Friday, March 20, 2009


click click click goes my hard drive

it is three days old. i suppose it is more than three days old because it was built some months ago, but that is how long i have had it. three days before it showed signs of being broken.

the last hard drive i had, it just stopped. just gave up being. how else to explain it? i didn't drop it or hurt it in any way. just one morning, it stopped showing up for work. i am going to send it back to Seagate (it's Maxtor, but they are Seagate, see?).

i have to pay to return it. that sucks. there is no such thing as service, unless you pay for it. that's our world.

but i have to say, cbk_usa do the right thing. i bought an adapter for my wife's laptop. they sent the wrong one. not just a bit wrong. not even close. they are replacing it. no need to return (not worth it for them to pay the postage). no fuss. this is a good business.

what happened to us that the smallest of convenience to us is enough to make us think a company good? what happened to a world in which we made products that we were proud of?

was it Henry Ford, creating cars with parts he knew would go wrong? was it those fools with their "critical paths", "quality assurance" that assures no quality but what you can get away with?


i am feeling out of sorts. i stink of menthol because i have been applying dencorub to my back. i have some advice for you. make sure you wash your hands carefully before going to the toilet after applying dencorub, unless you particularly enjoy the sensation of someone's setting fire to your cock.

but worse, i have been feeling that it's pointless. i cannot resign myself to failure. and that's what it is, isn't it? it's not a catastrophe, as you might think. you fail by ounces and then have a burden of stones to carry around with you.

our friend boots prescribes dropping that burden, but how can i? i cannot cease to be who i am because that is not something i control.

none of it is. this is the truth about the human condition. we are condemned to imprisonment for crimes we did not commit, could not commit, had no knowledge of how they were committed.

i have been feeling that i am too far down the road to turn onto one i like better. i am sick of it. i need a new job but there are no new jobs. i need hope but i am hopeless. i have never before felt like drowning myself in the bath, but right now i am glad that i am over 6foot and the bath is barely 5andahalf.

i have become convinced that i am the kind of person whose hard drive goes click after three days and i don't know why i am or how i came to be it, but i am. i was thinking, when i was playing poker the other day, what if i really am just unlucky?

how else can you explain it? i'm smart, and i've studied it hard. i've learnt a lot, and i know that i have an edge. or should have one. but i don't. and all of life is like that. the only edge i have is that i can pay to play the game. it's like, yeah, you're english, you're privileged to this or that extent, but that's just enough to get you into the game.

the rest of it is just getting kicked in the nuts. over and over until you are either able to tell yourself you like your nuts being crushed or you go crazy with the endless pain.

i have been crazy for so long that you'd think that my nuts would stop hurting.


i realise that in so many ways all i need to do is let go. it's only bitterness that is dragging me down. i have a self that is not bitter. i know, i've seen it so many times, like those phantoms at the edge of vision.

so i am letting go. that's it. thanks for reading. bye.

Taibbi on the financial meltdown

Excellent article by Matt Taibbi. It's not the whole story but it should give the flavour.

The amazing thing about AIG was that it was the counterpary in all those big CDS deals because it was rock solid. Yet making the deals undermined that solidity to the point that there was nothing left. Unfortunately, Cassano will not go to jail for destroying the American economy, because Wall Street bought the law, and he did nothing illegal.

You Americans don't have a democracy. You have a choice of two business parties. It's a bit like having a choice of which guy rapes you. Both promise that the other one is really the rapist, but whichever you choose, three months in, yet again, there's a hot cock in your arse. Until (and that "until", I recognise, has the connotation "this will never happen") you stop allowing people to buy political power, stop making elections beauty contests and stop swimming in a sea of propaganda, you're stuck with it. Welcome to slavery, land of the free.

Go, Galt, go

The big thing on the right at the moment is the idea of "going Galt". The wealthy are urged to do a "work slowdown", so that the rest of us suffer. Apparently, we don't create any wealth, so we're fucked without the rich.

Erm, yeah. Here's my suggestion. Go Galt, and go Galt quickly. The wealthy, far from being wealth creators, are wealth sponges. See this for a brief explanation of how the American economy has been working. It's a simplification but has it never occurred to you that it's odd that in an era of enormous corporate profits and spectacular productivity gains, you're no richer?

We create what wealth there is. Yes, you need capital investment to provide the basis for wealth creation. No one denies that. (We might deny that that capital needs to be privately held.) At the very least, you cannot build a car without an input of metal, plastic and, hang on, let's not forget, last and least, labour. And even if we did away with money, metal and plastic are scarce resources (as is skilled labour, of course) that need to be apportioned somehow.

Ayn Rand was profoundly stupid. Anyone who doesn't think so is someone not worth listening to, period. Rand wrote manifestos for the greedy, not philosophy, and only those who want to rape the world guilt-free would even bother with her unreadable shit.

I'd particularly like to see the Galts in the finance industry fuck off to their gulch. It's not like you couldn't find dozens of people to fill each spot. Yeah, you have to be smart to be an analyst, but you know what? There are lots of people smart enough. Most of us simply didn't choose to do it, mostly because a world of arseholes obsessed with money and consumption lacked appeal. You know why all these firms are busto? Because the people working for them had one end: make big bonuses. And they made those bonuses by doing business. Not necessarily making profits, but putting business on the books of their firms.

Yah, they got the business all right. More business than they can now handle. And we are paying for it. All those helicopters, all that shampoo, all the coke--you, me, our kids, their kids are going to pay for it. And we're going to do it by our labour, creating wealth that they have already spent.

You know what I would do, if I had the means? I would say, fuck you all. We set it all to zero and we share it all out. If you really are an "innovator", if what you do really is hard work, you won't suffer with a level playing field. Let's see who are the Galts when you don't begin with a headstart. And you know, in my world, you won't get to play casino with the proceeds of our labour, because we will be getting those ourselves. I'll give up welfare, but you give up sponging off me. This is what equity looks like. No wonder the Galts, who claim to be all for it, do not want a bar of it.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

There should be a law against it.

Here's how it works. You make a packet by making loans to people who can't pay them back, but you don't care, because you get paid a bonus that's based on business written.

Then when your bank is bust, you form a new company to buy up the loans that people like you made to people who can't pay them back. But hey! They can pay a little bit, so someone has to squeeze the last bit of juice out, right?

"It is sort of like the arsonist who sets fire to the house and then buys up the charred remains and resells it."

This is all legal. Which should tell you something about who the laws are for.

More money please, Ben

The US is now printing money. The Chinese aren't going to like it.

Those who don't think the financial crisis is all that bad have just had a wakeup call. It's bad enough that the world's biggest economy is printing money. Buy cans; hoard gold.

The truth about Gitmo

"It did not matter if a detainee were innocent."

War crimes trials. Now. What are we waiting for?


If all we had done was arrested whole villages, questioned everybody, then released them, well, that's a breach of human rights, but it's not that severe, and I think in the circumstances it would be something we could forgive. But we are not talking about that. We are talking about abducting people we knew to be innocent, detaining them for many years (and we don't need to add "without charge", because we knew they were innocent and had done nothing we could charge them with) and torturing them. This is not a policy aimed at stopping dangerous men from hurting us, as is claimed, and it's a claim that has huge emotional appeal, so that however criminal our actions, there is a bedrock of expediency and somewhat justified fear that would underly the wrongdoing. This is something way beyond that.

Imagine. Someone comes and snatches you from your bed, takes you away from your family for years, tortures you, breaks your mind, does not inform your family or anyone you know of your whereabouts, refuses you the barest of human rights, and all because you live where you live.

We should be burning the place down to get to the men who did this. They need a long spell in jail to reflect on what they have done. We can never claim again to be ruled by law if we do not rectify this.

The truth about Gitmo

"It did not matter if a detainee were innocent."

War crimes trials. Now. What the fuck are we waiting for?


If all we had done was arrested whole villages, questioned everybody, then released them, well, that's a breach of human rights, but it's not that severe, and I think in the circumstances it would be something we could forgive. But we are not talking about that. We are talking about abducting people we knew to be innocent, detaining them for many years (and we don't need to add "without charge", because we knew they were innocent and had done nothing we could charge them with) and torturing them. This is not a policy aimed at stopping dangerous men from hurting us, as is claimed, and it's a claim that has huge emotional appeal, so that however criminal our actions, there is a bedrock of expediency and somewhat justified fear that would underly the wrongdoing. This is something way beyond that.

Imagine. Someone comes and snatches you from your bed, takes you away from your family for years, tortures you, breaks your mind, does not inform your family or anyone you know of your whereabouts, refuses you the barest of human rights, and all because you live where you live.

We should be burning the place down to get to the men who did this. They need a long spell in jail to reflect on what they have done. We can never claim again to be ruled by law if we do not rectify this.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Abstinence is better than cure

Condoms make AIDS crisis worse?

Add one to my list of religious leaders who need to be repeatedly punched in the face until they shut the fuck up about anything except the fairy story they believe in. Actually, that's a pretty long list. I have been reading a book about Al Qaeda, in which I noted that one "alim" had issued a fatwa explaining why it was fine to murder women and children in the name of Allah. About that, I'd like to point something out. Allah is supposed to be super powerful, right? So he can arrange things however he chooses. He doesn't need nutters to blow up the rest of us because he disapproves of us. He can do it for himself if he chooses. This never seems to occur to the slightly hard of thinking bin Ladens of this world.

Yes, you read that right. I'm saying that your bin Laden must be a bit thick if he at the same time believes his god is all powerful but needs a bunch of slightly dim beardo weirdos to blow the fuck out of civilians for him. Dude, he can smite us himself if he wants us smote. Our continuing unsmitedness must speak to his not wanting us smitten. Amirite?

Well, either that or there is no Allah. Yeah, I know, shocking blasphemy, sacrilege, lack of respect for the views of billions of people. But here's the thing. I don't respect the views of people who believe in astrology because their views are nonsense. I don't respect the views of people who think that stones have spirits because, erm, they don't. Are you seeing it? Just because you slap "religion" onto whatever bullshit you come up with doesn't mean you should have that bullshit respected.

Still, I LOL'd at this comment on the Comment is free site:
Ah, sexual health advice from an aged celibate virgin.

And there's the problem. These people need to join us in the fucking real world. Their fantasies kill. I mean, yeah, it's true that the only way to ensure you don't get AIDS through sexual contact is to not have any sexual contact, but get real, dude. It would be equally true to say the only way to ensure that you become thin is to sew your mouth shut so you can't eat anything, or the only way to ensure that you don't have a car accident is never to go anywhere in a car. Or that the only way the Pope is not going to say anything deeply stupid is if the old fool just keeps his fucking mouth shut until Jeebus takes him to his cloud.

Monday, March 16, 2009

The curse of Zen: 1car1 busto?

This is why you don't fuck with Dr Zen.

Regular readers will be aware that 1car1 basically committed highway robbery on my credit card after my sister grazed the back bumper of the car we hired from them. The thieving bastards presented an invoice that just coincidentally came to slightly more than 500 quid. This was for damage that anyone close to sane would consider fixable for maybe a hundred or thereabouts.

Now 1car1 says that its banks have changed their lending policy, leaving it high and dry, on the brink of collapse.

Well, tough shit. I feel a little bit sorry for the staff who may lose their jobs (although not much: the staff at Brighton were cunts who might do well to reflect on whether assuming your job is safe and therefore you don't have to bother giving good service was a good way to think). But on the whole, I'd be delighted to see these thieves put out of business. Dudes, that agreement with the bank was all legal and shit. You can't complain.

On legalisation

Luckily, not all newspapers push easy orthodoxies. I suppose one should expect the Economist to be somewhat libertarian, but its stand on drug legalisation is principled and well argued. The antis only have hysteria and scares to oppose to this, because it simply isn't rational to criminalise drugs (and wouldn't be, even if every lie New Labour tells about them were true).

I'm now going to make a strong statement, which I believe to be correct although I couldn't prove it (and what evidence would seem to prove me wrong, but bear with me). If it was realistic to criminalise homosexuality, and the criminalisation of it would occur if a referendum found a bare majority in favour, homosexuality would be criminalised in the US and the UK, at least.

So why isn't it? Well, because we accept that people's views can be wrong, and even unworthy of respect, and should not necessarily prevail, even when the views of the majority, if they are harmful to a defined minority. Yet the views of some, maybe a majority, maybe not, are not just allowed to prevail on the subject of drugs, but are permitted to provide a framework within which to punish others severely, and furthermore, to destroy lives, families, other countries. And why? Just because that group of people thinks that others should only have types of fun it prescribes. In the UK, drug policy has become ridiculous. The government consults scientists on the question whether drugs should be prohibited or classified as dangerous. The scientists say no, which is not what the government (who can fairly be described as po-faced wowsers of the worst kind) wants to hear. So it ignores the science and goes with hysterical, irrational bullshit about "sending signals" to youngsters.

I don't mind that Gordon Broon and Jacqui Smith are fucking idiots. What I mind is that they have access to coercive power that they can use to impose their idiocy on me. It is ridiculous, in "free" countries, that we can be jailed for smoking herb just because the Broons and Smiths of this world do not think we should smoke it. There is no other basis for their stance, bar of course that the Daily Mail, the definition of the empty vessel in journalism, will slam them if they show any sign of a sane approach to drug policy.

The only way it's going to change is if the UN drops its demented desire to have a drugs-free world and accepts that we are going to continue smoking herb no matter what it does. Well, I am. Can't speak for everyone else, obv.

Play on this, suckers

The BBC refuses to run Caryl Churchill's new play on the grounds of its being critical of Israel.

Oh no. It says here, on grounds of "impartiality". WTF? It would be difficult, they say, to find a play with the opposite viewpoint. Well guys, just try your news coverage. HTH.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Run for your lives, there's reefer in that ciggie

The thing is, if you are going to try to invent a new reefer madness scare, it's a really bad idea to quote fantasy reports from one of the previous ones. Of course a report to Nixon said:

Seldom in the nation's history has there been a phenomenon more divisive, more misunderstood, more fraught with impact on family, personal, and community relationships than the marihuana phenomenon.

Nixon wanted to pander to his conservative base. What drove the Observer to the same sort of fabrication is beyond me. But the report is irresponsible. Teenage boys waste their days away smoking dope? This is news? The report quotes some guy from Drugscope, which has a strong interest in creating drug scares (it should go without saying why antidrugs charities would want drug scares to be blown up) and some lunatic Tory MP who claims to have met "many" families that have been devastated by MJ.

Yeah right. That's credible. But this is what happens. A bunch of people with an agenda fabricate a story out of anecdotes and plain invention, and then push it in the press. A willing hack writes a distorted, evidence-free, onesided piece of shit, and another plank is laid in the wowser's body of work. It must be true because the Observer says so, right? I know, ridiculous, but remember, there are people in this world gullible enough, or cynical enough, to claim that newspapers are good sources of knowledge. Wikipedia, you should note, thinks that newspapers like the Observer are "reputable sources". But this sort of shit is very lightly edited, and of course there is no factchecking, on account of the piece not including any facts.


Here are the facts though:
The level of marijuana use is no higher than it was 20 years ago.
Although there are some forms of skunk available that are stronger than your dad's puff, the average strength of MJ has not risen.
There is no causative link between MJ and mental illness, although some studies have suggested a correlation. (Even if it were fact that MJ caused mental illness in the susceptible, which is the strongest claim you could even hope to stand up on the evidence, it would not be reasonable to prohibit MJ on that basis, any more than it would be reasonable to ban peanuts because some people react badly to it.)
Several studies have suggested that marijuana is much less harmful than legal and readily available drugs. (I say suggested, but of course some studies have very strongly stated that this is the case. It remains ridiculous to prohibit marijuana but allow alcohol consumption.)
Marijuana is not addictive. Even heavy smokers can go cold turkey without suffering withdrawal symptoms.

My view remains, of course, that the government has no right at all to prevent us from using the drugs of our choice, and it should focus its energies on harm minimisation and reducing incentives to take drugs. Ultimately, if your teen is smoking so much ganj that they can't get it together to do anything constructive, maybe you need to look at the alternatives you provided them in the first place.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Material things

I am going to set myself some goals, which are basically things I want. I intend to get them too. I realise I should have aimed at this when I was 22, not *mumblety-mumble*, but fuck it, anyway.

They are, in order of difficulty:
1/ A cottage by the sea with a pear tree in the back yard.
2/ A published book.
3/ A laptop suitable for making music with and top of the range software to do it with.

I want the first because I have always lived in horrible places and I want to live somewhere I can make nice. I am a restless soul, never satisfied, but I want to be satisfied.
I want the second because I will always feel I wasted my life if I don't "achieve" something. I do not care that that is philosophically unjustifiable. It's how I feel. Since when did feeling have a damned thing to do with philosophy.
I want the third because I love making music and I've never had the equipment to do it properly.

The first will cost about half a mill.
The second will cost a lot of effort.
The third will cost, hmmm, dunno, 3K quid maybe? We're talking a top-end lappy with a top-end soundcard, equipment for recording music and so on. I don't even know what I'd need exactly (suggestions welcome--and thanks, but "a good hard kick in the teeth" might be something you think I need, but it won't make for a slammin' track, will it?).

Yeah, I know, one's goals should be "create a socialist utopia" or "help create world peace" and not material things, but I want happiness as much as fulfilment. Not that I believe that happiness is an outcome of gaining material goods (the opposite is probably truer) but I want the life I want, and don't see why I have to apologise for it, or dissect that wanting to the degree that I become hateful to myself.

And yah, I know that prozac would probably work faster.

On work, and the lack of it

I can't even think about work without whining. The biggest obstacle I see now to managing my return to the UK is work. It's no one's fault but my own. I "chose" (for which, read "drifted into") a "career" (for which, read "string of boring, unfulfilling but basically easy jobs") in a "profession" (for which, read "pile of arseholes") that has lost its value in our money-oriented world, did not put any real effort into doing it, or more importantly, into networking, greasing and arsekissing, and now cannot find enough of the tedious bullshit I do each day to make it possible to go home any time soon (for which, read "when I have so much money that even Mrs Zen can't claim we don't have enough to move").

It's not that I'm choosy. Far from it. I'm currently "authoring" (for which, read "writing my blog instead of authoring") a course that I have to present as a soulless, lifeless piece of adminshite, and editing a "book" (for which, read "turgid, badly structured, horrendously written heap of cock") on human resources, in which the "author" (for which, read "clown") is trying to break the record for meaningless jargon and succeeding admirably. This I have to do to a deadline that requires late nights and working at the weekends, because this is a form of publishing that turns round books without regard to sanity.

It's not even that I don't try. I write to people and ask them for work. I wrote to every publishing firm in Brisbane, everyone even vaguely connected with publishing, and not even one replied. That's right. They didn't even write to say "fuck off". I sent my CV to an English firm that was looking for freelances. They replied once, but when I followed up, I presumably ended up in their spam, because I never heard again. Another was advertising a job that was uncannily similar to the one I last had in the UK, down to the form of finance it concerned, which few people have experience in, so I was what you might consider the perfect candidate. No reply. And yeah, I'll write to every agency, every publishing house, everybody who might give me work, but I know already that the outcome will be, well, the dole.

I had five clients two years ago. One sacked me when they took the work back in house. Fair enough. The next "restructured", and did the work out of their Sydney office, which meant more work for Sydney's freelances and none at all for me. Another simply stopped bothering to answer emails. This is a company that, when it hired me, did so on the basis that I was becoming a full-time employee! I'm not kidding. For two years, I worked more than a hundred hours a month for these people, but when things changed, they didn't tell me. They just didn't invite me to the Christmas party and hoped I'd get the message. When I wrote to ask what the fuck was going on, some guy wrote back and said they'd hired a bunch of "interns" to cut costs. I heard through the grapevine that the message had come down the corporate chain that the firm could rest on its laurels for quality and no longer needed actually bother producing it. Such is capitalist short-termism. The fourth client was a subsidiary of the third, which incorporated it, so same story, I guess, although no one bothered telling me they weren't using me any more. This is how business is done in publishing. The fifth I still work for, but intermittently, so I can't count on it.

Now I know there are other things I can do. But they are all in very crowded markets, and it's all very well saying, why not write? But what can I write about? I don't know a fucking thing about anything, at least not beyond an inch deep. And the market is saturated with fools who don't know a thing. I don't have the time or energy to indulge in what is no more than playing writers' roulette. And temperamentally, I am not hardnosed enough for it. I take rejection too personally and, even though my head says it doesn't matter, try telling my heart.

Meanwhile, the job I do have is terrible. I hate authoring. It sounds like something that should be okay, but it's basically a game of trying to figure out what will please my boss, not something that you do to objective standards. But try telling her that. Or anything at all. She's done well in her business, so she has no concept that there could be any other way of doing things, or that any other perspective than hers could have merit. She is mostly inadvertently a terrible boss. Last year, she took a project from me and gave it to someone else without telling me. She didn't explain what she thought I had done wrong; she still hasn't. Apparently, this other woman had "customer service experience" so was an expert on customer service. Yeah okay, but how come the course she wrote was just the same old shit then? It was entirely fucking nonsense, and I was aggrieved that my fresher approach was canned. But more aggrieved, all in all, that she hadn't thought to tell me that she was canning it. Meanwhile, she hired a bunch of new staff, some overlapping with what I do, and this is now the fourth month running that she has not been able to fulfil the hours we agreed in our contract.

Worse, she asks for "feedback" but doesn't actually want any. I don't have the sense just to keep quiet, and end up defending my work. "Why do you take it personally?" she says. Well, how about this? The other day, I asked her for more work, having run out. She says, I have something but I'm not sure you're able to do it. What? I say. If I'm not able to, no one is able to. This isn't the first time she's insulted me like this. Why care? Because the editing portion of my job has dwindled a lot and she says when I go to the UK, she sees the authoring becoming difficult (because I won't understand Australia any more, apparently; as though I would be doing anything different: I don't read Australian newspapers or watch TV, and I rarely speak to anyone Australian about Australian things, because most Brisbaneites are not interested in anything beyond their own front door).

So blah blah blah. That's what I've been thinking about the past two or three days, to the exclusion of everything else. So boring. My whole life I've staggered from one way of making money to another. Yeah, I do regret not having something more structured, because for all the conventionality that I despise, the rewards would be worth it. This is the outcome of being talented enough to despise your talents, or of never bothering to find, or not being led to find, a vocation, or perhaps simply of having ideas and no capacity to live them. I dunno. Whichever, it sucks.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Why there will never be a just peace in Palestine

Likud's 1999 election platform.
The Government of Israel flatly rejects the establishment of a Palestinian Arab state west of the Jordan river.

Note that the lie Israel uses to justify its refusal to recognise Hamas is that Hamas will not recognise the Israeli state. Note also the lie that Zionists tell over and over, that the Palestinians have stood in the way of peace because of their rejectionism. Hasbara is a powerful tool: few in the West would be aware that Likud not only has no intention ever to comply with its obligations on settlements, but stands for election on the basis that it won't.

When I was reading this, I kept hoping it was a parody, or an antisemitic invention. But no. This is what they stood for. I couldn't find anything on the web to suggest they have changed their platform. Indeed, Knesset member Uzi Landau says:

I am against the establishment of a Palestinian state and everything must be done to prevent it.


Meanwhile, in the States, a critic of American policy on Israel, Chas Freeman, was chased out of his new post as a spy chief. Why? Because he would oversee intelligence on the Middle East, and Israel is desperate for the States to agree that Iran could build nukes. Which it can't, of course, but Israel doesn't care. It is itching to bomb Iran and if it has to invent an excuse to do it, it will.

Why would Israel want to bomb Iran? All sorts of reasons, of which a vanishingly small one is fear of Iran.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Empires come, empires go

Afghanistan looks set to be the graveyard of the Obama presidency. It's all very well blathering that Al Qaida is growing and we have to fight it, but the reason it is growing is that we are fighting it.

The world houses many trained Islamic militants, able to take part in sophisticated missions, partly because they have been given real-world training for the past 30 years, first against the Russians, then against America and its allies.

Curiously, Afghanistan is still a complete fucking mess. And no resolution really appeals. Leave, and let the place become an Islamist hellhole in which women and other "minorities" suffer, giving Islamists a country to site bases in, periodically requiring us to feel we have to bomb the place to bits? Stay, and fight an endless, unwinnable war against an idea?

Because that's what it is and why it can't be defeated with guns. It really isn't going to be resolved by throwing more troops at it. We can't "stabilise" the place and then leave and everyone will live happily ever after, because we may kill thousands of Afghans, but we won't kill the ideology that impels the militants. We may or may not get the pipeline we wanted, but we will need to intervene over and over to keep it safe, because the resentment that we have engendered won't go away just because we bomb it.

In any case, one can hope that Biden is the stick and Obama the carrot. Obama is too smart to believe there is any such thing as a "moderate" Taliban (he means "Taliban who can be bribed to stop fighting", not "Taliban who do not hold extreme views"), but he recognises that walking away from Afghanistan with something approaching a unity government in place will allow us to throw our hands up and say that it's not our fault when the Afghans return to fighting a civil war (if they actually stop) when we are gone.

Maybe, ultimately, the best course really will be just to get out and let them sort it out for themselves. It's amazing how often this really is the right approach. We can manage the outcomes without using military force, because Afghanistan needs trade in other goods than drugs, and it needs aid.

Some bits

UN drug policy a failure. Well, what do you expect, when you have the hubris to make your target a "drugs-free world"? Erm, what?

Let's be clear about something also. People's lives are very rarely "destroyed" by drugs. Mostly, they are taking drugs because their lives are already destroyed. You don't fix that by trying to stop drugs from existing. You stop it by trying to stop lives from being destroyed.


LOL. Detox is just the new aromatherapy. If people were well educated, we could just consider it harmless bollocks. But it's a bit more harmful than not at all because of the risk that people replace real medicine with it. Statins just might save your life; dandelions will not.


Guns don't kill people but they sure do make it easy. I wonder whether there are more of these killings in a recession. Does a general sense of gloom increase the individual's sense of hopelessness? We all worry that if we have a job, we'll lose it, and if we don't, we won't get one, don't we? So that even if we haven't been affected particularly badly by the recession, we're aware that we could be.


I never tire of looking at pictures of the universe. How tiny we are. How small our existence.

Shame of our age

For shame! To be a citizen of a dirty, squalid nation, of a nation that tortures those who believe it will protect them.

None of these people will ever be punished. Not Blair, not Brown, not Bush, not Cheney, nor any of the underlings who did their bidding, making our nations torture states, pariahs. That is a greater shame than what we have done.

Thursday, March 05, 2009


I have a better idea for a new motto for the US:
Fuck that, make someone else pay

I'll take my prize in gold, thanks.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Yo mama

Yes, let's applaud women who can be as shit as men. Here's Madonna with a toyboy, who absolutely loves her and not the idea that she is a ticket to fame.

It's not that an ageing rich woman has snagged a younger man. Madonna's a goodlooking woman, not just for her age, but for any age, so fair dos. It's that the Guardian's airheaded "fashion correspondent" (was there ever a job with less value in this world?) thinks we should cheer because it's "one in the eye" for the likes of Bryan Ferry. Yah, because life is all about one-upping the other sex, you soft twat.

Quick, put O levels in the memory hole

What struck me in this story about how private schools are abandoning the GCSE because New Labour have dumbed it down to the point of uselessness was that the regulator of qualifications is called Ofqual.

Orwell is spinning in his grave. The regulator whose business is to make sure kids are unqualified is the regulator of qualifications, and the solid, traditional name "Office of the Qualifications and Examinations Regulator" is just too much for modern Airstrip One, so we have Ofqual.

Guys, 1984 was fiction, not a blueprint.

Monday, March 02, 2009

On meditating

When I was a child, my mind freshly awakened to the scope and power of imagination, I believed that it was possible to set your mind outside the universe, to transcend it, and by doing so, to imagine all possibilities, with the notion that I could imagine more from the outside than I ever could from within. Sometimes, in my early teens, I had seen shapes in the periphery of my vision, fleeting motions that seemed to coalesce into images. Then I did not feel that they were simply outcomes of my brain's misinterpreting the movements of my eyes or head, but that they were ghosts, not so much of people who had passed (although I was agnostic then about an afterlife, and, to tell the truth, about a lot more besides), but of worlds that exist if only. Strangely, I can now believe (I say can, because I don't know that I do, but I know I could) that the multiverse expresses those if onlys, and less plausibly I could accept that consciousness is not entirely restricted to what there is. Nowadays, the world I believe I can experience has shrunk and ossified, and I know my mental life is poorer for it.

Because I did not know a method to transcend the universe, but I recognised, as of course many others have done before me, that what bound me to this world was the chatter of thoughts, I tried to free myself, in a structured way, from at least part of that which chained me. In particular, I focused on focus. In other words, I tried not to see the world, but to look beyond it. The technique I used was to fix the focus of my eyes by staring at a point, and then, once I was satisifed that I had fixed it, to look past that point without refocusing. To the bystander, this looks a lot like staring vacantly into space. My mother would sometimes comment on it, how I would "sit around thinking" for hours on end. But some of the time, I was not thinking at all. I was trying to reach beyond thought.

It wasn't for some years after that that I came across eastern religion, and understood that I had been practising a zen of my own. I owned my own terminology, but I was doing what a student of Zen does: seeking to still the mind. Because I am contrary, I had by then stopped practising it, and had stopped believing that you could transcend the mundane. I still had a sense of spirituality, which I lack today of course, but it had different substance.

But I was interested in the benefits of eastern religion, if not convinced of its tenets (or all of its tenets, I should say, because I do believe that the eastern tradition has the world mostly figured out, and has been confirmed to an astonishing degree by science; of course, I do not necessarily believe that its practitioners had special insight into how the world really is--they may simply have made lucky guesses, and in any case, a lot of what they believed is fairly obvious if you analyse the world fairly strictly, without admitting too much metaphysics). So, particularly when I turned 30, and made quite considerable changes in what you might call my mental map of the world (which it pains me to admit I have allowed to slip away, so that I am now back where I was in my late 20s, but with added weariness), I taught myself to meditate.

I used several methods. A favourite was candle meditation. To do this is simple. You light a candle and sit and gaze at the flame. At first, the flame is suggestive. You can conjure up images, make a picture show from it, but after a while, if you focus (and I was, thanks to my juvenile training, good at focusing), the flame ceased to provoke meaning, and became simply a flame, twisting in the draught.

Why bother?

In your day to day, you are barely capable of thinking coherently, if you think at all. You may have many thoughts, but they chase each other in endless spirals, and you cannot conclude anything. You may seek to impose pattern on this chattering mess of thought, but it isn't easy, and if you succeed, it is like putting a stick into a whirlpool. Making it stop destroys it, making even the pattern decohere. But if you can stop the whirling, make your mind still water, with scarcely a ripple upon it, you are open to be struck by the truth.

I say the truth. I mean, a truth, a sort of truth. I would say understanding but understanding requires interpretation, and when meditating you are too focused to interpret anything. You have to swallow raw what is, I almost said revealed to you, but really, because there is nothing and no one to reveal anything to you, it is the right concept but the wrong word. It seems achingly pretentious to say that the universe reveals itself to you. It's more the case that a deeper thought, a pure thought, reveals itself to you, an insight.

In time, with practice, you no longer need the candle. You are able to conjure the image and maintain it without any effort, and can fairly quickly reach a point of relative stillness.

Having meditated, I found that once my focus dissolved, I would open floodgates of imagination, and visualise stories, characters, worlds that were new to me. I did not do it for the sake of creativity, or imagination, but it was a powerful offshoot.

Given its power and benefits to me, why would I have stopped meditating? It's complicated. Partly it was to do with a change in philosophy, a focus on the worldly; partly it was lack of time--or the perception that I lacked time, because certainly I had plenty of time to waste; partly it was because I found it difficult to rest when I first became a father, and my dream life was disrupted and fractured. I don't know. These seem like the reasons now I think back, but I am not sure. It may simply be that I didn't correctly diagnose what was causing what, or understand what was doing me good and what was not.

I do not know. Should we always know everything about ourselves? It doesn't seem possible that we can, when so much goes on "underneath the bonnet", hidden from inquiry. Or perhaps that is the myth that we rely on to avoid doing good medicine and healing ourselves, because perhaps we are afraid that the healed self will be revealed as void, or simple, or not what we hope it is: indeed, now that I am convinced that the self is all those things, perhaps it is a good time to be healed and become well, and if I vanish in the process, what is lost? No more than the flickering flame, and perhaps much less.