Tuesday, January 29, 2013

An old story from a great English novelist

Robert Bage died 1 September 1801. He left behind six novels. He was a novelist of ideas and in that respect has been compared to Aldhous Huxley. As a progressive writer he took on many issues of his day: human rights, slavery, the futility of war, the futility of duelling, the lack of provision for education for the poor and the lack of women's rights being among these causes. It is a wonder that most people have not heard of him but the truth is, even though he was one of the best-selling novelists on William Lane's list, he was almost forgotten fifty years after his death.

He wrote at a time of world transition, from 1782 to 1796, and his novels spanned two revolutions. Bage rarely missed an opportunity to use in his works illustrative stories usually with a moral. This link tells the story of Carthage and the Hesperides. It is short and comes from his first novel Mount Henneth (1782). Its purpose was to draw a comparison between England's mistreatment of its colonies, particularly its mistreatment of America, and a fictional plundering of the Hesperides by Carthage, though perhaps not so fictional after all, since before the Punic Wars the Carthaginian Empire covered most of Mediterranean Africa and the city in Libya now called Benghazi was once called Hesperides after the heavenly gardens and those who tended them. It was a city renowned for its beauty.

Today Benghazi is having to fight off another imperialist intrusion into its country. Sadly the culprits are NATO countries defending neo-colonialist oil-magnates. After wars created specifically for the purpose the UK and USA have invested heavily in the theft of oil from north Africa and the Middle East, and spent huge sums of money in defending their ill-gotten gains through private military armies run by evil mercenaries whose personal histories are without a vestige of morality. Bage finishes his short story on Carthage and the Hesperides by writing that "Carthage sent out fleets and armies, and spent as much of her own money in five years, as she had expected to get of her colonies in one hundred."

Thursday, January 17, 2013

The plagiarism of names

Sarehole Mill Yard

The Hungry Hobbit calls itself a sandwich bar but is really a small cafe serving all-day breakfasts and other meals. It is no more than 300 yards from where J R R. Tolkien lived in his childhood years and perhaps 200 yards from Sarehole Mill. Sarehole is thought to be the village on which Hobbiton is based in Tolkien's novels. You might think there is some justification for this small local enterprise taking its name from a fictional Hobbit straight out of the young imagination of a local boy. This article is dedicated to small businesses and concerns which face up to the Goliaths of this modern world.

Saul Zaentz Company (SZC) is a large enterprise specialising in turning good novels into good films. Its big successes are One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Amadeus and The English Patient. It buys up exclusive rights to literary fiction, turns them into films, then brand-names the title, characters, places and other aspects of the novel, before charging any other company that it claims infringes its intellectual property rights. It will only allow other companies to use a name it claims to own under licence. This is what it is trying to do with the Hungry Hobbit on Sarehole roundabout. However brand name laws can vary from country to country and from industry to industry.  In the academic world using fictional names, fictional placenames and texts that belong to another author is considered plagiarism if the source is not acknowledged. What SRZ is doing is akin to buying a degree belonging to another author.

Apparently Saul Zaentz Company bought from United Artists the rights which United Artists purchased from the Tolkien family estate. But it is Warner Brothers that the Tolkien family are pursuing through the courts for extending ownership rights to electronic goods. SZC is a subsidiary of Warner Brothers.

Recently SZC - no laughing now - registered the brand name 'The Shire'. I do not know how long we will have to wait before Birmingham City Council are sued by SZC, unless of course they are already using our money to pay a licence fee to them. If they are not paying a fee I'm really looking forward to this battle. Bring it on.

Monday, January 7, 2013

The cost of maintaining the Falklands

This article of mine was published on Saturday in News Junkie Post, though it might have been early Sunday morning here in the UK. It alarmed me to learn how much we are paying in taxes to defend the few families who live on the Falkland Islands. One Falkland Islander took the trouble to put his/her case against the article and I can see where that person is coming from.

I am a Falkland Islander and I would like to respond to some of the points of this article.
Firstly, the Falkland Islands is not a colony, lets make that completely clear. We have our own democracy and civil service. We are self-governing, meaning we set our own budgets, policies, taxes etc, however Britain helps us with defence and foreign affairs. This neatly leads us on to the nature of the article, quite a misleading one.
The Falklands is hugely appreciative of our defence and we will never forget the people who paid the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom in 1982. But lets make it completely clear (are you reading this Fernando?) the defence is there because of a very real threat. Just under 31 years ago an aggressive nation invaded our islands and forced an administration upon the islanders that was alien and unwanted. That is why the islands need military defence. It is not a conspiracy of Britain trying to invade South America, (which Argentina alludes to), it is not to force us Islanders to be British and it is not to maintain the Falklands, it is purely for our defence (30 years is not a long time and my family lived through the war).
The Falklands and its people would love nothing more to live in peace and not require a military defence, but it is Argentina’s fault for why we have one. Argentina continues to threaten us, maybe not through military means (even though the Argentine Defence Minister did admit that the current British military presence was the only thing that was preventing Argentina moving in) but through economic and diplomatic. Argentina is trying to destroy our economy and force us to hand our home to them.
The Falkland Islanders have human rights, just like anyone else on the planet. We can determine our political, economic, cultural and social future, and we do that now. Under Argentine control, we would not be given the same rights. The Islands would be controlled remotely from Buenos Aries and not by democratically elected individuals like we enjoy now.
Our defence is costly, but we are British citizens facing a very real threat, just because we are only 3,000 strong and live 8,000 miles away means we are not entitled to have our human rights and freedom guaranteed?
I would be the last to deny anybody their human rights, especially with recent abuses in the west, and agree that Falkland Islanders are as much entitled to theirs as we are to ours. Having lived on an island, the Isle of Man, I suspect that the above comment is based in ignorance of the unknown. The Isle of Man has one of the oldest parliaments in Europe, Tynwald, but nobody speaks Norwegian there any more. What's more the last Manx-speaking resident died some years back. Manx is a kind of Gaelic which is still on the school curriculum. For historians it is useful but unlikely to replace English in the short term. When I lived on the Isle of Man anybody who was not born there was called a 'comeover'. It wasn't really racist, more a kind of friendly banter, though you always got some who took it to an extreme.

If residents of an insular island community have only ever known one way of life and only ever spoken one language on a day-to-day basis the unknown looks foreboding, whereas cities like London, or Birmingham, or Buenos Aires are cosmopolitan and places where people of all races and backgrounds have had to get along. I would like to see the Falkland Islands reach a negotiated settlement with the UK and Argentina, to continue to have its own administration, which includes representation from all parties with an interest. My vision is for the Falklands to be a bit like the Channel Islands, where French and English are spoken, except where tax-exiles are not allowed to reside.

However, the whole process of settlement gets off on the wrong foot if Falkland Islanders, Argentinians or British, begin by apportioning blame, as the person who left the above comment does. Any islander in the 20 to 30 age group, that is, the generation on whom the immediate future depends, will have no knowledge of what happened in 1982, except from what older residents have told them. It is a good time to negotiate a peaceful settlement that does not include long-term expenditure from the UK taxpayer and satisfies the needs of Falkland Islanders and Argentinians alike. The Argentinians too should spend their money on improving the infrastructure of the islands if they wish to jointly inhabit them. We in the UK have needs of our own. A negotiated settlement is the only way forward in the long term. I would like to ask the Falkland Islander two questions. Is a negotiated settlement a reasonable proposition? Is it reasonable to ask the UK taxpayer to continue to fund Falkland households to the tune of £90,000 every year?