Thursday, October 28, 2004

Erm, what is it for victory again?

Very presidential.

Blame it on the Russkies

Their arses whipped by the Al Qa Qaa story, which had American soldiers' being killed with explosives the bungling occupiers did not secure, Bush was flailing. A few days before the election, it looked like the the last message the public would hear about Iraq was: they fucked it up and then they lied about it. But wait!

At the last minute, some guy in Defense comes up with the story that the Russkies stole the explosives.

There's no proof, of course. Of course the WT wasn't even sceptical, didn't bother investigating and didn't even ask a hard question. It just printed the bullshit straight up. The article even hints that the Russkies know what happened to the WMDs.

Of course, the story cannot be verified before November 2. It will never be verified. It's another lie on Iraq. How can I say this with such confidence?

If Defense knew that Russia had helped itself to weapons from Al Qa Qaa it would have perhaps mentioned it between March 2003 and now. If it had evidence it would have confronted Russia, demanding to know what Russia knew about WMDs. Rummy would have dropped dark hints about Russia. (Of course, the Russkies might have burned some documents. About one month before the Yanks burned the docs showing what they've sold Saddam!)

If it had known it would not have let Scott McClellan look such a prize prick when he stepped up to the plate.

The plan: make Al Qa Qaa go away. Bush gets re-elected and in a few months a statement is made that investigations have revealed that the Russkies did not in fact cart off the explosives. It's only this moment that counts.

It's pure shit. The rubes will of course eat it. The repugnicunts have shown again that they will stoop to any depths.

Backwards, Australia benighted

Anyone who doubts that Australia has a majority of fucking idiots will have three years to eat their words, now the Libs have the senate.

By a tremendous irony, the country people who voted in the coalition's 39th senator will be the first to lose out when Howard sells Telstra.

Telstra is mandated to provide a service to all Australians. But once it is in private hands, this will be watered down. A private owner will cry "government interference" and complain about the undue burden of having to provide lossmaking services in a competitive environment. The mandate will be loosened and the guys on remote stations, now so well served by Telstra, will have to buy satellite systems.

(The government will use the Telstra proceeds to cover the hole in its budget. It said it had been prudent with the economy and look, here's the surplus to prove it, but the surplus is not a sign of strength in the economy if it doesn't come hand in hand with increased productivity and a balanced current account -- the latter is something of a distant dream for the debt-fuelled Aussies. The pensions issue, though, is a structural problem, which must be fixed. You can't just sell off the family jewels and hope to postpone the problem for a few years.)

Why the people of Australia voted for these turds, I don't know. They are quite clear that one of the first pieces of legislation they will pass is aimed at making it easier to sack workers.

Hang on, you fucking idiots. That's you. Most of you aren't bosses! Did it never strike the people voting for the Libs that they are the very workers who will face losing their jobs? Because of Australia's isolation they simply do not understand what happens in economies where employee protection is removed. Your job security vanishes. You find yourself extremely expendable. It's good for business, the pros cry. It's good for everybody because the economy grows. But the economy does not. Productivity slips because demotivated workers, with no stake in the companies that employ them, simply don't bother putting in. Countries that have fucked over the workers, like the UK and recently Germany, have found that although unemployment does fall, employment becomes casualised. People don't save -- can't save -- and they turn to credit to ride out the bad times. Man, they already do that here in Australia, per capita one of the world's leading debtor populations.

This is a beautiful land, and it has many things to be proud of (a wonderful tradition of promoting science and innovation, a thriving local culture in many areas, albeit European, an educated population that knows how to read even if it doesn't bother, the Hills hoist, Kylie) and many not (the shocking repression of its indigenous population, epidemic racism, disastrous mishandling of the environment, Mel Gibson). It has always been a rather conservative place, with most of the population at odds with its more dynamic elements. That tends to make it a place of fascinating contrast, even if the conflict generally remains muted, under the surface.

But these are bad times for Australia, teetering on the brink of economic and political disaster. There was a time, a few years back, when it was inches from embracing its place as a leader in Asia, turning its back finally on a Europe that it has no part of, even if most of its population were once European, or have parents or grandparents who were, and entrenching its prosperity with a balanced economy able to withstand the shocks of a turbulent world.

Well, the Libs hollowed out that economy, held a sham referendum that retained Australia's ties to (the white) England and with talk of "pre-emptive strikes" against Asian nations and the vicious racism with which refugees have been treated, the days when it seemed Australia would become Asian are very distant indeed.

As is often the case, a possibility that shone was dirtied by small men who could not see that today's gains are nothing compared with a beautiful tomorrow.


John Peel's legacy.

If he had been responsible for introducing me to number six alone, that would be enough for me to worship the guy and cherish his memory.

But he created "alternative". He stood as a beacon in a dark night of the massive commercialisation of culture (and of course, in an irony that shouldn't be missed, a pioneer in the commercialisation of minority cultures -- because giving them airplay broadened their appeal, leading to their coming to the attention of the greedy fucks who want to infiltrate every last corner of our lives and sell ourselves to ourselves).

Yes, it swamps all of us, moulds us, squashes us into boxes, so that even those who wish to be "individuals" find themselves comically in a uniform of dreads, camouflage and black that marks them out as consumers of a particular demographic just as much as the fucking idiots who think an SUV is suitable for urban driving because some turd in an ad agency came up with the image of freedom that flicked their switch (freedom! you dickheads -- how many hours of your lives went into your SUV? The differential between it and a regular car could send me to China for six months!).

But they do not know, they cannot ever quite put a wrapper round, the moment when a song we love catches our heart and we fucking fly.

There is a heartstopping moment in As it is when it was that you could never bottle and yet it makes me feeeel (I don't even know what, it makes me feeeel something that doesn't even have a name, something not even the Greeks had a name for). Yes, London Records bought it, but it could never make it, it could never take the ingredients and put it together, try as it might. Only four young people from Manchester could, and I only know they could because John Peel gave three of them a break when they were a property London Records would not have touched with a very long pole.

Underdogs bite

The St Louis Cardinals were, everyone knew, the best side in baseball this year. Hot, big-name players, particularly their pitchers, made them very difficult to beat.

The Boston Red Sox could not, of course, win the World Series because they are perennial losers, chokers of legendary status.

But they did. One team stood up, did the business, belted the other every way upside and down. The little guys, the unrated, unfancied team, one game away from the doom all had expected for them, on their knees and all but defeated, got off the canvas, met the occasion head-on and smashed their way into history.

The big guys, particularly the much feted midorder batters of the Cardinals, didn't.

Sportsmen are, we all know, overpaid and too much in the news. We put too much of ourselves into pastimes that mean absolutely nothing in the big picture.

But still, we fucking love it when the underdogs bite the complacent and bring them crashing to earth. And if you love sport -- and despite its hollowness and vanity -- I do, if you love it as a creator of fictions, legends and spectacle, you love this story, you love the team that broke their curse and became champions of, erm, the world. Okay, at rounders, but...

So here's to the Sox and here's hoping Massachusetts scores another next week.

A little find

We are not alone.

Much of human morality is based on exceptionalism. We are alone the chosen of the creator, or singled out by evolution, the top of the tree, the pinnacle. We are different. Not quite apes, but the only members of our own branch of the evolutionary branch. We have been able to convince ourselves that there is a fundamental divide between man and animal and we are this side of it. Along with this belief comes the one that we may be able to escape evolution, that the process is done with us.

Of course, materialists such as me do not believe any such thing. We know only too well that we are just another species and that far from a tree, evolution has formed a bush.

Still, it is a deeply perturbing thing that we are not the only Homo. The discovery of Homo floresiensis, in the shape of specimens that are only 18 000 years old, prompts questions that I think are hard to answer.

Does it destroy our exceptional status? I fear it must. That little versions of us evolved alongside us shows us that we were (and are) prone to the same forces that all animals are. It should not escape our notice that the minimes could have survived and we could have become extinct. It would not have been the first time the biggest members of a family had been lost and the smaller survived. However, another question is, did we extinguish it? Our timelines overlap but there is no evidence we met.

I think it poses some questions for the religious. If God chose us, did he also choose the Floresians? Why did he let them die out? What is their relation to us in his eyes? If this animal is special to him, could others be?

Will there be DNA? How closely related are they to us? Could they really have been an alternative?

There is, of course, the exciting possibility that the Floresians did not die out. Perhaps, somewhere in a jungle...

These questions are just very small beginnings. The implications for our understanding of how we evolved are huge and will only be fully explored in the years to come.

What is clear is that this is a find on a par with Lucy and the team that discovered it are not Australian of the Year, they should sink this island into the deepest part of the Pacific and forget about it.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Living without a creed

I am thinking of that young man huddled in his bedroom and how much I still owe him, the promises he made that I haven't kept.

I am thinking of how he dreamed and didn't allow the impossibility of dreaming to stop him.

I am thinking of how could-still-be slowly drifted into is-and-ever-will-be. I am thinking that it rusted.

I am thinking of the many of us who must sigh and shake our heads. I want to believe we don't have to stop believing. I want to believe that our lives of quiet desperation can still flourish.

Are we marooned on a planet that is cold and unforgiving? Are we set aside and left to waste away? Are we doomed to be real?

I am thinking of that young man thinking of tomorrow and how much I still owe him, the dreams he dreamt that I have still to dream.

Teenage kicked

Marooned in a cultural wasteland, I had a lifebelt. I had a window on to a world where people made things happen, where excitement burnt in their hearts, where music mattered, where it could change the world, sweep it clean, make it anew.

I had a friend who talked to me in the dark, who reached out to me, who shared what he had found, the excitement never waning year after year.

I would never have survived the country towns I grew up in if I had not had John Peel. The music that has meant so much to me would have never been a part of my life.

There's only one way to remember him:

Our teenage dreams so hard to beat
Every time she walks down the street
Another girl in the neighbourhood
Wish she was mine, she looks so good
I wanna hold her wanna hold her tight
Get teenage kicks right through the night
I'm gonna call her on the telephone
Have her over cos i'm all alone
I need excitement oh i need it bad
And its the best, i've ever had
I wanna hold her wanna hold her tight
Get teenage kicks right through the night
I wanna hold her wanna hold her tight
Get teenage kicks right through the night

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Lifestyles of the rich, famous and dull

An antidote for those who think rockstars have anything interesting to say.

This dullard posts that he's going to catch a plane.

All the money in the world cannot enlighten a fuckwit. When we chase success, maybe we should bear that in mind.

Presume them repressive

One of the jewels of Western society, which it can justifiably feel proud of, is its means of administering justice. Due process, trial by a jury of one's peers and the proper presentation of evidence are tools to safeguard the citizen from malicious prosecution and harassment by the authorities. How they have survived so long is a mystery. The cornerstone of the process is the presumption of innocence. Your accusers must prove you guilty of an offence. This alone prevents the authorities from putting you away on trumped-up charges (a presumption of guilt leaves you in the awkward position of having to prove a negative, and we all know how difficult that is).

The UK government hates civil liberties. It has been busily denying rights to immigrants -- illegal or otherwise, asylum seekers and foreign citizens (some of whom have been locked up in Belmarsh, without trial, to our great shame, for more than two years), and now it is moving on to citizens.

Their latest wheeze is to have previous offences revealed to juries. This, they say, will lessen the number of guilty kiddie fiddlers who walk.

However, it is quite clear that this at the very least damages the presumption of innocence. Say I am on trial for punching my wife. If the jury is told that I previously did three months for punching her a couple of years ago, they will, of course, presume I am guilty of the new offence. I am left in the position of having to prove I did not do it, that I am reformed, whatever.

Another important brick in the edifice of justice is that the evidence in a case must belong. So, generally, the defence cannot use the victim's sexual history in a rape case because it is not evidence about the rape. It's clear to see that evidence of a prior assault is not in any way evidence in a current case. (Yes, you can argue that it shows a disposition to assault but the very thing that I am concerned about here is that the prosecution is using a previous conviction as proof of recidivism. It is one thing to say "you often lose your temper and that might lead you to hit your wife" and another to say "you were convicted last year so you must have done it again").

Yes, I know. In nearly every case, the accused will be repeating the dose and will deserve to go down for it. In nearly every case, even if thin evidence will be padded out with mention of prior convictions, the accused will actually be guilty and no harm will be done.

Or will it? What about the bad boy who really has reformed? What about the rapist who was sent down five years ago, the new "victim" knows it, and is falsely accused this time? Does he not deserve the protection of the law because he once did a bad thing?

It is precisely in these cases that justice must fiercely be protected. What makes our system so valuable, something we truly can feel proud of, is that it is for all. Because we will defend the rights of the worst, we know that we, who are not so bad, will have ours protected too.

Sunday, October 24, 2004

Art for my sake

Brilliant work of art or child's squiggles?

When the world cannot tell the difference, it no longer has any art.

When culture has no bounds, it is not culture.

How do I resolve how painful I feel the meaninglessness of our culture is with how sure I am that life is meaningless? I do not. The former is powered, I have no doubt, by a desire to be excellent, and a fear that if anything can arbitrarily be considered excellent, then it is not worth excelling. The latter is a notion similar to that that holds that we are nothing but machines, spinning out quantum-level reactions through our days. This may be true but it doesn't feel like that.

Ultimately, I feel that the lesson of Marla Olmstead is this. When some philistine or other tries to tell me that you measure the value of a writer by how many copies they sell (and by extension how much money they make), which they often do, I can say, yes, but this is real art because it sells and so there.

Is it not a dwindling? Does not making everything in our lives a question of money diminish our lives? (While I say this, I do know that Shakespeare did it for the dollar, and that Michelangelo whored to the highest bidder -- I'm not saying that art must not have recompense, only that the recompense cannot be allowed to distinguish it. Michelangelo is not feted because some Renaissance mucky-muck filled his purse with ducats.)

Watching Top of the Pops last night, as some interminable nonsense drifted across the screen, I couldn't help thinking "did no one involved in this ask themselves what the point of it was?" A lazy, ill-thought-out melody, a lyric that was nothing but a list of songwriting cliches (who else but a lyricist or a teen blogger would think that suggesting that "I need strength to get me through" was an insightful comment on the human condition?), a singer who seemed barely interested in conveying anything even resembling emotion, let alone joy or pain, the two emotions that tend to fuel great popular music.

*sigh* I know I am a modernist Canute and I should just go with the flow. But what would that leave me in my own life? I would be just another ordinary guy, living a life of quiet desperation in a dusty backwater and I don't want that, not ever, to be my fate.

Saturday, October 23, 2004

Just the facts, ma'am

Reality. It doesn't make pretty reading.

I particularly liked number 62. And 64 (this is what Bush means by tort reform -- he'll make it impossible for you to get recompense if Big Pharma poisons you).

And 95. He did it all on purpose.

Friday, October 22, 2004

No more needs be said

In my reach out to the aliens programme, this is the message we're sending. I think it'll give the aliens a good idea of what we know about ourselves.

Cunts, throats, dumps and Mary-Anne Hobbs

It's a mystery to me why a google search for "cunt" in the images section should turn up Paul Scholes. Maybe there's a Leeds fan at the BBC.

Why was I searching for "cunt" in Google images?

I must confess. On finding Toogle while surfing, it was my first thought for a word to look for.


From cunts to throats, Tuvan throat singing, which I found recorded at Ubuweb. It sounds a bit like granddad's been at the sherry but forgotten the words to some classic of the '50s (as strained through 50 years of neuron death).

It's strangely touching. I'm a fan of Tibetan chanting, being a Zenist and all.


Through the same source, more or less, I found Steal this book, Abbie Hoffman's classic hippy treatise. I wonder whether Delworth still lives at 125 Sullivan St.

I suppose it is still possible to be on the outside, a renegade. Recently I've been reading websites on lowering your tax liability to nothing and living simply (no URLs, all too dull to share). Personally, I've always preferred to be inside the tent to do my pissing, usually on whoever's stupid enough to be standing next to me (a less than kind reader might suggest that all I've ever done was take a dump in a very rarely frequented corner of the tent).


Hey, freelancing might be lonely, but at least I avoid meetings.

And I get to put what I want on the radio.

In bad faith

The key to the faith-based leadership is that if you say a thing enough times, it becomes true, regardless of the evidence.

Bush has pushed himself so many times as the truly Christian candidate that what makes itself out to be the Christian community in the USA (by which I mean the far-right fundy sect that represents many Christians but by no means everyone who believes in and tries to follow in the path of Jesus) seems to believe that John Kerry, a man of faith himself, is by comparison a Satanist.

So this fool can ignore the painful realities, the warmongering, the disregard for the poor and minorities and the vicious intolerance that Bush has come to personify, and can claim that Bush is the "godliest" president there has been.

I have to ask, who would want to worship a god that is personified in Bush?

That isn't the point though. For people like Aikman, the word "God" is a cipher. They worship themselves, their conservatism, their intolerance, their wealth, their disregard for others. For them, God is a narrowminded bigot, an irrealist, a hater. Yes, Aikman's sort of Christian should vote for Bush.

Thursday, October 21, 2004

Foiling democracy

Tin foil hats on.

There are a lot of questions remaining about 9/11. Doubts remain over the passenger lists (why the hijackers weren't on them and how the Feds knew who they were so quickly when they were all vapourised in the crashes), over the ability of the hijackers to fly planes, over cockpit recordings that have not been released, over who knew what and who should have done what.

The CIA has a report that names names, but you won't be seeing it just yet.

Am I saying that the Bushistas rigged 9/11? No. Am I saying they knew it might happen and allowed it to? No.

But I'm saying that it is conceivable. It's conceivable that the people who run America just might not care about a few thousand deaths -- why would they? These are people who make decisions that cause thousands of deaths, and unavoidably so (when you decide on safety standards, you know that you are accepting X deaths in doing so; when you set policing levels ditto; you have to make tradeoffs and you know they have costs).

There is only one way to answer the questions. Provide the truth. Release the cockpit recordings. Release the film snatched from cameras that recorded the last minutes of the Pentagon plane. Tell us honestly what you knew and when.

Why not? We know why not but we allow these people to lie to us. We read media that lie for them and we never allow ourselves to think until years after the fact when the truth of how venal they were comes out and it no longer matters.

No one would have believed the American gov't would run guns and dope so that it could fund rightwing terrorists that opposed an elected government but it did (although astonishingly those responsible are not in jail and one, Reagan, was widely feted on his death recently).

Accountability is the cornerstone of democracy, not the election of officials every now and then. How easily that's forgotten?

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Wordy crappinghood

At last, I can pretend that I am actually working. All I have to do is surf grammar granny sites.

I'm in the mood for a pontificate, so I'm going to give my opinion on each item in this guy's list.

another: it's the height of pedantry to insist that "another" must refer to the same quantity, since it is so often used to mean "more of the same". If I win five beans, then win six, why might I not say I won another six? It's a very common usage and insisting on this guy's usage would lead you to absurdity. "I had three girls and was hoping not to have another." Hello? You wouldn't rewrite that as "hoping not to have one more". Yes, I know that "logically" that "another" "must mean "another three". If you want logic, write computer programs.

bemused: this must be an American thing. In the UK and here in Australia, stunned mullets are bemused. Slightly amused people have wry amusement.

comprise: it actually isn't a very useful distinction, is it? If this is your sole illiteracy, you need not worry. Everyone knows what you mean. Communicating what you mean is, after all, what writing is for.

dilemma: this is a pet nit of mine, I have to confess, because it is useful to have a word for the concept it describes. However, the day is almost done for dilemma and it will soon enough be a synonym for problem.

enormity: yes, it is something to do with size. In Fowler's day it was a particularly heinous thing, but today it is an enormous thing. That's language. The illiterate fuckers stole our word and made it mean something else. Oh well.

expatriate: anyone who writes it "expatriot" is a complete tool. I don't mean they're a spanner, by the way.

face: to face is all the things the guy says but also a really useful verb for exactly what the writer used it for. "Face" can mean "can expect" in this way, and it's a good thing it can, because as the guy demonstrates, there's no other verb for it. His rewrite is baloney. You'll note that he suggests that observing a distinction between facing and possibly facing will involve changing habits. Changing habits is not usually a good thing in language, because habit (what we call usage) is the arbiter of what a word means, not pedantry.

following: you know, I think the time has come to say, unless these cunts give one good reason we shouldn't use "following" as a preposition, use it so. Yes, "after" is a good word to use, and I do rewrite "following" when I see it, but this is one of those "rules" that is utterly unsubstantiated. Next time someone tells you "following" should not be used as a preposition, ask them to explain why, and enjoy watching the steam pour out of their ears.

however: if "however" doesn't actually mean "nevertheless", I'm buggered if I know what it does mean. So why would it matter if you use it where you use "nevertheless"? Use it where the hell you like. It's a crap substitute for "but" anyway, which you would use more often if you knew how to write.

including: grrrr. Yes. All right. It usually suggests part of a whole group, and it can be irritating when someone "includes" everything, but it actually isn't mandatory not to list all the parts of something. They are all, after all, included.

infamous: I think all Red Sox fans will agree with me that infamy can very much be used in a sports context, especially when attached to the NY Yankees, who will kick their arse in the upcoming.

ironically: the problem with banning the use of "irony" for disconnects of all kinds is that there is no other word for disconnects of all kinds. Irony swelled to fill the gap. Words do that. Swim with the tide, dude, is my advice. Ironically, I too have fought against the misuse of irony.

like: using like in place of as if or as though is nothing like as egregious as using as if when you mean as though or as though when you mean as if (briefly, as though describes a simile, as if an impossibility: I walk as though I'm drunk, but I dance as if no one was watching).

literally: is an interesting example of how words can literally come to mean their opposite. You'd sooner see it used to describe things that are not literal than those that are.

mull: he's quite right, of course, but this must be rarely misused. This is the nitter's dilemma: should you nit the one-off and be slammed for taking an easy target or picking on a single writer where no others make the mistake (so that it can hardly be a peeve but just a personal observation about one writer), or should you ignore the solecism and be taken not to have noted it?

Hint: if you have a thousand nits, this dilemma's force is weakened.

most: using most for almost is quaint. I likes it. This guy would squeeze the moisture out of writing if he was allowed.

schizophrenic: actually, it does mean you're in two minds, because that's what everyone except psychiatrists and pedants take it to mean. Thinking that technical jargon defeats everyday usage is a delusion, you know.

superlatives: well, okay, but if something is the first...

Never write "first ever" though. The first of anything is always the first ever.

that: "he said yesterday he would file suit". Hmm. I don't think you need "that" in there. Wars have been fought over "that". Or they would be if pedants had tanks.

Hearts nearly breaking

I don't think I have read a better summary of why for a thinking person there is no choice in the upcoming American election.

It is because all of this -- and much more -- is true that I call those who consider voting Bush fucking idiots. How can you ignore the swerve to the right, the ineffectual "war on turr", the vicious attacks on women's rights, on science, on the environment, on your friends in France and Germany (truer friends, you can be sure, than the thugs who are currently pillaging Russia), and the ineptitude of the smirking chimp-man who leers at you from your highest office?

How can you not see that America has suffered one of the worst presidencies it has ever endured? In almost every sphere you have seen your prestige and reputation damaged, the good work of previous administrations undone, intolerance spread, and the rich and greedy benefit at your expense. You have been lied to, concertedly, on each and every issue. These are people who use the VP's daughter's sexuality to win votes, then slam someone else's even mentioning her sexuality to win more. People who bullshitted about WMDs and still do, about terrorists that do not exist (such as Mr Begg, an innocent man who has still not heard the charges against him -- doesn't that shame you? Not even that?) and the ones that do that you allowed to operate for years without hurting them or their backers, about 9/11, about the environment, where they claim that there is no global warming (for fuck's sake! We are maybe 15 years from a catastrophe that will be utterly irreversible and so wide-ranging that "turr" will be dwarfed as an issue so much that you will laugh at the idea we used to worry about it), that they are in favour of educating your children (but do not fund it), that the world does not matter, only them and their campaign to suck it dry.

You have stopped being people we can love. Do you understand the depths of stupidity you have to plumb for that not to matter?

Yes, I'm a partisan. I believe in my fellow human beings. I believe they have a right to a share. I believe in creating opportunities for all to share in this wonderful world. I'm a partisan for loving your neighbour, for working together to solve our problems, for science, for rationality, for reaching out and touching one another.

I'm a partisan for humanity. Fuck anyone who isn't. Fuck those who think they are islands and cannot be touched.

Vote Kerry. Or stand condemned as one of the fucking idiots who gave the worst president ever to disgrace your nation a second term.

Debate this

Wonderful stuff on Codpiece vs Kerry.

I wonder whether there is any truth to the rumour that after the last debate, Bush asked Karl Rove why Kerry had handed him his elbow on a plate.

Third chromosome from the left... G.A.Y.

Sothere is a gay gene, or genes, or maybe not. Closer reading will show that only 200 men were studied, from one place, and the researchers believe that what they discovered could only contribute 20% of gayness.

More interesting is that the researchers confirmed that gay men are more likely to have elder brothers than elder sisters. Environmental factors are almost certainly going to turn out to be more important than genes in creating homosexuals, although that's not to say that this isn't an exciting avenue for research. Just think, soon you can be testing your kids for gayness! That should please the homophobes.

It's a strange thing, the gay gene. It's one of those things you wish were true but most probably are not (a bit like God or ghosts or luck). It would make arguing against the intolerant a lot easier if you could put it to them that they were hating something a person could not change and they could not refute that (of course, we feel gayness is something that a person cannot change, but the homophobes, especially their religious subset, cannot bring themselves to believe that: gayness is a sin and humans choose to sin).

I'm suspecting that this will turn out to be a correlation that is not repeatable across groups. The results seem a little sketchy to me, the product of wishful thinking. In any case, studies this small really need to be replicated in bigger groups with much greater variance among their members.

I'm interested further that the researchers believe that the relatively high level of homosexuality in ancient Rome might have been down to use of condoms and consequent low fertility. Personally, I've always believed that most men would fuck anything if left to their own devices and that social pressure, and often oppression, generally straightens them out. Classical society was not as repressive of gays as other societies have been. Rome patterned its culture on that of Greece, which believed pederasty to be an important part of social life.

We've all heard the stories of Afghans and their love of boys' bottoms and there are tribes in the Amazon that have institutionalised pederasty. Are these people rich in the genes in question? I hardly think so. I think, though, that there will be more gayness in a world that accepts gayness, just as there is more greed in a greedy world, and more love in a loving world. Let's face it, we're sheep. The sheepitude might be written in our genes if you insist on genes' explaining everything.

Pictures of yeuk

Some people have no sense of embarrassment. Usually they're Americans. English people had childhoods whose most often heard phrase was "don't cause a scene".

This is the sort of thing that gives the interwebnet a bad name. Everyone thinks their kid is the cutest thing since they invented cute, even the woman with the minging kid who looks like God used a cabbage three days past its best instead of a face for it.

This is the sort of thing that should remain private but, of course, the rise of reality TV has left people believing that the banal really is interesting and that their lives, which are endlessly fascinating to them, hold the same delight for others.

Maybe they do. Maybe there is a huge audience out there for "My kid is cute. It says 'lellow'" and I'm just too cynical to know it.

Naaah. This is just the 2004 equivalent of your dull cousin, who sends you a roundrobin every year about a delightful family full of fun that somehow doesn't quite jibe with the pack of hounds you remember from grampa's funeral.

Monday, October 18, 2004

Web bad for your health?

Those who entrust their health to the interwebnet may be making a mistake, according to a University College London study.

Hmm. Whenever I read those who are willing to pit their few hours' search of the web against a doctor's years of training and experience, I am reminded of those immortal words of Pope.

If the interwebnet had a motto, it would be "Don't believe all you read". But don't take my word for it.

Can-do spirit

Brilliant satire. With friends like this, Bush doesn't need enemies.

Their policy on cyberdivorcing gays is brilliant.

They've taken some commentators in. That's what makes a great parody: nearness to the truth, nearness that hurts.

Bring it on

The problem with this kind of prophecy, although it's great fun to imagine that Russia will drain the Euphrates dry before invading Israel, is that the words of the Bible can only be twisted so far.

You could note that Genghis and Alexander went in opposite directions and by different roads (although, of course, there are only so many ways to get to Asia, dictated by impassable mountains and deserts). Genghis was a Mogul, btw.

His Roman Empire is well off. Romania should be in (the name gives you a clue), Germany out. Austria in, Persia out (Cassius tried but he was defeated and beheaded -- it wasn't such a big deal back then). Ireland is out and so is Sudan.

Looking at the guy's map, I spot that even he has more than ten members in his "ten-member confederation" (the EU). His grasp of the enlargement of the EU is a bit poor. Dude, there's 20-something nations in and so far, none has been thrown out.

This stuff would be wholly laughable if there weren't millions of Americans who believe that they are about to be whisked away to heaven to watch this unfold. Which would itself be laughable if there weren't a presidential candidate who panders to this and other beliefs of these nutters.


If this is the future, bring back the past!

Having faith

This excellent article on the faith-based presidency left me thinking:

Would Jesus vote Bush?

Smoking guns

When I was a younger man, I worked as a researcher for a peace organisation that hoped to convince the UK to relinquish its nuclear weapons. (Actually, the organisation, gripped by a belief that it must bow to realpolitik, decided to press the UK to work towards multilateral disarmament.) I was, and am, passionate about the need for nuclear weapons disarmament.

In a phrase, my viewpoint is that anything is preferable to the use of nuclear weapons by a nation against the citizens of another. I believe they are beyond abhorrence and there is nothing that can justify their use.

I understand that having nuclear weapons allowed the United States and Russia to maintain a kind of peace for many years -- at least it allowed them to restrict their war in some ways. Mutually assured destruction worked as a deterrent, mostly because it kept the stakes high enough for even the most hawkish of hawks not to be tempted.

If Iraq had had nukes, and the means to deliver them to the US mainland, there would have been no invasion of that nation. It's curious that had Iraq actually posed the threat it is suggested it did, it would not have suffered the invasion that was supposed to end that threat! But no president would have risked Philadelphia or Baltimore just to "liberate" Iraqis and impose their puppet president on them.

Or would they? I hope we don't find out. The people behind the Bush administration are dangerous men, wild men who just might believe it is worth a few casualties to achieve their ends. Neither Iran nor North Korea is going to be the test case though. Neither can threaten the USA, although each can pose a threat to its proxies in their respective theatres.

It's US "interests" that count, of course, though, not its actual mainland. This rather nebulous term should be understood as "access to and control of resources". Without doubt, both powers can affect these.

The USA has no moral case in demanding nuclear nonproliferation. It is, as Dr ElBaradei says, rather like a man with a cigarette dangling from his mouth demanding that everyone give up smoking. The rhetoric from the Americans is almost amusing -- it is fuelled by their exceptionalism, their belief that Americans are inherently good and consequently should be allowed to do and have what others are forbidden.

It remains true that only one nation has ever used nuclear weapons in anger. I don't think it's entirely unreasonable to believe that that same nation will be the next to use them. A pre-emptive strike on one of the rogue nuclear powers is possible. The Americans do not have the force to spare to attack either.

I don't think we're ever going to have a nuclear-weapons-free world. Once the genie escaped from that particular bottle...

And it isn't just the "turrists" who have shown their willingness to use any weapons they can get their hands on. In Afghanistan and Iraq, the USA has used thermobaric weapons , which are as destructive as a low-yield nuclear weapons and daisy cutters, which were developed to knock down Vietnamese jungles (by a supreme irony, in their quest to rid the world of "weapons of mass destruction", which are largely weapons that cause no destruction at all, the USA is employing weapons that destroy, erm, massively).

What do I think we should do? I still believe we should lead the way by disarming. The USA and its allies should commit to disarming themselves of nuclear weapons within a decade. They don't need them any more, if they ever did. Russia is in the shit economically and can be forced to disarm itself too.

China is a problem but it is increasingly dependent on oil and foreign trade. Sanctions would cripple it. Israel would be amenable to foreign pressure.

Having done this, we would have the moral force we need to enforce proliferation. I believe that the UN should resolve to use force against those who its inspectors declare are pursuing nuclear weapons programmes. I'm not a "use force" kind of person, but I do believe that in the right circumstances, bombing a plant or two is justified (with due warning to allow evacuation). Firms that supply parts to rogue powers would be fined extremely heavily.

Will something like this ever happen? No way. The USA is working on developing "useable" nuclear weapons and we can expect it to destroy the testing regime, which has helped keep the lid on proliferation. The Third World has learned its lesson from Iraq. If the finger is pointed at you, you will be attacked whatever the truth about your capabilities, so you need nukes to defend yourself against the Americans. When the Americans say you're either with us or against us, they do mean it, and if they have decided you are against them, look out.

When people like me say that the USA poses the greatest threat to the world, most Americans feel their hackles raising, and they cry "you're hysterical". But I'm not, am I? The USA has invaded two nations in recent years and has used what would be defined as WMDs by any sane judge. It has nukes, wants to use them (read the nuclear posture review if you just can't bring yourself to believe it) and has a policy of "pre-emptive attack" coupled with a disregard for the international community. Remind me, what was the definition of a rogue nation?

Friday, October 15, 2004

Ferreting around

When all else fails, ferret out the truth

I admit it. Just the word "ferret" is enough to have me in stitches. It's a childhood thing. A neighbour kept ferrets. He said he would demonstrate how keen ferrets were on climbing up your trouser leg. What he did demonstrate was just how high-pitched a man's scream can be.

From memepool.


I'm not sure about the new campaign badges.


Hands up if you've always thought Barry Grant should have reinvented himself as a neopunk rocker... oh, just me then. If you don't know who Barry Grant was, this wonderful rant will mean nothing to you.


Until they do write a novel in eight years, you can count me out, but it's that time of year again.


I forgot to blog this on Monday. It's okay, I can come out today.

Only kidding. It remains Dr Zen's policy that because ambivalent sexuality is more interesting than being straight-out straight or gay or anywhere in between, he'll stay in.


Would election by majority be a bad thing?

I particularly like a negative for majority election's being that it encourages third party efforts! It's just much more democratic to have a two-party system.

Despite its faults, I think the transferrable system used in Australia is best if you are going to have a winner-takes-all election. It does mean that the winner has some sort of mandate.

Of course, PR is the way to go for constituency-based systems. The major parties don't want them because they would tend to make coalitions necessary, in which ideologues would have to negotiate with others to make consensual policy.

What would I really like to see? Governments of functionaries that put in place policies that we vote for in slates. With neutral policy costing, I think this is feasible.


Desktop google. Helpful tool or scary backdoor privacy invasion?

Even if it's not what Google intended, how long will it be before someone writes a bot that can sniff out your google index and snatch it? Is it a bad thing that someone could know at a glance everything that is on your hard drive?


I don't think I could match these drawings of the human body. Some are quite poignant.

Via metafilter.


Beyond Charlotte.

Those who think parents should choose should study the Jesse Koochin case carefully.

These people are going to need to see the whites of his bones before they believe his life is ended. The "activist judge" in this case needs slapping.

Utah law is clear. Doctors decide whether you're dead or not. There's no right of appeal to the Grim Reaper.

Insensitive types are directed to the plumber scene from Blue Jam, also via Mefi.


It's not all gloom. Here's a brilliant re-creation of Pacman. The great thing about freelancing? I get paid even if I'm doing nothing.

Vote for men

Instarube claims success in Afghanistan.

Yes, it's great they're having elections. Wonderful. Now if only we could disarm the militias that destroy everyday life there.

Shit. We armed them in the first place, didn't we?

Elections are not the cure for every ill. You'd think they were to read this rubbish but of course they are not. It doesn't matter who you elect if they can't keep the power on. The underlying rifts in Iraq between Shia and Sunni, secularist and theocrat, Kurd and Arab will not be resolved by simply holding an election.

Women are not suddenly liberated because they get a vote.

A success story? Then why are people saying things like this:
Sahar Saba, a spokeswoman for the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan, a secular organisation still unable to work openly, told me last week: "People who should be on trial for their crimes are still in key positions in the government, so in such a situation speaking about democracy and women's rights is futile."


As Good vibrations fades, you realise that Smile is one of the saddest records there has been. Not on account of the music, which is joyous throughout, but because the record has happened forty years too late.

Of course it's a great record but it's something even greater filtered through a ruined mind and played by a covers band. It's as though Brian Wilson were resurrecting his previous hits for a reunion tour.

Throughout, you try to imagine what it would have sounded like had it followed Pet sounds.

That it exists is a wonderful thing. That Wilson is still here, out the other side of a torment that could, should have killed him, is something to be celebrated, and this record does celebrate it.

If you love music, if you know that Pet sounds is one of the greatest pop albums (and if you don't, buy it and play it until you do), you probably already own Smile and you too will have shed a little tear for the Brian Wilson of the mid-sixties, who wanted to beat the Beatles and would have, had the world not conspired to break him.

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Not a prayer

Despite this touching message, America is not a "country of faith". It is a secular country, in which the establishment of religion is forbidden in the constitution.

Of course, the people of the USA are mostly Christian and I doubt that they would elect a guy who didn't come out on the side of Jesus. An atheist in the UK, even, would have to be careful what they said because there are people who will vote on that issue alone (although many people are uncomfortable with Blair's "deep faith").

(Hey, I know all about it. I had a gf once who dumped me because we were getting serious, and she didn't want to have kids with a nonbeliever.)

People who can write this:
Pray for Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld as he considers establishing a new American military base in the Eastern European country of Romania. Having looked at locations on or near the Black Sea, pray that Secretary Rumsfeld and his advisors will have God's wisdom and direction in this decision. Rumsfeld is in Romania for informal meetings with NATO ministers of defense.

are living caricatures.

Well, I suppose Jahweh was a personal God of the Jews (you gloss over that one, fundies, don't you?), so it is possible that these guys do have a God of the Repugnicunts. I don't think I'd be worshipping him though. He certainly isn't the god of love of the New Testament. He's the arsehole who wiped out whole nations for not being Jewish.

The idea that God does things *for* America or for a particular part of it is worrying to me. The idea that you have a creator who pays personal attention to *your* plans and not anyone else's is quite frightening.

What if God did not in fact favour your side? What if he *is* partisan but he is not for you?

That possibility doesn't seem to enter Bush's head. But then, he's not a thinker.

A thinker cannot believe in that kind of God. The whys too quickly multiply and you have a God that raises far more questions than he answers. The point of having a God in the first place, of course, is to have answers to otherwise thorny questions.

Well, actually, they're fairly easy questions. Why are we here? We evolved from a molecule of an acid in a deterministic manner. What is our purpose? We don't have one. What happens to us when we die? We rot. Who made the universe? No one. It just happened. How did it happen? Sorry, you weren't listening. It just happened. What is good? Whatever works in a broader picture. What is evil? Whatever doesn't. What is that broader picture? Making nothing in particular not so fucking painful that we cannot stand it.

Okay, so you couldn't make a religion out of it but religion is for the feebleminded who just don't have the mental HP to think out for themselves what they believe about the world.

But it's an unfortunate truth that the feebleminded also get to choose. Hey, I support the idiots' right to choose! Don't get me wrong. Just sometimes...

Never forget Poland

This was so funny, I wept when I read it.

Get through the Cheney celebratory dance with a dry eye and you're not human.

Thanks to Sal for the link.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Shred the lies

Whatever did happen to the shredder?

Maybe it too was shipped to Syria?

Truth of the matter is, some guy told Ann Clwyd that there was a shredding machine and that was enough for the whole world to believe it.

Fucksake. As if people never make anything up, especially about their enemies.


I was thinking about the shredder today as I was reading some guy's blog talking about how maybe the WMDs were shipped to Syria (I'm not linking it, I'm just not willing to give these fucking idiots the oxygen of publicity any more -- if you want to know who it was just google "stupid credulous rubes who will vote for Bush no matter what" and you'll get him or someone similar).

So I googled it and I was surprised to find out the truth of it. I had always just assumed it was one more lie used to demonise Saddam (along with HRW's claim that he murdered 300,000 or so Iraqis -- without any but a few of them being buried, which is curious for a Moslem country, or being remembered by their families or friends). So before now, I never knew. If I had known that the whole thing was based on Ann Clwyd's chatting to some guy, I would have laughed it out of the house.

Ann Clwyd long ago hitched her wagon to Tony Blair's. Calling her a lickspittle would do a disservice to lickspittles. She's just another bullshitter, among a group that could serve up a lesson in hypocrisy to anyone outside the Republican party.


It's of particular interest here in Australia, because the shredder story played huge here. John Howard has pursued the standard conservative SOP: make your lies Big. Like the Bushistas, he knows that if you make your lies outrageous, so that people can scarcely believe you'd have the cheek to make them up, you'll be believed.

The secret to it is deeper than that though. It's also important to use the other techniques of the Big Lie: ignore all evidence to the contrary as you repeat the lie (you just say that all counterfacts are "uncorroborated" or "unimportant") or claim that what you said should be more broadly interpreted (so that when there is no shredder in Abu Ghraib where you claimed it was, you simply state it was moved elsewhere or that you never exactly claimed it was there but just somewhere; you said you invaded Iraq because Saddam had WMDS, but what you meant was he wanted WMDs).

When all else fails, tell another Big Lie. Tell lots of them. Tell so many no one can quite remember what you have said. A torrent of lies. Shredders, hundreds of thousands of murders, WMDs, terrorists... so much stuff that some of it must be true.

But no. No, actually, it wasn't.

For openers

Anyone who believes a story needs to be "grabby", should read this.

If this tedious, overwritten trash is the height of British writing, I fear us Brits need to give up.

"You’re either for me or against me, thought Alex-Li Tandem, referring to the daylight and, more generally, to the day."

This is just not a credible thing to think. It's the kind of flash, look-at-me allusion Smith indulges in -- hollow and pointless. (She seems to write in the hope that no one will ever stop and think what she's actually saying and, luckily for her, most of the critical and literary community in the UK are so airheaded -- the produce of privilege rather than talent -- that they never do.) What a thing to begin your book with! The name is stupid and that's going to nag at the reader for pages and pages, if not taint their whole reading of the book.

"He stretched flat and made two fists."

Why deny the idiom? You "stretch out". When a writer denies the idiom there ought to be a purpose. If there is not, either the writer has the idiom wrong or they are purposely being "writerly", which is an affectation.

Why did he make two fists? What does it mean that he did? Nothing. It's no use thinking about it. She's not actually saying anything, just embroidering. Her character made two fists for absolutely no reason. It's a principle of writing that I believe a good writer adheres to that one does not tell the reader anything they do not need to know. It's actually fucking elementary. But because a writer like Smith is technically literate, they can get away with breaching it and no one feels they should call them on it.

"He was fully determined to lie right here until he was given something to work with, something noble, something fine. "

You what? "Something to work with" that was noble and fine? That doesn't make any sense. "Something to work for" would work. "Something to work towards"...

So why the odd phrasing? Again, two possibilities. Either the writer cannot write or is being too clever.

"He saw no purpose in leaving his bed for a day that was against him from the get-go. He had tried it before; no good could come from it."

Okay. But this does not follow from the previous sentence. It's a recapitulation of an earlier thought.

This reads like a first draft. You wonder why she didn't read over it and say, oh no, actually that's not working.

"A moment later he was surprised to feel a flush of warm light dappled over him, filtered through a blind."

You fucking what? The woman doesn't even know what "dappled" means. A dalmatian is dappled because it has light and dark patches. Tandem is dappled because the light is filtered through his blinds. The light dapples him, but it cannot "dapple over" him. It doesn't actively do anything. It's not rain, for fuck's sake. In any case, the warmth is the sun, not the light, unless someone's switched on a sunlamp outside his window. I know, she's trying to be clever, but instead of making a new coat out of old cloth, she has given the appearance of not knowing what a coat is.

She continues, dully expounding on the qualities of today's light versus yesterday's.

The opening of a story ought to pose questions, yes, but one of them should not be "Why is this woman writing this rubbish?"

How spin works


1. Reeve was real-life 'Superman', fighting for spinal cord issues.

2. Reeve never gave a shit about spinal cords until he busted his own.

Swift to lie, slow to tell the truth

This film could win the election for Bush. The last lie will doubtless be the most salient.

Furious George is going to need it. His campaign is beginning to unravel. The truth -- that he is a vicious demagogue who is out to give money to his rich mates -- has become ever more evident. The fact-checking that TV stations and organisations such as do has begun to make it look as though Bush, not Kerry, is the flipflopper, the weasel. Even Fox, when it does its "fact-checking", has struggled to make Kerry look as dishonest as Bush so obviously is. (Bush must be cursing Cheney for stupidly mentioning Factcheck! It points out that he even lied about the timber company. Yes, George, you do own one.)

If I were advising Kerry, I would tell him to just let the film play. He is just feeding the publicity around it if he tries to oppose it, and giving it a credibility it doesn't deserve. Vietnam is not a good issue for Kerry, even if he feels it should be.

I'd play out ads that show that moment when Kerry, obviously sincere, tells middle America he won't tax it (a brilliant piece of showmanship that I hope they are using in ads there -- call that wooden? No way). Contrast it with Furious George bellowing at the moderator and then:

"Would you buy a tree off this man?"

Show Bush denying having a timber company and then the Factcheck page...

"Even Dick Cheney's favourite factcheckers think he's a liar!"

Vote Kerry!

45 lies per month

In this article it is reported that Jack Straw believes it was right to invade Iraq even though the intelligence on WMDs was wrong.

Hang on, Jack. You said we invaded Iraq because of the WMDs. That means that if you were wrong about his having them, you were wrong to invade him. IOW, you fucked up.

Doesn’t that mean you should resign? Isn’t that what you do when you’re accountable?


More interestingly, I noted in the same article that the government agrees that the intelligence services withdrew the 45-minute claim in July 2003.

But wait a fucking minute! The Hutton Inquiry was after then. Greg Dyke resigned after that.

Alistair Campbell was slaughtering Gilligan after the intelligence services had told the gov’t that the 45-minute claim was untrue – just what Gilligan reported!

The Gilligan report was in late May 2003. He said that there were doubts in the intelligence service about the claim when it was made.

He told the truth and the gov’t knew it. The intelligence service withdrew the claim a little more than a month after his report. But no gov’t witness told Hutton so.

Why not?

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Anatomy of a lie

This astonishing report (Warning: large PDF) details the many lies that Tony Blair told about WMDs.

As someone who said that he was lying at the time (because even then the discrepancy between his statements and what was known was so wide), I take an interest in reading the proof.

But we all should. Our leaders lied to us. They did so so that they could invade a sovereign nation and kill its people. In our name.

We should not allow this. We are supposed to be living in a democracy, of which a key element is the accountability of those who represent us.

Tony Blair has never made account for these discrepancies. He seems to think that because the war was "won", because Iraq is "free", we need not concern ourselves with why we actually went there in the first place.

Wrong. We have to be able to trust our leaders. We demand ministers resign when they are caught in a lie. We should demand it no less of the prime minister.

We should be fair and afford him what he and his allies in Washington deny the "turrists": a trial. I say if he won't go, we should impeach him. If we do not have the power to remove him, where is the democracy?

Big, bad Boris

Why is this man a Tory?

Boris bashes Blair, antiGilliganites and Polly Toynbee with his usual lucid prose and impeccable logic.

You know, if they put this guy up against Blair (or whoever) in five years, they could get back in. But they won't. He simply isn't rabid enough and he's way too fond of the truth as he sees it.

The hard cell

We are mostly bacteria.

Does that mean anything (apart from the implications for drug therapy)?

Am I less me than I am them?

Are they separate from me? How? They are cells living among my cells. They're a little more mobile than most of my cells and they don't share their genetic material (but they can, we know they can, they have). They are distinct from me but not completely so -- probably you couldn't consider them a great deal more distinct than mitochondria from the rest of the cell they inhabit.

Religious types look away now. You already know God gave you a spirit you don't share with the bacteria, so you needn't concern yourself with the science of it.

But for those of a more mechanist bent, it's an interesting question for obvious reasons. There are other cells -- or colonies of cells -- that are not us (or can be argued not to be) but are commensal with us. Unlike bacteria, they are not foreign and become part of us, they are part of us and become foreign.

Of course, I mean the entities that go through a lifecycle from ovum to embryo to foetus to child to you and me.

Watching Bush passionately decrying the destruction of "life" in embryonic stem cell research, I asked myself, are embryos "life"? (I'm allowing that he meant "human life", which I agree with him should be preserved, and not just "a form of life", which clearly he doesn't think should be preserved and neither do I -- we would have to be fruitarians if we did).

My view is that each stage of that lifecycle before birth represents life in potentia, with the potential growing as the colony of cells grows.

An unfertilised egg should properly be considered the first part of the lifecycle. It doesn't spring into being at conception, and it does have potential before being fertilised.

Very few people believe unfertilised eggs might not be destroyed but, for a mechanist, the only difference between them and a fertilised egg is the admission of some genetic material that starts off a purely mechanical process. Okay, you might believe God "breathes the spirit" into the fertilised egg or some such nonsense, but I asked you to look away above. I'm talking only to those who are willing to put those considerations aside for a moment.

When does the "potential" life become an "actual" life, which ought to be preserved? I don't know that there is a point. I can understand the appeal of "at conception" or "on first heartbeat" or "at the moment of birth", but I believe all are arbitrary. I usually argue for the last of those to be the absolute bound because I believe that until this time the mother's rights should entirely supersede those of the unborn child, whatever rights the latter is believed to have.

Part of the problem is that we insist on considering a process that is something like a river to resemble a train journey. The development of a foetus is not really like that -- with a series of stations it calls at (the symbolism of the stations of the Cross just pinged into my noggin... interesting). It's a much more dynamic process with, I think, only two absolutes -- conception and birth (the former changes the process, the latter separates two entities definedly so that there are two processes rather than a process and a pseudoprocess -- no, I will not explain what I mean by a "process"! You figure it out from the river/train journey thing.)

The foetus becomes more and more a child, I believe. On day two, it truly isn't much of anything and if it is lost -- as many, many must be without our notice -- it is only that much of a tragedy.

On day 270, it is much more.

(Yes, I know, you cannot have a sliding scale of hurt over a lost baby. It is not exact in any way -- some feel more for a first-trimester loss than others do over an third-trimester termination. But I think the general idea is sound -- it would certainly have hurt me more to lose the twins at their third scan at 22 weeks, when they had begun to seem real to me, than at their first at six, when they appeared to be nothing more than smudges on the photo. In any case, our emotional response to things does not always reasonably weigh up the issue! People feel this is a valid debating point -- if you say you oppose war, they say "but what would you feel if invading soldiers raped your wife and killed your kids" -- but of course it is not: I do not say one must not spray mosquitoes in Africa because I personally get squeamish about squishing them in my back yard. I know they should be sprayed, and I don't mind their being squished, I'm just pussy about it.)

In any case, I think that there is not a dichotomy between alive/not alive, but a spectrum of aliveness (in the same way, a single cell of our bodies is "alive" but not "life", and we do not mind killing it if it becomes cancerous; even a million cells in a bad leg or arm we will excise, when most will still be alive) -- a spectrum, to make things worse, of something more metaphysical than physical.

I realised, of course, in thinking about it, that I do not exactly disagree with Bush (although I do disagree with his reasons for thinking what he thinks about it). You are destroying life in a sense when you do embryonic stem cell research. (Although the "life" you destroy will never be actuated.) But where we don't agree is that I cannot see the "so what" in it. An embryo has life, but so does a tumour cell, and so do the bacteria in my gut. Once you've removed and frozen the embryo, what makes it "life" and not just "alive"? (If you removed and froze your gut bacteria... well, they would survive no longer than the embryo once defrosted! Both embryo and bacteria need a host to parasitise.)

So what if you destroy some life in potentia? Isn't it just like having a period but later in the cycle? On our sliding scale of grief, there is no grief, because there is no connection.

I know why I feel life should be preserved. My feeling that it should leads me to oppose the death penalty. I can't help thinking it's odd that Bush worries so much about "life" that has never been, but will sign the warrant that ends lives that are.

Without the conviction of a religion or a moral structure to guide me, I find my thoughts on this subject rather scattered. I feel, as in so many areas, that how things affect people is so much more important than an abstract principle such as "life must be preserved". Well, yes, but in looking into the why of the principle, you realise that it is not at all absolute. For George Bush, it is more realistically framed as "life must be preserved unless it is a property of a capital felon or Moslem" and for me "life should be preserved if it is real". Mine has much more grey area. I accept that. I cannot know all the answers. I can be wrong and I'm content with that.

Monday, October 11, 2004

Skin flicks

An FAQ that goes beyond the necessary.

Whether you find the site it's attached to funny depends entirely on whether you're Icelandic. Trust me, I've been there.

Gut instincts

An old but brilliant article by Thom Hartmann about how the Bushistas get their message across.

Kerry appeals to the thinker in us, says Hartmann, but not the gut. I say Kerry doesn't realise that the gut is what most Yanks do their thinking with.

The repugnicunts know it and pander to it. They grovel in shit. I despair that we haven't gone there too. We should have done. It matters that much. Where are the ads that have Bush talking about drugs policy and then mention his coke abuse?

Where are the ads saying "You'd have to be drunk to invade Iraq!"?


Why have Indymedia's servers been seized?

The feds say they did it for someone else and the server company says nothing.

The Register suggests that the Swiss authorities wish to suppress photos of undercover police at a demonstration in France who were photographing protesters.

Why the Swiss police are photographing protesters is a mystery.

Here's the danger of giving gov'ts too much power in their "war on turr". You never know when you'll become a "turrist".


Jacques Derrida has died.

But what does that sentence mean?

How do I know that there was *a* Derrida? What does it mean to say he has died? Is "life" restricted to the narrow limits of "physical existence"? Is there not a sense in which Derrida has not died?

Now he is one of the "dead white men".

Irony is the forte of French philosophes.


This brilliant Martin Amis review of Maradona's autobiography reminds the reader why Dieguito was and is so beloved in some of the hardest cities on this planet, and by me.

He is a legendary bad boy with a talent that you would sell your soul and those of your whole family for: truly the greatest footballer I have ever seen play or probably ever will see; and a loser of prodigious dimensions.

You cannot help but love him: a man crushed by his own talent and destroyed by his flaws and yet never quite crushed and never quite destroyed. A man of heart, fierce and foolish. He may grow fatter, madder until his inevitably early demise, but he will always be the pibe who waltzed through our defence and showed us why the heart counts... viva Dieguito!

Santorum spreads

If you google santorum, the top result directs you to a definition of the word as follows:

"the frothy mixture of lube and fecal matter that is sometimes the byproduct of anal sex".

Now that's not the kind of thing you want to encourage, is it?

Sunday, October 10, 2004

Filter the fiddlers?

Freedom is removed one step at a time and each step can be tiny. Those who hate freedom are able to make each step sound reasonable and those who oppose it unreasonable.

There is a lot of talk in Australia about mandatory filters for PCs to shut out kiddie porn sites. A Norwegian company has reported having the technology. You'd assume that if the government adopted the idea, it would be the ISPs who were forced to filter sites.

I do not like kiddie porn. Although I have some sympathy for the people who find themselves attracted to children (and I'm having one of those sympathy/empathy moments, where I'm hoping the one I've chosen means I feel sorry for the perverts not that I feel the same way!. But we do not choose our sexuality and what we need sexually can be ugly even to ourselves), I don't feel they should be encouraged, and I do believe that those who have mistreated children should be punished.

But I like even less the idea of a filter, a built-in censor. Yes, we will all agree that kiddie porn must be stopped! but who knows what else decent people might need to be protected from? Terrorist websites? That horrible Al-Jazeera that insists on objectively reporting both sides in the conflict between the US and the Moslem world? Communists? Cuban websites? Dr Zen?

I read that Telstra are considering it and I shiver. Telstra owns the only line into Australia, so far as I know. And they're for sale...


Blowing a woman's head off is good viewing for children, but Gawd forbid that puppets get a blowjob.

I can't be alone in thinking that art has once more mirrored life. The rightwhingers made hay out of one president's lying about, yes, a gam, and think it is quite all right for another to have lied about WMDs and the reason for invading Iraq.

I watched the second debate. It's a bit like car-crash telly. A step up from Big Brother or Survivor, but not a huge step. Neither actually "debated" anything. Both hammered away at their party line. Bush seemed angry. I'm not sure why but something made him angry enough to yell. He managed not to stumble too badly over his words but he rarely answered the question (Kerry, to his credit, did at least answer the questions posed, although usually one question too late!). Bush repeated over and over the set of messages his campaign people have told him to and he didn't fuck up his lines this time.

The trouble is that if you didn't think it through, Bush's line seems coherent. You start thinking, yes, we did invade Iraq to remove Saddam. Saddam was a real threat, blah de blah, he'd make weapons if he had the chance, and fuck it, he has al-Zarqawi in his country. But that wasn't why we did it. We said he actually had the weapons and was imminently going to use them -- so imminently that we could no longer try diplomacy. Al-Zarqawi was of course not in any area of Iraq that Saddam controlled and anyway, if we invaded everywhere that harbours terrorists, there'd barely be a country on earth that wasn't filled with marines. Including the UK, favourite stopping place of Islamic militants, Germany, where the Atta cell plotted 9/11, and France, chockers with bad boys.

Three things of interest, I think. First, Bush gloated about Kyoto. It wasn't popular in some European capitals, he smirked. As if that were a good thing! As if we haven't been saying, but the reason the bad boys attacked your buildings was that the world hates you. Not being popular is not actually a praiseworthy goal for a leader. It didn't work for Saddam. Second, the repugnicunts seemed to think Kerry had blundered by allowing there to be the suggestion that his path would not have removed Saddam. Well, so what? If he has no WMDs and he's not actually stirring up terrorists, then he's just another horrible cunt in some godforsaken backwater. The world's full of them and we don't much care about it. So. Containment would have done just as well and if Saddam was still there, never mind. There'd probably be a lot fewer dead Iraqis and the streets would be safe for people to walk in.

Third thing is that when he was asked to state three decisions he had got wrong, Bush actually said that he had got everything right. Oh, I made some bad appointments, he said (Rumsfeld and Cheney spring to mind but I'll bet that's not who he was thinking of!), but otherwise, I got everything right. I can believe he does think that. Part of the "unwavering" nature of Bush is his belief in the absolute rectitude of what he does. He can't change his mind because that would be to admit he was wrong. Since God is advising him directly (go look it up, he truly thinks so), this is tantamount to suggesting God can get things wrong.

I wasn't impressed by his argument that Kerry wasn't "credible" on tax. The RWCs have lied about how much Kerry plans to spend, distorted his record on voting for tax (they include things like improving the efficiency of the IRS as tax-raising, and voting for tax plans in the budget -- because presidents juggle many taxes in their plans, even a budget that overall lowers taxes might raise dozens of little imposts). A good example is the money for body armour.

The RWCs lie an awful lot about Kerry. Sadly, that will probably win them the election. Here in Australia, the Liberals won a crushing victory yesterday. How? How can a party whose first item on their agenda is to make it easier for bosses to sack workers win the votes of the working class? How can a party who have shifted the tax burden onto the poorer percentiles, whose ill-judged handling of the housing market have made it impossible for young people to buy a house (although of course the enormous rises in prices have impressed those who already have houses), how can they win?

Easy. They ran two TV ads in nearly every commercial break on TV, particularly in the footy finals and during big-ticket shows such as American Idol. One lied about Mark Latham's record as leader of a council, suggesting he was incompetent to run the economy (ignoring, of course, that the prime minister does not run the economy anyway but his chancellor does -- Labor's chancellor is thought to be highly competent, and Labor's plans were all costed and solid). The other pointed out that on a $200,000 mortgage, which is about average I suppose, a 6% raise would see you paying $1000 a month more.

The people tripped over themselves on the way to the polling booths to make sure Latham didn't get the chance.


The papers are calling the second debate a draw. You might despair of this world when you hear that. One guy set out his policies, his ideas and his dissensions from the incumbent. The other guy assassinated his opponent's character with a pack of lies from one end of the debate to the other. One looked like a fundamentally shy man, uncomfortable with the public arena, trying to reach out to the audience; the other reminded me of the ringleader of the playground bullies, egging on his gang: strutting, the head bobbing forcefully...

You know, sometimes the world dislikes you because you are right and it is wrong, that's true. It was mostly true of the French Revolution and in its place, it was true of the Russian Revolution (where most of the Imperialist world tried to suppress a revolution whose aim, at first at least, was to free people from a shocking oppression).

But sometimes you're not popular because you're wrong, because you're a bully, because you lie, cheat and steal. Is that what they want to be? It's what they're being asked to vote for and they seem to be buying it.

Friday, October 08, 2004

If I introduced myself to alt.writing...

Hi everyone

My name's Dr Zen.

Well, obviously, it isn't. That's the name I masquerade under. Or behind. Any takers? Do you masquerade under a false name or behind it? Bugger. That's not a good start.

Anyway. I'm *mumbles*, married with three kids and an imaginary dog. No, I'm not married to the dog. That's not what I meant.

I live in Brisbane. I'm not sharing the address but if anyone thinks I wouldn't call them a cunt to their face, I'm often to be found slouching around the Carindale shopping centre, and will be glad to re-educate you on that score. (Regulars of Carindale shopping centre will know, of course, that I have at one time or another called just about everyone there a cunt. Well, muttered it at them. Okay, sometimes I've only thought it, but *quite fiercely*, so it very much felt like muttering. All right, yes, that does mean that the aforementioned regulars only know they are cunts if they're mindreaders and if they were mindreaders they would be living lives of enormous wealth and sending someone else to do their shopping.)

I work as a copy editor. Yes, that does mean my command of English is vastly superior to yours. Yes, it does mean I am always going to be right about absolutely everything.

I’m here to talk about writing. Write about writing, I mean. I might also talk about it but you won’t be hearing it. Unless you’re in my downstairs room. If you are, fuck off out of it. I get more than enough vermin as it is.

A matter of record

With a record of success this great, why even consider the other guy?

50 years from now, when America is a dependency of China, they'll ask themselves, how was this guy ever able to govern America for eight years.

Of course they won't! They know that someone else pushed the buttons. They'll know that that someone else lied through his teeth an almost unbelievable amount and the credulous American public bought it.

He could only exist with a chief executive self-absorbed in his resentments and narrow in experience and intellectual scope, who does not hold his vice-president accountable; a national security adviser incompetent in her eagerness to please; and a secretary of state who accepts his internal defeats, always playing the good soldier.

How did those people get to be what they are though? Who put them there? Who made sure that any potential opposing seats of power were filled with inadequates?

Love life

Charlotte Wyatt is to be allowed to die. Her life will now be short but she will be loved. It is an amazing expression of love that her parents can accept that there will not be the miracle they wanted for their own sakes and that they must lose their child.

That life is valuable and precious is not something that needs explaining to any one of us. Ordinarily, we will protect one another's lives, and insist on their value, above most other things. But there must be limits.

Surely what we protect is not being alive in the abstract -- being living, in other words -- but being alive in a much broader sense. Charlotte is an easy example. To extend her life, so that she does more living, will involve painful treatment. The quality of her life would be very poor. Her body would be physically animate but is that "life"?

I know the fundamentalists believe it is, that anything human that is burning fuel in oxygen is living and must be kept that way. What a lack of compassion their mechanist view of life has! These people who call themselves "spiritual" because they believe in something supernatural.

For me it is so much harder to define but so much richer. Life is distinct and real. You know it when you see it and you know when it is lacking. A man on a machine is living but he is not alive. I refuse to believe that any god who has sympathy for us believes that he is.

I know that my beliefs mean making judgements, which are extremely difficult and require us to be moral (not an easy thing in itself when health care is expensive and the pie is only so big). I do think it is reasonable to fear that if we insist life must have quality there will be those who insist their aged parents, loaded but mostly immobile, have none of it and must die. I know that it is easier to decide the fate of the severely handicapped if we simply keep them alive -- so that they have cellular function even if they will never get up, go out and feel the breeze -- as near forever as we can (and yes, I know that there can be quality in lives like that -- I am not saying there must be a measurable thing, quite the opposite).

If my own child were broken, and ought to die, how would I feel? I do not know. I hope that I would realise that what I love about Zenella, for instance, is not just her physical self, her being alive, but her being in that same broader sense, but I loved her when her life was very small, probably if I am honest before she even lived, and I do not know why. I have always thought love was a little beyond reason and makes us unreasonable but, too, beautiful, things of beauty whose lives are worth extending where we can.

Thursday, October 07, 2004


Often, backward-looking pop is dull, leaving the educated listener with the feeling that rather than listen to the new imitator, they're better off going back to the source.

Who in their right mind would listen to Green Day when they can just put on London calling or Inflammable material? The latter had the great advantage of feeling it, not doing it because it sells to America's teen CD buyers.

I feel this doubly so when the bands ripped off were useless to start with. I mean, we didn't need the Slits, so why do we need the new Slits?

Yeah, but. All great bands have influences. All look back to the past. Yes, they do, but they take the raw material and forge something new and thrilling from it. The Stone Roses took the lead of late sixties' garage bands and workaday psychedelica and made, well, sugar-spun magic. Very little great is entirely new. It's the context that allows us to get a grip on it. Innovation needs the old as a springboard.

So that brings me to Interpol. They are supposed to be Joy Division copyists. I'm not sure that whoever decided that ever heard any Joy Division, because I can't hear it. Yes, both made lean, limber guitar music and wrote songs that tended to mopery, but that's it. Joy Division were heavy rock, the Stooges dialled down from a bludgeon to a rapier; Interpol are Television with more attitude, Wire with girlfriend problems.

Their second album has been hailed as a great departure from Turn on the bright lights. I can't hear that either. It sounds like more of the same, except with a little more warmth, a little more depth. It occasionally threatens to shake a tailfeather (but this is very much a white boy's idea of funky).

Yes, I suppose they could have made a similar album in 1982. It's only the production that is new. It's remarkably uninformed by music in the intervening twenty or so years. But the gentle swing of Public pervert and the sweetness of No exit will keep me coming back to Antics. So, yes, it's a new wave album that is a quarter of a century too late, but it's a good one, which I would have loved then and would still be loving today.

I, Moazzam Begg, Demand to Be Freed From Guantanamo

To those who feel we are fighting a war on terror and doing it well, I say, readMoazzam Begg's letter.

Is this what we're fighting for? To imprison a man for two and a half years without his even knowing what he is supposed to have done?

Without his even knowing the charges against him! All he knows is that someone, somewhere thinks he is a "terrorist". But he may not know who accuses him or why. Kafka could not write this; he would have thought it too extreme.

Is this who we are? In a month this fucker Cheney will be returned to power.

How many must die? How many must be caged? How many before you and I say no, no, I believe we are more than this?

Moazzam Begg should be freed from Guantanamo. Our ancestors forced their rulers to end arbitrary detention and to produce the interned on demand in a court. But there is no habeas corpus for Mr Begg or his family if we will not demand it on his and their behalf.

Vote Kerry. Fuck the policies, the debates, the ins and outs of it. Don't let these shitheads have any more rope to hang us with.

Vote Latham. Show each one of them that we will not support what they do in our name.

*gulp* Vote anyone but Blair. Palmerston would not have stood for it. A British citizen held without trial!

I, Dr Zen, demand that Begg is freed from Guantanamo.

Happy as a pig...

Causing a furore in the UK is, once more, Channel Five. It filmed Beckham's ex giving a happy ending to a pig.

I don't know what the fuss is about. I think wanking a pig should be part of the entrance test for all wannabe C-list celebs. If you won't put a smile on a pig's face you really shouldn't be allowed on Five.

Actually, as usual, the furore was all in the media. Five said it had four complaints. I think they should air the tapes. They'd probably get higher ratings for people complaining about some slag wanking a pig than they did for the pig-jizzing in the first place.

"I wish to complain about pig masturbation."

There's a Monty Python sketch in there somewhere.

The truth about al-Sadr

A fine article by Naomi Klein, increasingly the leading voice of the progressive world. How she got to be it is simple: she tells the truth as she sees it.

It's easy to forget that the American offensive against al-Sadr began because he took to the streets when Bremer closed down his newspaper. Remember, we're bringing democracy to these people, one item of which is freedom of the press.

Al-Sadr's rise to fame has been based on two pillars: resistance to the occupation, which is unpopular despite what Mr Allawi was told to say, and calls for free and fair elections. Of course, he wants the latter because he hopes the Shia majority will vote in a theocracy; the very reason the Americans fear fair elections and will help rig a victory for Allawi next year.

Al-Sadr has played the game well. He understands Iraqis far better than the Americans, who continue to believe that simply imposing a strongman will resolve all of Iraq's problems.


More interesting work on Iraq, discussing the Survey Group's report.

The right is going to spin the Survey Group's discussion of the decay of sanctions into the real reason for invading Iraq. But the truth of it is, they are not telling us anything we don't know. Of course Saddam wanted bios and chems. They were his only hope of preventing a determined enemy from invading his country and destroying his power. Hello? If nothing else, the guy was a realist, not the desperate fantasist he is so often painted.

It's interesting that Saddam claims to have been equivocal on WMDs because he wanted to deter Iran. He simply didn't believe the Americans would attack him. Why would he? He knew he had nothing to do with 9/11 and he knew he could pose and did pose no threat to the USA.

The truth of it is that he had a regional bias and never intended harm to the USA. Frankly, if the Yanks never bothered him, he would never bother them. This isn't something the Bushistas are going to admit but it is quite plain. Where Saddam went wrong was in not realising that there was no way the Yanks were ever going to let him be. He was sitting on too much black honey for that. He had to deal with them because of that.

On the subject of WMDs, we should never let the truth be submerged in rightist spin: Iraq had no WMDs but North Korea has. It might have as many as eight nukes. The concern we have pretended over WMDs is shown to be hollow by our attitude to North Korea, which could be characterised as an earnest desire to see it collapse in on itself before it can do any harm.

A few years ago North Korea was inching towards reunification and its security concerns were being dealt with sympathetically.

Now it is a frightened country with terrible weapons, facing a hostile power that prides itself on "not wavering", which sounds a great deal to the onlooker like "not being flexible".

But nations must be flexible. There must be give and take. You cannot say "this is how it will be" and believe that you can force the world to your will. America is learning the hard way in Iraq that that is not the way it is regardless how much power you can project.


It's a lesson that is lost on Mr Kerry though. He seems to believe that the best answer to America's security problems is not "work to build a world that works for everyone in it and not just the USA, and in the process don't stir up resentment against the USA" but "hire more troops".

But no amount of troops could stop Mohammed Atta. And the price of using power to resolve problems of legitimacy, as we see in Iraq, is very high (although, as Mr Cheney notes, it's not Americans that mostly pay it).


Yet more good stuff in the Guardian.

Like many people, when Bush dismissed the intelligence report that suggested Iraq might dissolve into civil war as "just guessing", I wondered (well, first of all whether he was fucking crazy, to dismiss his own intelligence services, who, if we remember, he relied on to make his case to bomb the shit out of Iraq in the first place) where he was getting his better intelligence from.

Well, of course we all know and, it's sad to report, about half of America thinks it's a good thing. It doesn't matter what you see on TV, read in the papers. The evidence can be dismissed. God tells Bush that he's winning, so he's winning and God bless America.