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Core Values?

In yesterday’s Guardian G2 there was a wonderful scathing article written by the US born comedian Rich Hall dealing with recent events in his home country.

In it he satirises the US penchant for owning, and using on each other, firearms.

A striking sentence concerns the number of terrorist-related deaths carried out by people from the seven countries subject to the, now legally suspended at least till appeal, ban on entry to the US.

That number?


(Though Hall does balance this by saying there have been three – thwarted – attacks using knives.)

I don’t suppose such satirising of what Hall characterises as the US core value of gun crime will change anyone’s mind, though.

Kindred by Octavia E Butler

headline, 2014, 320 p. First published 1979.

Kindred cover

The novel is narrated by Dana Franklin, a black woman who lives in California in 1976 with her white husband, Kevin. One day she has a dizzy spell and comes to herself in a strange environment and just in time to save a young white boy, Rufus, from drowning. Threatened with a gun by the boy’s father, in fear of death, she is as suddenly returned to her 1976 home. She barely has time to wash herself before suffering another dizzy spell and is thrown back again to Rufus’s bedroom, where she puts out a fire. Rufus is older. His speech leads her to question him and she discovers she is in Maryland in 1815 or so, on a slave plantation and works out Rufus is her ancestor, yet to beget her great grandmother. There is no mechanism given for Dana’s ability to travel in time, it just happens. The only connection seems to be the genetic one. This makes this aspect of the novel fantasy rather than Science Fiction.

There are several more instances of journeys back and forth through time, on one occasion Dana is accompanied by Kevin as he is holding on to her at the time. They are separated when Dana is drawn back home after being whipped for teaching a slave to read. On her next return they meet up again but Kevin has spent five years in the past while only days have passed for Dana.

The set-up allows Butler the opportunity to portray the life of slaves and the attitudes of slaveholders in some detail. Quite how close that is to the real experience is a good question. Words on a page cannot truly convey the experience of being whipped, for example. The whole truth may well have been too incompatible with readability though, a delicate balance for the author to achieve. The compromises and accommodations the slaves have to make simply to survive, the jealousies, hierarchies and resentments among them are well delineated though.

The book of course is a commentary on how the past history of the US still has resonance – even now, almost forty years after the book was first published – the victimisation of women, sexual dynamics, and race as a construct.

Butler’s characterisation is excellent but the episodic nature of Dana’s encounters with Rufus – she is only drawn back to his time when his life is in danger – means his development into a typical slave-holder is also disjointed. His attraction to Alice Greenwood is problematic, though. While it is necessary for the story to work logically his initial scruples over forcing himself on her (even after her enslavement) seem a touch unlikely.

History is a complicated web. Family history perhaps more so. Butler reminds us that in the US it is also contentious.

Pedant’s corner:- apart from being written in USian there were – remarkably – only two things I noted: insure (ensure; do USians employ insure in this sense?) hung (hanged; but it was in dialogue.)

Fidel Castro

Whatever your opinion of him, Fidel Castro, who died yesterday, was undoubtedly one of the most significant figures of the Twentieth Century.

Not only did he somehow contrive from a very small personnel base to overthrow the government of Fulgencio Batista he managed to sustain his regime against the efforts to undermine it of a great power whose territory began only 103 miles away even when his backer, the Soviet Union, which that confrontation drew him to had fallen into the jaws of history.

The nationalisation of all US-owned businesses on the island naturally poisoned relations with it, as, no doubt, did the treatment of Batista suporters and the suppression of opposition voices. Castro did, though, institute free medical care for all and a well regarded education system.

The Cuba-US stand-off provided the biggest world crisis since the Second World War when USSR missiles were stationed on Cuban soil. Thankfully cool heads prevailed on the part of both the great powers to procure their removal.

Despite many increasingly lunatic plans to remove Castro or his influence (see first link above) he survived them all and was able to pass on his leadership peacefully.

Even if that was only to his brother he did not continue to cling to power beyond his capacity to wield it, unlike many.

Here are two opposing musical views.

Focus: Sugar Island

The Skatalites: Fidel Castro

Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz: 13/8/1926 – 25/11/2016. So it goes.

Washington Village, Tyne and Wear

Washington Village, Tyne and Wear is not to be confused with the New Town which surrounds it.

The family of George Washington, first President of the US, came from here.

General view. The War Memorial is just to right of centre:-

Washington Village, Tyne and Wear

War Memorial front view, WW1 names on base, WW2 on pillar:-

Washington Village, War Memorial

War Memorial Reverse. WW1 Names on base, Other conflicts on pillar. Iraq 2003, Gulf War 1990-1, Falklands 1982, seven for Afghanistan, 2006-13:-

Washington Village, War Memorial Reverse

Garden of Remembrance, to rear of memorial. Dedicated to the fallen in wars and conflicts:-

Washington Village, Garden of Remembrance

Sepp Blatter

I still don’t quite know what to make of Sepp Blatter’s resignation.

It was only a few days after he’d secured his presidency for another term. Maybe there’s a lot to come out about his dealings behind the scenes. It would seem so.

But…. A thought occurred to me.

Is it a bit like John Major’s resignation? He resigned (as head of the Tory Party) but still managed to stay on if you recall.

And Blatter’s given himself about six months still in charge while the process of electing a successor takes place. I wouldn’t be in the least surprised if he tried to stand again.

Whatever, I doubt that the next World Cup will be removed from Russia. There were good reasons why it should go there. (It was Europe’s turn and Russia hadn’t had it yet, among others.)

Qatar in 2022 is another matter. (But 2022 is Asia’s turn.)

In another point; to make things absolutely clear, if there is a rerun of the voting for 2018 or 2022, to avoid accusations of sour grapes, England ought not to bid and perhaps neither ought the US given it was that country’s initiative that has resulted in the arrest of FIFA’s executives.

Scotland 0-0 USA

International Friendly, Hampden Park, 15/11/13.

Once again I only saw the highlights where it looked as if Scotland dominated the first half and the US the second.

I spoke today to someone who was at the game and he said the second half was more like 50/50.

It’s a lot better result for us than the last time the two countries met. Then again the US were without who are possibly their best players in Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey.

Not Just Ireland

Beside the Irish shelves in my local supermarket there are no less than two others of produce surely intended to be sold in the US.

Second Set of US Shelves, Kirkcaldy Supermarket

First Set of US Shelves, Kirkcaldy Supermarket

A few of these things I’ve read about, Hershey bars (chocolate,) Jello (jelly.* – At £1.50 a packet no less. One of the packets was chocolate flavoured; how do you get chocolate flavoured jelly? The picture on the packet showed the stuff was opaque. Weird.) Lifesavers(??) Hominy grits. The rest is more or less a mystery apart from what were obviously cereals.

I suppose this has turned up here because the supermarket concerned has just abandoned its attempts to make inroads into the US market.

Here are two close-ups. Click either side to enlarge.

First Set of US Shelves, Kirkcaldy, Detail

US Shelves Kirkcaldy Detail

What on Earth is this stuff?

(*What Usians call jelly we call jam, I think. See my post on Jelly Jungle.)

Good Guys: Quis Custodiet?

I note the US gun owners’ association, the NRA, has responded to the recent shootings in Newtown, Connecticut.

Their spokesman, Wayne LaPierre, variously blamed the shootings on lax enforcement of “gun-free” areas round schools, deranged individuals not being on a national data base, violent video games and the media. He decried the fact that school staff had to give up their lives to protect the children as they couldn’t defend themselves and went on to say, “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”

It is perfectly true that a child in the US (and elsewhere) will witness tens of thousands of acts of violence between TV/the cinema/video games before reaching the age of 18. But they don’t all end up committing massacres. Plus, moreover, don’t such depictions help to create the climate in which the NRA finds fertile ground for recruitment?

(It is curious that these same children are not supposed to witness that most human of acts, of love/procreation, through the means mentioned before that same tender age. I somehow suspect Mr LaPierre would be against them viewing that sort of thing, though.)

Again; isn’t it possible that, even if the staff members had carried guns, they would still have been shot by the attacking gunman? He had the initiative after all.

And the only thing? Surely a better way to stop a bad guy with a gun is never to let him acquire the gun in the first place.

I recognise that the genie of gun ownership in the US is not one that can be easily put back in the bottle, there are simply too many of the things about.

The NRA’s remedy to gun attacks on schools, however, is to station armed guards, trained volunteers Mr LaPierre said, ex-police, ex-military etc, in schools.

Are you sure, Mr LaPierre? Are ex-military personnel, those who have seen combat, seen their comrades mutilated, blown up or shot, really the best people to protect young innocents? Aren’t veterans famously subject to trauma and mental problems, to difficulties reintegrating with civilian life?

So, Mr Lapierre, I ask. Who is to guard these volunteers?

Because I guarantee, I guarantee, that should this guarding of schools by armed volunteers come to pass, some day down the line one of these volunteers will run amok in his/her school with his/her gun. (Even if said volunteer hadn’t been in the police or military.)

What will Mr LaPierre’s remedy be to that?

The Hugo Awards

Ian Sales has been complaining about the latest Hugo Awards.

This is a subject nobody outside the SF world (not to mention many inside it) gives a toss about but to others it’s important. The Hugos claim to identify the best SF in any particular year but as Sales says the categories are now somewhat out of date and their boundaries can be obscure.

I used to pay some attention to them as a guide to what to seek out to read – and later when an acquaintance/friend was up for one of them. This year’s mainly passed me by. The results are here.

Since only attendees of any year’s Worldcon (Worldcon = the annual world SF convention) or its supporting members (financial contibutors who cannot attend) have a vote in the nominations or final ballot the awards are in essence a popularity contest so not necessarily giving an indicator as to quality.

The main flaw though is that since the Worldcon is usually held in the USA – and even when it isn’t – most of its members are from the US. This means they are and always have been essentially USian awards. This is historically inevitable since the US was the largest SF market and largest source of writers. But it does unlevel the playing field.

Scotland 3-1 Australia

Easter Road, Edinburgh, 15/8/12.

Thankfully I missed any sight of the Florida debacle in June when the USA humped us 5-1.

I only caught the highlights of this, where Scotland looked impressive enough. But I didn’t recognize many of the Australians so don’t know if it was a strong team or what.

Australia’s goal was a belter (almost literally.) Mark Bresciano couldn’t have hit it any more sweetly.

Jordan Rhodes caught the eye, great movement across the defender for his header from an excellent cross. The poor Aussie defender placed his header for the own goal beautifully. Ross McCormack got behind their defence too easily for the third but took it well.

Danny Fox’s crossing for the first two goals was good but he seems very one-footed. He won’t always have time like that.

Two World Cup qualifiers next month will be more nail-biting, I’m sure.

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