TGFOP or not TGFOP: a talk on black tea at The Tea Centre

“Tea and Conversation with David Lyons: Black Tea” at The Tea Centre, Sydney, 10 November 2012

After that talk on green tea back in September, I was keen to hear the history of Australia’s traditional favourite substitute for mother’s milk and before you can say “TGFOP or not TFGOP?”, here I was back at The Tea Centre to hear its ACT / NSW Regional Manager and tea historian / scholar David Lyons expound on this Essential of Life itself. Lyons is a most convivial host with a homely Manchester accent who offered me and several other attendees seven different kinds of black tea, some quite earthy and strong and all with a brilliant red-crimson colour which for some teas was almost deep blood-red, throughout his talk that ranged from an explanation of how black tea is made to how it differs from other kinds of tea, to the language used in grading black teas, the history of tea-growing and production, and which countries are currently prominent in growing tea bushes for the production of black teas.

The talk began with a quick explanation of what kind of plant the tea plant is and which parts of the tea leaf are used in making teas. This quickly segued into a description of how tea leaves are picked, transported to the factory where they are laid out on trays or mats, allowed to lose moisture through evaporation (originally out in the open under sunshine but now done in rooms controlled for temperature and humidity) for up to 18 hours and then rolled by machines so that the cell walls of the leaves are damaged, allowing enzymes to escape. The leaves begin to oxidise, changing colour as they do so. The leaves are spread out to allow the oxidisation process to work evenly. Once the leaves have reached a desired level of oxidisation, they are heated in different ways to halt the oxidisation: baking in ovens, wok-baking over charcoal and blowing hot air over the leaves as they move on a conveyor belt are three ways of stopping the oxidisation. When this is done, the leaves are sieved, sorted and graded according to size, then they are packed and shipped.

This explanation took up half of David’s time; the rest of the session was given over to the history of black tea production and how black teas came to be preferred over green teas by the Chinese and the Europeans after them. Interestingly, the invention of blue-on-white porcelain in China was a significant influence on the preference for black tea, since black tea looks better in a white cup than green and white teas do. David then switched over to explaining how the British began growing tea in Assam in northeast India, how they took tea growing to Sri Lanka (and thereby changed that island’s social history and politics irrevocably by importing Tamil-speaking workers to work in the plantations there) and later to other parts of their empire: Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi and what later became Zimbabwe. The talk concluded with a description of tea production in Australia and some brief and perfunctory explanation on the future of tea growing and which countries were likely to take off as major tea growers and exporters.

So much more could have been said about black teas, at the risk of going into the minutiae of the rituals of drinking black teas and how they differ across the world. How and why, for example, did the British start adding milk and sugar to black tea? Why do Russians drink their black tea with spoonfuls of jam and a sliver of lemon, and drink the beverage from glasses instead of cups? Where did Indians get the idea of drinking their tea with sickly concentrated tinned milk and a cinnamon stick? If Americans had the Boston Tea Party in the 1770s, how did they lose the art of having Tea Parties for such a long time until recently and instead fall for slurping 7 – 8 cups of watery coffee a day? Another thing that was missing was the ideal conditions for growing tea: I gather that ideally tea should be grown in areas with a semi-tropical to tropical climate, plenty of humidity and a reliable water supply, and soils rich in minerals. Minimal frost would be tolerated and long dry spells would inhibit plant growth and leaf development.

The mention of the effect on Sri Lanka’s ethnic mix that the British decision to locate tea growing in that country made me think of how everyday things we take for granted, such as tea, coffee, the metals that go into consumer electronics gadgets, the cotton that goes into our clothes and the foods we eat that might be imported from overseas when we could be growing them here, might have an impact on global politics, economics and human social and cultural development through their production. Once upon a time, economists would have said that the decisions we make as consumers determine what is produced in which countries; but in a world where consumer decisions are now heavily influenced by advertising and selective media through which information important to us is withheld, either deliberately or not, the power of corporations, governments and their agencies, and the ideologies that inform their agendas, may be paramount in determining what we choose to consume or reject. Through our “choices” and the direct and indirect effects they have on economies locally and overseas and on environmental systems, these institutions uphold values, belief systems and structures that affect the future survival of humanity across the globe.

Incidentally the “TGFOP or not TGFOP?” question (erm, apologies to a Mr Shakespeare) was inspired by the grading terms used to sort and pack black tea leaves: TGFOP is short for Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe. The terms start with filler, dust and fannings which are fine to small particles of tea used in tea bags (so the story about tea dust on floors vacuumed up and packaged into tea-bags is true!) and go through OP (Orange Pekoe – large cut leaves with a few tips) all the way through FOP (Flowery Orange Pekoe) to SFTGFOP (Superior Fine Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe – large cut leaves with the biggest number of tips).

 

Better than green eggs and ham (with apologies to Dr Seuss): a talk on green tea at the Tea Centre, Sydney

“Tea and Conversation with David Lyons: Green Tea” at The Tea Centre, Sydney, 22 September 2012

I drink enough of the stuff so it’s only fair I should know something of the history of tea and how it is made. Found that The Tea Centre tea shop in Sydney has been holding a series of Saturday 2-hour morning talks on tea history, tea production and the different kinds of tea so I went to a 10:00 am session on Saturday, 22 September 2012. The talk was given by David Lyons who is the ACT / NSW Regional Manager for the company and a student of tea.

Five of us piled into a section above the shop proper so the atmosphere was cosy and intimate enough though noise from below did drift up. David gave us a run-down of his history as a chef and how he came to be involved in the tea-selling business and then he was onto his talk proper. First he explained what species of tea plants are called scientifically and which species and sub-species are cultivated and where they grew originally. He showed us what a tea plant looks like and what the first and second leaves are and what tea plant tips are (tea production jargon often refers to the first and second tips of tea leaves and to the first and second leaves of a tea plant) and why they are important in tea harvesting and production.

From then on he segued into the differences among white tea, green tea and black tea and how the leaves are prepared to produce the different types. As the talk focussed specifically on green tea, he concentrated on how green tea is prepared: Japanese-styled green teas are steamed very quickly after picking, then abruptly cooled to allow only minimal oxidation to keep the fresh green colour of the leaf; Chinese-styled green teas are warmed gently usually by wok-baking, oven-baking or steaming. The Japanese method gives the tea an intense colour and a very different and just as intense taste. After heating, the tea leaves may be rubbed or rolled into little balls.

Chinese-styled green teas were traditionally produced in the Hangzhou region and the revival of green tea production in China is taking place in Hangzhou and surrounding areas. A famous tea from the area is Dragon Well tea and David gave us samples of this tea to taste.

A history of green tea drinking in China and Japan and how it died out in China while surviving in Japan followed. Interestingly, Europeans were introduced to green tea drinking before black tea drinking and again David emphasised how black tea drinking came to usurp green tea drinking through a particular mix of historical circumstances. In Britain during the 1700s, tea became so popular that most tea imported into the country was smuggled rather than legally imported and people outside the wealthy classes attempted to make their own versions of the drink to emulate their superiors. Leaves from local bushes were brewed and coloured with various colouring agents, some of which were copper-based and quite poisonous. Public concerns about people being poisoned by copper-contaminated teas eventually led to British society switching away from drinking green teas to black teas.

It was rather unfortunate that green teas came to have such a bad reputation for there is now a growing body of scientific research and evidence that drinking green tea may have health benefits including the lowering of total cholesterol and the raising of HDL cholesterol (the so-called “good cholesterol”), protection against certain cancers, reducing the inflammation associated with Crohn’s disease or inflammatory bowel disease, regulating glucose in the body, preventing gum disease and stimulating bone growth and slowing down the onset of osteoporosis.

There were plenty of opportunities to sample various teas and examine the dried leaves from which they were made. David was a very entertaining and genial speaker with his northern English accent and stories about his youth and one of his co-workers, a sales manager based in Queensland whose own youth was spent in wild adventures across the world. The most interesting story David had to tell about himself was the time when he was working in a pub and a group of teenaged boys came up to him to ask if they could use a room for band practice. The lads seemed earnest and sincere enough so the pub manager allowed the youngsters to use the room on a regular basis. The clanger came when we asked what the band was called; David said they were Joy Division. “You’re from MANCHESTER!” I exclaimed and David nodded.

The talk was only meant to last 2 hours but so engaging was our host and so informative was the talk that it went well over time and it was way past 12:30 pm when we had to go and that was because a couple of us had other engagements.

The Stark Truth: Interview with Igor Artemov – intriguing opinions from Russian nationalist deserve closer study

Robert Stark, “The Stark Truth: Interview with Igor Artemov” (Voice of Reason Radio Network, 21 May 2012)

Where does he find his interview subjects? In this episode of The Stark Truth, journalist Robert Stark speaks to Russian nationalist, writer and founder of the Russian All-National Union Igor Artemov who (to me) has some very intriguing opinions of contemporary Russian politics and politicians. In a nutshell, Artemov considers that under President Vladimir Putin, Russia has been reconstructed as a quasi-Soviet state which persecutes Russian nationalism and that it is a mistake for people to believe that Putin is a Russian nationalist. He discusses what has happened in Russian politics, culture and economy since the downfall of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, gives his opinion of Putin as a leader and politician, contends that Russian nationalists are being persecuted by the Putin government and considers the country’s future with respect with immigration and the overall world agenda.

Although his English can be stilted and his accent is strong, Artemov is quite easy to follow. He explains why he formed the Russian All-National Union in the context of the damaging effect that the Soviet Union and the general Sovietisation policy had on Russian culture and nationalism. There is a discussion of how Russian nationalist parties have been treated by Moscow since the early 1990s and how their fortunes have varied. During the Yeltsin period, when political democracy seemed to be at its peak, Artemov explains that nationalism was stifled and that this blockage of nationalist parties has continued under Putin. Artemov considers that Putin’s rule has brought down on Russia a reconstruction of the Soviet state and that Putin himself is a puppet of the globalist elites based in Europe and North America. The aim therefore of Putin’s government is to weaken Russian culture and spirit.

Artemov’s opinion on immigration in Russia is that the huge numbers of people coming from Central Asia and China are undermining wages and living standards among ethnic Russians and leading to a rise in crime and drug abuse in cities and large towns. In particular, Russian Orthodox Christianity is being weakened by the influx of Muslim peoples from Central Asia and the Caucasus. Artemov’s view is that Putin’s government is reinstating the multicultural policies of the Soviet Union.

Artemov’s opinion on the oligarchs is that they are the least of Russia’s problems and the real rich people are bureaucrats, senior members of the security forces such as police and the FSB. Many oligarchs are actually supportive of Putin and his government as they benefit from the corrupt system that the government has formed and supports, and those oligarchs who have fallen foul of Putin have done so due to personal enmity or issues between them and him.

Political elections and the process of registering as an electoral candidate are delineated in some detail and Artemov points out the obstacles involved for candidates, particularly independent candidates.

After a pause for a break, Stark and Artemov switch to a different topic about mixed-ethnic marriages in the Soviet Union. The Soviet policy was to encourage such relationships as a basis for creating the New Soviet Man but in reality most people involved in such liaisons recognised their mixed nature and origins and cherished them. The conversation switches to Chechnya which Artemov considers to be a semi-independent state supported by Moscow. Later Artemov discusses the role of Russian Jews in Russian politics and the advantages that having dual citizenship of Israel and Russia confers.

The situation in Syria is dissected with Iran seen as encouraging Islamic separatists in Syria and Israel not playing a beneficent role either.

Overall Artemov is an interesting and articulate speaker whose opinions deserve some consideration even though I don’t agree with many of them. His suggestion that oligarchs overall support Putin and Putin promotes himself as champion against corporate corruption and criminal activity by singling out particular individuals like Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Boris Berezovsky for tender care merits a closer look. As to the issue of immigration, I am not so sure that Putin is deliberately using migrants to dilute the ethnic Russian population and weaken the influence of the Russian Orthodox Church but it would be worth following the Putin government’s attitude to the current Pussy Riot trial and the role of the Russian Orthodox Church in influencing or determining the trial’s outcome and the sentence imposed on the foolish women as a way of determining what the real government attitude towards Orthodoxy is. It may very well be that Putin’s strategy, if such exists, may be to convince the Russian public that he is acting in their best interests and that he is a strong, decisive leader by picking off easy targets like Khodorkovsky because by doing all this, he can carry out an agenda favourable to the emergence of a New World Order from which he and his supporters benefit.

I suppose if Putin really were acting in the long-term interest of Russian people, then among other things he would have done more to support Colonel Gadhafi’s Libya and prevent that nation from falling into chaos, and Syria currently would not be a magnet for Libyan rebel mercenaries eager to exploit the unrest there; he would have demanded more accountability to Moscow from  current Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov regarding apparent human rights abuses in Chechnya and the opaque political culture there; and he would have tried to shift Russia’s economy away from dependence on primary industry and energy exploitation towards a mix of light and heavy manufacturing faster and more emphatically than he has done so far. Admittedly Putin’s task is difficult in the face of a world hostile to him and his government and he probably does have to tread carefully but with the rest of the world threatening to go down in flames and poverty, Russia must be a beacon to inspire others and provide hope and Putin could be the leader who achieves that.

The Stark Truth: Interview with Greg Johnson (New Right versus Old Right) – commendable vision of meritocratic society founded on dubious arguments

Robert Stark, “The Stark Truth: Interview with Greg Johnson (New Right versus Old Right)”, (Voice of Reason, 22 June 2012)

Robert Stark’s radio talkshow “The Stark Truth” features regular guests and one of these is Greg Johnson who has written an essay “New Right vs Old Right” and on which this interview is based and which it further extends. Johnson begins by explaining what he understands as constituting the political Right and how it is distinguished from the political Left: the Right is predicated on a recognition that people by their differing talents, temperaments, intelligence and biological endowments are not equal and cannot compete equally as individuals. As Johnson sees it, the fact that biological inequalities exist means that human societies are naturally unequal and hierarchic. Egalitarianism as a political ideal is not only unrealistic but also leads to authoritarian / totalitarian forms of government to enforce strict social, economic and politicial egalitarianism. He goes on to say how the Old Right in North America and Europe failed by concentrating on party politics and adopting an agenda that includes accepting egalitarianism, traditional social hierarchies developed from tradition, custom or inertia and imperialism based on conquest of land and resources as values. Johnson outlines his vision of the New Right in North America which would purge plutocracy and an egalitarianism which would restore Anglo-American people’s pride in their culture and achievements, and restore meritocracy as the guiding force for shaping a new, revitalised society.

Johnson is a strong speaker, very knowledgeable about his sources and influences, and he speaks passionately about his beliefs and the reasons for why he believes what he does. This interview is one of the easier Stark Truth interviews I have been following so far! Even so, logical though Johnson appears, though his vision is commendable, many of his ideas are mirror versions of what many people who consider themselves politically Leftist have been advocating all along and the premises for his ideas aren’t always based on fact. Johnson says that all traditional societies have been unequal and incorporated structures that maintained hierarchy and inequalities, therefore hierarchy and inequality are natural and organic. It does not seem to occur to him that such inequalities and hierarchical structures might have been the result of conquest and people being forced to accept alien culture and values by conquerors who desired their land and resources, and are not evolved developments intrinsic to societies. Are war, conquest and imperialism “natural” to humans and therefore should humans abandon diplomacy?

He also does not consider that at the same time that societies have had hierarchies and inequalities, they have also had strong tendencies towards egalitarianism: the long history of China for example includes peasant rebellions against the ruling class; Muslim caliphates and dynasties in Egypt and Turkey have been challenged by and taken over by slave soldiers; the Roman Catholic Church smashed heretical Christian sects such as the Cathars and Bogomils which practised early forms of democracy in the High Middle Ages. (Admittedly though the winning peasants became new Emperors and founders of new repressive dynasties in China and slave soldiers in Egypt and Turkey simply insinuated themselves as a new ruling class or bureaucratic layer as the underlying political and social structures and the cultural values supporting them remained unchallenged.) Even lords in England sought to curb the power of the monarchy by forcing King John to sign Magna Carta in 1215 and this document became the basis for the development of constitutional law and limited monarchy in that country. In Scandinavia, a peculiar tradition known as the Jantelov has existed since at least the late 19th or early 20th century, in which individualism is subsumed by the community so as to be completely blanked out: individual effort, hard work, success and achievement are derided as absurd and unworthy and adherence to the collective and group identity is all-important. It might be said that hierarchy and inequality in society depend very much on this “egalitarianism” in which individual social layers within a hierarchy police their members’ behaviour and conduct, and drag those thinking of achieving above their station in life back forcefully into the mental as well as physical fold!

Johnson explains how the New Right differs from the Old Right and how it repudiates the values of Fascism and National Socialism. A most significant difference is that in Johnson’s vision the New Right is strictly based on meritocratic values and abhors the idea of elites barring entry of talented outsiders born on the wrong side of the social train-track into their ranks while allowing their own offspring who have the right background but who lack ability to sponge off family and social networks to gain power over lower social layers. On the other hand, Johnson considers that many social, political and economic evils in Western society are the work of the so-called “organised Jewish community”; while it’s true that Israel’s government and its lobbyists in big business and media dominate and corrupt politics in most Western societies, it must be said that the interests of the Israeli government, Zionism and their backers in both Jewish and gentile institutions and networks (and by gentile, I’m also including Muslims) around the world are not the same as those of Jewish people and in fact endanger the survival of Jewish people everywhere and traditional Jewish ideals such as … ahem, freedom and rights for all. Of course it’s also true that Judaism incorporates a  belief in Jewish racial superiority; human institutions are nothing if not contradictory.

In the end, Johnson argues for a world in which multiculturalism is abolished and people should be allowed or encouraged to return to their homelands and practise their own cultures. White pride in white culture is restored by education, cultural activities, media broadcasting and new forms of community structure. Within this new culture, intellectual, cultural, scientific and political diversity can still flourish. Johnson believes Israel should still exist as a homeland for all Jews and a homeland for Palestinians should also exist side by side. The problem here though is war and over-exploitation have made many lands unfit for habitation: large parts of the Middle East are contaminated with DU radiation and populations in parts of the region are too large for the available water supplies. Is it right to expect all Jews and Palestinians in the world to go and live in those areas? Additionally what is to be done with people of mixed ethnic and cultural heritage? Another problem is that even ethnically and religiously homogeneous societies aren’t necessarily stable ones: Somalia is probably the most ethnically homogeneous country in Africa and yet it’s a byword for political instability and backwardness. What Johnson also forgets is that many problems in the world today require the co-operation of several countries; the more diverse they are internally and among themselves, the more likely original and creative solutions will be generated but this could require some commonalities among them that might only be possible if the countries are internally diverse by ethnicity and religion.

Also Johnson should take a closer look at history: he’ll discover that many, even most countries and empires have always been multicultural and multilingual, the Roman empire, the Ottoman empire, various empires in Persia and India through the ages, the Aztec and Inca empires and even empires in China at different times being fine examples of multicultural societies. If history doesn’t support Johnson’s thesis, his whole edifice of meritocracy falls apart.

 

The Stark Truth: Interview with Jim Goad – self-styled lone wolf is a highly genial character tackling racism, prejudice and bigotry

Robert Stark, “The Stark Truth: Interview with Jim Goad” (Voice of Reason, 20 June 2012)

I read Jim Goad’s “The Redneck Manifesto” over a decade ago and I’ve forgotten all of it except for the part where he refers to white indentured convict labour being imported into the American colonies from Ireland by the English / British in tandem with slaves imported from Africa during the 17th and early 18th centuries, and often treated worse than the slaves by their Anglo masters: that bit I found a real eye-opener. So it was a pleasant surprise to discover that Goad is not only alive and well but also still a gadfly prepared to prick the myths and misconceptions prevalent in Western society about racism and other important issues. He writes for Taki magazine and has his own website. In this episode of “The Stark Truth”, Jim Goad is under the spotlight and ranges confidently across a variety of topics such as racism in Israel, his time in prison, nationalism in Europe and bigotry generally.

Although he sounds as though he was stuck in an elevator shaft at the time of interview, the sound quality isn’t that bad and you quickly become accustomed to the echo in Goad’s voice. He is an excellent interviewee, well spoken, well informed about many topics, surprisingly self-deprecating and with plenty of insight into human behaviour gained from his own experience as well as his own reading and research. He admits to being fascinated with ideas and topics that most people, whether politically and socially liberal or conservative, prefer swept under the carpet which is why he often concerns himself with issues of racism, bigotry and hate and the rise of nationalism and soft fascism in Europe.

Goad begins by describing himself and a bit about his background and his prison record. He wrote an article about his time in prison and his surprise at meeting polite and well-mannered criminals and seeing blacks and neo-Nazi fellows playing cards together. He found out that contrary to most news about US prison populations, about 70% of US prisoners are white. (I vaguely recall reading something similar and that the most common offence whites are in prison for is possessing drugs for personal use.) The conversation segues into the recent news about Israel deporting African immigrants and how the US media avoids mentioning such news and the fact that Jewish rabbis are at the forefront of demands to kick out these immigrants. He and Stark plumb beliefs about what constitutes facts and non-facts that come under the label of “racism”, and how to define “racist” and “anti-Semite”. What is sometimes dismissed as “racist” and so avoided often turns out to be facts or evidence that must be acknowledged and dealt with if people are to live together; unfortunately there is evidence that mean IQs of different population groups do differ even after factors such as nutrition, educational levels, poverty levels and social and cultural context are accounted for to remove study or experimental bias.

Goad admits to having “tribal” instincts (or white pride which by itself is not necessarily racist) and argues for teaching the history of racism, hatred and bigotry rather than pretend that such feelings and behaviour are anomalous in human society and history. If we deny racism and bigotry and whitewash them out of history or society, they go underground and fester until the social context that favours their resurgence arises; when they do come out in the open, society is unable to deal with them because by denying them, we don’t develop the tools and strategies to combat them. He also questions Western society’s obsession with demonising Nazis and neo-Nazis and not other ideologies which are just as biased, subjective and oppressive.

Self-hatred is another topic Goad tackles in relation to society’s denial of racism and the PC movement. He and Stark discuss an article Goad wrote for Taki magazine, “Give bigots a pill”, in relation to racism. They talk about how white American men strive to be acceptable to women to the extent of denying their masculinity while black men are allowed to exult in their masculinity (but don’t say how this double standard for white and black men might be rooted in US imperialism / colonialism). The interview ends with Goad saying that he believes in meritocracy and that people should have the opportunity to rise to the level that their intelligence, abilities and skills equip them for; that the problem of Communist societies was that they did not account for human nature in their economic and social decision-making; that he distrusts our present economic systems; and that he basically is a lone wolf who at heart may be inclined towards some form of libertarian belief.

Although there was quite a lot in the interview that I lost track of as Goad glided from one topic to another but always within the general theme of prejudice and bigotry and how society at large ignores and denies the existence of bigotry and differences among groups of people that influence their life chances and those of their descendants, on the whole Goad is a genial and entertaining character who strives to make meaning of the crazy, mixed-up world we live in, in the best way he can with the resources and experience he can muster. Despite his claim that he is an individualist with weakly developed social instincts, Goad appears to be quite a sociable creature indeed, one I’d rather spend time with than other people possessing “highly developed social instincts” who turn out to be self-obsessed and not at all interested in their fellows’ well-being or the current state of the world.

 

Wax or the Discovery of Television among the Bees: a moral and political film under the visual overload

David Blair, “Wax or the Discovery of Television among the Bees” (1991)

One of my favourite science fiction films since I first saw it in the mid-1990s on video loan from the University of Wollongong via my local library, “Wax or the Discovery of Television among the Bees” is a home movie featuring inventive computer animation, archived film reels, stills, experimental filming methods, not a little humour and some live action; together these illustrate an unusual science fiction plot of body horror, a murder mission, a particular view of history (especially the history of communication technology, Iraq, World War I and the travails of the Jewish people) and an existence beyond death.

The film tells the story of Jacob Maker (director David Blair), a disaffected nuclear technician at the Los Alamos nuclear science laboratory who feels guilty that his work in designing and testing remote-controlled missile guidance systems, the early 1990s fore-runners of current drone aircraft, leads to refined mass slaughter; he tries to cope with the dissonance he feels between the nature of his work and his need to support himself and his wife by spending afternoons communing with his hive of bees. These are no ordinary bees: they’re descended from a special breed of  honey-makers brought back from Iraq, then British Mesopotamia, by Jacob’s grandfather James Hive Maker (William S Burroughs – yes, that William S Burroughs, famous junkie and novelist!) and his wife’s grandfather in 1917. One day while in a trance with his bees, Jacob receives an unexpected gift that totally transforms his life: the bees penetrate his head through his ear and punch the Bee TV into his brain. The Bee TV gives him a mission and a purpose in life: the universe is unbalanced and he must restore the balance by killing someone.

So a strange odyssey begins: Jacob ventures out into a missile test area, following the directions of the Bee TV, where he comes to The Garden of Eden Cave where he finds giant bees related to his Mesopotamian friends living in the Land of the Dead and revelations about his family history, the true nature of his bees and details of his mission, including the identity of his victim, come to him. He may be the reincarnation of his wife’s grandfather Zoltan Abbasid who married James Hive Maker’s half-sister, a former telephonist, inventor of a kind of telescope and enthusiastic member of a society dedicated to communicating with the dead. James was jealous of Abbasid and arranged for him to be killed by his bees so he, James, could inherit Abbasid’s bees. After death Jacob passes through lives in other dimensions before he is transformed into a missile sent to kill the reincarnations of those responsible for Abbasid’s death, now living in Iraq on the eve of the first US invasion of that country in 1991.

It’s a hokey story, yes, but one made serious and even plausible by the first-person / stream-of-consciousness point-of-view documentary style of narrative structure, presented in a casual, monotone and above all calm voice by Blair himself. Superficially linear in its story-telling, the plot flips back and forth between past and present, and between present and future, and presents a bewildering mish-mash of philosophies and mythology including esoteric occultism and spiritualism, Bible stories, motifs and themes, belief in karma and reincarnation, and New Age ideas about the karmic connections among the living that continue into their next lives after they have died. Startling and unusual computer animation tricks flip the screen, roll it, spin it around and even turn it into silhouettes of lever-arch folders to simulate the movements of birds and other flying creatures. Animated images can look quite dated but are still very inventive and  Blair and his wife, both computer programmers, use them cleverly to create three-dimensional figures and geometrical shapes and patterns, and to emphasise the alien nature of the bees, the Bee TV and the worlds they normally inhabit.

The information overload, gathered from a bewildering variety of unrelated and influences – Thomas Pynchon’s novel “Gravity’s Rainbow”, set during World War II, is one influence here – fleshes out the very bizarre story of karma and transcendence with the goal of atonement and redemption for past sins and the love for humanity that overcomes violence and death. The joining of Jacob, Zoltan Abbasid and their two bomb victims after death suggests forgiveness on both sides. Karma works in such a way that those who kill with violence will themselves be punished with death by violence, as the dead seek vengeance on those who kill them. Jacob himself is both victim and murderer … or is it the other way around? In its own, rather flat way, “Wax …” turns out to be a surprisingly moral and political film. It passes no judgement on the morality of the Iraq War or the wars that follow in its wake but it does suggest that those who kill may themselves be killed in the same way … if not in this life, then in the next.

Repeated viewings are needed to understand the film more fully; each repeat reveals something new and unexpected humour emerges as well – how can there be telephones to dial the emergency number even in the deepest caves or the most barren deserts? Those overwhelmed by the many esoteric references that relate to nothing in their current lives (to say nothing of what they might have experienced before their birth and what will greet them in their next lives) can just relax and enjoy the strangest of strange head trips.

 

The Stark Truth: Interview with Benjamin Noyles – introduction to Integralism as an ideology and alternative to mainstream politics

Robert Stark, “The Stark Truth: Interview with Benjamin Noyles” (Voice of Reason, 15 June 2012)

Ah, that Robert Stack, how I love him, fearlessly striding into no-go media zones where the mainstream news and current affairs media avoid like one hundred raging plague epidemics: in this episode he interviews Benjamin Noyles of the Integralist Party of the United Kingdom. Noyles talks about Integralist philosophy and policies and how the party’s approach differs from that of other political parties in Britain; the importance of principles for parties based on nationalism, such as the BNP; the importance of nation, national identity and national life; and building a movement among a nation’s youth. Noyles is a passionate speaker who all but runs away with whatever question or topic Stack puts to him and it’s major work indeed just trying to keep up with him. A sneeze on my part and I’ve lost him forever so I have to re-run the interview. Fortunately the topics he deals with are interesting and important ones about politics, society and culture so I’m not worried about having to replay the interview several times.

To understand what Noyles is saying, listeners really have to do some background research on Integralism as a philosophy. The nation is an organic unity and institution in which social differentiation and hierarchy naturally exist with the different social classes co-operating with one another. To that end, Integralism supports the existence of trade unions or guilds, corporatism (a system of political / economic / social structures in which people are organised into corporate groups on the basis of common interests such as work) and organic political representation that reflects the structure of society. It follows that different countries might have different forms of Integralism as no two countries will have the same corporate structures and organisations and their corporate-based political representation will also be very different. The citizens will identify with their country as an end in itself and therefore nationalism is seen as a positive force. The political / social tendency is towards conservatism, preserving values and traditions that are believed to represent the nation and the people, though economic practice may not necessarily be conservative in the sense usually understood. A social welfare state might fit in easily in this set-up if economic egalitarianism is valued by the people as part of their national identity; on the other hand, if economic egalitarianism is not such a big deal and individualism, economic self-reliance and resourcefulness are more valued, a welfare state might be frowned upon and the country will do without it.

Having that as our context, we can start to understand Noyles when he explains the policies and strategies of the Integralist Party of the United Kingdom, and what he considers are the mistakes that far right-wing parties in the UK have made. He considers that right-wing parties try to make themselves respectable to the public and this is a great mistake; rather these parties should be aiming at empowering people to believe in the nation as their highest goal and value and to subsume themselves and their energies and talents in working for the nation. He and Stark discuss the Wikipedia article on Integralism in some detail which then leads into a brief talk about the history of fascist political groups in Britain. Other topics covered include the current state of liberalism in the West. I must confess that for much of the first half-hour of the interview, I was lost as Noyles covered so much territory, drawing in human rights abuses in Iraq committed by the United States, the way in which Adolf Hitler’s name is used to silence people and block debate about important issues, and criticisms of Integralism and mild forms of fascism by so-called liberal groups, among other things.

After a break, Noyles continues with criticism of current economic systems and neo-liberalism and how these have degraded culture, society and the natural environment.

The interview can be hard to follow and repeated listenings will be necessary for most people to get a hang of what Stark and Noyles discuss. I suggest that to get a better idea of Integralism and Noyles’s beliefs, listeners should refer to the website of the Integral Party of the United Kingdom highlighted in the first paragraph above and explore it. Looking at the website myself, I can see how people equate the party with fascism though Noyles emphasises that Integralist ideology is different from classical fascism: Integralist ideology is about devolving power to corporate groups whereas classical fascism seeks to centralise it.

My major criticism of Integralism is that among other things it depends on everyone as individuals and as members of corporate groups agreeing on what ideals and values are representative of the nation and which are worth striving for. Social differentiation and hierarchy are seen as natural but what do Integralists do if hierarchy, through natural tendencies, drifts into a situation where the upper classes and lower classes disagree on values and their interests start to clash? What if national ideals and values start to conflict, how will leaders and their followers agree on which ideals and which values take higher priority? Will an Integralist society also be a flexible society, able to promote original thinking and innovations in political, economic and cultural practices, and ready to adapt to external traumas that can’t be avoided and which wreak irreversible changes to the society?

 

The Stark Truth: Interview with Ellen Brown – excellent interview ranging across several inter-related topics in banking and debt

Robert Stark, “The Stark Truth: Interview with Ellen Brown” (Voice of Reason, 1 June 2012)

I’ve come across Ellen Brown’s “Web of Debt” website before and am familiar with her articles singing the praises of public banking and the Bank of North Dakota in particular so I was pleased to see that Robert Stark has an interview with her uploaded to the Voice of Reason radio network. In the interview, Brown talks about her book “The Web of Debt”, the history of banking, the benefits of public banking, health care in the United States and why the United States allows so many illegal immigrants into the country from Mexico. All these topics are linked by the theme of debt and how debt transfers power from the public and governments to the financial industry and the major global banks in particular.

Brown has quite a sharp, almost twangy voice with a strong American accent which can be a little off-putting to non-Americans. She speaks very well and clearly and listeners not familiar with the topics she specialises in can follow her easily. “The Web of Debt” discussion is threaded with “The Wizard of Oz” metaphors and quotations: the comparison is apt because in the original Frank L Baum book, the Wizard had a lot of power until Dorothy’s dog pulled the curtain away and revealed him to be a very ordinary man; likewise, the banks are powerful because their operations are shrouded in secrecy and it’s only when we stop giving our power to them that they are revealed as being built on foundations of sand. The discussion of the book leads into a discussion of other books – namely accounting books – and the development of banking and interest over the centuries beginning in ancient times.

Brown acknowledges that a public central bank is impossible at the Federal level with both the Democratic and Republican parties more or less ideologically opposed to instituting a Federal public bank encompassing all 50 states. Such an institution would be opposed by the powerful Wall Street banks and related interests, on whom many Congress representatives might be dependent for election campaign funding. The aim of the Public Banking Institute, of which she is the current chairperson and President, is to establish public central banks at State and County levels. County and State revenues would fuel public banks and enable them to lend to borrowers at very low levels of interest.

The Bank of North Dakota is geared towards financing and promoting State projects, especially in agriculture and energy projects. The bank also lends money to small businesses as opposed to the major private corporations. In the last few years, Brown notes that public banks have done better than private banks in the US in profitability.

Brown explains that the influx of Mexican illegal immigrants is due to Wall Street banks encouraging, even pressuring, Mexico to float its currency in the mid-1990s; the result was that the Mexican peso crashed. The central bank in Mexico was privatised abou the same time. The economy crashed as well and many small farmers lost their jobs in agriculture. They migrated to the cities looking for jobs and then started travelling to the US to find work there, often as gardeners, labourers, construction workers and domestic workers.

The issue of economic union of the US, Canada and Mexico is raised; Brown believes that such a union is now not feasible after the problems being experienced by Greece and other EU members. She suggests that Greece can still use the euro and also the drachma in parallel: the euro for international transactions and the drachma for intranational transactions.

The health care crisis and the recent reforms enacted by the Obama government come in for criticism. Brown recounts the example of her mother who needed repeated hospitalisation for various ailments, with each problem costing several thousand dollars. She comes out in favour of single-payer public medical insurance that should be offered to all American citizens which could run in parallel with private medical insurance; people could choose whether they want public medical insurance or private.

The Tobin tax is mentioned in relation to derivatives (financial contracts specifying the conditions under which two parties agree to make payments to each other for the purpose of speculation or hedging) as a brake on them and the high interest rates they generate. If a Tobin tax were placed on every stock transaction, with the seller having to pay the tax, speculation in stock markets would fall greatly.

Brown swings back to the topic of public banks, this time on a global level, and notes that three of  the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia and China – the odd one out is India) and Japan have large nationalised central banks. Neither Brazil, Russia nor China was affected by the 2008 Global Financial Crisis and all three have thriving economies with a major emphasis on large construction and infrastructure projects. Stark notes that so many of the United States’ problems could be solved wholly or in part by public banks. The chief problem is the constant psychological brainwashing in the mainstream commercial news media backed by Wall Street and its lobbyists and allies in government, government agencies and large private corporations whose senior management often go in and out of Federal government.

Overall this is an excellent interview that ranges over many related topics and illuminates many aspects of US policy with regard to illegal immigration and the state of health care and how they turn out to be aspects of the same problem.

The Stark Truth: Interview with Paul Craig Roberts – highly informative and engrossing interview with former Reagan public servant

Robert Stark, “The Stark Truth: Interview with Paul Craig Roberts” (Voice of Reason, 25 May 2012)

Being familiar with some of Paul Craig Roberts’s articles on various websites, I was keen to hear the man himself speak about his experience as Assistant Secretary of the Treasury during Ronald Reagan’s first Presidency (1981 – 1985) and his views on what happened in New York City and Washington DC on 11 September 2001, the rise of neo-conservatism in US politics, US foreign policy in the Middle East and China, and his beliefs about future US politics and how much the US electorate can influence it. The interview runs some 56 minutes and can be accessed at this link.

PCR begins with his time in the Reagan government and his role in developing the economic policies now known as Reaganomics. This is the driest part of the interview and because he was speaking to Stark from another location through videophone or equivalent, his voice is softened and not always clear to hear. The conversation perks up when he starts discussing the outsourcing of jobs which in his view was enabled by the collapse of Communism in the Soviet Union and China and India’s decision to adopt free market principles and structures, freeing up a large quantity of labour which was exploited by Wall Street, combined with the arrival of the Internet which encouraged networking across national borders and barriers of physical geography. Job offshoring has had the effect of shrinking manufacturing and white collar work in the United States and impoverishing Americans, in turn leading to the impoverishment of society and culture across the country.

The Republican Party and George W Bush come in for criticism; PCR notes that a number of people prominent in Bush II’s administration had been sacked by Reagan in the 1980s for their neoconservative values and attitudes which included extreme belligerence towards to the USSR. PCR also comments on the Bush II government’s use of the 9/11 events to carry out wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and turn the US into a police state, and notes that current President Barack Obama is continuing the policies of Bush II. Political conservatism as a movement in the US has been destroyed and hijacked into supporting Israel and its ideology and imperial interests at the expense of the US as a viable political and economic entity.

After a break halfway through, PCR discusses the “military-industry complex” as originally conceived by outgoing US President Dwight D Eisenhower in 1961 in his last speech and its effect on the US. This talk flows into the topic of the demonisation of Muslims as a way of softening up the American people to accept ongoing wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and other countries in the Middle East and northern Africa. The issue of suicides in the US military also crops up as a symptom of demoralisation among soldiers. Another significant issue is the need for the US to have a major enemy to justify continued military expenditure and so China as well as the Muslim world has been drafted into the role of Global Villain.

The last part of the interview becomes a muddle as PCR ranges widely over several topics whose only connection is that they have never been mentioned in mainstream news and current affairs media. The power of Wall Street is now such that Congress is unable to re-enact in whole or in part the Glass-Steagall act, repealed in 1999, which separated investment banks from commercial banks. No significant regulation of the financial industry has taken place since the Global Financial Crisis in 2008. PCR waxes at some length about aspects of the 9/11 events such as what caused World Trade Center building 7 to fall and his belief that WTC 1 and 2 had been wired with explosives before being hit by the passenger jets. PCR opines that whether Obama is re-elected or is replaced by Mitt Romney will make no difference to Iran’s future peace prospects: regardless of whoever is in power, the Middle Eastern country is sure to be attacked by US forces.

PCR’s voice has a homely quality and he spoke at a fairly slow to medium pace so he is easy to follow. The interview is highly informative and reveals a man with many unorthodox views at odds with the official narrative adopted by mainstream news media about what happened on 9/11 and why Americans should support ongoing war in the Middle East and other parts of the world.

 

The Stark Truth: Interview with Joseph Fasciani – an informative and valuable hour with social credit / small-scale capitalism advocate

Robert Stark, “The Stark Truth: Interview with Joseph Fasciani” (Voice of Reason, 27 April 2012)

With the global financial industry coming under greater public scrutiny and people beginning to question the assumptions underlying debt-based financial systems, perhaps it’s time to investigate social credit as a possible credible alternative to a system in which to create money, it is created as debt and thus automatically births an unequal relationship in which the lender has power over the borrower. In this episode of “The Stark Truth”, Robert Stark discusses social credit with US-born Canadian writer / poet Joseph Fasciani and various issues related to or deriving from it. The interview is highly informative though at times tough-going as I’ve already discovered with previous “The Stark Truth” episodes; if listeners’ attention wavers even for less than a minute, the thread of conversation can be lost very quickly as interviewer and interviewee range over a very wide territory of all things monetary. Fasciani has a strong interest in monetary systems, especially alternative monetary systems, and his enthusiasm for social credit and alternative economic ideas such as distributism is reflected in the depth of his knowledge about these and in his articulate speaking manner.

Although Fasciani spent the first 26 years of his life in the United States and was a successful self-employed businessman in California, he emigrated to Canada in 1969, dissatisfied with the direction of society in his native country, and much of what he talks about with Stark is about Canadian society, especially society in British Columbia and Alberta, and Canadian politics. He traces the history of social credit in Canada, how for a while it was successful and how ultimately the Canadian government under Prime Minister Brian Mulroney in the 1980s throttled it by privatising so many public institutions and corporations. The fact that the social credit movement was dominated by charismatic individuals or families with few if any of the principles of social credit written down did not help the movement either. Fasciani also explains how social credit works in Canada; to me, a couple of examples he uses to illustrate its workings seem the same as what the Australian government does except here in Australia the “social credit” is called a “tax rebate”. So Australia has also been following social credit principles and I did not know that!

Interesting topics discussed include a theory on why US President Abraham Lincoln was killed in 1865 – it was apparently nothing to do with conventional explanations of John Wilkes Booth’s motivations and possibly everything to do with the President’s attempts to control money creation and supply in defiance of private banks – plus banking and finance in the Roman empire, Austrian economics, the need for small-scale capitalism, a social service tax on alcohol and tobacco (which together are responsible for 40% of health care costs in Canada), US retailing giant Walmart and the rise of Barack Obama from obscurity in Chicago to the White House and the incestuous relationships of money, as Fasciani puts it, backing him. On each topic, Fasciani dives straight into the deep end and if it weren’t for his plain style of speaking, I’d have been totally lost on several topics he speaks on.

Fasciani is a surprisingly humble man, saying at the end of the interview that he hopes Stark’s listeners gained something out of what he said for nearly an hour. Wow, there is so much to be gained just from five minutes of his time alone! Googling his name, I could not find if he had a website but he is on Facebook and has written several articles for various websites including an essay “Gaza is our Guernica” in which he deplores the Israeli genocide of the Palestinian people.