You have just won one million dollars:
1. Who do you call first?
Mrs Zen, of course. I might even give her some of the money.
2. What is the first thing you buy for yourself?
A ticket outta here.
3. What is the first thing you buy for someone else?
A ticket for the seat next to me.
4. Do you give any away? If yes, to whom?
Just bits and pieces. Pay off my sisters' loans.
5. Do you invest any? If so, how?
Shares in Leeds United are going pretty cheap...
Roll up for the Hutton sideshow
A lot is going to be written about Hutton
, his inquiry and his report. I think Seumas Milne in the Guardian
caught the right note. Hutton was a whitewash, that much is clear, and it's laughable that it should be, because we can all read the evidence for ourselves. But for all that, it's not the main event.
That's the inquiry we haven't had, and now will be very much on the agenda. And if the government don't set it up, it's going to happen, messily, in the media, and in the homes and pubs of the UK (and elsewhere).
Blair, one can only suppose, feels he is off the hook, that Hutton has fully exonerated him. Certainly his speech to the Commons gave the impression he believed that those who had called him a liar must now apologise. But Hutton didn't prove he wasn't a liar, or that the reasons he gave for going to war were valid. Hutton didn't even ask about that.
shows what the people ICM asked think of that. We know who the liars are, it seems, regardless of what their tame judges say.
In good spirits
You are going to meet a dark stranger. No shit. I meet dark strangers every day and most of them insist on pressing up against me on the tube. When they are dark, strange ladies, of course, I don't have too many complaints, but when it's the funsized Mars bar (completely not topical reference, Elton fans--if any exist (hey, you'd never believe a guy would make an encyclopaedia of games that you need a watch to play, so let's not be too certain that they don't)) in the crack of the Zen arse, I get ugly.
But if a psychic tells you that you're going to meet a strange brunette, it's supposed to be earth-shattering. This expose
, one of many in the sceptical community (boring, earnest types, mostly, like the horrid James Randi
, who spend their time spoiling other people's fun), shows you how psychics know that you're grieving over Aunty Beryl.
Dr Zen's philosophy on the paranormal, as on all harmless false beliefs, is to laugh heartily at both the believers and those who waste their time trying to convince them that they're wrong to believe. If these people were capable of rational thought, they'd know that the only ghost worth bothering with is Martin Peters (if you don't know, ask your dad) and that the chances of anything coming from Mars are a million to one.
King of the psychics is Derek Acorah
, whose shriekingly camp performances light up Most Haunted, which I think must set records for cable telly here in the UK (Dr Zen is informed by his sources that a million watched a special). Acorah's talents as an actor shouldn't be sniffed at, nor should his philosophy (do the link on his home page, I beg you), which is, erm, beautiful.
Too much time on his hands (pun intended! hee hee)? So long as for every corporate borefest that has had just way too much money spent on it (check out H&M's nightmarish hellhole
-- guys, the only fucking reason anyone is going to visit your site is to see what your clothes are like, and maybe buy some online, not to see a pumped-up surreal ad) there is a work of love like this
(even if the love is a bit unhealthy), the internetweb will remain a wonderful place. I had a glance at the FAQ (I didn't read
it--jeez, man, I simply don't believe anyone ever asked any questions about this stuff, let alone frequently) and I couldn't see any explanation of why this guy does it, but if it keeps him out of jail or the asylum, why not?
Uploading the manuals is demented though.
Lost in translation
In the typical Hollywood movie, the characters have no real backstory. They might have an explanatory episode (the reason they hate their antagonist), they might even have a family (people to leave behind in a romcom or have the antagonist kill/torture/kidnap in a thriller).
But Coppola never allows Bob and Charlotte's backstory to let them go. She takes the cliched strangers meet romance and gives it a ferocious twist (many twists, I should say--among the best the spin on the old man meets young girl sexual thing, where, say, Connery meets Zeta Jones and she is wowed by his sexual magnetism. In this film, Bill Murray is playing
the Sean Connery guy, but certainly doesn't sexually magnetise).
The girl clinging to the threads of her marriage (too young and to the wrong guy) and the older guy who has taken too many wrong paths, made too many wrong choices, and is now lost without a chance of coming back meet and, if we followed the usual script, get together and run off into the sunset. But Murray's character cannot forget his obligations, the deep and abiding love for his kids (and the weary thing that might still be love for his wife), even though he is tempted by the chance to recapture his youth, his vitality.
It rings a bell with married men with kids. We knew what we were giving up when we made the choices we made, and still we made them, but that doesn't mean we never have regrets (not regrets, really, but, how could you put it, wistfulnesses). Sometimes, those regrets blow into a midlife crisis (as, I think, American beauty, though flawed, showed pretty well). But in Lost in translation they're just wishes in the wind, as they are IRL for us. We would never leave what we love, and neither does Bob Harris. He never really considers it.
This is what makes this such a great film (along with the excellent, literate script, the wonderful acting - particularly from Bill Murray, who does the man bemused by capricious fate to a T, and Anna Faris, hilarious as the starlet Charlotte's husband should have married, the use of the Tokyo's relentless urbanness as backdrop, the leftfield music (who would have believed My Bloody Valentine would ever backdrop a tender scene in a romcom, and fit), and above all, the tangible chemistry between Murray and Johansson). It speaks to your heart. The awkward tenderness between the leads is what we have in our real lives, if we are lucky. We don't get fireworks, the choir singing, fuck it, let's leave our lives behind. We get moments to cherish, smiles and fumbled kisses.
If I made films, I would wish to have made one like this. I can't think of a higher compliment for a movie, because ultimately taste is personal, and if a film epitomises your taste, well...
Five, four, three, two, zen...
At this moment, what is your favorite...
Soon, My Bloody Valentine. Seeing Lost in Translation reminded me what fantastic mood music they made.
Veggie stew. Roots, taters and stock.
3. ...tv show?
Shameless. Comedy with heart. In a world where ugly nasty shits like Frank Skinner can claim to be funny, it's good that Paul Abbott exists, and writes wonderfully warm comedy that makes you laugh without hurting the world.
I love the smell of Zenella's hair. Or her skin after a bath.
"I am absolutely certain we will find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq" Tony Bliar
A bigger pedant than me? I? meyiiiii...
Bill Walsh is the doyen of copy editors (if you don't know what a copy editor is, he explains on his site
). He's a trenchant commentator on English, a frontliner in the grammar wars (he's like Lynne Truss's cuddly uncle). I was surprised to see him take a soft line on "10 items or less", but he spins it into a discussion on the "than" issue (nonpedants, you should already be looking away now).
This is one of those that gets the blood rising in most: should it be "bigger than I" or "bigger than me"? Bill settles this question for me. If you care how, read his piece and you'll know as much as I.
Put a soc in it... groan
Would Socrates have to change his mind if he were here to see our world? Well, no. Here he is
, explaining the differences among science, technology and metaphysics.
We often lose sight of the arrow (in the story, the Buddha comes across the King who has been wounded by an arrow; the King (or in fact his advisers in the original story, but Philosophy Now has the king himself) will not have the arrow pulled out until he knows who fired it, what it is made of, where it was made, its exact shape, blah de blah. The Buddha says "Dude, pull the arrow out right now or the King will die."). That's not to say we ought not to look into what lies behind (a favourite pastime of mine), but sometimes it is better just to get on with it (reminder to self: give up with the philosophising and write the novel).
The pax Americana
We don't want an empire, says Dubya, in the bucket of bilge that he hopes will pass as a State of the Onion address. It's somewhat belied, though, by a look at the map. America's military bases ring the world.
Is it really such a stretch to see in them the coloniae of the new Rome?
I don't know how accurate the Mother Jones article is, but the idea of US bases in Eastern Europe and, swipe me!, Vietnam is quite breathtaking.
The Americans say they are bringing "freedom" to the world, but it seems that the one freedom they won't tolerate is the freedom to choose not to.
The Romans brought the pax Romana, but they didn't build it by consensus, they brought it by swords. They did it for much the same reasons, too, to make the world safe for the moneymakers, to make the rich richer...
I wonder, who will be our barbarians?
Tooting my horn
The London Underground is not a thing of beauty, but its map certainly is: a masterpiece of design, which bears very little relation to the hell that is 8.30 on the Northern Line. It's the basis for the cute conceit of London Bloggers, to show its members on a map, each having placed themselves by a tube station. Well, I live about five minutes from Tooting Bec station
, three if it's raining.
I'm going to miss Tooting. It isn't pretty, although the church in Beechcroft Rd, whose name I don't know, is interesting because it looks so out of place--it looks a lot like the colonial churches you see in India or even Australia. It isn't particularly friendly, although it's not threatening either. It's busy though, Upper Tooting Rd crawling with traffic most hours of the day, the pavements thronged, the masses of curry houses, sari emporia, sweet shops and poundarounds packed each day.
This street is the England I love. I couldn't explain it, but if I could take you there, you'd see it.
Link me, love me, fuck me and forget me
As a blogger with fewer readers than fingers, I probably should take some tips from Blogopoly
, who has plenty. It all seems a bit much like too much effort really. I have a dream that I'll be stumbled on by a hub blog (recent theories of real-life networks
(the theory has it that they are scale-free topologies) have shown that a small number of big linkers are the backbone of a successful network--the theory explains the spread of HIV as well as how the blogosphere works. So far, no fucking luck. Maybe I should email them or something.
I'm not a huge fan of Don't look now. I saw it one Christmas and the hooded figure gave me nightmares. Fair put me off my mince pies. If that was bad, this squash-up
is worse. It's quite disturbing. If the guy does it to Sound of music, I'm thinking he'll need prosecuting.
What's new on TV
Anyone who reads the Guardian's weekly Guide knows Charlie Brooker. He's the world's greatest TV critic (his finest moment was to suggest he wanted to kill a Big Brother contestant with a chainsaw, then top himself so that he could chase him through the afterlife and do him again, he hated him so much).
TV Go Home
is Brooker's web playground. What makes it so funny is you could imagine some toffeenosed twerp pitching these to C4 and getting the gig.
Through TVGH's links, I found Bubblegun
, which is a site powered by comic genius.
I defy anyone not to laugh at The top 10 cabaret acts who are more talented and interesting than Geri Halliwell. Or any of the top 10s.
I'll trump that!
Anyone who remembers Top Trumps from a misspent childhood will enjoy this new game for all the family
I'm beginning the campaign for that fat cunt Danny Baker to rise up the ranks though.
The demon drink
You can't say you haven't been warned...
For the love of Gaaaahd
I found this
on God Hates Fags, which purports to share biblical truth with us, y'all.
What struck me is that this is part of a "Love Crusade". (I'm not kidding - check out the website
.) The fags vs kids game was an eye-opener too.
Jeez, you guys, it's just fucking. And no one's going to force you if you don't want to.
I'm attracted to elements of the Christian message. After all, it's the basis of my moral structure--or at least the foundation that I struck out from in trying to understand morals. The idea that loving your neighbour is fundamentally a good thing particularly attracts me. The belief in redemption, that we can all hope to be rehabilitated, is something I strongly believe in.
But give a moron a car and he'll run you down with it. Ideas, no matter how bold or beautiful, just aren't safe in some hands.
On the subject, I noticed in passing that Dubya has promised support for a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman if judges keep perversely saying that those filthy fags can get married.
Imagine, a state constituted on the basis that marriages are between men and women - and at that one whose birth was heralded by a declaration that stated the equality of all before the law.
Most of us love the idea of America. But it's just one more idea unsafe to be entrusted to idiots.
Building to a choclimax...
didn't win the competition to redesign Ground Zero is a mystery.
Still, Libeskind's website
is very good, surely the home of a fine intelligence.
Or a profound bullshitter.
Still, you gotta adore the signature spikiness of his buildings. They're very pretty. Architecture in the UK has gone a little stale - all that pipes on the outside cutesiness makes buildings look like toilets
, not soaring, aspirational temples
. Love or loathe Libeskind, at least he's trying to make buildings that we'll wonder at.
Still, what do I know about art
? Not much
. But I do know what I like
A is for...
Which would you choose? Humanity or anarchy?
I choose chips. Almost without fail. If there's no chips, I start wondering what I'm doing eating in this place.
The full dope
At Crooked Timber
, I read this about Michael Crichton's recent speech to Caltech about junk science
"Caltech can't be held fully to blame for Crichton's speech; universities rarely know in advance what their guest speakers are going to say. But it should be a lot more careful about whom it chooses to deliver major talks in the future."
And I said:
I had to double-take when I saw that. The best way to prove a man who says the consensus silences its critics is to call for him to be silenced?
Crichton is largely wrong about how science makes progress (but Lakatos, while improving on Popper's description of how science progresses, hardly proved him wrong about what is
scientific), but he surely isn't wrong to suggest that scientific faddism is as prevalent as pseudoscience.
I could have added:
Where Crichton was not wrong is that science is often used and misused to political ends: 'twas ever so. Scientists - or quasiscientists - can be induced to lie, or at least to manipulate the truth, in a political cause.
The latest big deal in the UK is cannabis-induced psychosis. The papers are full of anecdotes about kids who had some strong skunk and became schizophrenic. Some of the people writing the anecdotes have been doctors, others "scientists". I'm awaiting the first "Reefer Madness" headline, but it can't be far off.
There has been a great deal of research into cannabis and mental illness. Studies show that cannabis use is a risk factor for schizophrenia (although it's not highly correlative) and psychosis (however, it is unusual for their to be cannabis psychosis in the absence of other drugs). Generally, there's risk if you eat a big chunk too. This isn't news to users, of course. We've all seen people have more than they can handle and get edgy. We've all been a bit para after a smoke of something strong.
So, there's a risk. We'll leave aside the argument that the correlation between cannabis smoking and mental illness might work the other way round (that the mentally ill are more likely to smoke dope, rather than that the dope smokers are more likely to be mentally ill) and accept that it's risky.
But risk is not an absolute to be avoided. It ought to be quantifiable, and weighed against benefits if you like to help decide whether an activity ought to be pursued.
As an example of what I mean, take mortality in childbirth. In the UK in 2000, 1 in 3300 women died in childbirth or of complications of pregnancy. That makes childbirth a risky business, huh? Surely, Mrs Zen should get rid of the kids now? Her risk of dying in a termination would be lower (though not much, I think).
But there are benefits, of course, and they need not be spelled out. We understand that the risk of dying in childbirth is worth taking. (How that understanding would be affected, though, were doctors to take to writing series of stories in the Daily Mail about how their patient snuffed it giving birth, rather than the one-off shocker it treats us to now and then, is something to think about.)
What none of the doctors who entertain us with their "Keep kids away from killer cannabis" beat-ups ever address themselves to is the facts and figures. How many cases? At what dosages? How many cases per dose? How does cannabis compare with other socially acceptable drugs? You can certainly have an alcohol-induced psychosis (as anyone who's witnessed Mrs Zen after a Black Russian too many will testify).
This is just the beginning. They'll need to establish how cannabis interacts with other risk factors, whether it increases existing problems or causes new ones, and blah de blah de blah.
Crichton was not wholly wrong about global warming. Too many people are willing to reduce a difficult subject to a scare story. To say that doesn't mean the same as saying there is no global warming - there is absolutely no doubt that there is, and anyone who claims that it is in doubt is a charlatan - but what it is, and what it means for our health are as slippery as cannabis psychosis. What Crichton ignored, of course, was that not knowing how scary something is works both ways.
Global warming might
turn out to be reasonably unimportant, a small drop in the huge ocean of climate change (although I doubt it, and the evidence that I've seen, at least, points to at least some cause for concern, if not the shrieking hysteria that characterises most debate about it). But if it doesn't?
Miss Ann Thrope requests...
There are those who believe that Dr Zen is a misanthrope. It's not true of course, I simply cannot abide fools, and it's not my fault if the world is stuffed full with them.
Turns out I'm not alone though. The Web has had vicious misanthropy
since the CIX days (if you don't know what the CIX days were, sonny, you just ain't grown enough to be a real misanthrope - you have to have aged some for that).
Turns out Hewitt, the chief misanthrope, is a Corn (or at least is living in the ol' Duchy). Maybe that's it. It's in the water there, along with the aluminium.
1. What does it say in the signature line of your emails?
2. Did you have a senior quote in your high school yearbook? What was it? If you haven't graduated yet, what would you like your quote to be?
If we'd had one, it would have said "Will serially disappoint".
3. If you had vanity plates on your car, what would they read? If you already have them, what do they say?
I guess I'm not vain enough to have anything but the standard issue Queensland plates.
4. Have you received any gifts with messages engraved upon them? What did the inscription say?
People know me too well for that.
5. What would you like your epitaph to be?
In print at last!
Kilroy was 'ere... unfortunately
The Kilroy incident
got me to thinking about discrimination.
That was once I'd got past the freedom of speech issues. If you truly believe in free speech, you must support the right of all
to speak freely. I don't believe a person should be punished for speaking their mind--not even if they do it in the Express. The BBC represents a soft-left orthodoxy that mistakes its version of morality and how the world should be with an objective truth, and is not careful enough to be clear that it is not. It also ignores the importance of realising that most of the people it serves--us--do not agree with them (well, I do, as it happens, on this and many other issues, but I'm not most of the country).
If my managers sacked me for having views that they do not like, I think I would feel aggrieved. If they victimised me to stifle dissent, I would feel doubly so. Kilroy is a dissenting voice from the orthodoxy. An unpleasant one, for sure, but still, should he not be allowed to bray his nonsense anyway? Why should he be censored by his employers?
As for Trevor Phillips and the Commission for Racial Equality, they do a fine job of proving that they are a waste of time. This country has plenty of serious problems, plenty of racial tensions that need the attention of the CRE. For sure, Kilroy hasn't lessened those tensions any, but he is not inciting racial hatred. Trevor Phillips is the definition of a waste of time, though. He's doubtless not the Uncle Tom he's often painted (is there something actually wrong
with succeeding in a white man's world? Is that not how we will eventually change it to something a bit less white and a bit less male -- by encouraging routes to success for all?), but race aside, he's a slimy fucker with a bent for self-publicity that even Kilroy would struggle to match.
Kilroy has not in my view been taken to task for the right thing. He's castigated for discriminating, but actually he has not been discriminating enough. I think it's fine to discriminate, in some circumstances. For instance, trivially, I will only have sex with Mrs Zen. I distinguish Mrs Zen from the rest of the human race as a sexual partner. Actually, if I did cheat with Mrs Zen, it would probably only be with an attractive woman (hey girls! don't sulk, attractive is a very
broad concept -- I've blogged about that!). So I discriminate against not attractive women, all men, and beasts.
Thinking about Kilroy brought me to thinking about racial profiling, and in particular, stopping and searching swarthy types who you suspect of being terrorists (not that all would-be terrorists are swarthy; nor are all Arabs swarthy -- I'm not saying they are, but I am saying that was the kind of assumption this type of profiling was based on; nor is there anything wrong with being swarthy -- I'm pretty swarthy myself).
Consider this [cue implausible scenario of the kind much loved in moral theory pieces]:
1. If there were a disease that caused all redheaded men to attack and kill their neighbours every full moon, would the government be justified in a policy to intern redheaded men each full moon?
It seems to me that the government must weigh up the harm done by pursuing the policy against the harm done if they do not. In this case, I think there is an easy case to make for the internment. One of the government's prime responsibilities is to protect its citizens (from one another if needs be--hence the police). The redheaded men lose some liberty but their neighbours gain by not being killed. But consider:
2. If there were a disease that caused some redheaded men -- quite randomly -- to attack and kill their neighbours every full moon, would the government be justified in a policy to intern redheaded men each full moon?
It's more difficult. The government still has the responsibility to protect its people. There is a gain for some neighbours. And the policy for scenario (1) holds for some of the redheaded men, although we do not know which.
This, I think, is a fuzzy moral problem. If we substituted this:
3. If there were a disease that caused some redheaded men -- quite randomly -- to attack and rob their neighbours every full moon, would the government be justified in a policy to intern redheaded men each full moon?
it becomes much more difficult. We would need to ask how many neighbours are harmed and how badly. How much harm must we spare the neighbours to justify the harm of interning all the redheads -- who it must be remembered have done nothing wrong.
(At this point, it should be clear that whatever else can be said about the merits of Kilroy's argument, he has foolishly described all
redheads as being murderers when what he has is something like scenario (3).)
The problem would be compounded if it were not easy to define what exactly counted as being redheaded. It's just a label, after all. What if some of the would-be internees claimed they had dyed their hair?
What if some of the people who had dyed their hair joined the redheads in murdering their neighbours each full moon?
How much more complicated is the policy to make if it is clear that the redheads are not the only people who rob their neighbours?
Some answer that we should not intern the redheads on any account because this infringes their human rights. But human rights don't drop from the heavens. You only have what rights you are afforded. And their loss is only one harm that can be done to you, which can be measured against others. In scenario (1), the clear infringement of human rights is to my mind completely justified. If you know there will be harm, should you not prevent it? The harm is even widespread enough that I think the government could justify interning all redheaded men, even those who claimed they had dyed their hair. (Could it justify interning those it suspected
of having red hair? Maybe not. Could it justify asking its citizens to prove their hair colour by dropping their daks or providing a sample for testing?)
So, what am I saying about the Islamists and their struggle with the American West (I think we might more accurately call bin Laden's followers Qutbists
because there are many who could be called "Islamist" whose goals and aims are not anything similar to those of Qutb
-- but see this too
. If you visited the first link in this par, you will have noted that Salafis
are one group who very much don't)? I am saying that our disagreement over their discriminatory policies are, or ought to be, disagreements over too broad a discrimination. We know that there are people who will harm their citizens if they can (and we can leave aside the whys and wherefores -- what policy the US should pursue in this area is not really affected by whether it's its own fault that it has a problem, although it would be true to say that there are other means to lessen the problem that it should also pursue). They cannot easily be distinguished. Not only are Arabs not as distinct as redheads but not all of our potential killers are Arabs. There is nothing whatsoever to distinguish a Muslim, except that it's rare that they should be white Westerners. If we fed them into our template moral problem, we quickly realise that we need a new scenario: at the time in question, some non-redheads will kill some of their neighbours (the disease that causes the killing, we realise, is not really all that important -- it can be envy, if you like, or US foreign policy, or rabies, whatever). We do not know the time in question (it's not as clearcut as on one day a month).
Some Arabs are limb-lopping lunatics. Sure they are. But Kilroy could not have made a newspaper column out of writing that there are a few badboy redheads out there. He needs to smear the whole russet crowd. I daresay that even a rampant racist buffoon like Kilroy knows that his words don't apply to Arabs on the whole (although you do wonder -- there really are people in this world who say all redheads smell funny or that all redheads will rape our womenfolk if we don't watch them carefully -- and Kilroy does have form -- he's made anti-Muslim comments before in his column, and was famously rude about the Irish). But newspaper columns are not forums for fine discrimination. They are for the sweeping statement.
What should be done with him? Nothing. He certainly should not be jailed for speaking his mind. I'd like to whip Trevor Phillips like a dog for suggesting that there is anything criminal in it. I realise I am inciting Phillips hatred (well, mild distaste, but those CRE guys prefer the exaggeration to telling it how it is) but “I have to say, if it’s deemed not to be a breach of the laws on racial hatred, we will have to have a pretty good look at those laws.” deserves him a flogging. Does he really think that having a distaste for other races itself should be criminalised? Fuck me, you'd have to imprison most of the country! Does he think that expressing that distaste so emboldens the racists among us that we should curtail the right to free speech? (As if neo-Nazis go out on the ratonnade
because an orange-faced guy off morning telly gets ugly about Arabs!) Jaysus, where would it end? If we're right, Trevor, we're right. We write our own columns and we point out why Kilroy is wrong. We don't win by making ever more repressive laws to silence those we disagree with.
And he should not lose his show. He didn't express the opinion on his show. He does not have his fame because of his show (he was given the show because he is a well-known controversialist), so it is not really even right to say he is using the platform it has provided to pursue some ugly ends. He is not the only racist with a show on the Beeb (Jim Davidson wouldn't have a career if racists couldn't get hired for TV). This is how it should work. The show continues. The viewers express their displeasure because of this column. He loses the show because it doesn't achieve the required ratings.
Isn't it ironic?
Wikipedia quotes Fowler on irony
"Irony is a form of utterance that postulates a double audience, consisting of one party that hearing shall hear and shall not understand, and another party that, when more is meant than meets the ear, is aware, both of that 'more' and of the outsider's incomprehension."
Fowler is, of course, right, and he puts his finger on the heart of irony, which is that the ironist knows that they are being ironic.
Because of its use as a device in playwriting, where "dramatic irony" is a situation in which the audience knows that a character's fate is other than the character believes, it has come to mean something like "a turn-up for the books". Alanis Morissette's much mocked song used it to mean exactly this. Any pretensions she might have had to being a decent writer probably disappeared with that effort. It is much used in that way, though
This has led some lesser lights to believe that "irony" as a figure of speech means something like "that doesn't mean what you think it does". It should be clear that this is actually the opposite of what "irony" does mean, because the ironist is saying "this doesn't mean what it says it does".
The Zoe Williams article referenced by Wikipedia
is quite interesting, if often wrong (like much of Williams' work - she's clever, but far too lazy to bother thinking about anything), but she was right to note that it is a problem that "rhetorical irony expands to cover any disjunction at all between language and meaning, with a couple of key exceptions". It oughtn't. We have, as she notes, other words for that.
It's quite simple, really. The ironist says "I'm lying." and usually adds "For fun." A dramatic irony is a situation in which characters have false beliefs that are exposed. The playwright is lying. Usually for fun.
Irony is possible in the novel, of course. Time's Arrow springs to mind. Dr Friendly's life is ironic. He thinks he's a nice guy, bringing people to life. We know that he's an SS doctor living his life backwards. Amis cutely (although none too originally) makes an ironic statement. It's not wholly successful, but it's, as so often with Amis, engagingly well written.
Debbie didn't dildo, did she?
No wonder Debbie did Dallas. Lonely gals in Texas must use fingers only, or so it seems
has to be one of the funnier words in English. It's supremely fitted for what it is, sounding absolutely right for the job. There is something incredibly funny about plastic penises - the penis is a curious object to look at in the flesh and doubly so, I think, in other materials.
Art for art's sake
For those who think art is, at least in part, craft, the idea of the artist's assistant
gives pause for thought.
Do artists "design" their work? Is that all they need do? Should they not make them too? These questions were of course asked in Warhol's day, and he delighted in his ability to make shedloads of money from the credulous.
A modernist like Dr Zen, of course, deplores this sort of behaviour. I find it easiest conceptually to think of what Damien Hirst does as "art". Hirst is a brand name, a cypher, not an artist. His work is aimed at making money, he does it to make money I mean, and nothing really besides that.
What irks me, I suppose, is the idea that choosing to do art can be made to be like choosing to be a lawyer. You might do the latter because you have a love of justice, order and all that jazz. Or you might see it as a good way to make a buck.
I don't want art to be a career choice. It isn't for me. It's something I feel compelled to be involved in. (By art, I mean the whole spectrum of creative endeavour, of course.)
Hirstian "art" has not quite made it into the writing world. Yes, Virginia Andrews is still writing books despite her being dead for several years. Yes, James Bond novels abound. Yes, there is, and always has been, ghost writing (probably, this is more analogous with the architect's studio, where the head architect has the concept, and the juniors put it into action - but that kind of art is by its nature collaborative anyway).
But Stephen King writes his own stuff, so far as I know. He doesn't employ a team.
Writers have editors, of course. There's no one comparable in fine art, which is not usually considered to be revisable in the same way as writing. Sometimes an editor writes as much, or more, of a book as the author. But we do not respect a writer who we know needs that.
It's hard to know whether to be excited or scared. It's hard to know what to feel. There seems to be risk in feeling when it comes to it, because the disappointments can be so huge.
I am to be the father of twins. Mashallah! The blobs, smears on the ultrasound, will grow to be whole human beings, people, recognisable in their own selfhood (whatever that is - I mean, even if they are two new candles lit by other candles, they will still seem to be separate selfs, won't they?).
They will run and laugh, play, fight, love, perhaps have twins of their own, dwindle and die. It means nothing to the stars, but it means everything to me.
I had been so afraid that one would have died, disappeared, or that one would fail the nuchal test (all here in the UK, where the nuchal translucency is measured as a diagnostic for Down syndrome, know that it is
a test, it feels like one, a test that you can pass or fail (and it would feel like failure for your genes to have misfired) and only one, and I'd be left with a decision that would be very difficult.
Now I need only suffer the regular fears of a parent-to-be, but those I can take in my stride. That and working out how I can convince Mrs Zen that Zen Jr really is a great name for a boy is all I need worry about now...
Wandering the web can sometimes turn up the astonishing. It was pure serendipity that I should stumble across the photography of Rafael Navarro
, which moved me immensely. I'm interested in the body as landscape (which is something different from the body as fuck object, interesting in a different way - check this
out for work that uncomfortably straddles the divide), and I found Navarro's imaginings of the body made it a strange, wonderful country - austere but striking (although it's not totally humourless - this must be the furriest cunt I've ever seen
). Striving to find more of his work led me to this art nudes blog
, which led me to the revelation that Mr Spock is a nude snapper
. A true renaissance Vulcan, if ever there was one.
Navarro's site has a host of links to other photographers (in a broad range of subjects), so there's an eye feast waiting for me.
The best evah!
I enjoyed this
. It's good to see people who love music get it out of their system. Course, you have to wonder about a system that's clogged with this stuff...
End of year lists are all good fun, but nothing beats the best ever list. In Q's poll
of, ahem, music experts, U2's One got the nod as greatest song ever. You heard that right, folks. A song that contains the line "We're one, but we're not the same" is the greatest work of man in music.
(As an aside, I adore the irony of Destiny's Child's Independent woman. It was written by Cory Rooney, Samuel Barnes, Jean Claude Olivier and Beyonce Knowles. Not quite as independent as she would have wished. And the sisters doin' it for themselves message is slightly let down in other areas. The name of the independent record label that the valiant girls struggle against the corporate monsters with: Sony. Beyonce must have named it after her TV.)
This kind of thing is the worst kind of bollocks, but harmless enough, although you have to ask what kind of "musical expert" thinks Eminem's My name is
is superior to, oh I don't know, I second that emotion
or Waterloo sunset
. Still, Smokey and Ray could only dream of writing poetry as good as "Got pissed off and ripped Pamela Lee's tits off And smacked her so hard I knocked her clothes backwards like Kris Kross I smoke a fat pound of grass and fall on my ass faster than the fat bitch who sat down too fast".
Still, you might say, it's just fashion, and maybe it's a fine example of that particular style, and you just don't appreciate it. But I do. This
is shit hot:
Elvis was a hero to most But he never meant shit to me you see
Straight up racist that sucker was Simple and plain
Mother fuck him and John Wayne
Cause I'm Black and I'm proud I'm ready and hyped plus I'm amped
Most of my heroes don't appear on no stamps
Sample a look back you look and find Nothing but rednecks for 400 years if you check
Don't worry be happy Was a number one jam
Damn if I say it you can slap me right here
(Get it) lets get this party started right
Right on, c'mon What we got to say
Power to the people no delay
To make everybody see
In order to fight the powers that be
Fight the power - Public Enemy
Still, gotta love this profile
, especially his "hobbies": Bitch, Gat, Shit, Cunt. I learned something new from it. The guy's 32nd birthday (bit old for peddling teeny angst, don'tcha think, Mr M?) will be Zenella's fourth. It explains a lot, though. Us Libras are nearly all fabulous
Words fail us
Listening to Sigur Rós
can be a frustrating experience if, like me, you like to sing along. Until you realise that you don’t need words. On the band’s third album (second outside Iceland), Jónsi sings entirely in nonce words – vocalisations that would be prelyrics if he had gone on to write lyrics. You can moan along to your heart’s content without worrying whether you’re getting the words right. You’d scare the neighbourhood kids, and attract dogs though. Jónsi captures the aching wild of Iceland, but Tooting is a warmer place.
Most people will never hear Sigur Rós (although they had a song in Vanilla sky apparently). Often a great talent avoids public notice. Another who I’ve been listening to recently is Dave Gedge, singer and songwriter of the Wedding Present. In the mid eighties, the indie movement struck back at the overblown pomposity of pop with jangling guitars and piquant observations of the everyday in postmodern towns. This is nearly twenty years before the Streets. Here’s an example:
I'm not sure and I'm not asking
But I thought I heard you say
"I just walked past him"
But why can I never do anything before you go
I don't know
And outside the streets are empty
There was no time then
And now there's plenty
Oh why do I never get the chance to say a word
When you're on your own
If there's nothing that I want more
Why do my steps get this small
When I reach your front door
And I wait outside for you to come back out
And your light goes out
You don't know me but I'm still here
And God the last time I saw you
You were, oh, this near
And there's a thousand things I wished I'd said and done
But the moment's gone
Bewitched – lyrics by David Gedge
I wonder sometimes how a guy who can so precisely capture how it feels to break your heart over a woman (which one of us has not lacked the guts to go up to someone and just say whatever?. “Why do my steps get this small?” That’s it for me, the nail banged right on the head) can find success so elusive. The Wedding Present had their moment, a few days in the sun, but Gedge won’t be a millionaire. Meanwhile, Elton John lives in a mansion. Go figure, innit.
Arise, Sir Net
Amid the publicity for the New Year’s Honouring of our gallant rugby team
, the careless reader might have missed that Tim Berners-Lee was knighted. Of course, you can argue that the Internet is one of those things that would have happened regardless of who “invented” it, like the calculus, and there will be those who argue that Berners-Lee was less important than others
. But even so, I think if we’re going to knight anyone, this is a guy who deserves it. I’m one of many people – sad gits all, I’ve no doubt – whose lives have been changed irrevocably by the Net. I have been able to touch and be touched by people who I would never have come across in the 24/7. Some I’d rather not have been anywhere near, of course, but the Net is mostly a safe environment to play in.
What I love most about it is that it is an expression of our greatest virtue: collaboration. With your wikis, the W3C, GNU, filesharers, a million groupings, communities, linklists, you name it, the web is a big pile of people making it happen for each other. (Of course there are plenty trying to make a dollar, but that doesn’t sully the commonality.) The ethos
is free, open community. Would only that the world was that way?
And the rugby guys? Well, when you’re married to an Aussie, you get to thinking that anyone
who can beat them at anything
deserves their day at the Palace.
On the beach
Having allowed my French to fall into desuetude, and not being able to spend the time in a francophone country that would polish it, I have taken to reading in French. Literary French is quite difficult, and I don’t pretend I could read it without a dictionary (to say the least). So I’m finding the Penguin Parallel Text of French Short Stories very useful.
The stories don’t just make a great learning exercise. They are wonderful expressions of the French love of language, the desire to play in and with words. Take this from Robbe-Grillet’s La plage, the one story in the book that I was familiar with (we studied him for A level, which raised a few uncomfortable memories):
Devant eux s’étend le sable jaune et uni, à perte de vue. Sur leur gauche se dresse la paroi de pierre brune, presque verticale, où aucune issue n’apparait. Sur leur droite, immobile et bleue depuis l’horizon, la surface plate de l’eau est bordée d’un ourlet subit, qui éclate aussitôt pour se répandre en mousse blanche.
Robbe-Grillet has so beautifully created the languor of the beach that the sudden wavelet makes the reader snatch up. Throughout the story, repeated phrases come and go like the tide, like the very waves. It is truly masterful writing, in any language.
The beach of La plage calls to mind Camus’ beach, although the latter doesn’t have the pristine blondness of the former, if I remember correctly. It’s a long time since I read any Camus, although I called him to mind when I was in Amsterdam, knocking back a jenever
. Although L’étranger is the better-known book, La chute struck a chord with me. Its discussion of personal responsibility and its limits influenced my own philosophy inordinately. Camus offers no hiding place – when you make your own rules (as the thinking being must if it is to take responsibility for its own thinking) you cannot make appeal if you break them.
I do believe in rules. I believe they should be, I mean. Without them, the world seems fragmented, shattered even. It may be that the world really is that way, but even if it is, to have it so is to have it unliveable. The pretence of order at least allows us to live lives that seem to make sense to us. It is, I think, how we have become what we are. We take the complexities of the universe and find pattern, sometimes where there is none. We humanise the world. In personal terms, of course, the patterns are more real, because we are already human. The rules that we live by, or at least by which we understand one another’s behaviour, are real because they describe something that is ultimately constructed, not organic (however spontaneous we might feel we are). Of course, I do not mean that these rules should be anything prescriptive. Rather they are rules in the sense that Newton’s laws are laws. No court sets them but that they are evident.
In my profession, the rules are essential. My knowledge of them is what I live on. My ability to employ words that obey them is what allows me to say I can write (by which I do not, as some seem to think, mean to say merely that I know how to put words on paper but that I am confident they are the right words – or at least properly chosen out of the words that can be right). The rules are not, though, the straitjacket that (mostly unskilled) wouldbes like to make out. They are the natural consequence of the desire to communicate – guidelines in a concrete sense. I sometimes use the metaphor that they are the road language drives along, not the speed limit or the prohibition against drunkenness. Of course the road is sometimes poorly signposted. You don’t always know where you’re going.
But you should be able to tell when you’re driving on the grass.