Wednesday, 28 May 2008

Let's mount an expedition?

At the most recent meeting of the Diogenes Club our sedentary wonderings and epicurian excesses made me think, when did we last actually discover anything new.

Or do I mean old.

For example, no-one apparently has found the remains or tomb of Temujin, better known as Genghis Khan, (1162- 1227) the legendary Mongol empire builder. This surely could be a task for at least some desk research, if not an expedition to garner some treasure, at least in the form of his DNA.

An excuse might be that it would be an expedition into oil bearing territories that might be of use to Western and Eastern governments seeking new plunder and/or old myths to exploit as we near a scenario of “peak oil” when we will be looking for new connections and alliances based on any fragment of similarity.

For we are all brothers. And sisters. When the oil runs out.
This phenomenon of helping those in peril seemed to operate with the recent earthquake in nearby China. We need to exploit our connectedness.

But I note that the director of the most recent Genghis film was thrown out of Mongolia for failing to get the record straight. Genghis Khan, the Master of the Blue Wolf, is revered there. Artistic licence is one thing, exploitation another, but our common heritage needs emphasis in troubled times.

And the Diogenes Club has always wanted to pay homage to the oral tradition, not just by academic training, but by instinct, for whilst error and falsehood may be repeated, so too may truth kept alive at the knee of ones ancestors and the traces they leave behind in our memories.

Millions of people (some 16 million males at least,) carry the Y chromosome unique to Genghis Khan, just as certainly as we know he was responsible for the violent deaths of 18 million people in his conquests.

As beachhutman I, even, apparently share this genetic lineage, so I felt I should explore this birthright that I share with so many.

That is one man in every 200, never mind the female descendants (who pose problems of evidence for the geneticists).

Genghis Khan was a slave once. I hate slavery. My real name, Tim Baber, given to me by my parents aware of this tradition, both reveals and conceals a custom any such connection is worthy of even only idle consideration.

Personally I have always believed the milkman is a useful antidote to such harpings, but DNA can now reconstitute a tortuous trail over the centuries. And with milkmen numbering perhaps 1 in 200 men (I made that up) this might explain their calling, for whilst Khan had many wives, he was enthusiastic in his attentions to other women. Milkmen share this trait by tradition. I share this trait. Now we know Y.

There are arguable links of lineage between Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan, Tamurlaine, Babur and Vlad the Impaler. The trail and my family’s research gets a bit fuzzy thereafter, despite the evidence of some 16, 17 or 18 million males (that is, depending on when the research was validated).


This offers some confirmation and how testing was achieved dispelling much doubt and ignorance, which are equal enemies of progress and illumination. Of course, it might cost you over £200 to get this particular satisfaction in the form of a DNA test. And even then Diogenes might ask, So What?

After most conquests in which the men were slaughtered the most beautiful women were kept for the Khan ensuring little doubt that the mechanism worked. There is some doubt of course about his DNA, his grave has yet to be discovered, hence the Diogenes efforts being mustered to establish some veracity here.

This is in the face of some secrecy in the past. Legend records the escort of the body killed anyone that strayed across their path, so as not to reveal the burial place.

The favourite location is apparently today Mongolia. I am watching events closely, and gathering research and contacts to grace my desk; This literature search is prior to a bid to the Diogenes Club to fund future expeditions.

Kubilai Khan was Genghis’s great-grandson and he managed to add 30 virgins to his harem each year, so a patrilineal pattern would emerge, wouldn’t it.

Despite that bald fact it used to be said a virgin (a woman) carrying a bag of gold could walk from one end of his empire to the other and remain completely unmolested.

On the other hand he did slaughter 18 million lives to establish his own progeny. He is quoted as having said:

“The greatest happiness is to scatter your enemy, to drive him before you, to see his cities reduced to ashes, to see those who love him shrouded in tears and to gather into your bosom his wives and daughters”.

Did I say he was my role model? Well the bit about others being shrouded in tears seems unnecessarily cruel.

I suspect the later introduction of Buddhism to Mongolia may have been a mixture of softening warlike tendencies and social engineering, and guess what, I would be right, according to one source I have consulted.

Various diseases and attempted monkish serfdom has had a part to play too, according to the same source, but here I am erring into the realm of politics, conspiracy theories of history and war, we should focus on the DNA, the Khan, and leave the speculation over the genetic contribution to warfare to others who actually do understand such things. This is just a bit of flag-pole waving, you understand, based on a few tantalising glimpses of areas to understand.

Of course Mongolia today is still a place of extremes. Drought can wipe out 25% of the gazelle population in a month, sending 20,000 to face death (becoming entangled recently in the border fence with neighbouring Russia).

Mongolia ‘s population is half nomadic even today, and probably find fences as annoying as I do today, (the damn things limiting my freedom and anyone else’s). I live on an island, what do I want with a fence?

The nomads (literally scratching a living from the earth or their cashmere goats) under this stunning Asian sky face winter temperatures of 40 degrees below zero and if anything things are getting worse year on year for their survival.

At the moment as I write there are 15 wildfires threatening life and property that would destroy everything and anything that has survived this long. Do we read about this in the media here, No! Yet this land needs exploration. It offers much by way of explanation of what we are, what we were, and what we may become.

Now, with the benefits of Range Rovers, satellite imagery and location finding, and modern expeditionary technology, we may even attract sponsors for such a Diogenarian enterprise with the otherwise preoccupied Mongolians.
The focus I suggest, genetic research combined with archaeology could be a skein behind which much could be revealed.

This is very much virgin territory for the West, few encounter this part of the world these days, but as I say, technology is catching up and the Diogenes Club, no slouch in its long history, should consider this question.

The Diogenes Club may have contributed to adventures in the region in the past, some yet to be found in the library, but focusing on establishing the grave of Genghis Khan seems a timely act as old and new superpowers tussle with Mongolia’s past, present and future. It might build us all up and unite us, as he once did with his empire.

Unfortunately there are signs that the treasure for the superpowers are the countries raw materials and global economics are going to pursue a path that results in a tragedy of the commons. This might be something of a rescue dig… a rescue of our common past.

The Diogenes Club seeks to extract not mineral wealth or exploit human labour, but respect the great mans last wishes, that:

” If my body dies, let my body die, but do not let my country die.”

He is, after all, a part of 1 in 200 of just our male population, so if his contribution was a poor one, we are the poorer for copying the evil that he did. We should seek the truth, not so much for any nation state, but to countenance the truth in ourselves. We are his country. We breathe the same air, something the Olympics will experience in Beijing as Mongolia’s savage dust storms are heading that way this month at least.

Of course, the oral tradition Khan’s remains are in today’s Mongolia is not without fresh challenge. Unexpectedly the oral tradition of his strong genetic links with northern Pakistan have been unexpectedly newly proved by the science, so nothing should be ruled out.

These are early days.

A fortuitous article on a similar endeavour that fell into my in box was about nearby Taklamakan. Trust me, you should follow this link,

now that you have laboured through this idle conjecture of mine. Barista is worth some attention, even if they hail from the other side of the world. We are all connected now.

Perhaps that is the real treasure of this piece, and if nothing else my wanderings were to prepare you for this new slant on world history, where NOTHING is what it seems, and EVERYTHING was more once than it now is. The trick is to go back and unravel the past to realise what we have become involved chance and choice.

The Diogenes Club could chose to ignore this subject. This is a chance to pool together not just our genes, our garlic or our wine, but our future, dismantling the fences that will trap us in our petty nation-states.

Genghis demonstrated desire and motivation to succeed, yet sought the failure of others.

He said famously,: "It is not sufficient that I succeed - all others must fail."

The secret is to seek the success of others, for we are all connected and we need to keep our enemies close to ourselves, for they are his sons, and our brothers. They may be our allies in the turbulent times ahead. And as for the daughters and wives, …they too are our sisters, it is just the proof is a little hazy for them, so we should spare them our aggression most especially. I have come to the conclusion overnight that the Y chromosome encouraging conquest and domination needs to be countered by the kinds of kindness Buddhism can inspire in the human heart for the success of others.

Tuesday, 27 May 2008

The Inner Diogenarian

Last month, conversation turned to how many of us had refused to buy a TV set, leading to warning letters and then home visits by sceptical HM Inspectors looking to take us to court for failure to buy the official TV-viewing license. They simply could not believe anyone could survive without watching TV. And of course the newspapers encourage this view by uncritically printing official press releases from Her Majesty’s TV Licensing Inspectorate about the numbers of cheaters, and the endless lies they tell trying to pretend they don’t have a TV. While most people now believe one cannot survive without television, we here at the Club tend to differ in this, as in other things in life. Television today, we agreed, simply does not provide the same inner sustenance, the balance between a comfortable sense of continuity with the past, and exciting new ideas, which we recalled from our youth.
... We were also lamenting how we rarely go out to the cinema anymore, as the sound levels are ramped up to 150 decibels to cover the incessant jingles of teenagers’ mobile phones. Out of this came the idea we should have our own Film Evening. We would set aside an evening to view old films dedicated to the values we support – in short, a simple, better life beyond the horizons of consumerist thinking, and excessive modern bureaucracy.
Pridian suggested stiff-upper-lip British war films celebrating the value of stoicism in times of danger and privation. Dr Phil said we should show vintage British comedies of the sort we all fondly recalled from our youth, evoking nostalgic memories of happier times, before we knew what we now know about the world. There were many of these, and he said he would put up a list of ten [see post below] to help us select one. Zeno, as befits his name (meaning stranger or foreigner), said we should also have the odd foreign film, to which we assented, to demonstrate we were not too insular in our tastes. Beachhutman spoke of how stories featuring trains carried a lot of symbolic traffic, so to speak. And so, on this wave of enthusiasm, it was all arranged.
There would also be a meal beforehand, to sustain what travellers’ accounts used to call “the inner man.” It was Harris of course - trying to stir up trouble as usual - who suggested we have exotic dishes. He reminded us how our Victorian predecessors on expedition would have to eat everything and anything to survive. Indeed this was the test of a true Diogenarian – to live off the land, so to speak, away from civilised comforts, which can require a strong stomach. He reminded us of Buckland, the great Victorian man of science who made it his life’s work to eat one of every species – exotic (panther, crocodile etc) as well as British. (He said the vilest-tasting here was a toss-up between stewed mole and boiled bluebottles.) He also got hold of the heart of Louis XIV, preserved in a silver casket, and ate it for a boast. Harris also mentioned Clarence "Bugs" Birdseye, the American who invented the frozen fish finger, and patented the modern frozen-food industry, via his Birds-Eye Foods. In college he had boasted he would eat any species, and during WWI was sent secretly by the US Government to the British colony of Labrador, where he learned the secret of successful freezing of food from the local Eskimos. He said one could eat anything, demonstrating by trying polar bear, beaver tail, lynx, mice, chipmunk, gopher, packrat, and skunk - the front half of which, he said, was excellent.
Neither of these two show-offs was ever a Club member, and so it was to Harris’s surprise we agreed unanimously. For we knew this would ensure Harris himself would not attend, he being strictly a beefsteak and two-veg sort of fellow, who could never stomach a more adventurous menu. (Sure enough in the event, he left a message saying he could not come as one of his cats was poorly, having swallowed a furball.)
... Thus the evening began with a suitably Diogenarian meal. An outdoors barbecue was planned, but the prospect of rain forced us indoors, where the club kitchen was soon filled with the appetising smells of smoke and burning flesh. For, as a tribute to the other, lesser-known Diogenes, who explored the source of the Nile in classical times, the menu included crocodile-tail steak. Croc tail of course has to be cooked at high temperatures to eliminate any pesky tropical parasites. (And if you’re wondering, it tastes like a cross between fish and pork, and looks like a pork chop, due to the bony spine.) There was also an ale-tasting ceremony to choose from a selection of finest English ales. I believe the winners here were the slightly “hoppy” Hopping Hare and the gingered-up Blandford Fly (actually the name of a notorious local biting fly, to remind us of the discomforts of tropical expeditions).
But of course “the inner man” is not sustained only by satisfying one's innards, but by inner contemplation. So we repaired to the Library, where a projector had been set up to show films in a gap on the wall over the fireplace, between the shelves of oversize rare books. There we watched a thought-provoking film, whose name at present escapes me, due to the after-effects of the ale-tasting. (I seem to recall, before lapsing into post-prandial somnolence, it featured the sight and sounds of some wonderful old steam locomotives.)
All in all, a splendid time was had by everyone who attended, and other such evenings are now planned, with a programme of vintage black-and-white films, to be selected by each member in turn.Hopping Hare, Blandford Fly, and other fine English ales

Saturday, 10 May 2008

Ten Funniest Moments in British Comedy

As I was sitting in my favourite armchair at The Diogenes Club and tucking into a plate of buttered crumpets I heard old Carruthers chortling away. We all looked up from our copies of the Times and and Manton asked him what was up. He said the funniest line he had heard in any movie was from a strange man with a black moustache and a big cigar who had said "I've had a perfectly wonderful evening. But this wasn't it".

Well we all looked at him strangely but then this led us to a club discussion as to what were the top British comedy moments on either the big or small screen. No one could agree so I thought I would record here my own personal top-ten list for posterity. I am sure other members would have a different list. Here are mine in reverse order:

10 Morecambe and Wise
Andre Previn: "You're playing all the wrong notes!"
Eric(menacing):"I'm playing all the RIGHT notes...just not necessarily in the right order!"

9 Kenneth Williams - Carry on Cleo
Infamy! Infamy! They've all got it in for me!

8. John Cleese - Fawlty Towers, The Germans
Fawlty: "You started it............."
German Guest: "No we didn't"
Fawlty: "Yes you did! You invaded Poland!"

7. Monty Python - The Holy Grail
ARTHUR: Does your master want to come with us to search for the Holy Grail?
GUARD: Well, I'll ask him, but I don't think he'll be very keen... Uh, he's already got one, you see.
GALAHAD: He says they've already got one!
ARTHUR: Are you sure he's got one?
GUARD: Oh, yes, it's very nice-a (I told him we already got one)
ARTHUR: Well, um, can we come up and have a look?
GUARD: Of course not! You are English types-a!
ARTHUR: Well, what are you then?
GUARD: I'm French! Why do think I have this outrageous accent, you silly king!

6 Dirk Bogarde - Doctor in the House
The great Sir Lancelot Spratt is asking his students about the time it takes blood to stop flowing from a cut.
Sprat: "You! What's the bleeding time?"
Sparrow: [looks at watch] "10 past 10"

5 Tony Hancock - Twelve Angry Men
Hancock makes an impassioned plea to his fellow jurors.
Hancock: "Does Magna Carta mean nothing to you?... Did she die in vain?"

4 Will Hay - Ask a Policeman
Granddad: "I think I'll have a sweet. Want one?"
Will Hay: "Yes, I'll have a blackcurrant." He pops it in his mouth
Granddad: Spitting out his own sweet, "Eee, blackcurrant!"
Will Hay: "What's the matter? don't you like them?"
Granddad: "No! I always put them back in the bag"

3 Arthur Lowe - Dad's Army
Private Pike has just sung an insulting song about Hitler to a captured U-boat crew.
U-boat captain, "What is your name?"
Mannering: "Don't tell him Pike!"

2 Moore Marriott - Oh Mr Porter!
Will Hay and co. put their watches on on a railway line when the engine starts to role forward and crushes the watches to pieces. Harbottle picks up the crushed watch and holds it to his ear.
Harbottle: "... it's stopped!"

1 Tony Hancock - The Blood Donor
"A PINT? That's very nearly an armful! I'm sorry - I'm not walking around with an empty arm for anybody.”

Sunday, 4 May 2008

The myth of democracy

The local elections were on Thursday but I didn't vote.

I think I am the only member of the Diogenes Club that takes his cynicism to such an extreme. I am quite sure that some of my fellow Diogenarians would frown on my lack of public spiritedness. I can almost hear the tutting from some of the older more established members over their copies of the Times. After all we live in a democracy, don't we? Our fore-fathers died to give us the vote, didn't they? We are part of the enlightened free world, aren't we?

Well actually, no we don't, no they didn't and no we aren't.

I think the realization came upon me only a couple of years ago. Democracy is a myth. It is a fiction put out by a rather successful government marketing machine. The way I came to this conclusion was simple. I realized one day that really we have no say over anything that is done in our name. Whether it was insane road changes, crazy new education policies, tax laws, petrol rises, speed-trap cameras, planning laws, the siting of wind farms, the issuing of ID cards, internet controls, the extension of 42 day detention without charge, removal of the presumption of innocence, removal of the right not to be tried for the same crime twice, going to war with Iraq..... we have no say over anything. No one asks your opinion, no one takes your views into account. That's how it is in our democracy. We can't change any of these things even if we wanted to. All we can do is get rid of people several years too late, and replace them with people just as bad.

According to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights the will of the people is the only authority for government. But the will of the people is never consulted except at a general election. It is what is called a representative democracy which means that it is the will of others that matters not the will of the people.

What our democracy amounts to is this. You get a chance to make one choice every five years between two or three parties that are almost indistinguishable. And that's it. That's the full extent of your democratic power. You can pick Conservative, Labour or Liberal (or some other less likely possibility) and that's the full size of it. In the States its even worse. You only have Republicans or Democrats to choose from.

You're not allowed to decide what happens yourself, you have to pass that power on to someone else to make all the decisions for you. But they never come back to you to ask what you want to happen. They just do what the party tells them to do.That means that whoever you vote for, the government wins every time.

The only opportunity for democratic choice happens in a referendum when the people are asked to express their will. But time and again these are promised and then refused. Take the EU. Entry into the EU required signature to the Maastrict Treaty. Most were against it. A referendum was refused. More recently the Labour Government promised a referendum on the recent Lisbon Treaty - the EU Constitution under another name. A referendum was refused, basically on the grounds that the people would have voted against it. And so they went ahead without the will of the people. What use is the vote when the will of the people is ignored? Voting is not an expression of power but an admission of powerlessness.

The fact that the technology now exist for everyone to have a say in the decision making process just make the situation less excusable. In the past representational democracy grew up because you couldn't physically fit millions into a simple voting structure that could be used on every decision made. But with the coming of the Internet that has all changed. It is now possible to easily consult every person about the introduction of every law. Should that wind farm be put in the centre of town? Should we build that motorway through that green belt? Should we go to war with Iraq? Or Iran? Well we can now all be consulted because the technology now makes it possible. But I will tell you something. It will never happen. Why? Because we do not live in a democracy. And the few will never give up their power to the many.

So I didn't vote last Thursday. Voting only keeps the charade in play. The game goes on. If nobody voted then the pretense would be over. So vote for nobody, for nobody represents you.