Monthly Archives: April 2013

Like a school on a holiday….

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Pretty old news by now (‘specially after events in Boston and China), but those ever-busy sociologist types have been busy coming up with a new class system for the UK. You may have been wondering where you ‘fit-in’ now – well, wonder no more. The BBC website has this handy ‘class calculator’ ready for your input.

Honestly, I would’ve thought that we’d be all beyond this whole class malarkey by now – but no, humans still seem to need some way of feeling superior to their peers. Whether it’s money, what sort of music you like, how many books you’ve read – there’s always some schlub who’s not quite made the grade. I’m including myself in this because I’ve been known to make judgement calls of that sort.

My only plea is that, while differing with others on music/books/films taste seems far less divisive than hoarding money and snubbimg those with less wealth. I suppose it’s too much to ask at this point in history for a classless society, but I don’t think adding four new classes will diminish the haves/have nots scenario. Even in the U.S., where the class divide is far less apparent than in the UK – the sense of disparity seems to be growing and ‘class’ is more apparent than ever.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m no Marxist, but the idea of separate classes rankles me, which is why I don’t really enjoy shows like Downton Abbey, with their glorification of ‘know your place’ Britain. What to do, though…should we ‘tax the rich/feed the poor/’till there are no rich no more’, as Alvin Lee suggested in I’d Love To Change The World? I could never work out if he was genuine in that statement, or just mocking hippie idealism. Unfortunately, I’m not really in favour of taxes either, which are usually taken at the barrel of a gun.

Maybe someday we’ll all get it together and there won’t be a class divide. Wouldn’t that be nice? I’m a ‘new affluent worker’, by the way.

The ‘Iron Lady’ finally rusts away

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It was announced earlier today that Margaret Thatcher has passed away from a stroke. I suppose it’s not much of a surprise, given her health decline in recent years. Another nail gets hammered into the coffin of the ‘Decade Of Greed’. She was the last of the big-name 1980s politicians to leave the planet.

I don’t want to re-hash her entire career – her main achievement was being elected Britain’s first female Prime Minister. If only it wasn’t her – but she seized her moment and ran with it. It’s true that Britain seemed in a pretty dire spot in 1979, due to inflation and some union leaders being in it for themselves and not for the good of the union members. Still, her changes cut far too deep and her closure of the mines and other industries caused widespread unemployment and disillusion.

She remains divisive to this day and a symbol of the greed and corruption of the 1980s. Now, I was living in the U.S. at the time and while I didn’t experience Thatcher’s policies directly – her counterpart in the U.S., Ronald Reagan, was playing funny games with the economy – deregulating the banks, sky-high spending on the military and other not-so-legal adventures. His theory was that by giving the very wealthy tax cuts, they would create more wealth and it would ‘trickle down’ to everyone. Of course, it didn’t work like that – the wealthy made more money and hoarded it – so nothing ever trickled down.

Thatcher also staved off negative criticism by going ahead with the Falkland Islands conflict, which, when the British forces were victors, boosted her popularity. Reagan did the same with the Grenada action (he needed it after the killing of 240 U.S. Marines in Beirut, following an attack on the U.S. compound in that city). It’s said both Thatcher and Reagan brought the Soviet Union down – but I’ll tell you, I was never more frightened of nuclear war than in the early 80s. Of course, films like The Day After didn’t help my paranoia.

I suspect that for all Reagan and Thatcher’s rhetoric, it was more of the relaxing of the Soviet leadership that allowed the break-up of “The Iron Curtain” and the Berlin Wall to collapse. Yes, the U.S.S.R. was bankrupt, but the UK and U.S. were heavily in debt from their own weapons programs.

In the end, Thatcher was ousted by her own party over the Poll Tax and for not regarding opinions of her cabinet. She became a feeble and withered old woman and it seems likely she would not have lasted long in the 1990s, even if she hadn’t been booted from Downing Street. Of course, her legacy lived on as the Labour Party practically adopted her policies in an effort to win elections. They were successful in 1997 with their leader, Tony Blair, who brought the party further to the right, ideologically and dubbing the party “New Labour”. Blair also followed Thatcher’s way of getting into conflict and partnering up with the U.S., committing UK troops to both Afghanistan and Iraq. Reagan served two terms, but his image was tarnished by the Iran-Contra scandal and despite claims to the contrary, never fully recovered from it. It was revealed that he had Alzheimer’s Disease in the early 1990s and he passed away in the late 1990s.

We all know what happened in 2000/2001, after George W. Bush was elected. He’s the son of George H.W. Bush, who was Reagan’s vice-president and was elected to the presidency in 1988. G.W.B. and Blair engineered the invasion of Iraq (Bush’s father had forces invade in 1990, after Iraqi forces crossed the border into Kuwait) and allegedly, Bush’s advisors were impressed with the way Thatcher handled the Falklands campaign. They modelled their action, which happened in 2003, on the Falklands conflict.

Maggie Thatcher remains a divisive figure – despised and pronounced a failure by one contingent and lionised and canonised by another. I must admit I’m far more in the ‘despised’ camp – the 1980s, to me, was a dismal time and I am glad they’re over. Now with Thatcher’s death, I hope we can all say goodbye to that decade. Not forget, mind – but lay it to rest.

High On Mt. Vesuvius

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I gather it’s supposed to be spring, but going by the temperature outside, it seems the UK, most of Europe and even parts of the U.S. are stuck in a continuing cycle of winter weather. I don’t want to get into a debate about global warming and that. I do think climate change is happening, but I suspect it’s a combination of things and partly caused by humans.

Anyway, here’s a topic that’ll keep you warm. While we were on holiday in coooooold Cornwall last week, we caught a programme on BBC 4 about the Pompeii catastrophe. I presume you all know the story: ancient Roman city near Mt. Vesuvius is completely engulfed in ash and lava when the volcano which is part of said mountain erupts. Population almost entirely wiped out, but some of the buildings are remarkably preserved under the avalanche of ash.

The programme is called Pompeii: The Mystery Of The People Frozen In Time. It’s presented by Margaret Mountford, who you may remember from the business ‘reality-show’, The Apprentice (the UK version). She was one of the sour-faced execs sitting next to Alan Sugar in the boardroom scenes. As an historical teevee show presenter, she doesn’t show as much acumen as in her alleged business skills.

She remarks when looking at one of the casts, “It’s almost human.” Er..it is human, Mags – unless the people of Pompeii were half-lizard or something. There were a few other gaffes in her style as well, but for her first gig, she wasn’t too bad. The really interesting bit, to me, was the theory that the people weren’t killed by asphixiating on ash, or being steamrolled by magma, but by a phenomenon called a pyroclastic flow. Essentially, it’s like a tsunami, in cloud-form, of super-hot gas and rock that flows down the side of a volcano and engulfs everything in it’s path. The new theory is that the people were killed by the flow, then preserved by the falling ash.

There was a comparison between Pompeii and another city, Herculaneum, also situated close to Vesuvius. Herculaneam was a bit closer, so it’s citizens never even had a chance to be preserved when the pyroclastic flow hit – their flesh was burned completely away. All in all, it’s thought there were four or five flows during the eruption. The other cool thing was a sculptor, who used digital scanning of one of the Pompeii casts and one of the Herculaneum skulls, to create life-like busts. The Pompeii cast was a working-class male and the Herculaneum skull was a wealthy woman.

Another docu centres on Herculaneum, which was just broadcast the other night. It delves more into the day-to-day existences of the citizens. I was impressed with the presenter’s fluent Italian, but I didn’t find the overall programme quite as interesting. You can judge for yourself, though, as it’s on the BBC iPlayer for another six days – you can watch it here.

In a weird synchro-mesh, but maybe also due to the bank holiday weekend, the Frankie Howerd 1971 historical, er..’farce’ Up Pompeii was shown amongst all the ‘Carry On’ films.

Well, that’s yer lot – warmed up now? I am…until I have to go back outside. To finish, here’s a bit of the Floyd boys, from their concert/documentary, Live At Pompeii, first released in 1972: