Corrections to the blogosphere, the consensus, and the world

Friday, February 25, 2011

The Scottish Play

Tony Abbott ventures on culture;
"This latter day Lady Macbeth'll be saying, "Out, out, foul spot! Out, out, foul spot!" But she said it and she will be judged by it."
Typical that he not only pulls out an analogy that has almost no meaningful parallel with the point he's trying to make but gets it wrong - foul spot for damned spot. And this in a prepared speech.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Case of the Polo Pony

Yesterday, before Mr. Justice Cocklecarrot and a mixed jury, the case was continued in which Mrs. Heaulme (nee Parsons) is seeking to restrain her neighbour, Mr. Cawley, from keeping a polo pony in a disused railway truck near her conservatory. Mrs. Heaulme alleges that when the conservatory window is open the pony, Fido II, breathes on the flowers, and sometimes on guests who come' to tea. Mr. Cawley maintains that the pony is so young that his breathing would not blow out a candle.
Mrs. Heaulme: Who cares whether he blows out a candle or not?
Mr. Jedbind (for the prosecution): Are you in the habit of having tea by candlelight in your conservatory in April?
Mr. Faffle (for the defence): I object, m'lord.
Cocklecarrot: Objection over-sustained.
Mr. Faffle: Meaning what?
Cocklecarrot: Fire ahead – er -proceed.
Mr. Cawley: A polo pony is not likely to know whether there is a lighted candle in a conservatory or not.
Mr. Faffle: Is it not as natural for a pony to breathe as anyone else?
Mr. Jedbind: An old pony breathes just as much as a young one.
Cocklecarrot: Or a middle-aged one, eh?
(All join in the general laughter, and the court adjourns for lunch.)

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Literalism and Liberalism

A website that (praiseworthily) reprints Marx's The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte from 1852, but with an odd added error:
Bourgeois revolutions, like those of the eighteenth century, storm more swiftly from success to success, their dramatic effects outdo each other, men and things seem set in sparkling diamonds, ecstasy is the order of the day – but they are short-lived, soon they have reached their zenith, and a long Katzenjammer [cat’s winge] takes hold of society before it learns to assimilate the results of its storm-and-stress period soberly.

where Katzenjammer is of course actually slang for a hangover - which could be looked up, and I would have thought would have been where the alternative was the meaningless "cat's w(h)inge".

....until a situation is created which makes all turning back impossible, and the conditions themselves call out:

Hic Rhodus, hic salta!
[Here is the rose, here dance!]

The phrase arises from the Latin form of Aesop's Fables (Gibbs 209; Perry 33: Chambry 51), as translated from Ancient Greek phrase (literally) "Here is Rhodes, jump here!". In the fable, a boastful athlete brags that he once achieved a stupendous long jump in competition on the island of Rhodes. A bystander challenges him to dispense with the reports of the witnesses and simply repeat his accomplishment on the spot: "Here is Rhodes, jump here!"

Mind you, the fable is exactly the kind of thing I object to with facilitated communication: I would not be entitled to demand that Kathy Freeman ran 500 metres in whatever time it was just to convince me that she could, and the word of the spectators at the Olympic stadium should in fact be taken into consideration. But that doesn't excuse 'rose'.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Age Bin - Moral panics

A local brouhaha:

I’m glad to see that player’s agents like Mr. Nixon are now held to the same high moral standards as the players themselves, but in this day and age is this really enough? I myself will not be satisfied until every milkbar owner who’s ever sold an AFL player a stick of spearmint chewing gum is listed on a central register to notify the rest of us upstanding citizens that we can start handing out the pitchforks and torches with a clear conscience.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Damned for a ducat

Nahum Tate:
But still so many Master-Touches shine
Of that vast Hand that first laid this Design,
That in great Shakespear's Right, He's bold to say
If you like nothing you have seen to Day
The Play your Judgment damns, not you the Play.

This is from Tate's rewrite, mind you, where he explains the happy ending by pointing out that the hetacomb at the end of the old tragedies incited giggles:
This Method necessarily threw me on making the Tale conclude in a Success to the innocent distrest Persons: Otherwise I must have incumbred the Stage with dead Bodies, which Conduct makes many Tragedies conclude with unseasonable Jests. Yet was I Rackt with no small Fears for so bold a Change, till I found it well receiv'd by my Audience; and if this will not satisfie the Reader, I can produce an Authority that questionless will. Neither is it of so Trivial an Undertaking to make a Tragedy end happily, for 'tis more difficult to Save than 'tis to Kill: The Dagger and Cup of Poyson are alwaies in Readiness; but to bring the Action to the last Extremity, and then by probable Means to recover All, will require the Art and Judgment of a Writer, and cost him many a Pang in the Performance. [Marginal note: "Mr. Dryd. Pref. to the Span. Fryar."]

Today also notable for my discovery that what I have for my entire life spelled and said as hetacomb is in fact hecatomb, which I suppose does make more sense.

Queen Lear

Went to the UKNT-on-film production of King Lear, and disliked it; because

1) as usual, it was all said too fast, with in consequence no possibility of the verse being taken as what anybody could contemporaneously be thinking - no pause for thought, no pause before responding; and yes, I appreciate that verse is in its nature artificial, but there is a gray area where it is also supposed to be capable of being apprehended as natural...

2) OK, it's a fault, I am incapable of being entirely snatched away from the world of naive realism, and I keep being sidelined by trying to think up subplots or prequels that would make the actual plot make a lick of sense.

The opening scene... it's not that an old king would not want to divide up his kingdom among his daughters, or that he would be pissed off when one of them has reservations, it's that Lear couldn't conceivably have been surprised by Cordelia's response unless he was meeting her for the first time. That kind of irritating literalism isn't a one-off, it's a character trait, and the natural response is not shock at what she's doing but rather the iambic pentameter equivalent of "Dammit, Cordelia, you're doing it again! Why do you always have to ruin everything?"

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Case of the Twelve Red-Bearded Dwarves, part 32

The Dwarfs Again

The action brought by the Phinehas Cupper-Harsnett Trading Company and the National Mortgage Indemnity Agency against Mrs. Wharple, Mohammed Brown, The Constructional Rebate Pitcher Plant, Maracaibo United, and Cicely du Bois for recovery of stamping costs has been settled out of court. Much to the relief of Mr. Justice Cocklecarrot, who discovered that the whole business was another family quarrel of the twelve red-bearded dwarfs.

'These little gentlemen,' said Cocklecarrot, 'seem to have invented a new kind of litigation. They are continually bringing actions against themselves or each other under the names of fantastic companies or individuals, none of whom appears to have any existence save on paper. The object of all this is still obscure, but there are those who hint at international ramifications, and believe that we are witnessing an attempt to make British Justice look even sillier and beastlier than it is.'

Recently the twelve dwarfs bought a female singing-mouse called Royal Gertrude on the hire-purchase system - ninepence a year for fifty-one years. The mouse broke its foot against a sugar-tongs, and, instead of singing, bawled. Only the first ninepence has been paid, and the dwarfs are claiming the money back. The firm of Hustington and Chaney, importers of singing mice, refuse to take the mouse back or refund the money, and the Boycott Japan League is organising a mass-meeting of novelists and professional agitators to petition for the deportation of the mouse to the island of Capri, where a mouse-lover, Miss Webbe-Ffoote, has offered to house, feed, clothe, and educate it.

The situation seems to await the experienced touch of Mr. Justice Cocklecarrot.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Blood Libel

No, that's not a blood libel: this is a blood libel.

x. About Hubert de Burgh his Opinions concerning the Giwen

The Giwen are the curse of the kingdom of England, because they know not how to be faithful and honest when they are treated fairly and generously. They have quicker wits than other men: which is all very well; and I do not vituperate them for that.
But they are also more crafty, more avaricious, and quite devoid of scruples; and they gibe at the bare notion of keeping faith, except among themselves, if then. In brief, they are beasts prey by nature, and spoilers by open profession. They allege that they spring from the seed of Messire Saint Abraham, a Patriarch of Hierusalem in ancient times, to whom the earth was promised by Divine Providence in a vision. I do not dream of denying this, since we have the fact recorded in the Sacred Scriptures. But they say, also, that we Christians, who hold any part of the said earth, are simply usurpers of their said divinely-promised rights, whom their laws oblige and encourage them to harass and embarrass and dispossess by any and every means. This doctrine, I utterly spit upon and abhor from: because it is capable of being stretched out so as to include (with approval) such crimes as cheating and fraud and even murder.

We Englishmen do not like being despoiled by shrewd unscrupulous very-undesirable aliens; and it is our custom to treat the Giwen (who thrust their company upon us) as dangerous animals, kept encaged and enchained, but allowed to live and to thrive under suitable restrictions: it being a sin for us to take human life, excepting in a good cause, for we by no means believe it lawful for a Christian to slay (with impunity, according to his pleasure), any Giwe who behaves as he ought.

We Christians are forbidden (by our religion) to commit the sin of usury: but, with the Giwe, it is far otherwise. His religion (which we respect, and damn), permits and approves of usury; and he does a thriving trade by outwitting and nefariously oppressing us. O manners. Not that I blame clergymen, not that I blame magnates, who borrow money from Giwen: for, thereby, many important abbeys and castles are builded; and clergymen and magnates are strong enough (as a rule) to protect themselves from knavery. But the Giwen are wont to inveigle poor needy knights and burgesses to their ruin; and thus they have thrust themselves under the displeasure of the major part of our nation.

Hence, because the devout fervour of the English (irritated beyond toleration, by the crimes of the slippery Giwen), used to revolt against them, and to beat them badly (perhaps sometimes rather more than justice strictly demanded), then, the kings of the English deigned to take the said Giwen under their regal protection entirely, as tributaries, dividing them from the rest of the nation, making them a nation apart, giving them separate laws whereby (and separate sites whereon) they might live and flourish in perfect security. Yet they are not content: but, ever and again, they burst out in scorn of us Christians, committing hideous crimes and outrages against us and our holy religion. For, in their canonical books it is written (as it is written in the Sacred Scriptures) that, without bloodshed, there can be no remission. But they, swayed by the devil, perfidiously distort this saying, so as to mean that they may never return to their dear fatherland unless they shed Christian blood. O generation of vipers. Hence, it was laid down by them in antique times, that, every year, they must sacrifice a Christian, in some part of the world, to The Most High God, in scorn and contempt of Christ, so that they might revenge their sufferings on Him, inasmuch as it was because of His Death that they had been shut out from their fatherland and were in exile in foreign countries. Wherefore, the princes and rabbis of the Giwen, who dwell in Spain, assemble at Narbonne, where their regal seed is and they are held in highest esteem; and they cast lots for all the countries which the Giwen inhabit; and the metropolis of that country, upon which the lot falls, has to carry out the same method with the other towns and cities; and the place, whose lot is drawn, has to fulfil the duty imposed by the said decree. And this means to say that, at the time of their Passover, which is the Paschal Season, they must take a Christian, spotless and virginal, whom they must afflict as their forefathers afflicted the Human Person of The Lord our God, with mocking and scourging and crowning with thorn and crucifixion and with such other torment as their demons may suggest to them.

In the year 1144 of Redemption, when King Stephen Bowman was reigning thus did the Giwen of Norwich with Messire Sweet Saint William the Martyr, who (as everyone well knows) is illustrated with wondrous and unspeakable miracles even at this very day. I myself have seen the close-clustered ruddy flowers which sprang from his boyish body (dripping with blood) in the wood where they hid it on Mousehold Heath. I myself have offered at his shrine a candle of my own weight in virgin wax, the work of the mother-bee, to gratify the natural love for candles of him who was born on Candlemas Day. And my lord the king has frequently done the same. What more true? When King Henry fil-Empress was reigning in England, the Giwen became boundless in audacity.
In the year 1165 of Redemption, it is said that they crucified Messire Saint Harold of Gloucester. In the year 1181 of Redemption, it is said that they crucified both Messire Saint Robert a boy of Bury Saint Edmund's, and Messire Saint Herebert a boy of Huntingdon. In the year 1182 of Redemption, it would seem that the lot fell upon France: for we hear how they crucified Messire Saint Richard, a boy of Pontoise, whose sacred body was first enshrined in the church of the Holy Innocents at Paris, until King Henry fil-Empress translated it with awful pomp to Rouen, leaving the head only to the Franks. And I well remember hearing how (in the year 1192 of Redemption), when King Richard Lionheart was reigning in England, the Giwen did the same atrocious sacrilege and homicide on the virginal body of Messire Saint Yvo, a boy of Winchester, who came from Armorica to get a living as a mime in that regal city.
Now there ate several individuals still at large-whether they be puzzolent pestiferous turpilucricupidous knaves, like Softsword, or merely sentimental fools, like that maggotty-witted Roches, it is not for me to say-who fondly affirm that these things are either fables invented by clergymen in despite of the Giwen, or (if not fables) they are only rather-questionable indiscretions committed by the Giwen in the sheer madness of revenge and despair, to which we Christians have goaded them by our unprovoked unmerited atrocities. And, in this, I say, out loud, and at once, that these knaves or fools lie foully in their hairy throats. No Christian ought to make such allegations of Christians, nor Englishmen of men of England. In any case, I fearlessly affirm that we Christians ought not to be called upon to respond to an accusation of this sort, before the Giwen are purged from the murder of one of us, of which they are known to have been accused ere now, and they are not purged.80 I speak of the Martyrdom of Messire Sweet Saint William. Nevertheless, I will make a certain answer.
In the first place, let us consider that it is only a fool who kills the goose which lays him golden eggs; and I say that clergymen are not such fools as to damage the Giwen, from whom the Cistercians alone could and did borrow the money for building no fewer than nine of their northern abbeys, namely, Rievalle, Revesby, Ruford, Rupe, Newminster, Kirkested, Kirkestall, Parcolude, Betlesden.
In the second place, concerning the alleged cruelties wherewith we Christians goaded the Giwen as far as homicidal mania, I simply demand, What cruelties? Let us take things in the proper order. All the people of England are under the protection of the kings of the English: but the Giwen have a special and particular protection. The question is this: Do they languish thereunder, or do they flourish? And here is the answer. The Giwen were the first men in this kingdom to be rich enough to build their houses of stone: all the rest of the nation, exeepting the few who had castles, were obliged to dwell in walls of wood or wattle or mud. The Giwen came to us as mendicants and guests, piteously whimpering for hospitality. It was granted to them, full measure, pressed down, and running over the pottle, so that less fortunate Christians actually envied them. And, from the stronghold of their incalculable riches entirely gained nefariously under our own kings' protection, they spoil the widow and the fatherless, rob the orphan, oppress the poor, and mock our holy religion. Is it surprizing, then, that Christian patience occasionally gives way to passionate outbreaks of carnage, as at York?

Let us next consider the difference between the king's protection of Christians and of Giwen. Both are liable to affiiction under a bad king. But, whereas the king is the only tyrant whom the Giwen have to fear, excepting when they (by their ungrateful mal-practices) wilfully and wantonly incur the ire of the mobile vulgar, Christians suffer as much from a tyrannous king, and, also, from that tyrannous king's tyrannous Giwen.

Of what, precisely, do the querelous cantankerous Giwen complain? They complain, forsooth, that they may not hold offices of state in England. That is true. England is a Christian kingdom. The Giwens are invaders of it, generously tolerated, but not wanted. As Christians, we enforce Christian laws. The officer of a Christian king swears fidelity in The Name of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Which oath, the Giwen will not swear; and, so, they debar themselves from office. Are we excessively unreasonable herein? Are the Giwen more easy and less strict in this respect? I think not. Hear me spue my scorn upon such presumptuous chicanery. When a Christian (diabolically swayed) lusts to become a Giwe, is he admitted to their conjuration without test? Ho no, indeed. What of those two Cistercian monks, demoniacs of our own times, who, worn out by the sweet light burthen of Christ His easy yoke, fled to the synagogue of Satan, home of damnation, asylum of depraved and pestiferous rites. To cut short the wretched story, upon which I dilate merely to express my detestation, the said monks were forced to renounce the sacred laver of their baptism, and to submit to a physical diminution, before the Giwen would receive them.

Now let us consider the singular privileges and advantages enjoyed by the Giwen under the king's protection. They are quite free (as no other man is free) to accumulate wealth; and the king jealously guards it for them against all interference. No one may meddle with any Giwe, for good or evil, excepting at the king's own bidding. In the year 1194 of Redemption, King Richard Lionheart made and confirmed an Ordinance for the Giwerie, stablishing a special exchequer called Giuudeorum Saccarium at Westminster, where they might keep their parchments which they call Starrs and have their lawsuits tried before twO jusriciars of their own. They have jurisdiction among themselves, according to rabbinic law, excepting for the major felonies; and their rabbis advise the regal exchequer on points of rabbinic law. In the chief cities of the kingdom, they have their Chests kept for them by the king's officers. And, above all, they are exempted altogether from all tolls and taxes and fines of justice. Is it wonderful that they suck up the gold of England as a sponge sucks up water? Could anyone fail to accumulate riches, when he is helped thus to take, and exempted from giving? But what do the Giwen give, in return for these tremendous and unheard-of favours? One thing only, namely, the tallages, reliefs, fines, and amercements, which (be it noted) the king levies on all his dependants alike, Christians as well as Giwen. The Giwen have suffered hideously from bad kings. Ho yes. But so also have we Christians, and far more hideously: for we have suffered both from bad kings and from those bad kings' bad and protected Giwen as well.

God knows how hard it is for a man to make good laws for men. I know a great deal about it myself, having made a many laws, good and bad, in my time. But I am unable to imagine fairer or more righteous or more desirable laws, than those which the kings of the English have made for their Giwen, to the detriment and at the expense of their Christians.

And, as for the gross ingratitude which the Giwen (with their whoopings and their whinings) show in return for our ridiculous generosity, I cannot conceive of anything more deservedly reprehensible as being quite contrary to decorum or good manners. And I repeat: the Giwen are the curse of the kingdom of England. That is my opinion of the Giwen. I have spoken. Let it stand.

XI. About a third Wickedness of the Wicked Uncle

Softsword himself, as I have said, dealt with the king's Giwen.

But he did more than to take the proper dues from them this time, he being undoubtedly swayed by the devil and inspired by the diabolical prepotence of Legion. For, he sent to all the cities where the Giwen had their Chests; and he took note of the parchments stored therein: from which he informed himself of the cities which contained the richest Giweries, and of the Giweries which kenneled the richest Giwen. And, from the last, he demanded Dona, gifts of bullion, most flagitiously.

When the said rich Giwen demurred, he squeezed them till they exuded gold, ill-gotten (it is true) and now ill-taken. Of the chief of them, one Ysaak of the Bristol Giwerie, he required no less than ten thousand marks. The Giwe, being reluctant to pay, was accommodated in a dungeon of the castle, where he sustained cold, hunger, stenches, and attacks of toads, for quite a long time: but persevered in his recalcitrant behaviour. John, then, took to tearing a tooth out of the back of his jaw, one every day after mass, seven in all; and the tearing was not done tenderly. On the eighth day, Ysaak was found to have lost his face, only a festering swelling representing it, nor was any mouth seen whereby the tongs might enter. The tormentor, therefore, began to slit what he took to be a cheek: but the first snap of his scissors caused so much and so profound displeasure, that the Giwe cheerfully submitted to Soft¬sword's indefensible illegalities.

Seeing, then, how the Giwen might be parted from their wealth, and, knowing exactly how much each Giwe had in hoard from which he might be parted, Softsword decided to go further in this direction. But he wished to be affable, if they would let him: for some bishop had told him that the wise grazier shears his sheep without flaying them, and that bargains are more pleasant than pillage and more profitable than plunder. The said Ysaak of Bristol having been healed, he, with two other Giwen named Yomtob of Lincoln and Beleasez of Oxford, who were among the most eminent Giwen in the kingdom, were brought to the Wild Ass in his castle of Corfe: for he had a most horrible plan in his mind, and dispensed with his trumpets on this occasion.

"Sir Giwe," says he to Ysaak, "I desire, making you amends for your teeth, to sell you a male lamb without blemish for your passover: for I hear that your nation has not been able to find a sacrifice worth your buying, or one which ye could buy with security, these nine years." The Giwen began to tremble at these frightful words: for they suspected snares. But Softsword was excessively affable, and gave clear tokens that he was in earnest. Therefore, they proceeded cautelously, neither denying him, nor incriminating themselves, being anxious to propitiate him, as well as to satisfy their own religion and their own cupidity. Mortain then bade the Giwen to observe Duke Arthur, now a gigantic flower of boyhood, who (by chance) was strolling in the outer bailey: but, all the while, he spoke of the lamb which he had for sale, saying that it was an orphan, merely an encumbrance to its present owner on account of its rarity, he preferring a commoner sort of sheep of which he had already as many flocks as he could manage. The Giwen timidly inquired the price of this lamb. To whom Softsword answered that the price must be a high one, seeing that the said lamb was perfect even in the most minute particulars, and to be sold for sacrifice and nothing else. And he bade them to say what sum they were willing to offer. Then Be1easez of Oxford was very bold: for he saw all which was intended, the dastardly cupidity of John desiring to be ridded of his nephew, and the glory to accrue to the Bristol Giwerie by so magnificent a victim; and he spoke up like a man, giving a famous answer. "Our forefathers," says he, " paid thirty silver marks for a Lamb a long while ago; and we, more generous than they, will pay thirty-thousand silver marks for this lamb."

See reincarnate Judas: see now a second Herod. Sixteen days later, Earl John pouched the price of blood; and my lord the king, his pages and his cotterels having been pushed into the castle-oven and baked, was delivered by night, gagged and bound, to the myrmidons of the Giwen, who conveyed him secretly to Bristol, and sent word of the impending sacrifice to all their synagogues in the kingdom. For, considering the highness of their victim and the splendour of his every perfection, they expected no less than the redemption of their whole race on account of so magnificent a sacrifice. All this, I had from Beleasez of Oxford himself, when (much later) he was engaged in dying.

And just in case anybody thought this was other than as reported, here is the sacrifice:

XIIII. About Duke Arthur his Most glorious Martyrdom
The night was dark, moonless, and starless. We armed ourselves from head to foot. Fulk flamed with a torch by my side; and I led the way. The gate of the Giwerie was guarded by two, who fled inward at my approach. We saw many lights witllin the gate. We heard multitudinous murmuring. I felt myself directly inspired by The Lord God. I gave the word to draw longswords, and to slay without mercy. So, we rode in at full gallop, using our weapons like scythes. The Giwen ran like rabbits to an inner gateway. Fulk followed me; and, flinging off my horse, I entered also. The crime was in the very article of perpetration.

There were about thirty Giwen in the small courtyard, twenty ancients with torches, ten young and lusty otherwise occupied. Their backs were toward me; and they were engaged on the ground before them. There, lay a huge cross of oaken timber. On the cross, was the Regal Majesty of my lord the king, naked as born, bleeding from weals, crowned with thorn.

His left knee was bent, and his left foot nailed flat to the cross. His right leg was pulled long and straight, and tied to the wood with cordage. A great filthy Giwe was riding straddled on his belly, pressing his shoulders down to the transom. His left arm was pulled long and straight, and tied to that transom with cordage. Every part of him, which was not nailed or corded, writhed and struggled most awfully. His well-toothed head darted, and bit, and cursed, with the anger of all the Angevins and the passions of all the Plantagenets.

Two stout young Giwen were gripping the finger and thumb of his right hand, lying on their bestial backs with their hooves in his armpit, stretching and straining his right arm out at full length on the transom. Another Giwe, much younger, kneeled near by, pointing a nail into the palm of the open hand. A fourth Giwe had swung up his heavy hammer. It came down. The nail shuddered, screeching, through regal flesh, and hid its shamed point in the wood.

All this, I saw in the flash of an eye. Then, I got to work with both hands and my long-sword, sweeping round and round irresistibly.

From Hubert's Arthur, by Fr. Rolfe. Written between 1906 and 1913, first published by Cassell, 1935, with an introduction by A.J.A Symons.

The most striking feature of the book for a modern reader has to be these sections on the Jews. Symons comments that 'Hubert's attitudes towards the "Giwen", which reflects Corvo's own, gives us hints towards a further knowledge of Fr. Rolfe's warped and complex nature.' Which hardly seems, with the wisdom of hindsight, enough.

Also must be just about the first novel to feature a hero who uses karate; Hubert's pal Fulk -- "And Earl Fulk's hands finished him in an instant: the left, with its hardened hand-edge, chopping his nape: the right, jabbing with fingers rigid as iron just below his hairy breast-bone, both producing separate and dismally painful deaths."

Skills learned from the Assassins, evidently.


Another scan from my youth. The Nation, May 13, 1972.

Salted underground?

PETER SADECKY: Octobriana and the Russian Underground. Tom Stacey. $12.45.

PETER SADECKY declares that Octobriana was written and drawn by the Russian underground. Octobriana is a selection of anti-Soviet comic strips purportedly done by the Political Progressive Pornography group, a Russia-wide organisation of pornopoliticians devoted to attacking the state apparatus somewhere below its soft underbelly, presented with some explanatory matter by Sadecky. Octobriana herself is a heroine or anti-heroine who combines rather awkwardly deviltry and benevolence. She is built on more-than Playboy lines and drawn rather in the style of Barbarella, though with none of the latter's wit. The strip is in fact unimaginative in the extreme, boring, and in no way pornographic. It is also wildly expensive. In view of the lack of any other merits the price can only be justified if the book does give us an authentic glimpse of life in the Soviet underground.

This is, unfortunately, more than dubious. It is certainly true that, as Sadecky says, the U.S.S.R. is a very prim society, much of the intellectual life of the nation goes on underground in samizhdat, and the young are reacting to the corruption of socialist ideals they see around them by wallowing in any fragment of western decadence that they can get their hands on. It is also true that in putting forward any of these propositions it would be unwise to place too much stress on the evidence of Octobriana.

Peter Sadecky claims to have run into the P.P.P. in Kiev in 1961, worked with them on and off for the next six years, and smuggled their work out of the country at the end of that time at great personal risk. A rather more convincing theory would have it that the entire thing was cobbled up in Prague and that Octobriana has never seen Mother Russia in her life. Its authenticity rests at present' entirely on Sadecky's word; not one of the countless numbers of suppressed Russians who are claimed to follow her adventures have spoken up. Even A. Anatoli, Anatoli
Kuznetsov before he defected, does not claim in his generally approving introduction to have met any member of the P.P.P. or to have seen their work. These negative points might not be very significant - Sadecky would certainly say that nobody could be prepared to admit membership in an illegal organisation simply to settle the doubts of western sceptics -- except that Sadecky has provided almost no evidence that can be checked. He did not, he said, wish to make the task of the security police any easier, an explanation that rings a little false next to several photos of the Kiev group in which faces are only very imperfectly obscured under small strips of black Truth-style.

The German magazine "Stern" did manage to investigate Sadecky's explanation of how he smuggled the Octobriana drawings out of Russia, and it appears to be false. Two Prague artists called Konecry and Burian have claimed that they were the authors of the drawings that Sadecky later adapted to make the strip. They could be lying, or it could be a Soviet plant, but the question would be difficult to resolve; Sadecky says he destroyed the originals shortly after arriving in the west.

Failure to answer such questions as these satisfactorily meant that Sadecky did not really make the bonanza he was hoping for. Octobriana was turned down by "Playboy" and "The Observer". No German publisher would touch it. "As soon as we heard that pertinent information was being withheld, we got cold feet," one said. Sadecky took two years to find a publisher in England.

It is not as if Octobriana carried much conviction in itself. Proposed members of the P.P.P. must first commit some crime and be photographed in the act, we are told. After this clearance they are allowed to join in the orgies. The whole thing sounds a cross between a wet dream and cold war. In the Soviet Union today pornography has political overtones - granted. So do bluejeans, pop records, and vodka. To suggest that politics has pornographic overtones is something else, and Sadecky hasn't made his case.

Wilde and I

At one stage I contemplated doing my undergraduate honours thesis on the history of homosexuality in Australia. I didn't follow through, which was something of a pity, largely on the grounds that it would have involved asking people about things rather than spending my time entirely in the archives, and this article in the Canberra Times - Saturday, January 23, 1971, forthy years ago - is the only relic.


From C.J. Borthwick, in London

Now that official opinion in Australia seems to be moving with glacial speed away from punitive sanctions against homosexuality it is perhaps a good time to look back at how the matter looked to our great grandparents.

There are, of course, pitfalls in the path of the historian in this field; trying to find out anything about Victorian sexuality through the many layers of euphemism is at the best of times not unlike having to read braille through a layer of porridge, and where homosexuality is concerned not even a euphemism was considered antiseptic enough; only hints point vaguely in its direction, like crossword-puzzle clues. It was decidedly a non-issue, and only occasional eruptions like the Oscar Wilde trial allow one to get an idea of what people thought.

Hair comes into it too, of course. In the years before Wilde took up writing plays he was known as the leader of the aesthetic movement, a poseur in velvet clothes who carried around sunflowers and lilies, the longhair. He was God"s gift to the newspapers, of course, even if the Bulletin could do little more than such quips as “Oscar the Wilde”, and the publicity he got connected Wilde with long hair strongly enough for the image not to be affected in the slightest when he later had his hair cut to a decorous length and became the editor of a respectable woman's magazine. There were sunflower balls in country towns, "too utterly utter" became something of a catch-phrase, and Gilbert and Sullivan's opera 'Patience', a satire on Wilde, was enormously popular in the front stalls and the cheap seats.

AS Wilde became more respectable, the Bulletin became more and more bohemian -- in a strictly heterosexual manner, of course. On the day the first news of the Queensbury affair was printed in February, 1895, it carried eight advertisements for failing potency caused by youthful excess, two advertisements for contraceptives, five for abortifacients, and two for books of sex instruction. This first report was casual, saying, "The more or less cranky Marquis of Queensbury has been arrested, charged with libelling Oscar Wilde on an indecent postcard". It added a week later that the nobleman had probably accused Oscar of some conventionality. It was not, perish the thought, flippant cynicism, but simple innocence; none of the rumours of literary London had reached Australia, and probably would not have been understood if they had been.

Gradually, however, fuller reports began to filter over, presumably by word of mouth, as it would have been next to impossible to figure out what was happening from the newspaper's permitted reports. One gentleman indeed wrote in to say that as far as be could see from the papers Wilde had been charged with no more than that admiration of beauty characteristic of the Greek philosophers, and surely nobody could accuse them of anything but platonic affection? The Bulletin by this time knew better, and replied tersely that under similar circumstances Plato would deserve two years hard too. 'The Green Carnation' was read with more attention, Wilde's letter to Lord Alfred Douglas was quoted, and passages from 'The Picture of Dorian Gray' were remembered. Guilt began to be assumed, and the Bulletin held Wilde as an example of "cul-chaw" gone mad.

If there is anything more ridiculous than the British public in one of its periodical fits of morality. it is the Australian public in the same condition. Performances of ‘An Ideal Husband’ in Melbourne had the name of the author struck off the posters, which were advertised as by the author of 'Lady Windermere's Fan'. A performance of 'Patience' by an amateur dramatic group in the country was cancelled because of its connection with the great polluter. The Age said not only was Wilde unfit to be at liberty, but that his very teachings were a moral pestilence, and the Argus suggested his books be put on a special index expurgatorius. "The apostle of aestheticism goes to gaol, and the crash of broken china is heard in the land".

LONG hair had received a blow from which it is now beginning to recover. The Bulletin recorded that "the absence of clean-shaved, long~ haired, low-collared and daintily effeminate young men from Melbourne Block during the past few weeks is almost as remarkable as the rush the barbers have had for moustache-producers and close crops. More than one Melbourne hosiery house has been cleaned out of stand-up collars -- a change of fashion, the Bulletin wildly imagines". A cartoon had a barber saying to a customer, “If I cut it much shorter, you see, it will look more suspicious than ever!" Since that time, of course, stand-up collars have ceased to be a prerequisite of respectability, and beards have become positively suspect; but the general picture is recognizable.

The Bulletin, never one to pass up an opportunity to add a moral, blamed it all on the Tories, pointing out that the case opened on the anniversary of Disraeli's death. The aristocracy came in for some knocks too, from the sturdy Australian egalitarianism. "The most disgusting revelation of this hideous case is the revelation that it deals with matters of upper-class knowledge which the authorities have been carefully guarding from the light. Wilde's fellow-prisoner was notorious among the - haw! - aristocracy. The middle and lower orders knew him not". It may be added here that the thin evidence that can be gleaned from the court reports does not support this conclusion as far as Australia is concerned.

It is, all in all, a dispiriting exhibition of provincial nastiness. Only one piece suggested, in however muted a tone, that the mad scramble to attack Wilde was unnecessary; a contributor to the Bulletin said, "From the judge's remarks in sentencing Oscar Wilde, it may be surmised that the accused was charged under what is known as Labouchere's act, passed a few years ago to meet decisions which quashed' convictions in this class of offences where both were consenting parties. It is a curious reflection on English jurisprudence that while Italy and Austria were studiously omitting all reference to these offences "by consent" and so practically squelching the most odious of all classes of blackmailers, the British were enacting such a law, thus practically inviting the "unemployed" over there.

It is a view that Mr Hughes might perhaps mention in his next cabinet submission. If the machinery is set moving now, it should be possible to get the law modified by the time of the centenary of the trial in 1895.

Monday, February 07, 2011


And how could I not note this?

The only thing better would be having her do a Watchman cosplay as Silk Spectre.

From Antipope

A comment on Charlie Stross's Antipope...

Fred Matzner | February 6, 2011 22:33 |

You might be interested in the loose trilogy by James Blish, A Case of Conscience, Black Easter, and The Day after Judgment. These were spun from the premise that Catholic theology was literally true; in the first novel, a world is found in which catholic morality/ethics is practiced by a race that derived it from logic, not revelation, and therefore had to be an evil world designed by the Devil (in order, I think, to seduce man into believing he doesn't need religion); and the priest involved decided the entire world was a fake set up by the Devil - because the devil cannot create, only God can. (By the way, that is why the Catholic Church banned the movie Rosemary's Baby, not because Catholics couldn't handle a movie about the Devil, but because it posits that the Devil could have a child, obviously nonsense if you believe the devil cannot create).

The second and third books were about what would happen if God was dead. Poor Satan had to take over.

Prompts me to reply...

Actually, the Catholic church has a perfectly consistent explanation of the (fairly common, actually) Rosemary's Baby situation. I'll leave it to Hugh Trevor-Roper to explain;

Witches "as a pledge of their servitude ... were constantly having sexual intercourse with the Devil, who appeared (since even he abhors unnatural vice) to she-witches as an incubus, to he-witches as a succubus.

What Gibbon called “the chaste severity of the Fathers” was much exercised by this last subject, and no detail escaped their learned scrutiny. As a lover, they established, the Devil was of “freezing coldness” to the touch; his embrace gave no pleasure — on the contrary, only pain; and certain items were lacking in his equipment. But there was no frigidity in the technical sense: his attentions were of formidable, even oppressive solidity. That he could generate on witches was agreed by some doctors (how else, asked the Catholic theologians, could the birth of Luther be explained?); but some denied this, and others insisted that only certain worm-like creatures, known in Germany as Elben, could issue from such unions. Moreover, there was considerable doubt whether the Devil’s generative power was his own, as a Franciscan specialist maintained (“under correction from our Holy Mother Church”), or whether he, being neuter, operated with borrowed matter. A nice point of theology was here involved and much interested erudition was expended on it in cloistered solitudes. Some important theologians conjectured that the Devil equipped himself by squeezing the organs of the dead. This view was adopted (among others) by our King James. Other experts advanced other theories, more profound than decent. But on the whole, Holy Mother Church followed the magisterial ruling of the Angelic Doctor, St. Thomas Aquinas, who, after St. Augustine, must be regarded as the second founder of demonological science. According to him, the Devil could discharge as incubus only what he had previously absorbed as succubus. He therefore nimbly alternated between these postures . . ."

This explanation does, of course, imply that the worshippers in Rosemary's Baby are being sold somewhat of a pup, in that they're bringing up not the child of the devil but rather the offspring of some random wet dream, but I'd have to go back to the movie to see if there would be any cause of action for passing off.

I remember reading the first Blish about forty years ago; I suppose I should now look for the other two.

Thursday, February 03, 2011


An argument in Yglesias as to Superman's immigration status.
After all, Superman was an illegal immigrant — one of the 9.3 million estimated to be living in the United States today.

As those of us who recall Action Comics Annual #3 know, this is wrong. When a strange set of circumstances led to Superman becoming a candidate for president his immigration status was litigated with the Supreme Court determining that since he was transported to the planet earth in a kind of artificial womb, he’s actually a natural born citizen of the United States of America.

.... Some may say that because this was merely an alternate timeline, my observation is invalid. But the facts of Superman’s birth are the same in the “canonical” universe as in this branch of time, and the case of Uatu v. Lewis (1993, supra) firmly established that counterfactual legal precedents are binding on lower courts until explicitly overruled by the Supreme Court.

Update After further consultation, it seems that the birthing matrix concept is part of the "Man Of Steel" continuity that's since been superseded by "Superman: Birthright" which does, in fact, have Superman as an illegal immigrant.

But, but, but, all this garbage about 'Birthright' is totally irrelevant, because the whole thing was re-retconned after the Infinite Crisis series. The canonical account is now the 2010 Superman: Secret Origin story and everything else is now heresy.

My other hobby is theology, which has to do its retconning under a much more restrictive set of rules; the original frames must remain unaltered, but the deific significance of any element can be varied without limit.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Republic now

The King's Speech was a great two-hander, but even from Wikipedia one can see that it's not particularly close to the facts. The intervention took place many years earlier than in the movie; "Professor Cathy Schultz, for example, points out that, for dramatic reasons, the film-makers tightened the chronology of the events shown, so that they appeared to take place over just a few years. The Duke of York, in fact, began to work with Lionel Logue in October 1926, ten years before the abdication crisis."
The timing also affects the coronation scene, where George confronts Lionel with his lack of qualifications; before 1926 there were no speech path courses or degrees, and nobody could have had them.

Hitchens also complains in Slate that The King's Speech got the politics wrong; Churchill backed Edward, not George, in the succession, and George backed Chamberlain, not Churchill.

The main objection to the thing, though, is that it's a piece of pro-royal propaganda; the inaccuracies all feed that line.

Take up the rating

Opposition targets 'shocking' rural literacy
Anna Patty
January 31, 2011
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AUSTRALIAN 15-year-olds who live in remote areas rank nearly 40th, behind Lithuania, in a comparison of literacy standards among 65 developed nations.

The Australian breakdown of figures from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development has fuelled the NSW opposition's plan to invest $250 million in providing an extra 900 teachers over four years to schools most in need.

Its education spokesman, Adrian Piccoli, said a key objective of a Coalition government, if elected in March, would be to tackle the growing problem of inequity in reading literacy and numeracy standards.

He said the OECD's Program for International Assessment for 2009 showed that not only was Australia slipping in its overall ranking in literacy standards, to ninth position, the picture of remote regions was dire.

Mr Piccoli, the National Party MP for Murrumbidgee, said students in remote areas achieved a mean score of 465 in reading, 28 points below the OECD average.

''Australia's overall ranking in maths is 15th out of 65, but in remote areas it is 38th, just above Greece and just below the Russian Federation,'' he said. ''I think people would be shocked if they knew we were doing so badly in remote areas of the country.''

Yes, but it's not valid to compare rural breakouts with whole populations. What are the figures for Russian rural areas, or Greek backwoods? If our rurals were compared with everybody else's rurals I'd be surprised if we didn't improve our rating slightly, if anything.
Not to mention that relative rates show very little. If everybody else got better and we got no worse, which is a possible reading, why should we take that as a personal insult?

Tuesday, February 01, 2011


Looking up the wise saw "Charity begins at home, but should not end there" I came across Samuel Fuller (1608-1661), author of Worthies of England, who had another couple of zingers;

‘Tis better to suffer wrong than do it.

Two things a man should never be angry at: what he can help, and what he cannot help.

Age bin - Flag the issue

Australia has a flag that majority of Australians don't like, a head of state the majority of Australians want to get rid of, and a national anthem that the majority of Australians can't remember. All of these together provide some little protection against the cheap nationalism that deforms the public sphere in, for example, America, which fetishises its flag, its anthem, and its President. The only reason to change the flag would be that if it was violet with a design of forget-me-nots then yobbos might find it less satisfying to wear it as a cape while beating up immigrants.

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