Where There Were No Doors

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

Thursday, March 31, 2005

Marxism #4

Groucho: Those are my principles, and if you don't like them... well, I have others.
Full post...

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Welcome back

A short announcement, dear reader. Having been in hiatus for some time, the very excellent Biroco Journal has returned. Joel is a far better writer than something as shabby as the internet deserves, so you'd be a fool to miss his site.

A fool, and a potential mass-murderer.
Full post...

When sleep is exhausting

Last night I dreamt that the Coen Brothers were making a sequel to The Big Lebowski. I was pleased to hear this, as it is one of my favourite films. That I was to play the role of 'The Dude', however, made me a little nervous.

I was explaining my concern to James Joyce in a bar in Dublin. I told him that I hadn't done any acting since I was a child... I told him that it felt irresponsible for me to accept the role when there was such a big chance that I would let everyone down. He looked at me and said "irresponsibility is a vital part of the pleasure of all art. It's the part they can't teach you in school" (which is a bastardisation of a line often attributed to him). Then he lit a cigarette. I lit one too, as in the dream I was still drinking and smoking (and in the dream you could still smoke in a Dublin pub... or perhaps special dispensation was being made for James Joyce). And we sat drinking Guinness in a comfortable silent stillness for a surprisingly long time. Joyce didn't speak again, but when he got up to leave he smiled at me and ruffled my hair with a wonderful familiarity that left me feeling pleased.

The dream then became far less linear. It seemed as though Joyce's presence had been holding things together and with his departure, normality began to fragment. The walls of the pub began to undulate slightly and I could hear a terrific storm erupting outside. A crash of thunder shook the whole building and the pub landlord called out to me... "God knows where this will end up!"

Then I was alone in my room, sitting at my desk. It was late evening and the room was dimly lit. Everything had a thick layer of dust on it. I reached out instinctively to switch on the lamp, but nothing happened. "Bloody bulb!" I wiped my bong clean of dust and had a smoke. Then I picked up my mobile phone and couldn't seem to switch it on. A thought struck me... "all of this only makes sense if I'm dreaming".

First rule of lucidity... get a firm hold. In the dream I shouted "This is a dream! I'm in a dream!" Sometimes vocalising it can be near impossible... in which case, be aware that lucidity might slip away at any moment... sometimes vocalising it can wake you up (which is an arse, of the highest order). But often it just anchors your awareness to your situation. And from there... the world's your oyster.

Now, there's always the temptation to turn a lucid dream into an erotic one. Especially for single men of a certain age (say, between 14 and 97). And anyone who has realised it's possible but says they haven't done it, is a filthy liar. However, I happen to know that amazing sex is possible (albeit in short supply lately) outside of lucid dreams. Unlike - for instance - "doing a Superman" and flying at incredible speeds just a few feet above the ocean. And unlike flying deep into the heart of a violent thunderstorm screaming yourself hoarse. And very much unlike walking on the lunar surface without a space suit.

So is it any wonder I was exhausted when I awoke this morning?
Full post...

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Ministry for Silly Ideas

So the Tory farce continues. I was getting worried that the obsolete bunch of kooks and crackpots - resembling nothing more than an escaped Monty Python sketch gone on the rampage - were starting to be taken seriously again. Opinion polls had started to claim that people were willing to consider giving Michael "Poll Tax" Howard... Michael "Criminal Justic Bill" Howard... a shot at being Prime Minister! And apparently sane people were advocating a Tory vote as a weapon against Blair's lies.

Ridding the house of pests by burning it down. A tactic which appears more staggeringly stupid each time I think about it. "We don't like your lies Tony, and we don't like how far Right you've got... so we'll empower some right wing extremists, in the hope that they might do something about it". I mean... what!? It's also the single most conservative argument I've heard lately; thoroughly reinforcing the existing two-right-wing-party system. Yay!

Y'know... I've just talked myself out of displaying the Backing Blair banner. Every time I see that advice to vote for Tory Jane "Friend of The Motorist" Wright in Walthamstow, against a genuinely (and vocal) anti-war Labour backbencher it makes me want to throw something heavy at the screen. A protest vote in this constituency is a Green vote. To claim otherwise is dishonesty. In my neighbourhood, therefore, Backing Blair functions as nothing less than an active part of the Tory campaign. It advocates the repeal of the London congestion charge. It advocates war in Iraq. It advocates immigration policies "like they do in Australia". Yes. Like they do in Australia.

So yeah, as much as I dig Operation Henman, I can't - in good conscience - support a campaign that advocates empowering those who would implement such policies.

But I may not have to worry too much. For a hero has appeared in our time of need... in the unlikely form of Howard Flight. Howard is Tory MP for Arundel, a place I know well... very Sussex Conservative; retired colonels and their immaculately coiffured wives, tea shops and antique shops. Mr. Flight is - of course - a typical piece of Tory pondscum, but he's demonstrating to the whole nation just how obviously absurd Michael Howard is.

Howard Flight is one of the architects of the Tory spending plan. The report he helped put together claims that Labour is wasting 35 billion pounds every year. Tax revenue that is - in essence - going down the drain. And so, claim the Tories, we can eliminate that 35 billion in waste, put lots of it into public services (thereby increasing government spending - popular in Europe), and still have enough left over to ease the burden on us all (thereby lowering taxes - popular everywhere).

The tories promise to raise spending and lower taxes. Hey, they'll promise you the moon on a stick if you promise them your vote. I can just see the next Tory election poster. Oliver Letwin stands against the wall of a dark alley, he's got his wallet in his hand and he's taking a couple of notes out. The caption reads... "psssst. I'll bung you a score for that vote you've got there."

Anyways, it's all well and good. This is the kind of thing we expect during the run up to an election (as an aside... isn't it instructive that most American readers will probably be unaware that there's an election campaign going on over here? Though I guess the fact that most UK-based bloggers have suddenly become political pundits might give it away).

But then what happened was Mr. Flight got recorded talking about all the other "waste" that was identified, but which was considered politically unacceptable to mention just before an election. The implication being (if one were to believe NuLabor) that the Tories were clearly planning to phase out the NHS entirely and make old people work in salt mines in return for their pension.

More realistically however, Mr. Flight's comments did seem to imply that the Tory spending cuts may well go further than was being admitted publicly. That's pretty much the most you could read into them. But it provoked a reaction from Michael Howard, the Conservative leader and self-styled "Emperor of Mars", which was filled with such unintentional comedy that surely the nation has now been saved from voting for this silly silly man.

First Michael Howard fired Howard Flight from the Tory front-bench (the man was Deputy Chairman of the Party and architect of the spending plan, let's remember, not some backbench rabble-rouser). Then Michael Howard withdrew the party whip (effectively putting an MP on double-secret probation). And then told Mr. Flight that he was fired from the party and would not be allowed stand as a Conservative at the next election.

Almost immediately after announcing this publicly, however, Michael Howard found himself in the embarrassing position of having to listen to Howard Flight phone the BBC and tell them that actually Michael Howard didn't have the authority to fire him. That lay with his local constituency party, who could - under party rules - select pretty much whoever they wanted as their representative (and though, by and large, the local party would tend to adhere to central policy, this was by no means a given). Mr. Flight even threatened legal action.

Then Michael Howard made his second error of judgment. He made a televised statement from his kitchen table. The place looked like a freaking TV studio. But you just knew it was his house. That was a cognitive dissonance I'd not encountered before. On top of that, they guy has no charisma at all. None! I mean, I have more charisma than Michael Howard. So when he looks deep into the camera and explains deep from his heart (in, what? 15 takes? 30?) just how deeply deeply saddened he is by the recent deep events, you just want to give the guy a slap!

That's the gut-level response. Thankfully most of us can control those urges (the main reason Michael Howard doesn't sport more black eyes I wager) long enough to hear what he said. With all the charm of your creepy uncle that never gets invited over any more, he explained that Howard Flight was fired because there was no room in the modern Conservative Party for politicians who say one thing in public, but another thing in private.

And all over the nation, people in their millions were suddenly jolted into remembering they were watching a Monty Python sketch, and not actually a serious contender for a position of power. Everyone already knows that all politicians say one thing in public and another thing in private. And everyone already knows what the Tories are saying in public. It took Howard Flight's secret recorder to reveal what they are saying in private.

And Michael Howard's comedy kitchen routine was the hilarious attempt to make us believe that what the Tories are saying in public is the Truth. And what they are saying in private is Lies. Are they mad? On drugs? Or just really, really dim?
Full post...

Monday, March 28, 2005

Travellers tales

When I was a child in Dublin I lived in a housing estate that was, when we moved in, still being built. It was the furthest point to which urban sprawl had extended up until then. A new estate on land that had, just a year ago, been outside the city. I didn't realise it until later, but I started life in a "liminal" space... a space between... a point of transition... a non-place; defined only by what's before and what's after, or what's north and what's south.

This has been a major theme of my life ever since.

But that's not actually what I want to talk about. You see, next to the housing estate on which I lived there was a large area of wasteground. And beyond that... the countryside. One morning the estate awoke to discover a large number of travellers had parked their caravans on the wasteground. Suddenly we lived next door to one of the biggest traveller sites in the country. Unsurprisingly there was an uproar.

I, like all children, was suddenly barred from playing on the wasteground (or "The Gap" as it was known). Which was an arse, as The Gap was the only interesting place to play (if you weren't into the "run around a flat field after a ball" kind of play). Needless to say, I didn't think much of the travellers as a result of that. "Who were they to steal The Gap from me?"

Then, or so everyone said, there was a spate of burglaries and car thefts which were clearly carried out by the new arrivals. A high wall went up along the north side of the estate. Now, even if the travellers moved on, there'd be no more playing in The Gap. Once my magical escape from the mundane... stolen by invaders and placed beyond a high wall topped with wire and broken glass.

Then they stole my dog.

I was out walking my still-just-a-puppy black labrador when a bunch of teenagers with the unmistakeable accent of travellers pounced on me, beat me black and blue, and ran off dragging my dog whining behind them.

Later that evening, my Dad returned from the traveller site with my dog (if life has taught me one lesson, it is that fucking with my Dad is a big mistake) and I remember telling him that I hated "those knackers!" But while he understood how upset I was, he reminded me that I was never to use that word. They are "gypsies" or "travellers", he would say.

"I'm not raising a bigot" was a refrain I heard whenever my youthful analysis of news events went into precarious territory. It's weird... my parents are gut-level Catholic Conservatives with views regarding homosexuality, abortion and other issues that I have serious issues with. But the reason I have those "issues" is precisely because they decided to raise me in such a way as to offer me the opportunity - that they didn't have - to choose my own path. And confident enough in my ability to choose the right one.

There is evidence they now regret that decision. But every day I'm thankful for it. And if I were to ever have kids (biologically unlikely unless I get that womb-transplant I've been after), that's how they'd be raised. A set of very simple core values; based primarily around kindness, respect for others and personal integrity; and then a solid training in rational analysis and objectivity (read the newspaper together and then discuss the interesting stories, drawing particular attention to any potential bias in the coverage).

Anyways, that occasion was the first time I recall him using the phrase "I'm not raising a bigot" about something in our lives... rather than a story on the news. It was a defining moment for me. Bigotry stopped being just about the words you use when talking about a world event. It was about how you treated, and thought about, other human beings.
To Mercy, Pity, Peace, and Love
All pray in their distress;
And to these virtues of delight
Return their thankfulness.

For Mercy, Pity, Peace, and Love
Is God, our Father dear.
And Mercy, Pity, Peace, and Love
Is man, his child and care.

For Mercy has a human heart,
Pity a human face,
And Love, the human form divine,
And Peace the human dress.

Then every man, of every clime,
That prays in his distress,
Prays to the human form divine,
Love, Mercy, Pity, Peace.

And all must love the human form
In heathen, Turk or Jew;
Where Mercy, Love and Pity dwell
There God is dwelling too.

- William Blake
One of the things my Dad used to say was "You know, statistically, it is certainly true that there were Jewish criminals, even murderers and rapists, in Germany in the 1930s." He'd just leave the thought hanging there, daring you to draw any conclusion other than, "True, but so what?"

On the day my dad returned home with my dog, however, he just reminded me that every other time a kid had picked on me, or harrassed me... they'd lived in a house.
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Sunday, March 27, 2005

Something of The Night

I have a theory about Michael Howard. Not that "Michael Howard is a humourless tosser" (as per the graffiti scrawled on a wall in Rotherhithe). Nor even that "Plus he's an evil quasi-fascist freak without an ounce of humanity or compassion" (as per my addition).

No. Both of those are facts. Not theories. My theory is an attempt to explain them.

When Anne Widdecombe said that there was "something of the night" about Michael Howard, there were pots and kettles giving each other knowing looks up and down the country. But all the same, she was dead right.

During the 18 years of Tory rule, the UK was essentially governed by a demonic hive mind... variously known as The Iron Lady; Control; or just plain "Thatcher". This vile entity was one of several loosed upon earth during recent human history by ArchDemon Mammon (Prince of temptors, avarice, and greed). It festered in The City and expanded in every direction, infecting almost everything it touched. A tumourous growth disguised as an economic miracle with the singular aim of hastening the apocalypse.

Aware that it was yet unable to reveal it's true form, Thatcher surrounded itself with vacant souls... people for whom empathy and compassion were abstract concepts and not felt experiences... people devoid of even a shred of warmth and decency... and into these people it flowed; dark and oily... stinking of the very deepest depths of hell to any who cared enough to take a sniff... all brimstone and rotting carcasses and the shit of burger-eating fat people.

And these empty souls became her "cabinet", her "MPs", and her "Party Faithful". And like a cruel plague they swept across the land, waging bitter war against all they despised... the weak, the poor, the young, the infirm and anyone who did not sufficiently worship Mammon so as to have lots of cash and want lots of possessions. Britain became all about "me" and nothing about "us", and a way of life that had still been clinging on here... a way of life summed up in the quote:
Only a life lived for others is a life worth while. A hundred times every day I remind myself that my inner and outer life are based on the labours of others.
- Albert Einstein
That way of life was smashed to the ground by Thatcher: The Iron Fist of Mammon.

The primary host is a spiteful, vindictive woman called Margaret. She personifies the entity on this plane of existence. During the early years she led from the front... still powerful enough to carry out an active personal role whilst controlling minions telepathically. But as the years wore on, the strain took it's toll on Margaret's body... for such is the lot of these demonic entities that their hosts are doomed to die of old age eventually. Then they return to hell, carrying with them the vacant souls of all they gained control over. The demon gets reassigned. The souls suffer an eternity of torment.

In 1990 the strain had become so much that Thatcher was unable to successfully exert control over it's drones and still retain such a visible public presence. A coup was staged, and Margaret's public appearances scaled back. Thatcher's loss of power became more apparent during the Major years, as bit by bit it's grip on the country was loosened, until finally an upstart demonic entity, "Blair", a minion of ArchDemon Pytho (Prince of the spirits of deceit) gained control.

Thatcher took the opportunity to regroup and prepare for one final assault on the people of the UK. One last spiteful spit in the eye of humanity. Gathering all it's remaining power, it allowed the Margaret host to lapse into a semi-vegetative state on the benches of The House of Lords where it scowls from behind a slipping mask, and it focussed upon the most callous and evil of all the Stormtroopers of Darkness... Michael Howard.

Which explains, you see, why he's such a nasty and slimey man. A man for whom "prisons work". He's actually a soulless empty shell, possessed by the final, putrid vestiges of the demon "Thatcher". It's plans for the next five years read like Orwell on a bad speed comedown.

Remember: Anyone who votes for Michael Howard or his party should have their name put on the sex-offenders register.
Full post...

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

You and me both, Mark

Sometimes I wonder whether the world is being run by smart people who are putting us on, or by imbeciles who really mean it.
- Mark Twain
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Tuesday, March 22, 2005


Over at The Pseudo Magazine there's a short post entitled Alaskan Democracy - Whether Greenies Like Me Like it or Not. It explains that; whatever you or I may feel about drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR); the people of Alaska are in favour of it by a significant majority.

I find it a little ironic that such a monumentally flawed system for making environmental decisions (local democracy) should have arrived at exactly the right conclusion. Of course, just because I find it ironic doesn't mean I find it in the least bit surprising. In this case, the "right" decision just happens to also make sense from a short-term 'local greed' perspective.

That's the only time you can really count on democracy making the right decision... when 'right' equates with 'wealth-producing'.

I have nothing but respect for the environmental activists working to keep the oil companies out of ANWR. On 99% of issues, I would be standing on the same side of the barricades as them. But on this, I fear their energies are misplaced. Not because they have the wrong aims, but because they appear blind to the implications that a global peak in oil supply will have for this issue.

Here's a harrowing statement... and one I wish I could make personally to every environmental activist, because it needs to be understood quickly... "the Green Movement, whatever the hell it may be, is almost certainly at the peak of it's influence right now". Even as the results of our ecological negligence begin to bite us in the arse, so our concern for wider issues like "the environment" will be replaced by more immediate issues like "keeping warm".

If the choice were between "Drilling for oil in ANWR now" or "Drilling for oil in ANWR never", then it's a no-brainer. But that simply isn't the choice that's on offer. And anyone who claims it is, is either wrong or lying. The real choice is between "Drilling for oil in ANWR now" or "Drilling for oil in ANWR later". And anyone who understands the implication of peaking oil supply knows this to be true.

I don't know exactly when escalating oil prices will translate into supply disruptions in North America. But in conjunction with Natural Gas depletion, there will be a winter before very long when the Mayor of Chicago phones the White House and demands a National Emergency be declared because of the thousands of people dying of hypothermia in their homes on the South Side.

In that situation environmentalists won't merely be ignored, but actively demonised for "letting it get to this". And whatever concessions that Dubya and his Big Oily Chums may be willing to offer the Greens today won't be on offer tomorrow. If ANWR is to be drilled, then it's a project that should take maybe five years just to set up (surveys, building access, building pipelines, exploratory drilling, etc.) At least, that's how long if you were to do it halfway responsibly - with a team of independent environmental surveyors and engineers being consulted at every step of the way.

If we wait until the winter of 2012 when folks are freezing to death in Illinois, then we'll end up with a president under pressure to deliver Alaskan oil before next winter.

And fuck the moose.

The upshot is that I think those currently opposing drilling in ANWR should get behind a campaign for Clean Drilling in ANWR.

Yes, yes, I know that there's no such thing. I do know a little bit about the oil business, y'know? Enough to know that it can't be done cleanly. But I've also seen enough wells in enough places to know that it can be done cleaner. An oil operation in a country without decent environmental legislation is mind-bogglingly destructive. It creates a foul alien landscape, like something from your darkest nightmares, for as far as the eye can see. And it poisons the planet for many miles beyond each horizon.

Done properly however, the effects of it's toxic presence can be mitigated and contained to some extent. Emissions can be captured and - mixed with the liquid effluent - can be treated and then pumped to a less ecologically fragile location. Strict clean-up guidelines and systems can be put into place to handle the inevitable spills. It takes time to build those systems, and if time is of the essence at the start of the project they'll simply not be implemented.

So give the project the green light as soon as possible, but fight tooth and claw to ensure that the drilling is the cleanest ever done. Then, with a bit of wishful thinking, the people of the US might have voted in a sensible president by the time the ANWR oil starts flowing in early 2010. So the last of the continent's fossil fuels gets used in a peak oil crash mitigation program and not to fight a war with China.
Full post...

And wiser

Hallo again dear reader. It's been a weird week and no mistake. Enough birthday angst to render the next four birthdays completely redundant, and a whole bunch of completely unrelated and unexpected angst that arrived neatly packaged in a series of telephone calls. So by 10:30pm on Saturday I was easily the most stressed I've been this year.

Which is why I found myself standing at a gig by one of my favourite bands, who were clearly on form, and yet completely unable to connect with the music, with the vibe of the venue... with anything. That never happens to me. Seriously, I'm always Mr.-Lost-In-Music at gigs. But on Saturday I stood rooted to the spot, not far from the stage, and watched an amazing band play amazing music. And I couldn't even really hear them.

It became more and more frustrating until I was forced to search out one of my friends... "this is just weird, I can't stay here. See you later - and say goodbye to the others for me"... and then I left... making my way downwards through the darkening spiral of the club, past some gorgeous goth women and impressive-looking goth men (whatever else you say about goths; at least they make an effort) and out into the cold night air of North London.

Across the street from the club sat a young goth with his head in his hands. A girl (his girlfriend?) sat next to him with her arm around him. A couple of friends hovered. I paused. "Is he OK?" Inevitably this provoked immediate defensiveness. "What's it to you? He's just had too much to drink. Fuck off." One of his mates stepped between me and his friend. None of them was older than 19.

I shrugged. "None of my business, mate." And I walked on. The poor guy had his friends with him, and there's nothing more important than that. But he was clearly having a bad time with psychedelics, not alcohol, and I have a Phd in Sorting Out Bad Trips.

I was the wrong person to tell to fuck off just then. But who knew? By the time I'd walked up to Highbury and Islington tube station my head was pretty clear. The birthday angst had dissipated. It's easy to forget just how much of Being Young is actually Being Stupid.

I got home a little while later. My flatmate was watching Stop Making Sense on DVD. I sank into the sofa, grabbed a bong, and watched the best concert film ever made. Slowly my life as a 34-year-old began...
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Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Older than Jesus

I know, I know... I've not been blogging as regularly as my discerning reader would like. Of course, seeing as how I pay him by the word, that's hardly a surprise.

In truth I've been rather distracted this past week... there's been a Big Complicated Work Thing (involving branching one application into several, over a period of days) which was using up a lot of my attention. And on top of that, I've been doing the whole Pre-Birthday Introspection Thing, which has produced a lot of writing... just not for public consumption... well, just a little bit then...

Yes. I'm 34. Hmmmmm. It's all downhill from here.

Thirty four. Unmarried. No children. No obvious social role.

I mean, I wish I could describe building web applications as a "social role" of some sort, but honestly? Let's just say that I hate that moment when I'm seeing a doctor and she asks "So what do you do for a living?" And I reply "Oh... I'm a writer... but just now I'm paying the bills as a freelance web developer..." I trail off. Awkwardly. I scratch the back of my neck. She smiles and nods her head, and her eyes betray almost nothing of the silent scream... "Do you know what my job is?! MY job is to work a hundred times harder than you, in order to save your worthless fucking life! That's my job!"

But we can't all be doctors, doctor. And I've been sold this here bunch of lies (opens briefcase; pulls out faded pieces of paper with "Industrialisation", "Capitalism", "Economics", "Globalisation", "Consumerism" written on them) that says my life's supposed to be about being economically productive. That somehow that's synonymous with fulfilling a social role. Somehow it's worthwhile and socially beneficial to spend 40 years making widgets just as long as someone wants to buy widgets. It doesn't matter what widgets are. And the more people you can pay to help you make widgets -- the more lives you can consume with the activity of widgets-making -- the more socially beneficial you become.

In the name of all that's sacred! The crassness of it all!

Aside to economists of the left... can I point out that giving all the widget-makers an equal share in the ownership of the operation doesn't make a life spent widget-making any less pointless. Marx was onto something with his ideas about industrial alienation, alright, but he was a rank materialist at heart.
Perfection of means and confusion of ends seem to characterise our age.
- Albert Einstein
(whose 126th birthday would've been yesterday)
Ain't that the truth Albert!

So here I am. I'm multi-skilled, well educated, relatively resourceful, affluent (by the standards of most of humanity) and highly intelligent. And I'm surrounded by millions just like me. Some better looking than me; some less so. Some more resourceful or better educated; some less so. Some less intelligent; one or two equal. All of us. Individual hearts and minds, separated from one another by two feet of concrete and a thousand miles of alienation.

And we're all busy making widgets.

It should have been obvious as soon as the nuclear family arrived on the scene. Or even before that. Back when industrialisation finally drove the family out of it's central position at the heart of our culture (the final nail hammered into the coffin of tribalism by civilisation). Family ties are a threat to consumerism... and that - after all - is the ultimate aim of capitalism; to tend towards a society which maximises the number of consumers for that which is produced.

How big a boon to the building industry, I wonder, was the death of the extended family? Society was broken into small units of three or four individuals and the suburbs blossomed. And now it's gone further. Breaking everything down into subatomic participants. These social trends aren't the result of some liberal plot to destroy the family, as the Unimaginative Right would have us all believe. They are simply the inevitable result of a system which expends huge resources in order to maximise the market for consumer goods.

Bah! See where turning 34 has got me! Last year was the final significant birthday until I'm 40 (well, 33 is significant within the Catholic tradition in which I was raised, if nowhere else). But Forty! is next ferchristsakes! Oh sure, I've got 35, 36, 37, 38, and 39 still to go before then (assuming I'm not hit by a bus tomorrow)... but who remembers those birthdays?!

I'm 34 goddamn it! I demand my wife! My 2.4 kids! And my white-picket fence! Or failing that: My sexy girlfriend! My open-top car! And my cross-country killing spree!

Sometimes turning thirty-four can make you a bit confused. I promise a return to some semblance of normalcy in the near future.
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Friday, March 11, 2005

Peaking of World Oil Production: Impacts, Mitigation, and Risk management

I just got hold of a copy of the study referred to in my recent entry: News Just In: "The End Is Nigh!" - Official. I'm only about a third of the way through (it's 91 pages) and it makes pretty sobering reading. Even though it's all the stuff that I've been harping on about for the best part of 7 years. Seeing the realisation dawn in the eyes of those you were trying hardest to convince isn't even a remote victory.

I'd been hoping they'd come up with something to prove me wrong.

Anyways, for those of you who'd like to read the report in full, I've made it available for download from my website (it's a 1.2MB PDF):

Peaking of World Oil Production: Impacts, Mitigation, & Risk management

For those who don't wish to trawl through the entire 91 pages, I've extracted the conclusions from the Executive Summary...
  1. When world oil peaking will occur is not known with certainty. A fundamental problem in predicting oil peaking is the poor quality of and possible political biases in world oil reserves data. Some experts believe peaking may occur soon. This study indicates that "soon" is within 20 years.
  2. The problems associated with world oil production peaking will not be temporary, and past "energy crisis" experience will provide relatively little guidance. The challenge of oil peaking deserves immediate, serious attention, if risks are to be fully understood and mitigation begun on a timely basis.
  3. Oil peaking will create a severe liquid fuels problem for the transportation sector, not an "energy crisis" in the usual sense that term has been used.
  4. Peaking will result in dramatically higher oil prices, which will cause protracted economic hardship in the United States and the world. However, the problems are not insoluble. Timely, aggressive mitigation initiatives addressing both the supply and the demand sides of the issue will be required.
  5. In the developed nations, the problems will be especially serious. In the developing nations peaking problems have the potential to be much worse.
  6. Mitigation will require a minimum of a decade of intense, expensive effort, because the scale of liquid fuels mitigation is inherently extremely large.
  7. While greater end-use efficiency is essential, increased efficiency alone will be neither sufficient nor timely enough to solve the problem. Production of large amounts of substitute liquid fuels will be required. A number of commercial or near-commercial substitute fuel production technologies are currently available for deployment, so the production of vast amounts of substitute liquid fuels is feasible with existing technology.
  8. Intervention by governments will be required, because the economic and social implications of oil peaking would otherwise be chaotic. The experiences of the 1970s and 1980s offer important guides as to government actions that are desirable and those that are undesirable, but the process will not be easy.
I will be writing much more about this very soon.
Full post...

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

The wrong line of work

Is what I'm in.

This isn't, of course, a new thought. I never see a documentary about NASA without thinking "That's a good job!" a large number of times. Also, I tend to think "I'm in the wrong line of work" whenever I hear about people who get paid to chase tornados, people who sing for a living, professional golfers, and anyone who spends a lot of time recording nature sounds.

Those are all, in their own unique ways, very good jobs to have.

One of G.K. Chesterton's finer books is called "The Club of Queer Trades". The club of the title is a Victorian Era Gentleman's Club. It's very exclusive, with membership restricted only to those who can honestly lay claim to having invented the profession by which they earn a living. Needless to say, the book is filled with wonderfully eccentric characters.

Today I encountered a news item featuring a person who would clearly qualify for Chesterton's Club, and about whom my complaint that "I'm in the wrong line of work" has never been more appropriate. A court case in America has recently required the services of an "expert witness" about the psychotropic effects of cocaine. The man they contacted was a professor at the University of California, Los Angeles. Not only is he an expert on the pharmacology and chemistry of the drug but he...
had smoked crack cocaine himself and sat in a cage with monkeys to teach them how to smoke cocaine as well.
- New York Times
(March 5th, 2005)
Imagine meeting people for the first time, and explaining that your job involves sitting in a cage smoking crack with rhesus monkeys. Am I ever in the wrong line of work!
Full post...

I read the news today

Oh boy.

- So I was reading the news...
- "Are you crazy? Why would you do that to yourself?"
- Aww don't worry about it, they've doubled the amount of prozac in the city's water supply.
- "Even so man......"
- Yeah, well someone's got to do it. And I take every conceivable precaution... I quadruple the dosage of all my meds, and have a highly-trained team of trauma-counsellors and therapists in the next room should anything go wrong. So better it's me than some hotshot kid with a blog, a dream and nothing else.
- "You were that kid once..."
- Yeah... I guess so... but things change. The whole damn world's gone and changed......

Though perhaps less than we sometimes think.
A soldier will fight long and hard for a bit of coloured ribbon.
- Napoleon Bonaparte
(To the captain of HMS Bellerophon, 15th July 1815)
What could better illustrate this sad truth than the news today that there is "fury" at the refusal to award a medal to a group of World War Two veterans? It appears that the sailors of the Arctic Convoys are to receive a "special emblem" instead.

Now, far be it from me, in my complete ignorance of military regalia to comment upon the relative merits of an emblem as compared to a medal. But for Cdr Eddie Grenfell to claim that "This is the most dreadful thing that has ever happened to veterans." is - I think - something of an exaggeration and makes him sound just a little bit silly. He also makes it clear that "The only way that a campaign will go down in history is by a medal - a badge means nothing". Now I don't know whether that's true or not. To me, an emblem means precisely the same as a medal. And I do have to question the merit of a medal that is demanded. Doesn't that defeat the purpose somehow?

That said, you've got to wonder about the crapness of a government willing to deny a group of WWII vets their final victory in the name of meaningless military decorum. The veterans are guilty of using exaggerated language. But the establishment is guilty of being plain mean and petty. Give them a bloody medal if they want one!

Speaking of fusion research....

OK, it's true... I've managed better segues. But the next article I stumbled upon whilst reading the news (at least, the next one that provoked a comment other than "oh dear god") was the news that there's still deadlock on the future of fusion research. Actually, the story did provoke an "oh dear god" response.

For some years now fusion research has been teetering on the edge of a major breakthrough. It's not a technology capable of mitigating the effects of the peak oil crisis about to rip our civilisation to shreds, but for those who take a longer-term view of humanity, then it is a technology into which we should be investing a great deal of resources. One day, assuming we don't wipe out the entire species during our resource wars, our descendants will look to the stars and decide to take the steps for which we lacked the maturity. Fusion is the technolgy that will take them there. And it's the perfect technology on which to base a sustainable, high-tech society. So as our society heaps unimaginable hardship upon our grandchildren, at least let our fossil-fuel-intensive / big-engineering fusion research be a small gift to our great-grandkids who might be able to do something useful with what we learnt from it.

Well nice in theory. Sadly, despite proving that we have the resources and will to fight a war which has - to date - cost more than 150 billion dollars in order to gain a strategic foothold on top of the Middle East's oil reserves; our race can't seem to get a 10 billion dollar research project off the ground. Six of the richest countries in the world are involved... and they've spent the best part of two years arguing about the location.

Three of them want it in France. Three of them want it in Japan.

The question that keeps going through my mind is this: "Why not build two?" I mean; so long as we're spending tens of billions on making life miserable for generations to come; why not spend some of it on something that has a chance of being useful some day?

And while we're on the subject of energy and ting; it seems very likely to me that the implications of peak oil are now being taken seriously in China. Could this have anything to do with the recent change in position by the US Department of Energy? Curious minds demand answers.
Full post...

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Backing Blair...

... into a corner. And that's the kind of thing that can backfire badly.

Yes folks, UK politics time again. For overseas readers, this recent article by George Monbiot might be a more relevant read. To be honest, it's also a damn sight more relevant for UK readers than anything I'm likely to write about local politics.

Nonetheless I persist. And bliss abides.

Anyways, prominent UK blogger Tim Ireland has started a campaign called "Backing Blair". For those without the requisite sense of irony, the Backing Blair campaign does precisely the opposite to what it's name might suggest. In essence it is working towards the single aim of reducing the NuLabor majority at the next election. An admirable goal given the near certainty that they will remain in power.

So admirable a goal, indeed, that I've made a small donation to their fund and will continue to display the link to their site until the election. (Operation Henman alone deserves that much support).

Despite this, however, it's important that I qualify my support for this campaign. I've read the various explanations on Backing Blair as to why it's a valid tactic to vote Tory this time round. The campaign draws a line at the BNP and UKIP, but insists that you should "suck it down" and vote Conservative in your constituency if they have a chance of beating Blair's candidate.

I understand the rationale. That a direct attack on Blair's majority is the only real weapon in the electorate's arsenal this time round. Anything else is symbolic. And the times demand action not symbolism.

And I agree. Except I need to take a step back to the paragraph before last. The problem is that I draw the line at the Tories, BNP and UKIP. Hell, NuLabor is too damn right wing for me to vote for. Voting for anyone to the right of them, for any reason at all is actually distasteful in my view. "Hey! Let's vote for rapacious capitalism with no boundaries in order to weaken those who stand for rapacious capitalism with only a couple of boundaries!" Fraid not. It's just as bad as voting UKIP in my view.

And on a purely personal level; it was Michael Howard as Thatcher's Home Secretary who first really politicised me with his crack downs on youth culture, and if (as looks likely) there's going to be another NuLabor government, then having an electorally invigorated Howard in opposition is not where political debate in this country should be located for another 5 years. It really isn't. A vote for the Tories remains, as it always has done, a vote for a more right wing society.

What happens the day after election day when Blair realises he's only got a majority of 40 thanks to a massive resurgence of the Tories under Michael Howard? Is it really likely he'll see that as the result of a tactical vote, and that it actually means the electorate want a shift to the left? Or will he see it as indicating a need to shift even further right to address this shift in the electorate?

Given NuLabor's track record, I'm willing to bet on the latter.

My personal distaste and philosophical objection were then reinforced when I took a gander at Backing Blair's advice on my local constituency... "This is a safe Labour seat, so we'd advise you to vote for (Conservative) although this may not affect the outcome in this constituency". This is absolute madness. I have one of the most rebellious Labour MPs in the country. On the issues that actually matter to me, he's far less likely to vote with Blair than a random Tory. So how does putting some novice Tory MP who'll vote with Howard on every issue do anything other than strengthen Blair's position in the house, and make him think that the people of Walthamstow have made a serious shift to the right?

And who is the Tory in question? Why it's Jane Wright. Followers of the last London Mayoral election may remember her as one of Tory candidate Steve Norris' key pro-car campaigners... she was a prominent figure in the "scrap the congestion charge" campaign (certainly here in Walthamstow).

Those familiar with me or my writing are probably aware of my attitude towards car culture and car use in general. So even if Steve Norris - her political mentor - hadn't been the Tory Minister for Transport when I was protesting the bypass at Newbury; to ask me to vote for a "pro-car" candidate is still, frankly, insulting. In practical terms, the pro-car lobby is a greater threat to all I hold dear than any of the pathetic fringe parties filled with dumb racist thugs and vainglorious fools.

I realise that this is all to do with perception. The Tories aren't seen as extremists by many people because many people fail to realise just how extreme their environmental and economic policies truly are. No, Blair's are not much better, but a vote for Howard will inevitably result in a shift in that direction. I fear Tim Ireland may be overestimating the ability of politicians to distinguish a tactical vote from a genuine shift to the right (especially as all this "The War Against Terror" bullshit is clearly being designed to do just that!)

My suggestion? Don't vote. Or else vote with your conscience. But if you vote to the right of Blair, do so with the expectation that it may very well lead to a shift in that direction.
Full post...

Saturday, March 05, 2005

You'd be a fool to miss it

Now that the United States Department of Energy has admitted that the global economy is probably going down the tubes over the next couple of decades, it makes it all the more important to see the good bands now... before the electricity runs out and everyone's forced to do acoustic-only shows.

Not that there's anything wrong with acoustic performances. But to the exclusion of all else? I think not.

So it was with delight that I greeted news of an upcoming rare UK performance by The Legendary Pink Dots; possibly the most under-rated band in the world ever. They've been going for 25 years, have released dozens of albums, a frightening number of which are genuine masterpieces, yet no bugger's ever heard of them. I've seen them live a couple of times (once in London and once in Chicago) and they were both incredible gigs.

Last time they played London I bought tickets well in advance, but found myself unable to make it on the night. That was less than groovy. The same shall not happen again (especially since it's the weekend after my birthday).

Of course, if you absolutely hate dark atmospheric industrial cosmic freakout music with mindbending lyrics, then it probably won't be your scene. But on the same principle that saw me attend the Bolshoi Ballet when I was in Moscow, you should still go and see them. Ballet, you see, is an art-form I don't really dig... but one should never pass up the opportunity to see the greatest artists in any field.

The other excellent thing about this forthcoming gig is the venue. It's at The Slimelight which is the gothest place in London.

13 years ago it was one of our haunts... my friends and I; though I actually rarely went to The Slimelight, as I was much more of a Megatripolis kinda guy. Not that you couldn't be both of course; and most of my mates were; but I just used to find The Slimelight had a tendency to give a "metal piercing flesh" vibe to your acid experience that did my head in much more than it did the heads of my multi-pierced friends. Though I'd still go along, on occasion, despite this fact. Partly because I was an idiot. And partly because a building filled with goth girls is often worth the price of a bad trip.

Anyways, you'd be a fool (and possibly a damn communist) to miss it. It's in a couple of weeks time... Saturday March 19th (7:30pm) at The Slimelight. You can buy tickets here. See you there.
Full post...

Friday, March 04, 2005

Livingstone commits political suicide

Sharon is war criminal says Livingstone. I agree with just about everything he said.
Full post...

News Just In: "The End Is Nigh!" - Official

A quite staggering article has appeared on the web in the latest issue of the ASPO Newsletter (Link to PDF). ASPO is the Association for the Study of Peak Oil. ASPO is openly an organisation with an agenda, but even those who disagree with that agenda acknowledge that it is made up of serious people with no personal axe to grind, and who are putting forward very well researched information.

This is illustrated by the fact that for some years there has been an ongoing dialogue (some of it in public) between ASPO and the US Department of Energy (DoE), and between ASPO and the US Geological Survey (USGS). This dialogue finally appears to have reached a resolution with the DoE conceding to ASPO's primary points.

If that is indeed what this article implies (and I can't see any other way of reading it) then it should be front page news. For some reason I suspect it won't be though.

In summary, the DoE seems to be saying that the problems posed by the peaking of oil supplies are massively worse than has previously been acknowledged. They suggest that in order to mitigate these problems, a Crash program (and by this they mean a huge focus of political will, resources and time; making it a major priority of our society) needs to be implemented 20 years prior to the peak of oil supply.
The US Department of Energy addresses Peak Oil
The US Department of Energy has submitted the following article for inclusion in this Newsletter

The Mitigation of the Peaking of World Oil Production

Summary of an Analysis, February 8, 2005

A recently completed study (ref below) for the U.S. Department of Energy analyzed viable technologies to mitigate oil shortages associated with the upcoming peaking of world oil production. Commercial or near-commercial options include improved vehicle fuel efficiency, enhanced conventional oil recovery, and the production of substitute fuels. While research and development on other options could be important, their commercial success is by no means assured, and none offer near-term solutions.

Improved fuel efficiency in the world's transportation sector will be a critical element in the long-term reduction of liquid fuel consumption, however, the scale of effort required will inherently take time and be very expensive. For example, the U.S. has a fleet of over 200 million automobiles, vans, pick-ups, and SUVs. Replacement of just half with higher efficiency models will require at least 15 years at a cost of over two trillion dollars for the U.S. alone. Similar conclusions generally apply worldwide.

Commercial and near-commercial options for mitigating the decline of conventional oil production include:
  1. Enhanced Oil Recovery (EOR), which can help moderate oil production declines from older conventional oil fields;
  2. Heavy oil/oil sands, a large resource of lower grade oils, now produced primarily in Canada and Venezuela;
  3. Coal liquefaction, an established technique for producing clean substitute fuels from the world’s abundant coal reserves; and
  4. Clean substitute fuels produced from remote natural gas.
For the foreseeable future, electricity-producing technologies, e.g., nuclear and solar energy, cannot substitute for liquid fuels in most transportation applications. Some day, electric cars may be practical, but decades will be required before they achieve significant market penetration and impact world oil consumption. And no one has yet defined viable options for powering heavy trucks or airplanes with electricity.

To explore how these technologies might contribute, three alternative mitigation scenarios were analyzed: One where action is initiated when peaking occurs, a second where action is assumed to start 10 years before peaking, and a third where action is assumed to start 20 years before peaking. Estimates of the possible contributions of each mitigation option were developed, based on crash program implementation.

Crash programs represent the fastest possible implementation - the best case. In practical terms, real-world action is certain to be slower. Analysis of the simultaneous implementation of all of the options showed that an impact of roughly 25 million barrels per day might be possible 15 years after initiation. Because conventional oil production decline will start at the time of peaking, crash program mitigation inherently cannot avert massive shortages unless it is initiated well in advance of peaking. Specifically,
  • Waiting until world conventional oil production peaks before initiating crash program mitigation leaves the world with a significant liquid fuel deficit for two decades or longer.
  • Initiating a crash program 10 years before world oil peaking would help considerably but would still result in a worldwide liquid fuels shortfall, starting roughly a decade after the time that oil would have otherwise peaked.
  • Initiating crash program mitigation 20 years before peaking offers the possibility of avoiding a world liquid fuels shortfall for the forecast period.
Without timely mitigation, world supply/demand balance will be achieved through massive demand destruction (shortages), accompanied by huge oil price increases, both of which would create a long period of significant economic hardship worldwide.

Other important observations revealed by the analysis included the following:
  1. The date of world oil peaking is not known with certainty, complicating the decision-making process. A fundamental problem in predicting oil peaking is uncertain and politically biased oil reserves claims from many oil producing countries.
  2. As recently as 2001, authoritative forecasts of abundant future supplies of North American natural gas proved to be excessively optimistic as evidenced by the recent tripling of natural gas prices. Oil and natural gas geology is similar in many ways, suggesting that optimistic oil production forecasts deserve to be viewed with considerable skepticism.
  3. In the developed nations, the economic problems associated with world oil peaking and the resultant oil shortages will be extremely serious. In the developing nations, economic problems will be much worse.
  4. While greater end-use efficiency is essential in the long term, increased efficiency alone will be neither sufficient nor timely enough to solve the oil shortage problem in the short term. To preserve reasonable levels of economic prosperity and growth, production of large amounts of substitute liquid fuels will be required. While a number of substitute fuel production technologies are currently available for deployment, the massive construction effort required will be extremely expensive and very time-consuming, even on a crash program basis.
  5. Government intervention will be essential, because the economic and social impacts of oil peaking will otherwise be chaotic, and crash program mitigation will need to be properly supported. How and when governments begin to seriously address these challenges is yet to be determined.
Oil peaking discussions should focus primarily on prudent risk management, and secondarily on forecasting the timing of oil peaking, which will always be inexact. Mitigation initiated earlier than required might turn out to be premature, if peaking is slow in coming. If peaking is imminent, failure to act aggressively will be extremely damaging worldwide.

World oil peaking represents a problem like none other. The political, economic, and social stakes are enormous. Prudent risk management demands urgent attention and early action.

Reference: Hirsch, R.L., Bezdek, R.H, Wendling, R.M. Peaking of World Oil Production: Impacts, Mitigation and Risk Management. DOE NETL. February 2005.
I can't overestimate the significance of this article. Ever since I've been involved in the energy resources debate (7 or 8 years now), the DoE has been "the other side". It was they who published the most strenuous of the counter-arguments and denials. They who made world production forecasts based completely upon demand projections.

And now they've admitted that ASPO is correct in its assessment.

To get technical for a minute, I believe (though I've yet to examine the source study referenced above, so this is conjecture for now) that the DoE have finally acknowledged that the Campbell / Laherrère method of reserve calculation (based upon their "back-dating" methodology) is correct. It's a huge U-Turn. As I say; it should really be front-page news.

Another bit of news that seemed to have slipped below the radar lately is the recent OPEC discussions. They concluded with a press conference given by Kuwaiti Oil Minister Sheikh Ahmad Fahd al-Sabah (also the current OPEC president) who declared that OPEC's target price band for oil of 22-28 dollars a barrel "is effectively dead" and that 32-35 dollars "would be a good price". Venezuela's OPEC delegate is pressing for a price band somewhat higher. A decision will be made in a couple of weeks at the next OPEC conference.

For those who aren't familiar with the idea of the OPEC target band, it's quite simple. The organisation attempts to calculate how much the average barrel of oil costs to produce. It's impossible to arrive at an exact number for this; there are too many imprecise variables involved; but they do a good job of narrowing it down (as you can imagine, a lot of money depends on the accuracy of that calculation). They then factor in their desired profit (the controversial bit, which I'll come to in a sec) and that's the target price band.

Since the year 2000 (the last adjustment), the band has been set at 22-28 US dollars per barrel. That means that OPEC believed they could make sufficient profit to satisfy them if oil was sold at that price. The price band, however, overtly takes no account of geopolitical concerns. The effect of the Iraq war on the oil price, for instance, should not - in the eyes of OPEC - trigger a rise in output to compensate. (Though of course, in practice OPEC often does respond to calls for increases in output even when they believe that the price is being artificially raised by political concerns as opposed to physical supply constraints).

Now, there will be those who point the finger at the scheming cartel who clearly just want to rob the world blind, and who are just using the Iraq war as a pretext to hike prices. But Matt Simmons (Energy advisor to the Bush Administration and Founder/CEO of the energy industry's investment bank) gave an interview and remarked:
Over the last year, I have obtained and closely examined more than 100 very technical production reports from Saudi Arabia. What I glean from examining the data is that Saudi Arabia, already a debtor nation, has very likely gone over its Peak. If that is true, then it is a certainty that planet earth has passed its peak of production.
Hand in hand with the DoE announcement, it is clear to me that the rise in target band tells us two things. One (the less significant) is that OPEC has lost faith in the strength of the dollar. The second is that OPEC is sending the world a coded message.

We're running out of oil.
Full post...

Thursday, March 03, 2005

An extract from 'The 4th Epistle of Jim Bliss to the Mesopotamians' with introduction and concluding thoughts by the author

Religion... it's just so much crazy bullshit. I'd really like to jump back in time a few thousand years and nip some ideas in the bud, y'know what I'm saying? I mean, don't get me wrong, I'm a big fan of the universal impersonal godhead thing. I don't care where it comes from... but life wouldn't be worth squat without a sense of The Divine. But as soon as that gets turned into a guy with a beard or a gal emerging from a clam, then all hell breaks loose. Figuratively speaking.

Wouldn't it be great to leap backwards to late-neolithic Mesopotamia (to take a time and place completely at random) and offer them an alternative viewpoint to the emerging one. Kind of like a proto-St. Paul in an anarcho-rationalist stylee.
My dear late-stone-age Mesopotamians,

Many thanks for your recent letter. If archaeologists from my time only knew just how much you guys are fucking with their heads! It makes me laugh every time I surf into a documentary on the Discovery Channel nowadays. Of course, you won't have the faintest idea what that means... but you've learnt to roll with my idiosyncrasies by now.

Anyways, I figured I should get round to the real essence of why I started our correspondence. I'm sure you've guessed by now that I had an ulterior motive for wanting to be pen-pals. That said; please believe me when I say that I'm not dictating anything here. I only want to offer you some ideas to mull over. Just throw them out there, see what happens. You see, I completely understand your decision to personify a lot of the natural systems and events that are outside your control. It's a perfectly normal thing to do... all over the globe, pretty much every emerging culture is going to do the same thing.

But I'm here to tell you my prehistorical friends, that it'll all go very badly. Seriously folks, it's ended up a bloody great mess when I am. When you're still living a hunter-gatherer, and even proto-agricultural lifestyle then it is - and should have been - the natural socio-cultural paradigm (cough, cough... bleuurrrrrgh... excuse me, but I appear to have thrown up some of that academic language I consumed a few years back). But you guys are about to start building bloody great cities... and that's going to change the way you look at a lot of things. It's going to change almost everything.

Trust me when I say that you need to keep supernatural mumbo-jumbo out of the important decisions. If some bloke tells you that God is dictating a book of rules to him? Just assume he's mad. Give him a big grant and surround him with art critics (it's the easiest way to make someone irrelevant - infinitely more effective than martyrdom). Stamp out that silliness before it gets out of hand and someone loses an eye. Or a tooth.

So now I'm going to explain this here notion of "causality" to you. Then I'm going to tell you a little about natural systems and sustainability (just to get the seed planted as it were)... ... ...
Imagine no religion

I dunno; how would civilisation have developed if the Cult of the Sky Bully had never got started in the first place? The temptation is to apply it to our world as it is now... imagining a world where all of the church, mosque, synagogue and temple goers suddenly went... "haaaaaannnng on a second... That makes no sense!" And sadly, the result of such a rude awakening; an imposed mass-enlightenment, so to speak; would be chaos. The frailty of human psychology being what it is, there'd be widespread destructive nihilism. A disenchanted individual might wear black for a while, listen to The Cure and even cut themselves and get into bad drugs. Which is a real fucking waste of two years let me tell you.

Not that The Cure aren't a great band. They are.

But the equivalent behaviour in large groups of people usually turns very ugly, in a "let's find someone to blame and beat them with sticks for a while" manner. People are bastids that way.

Trying to imagine how civilisation would be today, had the priesthood racket never got off the ground, is something of a non-starter. It's all so bound up in everything... so insidious and integral.

Don't get me wrong; I'm not implying that we'd be living in the best of all possible worlds were theism not so rampant. Some people are perfectly happy to do terrible things to the person they sit next to in church every Sunday. So let's not blame religion for absolutely everything. It's guilty of a lot of very nasty shit, but maybe humanity would've come up with something worse to fill the vaccuum. Who knows?

I'm fairly convinced I could come up with something better though. But as I'm still working on a replacement for economics, religion might have to wait a couple of weeks.
Full post...

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Two very good films

Rest assured there will be more on capitalism, economics, politics and energy resources in the very near future. And I will address the issues raised in the comments section by David, Philippe, Tincanman and others. Right now though, I just feel like engaging in the self-indulgence of freeform random musing about a couple of films I've seen over the past couple of days. It is - after all - my blog. And as I'm never holding a gun to more than one of my reader's heads at a time, there's only one of you who actually needs to be here.

The first thing I'd like to mention is just how good The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou is. Myself and a couple of friends went to see it at The Screen on The Green on Saturday, and all three of us loved it. But the more I've thought about it over the past couple of days, the more it's grown on me. It's almost unique for a film that spends a lot of time being silly and whimsical to hold my attention for several days. The fact that it provided the ambience for a great dream on Saturday night has a lot to do with that though.

Anyways, if you've not seen the film already, then you really should do. It's Wes Anderson's best film to date (though I've not seen Bottle Rocket yet... it's on one of the movie channels next Monday night) and Bill Murray is just incredible as the eponymous hero. He brings far more depth to a character who is half-cartoon than you'd imagine possible. In the very first scene of the film, Steve Zissou is given bizarre cartoonish eyes as a result of surfacing too soon from a deep dive. Yet the larger-than-life adventurer is rendered believable by Murray's performance.

In fact, all of the performances are flawless. It is the sign of a truly great director that they can get the best from their actors. Klaus Daimler (as played by Willem Dafoe) deserves special mention though, for managing to steal almost every scene he's in. And of course Seu Jorge who provided the ship's soundtrack.

It's here that I should point out that as a huge Bowie fan, Wes Anderson had a big head-start when it came to me. A film soundtracked with early Bowie, much of which is sung beautifully in Portugese by Seu Jorge... just sat there in the background of the scene with an acoustic guitar... is going to have to try very hard to piss me off. Wes Anderson does truly incredible things with music in his films; in fact I'll go out on a limb here and say that no director does it better.

That scene in The Royal Tenenbaums where Gwyneth Paltrow steps off the bus and Nico's voice rises in the background.....? If that doesn't catch your breath for a moment you should be ashamed of yourself. And having all that early Bowie in The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou really delighted me. But even for those who aren't Bowie or Nico fans, the skill with which Anderson weaves the songs into a scene should astonish anyone.

And on top of all that, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou is a rip-roaring good yarn. It's an absurd adventure tale filled with psychedelic special-effects, bizarre and crazy characters, a plot that is both silly and compelling, and a surprising depth beneath the whimsy.

If you took out "psychedelic special-effects" and replaced it with "the god-like screen presence of Bruce Campbell" then the above paragraph could serve as the perfect introduction to another film... one I watched this evening in fact.

So on that note, Bubba Ho-tep is a rip-roaring good yarn. It's an absurd adventure tale filled with the god-like screen presence of Bruce Campbell, bizarre and crazy characters, a plot that is both silly and compelling, and a surprising depth beneath the whimsy.

If you only see one film this year... and I'm quite serious about this... then make it Bubba Ho-tep (directed by Don Coscarelli). In the early 90s I used to take really rather significant quantities of psychedelics with a group of friends. The plot of Bubba Ho-tep is about as weird as most of the conversations we would have on the come-downs. And I love imagining how it was pitched to investors.

Elvis Presley - the role that Bruce Campbell was born to play - lies almost bed-ridden in a crappy nursing home in Texas. He's probably got cancer on his cock, but whatever the growth is... it's pus-filled. And it's been years since he's had a hard-on. Elvis lies in despair and self-pity.

Back at the height of his fame, you see, the pressure got too much and he switched places with an Elvis impersonator. Now, of course, nobody will believe him, and everyone thinks he's just some whacked-out Elvis impersonator seeing out his last days before age, or cock-cancer, takes him away. However, in order to defend against a threat to the nursing home, he teams up with a man who claims to be President Kennedy dyed to look like a black man so that nobody would believe him (played by the late, lamented Ossie Davies).

The threat they face is the ancient Egyptian Mummy (Bubba Ho-tep) who happens to be feeding off the souls of the sick and elderly in the Texas nursing home (and writing hieroglyphic grafitti like "Cleopatra does the nasty" on the toilet cubicle walls when he takes a crap). All the laughs and groans that you'd expect are there.

But somehow it also manages to be an incredible meditation on old-age and how our culture deals with it. Seriously... it pisses all over the formulaic feel-good crap that Hollywood puts out on the rare occasion it tackles the subject. And ultimately you come away feeling like you've watched a substantial and insightful film. Despite it being about Elvis and JFK fighting a Mummy in a present-day Texas nursing-home.

So yeah, see them both. They're very groovy.
Full post...

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Marxism #3

Groucho: Why a four year old child could understand this. Run out and get me a four year old child, I can't make head or tail out of it.
Full post...
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