I wish I knew more about computers. I don't suppose I'm alone in wishing that. It would be bearable being such a duffer if I could find someone around here who knew one end of a PC from another, but the "experts" here couldn't muster a clue if they were bludgeoned with bricks and their lives depended on working out the problem. I know this because I had a problem with my old PC, and each guy I rang or got to look at it make a different diagnosis, some of them on their face absurd. I worked out the problem myself -- the computer was fucked and I had to buy a new one.
Generally, I will work things out for myself. I'll google and I'll poke, and seemingly unsurmountable problems are, erm, surmounted.
But I have one that is driving me fucking nuts. My computer freezes. It doesn't bluescreen. It stops. It has a think and then it carries on. Nothing works while it's thinking. The cursor freezes and the mouse doesn't work. What the fuck is that?
I thought it might be a virus or a trojan, but I've tried several means to find them and can't. I'm reasonably sure the machine is clean, and if it isn't, it's infected with something I can't find. So that's a possibility.
Another possibility is my settings for the interwebnet. There's a setting that checks if some protocol or other is in effect. It sometimes causes freezes apparently. So I switched it off. Nightmare. The interwebnet disappeared. That's not a great solution.
A further possibility is my firewall. Maybe it's doing something that freezes up the system now and then.
This only really started happening when I switched to Firefox. Maybe it's something to do with that, although switching off Firefox doesn't fix it.
I can't remember whether I tried switching off the modem. Even if that worked though, I wouldn't know the answer. It's impossible for me not to be connected.
Still, that's nothing. I can't work out how to connect my digital box to my video either. Answers on a postcard.
Beliefs do not have to have consequences. I do not believe I exist, and yet here I am. I believe that the thoughts that impel me are nothing more than the echoes of stones in a well, the shadows of a material world that spins without my playing any part in it. But here I am.
I believe that a god's being omniscient precludes free will. Although perhaps he could refuse to know. His being omniscient precludes free will because if he created you, and knows the outcome of everything you do, how can he be said to have allowed you the will to do it? He knew that the way he created you would lead to the outcomes it leads to. How could he not? Or does the god use a method of creation that allows him not to know the final form of the things he creates? Perhaps he creates by emanation. But does that mean he must be part of the world?
I wonder whether I could believe in any of the gods people believe in. I could not believe in a personal god who is at the same time all-powerful. Why would that god bother with this small corner of his creation? Why would he care about the things you do in such a personal, unforgiving way, when he knows all about you, and knows what you can and can't avoid?
If he wanted us to be sinless, why not create us sinless?
I know there are answers but I don't believe them. I don't think it would have any consequence to my life to believe in it. So why bother?
I could believe in a personal god of limited power but it's not all that inspiring. The Christian god began as exactly that: a tribal god. It's quite clear from the Old Testament that two traditions (at least two) clash: one is of a tribal god of the Jews, who vies with other gods for supremacy -- rather like the Greek gods, living their parallel lives that intersect with humans' only for sport; the other is of a transcendental, unknowable god. The clash is interesting because "fundamentalists" tend to worship the former but endow it with the powers of the latter. It's not easy to be sure which Jesus believed he was the son of.
I believe there is an external reality. However, if the world were purely mental, it would, I think, look and feel the same. I only know the world through the impression it makes on my brain (and by extension, my mind) and it would make the same impression, I think, whether it was real or imagined.
I believe that you exist. Would it make a difference if I didn't? Yes, I think it would. That is a belief that does have a consequence. But I can't help feeling that solipsism is vanity writ large. It may be true that our own existence is the only thing we can be sure of (but of course I don't believe even that that is something you can be sure of) but that doesn't make everything else not exist. That's a recurring mistake in philosophy. Countless thinkers have lined up to "prove" that because you cannot know a thing, it cannot exist. It rarely occurs to them that they cannot know whether it exists and cannot know whether it does not exist just the same. The converse, Anselm's proof of God's existence relies on it, is simply absurd. Things do not exist just because we can conceive them. Although it's an interesting question how come we are able to imagine what does not exist.
But I do not believe that you
exist. I do not believe you are a self. You are just shadows on the wall. No, you don't feel like it.
I wonder whether dogs have minds. What I mean is, do they reflect themselves onto a screen, as we do? I'm not suggesting that they would have a mind like ours (we can only imagine minds like ours because we are incapable of representing in a mind like ours what another mind would be like -- always everything must be refracted through the lens of our own minds -- on this subject though I particularly like Zhuangzi: "Zhuangzi and Huizi were strolling along the dam of the Hao Waterfall when Zhuangzi said, "See how the minnows come out and dart around where they please! That's what fish really enjoy!"
Huizi said, "You're not a fish — how do you know what fish enjoy?"
Zhuangzi said, "You're not I, so how do you know I don't know what fish enjoy?"
Huizi said, "I'm not you, so I certainly don't know what you know. On the other hand, you're certainly not a fish — so that still proves you don't know what fish enjoy!"
Zhuangzi said, "Let's go back to your original question, please. You asked me how I know what fish enjoy — so you already knew I knew it when you asked the question. I know it by standing here beside the Hao."")
But what would a dog use a mind for? Perhaps dogs ask the same of us.
I believe that we cannot live alone. That also has consequences. I believe we never have been able to. Not only do I believe that we cannot live without support in material terms, but also I believe that we wither if we do not have people to care for us. Care can be a very broad thing. But I think we do better if we have more of it, or at least if we feel we have more of it. I believe that seeking power, honour and respect is seeking caring. Powermongers are nothing more than mummy's boys who want someone to love them. I think women are less inclined to chase it because they are more inclined to seek affirmation of caring in other ways (in particular, they demand to be shown signs of it).
That belief also has a consequence. It makes me a believer in society, in community, even though I think that they often lack, even where we have made societies and communities. But people's motivations are complex.
I believe in love. I cannot help it. I believe we are stranded in a cold, hard life, unable to understand any of it, willing to cling to anything that looks like home. I think we want our busy brains to stop reflecting themselves onto the screens of our minds, and let us be, walking as automata in a world of peace. And yet.
What vs that which
For reasons known only to the webgoblins, I can't get Haloscan to accept a comment. But I wanted to answer Zero's comment, so here's the reply. Zero first in italics:or:
Not the conjunction but [what] we are talking about.
[What] doesn't kill us merely prolongs the inevitable.
why wouldn't using "what" be a suitable substitute? euphony?
is it simply a matter of style?
it seems to mean the same thing.
actually, using "what" seems more efficient than using "that which".
Yes. "What" can sometimes be used for "that which" but it is uncomfortable for "the thing that". It can't point out a particular thing but refers to an abstract something. "I don't know what you're talking about" refers to an abstract thing talked about. (But: "Have you read the Information?" "Who's it by?" "Amis." "I've read some of his books, but not that which you're talking about." "What" is impossible in that example. "The one that" is fine. As a guiding rule, use "that which" when it could be substituted by "the one that" and you won't go wrong.)
In the first example we're considering, it's a particular pronoun in question. I would prefer "that which" because it points to the pronoun and not the matter of our discussion, which "what" would imply. In the second, "what" is fine. I'd say "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger" for preference, if I was talking about an abstract thing (because "what" in this instance refers to the entire universe of things that might kill you/make you stronger). But I'd use "that which" if the conversation went like this:
"Which drugs do you recommend?"
"Well, that which doesn't kill you makes you stronger".
This is because I'm referring to "the drug" and not "the entire abstract universe".
Queensland Roar 1 Adelaide United 2
The sweet tones of English voices were very much in evidence on the train to Milton. They and continentals seemed to be making up a significant proportion of the crowd. I should think they were thinking, as I was, that it would be a poor substitute for proper football, but it's the only game in town. I wondered what they thought of the "code of conduct". I suppose movie theatres and concert venues do have these things, but they don't display them particularly prominently. Asking football fans not to use "abusive language" is wishful though, as the silverhaired matron next to me yelling "bbbbbuulllllshhhhhiiiitttt" at the referee showed. But the crowd was for all the cursing goodnatured and satisfyingly partisan. They screamed for penalties when the Roar front men fell over; they cheered the mascot (a tireless guy in a gaudy lion costume) and chanted his name (at first I thought they were yelling "boring" but it was "Roary"), which made a pleasant change from what crowds in England generally have to say to the mascots; and they chanted mostly positively (they could hardly taunt the opposition very effectively because they were so sparsely supported -- Adelaide is a long way from Brisbane and you'd have to fly in to watch the game).
The football was ordinary, the first half passing in huffing and puffing. The Roar lacked width (which the lady next to me, clearly a cognoscente, pointed out each time we attacked), which was not a good way to use their pace. Brosque, a hotly tipped forward, was anonymous, lacking the physical presence to impose himself on the defence. Baird, bigger and stronger, lacked the ability to do much with the ball when he did get it. He could do with losing a few kilos because he found it a struggle to outpace Adelaide's defence, even when put clean through. Indeed, the Roar could do all round with stripping fitter: they are often caught out by hard-running sides, with their defence, far too eager to push forward, exposed by a quick ball through. Part of the problem is that they play with a sweeper, and it doesn't work. They lined up against Adelaide in a weird 5-2-3 formation, which left them light in the middle of the park. (Not to mention that if you play with five at the back, the wing halves are expected to get forward, and neither was particularly willing. The right back was far too slow and timid to go past his man, and had no interest in using the wide open spaces on the Roar's right.) They competed well enough in the first half, Murdocca particularly prominent, and Carro looked a useful schemer, but they lacked anyone willing or able to put the foot in. Seo, often the guy who makes the midfield tick over, was used in defence, and this wasted his ability to distribute in midfield. The Roar would look a lot stronger if they played with a flat back four that defended deeper (no side in the league has the ability to break down a determined defence), with a holding midfielder, such as Seo, or even sweeper Gibson, in front of them, looking to break up attacks and to be an outlet for the defence, which against Adelaide often struggled to find one. With a man further forward to link defence and attack and men out wide, this would fix the Roar's frailty at the back and allow them to stretch opposition defences. Their football is all too often too elaborate, when their asset of pace is better used with a directer style. They could look at Arsenal for a model, although they lack an Henry of course. The Roar had plenty of opportunities in that first half, but converted none. They didn't make too many clear chances, trying to run and pass it through a strong defence, rather than look to get it wide and try them with crosses, which might have suited Baird, who is willing to get stuck in, if not much else. The couple of chances they did have they spurned -- or rather Baird spurned, on one occasion falling over when clean through, to the groans of the crowd.
Adelaide's counterattacking football began to pay dividends in the second half. Rech headed a nice goal from a rapid move that had allowed him to get free and unmarked. Queensland equalised with a nicely taken goal by Brownlie, and the game seemed to drift after that. However, another break late on let Alagich, who had begun to stretch a tiring Buess on the Adelaide right, take a whack at goal. Higgins' halfhearted parry fell to Pantelis, who gleefully smacked it into the auld onion bag.
Had Queensland turned some of their good first-half possession into goals, or even a goal, maybe they would have got away with a win, but my impression was that overall Adelaide were a better side, who lasted out the game a little better.
The referee, much abused by the crowd, had a reasonable game. He might have given Queensland a penalty when Baird went down under a strong challenge, but I had a good view and I wouldn't have given it.
Murdocca was the Roar's best player. Carro looked useful and Baird tried hard. Buess is very solid, but didn't see out the match too well.
On the decks
I've been buying a few albums, old and new, recently, mostly on account of receiving Amazon certificates for my birthday (29 again! When will I ever turn thirty?). That means a lot of listening joy for me, and dreary, ill-considered reviews for you. You can think yourself (or selves, but who am I kidding?) lucky that the Boards of Canada album is not here yet.
Among the new records is Tender Buttons
, by Broadcast
. They caused a minor stir a few years back when they were signed by Warp, which is best known for leftfield dance music that you can't really dance to. "Warp sign pop band" went the headlines. Except they didn't. They had actually signed an experimental electropop band who were rather tune-averse. This improved by the second album, and finally, Broadcast seem to have embraced tunes. If I say quite tuneful electropop with a woman singing rather obscure lyrics a la Francoise Hardy, you're thinking Stereolab and you're in the right place. Because Broadcast are a slightly more listenable Stereolab. More than slightly in the standout tracks, such as America's boy and Corporeal. It's that little bit more arse that makes them enjoyable. You could even sing along if you could figure out what the hell the chick's singing.
More weighty, and very much hotly awaited in my house, is Takk
by Sigur Ros
. A criticism of Sigur Ros's music is that they drift along, working through intricate but less than engaging melodies, making some of their songs interminable. While Agaetis Byrjun had nicer tunes, () was ultra-icy, and many did not like the challenging, math-rock feel of it. Takk is a revelation. It's still Sigur Ros, so all the vapid adjectives apply: ethereal, drifting, blah de blah. But there's a warmth and structure to the songs that lifts them a notch higher. I loved () (I don't mind challenging math rock -- another album I'm currently enjoying is The fall of math
, a slightly heavier Mogwai, which is no bad thing) but Takk is something very special. In particular, the very much tipped single Glosoli, whose thundering bass holds together a mass of intertwining melody and ideas; and Se laest, which has an oompapah section that needs to be heard to be believed, one of Sigur Ros's most ambitious (and I'd say successful) songs to date. It doesn't rock. You're not going to want to rip up the town when you've listened to it. But you might feel you've just had a warm bath. It caresses you, enfolds you, and, what is different, engages you.
Older stuff that I'm listening to includes Laurie Anderson
's Big Science
. Anderson is that most dreaded thing, a performance artist (a genre of being that is almost uniformly useless, who, if we lined them up and machinegunned the whole bunch, would not be mourned and the doing of it would not detract one iota from the culture and richness of our lives), but even though Big Science was culled from her "art" piece, United States, which didn't sound too enticing, it makes a very engaging set of off-the-wall electropop. Although it sounds more run of the mill today than it did 20 years ago, it is still a strikingly arty approach to pop. Anderson's clever, satirical poetry and quirky instrumentation work well together, particularly on O Superman (a hit of sorts, which I well remember my old man describing as "fucking rubbish" and threatening to expel me from the family home if I played it loud enough for him to hear) and Let X=X/It tango (a bouncy pair that I could imagine skipping along to, even if singing them would garner ridicule from my household -- you can work out for yourself what sort of household it is that would mock singing weirdo lyrics but thinks a *mumbles* years old man skipping is okay).
I like innovation and innovative musicians. Okay, sometimes it doesn't work, but when it does, it's timeless and the music remains exciting today. You can still listen to Kraftwerk or even the Beatles, and even if they have become rather familiar, there is still that spark. I recently bought Cut
by the Slits
. Punk and reggae should, as any fule kno, not be mixed on pain of death. Anyone who's familiar with the work of the Police knows the truth of that. But somehow Cut works. It's a strange sonic experience, because unlike the dub reggae it is clearly most influenced by, it's entirely unfunky. Punk very rarely was. Even bands such as Gang of Four, who were labelled "punk-funk", would not compel you to shake your booty, unless you were truly sad. But it does make for music that doesn't always walk in straight lines. It helps that the Slits specialised in trenchant social commentary with a sense of humour.
If I told you that I had also bought some Yellow Magic Orchestra (slightly dated protoelectronica with a Japanese flavour), XTC (quirky, folk-flavoured new wave) and Chameleons (seminal postpunk janglers), you'll be thinking that I'm living in the past. Well, okay, but what's to listen to today? The majors got their hands around the throat of music and squeezed. Now we're left with Coldplay and the Simpson sisters. Tell me that's better listening than Pink Flag and London Calling and I'll laugh in your stupid face. To the tune of Banned from the pubs (Peter and the Test Tube Babies -- comedy punk from Peacehaven -- well, if you live in Peacehaven, you have to learn to laugh at life).
Thinking further about "that" and "which" led me thinking about the value of prescriptivism. Although I would describe myself as a descriptivist, working as an editor inclines a person to accepting prescriptions and, as a consequence, to adopting prescriptivism by proxy without really thinking about it. The issue is complicated by the need for anyone who wishes to be seen as a technically proficient writer to meet prescriptions where possible. (This is, of course, one value of prescriptivism: it serves as a test for writers so that they can be distinguished, which is sometimes a good thing and sometimes not.)
It should be considered too that the two ideas have slightly different spheres of interest. Where descriptivism is unquestionably the correct approach to describing how languages are
(because after all it would be fruitless to bicker with a speaker that they were speaking their own language wrongly, not that that prevented my dad from trying to correct my Cornish dialect), speakers of other languages coming to English look for guidance on how they ought to
speak it. More importantly, written English is a different language from spoken English. Not radically different in the way some languages that have literary and demotic varieties are (German and Arabic are the classic examples, and naturally, given the provenance of the word "demotic", Greek is another, although I'm less clear on what's what with it. An interesting case is Norwegian. Norwegian is, as any linguist kno, two languages. It had a literary standard -- based very much on standard Danish, because it was standardised in the days when Norway was ruled by Denmark, and the languages are in any case very similar -- and a demotic that was widely spoken in the country. The literary standard was also spoken, because the urban elites -- and urbanites on the whole -- spoke Danish as well as writing it. I'm simplifying but the outcome was that the literary language and the demotic became recognised as separate languages: Landmal (or Nynorsk as it's now known) and Bokmal. They are not very different but speakers of each don't mistake one for the other.)
Naturally, there is an element of prescriptivism even in pure description. When I say "dog" is the word for the barking quadruped, I am also saying, it is the word you should
use for that animal. Furthermore, although there are other words you could use in some contexts: "cur", for example, or even "canines", they are not suitable for everyday language and it's possible to say not just "speakers do not use 'cur' in everyday language" but "you should not use 'cur' in everyday language".
Meaning in language is about distinction. "Dog" means dog because it doesn't mean cat. Things are one thing or another and if they are in between, we can't talk about them (unless we are willing to do so by accepting them into one thing or another). Even if a cat has an element of "dogness" about it, it is still a "cat". This need not be so. "Dog" could cover both if there were no word for cats. Gradations of meaning are not fixed by what things actually are
but by what words we have for what things. And this can be a matter of personal competence as much as of the resources of the language. The birds that squabble at the front of my house are "birds" to me and something else to an ornithologist. Here we can quickly see a key to prescriptivism. If I am describing the birds, it's perfectly all right for me to write "birds", because it sufficiently gradates the meaning. But it wouldn't do to use "birds" in the Journal of Ornithological Science. There would be a real sense in which "birds" would be wrong
. We can note that those prescriptivists who think descriptivism does not allow judgements of language are simply wrong. Notions of rightness and wrongness still exist in descriptions of language.
The key is once again distinction. My general discussion of the birds at the front of my house does not require that I distinguish kinds of birds, only that I distinguish birds from dogs, cats, fish and so on. You could say that there is a prescription in language to use at least
the distinction that matches your communicative intent. (I say at least because I could of course write that the birds are "honeyeaters". But perhaps that would display a further communicative intent. "Birds" implies I do not know anything about birds; "honeyeaters" that I know something (and, although I've only displayed my knowledge that the birds in question are honeyeaters, that I know more is implied by my not simply using "birds").)
The distinction between words in general discussion and specialised discussion extends to formal and informal language (the line between which is somewhat but not wholly coterminous with the one between written and spoken language -- one could certainly argue that the rules of formal language are ultimately
the rules of written language and that different modes of written language allow relaxing of some or other rules -- however, I think it is more accurate to consider that the different modes have different rules, which we apprehend in exactly the same way that we apprehend the rules of any other type of language, by seeing them in action and inferring them; we're perfectly capable of holding many different sets of rules internalised as those who speak several languages readily demonstrate). Where informal language has as its intent "to get your meaning across", and can tolerate imprecision and some indistinctiveness, formal language has as its intent "to convey meaning precisely" (or as precisely as possible given the limits of words). Informal language does not mind reinterpretation, contested meaning, misunderstanding (for the postmodernists among us, we can note that it recognises the receiver's part in constructing its meaning, which formal language seeks to minimise). Formal language does though. It represents an attempt on the part of the writer to control meaning, to not allow the receiver to misinterpret it. Precise distinction is much more important to formal language than to informal language for this (rather crudely sketched) reason. (You might note that Dr Zen writes in a semiformal style, fairly precise but fluid enough, I hope, to be enjoyable to read. Draw your own conclusions from that.)
The prescription that we discussed on "that" and "which" is aimed entirely at retaining a useful disinction, or indeed, creating one, because as we noted, formerly, either was used for the restrictive clause and now we tend to use "that". The use of one word for one type of clause and the other for the other sends a strong signal to the receiver of our message: this is a defining clause because I've used "that". It's a useful signal and one that I incorporate into my writing and endorse. (Naturally, my endorsement has a great deal to do with familiarity. Every house I've worked for has had it as an item of its style, and most things I read maintain the distinction.)
I think that S and I disagreed because we approach the distinction from different sides: I am describing its use and see that it is not completely established; S takes the prescriptivist line, and cites authorities that insist it should be used so or so. By each of our lights, we were both right. What happy arguments a person can have when both sides are right! You can go on fruitlessly for weeks with an argument such as that.
But S's view has value. The prescription, as I've described, enforces a distinction that is useful in meeting the purpose of formal language. As a descriptivist, I can recognise its widespread adoption and, although I'm not keen on Mann Coulter's insistence that it was wrong
to use "which" for a restrictive clause, I can note that the original writer was not employing that useful distinction.
Moderately useful, I should say. Some of the prescriptions I do enforce represent distinctions that have more use. I do not allow "thus" to mean "because of this". "Thus" is good for "in this way" but "therefore" exists for "because of this". There is a slight imprecision in meaning if "thus" is allowed to mean "because of this", because in some contexts the writer might mean either "because of this" or "in this way". Okay, in most contexts the distinction is not needed but I go along with the prescription for the sake of those in which it is. Don't get me started on "hence". If you use "hence" for "because of this" or for anything beyond "from here", you are illiterate.
Another marginally useful distinction is between "enhance" and "improve" or "increase". Because I often edit financial reports, I often see "enhance" used to mean what the latter two words mean, and I strike it out without fail. Clearly, "enhance" has come to mean "improve" and "increase" and has in this particular context more or less usurped those words but that doesn't mean I'm not willing to fight a futile crusade against it. I wouldn't be allowed into editor club if I didn't have a bete noire. "Enhance" is a useful word when it is used to mean "increase in quality" (so that enhancing pain means not just increasing it but changing it from an ache to an agony) or even "beautify" if you must, but if it becomes simply a synonym for "increase" that notion of change in quality is lost. Okay, it's not very useful, but why throw away a distinction, a means of talking about something, in our language. Remove distinction and you remove scope; you remove the ability to describe a part of the world. Now I know, please don't tell me because I do know it, that language is dynamic, organic and flexible, and that a distinction lost here is compensated for by one gained elsewhere. Words do change meanings and they do contest the world among themselves: one describing this today, another describing it tomorrow. We are all familiar with the shift in meaning of "nice" and "fond", and those who use "gay" to mean "jolly" are certainly willing to take futile crusades all the way to the Jerusalem of uselessness. (I remember telling Mrs Zen I wanted a "gay box" for the living room. You might not know that a gay box is a small shelving thing in the shape of a noughts and crosses grid, intended to prettify a dull room. She looked at me askance and when I described it, she said, there's nothing "gay" about it. Perhaps if I painted it pink? I said.) But even so, editors defend meaning. It's our job to try to ensure meaning is preserved despite the writer's hamfistedness. The job involves discerning the writer's intended meaning as best we can, and then rendering the text so that it conveys that meaning. So losing a distinction that aids the conveyance of meaning hurts. Anyway, that's how I justify it to myself, lest I start to feel that I'm simply imposing my own distaste for "enhance" on others' work, which for a descriptivist would never do.
Stockyard Creek; Toohey Forest; Creek Road; Mansfield
I look in the secret place every day but why do I bother? Why do I bother? The wheels turn and the days go by and I'm no nearer answers. Yes, there are reasons to bother but it's difficult some days to make them amount to a life.
I keep walking because if I stop I am a target for mosquitoes. It's damper down here by the creek.
But it's a sunny day. How can you feel anything but sunny when it's sunny? I love the smell of the trees. I love the music that's playing as I walk. I love everything and still it's difficult to make it amount to a life.
One day I'm going to leave it all behind, drop it down a well and make it just another piece of history. One day.
Maybe I should worry less about mosquitoes and stop for a moment.
You know, I have never stopped loving a person I've loved. I don't know how. Even when they've hurt me enough that the best advice would be to stop loving them, I couldn't do it.
I take myself too seriously when all it is is a case of neediness that even the destruction of hope couldn't extinguish. Or is it? Perhaps I really am bigger-hearted than I want to believe and I just don't find an outlet for the love I want to share.
Or maybe it's just one more brick in an edifice so poorly put together that I'm scared of mirrors. (But couldn't you just take a hammer and fix that? Why does it seem impossible to rearrange the bricks?)
Except I did stop loving Jesus. Do myths count?
There has been a crash on Creek Road. Fire trucks and police cars are huddled around the wrecks. I can't see how bad it is. Beyond a small pang of sympathy for a child without a father, a mother without a child, I don't care about it. I am even annoyed that the car in front of me has slowed to rubberneck. I want to get home to read Zenella Harry Potter. She seems so tired she can barely be listening, and yet she remembers the details. She is beautiful. She has suffered badly from having to share her mother with the twins. She has suffered too because I have been such an arsehole. I haven't meant to be but I crashed into the mud and couldn't drive back out. I'm still here, crying at the wheel. Every time I think I see a towtruck, it turns out to be another motorist, stuck in the mire, wanting to be pulled out themselves.
I have become scared of going out again. You wouldn't believe it to talk to me. I'm not brittle or shy. I'm not retiring, not quiet, not even as gentle as I'd like to be. But I am scared to find out what's available because I'm scared it's me, it really is me.
Is it you if you become twisted? Is it still you in a new shape? Or is the real you the unbent version that you could return to if you knew which way to turn?
Maybe there just isn't a way back and you have to live with the new you.
Hey, don't fret, I'm just talking. I won't ever lose my faith in us.
You have a golden goose. It lays ten golden eggs a year. It will lay golden eggs from now till doomsday. It won't die or wear out.
Someone offers you a hundred golden eggs right now for your goose. You don't really need any golden eggs just now because you have plenty. But you sell it all the same.
Telstra was Australia's golden goose. It was that rara avis: a public-owned utility that actually made scads of money. But things that make scads of money shouldn't be in the public's hands. God no! They should be in the hands of wealthy men. We all know that. Unapologetically, the government of Australia told the people: re-elect us and the first thing we'll do is sell the golden goose.
You are probably wondering whether even the Australian people would be dumb enough to vote for that.
But it gets worse.
The second thing we'll do, said the government, is make it easy for your boss to sack you and take away your livelihood. We need to do that for economic reasons.
This is bullshit. People don't lose their jobs because business needs to be "flexible". They generally lose them because some greedy fatarsed dickhead is upset that they might not make a big enough profit this year. When you read in the papers about "costcutting", what that means is "people lose jobs". It never means "we'll just make do without senior management because we've never noticed them actually do anything, except sack people when times are tough".
Firms could carry loyal staff in bad times. It's rarely life or death for the firm. It's what firms used to do. They'd report lower profits if they did less business than they hoped, and then they'd have the loyal staff when the economy turned back up.
Job security is important for most of us, particularly for those whose "flexibility" is marginal, either because they are supporting a family, paying a mortgage or simply work in field where jobs are scarce. So why vote for people whose plan is to diminish it?
It will have economic benefits, we are told. But we never ask ourselves, perhaps because it never makes the news hour's agenda, who receives those benefits, and even if it is us, which it so rarely is, whether it is actually worth trading in the feeling that you will still have a job in six months, even if your company isn't quite setting the world alight (through no fault of your own) for a few extra dollars.
It's hard not to conclude that the Australian public are not simply idiots but who has time to think through the issues? We're all too busy trying to build our own golden eggs to notice when rascals are thieving those of our nation from under our nose, and too hard-pressed making the livings that they are all too willing to sacrifice to "growth" to notice that we never have really benefited from their strong economy, with our wages every year lower in real terms and goods rising in cost by far more than inflation, which seems to be based on John Howard's dreams rather than any actual trend in consumer prices, to notice that they are putting us, the people who empowered them second, and businesses, the people who enrich them, first.
Dear Abu Musab
Someone on the American team is not stupid. They have written a letter
that at the same time confirms the rightist fantasy that Al Qaida seriously intends to control Iraq if the Americans leave, that it iintends to spread its message throughout the region and then take on Israel, and urges the Iraqi people to engage in the political process.
We'll probably never find out it's nonsense. It will go into the memory hole with the fake Osama and other CIA black ops and become one more plank in wilfully not understanding the Islamists and what they actually do want.
A dog which barked
Reading the latest pile of dung from Mann Coulter
, I stumbled on this:
One Web site defending Bush's choice of a graduate from an undistinguished law school complains that Miers' critics "are playing the Democrats' game," claiming that the "GOP is not the party which idolizes Ivy League acceptability as the criterion of intellectual and mental fitness." (In the sort of error that results from trying to sound "Ivy League" rather than being clear, that sentence uses the grammatically incorrect "which" instead of "that." Web sites defending the academically mediocre would be a lot more convincing without all the grammatical errors.)
You what? When will the semiliterate learn? It is a rule -- nay, a law -- of language that anyone who is not of the highest rank in matters grammatical will err when being snide about someone else's English.
Coulter's mistake? "That" and "which" remain interchangeable when it comes to restrictive clauses. One can equally write "The dog that barked was black" and "the dog which barked was black". One may not write "The dog, that barked, was black". Coulter has made the common mistake of thinking one's personal preference is actually the law. Nothing new for her in that, of course.
Similar but not the same
If proofreaders knew anything about English, they would of course be editors, who are paid more and have a marginally less boring job. I often disagree with their marks and have to correct them. An example today is MT's inability to understand why I have written: "Similarly to formal written documents, they are made up of [a list of things presentations are made up of]". She thinks it should read "Similar to". You may well be nodding your head, and if you are, you are wrong, just as she is.
What are similar in this sentence? Are "they" and "formal written documents" similar? No. Turning the sentence round illustrates this effectively. Let's say that presentations are made up of "elements". If we do not topicalise the similarity, we have these two choices for the sentence.
"They are made up of elements, similar to formal written documents."
"They are made up of elements, similarly to formal written documents."
But the elements are not similar to formal written documents but to elements that are in formal written documents, so the former must be wrong. What are being compared are the makeups of the two types of thing. They are made up similarly.
The original sentence read "Like formal written documents..." In spoken English, "like" does service for "Similarly to", "as", "such as" and "like". Even a reasonably careful writer, such as myself, will occasionally use "like" where he or she ought to have chosen one of the other words or phrases but in formal writing, the distinctions among them are important.
The latest reason for the war on Iraq: Goddidit
When Muslims feel you are a "crusader", who is attacking their lands with relgious motivation, "God made me do it" is probably not a good thing to say to them.
Perhaps God would like to mention to George how not keen on killing people he is.
The progressive left has many problems but one that is becoming ever more dangerous is that many "leftists" are tripping over themselves to justify warmongering. We all know how Hitchens jumped ship and became a neocon but what is worse is the well meaning, but not too bright, Sasha Abramsky
, who claims still to be a progressive.
Where Abramsky goes wrong is apparent from the opening of his piece:
Over these four years, I have spent more time than is entirely healthy obsessing over the new realities.
What new realities? The world didn't really change on 9/11. The Bushistas like to say so but they know very well that it was just one more shitty thing in a world of shit. Yes, it marked a new phase: the people we've been shitting on for several centuries have found a way to strike back at us. But the reality is the same as it ever was: the rich West is fighting a war against the poor South. We do it by supporting fascists in small South American countries, by destroying crops in the name of the "war on drugs", by dumping our goods on their markets, by indebting their nations and allowing them to use the indebtedness to buy tanks instead of medicine, by helping suppress anything that has a hint of communalism (let alone communism) and might lift the poor out of their misery (and into a position to demand better wages, which would have the consequence of making goods more dear for us), and when we felt we needed to by assassinating their leaders, invading their countries, bombing them and generally menacing them. We have considerably more blood on our hands than the couple of thousand killed on 9/11, although the grinding daily pain of most of the world makes less spectacular TV.
Abramsky is "saddened by how utterly incapable were those same arguments [that the West brought the war on terror onto its own heads] of generating responses to the fanaticism of our time."
But Abramsky has already poisoned the well with the unspoken but clear notion that the only "response" worth talking about is a violent, coercive one. There are many ways to deal with the problems posed by Al Qaeda. We could meet some of their demands, which are not wholly unreasonable (despite Abramsky's hysterical, wildly wrong analysis of them). We could undermine their grassroots support by alleviating some of the problems that feed it. We could leave the Middle East to its own devices and cease our paternalistic approach, which has made the place a godforsaken mess.
While being careful to denounce the bombers and their agenda, these advocates uttered variations on the same theme: Get out of Iraq, bring home the troops from all points East, curtail support for Israel, develop a more sensible, non-oil-based energy policy, and our troubles would dissipate in the wind.
I think that's a straw man but even so, Abramsky does not manage to knock it down. Even if it is true that these measures would not be sufficient -- and I agree that more would be needed, how would they hurt? How would actually being sensitive to the pain these things cause make things worse?
Abramsky is particularly unhappy about the notion that the 7/7 attacks were prompted by our illegal and savage destruction of Iraq (he doesn't give any credence, clearly, to the statement by one of the bombers that that was precisely what motivated him):
“These are Blair’s bombs,” Pilger, famous for helping to bring to light the genocidal actions of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, wrote while the bodies of the July 7 victims were still being identified.
Abramsky cannot even help being snide. We were all thinking it and some of us said it. Is there a truthfree buffer zone around terror attacks? Is there an amount of time after which we are allowed to give our opinions? Blair blamed the bombings on a desire to destroy our freedom on the very day of the attacks. Where was Abramsky's sneering then? The victims weren't even identified (or counted) and there was Blair, trying to use the attacks as more fuel for his crusade on Iraq, the "war on terror" that has so far made little progress in lessening terror but has shared it around.
Criticising the reference to Bin Laden's "We don't attack Sweden", Abramsky rides off to fairyland:
"And his reference to Sweden misses the point that Al Qaeda’s modus operandi involves attacking nodal points of Western power rather than peripheral regions."
Because Bali is so very nodal. And Madrid is famed for being central to Europe.
The analysis, as is often the case, is twisted to fit the thesis. AQ say "we will attack the nations who are attacking Iraq". They or their cohorts strike Spain, the UK and Indonesia (as a proxy for Australia). And they say, Denmark and Italy are next. A few days after saying that, a plot is foiled in Italy. Whose hypothesis fits better?
I won't even begin to address the boringly racist ignorance of Abramsky that doesn't allow that AQ have been most active in countries that far from being "nodal" aren't even in the West: Egypt, Algeria, Saudi Arabia. Its cohorts have also been active in secessionary fighting in Indonesia, and in Malaysia and the Philippines.
Abramsky means to say, of course, that among AQ's targets have been nodal blah de blahs. They decided that one way to make us sit up, take notice and wildly overreact would be to attack New York. Well, Sasha, they too can do "analysis". They're not stupid.
They assume that groups like Al Qaeda are almost entirely reactive, responding to Western policies and actions, rather than being pro-active creatures with a virulent homegrown agenda, one not just of defense but of conquest, destruction of rivals, and, ultimately and at its most megalomaniacal, absolute subjugation.
Abramsky goes off the dial in his "analysis" of AQ. No one thinks they are entirely "reactive". Most analysts of the calibre of Fisk or Klein are well aware of how AQ grew and what it stands for.
But the notion, bruited about mostly by the unhinged neocons, that AQ wants to "subjugate" the world is demented. It's the offshoot of a social movement in the Islamic world, which is a great deal broader than just AQ, embracing as it does the Wahhabis in Saudi Arabia, Islamists of all hues and reformists in places as disparate as Turkey and Pakistan. Its agenda is not just "homegrown"; it's almost entirely internal. Far from seeing it as an achievable aim -- however desirable -- to convert the whole world to its vision of Islam, it seeks to purify the Muslim world.
Sasha, they really do just want us to fuck off. It really is that simple. They see us as invaders who want to impose our values and destroy theirs. They see us as having done that in the Crusades. They see us as having plonked Israel into the middle of the Muslim world, and to have supported it even beyond any notion of justice or equity.
Yes, they hate democracies. But fuck it, I hate democracies too. I hate corporate control; the huge gap between rich and poor; the rampant corruption and injustice. They hate what is bad about us and they struggle to see any good. When Karen Hughes went to talk to Saudi women, she told them that she was fighting for them to be allowed to drive. They told her they simply didn't care about that; they are not so interested in the small stuff as they are in the major issues of the security they feel in their tradition. The "rights" we insist are important: to vote for whoever will disempower you and put your share of your nation's resources into someone else's pockets for four years; to have "free speech" in media that are controlled by corporations; to be free to consume at the expense of our world and everything and everybody in it; well, they don't really see the benefits of any of that.
Our way has been to steal, to pilfer, to destroy. To fuck the place up. And it's not made us happy.
Simply blaming the never quite defined, yet implicitly all powerful “West” for the ills of the world doesn’t explain why Al Qaeda slaughtered thousands of Americans eighteen months before Saddam was overthrown.
There's no canard unturned for Abramsky. This is one I first heard from Blair: "how can you blame it on Iraq when 9/11 preceded Iraq?"
But we don't blame it on Iraq. We blame it on the occupation of Palestine, the Mandate, the support for the Sauds, the creation of nonsense states to serve our ends, the corruption that we have engendered in the Middle East, our armed forces in their holy lands, our support for corrupt families that sell us oil at a price we like, the crippling sanctions that we imposed after we had attacked Iraq and destroyed much of it the first time, our rampant hypocrisy in denying nuclear technology to Iran while allowing our Israeli friends to possess the bomb. And so on.
Nor does it explain the psychopathic joy this death cult takes in mass killings and in ritualistic, snuff-movie-style beheadings. The term “collateral damage” may be inept, but it at least suggests that the killing of civilians in pursuit of a state’s war aims is unintentional, regrettable; there is nothing unintentional, there is no regret, in the targeting of civilians by Al Qaeda’s bombers.
One has to pinch oneself when reading this stuff. Three things spring immediately to mind: one, that both Abramsky and I are citizens of nations that murdered many, many civilians perfectly intentionally in World War Two, and in other conflicts (have we forgotten Hiroshima, Sasha? Tokyo? Dresden? In the latter, we killed the emergency services so that it would be even more horrific); two, that "collateral damage" is a myth -- if you drop a 500-lb bomb on a street, you know people will die, pretending you didn't "intend" it is the worst kind of sophistry -- Sasha, if AQ claimed that they destroyed the WTC to kill a CIA operative, would that make it okay? They could claim the other 2000 were just "collateral damage" and that would all be regrettable but c'est la guerre, yes?; and third, AQ are terrorists
! They are attempting to terrify us. They are saying not only will you risk being killed if you go to Iraq as a mercenary, but you will be desecrated. It's horrible and it's meant to be. We used to hang people from gibbets as an example. We don't think our ancestors were psychopaths for doing it.
Indeed, what Al Qaeda apparently hates most about “the West” are its best points: the pluralism, the rationalism, individual liberty, the emancipation of women, the openness and social dynamism that represent the strongest legacy of the Enlightenment.
How is this "apparent" though? Certainly, AQ never says this. It never says it hates these values. It is apparent because talking airheads like Abramsky keep saying it's so. They repeat one another so often that they believe it's true. It's true that they dislike the outcomes of some of these things, but as concepts they are so numinous that they are pretty much meaningless: "pluralism" is frowned on by AQ because they believe Allah frowns on it; "rationalism" is scarcely in evidence in the West, let alone one of its best features, given the support in its leading nation for "intelligent design" and other "faith-based" modes of thought; "individual liberty" means no more, no less than "liberty to consume", which you largely have in an Islamist paradise, except that you can't buy booze, porn or men's arses (well, it's their paradise, not ours); "the emancipation of women" means freeing them to work, not to care for their children, and to work at emulating men in all the venality and corruption the latter indulge in -- not everyone sees that as wholly positive; "openness" does not mean that everyone has an equal chance to be open -- the rich are a lot more open than the poor, and consensus can be just as deadening of dissent as religion -- one notes Abramsky's comment about Pilger that I quoted supra; "social dynamism"? They think of it as upheaval. They think that striving to get up the greasy pole inevitably involves fucking others over, clambering over the bodies to get up there.
Neither vision is perfect but neither is either wholly irrational or wrongheaded. Pretending that their views have no merit is just another instance of the blinkered, racist arrogance that they hate us for.
In his 1945 book, The Open Society and Its Enemies, Popper, who had fled to New Zealand to escape the Nazis, argued that a defense of rationalism, a refusal to kowtow to totalitarian ideologies and belief systems, was a moral imperative. He believed that utopian political visions tended to demand absolute loyalty and submission from their subjects, a submission generally enforced through state-sponsored coercion. By contrast, he argued, in the Open Society flexibility and dissent were the norm, and progressive social change could be brought about incrementally without wholesale violence and oppression.
The irony is lost on Abrams. He is unable to see that "liberal democracy" is an ideology like any other, of course. He is unable to understand that to the ideologue, everyone else is in the grip of a murderous ideology while he himself is a beacon of reason in a sea of madness.