Friday, November 17, 2017

LIGHT SPEED

17th November 2017

The Mayan calendar says that once this era runs into its end times, things are going to start moving much, much faster. When I got my first computer back in 1984, it was a portable (ha!) Kaypro, basically a word processor with some games, like "the psychiatrist game," where you actually had a conversation with a machine! No you didn't - the computer just stored some of your answers for a minute or two and then looped them back to remind you that this is what you believed. Astounding!


Back in 1997 or so when I first saw moving pictures on a computer screen, I couldn't wrap my mind around it. Zoom forward to 2017, and we have computers with a terabyte memory, smart phones, smart houses, smart grocery stores.  My Kaypro days belong in a cave in the dark ages.


And yet, in terms of world politics, you might be persuaded that the Mayans had it all wrong, and rather than moving forward, we're actually slipping backwards. It seems like we have left democracy behind and are going the well worn route of dictatorial governments. Rather than moving forwards, we seem to be in the midst of an explosion of male hierarchical power with Donald Trump on the top of this dung heap.
But perhaps through all the gyres of history we are actually now at a tipping point. On a global timeline, things look much more hopeful: since the year 1820, extreme poverty has dropped from 95% to 10%, child mortality from 45% to 4%, fewer people are dying from war than ever before and life expectancy has doubled. Even 9% of diehard Trump voters are already leaning away, are rubbing their eyes and wondering what kind of a nightmare they have woken up from.


So perhaps the Mayans were right, and the age in which we live is going into warp speed. Donald Trump, Duterte, Erdogan, Vladimir Putin, all the dictators and middle men of the world, are quickly moving into history like stations from a fast-moving train. Computers and the internet have changed everything. There is no way of fooling even some of the people all of the time. With any luck, and I won't quote Churchill here because he was as much part of the problem as anyone, but we are full speed ahead into the end of the beginning.

Friday, November 10, 2017

The Ties That Bind Us

10th November 2017

As Neil Tyson astutely observed, we spend the first two years of a child's life teaching it how to walk and talk and the rest of its life telling it to shut up and sit down. That's the culture I grew up in, the one that most of us call home. We have come to think of the small inner voice of doubt we harbour as just something inherently human, and something we have to live with. Surveys have shown that most people think of public speaking as (literally) a fate worse than death. Because if you have been put in your place in the chair as a child, you're not going to be able to stand up and speak so easily.  You're not going to be able to think of yourself as worthy of attention. Children, especially babies in our culture, are thought of as being in a constant grab for attention. Babies are left to cry because they are "just trying to get attention."


We may have published a book, we may have become the highest-grossing star in Hollywood, we may be president of a super power, and no matter how much hot air we blow out in the cause of our self-worth, we are still in our own mind's eye, bound up, tied to a chair. This is especially true of women. In the above picture, the castle that is rightfully ours lies off in the distance, blocked from our vision by a puny fence of our own making.


To escape, the first step is to acknowledge that the ties that bind us are not chains, but only ribbons, something we could actually wriggle free of. The fence we have constructed around ourselves, or has been constructed for us, is made up of our own courage turned in against itself. It's a barrier made up of swords barely planted in the ground.  Like all fear, it exists in our own circle of solitude and won't withstand the action of simply standing up and walking away. So grab your sword, your own courage,  and make a run for it!

Friday, November 3, 2017

The Dead

3rd November 2017

When I walk through my stable of dead heroes, feeding to them their allotment of ghost hay, what strikes me is how fleeting is the whole farm and stable thing, those plowed fields of names and numbers, our own personal historical landscape. We preserve it because some of these phantoms have laid their stamp on yonder hill, on this hollow and dip,  on that line of trees punctuated across the horizon. Most of us are chaff and get tilled back in, and it is this prospect of anonymity that keeps us moving through our stables of the dead.


I suppose different stalls in that stable have different functions: there's the one of dead ancestors and family, the ones that have to stay with us because they were too known, too much a part of the measure of ourselves. We go into that stall and pull out the ossuaries, the clean white bones of the dead father, those other bones that go back further and are almost turned to stone by now: the great-grandmother after whom you were named, the great-grandfather who took a bullet in the neck at Flanders.
But the place I spend the most time is in the stall of those people we never knew but whose lines of thought and speech still make the world for us a warmer place. These bones came to us like collectors pieces, across the counter of ideology; we have taken them out often and polished them. Some we don't even look at anymore, because they belong back in the days of being young and easy. But we still like to know they are still there.


This is where we come in the lonely hours of night with our swinging lanterns. As we grow older, the hay in this stable doesn't smell so fresh anymore, but if we stay very still, we can still make out the faint aroma of movement, of horses flashing into the dark, of the turning pages of our numberless dreams.



Friday, October 27, 2017

1984

27th October 2017

Large countries made up of smaller countries are loathe to heed the voices of those annoying little sub-states squeaking from within their boxes that it's time to let them go now. America, which was once in such a box, and about which it currently has collective amnesia, is reporting very little about the situation in Spain with regard to Catalonia.  UK media, which is largely owned and operated out of London even when it pretends to be Scottish, is giving it short shrift. It wouldn't like to give those Scots north of Hadrian's wall any grist for their mill. History, of course, always sees these "uprisings" with the advantage of 20/20 vision. History is quite sure the fledgling USA was entirely within its rights to demand separation from the English Crown; no one suggests these days that India would have been better to stay under the British Raj.


Same goes for Ireland, with its economy now the fastest growing in the Eurozone. And so it goes with all the 6o countries that were once subsumed into the British Empire or the 33 into the Spanish Empire. They took back their nationhood, and not one of them has asked to get back in. History knows and recognises that the call of self-determination was and is a worthy cause, and so, too, does the UN Charter:
All peoples have the right to self-determination; by virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development. 

So why is the United Nations and the European Union turning a blind eye to the travesty happening in Spain right now.
Catalonia is a wealthy region/ex-country that was taken into the kingdom of Spain in 1716 - nine years after Scotland fell under the British. In 1938, during the dictatorship of Franco, Spain overran Catalonia and dismantled its autonomy, trying to quash its culture and language. Sounds familiar.
So now the sins of the fathers are being visited upon the sons, and Spain is faced with Catalonia's democratic vote to go its own way.


George Orwell fought in the Catalonian resistance against Franco. Art is often the best voice of dissent when politics-as-usual threatens to undermine the voice of a people. On 1st October, when Catalans went to the polls to vote on this issue, Spain sent in its troops to disrupt the election. Now, today, after a declaration of independence, Spain is about to act thug and impose its own martial law. And the European bodies set up to settle such acts of brutality sit on their hands. From this small artist's corner, I lift up my voice in support of Catalonia and raise up my hands against Spain in dissent.

Friday, October 20, 2017

What Happened

20th October 2017

Not to keep harping on about women's issues, though why shouldn't I? A few days ago, I watched an interview with Hillary Clinton by BBC's  Matt Frei who suggested that Clinton lost the presidential election because she had overstepped herself. She had been "too ambitious," and should have been satisfied with her good job as Secretary of State and not gone for the presidency. Then Joe Biden would have won the presidency and the world wouldn't have a psychological mess of a human being issuing orders from the Oval Office.

To which just allow me to let out a sigh. I shouldn't be surprised - It is the BBC, after all, an entity that operates something like a Hollywood hierarchy with a boss that just happens in this case to be the British government.  I wasn't surprised, but how often can you hear the same ridiculous argument hashed up and rehashed before a whole lot of spittal and air and groans come shooting out of you? To Hillary's great credit, she did call Frei out on it, replying that men never get called out for being too ambitious. To which I say, "Duh!"


When I googled "too ambitious," Hillary Clinton's picture actually popped up.
Political satirist, Bill Maher, not the greatest friend to women, often repeats that though Hillary Clinton was not arguably the best candidate for the times, he cannot begin to make sense of the extent of the hatred currently levelled at this woman.
Hillary Clinton left her job as secretary of state with a 69% approval rating. So, what happened? Here's what happened: the woman persisted.
The level of misogyny at the bottom of this dark pit is unfathomable. Glancing through the comments below the video of the Frei interview, the term "bitch" comes up repeatedly, as does Killary, Shit, Rapist, and, tellingly, "evil witch."
She's not a young woman, but then if she had been, she might not have been a threat. She would have been a hot young woman, like brain-dead Palin, that men could fit neatly into the grab-bag of things they feel above. No, she was a woman of about their mother's age with the audacity to think she could rule arguably (I suppose) the most powerful country on earth. The audacity of it!

Most of all, we women should be ashamed. We swallowed the bad press hook line and sinker and thought there was something to the argument that Clinton was just as bad as Trump. It was we white women who sunk her presidency. It has to do with the phenomenon that makes women like Margaret Thatcher and Theresa May actually worse than the men they replace in the hierarchical structure. For all intents and purposes, we took on the male mantel and voted with the perceived victors. Hillary's great flaws were being old and not being a knuckle head.
I wasn't even a great Hillary supporter. I could have gone for Bernie any day. But now that the dust has settled and we have a petulant child at the top of the male hierarchy that is politics in Washington, let's call a spade a spade: Women, we let down our kind bigly. White women, who have been trying to be heard in this culture since its inception,  let themselves down in the 2016 presidential election. Let's start with that.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Timed Out

13th October 2017

There's a line in the musical, Falsettos, sung by a woman whose life has been completely upended by an unexpected announcement from her husband: "I'm tired of all the happy men who rule the world." That's the first line of the song, uttered while she still has some composure. By the end of the song, "men" changes to the "silly childish jerks" who rule the world.


I love men, don't get me wrong.  Without them, life would be a colourless rainbow. But they shouldn't be in charge. It's as simple as that. They've had over five thousand years, have made an unqualified mess, and it's time for a regime change.
Women make up over fifty percent of the world's population, so why do we have to be just tired of all the childish jerks that rule the world? Nine out of ten murders are committed by men (though women are more likely to kill themselves - ha!); 92% of sexual abusers of children are men; Albert Einstein's quote that "Older men start wars but younger men fight them," still implies that war is, well, a male thing.
Women need to stand up. Wake up. It's like this Gary Larson cartoon.

We don't have to eat grass. We don't have to put up with the minority party of happy childish jerks who rule the world. We need to change it.


Friday, October 6, 2017

Outlander

29th September 2017

In a blurb on the cover of my book, a bestselling author says, "Anyone who enjoys the work of Diana Gabaldon will adore this book." While any author is grateful for the endorsement of a more established writer, I actually think the opposite of this comment is true: chances are if you enjoy the Outlander series, you have a different taste in literature than my book is going to satisfy.  That is not to denigrate Gabaldon, and who could argue with the kind of worldwide sales she has seen? I don't think she would mind belonging to the "bodice ripper"genre (as her TV series based on the books and which she provides consultation for, goes to town on), but that is not where my book belongs.
What Gabaladon and I do have in common is that we are highlighting an era (any era) in Scottish history that until very, very recently, children, such as myself, sitting in Scottish schools were purposely denied knowledge of.
The British government which has up until now regulated what is taught in Scottish schools, didn't want us to know about uprisings in case we got ideas. Authoritarian rulers are always against the natives thinking for themselves.

                                         

Outlander's era of the Jacobite Uprisings in Scotland is getting an airing at last! The Scottish public may have heard of Bonnie Prince Charlie, but they probably will know little if anything about the Battle of Culloden when the English Red Coats slaughtered the clans and in the aftermath all but eliminated the clan system, the wearing of the kilt, the singing of Scottish songs, the speaking of Gaelic. In short, they sought to eradicate Scottish identity.


And if you think I'm blowing this all out of proportion, consider that in 2014 the Good Ship Britannia with David Cameron at its helm would allow Outlander to be shown in Scotland only after the Scottish referendum for in, while in England it was aired before.
So, again we are forced back to art for the truth. History won't tell us. The ruling governments will certainly not - in fact, they will go out of their way to conceal it. Out, out, damn spot  - you can sit on the truth for a while, even a long while, but eventually that blood stain is going to come through. I am grateful to Diana Gabaldon's book series for bringing it to light. Whether she thought this was on her agenda or not, it is certainly on mine.