28 February 2012

The Poet and the Painter

The Joys of Realpolitik

My thanks go to to the excellent James Bloodworth who tweeted this item earlier today (James writes for the Independent and has an excellent blog called Obliged To Offend. The tweet relates to an item on Spiegel Online wjich reveals that the British government in the 80s would have shafted Solidarity

The article states that German chancellor Helmut Schmidt appeared to be the only top Western politician who was skeptical about the Polish trade union Solidarity in the early 1980s.  However, it now seems that Thatcher was also had deep reservations about the movement and its leader Lech Walesa.

New evidence, reported in Monday's SPIEGEL magazine reveals British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was suspicious about the influential movement and Lech Walesa, the man who later became a Nobel Laureate.

In September 1981, British Premier Thatcher even considered supporting the Eastern bloc regime in Warsaw in quelling Solidarity. This is according to a declassified German Foreign Ministry document.
 According to the document, Thatcher's Foreign Secretary, Lord Peter Carrington, told colleagues in New York that Britain sympathizied with Solidarity. But if Solidarity got out of control and the government had to take repressive measures, it might make sense to help the government, he added.

Carrington had earlier outlined the UK's position, saying that his government only backed Solidarity out of respect for public opinion, but that perhaps, from a more rational position, they would actually be "on the side of the Polish government".

Back then, Warsaw was threatened with insolvency and Thatcher evidently feared that the demands of the workers' movement could trigger a Soviet invasion. A few months later, the Polish communist Leader Wojciech Jaruzelski imposed martial law and the US invoked economic sanctions against Poland. Britain, however, avoided levying sanctions on the country.

The imposition of martial law was a setback for Solidarity. About 100 "political dissidents" died in internment camps. But it did not prevent Solidarity from helping to bring about the end of communist rule in 1989-90.

To be honest this does not surprise me. While I despise Thatcher and her minions, I know that  any other British government would have shafted Solidarnosc in a heartbeat. Western governments pay lip service to freedom and human rights but are happy to cozy up to the nastiest of regimes if it means trade and profit... Look at our relationship with Saudi Arabia for proof of that.

Hank for Senate!

The Senate race in Virginia has taken an interesting twist as a new candidate throws its collar into the ring. Hank, a nine year old cat will be running against former Virginia governors. George Allen (R) and Tim Kaine (D). There is an age barrier for the senate. You must be over 30, but this is okay as in cat years Hank is in his 50s.

A former street dweller, Hank has never voted , wears no clothes and has a policy of milk in every bowl. He has even released an official campaign ad which is as nauseating as anything regular US politicians produce (until the very end)

Hank is not the first animal to run for office - a dog called Bosco was myor for Sunol in California in the 80s - but to be honest, looking at the shower of wankers the Republicans have to choose from I wonder if the GOP might not do worse than co-opt him as their candidate.

I wish Hank well but I have one suggestion: get some better ties!

27 February 2012

The last bastion of the Confederacy

One would have thought that the Confederacy was consigned to teh annals of history in 1865 but this does not seem to be the case: One town - in upstate New York of all places - remained technically part of the Confederacy until the 1940s

Last year VOAcarried an article about this anomaly

Firefighters in the hamlet of Town Line commemorate a strange slice of history in their badge which proclaims the Town Line to be the  “Last of the Rebels." This is  because Town Line, which is near the Canadian border seceded from the United States at the start of the Civil War in 1861. One hundred and fifty years later, the town is still trying to figure out why.

The only church hall in town was filled past capacity recently for a party marking the 150th anniversary (in 2011)  of this northern town's decision to side with the South during the Civil War. Cannons sit in the parking lot. Ladies are in elaborate dresses while gentlemen swelter in woolen soldiers’ uniforms.

Brandon Adkins, who has strapped on an authentic battle sword, likes to tell people he’s a natural-born Confederate from upstate New York.

“One guy, he was calling me a Yankee. And I says, ‘Excuse me, I’m from Town Line, I’m a Confederate. We were Confederates for the longest time.’ He said, ‘If that’s true, I’ll kiss your rear end in front of everybody to see.’ He looked it up and I guess he believes me now that we were the last of the rebels.”

Many in Town Line, like history teacher Ray Ball, also find it hard to believe. “I was very surprised when I first heard it 10 years ago. I thought, ‘No way. Come on.'”
As the story goes, townspeople gathered at the local schoolhouse just after war broke out and voted 80-45 to secede from the Union. Shortly after, according to Ball, five local men headed south and joined the Confederate Army. "The country was literally coming apart at the seams," he says, "and the seams tore much farther north than most people realize.”

But locals are still unsure why Town Line, just minutes from Canada, took such a dramatic step. Ball points out that residents supported Abraham Lincoln for president just the year before. Most were German immigrants without connections to the American south.

“They had nothing to do with slavery here," Ball says. "So it had to be something beyond that, why they voted the way they did.”

Karen Muchow, who runs the local historical society, has researched the story for years without finding the answer. But, she says, after the Civil War ended, Town Line’s secession from the Union was conveniently forgotten.

“I think it was embarrassment, on some parts, that it happened," says Muchow. "There are no records that we know of. There could be in someone’s attic. Or were, and (were) destroyed. So there’s no names. Which may have been on purpose.”

Life went on. Residents paid federal taxes and opened a U.S. Post Office. Then, in 1946, right after World War II, a local newspaper unearthed the story.

Word spread around the country. Telegrams flooded in, hounding the town “rejoin” the Union. Even President Harry Truman wrote an open letter, urging residents to roast veal as a peace offering. Bowing to pressure, the town scheduled a vote.

The vote was successful and Town Line were no longer Rebs... Make of this what you will

26 February 2012

Witchfinder General Part III

Witchfinder General Part II

Witchfinder General Part I

Witchfinder General was made in 1968 and in my view one of the best and certainly one of the most under rated British horror films. Rather more gruesome than the Hammer Horror output of the sixties it is loosely based on the real life activities of Matthew Hopkins, the soi disant Witchfinder Generall who  terrorised East Anglia from 1645 to 1647.

Vincent Rice was rather old to play an accurate Hopkins (who was in his twenties during his reign of terror) but he puts in a typically fine performance. Still I wonder what the film would have looked like if Donald Pleasance had played the role as originally intended.

To tie the film in with the Roger Corman output of Edgar Allen Poe films it was called the Conqueror Worm in the United States.

23 February 2012

Political undertones in Japanese fart battle prints

Once again I can thank the Fortean Times and its Breaking News section for drawing my attention to an article that appeared in  Whats On Tianjin. I can assure you that I had never heard of this publication before although the original article appeared in the Mail

Looking at the pictures made me laugh. To all intents and purposes  the sight of Japanese men and women engaged in flatulent combat looks funny, after all who can resist a fart joke!

But the artwork, known as 'He-gassen' (or 'fart battle'), is apparently a pointed comment on political and social changes in Japan. Made by an unknown artist or artists, the scroll depicts a number of different scenes - all linked by the fact that at least one character is directing a debilitating blast of flatulence towards another character.

Such drawings were apparently created in response to increasing intrusion of Europeans in Japan during the Edo period - between 1603 and 1868.
The He-gassen pictures has specific meaning that would have been instantly interpreted at the time. By the middle of the 17th century, only China, the Dutch East India Company and a group of English traders were allowed in restricted sections of Japan.
Any other Europeans who landed in Japan were arrested and executed without trial.

While the He-gassen scroll looks ludicrous now, it was a comical depiction of Japan's serious xenophobia toward the end of this Edo period.

The country enjoyed relative isolation until Europeans and Americans - specifically Commodore Matthew Perry and his armada of 'Black Ships' from the U.S. Navy - forced Japan's opening to the world in the 19th century

Well there you have it and make of it what you will! I like that they are called He Gassen - they certainly do add a dimension to the idea of a divine wind! That said Shirl and I could give these fellows a run for their money on the fart stakes!

In the lines of graves

British cemetery, Bayeux

Planet Steam

The BBC reports that Astronomers may have discovered a a new class of planet: a "water-world" with a thick, steamy atmosphere. The planet in question is GJ 1214b, 40 light-years away and Observations using the Hubble telescope seem to confirm that a large fraction of its mass is water.

The planet's high temperatures suggest exotic materials might exist there.
"GJ 1214b is like no planet we know of," said lead author Zachory Berta, from the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

The planet was discovered in 2009 orbiting its comparatively cool red-dwarf star at a distance of just two million km - meaning temperatures on GJ 1214b probably reach above 200C.  It is about 2.7 times the Earth's diameter but with a mass just seven times higher (at an equivalent density, to the Earth, it would have nearly 20 times the mass).

Mr Berta and his colleagues used the Hubble Space Telescope's wide-field camera to study the planet as it crossed in front of its star - a transit. During these transits, the star's light is filtered through the planet's atmosphere, giving clues to the mixture of gases present. The researchers said their results are more consistent with a dense atmosphere of water vapour, than one with a haze.

"The high temperatures and pressures would form exotic materials like 'hot ice' or 'superfluid water', substances that are completely alien to our everyday experience," said Dr Berta.

The planet's short distance from Earth makes it a likely candidate for follow-up observations with the James Webb Space Telescope, which may launch by the end of this decade.

As ever fascinating stuff

22 February 2012

Bayeux Reflection II

Bayeux reflections

Journalist Memorial, Bayeux

Marie Colvin and Remi Ochlik will have their names added here

They will join over 2,000 other journalists who have died in the course of their duty since 1944, Sean Flynn, son of Errol was one of these when he and colleague Dana Stone were murdered by the Khmer Rouge

Sickening, cannot understand how the world can stand by and I should be hardened by now

This is the final report by Sunday Times reporter Marie Colvin who was killed in Homs today. The title of the post is apparently the last message she sent to a friend.

She died alongside French photographer Remi Ochlik when the house they were staying in was struck by Syrian artillery. American journalist Paul Conroy was injured.

The international press is currently posting tributes to a woman who was by all accounts one of the modern greats of her profession.

Remi Ochlik

Two years ago when speaking at a memorial dinner for journalists killed in the line of duty she said:

Craters. Burned houses. Mutilated bodies. Women weeping for children and husbands. Men for their wives, mothers, children. Our mission is to report these horrors of war with accuracy and without prejudice.

We always have to ask ourselves whether the level of risk is worth the story. What is bravery, and what is bravado? Journalists covering combat shoulder great responsibilities and face difficult choices.

Sometimes they pay the ultimate price

 Sadly she and Remi paid that price. According to the Journalists Memorial website, They were the fourth and fifth journalists to die  the course of duty this year. They join Mukarram Khan Atif (Pakistan), Hassan Osman Abdi (Somalia) and Enenche Godwin Akogwu (Nigeria) in death. In time all of them will be added to the reporter's memorial in Bayeux

18 February 2012

Father Ted - Kicking Bishop Brennan Up the Arse

One of my favourite episodes!

Father Ted -Escape from the Lingerie store

Father Ted ran for three series  (plus a Christmas Special) and still rates as second only to Blackadder the best sitcom ever shown on British tv (screw crap like only fools and horses or the vicar of bloody dibley). Set on the godforsaken island Craggy Island, Father Ted Crilley (sent there for gross financial irregularities) shares a parochial house with a foul mouthed creature Fr Jack Hackett and the idiotic Father Dougal MacGuire and is tended by a tea mad housekeeper Mr Doyle.

Silly, surreal, absued but hilariously funny. Even my aged and decidedly religious parents thought it appointment television

Two by Giant Sand

17 February 2012

THe Guardian reports that secret documents detailing the use by Prince Charles of his little-known power of veto over government bills must be released, the information commissioner has ruled.
A  Whitehall convention means that the Prince of Wales must be consulted on any government bill that might affect his own interests, in particular, the Duchy of Cornwall, a private £700m property empire that last year provided him with an £18m income.
The arrangement has been described as akin to a royal "nuclear deterrent" over government legislation. There is no evidence that the prince has ever exercised the veto but since 2005 the government has sought Charles' consent on at least a dozen government bills, ranging from road safety to gambling and the Olympic games.

The government had argued that disclosure of the documents on the marine and coastal access bill to an academic who requested them under environmental information regulations, "would adversely affect the Prince of Wales by invading his privacy". It could also "undermine the way in which he and his representatives correspond with ministers by impinging on the constitutional convention that the Prince of Wales is able to correspond with government ministers in confidence", the information commissioner's ruling states.

And so on and so forth. The very idea that  the useless shitstain has even a theoretical right of veto over government legislation is an utter disgrace. Definitely something that should be knocked on the head immediately

Look For the Good in Others

The only New Zealand band I ever saw live - supporting the Hoodoo Gurus back in 1987

Scruffy old fellow

Robyn needs a combing

Charles Chapelain?

The Telegraph reports that among papers released by MI5 to the National Archives investigated whether Charlie Chaplin was actually a Frenchman called Israel Thornstein, previously secret files on the Hollywood film star have revealed. 

Intelligence officers could find no trace of the actor's birth in Britain despite Chaplin always claiming he was born in London in 1889.The mystery surrounding his origins emerged when the US authorities asked MI5 to look into the comic actor's background after he left America in 1952 under a cloud of suspicion over his communist links.But British officers could find no birth certificate and the earliest official record was a passport issued in 1920.

They investigated suggestions he was born in Fontainebleau, near Paris, or nearby Melun, while the Americans claimed his real name was Israel Thornstein and raised the idea he may have been a Russian Jew.

However, British intelligence rejected American claims that Chaplin was a high-risk communist, concluding that while he may have been a “sympathiser” he was no more than a “progressive or radical”. MI5  accepted that  he was not a security risk. 
The star said he was born on April 16 1889 in East Street, Walworth, south London – just four days before the birth of Adolf Hitler, whom he lampooned in his classic 1940 film The Great Dictator.

But after scouring the files at Somerset House in London for his birth certificate, MI5 concluded: "It would seem that Chaplin was either not born in this country or that his name at birth was other than those mentioned."

Scotland Yard's Special Branch added to the intrigue by passing on a tip from a source who claimed the actor was born near Fontainebleau, just south of Paris.The police memo said: "There may or may not be some truth in this, but in view of the fact that no documentary proof has been obtained that Chaplin was born in the United Kingdom, it may well be that he was in fact born in France." MI6 investigated further but found no trace of Chaplin's birth in France either.

John Marriott, then head of MI5's counter-subversion branch, was not convinced that the absence of a birth certificate was a matter of concern for the intelligence services.He wrote: "It is curious that we can find no record of Chaplin's birth, but I scarcely think that this is of any security significance."

One possible answer to the mystery emerged last year when Chaplin’s family found a letter in a locked drawer suggesting he had been born on a gipsy camp in Smethwick, near Birmingham. The note was sent to the star in the early 1970s from Jack Hill who said his own aunt was a Gypsy Queen and he had been born in her caravan.It is known Chaplin’s mother Hannah had the maiden name Hill and descended from travellers.

Having escaped grinding poverty to launch a career in British music-hall, Chaplin moved to the US in 1910 and made a series of hugely successful films in Hollywood.But in the early 1950s, when Washington was in the grip of McCarthyist paranoia about Soviet infiltration, he was reviled in the US as a communist sympathiser.

There was further controversy about his two marriages to 16-year-old girls, failure to take American citizenship, and claims he fathered an illegitimate child and owed 2 million dollars in back taxes.

Chaplin and his family sailed to Britain in September 1952 to attend the premiere of his new film Limelight. While they were out of the country, US Attorney General James McGranery announced he would deny the actor a re-entry permit because of his alleged Soviet connections.

Chaplin's MI5 files, released by the National Archives in Kew, west London, show agents here agreed that he had given funds to communist front organisations but that the US could not prove party membership.
And a note sent to the MI5’s East Africa liaison officer ahead of a safari holiday Chaplin took in Kenya in February-March 1958 shows that MI5 were unimpressed by Washington's claims of communist links, which “do not impress us”.  It stated: "We have no substantial information of our own against Chaplin, and we are not satisfied that there are reliable grounds for regarding him as a security risk.His name has, of course, been exploited in the interests of communism as one of the victims of 'McCarthyism' It may be that Chaplin is a communist sympathiser, but on the information before us he would appear to be no more than a 'progressive' or radical." 

I find the release of such papers quite interesting. But the idea that the Little Tramp was French, perish the thought!

13 February 2012

Turkmenistan despot wins another five years in sham selection

Turkmenistan is another pariah state, with an appalling record on human rights. As ever this does not matter as the nation sits on huge amounts of natural gas which it is prepared to sell to the West. As a result and like Saudi Arabia none of our politicians give a flying fuck for what happens to the people there.

Another despot

Today's Guardian reports that ;president Gurbanguli Berdymukhamedov, has won a new five-year term by capturing 97% of the vote, election officials said.

All of Berdymukhamedov's seven opponents praised his leadership in their campaigns, making the authoritarian leader's victory in Sunday's election a formality. He improved on his performance in the 2007 election, in which he secured his first term with 89% of the vote.

The head of the central election commission, Orazmyrat Niyazliyev, said the vote was democratic and had contributed to national unity.

Annette Bohr, an expert on Turkmenistan at the London-based Chatham House institute, said the election presented only the facade of a democratic process. "It is the typical faux democracy that you see in so many countries," Bohr said.

Berdymukhamedov, 54, came to power after the death of predecessor, Saparmurat Niyazov, in 2006 and promised to open up the tightly controlled political system.

The only international observation mission overseeing the election was a delegation from the post-Soviet Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), which frequently offers positive assessments of votes criticised by more established monitoring bodies. The CIS executive secretary, Sergei Lebedev, said the election complied with democratic norms. Monitors had noted some minor irregularities but they were unlikely to have any impact on the final result, he said.

The CIS monitors are clearly talking their arses. There is no way that any democratically elected leader can accrue such a high percentage of the vote in a free and open election.

Still, never mind, Turkmenistan will be pumping out the oil so the people can go screw themsleves.

West without East (and an Essex dragon myth thrown in for good measure)

I could choose a thousand songs here but here's on by  gricer band Blyth Power. Enjoy!

PS Wormingford in Essex doesn't  have a dragon myth - it has three dragon myths.

According to the Wikipedia entry for the village:

The modern form of the place name, recorded from 1254, gave rise to three stories of dragons, (worm meaning serpent or dragon). The first story says the village is the location where the patron saint of England, St George, famously killed his dragon. A mound in the village is said to cover the body of the legendary dragon.

The second, apparently unsubstantiated, is that a crocodile escaped from Richard the Lionheart's menagerie in the Tower of London and caused much damage in Wormingford before being killed by Sir George Marney. There is a stained glass window in the local parish church (St Andrew's) which depicts this event.

The third, written in 1405  told of a dragon who threatened Richard Waldegrave's territory near Sudbury but fled into the Mere when pursued.

Pps a gricer is a hardcore trainspotter

East without west

Mahsa's sister Marjan Vahdat performs

East Meets West

I would have thought putting a blues artist and a traditional perisan singer together would not have worked but how wrong could I be! Mighty Sam McLain and Mahsa Vahdat collaborated on an album Scent of Reunion: Love Duets Across Civilisations and the result is a truly superb album. Buy it, hear it *but perhaps not staeal it), you will not be sorry!

12 February 2012

The Red Cushing Chronicles

Agent Double O Cushing part II

Cushing and his happy band of double agents were sent to Hamburg to receive briefing about their first mission.

He was told that in two weeks time they would be taken by submarine to Panama, there to act as the leader of a team that would destroy the Gatun Dam, an earthwork dam which is a crucal part of the Panama Canal. After completion of this mission he and his team would be returned to Germany once again by  U boat. Cushing pretended to be quite enthusiastic about the mission.

Delighted by Cushing's responcse he was returned to the team's  apartment in Berlin. One evening he called a meeting of the other Irish "double agents" amd proposed that they should go along with the mission as far as Panama. There they would give the Germans the slip, alert the Americans and hope that the US equivalent of the Fleet Air Arm would capture the other saboteurs and also destroy the U Boat,

Within 24 hours he was taken towhat he called the Berlin Naval HQ there to be told that the conversation had been recorded. He was then shoved in a Black Maria and taken straight to Gestapo Headquarters. While other inmates were taken for interrogation or execution, Cushing spent several days in solitary confinement and then several weeks in a segregated compound for several weeks before being sent to Sonderlager A  (Sachsenhausen) with other members of the Irish Brigade. It was there where he met Yakov Stalin....

(See Red Cushing and the Many Deaths of Yakov Stalin).

After Sachsenhausen Cushing spent time in Flossenburg and Dachau before liberation.  Hhe was interrogated quite severely but was released. Unlike other Irishmen who served with the Germans (eg James Brady and Frank Stringer who were serious about their German allegiance and did some serious time after the war)  he was released without any stain on his character. This in itself must indicate that Cushing was indeed acting with the intent to sabotage German attempts to recruit Irishmen. He eventually reenlisted in the British Army marrying a nurse Nagle before serving in Palestine and Cyprus and then Korea (but not in front line service) and Kenya. It is pleasing to report that he continued his carousing in peace time

I know that Red Cushing was alive in the 1980s but I have no idea when he died. Even if his autobiography Soldier For Hire, may have to be taken with a pinch of salt, he was a larger than life character of the sort that makes the world a much richer place.

If any reader knows what happened to Red after he retired from the Army I would be delighted to know.

Agent Double O Cushing

One thing I have promised for a long time is to finish the chronicles of Thomas   "Red" Cushing, an Irishman who took part in a number of major events in the first half of the 20th century.

In 1962 he wrote a wonderfully entertaining autobiography called "Soldier for Hire". It is long out of print but it is not too hard to pick up a copy. While you have to take what he says with a pinch of salt, that he took part in many of the things he took part in are a matter of historical record

Born in 1909 in Carrick on Suir he played a small role in the 'Troubles" and the Civil War ( a very small one given his age) before emigrating to the United States and enlisting in the US army. His US army days appear to be a tale of promotion to NCO, drinking, fighting, demotion, drinking, fighting, promotion... and so on.

After leaving the US army he took part in the Spanish Civil war on the Republican side, before coming to the UK and enlisting in the British Army. He was part of the British Expeditionary Force and was taken prisoner in June 1940. 

It is a matter of historical record that the Germans attempted to lure Irish POWs to throw their lot in with the Reich. As in WWI when Sir Roger Casement attempted to persuade Irishmen held at the Limburg POW camp to join an Irish Legion (53 Irishmen joined but saw no service on the German side in WWI), the German Intelligence Service Abwehr set up a special camp at Friesack for Irish POWs.

One of the soldiers sent to the Friesack camp was Red Cushing.

Cushing was sent there after a stint working in a coal mine (see The Good Soldier Cushing Part ii - fear not there will be an index to the Cushing stories following these last posts)..

When he discovered that prisoners from Eire were to be segregated and given preferential treatment vis a vis rations and light work duties, Cushing smelled a rat, remembering vaguely "of an incident in the First World War through the medium of Roger Casement, the Germans had formed an irish Brigade to fight for Ireland's Freedom. According to my father that brigade had ended up fighting for Kathleen ni Houlihan on the Russian Front " (Not actually true that they fought on the Russian Front but everything else is true - my grandfather would have heard Casement speak at Limburg).

Cushing suspected that the Germans were up to no good he discussed with a friend Pat Patterson about stringing the Germans along until they could get an opportunity to escape.

Cushing reckons that there were about 120 Irish soldiers collected together, His main achievement in the first stage of what would be a lengthy selection process. His main act at this stage was to promote himself from corporal to sergeant.

At a second camp he describes as about 20 miles outside of Berlin (almost certainly Friesack) he and another sixty other Irishmen were screened for the profesions of loyalty to both Ireland and Germany. After a potentially disastrous encounter with someone who purported to be IRA leader and International Brigade fighter Frank Ryan (Ryan was both and had been sentenced to death by the Nationalists. His sentences was commuted and he was subsequently removed from Spain to Germany by Abwehr. He died in Dresden in 1944 but I digress). Calling out the person as a fake may have been the  end of his escapades but it seems he got lucky.

A little later he was approached by a Colonel McGrath (Major John McGrath of the Royal Engineers was the Senior Irish officer at Friesack) who asked him to keep a check on the goings on at the camp and to reportback to him. In effect McGrath had given him carte blanche to be a double agent (This is not totally implausible given that Cushing was not only reinstated to the British Army after WWII, he continued to serve for many years after, srising to senior NCO rank). Anyway, Cuhsing was given authority to choose half a dozen other prisoners to act as agents for McGrath.

Cushing and his band of "double agents"were given training in Morse code, cipjers, sabotage and the like. They did their best to prove that they were not only "first rate saboteurs but also that we had fallen hook, line and sinker for the German line of propaganda"

The Germans were pleased with the Irishmen's performance  as they were taken to a hose in Berlin. After a few days of leisure Cushing was interview who ed by a von Halle (presumably Kurt Haller) who discussed is military service and postings, especially those with the US Army in Panama. It was at this point that von Halle told him that he and his team were off to Hamburg for  a final briefing for his first mission.

10 February 2012

Always Saturday

From Flip Flop  their last album before they split up in 1989

Watussi Rodeo

Never saw Guadalcanal Diary live but they did [roduce a couple of fine albums in the 80s. The split up in 1989 but have reformed a couple of times since

The chance of someone else using an expression

I have an expression which I use quite frequently but I had no idea that I seem to be the only person using it. When I am ever asked about the chance of something happening and I believe that the chances are very low I normally answer "Somewhere between fat and fuck all". Or I would emphasise a slim chance by saying "The chance of X happening is somewhere between fat and fuck all"

Quite direct I know but it makes a point!

The only occurrences of the phrase on the whole internet is on the Poor Mouth. Ah well

5,000th post!

Herewith the 5.000th post to appear on the Poor Mouth. Not bad going given that this crap fest has only been going since April 2006!

Although she's been dead for nearly three years now, the ghost of Mimi is still utterly astonished that I have managed to churn out so much bilge insulting the intelligence of perhaps dozens of readers over the years.

I intend to continue churning out crap for as long as I can. There may be breaks but I don't plan to quit.

09 February 2012

A bit of Theatre of Hate and also the Meteors

Saw Theatre of Hate supported by the Meteors at the Portsmouth Locarno back in 1982. Can't quite remember the date but a good night out

Isle of Man to ban Vulture Funds

IOM Today reported on Tuesday that the government of the Isle of Man has  banned Vulture Funds from pursuing claims through the island's courts (or should that "to be banned', I am not sure).

The Council of Ministers has agreed that the island should introduce its own legislation equivalent to the UK's Debt Relief (Developing Countries) Act 2010.

Treasury Minister Eddie Teare said: ‘We have no evidence of vulture fund activity in the Isle of Man and, as an internationally responsible country, we do not want it here. The Manx government is happy to introduce legislation to ensure that our island is not used for the disreputable business of exploiting heavily indebted poor countries.’

Excellent news! The more countries that tell the Vermin Funds to fuck off, the happier I am!

Jersey to ban vulture frunds from its courts... we hope

I have written about vulture funds at length before, using a lot of intemperate language in the process.From now on they will be called Vermin Funds

To recap, Vulture funds buy up distressed debt owed by developing countries for a greatly reduced price, often because it is seen as high risk due to war or natural disasters. Once the country in question stabilises, payment can be sought wherever state-backed entities are registered. This sounds reasonable but it the Vermin Funds, not only press for the full debt (even if purchased at a small fraction of price) they also seek massive interest payments as well. A debt purchased for a few million dollars can reap rewards in the tens and somethings hundreds of millions, invariably to the great detriment to many of the world's poorest people.

Personally I consider the people who deal in such misery to be among the lowest of the low.

In the last days of Gordon Brown's government a private member's bill forbidding Vermin Funds from pursuing claims in British courts was passed (despite an attempt by the vile scumbag and bastard Christopher Chope,  the shit stain who represents Christchurch for the tories, to derail the bill). To their credit the bill was ratified fully the following year by the current government. However laws affecting the UK do not cover the Crown Dependencies (Isle of Man and Chanel Islands) so Vermin Funds were still able to pursue claims thrugh their courts.

A few days ago the Guardian reported that Jersey has proposed introducing legislation designed to stop Vermin Funds from pursuing their disgusting claims through their courts.

ALast year a Guardian/Newsnight investigation revealed that one Vermin Fund, New York-based FG Hemisphere, was using Jersey to pursue the Democratic Republic of Congo for a payment of up to $100m (£63m). FG Hemisphere had bought the original debt for less than $3m.

The decision to propose a new law was taken following a public consultation on the subject, which closed in December 2011. The chief minister of Jersey, Senator Ian Gorst, has said of the proposed new bill: "By bringing forward a law to discourage so-called vulture funds from using our courts, Jersey will be sending a clear and positive message that ours is a well-regulated, co-operative and transparent jurisdiction."

This is good news, I hope that the legislation is strong and sweeps the scum away from all of the British Isles and its crown dependencies.

08 February 2012

At the bottom of the football pile

Three years ago I posted an item about what I thought was the lowest league
in the English Football league system, namely The Bristol Downs League division Four,

At the time Tebby AFC Reserves (team motto:Passion, Precision, Pint) were at the bottom of this division. I am heartened to see that now they are sitting comfortably in mid table. The team currently holding up the whole league is Luccombe Garage (P15 W0, D6, L9 Pts 6, GD-32). I cannot find a website for the team but four people like their facebook page (four more than the Homs branch of We Love Bashir Al Bastard Society).

In fact the Bristol Downs League is not part of the football pyramid at all. The  Division One champion can go no higher. So sadly neither Tebby Reserves nor Luccombe Garage can aspire to play in the Premier League. Ah well. I'm sure it does not spoil their enjoyment of the game.

In fact the bottom of the English football league system (a hierarchy with the Premier League at the very top) is represented by just one league, the Mid Sussex League, Division 11.

At present Scaynes Hill FC's third team are at the bottom of that league (P8, W0, D0, L8, GF4, GA62, GD-58, Pts 0).

With a fair wind, Scaynes Hill's 3rd team will ascend all eleven divisions of the Mid Sussex football league, sail through the three divisions of the Surrey County league, storm the three divisions of the Isthmian league, breeze through the Conference South and the  the National Conference, beat all comers in Leagues two, One and the Championship, beat Lokomotiv Lulworth to win the Premier league in the 2035/36 season and  smash Shaktar Vaduz 7-0 to lift the Champions League trophy at the Wankdorf Stadium the following year.

As a cat can look at a king, anyone can dream!

Asma Assad breaks silence

She may be glamorous but she is married to a piece of shit

Britain may not export as much as it once did but we have provided the butcher in charge in Syria with a rather attractive wife. More or less ever since the  protests started in Syria last year (and of course the brutal repression) Asma Assad has hardly ben seen or heard. However that seems to have changed.

However, according to the Telegraph in an email sent to The Times recently (I won't pay money to read the Times online). Mrs Assad, 36, wrote that her husband "is the President of Syria, not a faction of Syrians, and the First Lady supports him in that role".
The email is said to have continued: "The First Lady's very busy agenda is still focused on supporting the various charities she has long been involved in, including the National Comittee to Exterminate Dissenters, The Bashir Al-Assad Nobel Peace Prize Nomination Committee and the National Vogue Readers Circle,  as well as supporting the President as needed (it is believed that she does so by taking pot shots at potential dissenters she encounters in the Damascus branch of Louis Vuitton).

"These days she is equally involved in bridging gaps and encouraging dialogue (She has  apparently recorded a message protestors in which she demands that they surrender and face torture or be shot and then tortured). She listens to and comforts the families of the victims of the violence (mainly by shooting them as collaborators in the protest) ."

Raised in Acton in London she is the daughter of a Harley Street cardiologist.She is Sunni whose family originally comes from Homs, the epicentre of the revolt against her husband, and the city bearing the brunt of the violence by his forces.
Personally I could not give a shit how charistmatic or stylish she is, she has nailed her colours to the mast of a disgusting tyrant. It is only a pity that she has the right of return to the UK once her husband is deposed.

07 February 2012

Florence Green, the world's last known WWI veteran, dies

Florence Green in uniform

My thanks to an anonymous commenter who drew my attention to this piece of news. It marks the end of an era.

Just an hour or so ago the BBC reported that Florence Green, the last known surviving service member of World War I, has died. She was aged 110.

She died in her sleep on Saturday night at Briar House care home, King's Lynn. Mrs Green had been due to celebrate her 111th birthday on 19 February. She leaves behind three children, four grandchildren and seven great grandchildren.

Born in London  Mrs Green was 17 years old when she joined the Women's Royal Air Force (WRAF) on 13 September 1918 - two months before the armistice. She worked as a waitress on RAF bases in Norfolk.

Some people may cavil at Florence's inclusion as a WWI veteran but she was in uniform and she did her bit. 

Rest in Peace

For You Hermann the War Should Have Been Over Two Months Ago.

The eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918 marked the cessation of hostilities in WWI, and a bloody day it was too. 2,738 men died on the last day of WWI and a further 8,206 were wounded.

I did know that forces under General Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck in east Africa did not surrender until a few days after the armistice (14 November) but I did not know until today that he was not the last German to offer his surrender.

Hermann Detzner was a Schutztruppe (colonial security force) Captain in New Guinea at the start of WWI. In September 1913, Australian forces invaded New Guinea from Papua forcing a surrender of German forces on 21 September . Isolated units surrendered once encountered... except for Detzner

His Wikipedia entry is quite fascinating

UNtil October 1914 Detzner was unaware that there was even a war.  When he did find out he decided not to go into captivity, instead leading  his party of  of four other European officers, and  200 well-armed natives into the remote interior of the island.

For the next four years, Detzner and his band roamed throughout the eastern jungles of the island, eluded the Australian patrols, and maintained contact with the few remaining German colonists and missionaries, who supplied them with food, books, and newspapers.

Detzner did make three attempts to reach West New Guinea, which was then under Dutch control and thus neutral. His escape attempts being unsuccessful for a number of reasons he spent his  time investigating the island's inhabitants and its flora and fauna.

In late November 1918, Detzner received the news of the end of the war. and finally surrendered on 5 January 1919.

After a brief spell as a POW he was returned to Germany where he received a hero's welcome a promotion and an Iron Cross.  He wrote a book Four Years among the Cannibals, from 1914 to the Armistice, under the German Flag which mixed fact and fiction and which eventually led to his disappearance from public life in the early 30s.

He died in 1970 at the age of 88.

The stupidest commemorative plate ever

Another one from the archives. But well worth a repeat

In 2006 a New Jersey branch of Noraid - the terrorist support organisation that raised funds for the IRA and Sinn Fein since 1969 – came up with a novel way  to commemorate the H Block hunger strikes of 1981.

For the low, low price of $25 (plus $7 shipping) they are offered a commemorative plate featuring all 10 hunger strikers….


Needless to say the families and colleagues of those who killed themselves on that protest were less than pleased by the choice of memorabilia.

Tony O'Hara, who was Bobby Sands's cellmate in the Maze in 1978, was a prisoner in the H-blocks when his younger brother Patsy became the first Irish National Liberation Army inmate to die on hunger strike. Three out of the 10 prisoners belonged to the INLA.

After seeing the plate online with his brother's image on it, O'Hara said: 'The image of Patsy and the other two INLA prisoners who died were hijacked a long time ago by the republican movement. What is unacceptable is that a group like Noraid, which has many right-wing supporters in America, never liked the INLA because they were republican socialists. Yet now they are using Patsy and the other boys' pictures.'

Richard O'Rawe, the IRA's press officer inside the Maze during the 1981 hunger strike, said: 'You eat food off a plate and yet they have brought out a plate to commemorate the men who died refusing food. It's tacky and just about making money.'

Frank Connell, of the Noraid Luke Dillon Unit and originally from Co. Cavan, said: 'Of course it's appropriate. No food after all will ever be eaten off those plates. They are purely commemorative.'

Noraid were a bunch of shitheads and for all I know they still are. This made them look like a bunch of idiots!

The original story was in the Guardian back i 2006

06 February 2012

Natacha Atlas

Belgium's best export since Frambozen beer and mayo on chips!

A bit of the the late, great Lhasa De Sela

Another fine Canadian singer!

60 Glorious Years(well some of them probably were)

I am no ardent royalist; indeed, by inclination, I am a republican but I have a certain affection for the Queen and let's face it there is not a particularly great hunger in the UK for a republic.

Today marks the 60th anniversary of her accession to the throne and nay she reign for at least another three and a bit years, thus becoming Britain's longest ever reigning monarch. Charles on the other hand is a Class A wanker

Li again

© Shaun P Downey 2012

05 February 2012

Red Cushing and the Many Deaths of Yakov Stalin Part II

Red Cushing’s first account of his encounter with Yakov Stalin appears in his autobiography “Soldier for Hire” (pp166)
“The first newcomer to arrive was posted to our hut. He introduced himself clicking his heels and uttering a Russian name that meant nothing to any of us... He explained later that it was the family name of Joseph Stalin and that he was the son of the Russian dictator. While serving as a lieutenant in an anti tank battery, he had been captured near Smolensk.
“Right from the first his behaviour struck me as distinctly odd. I often caught him pacing up and down our hut as if he had something on our mind.... For all his political moonshine, Jacob (Yakov) had many likeable qualities... and in time we may have become firm friends. One evening, however, at the end of an unusually long brooding spell, he suddenly rushed outside, sprinted across the compound, scrambled up the wall and attempted to crawl to the perimeter wire. A shot rang out, followed by a blinding flash, and poor Jacob hung there his body horribly burned and twisted. . We heard afterwards that the sentry’s bullet had got him fractionally before he was electrocuted”.
Cause 3: A fight over fa dirty toilet
18 years later in 1980 Cushing, then in retirement in County Cork, gave a second, slightly expanded account in a Sunday Times article (As with my earlier posts on Red Cushing, I am extremely grateful to Ciaran Crossey’s magnificent website Ireland and the Spanish Civil War). Here is an edited extract:

Joseph Stalin died in 1953 with one abiding regret: he had been unable to discover the fate of his eldest son, Jakov. All Stalin knew was that he had been captured by the Germans at the Siege of Smolensk in 1941, and held in a prisoner of war camp. Rumours that he had died there conflicted with stories that he had escaped. The Russian leader was unable to establish the truth, and though towards the end of this life, he offered a reward of a million roubles, no information was forthcoming.

The story was well known to his erstwhile American and British allies: In July 1945 an Anglo-American team sifting through German unearthed the full details of the story. Realising the implications the British Foreign Office reacted quickly, and on July 27, 1945, Michael Vyyyan, a senior Foreign Office official, wrote to his opposite number in the American State Department. "Our own inclination here is to recommend that the idea of communicating to Marshal Stalin should be dropped…It would naturally be distasteful to draw attention to the Anglo-Russian quarrels which preceded the death of his son."

According to these records, Jakov Stalin committed suicide in a particularly horrifying manner, in the bleak surroundings of Sachsenhausen Camp. The only surviving witness to the incident Thomas 'Red' Cushing, still talks of the extraordinary pressures which drove Stalin to his death 'I remember it as if it were yesterday,' said Cushing. 'It was one of the saddest events of my life.'

Yakov Dzugashvili Stalin arrived towards the end of 1942 and billeted with Molotov's nephew, Cushing and the other Irish POWs. Relations between the Russian and Irish prisoners deteriorated quickly in the claustrophobic atmosphere of the camp. The Irish suspected Kokorin, a small self-centred man anxious to curry favour with the German guards, of passing information to the Gestapo. They were equally contemptuous of Jakov. Unlike Kokorin, he became increasingly aggressive in his defence of Russian communism, continually 'shouting bolshevist propaganda', according to a statement Cushing made. There was a constant barrage of accusations between the two sides.

In early 1943, the atmosphere was poisonous. Small events sparked off violent quarrels. There were rows over the distribution of Red Cross parcels, and petty disputes about national habits. The incident that triggered off the final tragedy of Jakov Stalin was typical: it concerned the latrines.

On the afternoon of Wednesday, April 14, 1943, in a particularly heated exchange, Cushing accused Stalin's son of refusing to flush the lavatory and of deliberately fouling the wooden seat. The row spread quickly to the other prisoners. Murphy accused Jakov of the same behaviour. Outside the hut, O'Brien confronted Kokorin with the allegation that he defecated on the ground and fouled the latrine used by the British soldiers. O'Brien called Kokorin 'a bolshevist shit'; Kokorin called O'Brien 'an English shit.' A fight broke out and O'Brien hit Kokorin.

The precise role-played in these exchanges by Jakov Stalin, and indeed his responsibility for them, remains unclear. What does seem certain, however, is that the accumulated effect of constant bickering, rows, accusations - and finally the fight - broke the spirit of a man already suffering from confused emotions about his loyalties, his background and his future.

That evening, at curfew, Jakov refused to go back into the hut. He demanded to see the camp commandant, claiming he was being insulted by the British prisoners, and when his request was turned down, he appears to have gone berserk.Wildly waving a piece of wood, he ran about the area of the camp, shouting in broken German, to the SS guards on duty, 'shoot me, shoot me'. Then, in what appears to have been a clear desire to kill himself, he turned and ran towards the three-stage electrified fencing-surrounding perimeter.

Cushing himself saw what happened: "I saw Jakov running about as if he were insane. He just ran straight onto the wire. There was a huge flash and all the searchlights suddenly went on. I knew that was the end of him... Afterwards the Germans tried to make me take him off the wire and wrap his body in a blanket. It was the first time I felt sorry for the poor bastard."

Once again make of this what you will. There is no doubt that Yakov Stalin died in Sachsenhausen in 1943. There is also no doubt that Cushing, Walsh, O’Brian and Murphy were there at the same time. Languishing in a concentration camp, it’s no surprise that his mental state was at a low ebb. As for the last straw? I would not be surprised if it was a fight over a toilet rather than the Katyn massacre but then again what do I know....

Red Cushing and the Many Deaths of Yakov Stalin

Here's one from the Poor Mouth's vaults. Normal service will resume shortly 

It was my good fortune to wander into the bookshop in the departure lounge at Cork Airport. Otherwise I would not have picked up a copy of Terence O’Reilly’s Hitler’s Irishmen.

Hitler’s Irishmen is mainly concerned with the fortunes of “James Brady” (a pseudonym – we do not know his true identity) and Frank Stringer, two soldiers who were imprisoned in Jersey at the time of the German occupation and who became the only Irishmen to join the Waffen SS. It also provides a detailed account of the farcical attempt to raise an “Irish Brigade” from the POW population. Roger Casement had tried the same thing during WWI with little success – his Irish Brigade numbered just over 50 men. This attempt attracted a mere handful; and some of them had no intention of serving the Reich. Brady and Stinger and the Friesack Camp are for another day though.

By 1942 the Germans realised that four of the recruits (William Murphy, Patrick O'Brien, Andrew Walsh and our old friend Thomas “Red” Cushing) were not quite as loyal to the Reich as originally thought. The four were sent to a segregation unit in Saschenhausen concentration camp.

Born in 1907 Yakov Iosifovich Dzhugashvili (I will use Stalin rather than Dzhugashvili)was Joseph Stalin’s oldest child. An artillery lieutenant, he was taken prisoner by the Wehrmacht at Smolensk in July 1941. By 1942 he too was in Saschenhausen sharing accommodation Vasili Korkorin, the nephew of Vyacheslav Molotov , Murphy, O’Brian, Walsh and Red Cushing.

Yakov Stalin died in Saschenhausen in April 1943. The general consensus seems to be that he effectively committed suicide either with or without the help of a German bullet. However, more than one reason has been put forward for his suicide.

Cause 1: Abandonment

According to a Time article from 1 March 1968 Yakov, devastated by his father’s refusal of a German offer to exchange him for Field Marshall Von Paulus (who had surrendered at Stalingrad in January), picked his way through a maze of trip wires to the camp fence. He then called to a nearby SS guard: "Don't be a coward. Shoot, shoot." When the prisoner made a grab for the fence, the guard obliged, firing a single bullet which killed him in instantly.

Cause 2: Shame over the Katyn massacres

In June 2001, however, the Daily Telegraph carried an article which purported to provide the definitive answer to Yakov’s end. Already dispirited by his father’s rejection of an exchange for Von Paulus, Stalin was so overcome by shame at the news of his father's massacre of 15,000 Poles at Katyn in 1940 that he committed suicide by flinging himself on to the camp's electric fence.

According to professor John Erickson, (an authority on the Great Patriotic War who died in 2002) "It is clear that Yakov, who had become close friends with the Poles and had made two abortive escape attempts with them, was so distraught when goaded with the news of his father's massacre of the Polish officers, which was revealed in German newspapers in 1943, that he took his life. Driven to despair by the horrific conditions in the camp - he was emaciated and on the point of starvation - and the strain of the propaganda campaign the Germans had involved him in, the news that his father had sanctioned the Poles' murder was the final straw."

To be continued

04 February 2012


25 years ago today Meena, the founder of RAWA (the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan) was assassinated (whether by fundamentalist scum or scum in the pay of the soviet puppet regime, it is not known... although the balance of suspicion falls on the regime scum). She was just 30 years old and had devoted all of her adult life to the stuggle for women's rights in Afghanistan. The world lost an inspirational figure that day.

Meena called the women of Afghanistan sleeping lions, pledging that one day they would awake and roar. In 1977, at the age of 20, she launched the country's first movement for women's rights, calling her group the Revolutionary Association for the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA). Its goals: the restoration of democracy, equality for men and women, social justice, and the separation of religion from the affairs of the state. But in a country mired in tradition and occupied by the Soviet Union, Meena's beliefs were threatening enough to get her assassinated. Ten years after founding RAWA, she was kidnapped and killed.

Although she was only 30 when she died, Meena had already planted the seeds of an Afghan women's rights movement based on the power of knowledge. She believed that if women were able to read and write, that if they could communicate and learn about the world, they would discover their own strength and could make a difference in their own society. After the Soviet invasion in 1979 she established schools and orphanages for refugees pouring over the border into Pakistan. Those schools offered opportunities never available previously to young Afghan women. "Meena didn't just give me an education; she taught me that I had the right to live a better life," says Sahar Saba, an early student at RAWA's first school in Quetta.

Although the status of women has advanced a little since the downfall of the Taliban in 2001, both the Karzai regime and its western backers are at best lukewarm on women's rights and the Taliban are resurgent. RAWA are needed as much today as they ever were.

In 2006 Meena was nominated as one of the Heroes of the past 60 years by the Asian edition of Time Magazine.  It was heartening to see her name alongside those of Gandhi, Mother Theresa and Aung Sang Suu Kyi