Is Putin Gay?

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Given all the publicity surrounding the anti-Gay propaganda law in Russia, (which merely makes national a series of local laws already passed in 10 regions of the Russian federation since 2006) it seems quite extraordinary that any Russian biographer would dare to spend time speculating about whether his President is Gay, yet a book by a man called Belkovsky does just that. The idea is not that Putin’s recent divorce is the result of some sort of homosexual fling, but rather that Putin is “latently” gay, spends too much time with his dogs and that this is the result of being the son of an alcoholic. The affair with gymnast Alina Kabaeva is some sort of “beard”. “The small Vladimir,” goes the text, “grew up practically without a father and without the love and care of his parents. He was a withdrawn and grim child. Putin was born the son of an alcoholic two years before his official birth date. His mother moved to Georgia with Vladimir, only for the child to be shunted off to Leningrad a short time later to the couple who would become the official parents of the future president.” It makes one almost sympathetic. Poor fellow. I was two months’ premature, but Putin, says the text, is two years’ premature: I was abandoned and so was he, it seems. So desperate was Putin for a real family that he identified Yeltsin as a father figure and Roman Abramovitch as his surrogate brother.

It seems that Putin spends most of his time with, and reserves all his affection for his two dogs, the Labrador Conny and Bulgarian shepherd dog Buffy. And then the writer goes on to look at his two daughters Mariya and Ekaterina. I cannot quite see where they fit into the story, though. Now, I will not speculate any further than Mr Belkovsky but the idea that Putin is gay sounds almost as far-fetched as the suggestion that Gordon Brown, or Prince Edward or even, God forbid our current Foreign Secretary might be harbouring homosexual tendencies.

There will never be any evidence for a “latent” homosexual tendency anyway unless Putin starts sharing hotel bedrooms. Even then, that would only be evidence of his parsimony. Much the same rumour mill went wild about claims made in the 1960s that the then Pope Paul VI was gay, and the claims have been published in a small book by Franco Bellegrande. Paul VI at the time challenged the claims publicly and demanded a day of prayer for the perceived insult. In fact, what he actually got was a weekend of sniggers. Maybe, Belkovsky suspects Putin has been surfing the internet to whet his curiosity and that his internet history is about to be made public by Edward Snowdon? Somehow, I think this is unlikely. Maybe this story is there to mock all the sporting photo-opportunities, those bare-chested manly poses with fishing tackle in the snow, or maybe the author was thinking, on June 30th last year when Putin signed into law Article 6.21 about the Queen’s answer to her son Hamlet when he asks her if she is enjoying the play, “Methinks the lady doth protest too much.” We shall never know, unless Belkovsky is silenced forever or imprisoned. then we would really smell a rat. That is not going to happen.

 

Anyway, for all that, Putin remains a joy to draw. I will post pictures of Paul VI later- many of the recent Popes have been fun to draw.

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Alternative Comedy

 

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The Young Ones was gross, silly and outrageous written by Mayall and Ben Elton (who went on to doctor “Black Adder”), mixing farce, absurdism and political jibes (“the bathroom’s free, unlike the country under the Thatcher junta”). Of the four main characters, Neil is the easiest to caricature, and was the easiest to bully in the show so maybe that says something. Rick, the Rik Mayall character, is the hardest to define and to draw. He puts forward a series of outrageous views and is generally ignored. So, if Neil is Wendy Craig, the “wife”, then Rik is essentially a reworking of the Nicholas Lyndhurst character in the Carla Lane sitcom “Butterflies”. I think both series ran for about 25 episodes in all, though “Butterflies” seemed to be going on for ever (and I loved it). Strange, the impression both shows made. The “Young Ones” began in the last season of “Butterflies”. There really is no link between them except that both series, whether they intended it or not, are strictly formulaic. I think the father figure in “Butterflies” gets a better deal than the “Mike” character in “The Young Ones”. But on to the formula of the classic family sitcom, Carla Lane added introspection while Mayall added punk anarchy. Very brave to commission the “Young Ones”! Rik Mayall turned up in Black Adder and was tremendous. A fine performer and writer and he will be missed.

Convention for farce is very important. It is about setting up a discipline which can then be broken and leads to confusion, embarrassment and all many of intrigue. With a television series, that convention can be established early on and later episodes are all about manipulating the characters. This is the way Commedia works and more historically the way Roman comedy works too-

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(eg: Plautus or frankly the Sondheim update “A funny thing” which had Richard williams titles or the British TV spin-off “Up Pompeii”). Stock characters with predictable responses to given situations…and just to look back at Rik Mayall, the commedia technique is mostly based on physical violence.

Islamic extremism and mis-use of the word “fundamentalism”

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I despair of broadcasters who use the term “fundamentalism” as a catch all for the types of Islamic extremism that we would all broadly condemn. The problem with words that are vague and also loaded is that they take on a life of their own and pop up all over the place. Today, there is a fairly heated debate about the presence of extremism in some schools in the Midlands. There is a debate about who should take responsibility for this- the home secretary, Theresa May or the Education Secretary, Michael Gove. The shadow Home Secretary points out that the argument involves a betrayal of the principles of Cabinet government and that what is said privately and what circulates in letters between ministers should stay private so that the Government can present a united front on important issues that have been debated. The principle is that when a Minister rejects the consensus position adopted by the Cabinet, then he or she should resign. It is not honourable to take the spat out of the Cabinet room.

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I drew the faces at the top because I was actually interested in lip movement and the reporter on the BBC had the most dynamic lip movement and seemed to be always on the edge of a smile or a gleeful whinny. The shadow Home secretary has one of the longest necks I have seen! William Hague has almost no lips.

Now to the issue about Fundamentalism. This began or was identified in the 19th Century as a branch of extreme Protestantism influenced by German Pietism and that reacted against liberal modernist approaches to bible interpretation. The term “Fundamentalism” became popular in the 1920s. But it emerged from evangelical christianity with a number of different emphases- it was never just a matter of believing that every word in the bible was “literally” true, though the theme of some sort of biblical “inerrancy” dominates the movement. The absolute fundamentalist movement was a reaction to modernism and a retreat to the “fundamental truths” in the written bible. Some scholars would see pre-1962 Catholicism and Orthodoxy as fundamentalist Churches, too and the Society of St Pius X would be a good example of Catholic fundamentalism. What is written down cannot be wrong or interpreted in any other way.

The problem with Fundamentalism and Christianity is that Jesus spoke Aramaic, the Christian Bible was written in Greek, translated first into Latin (the Vulgate) and then into english and other languages at the Reformation. The acceptablity of the books of the bible were decided by councils in the early Church, and as Dan Brown so cleverly (!) explores, there remain copies of some texts that did not get the approval of the Church. Some of the “Apocryphal” books however circulated along with the canonical books and provide for instance all the exciting details of the Christmas story which are found in Greek icons and in Giotto’s frescoes- the ox and the ass, and the presentation of the virgin in the Temple (The Gospel of Pseudo Matthew and the Gospel of the Nativity of Mary). The ambiguity of what was and was not canonical was resolved by the Church. The only way that Protestant Fundamentalism can survive, therefore, is by a careful use of Greek and Hebrew texts or by claims that the English text was itself the subject of direct divine inspiration. This obsession with ensuring the correct texts led to the collection of some of the most important and antique manuscripts but these manuscripts highlight the fact that a single word can change the meaning. They also make it clear that we should never confuse antiquity and authenticity. The two words are certainly not interchangeable when it comes to the study of Christian texts.

As the Twentieth Century developed, Fundamentalists took on some of the more Right-wing political campaigns of America, and there are some, for instance, who see the establishment of the State of Israel as an important political event because it ushers in the final age.

Islam, in contrast to Christianity developed very quickly and the Koran was a complete text at a very early point in the history of the Religion. There has been very little debate about what texts in the Koran are correct and indeed how they should be understood. In this way, Islam is by its nature a fundamentalist religion. To talk about “islamic fundamentalism” is therefore to talk about Islam in General.

But two major developments in Islam happen towards the end of the 20th Century. The first is the power of Wahhabiyism (and its possible link to people like Ayman al-Zawahiri) and the second is the role of The Ayatollah in Iran and the way he “interpreted ” Islam to respond to a specific political situation.

In the 1960s, the Ayatollah Khomeini was exiled to France for 17 years and was exposed to Marxist political ideas there. For him, then, the 1979 revolution was not about a return to “fundamental” principles, but about a rejection of the West and an alignment of Shi’a Islam and iranian nationalism with Shia clerics taking an increasingly political role in the running of the Nation. (Nation-hood is a modern concept) In addition, the concept of “Istishhah” or martyrdom, takes on a nasty interpretation during the Iran-Iraq war and, of course, later with 9/11. Ayatollah Khomeini declared Mohammed Hossein Fahmideh a national hero for his suicide bombing of an Iraqi tank in November 1980. Fahmideh is generally recognised to be the first suicide bomber. Khomeini’s is a serious interpretation, or frankly a reversal, of the very clear condemnation of suicide by the Prophet and in the Koran. (2.195 and 10.56) “Do not throw yourself into destruction” and “It is HE who giveth life and taketh it…” This incident alone is enough to make it clear that whatever term is used to describe the Islamic message put forward by Khomeini, “fundamentalism”, a belief in the literal truth of the written text, it most definitely is not!

Nasruddin or Nasrudin

 

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Nasruddin was the figure in the Richard Williams film  that I discovered in the early 70s. The film changed completely when it became the “Thief and the Cobbler” and the Nasruddin character disappeared. There are various stories about why this happened. Last Sunday Williams simply said that the original story and the original character did not work. Nasruddin, however, is still visible in a crowd scene riding on his donkey (which he rides backwards)… here are some drawings of statues in Turkey- one faintly comic and the other more respectful. He was a real character but he used humour and his stories are laced with unexpected incident and comment. however, Nasruddin turns up in Turkish legend as Nasreddin Hoja and then again in Albanian as Nastrudin Hoxha. I don’t know whether it is more appropriate to see Nasrudin as Turkish or Iranian: the oldest manuscript from 1571 suggests he was Turkish or active in Turkey. When we made the first version of “A torture Cartoon”, it made sense to add a version of Nasruddin because Necati is Turkish

 

and then later when we did “how to be Boss” we did a new design and told one of the many Nasruddin stories. You can find the sequence at about 2.39: “Have you told your wife who is boss in your own house? Don’t worry. She knows!”

 

There is a Pappas illustrated edition of stories which I would love to see. Otherwise, the best editions are those illustrated by Williams himself and the spectacular Errol le Cain

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  • The Subtleties of the Inimitable Mulla Nasreddin, by Idries Shah, illustrated by Richard Williams.

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  • The Pleasantries of the Incredible Mulla Nasreddin, by Idries Shah, illustrated by Richard Williams and Errol Le Cain

Here is a link to the “what is bread?” section in what is left of the Williams film with Kenneth Williams’ voice:

 

It is simply delightful to listen to Kenneth Williams, and Richard Williams version of Nasruddin is so elegant. The Williams character should be spelt “Nasrudin” of course. Apologies.

Tyrion

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I worry a bit that the best character in “Game of Thrones” is about to be killed. Not only the best character but one of the better actors, Peter Dinklage (brilliant in “Find me Guilty”). The immediate reason for this post, however, is the work of Photis Varthis which can be found here (http://www.lifo.gr/team/u13557/48270). Not only is there an icon of Tyrion but just below it, is a Greek icon of Gollum and then Saruman, Eddard Stark and less successfully maybe, Walter White from “Breaking Bad”. Tremendous stuff. What is exciting is that this approach to the traditional icon is quite within the scope of Photis Kontoglou who revived the tradition of Icon painting in Orthodoxy in the 1950s. One of Kontoglou’s projects was the decoration of the Athens Town hall which meant pictures of Socrates and Euripides as well as Alexander the Great.

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The icon style lends itself to historical images, abstracting the characters and imbuing them with still dignity.

Now, there is another reason that I admire the actor who plays Tyrion. At an acceptance speech for an award in the US, Peter Dinklage drew attention to the fate of Martin Henderson who had been picked up and thrown around in Somerset. He was severely injured. Anyway, I wonder where this actor can go next. Certainly there are a number of theatre roles that should be considered- Hamlet is one. I would look forward to such a performance and the star billing would pack the houses as much as Dr Who’s Hamlet did a few years’ ago! While on the subject of “Game of thrones” it is well worth praising the animation of the dragons. It sets the bar very high indeed for cinematic dragons like Smaug. We have come along way from “Dragonheart” which was tremendous as well but the criteria have changed – our standards are simply dealing with the illusion of reality. This is along way from what Disney was doing in the 1930s and a long way from what the great special effects people like Harryhausen did in the 50s and 60’s. The Disney bible of animation is “the Illusion of Life” by Thomas and Johnson and is about believability rather than reality (though it is called “the illusion of life”, that is probably the point: we all recognise it is an “illusion” when we see a 2d Mickey Mouse walking and talking and we know it is not real. Richard Williams said that the beauty of animation and the beauty of art lies in the errors. Computers do not make such errors so with Smaug and all the special effects stuff as well as modern 3d computer-generated animation, we are dealing with something new – we are in the realm of quite an elaborate deceit- it is an art too, but not so obviously I think. I will post something soon about “automatonophobia”, it is very much the stuff of ETA Hoffmann so we are on familiar territory.) – when we see the dragon in “the Hobbit”, we do not need to “willingly suspend our disbelief”, the dragon looks real. In fact, we do not have to do any work at all. We are the passive watchers of a spectacle. I admire it alot but I would prefer to do a bit of work myself at the same time: and back to Game of Thrones- one of the few programmes on TV that I can generally watch without going to sleep, mostly because I never quite know what to expect. I was surprised by the gory end of Oberyn Martell, another excellent character.

Alan Turing’s anniversary 7th June

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So many things going on today, like the D-day celebrations- though I am busy preparing notes on the problem of evil and the existence of heaven. Nevertheless, I thought it might be interesting to direct you to Jack of Kent’s website (http://jackofkent.com/about-the-law/) and specifically to his article in the New Statesman on the prosecution of Alan Turing (http://www.newstatesman.com/david-allen-green/2013/07/putting-right-wrong-done-alan-turing). The 60th Anniversary of Turing’s death is tomorrow and, while he has now received an official pardon and statues are springing up in Bletchley and other places to commemorate his astounding achievement, it remains a fact that Britain comes out looking very shabby from this story, as indeed it does from the parallel story of Oscar Wilde’s disgrace and subsequent death. It is not just the disgrace of Wilde that is important in the 19th Century, but the way that everyone connected with Wilde was brought down too with one puritanical salvo. I have been thinking alot about Aubrey Beardsley whose brief period of activity was certainly cut short by the Wilde scandal. Of course, the Turing story could have been much, much worse. Had he been “caught” a few years earlier, it is likely he would have been imprisoned and never completed or maybe even started his work at Bletchley. It may just be speculation but I fancy the war would have gone much worse for us without the development of the “mechanical brain”. The hand-wringing, therefore, about laws in Putin’s Russia looks a bit rich coming from the UK- Russia, at least, can sit back and lay claim to the fact that it had no hand in the comparable murder or suicide of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, that it has not yet driven great writers or great thinkers to their death because of some puritanical and outrageous piece of knee-jerk legislation- not yet, anyway… There are some curious aspects to the process of the law in this area in the UK. One of the men who was responsible for tightening up the laws against sodomy/buggery was a man called John Atherton, an Oxford man and later protestant Bishop of Waterford in Ireland. He was accused of having an affair with his servant, a tithe-collector called John Childe and both of them were hanged in 1640. In all likelihood, he was the victim of a conspiracy but it is worth reflecting on the way public sentiment turns against any form of salacious puritanism and how easily mud sticks when someone is accused. Maybe it is because our National hands are dirty/soiled, therefore, that we have a duty to talk to other countries about the stupidity of enacting silly restrictive and irrational laws that perpetuate prejudice, discrimination blackmail and fear. Because we understand the danger and the appalling consequences not just to the country itself but to the lawmakers.

newark by election

I did some drawings of a man, Robert Jenrick, who won against UKIP last night in the Newbury by election. His acceptance speech was a bit of a mess, but he clearly mounted a very good campaign against stiff opposition from Labour and Farrage. Congratulations.

 

The ghastliness of RBS

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My heart sinks every time I realise I have to phone a call-centre. Today, I had two of these misery moments which extended much the way through the afternoon, and I was on the phone for about 4 hours in sum. I discovered, to begin with, that my mobile phone had stopped working. This is alarming because I rely on this strange object for work and for people who need to contact me. We live in a world where the home or business phone seems to be largely ignored and is the telephone of second choice for so many. (Not for me, incidentally: I find it so difficult trying to work out which end to press on the mobile and only recently had to abandon an iphone because it became too much to handle. And, you know, mobile phones with all the “swipe technology” fail to work completely in the rain. It is impossible to “swipe” anything then. I love buttons, knobs and dials. They are so more reliable) So, I called Virgin and finally discovered that my direct debit had not been paid and I had therefore been disconnected without notification. I have to add here that I am in the process of modifying my bank account in the RBS. It is what is called now a “partial transfer” because my last attempt at a bank switch was such a disaster I found unpaid bills for the next two or three months and netflix persecuted me for ages: I did not want this to happen again and was assured it would not. What I was not told was that over the course of three weeks, all my Direct Debits and Standing orders would go to the new account before any money was transferred. This frankly seems absurd. When I asked to speak to a manager, I was passed instead to another department which deals exclusively with “switching”. First I spoke to Sam who seemed earnest enough but did not have all the information to hand so I again asked for a manager. I shall not give her a name – after nearly an hour she agreed to transfer my money but began by insisting that the bank was within its rights to hold onto this cash until the end of June, and however much I asked for a date when she would transfer the money, she was unable to provide one. It seemed to me to be a matter of theft or embezzlement. I cannot see how a bank can possibly transfer bills to another account and retain the money that is supposed to be used to pay these bills. The story ends more positively because this lady eventually did the transfer herself and the new account now has money enough to deal with any further direct debits. It remains for me to chase up Southern Electricity, Petpal as well as the car insurance people to explain that they must present their Direct debit demands a second time. It is the mixture of arrogance and patronising tardiness of the RBS call centres that really annoys. It is summed up in the need for a series of increasingly infantile “security questions.” When I am left with unpaid bills and when it falls to me to chase after the companies that have not been paid and arrange payment through other channels, there is no security. When the RBS retains my money, there is no security. There is only the lingering whiff of corruption.

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Now there is a bit more to this story that happened today: I was called by a man called Ronak, a charming courteous man from Tanzania, who had empathy and common sense. Indeed, we talked about so many things and really he had nothing positive to tell me at all- but his manner was spectacular. He could have been calling me to announce my execution and I would have been delighted! Really, he should be giving lessons to some of the twits that made me want to leave RBS in the first place! Anyway, we spoke for what seemed to be 20 mins but was in fact an hour, and, in the process, he explained that I had been completely misled because, specifically, in the case of a “partial switch” from one bank account to another, the banking rules dictated that the bank simply moved the direct debits and standing orders. In other words, it was up to me to transfer the money from my current account whatever else I had been led to expect by the people managing the new account. This is certainly not something I had been told by anyone, either over the counter a few weeks ago or on the phone, and most importantly, the various people I spoke to yesterday at RBS did not seem to know that they were not expected to move my money at all- a serious omission that including the “manager” at the “switching” site. Instead, they were working on the understanding that they could retain this money for another two or three weeks and said as much. Had I left this matter to them, I suppose, then the money would never have been transferred; it seems there is no automatic system to follow and no paperwork available to manage this. There is a paper-system for transferring money from savings accounts but not from a current account. That paper request for the “savings account” I have now received. Ronak thinks I have received very poor service and I agree entirely. He also thinks I should contact the Ombudsman and my MP to ensure that more people look at this issue because I am not the only one caught in this mess. Of course the new switching system works very well generally and scores a 80-90% success rate but here is an instance of the bit where it fails. The automated banking switch is modelled on the automated mechanism for the energy providing switch, which allows us to quickly move from one gas, electricity or water supplier to another and boost competition, and therefore improve the general quality of the service. It assumes that a customer will move completely from one (energy) system to another. Sadly, there are instance where the switch needs only to be partial, and this is acknowledged in the banking rubric, but the process of following that switching mechanism is not at all clear and each department blames the other when it inevitably goes wrong. If, perhaps, banks were staffed by people like Ronak rather than some of the arrogant twits who answer phones, if managers in banks were there to help customers rather than- as I am told, in the RBS, their only responsibility is to to manage their counter-staff- then maybe high street banking would be a reputable service again. Instead, it is simply set to become as dodgy, if not more dodgy than some of the worst mobile phone companies. I despair!