Towards Better Democracy

Good words, well written, better the world. Good literature betters the world immeasurably.

Who’s a thinker?


When I set up this blog, Towards Better Democracy, in 2006, I fervently wished for the people of the Middle East to know freedom. Perhaps not in the sense that we know it, necessarily. But in a form that at the very least allowed those people who have only known oppression for, in some cases, thousands of years, an ability to lead their lives such that they were untrammelled by the mad actions and ideas of some tin pot thrusting himself bloodily on the stage of life, dripping with blood as his panoply of power.

But, despite the success of the blog, its fevered discussions in the comments column – you can dig down to the lower levels to see for yourself – and despite the fact that the students of Egypt, having the life of them torn out like so much litter on a sidewalk surely in need of being broadcast to the world – if read by only a few, I quit. In an instant.

One of my followers, a highly intelligent individual who had contributed significantly to the discussions, called me a “Thinker.”

That was it. I turned off the light and stopped writing. There was a long silence until I revived it with my poetry not long ago.

No, I am not a thinker nor ever sought to be. What I wish for I do not have a word for. Modest I am then and am still. I would like to see others take up the torch I hold aloft still. To have people take charge of their lives and not allow others, whoever they are and whatever means they use to take over the minds of their populace, willingly or not, and proletize and spread what I so earnest speak of. Whether I seek to be a spark for that I cannot say. Those who read those columns, posts, where this vital life enhancing need is spoken may think, “Yes, the man has something,” or they may not, the points being made may pass over their heads, or sthey may feel that life is complex enough without taking on something abstract, impossible ideal, however vaunted, perhaps to ever put into effect in real life, or too utopian to ever think that such an idea is achievable given how we are, all are. But this not near true. When the French in 1789, and the Americans before them in 1766, held aloft a spirit, a spirit of the idea that human life, the way that humanity might live, in dimensions hitherto not previously thought of, with the exception perhaps of the Polis of the Ancient Greeks. Have we not always sought, wherever we are on the planet, to be free, truly free in an unadulterated, undiluted way.

What role I seek to play in all this I cannot possibly say. I am driven by a fierce, fierce belief that it is possible, that it takes simply a decision on the part of a sufficient number of people, critical mass if you like, or a group of intellectual, to posit a way that points to how we might achieve this aim, and for it to be sustainable, even over the centuries to come.

The United Nations, a concept itself breathtaking at the time and not much respected in oura, formulated a document which is magnificent in its vision and scope, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Only the Constitution of the United States, even if this is effected more in the breach than on a daily basis. Still it does exist, that proud American document, and the Statue of Liberty, a gift of the French, holds aloft the torch of freedom. This is not mockery but sincerely felt. The vast majority of Americans will tell you so.

Even if the Declaration of Human Rights is barely respected, not even read, maybe not even be known of by people at large, is seen as something impossible to achieve, and even if it is flouted in word and spirit by the members of the United Nations, still it was written, does exist, and, as such sets up the words of what we all, in our billions, might strive to achieve.

I never thought for a moment when I started some nine months ago to post music links, heartened by the response to them, surprised even, that I would be posting a nakedly political musical post. I felt such crosscurrents of irony, of breathlessness, at what I was doing, in this most recent of posts, As Zizek says in the following post in an accent so thick I don’t think I have ever heard its like – I have never heard him before and have not been much drawn to his books – says so rightly, so accurately, Laibach’s visit to North Korea (I was looking for post rock bands in Noth Korea – fat chance), which might have as its power mongers, the most reviled political bunch on the planet, was no regular visit of a Western band visiting the single most closed country in existence, at least at present, nominally Communist. This is no Michel Jarre Concerts in China, the first Western musician to be invited to visit and play in Communist China – one doesn’t quite know what political hue it hews to now – and Jarre was not the first, Isaac Stern was decades before as recorded in From Moa to Mozart, the most inspiring film I have ever seen, that’s more than likely.

I have no wish  to be controversial. The aims espoused by this blog can be voiced in far more moderate terms and thus achieve, one hopes, a far greater effect as a result. Should it never make a difference, I suppose I could say I would like it to. One does not resign but better to fight until death. One at least feels at its end that one has done something worth while.

So, yes, I am not a thinker. And Zizek, whatever one thinks of him, is a thinker. I could never match him. I did not know of him at the time, I recoiled from the label given me which I so much did not want. To have the brain and means of expression that Zizek has, no, I was not given those at birth. A brain such as that required to think in a deep and pellucid way cannot be acquired and the modes of expression, the mark of the thinker, come with the territory of such a mind.

I am simply content to be, to the fullest extent that I can, true to myself and others. I can to more than that.

Malcolm D B Munro
Sunday 13 August, 2017

Filed under: Arts, Current Events, history, Media, Memoir, Music, poetry, politics, songs, stories

Slavoj Žižek – Laibach in North Korea


Slavoj Žižek – Laibach in North Korea

Malcolm D B Munro
Sunday 13 August, 2017

Filed under: Arts, Current Events, history, Media, Memoir, Music, poetry, politics, songs, stories

Laibach in Pyongyang, North Korea 19.08.2015


Laibach in Pyongyang, North Korea 19.08.2015

Kilka klipów z koncertu słoweńskiego zespołu Laibach w stolicy Korei Północnej, Pjongjangu.

Few short clips from the first concert of a Slovenian band Laibach in Pyongyang, North Korea on August 19th 2015.

A Slovenian rock band known for performing in Nazi uniforms made an appearance in North Korea on Wednesday and is expected to play again on Thursday.

The Telegraph reported on Wednesday, The members of the group Laibach were invited to play in two concerts that are a celebration of North Korea’s 70th anniversary of liberation from Japanese colonial rule.

Laibach was the name the Nazis used to refer to Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia, when it occupied the country during World War II. The band has been performing since 1980 and mixes industrial, martial and neoclassical musical styles.

1. Life is life
2. Sound of music
3. Arirang

Malcolm D B Munro
Sunday 13 August, 2017

Filed under: Arts, Current Events, history, Media, Music, poetry, politics, songs, stories

Kim Jong Un visits Concert of Moranbong Band on 68th Birthday of Workers Party of Korea, North Korea 김정은원수님께서 조선로동당창건 68돐경축 모란봉악단과 공훈국가합창단 합동공연 《조선로동당 만세》를 관람하시였다


Kim Jong Un visits Concert of Moranbong Band on 68th Birthday of Workers Party of Korea 김정은원수님께서 조선로동당창건 68돐경축 모란봉악단과 공훈국가합창단 합동공연 《조선로동당 만세》를 관람하시였다

Malcolm D B Munro
Suday 13 August, 2017

Filed under: Arts, Current Events, Media, Music, poetry, politics, songs, stories

The Moranbong Band-Music of North Korea


The Moranbong Band-Music of North Korea

31 December 2012 – New Years celebration North Korea

From the You Tube posting
The socialist system of the Republic is a people-centred social system in which the masses of the working people are the masters of everything and everything in society serves them. In accordance with the nature of its socialist system, the Government of the Republic defends and protects the interests of workers, peasants and intellectuals and all other working people who have become masters of state and society, free from exploitation and oppression.
Malcolm D B Munro
Sunday 13 August, 2017

Filed under: Arts, Current Events, history, Media, Music, poetry, politics, songs, stories

Writing is difficult


Writing is difficult. Writing is artificial. As are learning the alphabet and reading. Writing, reading and learning the alphabet cannot be learned overnight. Contrariwise, we can sing in our sleep. All these acquired skills are drummed into us as children. Laboriously repeating sounds that approximate to the vowels  and consonants. On the wall even the blindest could are boxes drawn to contain and A and a, with an apple beside. B and b have box. C and c a cat, and so forth to encompass all 26 letters of the English alphabet, itself a combination of those first two letters. And move later to pronouncing well, so that our follow speakers can understand us. “The rain in Spain … ” where it hardly ever rains. Later in our education we may learn the art of rhetoric. To intone and sound wise, and clever, even if dull of brain and slow of wit.

Reading is acquired thorough rote. We start with the simplest. “The cat …” though in our house she never does. She never sits but lies on the couch and looks at us lesser creatures with a feline disdain. Again and again we go through passages. Again and again , until some sense is got from the insensible, incompressible words, which we are told are sentences. And so on until at some point this stops. Thank God for that. The equivalent of walking without the aid of a parent to hold our hand. Though my reading teacher at school, I don’t know about yours, would rasp at us, a sound we never could produce, and expel sounds that well conveyed her thoughts of our efforts.

Writing was worth. You lived through absolute hell if you were left handed. And malformed letter earned you, an undeserved – for writing is difficult, and there is no other way to teach it than force feeding a liver goose – a rap on the knuckles.

Having acquired all these, we are now called literate. Societies that don’t have these skills, have no writing system, are viewed as incivilized, especially if they run around in loin cloths, or, horror upon horror, naked. Though, in this state we are all born.

Depots in the earliest of times, when we first began to cultivate our crops, grabbed power and exhorted from us part of that harvest, or maybe not a part, but close to a whole, and wished to count this hoard of misbegotten goods so as to ensure that all held in thrall by his magical powers paid up or forfeited land or life, for was not religion, the mysteries, formulated to ensure the legitimacy of this self-appointed man – they were all men – the famous despotic women (they were sugbjugating naughty and nasty men who plotted and canived to kill them (and who of us would not, if we had the means at our disposal, seek to protect and save our lives?)) came later  – women nurture mankind, not enslave, maim and kill them.

Besides keeping track of who had paid his dues or not, the top of the heap head had to guard against theft, and the menace of nature; rodent, rain, or ruin.

To exhalt his stature, to have all comers bow and kiss his unwashed feet, he developed writing so that his laws of rule could endure for eternity, his fame ensured for centuries ahead.

Music, singing and speaking are not like this. They are natural. As does the bird fly, or the  fish swim. Language was learned from the moment out of the mother’s womb and maybe before. Children barely need to be taught. The arts too, visual, plastic and solid are also innate. Nature build them into us.

All these are as natural to us as is the skin that enwraps us. Not so writing. Writing is difficult.

Malcolm D B Munro
Saturday 12 August, 2017

 

 

 

Filed under: Arts, Current Events, Media, Music, poetry, politics, songs, stories

Looking for Mr Goodbar … but not finding him


I have many wonderful stories to tell of my time in South Africa, none, as far as recall, recounted in this blog.

At the time, South Africa was under the jackboot of Aparteid. While not draconian, many laws and restrictions applied. There was a paranoia on the part of a certain sector of the population.

One expression of the ruling party was censorship. A sort of keeping the house clean and a reflection of the attitides of the Dutch Reformed Church. The Afrikaner community, the paranoids  I should add, were locked a puritan version of the Dutch past of which they were a farming settling group, who detested the more tolerance attitudes on the part of the English colonisers. Any resemblance between these Uitlanders and the modern Dutch state was, and is, distant.

During the course of my study of music at the University of the Witwatersrand, I formed friendships with many of the girls, young women, who were studying in the Music Department – there were few men. These students were a happy bunch, full of enthusiasm as women of that age are – young men don’t match it –  and loving the substance of what they had ad  of their future careers. They made wonderful friends in groups or as individuals and delightful companions.

A film just released was banned at the time when it came out by the puritan government, Looking for Mr Goodbar. For some obscure reason I was attracted to the idea of seeing the film. Its being out of reach, I suppose. Botswana, a much more advanced neighbouring country, was much more tolerant than the country abutting its border. Blacks and whites lived in harmony there without the non segregation and miscegenation laws put in place by their fearful white settlers next door. Botswana is among few countries in the world which had a British presence and yet were not colonists of. The country was ruled at the time by a benign leader, Seretse Khama – other views may be held on this man but his fellow countrymen admired and liked him.

I had travelled, and did afterwards, to Botswana in the course of my duties as an engineer. I found the place more relaxed that the country I lived and worked in. Flying in on a two seat private plane to Gaborone one immediately becomes aware of this land having little in the way of cultivatable soil.

So, with the film showing in the capital and it being a four or five hour drive from Johannesburg, I formulated the idea of going and attending a performance of the film. Five of my music students were excited at the idea of going, and one afternoon we piled into my car and off we went. Laughter and exuberance filled the vehicle though it was a little crowded. This may have contributed to the atmosphere. Gaborone seemed a long drive from Johannesburg since the roads are almost empty and we’re driving through the monotony of the maize fields which run up to border of Botswana. The formalities at the custom post are cursory and we sail through. It is now night and the town poorly lit.

The cinema is located on the edge of the town and is attended by few of the locals. We line up for tickets behaving more like school children than adult students at one of the most prestigious universities on the continent (the other is the University of Cape Town.)
We get to the ticket taker at the door. The girls are allowed in but he bars the way to me.

“You need a necktie to get in,” he says in English, obviously learned in the cradle (the English have left some mark behind.)

No local would dream of wearing a tie in Botswana. The country is hot and made worse by its being largely desert. A search for a tie will be a fruitless endevour. My friends look disappointed but all pile in filled with excitement.

I hang out in the bar of a local hotel until the film is finished – I barely drank alcohol, I don’t drink any now. The time ’til the film finished seem endless. There was nobody in the bar, the barman absent most of the time, there being no customers to serve. I am drinking Heineken, a Dutch imported beer, South African Brewers’ products not being to my liking.

Soon enough, no, after a drug-out hour and a half or two, the women appear. Their dememour seems normal. The film seems to have neither excited nor disappointed them.  We drove home in a quieter atmosphere than had been the case on the outward journey but still comfortable, relaxed, even intimate, as it is among good friends. The film was not discussed.

Malcolm D B Munro
Saturday 12 August, 2017

Filed under: Arts, Current Events, history, Media, Memoir, Music, poetry, politics, songs, stories

Invitation to Guest Write on this Blog


I would like to extend an invitation to readers and followers of Towards Better Democracy to guest write on the blog. The problem is that few will read this post so I may have to repeat this invitation in future posts.

The topic can be anything within the ambit of what the blog posts. The exchange between a potential guest and the writer would take place on Drop Box which is easy to use. The folder containing guest writer and myself would be locked with access only to the two parties. 

The writer retains the right to edit the piece or refuse the piece but would not change the spirit of it. The guest piece can be of any length within reason. The guest will retain copyright of the piece and it can be something already posted on the guest’s blog. The guest may call for anonymity but should provide, whether identified or not, a short three to four line bio on themselves where they reside, country only.

Starting point will be the comments column where a potential guest can express interest.

Malcolm D B Munro
Saturday 12 August, 2017

 

 

 

 

Filed under: Arts, Book Review, Current Events, history, Internet threats, Media, Memoir, Music, poetry, politics, songs, stories

Take the writer


The writer emerging into the profession of writing, in all its many forms of interest to him, with ambitions to make a living from his efforts, wishes to find his voice, that which is distinctive, authentic, and is of his true self. The writer, as a starting point where we explore this topic of emergent artists into their chosen field, written of in previous posts, cannot write at all unless, and until, he has knowledge of himself, and of how he might express it. He is going to make errors, write less successful pieces, some of which are going to jar him and his intended audience alike. You might say this is akin to relearning to play the piano after many years of little or no practice in public. Of course, no one in their right mind would tolerate such a situation. How awful  would be the experience. But a blog is different. Is a public arena where mistakes and fumblings are par for the course. It is the nature of the medium. No one expects every blog writer to be superb and widely sought after, gains a huge and wonderful audience all but overnight. Some write in a manner which appals certain audiences and they will never go near such blog. They may be self serving, written by people who have never grown up and do not wish to do so. Such people cannot be called writers and never will be such. Such people lack self awareness, the first prerequisite of a writer, as noted above.

In writing one learns by doing. No writing school on this earth is going to teach you how to be a writer, far less a good one, never mind a successful one. One does that on one’s own. Should you have the skills and knowledge for writing got from any of those workshops and classes, such tedious things, filled largely by those who want to write but who have no talent nor drive to do so, those rudiments will serve you well. The rudiments of writing, the skills required are hard earned, and workshops and classes serve well to equip a person desiring to write, seriously write: If you have the patience for them and they are led by someone who is competent to do so. You cannot learn this craft from the web, nor from books for dummies. No writer of whatever kind is a dummy.

For writing, like any field of human endeavour, worthwhile activity, is hard work, and the basic knowledge of it, to gain a real footing in it.

One learns by practice just as the pianists. The writing skills are practiced every day. Every day without fail. The nature of the human requires this. Any professional runner, as an example, will tell you this. Now, one does not to be an obsessive driven with a kind of manic insanity, though it may, heaven help such people, but a reasoned, thoughtful approach where one is conscious of what one is doing.

This finding of the voice is not easy. No examples of other writings efforts can serve. They may act as influences but too readily and anxiously taken aboard will result in the newly emerging writing in him or her being derivative, an imitator. This suits some and not others. If such a writer is not ambitious and does not or is willing not, to strive for higher levels, will be content and accept the results of his labour. He sells and that is what matters to him. For no professional writer, let us be clear about this, wish to not gain an income. It may be little and may supplement other income. But no writer, a professional writer worth the name, works for free, or seldom does, only with specific non monetary gain in mind.

As in the mastery of music writing and reading, for the composition of music spoken of in an earlier post, so for the writer. At the very least the use of commas, and all punctuation and the like have to be mastered. No editor is going to tolerate a writer careless or unschooled in such things. Editing any and every writer is already hard enough. Editors work against deadlines, usually with an overabundance of writer with whom to contend. They simply do not have time nor patience for the incompetent. No judge in a full session court would tolerate an incoherent lawyer unable to represent his client. His client would not be pleased either.

One does not wish to extend the length of any post unduly. After all, future posts can carry extensions of the topic. Let us consider the case of a writer who wishes to develop as a fiction writer. Rare would be the case where that writer wrote the equivalent of War and Peace as a first work. Writers usually start small, short stories. The would be fiction writer, if he is realistic, will recognise that the first efforts will be risible and editors will return manuscripts or not at all. Either way the attitude of the seasoned publisher and editors behind them will be, “Don’t waste my time.” They may say, if you are lucky, “Try again later when you have developed your craft.”

Those of who write blogs are lucky, perhaps the word is fortunate. We do not have to write in small, cramped rooms, with little heating, and little food to put upon the table. We can have jobs and live in comfort while we sweat and labour to meet the requirements of that publisher, that editor, who know what sells and what does not.

Every writer wishes to write successful books, books that sell and make a lot of money. For a writer with such goals and aims who does not, I wonder what he is.

Here, in front of you and me, is a remarkable medium. Look at the Huffington Post.

Oh, and patience; the writer learning to write, needs patience, as in any of the arts.

Malcolm D B Munro
Thursday 10 August, 2017

Filed under: Arts, Book Review, Current Events, Media, Memoir, Music, poetry, politics, stories

Writer; writing


People sometimes say to me, seeing me write, or learning that I do, “I want to write, to be a writer.” This nonsense, one either writes or one does not, there is no in between. Though I don’t tell this in those words. I am more polite. I mean writing is not like wanting to  walk on the moon; now that we have literacy and have the ability as a result to write, writing comes naturally to us like driving, a car, an automobile. Wanting to walk on the moon is different. Although they have stopped sending rockets there. At least for the time being. It doesn’t matter diddley squat whether you write badly or well or somewhere in-between. You write because you want to, are driven to. Those of us who write, do not write for fame or fortune, though the latter might be a worthy goal. The wannabe seeks celebrity in the way that many say, “I want to be rich.” Well, you will never be. You not get rich, unless you are given to thievery, or skullduggery, through hard work, relentless effort, always pushing and pushing yourself whatever difficulties you face, whatever obstacles you meet. No wall is insurmountable. You simply find a way round it.

As I stand at the threshold of becoming a professional writer, as I know I will, I am finally learning my craft – took some time – I am learning that what makes a writer, a good writer, is not skill or talent, not a gift for the blarney, but a control of ones tools; a mastery of our language, whatever that language be, learnt at the mother’s side, at school, and a willingness to pay attention. To watch what we write and take a dispassionate view of it. Writing well can never come from the “look how clever I am” approach, the narcissistic.

I met a fellow the other night at one of the few all night food places here in Houston, Texas – there used to be more – (I shall never use the real names of the people I meet or talk of or photograph unless they specifically give me permission to do so). I had not met him since 1988. He wanted share with me “what he had written recently.” He thrust in front of me some writing he had recently done, 40 pages or 400 pages. “You want me to read all of it now?” I said. I could see that the merest glance that it was junk. He kept doing this until it was as plain as the typeface of a bill board that I was not going to do so.

He started to read it out loud, unasked, uninvited. It was utter bilge, imbecilic. He was reading to assure himself. I told him that he was ,,, the word I used above, that he was self absorbed, not a pretty thing to see or hear in public. His companion of the opposite sex, if we still have such things, who seem to be of uncertain relationship to him, said, ”He does that all the time.” To be a companion of such a man, no wonder the relationship was opaque to me. Was made so by her when I had earlier asked her.

So, writing. Yes. I have tried to write all my life. Been told countless times that I have the makings of a good writer, even a great one, but have never been able to. I have kept continuously a journal, the study is filled with piles of the completed, favoured note books I use. But they are all full of junk, too embarrassing to go back and read.

What one needs at the very least in order to write is a clear head. And, through depression I never had one. If one is not clear as to what one wishes to write, how on earth can you. You stumble and stumble. Some call it writer’s block but maybe that is different. I have never known it.

Now the journal I keep is filled with stuff I can read, that makes sense, that I shall have to go back and read to ensure that I have followed up, will follow up, on the notes contained therein.

You know, it is funny. I come to the arts, the arts of writing, of the visual, of music at this stage of my life always having wanted, passionately, to do what I am doing now.

I come into the arts world fully fledged or close to it, some polishing required and drop right in the middle of it. How can this be? Because all that I have ever done, all those playwriting classes, those journalism classes where I have been told, “you have an eye for story, for the headline,” this from a leading writer for the Guardian, this was years ago at the University of the Witwatersrand, “Malcolm, I would pay you to attend my classes. You have what I try to teach my students,”  at the same place by a professor o journalism at Rhodes University where he was visiting from. To be told by an artist with whom I took a life drawing class in San Antonio when I was visiting my brother there in 1977, as he looked at a life drawing I had just produced, “That line is beautiful.” No higher praise can be got from a teacher of art, of life drawing.

I say all this not to boast. Why should I? Such behaviour I find obnoxious in others why would I not find it so in myself. I guess I tell it to tell my story. Of how it is that I am now doing what I am doing. And come out of the blue to do it.

OK, my writing smacks of the prolix, of the stumbles, inelegant expressions, of repetitions, of redundancies, of spelling errors occassionaly, of words inappropriatenes in their use. Of never using 2 words where 20 will do. Of making a point too heavily. Of being didactic, horror upon horrors. The learning writer makes mistakes, I have them all. But, as in most things in life, we learn by doing. We make mistakes. One is too many with knowledge aforehand, two mistakes too many not good, beyond that, you are destined to lead a life where you always do that, are incapable of learning, are blind to what you need to do: pay attention. No detail too small.

So here we are on the threshold of a new life; or have already begun: beginning life again as if I were twenty, when first time round I got off on the wrong foot and have up yesterday, or the day before, or a year go. And now am turning round.

The transformation.

Malcolm D B Munro
Monday 6 August, 2017

Filed under: Arts, Current Events, history, Media, Memoir, Music, poetry, politics, songs, stories

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