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January 11th

On this day in 1912 a strike began in Lawrence Massachusetts that became known as the Bread and Roses Strike or the Three Loaf strike.

Women strikers marching through Lawrence, Ma.

The strikers were all women and children who worked in the local textile industry. Most of the women were immigrant workers. Lawrence had been a textile town for about seventy years. In 1845 most of the workers employed were skilled workers but by the turn of the century, with industrialisation and mechanisation, the owners of the various (by now) factories had got rid of the skilled workers and replaced them with non-skilled women and children. They were paid far less, had few if any rights and worked longer hours.

In the decade before the strike, conditions had worsened. The work had

Contemporary cartoon of the strike

always been dangerous, but became more so with the introduction of the two-loom system in the woollen factories. It allowed the owners to speed up production, reduce wages and lay of large numbers of workers. Those still working earned less than $9 a week for 56 hours of work. They also lived in awful conditions. The apartment buildings they made their homes in were overcrowded and dangerous. Most families survived on a diet of bread, molasses and beans. Meat was a rare treat. At this period the mortality rate for children under the age of six was 50%. 36 out of every hundred men and women who worked in the woollen mills died by the age of 25.

Children at work in one of the textile factories

The strike was caused by a new Massachusetts law which came into affect on January 1st 1912. The maximum number of hours that women and children were allowed to work dropped from 56 hours a week to 54 hours. On January 11th workers realised that what they had feared had come to pass: their employers had dropped their wages to take into account the fact that they were working two hours less per week. A 32c drop meant several loaves of bread for a family and the difference between just about getting by and dropping into abject poverty.

The first mill to see the strike action begin was the Everett Cotton Mill. Polish women walked out shouting “Short pay! Short pay!” The next day workers from other factories also walked out and by the end of the week 20,000 women, mostly immigrants, were on strike.

The strike was led by the Industrial Workers of the World union, who had been organising in the city for some time before the strike. The union was, as the name might suggest, a socialist group. This didn’t go down well at all and meant that the strikers and the union leaders met some horrific opposition from the Police, judicial system and the factory owners. The union, for their part, arranged for all strike meetings to be translated into 25 different languages, so that all strikers could know exactly what was going on and put out a set of demands: 15% increase in wages, a 54 hour week, double time for any overtime work and no discrimination against workers for strike activities.

The strike went on until March. In that time strikers had to put up with

Bringing out an army to deal with innocent women and children always looks "good"

a lot. The local militia walked the streets to “police” the “trouble”. The strikers then formed mass pickets. The mill owners reacted by turning fire hoses against them. The strikers, who were determined not to be put down, reacted by throwing ice at the factory windows. 36 women were arrested and sentenced to a year in prison for throwing ice and breaking windows. The judge said “The only way to teach them is to hand out severe sentences.” The governor of Massachusetts then ordered out the state police and state militia in order to stop the strikers.

At the same time the United Textile Workers, a conservative union, tried to break the strike, but the women were having none of it. Anna LoPizzo, a striker, was murdered, almost certainly by the police, but the local leaders of IWW were arrested and kept in jail for several months after the end of the strike, despite the police knowing that they had been three miles away from the murder at the time it happened.

There was also a problem with looking after the children of the strikers, with the lack of money coming in. On a national level donations were being made and there were soup and food kitchens, but several hundred children were sent to the homes of IWW supporters in New York, which was publicised and brought more sympathy for the strikers. Another hundred children were going to be sent to Philadelphia, but they and their parents were met at the station by police who refused to allow them on to the train. The police clubbed both women and children before dragging them off into a truck. One pregnant woman miscarried. All of this was captured by the press. They were taken to a police court where the women refused to pay the fines levied and chose instead to be put in jail with their children, some of the women had babies in their arms.

All of this helped more sympathy toward the rights of these women throughout the country. One person who was disgusted by what was going on was Helen Taft the wife of President Taft. Finally, the union was able to claim a victory. By the end of April the women were back at work with a 5% rise in pay and a promise of better conditions.

Unfortunately, within a few years all the gains won had been reversed, but for a short period of time, immigrant women, were able to bring a city to its knees, simply by refusing to accept less than was their absolute right. Conservative unions had claimed that it was impossible and ridiculous to try to try to organise immigrants in Unions as they were just not capable of understanding/taking part. The IWW and the immigrant women of Lawrence proved that this was just a pile of stuff and nonsense.

Despite the eventual bad ending to this whole situation, it has a lesson for us all, 100 years later. When people are organised and share a strong feeling of right and a refusal to give in to corrupt and inhuman forces, sometimes they can make a difference. These women, who were seen as nothing but factory fodder, whose rights were nothing but a joke to their employers and whose lives were often short and harsh, stood together and demanded to be treated with decency. For a time, they won that right. They refused to be put off by violence, lies and unfairness. Th need to stand up and be counted is just as strong 100 years later.

Right! After getting a bit “we’ll keep the red flag flying here”, I thought I’d find a birthday of someone really hateful and get all sweary about them, but instead I found that it is the birthday of a childhood crush, so …

Today is the birthday of Australian Actor and man who I am still a little bit in love with, Rod Taylor.

I know a lot of you will be going, “who?” well shut up! His first leading role was in The Time Machine and then everyone in the world realised he was brilliant and put him in a lot of other films, including The Birds and The V.I.P.s. Also, if you love the proper, original One Hundred and One Dalmatians he did the voice for Pongo, which is probably why you all love Pongo so much.

Being all manly and fishing while taking a break from The Birds. Probably

In the 1970s he did a lot of television work, which I’m not interested in, because I like him in films and more recently he’s apparently been in Inglourious Basterds playing Winston Churchill. He is now 81 though, so I don’t want to look at him and see all that lost beauty. Not that he was particularly beautiful in a pretty boy way; he was more manly man. sigh. Anyway, I loved him, even when he was a bit older and appearing, every so often in Murder She Wrote with Jessica Fletcher (yes, I know she’s a character! I’m being intentionally stupid, thank you very much).

To be completely and utterly honest here, my love for him has always been pure, because he sort of reminds me of my dad. I probably fell in love with Rod not long before my dad died and I’ve stayed in love with him because he’s my little reminder of my dad. If you cry at that, you’re a wimp, so just stop it!

Anyway, I love Rod Taylor and I hope he has the best birthday ever and lives to be 101 in good health with lovely twinkly eyes and all his wonderfulness.

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January 8th

On this day in 1941 William Randolph Hearst took very much agin Orson Welles and refused to allow any adverts for Citizen Kane in any of his publications.

William Randolph "I'm bog-eyed" Hearst.

Hearst was 70 at the time and probably the most powerful publishing magnate in the US. A bit like Rupert Murdoch, but probably a bit less friendly. Most people are aware that Hearst was not happy about CK and most people know that it’s because the character of Kane was based on Hearst himself. According to those how knew him, the thing about the film that enraged him the most was the depiction of his screen second wife as a drunk and a talentless singer. Welles himself admitted that this part of the storyline was a “dirty trick”. However, other insiders claim that while he was pissed off by the depiction of the second wife – who was a close model of his long term mistress Marion Davies – the thing that enraged him most was Kane’s sledge, the name of which led to his last word on his deathbed: “Rosebud”.

It seems a particularly innocuous word, but if rumours are true, then

Rosebud or "is that a clitoris I see before me?!

rosebud was Hearst’s pet name for Marion Davies’s clitoris. Oh and yes, Marion Davies was an alcoholic, mostly because the life she ended up living with Hearst was so difficult. She was a talented comedienne, but less talented when it came to dramatic roles. Hearst, like Kane, insisted that she be given dramatic roles that were beyond her skill, hence she looked like an idiot and drank more and …art really was reflecting life. Welles was right, this was a dirty trick, more so to Davies than Hearst who was old enough and ugly enough to take that and a whole lot more.

However, the enmity went further than banning adverts. Hearst newspapers printed articles about Welles claiming he was a communist and unpatriotic, dangerous and sick. He also threatened Hollywood studios and made a lot of noises about Hollywood being full of immigrants and refugees. In other words,  Mr Hearst, as well as being a great big crybaby, was also more than a bit anti-Semitic.  Luckily for Hearst, Welles was not very popular in Hollywood, mostly because he was young (only 24 at the time) and didn’t play the game. Louis B. Mayer offered to pay RKO $842,000 to destroy the negatives of the film. The then studio owner, George Schaefer, refused and then threatened to sue Fox, Paramount and Loewes theatre chains when they said they would refuse to show the film. All in all, things were not pretty.

They got less pretty at the Oscar ceremony the following year. CK was nominated for nine Oscars but only got one (screenplay, which went to Welles and Mankiewicz). Some might say that was fair enough, but was it fair to boo Welles and his film at the ceremony? Because that’s what happened.

A man never knowingly more than a couple of feet from a pie

Immediately after this, George Schaefer was pushed out of RKO and so was Welles. Citizen Kane was then put in the RKO archives and forgotten for about 15 years. It was seen as a piece of shit that no one should bother themselves with. Of course, now the film is seen as one of the best movies ever made. To a lot of people it’s still pretty dull, but for any cineastes, there is so much in it that is new and has gone on to influence decades of film makers, that it’s not even a case of “liking” it. It just is a truly great film.

And finally, we know that Welles went on to live his life like a show business Benjamin Button, having all his success as a young man and ending his life in adverts for sherry. Not that that is exactly what Benjamin Button did, but, blah. It’s the whole backward life type thing. Just about all of Welles later problems can be seen to be the work of Hearst. Not that Welles was without faults, he was a bit of an arrogant twat when he felt like it, but his talent, or our chance to enjoy it, was nipped in the bud by William Randolph Hearst. Rupert Murdoch probably learned everything he knows from him.

 

Today is the birthday of …65 today, 65 today, he’s got the key to the … well to his OAP bus pass. He’ll probably be seen at the Post Office a lot, queuing up for his pension and shaking a stick at young people who get in his way and threatening them with his scary false teeth.

Yes, the sublime David Bowie is 65 today, which seems truly mental and

Oh no love, you're not alone

makes me feel old myself. Of course given that I’m only 25 or something, it should have no such effect on me, but I guess I feel the Bowie running in my veins.

What plaudits can I pay him that haven’t already been paid? The man is a genius. He went through a well dodgy stage in the late seventies, when too much coke made him think that giving a Hitler salute was a good idea, which should have been what the government used in anti-drug adverts rather than those ones where attractive skinny people who looked like models with a cold were supposed to put us off heroin. D’oh! Thousands of girls were all like “Fuck me, all I have to do is snort smack off of some tinfoil and I too will look like Kate Moss!” A photo of Bowie doing the Nazi Salute with the caption “Drugs make you think it’s cool to be a Nazi twat” would have been much more powerful. Except of course to people who thought it was cool to be a Nazi, but frankly the thought of them all dying of smack AIDS really doesn’t bother me at all.

Meanwhile! Back in David Bowie land. I have heard nice stories about him from people who sort of knew him. I also like his songs a lot, although less so in the late 80s, but I figure if Mozart had lived to a proper age he might have put out a shit symphony or two, so I don’t really hold that against the lovely Mr B. I spent last night trying to think of a favourite and there really isn’t just one. Depending on my mood, it can be several, but there is something about Rock and Roll Suicide that makes me tingle, so right now, at this moment in time, that’s what I’d like to thank Mr B for as I wish him a very happy birthday.

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March 18th

En ce jour de 1871, la Commune de Paris a commencé son gouvernement de Paris. Ne vous inquiétez pas, nous sommes de revenir à l’anglais dès maintenant! As you were!

The Paris Commune of 1871 was an uprising of the workers and lower-middle class of Paris in response to what the Franco-Prussian War had put them through. In the previous year Paris had been under siege, Parisians were starving and forced to eat rats and domestic pets. Things had been pretty bad for years, but this was pretty much the shitty cherry on a cake made of shite. However, the Parisians had something going for them.

Fuck you, we won't do what you tell us!

At the start of the war, in July 1870, the government – which had buggered off to Bordeaux so that they naughty Germans wouldn’t kill them – the National Guard of Paris had been expanded to protect it from invasion by German troops. This meant that many ordinary citizens were armed. They also had cannons and heavy arms which meant that they were pissed off and heavily tooled up. Not a good situation if you want your citizenry to remain all well-behaved, especially when many of the men being elected to head the Guard were of a socialist or anarchist persuasion. Fast forward a few months; the Prussians are triumphant and want to have a little march around Paris. The Parisians are not happy about this and the provisional French government under Adolphe Thiers realise this and decide they’re not going back to Paris as it’s a bit angry; they’ll go to Versailles for a while. The government also decide that they want their cannons and shit back and this is when everything goes a bit Pete Tong for Thiers et al.

The Communards – as they members of the Commune were called – were not having it. Some of the soldiers who were sent in to get the heavy arms, decided the Communards had it right, so they joined up with them, shot a couple of officers who didn’t like their attitude and there you have it. The Commune began.

Alas, it only lasted until May of that year, but for all the disdain flung at it by the la-di-da government, they were well organised, were not even demanding that much and had a rich culture of their own. After all, it was here that Jimmy Somerville and Richard Coles

The aftermath

developed their musical chops and their cover of Never Can Say Goodbye was a heartfelt tribute to the day the Commune was broken up, the lucky escaped to make their way in the world and the unlucky were gunned down or arrested. The end was pretty heinous. In the week of May 21st-28th, nearly 20,000 Parisians were killed and 25,000 arrested. Thousands of the arrested were executed and about 4,000 deported to the province of New Caledonia (out near Australia somewhere). Many of the deported were treated appallingly, tortured and abused. The bad feeling among the poor of Paris as a result of the events of 1871 remained for many years and was only slightly assuaged by the outcome of an inquest into the treatment of the (now returned) deported that published its findings in 1881.

So, that was that. Mais ce qu’il était? Well, it was the first mass working class revolt, which could have become a full on revolution. It was the working classes demanding to be listened to, claiming rights for themselves, refusing to be treated as an afterthought and demanding equality of rights. It was a full on fuck you to the establishment that may have been quashed at the time, but was not forgotten and bore the seeds of later revolutions and the violence they contained. Violence is never right, but here’s the thing; if you’re happy to kill people for standing up for their right to be treated like a human being, you should never be surprised if those people are just as happy to kill you when they have the upper hand. Vive l’esprit de la Commune!

Today is the birthday of young Marvin Humes who is a singer in a boy band called JLS which apparently stands for “Jack the Lad Swing” (Sweet mother of god!). Now, normally I’d have no time for this sort of fly-by-night outfit with their vaguely ear-wormy tunes

Marvin likes to protect his penis while he sings

that are at once lingering and instantly forgettable, but then the band took part in a great sketch on this year’s Comic Relief and I decided that young Marvin deserved a happy birthday on the back of that. Not least because JLS are going to do a record with former Prime Minister Gordon Brown and indeed went out for a pint with him after the recording of the sketch.

I mean, it’s music, Jim, but not as we know it. It’s all X-Factor (American Idol, etc) type shite that in many ways is killing real creativity and making Simon Cowell more rich, more powerful and more unbearable with every passing second.  In 1971 at the height of the Vietnam War, Marvin Gaye released What’s Going On? In 1981 with British cities erupting in riots and the economy in the toilet The Specials released Ghost Town. The Falklands War brought us Shipbuilding from Elvis Costello. Now? We have Everybody in Love. Still, it’s not Marvin’s fault that he’s pretty and vacant and he did some good stuff for charity (and his own profile) on Comic Relief, so la!

Happy birthday, young man. Look after your money because this won’t last forever and do try to enjoy the ride.

 

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March 17th

On this day in either 461 or 493 a chap by the name of Patrick died. Today we know him as Saint Patrick and his feast day is generally celebrated by people getting mortal drunk and dressing like escapees from Planet Green. But what of the man himself, what do we really know about him?

Some people have no shame

The answer is quite simple: not much. One or two things we do know. Probably. The first is that Patrick was probably around later in the fifth century than originally thought. The second is that his story is almost certainly a mixture of stuff about him and another chap who was around before him called Palladius who’d also ventured over to Ireland to get them all Christianised. Amazingly, for someone who lived such a long time ago and who many people think was a made up person anyway, there are two surviving letters which historians are 99.9% certain were written by Patrick himself. It’s from these that we get the definite things we know about him. These are: he was born in Britain to pretty well-to-do parents. He got kidnapped at the age of 16 and taken to Ireland where he was a slave to a Druid chieftain. After six years of being a slave, during which time he did an awful lot of praying, he claimed that God’s voice told him to go in search of a boat that would take him back to Britain. God was right about finding a boat, although it was a bit rough of him to have the boat 200 miles away from wherever it was that Patrick was in Ireland (some think Mayo others think Antrim, one thing is sure; he was definitely in Ireland). Then he had a bit of hassle getting on to the boat having no money or anything to recommend  him, but he got on, had a bugger of a voyage back to Britain – this I can well believe having sailed from Holyhead to Dun Laoghaire, the Irish Sea is an utter bastard – and eventually found his way back to his family.

He didn’t stay with them for long. He had a calling that took him to France where he joined a holy order and became a priest and probably a bishop too, before he decided that he needed to go back to Ireland to get all proselytizing on their Druid asses. The pope agreed and off he went on a date that no one can agree on. Once there, and with the advantage of speaking the Celtic tongue, learned while he was a slave, Patrick set about finding friends, avoiding angry Druid chieftains, preaching and converting the remaining heathens on the island. But here’s the important thing to remember. He wasn’t the first – Palladius had been there before him – he wasn’t the last and he was far from unique in his ministry. I guess the question is, if all of this is true (and it is) why is Patrick this big old saint and no one gives a wet fart for the others. There’s a simple answer for this as well; no one really knows. He was a man of strong belief, who went to Ireland to ensure that Christianity thrived and somewhere along the way he got to be a saint.

And then there are the legends. Driving the snakes out of Ireland would have been pretty easy, given that there were none, you or I

Cheer up!

could have done it. Nowadays we realise that this was probably metaphoric and referred to his driving Druidism (one symbol of which is a serpent) out of Ireland. Of course he didn’t do this all alone, but never let the truth get in the way of a reasonably dull story. The whole shamrock thing. Now, we can never know if he did use it to teach the trinity, but if he was canny he may well  have done. The shamrock was pretty important to the Druids as well, it represented life, death and rebirth, so by appropriating it for a Christian use he’d have been giving them a link to their beliefs and making the task of conversion a little easier. And there we have it. There are less pleasant stories that accompany Patrick, stories that he felt compelled to deny in his letters. Rumour had it that Patrick wasn’t averse to a little payback and the odd sale of indulgences and the like. We only know about this because he mentions it. If he did get involved in that sort of thing, he wouldn’t be alone in it, but given the things we do know about him, it seems reasonably unlikely.

So, there it is. Patrick went to Ireland to convert the remaining Druids, but not the whole of Ireland which was pretty Christian already. He wasn’t unique, but for some reason not long after his death he was declared a saint. Getting to be a saint in those days didn’t need to involve canonisation and Patrick, although recognised in the list of saints, has never been canonised. His feast day became a  holy day of obligation for the Irish back in the 17th century, an Irish public holiday in 1903 and before that the first St Paddy’s day parade took place in  – where else – New York – in 1762. Nowadays it’s celebrated all over the world and people do the oddest things. Chicago’s been dying its river green for Paddy’s day since the 1960s and for the past two years the fountain at the White House has been green as well. And of course people dress like giant leprechauns and get stocious. He probably wouldn’t approve, but to be fair he’s hardly the point anyway. Hail Glorious St Patrick and all that, onwards and upwards to a man who really excites my passion.

Today was the birthday of probably the greatest dancer ever to have lived. His name was Rudolf Nureyev and when he defected to the west in 1961 he was a new Russian revolution, this time in the world of ballet.

Did I mention that he was beautiful?

A brief outline of Rudolf’s life would make a great pitch for a film, but no one would want to make it because it seems a little unreal. Nureyev was born on the Trans-Siberian express, he saw his first ballet at the age of eight and decided that was his future. He battled against poverty, his father’s refusal to allow him to do something so unmanly as dance and with his mother’s connivance learned to dance, took as many classes as he could and finally, at the age of 17, was accepted by the Kirov ballet school. He started ballet far too late to become great, his contemporaries at the Kirov had all entered the school seven years earlier; Rudolf should have been nothing, but he became one of the greatest stars the ballet world has ever known.

He managed this because of his determination, his commitment, his passion and a talent that bordered on genius. All of this lived in a body that was perfection in terms of dance and pretty damn fine whatever way you want to look at it. At this point, dear readers, I will give you a tip. If you like the male form and would like to see what Rudi looked like butt-naked and full frontal, do a Google search with the “safe search” off. There are a few photos there that will show you why he was able to carry himself with such confidence and at times arrogance. Not to put too fine a point on  it, Rudolf was packing heat. To any of my male readers who are at all insecure, please do not follow the above instructions. And now to move on!

Nureyev found a champion in Leningrad in his teacher Alexander Pushkin who recognised the brilliance of the raw dancer in his class. With his help and with Rudolf’s own determination to work harder than most of us could contemplate, Rudolf soon surpassed his contemporaries and was dancing leads with the Kirov ballet. In the years before he defected,  he danced the lead in among others, Don Quixote,  Giselle, La Bayadare and Swan Lake. He also had many fans whose reaction to him was similar to the one that awaited him in the West. Nureyev defected because he realised, when he was asked to go back to Russia for a gala performance, while on tour with the Kirov, that once back he would never be able to leave again and he would be demoted in the company so not able to dance leads. His choice was really very simple.

We all know that he exploded onto the scene soon after his defection in 1961. By 1962 he was partnering Margot Fonteyn at the Royal Ballet, a partnership which would bring the best out of both and crown both their careers. He gave the 43-year-old a new lease of life,

The body

she gave him stability; to each other they were everything. As much as either could earn as a dancer separately – and they were large sums – they could earn more than their combined individual values together so magical was their partnership. You can see just a tiny piece of that in the video I’ve put at the end of this paean to Mr Nureyev. But there was more to him than his artistry as a dancer. Rudolf had an incredibly good memory for anything he saw danced. Because of this he was able to recreate dances he had seen or performed in Russia, some of which had been lost or unknown in the west. Choreography was incredibly important to him and as his career as a dancer developed so did his career as a choreographer. Through this he increased the role of the male dancer in ballet to become more than just a support to the ballerina. He did this for himself of course, but he also choreographed for the male dancers in the corps de ballet and his influence has meant that men now have a far greater role in ballet. He was also interested in other dance forms, taught himself modern dance and modern ballet and incorporated some of this into classical roles. And all the while he danced and danced and danced, probably more than any other professional had before or has since. Cliché time: he was a bleedin’ force of nature!

Rudolf was also a difficult man. Imperious, arrogant, prone to losing his temper. But, for all this, all of his dance partners have spoken of his gentleness, patience and kindness to them. The same was said of him by the dancers under his directorship at the Paris Opera Ballet in the 1980s. His imperiousness was saved for those who didn’t understand the driving force of his life or who got in the way of it. I say that’s fair enough and more of us should be like that!

Nureyev's grave. The carpet is a mosaic copy of one of his favourite Kilim rugs

In his final years, Rudolf was often too weak to dance. He was diagnosed HIV positive at some point in the late 80s. He refused to talk about it or believe that it was as serious as it was. Of course he tried the drugs that were around, but to no avail. He died in 1993 at the age of 54, far too soon and far too young.

You can all breathe a sigh of relief now because I’m nearly finished. I just need to say happy birthday to the man I first saw dance on the television when I was a little girl and who I fell in love with. I wanted to dance like the women he danced with, but most of all I wanted to dance with him. I never got to see him live and I’ve never got to dance like his partners, but in my dreams I do. Thank you for the beauty, Rudolf, thank you for the dreams and happy birthday you wonderful, crazy Tartar!

 

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March 12th

On this day in 1947 Truman set forth his policy that became known as the Truman Doctrine. Unfortunately, the Truman in question was Harry and not Capote. A Truman Capote Doctrine would have been enormous fun and probably have consisted of cocktails, fine frocks and suits, gossip and illicit drugs. Harry’s consisted of giving money to Greece and Turkey to make sure they didn’t become all communist and shit.

 

Churchill and Truman discuss the fact that Stalin has just farted

What we’re basically looking at is the beginning of the Cold War and all the paranoia that went with it. Greece and Turkey were looking particularly worrisome at this point. Stalin demanded partial control of the Dardanelles, the US and the UK really didn’t want this happening, so the US  – the UK were skint – gave the Turks $100 million in economic and military aid to ensure that Stalin was left with nothing. The problem in Greece was a civil war which was pitting the internationally backed government against communist rebels. Now, the rebels weren’t getting aid directly from Stalin – I’ll come back to those reasons in a moment – but from Tito who was another communist in Yugoslavia. The UK had been  helping the Greek government out but had to stop when they ran out of readies, so once again the US stepped in, gave them $400 million to stop them falling under the sway of Uncle Joe.

 

Harry’s doctrine went on to become a central pillar of US foreign policy throughout the period of the Cold War.  If there was a sniff of somewhere getting a bit to far to the left they’d intervene with aid or might. Communism was seen as a sort of domino effect; if one country went, its neighbours were sure to follow. One might see it as a grand policy all about protecting democracy and making the world a safer place. To be fair, the USSR under Stalin was hardly a bed of roses, although it was a bit thorny (yes, you may groan, I am), but there was one factor that the US seemed not to comprehend or maybe they were just ignoring it for reasons one can only wonder at.

The factor in question was Soviet might. If you know anything about WWII – and let’s face it, it’s hard not to given that every other documentary on the “Hitler Channel” is about the bloody war – you’re probably aware that the USSR was pretty much fucked by it. Nearly a whole generation of young men were annihilated, there was famine, there was want and there was an awful lot of need. Soviet might at this point in time was a joke. Stalin could no more have taken over the free world than he could have forgiven someone for getting his agitprop wrong and writing something that was anti-Stalinist. Either the US didn’t know this, or they did and acted in the way they did anyway.

Why would someone want to do that? Well, WWII had got the US out of the depression, but without the war maybe it would all go

The other Truman Doctrine

wrong again? Unlikely, but why take the chance. Of course a real war, going on all the time, would be horrid, but the Cold War sort of allowed us to be at war but not at war and to reap the benefits without having to put up with actual death and destruction. It wasn’t only the US who saw this; the USSR were quick to catch on to the economic benefits of the industrial military complex as well.  Now, I’m a dreadful old cynic and they were probably all just scared of each other and none of of them were thinking about money and might and being big ole Superpowers and all that, but its worth having a tiny bit of a think about.

 

As is Truman Capote’s non-existent Doctrine. He was, as he said himself “top banana in the shock department”, so he’d likely have had us doing unspeakably filthy things with only the alcohol et al to take the blame for our lack of morals, but I’m sure it would have been an awful lot more fun than building tens of thousands of nuclear missiles and spending decades being afraid of people who were a bit different. Booze not Bombs!

Today is the birthday  of a chap called Peter Doherty. If you care to peruse his wiki page, it will tell you that he is most famous for co-founding The Libertines with Carl Barat. This is obviously horse-shit as he is most famous for being a sweaty oleaginous smack-head who once, and we will never know how he managed it, got to be Kate Moss’s boyfriend.

To be fair to the scabby-faced fool, some of the music he produced with The Libertines is quite good, but Mr Doherty thinks of himself as a musical genius and some sort of reincarnation of William Blake; he is not. He has written poetry in blood, gone on about Albion in an attempt to make himself seem more Blake-like, got told off for driving too fast, without a licence, without insurance and with drugs in the glove compartment and somehow succeeded in making the wearing of a greasy pork-pie hat atop a filthy dirty head of hair

I don't fancy yours much

quite the thing.

 

Apparently Pete’s not as much of a junkie as he used to be, which as resulted in him getting a bit porky and sweaty, which better suits his face. He thinks he looks like a cherub, when in fact he looks like the slow kid at the back of the classroom who had a constant cold sore.

As I write each paragraph, I’m wondering if I can find something nice to say about Pete the poseur. I don’t think it’s going to happen. I’m all for rebellion and life as art and expression and daring to live close to the edge. I just don’t think that getting all smacked and cracked up as a rebellion is that clever and therefore see Mr Doherty as nothing more than a dough-faced buffoon.

Anyway, yada yada etc. Happy birthday Buffoon Boy. You forgot that you have to show that you have the talent before you piss it up against the wall and die young leaving everyone feeling bereft, but nobody’s perfect.

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February 21st

On this day in 1848 a very small pamphlet that was to have a very big influence was published. It was The Communist Manifesto and its authors were Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. For those who haven’t read it, and you really should give it a go because unlike

Karl was a martyr to his bum-grapes

Das Kapital by Mr Marx, it is not eleventy billion pages long, here is a brief outline of its contents.

It sets out its stall in the introduction, where the authors state that the governments of Europe are scared of communism (“a spectre is haunting Europe”) and that opposition parties are accused of being communist by ruling parties and more mainstream opposition parties accuse slightly more radical parties of being communist and … basically “Communist!” is the bad word to use on those people you not only disagree with, but whom you also want to discredit. Of course that sort of stuff doesn’t happen any more and  no one, for example, calls Barack Obama a socialist. Oh.

Four sections follow on from the introduction. They look at the bourgeois and proletarians, wherein the bourgeois rid the world of slavery and serfdom and turn free men into wage slaves with no certainty or security in their lives; proletarians and communists, wherein the proles realise that we are all communists if we are not the ruling class; socialist and communist literature, wherein Engels and more specifically Marx flick Vs at Socialist ideas of reform and say “Das ist schieße!”; finally, they present us with the position of the Communists on various opposition parties, which is the most outdated part of the pamphlet, dealing as it does with the situations in various European countries at the time of writing.

A little bit of context. 1848 was a pretty out there period in European history, known now as the year of revolutions with France starting the whole thing and many other countries getting all “Yeah, fuck off and stop oppressing us, you oppressors!” So, there was a lot of fear of radicalism amongst the ruling classes and the Manifesto was pretty much tuning into this, feeding off it, and scaring the pants off of quite a few mustachioed overlords.  That said, as we know, there weren’t any communist or even socialist revolutions at the time. They were far more bourgeois and capitalist in nature, but as Sam Cooke sung, many years later, a change

Engels won "Beard of the Year" for five years running in the 1860s

was gonna come. The Manifesto wasn’t so heavy on detail of how the proletariat would rise up and bring about the classless society, mostly because Marx, especially, was a thinker and not a doer, but it was important and still remains so, despite what we might class as the failure of communism in the 20th century. Er, at this point I could write a long and detailed refutation of the communist nature of those communist states that all started falling over in 1989, but while I am a genius who loves to share my big ole brain with you all, I have more sense than to bore you all rigid with my opining  on the necessary basis for a true communist revolution, the problems inherent in skipping over the necessary capitalist revolution, and totalitarianism 101. Let’s move on instead to a quick look at the lads Marx and Engels before wrapping this baby up.

Many lesser wits have pretended that they thought Karl was one of the Marx Brothers. This isn’t even a little bit funny and anyway, as true giants of intellect know, he was the grandfather of Groucho (but not the others, who were in fact foundlings) and it was his lack of humour and lifelong battle with haemorrhoids that inspired Groucho to seek out a career in comedy. The Marxes managed to cover up their controversial antecedent, but there are many glimpses of their grandfather’s influence in their films. Duck Soup, for example, is an obvious and not very well disguised allegory on the corruption of the ruling classes (Mrs Teasdale), the tyranny of leaders who aspire to ape the role of the ruling class (Rufus T. Firefly) and the manipulation of the good proletariat (Chico and Harpo), who seek for nothing but fairness and equality. Other things that we know about Grandfather Karl are that he had a large and bushy beard which was generally stained with Heinz tomato soup, was fond of criticising Hegel and loved a bit of Kant, and he had a preternatural fear of Dachshunds after being mounted and sexed by one as a young child.

Engels is more of an enigma. He always put Marx first, pretty much denied how influential he was in his collaboration with Marx, despite the fact that  he had undertaken a more serious investigation into the lives of the poor in Britain, and that he too had a large and rather splendid beard. Engels managed his family’s factory in Manchester in order to fund Marx’s research, even though he hated being a bourgeois, the very type he despised most, and eventually went to live in Primrose Hill in London where, when jaded by too much politics, he would party with the likes of Kate Moss and Sadie Frost.

These were the two men who wrote what was undoubtedly, whatever your political affiliation, the most important political document yet written. It was certainly blinkered as to the nature of humanity’s ability to fuck things up to the nth degree, a little too utopian and unwilling or unable to foresee possible dystopian consequences, but right, left and centre have all been influenced by the words of these two German chaps who knew that in order for change to happen, the workers of the world had to get down, get with it, and unite.

Today is the birthday of actor and reformed gak-head, Kelsey Grammer, famous for playing the snobby and erudite psychiatrist Frasier for far more years than he really should have. To be fair he was rather good at it and it is difficult to know where Frasier ends and Kelsey Grammer begins. It is, however, clear that, good as he was, he was often upstaged by Eddie the dog who was utterly adorable in ways which only served to highlight the pretensions of Frasier and his brother Nile Rodgers, who was famed for being the greatest dancer.

Put it away!

Since the end of Frasier, Grammer has worked pretty consistently in television, most notably voicing Sideshow Bob in The Simpsons, but it’s fair to say he’s been more famous for his private life, which has often consisted of him being drunk, taking drugs, and marrying women who used to work in porn and then divorcing them. He has recently been seen snogging  his new fiancée and showing off his torso, which has not been a good look for him. Dr Frasier Crane would not approve.

All of that said, and despite him thinking that John McCain would make a good president, he’s brought a lot of pleasure to a lot of people (even if Eddie brought more), and so it would be too, too ignorant to not wish this slightly washed-up ham a very happy birthday indeed. A note to the not-so-wise, Mr Grammer, shorts and an open shirt are not a good look on a 56-year-old man who has a very distant relationship with the concept of exercise.

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February 20th

On this day in 1933 the US Congress proposed the twenty-first Amendment to the United States Constitution. After fourteen years of having to drink bathtub gin out of teacups, Americans were on the verge of being able to drink legally again.

What do we want? Beer! When do we want it? NOW!

The eighteenth amendment, which had brought in nationwide prohibition of alcohol, was seen by many as a noble cause and became known as the noble experiment.   It was certainly the crowning “achievement” of the Temperance Movement, but noble is as noble does. Those who’d pressed for prohibition saw a future where prisons became factories, the slums were a thing of the past. In short, they were blinkered idiots whose understanding of how society worked could have been written on the back of a very small matchbox with room to spare for the Complete Works of Shakespeare.

As any fule kno, tell people that something is taboo and they want it more and this is even more true of something that people have already had access to and quite enjoyed. Far from bringing about a social utopia the abstinence advocates had predicted, the period of prohibition brought with it more crime, more poverty, more misery and little change in the drinking habits of most Americans. Bars closed and speakeasies opened; legal distilleries could no longer ply their trade, so organised crime took their place and flourished; most importantly, and sometimes lethally so, the quality of unlicensed liquor was uncertain. The rich were reasonably sure to be drinking pre-prohibition standard alcohol. The poor might end up with concoctions that could kill or disable them.

Thankfully for all, the depression, which pretty much fucked over the whole world, served as a catalyst to repealing prohibition. It

Lucky Luciano

Lucky Luciano loved his dog, selling cheap hooch and killing people

was increasingly obvious that the ban on alcohol wasn’t working, in fact was doing the opposite of everything it was supposed to achieve. So FDR and his congress got their heads together and decided that given that poverty and misery were rife, people might as well be allowed to get stocious legally and with less risk to their health.  It took a while from the proposal to the actual lifting of the ban. The Amendment needed to be ratified by the majority of the US states and it wasn’t until December 15th 1933 that prohibition was finally lifted, although people were drinking openly before that date. Some states did not ratify the amendment and remained dry for quite a few years longer. In Kansas public bars were illegal until 1987 and the whole state of Mississippi was completely dry until 1966. One begins to realise why people from that part of the world were so ornery and miserable; bad enough that they had to live in Mississippi, but to not be able to have a few drinks to numb the experience was a blow almost to hard to bear.

So, chin-chin, bottoms-up, cheers and Sláinte! On this day 78 years ago, Americans were allowed to get pissed again!

Today was the birthday of Roy Cohn, but luckily for the world he died in 1986 and his presence no longer pollutes us. Roy Cohn was a lawyer who was closely involved in the prosecution of the Rosenberg trial and afterwards always boasted that they had received the death penalty on his recommendation. So far, so shitty. He later teamed up with Senator Joseph McCarthy to join in his persecution of suspected communists. They also went after any gay men they could find, which was the ultimate hypocrisy for Cohn;

Detritus assuming human form

he was a homosexual man. While (as we  have seen earlier in our investigation of facts) McCarthy was covered in disgrace toward the end of his witch-hunt, Cohn walked away pretty much unscathed. He enjoyed a long career, acting as counsel for people as varied as Donald Trump (hang your head in shame, you bouffanted buffoon) and John Gotti , organisations such as the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York (happy bedfellows, I’m sure we can all agree) and the New York Yankees (bastard idiots), and he was an informal legal advisor to both President Nixon and President Reagan. It’s nice to know that they entrusted their affairs to such an incredible shite of a man.

In his private life Cohn long denied his homosexuality, claiming that while he enjoyed having sex with men he wasn’t gay because he didn’t allow anyone to penetrate him. He had sex with gay men, whom he despised, but he was not gay himself. Which was nice and evidence that he wasn’t just a sleazy lawyer, he managed to be a sleazy and despicable human being as well. AIDS is a terrible disease and no laughing matter, but then according to Cohn he never had it; he had liver cancer. Despite this he did secretly take part in trials for new and ground-breaking AIDS drugs, including AZT, but fortunately they didn’t work and he died in 1986, broke, alone and generally despised. It really couldn’t have happened to a nicer man.

If you want to know more about this vile turd of a man, I can highly recommend Citizen Cohn, in which James Woods depicts him or, even better, Angels of America in which Al Pacino plays a dying Cohn being haunted by the ghost of Ethel Rosenberg. I don’t believe in ghosts, but if I did, I’d like to think that really happened.

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February 10th

On this day in 1355 the first recorded pub brawl in history took place and was known as the St Scholastica Day Riot. But this was no ordinary brawl between a few blokes who’d had a few too many and then got in a fight over someone looking at their pint a bit funny. Oh no.  The whole thing started in the Swindlestock Tavern in Oxford and was started by two Oxford students named Walter Spryngeheuse and Roger de Chesterfield. The la-di-da pair complained to their host, John Groidon that his drinks were shit. He took umbrage at this and a war of words broke out, with many of those words being of the four-letter variety; this wasn’t enough for the posh wee shites. They threw their drinks in Mr Croidon’s face and beat him up and probably pissed on him too, much like their natural descendants, the Bullingdon Club would do centuries later.

This is a scene from the battle of Agincourt, which was not quite as bad as the St Scholastica Day Riot

So far, so minor if totally out of order pub brawl, but there was more to come. The good folk of Oxford were not much enamoured by the behaviour of the “bloody students” at Oxford and there was some retaliation: armed retaliation. At this point the mayor thought it was getting a bit loco in the coco so he went to see the Chancellor and have a bit of a word. It was, on the surface a good move, but talking to the chancellor was like talking to a brick wall. “I think you should really have these rebellious upstarts arrested good John.” he said (the Chancellor’s name was John, as was the mayor’s). “Fuck you, you grubby little oik!” was the Chancellor’s response. It’s easy to guess what happened next, but whatever you’re guessing is probably a little short of what actually took place. Take a deep breath, what follows is pure mental.

Two hundred students who thought it was fine to get stocious, throw beer in a tavern keeper’s face, beat him up and piss on him, went into town, beat up the mayor and anyone who got in their way, braying and waving their stupid floppy hair about all the while. And there was more. The riot went on for two days, during which time 63 students and about 30 townsfolk were killed! While it is at least  small relief that more students were killed than townsfolk, it was utter nutjobbery that allowed it to happen in the first place.  The killing and mayhem was eventually stopped when the wimpy students were routed and the mayor gave in and said “Yeah, those bastards at the university were in the right. They are allowed to do anything they want.” They were and they did.  A special charter was created and every year after that on 10th February, the mayor and his

Medieval students were noted for their small stature

councillors had to march bareheaded through the streets and pay a fine(!) to the university of one penny per student killed; this amounted to 5s 3d and was paid every year until 1825, when finally a mayor said “Fuck this for a game of soldiers! They can whistle for it!”

By this time the Bullingdon Club had been formed and its members were the spiritual ancestors of Messrs Spryngeheuse and de Chesterfield, drinking, puking defecating, micturating and beating up the plebs, the possible gays and anyone who they deemed weaker than them. Of course this sort of behaviour only takes place before they go on to run the country and look down their inbred noses at, and legislate against the oiks who get up to the same sort of stuff, but in less expensive clothes. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

Today is the birthday of Glenn Beck, a man for whom the phrase “utter shitclown” may well have been coined. He is famous for his radio and television shows wherein he rants about communists, socialists and progressives, says that Barack Obama is a racist and gets very shouty about anything at all that doesn’t agree with his far right “beliefs”. Born and brought up a Catholic, he converted to Moronism Mormonism later in life. He is loved by the sort of people who share brain cells with their families on a rota system, as well as cynical Neo-Cons who like the fact that he whips up a big ole ferment about increasingly bizarre conspiracy theories, saving them the job of doing it themselves.

Beck may be doing it all for shits, giggles and money, he may be a buffoon with the learning capacity of  an educationally challenged

Beck's ability to cry like a baby on cue, marks him out as a probable infantilist

amoeba, or he may be a clever bastard who knows exactly what he’s doing. One thing is certain: even at the age of 47 he looks like a corn-fed baby who is always on the edge of throwing a tantrum. He uses this to good advantage by doing a lot of on-air crying. Fuckwits see this as a sincere outpouring of heartfelt emotion; anyone with half a brain wants to give the big blubbering piece of lard something to cry about. It is also worth noting that in the right light he looks like clown-loving serial killer John Wayne Gacy. Probably.

So, it’s his birthday today, he will probably eat cake before hauling his arse onto television to make vile accusations against some minority group or other. Or maybe he’ll go off to his Mormon Temple, boogie on down with the Osmonds before going out in the moonlight to shoot stray dogs. Whatever. There will be no happy birthday to him here, just a steadily raised middle finger and a sneer of pure and utter derision. Fuck you, Mr Beck, and the raggedy horse you rode in on.*

*No horses were hurt in the making of this comment.

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