Month: January 2010


I think I am going to start a little series of Saturday afternoon matinees.

For the first one I have searched in vain to find a version of this documentary that I could embed in the site but completely without luck. As I seem to be completely inept at getting vodpod to work you will just have to follow the link to watch it.

You might find the solutions they offer very tame but it is a good diagnoses about the problems of fishing.

It is on a Japanese website but the documentary is in English.




“I’ve often wondered, what if all of us in the world discovered that we were threatened by a greater power from outer space from another planet — wouldn’t we all of a sudden find that we didn’t have any differences between us at all?”

Ronald Reagan

I was flicking through a quotes site looking under “planet” to find a particular quote for the post that will follow this one when I found this from Ronald Reagan which I think explains well the mentality that causes a lot of problems.

What Reagan said here might well be true as far as it goes and in fact I hope it would be. Then again, aliens or not I wouldn’t want to be the same as Ronald Reagan.  However, the strange thing is that why would we need to be threatened for all of that to happen? Maybe be we could discover another power who wanted to be friends and that could provide the same unifying effect.

It is because the people in control of our societies can only see the world in terms of domination that they assume everyone else in the universe would see it that way too.

HOWARD ZINN – 1922 to 2010

“When I was studying in college I found I was being taught basically the same world view [and] the same version of history as I had been taught in school…only with footnotes”.

Because I travel around a bit it is difficult sometimes to get books (or get decent ones) in English. Therefore I am in the habit of downloading audio books and MP3s of lectures and so on. This way I get through a hell of a lot of “reading” and it is in this way thatI have listened and relistened to everything I could get my hands on by Howard zinn, the “radical Historian” died yesterday at the age of 87 .

It was in fact lucky that I covered his work in this way because in the lectures the humour and kindness of the man really showed through even in small things like stopping to praise the little girls who brought him a bottle of water during one lecture.

“To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness.”

“What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places — and there are so many — where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction.”

The term “radical historian” is the one most used to describe Zinn and at first it almost seems to have a slightly oxymoronic quality about it when you first hear it. However, when you read Zinn’s work it seems a perfectly fitting title.

The thing is, I don’t want it to be.

Zinn’s books were full of the kind of information that the majority of history books lack. So often the history we are told is that of the great (sic) men (can I put a ‘sic’ here too?) whose deliberations controlled and shaped the times. WW2 usually being described as a sort of game of chess between Hitler, Churchill, Stalin and Roosevelt is one example of this disease.

He neatly points out the problem with this kind of history here…

It is possible, reading standard histories, to forget half the population of the country. The explorers were men, the landholders and merchants men, the political leaders men, the military figures men. The very invisibility of women, the overlooking of women, is a sign of their submerged status.
— Howard Zinn, A People’s History of the United States (1980)

If you read his books they are full of small acts of rebellion that you may not have heard about. All true and all inspirational. These stories manage to provide a kind of history, not where we think about how difficult it must have been for those poor powerful men making their decisions for all of us, but rather where we see the effects those decisions had on the majority of people. And it is of course the majority of the people who lived in the times described  that are excluded from the history books. As he says in his introduction to A People’s History of the United States, “to write history in this way [omitting the vast majority of people] is not a historical necessity but an ideological choice.”

Scholars, who pride themselves on speaking their minds, often engage in a form of self-censorship which is called “realism.” To be “realistic” in dealing with a problem is to work only among the alternatives which the most powerful in society put forth. It is as if we are all confined to a, b, c, or d in the multiple choice test, when we know there is another possible answer. American society, although it has more freedom of expression than most societies in the world, thus sets limits beyond which respectable people are not supposed to think or speak. So far, too much of the debate on Vietnam has observed these limits.

So when Zinn writes about Colombus he emphasises not his “navigational fortitude” or anything of the like but the cruelty to which he deliberately subjected the natives who welcomed him when he arrived in the Americas.

Also, for Zinn but unfortunately not for other historians, these things could not be simply dismissed with a wave of the hand and the catch-all horrible line “you can’t judge the past by the standards of today” (as if the standards of today were so bloody wonderful anyway).

Zinn’s style of historical work should be the norm and not the exception. Far better his way than the fawning tributes to mass-murderers and villains that we are normally expected to read at schools and universities.

Even to the end of his life he was speaking publicly, writing and continuing to say what needed to be said.

I suggest you listen to some of it.


I am a music snob, always have been. It is a common enough affliction (or blessing) in Glasgow which is a fantastically musical city.

I don’t watch TV (although I do watch certain programmes). In fact, I do not have a television in my house. I have my 17,000 tunes on my itunes of which 2000 songs are audio books and I usually just amuse myself with that.

I have an interest in many types of music obviously but tonight it was on random and Bach came on and I just want to relay possibly the best, most ringing endorsement of anything that I have heard.

I like Bach a lot, in fact, before I get to that..there is a little story…

I was in England at a garden party with some fairly artistocratic type people. I had been thoroughly patronised for the major part of the evening…”Oh you’re from Glasgoooooooow arrrrre you? Isn’t it awwwwwfullly rough?”.

Several hours of this kind of thing will eventually get to you so after hours of just saying “No, it is a reputation, it is not in fact exactly like that et f +cking cetera” I just got annoyed enough with it that when the next “chinless wonder” came up to me and asked the same question I just said “Yeah, I am from Glasgow and what of it?” or something of that nature. He jumped about 20 feet back.

Anyway, at this party there was a string quartet affair…and one of these aristocratic types was telling me “I love LoCK Lomond but I just can’t say it the way you Scottish people can.”

I played dumb and said…”This music…composer…17th/18th century  wasn’t he? German/Austrian type fellow. I can’ t remember his name.”

She said…”Yes…it is Bachhhhh”

I replied…”If you can say Bachhhh, you can say ‘Loch’. Get it right.”

I thought that that was quite clever but as far as quick ostracisions go then what followed was a very quick ostracision.

However, all of this has been a very roundabout way of reaching the point…which is this…

Douglas Adams, who regular readers will know I like very much, said this about Bach…

“I believe that Bach was the greatest genius that ever walked among us and that the Brandenburg Concertos are what he wrote when he was happy.”

Now, I don’t necessarily agree with what he said there. But if you want to talk something up I have never seen a more beautiful quote.


Little help anyone?

A few years ago I watched a film about the last few years of Bertolt Brecht’s life. It was a German film and I can’t remember the name.

I would like to see it again but I have been singularly unable to find it. I have even emailed 2 professors of German film who didn’t bother to email me back so if anyone knows what this film is called could they please tell me.

In return for this I will give you some Brecht quotes…

It is easier to rob by setting up a bank than by holding up a bank clerk.

Mixing one’s wines may be a mistake, but old and new wisdom mix admirably.

The law was made for one thing alone, for the exploitation of those who don’t understand it, or are prevented by naked misery from obeying it.

Whenever there are great virtues, it’s a sure sign something’s wrong.


Normally I tweet in relation to blog posts. This is my first blog post in relation to a tweet.

I put a tweet up earlier about which of these 3 proposals for the next big European space mission you would like to see followed through.

I  know that what with everything happening in Haiti it may seem insensitive to talk about this at the moment but there have always been natural disasters and the argument still holds.

I have had a real change of opinion about this kind of thing over the years. For a long time I couldn’t see how this kind of expenditure could be justified when there are natural disasters, people starving and all the other social problems we know about.

However there were 2 people, saying roughly the same thing, that changed my mind about it all.

The first was Bill Hicks in a little speech that he used countless times.I have just reproduced the end of it here but this link is for the full thing…

A choice, right now, between fear and love. The eyes of fear want you to put bigger locks on your doors, buy guns, close yourselves off. The eyes of love, instead, see all of us as one. Here’s what you can do to change the world, right now, to a better ride. Take all that money that we spend on weapons and defence each year, and instead spend it feeding, clothing and educating the poor of the world, which it would many times over, not one human being excluded, and we could explore space, together, both inner and outer, for ever, in peace.

This is beautifully put and eminently sensible from Hicks but I also found Carl Sagan’s argument, which was basically the same, to be put in such a way as to make it almost impossible to disagree with.

In one section of his wonderful program Cosmos he points out that the Voyager missions, which gave us the majority of knowledge we have about our solar system and plenty other things besides, cost less than a penny/cent per person for everyone on the planet.

I think that it becomes almost ridiculous to suggest that this is money wasted when you consider how much we get in return for this money…namely the best information we have about who we are and where we came from (at least for some places – the Cassini-Huygens mission and others have updated our knowledge about other places). All of this is doubly important when we consider that there is a huge movement backed by huge amounts of money attempting to convince us all again that the earth is in fact 6000 years old etc etc. If these people get full control (again) we will be back to burning witches before we can say “dark ages”.

When you consider that the amount of money wasted on weapons and armies every year is probably more than a thousand times more than is spent on exploration, observation and conservation of the natural  world (and universe)  “In which of these things should we be cutting budgets?” , “Which of these things should we be attacking?” are the simple questions that should present themselves to thinking people.

Here is a short video of Carl Sagan explaining only some of the things that we got for that one penny or cent each.