Monday, 29 July 2013

Wagner, Tolkien and the ring

click for the programme web page
Having recently conquered Lord of the Rings, I was interested to see during BBC Radio 3’s Ring Cycle marathon a short discussion entitled When Tolkien stole Wagner’s Ring.

Tolkien constructed his legendarium from pre-existing building-blocks, but it hadn’t occurred to me that he’d stolen it from anyone. And neither of the participants (professor Nick Groom and author Renée Vink) accused him of stealing. As Vink said, both Wagner and Tolkien mined the rich seam of Norse mythos.

Then, of course, there's Hitler, to whom Wagner – who died six years before Hitler’s birth – was attractive because of his atrocious anti-Semitism, unfortunately all too prevalent throughout the West.

Shiva as Nataraja: click to learn more
But the ring theme predates Norse legend. Perhaps indicative of Europe's ancient Eastern roots, since antiquity the Hindu god Shiva has been depicted dancing within a ring of fire (left), and both our artists associate their respective rings with fire – Wagner’s with his fire encircling Brünnhilde in Die Walküre as she sleeps on the mountaintop, Tolkien’s with the fires of Mount Doom in which Sauron’s Ring of Power must be destroyed.

Tolkien’s work, however, is more rooted in the time of writing than Wagner’s. Written during World War II, the crisis in Middle Earth has come about through its peoples ignoring the rising powers of evil taking hold: a comment on appeasement? Groom recounts a contemporaneous letter referring to "that ruddy little ignoramus Adolf Hitler" misappropriating the traditions that had informed the character of his beloved England.

But although Tolkien, as a Professor of Anglo-Saxon, used his knowledge of northern folklore in writing LOTR, I think it’s significant that the name of the reforged sword (another shared theme) is Andúril, meaning Flame of the West. I hope Western patriots adopt his legendarium, telling of diverse peoples cooperating to fight against evil, as a founding myth.

So when will we see the first LOTR opera?

Gerry Dorrian
300 words


Twenty Minutes: When Tolkien stole Wagner's Ring BBC Radio 3 Proms - available until 2 August 2013

REad a review of Renée Vink's Wagner and tolkien: Mythmakers at Tolkien Library

The Letters of JRR Tolkien - use table of contents at the front for the hyperlink to Letter 45, which speaks of "that ruddy little ignoramus Adolf Hitler

Shiva in the form of Nataraja (dancing in a ring of fire) - Exotic India

Tolkien and the black riders - 300 words

Saturday, 27 July 2013

CofE pension fund: Wonga's not the biggest problem

I’ve stopped telling people that my Dad worked for Monsanto’s in the early 1970s because they tend to ask me questions about genetics I can’t answer: in those days, Monsanto made carpets.

So I could empathise with the Church of Scotland which, in the 1980s, came under pressure over its pension-fund investments in defence manufacturer GEC. The Kirk replied that when the shares were bought GEC made electric appliances – I remember GEC fridges well.

Down south, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby is facing similar pressure over the Church of England’s pension fund investments in Accel Partners, which in turn bankrolls short-term loans provider Wonga, which makes no attempt to hide what its loans add up to in terms of 5000%-plus APR [click to see full size]:

click to go to Wonga's 'about' page

It was perhaps the ABC’s misfortune to have made a comment that the CofE would back non-profit-making credit unions that would "out-perform Wonga" days before Muslim footballer Papiss Cisse (Newcastle United) refused to wear a shirt displaying Wonga’s logo as interest is non-sharia compliant, before being pictured in the equally haram activity of gambling in a casino. The press appear then to have embarked on a mission to find more Wonga-based stories.

One might ask whether the church gave Accel money before Accel invested in Wonga. However, whatever the answer to this question, Wonga is far from the CofE pension fund's biggest problem.

More troublingly, the CofE, according to Christian Today, mirrors the Establishment both in that it was facing a pensions crisis even before Gordon Brown’s borrowing-fuelled financial meltdown, and continues to invest less than carefully.

So His Grace must decide: does he invest in such a way as to let people with sensitive consciences sleep at night, or in such a way as to avoid retired vicars and other church employees joining the ranks of the homeless?

Gerry Dorrian
300 words


Archbishop Justin Welby is on the money over Wonga - Telegraph

What are the odds of that? £40,000-a-week Muslim Premier league star who refused to wear shirt sponsored by loan firm Wonga is spotted GAMBLING in casino - Daily Mail

Church of England faces pensions crisis - Christian Today, 2006">Church of England squandered clergy pensions in "reckless" stock market gamble - Daily Mail, 2009

Church of England pension fund ploughs £60m of vicars' nest eggs into risky hedge funds - This is Money, Daily Mail 2012's "about" page

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

chivalry, betrayal and the Peasants' Revolt's relevance

BBC Four’s series on the Hundred Year’s War, Chivalry and Betrayal, is a quality documentary. Simultaneously, it displays the BBC’s inability to portray anything remotely connected with class-based tension without imposing its own agenda.

click to go to Chivalry and Betrayal website
Presenter Jenina Ramirez' points were lucid and well-argued. I agree with her that the 1381 Peasants’ Revolt was one of the landmark battles of the 14th century, pitting the might (and perceived divine right) of the rulers against the rage of the ruled. And the ruled, particularly serfs, were in uproar at the imposition of new taxes for foreign wars at a time when the taxpayer base had shrunk considerably.

I sighed warily when Ramirez defined the Revolt as class war: while possibly a valid assumption, this phrase indicates that the BBC is entering fetishistic Marxist recontextualisation mode. Sure enough, Professor Caroline Brown of Royal Holloway University of London appeared to inform us that the rulers’ surprise that ordinary people could communicate and organise, including by letter, was redolent of the West’s consternation upon learning on 9/11 that people it had disregarded were actually quite sophisticated.

The Peasants’ Revolt was a civil war triggererd by excessive inequality. It was not a pan-national terror campaign, and to compare it to one is an astounding expropriation of working people’s history.

More than this: to compare the Revolt to 9/11 is a tactic to distract us from the mounting inequalities under which we’ve been labouring since 1997. True, we all reap the benefits of an affluent society, which cannot be created without some inequality; but paying for ill-thought-out wars and EU membership plus public sector waste on top of an open-doors immigration system is unsustainable, and the house of cards is shaking even now.

The Peasants’ Revolt is far more relevant to contemporary British life than the BBC, for all its cod-proletarian rhetoric, would have its licence-payers believe.

Gerry Dorrian
300 words


Chivalry and Betrayal: Breaking the Bonds - BBC i-player - section on Peasants' Revolt starts 23:08

Chivalry and Betrayal webpage

Janina Ramirez' blog on Chivalry and Betrayal at

Money Week: The End of Britain

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Money Week: The End of Britain

click to read 'The End of Britain' by Money Week

A debt worth 913% of the economy saw the Nazis brought to power in Germany. Great Britain’s debt is currently worth 900% of our economy.

The latest missive from Money Week is undoubtedly an ad for the magazine, but contains many unsettling facts. For example, when Gordon Brown tried to spend his way out of recession, he might have reflected on James Callaghan’s words from 1976:

"We used to think you could spend your way out of recession and increase employment by boosting government spending… I tell you that option no longer exists. And so far as it ever did exist, it only worked on each occasion… by injecting a bigger dose of inflation into the economy, followed by a higher level of unemployment as the next step."

The report looks at the welfare state: in 1909 a pension was offered to all men who reached 70. This was only humane, especially in the light of countless reports published the previous century concerning the effects of poverty. But there were ten workers for every pensioner; to return to this ratio you’d have to start offering the pension to centenarians. And that’s before you think of foreign workers who do help by paying taxes here, but who are also sending large amounts of money out of the country, and others who view benefits as a form of revolutionary tax.

click to view 'This Century of Change' at amazon
The NHS’s successes are dimmed by tales of corporate massacre on an industrial level. The voices warning Clement Attlee that such an undertaking from war-diminished coffers (such as anthony Weymouth in This Century of Change) have been all but forgotten. (The document mentions the prospect of pensions being nationalised: a friend of mine is unable to get his NHS pension transferred – a glitch, or sign of things to come?)

Whether or not you decide to read Money Week, I recommend you read The End of Britain.

Charles Bond
300 words


The End of Britain? - Money Week (referred to in the above text)

James Callaghan's Leader's Speech, Labour Party conference, 1976 - British Political Speech

All that glitters: hidden secrets of money?

Thursday, 18 July 2013

Kim Reid and Jimmy Sinclair: rest in peace

A very sad news story has been developing in Cambridge over the last few days concerning the deaths of two members of the street community who were due to be married, but, as the Cambridge News' Raymond Brown reports, were found dead on Jesus Green on Tuesday 16 July.

The couple – Kim Reid and Jimmy Sinclair – are thought to have taken the former "legal high" (but now a class B drug) Methoxetamine. This is a dissociative anaesthetic, chemically related to the "horse tranquilizer" ketamine; but Methoxetamine is far stronger than Ketamine and like K it can react dangerously with alcohol and cannabis.

What is especially sad is that people in Cambridge are saying remarks along the line that these two got what they deserved and were "lowlife". As a former drugs worker I have to wonder if any of the people making these remarks, some of which can be viewed on the comments section of the two Cambridge News articles linked to below, were so morally upright about Methoxetamine before it was illegal? Or would they say such things about a couple who had been found dead in a house on a leafy suburban avenue?

Nick Ross nails the root of the drugs crisis in his recent and unjustly-maligned book on crime: drugs are used widely because they are available. Many people who have never taken drugs are lucky enough never to have been offered them. Of those who have, some will try drugs and decide against using them again. Others will continue to use, not necessarily through any moral deficiency but rather a constellation of complex factors including abuse in childhood, trauma in adulthood, mental health issues, prevailing – and often conflicting – messages on the acceptability of taking drugs (eg from Establishment figures)…the list goes on, and some of the items also militate towards becoming homeless or vulnerably housed.

May Kim Reid and Jimmy Sinclair rest in peace.

Gerry Dorrian
300 words


Tragic couple found dead by Cambridge river were to marry - as fears of fatalities from 'death capsules' increase - Cambridge News

Two suspected drug-dealers arrested after double death tragedy when bodies found by Cambridge river - Cambridge News

Methoxetamine on the Frank site

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

The People's Songs: tubthumping

click to go to the People's Songs homepage

"They paved paradise, and put up a parking lot". This was Joni Mitchell’s farewell in Big Yellow Taxi to a middle-class apartment block in Laurel Canyon, Los Angeles. So it was fitting that the song closed BBC Radio 2’s latest documentary in The People’s Songs strand, entitled Tubthumping – Environmentalism and Anti-Globalism. In case we missed the Beeb’s cultural enclosure of environmental matters, presenter Stuart Maconie prefaced the song with the remark "being kettled has become as much of a modern middle-class youth experience as a gap-year in Asia" (I know middle-class people who have experienced neither).

I’m not trying to do down environmentalist issues and concerns. As Margaret Thatcher once remarked, “we are not only the friends of the earth, we are its stewards and guardians”. But any BBC presenter who unearthed that quote without audibly dripping with sarcasm would soon be sidelined.

Maconie was, in my view, totally right to play Robert Wyatt’s Pigs (…In There). Battery farming is a vile practice – but can only increase while our population is augmented from without virtually unchecked. So why not use the broadcast to suggest common land be used for keeping pigs and other animals who would otherwise be intensively farmed, while keeping a modicum of land free for those who have ethical or religious objections to humanely slaughtering animals for food?

John Prescott's wet - click to read more
The stars of the show were Chumbawamba and their 1997 hit Tubthumping, which they publicised by drenching John Prescott in water at the next year’s Brit Awards. I can understand that – Prescott occupied his position near the top of New Labour to market it to its traditional voters, while laying plans to abandon those voters in favour of a mass-imported electorate. Which is how predominantly left-leaning environmentalists seeking to protect green spaces were stabbed in the back by the party they worshipped, and which the BBC still does.

Gerry Dorrian
300 words


Tubthumping – Environmentalism and Anti-Globalism - BBC Radio 2

The People's Songs homepage on

Pigs ( There) - Robert Wyatt

Tubthumping - Chumbawamba

Thursday, 4 July 2013

4th July 2013: happy Independence Day!

Declaration of Independence: click to read more
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Thus begins the second paragraph of the US Declaration of Independence, distilling in one sentence the essence of Enlightenment thought. It’s not for nothing that the final chapter of Peter Gay ‘s two-volume The Enlightenment, which deals with the founding of the US, is called "The Project in Action".

Norbert Wiley indicates in The Semiotic Self that the signatories might not have seen women, black people and Native Americans being encompassed by the phrase “all men are created equal”. Nevertheless had this concept not been central to US independence we might still have a transatlantic slave trade and women might still be struggling for the vote in much of Europe as well as the US. (Native American rights are, it seems, a work in progress.)

It’s perhaps significant that on the 4th of July 2013 the US Government is exercised by an issue that is splitting traditional polities on left and right: Edward Snowden, who is on the run after leaking details of US agencies’ intelligence-gathering activities. This isn’t news to anybody who remembers Echelon, but is of greater import now that people commit so much of their lives to recordable media. Chicagoan Bonnie Greer, writing for The Telegraph today, suggests that Snowden is the vanguard of a "Libertarian Millenial" movement that transcends Right and Left, or possibly even subsumes them in a Hegelian synthesis.

However the Snowden situation plays out, America remains a beacon of hope to the world, due in no small part to the radical equality in the Declaration of Independence. I hope my American friends and their friends have a happy 4th of July.

Gerry Dorrian
300 words

Monday, 1 July 2013

letter: the EDL and multiculturalism

What follows is a letter published by the Cambridge News on Saturday 29 June; the parts in italics never made it into the paper. I've changed the name of the lady I was responding to, who asked what the EDL does that is multicultural.

Dear Sir,

Like Jane Smith (letters 25 June), I am glad to write about something other than cycling. And I am also pleased that the English Defence League wreath-laying ceremony in honour of Gunner Lee Rigby at Cambridge War Memorial passed off peacefully.

I ahve a Dream: click for text and audio
Ms Smith wishes to know what we do that is multicultural, so I am writing because the Cambridge News was quoting myself saying that the EDL is a multicultural organisation. But the question as it is posed is difficult to answer, as you don't "do" multicultural, you "are" multicultural. A case in point comes at the end of Dr. Martin Luther King's "I have a Dream" speech, in which he indicates that freedom has no bounds and looks forward to the day "when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics" are free. He understood that when one sector of society is in chains, those chains threaten us all.

When David Cameron said in his Munich speech of February 2011 that multiculturalism was a failure, our founder Tommy Robinson distanced the EDL from that view the same day. Multiculturalism refers to a state when all of us, regardless of background, stand as equals in the context of the law of the land. In the United Kingdom, the constituent parts of this law tell the story of more than a millenium's evolution, still ongoing, seeking - often unhappily - to resolve the contradictions between the might of the rulers and the anger of the ruled. Despite high points such as the Magna Carta, Habeas corpus and the Bill of Rights, this process, almost unbelievably, only produced universal suffrage in 1928. Thus any British citizen, regardless of gender or ethnic origin, is enfranchised.

We are therefore alarmed at the growth of Sharia Courts, inhabiting a legal area negligently left grey, dispensing misogynist judgements that are often disenfranchising. Despite what our detractors say we do not oppose Muslims, many of whom are a credit to Great Britain. We oppose Sharia, which is what many Muslims came here to escape and make a new life for themselves. Among the abuses that have been uncovered are primary-school girls in forced marriages and countless cases of honour-based violence. In the case of the latter I would say the EDL is definitely more multicultural than the BBC, whose Panorama wasn't interested in HBV until a white girl was killed.

The starting point of multiculturalism is that we are all equal, and that empowers us all. The problem is Diversity, which with its (often hidden) calculations and quotas delivers an Orwellian rider that some are more equal than others.

Personally, I find it difficult to envisage any circumstance in which the EDL would drop its commitment to multiculturalism. I apologise to Ms Smith for the length of this answer, but as I hope I've demonstrated it's a complex issue.

Yours etc

Gerry Dorrian