Friday, December 29, 2006

Wikifiddling while the 'pedia burns

Wikipedia. Looked at from one angle, a wonderfully ambitious project to create a free information resource. Looked at from another, a big bulging bag of bullshit, perpetually being polished by the dumber monkeys in the zoo.


Occasionally, to pass the time, I'll do some work on Wikipedia. (Quiet at the back, that naughty child who claims I am there just to wind up insufferable pricks. I have written tons of articles and made an enormous contribution, much greater than most of the people who have wasted their time trying to insult me by calling me a troll.) I tend to the big bulging bag of bullshit school of thought, because a great vision -- a tremendous resource, created communally, that could be shared free with the whole world -- has been soured by its being created largely by people you wouldn't have round for tea and a collection of numbnuts whose aim is to write "dick" in places people can't find. The former think the latter are the problem, and do not see their own part in Wikipedia's downfall. (Many don't think it is downfallen, but I think this is more a product of their having personally invested a great deal in the project than in any objective view of its achievements. Wikipedia's biggest problem is that its articles are largely shit. Some think the problem is that there are too many; others that there are too few. But the truth is, quality lacks. And time is not improving it, as the Wikinerds hope. Why not? Well, the idea is that an original article is written by some clown and then a bunch of clever sods turns up and fixes it. The problem is, the fixers are as clownish as the original guy. Sadly, the ambience scares off most nonclowns. Sometimes I amuse myself by talking reasonably -- my favourite kind of trolling -- at the clowns but that just serves to enrage them. They much prefer unreason.)

Anyway, I'm posting a few of the things I have written about Wikipedia (because I can't be arsed writing fresh posts and I was looking through the site these appeared on and thought they might amuse, well, me, but maybe someone like Sal too. You can read others if you want to by looking through the history of my user page.

Notability
Notability is the primary reason Wikipedians use to delete and destroy content. You'll often see deletion "discussions" begun by a poster who writes "NN, D". This bare statement means "Not notable, delete". Yes, there are nerds sad enough to think talking like this is cool.

What does "notable" mean? Well, clearly it means different things to different people. The entire field of manga is not notable for me. All I know about manga is that there once was a cartoon with the words "neon" and "evangelion" in it. I can't even remember the rest of the title. And I know it's Japanese. That's it. So far as I'm concerned, manga is not notable. A world without manga would be no poorer from my POV.

So let's delete manga, right?

Wait a minute! Some sorry geeks think manga is the only thing worth living for. For them, there can never be too much manga. If there were a million articles on everything else in this world and a million on manga, they'd consider the encyclopaedia to have too much worldcruft and not enough stuff on evangelions.
Some of the geeks like to rely on google for their research. I know nothing about Bulgarian weightlifters, says geek. So he googles Enoch Abolokov. "Only 70 hits," cries geek, "NN, D."

People who spend too much time on the interwebnet fall foul of a fallacy that we might call W=W. They believe the Web covers the same territory as the World, that it maps onto it. So if the Web isn't talking about you, you don't exist. People google their own names and when they turn up only a couple of hits, they assume that they have no importance. But here's the thing. You might live in a town of 10,000 people. Say you are a teacher at the town's high school. Each of those 10,000 people might know you, respect you, love you even. To them, you are highly notable, a person who would be missed were you to disappear. Yet your name garners only a couple of google hits. No one ever talks about you online. Most people in your town have lives that don't permit setting up websites to talk about people on. Some other guy might write a blog (or draw mangas). He never goes outside his bedroom, so no one who lives in his suburb knows who he is. No one except his mother loves him and she has her moments of doubt. The blogger or manga artist has a small following of, say, 5000 people. But those 5000 people are mostly youngsters with no attachments (and perhaps no jobs), who can spend a lot of time online. They spend some of that time in forums discussing manga or in the comment sections of blogs. This person has 3000 google hits.

Which is more notable? How are we judging it? One has been noted by more people, the other by fewer people who make more noise about it. One has been noted on a limited geographical scale but has a huge impact on that scale, the other on a broader scale (although in points, it should be noted) but with much less impact. (Who'd miss a minor manga artist or a blogger?)

The question that rarely gets answered is "why care if things you don't think are 'notable' are covered in the encyclopaedia?" or, more concisely, "what's it to you?" The answer is often couched in terms of quality: an encyclopaedia with more "cruft" is of lower quality. The discussion goes right to the heart of what Wikipedia is for. For some, it is aiming at the lofty heights of being a work that contains "the sum of all human knowledge". For others, it is aiming at being a decent encyclopaedia written by nerds. (Others, of course, don't care. They're only there for the powertripping and fighting.) Because the former is actually the stated aim of Wikipedia, the "pro-quality" nerds end up arguing that minor manga characters are not part of "all human knowledge". There is probably an interesting discussion to be had on what actually is part of human knowledge, but you won't have it on Wikipedia. Those who adhere to the "quality" perspective think "all human knowledge" includes only what they themselves would be interested in knowing and only grudgingly allow things they find exotic to remain in their encyclopaedia.

The "minority view"
One of the major problems with NPOV is that on the face of it, it would allow all voices to be heard. Wikipedia cannot have that because it would destroy its rationalist, Americocentric, Western liberal orthodox bias. In particular, it would mean that science articles would have to consider all points of view fairly. Luckily, the policy demands that minority views are "fairly represented". It's only a hop, skip and jump from "fairly represented" to "derided".

This isn't a terrible outcome. Scientific articles would be impossible to read, and nearly useless, if they actually did give airtime to every point of view neutrally and fairly. A scientific point of view (SPOV; a POV that takes the Western scientific method as its gold standard, and heavily weights science's output, in the form of peer-reviewed material, as sources) is not a bad idea for science. For pseudoscience, it's a poor choice. The articles on pseudoscience are not written sympathetically, but are heavily biased to the SPOV.

"Balance"
NPOV's outcome is all too often unwieldy, unreadable articles in which viewpoints war and find an unsteady balance. If a leftist politician has an achievement that you might want to note, a rightist editor will find a way of downplaying it; if that same politician has done something evil, the leftist editor will find a way of making it sound no worse than cuddling kittens. Editors will dispute even well-known facts, if their inclusion will tip the balance of the article.

In many controversial areas, the outcome is an article that pleases no one, which no one would have written. But try rewriting one!

Adminship
Adminship is an important position on Wikipedia. Admins are empowered editors. To become an admin, an editor needs to meet a range of criteria that fluctuate from time to time, set by the relatively few active users who frequent the Request for Administration page.

Ordinary editors are relatively powerless. They can change the content of articles but they cannot prevent others from changing that content to bullshit; they can be frozen out of editing by article protection; and they can see their work simply disappear when someone deletes it.

On becoming an admin, an editor suddenly acquires a range of powers that allow them to damage the encyclopaedia quite badly: in particular, they can delete content permanently, and if they are determined enough, can keep the content deleted. They are also empowered with tools to block other editors from editing, with little or no oversight and with criteria for doing so that vary from case to case, admin to admin.
All they have to do to gain these powers is to pass what is effectively a beauty contest. There's no way of removing the powers if they abuse them; an outcome of two things: the assumption that admin actions are de facto correct because admins are trusted (even though many, because of their actions, are not); and that the power structure involves power devolved from one source -- top down -- and not derived from the bottom up. If admins were like MPs or congresspeople, would they risk pissing off people by doing destructive or unilateral actions? It doesn't help either that the functions of policing the wiki -- which you could consider executing the policies -- setting the policies and administering justice are not only not separated but reside in precisely the same people.


Legal action
Legal action is what keeps Jimbo Wales awake at night (that and Wikipedophilia). But it must be carefully distinguished from legal threats.

Legal action is what you ring up Jimbo and threaten if you don't like what Wikipedia says about you. Don't worry about whether it's true; he'll cut your article down to the bone at the mere hint of a lawsuit.

Legal threats are something else altogether. Occasionally, a sensitive editor, battered by the robust play that some editors indulge in, or stymied by incomprehensible policies that someone wrote on a page somewhere but didn't bring to anyone's attention, will take offence at something defamatory, and suggest that they might be consulting their lawyers over it. It's a silly thing to say and in the real world, you'd invite the sensitive person to cool down a bit.

Not on the wiki though. When you hurt someone's feelings on Wikipedia, it's important to stick the knife in. If someone issues a "legal threat", and you're an admin, block them. If you're feeling in need of self-esteem, block the poor sod indefinitely.

Definitions
WP:V. The criterion for inclusion in Wikipedia is, this policy boldly states, verifiability not truth. However, the criterion for not losing a libel case is truth not verifiability. Hilarity ensues.

POV. A disease everyone else has but you'll never catch. "That's POV" is Wikinerd code for "I don't agree with that."

Sunday, December 24, 2006

The perils of tilt

This video accurately depicts what happens when you hold AcAd, he holds 7s7h and the board comes 4sJhQs3s9s.

Merry Christmas. May all your boats be full and your flushes be royal.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

All I want for Christmas are my two front teeth

What would I like for Christmas?

I mean, apart from world peace. And fifty thousand dollars.

Let's assume that they are not going to turn up.

I am very fortunate. I am among the world's wealthiest people, although it doesn't always feel that way. But I have plenty of electrical goods, two cars, always enough (often too much) to eat and drink, enough CDs that I can forget I own one and surprise myself at how much I like it (listened to Rogue satellite by Omni Trio today and remembered how much I liked it on first listen). There is nothing material that I lack. Any "stuff" that I was given would just be more junk. I really don't want for anything. We forget how lucky we are when we can say that.

I am a bit short of work but I expect something will turn up.

I'd love a publishing contract but I doubt a publisher is just going to bring one to me. I suppose I can give myself the present of writing something I love enough that I won't fear that others won't love it enough.

What I would like is a friend. Before I get emails saying "but I'm my friend", yes, you are, but you do not live next door to me. If you did, that would be fantastic. I need someone to hang out with, to drink a few beers with, to go to the football with maybe, to laugh with.

Life can never be festive if you have no one to laugh with.

And I already have my two front teeth.

All I want for Christmas are my two front teeth

What would I like for Christmas?

I mean, apart from world peace. And fifty thousand dollars.

Let's assume that they are not going to turn up.

I am very fortunate. I am among the world's wealthiest people, although it doesn't always feel that way. But I have plenty of electrical goods, two cars, always enough (often too much) to eat and drink, enough CDs that I can forget I own one and surprise myself at how much I like it (listened to Rogue satellite by Omni Trio today and remembered how much I liked it on first listen). There is nothing material that I lack. Any "stuff" that I was given would just be more junk. I really don't want for anything. We forget how lucky we are when we can say that.

I am a bit short of work but I expect something will turn up.

I'd love a publishing contract but I doubt a publisher is just going to bring one to me. I suppose I can give myself the present of writing something I love enough that I won't fear that others won't love it enough.

What I would like is a friend. Before I get emails saying "but I'm my friend", yes, you are, but you do not live next door to me. If you did, that would be fantastic. I need someone to hang out with, to drink a few beers with, to go to the football with maybe, to laugh with.

Life can never be festive if you have no one to laugh with.

And I already have my two front teeth.

The Warne is over

Those who love cricket (and many who don't) will remember Shane Warne's first ball in Ashes cricket. I doubt Mike Gatting will forget it. Warne announced himself as something very special, a new force in cricket.

The ball that dismissed Robin Smith in the same test was, in my view, better, one of the finest deliveries I have seen. Only a player of Smith's talent could even get a bat to it, as it spun square.

So many times I have seen this fat boy bamboozle our batsmen, and those of other nations, often dragging Australia from the brink. He has been endlessly fascinating and never less than brilliant, consistently the best spinner of our day -- Murali notwithstanding -- and arguably the best bowler of any kind -- only Glenn McGrath can offer any argument, in my view. He is the best I have seen, better even than the brilliant West Indian quicks of my youth.

I do not have anything to say about his private life. I doubt I would like him as a man. That is immaterial when considering him as a cricketer though, and as a cricketer, he is a legend. I tips me hat to Warney. Perhaps we'll have a chance in a couple of years!


BBC SPORT | Cricket | The Ashes | Shane Warne ends his Test career
Selvey, as usual, right on the money.

The Warne is over

Those who love cricket (and many who don't) will remember Shane Warne's first ball in Ashes cricket. I doubt Mike Gatting will forget it. Warne announced himself as something very special, a new force in cricket.

The ball that dismissed Robin Smith in the same test was, in my view, better, one of the finest deliveries I have seen. Only a player of Smith's talent could even get a bat to it, as it spun square.

So many times I have seen this fat boy bamboozle our batsmen, and those of other nations, often dragging Australia from the brink. He has been endlessly fascinating and never less than brilliant, consistently the best spinner of our day -- Murali notwithstanding -- and arguably the best bowler of any kind -- only Glenn McGrath can offer any argument, in my view. He is the best I have seen, better even than the brilliant West Indian quicks of my youth.

I do not have anything to say about his private life. I doubt I would like him as a man. That is immaterial when considering him as a cricketer though, and as a cricketer, he is a legend. I tips me hat to Warney. Perhaps we'll have a chance in a couple of years!


BBC SPORT | Cricket | The Ashes | Shane Warne ends his Test career
Selvey, as usual, right on the money.

Maugham talk

Here is something to horrify your inner pedant:

The film is based on the eponymous W Somerset Maugham novel about a British doctor and his wife whose relationship comes under strain when they travel to a remote Chinese settlement hit by a cholera epidemic.


Somerset Maugham did not write a novel titled "W Somerset Maugham" that I know of. If he had, it would have been "eponymous", which means "with the same name as its creator" when applied to books or CDs.

"Eponym" is the word we use for words made from people's names: "atlas", "gatling", "bowdlerise" are all eponyms. "Georgian" houses arguably use an eponym and when one uses a name as an adjective, as in "my Madonna record", this too is eponymous. The title of this post -- oh, so wittily, yawn -- uses one. We use "eponymous" for selftitled works by extension. It's quite rare for fiction to be eponymous, but one could consider the Mencius to be eponymous, and, of course, there are autobiographies that are.

The hack on the Guardian was looking for "of the same title". I don't know whether there is an English word that says that. Doubtless the Greeks had a word for it.

Maugham talk

Here is something to horrify your inner pedant:

The film is based on the eponymous W Somerset Maugham novel about a British doctor and his wife whose relationship comes under strain when they travel to a remote Chinese settlement hit by a cholera epidemic.


Somerset Maugham did not write a novel titled "W Somerset Maugham" that I know of. If he had, it would have been "eponymous", which means "with the same name as its creator" when applied to books or CDs.

"Eponym" is the word we use for words made from people's names: "atlas", "gatling", "bowdlerise" are all eponyms. "Georgian" houses arguably use an eponym and when one uses a name as an adjective, as in "my Madonna record", this too is eponymous. The title of this post -- oh, so wittily, yawn -- uses one. We use "eponymous" for selftitled works by extension. It's quite rare for fiction to be eponymous, but one could consider the Mencius to be eponymous, and, of course, there are autobiographies that are.

The hack on the Guardian was looking for "of the same title". I don't know whether there is an English word that says that. Doubtless the Greeks had a word for it.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Workshop update

So a couple of eager souls have submitted, and I'm writing to let them know that I haven't forgotten them. I've just been too woollenheaded to do them justice. I do have to confess though that I've forgotten who wrote "Laws of gravity". Could the author comment or email me to remind me? My apologies for my not making a note of it. Given how very easy the assignment was, I'm hoping for a lot more submissions. I'll be gentle, he lies.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Crime and punishment

Whatever smallminded morality thinks it should be illegal for sufferers of MS to eat cannabis chocolate, I've never voted for it, don't support it and want it chased out of town by our mocking laughter.

Why do we put up with this shit? It cannot be how the majority thinks. The majority might be idiots but they're mostly harmless idiots.

When some clown who has had an easy passage through life: public school, good uni, job as a barrister, well-paid position as an MP, government minister gives it all that about the evil of drugs, I will think of Lezley, criminalised because she wanted to be well:

The prosecutor told me what I did was wrong but the law is wrong. It's evil and cruel and totally unfair. As a person who is ill, why am I in court? It can't be a crime to want to be well. If it was paint stripper, I'd take it. It's just unfortunate it's illegal. I'm sorry that cannabis makes me well and I'm sorry I'm going to keep taking it, because I don't want to be in a wheelchair and I don't want to be incontinent.

Vale Tom and Jerry

America is often slagged off for the pernicious influence on world culture, the way its icons push out local favourites. Sometimes it is just the overwhelming marketing that creates the push, but just occasionally it is the sheer brilliance of its product. With such a vigorous culture-production industry, it's bound to happen. When I was a kid, I loved Tom and Jerry, so I was sad to read that Joe Barbera has died. Animation becomes more sophisticated year on year but storylines and characters cannot match technology. The vicious, eternal squabble between cat and mouse, like some hand-drawn Zoroastrian fable, is still beautifully eloquent, touching something the child can respond to. Well, let's be honest, it's something the adult can respond to as well: the little guy fighting against the odds, using his wits to defeat strength that would, given the chance, crush him. And yet, who could really hate Tom. Pity rescued us from hatred. How beautifully created that cartoon was, that rather than slide into one-dimensionality, the characters were allowed to appeal to us each in their way, and we could sympathise just a little with Tom's failure at the same time as celebrating Jerry's success.

Vale Tom and Jerry

America is often slagged off for the pernicious influence on world culture, the way its icons push out local favourites. Sometimes it is just the overwhelming marketing that creates the push, but just occasionally it is the sheer brilliance of its product. With such a vigorous culture-production industry, it's bound to happen. When I was a kid, I loved Tom and Jerry, so I was sad to read that Joe Barbera has died. Animation becomes more sophisticated year on year but storylines and characters cannot match technology. The vicious, eternal squabble between cat and mouse, like some hand-drawn Zoroastrian fable, is still beautifully eloquent, touching something the child can respond to. Well, let's be honest, it's something the adult can respond to as well: the little guy fighting against the odds, using his wits to defeat strength that would, given the chance, crush him. And yet, who could really hate Tom. Pity rescued us from hatred. How beautifully created that cartoon was, that rather than slide into one-dimensionality, the characters were allowed to appeal to us each in their way, and we could sympathise just a little with Tom's failure at the same time as celebrating Jerry's success.

From Pitchfork's top 100

If this doesn't make you want to fuck something, you don't have a cock.

***

I already told you this kicks arse. But hey, it hasn't stopped kicking it, so I'm recommending it again. So does this. Australians, in case you are wondering, this is what a sense of humour sounds like.

***

Camera Obscura have been compared with Belle and Sebastian. The truth is, they don't suck in every way B&S suck. This is the evidence. Don't play it if you're not ready for a new love. The first album, Biggest Bluest Hifi, is even better.

***

The number one just sucks though. It's become fashionable (again) to love pop but this is just generic urban. Actually, a lot of the Pitchfork top 100 is bullshit RnB and awful hiphop. These genres are so flat dead that you have really to lift above the herd before you are making it. Not much of this does.

It hasn't been a particularly inspiring year for music, that's true. But if the best track is this turgid shite, well, roll on 2007, I say.

Vanguards of bullshit

On a similar note, and I warn those who are offended by virulent antisemitism that they might consider not clicking this link, this is a lesson in hatred. What scares me is that this guy is not joking. None of them are.

When your first thought on seeing a picture of the man arrested for the murders of five women is "he has a big nose, he must be Jewish", you have a fucking problem. Even if we rebuilt the world in the way you want, you would still have a problem.

***

So why give a shit? These poor, inadequate boys are a menace to anyone they can gang up on in their hometown but surely we need not worry too much about them?

I dunno. Poor, inadequate boys are easy targets for not so poor, not so inadequate, more subtle men with bigger agendas, whose answer to most of the problems they perceive is that someone else must die. The frightened, small-cocked shitheads of Vanguard News Network have parallels elsewhere, on uni campuses, Islamist websites, mosques. It leads all too often to the fulfilment of the subtler men's agendas, to corpses, tears, families without fathers, sons, mothers, daughters, whatever their colour or creed, that they might have delighted in for years.

AntiGrinching

I have often been impressed by Rabbi Lerner. He is a true humanist, the kind of man who reminds me why I so disliked Brisbane's "humanists", who equated "humanism" with hatred and exclusion, when it is, of course, the religion of inclusion. I am above all else an inclusionist. I want us all in the same boat, no one left to drown.

I loved his piece on the theft of Christmas. In the UK, of course, Muslims are the people accused, not Jews. Islamophobia sells better than antisemitism in the UK.

Rabbi Lerner's ideas are great. I love that he wants to rescue Hannukah from the materialists, and his solution is quite beautiful. I was wondering what on earth to get my wife for Christmas. Now I have a great idea. She will love it too.

Even so, in many ways, we would all benefit from celebrating a secular Hannukah1 rather than Christmas. We should all light a candle and say a prayer to whatever we believe in that ignorance is illuminated and that the world can be in a tiny way better in the next year than it was this, and that we can contribute to its betterment, in no matter how small a way, more than we contribute to its detriment, which, usually inadvertently, we know we will.

1 I don't know much about Hannukah, and my apologies if I have it wrong, but my understanding is that it is a festival of renewal (because it commemorates the rededication of the Temple). In any case, that is the meaning I intend: thankfulness for what we have perhaps, but above all, hope for renewal. Return

AntiGrinching

I have often been impressed by Rabbi Lerner. He is a true humanist, the kind of man who reminds me why I so disliked Brisbane's "humanists", who equated "humanism" with hatred and exclusion, when it is, of course, the religion of inclusion. I am above all else an inclusionist. I want us all in the same boat, no one left to drown.

I loved his piece on the theft of Christmas. In the UK, of course, Muslims are the people accused, not Jews. Islamophobia sells better than antisemitism in the UK.

Rabbi Lerner's ideas are great. I love that he wants to rescue Hannukah from the materialists, and his solution is quite beautiful. I was wondering what on earth to get my wife for Christmas. Now I have a great idea. She will love it too.

Even so, in many ways, we would all benefit from celebrating a secular Hannukah1 rather than Christmas. We should all light a candle and say a prayer to whatever we believe in that ignorance is illuminated and that the world can be in a tiny way better in the next year than it was this, and that we can contribute to its betterment, in no matter how small a way, more than we contribute to its detriment, which, usually inadvertently, we know we will.

1 I don't know much about Hannukah, and my apologies if I have it wrong, but my understanding is that it is a festival of renewal (because it commemorates the rededication of the Temple). In any case, that is the meaning I intend: thankfulness for what we have perhaps, but above all, hope for renewal. Return

More naked emperors

: "Dinos Chapman has said that if he met Goya, he'd like to tread on his toes, shout in his ear, punch him in the face."

Best pick on old Goya, nearly blind and crippled, then. The younger version wore a sword and was much harder than this primped, prissy pansy. Chapman would have been swiftly murdered, which, given his "art"'s focus on gore and death, would have been fun. (I'm struggling not to use the word "ironic" because I have been reading Fowler recently and I've sworn off modish uses of words that he would have detested.)

Here's the thing though. Goya was a genius, a brilliant innovator who reached into the human soul and created art that touches those who see it. The Chapmans aren't, aren't and don't. They're just fuckheads who are talked up by other fuckheads. Searle points out that no one knows how to respond to the Chapmans' work. That's because no one wants to be first to say "it's shit, isn't it?" because they're afraid that someone will snootily suggest they don't understand art. Well, I do understand art and I'm not afraid of not being fashionable. I'll say it.

A fisking

A great example of why Robert Fisk is so hated on the right. Cogent, truthful and to the point. The Israelis are not the Nazis of the Middle East. Nor is Israel a close parallel with apartheid South Africa.

But the Israelis do some bad things. And their treatment of the Palestinians has been shocking, and in some quarters is motivated by pure racism.

Fisk is absolutely right about Ahmedinajad. If he was a Mossad agent, he couldn't do a better job of discrediting everyone who opposes Israeli policies and creating sympathy for Israel. He espouses the same bad logic that Israel itself uses in a perverse way. Israel says we suffered once, never again. And takes that to be a justification for wrongs that it does. Ahmedinajad says you did not suffer, so why should Palestinians suffer because of the suffering you did not suffer? He seems to be saying, but if you did, you would be justified.

Well, no they would not. It's understandable that the Jewish people should feel a desire for security (although less so that they should couple it with an insistence that their homeland be in a place in which insecurity is practically guaranteed; I would buy this line of reasoning much more readily if Israel was next to Alberta rather than Jordan) because of what happened. (And it did happen. It is not, despite what neo-Nazis and their kin claim, a sacred cow of our age. It is open to question in the same way that any other hypothesis is. You look at the evidence and the observations and you see what fits. There is an enormous body of evidence that suggests that there was a Holocaust. Opposed to that is, erm, nothing. Deniers say "you can't prove it" because they cannot be shown a video or six million photographs of people's being killed. But they can be shown manifests, testimonies, the camps where it happened. Cynically, they suggest that there were not millions of dead because there aren't millions of corpses. Well, quite. It's like my claiming I couldn't have murdered my wife, even though no one has seen her for a year, because I took the precaution of dissolving her in an acid bath. To suggest that it didn't happen requires the suggestion that millions of Jews are simply lying about having missing relatives, that those who say they were in the camps are lying: Occam's Razor does not permit that explanation though. I'll explain why briefly. When you consider a message, you can think about a couple of dimensions (among others): its speed of transmission and its breadth of coverage. These are, of course, how quickly people receive the message and how many people receive it. We live in an age of mass communication, in which a message can be shared almost instantaneously, so that the speed of transmission can be very rapid, although it should be clear that some receive a message directly, others indirectly, so that the speed of reception is not uniform. The breadth of coverage is determined by considering how many people have access to the means of reception of the message and then how many of them actually do receive it. With any message, there will be those who receive it more slowly than others -- as I noted, those without the means of direct reception will receive it second hand -- and those who do not ever receive it. This is obvious. If a piece of local news does not receive wider coverage, it will not reach everyone. So some people will be, let's call it, "off message". They either haven't yet received the message or haven't any means to receive it. (Some will not have understood the message or will have received it in a garbled form, but for the purposes of this discussion, we are charitably assuming perfect transmission.) So here's the problem for the conspiracists: how, in an age without the interwebnet and without television, and with no discernible means of mass communication, did the "myth" of the Holocaust so rapidly and completely spread among the Jewish people? Why was no one "off message" shortly after the war? Okay, let's agree that not everyone was surveyed and that only motivated Jews came forward to give testimony. Now we have to think about how people are. They are never homogenous. There is no one way that English people think. No one way that French people think. Someone will think x and someone else will think y. X might be quite widely held but there is always a y. Where's the Jewish y? Where are the principled Jews who refuse to lie? The conspiracists suggest they have all been conned by an immense conspiracy. But the numbers of people required to create that conspiracy is enormous. And all involved must know that they are lying. Researchers, historians, soldiers, administrators, relatives of the people murdered. All in cahoots. How are they coordinating their stories though? Again, without a means to communicate rapidly and tracelessly, how did they achieve it? Our governments cannot successfully lie to us about anything. We find them out because they leave the means of communication behind them. But the people who "invented the Holocaust" did so without leaving a trace. You have to say to the conspiracists, okey dokey, the Jews invented the Holocaust, but dudes, if they did that *so well, so efficiently*, we probably should let them run the place. Readers of this blog will know that my answer to people who claim that Jews want to dominate the world is that given their belief in the value of knowledge and of culture, and the enormous, disproportionate contribution they have made because of that belief, I and anyone else vaguely sane would welcome it.) But that desire for security should not translate into a "whatever it takes" mentality. Nor is having suffered a carte blanche for causing suffering. Victims everywhere seem to think it is; this isn't restricted to Israel. Serbs excuse their outrages because of the outrages of the Turks; Kosovans excuse theirs because of the outrages of the Serbs; Islamists theirs because of the outrages of the Americans; the Americans theirs because of the outrages of the Islamists. And so it goes.

Apocalypto: the horror, the horror

I won't be watching the new Mel Gibson film. Not just because he is a horrid antisemite, who should be shunned by the rightthinking. Not because it is bound to be inauthentic, not historically accurate and disrespectful to those it portrays. Not even because it is purportedly sickeningly violent and I don't like films like that. But because I hate that men with enormous riches and power use them on pushing narrow agendas (or piss them away stupidly, like the Roman Abramoviches of this world). Of course, Gibson does not think he is doing any such thing. He thinks he is enlightening a dark world.

How does he do it?

Gibson creates a picture of the Mayan world that makes it savage and horrid. The Mayans hack and slay each other with gay abandon. He conflates all of Mayan history, and a fair bit of Aztec too, into a week's slaughter. The Mayans were cultured, sophisticated people. He portrays them as vicious savages. He also counterposes the towndwelling lunatic murderers with sweet jungledwelling people who didn't really understand the cities. That makes as much sense as claiming a farmer does not understand New York. There was no such counterposition in Maya culture. It was a civilisation that had existed for a very long time. And no one in it was unaware of what it consisted of.

But the message that is worst is in the title. Apokalypto is a part of the Greek verb that means "reveal". (I'm guessing it still does mean that.) It's (roughly) the word that is translated in the Bible as "Revelation" (the word in the Bible is a noun, of course). But Gibson uses the sense "new beginning".
Which doesn't really fit.

Why and what it means are the message. Why? Because he is a sedevacantist who believes in an "apocalypse". In English that has come to mean the end of the established order, swept away by the end of times, replaced with the reign of Jesus on earth. So an apocalypse means the end of our world and the beginning of a better one to someone like Gibson. And in the film, the last scenes are of the Christian Spanish arriving in Mexico.

Can you fucking credit it?

Gibson spends two hours saying look at these bloodthirsty savages. Luckily, the Spanish turned up to bring a new beginning. The Spanish were responsible for the destruction of the Maya world, and the deaths of most of them, their enslavement, marginalisation and impoverishment. The destruction of their culture.

But hey, they were Christians, so that's all okay. Gibson is saying, yeah, our world is going to be completely destroyed, most of us killed. But we get to live with Jesus, so quit bitching.

(As a footnote, I should point out, for those who don't know, that by the time the Spanish had arrived, the Mayan civilisation portrayed in Apocalypto had collapsed, and the city life that had characterised it had long ended. There is no sense in which the Spanish saved the jungle Mayans from a brutal urban elite because there was no brutal urban elite.)

(I'd urge anyone planning to watch the movie to read this review. I do note though that Braveheart's historical distortions also misrepresented a people, although it portrayed them in a far better light than they deserve, so no one was as upset by it.)

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Doggedly

W does not invite me to the Friday poker game any more. I don't know why not. We did not fall out that I know of. I am mystified. I could email him and ask what the problem is -- if there is a problem -- but it doesn't feel right to, and I don't feel comfortable with it. I couldn't explain why. I just don't. Maybe I don't really want to know.

Yet I wanted him to say goodbye. One of the most hurtful things in this life is to be dropped by someone who doesn't even think you're worth telling to fuck off.

S did it too. It seems incomprehensible to me. I know she is capable of lying to me but did she lie about caring for me? If she didn't, did it just evaporate? Even if it did, did she not retain at least enough decency to say look, I just can't be bothered with you any more?

It's a strange thing. Sometimes a person will email you and you'll email them. You feel that you are quite friendly. But they stop. You are not sure at first whether they have just been busy or something but after a while you realise that you will not hear from them again. (I don't discount the idea that maybe they feel you have done the same to them, but anyone who knows me even a little bit knows that I respond but rarely initiate; not because I don't want to but because I'm temperamentally unable to. I wouldn't ever dump someone without a word -- although I suppose I must have done since I've never dumped anyone with one.)

I am like a dog that waits for its master. The dog does not make decisions about where the two of you should go, what you should do. It just waits on you to want to do something with it. And if you desert it, it is just sat there, big-eyed and stupid, wondering why you are not walking it. It would even take a whipping over not having you pay it any mind.

Rivers of tears

I want to give poker up. That's a strange thing to think when I have just bought more poker books, and when it is my only hope of escape, but I do.

Of course I always feel like this when I have a losing day but even when I win, I've stopped thinking it's enjoyable. I simply don't think I'm getting any better. When I win, I am thinking it's because the opposition was so poor. When I lose, it's because my play is poor. Even though I understand a lot of concepts, I don't seem to be able to translate them into good play. What is worse is that I can only sometimes see where I was going wrong. Some things, I'm not sure. Are they wrong? Today I played at three tables. One was quite wild, another about usual, the third passive. On the third I couldn't catch cards and the table broke up before I had a chance to settle in. One of the hands I played was QQ. I raised of course, one caller. I bet flop, he called. The turn was an ace and he bet out. I folded. There is no way I am good there. Because most players assume raisers have an ace, he is not bluffing. He's called my preflop raise with ace-rag, maybe paired the rag on the flop and now has me crushed.

On the wild table, my stats say that I didn't raise much. But I played a ton of hands! How is that possible? Usually when it's wild, I'm tighter than usual and raise a lot more because I'm looking to isolate the lagtards. So I guess I need to adjust my game because there's no way I should be calling at these tables, even if I have hands that would merit it at more passive tables. Higher-limit tables are probably tougher than this one, and wilder, so there's definitely a lesson to learn there. At the other, more normal table, I just couldn't get a hand to stand up, and I missed a ton of draws. That's possibly a sign of playing too many hands. But if you don't play them, you miss out on profitable opportunities. Or so they tell me. I guess the hands will be profitable by about 2050.

Heartbreakingly, I was out of luck in a five-dollar tourney too. It paid 20 and 22 were left. I was a short stack but not in danger of getting busted. I had fold equity against anyone sane as well. So I get a free ride in the big blind and I have a pair and an openended straight draw. That's a pretty good hand, so I don't want to fold. But what do I do? I checkraise the other guy, who's been a bit LAGgy all in. When you know what he had, it was an easy, easy fold. He had middle pair and an OC. He has to think I have top pair at least. I have absolutely no need to push. He has only committed a few chips: a nice addition to my stack but nothing that he'll miss. You know, sometimes, I would like the fuckwitted to be paid what they deserve, but the poker gods love a donkey. His hand held up.

So I play a couple of dollar turbos but my bad luck in them keeps up. We are down to three and two get paid. I'm shortstacked because a loose goose called me with nada and sucked out. So I push from the button with A9. I expect either two folds or I should have the better hand. No such luck. Big blind calls with 66. That's a coinflip (I'm slightly behind) but I just don't win coinflips. His hand holds up. Next up I wake up first hand with JJ. Some guy under the gun raises to 80 chips, which is ridiculous. The way you play these turbos is not to play early. It's pointless unless you can double up. So I push. I'm called in two spots by KQ, which is worth a gamble I suppose, although obviously it's going to be behind most pushing hands (the tards like to get it in with Ax in the turbos) and I'm at the other end of the coinflip, and Q8, which is not reasonable at all. You can guess the rest. K on the flop and I'm back to the rail.

I'm playing another now. This is a typical hand for me today. I have 66 on the button. I call a small raise. If either of the blinds goes mental, I'm folding. But they don't. Five to the flop. It comes 953, two diamonds. The guy to my right bets a tiny amount. That shouts flush draw to me but I don't want to raise and have someone behind me fire a big raise in and I'm down a bunch of chips over nothing. I just call and decide to re-evaluate on the turn. The rest of the table actually folds, which is weird, because they usually call small bets with absolutely nothing. So the turn is a diamond. The guy whacks in a huge bet (these guys have no concept of betting something callable when they have it). Okay, maybe he's bluffing but you don't make money ignoring your reads and calling "bluffs" that turn out to be flushes.

This is only penny ante poker, I know. Nothing to get upset about. But I am upset. I want so much to improve, and I feel that I am, but so slowly, so little. It feels like something I should be good at. But I wonder whether the molasses in my head have stripped me of my card sense as well as my imagination, my sense of joy and my ability to write English correctly (the latter a real drawback for an editor).

***

I need it too. I can't get out of this place using my skills. Work is really thin and patchy, and I can't see it improving. I guess it must be out there but I don't know where to look to find it. Sometimes I think to myself, in a weaker moment, can it not find me for once? Can I not just get lucky? Can I not find someone who has a use for someone with my skills or my intelligence?

Sometimes I don't like having a family. I don't always like being depended on, although I'm very dependable. I don't always like not having space. I don't much like having demands made of me, particularly when they are to do things that I think someone else should take care of. My demands go by the wayside too. I want to go home so much that I am losing my mind over it but it's more important to Mrs Z to lounge around the house. Mrs Zen doesn't want to work because the twins are still young and they are used to having a mother at home. (Yeah, but you know, we all have to fit in with a family, don't we? Sigh.)

***

So my last turbo took the fucking biscuit.

I have AJ and I push. We are at 200/400, I have 1500 and I'm second to act. The guy on my left comes over the top, so I'm thinking oh dear. But he has AJ too.

Next hand I have A5s. Normally I fold that but I can't just get blinded out. I push again. A guy calls with 44. Another coinflip. I flop A5x. I don't even bother getting excited. I know I'm going to get rivered again.

Without wishes

I am destined to be a puzzle to those who try to know me, ultimately unloved and unwanted, lonely, because I am still a seven-year-old boy pining for the beach, and everyone thinks they are looking at a man.

I do not want to grow up. I want the world to come with me. We can all hold hands and sing the songs that filled our childhoods, that even now speak to us of comfort.

I no longer have anything to write about because I have stopped dreaming. My mind, once able to dance, a sharp instrument that would cut to the core and reveal the within, trudges in deep mud. I feel like I have been punished for some crime I have committed, but all I have done is make mistakes. Should there not be a way to undo them?



In my terrible, boring novel, I wrote this. The novel is not autobiographical but my life has made this fit. I suppose it was general enough that it was almost bound to:

Outside, the wind still roars and the rain thrashes against the roof of my home. Soon the sun will rise, inexorably. Perhaps dawn will calm the storm. Perhaps it will bring snow. But it will rise. I want to tell Billy that nothing, nothing on Earth, can change a thing. But I know that I share his wish, and cannot even tell myself that it could never be.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Power corrupts

Wow.

So much for the rule of law. Our national security depends on our ability to bribe rich Arabs to buy our weapons?

Erm, how?

The meatrix

Don't take the red pill! Enjoy your steak.

Vale cunts

Two horrible pieces of garbage departed the Earth recently. Both had long, comfortable lives, which are exactly what they and the policies they supported denied to many millions of people. As is the way in our world, neither met justice in their lives (and sadly, unless Christians have it right, neither will meet it afterwards).

The first is Pinochet, of course. He is almost the eponym for hardmen we should not have supported but did. He is a stain on the American conscience, not that the people who helped him actually had consciences. He is a poster boy for the right: this is where your politics lead because yours are the politics of greed and personal aggrandisement. Pinochet embodied them. He had no other cause. Good fucking riddance.

The second is Jeane Kirkpatrick. Kirkpatrick believed it was good for people to live in authoritarian, conservative states because they were used to how things traditionally were. She was one of the intellectual forces behind Reaganism, an ideology that destroyed countless lives, as America stood foursquare behind rightists the world over whose only goals were personal enrichment. I don't know what Kirkpatrick thought of the photos of murdered nuns, tortured trade unionists, dead children. I doubt she even lifted an eyebrow. It is easy to intellectualise the world so that you drain it of feeling. Easy to feel it serves you that others should suffer. Well, you know what I say about people who forget that we are ultimately brothers and sisters? Good riddance to bad rubbish; cart that hunk of useless meat out of here.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Sunni whether

On that same subject, it's alarming that the Sauds are threatening to arm the Sunnis if we "cut and run".

You know, I doubt I'm alone in thinking we invaded the wrong fucking place. Pulling the rug out on the Sauds would be a step towards fixing the Middle East. It's past time. Egypt too. They've been punished enough for Nasser.

Those who aren't aware of the arbitrariness of Middle Eastern nations probably don't know that the tribes of Saudi Arabia are in the main the same as the Sunni tribes of Iraq. They just wandered across lands that weren't then parcelled out the way they are now. There are ties of kinship among them. And it's not as though the Sauds aren't already arming and paying for the Sunni side of the "insurgency". And AQ. (Not a coincidence that most of the 9/11 attackers were Saudi Arabs.)

Send in more clowns

ZOMFG!

You are achieving nothing in Iraq, not a damned thing, so your plan is to achieve double the nothing.

The problem with American "strategic thinking" is that the "thinking" is "throw a shitload of weaponry at it". That was the long and short of the Iraq plan. It worked to get rid of Saddam but surprise, surprise, that didn't fix Iraq. I daresay their plan for Iran is the same. It was the plan for World War II (worked), Korea (half worked), Vietnam (didn't work). Hang on, can we see a trend in these conflicts? Yes, we can. When fighting an enemy that stands up and allows itself to be shot, having more troops is generally the way to go. But when fighting one that is in any way more complex than that, you're stuffed.

The problem with Iraq remains not that there are militias but that there is no Iraq. Sending in more troops won't even begin to fix that. It'll simply mean more dead. The civil war is already happening and we're in it. Less people shooting would be a plus, not more.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

What childhood smells of

Seasalt, jam, suntan lotion, damp earth, gorse, cut grass, cowpat, warm pasties, mashed banana, gravy, fishnchips, John Player No. 6, Vosene, dog, rain, cider, Christmas, my mother.

Hat tip to Hopey

What childhood smells of

Seasalt, jam, suntan lotion, damp earth, gorse, cut grass, cowpat, warm pasties, mashed banana, gravy, fishnchips, John Player No. 6, Vosene, dog, rain, cider, Christmas, my mother.

Hat tip to Hopey

Bliars and fools

With a little editing, Blair's hypocritical rant against Iran becomes sharp political analysis:

"Tony Blair today made his strongest attack yet on the American government, declaring that President Bush's government was a "major strategic threat" to the Middle East.

Despite calls from the James Baker-led Iraq Study Group for direct talks with Washington and Damascus, Mr Blair said there was "little point" in including the United States and Syria in regional issues "unless they are prepared to be constructive".

Ahead of his own trip to the Middle East before Christmas, Mr Blair repeated that as his premiership drew to a close he still regarded it as the most important issue facing the world.

Speaking at his final monthly press conference of 2006, the PM said Mr Bush's government was "deliberately causing maximum problems for moderate governments and for ourselves in the region - in Palestine, in Lebanon and in Iraq".

"There is no point in hiding the fact that the United States poses a major strategic threat to the cohesion of the entire region," Mr Blair told reporters."

I do think that when we are considering who is a "strategic threat" to the region, we should note who has invaded nations in the region and destabilised them. So far, the score is the US 1, Iran 0.

Blair goes on to say:

"Asked about apparent UK opposition to the US policy of early de-Ba'athification of Iraq after the invasion, Mr Blair said the problems in Iraq were deliberately being caused by people opposed to the democratic process, and any decision on de-Ba'athification would not have changed that."

Blair is either lying or deluded. He must be fed intelligence that is better than newspaper reports but if he were simply to read the reports of people who have spent time in Iraq, he'd know that the "problems in Iraq" are not being caused by the people he identifies, but by a broad spectrum of people with varying issues with how things are. Some of them, correctly, see democracy as just another tool in a power struggle between different interests.

Delusion and hypocrisy are nothing new to Mr Blair, of course. We insist that nonproliferation is important to us, and that it would be disastrous for Iran to acquire them, yet we support the nation in the Middle East that first built them, and not only do we have them, despite not having anyone to aim them at, but are about to spend a huge amount of money on buying more.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Cut off

It seems inexpressibly sad that a woman's life can end at 24, strangled, a prostitute. That that should be your epitaph, what your life amounted to. Men fucked you for money and one sad soul killed you. Like a piece of fluff, you are blown into oblivion.

Did she have a mother who loved her? You think she cannot have done but people go wrong. They can be beautiful kids and life sours them. I look at my own girls and I think... no, I don't think at all. I dare not think anything. They are not going to be women. They are not ever going to have sex. They will always be my beautiful, golden girls, running up and down the hall, laughing. They won't ever grow old in my heart.

But I am not writing about my girls. I am writing about someone else's girl. But I do not have words for it. I do know that I hate men who use prostitutes. I think they are raping them, using their superior economic power to have sex they would not otherwise have. Yet the women are despised in our world. I do not know much about prostitutes, but I imagine that many felt they had no choice but to sell themselves. We all do things we don't want to.

I have no words about the man who did this. What can you say? You cannot imagine what makes a person lonely enough to feel that this is a course worth pursuing. He will be caught, of course, and sent to jail for the rest of his life. His name will be known, and then fade, as all our names do. I feel terribly sad that all he left this woman was to be the victim of some nutter.

Cut off

It seems inexpressibly sad that a woman's life can end at 24, strangled, a prostitute. That that should be your epitaph, what your life amounted to. Men fucked you for money and one sad soul killed you. Like a piece of fluff, you are blown into oblivion.

Did she have a mother who loved her? You think she cannot have done but people go wrong. They can be beautiful kids and life sours them. I look at my own girls and I think... no, I don't think at all. I dare not think anything. They are not going to be women. They are not ever going to have sex. They will always be my beautiful, golden girls, running up and down the hall, laughing. They won't ever grow old in my heart.

But I am not writing about my girls. I am writing about someone else's girl. But I do not have words for it. I do know that I hate men who use prostitutes. I think they are raping them, using their superior economic power to have sex they would not otherwise have. Yet the women are despised in our world. I do not know much about prostitutes, but I imagine that many felt they had no choice but to sell themselves. We all do things we don't want to.

I have no words about the man who did this. What can you say? You cannot imagine what makes a person lonely enough to feel that this is a course worth pursuing. He will be caught, of course, and sent to jail for the rest of his life. His name will be known, and then fade, as all our names do. I feel terribly sad that all he left this woman was to be the victim of some nutter.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Golden bores

Nice to see that the old Tories have not completely vanished.

It should be pointed out though that the Victorians dealt with petty crime by hanging the offenders, so long as they were poor. The rich were never prosecuted.

Morality among the poor was much the same as it is today, and the rich were probably less moral, given the generally held view that anyone who wasn't wealthy was pretty much subhuman. They were simply more willing to pretend. And they didn't have TV.

Golden ages never were golden. The world always was a horrible place. It's a lot better now than it used to be, in some ways. And it can be better still. Fundamentally, this is the problem with conservatism. There is more to hope for than to look back on, and our golden age is yet to come.

Why?

This amusing dialogue poses an interesting question about the Christian god.

God could have made humans any way he pleased and chose to make them just how they are. So he made them capable of sin.

So whose fault was it that man sinned?

I know that God gave us free will. But how can free will be free if God created that too? He knows all outcomes, all possibilities.

So what kind of favour is God doing us by "redeeming" us when he created us damaged in the first place? Did he send Jesus because he'd realised he fucked up?

***

And how can a "loving" god think it is reasonable to give you a 70-year trial for an eternal reward? Eternity is very long.

Would it not be fairer to give you a chance to recant once you're better informed about the consequences? It's one thing to demand faith in God, quite another to demand faith in your eternal torture.

***

One can go on for hours. It's child's play to pick holes in the Christian belief. It's such frank nonsense that it doesn't really bring much joy to do so. If you were to invent a belief from scratch, you'd take more care, but Christianity accreted and shoehorns dozens of different, incompatible traditions in with each other.

I have a question though. I've never found a compelling answer. It's why? If God loves me, why doesn't he just give me the eternal reward? Why give me a life first? Why bother? What is the purpose of the trial? What kind of love puts the beloved on trial for his or her life?

Why?

This amusing dialogue poses an interesting question about the Christian god.

God could have made humans any way he pleased and chose to make them just how they are. So he made them capable of sin.

So whose fault was it that man sinned?

I know that God gave us free will. But how can free will be free if God created that too? He knows all outcomes, all possibilities.

So what kind of favour is God doing us by "redeeming" us when he created us damaged in the first place? Did he send Jesus because he'd realised he fucked up?

***

And how can a "loving" god think it is reasonable to give you a 70-year trial for an eternal reward? Eternity is very long.

Would it not be fairer to give you a chance to recant once you're better informed about the consequences? It's one thing to demand faith in God, quite another to demand faith in your eternal torture.

***

One can go on for hours. It's child's play to pick holes in the Christian belief. It's such frank nonsense that it doesn't really bring much joy to do so. If you were to invent a belief from scratch, you'd take more care, but Christianity accreted and shoehorns dozens of different, incompatible traditions in with each other.

I have a question though. I've never found a compelling answer. It's why? If God loves me, why doesn't he just give me the eternal reward? Why give me a life first? Why bother? What is the purpose of the trial? What kind of love puts the beloved on trial for his or her life?

Saturday, December 09, 2006

On Hucknall on copyright

Mick Hucknall is not a man who commands respect but that doesn't seem to have prevented the Guardian from providing him with a platform to spout some bollocks about copyright. Mick claims to be a socialist, which I suppose I might too, were I to claim to be an "ist" of any type. He wants copyright extended practically to infinity. I don't. Let's have a look at what the gingertopped ponce has to say.

Copyright is fundamentally socialist - it is radical and redistributive, subversive even.


Interesting opening gambit. "Copyright is socialist." That's going to take some explaining, because like all forms of law that entrench property rights, it seems that copyright is fundamentally not socialist at all.

It is not "radical". The wealthy have passed laws that protect their property since whenever. The poor rarely get consulted. It would be radical to abandon copyright for another model. It clearly isn't "redistributive". Having to pay someone to sample their work doesn't help creative ideas spread; rather, it prevents their spread. In an earlier age, creative artists freely borrowed from each other, not just themes and plots, but tropes, phrases, tunes, whatever. In this collaborative culture, talent rises to the top. The Hucknalls of the Renaissance did not need property laws to ensure their reward: they were able to rely on their ability.

How else would you describe a form of property that anyone can create out of nothing?


Here is the fundamental mistake in Hucknall's piece. And he fucks up so early! What is the error? It's threefold: first, the property created is not the copyright, it is the property that the copyright protects; second, it is not created out of nothing -- nothing in our culture is -- if it were, the listener, reader, viewer would have no reference points to make sense of the piece with (I won't bore you with a theory of communication here; I'm simply asserting that and will bicker it out with anyone who is fool enough to disagree); third, forms of property created out of "nothing" would not be "socialist" -- it's precisely the pretence of the capitalist that they create wealth out of nothing at all and consequently deserve enormous rewards. It's no surprise Hucknall is a mate of Tony Blair's: he must love a man who is able so brazenly to describe how capitalism works as "socialism".


Copyright's democratising effect is seen most clearly in the music business. Anyone who can speak, sing, rap or hum and operate a simple sound recorder can create a copyright song. Imagination is the only limit.


But anyone with those abilities could create a noncopyright song. What is Mick actually saying? He is saying anyone can make money in music; isn't it great?

Well yes, it's lovely. It's wonderful that anyone with a modicum of talent -- or none at all if they are pretty and know a good producer -- can make a ton of money in the music biz. But it's not socialist. Socialists do not celebrate the structural insanity of our system, which permits enormous reward for little labour. And they do not celebrate mechanisms that exist to keep those inequalities in place.

Which is what copyright does. You may think it protects your writing from someone's stealing it, but when was the last time someone wanted to steal some of your writing? Less facetiously, there are other means to protect you from this kind of theft. You can establish ownership of a whole work simply by having it notarised. Even without a law of copyright, you would likely be protected. In any case, few publishers, agents or readers -- the people you would realistically fear might steal your work -- are likely to risk it.

And making a few people wealthy is not "democratising" anything. I won't waste any more words on explaining why Hucknall has misunderstood what "democracy" means. It's enough to say it is not a simile for "levelling".

At this point, Hucknall takes leave of what little senses he has so far shown:

Copyright promotes artistic creativity and the free circulation of ideas.

This is the complete opposite of the truth! How could it begin to be true? Copyright limits you in taking others' work and adapting it, twisting it. But Hucknall has worse to come:

More than 20 years ago, musicians seized the opportunity for collaboration offered by new technology in the form of digital samples. Far from obstructing this exchange of inspiration, copyright facilitates sampling


You what?

How the fuck does it do that? How am I finding it easier to sample Money's too tight to mention if I have to pay the ginger twat a ton of money to do so? All it "facilitates" is the increase in Hucknall's bank balance.

How can a man who's willing to say something like this be taken seriously? Whatever your views on copyright, you cannot think that it helps people make records from samples. If there were no copyright, they could make songs entirely from samples with no fear of being bankrupted by the very rich record companies who defend their artists' property.

Hucknall is, I think, a fan of reggae. Like me, he probably enjoys the music of the early 70s, a huge explosion of talent and creativity. I wonder though whether Hucknall is also aware that the artists involved often stole one another's ideas, tunes, backing tracks even, to make whole new songs from. Copyright would have killed that movement.

and translates the creative debt into income for the creator of the borrowed work. Musical sampling is the perfect example of copyright's flexibility in fusing the ever-changing worlds of art, commerce and technology.


The "creative debt"? Hucknall's music is clearly and obviously influenced by certain artists of earlier years. Did he pay them a big slice of his money? Did he pay the descendants of the people who developed the idiom he uses? Those of the people who invented the chromatic scale? No. Some kinds of "creative debt" are okay with Mick.

Hucknall goes on to witter about the interwebnet (I'll spare you). I note only that rich musicians like Hucknall are shit scared of the interwebnet, because it provides a means for us to "redistribute" their income by stealing their music. To be fair, most people who steal a lot of music love music. Many steal what they can't afford. Like me, many buy what they can and steal what they can't. I always have, always will. I couldn't possibly contribute more to the music business, because I have no more money to give.

Hucknall then goes on to say:
In this environment, arguments against the extension of the copyright term in sound recordings from 50 to 95 years are retrogressive and misconceived.


He says this but he doesn't show why. As Marina Hyde pointed out in the Guardian, many do not support this extension because it does nothing at all for artists but creates an aristocracy based on intellectual rather than physical property. They do not like the idea that their grandchildren will be paying Hucknall's grandchildren for something they did not create, which is part of their shared cultural heritage.

This concept is "socialist" by the way: that we should not personally own what ought naturally to be shared. I believe -- strongly -- that the music we dance to, love to, sing along with should be considered part of our shared capital because it is created from a shared base. I do not mind that Hucknall makes money from his endeavours (although I do mind how much) but I do not think he should consider his work all his.

Copyright is not a monopoly restricting the free flow of ideas.


No one says it is. This is a straw man, but it is the basis for this whole article. Somehow Hucknall has convinced himself that copyright helps people create, rather than helps people make money from what they create. The former, of course, is something laudable; the latter a little bit dirty.

Allowing valuable sound recordings to pass into the public domain does not create a public asset


But of course it does. It allows people to have copies of music they would not otherwise hear. How can it be a good thing for those people that they cannot hear music they cannot pay for?

So, finally, we get to the truth of it:

it represents a massive destruction of UK wealth


Micky boy, I'm a socialist and let me tell you, socialists do not give a fuck about the destruction of personal wealth. We're all for it!

We want you not to have a mansion when others don't have homes. We want you not to have millions when there are kids who don't get to eat tonight. The "massive destruction of ... wealth" is one of the things we very much desire.

But Mick has run up his true colours. He is not about socialism, sharing. He is about wealth, keeping the rich rich.

and a significant loss to the UK taxpayer as exploitation moves offshore or into the grey market.


I was a UK taxpayer, so let's pretend I still am. How am I losing if someone pirates Mick's records? Erm.

Sorry, you carrot-topped clown, you're going to have to help me out with that one. I don't think I lose out at all. I don't pay more tax because someone hometapes your stuff.

Okay, I know what he means. If record companies make smaller profits, they pay less tax, so there is less money to go round, so I must pay more.

Dude, I'd care so much more if your record company didn't hire accountants to try to avoid tax. And I'd care double if you didn't too.

Copyright extension is partly about equality for performers, with other creators and with those in the US and elsewhere.


Those creators have equality under our law already. You mean that you want laws that are as rewarding for your grandchildren as they will be for Madonna's.

I note only that America is not generally considered a great model for "socialism".

It is also about maintaining the cultural value of works by controlling their exploitation.


He keeps writing this stuff without explaining what it's supposed to mean. How is the "cultural value" of a work maintained by not allowing it to be "exploited"?

How does it acquire "cultural value"? You could argue that it acquires value by becoming broadly known among those who share the culture. Restricting its being known to those who can afford to pay for it would seem to be a limit on this, rather than something that promotes it.

But Hucknall does not mean "cultural value". He means "monetary value". He measures value purely in terms of pounds. I suppose rich people tend to. I suppose also that an artist such as Hucknall, who wishes to be admired, wants recognition because he has sold a lot of records and made a lot of money, because he sure as shit won't get any critically. His music is rubbish: pap that bank clerks lap up; music for people who don't like music very much. That must hurt. Mick likes to mention that he was inspired by the punk rock movement, but Mick must also be aware that no one who is into punk is into Mick. That must hurt too.

But, most of all, it is about nurturing the development of a truly revolutionary explosion in small-scale grassroots creative businesses.


The only even vaguely effective argument for copyright is that it protects the rights of small artists to make money. But this argument fails because small artists do not have the means to enforce copyright, and are more likely to benefit from the broader exposure that comes from having their copyright breached than they ever are from enforcing it against the people who steal their music.

In that previous paragraph is all that needs to be said about Hucknall and his defence of copyright, but I'll expand on it: it protects rights that only the rich really need worry about, while the poor, starving artist will generally benefit much more from the increase in exposure. Being known brings the reward. When your record is played on Radio One, that a million people hear it is worth a lot more to you than the money you are paid. If some of those million tape the song from the show and play it to their mates, yes, you have had your copyright infringed, but have you been harmed? If some of those mates go out and buy your record, not in the least.

A final thing to say about Hucknall's piece is that he never explains why extending copyright is a good thing for the small artist, except that it equalises us with America. It seems a great idea for Hucknall's grandchildren, particularly if they can find some way to extend the copyright so that their grandkids can also feast from Hucknall's good fortune, but the small artist's independent label will have disappeared 70 years hence and their grandkids will likely not have the means to pursue their copyright.

Still, it is ever hilarious to read a very rich, greedy man telling the world that he is a socialist. They always betray themselves because politics is all too often the man. Who you are will out; you cannot hide it in principles you do not really hold to.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Sunshine

The world is warming up. That's not a good thing. It's not likely that the executives of Exxon will pay much of a price for it, but others will (already are). The waters on climate change are muddied by a gaggle of "sceptics", many paid by the oil industry.

Their focus is largely on overturning Kyoto. But Kyoto was not enough. We need to go far beyond that.

But we won't. The bottom line is year to year, not decade to decade. No one is changing anything unless it's costing them money not to.

***

I noted with interest that a technology exists -- although it has not been perfected -- that could turn the desert sun into power. Researchers suggest that the European Union could enter a partnership with nations such as Algeria to build concentrated solar power stations (which use mirrors to focus the sun in the same way small boys do to fry ants) and share the profits. This would allow a new source of income for oil producers, cushioning them from the impact of the loss of oil (which is imminent).

I sighed when I thought about how easily we could develop this technology and others like it if we had the money we're going to piss away on the new Trident to spend on them.

Winning and losing

You can only conclude that Bush is deluded. He is the last man alive who thinks that Iraq is "winnable". Even Blair realises it's a morass.

Bush's talk about helping a young democracy survive would make some sense if he had intervened to support a democracy under pressure from definable forces, preferably exterior. Fighting the Germans in WWII provided a simple aim because they were so visibly exterior.

But the problem with Iraq is Iraq. It's not someone from outside stirring up the shit. Iraq is shit. It's an illusion that there even is an Iraq. It's a patchwork of fiefs and city-states, an ongoing power struggle, an ethnic war, a criminal enterprise. The one thing it isn't is a "young democracy".

What would "winning" look like? The idea that it can be a stable state, ruled by Western-style law, with a compliant, peaceful population, is fanciful at this point. The ISG's solution is to train up the Iraqis, hole up in a few bases and beg everyone else to fix the mess. Anyone familiar with the end of French rule in Indochina will recognise how that goes, although the Americans have the advantage over the French that they do not face a unified nationalist army (rather, they face dozens of militia that only attack Americans if they present themselves, and are generally content to kill each other if there are no Marines around). Iraq would, quite likely, become slightly more peaceful if the Americans followed those recommendations; at least, it could be sold that way, if only because fewer Americans would be getting killed.

The other suggestions, that Iran and Syria should be involved, are smart but seem a little naive. Iran and Syria already are involved. They are quite contentedly fuelling the fire. They have no interest at all in a resolution to the crisis in Iraq, and they'll need to be bribed, and heavily, to do anything to bring one about. (There's some similarity between Iraq and Palestine in this regard. Arab leaders appear in public crying out for a solution to the Palestinian problem, but they do not want, and have never wanted, one. Keeping Palestine the focus of Middle East analysis very much suits leaders such as Mubarak and Asad, who, as do dictators everywhere, prefer attention to be focused outwards rather than inwards. It doesn't hurt either to have Israel embroiled in a crisis that it has badly overreacted to, so that it has become the world's premier villain, rather than just another villain in a lineup that gets a lot uglier. One could expect the Syrians to agree to help resolve the Iraqi crisis while doing everything in their power to prolong it. That would be perfect for them.)

The problem with Iraq remains that there is no solution, no way to "win". We made a terrible mistake in invading Iraq in the first place. We didn't have a plan because our leaders were overconfident that they need only roll into Baghdad and a democracy would spontaneously erupt. It didn't help that we appointed corrupt administrators, who proceeded to dismantle whatever hadn't been destroyed by our invasion, throwing many men onto the dole and alienating many others: deBa'athication was a disastrous policy because it ignored the close identification of the Ba'ath party with Sunni interests, and didn't seem to understand that it would be interpreted as "persecute the Sunnis"; disbanding and reforming the armed forces were hideously stupid, making unemployed the trained military without disarming them; ending the fuel and food subsidies was just insane. There were a lot more mistakes but they all stemmed from the first big one: getting in there in the first place. Could it have been different? Perhaps. With a truly overwhelming military force and a plan rapidly to reconstruct the infrastructure of Iraq under the supervision of the UN and some idea of where we would head politically... it sounds easy when it's sketched in a few words, but the task was huge. Iraq is not a real place that needed rescuing. It's a construct, a mishmash, a disaster waiting to happen. Which happened.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

No comfort in I told you so

Pity so many had to die for the lies first.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

No denial

Millions of Jews were murdered in the Holocaust. Nothing Israel does will change that. No amount of wishful thinking in the form of a "scholarly" conference will change that. No nation with pretensions to greatness would suggest otherwise because to tell a lie of that magnitude in the face of the enormous body of evidence that supports it is the province of a charlatan and a scoundrel.

No denial

Millions of Jews were murdered in the Holocaust. Nothing Israel does will change that. No amount of wishful thinking in the form of a "scholarly" conference will change that. No nation with pretensions to greatness would suggest otherwise because to tell a lie of that magnitude in the face of the enormous body of evidence that supports it is the province of a charlatan and a scoundrel.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Effort

I respond to effort. I am always so pleased that someone has bothered.

Mrs Z knows that I'm upset about Christmas. Her parents come here in the morning and then everyone goes to one of Mrs Z's uncles to gather. I hate both aspects because for me Christmas is about your immediate family, not about gatherings. Boxing Day exists for that sort of thing.

I miss my parents at Christmas. Usually, I would go down to Cornwall and spend a few days with them and my sisters, sometimes with boyfriends or whatever. If I was in the UK, I might do that. But I might stay at home because now I am my dad. (Whoops! Of course that should read "a dad". Employ your own winky there.)

Mrs Z is not up to suggesting to her dad that he doesn't come here on Christmas Day but she says she won't go to the gathering and we can just do a family thing. This makes me just unhappy, rather than dismally unhappy, so I suppose that's almost a cause for celebration. I'd rather her parents went somewhere else, but this is their house and they simply would not understand why I feel that they should respect that it's my home. I will grit my teeth and bear it with ill-concealed bad grace. A problem with having children is that you have to not spoil it for them. Grimacing at the Christmas ham is probably okay. Suggesting that Mr O not talk about "slopes" or "blackfellas" is probably just spoiling for a fight (to be fair, he doesn't indulge himself so much now he's finally figured out that it's not getting the same reception it does at the bowls club).

***

K will not agree that she is demented but that's okay, I won't either. Of course, I have nothing to agree to, because it is part of her delusion that I'm deluded.

And doubly so that she thinks I'm deluded for thinking that!

LOL. I win. You cannot beat that and if you try, you will catch yourself in a spiral of secondguessing that will drive you mad if you weren't that way to start with.

K has made an effort to repair our friendship though. Which is good because I like having... (thinks)... diverse people as friends.

***

The reader I mentioned in a recent post, who thought that my novel was bogpaper, also made the effort to explain themselves. They say that they felt it was boring because they're boring and it gave them a comforting fellow feeling. Or something like that. They probably shouldn't worry too much. They're entitled to their opinion. Generally, I smooth over dissonances and take a person as a whole.

It used to surprise me when I was younger that people would say things like "I don't like A. She said something about B that blah blah blah." So the person I'm talking to does not like A because of one comment or thing. What the fuck? If you are going to judge a person, do you not judge them as a whole? How can your opinion of them be on such shaky foundations that it can be changed by one comment?

Of course, I've since realised that people really are that shallow; rather, that they tend to give so little a shit about others that they cannot be bothered with anything other than their most recent impression. It creates a vicious circle. A makes it clear that she judges B negatively because B has said something off about her mother, so C, noting that and wanting to keep A in her circle, watches everything she says about everybody, just in case. It mushrooms out of control, so that you have people who have dozens of friends but never interact with them meaningfully because they are petrified of being dropped for saying something off colour.

Which is probably why I don't have a huge circle of friends. I am temperamentally unable to be that guarded and I find the company of people who never express anything but the blandest LCD bullshit tiring.

But I can be my own worst enemy. I met a woman today, a new client. She used to work for one of my other clients, back in the day. So we're going to talk about the other people. I know that and all the way to the meeting I'm saying to myself nothing negative, nothing negative. Be positive because people want positive and eschew negative, right?

Right but of course she asks and I see the opportunity to talk to someone who knows what I'm saying about what ails me and before I can shut myself the fuck up, I'm spouting negativity like a tap with a busted washer.

But I am worried about the other people. They used to be good clients, and I rely on them for my living. But I get a bad feeling from the senior editor I deal with. I don't think she rates me. The woman she replaced did. Her boss did, but he was retrenched. She has projects she says are lined up for me that get cancelled, downsized, put back. Where her predecessor would find me something else because she understood how important they were to me as clients, this woman does not. She doesn't give me the feeling she cares about me. I need to broaden out and find new clients. Which is not easy for anyone, but very difficult for me. I know, I was lucky. I'd never be able to be a proper freelance. I have more or less been an employee of these people, just out of house. That was sort of the idea. But now I am treated as a proper freelance, so I'm going to have to find some hustle.

My problem with G, the woman at this client, is precisely that she does not make an effort. Maybe it's just her. She's new to the job. I don't know what pressures she is under, whatever. Maybe. But all you see from my end is someone who is not trying for you.

The emperor is rewarded for his creative nudity

Tomma Abts wins the Turner. For once, I don't think they will be burning the judges in effigy in the streets. Abts' work is boring and inoffensive rather than outrageous.

This is telling for me:

She uses no source material and begins with no preconceived idea of the final result.


Well, erm, yeah. It looks like it. I'm going to say it because no one else will: an artist without ideas is not an artist at all; they are just someone daubing a canvas with paint. It's close to fraudulent. But in my view the Turner has been rewarding fraudulence since forever. It provides grist for fuckwits such as Adrian Searle, who are afraid to say "actually, there's nothing in it" because everyone is saying there's something in it.

Still, it could be worse. The other entrants were horrible, particularly Rebecca Warren. I love that the Tate considers her part of a "lineage" of sculptors (in the same way, one assumes, that Pollock is a direct descendant of Cezanne). Yes, she is. She is the direct descendant of everyone who thought sculpting looked fun but turned out not to have any ability at it.

I have a criterion for considering art good or bad. It's the "I wish" test. If I'm thinking "I wish I could have done/thought of that", I am looking at art. If I'm thinking "I could have done/thought of that", I'm probably looking at dogshit.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Laughing Greer

Germaine Greer, busted for talking bollocks, whines about it at length in the Guardian.

Poor Ms Greer! In a hole created by her pretentious blather, she reaches for her spade.

Ms Greer suggests that no one educated would use "somewhat". This is ridiculous. "Somewhat" is a perfectly ordinary word. It does not mean the same as "rather", quite.

Ms Greer, having scoffed at the awarders for not googling the phrase "unsynthesised manifold", then claims that "most reasonably educated Guardian readers" would have recognised it.

Sadly not. Most reasonably educated readers know that the manifold is the manifold. It is only rarely called the "unsynthesised manifold" because it is a manifold of unsynthesised representations, not an unsynthesised thing itself.

Ms Greer does not explain though why she did not write that art "stands out" from the manifold. We know why. Ms Greer thinks it clever to write "clever" and is unaware, sadly both for her and for anyone who struggles through her turgid prose, that it is cleverer by far to write so that readers may easily understand you.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Dissonance

What do you do when someone who you think has a clue says something about your work that doesn't fit?

You cannot dismiss it out of hand. You know that they are not a run-of-the-mill reader, and their impression counts for something. If you did not rate them at all, you could simply ignore what they said, and insist on your own view.

But what they said is so wrong. It is so at odds with what others have said. But others do not have their ability to understand writing, so you have to allow that to tip the scales. More importantly, you do not recognise it as a valid criticism, and you're objective enough to be able to.

My novel is flawed. It has problems with the narrative thread in the first half and it's too rushed in the second half. It should be somewhere between the two: a little stronger in the first half, toned down a bit in the second. If this reader had said that he struggled to keep reading because of lack of narrative drive, I could understand. He likes conventional structures, so the failure of focus might have annoyed him. The first half is episodic, and there is no strong thematic link between the episodes. Another criticism I have had is that the book as a whole lacks thematically (that wasn't how the critic put it but it's how I interpret what they said), with too many possible themes opened and not enough spun out into more substantial material. That seems a valid criticism.

(Reading this, you should understand that I mean this is a valid criticism if you set very high standards for your writing. I think most people would be absolutely delighted to have written something as good as I have. I can imagine some thinking, aha, he thinks he's so shit hot, yet he's written something awful. I haven't. It's not perfect, that's all, and I'm hard to convince of the value of aiming for less.)

But he said it was boring. Not boring for him; not dissatisfying for him personally. But boring. (I am leaving out of my consideration of this that he was absolutely fucking delighted that he found it boring, because it allowed him to think of me as fallible. I suppose I was surprised he felt that but I'm used to it: there are plenty of people who enjoy it when I fuck up; I set myself up for it, so I don't mind that they have a small moment of joy at my expense.)

But it's not boring. I doubt a single other person will ever say it is. I cannot reconcile that view with my own.

What do you do in that circumstance? Some people, faced with a dissonance of this sort, will get angry towards the reviewer. They do not know where to turn with that person, what they can say, how they can discuss the work or any other piece of writing with them. To resolve the dissonance, they change their view of the other person, to make it possible for the dissonant view, given their other ideas about the person. It's similar to the situation in which I found myself with K. We had a misunderstanding, which created a dissonance for her. She was in the wrong -- there is no question of that, we both know it -- but because of her circumstances at that time, she could not say so or back down. The only way she could feel good about how she had behaved was to create out of me a person who deserved it. (I was also in the wrong, but she escalated the conflict so rapidly that I couldn't do anything to express that. Which I do. I know I can be a twat when the devil is at the wheel, but I can also de-twat given the chance.)

Well, I won't be contorting my view of him so that I can think he's a fuckhead for not liking my book. I realise that most of the dissonance lies in my disappointment, not so much that there is someone who doesn't like my work (although we all feel that, regardless how little we rate the disliker) but that we cannot discuss it seriously, and cannot discuss other work either. This is how I am dealing with the dissonance: thinking out loud and making it make sense one way or the other, if I can. It beats yelling at someone that they are a cunt, even if it does mean accepting that you cannot entirely understand or resolve everything.