Monday, January 22, 2007

The Wonderful Widow of Eighteen Springs

Last week I was introduced to several intriguing and haunting pieces of music I had not heard before when Pulse performed their "Cabaret du Neant". In particular John Cage's work "The Wonderful Widow of Eighteen Springs" which sets a short extract from James Joyce's Finnegan's Wake to music. It was delicately sung with sensual clarity by Sarah Dacey, accompanied only by Belinda Jones on "closed piano". Searching for background to this composition I chanced across this essay by William Harris: "Reading Finnegans Wake: a Micro-structural Approach with Musical Sound". Harris discusses the importance of sound in Joyce's work using the passage that Cage drew on for "The Wonderful Widow of Eighteen Springs".

Operation Ballast

Special Branch Police Officers colluded with and protected members of Loyalist paramilitaries behind several murders according to a report issued by the Police Ombudsman of Northern Ireland published today:

The report named Operation Ballast makes these chilling conclusions:

Intelligence was (also) found linking police informants, and in particular "Informant 1", to ten attempted murders between 1989 and 2002. Intelligence was also found which implicated police informants, and in particular, "Informant 1", in a significant number of crimes in respect of which no action or insufficient action was taken: • Armed robbery; • Assault and Grievous Bodily Harm; • Punishment shootings and attacks; • Possession of munitions; • Criminal Damage; • Drug dealing; • Extortion; • Hijacking; • Intimidation; • Conspiracy to murder; • Threats to kill."

"There are grave concerns about the practices of some police officers. The activities which were identified included: • Failure to arrest informants for crimes to which those informants had allegedly confessed, or to treat such persons as suspects for crime; • The concealment of intelligence indicating that on a number of occasions up to three informants had been involved in a murder and other serious crime; • Arresting informants suspected of murder, then subjecting them to lengthy sham interviews at which they were not challenged about their alleged crime, and releasing them without charge; • Creating interview notes which were deliberately misleading; failing to record and maintain original interview notes and failing to record notes of meetings with informants; • Not recording in any investigation papers the fact that an informant was suspected of a crime despite the fact that he had been arrested and interviewed for that crime; • Not informing the Director of Public Prosecutions that an informant was a suspect in a crime in respect of which an investigation file was submitted to the Director; • Withholding from police colleagues intelligence, including the names of alleged suspects, which could have been used to prevent or detect crime; • An instance of blocking searches of a police informant’s home and of other locations including an alleged UVF arms dump; • Providing at least four misleading and inaccurate documents for possible consideration by the Court in relation to four separate incidents and the cases resulting from them, where those documents had the effect of protecting an informant; • Finding munitions at an informant’s home and doing nothing about that matter; • Withholding information about the location to which a group of murder suspects had allegedly fled after a murder; • Giving instructions to junior officers that records should not be completed, and that there should be no record of the incident concerned; • Ensuring the absence of any official record linking a UVF informant to possession of explosives which may, and were thought according to a Special Branch officer’s private records, to have been used in a particular crime; • Cancelling the “wanted” status of murder suspects “because of lack of resources” and doing nothing further about those suspects; • Destroying or losing forensic exhibits such as metal bars; • Continuing to employ as informants people suspected of involvement in the most serious crime, without assessing the attendant risks or their suitability as informants; • Not adopting or complying with the United Kingdom Home Office Guidelines on matters relating to informant handling, and by not complying with the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act when it came into force in 2000. "

"The cumulative effect of these activities as described by police officers and as demonstrated in documentation recovered, was to protect Informant 1 and other informants from investigation. In the absence of explanation as to why these events occurred, the Police Ombudsman has concluded that this was collusion by certain police officers with identified UVF informants. "
The full report is available as a PDF download here:

This post is dedicated to John McGuffin (1942-2002) author of The Guineapigs, which described and documented the British State's use of sensory deprivation and torture in Northern Ireland. For more on John's life click here.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Ethel MacDonald

Britain has its own radical tradition which is overlooked, ignored or written out of history - but occasionally breaks through into the mainstream media. One example is the new film about the life of Ethel MacDonald, who hitchhiked across Europe in 1936 to take part in the fight against Franco. She arrived in Barcelona to find the city in the midst of heavy fighting, but as a pacifist, decided to do this through propaganda, producing an english-language newsletter and broadcasting on radio where her broad Scottish accent rapidly became familiar. Phil Miller writes in The Herald: "She went on to help dozens of fellow activists escape by setting up secret lines of communication between Spain and France, earning herself the name "the Scots Scarlet Pimpernel" in the UK press. After she was arrested, questions over her fate were asked in the House of Commons. While in jail, she risked execution by setting up a smuggling network using empty food cans to get letters out."

Read Phil's complete article here:

The film will be broadcast on BBC2 Scotland on January 24th at 9.00 p.m. Perhaps one day soon the BBC will let the rest of us see it?

Saturday, January 20, 2007

The Wobblies!

The Industrial Workers of the World were a labour movement unlike any other in U.S. history, linking everyday demands for better wages, rights at work, and decent housing with a wider, revolutionary, vision of social change. In the course of their struggle members were imprisoned, beaten-up, deported, and murdered. Now an inspiring and moving study of the extraordinary men and women who formed the Wobblies as (the members of the IWW were known) is freely available on streaming video at:

A wide range of musical and experimental films, animation and videos about the Spanish Civil War, Noam Chomsky are also available at the same address.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Autism Controversy

Arthur Allen is the author of a controversial article about autism in Slate entitled "The Autism Numbers: Why There's No Epidemic":

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Of Lammas Land and Olympic Dreams

An extended report on the slowly emerging opposition to the Olympics land-grab:
From MetaMute:

"If we are to resist the deterioration of our lives and environment that the Olympic plans are predicated upon, all 'commons' whether historical or not must be defended. Whilst avenues of legal contestation should be pursued, it is necessary to remember that the law remains the tool of the powerful. The tool of the commoner, however, is anything that can be found at hand and that includes the ceaseless invention and re-invention of use-rights and pleasure lands new and old that no enclosure can contain."

God's Undertaker

Adam Kirsch reviews Claire Tomalin’s Thomas Hardy in the New Yorker:
"In 1895, when he published his great novel “Jude the Obscure,” with its punishing assault on conventional views of marriage, sex, and class, the newspapers reacted almost as furiously as they had to the trial of Oscar Wilde a few months earlier. “HARDY THE DEGENERATE,” ran the headline in the World; the Pall Mall Gazette went with the inevitable “JUDE THE OBSCENE.” Yet when he died, thirty-three years later—after embarking on a second career as a poet, and creating a body of work at least as important as his fiction—all was more than forgiven. Contrary to his own wishes, he was given a state funeral at Westminster Abbey, where his ten pallbearers included the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition, and the heads of Cambridge and Oxford colleges, as well as Rudyard Kipling and A. E. Housman. But even then Hardy managed to elude the clutches of the great and the good: his body had already been cremated, and the coffin carried with such pomp contained nothing but a handful of ashes."

Saturday, January 13, 2007

William Blake Under the Influence

The British Library celebrates the 250th anniversary of William Blake's birth with an exhibition in the Sir John Ritblat Library:
"The centrepiece of the exhibition is Blake's notebook, which he used to record sketches and draft his poems for over thirty years. The dense, closely-filled pages provide a fascinating insight into Blake's compositional process, and allow us to follow - line by line, correction by correction- the genesis of some of his best-known work, including poems such as London and The Tyger. To commemorate the 250 th anniversary of Blake's birth, the British Library has used its award-winning Turning the Pages technology to create an interactive version of the manuscript."
The exhibition also features "unique items lent or donated by writers and artists who have been inspired in some way by Blake's life and work, including Tracy Chevalier, Philip Pullman and Patti Smith."
For a full description of the Exhibition read the British Library press release here:

To read William Blake's notebook online:

The Paris Review Interviews

Just published by Canongate, this new book is reviewed by John Walsh in The Independent: "
"A unique selling point of the PR interviews has always been their interest in the writer's modus operandi - where and how the words are set down. Many writers respond with comical gravitas: Dorothy Parker writes two-fingered on a typewriter; TS Eliot can write for no more than three hours a day. Capote writes prone on a sofa or bed, smoking and drinking coffee, mint tea, then sherry and martinis. Joan Didion goes back to page one and re-types everything ("It gets me into a rhythm")."
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Robert Anton Wilson

The New York times reports the death of Robert Anton Wilson, author of
The Illuminatus! trilogy Schrodinger's Cat trilogy:

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Paul Krassner recalls Wilson's description of the creative process: "I write the first draft straight, then rewrite stoned, then rewrite straight again, then rewrite stoned again, and so on, until I'm absolutely delighted with every sentence, or irate editors start reminding me about deadlines--whichever comes first...."

BlackCrayon features a short audio clip by Wilson in which he discusses his ideas about anarchism:

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Your Right To Know -

Using the FOI Act Heather Brooke has managed to secured the release of the full minutes to the BBC Governors’ meeting in which Greg Dyke resigned. They have also voluntarily published the minutes from a subsequent meeting in February 2004 related to the fallout from the Hutton report.

You can now read the minutes for yourself and judge whether the BBC Governors were justified in spending license-fee money to fight public disclosure for three years:
Read them on Heather's website now:

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Librarians Threaten Action Over Cuts

Continuing with the library theme of the last few days - library workers in Hampshire are threatening strike action against Hampshire County Council's plan to axe jobs and cut £250,000 from its £2 million book fund. Its time librarians started to take the erosion of the library service seriously, and should link up with community-based pro-library campaigners like Tim Coates. Only if library workers and library users work together will it be possible to exert sufficient pressure on local authorities, and central government to reverse the decline.
Meanwhile in Cambridgeshire the county Council is proposing a cut of £95,000 in the county's library book fund with a further £5,000 reduction to the mobile library services, and Essex CC have axed 16 posts for professional librarians and appears to have frozen new recruitment.

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Monday, January 08, 2007

Local Residents Run Their Own Library

Residents of Micklefield have taken over the running of their local library from Buckinghamshire County Council who have been trying to close it down. Dave Cannings, Chairman of the Trust set up to run the Library notes: "We are just ordinary people that have got together to keep this facility and improve it. People have devoted an enormous amount of spare time to this. All we have got to do is build on that enthusiasm and get people in there using it."
Full report in the Bucks Free Press:

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Historic Collection Threatened

The St Bride Printing Library faces closure unless £7 million pounds can be raised to redevelop the building. Mike Jenkin of the St Bride Foundation which runs the library told the BBC that: "Without it, the library faces being sold, split up and possibly even taken out of the UK."
Read the whole story here:

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Evolution and its Discontents

David Brown reviews The Reluctant Dr. Darwin and Why Darwin Matters for the Washington Post:
"It has always been hard for some people of faith to accept that nature's marvelous complexity could be the product of natural selection -- a passive process incapable of intent and unguided by any divine hand. Nevertheless, the evidence for evolution is everywhere. In the last two decades, it has gotten a massive boost with the various genome projects (on human, mouse, yeast and worm cells) that demonstrate just how interrelated organisms are on a molecular level."
(n.b. this url was shortened courtesy of DigBig

Scanning Wars

The issues around Google's digitisation plans and rival projects established by the Open Content Alliance and Microsoft are explored in "Google library: Open culture?" on CNN:

it makes some relevant points about the way some of the scanning projects are set up so that they cannot be searched by other search engines - a point slightly undermined by the short exhortation in italics at the end of the article: "This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed."

How To Be Idle: An Interview with Tom Hodgkinson

If you enjoyed listening to the Radio 4 extract from Tom Hodgkinson's new book How to be Free (see previous posting for details) you will find this 2005 interview with Tom in Mother Jones refreshing:

"I started to question this whole idea of jobs because it was taking away my freedom.” He intended to become a freelance writer (both his parents were journalists), but was chronically unable to get out of bed. “I wasn’t doing it with any pleasure, I was feeling really pissed off at myself,” he recalled. In the midst of this guilty inaction he found a series of essays by Samuel Johnson on the virtues of kicking back and the vital link between idleness and creativity. As he told a British interviewer, "I suddenly realised, hey, I'm not a lazy idiot, I'm an idler! It's something to aspire to, it's part of the creative process! That's fantastic!"

To read last summer's post on The Idler which is edited by Tom see:

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Books to change Your Life By

This week Radio 4 features extracts from five "classic and contemporary books that offer thoughts and advice on better living during the regular "Book of the Week" slot. Much better than it sounds as the texts chosen offer insight and inspiration rather than moral instruction. The books selected include Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (amusingly listed as "Mothercycle Maintenance") and Dorothy Rowe's The Successful Self. Listen to them live online at:

Dorothy Rowe is a world-renowned psychologist and writer. "Her explanation of depression gives the depressed person a way of taking charge of their life and leaving the prison of depression forever.

She shows how we each live in a world of meaning that we have created. She applies this understanding to important aspects of our lives, such as emotional distress, happiness, growing old, religious belief, politics, money, friends and enemies, extraverts and introverts, parents, children and siblings." If you have not come across her writing before then sample them on her website:

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Dictionary of Phrase and Fable

First published in 1870 Elizabeth Cobham Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable has become a classic source of information on allusions, idioms, mythology, place names, historical and fictional figures and events, nicknames, foreign terms, and famous phrases and quotations. Infoplease have just placed the 1894 edition online. There are approximately 16,000 entries and it is more than 100 years since it was written so "its tone and expression are frequently musty and antiquated, and its definitions and etymologies can be obscure and imprecise. But what this idiosyncratic reference work sometimes lacks in scholarly rigor is easily made up for by its wit, charm, and fascinating contents."

For a sample search - try this one on "mistletoe"

Thanks to Gary Price and Shirl Kennedy's Resource Shelf for drawing my attention to the availability of this online publication.