Wednesday, March 31, 2010

re: the hypocrisy of Barack Obama

They must be vermin, surely, who defile
Their very Homeland coasts, mile after mile.

-----James Norman Hall

Or is "hypocrisy" too strong a word. I have read that he never said he would not consider drilling for oil in the ocean. So were we gulled by "the art of the possible" - "poly-tiks" as Cid Corman used to put it....To get a "climate-change" bill through. More nuclear power stations. Just what we need.

(April 29th...In light of the catastrophe for sealife/birds/mammals as the oil spreads, will Obama rescind his energy policy in terms of East Coast drilling offshore? The Philadelphia Inquirer believes he should. I wonder if he can admit that he was wrong. He's been around clever lawyers much of his life, at least since leaving Honolulu. Is his intelligence less superficial than theirs? Come to think of it, I can't remember a single time when he admitted he was wrong about something.) (May 1st...Disconcerting that friends I've known for years and years bash me for criticising Obama (for whom I voted in the belief his Presidency would help Native peoples) saying this makes me a racist right-wing tea party nut, or at least aligns me with them.)

Friday, March 19, 2010

more of Melville


They'll give me a nibble - bit o' biscuit ere I go.
Sure, a messmate will reach me the last parting cup;
But, turning heads away from the hoist and the belay,
Heaven knows who will have the running of me up!
No pipe to those halyards - But aren't it all sham?
A blur's in my eyes; it is dreaming that I am.
A hatchet to my hawser? All adrift to go?
The drum roll to grog, and Billy never know?
But Donald he has promised to stand by the plank;
So I'll shake a friendly hand ere I sink.
But - no! It is dead then I'll be, come to think.
I remember Taff the Welshman when he sank.
And his cheek it was like the budding pink.
But me they'll lash in hammock, drop me deep.
Fathoms down, fathoms down, how I'll dream fast asleep.
I feel it stealing now, Sentry, are you there?
Just ease these darbies at the wrist,
And roll me over fair!
I am sleepy, and the oozy weeds about me twist.

(Recommended reading: MELVILLE - His World And Work - by Andrew Delbanco)

Tuesday, March 16, 2010


No matter what your feelings about Roman Polanski, there is no denying he remains a world-class film-maker. THE GHOST WRITER is not a CHINATOWN (or a KNIFE IN THE WATER), but despite its biographically beyond improbable conclusion, it is an excellent film in the thriller (and Hitchcock) tradition, with a leitmotif of Billy Budd-like Innocence as a subtext, quite subtle and, since it is Polanski, consciously done, I would venture to say. Not to give anything away to spoil the viewer's enjoyment, but when the ghost writer is questioned before his release near the end of the film, he is asked if he had reported a certain conversation. He did not, and readers of Melville are reminded that it is that omission which allows Claggert to accuse Budd to Captain Vere. Not that THE GHOST WRITER is an allegory of any kind; however, when, in innocence, the writer lets the chief villains know he has discovered their secret, there can be then no way out.... And the great Eli Wallach delivers a marvellous cameo half-way through.

(And highly recomennded, for the serious cineaste only, Haneke's film THE WHITE RIBBON.)

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

dogs: the new weapon of choice

from Rowenna Davis in The Guardian :

(N.B. One more reason why it is becoming difficult to live in London....As I blogged in a former post on gangs and knife-crime, the police seem powerless to intervene on time. The days of the Bobby-on-the-Beat are long gone, along with bowler hats and Dixon of Dock Green.)

The number of dangerous dogs being seized by the police has soared as young people increasingly use them as 'weapons', rather than carrying knives.

Teaser is a 10-stone Staffordshire bull terrier cross-breed, flanked like a horse and with a head the size of a rugby ball. It lives in a small flat in Somers Town, central London, and local kids on the estate often knock and ask to walk it, amazed that the 22-year-old owner can make it sit and give paw. Many of the kids have their own dogs: staffie crosses, rottweilers, and illegal pit bulls and the numbers are multiplying as they are bred with other dogs on the estate.

"It's a status thing - one or two people get them and then everyone's got one," says CJ. "Kids think I've got a pit and I'm a hard man, but they're the ones running around estates being pulled on leads. [The dogs] keep spreading because they're so easy to get. Just go on to the internet and type in 'pit bull puppies'. It's not surprising everyone I know has a dog."

Yet a growing number of dog owners are irresponsible. In London, the number of dogs seized by the police under the Dangerous Dogs Act (DDA) soared from 263 in 2006-07 to 719 in 2008-09. So far this year, 1,000 dogs have been confiscated a fourfold increase in three years.

The act allows dogs to be seized because they are illegal, dangerously out of control, or if they are used to threaten or intimidate someone. So legal breeds, such as Staffordshires, can be seized under the act. Pit bull-type terriers, Japanese tosas, and the dogo Argentino and fila Brasileiro mastiffs are all illegal breeds, but many owners get around the rules by mixing illegal breeds with Staffordshires and calling them crosses.

The increase in seizures in London has been driven by a crackdown and the opening of a Metropolitan police Status Dogs Unit (SDU) last March, but national data suggests there has also been an increase in violent dogs on the street. According to the Ministry of Justice, the number of dog owners prosecuted for causing injury rose by 50% between 2003 and 2007. The RSPCA says that calls about dog fighting have increased massively over the last few years, with two-thirds of complaints now directly connected to young people using dogs as "weapons" in streets and parks.

A series of high-profile attacks have focused public attention on this issue. Last February, a baby died in south Wales after being attacked by a Staffordshire bull terrier and a Jack Russell. In November, four-year-old John Paul Massey was mauled to death by a pit bull in Liverpool. And just before Christmas, a guide dog was viciously attacked by another dog, whose young owner was walking it unleashed by in north London. CJ says that walking without a lead is too often used as a sign of power and control on the street. "I'm always paranoid that some dog off a lead is going to attack Teaser," he says.

David Grant, director of the RSPCA's Harmondsworth hospital in north London, picks up the pieces of irresponsible dog ownership every day. His hospital is full of emaciated staffies that have been abandoned often in the hospital's reception by young men who don't want to give their names or pay veterinary bills. Many of the dogs are sick, as their owners haven't had the money or the knowledge to apply for vaccinations. In the worst cases, dogs have been abused by irritated owners or been forced to fight.

In 40 years of practice, Grant, whose veterinary operations were seen by millions on the BBC's Animal Hospital television series, says things have never been so bad, and he has started documenting the worst cases. His computer now hold hundreds of images of dogs that have been shot, stabbed or burnt.

"A typical problem owner will be from an inner-city estate, unemployed, without any educational achievements," he says. "Young males predominate, although the fighters often register the dog in a girlfriend's name." Names such as Terror, Chaos, Killer, Ice and Asbo often tell a dog's story, says Grant, as does evidence of harnesses accessories often used to glamorise dogs before gang fights.

But Grant is keen not to sensationalise or oversimplify. He wants to distinguish between "fashion dogs", which are simply part of a craze, and "status dogs", which are bred for offence and defence. "Fashion dogs tend to be staffie crosses that are naturally good-natured, turning nasty only when they suffer abuse, or neglect when their owners get bored," he says. "Status dogs, on the other hand, are bred to intimidate. At the worst level, gangs will use them for mascots, muggings, safeguarding territory, and fighting enemies and other dogs."

Grant, along with dog wardens and police officers, has repeatedly drawn attention to the parallels between dogs and knives. Both are carried by young people in areas where crime is high, often for defence. In some cases, even parents have been known to encourage their children, particularly girls, to walk with dogs as a means of protection. However, in contrast to possession of knives, a young person will not face five years' imprisonment for having a dog.

But if fear and fashion are multiplying dog numbers, so is the potential money that unemployed young people can make from dog dealing. Staffordshire puppies and their crosses can sell for 400-500 each, and with an average litter size of eight and a bitch able to produce two litters a year, an owner can earn up to 8,000 annually from a single dog.

From his council flat in north London, Dion, 24, supplements his living by dealing dogs. He's got a few scars from violent dogs he's owned in the past, but now he's got just one, a mixture of a staffie-pit cross and a presa Canario. "My dog has had her first litter and two generations of grandchildren," he says. "I wanted to keep the bloodline going. The money's not the priority though. I'll sell them for half of the 350 I could get when I know they're going to a good home."

Security is another reason Dion hangs on to his dog. He says: "My dog attacked my stepdad once for good reason. He was a bit of an alcoholic, and when my sister got scared of him once she screamed and the dog went straight for him and shredded his forearm before he could hurt her. It's another reason to feel safer."

According to Sergeant Ian McParland, chief officer at the SDU, simply banning more dogs under the DDA is not the answer. The problem is not genetics, but upbringing, he says. Most dogs can become aggressive or peaceful, depending on how they're raised, he says.

"You could go on banning breeds until the cows come home and it won't make a difference," McParland says. "We're almost fortunate that the status dog of choice, the pit bull terrier, is illegal. I don't know what we'd do if Akitas, German shepherds and rottweilers started becoming fashionable [as status dogs]. Akitas were used by Samurai warriors."

He points out the threat posed by selective breeding. "Breeds are getting more dangerous," he says. "If you've got a nasty dog and your mate's got a nasty bitch, they're the ones you're going to breed."

So far, local authorities' response to the problem has been mixed. Last month, the London borough of Harrow proposed vetting and chipping all dogs owned by people waiting for social housing. Anyone with a dog that it suspected of being used for fighting would be refused a tenancy, though deputy council leader, Susan Hall, insisted that this would be a last resort. "We will work with the RSPCA and police to make sure that people in council properties don't keep dogs that are a menace to others," she said.

In south London, Wandsworth council is already piloting a programme that will see residents threatened with eviction if they fail to keep their dogs responsibly. Other London councils employ specialist dog wardens who are on call to answer residents' problems; others simply slide dog issues into the files of the resident environment officer.

In Liverpool, following the death of John Paul Massey, councillors voted for an amnesty on illegal dogs, free micro-chipping, and tougher rules on leads and muzzling. They are also investigating a dog registration scheme.

According to Grant, it will take more than punitive measures to curtail irresponsible dog ownership. "A lot of the time I feel as sorry for the owners as the dogs," he says. "These young men have been on a conveyor belt of social deprivation since the day they were born, and we're at the end of it, trying to pick up the pieces. They've had no upbringing, and they've got no educational qualifications and no prospects. Society has let them down. We need to address the root causes if we're going to solve these problems."

Back on estates in north London, young people are talking about breeds, bloods and lineages. Videos of dogfights recorded on mobiles are changing hands, and an old cage for dog fighting sits in a garage.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

R.I.P. Michael Foot

(from - March 3rd)

Michael Foot, the most improbable literary romantic to lead a major British party since Benjamin Disraeli, has died at the age of 96 after a turbulent political career that left him a much-loved but also deeply controversial figure.

A brilliant orator, steeped in Swift, Byron, Shelley and the great political struggles of the 17th century, Foot was first an incorrigible rebel who helped foster the left-right Bevanite split that damaged Labour throughout the 50s. A champion of British unilateral nuclear disarmament, one of the left's great post-war causes, he gradually moved towards office in the economic crisis of 1974.

Foot led Labour from 1980 to 1983, presiding over the party during the formation of the breakaway SDP. He resigned after Labour fell to a stunning defeat in the 1983 election, the voters having rejected a manifesto later called the "longest suicide note in history".

In a statement, Gordon Brown said: "Michael Foot was a man of deep principle and passionate idealism and one of the most eloquent speakers Britain has ever heard.

"He was an indomitable figure who always stood up for his beliefs and whether people agreed with him or not they admired his character and his steadfastness."

Tony Benn, his cabinet colleague and occasional nemesis, added: "He was one of the great figures of the Labour movement."

Foot's gallant reputation and prestige kept the left and the unions on side during his time as Jim Callaghan's deputy PM in difficult years from 1976 to 1979. He was also accused of irresponsibility and ironically in view of his past of appeasement of the unions by resurgent Conservatives and some Labour MPs.

For others his idealism, which included a life-long devotion to Plymouth Argyle FC, was highly attractive. Despite the defeat of many of his most cherished causes, he had a rich and deeply fulfilled life, which he shared, until her death in 1999, with his beloved wife, the filmmaker Jill Craigie.

In the crisis that followed the defeat of the Callaghan government and the rise of Margaret Thatcher, Foot led the Labour party from 1980 to 1983, presiding over it during the formation of the breakaway Social Democratic Party (SDP), which used his election over Denis Healey as the excuse for their defection.

He stepped down in favour of his protege Neil Kinnock after Labour slumped to a stunning 145-seat defeat in the 1983 election in the wake of a manifesto that a Labour colleague called "the longest suicide note in history". It fell to Kinnock to rebuild his party and put it on the road to three election wins under Tony Blair. Foot, who refused all honours including a peerage, must often have been unhappy with Blair's leadership, but in old age loyalty to his party was a paramount consideration.

It was not always so. The frail child of a West Country Liberal dynasty, Foot was always a rebel, who hitched his star early to the charismatic Welsh ex-miner, Aneurin Bevan, whose admiring biographer he became. Their radical socialist views did not prevent either of them becoming allies of Lord Beaverbrook, the Canadian press tycoon, owner of the then-mighty Daily Express, who shared their sense of mischief.

A distinguished writer and journalist with a passion for literature as well as politics, Foot gained his first great claim to fame as the author of Guilty Men, the celebrated polemic against the pre-war appeasers in 1940. Beaverbrook entered Churchill's cabinet, Bevan attacked Churchill, and Foot briefly edited Beaverbrook's London Evening Standard though the leftwing weekly Tribune was his life's love.

Tribune helped set the tone for Labour's victory in 1945 when Foot, alone in his Liberal family, unexpectedly won Plymouth Devonport for Labour and became a Westminster gadfly. It was a role he maintained from outside after losing Devonport in 1955 and resumed after succeeding Bevan in Ebbw Vale after his hero's death in 1960.

Foot and Bevan fell out over Bevan's renunciation of unilateralism. But Foot followed his mighty heart for much of his career. His firm support of Indian independence led him to back his friend Indira Gandhi when she declared a state of emergency in the 70s. In the 60s he joined forces with Enoch Powell, with whom he shared the title of best parliamentary orator, to block Labour efforts to reform the Lords though he wanted it abolished, Powell wanted it left untouched.

Such quixotic behaviour prompted his old Oxford friend Barbara Castle to complain that he had "grown soft on a diet of soft options". But when Labour unexpectedly took power again in the global energy crisis and domestic crisis between Ted Heath's government and the miners Foot accepted the tough job of employment secretary under Harold Wilson. Under Jim Callaghan, as Labour lost its majority after 1977, he was leader of the Commons and deputy PM, fighting night after night to keep the government afloat.

Among his many gallant defeats of that period was the campaign in which seven cabinet ministers, including Foot, were allowed to fight for a "no" vote when Wilson offered voters a referendum on Britain's still-new EU membership in 1975. The yes camp which included Margaret Thatcher won by a ratio of 2:1.

He and Benn were not peas in the same pod and Foot felt personally betrayed when Benn insisted on contesting Healey's role as deputy Labour leader in 1981 a divisive contest that Healey narrowly won when young leftwingers like Kinnock refused to back Benn.

After his leadership Foot stayed in the Commons backing Kinnock against Militant entryism for which his earlier tolerance had been criticised, until 1992 when his protege lost the general election to John Major. But his passion for books, as for Plymouth Argyle, never dimmed as the infirmities of old age took their toll.

In the bloody 90s when Yugoslavia was torn by civil war Michael and Jill Foot went there and made a film on behalf of their beloved Dubrovnik. No puritan, Foot was fond of drink and laughter as well as ancient historical ports. It was a fitting last hurrah.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Eros Turannos by E.A. Robinson

She fears him, and will always ask
What fated her to choose him;
She meets in his engaging mask
All reasons to refuse him;
But what she meets and what she fears
Are less than are the downward years,
Drawn slowly to the foamless weirs
Of age, were she to lose him.

Between a blurred sagacity
That once had power to sound him,
And Love, that will not let him be
The Judas that she found him,
Her pride assuages her almost,
As if it were alone the cost.
He sees that he will not be lost,
And waits and looks around him.

A sense of ocean and old trees
Envelops and allures him;
Tradition, touching all he sees,
Beguiles and reassures him;
And all her doubts of what he says
Are dimmed with what she knows of days -
Till even prejudice delays
And fades, and she secures him.

The falling leaf inaugurates
The reign of her confusion;
The pounding wave reverberates
The dirge of her illusion;
And home, where passion lived and died,
Becomes a place where she can hide,
While all the town and harbor-side
Vibrate with her seclusion.

We tell you, tapping on our brows,
The story as it should be,
As if the story of a house
Were told or ever could be;
We'll have no kindly veil between
Her visions and those we have seen, -
As if we guessed what hers have been,
Or what they are or would be.

Meanwhile we do no harm; for they
That with a god have striven,
Not hearing much of what we say,
Take what the god has given;
Though like waves breaking it may be,
Or like a changed familiar tree,
Or like a stairway to the sea
Where down the blind are driven.

This post for all who have commented nastily/condescendingly/disparagingly on the late-life marriage of Lorine Niedecker.