perhaps, to get them out of sight. Being poor isn’t very pretty, apparently. Or very smart either.

One of my two best friends, Martin Humphries, still had an imaginary pet spider named “Bidey” at age ten, and it happened to be smarter than Martin. My other best friend was Steven Harris who was the fastest runner in the school and marginally smarter than Bidey. Stephen Harris lived in “The Woodlands” and occasionally I’d go to see him during the holidays. Stephen wasn’t allowed to come to my estate to see me because Netherley was too dangerous, but that was okay because it wasn’t too far a walk Stephen’s house. All I had to do was turn left out of our house, turn left down the street past my Nanna’s house (she lived at number 22 and we lived at number 7), past a school, past Skellington Fold (which was just the coolest name for 4 blocks of flats!), and walk through the underpass (honest, Mum, I didn’t go across the main road) under Caldway Drive, and from there it was open fields.

Kind of.

There were houses to the right, off Wood Lane, which formed the lower part of The Woodlands, but in front of me, and

Halewood Plantation and Workhouse used to be adjacent to where Netherley was built a century later.

 to the left, was open fields and farmland. I had escaped the world of Liverpool council estates and could almost hear the birds coughing. The field in front of me was, perhaps 200 yards long and bounded on the left by a small brook (Netherley Brook?) and trees and brambles. At the end of the field the trees on the left joined with a copse on the right, leaving a narrow gap. Beyond the gap. The fields opened out again even wider for another 300 or 400 yards with woods and farmland on the left, and Wood Lane and houses on the right. Stephen lived at the very end of the field, at the corner where houses met Netherley Brook and the woods. (I’ve decided that this must be the same Netherley Brook I’ve seen pictures of and named as such.)

Stephen and his sister, Jane, who was a year younger than me and a little hottie, for as much as I knew what that was, would play in the woods and near (and sometimes in) the brook. We’d swing over the brook from overhanging trees, play hide and seek, and sometimes we’d just tie Jane to a tree and go play football. We didn’t, however, ever threw bricks at a hornet’s nest while someone’s brother was urinating on it, requiring hospital treatment for many, many, many stings in sensitive places. No. We didn’t, but my cousins did!

So after a long day’s playing and climbing trees and tying little sisters up, it was time to go home. Back through the top field, through the gap in the woods, across the bottom field, under the underpass (I told you already, Mum, I didn’t run across Caldway Drive and that Shaun’s a liar!), past Skellington Fold, past the school, past my Nanna’s house and home.

Half-way down the top field, there was a tree-stump. At least a hundred yards from anything. I know, because it was the starting point where we used to play hide and seek sometimes, and it was at least a 30 count before you got to the woods to hide. One day I noticed a kid sitting on the stump as I was walking home. In Netherley, you generally learned not to look twice at any kid you didn’t know so I tried to pay him no attention and carried on walking, studiously looking down. As I passed within, maybe, 30 yards of him, I looked up. He was just another kid, a little older than me perhaps, but by no more than a couple of years. He was wearing the oddest clothes. Brown pants that finished at the calf. No shoes. An off-white shirt that would later become popular with the New Romantic movement of the 1980s but which, when I first saw it, looked more like the 1880s’ vintage. I smiled a tight “I’m tough” smile and nodded slightly. Unfortunately I also waved in a very “Oh Shit! I just blew my cover about being a tough-guy” kind of way. That could be fatal in the Netherley I grew up in, but he just smiled and nodded back. I remember thinking it was best to take no chances though, so I put my head down and walked on a few paces more staring at the grass three feet in front of me. Wary, I looked back after 10 paces or so to see if he was following.

Gone.

He was not on the tree-stump. Not crouching behind it either (it really wasn’t that big of a stump) and I spun to see where he was. There was nothing to hide behind for at least 100 yards in either direction but he was gone. It had been maybe 6 or 7 seconds since he nodded at me and there was no way he could have just vanished like that. I got scared and started running. In seconds I was into the darkening woods, through the closing gap, across the lower field that had grown to six miles long, over Caldway Drive, (Okay, so yeah, I did run across it that one time, Mum. Honest, it was only once.) past Skeleton Fold, past the school where I had nightmares about Roman legions marching, torches blazing, over the playing fields in the dead of night, past the scary Alsatian that was tied up by a heavy chain so that it only ate one kid a day, past my Nanna’s who was developing Alzheimer’s and went a bit crazy sometimes, and into the house and my bedroom and my bed.

I may even have peed a little.

I don’t remember telling anyone because, of course, I didn’t want to be laughed at, but I do remember that I only ever went back to Stephen’s once. And I walked the long way round through the lowers Woodlands estate were we once found my Dad’s missing car, glass smashed and minus an engine.

After that summer, I went on to grammar school because I’d passed the Eleven-Plus with good-enough grades to get into St Edwards College. Stephen and Martin Humphries went to the local comprehensive school. Bidey, I seem to recall, went to St Francis Xavier and then on to Oxford, but I may be mistaken.

It was haunted by druggies and addicts during the 1980s, but was the Haunted Wood given that name for older reasons?

So here’s the odd thing. Okay, another odd thing. Years later when Al Gore got around to inventing the internet, a whole new world of nostalgia opened up. People started taking pictures of where they lived and posting them on the web, and genealogists and amateur historians and people like me who had nothing better to do started feeding the world-wide web with data, and more data and more and more data than had ever been accessible from one place, any place, ever before. And one of those pieces of  information is a black and white photograph of the woods where Stephen and I and Shaun and Richard and the hornets used to play. And the photograph is titled, “Haunted Wood.” There it is, right there on the left, see?

Taken by Paul Farley on a visit back to Netherley. There is a fascinating piece written by Paul and Naill Griffiths (from where this picture is taken) about how Netherley came about and what it was like growing up there and it’s definitely worth a read, if even for its social history value. Sadly, I can find no other explanation as to why this wood is called Haunted Wood other than a reference to it being haunted by druggies and addicts. But it seems right. It fits.

I’ve searched more and more into this over the last few years, and still cannot find out why the wood may be so-called, but as soon as I heard the word “Haunted” I remember that I’d heard it called that before when I was a kid. It was something the older kids used to say and maybe it was just a generational thing that stuck for kids of my age and continues to resound in middle age.

Another odd thing is that where Netherley and The Woodlands estate were built was the site of a Victorian dump. Previously a part of Little Woolton, the part of Woolton down the hill from Much or upper Woolton Village, it also bordered Halewood Plantation and the Workhouse, where poor people went when to work off their debts. (see map) It stands to reason that kids would work the plantation and the workhouse in the 1800s, just like my ghost perhaps.

So now that I feel I know much more about where my ghost might have lived, and worked, I was determined to give him a name. Looking for period names, I searched through the archives of burials registered in Much Woolton and came across Joseph Cragg, aged 12, buried January 28th, 1835. His brother, Thomas Cragg, was only 7 when he was buried the very same day.

Haunting, isn’t it?

Links that provided images and research information:

http://www.workhouses.org.uk/index.html?/Prescot/Prescot.shtml

http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=41306

http://www.flickr.com/photos/41557568@N04/sets/72157623618731084/comments/