Monday, January 31, 2005

Carnival's coming to town

Dr Zen has been struck by carny fever -- and not just because he's been spending his Sundays having his head twisted by HBO's brilliant Carnivale -- and will be hosting two of the better blogosphere roundups.

Carnivals are a chance for bloggers to achieve a broader audience for the posts that they are really proud of, which would otherwise remain unread outside their own circle. Hey, we're not all Instapundit, but most of us can write the guy into a cocked hat.

First will be the all-new Carnival of the godless. It's just kicked off and there's some good reading for those with at least a sceptical bent.

I'll be hosting it on March 26 or 27, depending whose calendar you use, which means that during March I'll be accepting submissions at the usual address. This carnival has an atheist bent but that shouldn't discourage the godfearing. You can write about godlessness!

Then in April I'm hosting Carnival of the vanities, the original carnival. This is for general subjects.

I'll be looking to include as many posts as I can stand to link but I believe there are usually many submissions, so it's going to have to be something that kicks the proverbial.

Anyone who's interested should email me the following:

* The name of the blog where the post is from
* The post title.
* The post author's name or handle.
* The post's permanent link.
* A short description of the post.

And hey, don't forget the clowns. I love clowns.

Barrier to justice

When the Israelis built their iron curtain in the West Bank, they claimed they were doing so to increase their security. Opponents of Israel suggested that by building it some distance into the West Bank they had two other motives: first, to delineate borders for Israel that were different from the 1967 ceasefire lines that most accept should be the border between Israel and Palestine, and second, to steal even more Palestinian land for its settlements.

Naturally, the Israelis and their tools on the right claimed that these opponents were antiSemitic. (Because of course it is our hatred of Jews that drives us to deplore the murder of schoolchildren.)

Ho hum. I suppose I must be practically a Nazi because I feel that these are not the actions of people who want a lasting and just peace but the behaviour of racists who simply feel that they can do what the hell they choose to people they dominate.

Johnny Atik has lived in his house for 55 years. He can see his olive groves from his front room. But they are no longer his. He is "absent". The Israelis have decided the olive groves belong to settlers and soon Johnny will see flats where once he grew his fruit.

Call me an antiSemite, I don't care, but while the belief is current that one side can do no wrong and the other can do no right, there will be no justice. We cannot continue to pursue an antiMuslim agenda and to support those who do and still believe that it is jealousy or antidemocratic sentiment or hatred of freedom or whatever bullshit we want to describe it that leads them to hate us.

Krafty kut

Love me, love New Order. That's the long and short of it. They've seen me through thick and thin and I owe them.

It seems almost adolescent to have a "favourite band" but I do. They are almost the only band who I get excited about, certainly the only ones who I feel compelled to dl an MP3 (or an ASX) of their new single. Anyone else I can wait.

But New Order are different. I couldn't say why. Yes, they are more inventive than most. Yes, they write stretches of music that touch the sublime. But so do a lot of bands.

Here is the point where theories of aesthetics fall down. How do we explain what touches us when we are without criteria? I can recognise the qualities of New Order and compare them objectively with other sources of art but how can I know what it is that makes them what they are?

Friday, January 28, 2005


Six million Jews died in camps like Auschwitz. Millions of others also died.

It's said. We must not allow anyone to unsay it.

But saying it is not enough. We have to feel it. Not just when we remember Auschwitz but whenever we are tempted to think that it is all right to hurt our fellow humans because they are "not like us".

They are exactly like us. We're in this together.

The survivors are fewer now as the years pass, and soon enough there will be no one that can give living testimony.

But we are their daughters and sons, and the daughters and sons of those who harmed them, and our daughters and sons and theirs will still be saying that six million Jews died in camps like Auschwitz, and millions of others with them, and they too will not allow it to be unsaid while any one of us can still love another.

Loving the marigold

This brilliant and inspiring piece should be the progressive manifesto.

What was particularly distressing about the US election campaign was that the left allowed the right to set the agenda. This is not wholly surprising, of course, because it is the right that is running things; the right's bogeyman that we fight; the right's policies that are destroying the fabric of our societies; the right's vicious hatred of humankind that poses the greatest challenge to our world.

But Griffin points out, very eloquently, that we do not have to simply be responsive to the problems and threats we perceive. We can step beyond the world into a new world that we imagine. We know we cannot take all of our brothers and sisters with us -- many much prefer the pit to the end of the rainbow -- but that doesn't mean we cannot use the power of our imagination (so beautifully described in the story of Desnos) to describe the pot of gold.

The beginning of the end of liberty

You cannot leave your house at night. You cannot leave it at all at the weekend. You cannot have an Internet connection. You may not associate with certain people. If you do go out, you must wear an electronic tag.

What crime have you committed?


No detention without trial. We fought for it.
The right to free association. Some of our forefathers died in the streets for it.

Must we allow our nations to become police states to prevent a "threat" that has existed for 30 years to little effect from touching us?

They are our rights. We talk about how our granddads idied in the second world war for our freedoms. These are the freedoms they died for.

Confirming the witchfinder-general

Alberto Gonzales thinks this is okay.

Proud of your nation? Proud of the way it treats its "enemies"? The Tipton Three committed the crime of being in Afghanistan and were tortured for it.

Proud of your government? It is government by you, for you. We forget that. We alienate ourselves from it by pretending that they are them and we are just us. But you put them in power; you allow it to go on without any complaint.

This is why when advocates of the enforced vote in Australia tell me that I cannot complain because I don't vote, I say, you are fucking imbeciles. Voting makes you part of this. (And yes, it's doubtless true that regardless who you vote for, you are plumping for an arsehole: Kerry, Bush, Hills Clinton, whoever.)

This is partly why they want to kill us. They think we are hypocrites. They think our "freedom" is freedom to enslave one another. They think our "freedom" is not much more than licence, and they are not wrong.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Round and about

Single-issue blogs bore me. I generally don't want to read someone I wouldn't want to share a beer with, and I wouldn't want to share a beer with someone who intended to spend the whole time whining about abortion. Lady, get over it. You think that's harsh? You chose it. Life is unkind. It lumbered Miss SICLE with hyperemesis (as it did my friend J, who was extremely sick to the point of needing hospitalisation and a drip) but it did not make her choose to terminate her pregnancy. It had a term, Miss SICLE, and you could have borne it. I defy anyone to read her description of a classroom full of children with a straight face. I know that having a termination can cause emotional distress. I know several women who have had one and each was affected differently. Hysteria is new to me but the truth is, that's what it is, and sometimes I feel that hysterical Americans could do with a good hard slap, because nothing else and no one in their life seem able to bring them to get a grip on themselves.

On a lighter note, I enjoy How Not To Fly, particularly the Bush/Jesus discussion on SpongeBob. Read it and weep with laughter.

LaShawn wants a name for her business, which reminded me that:

a/ I don't have a name for my business
b/ I don't have any business for my business.

Hey, am I jealous? Fucking right I am. I wish I had this lady's drive. I'd like to write but I can't be bothered seeking opportunities.

In my wild dreams, I sit sipping coffee at Luigi's, looking out over a picturesque plaza in Siena, as I tap out yet another article that pays enough for me to relax for the rest of the week. *sigh* I know, it could happen. There are millions of wannabes, yes, but I am better, stronger, more fluent. I am tremendous but still no one wants to read me. I've never been able to get anyone outside my family, with the exception of S's friend who works for the Guardian, to read my novel. Yes, I haven't tried very hard but jeezus fuck, can a person not have a break?

Anyway, my advice to LaShawn would be to take the Ghanaian approach. Many businesses in Accra are named in what you might call a spiritual fashion: "The God is Good Wreck Repair Shop", "Redemption Tailoring". I suggest "Jesus is My Saviour Penmanship".

Ten dollars from my first writing paycheque to anyone who comes up with a good name for my business. "Oddzen ends" will not win. Neither will "EditWhore". That's too close to the bone.

This guy blogwhored me by email. He's not the first, incredibly enough, and I hope he won't be the last. I genuinely like receiving emails, even if I don't answer them for months or even years. I'm thinking of adding him to my blogroll but I already have a Rasmussen. Is there room for two? Let's put it this way. He whored but he didn't link. That means he either didn't check me out or didn't like my blog. Now, if you're thinking I'd sulk if someone didn't like my blog enough to link it, you're damned right.

These links and much, much more are available to subscribers, imbibers and anyone who plain happens along to the Raving Atheist.

Ban the bum

The news that Fox had pixelated a cartoon character's bare butt led me to the Parents Television Council. These sterling citizens make it their business to whine about what's on TV.

So what? We all whine about what's on TV.

But hang on! These clowns are whining because the girls in Charmed wear tight tops and cops in adult shows say "fuck", "piss" and "bitch".

The obvious answer seems to have escaped them. Turn it off. Don't watch Charmed. Don't let your kids watch it.

Even better, get rid of your TV. Read books instead. Read the Bible instead.

The problem with the PTC crew and all like them will always be that their business is not to control what their kids watch but to control what you and I watch. I have no problem with complaints that children's programmes contain bad language or sexual references. I agree that they shouldn't. The sexualisation of minors is something that I think we could happily do without. A ban on Jo Jo is something I could very much get behind.

But these people are whining that CSI has violence. Well yes, it's a gruesome and unpleasant show for voyeurs. A personal favourite of mine, as it happens (I don't demand realistic plots, dialogue or 3D characters from all my TV, you know; that would make it too much hard work). But you know it's not for kids. Just don't let them watch it. They watch it at their friends' houses? Who are you kidding? Kids with parents as freaky as you don't have friends.

Four freed

The Gitmo Four have been released without charge. Moazzam Begg and the other detainees can now return to their families three years after being kidnapped and detained without charge and without any evidence of wrongdoing's ever being presented.

Now it is to be hoped that the law will have its day and that these men will be able to sue the United States for many, many thousands of pounds. It will not compensate them for their inhuman treatment, which it is feared will torment them for life, nor for the many days that they missed seeing their children grow.

If for no other reason -- and there are many other reasons -- all people who truly believe in the freedoms that are enshrined in the US constitution and in the common usage in the UK should despise America for what they have done to Moazzam Begg, an innocent man, and the many others who have been denied justice as part of a campaign to create unwarranted fear.

It is our rights they have stolen. We ought not to forget that, whatever our views on Moslems or the rightfulness of the "war on terror".

Wednesday, January 26, 2005


This man is engaged to be married at 22. He's still a student. He hasn't even lived. You can tell he hasn't lived (even if you don't look at his profile) because he is a very dull writer). Yes, lots of dull writers haven't lived but they don't gush. Steve gushes.

Scott is awesome. There is something heartwarming about a teacher who inspires. I'm biased of course, because my sister S is a teacher, who inspires her kids to achieve a grade or two above all expectations. the girl who chided him to remember her name touched me though. These are the kids who school does not serve well -- the small, quiet girls and boys who the teacher never really interacts with. Our world will be a place worth living in when even they feel included.

Jyvyn sounds like a girl's name, but it is a boy, as his picture reveals. He's another student. He notes that you never know who's reading your blog. Well, Jyvyn, Dr Zen is. All I can say is at least he doesn't do poetry.

Gail has only made one post. Gail thinks it's better late than never. Well, Gail, no. As with most blogs, never would have been best.

Pia has a bee in her bonnet about Neurocam, whatever that is.

Nyak nyak nyak nyak.

Tolerating Spongebob

Underneath the hysteria about SpongeBob turning our kids into queers lies an ugly truth about American Christianity.

Not only do these haters urge one another not to tolerate homosexuals but they look for ways not to tolerate them in the most harmless places. Their ugliness is much more perverse than anything they feel they cannot tolerate.

SpongeBob is not, we know, a thrusting heterosexual. He does not, so far as I know, spend much of his time in his cartoons down the pub, chatting up birds and trying to cop off. Why? Because he is a cartoon character who appears in a kid's TV programme. And it just wouldn't be appropriate, would it? Because what place has sex in a programme for four-year-olds?

We remember well that Falwell called Tinky Winky a gay role model because he carries a handbag. (Jerry has such a limited understanding of gayness that he automatically assumes that transvestite equals gay. Perhaps he fears that the States will be overrun by rampaging trannies who will force him to do something God won't approve of but in my world dressing up in women's clothing is not a particularly accurate marker of sexuality, and in any case, did the guy not notice, Tinky Winky doesn't have any sexual equipment.)

These people spend their days finding something to hate. Their God is a god of hatred, fear and intolerance, wholly unattractive, one would hope, to anyone intelligent or cultured. Why should we worry? Surely the falwellatollahs only appeal to fuckwits?

Well yes, but sadly those fuckwits number in the many millions in the States. They find the sight of a woman's breast more frightening than blood and gore, which they worship. They want schools to teach superstition rather than science. They want the Dark Ages and not the Age of Enlightenment. Worst of all, they have empowered arseholes who play on the fear that drives them, and those arseholes are a menace to all of us.

Dead sentence

I have been reading Don Watson's Death sentence, in which he decries the shocking state of public language, as pedants are wont to do from time to time. Languages are always dying according to the pedants, despite the evidence of their flourishing that is to be seen and heard all around us.

Watson's point would be better made were he not himself in his way an awful writer. He is fluent enough -- although his sentences are not quite crisp -- but he clearly has no interest in properly structuring his argument and this tends to make his dreary whining hard to read.

He's not wrong about "managerial English". While googling to check that I wasn't the only person on this planet who thought that "human resources management" should have plural resources, I found this:

"HRMA is committed to fostering the enhancement of organizational outcomes through people.

Not quite Homer, eh? These people churn this bollocks out 24/7 and, Watson is right, it kills meaning. What on earth does that sentence actually say?

I see stuff like this all day, of course, because I am editing a management textbook. I plead with an uncaring world to give me better work -- perhaps to make of me a manuscript doctor, which I would excel at -- but it insists that I am fit only to do my best to make shit like that into English.

These people simply do not understand: language is first and foremost about communication. If your message needs deciphering, you need a new message. The BCHRMA's sentence is in code. It's not an English sentence. A reader is supposed to see the codewords: "committed" (that says we care), "fostering" (not actually making things happen but not getting in their way at least), "enhancement" (we add value, erm, sorry, another code word, "add value" means "add nothing of any actual value but something measurable", whoops, did it again, "measurable" means "you can write an incomprehensible report about it"), "organisational outcomes" (some vague idea that someone does something but the writer is too dim to know what; you might think that it means "make money" but very few companies actually make money, once you have noted that they have borrowed far more than they made in profits), "people" (workers). The reader understands: "we do fuck all but at least we don't do any damage, and the area we do fuck all in is blathering about other people's work".

So what do I edit it into? After I have stopped weeping with my head in my hands, I apply the golden rule, which is: you enhance nothing, you cunts. Yes, that's right. A bete noire, a bugaboo. I never allow "enhance" to stand. You improve, increase or magnify. You make better, you strengthen, whatever, but you will not enhance. I know that descriptively it means all those things. People say it. Yes, they do, but not in anything I edit.

(You may enhance if you are improving the quality of something. You can enhance pain by rubbing salt into your wounds because this changes its quality rather than improving the thing itself. You can enhance taste by adding salt because you do not change the taste but you make it more apparent.)

Usually I leave "fosters" because there is no real alternative for what is meant. I can't edit it to give the definition I suggested: BCHRMA does nothing much but at least doesn't fuck up organisational outcomes...

But in this case I can render the whole phrase down to "improve". "Is committed to" has to stay but if I were advising the organisation, I'd suggest avoiding the cliche and just putting "aims to improve" (yes, pedant people, it should be "aims at increasing" and sometimes I correct to that, if the whim takes me, but I wouldn't put it to someone this illiterate as a suggestion). "Organisational outcomes" is "what the organisation does". "Through people" is very elliptical. The writer means that his or her organisation aims at not fucking up companies' improving what they do by not making the workers a problem. So BCHRMA could have as its mission statement: BCHRMA aims to help improve what companies do by considering employee relations.

*sigh* Why bother? Why not just leave them in their world of incomprehensible bollocks? After all, anyone studying "management" probably deserves what they get.

Perhaps I'm human after all. Perhaps I hope that it will rub off on them and that piece by piece the world will become a more beautiful place, because it is more beautifully expressed.

Nah. It's because I do what I'm paid for, so far as I can be bothered. No more, no less.

Back from hell

Moazzam Begg will be home soon. He will soon be reunited with his wife and his four children, and the rest of his family. They fear that his ordeal will have broken him. They are almost frightened to see him. Lord knows what Moazzam feels. Relief? Fear that they will reject him? I hope he will find joy and become whole again.

He was welcomed into the UK by the police, who arrested him although he is not suspected of any crime, and will not be charged with one.

He has been imprisoned for three years, since he was snatched in Pakistan. He has been tortured, humiliated and degraded by the people who kidnapped him.

The people who took him are not like us. They do not believe in justice, the due process of law. They do not believe in human rights. We should not trust them.

We believe that even the worst must have the best from us. Even the worst must know the charges against them or be released. Even the worst must be ably defended against those charges. Even the worst is innocent until his or her peers find them guilty. This is our guarantee from the law we submit to.

We should not forget what happened to Moazzam, an innocent man, because men who do not respect our law, who knows what they might do?

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Smoke 'em if you got 'em

Dr Zen is no libertarian. I believe in "big government" and a cradle-to-grave welfare state. I believe that the rich become rich because they have a society to live in, and of course I believe that everyone deserves the same output from a society that at day one they had nothing to offer. I take the Rawlsian line that rewards should be equitable and that we should not simply entrench an unlevel playing field by rewarding privilege with gain.

However, I oppose government nannying fiercely. I find it quite astonishing that a reasonably liberal government can think it is its business to try to convince its citizens not to smoke. The urge to suggest they fuck off must surely sweep over anyone who doesn't share more than half their genome with a sheep.

Of course, our state government pretends that its measures are to protect other citizens from secondary smoking but anyone who walks the streets of a Queensland city will, I think, be at more danger from the tonnes of particulates spewed by the motor cars that throng the CBD than they are from packs of marauding faggers congregating by the front door of their workplace.

Yes, smoking is nasty. But should distaste for a habit direct policy? It is, after all, the only thing that directs drug policy. For years, governments have claimed that pot is the devil's weed because it causes enormous harm or because it is a gateway to greater evils. It is neither, of course, as study after study shows, and now the prohibitionists are left only with their own moral sense as their reason for prohibiting it.

Of course, how we structure our world is not entirely guided by reason. I know for myself that my politics is based in my own moral sense, if you can call it that. Whatever philosophy of the world I adopt, it cannot ignore my deepseated feeling that the world ought not to be unfair. This tends to narrow down one's options in political philosophy but I'm sentimentally unable to ignore my emotions in creating my worldview and use pure reason. (Nor can I see why that should be desirable, mostly for the reasons that I'll give. Some, when discussing politics, seem to think that one can take the emotion out of it and simply apply cold logic to the world's problems. They ignore their own resort to "morality", which is ultimately almost always based in emotion rather than reason (for instance, our opposition to murdering each other is based in the sense that it's not a nice thing to do rather than anything functional or real).)


I gave up smoking a few years ago, shortly before Zenella was born. I regret it. It had all the benefits I thought it might: I am healthier on the whole, I do not stink of tobacco and I saved the money.

But no one mentioned the downsides: the chunk of my identity that I had to surrender, the doorway to social engagement it provided me, the space it created when I needed to calm down (and now I find that far too much of the time I am ratcheted up and cannot take it down a notch -- yes, perhaps I could find other means but I don't have the patience or ability to make it through meditation; and I'm led to drink far too much to quench the fires that smoking used to help control, and it is not a good solution at three in the afternoon anyway), the antidote to boredom and impatience. Even if I was artificially a better person, at least I was that.

Worst of all, I find it harder to concentrate, so that I write a lot less. Perhaps that is nothing to do with smoking and more to do with how I am, where I am and what I am.

Yes, I would have died sooner rather than later, but I don't want to be 75 anyway. I'd rather go out young and pretty with blackish lungs than become a wizened old fool who has spent the last forty years with good breath but a fucking bad attitude.

Monday, January 24, 2005

Vote for death

Looks like Allawi is on the same page as the Yanks regarding due process.

We know he's bad. That's why we support him. We don't want any of that nasty democracy breaking out. Allah forbid. The locals might insist that the Yankees go home and drill their own oil. What we want is a strongman. What we want is a guy who knows who's supposed to be making the money out of Iraq's enormous oil reserves.

How long before we are "liberating" Iraq from this one?


Thanks to Rob for the link.

Vote for peace

The people of Falluja will, one presumes, mostly not be voting. The truth about what happened there will probably never be known, destined to forever be lensed through a smoky mirror of propaganda. Not that it matters. Half the interested parties aren't turning up for the election and we already know the result. That's one benefit of a rigged election. Those in power can make long-term plans without worrying about being unseated.

There won't be any velvet revolution in Iraq, not even an orange one. There is already a scarlet one that isn't going to end any time soon. We are approaching two years since America won the war and the revolution is still continuing. Mostly, the insurgents are shooting at Americans. You have to ask whether there wouldn't be a lot less shooting if the Americans just went home. Some claim that the Americans are preventing a civil war. Tell that to the people of Falluja. To them it looks a lot like that war is already here.

Friday, January 21, 2005

Liberty reins

"The survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands."


A large part of the intellectual bankruptcy of the neocon project lies in that question, because it is not convincingly answered. Liberty in the United States has not been seriously threatened by states that do not have it in its history with the possible exception of Hitler's Germany, which the States was tempted to accommodate rather than fight. Japan, of course, would not even have needed to have a war with the United States, let alone threaten its liberty, had the States been willing to adjust its sphere of influence -- or at least contest it in a nonlethal way -- to areas that really were core for it, as Britain and Russia were willing to do in central Asia. (It's notable that Britain fought France hard for India but only jousted with Russia in central Asia.)

Bush's insistence that other people's way of organising themselves affects his nation recalls the reactionary Europeans of the early nineteenth century, convinced that revolution in one place could spark the destruction of their own regimes, by contagion, even if the revolutionaries in each place were pursuing narrow aims -- nationalism or local protests against repression.

There is a marked difference though. The Metternichs of the Congress system were not mouthing platitudes as part of laying the groundwork for expanding their empires -- they were concerned only with how they could keep their world intact in the face of the Enlightenment and the threats of the industrial age (which would together tear them down -- I am not quite convinced that Bobbitt's theory of the entwinement of the strategic and the political always holds true, because it so minimises other inputs that seem to me important, even if in a less easily measured way than the requirements of warmaking). They were keen to increase their empires, of course, and revolutions threatened to unravel them; but it was the threat at home that they feared most. All conservatives do, it almost goes without saying. They represent the status quo, the entrenchment of existing privilege. Change is threatening to conservatives because they generally have most to lose from it. (I should almost use a big C for conservative here, because of course I am thinking of them as a faction that represents certain interests rather than simply as the reactionary elements of society. My discussion here would seem to exclude such conservatives as rural folk, who also tend to dislike change. However, rural conservatives are not just reactionary because they lack education and contact with the flow of ideas that is so much a part of urban life but because they feel that if traditional power structures are modified, they will lose what they have. They have the belief that they are well served by their distant social superiors, who need them and nurture them (they are rather fondly romantic in their misjudgement of the landed, who have ruthlessly exploited them throughout human history), and that revolution, as all change, is a product of the cities, whose inhabitants, the bourgeoisie, bear them ill will. Anyone who has lived in the country will know the malice that bumpkins bear urbanites, often extended to the educated or those who seem to share urban values. It's natural that rural folk will not feel they have much to gain from socialism or welfare. Many people in the country live in communities that have lasted a long time focused inwards, communities that largely take care of their own. It might seem to the bumpkin that it is the urbanite who needs a welfare state because the latter has gambled on leaving the nurturing community to try to increase their personal wealth. The notion of genteel poverty was born in the country, and the country poor have never had half as much respect for those who try to become rich as they do for those that began that way.)

Bush is of course pretending to love democracy (an ironic stand from a man who is president because two elections were subverted for him and who not only evades accountability but seeks to undermine the pillars of his own nation's democracy -- by appointing the interested to posts that should be filled by men and women without interest and by attacking the judiciary, which is fundamental to American democracy because of its role doing exactly what Bush despises: the "activism" of forcefully preventing the abuse of power) because he and his faction covet the resources of countries that happen not to be democracies (and in the case of North Korea, because it is one of the few remaining Communist thorns in the American flesh). He would be horrified if they actually became democracies. If he were genuinely interested in it, one can note, he would presumably encourage the clerics in Iran, who have at least allowed some movement towards democracy and censure the theocracy in Saudi Arabia, which will not be becoming democratic this side of Armageddon, or the other antidemocrats in the Gulf, who would barely be able to support themselves without our guns and our trade. A couple of years of going without Bahrainian oil, for instance, would not hurt us much but would surely see the end of the family that owns that unfortunate island. Why is there no move, no suggestion of a move, to sanction nondemocratic regimes in the Middle East, if it truly is democracy we wish to see spread there? Bush could suggest to the Saudis that there must be a national assembly within six months or the Saudis face an end to the stream of guns and tanks that we supply them with. (Of course, Daddy wouldn't like it and neither would his colleagues in the Carlyle group or any of the other "defence" contractors who grease the wheels of American politics.) If that doesn't work, we don't buy their oil. What is often forgot in discussions of the Saudis is that, yes, we need their oil and would grind to a halt without it, but they need our dollars more. The threat would, I think, be enough.

But it will never be made and in any case liberty is more often an outcome of justice -- in both its narrow and broad senses (Iraqis would be a good deal more liberated were they safe and were there an equitable structure to share power) -- than it is of holding an election every now and then.

Chutes too narrow

Over the ramparts you tossed the scent of your skin and some foregin flowers tied to a brick sweet as a song the years have been short but the days go slowly by two loose kites falling from the sky drawn to the ground and an end to flight --Pink bullets

The illusion that hurts us the most is that there is something to learn rather than just days to be endured. We never confuse ourselves with the belief that dogs gain life lessons as their time goes by.
Sometimes I am struck by an unutterable sadness just because I will never be able to unravel the skeins that bind me and stand again in the places that I have stood and felt the deep black sky of the night enfold me. And in those times I know what karma is. It is not punishment for your misdeeds but having to live with your mistakes.

Watching an ibis in the botanical gardens I am thinking that it never allows conscience to stop it from pursuing any goal that it sees as worthwhile. It never stops to think. It is immersed in its moment. Couldn't I just shrug and be an animal from time to time? An ibis doesn't need to forgive itself.

There is consolation in knowing that others fail too. Sometimes they talk to you about how fragile and vulnerable they are. Their songs resonate inside you because they are songs you would write for yourself if you knew how to write them. Sometimes, too, they talk of hope, and allow you to forget, for just this moment, that it is absent.

The world breaks us, piece by piece. It is entirely uninterested in us. It knows we are only atoms, spinning in a void. But the illusion of talking to one another is still enough, sometimes, to ease the pain and make the half an hour that passes lift us up and make us holy.
In our darkest hours we have all asked for some angel to come sprinkle his dust all around but all our crying voices they can't turn it around and you've had some crazy conversations of your own -- So says I

Thursday night

10.45 and I am thinking about you.

Am I thinking what would you be doing or am I thinking what would I be doing if I had you here to do it with?

The Paddo Tavern has a floor of crazy paving. Tiffany has tits and no talent. If she was working the tits and not the talent...

I am thinking about holding you. I don't know who you are. You are a shape in my arms but no shape.

I am thinking about whether I could ever love someone like you, but you are not even someone, let alone someone like you.

Could I ever hold a shape that was your shape?

I know you would enjoy it. You would embarrass me because I am shy and I don't like loud people. But I am shouting What you waiting for louder than anyone because when I love a song, I love a fucking song.


I am old and ugly but I am still capable of wanting something, someone.

I am stupid and banal but I am interesting as a subject of study, but only because sometimes the slowest bywaters interest me.

Bywater, I am thinking, he bowled spin, but I strode down the pitch. For a moment, I took the big stride and he was gone for four.

I wasn't always impotent and lonely.


I reach out but you don't even see my arms are outstretched. How come my heart is Gwen Stefani bright and my life is written in molasses?

It is 11 o'clock and we are singing along.


The cab makes good time. There is no one in Marshall Road. I am living in a town where no one lives. Where do these people live? Where the fucking hell do they live? Not on these quiet streets. Not in these empty roads, which bake in the heat, day after day, the sun is out and we have to hide; not in these roads where we are bowing our heads, waiting for a cloud to make sunshine bearable.

There is no one in Creek. Jesus Christ, let me live in a place where someone can touch me. Jesus fucking H Christ, let me live in a place where someone can love me.

Do you think if you turned over, without thinking, without looking, you would somehow feel me? I breathe quiet but strong, heavy and long. Do you think you would know I was there?


I think I am lost, forever, drowning, losing everything. I love what I have but there is always more.

I touch my son's face and he smiles and I wonder... what is there at 1.45 that could keep me from tomorrow? I touch my son's face and he smiles and I know that I am doomed to be always just one touch more than I can ever understand.

In the night outside, geckos are calling. I have never known what they are saying.

I would not be happy even if I knew.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

War without end

Not all Americans are fucking idiots. (Just most of them.) Some call it right.

There were no WMDs. There are no WMDs. There would not have been any WMDs had Saddam ruled for another 20 years.

There was no paper shredder. There are relatively few graves of relatively few victims.

We are liberating no one. We are rebuilding nothing. Saddam was a bad man but he mostly kept the power on.

Iran is a nation that poses no threat whatsoever to the US. It is next.


If you're leaving, why are you building?

The Saudis need the Yankees to leave. It's handy to have somewhere to go that isn't too far away.

Remember, we did not fight a war for oil. We fought it for WMDs. So now there are no WMDs, we don't need bases to keep our soldiers in to protect the Middle East from WMDs, right?

Iran has no WMDs. It has a programme to build them but it is willing to trade it.

Iran is next.


The enemy of the moment always represented absolute evil, and it followed that any past or future agreement with him was impossible.

There was, of course, no admission that any change had taken place. Merely it became known, with extreme suddenness and everywhere at once, that Eastasia and not Eurasia was the enemy.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Social insecurity

The next big thing the liars in America will lie about is social security. A tremendous system, which Americans can be proud of, which ensures that the aged have at least something to live on when they retire, will be dismantled by an administration that is even now lying through its teeth about the state it's in.

We know they lie. They lie through their teeth. They lie blatantly, transparently, stupidly.

"Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction."

These are the words of a man who, if we choose not to believe he was lying through his teeth, we must believe is too stupid to be allowed out of his house, let alone anywhere near running a large country.

But this fucker and his crew, far from being physically restrained in the nuthouse, are going to be allowed to destroy one of the central planks of the New Deal. As the New York Times article shows, the problem in Social Security is mostly illusory and can be dealt with without running up a fresh, enormous deficit.

Why do the Bushistas want to privatise it? Surely they enjoy having a huge trust fund that is obliged to invest in the government? Don't they spend the money on tanks and guns?

Well yes, but there are three reasons it makes sense to rid the States of its pension provisions. In ascending order of importance they are: the ideological importance of lessening the government's influence on pensions. The Republicans, and particularly the neocons, profess to be the party of small government (a principle they are curiously slow to apply to the secret services and agricultural subsidies, for example). At the moment, the government must pay to administer pensions. Privatise it and lavish fees will be extracted from the workers' funds. (But, I hear a little voice say, surely they will legislate so that fees are capped etc. Yes, they will, and they'll quietly remove the protection somewhere down the track in the interests of "fairness" to business).

Second, it is nice to have a big pool of money to spend on missiles and the like, but the government will have to pay it back. That means you have to run a surplus. The more you borrow from pensions, the bigger the surpluses you must run. Republicans like deficits though. They like to spend money they don't have. They got the taste for it in Reagan's days and now they're addicted. Deficits mean that not only can they pilfer the wealth of today but they can line their pockets with the wealth of tomorrow. This makes Social Security a problem. The neocons have an ingenious solution. Borrow shitloads of money to pay off the money they already owe Social Security. By pretending there is a huge hole in the financing requirements of the pension fund, they can distract attention from the fact that that hole is actually filled with Treasury bonds -- government borrowing -- and will be more and more.

Third, having savers have individual funds means that the rich can get their fingers on the lovely pension loot without having to go through procurement processes, tenders and all that nonsense. Making workers invest in stocks and shares directly puts the money into the banks' pockets, erm, sorry, that should have read, the economy. But couldn't the pension fund just have done that anyway? Couldn't legislation have been written to loosen the restrictions on investment and allow Social Security funds, or a portion of them, to be invested in the stock market?

Well yes, but there are two problems. First, the pension funds can be expected to be reasonably conservative. Their investing will be constrained and it will be directed by men and women who one might assume will be looking to avoid risk. The individual workers cannot be expected to be experts and do not understand risk. They will be funnelled through advisers who will, in the usual way, tand to gain from suggesting one investment or another, and will bear no responsibility if it goes tits up. They will simply be sheep in need of fleecing to the financial business, and they will, some of them, be facing a cold future without the protection of a reasonable pension. Second, if the pension funds did not make enough money, the government must make up the shortfall. While an individual whose investments fail must just learn to love gruel, a pension fund must fulfil its obligations. So if the fund managers of Social Security were to make bad decisions and were caught by, say, a rapidly deteriorating bear market that they could not respond to quickly, they'd leave the government of the day facing unexpected payouts. This is the nightmare scenario that led the original framers of Social Security to insist that to keep the fund self-funding, it should only invest in Treasury bonds.

So why give a shit? I'm not an American, and most of them that I'm acquainted with are not going to be relying on a government pension (I suspect Hip Liz might face hardship if he bet his pension money on Enron but Peej probably owns GM with all the dosh she's pulled in from repackaging science and culture for minors). Neither do I live in a place that has the same provision for pensions or will do when I "retire"-- although the UK has SERPS, or did, I'm not sure which.

I care for two reasons. One, what they do there, they do here. Not so much in terms of what they do with pensions (I'm not sure how Australia works but I know that we pay a compulsory contribution from payroll into a managed fund -- I think matched by the government -- which is not too far from the American scheme: ours is a much more nannyish proposition than neocons would like to see and there isn't free rein with investment choices) but in terms of how far they are prepared to go in allowing private enterprise to thieve from workers, sorry, that should have read, do what a government should properly do for itself, erm, no, not that, erm, how far they are prepared to allow the "market", which has no sense of community and cannot consider the human dimensions of what it does, to deal with communal problems. Two, I feel that there is a huge difference between saying "individuals should be free to do as they wish" and "individuals must take responsibility for everything in their lives". The former is not on the whole objectionable to the liberal; but the latter certainly is. It simply ignores that it's not possible for the individual to take care of everything in their life. Libertarians have a philosophy that might work were we all hermits living on mountainsides, but certainly does not for citizens of modern societies. It ignores too the purposes we have for society. We can haggle over whose responsibility our old age is but what's next? Education? Let's say we agree that you should provide for your own education. This should sound fine to a libertarian. Why should the state have to educate us? Why should it be permitted to, even? Well, the state stands to benefit from our education and also has a stake in it. Because it benefits it should pay; because it has a stake in it, it should be permitted to take an interest. How about policing? Before London had a police force, every man had to go about armed. The streets were entirely unsafe. The liberty to be mugged and killed by a footpad is not one I'd go to the barricades for.

I know the counterarguments for government provision of pensions. We should just all save and leave the government out of it. To which I would say to our government, and that of the Americans, you first. You live within your means and put a bit aside and I'll copy you. As if. We are lectured about the need to provide for our futures by people who are happy to rob us of them.

X marks the black spot

Soon the Iraqis will have their elections. They will not be free and fair, and neither will the whole country take part.

They are being run by "our side", appointed by our viceroy, and they will be won by "our guy". They will not resolve the problems in Iraq.

Do I care whether Iraq becomes a democracy? Not really. I don't consider our model to be perfect, nor particularly suited for an Islamic country. It has worked to some extent for Turkey (although it has its problems, of course) but the power structure in Arab countries is very different from that in Turkey. Apart from anything else, Turkey had a functioning civl society before it was democratic. Civil society in Arab countries pretty much means tribal society.

It's not the voting that counts. The biggest con that our leaders play on us is the insistence that it is. But what matters is that our leaders are accountable to us. The actual mechanism of accountability doesn't matter. It goes without saying that voting for one faction or another every four years doesn't actually make anyone accountable for anything. Our leaders do what the hell they want if the other faction is complicit. Consequently, Tony Blair still has a job despite the heap of evidence that he lied to the public -- which in former years would have meant his resignation -- and in the States, an attorney general who laughs in the face of the law, endorsing torture and suggesting that international treaties and conventions are mere inconveniences is not challenged by the Democrats, let alone forced to withdraw. They've finally realised that having a majority in the legislature means almost ungovernable power. They can outlegislate the judiciary, because the judiciary must apply the law, not make it. The only encouragement we have had recently was the Law Lords' attack on Blair's repressive anti-terror laws. If more care had been taken in framing them, even that would not have happened. In America, the constitution no longer protects the rights of citizens, not even to appoint their leaders, as the disgrace of 2000 showed and the Patriot Act confirms, and has nothing to say about the human rights of noncitizens who the States puts in concentration camps and tortures (why are they not marching in the streets? Of course, we know that it is because they fear terror, as they have been conditioned to, but do they support what is done in the name of fearing terror?).

Naturally, no one in power cares whether Iraq actually does taste freedom. The semblance of it will do. Americans don't mind a rigged election -- after all, they rigged the last two of their own without compunction (in what other country would the chair of one of the candidates' campaign get to decide who votes!), and those were by no means the first that they've fixed. They want to pretend they've achieved something and get the dollars flowing from the oilfields to their friends' pockets. (It astonishes me when people say "why would we spend all this money on a war just to get our hands on the oil? It would be cheaper to buy it." Do they not see that America is not economically a monolith, with money out and money in equally shared among all? Do they not realise that the money out on guns, bombs and mayhem comes from the public purse, the taxes of people who have absolutely no stake in Iraq, and the money in goes to executives of oil firms and other stakeholders in the oil industry?)

And the killing will continue. The Americans will say "They hate democracy. They opposed elections", keeping up the fiction that elections are democracy, and this will be their justification for more repression and murder in Iraq and for failing to make any attempt to reconstruct the country or to create the conditions for Iraq to become a peaceable and prosperous nation.

Monday, January 17, 2005

Titanic endeavour

Huygens has landed on Titan. It has transmitted pictures and enormous amounts of data, most linked here.

Pictures here.

Many scientists have devoted their life's work to getting Huygens to Titan. They knew that it could have been burned away on re-entry but they have been rewarded by the views we now have (which will take years for other scientists to interpret) of another world.

A brilliant triumph for the ESA. Look at the horizons we open up when we work together!

Cut and dried

A room
Full of delicate cutters
All sitting down, the room has many doors
All but one of them are closed

Why cut?

24/7 we learn who we are supposed to be. Our textbook is ads and TV programs that show life as cut and dried.

Kids don't know who they are. Or who they're going to be. They know there is a disconnection between it and what it should be.

What does should be mean? If that was obvious, we would not be cutting ourselves. The inability to express what you feel is what drives the young to try to express their hurt through hurt. As Kristin Hersh suggested, it's the only door that's open.

What does should be mean? It means that there is something and somebody that can be disappointed in us. It means we can be not worthwhile if we don't measure up. It means no one tells us that we can decide for ourselves what the measure is.

This is a world that judges worth. This is a world in which your parents, your peers and everything you know tell you that you will be judged, weighed and cast aside if you don't make the grade.

This is a world that you can never feel at home in and that drives you to feel that you or it must be destroyed. You're easier.

What does should be mean? I don't know. My scars have faded. I'm none the wiser.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

A family man

I used to believe I was a good writer but fatherhood has robbed me of words. It has taken me beyond the limits of expression.

Sometimes Zenita smiles and I sing stupid, meaningless songs packed with meaning because they are ours. I cannot find words for the feeling that we share it and only I will remember in years to come.

Naughtyman laughs a lot. Making someone else happy is the best you can do with your life is what his laugh says to me. I wish sometimes that I could do more to make happiness in my life, for Mrs Zen in particular, and I know I could, I’m capable, but sometimes capability and ability are just not the same thing, not even in the same state.

I have been blessed. I want to sing it but I have no words. I could hum the tune though. I resonate with it.

I have far more love than I thought my withered soul could give. I have so much more to give if I can free it.

Sometimes, holding one of my children, dancing to a song that moves me, feeling stir within me the whole of my being, all that I can be if I could only find a way to be it, I know that a day will come, soon, when I will let go of Dr Zen and be the father of my children, the husband of my wife, the man I can admire. But the knowledge is fleeting and I thought I could write but I don’t have the words to pin it down and make it stay.

Oh inverted world

It’s easier to say why you don’t like it; hard to pin down why you do. It will always be easier to write bad reviews. The soundtrack is Joss Stone: soulless trash; so you can sing but is this all your handlers could come up with – second-rate white boy soul that even Will Young would give a pass? Aretha was manufactured but she at least managed to sound as though she meant it. It’s a talent that goes beyond talent. Next up is U2. Let me count the ways. Old men have to fake vigour where young men just have it. The way he makes “yeah” sound like a negative. Buy yourself a Beatles record, man. If she loves you, you know what “yeah” is. Texas are next up; don’t start me.

So much negativity. But what makes the great stuff fly?

This afternoon I was listening to the Shins. If you forced me I’d say shiny literate pop, the collision of melody and sublime voice. A desert Beach Boys with no place to surf. I’m not kidding. You can hear the sunshine.

I worship the voice. I am transported by the singular beauty of an open-throated celebration of life. Yanka Roupkina (if you don’t know, Le mystere des voix bulgares, Kalimankou denkou, and say Zen sent ya) brings me tears, Otis wipes them away and Bjork laughs at the mess. And James Mercer has one of those voices. I could listen to him sing his shopping list.

There is more. The intricate melodies, the little moments of transport in each song. It’s a record you listen to and don’t feel swindled. It’s a record you’re glad you found it or were shown it. If you don’t own it, trust me and allow something beautiful to be a small part of your days.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005


If moaning about your boss is now a sacking offence, there's going to be lots of work for dole offices from now on.

It is a sad truth that the fuckheads who pay you a few quid for the pleasure of your company each day think that it means they own you. They would never get away with their intrusions into our private lives -- the drug tests, the belief that they can discipline you for extralaborial activity -- if legislators actually worked.

Of course, this particular case hits home because Waterstone's have shown themselves to be not only meanhearted scum but also unable to grasp the notion of bad press. Bloggers read. It's part of the deal. Many bloggers only read other blogs, true, but many read books too. And most, if not all, bloggers would profess a belief in the sanctity of free expression. After all, here we are, freely expressing. And Waterstone's is a bookshop. A place that lives off others' expression.

Even worse than trying to suppress (very mild) dissent, expressed outside office hours, Waterstone's have shown that they do not respect their employees, that long, blemish-free service (eleven years) counts for nothing. And, worst of all, they've shown they do not have a fucking sense of humour.

I cannot abide that. I can forgive you for being a Nazi, Mr Bastardstone, because you were taught nonsense in your management course and you didn't get to be where you are today by thinking. But a Nazi who can't have a laugh is no use to anyone.

I asked why, if the company did not like me commenting about work on my blog they did not simply have the branch manager have a quiet word with me? Should that not have been the proper way to deal with this?

Yes, yes it should.

War against what?

We are fighting thousands of implacable enemies, bent on our destruction.

Where are they?

These are terrorists capable of deploying a nuclear weapon if they acquire one, a vast, well-equipped army of suicidal Moslems who will kill us in our beds if we let up our security for an instant.

Where are they hiding?

Were they destroyed by our forces in Afghanistan? No. Most of the people we killed in Afghanistan were Taliban or bystanders. There were very few militants, even though Afghanistan had been swarming in them for many years in the 80s and 90s. The training camps that had been set up there were not particularly impressive or well equipped. They would not match even one American army camp back home in the States.

How about the caves? The superbly well-equipped hideouts. Perhaps they were in there? Well, there were no sophisticated caves, just holes in the ground.

Maybe the terrorists are all in Iraq? Maybe. But most of the people we are fighting in Iraq are demonstrably Iraqis. There are relatively few outsiders. They are not particularly well equipped. They have small arms but they are short on missiles. When they fought the Russians, they had Stingers. The Americans gave them Stingers. Now they are fighting the Americans, Stingers are in much shorter supply.

Why are they not striking at us? Are they trying and our forces are thwarting them? I don't think so. Our leaders say they cannot divulge operations because it would endanger operatives, blah de blah. But of course it would endanger nothing to say that they thwarted a plot to sail a ship into the port of London and blow up the docks or whatever. But they don't. They know that the press would uncover a lie too easily. To conjure up demons you need secrecy.

The group connected with bin Laden was never very active. Al Qaida is only supposed to have made an attempt on the WTC a decade ago, bombed the Cole and two embassies and had one thwarted attempt at blowing up airliners, before September 11. Since then there is Madrid and Bali, the latter by affiliates. For an army bent on world terror, it's not up to much. The Palestinians, who are not particularly numerous, manage a suicide bombing a week when they're in the mood. We don't face a wave of suicide bombings in our cities. Why not? Explosives are easy to acquire and easier to make. Al Qaeda's operatives are not supposed to have difficulty travelling.

Terror is a problem. There are groups who kill civilians, sometimes for almost unfathomable reasons. Some have contact with each other. This was true in the seventies, but the neocons had the Russkies as their bogeymen then. (Strangely the Russians have become entirely unthreatening, even though they are the same guys. Well, unthreatening to us -- the shocking story of Russia is for another day and, by fuck, is it a story! -- if you are interested in knowing how Putin manufactured the war in Chechnya and assured his re-election by having his own civilians murdered, google "Ryazan FSB terrorists Chechnya" or similar. Remind yourself as you do that Americans and Russians are all human beings, not of a different kind.)

We are fighting thousands of implacable enemies, bent on our destruction. But don't ask for proof. Don't ask where or who they are. Don't ask what they are doing. Or, who knows, you may find yourself one of them, incarcerated without trial, your punishment justified by the war against the bogeyman.

Let us have them

Why does it matter that the US has imprisoned several hundred men without charge and will not justify its actions?

This brilliant analysis by Thom Hartmann says it best.

Habeas corpus is our protection against our rulers. It is a fundamental right -- part of the reason that we submit to governance is that we are protected from its excesses. We are asked to trust in the process of law and we do so in the belief that it is for us just as much as for our masters. (Well, in theory we do so. In practice, we know that law is for the rich and for most of us something to be avoided.) Often people say of repressive laws "The innocent have nothing to fear from this law". Why should you fear carrying an ID card, for example, if you have nothing to hide?

But the men in Gitmo are innocent.

Habib released

Mamdouh Habib is an Australian citizen. He has been held for three years without trial and subjected to torture by his captors. They did not tell him why they had arrested him nor did they present any evidence for the crimes they allege -- to others, not to him -- that he committed.

The Australian government -- in the form of the odious attorney-general Philip Ruddock -- claims that they believe he is guilty, although they have not presented his legal representation with any evidence either. They say they cannot prosecute him under their laughably loose terrorist legislation, because whatever he did, he did before they had a chickenhearted parliament pass it.

What we do know about Habib was that he was snatched from a bus while travelling in Pakistan. Two Germans who were in his company were released after Germany pressed hard diplomatically for their return. Australia not only did not apply diplomatic pressure for his release, it did not ask for him to have access to a lawyer, nor did it demand a fair trial nor for him to be extradited. It abandoned him. Without evidence's being presented, it agreed that he was a dangerous terrorist and left him to rot.

Habib has been to Afghanistan. His captors took him there for processing. The Australian government told his wife that he was heading for Afghanistan when he was arrested. He was in fact heading for Karachi, where he had a flight home booked.

Maha, his wife, thinks he was arrested because he had met the "blind sheikh" Omar Abdel-Rahman -- Mamdouh is fiercely religious -- and had become upset because the sheikh was refused his medication in jail (he is diabetic). She denies his connection with the sheikh, who was involved in the 1993 bombing of the WTC, went any further, and no evidence has been presented that he had anything whatsoever to do with the bombing or with any other act of terrorism or crime.

Australia has not protested the unlawful incarceration of a citizen and now that Habib has been released without charge it is suggesting that he will still be of interest to its security forces. There is a belief in the Moslem community that simply following Islam makes you of interest to ASIO. Of course, Australia cannot force the US to do anything. It cannot send a gunboat as Palmerston did when Dom Pacifico was held by the Greeks. But it can express its displeasure to the Americans; it can fight for its citizens' release; it can attempt to protect them. The message of the Habib case is that if the Americans point the finger, you will not be protected by your government.

If this is so, why do we have them?

Sunday, January 09, 2005

World wide skulls

Unleash your geek. This is brilliant. I dl'd the thrinaxodon skull movie from this gallery.

It's eerie. The animal peers out at you almost. It was created from CT scans of the skull.

You can get a lot more thrinaxodon models, and if you follow links you can get the same on loads of other weird and wonderfuls. You can even navigate a cladogram, which is cool.

I don't know what I admire more. The enormous skill and painstaking effort expended in making the many, many visualisations on Digimorph (a terabyte, which I believe is a lot of bytes) or the generosity and commitment to education shown by making them available online.

Miscarriage of justice

You say Virginia, I think tobacco. I think the Virginian, a favourite of mine as a child. I think olde world America, big stately houses, huge lawns, courteous people... somehow for me Virginia has become transplanted several hundred miles northeast and is part of the decent east coast.

I think Scarpetta, too, because I've read some of those books (I read trash -- I wouldn't dream of condemning it without actually bothering to read it) and I believe that's set there.

What I don't generally think when I hear "Virginia" is "backwards and repressive", but it looks like I need to rethink. A Republican "delegate" (which I take to be some sort of legislative assemblyperson) has proposed a bill to punish women who don't report miscarriages to the fuzz within 12 hours.

Yes, that's right. You have suffered the bitter heartbreak of losing a wanted child. You have suffered the incredible pain of your dreams shattered. Now report to the coppers or go to jail.

The delegate insists his bill is intended to prevent "trashcan babies" (where a baby is born and thrown into a dumpster because it is unwanted -- common in some states because of restrictions on access to terminations).

However, as is easily seen, this bill cannot have any such aim because it demands that "fetal deaths" are reported, not live births. The delegate has another reason for his bill.

What can it be? Do I suggest he is wanting to prevent women from having "sneaky miscarriages"?

No, not exactly that. What he is doing is keeping up the pressure, applied in many places and in many ways in the States, to make the death of a fetus an event not just for the mother, whose concern it is, but for the surrounding community, whose concern it isn't. He is saying a fetal death is important enough to us that you should be punished if you don't herald it straight away.

Well, surely a fetal death is important? Yes. It's important to the woman who suffers the miscarriage. It's important to her partner, if she has one, and her family, if she has one, and her friends, if they know about it.

What business is it of anyone else's? Why would anyone want to make it their business? Well, there is a reason.

Conservatives know that no matter how much they throw out the spiel that rights are something that God endows us with and that they are natural, mystical things that inhere in us, blah de blah, liberals will insist that they are things endowed by the societies we are part of, negotiations, agreements. Us naughty liberals will point out that the social contract involves rights as well as responsibilities etc, which conservatives hate, because rights endowed by man can be removed by man -- and more importantly iincreased by man.

It is important to conservatives that fetuses have the "right" to live. They can claim that God endows us all with that right, and they do, but they know we don't all buy it. So they also try to reinforce the notion that society recognises the rights. By so strictly insisting that one should report fetal deaths, the delegate hopes to reinforce the notion that society has a "right to know" because it protects the fetus's rights.

Thanks to
Democracy for Virginia for bringing this awful cunt to our attention.

Saturday, January 08, 2005

Shiny books

What to read is a perpetual problem for people who like to read. A lot of reading, for me at least, is magazines, newspapers, bits and bobs on the interwebnet, missives from correspondents, newsletters and that sort of thing; none of this is what I am thinking about, because it is no problem deciding what of that to read.

I mean what books one should read. It's a dreary fact that life ends after seventy or so years (I hope -- I'd hate for it to be shorter and if it's much longer it's going to drag... okay, I'm kidding, I'd like it to go on forever, but forever 30 not forever adding to the score). You can't read everything. There was a time in human history when you actually could. You could read everything that was available if you were keen enough. You could, more or less, know all there was to know. It's said that Francis Bacon did know all there was to know and I can believe it. His humanism definitely sprouted from his understanding of people. The more you know, the more forgiving you tend to be.

I took out a host of library books the other day. I read House of Bush, House of Saud. Interesting but not much new. I read Rogue state, which was screechingly funny (okay, it wasn't meant to be, but if you are going to record what evil fuckers Yanks are, you have to a/ tone down the shrillness and b/ get a SOH -- Bloom has absolutely none). I am reading Dennett's Darwin's dangerous idea, largely because Gould hated it so much, and because there are few people on this planet who can be wrong as engagingly as Dennett. I got a book of "megawords", important terms in critical studies and the like, but it's very hard to wade through, although it's written in clear and easily comprehensible English (I wonder whether I was simply upset by the suggestion that a flaneur is a "shadowy and somewhat pathetic figure" -- I might be pathetic but I don't like to be told so). I got a book on statistics, which I didn't study at school and do not understand. I find it hard going because I am old, and the capacity to learn new things diminishes with age. Still, I know more than I did; at least concepts such as "standard deviation", "normal distribution" etc now mean something instead of absolutely nothing. Actually, I did know what a normal distribution was, or at least what a bell curve is, but I'm still none the wiser as to why things should form normal distributions. I also took a book on London's underground -- the crims, not the trains -- which became less engaging as it entered the 20th century. I've never liked modern history. It seems dull to read about your own world as history. I like social history a great deal more than whatever the other type of history is called (you know, so and so did this and that at this and that time), mostly, I suppose, because I know the outlines of history fairly well and the detail is not fascinating. I find it hard to give a fuck why Henry VIII did this, that or the other because the reason boils down to "he was an arsehole" more often than not, and it says nothing about today. I'm all about today and tomorrow.

What else could I read? I want to read about Jesus, Paul and the creation of the Christian religion. I want to know more about syncretism, gnosticism and the historicity of big J. I would like to read more of the sources of the time. I only know what so and so says so and so says, and I'd like to actually read so and so. At the same time, I want to re-read the Qu'ran so that I can decide more reasonably about Islam (I am positive towards it now because of its many good qualities, but there are many troubling aspects of it). I might try harder to learn Arabic. I'd like to be able to get work as an interpreter at some point, and I think Arabic might be easier than Mandarin, which I am also planning to put more effort into learning. I am planning to learn more about biology, particularly about evolution (in particular about palaeontology and in particular again about comparative palaeontology, how we know that this animal was this animal's ancestor). I want to have another go at quantum physics (I don't mean the layman's version, I know that backwards; I mean the maths -- of course that probably means learning maths).

No novels. I'm off novels completely. The few books I have on my bookshelf that I haven't read are all novels but I just cannot get up the enthusiasm to read any of them. Perhaps it's time at last for Trollope. I've been saving him for just this kind of time.

Then sometimes I think "read nothing". Get back to thinking. Meditate. Put straight what's there instead of adding more confusion.

His thesis

I was digging around for stuff on uniformitarianism, because it is an interesting point that creationists make (and one whose arse I have been gently kicking on Wikipediamakes it) that science works with the assumption that what goes on today has always gone on, that the processes of today are unchanged through history and were not different in the past. Uniformitarianism leads many into gradualism but so long as catastrophes can be shown to be the outcome of the same processes that work today, it need not. I think there is no good reason to assume that science is not uniform, and that processes we have observed in some cases for a couple of hundred years can be assumed to have worked the same for all time. In other words, I think it is reasonable to assume that the laws of physics and chemistry are eternal where they apply (there is in fact good reason to believe they are, because it is quite basic to them that they are not time-specific! Time is an outcome of the laws of physics, not part of them).

So I came across this, which explains how Satan infiltrates music. Now, had the guy suggested that Satan has a grip on the music business and is inflicting Maroon 5 on us for some undisclosed but undoubtedly infernal reason, I would have been nodding along with him. But I felt:
Some of the people who produce New Age music, for example, are not aware that demon spirits are secretly implanting this music in their minds. But many are aware and approve.

was a little harsh on the hippies who make birdsong tapes.

I'm not convinced that being possessed by a demon wouldn't liven up the day so I'm off to put on the Pearl and see what happens. Knowing my luck, I'll be possessed by the dumb fucking demon who is responsible for Delta Goodrem and I'll become a sopping handkerchief of a human being.


These nutters can though be persuasive and like those skeleton guys that Jason fought they cannot be killed by reason. The argument from design -- a more bogus "proof of god" you couldn't wish to find -- was forcefully put by Paley some 250 years back. It was demolished by Hume (although Hume, having demolished it and having left himself with no credible -- to him -- alternative, actually went back on himself and accepted it) and never has had a stick of evidence to support it beyond "come on, it's obvious, it all looks like God did it". But here it is again. This is very cogent, and I imagine powerful stuff for those unaccustomed to thinking.

"There is absolutely no naturalistic, gradual, evolutionary explanation for the bacterial flagellum." The argument runs: it looks like a motor; motors are human inventions; humans are intelligent; motors are designed by intelligent beings...

The counterargument is obvious if you do think though. It has three parts: one, "motors are human inventions" is wrong IF there are many motors in nature (there are, of course, of a huge array of types, not least the many different types of flagella; there is the astonishing propulsion system of the squid, which only now is being exploited by humans, who have taken a lot longer than nature to think it up); two, "there is no gradual evolutionary explanation for the flagellum" is wrong if there is in fact such an explanation (which of course there is); three, lack of an explanation does not verify another explanation! It only means there is no explanation just now. This is what creationists seek to do. Find a hole in biology, and claim because that hole cannot be filled that its hypothesis should be accepted (if you are sniffing a "God of the gaps", your nose is working correctly).


The creationists say that if they accept naturalistic explanations of how the world is, science will simply razor out their God. This is what I said on Wikipedia about it, and I think it is precisely what both sides often forget:

"Yes, but bear in mind that Occam's Razor only works for comparing explanations. It doesn't speak to their truth or otherwise, although people make the mistake of thinking that it does. If God did in fact create the world, and does in fact make all changes to all lifeforms, then Occam's Razor does not in fact make him disappear.
"I feel strongly that it is creationism's desire for its explanation to be on a par with science, to be accepted by science, that is most of the problem, and most of the dispute. The difficulty is, of course, that science considers explanations and creationists consider truths. Transitional fossils just cannot be true for you, so you explain them away. But science is not about explaining away what you don't want to be true. It's about explaining, period. Science prefers "evolutionists'" explanation of fossils partly because it is simpler, not necessarily because it's truer (because "trueness" is not necessarily a part of what science investigates -- how can it? We could all truly be figments of God's imagination that he plays with as he chooses). Your explanation requires nature to have worked differently at diverse times in the past. Well, it may or may not have done but it is most simply explained as not having done. This is why I am not wasting time trying to convince you of the truth of what I say. You are welcome to your truth. I'm satisfied to restrict myself to correcting you when you do not tell the truth about what people said, which is there to be seen."

My thesis

Rock is mostly useless

Watching Rage and Video Hits Uncut, I’m struck by how bored everyone looks. In video after video, bands look like they can scarcely be bothered. It is, of course, a trope of rock that you should look bored with the whole thing but it has become more and more the thing conveyed. Band after band turns up, recycles some other band that did it better, and shuffles off. They are moody and young (they only seem to be getting younger every day, you silly sod, because you are getting older) but they don’t seem to have anything to be moody about.

Maroon 5 play one of their hits. It’s a dullard, by-the-numbers jaunty rocker. There’s no point complaining about how irredeemably tedious Maroon 5 are, because they are meant to be tedious. Their appeal, their pitch if you like, is to people who don’t want to be excited. This sort of thing – along with abysmal rubbish such as Little Birdy (tuneless lesbian philosophising) and Missy Higgins (if these girls aren’t lesbians they want to buck their fucking ideas up, because the reason they are having guy trouble is that no self-respecting guy would put up with their shit for more than an afternoon, less if they didn’t put out).

No, I’m not talking about dreary pub-rock. That has always been around and probably always will be, so long as the kind of dull fuck who could not pen a decent poem is bought a piano by mummy and daddy and realises that creativity is not needed so long as you have a grasp of the chromatic scale and a rhyming dictionary. (Talking of dull fucks, Nick Cave warbles some fucking nonsense to his usual dreary, tuneless backing – Nick, Nick, please, a melody! When you were doing artschlock, it was okay not to bother, but if you’re doing goth-crooner, they’re obligatory, man. The question has to be answered, how come in all those years of heroin abuse Nick Cave just never quite managed an overdose. Jeez, man, half the New York Dolls went the rock’n’roll way but you’re just determined to plod through to Alzheimer’s, aren’t you? How very unrock!)

No, I mean guys with guitars (and sometimes a chick on the bass). I take it as axiomatic that all-girl groups are rubbish. It’s extremely patronising to suggest otherwise. Women just don’t have the hormone problems men do. (No, I do not make an exception for Patti Smith. She’s the uber-Missy, a whiny singer-songwriter who cottoned on to the New York art-punk movement and rocked it up a tad, fooling Americans into thinking she was a punker.) But Dr Zen, I hear you whimpering, the only reason girl groups are rubbish is that the capitalist hegemonic rock music industry doesn’t give the talented ones a break. Sorry no. Nice theory but the careful reader will have noted that Dr Zen has specifically excluded talent as a prerequisite for being any good. Missy Higgins is “talented”. The Welsh guy out of U2 is “talented”. Maroon 5 are “talented”. Rock is a guy thing. I remember seeing some thing on television, Faking it, I think it was. A nice young woman was trying to “fake it” as a rock chick. Her route to becoming a rock chick seemed to be to adopt all the bad things about being a 20-year-old guy; indeed, it seemed that to pass as a rock chick, she would have been best advised actually to become a postadolescent guy. I felt it explained why women in rock stick out like sore thumbs. It’s an expression of maleness. It fits women as well as binge drinking. (As an aside and a halfhearted attempt to rescue myself from the charge of sexism that I know that SJ will be readying, if she hasn’t already fired off an angry comment, consider this: equality does not involve imitation. Being equal means having the same opportunity to drink yourself senseless. But the truth is, young men drink themselves senseless because they are stupid cunts. It’s not something admirable. So it’s not so much that I feel that it’s any worse a thing that women drink themselves equally as senseless but that I feel that if equality has led to matching men for cuntery, you probably shouldn’t have been given it. Anyway, I’m a heterosexual man, more or less. Part of what women mean to me is sex. Part of what they are is attraction or repulsion. This makes them something different for me and that part of them something that I weigh up without necessarily thinking about it too deeply – I am to say the least puzzled by feminists who have come to believe that equality should mean an end to sexual objectification. Do they just not realise that we are unavoidably sexual? They mistake the reasonable suggestion that we should not favour the attractive over the nonattractive in other spheres than sex for the entirely unreasonable one that we should not find anyone attractive. Sorry, where was I? Oh yes. I don’t find extremely drunk men very appealing. I avoid them. So guess what?)

When I heard the first few bars of Bone machine, I knew that rock had not died entirely. (Okay, I’m not quite cool enough to have heard Come on pilgrim first but, actually, cool is very overrated. I’m glad I don’t have to indulge in it. Imagine! A life of having to “Keep up”. And keep up with such bellends too! Cool people are even more dreary than Missy Higgins. This is because they don’t concern themselves with what they enjoy, what enriches their lives, what expands them but with what someone else has decided they should like. If you feel yourself becoming cool, squash that urge, dig out More than a feeling and have the guilty pleasure of bellowing along with it, knowing that enjoying doing that means you are irreparably uncool.) Because, let’s not fool ourselves, the Pixies were rock. It’s important to distinguish rock from postpunk of one kind or another.

Rock is mostly useless because punk swept it away

Punk changed the rules. Popular music was snatched from the hands of illiterates such as Phil Collins, chewed up and spat out.

Of course, the Sex Pistols were a rocknroll band. They were the bastard sons of Jerry Lee Lewis. Jerry Lee sang about what was real to him – the huge burning sun in his crotch – which most young men in music had ignored before he came along. (Elvis, you might note, did not make rocknroll music of that kind. He sang the usual moon-June nonsense. He had a rocknroll presence. He became an icon of rocknroll for his quiff, his looks, his sneer, his hips. The music is neither here nor there.)

The Pistols and the Clash sang about what was real to them. This is what distinguished punk from rock almost as much as any other thing (apart from the apparent difference in technical ability). Rock was concerned with elves, a Hallmark notion of “lurve” and halfbaked philosophy that tried to pass itself off as poetry.

It was no longer about fucking, first and foremost, politics and how we are. It had become about chords, soloes, gnomes. It was something you could learn in a Rockschool.

Music has to be about what counts to really move you. It has to touch your heart, your soul, whatever those things are. If your heart is touched by the verse on a greetings card, you need to trade it in for a new one.

Rock is mostly useless because punk swept it away by democratising music as a means of expression by making expression more valuable than prowess by valuing what you had to say more than your technique in saying it.

So why do I hate music now? Because it has become about how skilfully you can blend the past and make something new out of it. When I see Bloc Party, I’m thinking, ah, Wire. Bit of Gang of Four. Ho hum.

What I’m not thinking is “Somebody suck that man’s cock before he bursts.” And if you don’t know that that is what all great rock should make you feel, you don’t know a thing about music.

Friday, January 07, 2005

Camera, lights... misrepresentation

I could never appear on TV, particularly not in a reality TV show. Partly this is because I am shy and do not handle groups particularly well, but also it is because I think I am too good for it.

That's an odd thing to say, given that I profess to being an egalitarian, but the truth is, I feel there is something demeaning about becoming a spectacle. As with many feelings, it is quite easily dispelled by cold reason but reason does not fix, and, unguarded, I find my response is "yeuk".

It seems dispiriting, to give up your self to an audience that does not care about you, does not really want to know you, and will accept a vision of you that is lensed through the shadow of the programme's director and editor.

Germaine Greer is a deeply thoughtful woman, in some ways a fine intellect (although she has been allowed to presume herself far more broadly insightful than she actually is: an education does not alone make one educated -- it does not take a great deal to gain a degree when it comes down to it, and doctorates are gained as much through perseverance as anything else, not that I claim special knowledge -- I have a decidely limited education as it happens). But she has allowed herself to be imaged as a cranky, slightly foolish Branestawm figure. She has contributed, because she is often not quite cogent (anyone who has actually read The female eunuch will know what I mean: while the outline of her ideas was revolutionary, her exposition of them is sometimes painful to read).

But not all television is a game show, is it? Could I not be interviewed? I could but interviews seem even worse to me. They are too purposeful. When I am given or assume a purpose I talk too much. I would hector the audience, blathering about things I don't really care as much about as I seem to, because I am not on the whole a passionate person. It's a failing of mine, and I would be just that failing, and none of the other things that I am, to those who watch me. I communicate much better in writing than in person. Perhaps they would allow me to read something out.

Would I perhaps allow myself to play the scoundrel on a late-night panel show? Perhaps I could do well as the new Will Self (although rather less self-satisfied in my intellectualism as him, because I am not so good at remembering bits and pieces of what I have read)? That poet guy, Tom Paulin is it? The one who reviews everything from a lefty perspective to the bemusement of the rest of the panel on the Newsnight review show (and writes fucking abysmal poetry, I might add, and dreary "think"pieces that no one in their right mind -- and probably no one in any mind at all -- reads). Surely I could just get tanked up and perform like a seal and not worry too much about it.


But what if television was quite incidental? Let's say I win the Booker. Go on, say it. No, I mean it, say it. If we all visualise it, perhaps it will happen. (Only kidding. My mum is a great believer in visualising positive outcomes but I have no faith at all that the human mind can influence the processes of the outside world -- although I do think, I'm sure I've mentioned, that it is an interesting possibility in quantum theory that observers might create their own reality, so that we create our world by consensus, I suppose.) Well, I will have to appear on television, making my acceptance speech, won't I?

Gawd no. When I win awards, I will not so much as turn up to accept them. I'm going to hire my own native American to do the job.

Even better, I will employ an imposter. There will be a Dr Zen who picks up awards and everyone will be convinced it is me (because they know no different) except for those who know who I really am (by which I don't mean they know who I really am, even I don't know that, but that they know my real identity), who are thankfully few and unlikely to expose the deceit. He will act as he acts and those who see him on the awards show will think that that is how I am.

Hold on. Would that not mean that the same demeaning occurs? That my character is still equally besmirched by the television appearance? People will think they know me, will they not?

In a sense, it is exactly what Germaine Greer has been doing for years.

But I would not have to know, would I? I would not feel that I was being dispirited. In so many things, it is how you feel that counts, not what is really the case. Yes, we talk as though what is really the case was what matters (when we talk about politics and so on) but it just about all boils down to how we feel (ultimately, I know, my political beliefs are not what I think (have reasoned, if you like) the world should be like but how I feel about people (too warmly to welcome their being hurt) -- although it's true that I have reasoned the best positions consistent with those feelings).

I once did have a moment in the limelight, on account of receiving an award for a poem. I was interviewed on local radio. The poem was about the vivisection of rabbits; in particular, about the practice of pouring shampoo and poking makeup into their eyes -- done to rabbits because they cannot cry). The interviewer's line of questioning was to go from "you disapprove of torturing rabbits" to "does that mean you approve of animal activists who release rabbits from labs" (yes) to "so you approve of animal terrorists who make threats and commit violent acts" (erm). I was only a child, a bit frightened by an aggressive man who was in control of the interview, could terminate it when he pleased, would edit it to his liking...

I felt like crying. I said no, no, I didn't support terrorists. But I wanted to find a good -- an acceptable -- way to say yes, yes, I do, actually, because what sort of fucking savage thinks it is worth hurting a rabbit to confirm that their product will not give someone red eyes? I wanted to say that if I was bolder, it would be me with the Molotovs, if I knew where to go, who to join, if I could.

I learned then a lesson that has been confirmed by years of watching television (yes, I'm too good for it but not so good that I don't waste my life watching it! Still, the same can be said for porn -- I'm not volunteering for that either). The interview is not for you, it's for them. Unless you can see something in it for you -- a message you really want to impart, an opportunity to sell something and you don't mind whoring yourself -- you will likely walk out feeling a little smaller than you did walking in.

Thursday, January 06, 2005


I fundamentally believe that under the skin, we are all the same. Humans, I mean. I accept that cows, pigs and horses are different.

I believe that ultimately, in our interconnected world, we will swim together or sink together.

I think we show the power of togetherness when it's needed -- sometimes, and I think we demonstrate all too often that unilateralism and selfishness never bring overall benefits.

The importance of the nuclear nonproliferation treaty cannot be understated. Even if, all things considered, it is not a means to compel anyone to do anything, it does represent that we're in it together, that we're committed together to a world where the mass murder of our fellows is not something we want or encourage.

There is always a bad apple though.

It remains true that only one nation has used a nuclear weapon against a city. (There is some possibility that Israel used one against Egyptian tanks in the Sinai.)

It remains true that only one nation currently has plans to use nuclear weapons.