MDFF 31 August 2013

Today’s Musical Dispatch from the Front tackles stereotyping and its nefarious results.  First published 9 August 2013.  (Second part next week) As usual, Google Translate will help with parts in a language with which you are not familiar)

Добрий день мої друзі

When I lived in Alberta (Canada) ‘Ukrainian’ jokes were in vogue. A friend of Ukrainian descent tried to start a new trend: ‘Anglo-Saxon’ jokes. To no avail, he came to the conclusion that English speakers weren’t all that funny.

An example: “What do you call a Ukrainian running after a garbage truck?”…. “The galloping gourmet” (a popular TV cooking show at the time)

From my dad’s anecdotes (from occupied Holland during WWII):
In the villa, there was a telephone exchange. Everyone had been invited to Mr. Otten (one of the suppliers)’s birthday party. The village had been left almost vacant. Lucas and I stayed behind. Before the war, Lucas had served on Dutch submarines, and he therefore had a good understanding of electronics. Whilst I kept a look out, Lucas went to work. Not only did he cut wires, but he also cross-wired and soldered wires together. Lucas had his eye on the beautiful curtains, and I had to dissuade him from taking them (“are you off your rocker? Hurry up we’ve got to get out of here!”). It all took too long and we disturbed the guards. The front gate had been locked. We had to leave through the heavily guarded back. We flew over the back yard and over the two meter high wall, and if we’d been in the Olympics we’d both would have got medals! A group of Ukrainian guards with their guard dogs chased us. We ran off (more medals!) and escaped into a garden……

[Dad had told me that the Germans had deployed Ukrainian sharpshooters all over Europe as guards. Ukrainians had initially seen the Nazis as ‘liberators’ (from the Russians) and some had enthusiastically joined the German army. Dad tells me that the ones guarding the villa at Aerdenhout had on normal German army uniforms, with a tiny ‘Ukraine’ embroidered on the shoulders]

.“Guten Morgen Herr Breitruck”, “Guten Morgen??…Wissen Sie nicht was da gestern abend passiert ist? …da sind Schweine hier rein gekomen, und haben die ganze Telefonzentrale vernichtet. Sie wussten was die taten”, “Wie sind die denn weg gekommen?” “Da, über die Mauer, durch die Minen…” “Ach, Minen, Minen, überall steht ‘Vorsicht Minen’…” “DA! LIEGEN MINEN!”.

The next morning we turned up for work as per usual. “Good morning Mr. Breitruck” “Good morning??…don’t you know what happened last night? Some bastards came in last night and destroyed the telephone exchange. They knew what they were doing” “How did they get away?” “There, over that wall, through that mine field…” “Ah well, mine-field, mine-field, what mine-field? There are signs ‘Danger Mines’ all over the place…” “THERE, THERE ARE MINES!” When he said that, I could taste my breakfast in my mouth! It turned out the telephone exchange was far more important to the Germans than we had ever imagined…..

For the rest of his life dad had a fairly intense dislike of Ukrainians. Never mind that Ukrainians were between a rock and a hard place.


Not really a great choice between the Nazi ‘liberators’ and the Soviet oppressors.
As far as dad was concerned they were and remained traitors.
A small step to ‘Ukraine, a Nation of Traitors’

A small step to a nation of ‘not all that funny people’, Never mind all the British comedy greats on television.

A small step from refugees to (heaven forbid!) economic migrants and queue jumpers.

Thus functions stereotyping.

(continued next week)

A letter to the Stromness Museum

stromness sketchQuentin Cockburn recently visited the Museum at Stromness, Orkney, North of Scotland, (see map below).  He was impressed.



Dear Stromness Museum,
I love you.

I write to you to encourage your excellent work in maintaining the intrinsic wonder, the exploration and child-like rapture your museum presents to us. I am jaded by the certainty of most museums these days.

As a youth I spent countless days wandering through the archives and displays at the Melbourne Museum. (Now re-located and re-named the Museum of Victoria).  It used to be in the heart of the city, it shared its site with the State Library.  As a student entombed within the reading room of the state library, I would wander into the museum to find an engaging diversion from the piles of primary sources, the encyclopaedic hansards, and cleanse myself from the biblical certainty espoused by our celebrated historians.  It seemed apt, a museum and a library together.  One with the voices distilled in time, speaking from the void, the other, artifacts, other stories, described in the touch the feel, the smell, the grittiness of displays, some in cases, others in shelves, to be grasped and examined.  And through it all this sense that the bison tusks, the giant crabs, and the maxim gun mountings from HMVS Cerberus told us about ourselves. The museum had the capacity in its crusty wood paneled and bare concrete interior to describe real life, and inject imagination, for those prepared to just contemplate, of other worlds, and the challenge to find, to seek to discover.

I think also that museums can be counter cultural, almost subversive.  They speak of indulgence in the ancient and educational as fulfilling and rewarding before endless shopping filled that niche.

The Melbourne Museum was a very Victorian institution in Victoria, Her Majesty’s most important “white” colony.

It embraced a colonial view of things.  The objects were all neatly inscribed, and the museum itself suggested, (I think the dioramas had something to do with this), that native Australians, their animals and landscape were to be improved and civilised.  It was a sort of covert social darwinism that made it captivating.  Imagine a diorama, with an aboriginal tribe suitably in possum skins, the ladies demurely clad, a volcano in the background, a few Diprotodons, and the odd macropod, the message, ‘Ancient man, being ancient’, and possibly as the next case revealed, endangered or extinct.  As a group, we Victorians run a close second to our brothers the Tasmanians with a proud tradition of extinction.  The museum, in the nicest possible way, made it entertaining.  Rather like the statues that adorned the Crystal Palace, the primitive dinosaur prototypes tell us about Victorian romanticism and stuff.

Over a decade ago the Melbourne museum was “relocated”. What was once intrinsic and personal was standardised.  The minutiae was taken away, the ships models hived off to the immigration museum, the non standardised stuff, (like stuff from HMVS Cerberus) lost, and the dioramas, destroyed.  It’s a very ‘nice’ building, the architects, (who are now engaged on the new visitors centre at Stonehenge) built a very big space with one of their signature ‘Blades’. There are no longer drawers to pull out and the certainty of no un-anticipated discoveries. You see it’s INTERACTIVE!.

And every year they have a new ‘Blockbuster!’.  Last year it was Pompeii, the year before the Titanic, this year shall be James Bond.  I think they like that, there’s noting really challenging, but it is a very satisfying day and, I’ve been told, a relatively small investment to experience an exhibition schedule that’s Worlds Best Standard.

Of course I’m being facetious, and the reason why is simple.  You, at Stromness, possess a magnificent museum.  You have a magnificent collection intrinsic to the Orkneys, and Scapa Flow.  You endow us, the public, with Nobility, you treat us with respect.  You have not bowdlerised your collection to suit some ‘fly-by tourism consultant power point assessment of core values and market research’.  You have stayed true to the first principle of humanity and ‘let the objects speak for themselves’.  And you have not been deluded by the insecure assumption that ‘Big’ makes the exhibition and experience ‘Valid’, whatever that means.

You have inspired me to do something that other museums do not.

You have inspired me to return.

Thankyou so much, and as an aside, I loved the Kirkwall Wireless museum for the same reason.

Quentin Cockburn
Orkney Map

A Letter from America

A Letter from America: Politics and Southern Hospitality
by Quentin Cockburn

Since arriving in the U.S, the Leafy, socialist inspired Streets of Chapel Hill, I am reminded of Alistair Cooks ‘Letters from America’.*  I used to enjoy listening, (he never spoke quickly) his measured accounts of some obscure facet of American politics, or an equally obscure tangential reference to someone, (a putative Wolf T Flywheel Democrat Senator for Flat Back Idaho), and from this briefest of biographical references craft a stimulating and inspiring window for us to gain an insight into what makes America tick. I wondered if he was ever broadcast in America?  Or would that be regarded as a sort of apostasy of the soul, a voice too near to be given the weight of distance, perspective, detachment and hence reason. I also wondered, as he’d been in America since 1937 what perspective, objectivity he could bring after almost sixty years?

So please, as a ‘clean skin’, grant me leave to give a ‘Letter from America’, and in doing so (bear with me), I think I may draw a half light upon a non problem.

The first two days of our visit Cecil and I went to dinner with locals, firstly with a young couple, in which, around a deck, we admired the “openness” between houses and huge trees as part of the garden experience.  The absence of fence-lines, almost ordained as preserving an ‘open-ness’ within the community.  There seemed to be a lot of waving to neighbours, and episodic references to the ‘so ad so’s’ a few doors down as if they really mattered.  As an outsider we offered to bring grog, help wash the dishes, pick up the plates, all courteously but emphatically rejected.

The next evening presented a dinner at an older couples’ home.  The conversation over local delicacies (jalapeño poppers, a capsicum derived package of infinite complexity) and a superbly cooked steak enticed your correspondents to gauge some insight into the work we were researching – the voyage of the CSS Shenandoah.  We both knew that this was code more or less for politics; the Shenandoah story, all 150 years ago of it, would provide the appropriate segway.

We opened the batting with talk of Australian politics; that interlude was exceedingly brief.  The Queen as a respected and universally admired international figure, then as a consequence ensued a mirth filled reference to our future  monarch Charles III, and the potential for the United States to re-join the Commonwealth.  From this we enquired about the legacy of the Confederate cause.  From our hostess came the belief, though qualified by “what we know now” the conviction that after all was said and done, “We, as Southerners, behaved with honour, as ‘gentlemen’, though our cause was flawed”.

Whilst we mused over similarities between the Confederates and the ‘Round-Heads and Cavaliers’, (one flamboyant and elegantly preserving the code of chivalry, the other puritanical and hence mean spirited and petty) we arrived at a comparison, past and present of Prime Ministers and Presidents.  There ensued a discussion of long serving politicians, vested interests and lobbyists,  Two terms, our host proclaimed, not long enough to be tainted, long enough to establish the important things.

It was then, amidst much laughter that our host delivered his hand grenade.

To the question of who, in our hosts’ lifetime, was the biggest ‘game changer’, most influential.  He looked at us, paused and then pronounced more flatly than a dead cat, “Richard Nixon.”

Stunned silence.

He solemnly looked about, “Richard Nixon took away our faith in the political system, that was the game changer.  He took our trust, our faith in the system away.  And that trust,” he sadly intoned, “has never returned”.

*The first American Letter was broadcast on 24 March 1946 (Cooke said this was at the request of Lindsey Wellington, the BBC’s New York Controller); the series was initially commissioned for only 13 instalments. The series came to an end 58 years (2,869 instalments) later, in March 2004. Along the way, it picked up a new name (changing from American Letter to Letter from America in 1950) and an enormous audience, being broadcast not only in Britain and in many other Commonwealth countries, but throughout the world by the BBC World Service. (from Wikipedia)

On Entering the United States

Entering the United States
By Quentin Cockburn

It was a nine hour flight from London to RDU, the airport for North Carolina’s capital city Raleigh.  I’d been told watch out at Customs, and “don’t go in smiling, they don’t like humour”.

I approached Customs and joined the comparatively short ‘Visitors’ queue which a lone customs officer was laboriously processing.  The much longer US Citizens queue had a number of processing officers and they seemed to be flying through.   An individual I’d chatted to on the plane, came forward and asked me, “do you mind if I jump the queue, I’ve got to be on a flight to new York, in fifteen minutes”.

“No, I don’t mind,” and felt  happy to give him a hand. Largesse would be an offset to premonition. I watched  as they did the fingerprints, iris test, and passport, there was a brief discussion.  I saw him wander off downstairs thinking he’d better get a hurry on.

My turn came, the uniformed officer in the booth, with leather gloves asked “How long are you staying here?”

“A couple of weeks.”

He looked at me and leafed through the passport.  It’s the Kafkian in me that makes me blush, deep within my unresolved subconscious; am I a murderer, a pedophile, a rapist?

“Have you ever been to the United States before. What is your next destination?”

I shuffled through the papers kindly prepared by my travel agent. “Departing Chicago on the 19th, then back to the UK for a stopover then onwards.”  I smiled, and observed as he read my “blue immigration card”.

“Why haven’t you filled in the residential address?”

Unaware of the importance I replied, “I know whom I’m staying with, and I know he lives in Chapel Hill but I’m being picked up.”

His reply, incredulous, “You don’t know where you are staying?”,

“Chapel Hill!” I enthusiastically replied.

“But where?”

“At Sam and Amy’s.”  I leaned forward, for emphasis, “my friend, Sam’s Dad is picking me up.”

He drew a line across the card, and cooly said, “I am holding your passport, report to a customs officer downstairs. When you’ve picked up you luggage chat to the officer at the gate he will instruct you”.

I picked up the baggage, walked over to the gate. “The Officer upstairs instructed me to see you”.

This large man led me to a small room, where upon a simple plastic seat sat my queue jumping friend, (he’d missed the plane), along with another individual from Kenya.  He advised me, “Man, it’s all a power trip, just be humble and do what they say”

Next the big bloke walked back in, I started feeling intimidated, could’ve been the black uniform, the handcuffs, gun, all those badges.  “So sir you have no idea what the address is?’’

My reply, almost pleading, “Well, I know where they live.”

“Yes Sir, but you should have an address.”

“I know I’ll contact him on my phone.” and I picked the phone up,

“Don’t use that phone”!!

More than slightly flummoxed I said, “My friend is waiting for me on the other side.” Oh God, the phrase had already acquired a sinister meaning.

He said quite stiffly, “Would you go to Australia and get off at a airport without knowing where you are going?”

I equivocated, “Well I would. I’d go to Bendigo for example, ring him or work out from locals here he’d live.” Then with emphasis, moving slightly closer,  I added, “You see I’ve known this bloke for years.”

“Don’t stand close to me sir!”  He was almost threatening.

I continued, “It’s his son Sam, he’s a local, lives here with his wife Amy.”

A pause ensued.  “Wait here Sir.”  He had my passport and the blue form and he left.

After an appreciable lapse of time, I was summoned and interviewed by a lady officer, the same questions, the incredulity of not having a correct address. At this stage, the large officer returned and said he could not find my friend among those outside waiting. I was flummoxed. This was serious. By now there were four officers watching me.

“Can I have your card?” the woman officer asked.

I searched through my travel wallet for the card.  It wasn’t there, now sweating I was going through suitcases when the large officer returned.

She asked him, ‘Do you have the card”?,

“Yup.” and he passed it to her. “And we have your friend outside.”

Intense relief.   My ordeal was over, I was let go with the cautionary, “Don’t you ever arrive in the U.S without an address.  It’s very important we know where you are.”


Weekly Wrap 26 August 2013

“Not all who wander are lost” Another car bumper sticker that seems pertinent to the Cockburn and Poole travels of late.  Quentin is safely back in Australia, whilst Cecil is recovering from a few days on the Outer Banks of North Carolina – days of great surf, sun and sand, a wonderful 90 minute night-time electrical storm serious over-eating and drinking, and far too little sleep.

Passive Complicity had great pleasure in bringing Tarquin O’Flaherty’s five part series on The Catalpa Affair.  This story linked Irish freedom fighters/terrorists (particularly John Boyle O’Reilly (1844-1890)) of the 1840’s and 50’s with Australia the USA and the British Government.  Start this series here and then scroll up through the blogs.  They were published daily from  Monday 19th through to Friday 23 August.  You may also like to go back to The Cry of the DreamerO’Rielly’s poem published on 18 August

Our Australian Election Coverage continued with Paddy 0′Cearmada giving us three insightful articles Computer says no (19 August 2013),  ‘He who is not busy being born is busy dying’ (21 August 2013), and  ‘Does this guy ever shut up?’ (24 August 2013).  They can be read in the Election 2013 tab, along with today’s offering ‘Suspended Hostilities’

We offer this reprint of our very first “Mine Tinket” (below) by way of compensation for the lack of a Musical Dispatch from the Front this week.  The Dispatch will be back next Saturday.

For Poetry Sunday our poetry editor, Ira Maine comments Here is Yeats, up to his armpits in Celtic Mythology” with The song of wandering Aengus WILLIAM BUTLER YEATS.

Cecil Poole

29. Level Playing Field

Poetry Sunday 25 August 2013

The song of wandering Aengus.  by WILLIAM BUTLER YEATS.

I went out to the hazel wood
Because a fire was in my head.
And cut and peeled a hazel wand
And hooked a berry to a thread.

And when white moths were on the wing
And moth-like stars were flickering out,
I dropped the berry in a stream
And caught a little silver trout.

When I had laid it on the floor
And went to blow the fire aflame,
But something rustled on the floor
And someone called me by my name.

It had become a glimmering girl,
With apple blossoms in her hair
Who called me by my name and ran,
And faded in the brightening air.

Though I am old with wandering
Through hollow lands and hilly lands
I will find out where she has gone
And kiss her lips and take her hands,

And walk among long dappled grass
And pluck til time and times are done,
The silver apples of the moon,
The golden apples of the sun.

Comments by Ira Maine, Poetry Editor
Here is Yeats, up to his armpits in Celtic Mythology. Yeats, a young product of that late 19th century Romanticism which included Beardsley and Moore and Wilde, the Cafe Royal aesthetes and the rediscovery of that same mythology as a vehicle for artistic expression.

Sometimes we have “peak experiences’.  Split seconds of astonishing clarity where everything there is to know is known to you and where you need absolutely nothing more to feel complete.  Unfortunately these blinding revelations are gone just as quickly and we long desperately to experience them again, to be reminded of that mind-blowing ‘Otherworld’.  Perhaps for Yeats the girl, the fish represent that ‘peak experience’ and Aengus (Yeats) spends his life trying to recapture it.

Aengus is the Celtic Eros, the god of love, eternally young and handsome and is the possessor of a harp whose music no one can resist.  Though Yeats is the central figure in the poem, in pursuit of the unattainable, the peak experience perhaps, he is, at the same time, Aengus, the god of love, forever moving and restless, because, for life to have meaning, love is paramount and seeks continually to recreate itself.

It’s not all about making the two backed beast, you know…
IRA MAINE, Poetry Editor.