August 2012

31 August 2012 ~
The Honours System - Gong Going Back

MPs on the Public Administration Committee  have stated:
"It is "is distasteful and damaging for people who already command vast personal remuneration packages for doing their job, to also be honoured for simply being at the helm of large companies. This must stop. All who get honours must be judged on whether they have done things above and beyond their normal duty, shown extraordinary leadership and shown extraordinary service to the community."

I am not against government awards in principle, but if they are to be fair we have to think much harder about ensuring that no one finds it easier to receive one because of connections.

I assume that my MBE depended on my company, BT,  having the ear of someone in a position to push my nomination to the head of the queue. The award was for organising  employees to volunteer in the community. While the company and the volunteers deserved recognition, I felt uncomfortable accepting the honour when I was being paid at least twice what many an equivalent manager in a charity was earning and others were doing great things without payment for their time. I  used to say I had the perfect job doing community work on a corporate salary.

It was hard to refuse because the MBE was in part recognition of others. Two of my guests at the palace were particularly dedicated volunteers and they were thrilled. My parents were also delighted at the news and a personalised video made at the palace. (The editing made it look as if the queen chatted at length with me, which was far from the case.)

For those reasons, I was glad that I accepted. Now that my parents are dead, my republican sympathies combined with the report cited above have persuaded me it is time to return the gong with a letter saying I don't believe in royal honours and wish  to see a major overhaul of the system of awards.

27 August 2012 ~ The Wandering Falcon  by Jamil Ahmad

One of the issues that makes the conflict in Pakistan and Afghanistan more difficult to understand is the patchwork of tribes involved. Jamil Ahmad does not set out to lay bare the cultures of the tribes people who make up most the characters in his short novel, but he has a talent for making their  values and traditions  more understandable.  And despite the gruesome scenes he recounts at intervals - this is not a naive romantic tale of simpler lives - his writing is a pleasure. While men dominate the pages, women not only appear, they are also viewed with sympathy and some are portrayed as far from submissive.

The book uses the eponymous Wandering Falcon (Tor Baz) in every chapter and a number of other characters reappear in what otherwise might be seen as a collection of short stories. This light stitching makes for a larger canvas. A map of the areas involved would have been appreciated. There is no need for a glossary, which is as well considering how few publishers seem to bother with one even when introducing an exotic culture.

Pakistan newspaper story about the author and his book

23 August 2012 ~ Turning the Tables On Email Fraudsters

Inspired by scam baiters, people who play games with email would-be fraudsters, I had a go myself last year after receiving a request for money that pretended to come from a friend stranded in Spain. 
Read about my relatives Nonsenica, Cozen, Bunco and Kidder and the messages sent from my Poppycock.  

20 August 2012 ~ Folie à Deux Nominated for Pushcart Prize

Pushcart Prize is awarded to writers nominated by the small presses (hence the name) that have published their poetry, short stories or essays. Labello Press, which published Folie à Deux has been kind enough to include it in their nominations for the prize. My thanks to Deborah McMenamy, Labello's Editor and Founder, for her continuing support.

19 August 2012 ~  Limerick
      Putin © World Economic Forum                                        Stoat -  from a photo by Nick Ford.   

A tyrant with eyes like a stoat’s

Stuffed ballot boxes and stole opposition votes

When Pussy Riot protested

He made sure they were arrested

Pour encourager les autres

18 August 2012  ~ Russian Political Football Results


Pussy Riot 3               Putin 0

Justice 0                     Corruption 2

Human Rights 0         Nepotism  2

Reform 0                    Son of Stalinism 2

Vanguard 0                 Old Guard 2

Freedom 0                  Repression 2

Creativity 0                 Gulag 2

Political Protest 0       Show Trial 2

17 August 2012 ~  Information Sought on Origins and Use of Kleftie and Kleftied

This is a request I have also made recently via a New Zealand Society of Authors newsletter.

I came across kleftied in in a Dan Davin short story, In Transit, set in Italy
during WWII . It appears to mean steal or take without permission.  “You can have them for all I care. Probably would have kleftied our gear, anyhow." (page 194, Selected Stories, 1981)

Kleftie is not in Orsman’s Dictionary of Modern New Zealand Slang or McGill’s Dictionary of Kiwi Slang. Nor is it in Jonathan Green’s 2010 three-volume and very comprehensive Dictionary of Slang.

A Google Search found kleftie in a memoir at the Maori Battalion site. "Don't worry, Doc, I'm not going to lose that; I have signed for it. I'll soon kleftie it back." 

Google also found references to:

  • Klefti and Kleftied in the Royal Australian Navy News November 26 1971. Under the heading "Great Klefti Plot" the first sentence reads, "The Rats of Tobruk wants to know who 'kleftied' a plaque the association presented to HMAS Tobruk." 
  • Klefties meaning thieves in a London-published novel set in Egypt in 1945 by Brian Aldiss (Sell the Pig and Buy Me Out).
  • Kleftie wallah by a former UK Military Policeman describing thieves in war-time Egypt and similarly used by an RAF man describing his time in Egypt in the early 1950s.

I can’t remember hearing these words in New Zealand; nor in Australia where I lived for eighteen months. To what extent have they have appeared in print and are heard, or were heard, in New Zealand?

One possible source is the modern Greek for a brigand, klepht (κλÝϕτης), According to the OED, this has its origins in the Ancient Greek word for a thief (κλÝπτης). The latter gave English kleptomania.

Please reply via

August  2012  ~ More Katherine Mansfield Material

On 26 July I reported how four stories by KM came to light recently. Now there is news of further material entering  the public domain and casting light on KM .

A family have sold items to the Alexander Turnbull Library, part of the National Library of New Zealand. The Turnbull  has the largest collection of KM papers. The recent acquisitions  include letters, KM's passport, photos and a recipe.
Library's press release
One treatment of the press release plus photos of some of the items

7 August  2012  ~ Reform of The House of Lords

I am appalled at the prospect of further delays to completing the reforms to the Lords.

Like most people in the UK I have had little time for Nick Clegg since he reneged (or led  the reneging) on  the Liberal's promise with regard to university fees.  Perhaps now that his partners have gone back on their word he understands the contempt in which he is held by the public?

I do not buy the Tory excuse that there are more pressing matters than sorting out the Lords. If Conservative MPs were so keen on avoiding distractions they would not have provoked such an unseemly row about the matter, a row  with the potential to unravel the coalition.

There is no good reason why whatever replaces the Lords should not be fully elected, have powers that are clearly secondary to the Commons, and continue to do much the same work as currently, but without the built-in bias and opportunities for cronyism.

One of the problems is that all the major parties have MPs who quite like the idea of being appointed to the Lords either to wield power without the bother of being elected or as a bolt-hole should they lose their seat or be edged out by a rival from their own ranks. Add to this the attractions of a title, fancy dress and general fawning over nobility and you have a lot of people happy to let the current  lack of democracy continue.

3 August  2012  ~ What  Has Overtaken Vanity Publishing?

Ewan Morrison published a piece in The Guardian this week called Why social media isn't the magic bullet for self-epublished authors. Much of what he said is also true of self-published printed books. Below is my comment added below Ewan's article on the Guardian website.

How could anything be a magic bullet in an over-supplied market place? The vast majority of book titles will always struggle for sales unless the public decide to greatly increase their spending on books.

In the past, entrepreneurs and con artists sought to persuade authors rejected by mainstream publishing to invest in vanity printing. Now that vanity printing is more affordable and accessible, up pop people offering to help sell the self-published books.

As with vanity publishing, some of these services are very dishonest. A few of the services, or committed use of social media, might help a small number of authors boost their sales, if they offer something that captures the public's interest. After all, rolling a turd in glitter might persuade someone to pick it up, but they will soon drop it. By the way, my glittering log is called Mr Vitriol and available from Amazon.

2 August  2012  ~ Psychiatric Star Gazing

Many of the  short stories I have written dwell on a character with a mental health issue. I seem to be one of those writers drawn to darker aspects of humanity and I have even sought  ideas by reviewing lists of mental health diagnoses.

One of the most prominent lists, drawn up by the American Psychiatric Association, is called the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. It is more commonly known as DSM IV. DSM carries  weight well beyond the USA. The fifth edition is due for release  in May 2013.  

The full DSM manual is a weighty volume.  I am not aware of any comprehensive version of   DSM  available on line. Snippets of it appear here and there on the web. Here is one example that includes the criteria for  Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

DSM and the application of the medical model to mental disorder is controversial. One of the leading critics is Professor Richard Bentall and I recommend his books Madness Explained and Doctoring the Mind. For a short introduction to his critique, see  his 2009 article  Diagnoses are psychiatry's star signs; Let's listen more and drug people less.

For a a tongue -in-cheek look at the pathologisation of behaviour, see how I have imagined a Bad Hair Day being assessed by DSM.