The Versatility of Dame Barbara Cartland

Thanks to the wonderful world of Wikipedia, without which I would never had written this post. I probably should donate to it sometime soon.

Dame Barbara Cartland is someone who I, as a certified literary snob with a piece of paper to prove it, have always looked down upon as Not Being Literary.

EDIT: It has been drawn to my attention that not everyone will know who Dame Cartland was. My apologies! The short version is that Cartland was a prolific writer of romance novels of the Mills & Boon / Harlequin type. The long version ... well, read on!

So, while researching the novels of Isabel Allende in preparation for a possible Christmas present, I noticed that Allende translated a few of Dame Cartland's novels into Spanish. As you do when you're on Wikipedia, I clicked on to Dame Cartland's profile, and was quite surprised by what I found.

Of course, there are a lot of novels. Over 700, translated into over 30 languages, and over 1 billion copies sold. That in itself is pretty impressive, even when you take into account that most were formulaic and could be written in a number of days. Her record was 25 books in one year, and she averaged 23 books per year for two decades.

Dame Cartland actually started her career in the 1920s writing somewhat risque novels and plays, one of which was banned.  It was in the 1930s that the focus in her novels shifted to what would become her dominant themes of virginity and chasity.

Beyond the world of novel-writing, she was influential in politics, civic society, and aviation. While I strongly disagree with a lot of her opinions and positions, here are some of her remarkable achievements which I suspect few people know about:

1) As a Conservative councillor on Hertfordshire County Council from 1955-1964, she spearheaded the following changes:
* Positive nursing home reform
* Improvements to the salaries and working conditions of midwives and nurses
* Rights for gypsies to set up camps and have access to education

2) In aviation, she co-invented an aeroplane-towed glider with two RAF officers. It could travel for hundreds of kilometres. It design was later expanded and used to transport troops. Cartland received an industry award for this.

3) Cartland undertook an enormous amount of charity work for the War Office in St Johns Ambulance Brigade, and in 1953 was made a Commander of the Order of St John of Jerusalem.

Furthermore, she requested to be buried in a cardboard box because of her concerns for the environment. The request was honoured, and Cartland is buried under a tree which is said to have been planted by Queen Elizabeth I.

While I had expected that Dame Cartland would have been involved in charity work of some sort, her versatility was a lot more than I had expected, leaving me rather ashamed of dismissing her without at least some further investigation. Certainly a lesson learnt there.

I still don't think she was a great writer, but next time someone speaks of her writing disparagingly, I will at least respond with: "But did you know that she also ..."

The Adventures of a CD Scavenger

Ever heard of Arthur Daley's Clearance Houses? They're places where the larger chain stores send their junk to be flogged at a low price. The one in Melbourne is poorly ventilated and cramped, but occasionally you can find some pretty good deals on books and CDs. Case in point - at the moment there rare several racks of CDs at $5 each, or 4 for $10. Granted, most of the albums are complete and utter rubbish, but look what I found yesterday:

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club - B.R.M.C.
The Corrs - Talk on Corners [Special Edition]
The Corrs - In Blue [Special Edition]
Depeche Mode - Ultra
The Human League - Hysteria
Pulp - We Love Life
Revenge - One True Passion
Various Artists - Hope (War Child album for Iraq)

I initially purchased the Cardigans' Gran Turismo, but someone had stolen the CD from its case, so I returned and exchanged it for Human League.

If you have no idea who Revenge are, don't worry. It's a side project by New Order bass player Peter Hook. It's the only album they released, and it's rather bad. However, it's also incredibly rare, and it only cost me $2.50, of course. Don't like the booklet art - the sexual objectification of women in the photos is something I'd expect from a lesser band. The store successfully hid this from me by putting the booklet in backwards, with the least offensive photo showing.

The War Child album was bought for the sole purpose of acquiring New Order's cover of Jimmy Cliff's "Vietnam", which can't be found anywhere else, and is a lot of fun. But I expect to be pleasantly surprised by some of the other tracks on the record.

The Corrs, well ... a bit of a guilty pleasure there. Some of their songs are too sugar-sweet for me to handle, but they don't sound like anyone else in pop music, and that's pretty unusual.

While none of these albums would make it with me to a desert island (though the Pulp one's pretty good), getting all that for $20 was worth the 45 minutes I spent hurting my wrists flicking through all that junk.

Music Meanderings - On the Failings of Bloc Party's Record Company

A while ago I was trying to think up some kind of theme or purpose, or coherent idea that could define this LJ. Didn't work, so I gave in and decided it would become my sandpit.

Hence, more whining about bands to which I listen. (Well, I think the Billy Corgan one was a valid complaint, really.)

Bloc Party, who I like quite a bit - not love, just like quite a bit - have failed with the release of their non-album single, "One More Chance". Actually, it's probably their record label that was being incredibly frustrating, but either way:

1) "One More Chance" appeared on the internet as a video on MTV's website, and the song streamed on the Bloc Party site. Nothing wrong with that, except that this happened over a month before the song was available to purchase. Now, if that's not begging people to make illegal downloads, I don't know what is. This is the age of instant consumption - if someone hears a song they like, they want it now. We can have a lengthy discussion on the sociology behind this, but it's how it is, and it won't be changing any time soon.

2) Now that 10 August has come and gone and the song's finally been released, where can I buy it online? Well, only in the iTunes store. Not on Sandbag, which is the official Bloc Party site for song downloads, only iTunes.

Sorry, I don't have iTunes on my computer, not because I don't have an Mac or an iPod, but because iTunes is one of the most overrated pieces of software around. The interface is far more clunky than people seem to realise - I have yet to find a single advantage it has over Windows Media Player.

The Sandbag site is so easy: click on song / album, enter credit card details, download as MP3. No further software requirements needed! It's how downloading music should be. Radiohead's W.A.S.T.E. site is similar, only they send you an e-mail which has a link to the music file.

Considering the way in which Bloc Party's last album, Intimacy was released (first single, then most of the rest of the album available for download, then the second single added on, and bonus tracks for those who ordered the CD as well), I can't imagine this was the band's doing. That means it's probably yet another record company having to learn the hard way that the way people consume music just can't be controlled like in the 'good old days' before the internet.


The Fall and Fall and Fall of Billy Corgan

I am never buying anything by Billy Corgan / Smashing Pumpkins again.

That's a big statement to make, given that the first CD I ever owned was the 1998 album Adore, and that the Pumpkins would have been in my top five favourite bands from about late 1997 to somewhere around the beginning of 2005. However, the behaviour of singer Billy Corgan and the general quality of the band's music has deteriorated rapidly since he and drummer Jimmy Chamberlin reformed the band a couple of years ago.

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I forgot to post about this ...


The Greens won the Fremantle by-election! 

This is one of the greatest victories of any Green party in Australia. To put it in perspective:

* This was the highest primary vote the Greens have ever achieved in a single-member electorate at state or federal level: 44% compared to the ALP's 38%. The winning margin was  54% - 46%, which is quite comfortable all things considered. We won booths which historically have been solid Labor for generations. In fact, Labor held Fremantle for over 80 years until last weekend.

* With the exception of Tasmania and the ACT, where they have multi-member electorates, the Greens have never won a seat in the lower house of a state or territory. (We did have two defections: Kris Hanna in SA and Ronan Lee from QLD - both were sitting Labor MPs.)

* The Greens now have 5 MPs in the WA parliament, giving them party status. This means they will have more resources, and influence. With 7 MPs across state and federal levels, WA now has more Greens in parliament than any other state or territory. Tasmania is second with 6 (4 state, 2 federal).

And now ... the future. Four state elections and one federal election will take place over the next two years.

* SA and Tasmania go to the polls in March 2010. At the moment we have on MP in SA's upper house, and we would hope to increase this to two. Tasmania has 4 MPs - the aim will be to add another one or two.

* A federal election will most likely take place in July or August 2010. Here the Greens have a chance to pick up some more Senate seats (up to 5 new ones, dependent on a number of factors), and have another tilt at capturing inner-city seats like Melbourne and Sydney.

* Then we have Victoria in November 2010. Here is the next big chance for Greens to take lower house seats from the ALP: the inner-city electorates of Melbourne, Brunswick and Richmond only require small swings to go Green. There are also plenty of opportunities to increase the numbers in the upper house from the current 3 MPs in both city and country areas.

* Lastly, there's NSW in March 2011. Anyone who has been following NSW politics lately will know that neither the ALP or the Liberals are particularly favoured at the moment. This is a chance not only for the Greens to increase their MPs in the upper house from 4 to 5, but also to target the inner-city seats of Balmain and Marrickville.

Of course there will be disappointments ahead; times when our vote drops and we lose MPs. But just now, it is damn good to be Green.

Want to be US President? It helps if you're left-handed.

Over the last few decades, a bizarre pattern has developed in US Presidential politics; namely, that left-handers are popping up more than they should statistically. Five of the last seven US Presidents are/were left-handed: Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, George Bush Sr., Bill Clinton, Barack Obama. Reagan was left-handed by birth but forced to convert to his right hand back in ye not-so-olden days when being left-handed was very much frowned upon. That just leaves Jimmy Carter and George Bush Jr. as the only two right-handers since Richard Nixon.

No more than 10% of Americans (this holds true in many countries) are left-handed, so you'd say that lately, left-handers are getting a pretty good deal where the US Presidency is concerned.

The most spectacular example of this was in the 1992 election, where not only were both main candidates (Bush Sr. and Clinton) left-handed, but Ross Perot, the independent outsider who ended up winning 18.9% of the vote, was also a lefty.

If George Bush Jr. hadn't stolen the 2000 election, the streak of left-handed Presidents would have continued, because Al Gore is, you guessed it, left-handed. Not to mention that the Americans had another chance to elect a left-hander in 2004 - a certain Democrat named John Kerry.

With left-handed President Obama, it seems things have been restored to their "natural" state. Not that voting for John McCain would have kept the status quo: he's left-handed too.

In fact, the last time a presidential race was run where both the Democratic and Republican nominees were right-handed was back in 1972, when Richard Nixon defeated George McGovern.

Land Grab in Madagascar Cancelled

I am very pleased to report, following up on my earlier post on this matter, that the proposal by the Madagascan government to sign away over a million hectares of land (half of the island's fertile soil) on a 99-year lease to Daewoo for the growth of corn which would then be exported to South Korea, has been cancelled due to outrage from the Madagascan people.