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800 years and still trying to get it right…

The Greeks get a lot of credit (that’s the ancient ones, not the current crop, who couldn’t get credit off a loan shark moonlighting from Wonga.com) by which I mean that they are frequently praised for their radical ideas and enlightened attitudes, not to mention the fact they invented all sorts of cutting edge technology and pioneered everything from philosophy and medicine to sport and open sexuality.
But if there’s one thing that they really are the godfathers of, it’s democracy.

The first historical reference to proto-democracy is widely thought to be from sixth century Athens (508 BC is the generally accepted date of adopting the system) and their society seems to have been run with at least a token attempt to involve ordinary people in the decision-making process.

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Cleisthenes – “Democracy, yep, my idea.”

Which isn’t to say that other societies didn’t have the same idea.
Star of the original superhero epic, Gilgamesh, (who I have written about before) didn’t wield the same autocratic powers that many of his contemporaries bestowed upon themselves, instead preferring a more consultative form of rule, nearly 1500 years before the Greeks tried it.

Then there were the Indian republics (or “ganas”) which were active at almost the same time Cleisthenes was having his big idea in Greece. They were governed by a monarch, but in concordance with a council of free men who could speak out on issues that affected the common people.

And then of course, there were the Romans.
Their common citizens (the “plebs”, as they were collectively known) were allowed to weigh in on topics that concerned them, at least until Octavius got all full of himself and made himself emperor in 27 BC. After that, things took a bit of a dive, democracy-wise.

But it’s not just the ancients who should be getting all the plaudits for attempting to make the world a fairer place to live in.
As far back as the 9th century, the Isle of Man set up the Tynwald, which still has the honour of being considered the longest sitting continuous parliament in the world.
Not far behind are the Icelandic Allthing, set up in the tenth century, along with the fabulously named Thing of all Swedes in, you guessed it, Sweden, which ran from the early 11th century onwards.

Which brings me to us, the English.
I know, I know, we’re quite keen on taking credit for being at the leading edge of world events (winning wars, beginning industrial revolutions, enslaving millions to an empire, inventing cricket etc..) even when it’s not always strictly accurate, historically speaking. But I think we have a pretty reasonable claim for bringing fair play and democracy to the modern world.

Twice, in fact.

2015 is the eight hundredth anniversary of the “grand charter” drawn up by King John, the document that was meant to remove absolute power from the monarchy and give the common man a say in the running of the country, The Magna Carta.
All of which would have been very laudable, if it wasn’t for the fact that His Majesty was, not to put too fine a point on it, a complete bastard.
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King John – “Who are you calling a bastard, you peasant?”

I’m sure John’s historians would have us believe that the idea of a people’s charter was brought about by a beneficent monarch who wanted his subjects to take some control over their lives, largely for their own good, but sadly this wasn’t even close to being the case.

Because to say that John was a good king, with his subjects’ best interests at heart, would not only be hugely inaccurate, it would also be missing the opportunity to use words like “sadist” and “greedy megalomaniac”.
Here was a man who thought nothing of having his nephew murdered; of sexually preying on the wives and daughters of his closest allies in the nobility; of starving to death the family of a formerly close companion and, last but by no means least, using prohibitively high taxes to keep his baronial landowners in check.
These same barons, fed up with paying out massive levies to the king, finally forced him, in 1215, to draw up the Magna Carta, revoking his right to rule with absolute power.

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The Magna Carta, yesterday.

But as we know, absolute power corrupts absolutely and, barely two months later, John went to Pope Innocent III, who used a papal bull to reverse the charter, claiming it was “illegal, unjust, harmful to royal rights and shameful to the English people”.

What the “English people” thought of this move went unrecorded, although I suspect there was a fair amount of plebian grumbling about backhanders to the Vatican at the time.

The good news (for everyone but the king) was that within a year, John was dead, either from dysentery or, if you choose to believe the contemporaneous rumours, from poisoning by an unhappy nobleman. Yet it took another decade for his successor, his son Henry III, to reinstate the charter that his father had abortively introduced.

Indeed, on John’s death in 1216, a monk called Matthew Paris – in those days, monks often doubled as sort of early journalists – said of the king;
“Foul as it is, Hell itself is made fouler by the presence of John”
So it’s fair to say he was not a popular man, by any standards.

But on the other hand, he did give us the blueprint for a society that makes us (theoretically) all equal under the law, including royalty.

So when somebody tells you that we should thank Good King John for providing us with equality and enlightenment, take it with a pinch of salt and remember that many rulers had attempted to give the same thing to their subjects, often with greater tolerance and integrity, many hundreds of years previously.

 
7 Comments

Posted by on June 16, 2015 in Blogging, Humour, News, Social comment, Video

 

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Tenuous Tina and her Lynx of love…

Those of you who have been reading this nonsense for long enough may remember that I did my 2012 end of year review in the form of The Internet Nobody Awards, or TINA’s as I like to call them, which I bestowed upon my favourite stuff from last year.
TV, film, music, gigs, and blogs were all put through my rigorous rating system (all the rules of which are a closely guarded secret, to prevent me having to make them up them falling into the hands of unscrupulous bookmakers) and a lucky few received a custom made virtual Tina statuette.

Well this year, despite failing miserably to convince a single one of my nominees to attempt a daisy-chain sequence akin to my Tenuous Lynx Award from a few weeks ago, and because I enjoyed doing it, I’ve decided to combine the two.
As I write this I’m still working on the details, but as I’m not really one for following rules, (even my own) I’ll probably just make it up as I go along.

For a start, it isn’t going to be a review of stuff that necessarily has anything to do with 2013 per se, more a list of things that I’ve found and loved in the last twelve months, irrespective of when they’re from.

Make sense?
Well, we’ll see won’t we?

So, without further ado allow me to introduce; (fanfare please)

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As we are coming to the end of 2013, I think it only right that I should pick 13 things that I think deserve this deeply contrived and random accolade.
Of course each one should once again be connected to the next by 7º of separation and all the links should be stuff that I like.
With any luck, when the predictably dreadful festive TV kicks in, this list will give you a pre-loaded store of entertainment to fall back on between the few decent films and acceptable one-off Christmas specials that might just sneak in when the schedulers aren’t looking. (I have a feeling this may take more than one post)

But where to start?

I think it’s only fair that Tina herself finally gets some credit. Tina Weymouth that is, for it is her head that adorns the gleaming statuette I created last year.

So;
Tina Weymouth played bass in Talking Heads, who made the greatest film document of a concert of all time, Stop Making Sense, and you can watch the whole movie right here.
David Byrne from Talking Heads made My Life in a Bush of Ghosts with producer-boffin extraordinaire, Brian Eno.
Eno has worked on albums by artists as diverse as U2, Coldplay, David Bowie and James.
James and the Giant Peach is a children’s book by Roald Dahl, who also created and introduced Tales of the Unexpected which scared the crap out of us every week when we were kids.
One thing that’s always unexpected is The Spanish Inquisition
…which is a Daft sketch by Monty Python, who were famous in the era of Punk.

Which brings us to the first arbitrary highlight of my year, Daft Punk’s album Random Access Memories.

So there you have it, the start of a rather unconventional look back at some of the cool things from my year.

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Hope you approve of at least some of my recommendations.
I shall endeavour to provide you with more cultural gems each day in the lead-up to the holidays.
A virtual advent calendar of audio visual delights will be my present to you, lovely readers.

So stay tuned for more from Tenuous Tina and friends, or yule be sorry…

 
4 Comments

Posted by on December 10, 2013 in Arts, Blogging, Films, Humour, Music, Tina awards, TV

 

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Spamble on…

It won’t be long now before the festive-TV-special season is upon us. 
We’ve already had our appetites whetted by the 50th anniversary Dr Who film, Matt Smith’s penultimate outing as everyone’s favourite, increasingly quirky, timey-wimey alien cosmic wanderer, before the role is taken over in the traditional Christmas one-off episode by the brilliant Peter Capaldi, best known for his incandescently vitriolic turn as the monstrous Malcolm Tucker in Armando Iannucci’s scathing political satire, The Thick Of It.

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Peter Capaldi -“F**k the Daleks, F**k the Cybermen and F**kity Bollocks to the Ood”

But that’s not the only classic series due to grace our screens once more over the Christmas holidays.
One of the original founders of the new wave of British alternative comedy in the ’70s and ’80s, Rowan Atkinson, has revealed that he will revive what is arguably his greatest role, the various incarnations of Edmund Blackadder in a one-off special which will include the first in-depth interview with Atkinson about his years playing the devious scoundrel through history.

As if that wasn’t enough, the Godfathers of surreal British humour, the surviving members of the Monty Python team, have announced (at a press conference in the theatre currently showing Python-inspired musical, Spamalot) that they are writing a new live show for next year at London’s O2 arena.

Eager though I am to see new material from these giants of comedy, (I feel confident that there will be a DVD tie-in) I doubt they will manage anything as memorable as this national treasure of a sketch, still as unfathomably hilarious now as it was when I first remember seeing it as a kid.

And while we’re on the subject, something else which seems to have become more prevalent the nearer we get to the holidays is the other, less welcome sort of spam.
I am of course talking about the electronic variety, as opposed to the type celebrated at the almost certainly bonkers Spam Museum in America.

I have a filter that is supposed to deal with the badly translated, incomprehensible robot-generated comments that are so obviously trying to entice me into checking out a “very big fun website”, buying one of the “ultra discrete male enhancement devices” from an extensive online catalogue, or investing my money in get-rich-quick opportunities involving everything from timeshare apartments in Bulgaria and Nigerian lottery scams, to distinctly sinister pyramid selling schemes that appear to originate in Thailand.
But my spambot seems to have become rather lenient of late and more gibberish is slipping through the Net.

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Even as I write this post, another poorly worded pseudo-compliment arrived through the ether;
“It’s going to be ending of mine day, but before finish I am reading this great article to increase my know-how”

Now, given that said article is a story about youthful alcohol and weed-fuelled parties, resulting in Zippy falling over a wall and breaking his arm, I can only assume that my latest spammer wants to increase their knowledge of how to become a drunken idiot and get tips on creative ways of injuring themselves.

I fail to see how any of these virtual mailshots of mangled grammar could possibly persuade anyone that they were written by people who could read English written by someone who had read the article human beings, let alone convince them to part with hard earned cash.

Does anyone fall for this nonsense?
Well I pride myself on not getting conned by these Internet Shysters, but as I recently discovered, even that has a downside.

I received a comment on a post a few days ago from someone purporting to be a “new blogger” who had yet to post anything and who wanted me to contact her via Skype.
This unusual request, coupled with her (I thought) suspiciously over-French name, Monique Le Roux, which reminded me of something from ‘Allo ‘Allo, along with the absence of any evidence of a blog, convinced me I was being spammed.
So I was very cagey about doing anything except suggesting she get in touch via Facebook or joining BlogCatalog.com,

It wasn’t until the next day when I got an email from Miss Le Roux, proudly containing a link to her lovely new blog, that I realised what a fool I’d been.
So Monique, if you’re reading this, please accept my apology for mistaking you for a stereotypical comedy French maid intent on selling me something and allow me to welcome you to the blogosphere.

Spam’s off.

(“Internet Spam” cartoon by Ho)

 

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