I really enjoy Brian Patten’s love poetry; he writes of joy and sadness and how the two can mingle, while never using words that you wouldn’t hear in an everyday conversation. He’s the only living poet whose works I regularly raid for my song lyrics. So when my battered old copy of his Love Poems fell apart, I invested in a shiny copy of his new Collected Love Poems.
Curiously, in a volume called “Collected Poems”, one of them is missing. It was in “Love Poems”, substantially revised from a previously published version, and revised for the better. But I can only assume Patten was still dissatisfied and so dropped it.
Because I’m talking online to some people about his poems (and who have bought his newest book on my recommendation), I’m copying the poem here so they have the text. Brian – if you want me to remove it, I will. But I think you’re mistaken; it’s a lovely piece. (And, sorry, but I stole the blue dress image for an unrecorded song called “The girl in the room”.)
The fruitful lady of dawn
She walks across the room and opens the skylight
thinking: “perhaps a bird will drop in
and teach me how to sing.”
She cannot speak easily of what she feels
nor can she fathom out
whose dawn her heart belongs in.
Among the men she knows
she knows few
who understand her freedom.
Baffled by her love and by
how she withdraws her love,
she remains an enigma,
and under the skylight
puts on her red dress calling it a blue one.
She approaches breakfast as she would a lover -
She is alive,
and one of her body’s commonest needs
I have made holy.
It’s true that in modern Finnish it doesn’t. That’s because it’s wrapped up in a dark era of Finland’s past, a past which modern Finns prefer to forget.
“Åpp større” means “fellate a demon” in the Middle Late High Hämeenlinna dialect. Hämeenlinna is a small city of 68,000 people, but in the fifteenth century it was a hotbed of Catholic religious fervour, centered around the monastery of Häme Castle. In 1498, the Finnish Inquisition began (which no-one had expected), and most of the Inquisitors were recruited from Hämeenlinna.
Suspects were tortured until they confessed to carnal relations with minions of Satan – åpp større – and then punished by being weighed down with stones and thrown into a fjord to sink the accused to Hell, known as “Hell-sink”.
Although much of this is forgotten or suppressed in modern-day Finland and most Finns will strenuously deny it, some linguistic clues remain. The modern-day Scandinavian surname “Helsing” indicates a descendant of the Hämeenlinna inquisitors – indicating someone who sent people “sinking to Hell”. The city that was nearest to the fjord where executions took place became known as “rapids where they sink to Hell” – or, nowadays, “Helsingfors”: Helsinki.
Aral Balkan asked me to “cut to the chase, Bruce: do you find anything wrong with the business models of Facebook & Google (monetising data)?”
It’s something I’ve been thinking a lot about, but it needs more than 140 characters, so here goes. Note that these are my personal opinions. I work for Opera, which has business relationships with Google, Facebook, and its own advertising arm of the business.
But I also use Google and Facebook services privately so have my own views as a user; again, these are my opinions, not those of my employers.
I work on the web, but at home on my own, so I use Facebook and Twitter a lot. Not only is it useful for discussing work, but it’s my “watercooler”. I don’t mind that the personal stuff I write is publicly available, although I keep my location secret and no longer put the names of my kids online. (Facebook stuff isn’t public. I only really use it as it’s where non-geek real-life friends are.)
I don’t much mind that Google tracks my searching habits around the Web (although I would pay money not to have to watch Treehouse Woman again on YouTube, because she’s too shinyhappy, and puts her coffee down on a wooden surface without using a coaster).
The annoyance I find is offset by the fact that I understand why they do this; it’s how they make money to support the services I use for free, which are primarily Search, Gmail and YouTube. (I get no benefit from Google+.)
In short – I understand that “I am the product being sold”, and am OK with that. Similarly, I’m fine with getting tailored money-off vouchers for products that I use, sent to me by supermarkets who know what I use because they monitor it. I opt in, because I see value in that. You may not; that’s fine.
As long as the companys’ privacy settings are both clear, and honoured by the company, I don’t see this data gathering and data mining as inherently intrusive. I’m not sure that all companies privacy settings are sufficiently clear, however; I read a case study some years ago in which a good-sized sample of people were asked what privacy settings they had on their social networking, and it was compared with the actual setting – very few matched. The Facebook Android app permissions are certainly opaque.
Perhaps companies that do monetize data could make their privacy settings more transparent, and be even more obvious that the price of free is your data. But I think the latter is pretty obvious to those who give it a little thought; we can’t always handhold stupid people. There should certainly be a simple method to delete all one’s data and history from public view, and which will be removed from the company’s server/ archive within a defined period of time.
What annoys me most is when people or organisations use my data without my permission. For example, a few years ago, my wife had a minor car accident. Somewhere in the chain of insurance company, loss adjusters and repairs garage, our phone number was given to an unauthorised third party and occasionally I receive a phone call from a call centre trying to sell me “no win, no fee” ambulance-chasing legal services.
But beyond annoyance, what alarms me is secretive State intrusion into my life through my digital tracks. I assume that all companies – whether a supermarket loyalty scheme or a social network – regularly comply with warrants from law-enforcement agencies going about their legitimate work.
Let’s assume that the social networks and search engines, as they claim, don’t just hand over all their data to the governmental snoops. It then seems to me that, unless they’ve been fantastically lax with their security – which is certainly possible, but unlikely, given that it’s their core cash-generating asset – they can’t be blamed for the actions of the government.
We know from Edward Snowden that some companies’ data is just wholesale hacked by NSA, GCHQ and other state bodies. The legality of this is being debated in courts at the moment. The morality of this is clear (to me): it’s wrong. “If you’ve nothing to hide, you’ve nothing to fear” is the refrain of the KGB, the Gestapo and every despot across the globe.
Government intrusion isn’t new. When I was a teenager, I joined a communist party. My letters from them were always opened (and no others). Presumably, this was done actually by the UK Post Office on police orders – that is, complete collusion, even thought there was no warrant or reason to fear an idealistic but naive 17 year old. It’s also long been rumoured that the voting slips of all UK communist voters were cross-referenced against their counterfoils and the names of communist voters given to Special Branch and MI5.
In short, to answer Aral’s question: I don’t feel that commercial organisations using data that I’ve opted to provide them, for the purposes they said they’ll use if for, is wrong. It’s part of modern capitalism, which contains plenty I have to hold my nose about, but that’s a much longer blog post which I can’t be bothered to write.
The worrisome aspect is states illegally stealing our data from those companies, and putting us under constant surveillance, justified by keeping us safe from this year’s bogeymen.
But those same social networks and web companies allow us to share information on what they’re doing and organise in order to protest against it. The tension between individual liberty (I believe privacy is an integral part of liberty) and state control is not new. The threat may be greater because of technology, but the platform to fight it from is greater, too.
We went to see David Tennant as Richard II in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s eponymous production last night. As a production it was all you’d want from RSC – great actors, impeccably staged. But I can’t get over the feeling that actually, it’s just not a very good play (or it simply hasn’t aged well).
It’s a reasonably early Shakespeare play, almost all in iambic pentameter with very little prose, and a great deal of rhyming couplets (later plays close scenes with a rhyme, but don’t use it throughout). This made a lot of it sound like a Hallmark greeting card poem as the rhyme and rhythm are quite regular.
There’s also a howling clunker of plot, in which one character simply forgets to tell another of the death of the previous King’s widow:
[Servant:] My Lord, I had forgot
To tell your Lordship, to day I came by, and call’d there,
But I shall grieve you to report the rest
[York:] What is’t knave?
[Servant:] An hour before I came, the Duchess died.
I almost laughed out loud at this.
Another problem is that Richard II is a thoroughly unlikeable character. Perhaps it’s a failure of Tennant’s acting or Greg Doran’s direction (but I doubt it; they’re both highly professional) but Richard simply has no redeeming features, so you I didn’t care what happens to him. He’s vain, messianic and treats his nobles badly. He deserves to lose the throne. At least with Richard III, you enjoy his evilness; Richard II just seems rather wet.
Leaving Germany earlier today, I tweeted a farewell, politely using the native language of those I was farewelling “Ladies of Germany, auf wiedersehen. But don’t cry in your sobbenbunkers: I shall be back to schaden your freudes and zeit your geists asap”.
Two German speakers asked me what “sobbenbunker” means, which surprised me. It simply refers to a room for crying in. German culture invented the word “angst” because Germans spend at least 15% of their day crying over existential worries about the futility of it all. Given that most homes have a dedicated room for the toilet – an activity which normally consumes much less than 15% of the day – it’s unsurprising that middle class Germans had a dedicated room for weeping and sobbing. (Now they get it all out at football matches.)
The “sobbenbunker” was the subject of one of the big song and dance numbers that German poet Goethe wrote in his early draft of “Faust: the musical”. In the song, Mrs Faust learns of her husband’s pact with the devil, and goes off for some angst in the sobbenbunker. Faust sings “My pact with satan is a clunker/ mein Frau ist in der sobbenbunker./ My heart recoils at words she’s spoken: / for me, her fotze is verboten.”
However, Goethe removed the song before publication. Although at heart, he was a light entertainer, he was constantly stung by criticism from serious High German artists that he was dumbing-down the culture. Beethoven and Brecht were particularly scathing, deliberately re-naming him “Goatse” in interviews to show their disdain. In an attempt to rid himself of his low-brow image, he took all the songs out of “Faust: the musical”, and reinvented it as a rather dull treatise on good and evil.
When I moved to Thailand in 1996 to help set up a school, I took a 3 month rent on a small room in a new hotel near my work. On my floor there was only one other resident, a very well-dressed, attractive woman in her mid-20s. We soon became friends, leaving our doors open and popping in and out of each other’s rooms to chat, gossip, eat, drink beer and smoke.
Lek didn’t seem to work, but attended college every day to learn how to cook, went out most nights and, frankly, seemed to have more disposable income than I had. This was surprising for two reasons; firstly, most Westerners employed in Bangkok with work permits earned three or four times what the locals earned. Secondly, while there were many Thai kids with rich parents, they tended to be fair-skinned, whereas Lek was dark-skinned and from the impoverished Southern provinces of Thailand where a long-running terrorism campaign to secede from Thailand and join muslim Malaysia had damaged the area.
I asked her about it, and she told me straight: she had an older, Western boyfriend called Mike who was posted to work in Thailand in some big engineering project. Mike was married, but his wife was back in England with their kids. Mike paid for the apartment, her college course and took care of her living expenses. In return, she was his mistress. She was to be available for sex, going out to parties or weekends away. The sole stipulation was that she was not to have sex with anyone else (a wise move; in the late 90s, HIV was rife in Thailand). She didn’t love Mike, although she liked him – she viewed it purely as a business relationship. Mike, however, did get jealous of me (until we lied and told him I’m gay); I found lots of Westerners who had mistresses or picked up prostitutes deluded themselves that they were emotionally involved rather than simply buying a service.
Before I’d met Lek, I had always assumed that prostitution was a sordid business of trafficked or abused women being forced into it by a pimp. It had never occurred to me that it could be voluntary. I asked Lek if she felt exploited. “Absolutely not”, she answered. She explained that she had a sister, a year younger, still living in the home village “in the jungle” (as she put it). Her sister had four children by a man who beat her when he was drunk, and who forced her to wear a veil. “I have a nice apartment, I’m getting an education. Mike is a good guy who treats me well, we go to parties where I meet lots of people, I’ve learned English and have friends from all over the world. This is freedom – don’t pity me.”
Who was I to argue?
It made me wonder, though, why we still get so squeamish about sex. If someone works with their bodies to entertain by dancing, or gymnastics, or sports, we don’t pity them. Neither do we condescend to other people who look after others’ physical needs for money – we don’t pity a person who cooks food or others, or cuts their hair, or massages their aches, or looks after their teeth. So why do we look down on people who voluntarily offer sexual services?
After convincing my Member of Parliament, John Hemming, of the folly of Cameron’s plan to censor the web in the UK (sorry, I mean filter the web), he’s been doing some digging with the ISPs, writing to them to ask whether they plan to store your opt-ins privately on your router, or centrally.
He’s published the answers to his emails to BT, Sky and Virgin. BT were evasive, and TalkTalk didn’t formally respond, but it’s pretty clear they’ll store them in a centralised database. What could possibly go wrong with the government having access to a list of all those who want to see porn or “extremist” sites? It’s not like we live in a surveillance society, is it?
John and I would like to publish a fuller list. If you are a customer of an ISP that’s not on the list, please email them and ask them if they plan to store your opt-ins on a centralised database, what categories they intend to filter (eg, porn, extremism, alcohol, drugs) and how they will categorise them (eg, who will decide whether BNP/ EDL sites are “extremist”?) and paste it into a comment below. Please include the date and time the reply was sent, and who signed it (so we can double-check before publishing on John’s blog).
Here at Lawson Industries, we were excited to read the announcement by Fujitsu of their “Floral Kiss” brand of PCs for Women, with gold trim, a flip latch that can “easily open the display—even by users with long fingernails”, a power button “adorned with a pearl-like accent”, and outtake and intake vents “featuring a floral motif design”. Perfect for Jane Austen and other pre-Victorian ladies to write their delicate little novels.
Over the past 6 months, we’ve been working hard on a special “Tits ‘n’ sport” laptop, just for men.
The flip latch is easily opened, even by big hulking hairy chaps like TV extras from On The Buses, or Real Blokes with 6 pints of Stella inside them. The keyboard has been reduced to three buttons – “Tits”, which immediately connects to porn websites, “Sport”, which connects to sports websites and “I’m Free”, because our close examination of 1970s episodes of “Are You Being Served” shows that some slightly suspect men are effete and say that a lot.
Like the Fujitsu ladies’ laptop, which comes in Elegant White, Feminine Pink and Luxury Brown, this new masculine computer comes in Bell-End Purple, Skidmark Brown and Can’t-Separate-Colours-Before-Using-a-Washing-Machine Grey.
We’ll also be releasing a laptop for black people (the “Our Colonial Friends” edition) with enhanced sub-woofers on the speakers because those customers have natural rhythm.
After extensive scientific research, I can reveal the four tiers of David Bowie.
I realised I own no Bowie except an old 45 rpm single of “Sound and Vision” which I can’t play as I have no record player, went to the web to buy The Platinum Collection and listened to it a few times.
- 20% is awarded for a catchy chorus
- 20% for having a good verse as well (often why some songs are relegated to Tier 2 or below – great choruses but weak verse)
- 20% for weird lyrics, sexual ambivalence
- 10% for singing in a funny voice (machismo of “Boys Keep Swinging”, mockney sneering)
- 10% for odd instrumentation (“Heroes”)
- 10% for a blistering guitar part (whether medlodic like Starman or just nasty like “Boys Keep Swinging”)
- 10% for being seminal (“Ziggy Stardust”)
1 bottle of Toro Loco Tempranillo wine, stereo cranked up so loud your partner wakes up and comes downstairs to give you a bollocking before stomping off to bed and waking early to turn on some bullshit Kerrang radio in revenge.
Tier 1 (80% or more): Starman, Ziggy Stardust, Suffragette City, Heroes, Scary Monsters, Let’s dance, Boys Keep Swinging, All the Young Dudes (but Mott The Hoople’s version is still better at 100%; Bowie’s suffers from too much sax)
Tier 2: (65% – 79%) Life on Mars, Ashes to Ashes, Fashion, Jean Genie, Space Oddity, Sound and Vision, Diamond Dogs, The Prettiest Star
Tier 3: (50% – 64%) China Girl, Changes (great choruses, weak verse) Rebel Rebel, Oh You Pretty Things
Tier 4: the rest
Tier 67: Laughing Gnome, Tin Machine stuff, execrable covers of Let’s Spend The Night Together, The Alabama Song
Bowie’s best is sublime, and had hardly dated at all. There is a perception of a quality drop-off in the 80s, but some great songs came about during that time, although there was a lot of mediocre funk nonsense too. In a career spanning four decades, there is a good deal of filler but that’s both unsurprising and forgiveable, given the brilliance of his Tiers 1-3 work.
If Bowie came round to my house, I’d share a bottle of red with him and we could have a jam, and I’d even let him use my 12 string elecro-acoustic guitar.