Where There Were No Doors

Follow your bliss and doors will open where there were no doors before - Joseph Campbell

Monday, February 28, 2005

Head above the parapet

The world has gone mad.


I wrote the bulk of this piece a couple of weeks ago but decided against publishing it. The incident in question appeared to die down, and that seemed the best thing for it. But it's flared to life again. And I find myself with words unsaid and a compulsion to say them. It's daunting though. I'm well aware of my feelings on this particular issue. But it's a topic of such sensitivity that my choice of words could end up making me very unpopular.

That's something I find very strange... that despite the fact that I know my views on this subject are entirely decent, still an error in phraseology will brand me little short of evil in the eyes of many people.

Some of you who know me may have already guessed that I'm just about to leap to the defence of incumbent London Mayor, Ken Livingstone. Me? Defend a politician? Surely not! Let's not forget, after all, that since his election as mayor, "Red" Ken (as once he was), has made all manner of decisions that I disapprove of. He's made a hundred compromises and - in my view - shifted noticeably to the right. He's not spoken out on some important issues, not grasped certain opportunities, and been too half-hearted about others.

And yet Ken Livingstone is still one of the handful of politicians on the planet for whom I have genuine respect. He is not a great visionary leader, untouched by the corrupting influence of political power. He's just one of us... a reasonable, decent man. And he's trying to do his best in an impossible job.

I honestly don't believe that a democratic city of 7 million people, and the support systems to maintain it, can be managed without a lot of compromise. There's too many competing interests. Too many different groups to keep happy. And I actually believe (naive fool that I am) that Ken Livingstone is a basically good man who is pained by each compromise. I believe this because of two things. One is that he very often takes positions on issues which are obvious vote losers. The second, and more important of the two, is the fact that I had a ten-minute conversation with him on the platform at Willesden Green tube station after he'd been mayor for about a year.

I put a lot of faith in my ability to assess character when I'm talking to someone. I'm enough of a hippy to use the phrase "getting a vibe" from a person, and I do apologise for that. I get it wrong once in a while, of course. And there's an argument which says that a professional politician is the obvious job for someone who can "fake that vibe". But all the same, I do put a lot of faith in my ability to assess character. I don't expect you to put any faith in my ability to assess character of course. I'm just explaining why I think Ken's a decent man doing his very best. Because that's how he came across to me that day.

And I like a man who speaks his mind. Let's not forget that it was just as Ken Livingstone was pressing to be readmitted to the Labour Party (from which he'd been expelled), that Dubya Bush made his self-styled, so-called "State Visit". Ken could've kept a low profile... not show up to the ceremonial events, but basically kept his trap shut. Nobody would've batted an eyelid.

But no. Ken did pretty much everything he possibly could to embarrass Blair, short of personally mooning Dubya's motorcade. The elected mayor of the capital city of Bush's closest ally, just as the president visited in pomp and ceremony, gave a magazine interview in which he described George Bush as "the greatest threat to life on the planet". Then, on the night of Bush's big banquet at Buckingham Palace, the mayor of London isn't merely absent; he's throwing a banquet of his own at City Hall... in honour of "Everyone Who Is Not George Bush" with guest of honour Ron Kovac, American war veteran and peace activist.

That's fucking style!

But does that really mean I have to leap to his defence now...? Just when he's outraged so many people with his anti-semitic remarks?

That drew you up pretty sharpish, didn't it? See what I did there... I had you warming to the guy, just getting on his side, and then boom! I called him an anti-semite and everything changed. There may of course be good reason for that, if it turned out that he actually was one. But even if he's not... it's all changed anyways. He's been called one, and there are some people who will believe there's no smoke without fire. Especially when it comes to allegations of anti-semitism.

The Board of Deputies of British Jews has lodged a formal complaint to the Committee on Standards in Public Life. It reads:
In making such comments mayor Livingstone demonstrated a gross insensitivity to, and a wilful disregard for, the feelings of appreciable numbers of those he is supposed to represent as holder of the office of Mayor of London, including but not limited to Jews and gays and lesbians in London.
And the London Anti-Semitism Unit presented a petition to City Hall saying that the mayor's comments had shocked them deeply, and urged Livingstone to give a "swift and unequivocal apology".

Now. Before I remind you what it was Livingstone said the other evening, I'm going to provide some context. It's about time we did some historical perspective stuff.

Ken Livingstone has done more than almost any politician I can think of to champion race relations in London. He's renowned for it. His BBC biography describes him as: "a strong supporter of the recognition of gay rights and measures to address inequality faced by women and ethnic minorities." You may well disagree with the way he generally goes about it; but you've got to be in serious denial if you fail to acknowledge his intent is always to further racial harmony in his city. So as far as this particular issue goes, let's just say that Livingstone has a track record that should at the very least earn him the benefit of the doubt.

It's true that recently Livingstone has invited an Islamic cleric to London whom many found objectionable (and who has been guilty of saying objectionable things in the past, I believe). But the idea that he's been doing this specifically to what? Stir up racial hatred in the city he's responsible for policing? That's just silly. The mayor (as seemed obvious to me) was attempting to ameliorate some of the tension building in Muslim areas of the city. The cleric in question clearly has credibility in the eyes of the Islamic population, and appeared willing to work with the mayor in order to defuse tension. Certainly whenever I saw him on the news, he was preaching peaceful coexistence and moderation on all sides.

This message is surely all the more important if it's coming from someone who was once preaching a militant one. Of course it's possible that the mayor screwed up. Perhaps that cleric was holding secret rallies in London mosques preaching Jihad. But to imagine that Ken Livingstone was motivated out of anti-semitism seems to be willfully misunderstanding his intent. Hate his politics if you like, but the man's not a fucking racist.

How's that for context setting?

There's another point that should be made in Ken's defence (seeing how the media is filled with people baying for blood). He has had a long-running feud with a particular newspaper (The Evening Standard) as well as the national paper owned by the same people (The Daily Mail). This feud has gotten quite bitter, with the Mail once offering Ken's ex-wife 50 thousand pounds to "dish the dirt". She, like any decent human being, turned the money down. But anyone who describes the people who made that offer as "decent human beings" is a liar.

So when a reporter from that newspaper hounds him as he leaves a social function (having had a glass of wine or three)...? Well... it wouldn't excuse an anti-semitic comment. But it does excuse running your mouth off at someone you consider to be a lowlife... someone who is harrassing you in exchange for money. Which is all that Ken did.

So what exactly did Ken say? Well, upon being confronted by the hack, Livingstone told him that he was "Just like a German war criminal". The hack responded by telling Ken that he took offence to that because he was jewish (Point 1: There is no reason for a jew to take more offence at that insult than any other person. It insults the person by comparing them to something evil. It is a personal insult and one's race or religion are completely irrelevant as it is making no reference to them). Livingstone then responded by telling the journo that jewish or not, he was still "... just like a concentration camp guard, you are just doing it because you are paid to, aren't you?"

That's it.

And once again, the second insult is just like the first. It is a personal insult. It can be made against anyone regardless of their race or religion. What it is essentially saying is that "your ethics are for sale". That's the essence of the insult. During the recent obscenities at the Abu Ghraib prison, I wrote that the people involved should not find shelter behind the claims that they were "just following orders". I wrote at the time that "The Nuremberg Defence didn't work in the 1940s and it shouldn't work now".

That wasn't saying that the torturers at Abu Ghraib were Nazi officers. And if one of those torturers was jewish and the others gentile, would it make the statement anti-semitic in the case of one individual, but not in the case of others? Or is it anti-semitic to use the phrase "Nuremberg Defence" in relation to any other trial? Or is it just plain anti-semitic to talk about what happened in Europe in the 30s and 40s?

I don't know the answer to these questions. But it seems (due to the involvement of the London Anti-Semitism Unit) that there is an anti-semitic interpretation of the mayor's comments. Rationally that means one or more of the following statements are true:

1. It is anti-semitic to compare anyone to a concentration camp guard. Presumably it is also homophobic, and insulting to gypsies, communists, evangelical christians, the mentally ill and the physically disabled.
2. It is not anti-semitic to compare just anyone to a concentration camp guard, but is anti-semitic to compare a jew to one. This assumes that jewish people are ethically distinct and could never act in that way, despite other people being capable of it.
3. It is anti-semitic to personally insult anyone who is jewish.

Statement 3 is obviously absurd. If some asshole gets drunk in a pub and decides to start a fight, then calling him an asshole doesn't become anti-semitic even if you know that the guy is jewish. Similarly if a jewish reporter is hounding you (or even if they are being perfectly polite, and you're just in a foul mood), calling him an asshole isn't anti-semitic.

Statement 2 is also absurd. What occurred in Europe in the middle of the last century is one of the greatest stains on human history. And I understand that many of the extreme policies of the current State of Israel are as a direct result of that. It doesn't excuse these policies, but it does explain them. A person who has been violently mistreated and tortured in almost unimaginable ways will be psychologically scarred by it. We have learnt to accept the truth of that with regards to individuals... but seem curiously reluctant to discuss it in relation to peoples. Almost certainly it doesn't work the same way with mass psychology as it does with individuals. But it doesn't seem unreasonable to suggest that there's a possibility that the actions of the Jewish state need to be viewed in the context of an extreme case of post-traumatic-stress.

However none of that means that an individual, born jewish, would not be capable of acting in a manner just as evil or inhuman or unethical (whatever word you wish to use) as anyone else. And I obviously don't buy into any of this "Chosen People" bullshit (a philosophy, incidentally, which I find just as abhorent as anti-semitism. Anti-semitism is the belief that people are inferior because of their judaism. Judaism includes the belief that people are inferior because of their lack of same. Both are divisive, arrogant and destructive). Jewish religious beliefs are just as absurd as Christian or Islamic ones, and certainly don't give jewish individuals any ethical superiority over the rest of the people on the planet.

So I say that Statement 2 is absurd because a jew could just as easily be a guard at a concentration camp full of non-jews, as a gentile could be at one filled with jews. Neither religion nor race bestows ethical superiority.

Which brings us to Statement 1. "It is anti-semitic to compare anyone to a concentration camp guard". The theory behind this - if I understand it correctly - is that the holocaust was an entirely unique event. Uniquely evil. And comparing anything at all to it is to trivialise it. Trivialising the holocaust is anti-semitic.

Well, the holocaust was certainly unique. But so is every event.

Is it uniquely evil? Well, I don't think so. I don't believe in the idea of a "uniquely evil" event. What happened in Nazi Germany must never be allowed to occur again. But there are many attrocities which share that. A huge number of people were killed; but surely once you get above a few thousand you've pretty much blackened your soul. The millions killed by the Nazis are no more dead than millions killed elsewhere. I'm not sure it's helpful to define evil by the numbers involved.

The Nazis were attempting to wipe out a whole race, and entire culture. Well, again, that intent has been there sadly on many occasions. The desire to destroy "The Other" isn't just restricted to anti-semitic hatred of jews. History is littered with it.

But what about the manner in which it was done? And there, finally, is a point. The industrial genocide which occurred in fascist Germany was the first (and we can only hope, last) example of its kind. There is a possibility that the method used by the Nazis has left a unique psychological scar on the collective consciousness of the jewish people. But I just can't see why that makes it ethically any different. Is the savage slaying of millions in genocidal conflicts in Africa somehow less evil than the murder of millions of jews in Europe, just because of the methods used?

Well. I don't think so.

I think that a peculiar sort of political correctness is coalescing around the holocaust. I fear that very soon all discussion of it outside a narrowly defined prescribed context will be impossible. There are those who insist that the holocaust needs to be remembered. That we must learn from those events, and never forget them lest that leads to a recurrence.

Yet nothing could do a greater disservice to that goal than the insistence upon a single "official" version of events. A single, reverential context in which to discuss it. And a single strict script with which we may speak on the issue. It is precisely that attitude which leads to a backlash of holocaust-denial, and historical revisionism.

I don't believe that Ken Livingstone should apologise to the Daily Mail or the Evening Standard. They're both entirely dishonourable publications. The willingness to pay someone thousands of pounds to betray the confidence of their ex-spouse is sickening. It's how the scum of the earth operate.

I don't believe that Ken Livingstone should apologise to the reporter in question. He claims to have been personally offended by the remarks, but has clearly milked the exchange for every drop of publicity and anti-Livingstone political spin. Yes I'm being cynical, but I'm gonna say that the guy is a typical opportunist hack who will only merit the respect of his fellow human beings when he stops working for the scum of the earth.

And I believe that The Board of Deputies of British Jews and the London Anti-Semitism Unit should both apologise publicly to Ken Livingstone for making these deeply unpleasant and completely unfounded allegations of anti-semitism.
Full post...

Friday, February 25, 2005

Brian Sedgemore MP (last speech to the house)

Brian Sedgemore is Labour MP for Hackney South & Shoreditch, but will be retiring at the forthcoming election. Based on this speech, his retirement will be something of a shame...
As this will almost certainly be my last speech in Parliament, I shall try hard not to upset anyone. However, our debate here tonight is a grim reminder of how the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary are betraying some of Labour's most cherished beliefs. Not content with tossing aside the ideas and ideals that inspire and inform ideology, they seem to be giving up on values too. Liberty, without which democracy has no meaning, and the rule of law, without which state power cannot be contained, look to Parliament for their protection, but this Parliament, sad to say, is failing the nation badly. It is not just the Government but Back-Bench Members who are to blame. It seems that in situations such as this, politics become incompatible with conscience, principle, decency and self-respect. Regrettably, in such situations, the desire for power and position predominates.

As we move towards a system of justice that found favour with the South African Government at the time of apartheid and which parallels Burmese justice today, if hon. Members will pardon the oxymoron, I am reminded that our fathers fought and died for liberty—my own father literally—believing that these things should not happen here, and we would never allow them to happen here. But now we know better. The unthinkable, the unimaginable, is happening here.

In their defence, the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary say that they are behaving tyrannically and trying to make nonsense of the House of Lords' decision in A and Others as appellants v. the Home Secretary as respondent because they are frightened, and that the rest of us would be frightened too if only we knew what they will not tell us. They preach the politics of fear and ask us to support political incarceration on demand and punishment without trial.

Sad to say, I do not trust the judgment of either our thespian Prime Minister or our Home Secretary, especially given the latter's performance at the Dispatch Box yesterday. It did not take Home Office civil servants or the secret police long to put poison in his water, did it? Paper No. 1, entitled "International Terrorism: the Threat", which the Home Secretary produced yesterday and I have read, is a putrid document if it is intended to justify the measure. Indeed, the Home Secretary dripped out bits of it and it sounded no better as he spoke than it read. Why does he insult the House? Why cannot he produce a better argument than that?

How on earth did a Labour Government get to the point of creating what was described in the House of Lords hearing as a "gulag" at Belmarsh? I remind my hon. Friends that a gulag is a black hole into which people are forcibly directed without hope of ever getting out. Despite savage criticisms by nine Law Lords in 250 paragraphs, all of which I have read and understood, about the creation of the gulag, I have heard not one word of apology from the Prime Minister or the Home Secretary. Worse, I have heard no word of apology from those Back Benchers who voted to establish the gulag.

Have we all, individually and collectively, no shame? I suppose that once one has shown contempt for liberty by voting against it in the Lobby, it becomes easier to do it a second time and after that, a third time. Thus even Members of Parliament who claim to believe in human rights vote to destroy them.

Many Members have gone nap on the matter. They voted: first, to abolish trial by jury in less serious cases; secondly, to abolish trial by jury in more serious cases; thirdly, to approve an unlawful war; fourthly, to create a gulag at Belmarsh; and fifthly, to lock up innocent people in their homes. It is truly terrifying to imagine what those Members of Parliament will vote for next.I can describe all that only as new Labour's descent into hell, which is not a place where I want to be.

I hope that—but doubt whether—ethical principles and liberal thought will triumph tonight over the lazy minds and disengaged consciences that make Labour's Whips Office look so ridiculous and our Parliament so unprincipled.

It is a foul calumny that we do today. Not since the Act of Settlement 1701 has Parliament usurped the powers of the judiciary and allowed the Executive to lock up people without trial in times of peace. May the Government be damned for it.
- Brian Sedgemore MP
(House of Commons Debate, 23rd Feb 2005)
(via Nick Barlow)
Full post...

These Memories Can't Wait

Aye up folks. Well, I was going to respond to Mr. Duff's comment to my last blog entry... but I'm afraid I don't have the time just now (and the response deserves a good, solid, satisfying rant to do it justice), so you're going to have to wait 'til the weekend David, sorry.

Oh, and before I go any further, a big:

Happy Birthday Red!

to my dear friend Red; the grooviest and loveliest girl in Amsterdam. I wish I could be there to celebrate, gorgeous, but I shall raise a pipe or three in your honour this evening.

It'll soon be time for me to start work for the day (being your own boss has advantages). Of course when the project timelines are tight, and I find myself shouting at the monitor at 4am on a Monday morning because some piece of SQL or ColdFusion code is doing something apparently undocumented, it's then that heretical thoughts like: "There's something to be said for a straight-forward 9-to-5..." rise, unbidden, in the recesses of the mind.

For those of you who also work with computer code (at whatever level), I offer you this cautionary tale.

Not three days ago myself and my flatmate were working on the new (to us) technique that's all the rage thanks to Gmail and googlemaps... the use of xmlHttpRequest to interact with the server in a way invisible to the user (we've written a Content Management System in ColdFusion, and the ability to use javascript to interact with the CF code on the server is incredibly useful).

Anyways, after a solid couple of days immersion in this issue and more seemingly unfathomable errors than you can shake a stick at (even if it were a very big stick, and you had very strong arms), we finally cracked it and asynchronous javascript and XML is now another technique in the repetoire. And a very groovy one at that.

But what of the psychic impact?

My flatmate has just told me that when his alarm went off this morning, he apparently looked at it accusingly and switched it off. Then he rolled over and went back to sleep, secure in the knowledge that he didn't have to get up yet... dreams and memories merged with waking life... and the alarm, you see, clearly wasn't a well-formed XML document... there was a type mismatch error somewhere...

... fifteen minutes later he awoke again with a start, thinking "What the fuck am I on about?"

So yeah, who said There's Nothing New Under The Sun? I'll bet that never happened to our neolithic ancestors.

Ah well, it really is getting to that time now... but before I go I shall quickly join the zombie horde and pass on a couple of those blog-memes that irritate the hell out of every right-thinking human. Firstly from L, comes:
  1. Grab the nearest book.
  2. Open the book to page 123.
  3. Find the fifth sentence.
  4. Post the text of the next 3 sentences on your blog along with these instructions.
  5. Don't you dare dig for that "cool" or "intellectual" book in your closet! I know you were thinking about it! Just pick up whatever is closest.
Unfortunately, given the sort of reading I do, I'd honestly have to spend a long time digging through my bookshelves to find something trashy or throwaway. Currently sitting on my desk are two books by Albert Einstein, a book about Albert Einstein, Resource Wars by Michael T. Klare, the rather infamous The Limits to Growth and Tim Leary's The Politics of Ecstasy. The one that is literally closest to me is Relativity by Albert Einstein, and this conveniently self-contained passage is from the introduction to Appendix III ("The Experimental Confirmation of The General Theory of Relativity")...
But this point of view by no means embraces the whole of the actual process; for it slurs over the important part played by intuition and deductive thought in the development of an exact science. As soon as a science has emerged from its initial stages, theoretical advances are no longer achieved merely by a process of arrangement. Guided by empirical data, the investigator rather develops a system of thought which, in general, is built up logically from a small number of fundamental assumptions, the so-called axioms (we call such a system of thought a theory).
- Albert Einstein
(Relativity, page 123)
So there you have it. I was going to do another blog-meme thing, but time is passing and that front-end user registration system ain't going to build itself, now is it? So instead I shall leave you with the following album recommendation... For those of you who own it, you should really dig out Talking Heads' Fear of Music and give it another listen. It's been too long, hasn't it? And fucking hell! How good is "Memories Can't Wait"!? (Thanks for reminding me about this one, Mahalia!)

For those of you who don't own it... do so.
Full post...

Thursday, February 24, 2005

I am the termite of temptation

Just stating "capitalism is unsustainable" doesn't make it so... how do you know that's true?... Can you sum up in one sentence why I should believe you?
- My friend Alison
(in an email from a while back)
Well Alison, the basic thesis runs thusly:

That modern capitalism is unsustainable in the short term can be substantiated using the most authoritative of sources; the laws of thermodynamics being just one of those sources. Despite this, it's not a widely held view. And I think the reason for this could be language as much as anything else.

I'll explain... but it might take a few paragraphs rather than one sentence. Sorry about that.

The human race uses natural resources to produce all of our goods and services. Some of those natural resources are renewable, and anything created with them can - broadly speaking - be considered sustainable. Some of them are not. Now, let's ignore the renewable resources, and the superabundant non-renewables, and any resource for which we have a renewable or superabundant substitute. Those resources too have their own management issues, but for now let's concentrate on those natural resources that are irreplaceable and which the best data tells us are likely to present serious supply problems in the near term; crude oil (globally), natural gas (North America) and aquifier water (perhaps a dozen places globally, give or take).

I'm aware that I made an assumption about the "irreplaceability" of oil and gas just there. But run with the assumption for now. That discussion can happen separately, and I acknowledge that if genuine substitutes were to be discovered then this issue is entirely moot (though "fresh water" is still a huge kettle of fish. So to speak)

The language problem I was talking about is due to what people think when they hear the word "growth". The phrase "economic growth" is considered A Good Thing almost universally. Left and right disagree on how best to achieve it... but they're both aiming for the same thing.

However the phrase "economic growth" is also - in essence - a euphemism for "accelerated resource depletion". In practice they mean exactly the same thing. Modern capitalism is predicated upon economic growth. It cannot exist without depleting precisely those resources it needs to survive. There are three reactions to this.

There are those who ignore it. This group includes almost everyone that you and I know.

Then there are those who argue it cannot happen, and speak of the "infinite transformability of units of production" as though stuffing dollar bills into the ground will produce more oil. It won't. And as the energy to run the global economy begins to dry up (at a rate of about 3% per annum according to ASPO) then so will that economy. We either have a "power-down" plan or we wait for all the fuses to blow and try to fix them in the dark.

And finally there are those who look at the world around them and know... obviously... it can't go on like this. They buy a plot of land somewhere, a library of books about growing organic vegetables, a gun and lots of ammunition. Or they waste their time issuing warnings and proposing solutions (most crackpot, some with potential) and get ignored.

So when I say "capitalism is unsustainable", you should believe me. I'm in the third group. I have the weight of science on my side. I'm a poet, scientist, traveller and philosopher whose been studying this for the best part of a decade. And I have the gift of insight born of a well-squeegeed third eye.

Who are you going to believe, Alison? Me? Or the oil companies, economists and politicians?
Full post...

Thought for today

It's a little bit embarrassing to have been concerned with the human problem all one's life and find at the end that one has no more to offer than "Try to be a little kinder".
- Aldous Huxley
Full post...

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Paradox (response)

The threat of Howard
our only reason to vote;
democracy sleeps.

(for Chicken Yoghurt)
Full post...

Stop flogging it! Please... ... it's already dead.

There are times when the darkness seems unrelenting.

And relentless.

And well fucking dark.

Times when every wind seems ill, and all rumours are rumours of war. Times when you think, "surely it can get no worse..." and then immediately discover there's a colony of fire-ants under your house.

There are those times, and then there are those other times. The times you console yourself with as you awaken in a bed of fire-ants and think "well, it could be worse..."

Our culture has entered those other times. I know this because I have just read an article (via CatBlog) which contains the following paragraph:
Across town at Warners, executives were likewise upbeat about the debut of "Constantine." "Considering that this was an unknown quantity, we're obviously really pleased with the results and look forward to the sequel," president of domestic distribution Dan Fellman said. "The exits were excellent, which leads us to conclude that the film will continue to do well," he noted. Co-produced with Village Roadshow, "Constantine" skewed slightly more male with 56% but was equally balanced in the age demographic with a 50-50 ratio of those older and younger than 25.
There is a God. And we've done something to seriously piss him off.
Full post...

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Science and Conservative Commentary

This is one of those blog posts that talks a bit about other blogs. I try not to do too much of that kind of stuff. Mainly because I don't find it all that interesting, so I can't see a reason for you to. But actually this post is more about particular issues raised on another blog (the nature of 'science'), so it might be worth at least scanning it...

The blog in question is called Conservative Commentary. It's by Peter Cuthbertson; right-wing politics student and member of the Tory Party. Once in a while you catch glimmers of genuine intelligence, but he has an awful habit of playing to the house... so for every article that provokes thought, there's nine piles of tabloidesque garbage. Your basic rabid right-wing rhetoric lacking even an echo of compassion. Y'know the kind of thing... deliberately using inflammatory language which can only obscure an issue.

Remember folks... the only political writing worth shit has humanity in it.

I understand of course that so much political and philosophical discourse is about exerting one's ego. And so little about learning. It's not about exchanging ideas, but about imposing them. We enter the discussion with unshakeable views, and refuse to ever give ground on them. Even admitting an obvious factual error becomes a huge issue, a point-scoring opportunity for someone.

What distinguishes a smart person from a moron (and in one sense this is the real distinction) is that the smart person will - at some stage - test their preconceived ideas against the opposing arguments they've heard. And if they're a very smart person, they'll have the intellectual honesty to shift position when the situation calls for it.
The man who never alters his opinion is like standing water, and breeds reptiles of the mind.
- William Blake
(The Marriage of Heaven and Hell)
I'm not certain I've ever seen Peter over at Conservative Commentary shift position significantly on an issue. This does not bode well. It either means he's been right about absolutely everything since he began his blog (a period of years). Or that he's not being very smart. Another alternative is that he could actually be an incredibly dedicated discordian. I like this explanation. Hail Eris! All Hail Discordia!

I could cite you a myriad examples of me shifting position... but the longer one spends on this subject, the shakier the ground becomes. Eventually some smartarse is bound to ask... "So you're saying smart people can be identified by the fact that they're wrong a lot?"

So moving swiftly on... the other point with Peter's blog is that he has unaccountably got a very large readership and sometimes gets mentioned in those rare occasions that the "proper press" discuss political blogging in the UK. The Guardian claims that a number of politicians and pundits read his blog. Which gives his writing additional resonance as it is seen by some as representing the acceptable face of the new right wing. Whether it does or doesn't isn't really here nor there. Well, who knows...

I found his blog via a comment he posted to another one I read - BeatnikSalad. It sticks in my mind because it was the first of the two occasions on which one of Peter's comments sparked a massive argument between myself and Oliver Kamm (another right-wing blogger, and a very humourless man). The first argument resulted in Kamm calling me a Nazi-apologist, and the second in him banning me from his blog and stridently demanding an apology for calling Milton Friedman a kook. I also wrote a bad parody in which Milton Chimpman and Alan Chimpspan were laboratory monkeys in an experiment demonstrating the absurdity of market economics. I doubt Kamm thought much of that. Especially after the "kook" remark.

(By the way, I only like retelling that story because it provides the opportunity to reconnect Friedman with the word "kook"... and that's never to be passed up).

Aaaaanyways, as I was reading Peter's blog the other day, I encountered his line about how "science continues more and more to confirm traditional social norms" and it made me laugh out loud. You see, I had just finished reading Albert Einstein's 1936 essay "Physics and Reality" only a few minutes before encountering the statement (aside: you'd imagine that all of Einstein's essays would be available online somewhere... but I can't seem to find the text of Physics and Reality anywhere. It's in Ideas and Opinions which is a wonderful book). And in this essay Einstein goes to great lengths to explain why statements such as the Peter's are absurd. This synchronicity... reading Einstein (of all people) explain the irrationality of a statement, and then within moments reading someone make just that statement... I think most people would have laughed aloud.

Einstein was very clear on the distinction between a hard and a soft science... actually, more than that; he felt that it only made sense to use the word "science" with reference to the hard ones. That there are certain defining characteristics of scientific research, which differentiate it from other areas of enquiry. I am a follower of his on this matter. He acknowledges, of course, that there are problems at the epistemological level.
Now we first remark that the differentiation between sense impressions and images is not possible; or, at least it is not possible with absolute certainty. With the discussion of this problem, which affects also the notion of reality, we will not concern ourselves but we shall take the existence of sense experiences as given, that is to say, as psychic experiences of a special kind.
- Albert Einstein
(Physics and Reality, March 1936)
But once that has been acknowledged; once an "objective universe" has been assumed, then we only need the notion of causality which he develops beautifully (read the essay; it's not very long; and this was never meant as a summary of it) and we have what Einstein describes as the greatest of all mysteries.
The eternal mystery of the world is its comprehensibility... In speaking here of "comprehensibility", the expression is used in its most modest sense. It implies: the production of some sort of order among sense impressions, this order being produced by the creation of general concepts, relations between concepts, and by definite relations of some kind between the concepts and sense experience. It is in this sense that the world of our sense experiences is comprehensible. The fact that it is comprehensible is a miracle.
- Albert Einstein
As Einstein points out, this isn't exactly an original idea. It was Immanuel Kant who first drew attention to this fact... that any conception of an external world is absurd without this comprehensibility. But more than that; that this very comprehensibility implied an objective universe. Einstein uses the axiomatic nature of geometry and mathematics to demonstrate this implication, and succeeds where Kant's talk of "final categories" failed.

I think at this point it's wise to acknowledge the atmosphere in which Einstein was writing this essay. As a jew recently escaped from Hitler's Germany he had watched as the Nazis attempted to co-opt science. He'd heard his work denounced as "Filthy Jewish Science" and seen his books burnt because they espoused theories which clashed with the great traditions of Greater Germany. He was forced to resign from the various German academies and found even many of his close friends turning their backs on him. He wanted to stay longer, to help organise a peaceful resistance movement within Germany... but those who loved him persuaded him of the folly of this. Einstein was possibly the most famous jew in the world just then. He simply had too high a profile to remain in Germany long after Hitler's ascent to power in 1933.

This fact may well explain some of the vehemence with which he decried those who tried to mix science and morality. Those who tried to show "scientifically" how one set of values is inherently superior to another. Or how one set of 'traditional norms' was the correct or natural one. This, he felt, was no less than an attempt to strip the objective world of its comprehensibility. Attempts to objectify values with science did; he believed; the precise opposite... and rendered both the science and the values meaningless. Literally absurd.

He despised all attempts to apply his theory of relativity to non-physical systems (such as culture). Einstein was a moral absolutist. But the idea that those morals could be scientifically justified was abhorent to him. Morals and values came from elsewhere. "Gravitation cannot be held responsible for people falling in love!" he would bellow when people asked him about the limits of science.

Science is a tool of the intellect. And a powerful tool at that. But it can tell us nothing about values. It can tell us nothing about moral imperatives or social goals. It describes the physical, objective universe. It is most branches of physics, chemistry and biology. And it exists in many branches of other disciplines as blends of physics, chemistry and biology... geology, for instance... and it can even be found buried in the corners of archaeology.
The aim of science is, on the one hand, a comprehension, as complete as possible, of the connection between the sense experiences in their totality, and, on the other hand, the accomplishment of this aim by the use of a minimum of primary concepts and relations, and seeking logical unity in the world picture, i.e. paucity in logical elements.
- Albert Einstein
That is what I mean when I use the word science. And that is what I hear when someone else uses the word. And it's important to understand that when a physicist uses the phrase "experiences in their totality" that there are no temporal limits being set. In other words, science can predict the future. E was equal to mc2 long before 1905 when Einstein first brought it to our attention. It still equals it now. And E will equal mc2 long after everyone reading this is dead.

"Science" is an important word. And it is an important concept. And I believe our civilisation needs to keep track of that fact. Science has a weight of authority behind it, as well it should. But that authority does not, and should not, ever extend to matters of culture or politics. It is a different kind of authority. And it is significant that Orwell points out... "In Newspeak there is no word for 'Science'".
Full post...

Thursday, February 17, 2005

"Traditional Social Norms"?

Peter Cuthbertson is a right-wing UK blogger. I read his site for a variety of reasons, but mostly the comedy value. His ideas are often so absurd as to make me laugh out loud... I can recall some time ago, when mentioning his own religious beliefs, he said (apparently without irony) "I think the Christians have probably got it right".

As a statement of faith, it's right up there with the best of them. I could spend all day joyously deconstructing exactly what it implies of a person that they "think the Christians have probably got it right", but I've just not got the time, sadly.

I'm actually in the midst of writing a piece about the use of the word "Islamofascist" and exactly what that says about the person who uses it (especially if, like Mr. Cuthbertson, you're studing Politics at university and should know better). But I couldn't restrain myself from bringing this to your attention. It's a line from Peter's most recent blog entry, and it stands out as one of the most spectacularly absurd pronouncements I've ever encountered on a blog.

And just imagine the competition it's up against!

As I say, I have other stuff to do... so I can't spend time telling you just why I think this line deserves special recognition... I'll just leave it with you, and let you decide...

"... as science continues more and more to confirm traditional social norms."
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Public Service Announcement

As some of you will know, there is a film shortly to be released called "Constantine". It stars Keanu Reeves as the eponymous 'hero'; John Constantine; the central character of the Vertigo Comics series Hellblazer. Although I did read comic books from time to time as a kid... I was actually a bit dismissive of them back then. My parents encouraged me to read books and newspapers from a very early age, and - even at the time - I was perfectly happy with that. Everyone else my age might have been reading comic books and watching television. But I preferred books, and didn't have a problem with being different.

So during the early to mid 1990s when I was at university in London, I was introduced to comics pretty much for the first time. It was mostly this bloke who made the introductions. And the comic book that I liked above all others; and which is still to this day probably my favourite after Grant Morrison's The Invisibles; was Hellblazer. It had been going for about 10 issues before I first discovered it (John Constantine had, I believe, been introduced as a minor character in a Garth Ennis penned Swamp Thing storyline - though there's all manner of strange gaps in my memory with regards to that period of my life and the things I learnt then... so I'm willing to be corrected as to John Constantine's origins if anyone can do so. Update: Chicken Yoghurt believes that Constantine may have been an Alan Moore creation. This has now been confirmed by Nick). I quickly bought the previous nine issues (as a complete aside, 95% of my comics were purchased in Mega-City Comics in Camden.... just 10 minutes walk from college) and continued reading it faithfully up until somewhere around the 65th issue (I think).

There was a moment of staggering discontinuity in my life in the mid-90s. My interest in comic books was one of the things that seemed to just fall away. It took the aforementioned The Invisibles to rekindle that interest some years later.

However I never lost my deep love for the great character that is John Constantine. I spent more than five years reading about his exploits and disasters. I used to hang out in a lot of the places Constantine did, drink in a lot of the same pubs, and know a lot of the same (type of) people. It was the first comic book I'd ever encountered that was written about the people I hung out with... about me.

And as for all the demonology, black-magic, drug-overdoses and angelic vision-type stuff that showed up in Hellblazer... well, I was doing an awful lot of psychedelics at the time... my life and the lives of most of the people I knew seemed to be just as fucking weird as a lot of the shit that happened in Hellblazer. The fact that it usually stopped being quite so "Vertigo Comics" when you came down the next morning was a moot point if you tended to spend more time up than down.

All of which is a very long-winded way of saying that not only is Hellblazer a truly brilliant piece of writing; not only is John Constantine one of the greatest fictional characters in any artform; but for me personally there's a massive "nostalgia" thing attached to it that's absolutely sacrosanct. If someone were to suddenly... ohhh, I dunno... take the John Constantine character and make him hugely popular in a twisted, barely-recognisable, safe and sanitised mass-market format... well; it would be almost sacreligious in my eyes. It would be like a personal attack on my past... on who I am as a person... on a lot of good memories.

And before anyone trots out my favourite come-back "How can you judge it before you've seen it?" I would like to point you in the direction of an image... it is the final page of the graphic-novelisation of the film story. This is how the film ends, OK? So it's obviously "a spoiler"...

John Constantine deserves better fucking treatment than this!

Fuck that shit! What say we all get together... me, and all of you reading this...? We whip up a pentagram of goat's blood, a few black candles, maybe we'll chant or play a Marilyn Manson record backwards or a Barry Manilow one forwards... and we put an end to this godforsaken film before it gets released here in the UK and impacts upon cherished memories in any way. So who's with me?
Full post...

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

On Advertising and Lima Beans

Over at Vile File there's a pointed new entry called Death by Lima Bean. And while I think some very valid points are made, I fear that there's some huge issues being overlooked.

In essence Vile File is ranting about the recent tendency to blame advertising on things like childhood obesity. Why not blame the parent who allows the kid to eat McDonalds cheeseburgers whenever they want? Surely it's the responsibility of the parent to watch their child's diet... not the Advertising Standards Authority! And the piece concludes by asking, "if someone were to expire after eating 2kgs of lima beans," (an apparently toxic dose), "do we then blame the lima beans, the person advertising the lima beans, or the Damn Fool who ate insane amounts of them?"

These are good points. And I agree completely with Vile File that people need to take charge of their lives and throw off the yokes of consumer capitalism. To wake up to the fact that our over-consumption of everything from cheeseburgers to fossil fuels is killing us. Where I think Vile File's piece falls down is by failing to acknowledge just how much advertising is in fact tied into this. She says: "As every right-minded individual knows, it is of course, not advertising, but over-consumption of these products that is to blame."

Well yes. In a strictly literal sense. But isn't it just begging the question? Yes, we do know that the over-consumption of cheeseburgers is going to give little Timmy a heart-attack when he's a 41-year old big Timmy. But that's just stating the obvious. Doesn't the question then become, "Well, why the hell is little Timmy eating so many burgers?" It's exactly the same as knowing that by continuing to over-consume fossil fuels at our current rate we face an inevitable future of escalating, suicidal warfare. "So why the hell are you still driving your car?"

You don't think, Vile File, that perhaps escaping the culture of "over-consumption" isn't quite as easy as you seem to imply? And that perhaps poor little Timmy (whose health is screwed up for good now, thanks to his cheeseburger habit) is simply one obvious symptom of a much wider malaise? People are weird like that... they'll manifest their own little neurotic symptoms of over-consumption.

Yes, Timmy's parents should be taking more responsibility. I agree completely. But are we really going to abandon a generation of children to the ravages of over-consumption simply because their parents are too weak to resist? Is that a sensible solution to the problem? Turning our backs on it and calling it "somebody else's"? Because there is a problem. And it is a serious one... and one that could do incredible damage to our society in a fairly short space of time. So if the people we all agree should be sorting it out, are in fact unable or unwilling to do so, then I can't see the merit in ignoring it.

If you ask me, the very first step towards sorting out this problem (and it is only a first step) is to completely ban all forms of corporate advertising. Whah-hey! Think what that'd do to the economy! Think how popular I'd be in advertising agencies throughout the land! But all the same; that's got to be the first step. Perhaps at some later date we could reintroduce some form of strictly designed and controlled "opt-in" advertising schemes. But for now it makes sense to just ban it completely.

Proponents of advertising paint it as some kind of public information service. How will people know which product to buy unless the manufacturer can talk about them? And what about the freedom of the manufacturers to promote their products? Advertising is there "to inform us" they say. And to oppose that is clearly to be opposed to "choice", and hence, to freedom.

Here's a tip should you ever find yourself discussing advertising with someone who takes the above claims seriously... tell them to leave you alone until they've straightened up.

But should it turn out that they're not, in fact, on a powerful cocktail of cocaine and ketamine, and actually do believe them to be true, then i recommend backing away slowly. Who knows what other delusions they may be labouring under!

Advertising is not about imparting information. It is about emotional and psychological control. It is about stimulating specific responses within targeted sections of the public, often via the use of powerful psychosexual and emotionally manipulative images, sounds and phrases. This isn't even a controversial point. It's what they teach undergrads on business and marketing degrees in universities across the globe.

And even assuming that "choice" is a Universally Good Thing, no advertising campaign has the aim of "increasing choice". Every single one has the aim of restricting choice. If that's not what they're aiming to do, then they're not doing their job right. Every advert is an attempt to narrow your choice to that product alone. That's the essential role of the billboard or TV spot or internet banner.

So to the "Provides Choice" mob, I just wonder why it is you believe that the best way to enhance choice is to set up a system where lots of talented, competing groups try to work out and implement the best ways of restricting it? It's a pretty perverse strategy, you have to admit.

The following does not attempt to be a complete description of modern advertising. But it is an accurate one:
Intelligent, well-paid people with massive financial resources are working very hard to subvert my, and your, own decision-making capacity. They are using ever more potent images and ever more extreme psychological techniques to manufacture and implant subconscious desires. What's more, there's a whole bunch of them at it... all at the same time... sometimes powerfully reinforcing each other; more often creating inner conflict and discord as they each attempt to use different manipulative emotions to achieve their aim of product awareness.
- Johann Rissle
(p239: Art, Value and the Avant-Garde)
Permit me the self-indulgence of a personal example (which I wrote down a few months back)...
I was on a bus to Stoke Newington recently and heavy traffic around Stamford Hill left me staring out the window for a couple of minutes as two billboards slowly passed by. One of them was for a children's charity and showed a battered child, clearly in some distress, and a tagline about how frighteningly common an occurrence this is.

Right next to that massive poster was an equally massive advertisement for a travel company. The poster was dominated by a near naked woman lying on a tropical beach and an invitation to rub sunscreen on my back (unusually for posters of the ouevre, the woman wasn't some generic conveyor-belt airbrushed model but was genuinely good looking).

Everyone passing those posters, leastways everyone who fancies women, can't help but be slightly turned on by the extremely fanciable near naked woman. Yet you are forced to juxtapose that involuntary reaction with an image of a beaten 7 year old girl. And you have to do that - unconsciously - several times a day. I find that extremely troubling, and I believe it's at the root of much of the neurosis that has gripped our society.

And if you're one of those people who fails to perceive that cultural neurosis. Someone who says "So what?" to the sheer psychological pollution of advertising. Someone who says "What's the big deal? It doesn't have any effect of me!" then I humbly suggest you at least examine the possibility that you are simply unaware of the effects. Which almost certainly amplifies them.

But perhaps you don't get turned on by erotic images of the opposite sex (or the same sex if that's your bag, baby) and don't feel depressed when shown images of beaten children, or don't feel uncomfortable when asked to feel both simultaneously. I do though. And I think most others do. And despite the ludicrous claims by some, to oppose that is not the same as opposing "freedom".
Corporations would not be spending billions attempting to manipulate us psychologically without our consent, unless they had some evidence it worked. In fact, there's about a gazillion case-studies which demonstrates that it does. As I already mentioned, this is mainstream stuff on marketing degrees. It was a bunch of followers of Freud who kicked off the modern marketing industry.

Hell, back as far as the 1940s none less than Albert Einstein was desperately warning against this very thing...
... under existing conditions, private capitalists inevitably control, directly or indirectly, the main sources of information (press, radio, education). It is thus extremely difficult, and indeed in most cases quite impossible, for the individual citizen to come to objective conclusions...
- Albert Einstein
(Why Socialism?)
And we've come a long way since the "existing conditions" of the 1940s.

I'm not suggesting that little Timmy is eating too many burgers because he saw one too many McD's advert. I don't believe the correlation is anything like that direct. But I do believe that the advertising industry is responsible in a large part for our culture of over-consumption; that through media-saturation this over-consumption has been firmly instilled into the psyche of countless millions as being "normal". And that - in my view - is where the problem needs to be tackled.
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Monday, February 14, 2005

Who you calling a Leftist Wack Job?

Conservative American blogger, Tiny, has labelled me a "Leftist Wack Job". The cheek of the man. A wack job I may be; but how dare he call me a Leftist! I've a good mind to sue.

Having already been called a member of "the left-wing intelligentsia" on another blog, it seems that mainstream political thought is having difficulty with the idea that there might exist opinions beyond the narrowly defined scope of "left" and "right". Is it left or right wing to believe that none of the world's big problems can be solved without a radical shift in how our civilisation views reality?

Right and left are so tied up with economics as to make them meaningless if you reject economics as a basis for viewing the world. Ultimately - whether of the left, right or anywhere else in the one-dimensional reality of modern economics - it comes down to viewing the world as a competitive marketplace. That's a very restrictive metaphor. And as a map of human existence it leaves out pretty much all the interesting spots.

There are other metaphors. Other maps. The world can be viewed (and organised) along different lines. Instead of using a competitive marketplace as our model, why not try an integrated systems approach?

Of course, economists being people of little imagination usually stare at you with incredulity should you suggest such a thing. They don't actually understand how it could work because they have mistaken the map for the landscape. They believe that the economic model of reality is reality. So if you suggest an abandonment of economics, the response is usually a contemptuous, "don't be ridiculous, that's the way the world is". The implication being that it couldn't be any other way. That the economic model of reality is the natural one.

Now that's an idea of supreme kookiness.

Integrated systems exist in nature just as much as competition (indeed, they are probably more prevalent and more vital to life on this planet). More than that, they tend to be a more efficient way of doing things... in order to be successful, integrated systems work towards minimising energy use; competition very often depends upon overt displays of unnecessary energy consumption.

We are a species which has evolved the ability to choose our own metaphor for reality, and we find ourself in a world of diminishing available energy. Yet we persist with this economic delusion. It's irrational. It's moronic. And it's a recipe for disaster.
The problem is, of course, that not only is economics bankrupt but it has always been nothing more than politics in disguise... economics is a form of brain damage.
- Hazel Henderson
So if I'm not a Leftist, what would I call myself?

I'm a realist. A scientist. And an artist.

Though I may also be a wack job.
Full post...

Marxism #2

Groucho: I've got a good mind to join a club and beat you over the head with it.
Full post...

Movie romance

Today is Valentine's Day. The day when romantic love is celebrated.

And of course, it's so very easy to be cynical about it, and mutter something about a holiday invented by greetings card manufacturers to extort money from us by playing on our insecurities. But however true that may be; it doesn't make it any more pleasant that the only thing falling through my letterbox today will be junk mail and bills.

I am living proof that women have a tendency to choose a stable asshole over a slightly screwed up nice guy. Thankfully though, I do take it all somewhat philosophically... and despite the occasional caustic remark (such as that), I'm really not bitter at all. Which is a good thing... I'm smart enough to be a really scary psychopath if I had those kinds of leanings.

But I don't. I'm a decent human being who gets hurt instead of angry. Too much fucking empathy... that's my problem. And I'm not sure there's any way around that. As has been remarked:
The only remedy for love is to love more
- Henry David Thoreau
"Oh... you're leaving me...? but... but... you're my everything! You can't possibly go... but no... you can't go... ... ... ... oh, please don't cry... I'm sorry if I'm making this harder for you... don't cry. God no; please don't feel guilty... no that's just plain ridiculous... really, you have to do what's right for you. I know that... I'll get over this. Of course it hurts, but that's not your fault. I just love you too much is all... I'm sorry... really I'm so sorry".

It's only a little later, after she's left, that you start asking yourself - as a little dog barks it's head off in the distance - "How the hell did that end up with me apologising?!"

When someone hurts us - friend, enemy, lover or stranger - our first reaction is to hurt them back. But that's the darkness in us. And we have to resist it. Because our separation from that person is an illusion. Our common humanity unites us. And if we wish to look back on our lives as being worthwhile. As being meaningful. Then we must be able to say with honesty that we lived our lives in a way that minimised the suffering of humanity.

And that means we don't support war. It means we don't drink and drive. It means we act out of kindness whenever possible. And it means we don't lash back at those who have hurt us. Our pain is already there. We can't alleviate it by adding to it.

Or at least, I can't. You - I guess - can do whatever you want.
A human being is part of the whole, called by us 'Universe,' a part limited in time and space. We experience ourselves, our thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest - a kind of optical delusion of our consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole nature in its beauty. Nobody is able to achieve this completely, but the striving for such achievement is in itself a part of the liberation, and a foundation for inner security.
- Albert Einstein
Anyways, despite all this "being single is a massive pile of shite" talk, I thought in honour of St. Val's Day, that I'd provide a list of the greatest films ever to tackle the subject of love. The idea is lifted straight from Vile File. But rather than reproducing the public's opinion, I figure I'd dump mine on you...
  1. Casablanca. Oh c'mon! Like there's really a better one out there. It's got everything. It portrays all the important kinds of love... the romantic "true love" between Ilsa and Rick. The love of a noble ideal that Laszlo's got, and that Rick and Ilsa display through their heroic sacrifice. And the love between friends that's beautifully portrayed in the relationships between Rick and Rénault, and between Sam and Rick. Nothing else comes close. (Also; there's no film - whatever the genre - that can't be improved by a scene where Humphrey Bogart shoots a high-ranking Nazi).
  2. It's A Wonderful Life. Again, we don't see just romantic love here... though it has that in abundance. Just as with Casablanca it's got a ton of idealism inspired by the love that George Bailey has for the people in his town. And - as we see at the end - the love that they have for him. If there's not a tear in your eye at the end of this film, then you should be ashamed of yourself.
  3. Dolls. This haunting film is - in my view - the most visually beautiful film ever made. Takeshi Kitano's direction and editing (this is one of his rare films that he doesn't star in himself) are nothing short of breath-taking. The film is a meditation on love and loss. With very little dialogue, the story is told through the rich cinematography, the outstanding soundtrack and powerful performances by the central players.
  4. When Harry Met Sally. Whaddya want me to do? Lie? It's genuinely funny, and despite it being a film about wealthy good-looking Americans, it's actually possible to relate to almost all of the situations that the characters find themselves in.
  5. Roman Holiday. Audrey Hepburn. Sigh. Oh, I could write something else about this film... about how doomed romance has never been so charming and lovely. But the fact is, what a man really wants to say about this film is... Audrey Hepburn. Sigh.
Full post...

Saturday, February 12, 2005



As a blogger, I have arrived.

Finally the recognition is here that (deep down) I always knew I merited.

Praise the gods of hell and the devils of heaven.

For despite the content of the post having sod all to do with me, a right-wing American blogger has entitled his latest message... Questions for Leftist Wack Jobs like Jim Bliss.

I think I'll smoke some crack, burn a flag and nationalise the railways in celebration. Someone pinch me, I must be dreaming.

Update: Jeezus Christos! The more I look at the photo the guy has on his blog, the more I'm glad we live 5,000 miles apart. He looks like he could beat me senseless just by thinking about doing it. And I suspect he's not the kind of chap who'd honour my whole "non-violent resolution of conflicts" philosophy.
Full post...

Friday, February 11, 2005

"It's well weapon"

Don't forget folks (leastways all of you living in a place capable of receiving Channel 4 - whose website I did some work on, as it happens) tonight sees the first part of Chris Morris' new TV show, Nathan Barley. There have been some negative reviews by those who have already seen it (basically saying "it's not Chris Morris enough" - which is always a danger when a project is a collaboration - and that it draws too heavily on The Office).

Well, whatever the reviews say, I think you'd be a fool not to make up your own mind when it comes to something new from the godlike Morris.

Channel 4. Tonight (Friday 11th Feb 2005). 10pm.
Full post...

Thursday, February 10, 2005


So Prince Charles is to marry Camilla Parker Bowles. The temptation to deliberately mis-spell the last of her two surnames is significant, but I have resisted it. For now.

This evening I sat down with my dinner of grilled salmon (organic farmed) and a salad of cucumber, spinach leaves, tomatoes, parmesan shavings, mango, red and green pepper and a raspberry, honey and roasted chilli pepper dressing. It had been - as mentioned previously - a good day, and I was looking forward to a chilled evening of nice food, red Amé and a movie... all while enjoying a gentle massage of cannabis-butter upon my dopamine receptors.

Rather than eat while the movie is on... (a good meal should demand at least 50% of your attention, and who wants to watch a comic-book special-effects caper with just one eye?)... I decided I'd flip onto one of the 24 hour news channels. You can watch them with only 10% of your attention; each story is rendered in the most superficial manner possible and then repeated every 3 minutes. A Peruvian friend of mine learnt English primarily via CNN. The fact that the same information was repeated every 15 minutes turned out to be very useful in that respect.

Mind you, she does have an odd Peruvian/US accent, and finishes every fourth sentence with "And now here's Tom with the weather".

So yeah, there I was enjoying my food, when who should appear on the screen other than Camilla Parker Bowles (still resisting!) and Prince Charles. "Well, OK... p'raps it's been a slow news day", thinks I, "and a royal marriage is newsworthy for some folks, I guess... so I'll forgive BBC News-24 for leading with the story". See? I told you I was in a good mood today.

Except they weren't leading with the story. They were doing the "this is so important it warrants blanket coverage" thing! Can you fucking believe it?! They had their correspondents all over the country... in Windsor and Balmoral and every other place with a vague royal connection... and they were filling the air with "reaction from the public in Windsor" or "what the people in the Duchy of Cornwall think". They even had a guy interviewing a group of drinkers in a Newcastle pub! The most important news today, according to the BBC, is what a couple of pissed up geordies and their Irish mate think about two barely relevant rich people getting married. What?! Then they'd hand back to the studio where some "constitutional expert" would be interviewed, or perhaps a royal historian would get 90 seconds to talk us through some archive footage of Edward and Mrs. Simpson.

Round the fucking clock!

I checked the other news stations... all the same. Murdoch's channel being - if anything - worse; with constant reference to "His Royal Highness" (at least the beeb stick with "Prince Charles"). CNN has ceased being a news channel of course, so that wasn't really an option. Before flipping onto MTV2 (the other semi-bearable channel that only requires 10% of your attention), I quickly double-checked BBC News 24 whereupon this happened (I shit you not)...

They lost the video link between the studio and the correspondent outside Buckingham Palace. So the anchorman says... "Well, we'll do our best to get back to Jane outside the Palace as soon as possible. In the meantime let me update you on some of the day's other news. In Iraq 31 policemen were killed in a battle just north of Baghdad and a further 8 people died in separate car bombs elsewhere in... Wait a second, we have Jane at the palace back now... So tell me Jane, do we know yet what the Prince's two sons think of all this?"

I sat there aghast. And agape. Both aghast and agape. Damn it! I was actually agog! Aghast, agape and agog. What a palaver. I felt like kicking something defenceless, that's how irate it was making me. So I flipped quickly to MTV2 which was - groovily enough - showing the video for David Bowie's Loving The Alien (one of that handful of songs he released in the 80s which reminded you that there was still a genius living in there somewhere) and that helped sort my head out a bit. But in the back of my mind there was this voice taunting me...

Not about the dangers of corporate media (that particular voice is always there). No, I kept hearing a voice reminding me that even Prince fucking Charles and Camilla Parker fricking Bowles will be getting some nookie this Valentine's Day!

It was at this point that I realised I'd been getting so annoyed at the whole bloody thing that I'd eaten my lovely dinner without savouring a single morsel of it. It may as well have been red beans and boiled rice without any spices. That would've been cheaper, just as nutritious and - subjectively speaking - just as bland.

So, irritated, I flipped on the Hellboy DVD. I wasn't expecting a whole lot, but the comic book (from what I remember) was very funny... and I was hoping it would be a decent silly action flick that played it for laughs. Which is what it is. It's not great, but it is good. And it's got some great lines.

But I probably would have enjoyed it a good deal more if the DVD had played more than just the first hour of the movie before freeze-framing and going no further. Right in the middle of a plot-exposition. And the blasted rental place had just closed. Of course.

So yeah, it was a good day. But a crappy evening. And I blame it all on Camilla Parker Bowles and Prince Charels.
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Gmail invites

I've got a shit-load of them. If anyone wants one, email me by putting bliss.jim in front of the @gmail.com bit and I'll fire one off to you (offer limited to first 50 applicants only).
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A busy year

Today was a good day. Not the best day ever. Not by far. But nonetheless a good day. I didn't win the lottery or meet my future wife or discover a new continent or anything. But at the same time I wasn't run over, didn't get mugged and failed to get arrested.

What did happen though, was I discovered that our biggest client is expecting a "bumper year in 2005". Not only that, but our other regular client looks like they're going to do very well too, and the phone hardly stops ringing with more people wanting to pay us money... many of whom we're actually going to have to turn away.

At the moment, you see, I work freelance. Myself and my flatmate pool our skills and it turns out that those skills seem to be worth money to some people. Which is nice.

Last year was a crap year for me. Very crap. I was depressed and ill and really quite pissed off with everything (mostly myself). As a result I tended to only work enough hours to "just get by". This is, of course, the great (theoretical) beauty of freelancing... when you need cash you can work, and then when you want time you can stop. And if working one day a week is enough to pay the bills, then you can do that. Well, in theory as I say. In practice, it's rarely quite that convenient, but it's still way more flexible than working full-time. Plus you don't have "a boss" per se, which makes life infinitely more pleasant in general.

Having a boss is like living in a universe created by a vindictive god.

However, this year in contrast, things are changing... finally moving in the right direction.

(I have a tendency to say something like that just before a bus crashes into my house, or I discover I've got an as-yet unidentified tropical illness that'll slowly, and with an excruciating pain, make my testicles grow to the size and weight of bowling balls. So fingers crossed for a consequence-free piece of optimism, eh?)

But yeah, it seems I have the energy (and perhaps even the attitude?) to take advantage of this potential glut of work. And because I think the global economy has a maximum of 5 years left before it tanks permanently, the next couple or three years will almost certainly provide the last opportunity to earn some cash and convert it into property.

So yeah... as I say; a good day. And if anyone else out there wants to take advantage of my ColdFusion, SQL, XHTML/CSS skills... or wants to purchase the ColdFusion CMS that myself and my flatmate have built... then you'd better get your orders in quick...

... 'cos I'm in demand!
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Marxism #1

Groucho: You know I think you're the most beautiful woman in the world?

Woman: Really?

Groucho: No, but I don't mind lying if it gets me somewhere.
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Malcolm Hardee RIP (short reprise)

Well, I've just had a look at my referrer logs and noticed that about 60% of my traffic is currently coming through google searches for "Malcolm Hardee". I only mentioned him very briefly (to say how sad I was about his recent death), but I seem to have nevertheless become a popular resource for the late, great alternative comedian.

So for anyone who has come here looking for information on Malcolm, I'm sorry to say I can't offer much. I only saw him live once, a good while back, and recall very little of it. I was completely wankered on drugs at the time I'm afraid (but then, I was completely wankered most of the time back then... student days and what have you). I remember laughing a lot though. A hell of a lot. There was nudity, fluorescent paint, a bucket of water and I laughed until I cried. And then I laughed some more. For weeks afterwards I told people that they must see Malcolm Hardee, if for no other reason than because he's the funniest man ever to get his cock out on a stage and pretend it's a Frenchman.

Malcolm shone when he was on stage. He will be very sadly missed; not least by someone like me, who really should have gone and seen him more than just once.

Anyways, there are better sites for information about Malcolm. They are:

A brief biography of Malcolm Hardee

Buy Malcolm's autobiography

The news story about Malcolm's death

A farewell to Malcolm from Glastonbury Festival

Malcolm's obituary in The Times

I hope these links are of some help. And make sure you raise a glass to Malcolm this weekend!
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Wednesday, February 09, 2005

I believe in God

That's is a pretty big statement. So I should probably qualify it. After all, I've spent a little while browsing random blogs, and don't wish to find myself lumped in with the scary number of god-botherers who all sound like they love Jesus more than their fellow human beings, and none of whom seem to have graduated highschool if their command of the language is anything to go by.

Anyways, of course I'm not saying I believe in the god of the bible. Nor the koran. In fact, none of humanity's sacred texts really talk about the god I believe in. The buddhists mention the God I'm talking about, but they've added a few too many complications and "mysterious ways". You see, God is actually very simple...

God is that thing inside me that celebrates when I see something beautiful. It's the thing that fills me with warmth when I help someone, or act decently, or decide against the selfish act. God is that thing inside me that catches my breath when I first glimpse the ocean after an hour of driving towards it. God has no brain, no mind, no personality. God does not pass judgment nor require appeasement. Yet God's voice is the only one worth listening to.
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Christy Moore

The earth is so beautiful,
yet this beauty is now threatened by the human species.
This arrogant lot who justify every rape and pillage so long as it's for the good of mankind.

Every now and then I encounter a special person, or a true artist and I experience a small glimmer of hope that maybe... just maybe... the power of goodness will blossom and expand, hand in hand with the power of God and enable us to survive.
- Christy Moore
I've been listening to Christy Moore a lot recently (specifically the recent 6 CD box-set). For those who don't know Christy, he's an Irish folk / protest singer. His music is fairly typical "acoustic guitar folk" blended with traditional Irish music and a tiny dash of pop. However, it's his lyrics (both those he writes, and the various songs he chooses to cover) which really set Christy apart.

Filled with compassion, wit, empathy, righteous anger (when warranted) and warm humour, his songs go deeper than almost anyone else I can think of. Check him out if you get the chance. You won't regret it.
Update: just been listening to Christy Moore singing "In Zurich" (a song about poverty, inequality and capitalism). I was strumming idly along on my guitar. My flat-mate looked in, saw me with guitar in hand, and asked with some surprise, "Wow! Was that you singing just now?"

Ahhh... sadly not. And my guitar-playing isn't exactly up to Christy's level either.
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A reason to enter politics

When I was in highschool, my history teacher (who I got on very well with) told me that I should go into politics. I think the fact that we agreed on pretty much everything (he was something of a radical) might have had something to do with it. Also, I didn't have a big problem getting on stage and addressing an audience back then... in fact, I could be quite good at it when I was on form... so it was actually something I considered.

But ultimately I rejected the idea. Party politics is too constrictive for someone like me. And I don't quite have the ego of Kilroy-Silk and his Veritas party... so starting my own party was never really an option. Plus I don't like what power does to people. And to be honest, my past wouldn't stand up to tabloid scrutiny. Too much dodginess... all manner of stuff could be splashed across the front page of The Sun to scare voters away. All victimless stuff of course (unless you're not as anti-capitalist as me, and consider large corporations to be capable of victim status). But that never stopped the tabloid press from ripping a person's life to shreds and branding them as evil.

However, it's just come to my attention that perhaps I made the wrong decision. And perhaps I should try to seize power (through some means or another). You see, it turns out that quite aside from all the hassle, hypocrisy and holier-than-thou-isms of politics, there is a serious "up" side.

No, I'm not talking about being able to scrap nuclear weapons, or withdraw troops from battlezones, or raising taxes on the rich... I'm talking about the fact that Tony Blair is apparently in a position to invite David Bowie over for dinner, and have him accept!

That's a damn good reason for becoming Prime Minister.
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Tuesday, February 08, 2005

yeah right... congratulations... whatever

I received an email just now from K (an ex-girlfriend). We were only together for a few months, and that was a decade or so ago. We haven't seen each other in more than 5 years (since she moved to Scotland) and only email each another sporadically.

So why should it be so unsettling that she's getting married?

It's not that I'm still "carrying a torch"... because really, I'm not. She's a lovely lass and all, but we weren't particularly compatible... the guy she's marrying has a serious career in banking, and is (in K's own words) "... rock-solid stable. In fact you'd probably find him a bit boring..." But she really loves the guy. He seems to really love her, from what I can gather. And I wish them nothing but the best for their wedding and marriage.

Yet still I'm unsettled by it.

Obviously it's to do with the whole "time passing by" thing. K is four years younger than me. And she's getting married in 4 months. By which time I will have been single for longer than any other period in my adult life. Which - quite frankly - is crap.

So nobody should be allowed get married - or even have sex - until that situation is remedied.

And as for Valentine's Day? Just fuck off, OK.
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Sunday, February 06, 2005

Get yer cock out Macca!

FLORIDA (BlissNews): Officials at the CBS TV network are said to be in "a state of panic" as the hour approaches for the kick-off of the NFL Super Bowl XXXIX in Florida today. Last year the network found itself slapped with a record $550,000 fine as a result of the Janet Jackson / Justin Timberlake "wardrobe malfunction" incident.

In an attempt to 'play it safe', executives at CBS arranged to have Sir Paul McCartney perform the half-time show this year. "We didn't want to risk a repeat of last year", said CBS V.P. of Marketing, Indoctrination and Demographics Ms. Stephanie Goebbels last week, "and booking a 62-year-old man as opposed to a young buxom woman was seen as definitely being the way to go this year. Here at the CBS network, we acknowledge that we've had a rough year, but we have responded appropriately, and none of those responsible for last year's atrocity have survived the recent purges".

Ms. Goebbels went on to point out that Sir Paul is a Knight of the British Empire, and then alleged that "only those of nobility and purity are awarded such an honour, after all".

Earlier this afternoon however, as the time for the event approached, it emerged that "Sir" Paul McCartney may well himself prove to be a loose cannon at Superbowl 39. CBS researchers unearthed evidence that Sir Paul had in the past been known under a number of aliases. "Macca" as he was often known had been in jail for trafficking in narcotics, and had been caught on film on many occasions admitting to taking drugs of various kinds as well as drug trafficking throughout Europe, the Far East and North America.

On top of this, "Macca" or "The Pretty One" as he was also known, had spent part of his life as a member of a strange Far Eastern Cult and to this day espouses extremist philosophies such as marijuana legalisation and vegetarianism. A closer look at the lyrics of some of the songs that Pretty Boy McCartney might choose to play live to America's largest TV audience convinced CBS they had a problem.

Spokesman for Legal Affairs at CBS, Mr. Leopold Strange, said that he had failed to get assurances from Sir Paul's people that certain songs would not be played. "Apparently the contract we signed gave him complete artistic control", said Strange slapping himself on the forehead. "But that was before we knew he was some kind of drug-taking commie freak! What the hell are we going to do now?"

Strange went on to cite a number of McCartney's songs as being "entirely inappropriate for a modern American television audience".

"Many of his earlier songs contain references to drug-taking in a positive light... which I'm sure everyone would agree, is sending out the wrong message. There are songs about murder, as well as songs which - some have claimed - actually inspired some of the most brutal murders in living memory!"

Professor Bo Dudley of the Harvard School of Advanced Musicalness concurs. "Last year at Superbowl, Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake may have irreparably damaged millions - perhaps billions - of young American minds. But to give this long-haired druggie from Liverpool 12 minutes with all of America as his audience is to risk a nationwide epidemic of drug-taking and violent murdering on a near biblical scale! I mean, he faked his own death in the late 60s! What does that say about a guy?! CBS better hope he does Give My Regards To Broad Street followed by an 8 minute version of The Frog Chorus."

That, however, seems unlikely with McCartney's camp remaining tight-lipped about the set-list. There is also further worry regarding Macca's quip to a local news reporter. When asked about last year's tragic events, he is alleged to have replied: "I can safely say I won't have a wardrobe malfunction". However, there is mounting concern that he may have placed the emphasis on the word "malfunction". And some inside CBS are interpreting that to mean the 62-year-old may be planning to expose himself.

And not only within CBS. "If Sir Paul has got some kind of special pants designed to burst open and reveal his genitalia, then it will hardly be a malfunction if that's exactly what occurs! I know how these Europeans think! It's exactly the kind of sick stunt they'd pull", said Professor Dudley.
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Friday, February 04, 2005

Two broadcasts by the BBC

Well, for anyone who missed the broadcast of Chain Reaction which I recommended yesterday, it is currently available on the BBC Radio 4 "listen again" page (under 'C', obviously) where, like all their programmes, it will be archived for a week before disappearing completely (well, at least until the much-anticipated BBC Creative Archive website goes live... a project that seems sadly destined for a number of delays due to legal wrangling. But we live in hope.)

I really do recommend giving it a listen if you're at all interested in either Eno or Moore, or if you're a fan of Roxy Music or Bowie's late 70s work (I guarantee you'll never listen to "Heroes" the same again after hearing the last couple of minutes of this interview). But aside from the great anecdotes, the conversation centres on the creative process, and Eno's views on the subject. Interesting stuff.

Favourite line:
I started having a mid-life crisis when I was about eighteen. And it's really just continued ever since...

Veering suddenly onto an entirely different subject (the only common thread being the BBC), I'd like to raise a quick objection to something said on Question Time last night. Question Time, for those unaware, is a weekly political show in which a panel of 5 politicians and other influential people get asked questions by a studio audience. The audience is self-selected, the panelists unaware what the questions will be (though it goes without saying that they're generally on current events).

One of the panelists on last night's show was Lord Stevens, former Metropolitan Police Commissioner. He came across as a fair-minded, astute, honest and intelligent man. I actually know very little about him, so can't say whether or not this was merely an elaborate charade. However, I found one of the things he said particularly objectionable. I don't have a transcript, but I'll paraphrase as honestly as I can. On the subject of terrorist suspects being held indefinitely without trial, he said: "of those currently in detention (at Belmarsh Prison), I can personally guarantee that they are all dangerous people about whom I have no doubts whatsoever of their threat to this country".

Well Mr. Stevens (Lord? LORD!? You seem to be a good bloke and all Stevens, but I don't call anyone "Lord" just because some descendent of a murdering tyrant says I have to), it's all very well for you to say that. But for the decade and a half during which the Guildford Four and Birmingham Six lay innocent in British jails, there were reasonable-sounding men; astute, intelligent and apparently fair-minded men; who told TV cameras with incredible sincerity that they had no doubts about their guilt.

And if it's OK with y'all, I think I'll just tag a couple of good links on to the end of this so you have somewhere to go next...

First there's the great collection of links and quotes on the current situation in Venezuela over at Chicken Yoghurt (my favourite flavour after Strawberry).

And then the consistently excellent George Monbiot brings us this analysis of the US media.
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Thought for today

For those who believe in God, most of the big questions are answered. But for those of us who can't readily accept the God formula, the big answers don't remain stone-written. We adjust to new conditions and discoveries. We are pliable. Love need not be a command or faith a dictum. I am my own God. We are here to unlearn the teachings of the church, state, and our educational system. We are here to drink beer. We are here to kill war. We are here to laugh at the odds and live our lives so well that Death will tremble to take us.
- Charles Bukowski
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Thursday, February 03, 2005

Chain Reaction

BBC Radio 4 is, frankly, a fantastic service. But, sadly, the internet has squeezed radio almost completely out of my life. Well... something had to go. It was either that or read less. Though reading was already eating into my sleeping time...

Well, anyways, the upshot of no longer checking the radio schedules is that I almost missed a fascinating series of programmes. Called Chain Reaction it's a weekly thirty minute interview where the interviewee gets to choose, and interview, next weeks guest. A simple format, but one with great potential.

Last week, stand-up comic and generally sound bloke, Stewart Lee, got to interview the god-like Alan Moore. And this week, seeking someone of equal stature, Moore is interviewing Brian Eno. It has the potential to be a fascinating conversation to listen in on.

I urge those who can, to tune in at 6:30 this evening (here in the UK), which is 1:30pm in New York (for my cousin who lives there and really digs Eno). As far as I know anyone can tune in at:


but if that doesn't work, go poke around on the BBC Radio 4 website. There's links galore.
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