Radio Times

Off down to BBC Scotland for a short time this afternoon to do a quick spot on the Movie Cafe, alongside historian Mark Jardine, talking about the resurgence in the big, tough hero again as Solomon Kane hits cinemas and another Robert E Howard creation, Conan, is heading back to cinemas too; show is available for a few days on the Listen Again feature.

American dreaming

BBC Radio 4 has been running a fascinating series entitled “America, Empire of Liberty“, presented by historian David Reynolds, which I’ve been listening to over the last weeks. The actual history, leading up to, through and just after the War of Independence and the actual establishment of a country out of a disparate groups of revolutionaries and often competing and arguing states is interesting enough, but the series has also done what any good history should do – present the links between the Then and the Now. History is not a static, dry study but something dynamic, events from decades and centuries before constantly bleeding into the present the the future yet to be born, which makes it a shame so many people tend to ignore it (and that escalates to tragedy when we see what our so called leaders do in ignorance of historical precedent).

Take for example on of last week’s episodes – some parts of the series have touched on US history I was familiar with, but this part I didn’t know: the Aliens and Seditions Act, passed by Alexaner Hamilton’s Federalist Party in the 1790s as debate raged over the newly independent US’s stance on the growing global conflict between France and the British Empire. This largely forgotten act delivered unheard of powers to central government (and at a time when US central government was very weak, by design, most power designed by Jefferson et al to be held more locally at state and county levels, not like today where the executive has steadily accumulated powers to itself). Basically a 1790s War on Terror (WOT?) it allowed the president to deport aliens without right of appeal and to silence criticism in the interests of the country. The parallels between the 18th century and the draconian changes to civil liberties in the laws of the US, UK and other countries in the post 9-11 world are disturbingly familiar.

Likewise debates over a newly minted land of so-called liberty happily ignoring the rights of women (even when President Adams wife implored him to remember that a land of democratic liberty which ignored one entire gender was pure hypocricy. She was, of course, ignored by the male leaders, many of whom, truth be told, for all their fine rhetoric, were not overly mad on giving all men the vote, let alone women, unless they were the right kind of men (well bred, well off, basically the New World’s aristocracy), thus again repeating old mistakes even back then. And then there was the odious issue of slavery, not to mention the way the native American Indians would be treated…

Meanwhile on the TV the BBC has just started a new series by Simon Schama, “The American Future: a History“. The first episode also linked the Then and Now, exploring the seemingly insatiable consumerism of the US and its almost unshakable belief that it can endlessly exploit natural resources throughout its history, noting how this belief is slowly (and perhaps a little too late) being shaken as drought in the West means constantly shriking water for more and more people, to say nothing of the over-dependence on oil driven not only by car culture but an over-sized (and extremely inefficent) car culture.

Schama brings us right up to date with both Obama and McCain’s campaign comments on climate change and resource management and comparing to a century or so before with one man telling the good and great of Westward Expansion that there simply was not enough water in the land for all the cities and the farms they planned (he was booed of stage, but he was right) and in more recent history replaying what Jimmy Carter told America during his presidency (but more Americans preferred to listen to a B movie actor at that election than a man who had been a farmer and actually knew what he was talking about in terms of managing the land).

The man doth protest too much

No, really, he has an official Guinness Book of World Records entry for most political protests in one day! Who am I talking about? One of my comedy heroes, Mark Thomas; Radio 4 has his show available to listen to on the BBC site detailing how he decided to play with the dreadful law that freedom-curbing git Blair passed to try and make it harder for citizens to stage lawful protests in and around Parliament and Whitehall. As Mark points out a friend of his was arrested while enjoying a picnic because some heavy handed plod decided she was making a protest and hadn’t gotten police approval beforehand. No, I am having a picnic, she replies, pointing to the food, blanket on the grass etc. Ah yes, but your cake has ‘peace’ written on icing on it, that makes it a form of protest. Yes, in the French revolution Marie Antoinette was famously (if mistakenly) said to ‘let them eat cake’, while in Blair’s police state you can get nicked for eating cake near the House of Shame.

That said some of the coppers in this come across as equally pissed off at having to enforce a clearly bonkers law as Mark increasingly makes a fool of it – one senior officer who has to pass the requests for demos in the area comes in to see him when his constable passes to him Mark’s latest demo – calling for said senior officer to be sacked because of his role in enforcing this law. In he comes, looks at Mark, laughs and says “that’s bloody brilliant.” I do like Mark Thomas, he does that great thing of mixing comedy and politics effectively, exposing ludicrous laws and corrupt politicians and dodgy dealings with humour. Caught him at the Edinburgh Festival before and he is even better live. One of the few things better than seeing someone ‘sticking it to the man’ is someone using humour to humiliate the man while he does it. God bless satire, our last and best hope for freedom and a good, sharp pole for sticking it to the man.

Busy day

Very busy – right from the off as I had a reporter and photographer literally on my doorstep first thing this morning. A little later as I was finding out what an odd experience it is to look at or read about yourself in the papers (and it is odd) and I had several more calls. A very nice lady from my MSP’s office called to say someone from the BBC had tried to reach me via them and she put us in touch. A little later another call and then as I was preparing to head out to the BBC’s new Edinburgh studio (down by the Parliament, across from the Scotsman’s new home) yet another, both from other BBC radio stations and programmes, so I ended up doing three short interviews in a row at the Edinburgh studio for BBC Scotland’s Newsdrive, BBC Radio 1’s Newsbeat and Radio Five Live’s Drivetime. The irony is the last time I was in a BBC Edinburgh studio was to discuss literature and I had been asked in as an expert bookseller from a well-known company. Fate, it seems, never tires of playing silly buggers with all of us…

As if this were not odd enough for me, I decided to walk back since the foul weather had abated. I got as far as the Cowgate when a woman in a car passed by looking at me. She pulled in, got out and crossed over towards me. I noticed the Real Radio logo on the car – it turned out she had been trying to get in touch with me earlier, but of course I had been out at the Beeb. She recognised me as she passed from the morning papers and so there was another quick radio interview, just like that. Isn’t life strange – but would we have it any other way?

Back home and a few more calls and an enormous amount of emails and new comments on the blog, including some more media enquiries. I’m still trying to read through the latest batch of emails and comments. They are incredibly diverse – a spectrum of folk across the online world, from lecturers to booksellers, mountain climbers to lawyers, from China to Texas, Norway to Australia. The inter-connected ‘global village’ – a cross section (one person, Eric I think it was, even quoted a suitable piece from de Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac in his comment – my all-time favourite film – plus one of my favourite poets, Edwin Morgan, does a killer Scots translation of the play!). If there are any anthropologists reading this, I imagine there’s a potentially interesting paper in both the differences and unities among bloggers and other online dwellers and events like this would be a good place to start the study. Cyber anthropology, anyone?

I would dearly like to be able to respond individually to each person who has taken the time and trouble to contact me, but there are too many to keep up with right now – it really is overwhelming in all senses, but also quite wonderful. Rest assured that I thank you all very much (and for the person who asked what sort of fashion victim I was with beard and bandana I’d have thought it was obvious I was a buccaneer you cheeky scamp – as my cutlass was out of shot and the parrot had been eaten by the cats I understand your confusion, nameless one, arrrrrr).

The fact that so many diverse people from around the world have taken time in their lives to offer sympathy and support even although they have never met me is uplifting; it is also a nice illustration of the way in which technology allows many of us to connect with others. I’ve always enjoyed that aspect of the web (even back pre-web when it was just a mostly text-based internet many of us enjoyed online discussion groups). I’ve connected with a number of folk through the web over the years, some of whom have become very dear friends and who I would never have met otherwise. It’s also been nice to hear from some folk who found that they enjoyed the Woolamaloo in general, never having heard of it before recent events (a point I’ve tried to make – this was just one among tens of thousands of blogs).

Common themes emerging seem to be about the possible erosion of the freedom of speech and expression (considering what it cost for us to have freedom of speech this is most understandable, as is the desire to protect what was so dearly bought) and the intrusion of the corporate world into the personal; how far should a company have influence into the personal life of staff? Where do you draw the line? How much of your life is your life?

Quite a few folk have commented on how they have experienced similar problems with other companies. Two folk here in the storm-lashed UK have told me that they lost their jobs over their blogs, so the news articles aren’t quite right on the claim some made that I was the first to be ‘dooced’ (as the term now is) in the UK – JGRAM has his blog on his upsetting experience here. Another contributor going by the wonderful moniker of Dykenee Crossroads (superb!) told me she lost her job in September 2003 because of work mentions on her blog. I suspect that there will be further problems in the future, which is probably one of the reasons the media have become so interested. The public reaction and the inter-connection and support of bloggers and other web users shows that it is something of a Pandora’s Box for employee and the employer and both have to be careful. It can be scary, but I still say there’s a lot to be said for being a Virtual Citizen.

More links

The online version of today’s Guardian article, with related blogging articles.

The Scotsman article (I’m indebted to one contributor who drew my attention to the adverts beneath it – have a look!) and also the Edinburgh Evening News – BTW the Scotsman group generally requires you to register to use all of the facilities, but it is free (and useful) – go to to register.

BBC online article.

I’ll need to try and post some more links as time allows (job searches and application forms to fill in, talk to bank etc).