Saturday, June 30, 2012

That Would Be An Ecumenical Matter (1)

Racism (1) – Having a deep, irrational, visceral dislike of people of a particular race.

Racism (2) – Behaving in a way, or holding a belief, that is to the disadvantage of a particular race.


"Mr Smith must be a racist, because he does not employ any Ruritanians in his kitchen."

(Racism (1) He does not give jobs to Ruritanians because he hates them.)

"No, Mr Smith is not a racist. In fact, his daughter is married to a Ruritanian, and he employs several Ruritanian waiters and backroom staff. He does not hire Ruritanian kitchen staff because he thinks that Ruritanians cannot cook."

(Racism (2): His behaviour unfairly disadvantages Ruritanians in at least one particular respect.)


Racism (1) is usually conscious. Daily Express readers hate Muslims because they are Muslims, and know that they do. 

Racism (2) might very well be unconscious and unexamined.

"As a matter of fact, Mr Smith never hires Ruritanian chefs. When this was pointed out to him, he was surprised, because he honestly thought he was just hiring the best person for the job. He’s going to try to be more fair next time he hires kitchen staff.”

Bad thinking habits can be very difficult to break out of. In fact, Mr Smith contracted food poisoning after a eating a plate of Ruritanian ghoulash in 1983 which left him with a sense that Ruritanians and nice food don’t go together. 

Racism (2) may therefore be more harmful and insidious than racism (1).


Some people claim that all instances of Racism (2) actually arise from Racism (1): Mr Smith’s belief that Ruritanians can’t cook really comes from a deep ideological belief that Ruritanians are sub-human fiends who will be put on the first train back to Ruritania when he’s running the country. He’s got the bee in his bonnet about their cooking ability because he thinks that’s all he can get away with right now. 

But while that might be true in a particular instance, it seems  pretty unlikely that all erroneous beliefs and prejudices come from blind hatred. It’s actually more likely that Racism (1) grows out of Racism (2) — a sincere and superficially reasonable resentment against the chef who inadvertently poisoned you turns into a a general resentment against anyone who looks or sounds a bit like him. Which is, of course, a good reason to jump on dodgy assumptions like “No Ruritanian can cook” and “Every American is a gun touting fundamentalist” whenever you hear them.

It is at least theoretically possible — imaginable in some possible world — that Ruritanians really do make bad cooks, in the same way that Klingons really do make bad ship’s councellors and Betazoids really do make bad security officers. 

If the facts supported Mr Smith’s beliefs about Ruritanian chefs, would we say:

a: His beliefs are racist but true,

b: Since his beliefs are true, they are not racist

c: Bring me a new set of facts

Am I free to say “I don’t actually need to listen to any records; I know in advance that white men can sing the blues just as well as black men becasue the alternative would be racist.”?


It is clearly much worse to hate everyone from Ruritania than to think that no-one from Ruritania can cook. But it’s much easier to write a fair law insisting that you give everyone a fair chance of working in your kitchen than it is to write a fair law preventing anyone from sitting at home hating Ruritanians.


We could choose to use English in such a way that everyone who believed in 1900 that women should not be allowed to vote, or should not be allowed to vote yet,  and indeed everyone who failed to support the women’s suffrage movement with sufficiently wholehearted enthusiasm was “sexist”, since they clearly held a belief that was to the disadvantage of 50% of the population. 

We could also chose to use English in such a way that we only applied the word “sexist” to those to opposed (or failed to sufficiently wholeheartedly support) the women’s suffrage movement because of an a priori belief in the general inferiority of women, or because of a misogynistic opposition of the whole idea of female people. 

That would be a question about language; not about voting or about women.


“Some people opposed giving adult women the right to vote in elections because they were sexists; other for a variety of different reasons” does not mean “I personally don’t think women should be allowed to vote” but I fear that, whatever we do, some people will take it that way.


If I were an anarchist, I might say that voting is completly meaningless, so it doesn’t make any difference who is allowed to vote and who is not allowed to vote. Would I be free to say that it was not “sexist” (or “racist”) to refuse to bestow a completely meaningless privelage on one section of the population? Would we say that society was “sexist” because it debarred men from riding on pink unicorns? If a woman is debarred from some activity or privelage which is meaningless in itself — say, the right to drink in a particular bar, granted that there are other equally good bars where she can drink, and other equally good bars where both men and women can drink — can this be defined as “sexist”? 

If so, then sexism would have to be defined as “behaving in a way that differentiates between genders in any respect whatsoever”. This is problematic because many people think that the genders are, in fact, different in some respects. It might also get us into weird situations where we had to say that, say, a carnival which celebrated Ruritanian dress, Ruritanian music and (very importantly) Ruritanian cooking was “racist but good”. 

Virgina Woolf would, I think, have argued that while there is nothing wrong with having women-only bars in principal, in practice, the women-only bars will inevitably end up having better beer and better bar snacks than the men’s only bars, so and actual concrete disadvantage will have crept in. This may very well be true.

These are points about language, not about bar snacks, unicorns, carnivals or To The Lighthouse. 


Someone who was wrong on the internet asked whether there was any good reason for the Archdruid and his various predecessors' and successors to be opposed to the proposed redefinition of “marriage”.

“No” replied someone else “Its pure homophobia”.

This seems to be on exactly the same level as when the Prime Minister said (in all seriousness) that the cause of crime was "criminals".

I don't think that the Person Who Was Wrong was asking “Are the various druids' remarks examples of homophobia (2)”: they clearly are, because they clearly differentiate between homosexuals and heterosexuals to the former’s disadvantage, (granted you believe that being able to marry is an advantage, a question that we can leave in the air for the time being.)

No-one could possibly think that it was worth saying  “The Druids are homophobic because they are homophobic" any more than they would think it worth saying "Mr Smith thinks that Ruritanians can’t cook because he thinks that Ruritanians can’t cook".

So the person who says “The Druids disapprove of gay marraige because they are homophobic” must think that they are offering an explanation. They must be saying “The Druids disapprove of gay marriage because they are homophobic in sense 1”: they disaprove of it because of their deep, visceral, gut-level hatred of homosexuals.

Well, maybe they do. And maybe they don't. That is the question. 

“Do the Druids disapprove of gay marriage because they hate gays, or for some other reason?”

I do not know the answer to this question, because I have not examined their souls sufficiently closely.

And niether, I contend, have you.

Friday, June 29, 2012

That Would Be An Ecumenical Matter

"I think people should mate for life, like pigeons or catholics."
Woody Allen

The Enemy described a married couple as "one flesh". He did not say "a happily married couple" or "a couple who married because they were in love", but you can make the humans ignore that. You can also make them forget that the man they call Paul did not confine it to married couples. Mere copulation, for him, makes "one flesh". You can thus get the humans to accept as rhetorical eulogies of "being in love" what were in fact plain decriptions of the real significance of sexual intercourse. The truth is that whenever a man lies with a woman, there, whether they like it or not, a transcendental relation is set up between them which must be eternally endured or eternally enjoyed.
C.S Lewis -- The Screwtape Letters

A great many people think that if you are a Christian yourself, you should try to make divorce difficult for everyone. I do not think that. At least I know I would be very angry if the Mohammedans [sic] tried to prevent the rest of us from drinking wine. My own view is that the Churches should frankly recognize that the majority of the British people are not Christians and, therefore, cannot be expected to live Christian lives. There ought to be two distinct kinds of marriage: one governed by the State with rules enforced on all citizens, the other governed by the Church with rules enforced by her on her own members. The distinction ought to be quite sharp, so that a man knows which couples are married in a Christian sense and which are not.
C.S Lewis -- Mere Christianity

But now look at pages pp 26, 30 and 31 [of Mere Christianity]. There you will observe that you are really committed (with the Christian church as a whole) to the view that Christian marriage -- monogamous, permenant, rigidly "faithful" -- is in fact the truth about sexual behaviour for all humanity: this is the only road of of total health (including sex in its proper place) for all men and women...Do I not then say truly that your bringing in of Mohammedans [sic] on p 34 is a most stinking red herring? I do not think that you can possibly support your 'policy' [of a two-tier marriage system] by this argument, for by it you are giving away the very foundation of Christian marriage. The foundation is that this is "the correct way of running the human machine". Your argument reduces it merely to a way of (perhaps) getting an extra mileage out of a few selected machines.
Letter from J.R.R Tolkien to C.S. Lewis (not posted).

I say we shall have no more marriages. Those that are married already, all save one shall live. The rest shall keep as they are. To a nunnery - go!

Thursday, June 28, 2012

We are a games designer....

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Songs of the Old Communist

Leon Rosselson
Cellar Upstairs Folk Club, London
16 June


When I arrived at the little upstairs room in the Exmouth Arms, Leon Rosselson was already sitting in the front row reading the Guardian, which is what you would have imagined him doing before a concert. The compère introduced him as the greatest living English political songwriter; an assessement with which it would be very hard to argue. Like a lot of people, I knew his songs long before I had heard of him. I just kept noticing that my favourite performers -- Martin Simpson, Martin Carthy, Billy Bragg, Dick Gaughan and Chumbawamba had all covered Leon Rosselson songs. (Come to think of it, they all covered the same Leon Rosselson song....

If you'd only heard Billy Bragg belting out "in 1649 to St Georges Hill...." you might be taken aback by the little man with the squeaky voice (I almost wrote “nerdy”) chatting away about 1970s environmental protests and an arts project he was involved in which used an old London bus as a performance space. He steers clear of the famous, well-covered songs: no Stand Up For Judas, no Palaces of Gold...the man sitting behind me shouts out for The World Turned Upside Down but he doesn't sing that, either. (I think it was the man sitting behind me who took the above footage on his phone: thank you, man sitting behind me.) He does sing "raise a loving cup to Abiezer / he's a dancing, drunken, roaring, ranter" as an encore, though. Winstanley's Diggers broke away from Abiezer Coppe's Ranters: I expect you knew that. 

Several of the songs have that kind of anthemic, sing-a-long chorus. He spends some time teaching us ("Pete Seeger style") the words and tune of a newish, English take on the big rock candy mountains ("I'm going where the suits all shine my shoes...") But what he does best are patter songs and story songs and thesis songs. He's almost like Jake Thackray with the sex and catholicism replaced with left wing politics. (The ghost of George Brassens -- Jake's hero too -- appears to him in one song to tell him to carry on writing regardless of what everyone thinks.)  Over and over again, he tells us about little men confused by a world in which everything is commoditized. There's the old tale about the man who finds that a motorway is going to be built through his back garden, and the newer one about the man who achieves celebrity by committing suicide on live TV; and the familiar story of poor Barney, forced to work in the factory when all he really wants is to make junk sculptures in his garden (suggested by a Marxist book about the condition of workers in communist Hungary, apparently.) Production lines keep turning up as symbol for everything which is wrong with capitalism:

It was press, turn, screw, lift,
early shift and late shift,
every day the same routine
Turning little piggies into plastic packet sausages
to sell in the heliport canteen

Some of the political points may be a little bit obvious: his response to teh riotz is to say that the rioters are only doing the kind of thing that made England what it is today –

Francis Drake, now there's a looter 
Plundering the Spanish main...
Was rewarded with a knighthood
Looters deserve nothing less

But more often, he takes us off into complex slabs of poetical political theory that you really have to concentrate on: 

What do you feel said the land to the farmer?
"Sweat on my brow" the farmer replied
"Sun on my skin" said the spring time lover
"Ball at my feet" the young boy cried
And the man whose eyes were made to measure
Said “Proud to invest in a high-yield area
Concrete and glass and stake in the future...”

The club isn't amplified and the language and argument require close attention; which makes for a pretty demanding evening. But it's clear that everyone in the room respects and reveres him as a song writer; the phrase "hanging on his every word" just about covers it. 

It's a clichĂ© to say that Rosselson's songs are better when other people sing them. People say the same thing, equally unfairly, about Dylan. It's perfectly true that Billy Bragg on the one hand and Martin Simpson on the other have taken his songs and turned them into their own, wonderful things. But it's in the lessor known story-songs that his real genius lies, and I don't think anyone else can do them better.  In a funny way (considering what an unassuming performer he is) the evening is carried by the force of his personality. A little man who can't always get his guitar to stay in tune and who sometimes stumbles over his own lyrics, speaking for little men who are having motorways built through their gardens.

As before, the club itself was the star of the evening, with a stream of talented performers getting up to take floor spots. Resident singers Bob Wakely and Ellie Hill  did cheerful renditions of Clyde Water (drowned lovers), Sheath and Knife (brother-sister incest) and an, er, homage to the Carthy / Swarbs Sovay. Tom Paley did an American song about – I'm not sure what it was about. There was a skunk involved, and everybody said “whack diddle eye day” a great deal. It dripped authenticity. Someone whose name I didn't get did a killingly camp version of an old music hall song taking the mickey out of Scottish people. But the highlight was the fellow who sang a song of his own in praise of the National Health Service. I don't know if the roof was raised for the song itself or for the sentiments behind it, but raised it most certainly was. It's a very brave man who sings protest songs in front of Leon Rosselson.


A few of my favourite of Mr Rosselson's songs, for people who do not have a theological objection to Spotify.

Friday, June 08, 2012

"I learned that I was right and everyone else was wrong when I was nine. Buck Rogers arrived on the scene that year, and it was instant love. I collected the daily strips, and I was madness maddened by them. Friends criticized. Friends made fun. I tore up the Buck Rogers strips. For a month I walked through my fourth grade classes, stunned and empty. One day I bust into tears, wondering what devastation had happened to me. The answer was: Buck Rogers. He was gone and life simply wasn't worth living. The next thought that came to me was: these are not my friends, the ones who made me tear the strips apart and so tear my own life down the middle; these are my enemies. I went back to collecting Buck Rogers. My life has been happy ever since."

Ray Bradbury

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Parish Notices

If you are one of the 16 people who likes to read me wittering on about folk music then could you please click on the word "folk music" on the side bar and you might find I had nearly typed up my last three months worth of notes. Will try to stay more up to date from now on.

In other news, some of my books are now available on epub (that's "Nook" , mostly, I think) format on the Lulu website, and the ones which aren't will be shortly. There's also a dead tree version of the Star Wars book. 

Jack Kirby was quite good; Paul McCartney was the second best Beatle; we're English, we'd be disappointed if it didn't rain on a Bank Holiday.

Monday, June 04, 2012


Jack did fight for our freedom of speech over in Europe during the Second World War, so I think it would be a sad day if any criticisms of his former editor Stan Lee were deemed “Stan Lee Bashing” and those posts were not allowed at the Kirby Museum and censored because certain individuals threatened not to support the Museum project because they took offense to posts critical of Stan Lee.

Rob, dear heart, no-one is saying that "any criticism" of Stan Lee is to be deemed "Stan Lee bashing". You appeared to be arguing that Stan Lee made no contribution whatsoever to Marvel Comics; that Stan Lee never wrote a single word of good dialogue in his whole life. Some people, including some of Jack's biggest admirers, consider these claims to excessive. Other people consider them to be batshit insane.

This really is a pretty pathetic rhetorical device.

"I think that Mr Politician sleeps with goats and drinks the blood of teddy bears"

"Those, Sir, are outrageous claims, and if you do not withdraw them, I shall sue you for libel and or slander." 

"Ah, see what Mr Politician is like! The minute you make the slightest criticism of his economic policy, he threatens to sue you. Now we see the violence inherent in the system! Help, help, I'm being repressed!"

What did Stan Lee create before and after he worked with Jack? 

After Stan Lee worked with Jack (and Steve) he produced about 60 issues of Spider-Man, the whole run of Silver Surfer, maybe 30 issues of Captain America. Someone can do the sums, but I would imagine that, in total, Stan's Marvel output with other artists is greater (in pages) than his output with Kirby. In my opinion the Romita-Lee Spider-Man and the Buscema-Lee Silver Surfer are inferior to the Ditko-Lee and Kirby-Lee versions. But they are the received versions of the character; the one everyone knows. Despite his credit, there was very little of Ditko's character (apart, obviously, from the costume design) in the three Spider-Man movies.

If the point here is that he didn't create or originate any characters except in collaboration with Kirby or Ditko, then I would tend to agree with you. The one exception is She-Hulk. (Although significant supporting characters and villains are introduced when he is working with other artists: Mephisto, Kingpin, Rhino, Mary-Jane Watson.) But every informed agrees that Stan Lee was not the sole creator of Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four, the Hulk, Thor or Doctor Strange. (Many of these characters seem to be the result of a synergy between a number of creative individuals: I don't think anyone has ever claimed that Larry Leiber created Thor, but Larry Leiber clearly didn't have nothing to do with the creation of Thor, either.) It's the claim that his copy-writing made no contribution to the artistic success of those comics which makes us accuse you of Stan bashing.

After leaving the Beatles, Ringo Starr had two US number one singles, a top 10 UK album, a career as an actor and children's TV host, and is reckoned to be the 56th richest individual in the UK. He played the drums on John Lennon / Plastic Ono band, which is odd if Lennon considered him to be such a poor drummer. 

It's very hard to imagine the Beatles without Ringo. Pete Best walking along the canal in Hard Days Night? Pete Best singing Yellow Submarine? Pete Best composing Octopuses Garden? Of course, that Beatles, the imaginary non existent Beatles might have been better than the actually existing Beatles. But it would certainly have been different.

What I’ve always said is this: why doesn’t someone start a Stan Lee daily weblog and talk about something special Stan Lee did every day instead of complaining about Stan Lee’s critics?
I'm up for this. 

I've been wanting to do a detailed critical exegesis of the first 30 issues of Spider-Man for a while. Not "every day", but I would imagine we could a get together a group of people who actually used to enjoy Marvel comics and do something pretty regularly. Sensible people, I mean: not ones who think its clever to say "Jack Kirby never drew a single decent panel in his whole life." 

Anyone else up for this? (Seriously.)