Red Marilyn


Marilyn Monroe was no ‘dumb blonde’. She was an avid reader with an extensive personal library, and embraced radical left-wing politics throughout her short life, which was terminated by agents of the State when she threatened to expose secrets she had learned through her affairs with the Kennedy brothers.

In 1960, she became a founding member of the Hollywood branch of the Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy; and was elected as an alternate delegate to the state’s Democratic caucus. She did not hide her pro-Castro views on Cuba, or her support for the then-burgeoning civil rights movement.

Fifty years after her death in August 1962,  files documenting the FBI’s close scrutiny of Marilyn Monroe were finally released. The files reveal that she was the target of intense FBI surveillance, especially in the months prior to her untimely death, because of her close association with communist activists and militant trade unionists. Her open contempt for the anti-communist witch-hunt under McCarthyism, which destroyed the careers of many of her contemporaries in the Hollywood film industry, had also made her a target.

mm mayday

”We human beings are strange creatures and still reserve the right to think for ourselves.’‘ ~ Marilyn Monroe


Charles Dickens’ Novels : A Personal Ranking


Having read, at various periods of my life, all fifteen of Dickens’ novels, I thought it might be an interesting exercise – to me at least ! – to rank them in order of merit; or rather in an order based on how much enjoyment (or otherwise) I recall each giving me at the time.


1)  NICHOLAS NICKLEBY (1838) : It’s a close call between my top three for the number one spot but I’ve plumped for Nickleby, which has the multitude of eccentric and amusing characters one associates with Dickens, without the needless sub-plots and longueurs  which are also unfortunately typical – perhaps as a result of their being published in serial form to deadlines. Consistently entertaining.


2)  BLEAK HOUSE (1852) :  Unusually for a Dickens novel, it has an engaging and cogent plot-line from which deviations are minimal. Serious contemporary issues are explored, and there are several memorable, and quite realistic character studies. The closest in style to Dickens’ contemporary Wilkie Collins, whom I rate as equal, if not superior to the much more celebrated Dickens.

great exp

3)  GREAT EXPECTATIONS (1860) : Basically an examination of the class-system in England in the early nineteenth century, it has one of the best opening chapters, which immediately engages the reader’s interest in the flawed hero Pip as a child. Probably has the best plot of any Dickens novel. The ending certainly caught me by surprise, but is perfectly consistent with what went before.

our mutual

4)  OUR MUTUAL FRIEND (1864) : Dickens’ last completed novel seems the most ”modern” to a contemporary reader, and in describing it as ”Hardy-esque” I mean it as a compliment. One of the main protagonists, the schoolteacher Bradley Headstone has dilemmas to which the word ”existential” would not be inappropriate – not something one normally associates with Dickens. There is savage satire on materialism and class.


5)  OLIVER TWIST (1837) : Memorable characters (Fagin, Bill Sikes, Nancy, etc) and a page-turning plot-line make it one of the best of the early novels, with some great set-pieces. Short by Dickens standards, which is no bad thing.  David Lean’s film adaptation (1948) is excellent.

david c

6)  DAVID COPPERFIELD (1849) : Dickens’ most autobiographical novel would probably be rated higher by most critics, and certainly by the author himself, judging by remarks he made. There are good parts, and Mr Micawber is a magnificent creation, but  I found the eponymous hero tiresome and something of a bore. Too long.

martin c

7)  MARTIN CHUZZLEWIT (1843) : Written shortly after the author’s trip to America, his disappointment with the place influences the scenes enacted there, which are somewhat colourless,. The best episodes concern the archetypal snob Pecksniff, one of Dickens’ great characters, who actually rescues the book, which I would have rated lower without his presence.

edwin drood

8)  THE MYSTERY OF EDWIN DROOD (1870) : On the other hand the last, unfinished novel would almost certainly be rated higher if Dickens had lived to complete it. The plot as laid out in the few chapters he wrote engages the interest, and the characters introduced are true to life and realistic, in accordance with the style of most of the later works.


9)  PICKWICK PAPERS (1836) : Not really a novel, but rather a series of episodes concerning the same collection of characters, the members of the Pickwick Club. Some scenes are amusing, but the whole is somewhat less than the sum of its parts. Too many boring bits.


10)  DOMBEY AND SON (1846) : Starts quite well, but like other novels of the middle years, soon gets bogged down with superfluous sub-plots and just too many inessential characters.

little dorrit

11)  LITTLE DORRIT (1855) : Again, too many characters and too much deviation from the main story.  Far too long and difficult to follow, without the redeeming feature of captivating or amusing characterisation, and lacking in humour.

old curiosity

12)  THE OLD CURIOSITY SHOP (1840) :  Apparently one of the most popular serialisations when it first appeared, but to the modern reader  (well, me)  it comes across as overly sentimental and the characters (with the exception of the villain Quilp) are bland and one-dimensional. One can’t help agreeing with Oscar Wilde  : “One must have a heart of stone to read the death of little Nell without laughing.”

hard times

13) HARD TIMES (1854) :  A hard read. Completely lacking in the humour which redeems many of Dickens’ other forays into social commentary. The bad characters are too bad to be true, and the good are too good to believe in as well. Thankfully quite short.

a tale of2

14)  A  TALE OF TWO CITIES (1859) :  It is surprising that Dickens does not produce a better story than this,  given the dramatic background of the French Revolution and the wealth of raw material available for him to expound his social and political standpoints.  A boring novel, again completely lacking in humour.


15)  BARNABY RUDGE (1841) :  Last, and by all means least, a largely (and justifiably) forgotten novel set against the background of the – also now ignored and forgotten- Gordon Riots of 1780. The eponymous Barnaby is quite peripheral to the plot, and though definitely a strange creation, fails to hold one’s sympathy or interest. I admit to having struggled with this one, the last I read, and I (eventually) finished it only for the satisfaction of ”completing the set”.


Humpty Dumpty


‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.’

’The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’

’The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master – that’s all.’

#Freedom  #Democracy   ||  #Neofeudalism  #Kleptocracy 


Tao Te Ching #41


When superior people hear of the Way
they follow it with devotion
When average people hear of the Way
they wonder if it exists
When inferior people hear of the Way
they laugh out loud
If they didn’t laugh
it wouldn’t be the Way
Hence these sayings arose
the brightest path seems dark
the path leading forward seems backward
the smoothest path seems rough
the highest virtue low
the whitest white pitch-black
the greatest virtue wanting
the staunchest virtue timid
the truest truth uncertain
the perfect square without corners
the perfect tool without uses
the perfect sound hushed
the perfect image without form
For the Tao is hidden and nameless
but because it’s the Tao
it knows how to start and how to finish

~Tao Te Ching #41 ~ 老子

Pity the Nation


ferjlnghetti by Lawrence Ferlinghetti

Pity the nation whose people are sheep,
and whose shepherds mislead them.
Pity the nation whose leaders are liars, whose sages are silenced,
and whose bigots haunt the airwaves.
Pity the nation that raises not its voice,
except to praise conquerors and acclaim the bully as hero
and aims to rule the world with force and by torture.
Pity the nation that knows no other language but its own
and no other culture but its own.
Pity the nation whose breath is money
and sleeps the sleep of the too well fed.
Pity the nation — oh, pity the people who allow their rights to erode
and their freedoms to be washed away.
My country, tears of thee, sweet land of liberty.

The Acquisitive Self, Minus the Self

~ article by Natasha Vargas-Cooper (edited)rich

Thanks to the exhibition-friendly canons of social media, the scions of excess are back and flaunting it, baby—and it’s an entirely underwhelming display. These aren’t the out-of-sight rich but their twenty-something children, ‘funemployed’ trust-funders flouting their parents’ wealth-whispers code of silence. With acres of unproductive time on their hands, bored rich kids are using their gold-plated i-Phones to post images of their baubles of privilege, their chemical stimulants of preference, and their outlandish bar tabs on Instagram, the photo-sharing service of the moment…

“They have more money than you do and this is what they do,” goes the tagline of Rich Kids of Instagram (#RKOI for short.)

Around about the dozenth selfie featuring a buff and/or emaciated scion nestled into a private jet with a bottle of Cristal and a $10,000 clip of cash (“Always make sure to tip your pilot and co-pilot 10k. #rulesofflyingprivate”), you can’t help but wonder, “Is that all there is ?”…

Why should we look ? The pay-offs for the non-rich civilian viewer are oddly perfunctory. After all of the social mythologies we’ve lovingly constructed to envelop the delusions of the 1 percent, this is the lurid end-of-the-rainbow pay-off they’ve decided to lord over the rest of us—a fistful of watches, car interiors, and European spa photos…



Sunset II

peel-sun2Sunset II
by Margaret Atwood

Sunset, now that we’re finally in it
is not what we thought.

Did you expect this violet black
soft edge to outer space, fragile as blown ash
and shuddering like oil, or the reddish
orange that flows into
your lungs and through your fingers?
The waves smooth mouthpink light
over your eyes, fold after fold.
This is the sun you breathe in,
pale blue. Did you
expect it to be this warm?

One more goodbye,
sentimental as they all are.
The far west recedes from us
like a mauve postcard of itself
and dissolves into the sea.

Now there’s a moon,
an irony. We walk
north towards no home,
joined at the hand.

I’ll love you forever,
I can’t stop time.

This is you on my skin somewhere
in the form of sand

Photograph : Peel Castle. Isle of Man