What is English honour I wonder?

Is there such a thing as English honour? I mean really, what is this thing bandied about in every film and novel about the English ruling classes? I only bring it up after watching the latter half of a 1960s TV adaptation of Kidnapped, the Robert Louis Stevenson novel. The word honor was uttered with such metronomic frequency that of course MMK having nothing better to do sat down for what turned out to be thorough entertainment. It seems that while the English cluck their tongues at today’s martyrdom-seeking types, they have had their very own home grown ones. But they have been of a middle class variety of honor and heroism that was on display in this film with all its obsessions with inheritance, social position and love/hate feelings for aristocratic authority. It was actually very funny if you will allow me to start laughing before I get to the punchline.

OK, to the film. Young and earnest David Balfour is kidnapped, sold into slavery and cheated out of his inheritance by a scheming uncle in eighteenth century Scotland. While on the run in the Scottish Highlands, he falls in with a Jacobite rebel, Alan Breck – who murders a local chieftain supporter of the occupant of the English throne – and Aileen, the daughter of the man wrongly accused of the murder. David bravely returns to Edinburgh where he faces down the Lord Advocate – the representative of the king and the highest authority in the land. He testifies that the accused is innocent, to which the Lord Advocate – who intends that the man should hang to avoid sectarian violence – admonishes him to not pursue this course. ‘Thousands will die for this one man, and Scotland will be destroyed’ he pleads (I paraphrase). Even David’s companions try to dissuade him arguing that he will only destroy his own life for a doomed cause. They eventually give up before his principled stand with one of them saying, ‘go and do your duty; and be hanged, if you must. Like a gentleman.’

Young David is all for the scaffold provided he tells the truth even if the innocent accused is guaranteed death and his country – ruled by the English – torn asunder. ‘Then let it fall, let the whole rotten Scotland fall so that an innocent man may go free,’ he tells the Lord Advocate. Very heroic and blood stirring stuff I was thinking as I watched. But then our David goes on to give his reason for standing by the truth. Not his growing love for Aileen or her father, the accused. No, his stand is based on a conversation he had as a boy with his father who told him ‘that the law is higher than any man, it bends to no one and truth is its keeper.’ It is at this moment that he also reveals that he would like to attend law school should he survive this test.

Our hero is willing to die for the law. To be more exact, he is willing to be tried by the same law that he knows will kill him. His great aspiration is to be joined with the institutions that the preceding 90 minutes of the film have spent showing us being applied dishonestly and violently in his country. David’s aspiration might be to become Lord Advocate. This is the peculiar nature of his honor which requires that he give death a wide embrace recognizing that what is killing him is what he loves. This honor which I think is English in its nature, and allows him to face a sad fate unflinchingly is an abstraction. It ignores villainies perpetrated on others in its name. It came to me that the English claim to the mantle of an honorable people is based not on their refusal to cheat or murder but because they have been willing to die for the conceit that their kind do not cheat or murder. Thus the heroes’ squares built for the redcoats who faced the Zulu Impis at Islandwana and shook hands before turning to face the final thrust of the assegai. Nothing needs be said of the murdering and raping that brought them to that impasse. What matters is that they died looking heavenward to a vanity that allowed them to pursue without brakes any brutal conduct against the Zulu. From the Somme to the Battle of Britain and the many other battlefields that are splattered with English blood, evil is washed clean by this sacrifice of the young. This is why the English hero can be a cad until the very last moment when he pulls off a spectacular save in the honor department. It is only in battle that the English are at their best when offered the opportunity to look away from the hells they have created toward an earthly heaven only reachable by dying.

Or could it be that the nature of all liberal heroism is to love the very alter that you are dying on as opposed to more religious varieties that urge matrydom for the sake of heaven? Perhaps this is why Kenyan politics nowadays give birth to few heroic actions into death: we do not believe in the alter (the state) that might demand our blood and have found ways into heaven that do not demand we destroy earthly institutions. But this is only to speculate and a bit wildly too.

Happy New Year!


Goosie goosie gander where shall I wander? To MMK’s belly?

Well, say it then, what did you do on Christmas day? At the last minute, having expected to have a quiet day, I decided to go the whole nine yards and engage in a feasting, gifting orgy. As usual the rush of the mob took me headlong with it and I was unable to resist the million ads and Santas lurking around every corner eyeing my wallet. On Saturday, there I was elbowing aside little old ladies at Borough Market to buy the last wild goose that was large enough and expensive enough to feed a small town. Having just re-watched some episodes of Brideshead Revisited, which in case you did not know is one long ode to alcohol consumption, I bought several bottles of suspiciously cheap champagne in keeping with my principles of quantity over quality and form over function.

For dinner we baked the wild goose marinated in tangerines, strawberries, red onions, garlic and clove powder among other spices. Then brown basmati rice; a sweet potato and leeks stuffing; spinach with mushrooms; a moist carrot cake made with dark sugar; all washed down with champagne. Is that a feast or is it a feast? I am so impressed with myself and I hope that my mother reads this post so that she can see that her son does more than fry eggs and toast bread.

In any case, visitors to ABH, I wish you a happy 2006. May your plans and dreams be realised or come much closer to fruition. Thank you for hanging with me.

Food Force: The UN video game that makes learning about aiding hungry people cool

To be on the edge nowadays you’ve got to be able to multi-task. For instance, your love of computer gaming can now be combined with your concern for starving people. Premiering here on Bullets & Honey is the United Nation World Food Program’s latest idea: Food Force. That’s right, the international gaming market is realising that a non-violent, educational video game that allows 8-13 year olds to step into the shoes of aid workers can become the latest craze. According to the WFP, a million kids have already downloaded the game. Here are some of its heroic characters:

Rachel Scott Age: 26
Nationality: American
Logistics Officer
‘Rachel was born into a ‘logistics’ family – her father has a small trucking business and her mother drives an ambulance. It was no surprise when Rachel decided to put her own logistical skills to use for WFP.

Angela Keane
Age: 41
Nationality: Irish
Appeals Officer
Angela was born in Ireland, but moved to New York with her family when she was only 2 years old. At school she specialised in economics and graduated in Business Administration. After successfully running her own Internet fundraising business she decided to switch careers and help WFP in its massive task of raising and managing funds for emergency operations.’

There is something for everyone in the game. For instance, by doing well in the Food Force Bowl challenge, you can get a chance t0 win tickets to Super Bowl XL in Detroit. Have fun is the message but do it responsibly and learn about Lucy.

‘…when Lucy’s sister died of AIDS two years ago, she was left more than a hectare of stony soil. The 22-year-old also inherited her sister’s disabled husband, seven young children, a goat and two ducks. The couple have since had three more children.’

‘Even with regular rains, Lucy struggled to produce enough food to feed 12 mouths, but last winter drought withered and strangled her crop long before harvest time. She showed us the remains, a short walk from her family’s stone hut, on the other side of a dried-up river bed. By June, Lucy had exhausted her total yield: two sacks of sorghum. Like most other subsistence farmers in the village, she turned to casual labour, crushing stones into gravel to sell on the roadside. There were few takers, and her neat, grey piles still line the dirt track.’

‘In August, with the price of maize soaring in the market, her family surviving on one meagre portion of maize porridge per day and her youngest child showing symptoms of kwashiorkor (severe protein malnutrition), Lucy approached her village chief and joined the monthly queues for WFP food aid at the local school. Queuing patiently under a burning sun, one of more than 1,000 hungry villagers, Lucy waits her turn before handing in her ration card and collecting a 50kg (7st 9lb) sack of maize. Somehow hoisting the dead weight on to her head, she walks the mile back to her hut.’

‘By the time she arrives, a trail of maize is running from a small split in the bag. Her children sweep up the granules as if they were gold dust. It is hard to imagine Lucy and her fellow villagers ever being more than hostages to disease and drought in such a harsh environment. But an hour up the road, at Chitsukwa village, there is another story that offers some hope for the future of southern Malawi – not to mention enough maize to feed Lucy’s village several times over. For three years Bishop Khado, a local farmer, refused to accept his fate, clinging to the dream of irrigation…’

Awesome dude! Join the Food Force team by linking up with Paul Tergat, the champion marathoner who you may not have known but as an eight-year-old pupil at Riwo Primary School in Kenya’s Rift Valley received food aid from WFP. And look what a difference that made.

It’s enough to bring a tear to the eye, isn’t it?

We’re going to get you simba, we’re going to get you! MUHAHAHA, MUHAHAHAH, MUHAHAHA!

“This is the plan: we will import 135 wild animals from Kenya, or 98% of the total, thus leaving behind only 3 old lions. Then we ship our haul to Bangkok where we will hang them from the rafters and slowly stick hot pins into their paws while depriving them of sleep. We’re going to get you simba, we’re going to get you! MUHAHAHA, MUHAHAHAH, MUHAHAHA!”

Forget corruption, forget political murders, tsunamis and terrorist bombings, there is a new scourge in Kenya: animals are suffering. The speak-to-power members of our ‘civil society’ are as ever ready to step to the breach and put a stop to injustice wherever it rears its ugly head. Word on the street is that in the past few months there have been night vigils held outside Hotel Intercontinental in Nairobi to protest against the sending of Kenyan wildlife to Thailand. Those Thais, you just know that they spend most of their time in Bangkok twirling their little brown thumbs and laughing maniacally as they invent unusual new tortures. Their record speaks for itself. In August 2004, for instance, there was an international uproar – at least among animal welfare groups – when 3 out of 115 orangutans died of pneumonia in a Bangkok zoo. Earlier, 32 ‘frightened, wide-eyed baby orangutans, many hugging each other’ were found in the same ‘cramped private Thai zoo’ (see story here). The zoo owners have much to answer for. There were clearly Crimes Against Primates being carried out on the premises. It might even have been that the 32 babies were being raised to become fighters in Bangkok’s famous orangutan boxing. The cruelty. Oh, the sheer mad, evil genius of it all.

They came to Nairobi in November to hoodwink us. Taking time off from his busy schedule of trying to deal with a small constitutional matter, declining national life expectancy, hunger, terrorist attacks, widespread crime, official corruption and a failed state just north of the border, our president took time to engage in the sophisticated arena of international geopolitics. Signing a solemn Memorandum of Understanding with Thai Prime Minister Thaskin Shinawatra, President Kibaki earned Kenya a cool 80 million shillings in return for sending the wild animals to a private zoo in Thailand. What was Mr. Shinawatra thinking? I mean c’mon. Clearly, his ambassador to Nairobi had not informed him that MOUs are really not the way to go in State House. But that is a matter for another discussion.

I demand that we require the Thais to sign and ratify the UN Convention Against Torture before Kenya sends animals to them. We do not want any more Abu Ghraibs after all. Imagine, if you have the courage, what fiendish plots our elands, dik dik and hippos could be subjected to. It makes me quail, yet I want to be true to my optimistic nature.

I have a dream that one day my nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all elephants, orangutans and little black boys are created equal.” I have a dream that one day on the pavements of the Intercontinental, a great cause shall come to fruition: that the bad people who like doing bad things to wildlife will stop and be good and do good things. I have a dream that one day, one day, that I too shall drive a four wheel drive jeep to the national park, and that there, waiting with open arms, will be a Maasai warrior who shall join with me in sustainably loving nature. From the slopes of Mt Kenya to the palm trees of Lamu, I dream that this land will be emptied of its detritus of selfish humans who have transformed an oasis of noble beasts into a desert sweltering with the rot of poaching and tourism. My friends, I have a dream that our apes, fauna and snakes will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their hides or the texture of their scales, but by the amount of conservation funding they attract to our shores. I have a dream today. By any means necessary. Yeah.

Okri, Naipaul and Arundhati bushwhacked by Moscow-based reviewer

I have spent the last day trawling through my favorite new e-zine, the eXile, which is published in Moscow. Its book reviewer, John Dolan, is particularly adept at delivering kidney-punch reviews of the great and good.

This is Dolan on Aidan Hartley’s The Zanzibar Chest.
‘The first thing you notice about Aidan Hartley’s memoir, The Zanzibar Chest, is the skill with which Hartley moves from stories of his ancestors’ colonial exploits to episodes in his own pinball trajectory through contemporary African war zones. It’s not easy to switch centuries and keep the reader with you, and Hartley does it well.

The second thing you notice is that Hartley barely bothers to disguise his Tory nostalgia for Britain’s Imperial past. It irks him that he can only observe and describe Africa’s many wars, when his fathers for generations past played such an enthusiastic role in starting, stoking and stifling the conflicts of their eras.’ more here.

Dolan then sets his sights on Ben Okri, a writer so confusing that everyone I have ever met who has read him vows he is deep and heavy and will not be drawn on further discussion. I suspect that like me, most of them have not read Okri after having tried to and concluded that you need to be on mescaline to get past the first chapter. Dolan, displaying a refreshing rage and bitterness for God knows what heaping of disappointments, does not shrink from letting Okri have it from both barrels.

Then, in a bid to be generous for once, Dolan takes on Naipaul who he understands better than almost anyone with whom I have discussed the bullied, snotty, little Trini who made good by hating everyone. Let me just say that like Dolan, I really dig Naipaul even while I see just how screwed up he is.

Says Dolan, ‘he hated the black boys, big and muscular, who beat him up, who scared him. It’s the truth; let’s face it. He has been called a racist, and he is one…’

‘They, the new black rulers, didn’t want any little Indians hanging around the Presidential Palace. Naipaul — who must truly have been a nasty boy, a sneaking eavesdropper and swot, understood one thing well: though eddies of decency and culture were developing in the West Indies, none of them were in the market for a little Hindu boy possessed by a great, corrosive intellect.’

‘Other Windies could try for the patronage of the Left, which had begun to cultivate “voices of color” — but they meant righteous, Ciceronian outrage from black, not Brahmin-beige, people. And when they said “new voices,” they were not talking about a snotty brown boy’s mocking, BBC-copying voice.’

Read the entire vicious-while-being-complimentary review here.

Our merry literary assassin, writing with the freedom of a man who seems to feels he has nothing to lose, which in my experience always makes for the most interesting outbursts, turns his tender attentions to Arundhati Roy. Arundhati, she of the breathless denunciations of American imperialism and capitalism, the patron saint of latte loving, anti-globalisers everywhere. More here.