Where There Were No Doors

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

Saturday, April 30, 2005

Some links:

I've listened to Imagine so far (it's amazingly well done). And Who's The Nigga? would be Number One if there was any justice in the world. So as the rest of the album downloads, I point you towards The Party Party: Dick Is A Killer by 'rx'.

Then there's Google Maps UK which most UK bloggers have already pointed to and gone "wow" at. I'd like to add my own "wow", but tag on a quiet "hmmmm". By including the island of Ireland they have come tantalisingly close to providing the first Irish online street map. And at last the big cities are there (thankyou google, it's about time someone did it). Plus the major linking roads also get included. But the vast majority of the nation is still completely empty. Be a sport google. Finish what you started. Make it "UK and Ireland".

Am I the only person who finds something slightly unsettling about this image? (Probably).

I'm glad so many people have their priorities right.

And read this story here (it's very short). Half-price oil in return for thousands of skilled doctors? What evil is this!!? It needs stamping out now!.

(Viva Chavez!)
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Monday, April 25, 2005

Just a musical list

  1. Things I would like to be under:

    • the sea

  2. Things I would like to be in:

    • the shade

    • our little hideaway

    • an octopus's garden

  3. The octopus would:

    • know where we've been

    • let us in:

      • the shade

      • his garden

  4. Information about the garden:

    • Location:

      • on the sea bed

      • beneath the waves

      • below the storm

    • Features:

      • it's warm

      • it contains:

        • at least one cave

        • coral

        • no one to tell us what to do

  5. People I would ask along with me (or could reasonably expect to be there):

    • my friends

    • you

    • every boy

    • every girl

  6. Things we would do:

    • shout

    • sing

    • dance around

    • swim about

    • rest our head

  7. Things we would know:

    • that we can't be found

  8. Things we would feel:

    • joy

    • happy

    • safe

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Saturday, April 23, 2005


There was a photograph from Iraq in my dream last night. A naked Iraqi prisoner crouched with his back to a wall. A semi-circle of uniformed men and women around him. They're pointing at him. They're shouting. Laughing. And two of them are holding back big, vicious dogs. The dogs are straining at the leash. The faces of the captors are cruel. And the faces of the dogs are savage. But it's the face of the prisoner that haunted my dreams. The look of hopelessness. The look of sheer terror.

That's a word that's become politicised of late... "terror". After all, we're fighting a war on it. And something struck me as I saw that photograph on the news bulletin. And then again in my dream. The face of that prisoner is a powerful reminder of exactly what it is we're all supposed to be so worried about.
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Friday, April 22, 2005

Thought for today

Man tries to make for himself, in the fashion that suits him best, a simplified and intelligible picture of the world; he then tries to some extent to substitute this cosmos of his for the world of experience, and thus to overcome it. This is what the painter, the poet, the speculative philosopher, and the natural scientists do, each in his own fashion. Each makes this cosmos and its construction the pivot of his emotional life, in order to find in this way peace and security which he can not find in the narrow whirlpool of personal experience.

A human being is part of the whole, called by us 'Universe,' a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest - a kind of optical delusion of his 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 of 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
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Thursday, April 21, 2005

Political famous folk

As with yesterday, I'm incredibly busy with work today, and will continue to be for another couple of days at least. So you'll not be getting any long stream-of-consciousness rants about stuff for a little bit. Over the next week or so, though, I am planning a piece about replacing the economic / competitive model of resource distribution with one based upon the principles of a cooperative ecology (I live such a rock'n'roll lifestyle!) I'm planning yet another rant about Catholicism, sorry to say. And another fairly lengthy piece on the general election.

Until then, though, you'll just have to make do with some links, and perhaps a quote or two. Maybe even a minor observation on a current news item. Like how's about them celebs, eh? The BBC has rounded up the names of some famous folk who have made their voting intentions public. Now, on the one hand, anyone who takes political advice from Joan Collins deserves a good slap. But on the other hand - if you suspend disbelief for a moment, and pretend that it actually matters - then an objective assessment of their celebrity supporters reveals a lot about the parties.

Certainly the Lib Dems have - by far - the best of the bunch. Some of whom are even worth listening to on matters of social policy (even if you don't agree with them; they're the sort of people you feel might have a valid contribution to make). There's Brian Eno, of course, who is possibly the smartest man I've ever met personally. I'm a very smart person, and I can assess a person's general level of intelligence during a conversation. Brian Eno has a really towering intellect. He has published an open letter on a website he set up LibDemThisTime which follows roughly the same logic as my "Possible Alternative" scenario at the end of the Who Should You Vote For? piece (i.e. that a massive swing to the LibDems - who are far from perfect - would finally bury the tory party and swing the political debating ground further leftwords than any other realistic protest vote could do).

It's a sound argument, and I'd love to see it happen. But I don't believe it will. Essentially because The Great British Public do not appear to have enough imagination to envision it. There is a consistent large disparity between people who say they agree with the LibDems, and those who say they will vote for them. Perhaps as much as half those who believe they'd be a better opposition than the tories will not vote for them because they don't believe they will win.

See, I've never even considered voting in those terms ("gotta make sure I back the winner!") I've always considered it an expression of my beliefs; which is why I usually spoil my ballot papers with a "None of The Above" slogan, but that's another discussion altogether.

Anyways, if I were you and not some rabid anti-capitalist like me, I'd vote LibDem in an attempt to shift the political middle ground. If nothing else it puts you in far better company... Eno, Richard Dawkins, Germaine Greer (though I still haven't completely forgiven her for Celebrity Big Brother) and Barry Norman. I mean, can you imagine hanging out with the tory celebs? Joan Collins, Bill Wyman, Tim Rice and Eddie Jordan...? Well, I guess you'll get some interesting anecdotes out of Wyman. But aside from that, who in their right minds wants to spend an evening chatting to those people. Let alone associate with them on an ongoing basis... politically speaking.

Labour seem to have found themselves without many of their earlier celeb supporters, but they can still wheel out some groovy folks. I'd have no real objection to spending some time with Eddie Izzard and Richard Attenborough. But if it meant having to listen to Alex Ferguson loudly bullying Maureen Lipman and the woman who plays Vera Duckworth in some corner of the room, then perhaps not.

Anyways folks, vote the way your conscience demands. All those talking of tactical voting have many good points. But unless there's a really good chance that you might vote Oliver "dog strangler" Letwin out of office, then I exhort every single person reading this to treat your vote as the important statement it is... your full endorsement of another human being to represent, and speak for, you and your community.
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Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Choosing HIV

I'm incredibly busy today (work stuff) so I'll have to be brief. With the recent elevation (pontiffication?) of Ratzinger to the papacy, a dreary realisation that the Church's stance on condom use won't be changing soon has settled over sane people everywhere.

Over on Conservative Commentary, however, the increasingly silly Peter Cuthbertson (the future of the tory party) appears overjoyed that a highly conservative man has become pope. So much so that he almost had a religious conversion at the news! Mind you, Peter talks about religious conversion with roughly the same amount of gravity as most people discuss what they feel like eating for supper this evening.

However what I want to draw attention to is the mind-boggling revelation in the comments to that message. I mentioned the Church's stance on condom use as being the vile and murderous position that it is when considering African nations currently being decimated by the AIDS virus.

Immediately I was accused of "pious humbug". Don't be ridiculous, I was essentially told, people aren't deciding against condom use because of what the Church says. After all, they do plenty of other things the church condemns.

What a complete and utter waste of my time. Not that I was debating the subject with a bunch of rightwing fools; but that I was debating it with people who had never once given the issue a moment's thought. Because if they had done, they'd know that the problem isn't what the church says, but what it does.

There are large areas of AIDS-infected Africa where condoms are simply not available. The medical centres and hospitals are run by Catholic organisations, and the local churches preach savagely against anyone who might be distributing them. The idea that people in AIDS-infected Africa are "choosing" en masse not to use condoms is a pathetic and dangerous lie told by right wing nutjobs who would rather see millions of poor people die horribly than admit they might be wrong about something.

And anyone who unthinkingly buys into that lie needs to wise up fast.
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Tuesday, April 19, 2005

The Big Vatican Smoke-in

Bloody Ratzinger! I bloody knew it! He had it wrapped up right from the start I suppose... with his steely-eyes, his ultra-conservative agenda, and his threats to "fucking well kneecap any one of you fuckers who doesn't vote for me!" (intoned in Latin during the pre-Conclave hootenanny). Of course they stretched it out for a couple of days to give it an air of mystery and legitimacy. Gotta give the public their holy smoke after all.

We can expect a stiffening (tee hee) of the Catholic stance on condoms then. With Roman Catholicism a major cultural force in many nations in sub-Saharan Africa this essentially translates into playing a significant contributing factor in the continuing decimation of that region by AIDS. The Conclave had a real opportunity to pick out a guy with a less than murderous stance on condoms. Those 115 men had it within their power to make a massive positive difference in the world (even if they picked a bloke who was identical to Ratzinger on every other issue; that alone would have been a huge thing). But they blew it.

Well, I guess at least Ratzinger's fairly old.

Those of us who grew up steeped in Catholic doctrine of course, immediately upon hearing that Cardinal Ratzinger had chosen to become Pope Benedict XVI, dug out whatever material we could find on the last Benedict (Pope between the years 1914 and 1922) to see where the new guy is drawing his inspiration.

The fact that Benedict XV was a war pope may or may not have any significance. Ratzinger himself was a soldier in WW2 (a draftee into his local home guard) and if there's one positive thing he can be relied upon for, it will be his uncompromising anti-war stance. Ratzinger is a serious peacenik. That doesn't make up for all the other shit that Catholicism is responsible for; but it is nonetheless a good thing to have one major global voice constantly denouncing war in these evil times.

Benedict XV was also a critic of the blossoming capitalist system that he had seen emerge during his lifetime. I suspect Benedict XVI may very well decide to run with that theme (as did JP2 let's not forget).

Here's an extract from an encyclical (dated November 1st, 1914) from Pope Benedict XV:
But there is still, Venerable Brethren, a deeper root of the evils we have hitherto been deploring, and unless the efforts of good men concentrate on its extirpation, that tranquil stability and peacefulness of human relations we so much desire, can never be attained. The apostle himself tells us what it is: "The desire of money is the root of all evils" (I. Tim vi. 10). If any one considers the evils under which human society is at present labouring, they will all be seen to spring from this root.

Once the plastic minds of children have been moulded by godless schools, and the ideas of the inexperienced masses have been formed by a bad daily or periodical press, and when by means of all the other influences which direct public opinion, there has been instilled into the minds of men that most pernicious error that man must not hope for a state of eternal happiness; but that it is here, here below, that he is to be happy in the enjoyment of wealth and honour and pleasure: what wonder that those men whose very nature was made for happiness should with all the energy which impels them to seek that very good, break down whatever delays or impedes their obtaining it. And as these goods are not equally divided amongst men, and as it is the duty of authority in the State to prevent the freedom enjoyed by the individual from going beyond its due limits and invading what belongs to another, it comes to pass that public authority is hated, and the envy of the unfortunate is inflamed against the more fortunate. Thus the struggle of one class of citizen against another bursts forth, the one trying by every means to obtain and to take what they want to have, the other endeavouring to hold and to increase what they possess.
Incidentally, just before I had to hand back the Papal Infallibility I'd been "looking after", I made a few pronouncements. Meditate upon them, for they are the Word of God.
  1. Astral Weeks really is the best album ever recorded.
  2. Economics is bunk.
  3. That Jim Bliss guy is a really good catch ladies. It's a Sin in Mine Eyes that he's been single for so long. Sort it out.
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Another Tory election poster spoof

... from Tom Fourwinds (who runs the amazing megalithomania site). The genius of this one is the subverting of the "are you thinking..." tagline. Have a look. Fantastic.
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Straight Outta Comptom: Explicit Content ONLY

OK, so if you have a problem with swearing you won't want to check out this link. If like me, however, you find swearing inane at worst, and absolutely fucking hilarious at best, I can heartily recommend you check out the Explicit Content ONLY version of NWA's seminal Straight Outta Compton.

That's right folks, someone has taken the time to edit the album down to the swear words and nothing else. The results are side-splitting. Leastways I think so.
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Bad news for CF developers

Forgive me if I 'talk shop' very briefly.

Back in the day, when Macromedia purchased Allaire, I can recall quite a bit of optimism amongst ColdFusion developers (and the forums I was reading). The recent announcement, however, that Adobe have just bought Macromedia must come as a body-blow to anyone (like me) who earns a crust developing software in ColdFusion.

Macromedia were treating CF incredibly well. The MX6.1 upgrade was a complete re-write of the platform in Java, and MX7 has apparently (still not had a project that requires working in MX7 yet) ironed out all the issues that made the first component (CFC) orientated implementation a bit of a bugger to use.

In an ideal world I'd have preferred Macromedia to continue developing their bare-bones development environment (Homesite+) as I have a real bee in my bonnet about Dreamweaver. But Homesite+ is well-supported by independent developers who have written all manner of nice plug-ins, so I'm perfectly happy to stick with my 'old' version.

All in all, I've been very happy indeed with how Macromedia have treated CF. However, having seen how recent iterations of Adobe Reader have turned into monstrous bloatware behemoths (how long does a fucking document viewer actually need to boot up? eh? And don't even suggest using 'Adobe Quicklaunch'!), I fear the worst when it comes to ColdFusion.
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The 100 greatest albums

Last night I caught the final 40 minutes or so of Channel 4's One hundred greatest albums of all time. I hate list shows, but I'm a muso so escaping the show once I'd surfed in was impossible. I seethed when not one, but two Oasis albums made it into the Top 15, but I figured that there would always be idiosyncracies and peculiarities in lists such as this. OK Computer at number one? Well it's a great album; definitely top 100 material... but the best album ever recorded? I think not. And The Joshua Tree at number two, but no mention of Achtung Baby (U2's true high point)?

But what can you do? That's how "Great British Public" voted and that's the way it is. It was only upon reading the full list just now (via Nick Barlow), however, that a great despair gripped me. I'd just assumed it had been buried somewhere around Number 60 by the voting public. But it wasn't. In fact Van Morrison's Astral Weeks actually failed to register in the 100 Greatest Albums of all time, as chosen by the "Great British Public".

Not only does this render the list objectively invalid. It means that every member of the "Great British Public" deserves a proper slap. Fricking idiots!
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you're not thinking are you?

Merrick over at Bristling Badger has one of the best pieces I've read on the Tory poster campaign. And I'm not just saying that cos he quotes me.

The second of his spoof posters made me laugh out loud. Check it out.
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Monday, April 18, 2005


Check out the excellent Global Warming Sceptic Bingo (via Shot by Boths Sides). Or perhaps take the 2005 Political Survey from the ubiquitous Chris Lightfoot (via just about everyone). My results can be seen here .

I'd also like to share The Zoomquilt with you all. This is a quite astonishing piece of web art that blows my mind every time I visit it. Admittedly, I tend to visit it immediately after a bong, but I challenge anyone to find this unimpressive. And as soon as you start trying to figure out how it was all painted and spliced together... that's when it begins to hurt your brain.

There's also the fantastic BandToBand.com. Myself and several muso friends of mine have been playing this game for years... basically a "six degrees of separation" type thing, but with bands, and to find an online version that includes some really obscure stuff is a real treat. They seem to exclude solo artists though, which makes the game less interesting from my point of view, but still a great site.

Other news that caught my eye recently includes the story that robot jockeys are soon to be used in camel racing in the UAE. Welcome to the 21st century.

Oh yeah, and why couldn't I have discovered this when I was 17?
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Reciprolinkage and The Problem With Optimists

Well it looks less and less likely that the white smoke soon to billow above the Vatican will bear my name. A dirty tricks campaign organised by Opus Dei did a lot of damage and the sad fact is; an idealistic independent like myself just can't compete against the well-funded vested interests in the modern ecclesiastical arena. Of course, as Nick pointed out in the comments to a previous post, campaigning is prohibited for the papacy. Ah my dear Mr. Barlow; how refreshingly and charmingly naïve of you.

Yes campaigning is indeed officially prohibited, but the Church hasn't taken a blind bit of notice of that since Leo XIII took over from Blessed Pius IX in 1878. Leo's publication of the "Let's Stay Blessed" manifesto - just after Blessed Pius died - propelled him from a nobody Cardinal from a family in Carpineto with rather shady claims to nobility, straight to the top of the pecking order.

Since then, of course, campaigning has become less about publishing doctrine and more about schmoozing the right clergy. Most analysts agree that John Paul II would never have got the top job if it hadn't been for those "fact-finding" junkets to the Caribbean that he arranged for the Council of Bishops. And this time round, Ratzinger was sending out gold Rolexes before JP2 was cold. What chance do I stand against the well-oiled campaign machines employed by the bigwigs? It's all rather dispiriting.

However, in what most analysts believe is an acknowledgement of the direction in which the papacy is heading (albeit slowly), the Council of Cardinals have requested that I "look after" the Papal Infallibility for the time being (just 'between popes' as it were). This is an honour usually bestowed on someone the Cardinals see as being the future of The Church, but as yet probably a little too inexperienced to be Infallible on a full-time basis... kind of like a Youth Training Scheme.

What this does mean, however, is that I've had a week or so of being 100% right about everything.

Which is why I've been so surprised at the comments springing up around the web about my Who Should You Vote For? bit. Over at Tim Worstall's Britblog Roundup (Number Nine) for instance, Tim openly admits that "I doubt there’s very much he and I agree upon". Any other time, Tim, and that might be OK. This week it's blasphemy mate.

Paul Davies at Make My Vote Count, says "it lapses into age-old 'anyone but the Tories' vitriol on every other line" and that I "churn out the old party cliches". It's one thing Paul, to critique my writing... but at the moment, thanks to Catholic dogma, you're critiquing The Word of God. And I happen to know He's a bit bloody touchy about that. That'll be three Hail Marys, two Our Fathers and an eternity in the lake of fire for you.

Both Cabalamat and Chicken Yoghurt took the safe option and simply linked to the original piece with little or no commentary. Him Upstairs approves of that.

While across at The Pseudo Magazine we see the emergence of the first Alternate Version of The Text. Already, as scholars of catechism will be interested to note, we see a Scriptural Shift. Oliver "Dog-Kicker" Letwin was described as a director of "Morgan Rothschild" in the original text. However, upon deeper reflection and meditation, it was revealed to me that it should have read "NM Rothschild". The correction was made, but only after the New Text was released.

And that, folks, is schism just waiting to happen.

Robert over at Consider Phlebas rails against the use of Lord Acton's dictum that "power corrupts". And actually he does have a point (I'm allowed say that, I'm Infallible. When Robert says it though, it's heresy.)

Lord Acton's dictum

Of course, we could debate Lord Acton's "power corrupts" forever and a day, and not arrive at a resolution. I fully acknowledge that fine individuals can be immune to the corruption that exercising power over others seems to cause. But history would suggest that such individuals only rarely achieve power. When Albert Einstein was offered the presidency of Israel for instance, he declined. It seems that the kind of people who may exercise power wisely, almost never want to exercise power.

Once in a while we are fortunate, and circumstances propel a Gandhi onto the world stage. But my experience in corporations and my assessment of politics tells me that almost nobody who seeks power over others can be trusted to remain uncorrupted by that power.

But the specific issue of whether or not power has an inevitable corrupting influence on all but the most remarkable of individuals is not actually the crucial point in Robert's post. Leastways it's not the point I wish to address. Robert, you see, describes that view as a
form of pessimism in the face of the mendacity, grubby self-interest, corruption and narrow focus of much of politics, a pessimism which is generalized to all possible politics, and which thus can ... leave us stymied by the unacceptable face of the world as it is, unwilling to try and change it because change will only make it worse.
and he goes on to accuse it of being a form
of conservatism, of resistance to the idea that, however complex the human world is, it is of our making, and we can, with the correct knowledge, carefully applied by people of good-will, make it better.
Robert has, in criticising my use of Lord Acton's dictum, perfectly elucidated a criticism which has been levied at my writing for several years now... something which has been haunting me for a long time, but which I have recently managed to exorcise.

Peak oil and me

My attempts to publicise the dangers of a global peak in oil production stretch all the way back to my first letters to politicians on the subject in early 1997. In the eight years since then, my opinions on the implications of oil peaking have remained largely unchanged, yet have gone from being lunatic fringe stuff to being the mainstream view. What has not changed, however, is the hostility with which those views are met by a significant majority of people.

Statistically speaking, I am due to live another 40 years. During that time, I will witness the complete collapse of free-market capitalism. The project of globalisation will fail, and the consumer culture within which recent generations have been raised will end. A massive reduction in living standards, unlike any other readjustment in history, will be experienced by 99% of us living in the industrialised world. A hundred thousand things that we all take for granted today will have ceased to exist by the time I reach my allotted lifespan. This, dear reader, will happen. And it is perhaps unsurprising that this pronouncement was not joyously embraced by the people I informed of it.

First let me point out that the problem we face is a Physical Systems problem. It's not an economic problem, despite the insistence of certain kooks who claim that The Market can find a solution to anything (apropos of nothing in particular, I was amused and bemused last week to discover that someone had arrived at my site by googling for 'Oliver Kamm tedious bore'). By 1998 large US corporations were giving me tens of millions of dollars of their Physical Systems and telling me to optimise them (now there's a euphemism for closing factories if ever I heard one!). It was said that I was a bit of an expert in the field.

But the private project with which I was becoming increasingly obsessed was far larger than saving a couple of companies in the midwest (which, incidentally, I succeeded in doing before going completely apeshit). Initially I held a secret hope of being The Great Man who discovered the solution to the crisis... who saved the world. And indeed, some may still recall the evangelical zeal with which I argued the case for a largescale increase in biomass; replacing fossil oils with plant oils.

However, by the end of 1998 the full implications of peak oil finally began to sink in. I was working 80 hours per week every week at my job and putting in another 20 hours on "saving the world". The rest of the time I spent watching US TV evangelists (sleep didn't happen very much that year). Y2K, the Second Coming and my inability to create a biomass model capable of being scaled up, provided me with one of my many Road to Damascus moments and I quit the grindstone to be depressed for a while.

If there's one thing that makes industrial engineering (for instance) a satisfying profession, it's the presence of right and wrong answers. Inevitabilities and absolutes. If a vehicle fleet is burning X litres of fuel per day and I calculate that moving the locations of three distribution centres, and eliminating two others will reduce X by a third, then I'm either going to be right or wrong when the plan is implemented. And if I gather enough data beforehand, and ensure that I analyse it in the correct manner, then I can guarantee being right, near-as-dammit, even before implementation. Because it all comes down to mathematics, and understanding exactly how mathematics can be applied to the physical world. Einstein may once have said "as far as the laws of mathematics refer to reality, they are not certain; and as far as they are certain, they do not refer to reality"; but as far as engineering is concerned, you can trust maths to be near-as-dammit accurate.

Strange to think though, that all over the world there are engineers who - when pressed - would admit to near-as-dammit accuracy. That may not reassure you all that much, next time you get into a plane or drive over a suspension bridge. But it's the way of things.

The politics of pessimism

As the years passed, people stopped arguing the facts of the situation with me. What's the point when it's possible to demonstrate them on an etch-a-sketch? (as a great man once said). And here in 2005, it's almost impossible to find someone, who knows what they're talking about, who doesn't agree that we are approaching a singular discontinuity in human affairs. The US Dept of Energy, the International Energy Agency, ExxonMobil, the Saudi oil minister, everyone who has conducted serious research into the matter. All are now on board; and the biggest wild-eyed optimist of the lot (Saudi Aramco) tell us not to worry, as the problem is still 30 to 50 years away; a position which looks increasingly absurd as the facts emerge, but even if true, is still only reassuring if our generation doesn't give a damn about the next lot.

Nobody disagrees that a problem is approaching to which there is no solution beyond accepting the naturally imposed limits of the physical system within which we live. Nobody disagrees. Except the economists. But they're idiots.

So as the years passed, people stopped arguing the facts. Instead they found another way to ignore the implications. They insisted that what I was saying couldn't possibly be true because it was pessimistic. Or at least, that's what their complaints boiled down to. And at the back of my mind, I felt a creeping doubt. Maybe they're right. I was clearly suffering from depression (due to a combination of overwork, stress and a youth spent consuming anything rumoured to be psychoactive), and that was bound to colour my views.

But as I slowly began to recover from depression, I gained a deeper understanding of the psychological issues surrounding the peak oil problem and exactly why people are so hostile to taking it seriously. And I realised that the facts of the problem speak for themselves; that my depression had been at least partly due to my coming to terms with those facts; and that the process of coming to terms is precisely the painful and unpleasant experience that people are rejecting when they react with hostility to my "pessimism".

And with the lifting of my depression, I also realised, finally, that I'm not a pessimist. I was reading an essay of George Orwell's written just prior to the outbreak of World War Two. In the essay he recommended the immediate nationalisation of all industry to swiftly prepare for a war against fascism. The merits of his nationalisation proposal aren't what's important here, but the fact that the was trying to convince society that an urgent collective solution was required to a very serious problem. Orwell saw fascism rising (as did many of course) but was dismayed to find himself dismissed as a pessimist and a communist by those who were convinced of "peace in our time".

Pessimism and optimism are not natural opposites. Rather they are both manifestations of a desire to deny reality. In 1938 a realistic assessment of Europe would acknowledge the great likelihood of war in the near future, and it would not be pessimistic to recommend preparation. The pessimistic position is actually to argue that preparation is pointless because it is a foregone conclusion that fascism will triumph. The optimistic position, in 1938, is that Hitler is going to be satisfied with what he's got up until now, and preparation for a conflict with fascism is completely unnecessary. Both of these are denials of reality. And the realist is derided as a doom-monger by the optimist and as a wild-eyed loon by the pessimist. Both of whom wallow comfortably in their denial.

So it is, that our society must acknowledge the approaching fascist tide. Or rather it's 21st century equivalent; unsustainability. The problem we face is simple enough to comprehend... we have built a society which requires X amount of energy to continue existing. Energy is defined as "the ability to do work". Very soon, we will only have X - y available to us and y will continue to increase quite sharply for the next century or so, after which it will level out at a number almost a big as X.

There are plenty of pessimists out there. And at the very depths of my depression, when the full impact of how the second half of my life is likely to pan out sank in, I was one of them. People who throw their hands in the air and insist that there's nothing that can be done. That the planet will experience a human dieoff event likely to see our population drop from 6-8 billion to less than a billion within a generation.

And there are optimists who insist that there's nothing that needs to be done. That technology will save us, or The Market will save us, or Aliens will save us... anything at all that means they can continue to live in denial; to live for as long as possible as an integral part of the consumer system that's making the problem worse. And like blinkered fools in 1938 deriding the warnings of an approaching storm, the optimists of today drown out the realists with mocking scorn.

- "Did you know that the Gharwar oilfield in Saudi Arabia has recently entered production decline?"
- "Jesus Christ Jim! Why not try cheering up, eh? Put a smile on your face, a song in your heart, and a blind faith in the idea that 'someone always fixes the problem'. Then all will be well."

I believe that the approaching crisis has the potential to destroy all that is good about modern human society (and there's plenty of good out there... from health care to sanitation to recorded music). And I believe that unless we take massive steps to mitigate the effects of this crisis; effects which are undeniably going to occur; that the destruction will be near-as-dammit guaranteed. It is the pessimists (like Jay Hanson - the man who set up dieoff.org and first really opened my eyes to this issue) and the optimists (like David Dunn - a sometime commentator on this blog; guilty of the "cheer up, it'll never happen" line of logic) who are maintaining our suicidal status quo.

A person is seen as psychotic when they cease being able to function and maintain their existence within the society in which they find themselves. Similarly, a society can be seen as psychotic when it ceases being able to function and maintain it's existence within the physical environment in which it finds itself. So long as we had access to an ever-increasing pool of energy, our society remained sane. We can't rely on that any more. The rules have changed (or rather, we're finally about to learn them properly) and the denial demonstrated by the optimists is soon to be revealed as the psychosis it truly is.

I believe that steps can be taken to mitigate this problem. I believe solutions are available which could prevent a great deal of the suffering that threatens to occur. However, until the world stops listening to the psychopaths who preach business as usual, we realists still find ourselves banging our heads against the walls of ignorance, indifference and optimism which surround - and prevent us from dealing with - the real problem.
Full post...

Saturday, April 16, 2005

BBC news headline 'states obvious'

[Note: Balls to the BBC! What was an article about oil prices damaging the global economy, under the headline: Oil price hikes 'hamper growth', has metamorphised into an article about debt relief which briefly mentions oil in the last paragraph. I'm not suggesting that global poverty and debt relief don't also deserve coverage, but was it really necessary to remove a full article on global oil prices from the BBC website in order to make room for it? If I were a conspiracy theorist..........]

I've not directly addressed the peak oil / death of capitalism 'thang' for a little while now. To be honest I've been a little dismayed by the speed at which it seems to be developing. Having long accepted Colin Campbell's estimate that total oil and gas production would peak sometime after 2010 (from this online lecture) as being the most authoritative, it seems that even his numbers may be a tad optimistic.

Last week the news that Saudi Arabia's Gharwar (sometimes spelt 'Ghawar') field entered decline was made public. In my personal opinion, this is (and barring an alien invasion, will remain) the single largest news story of the year (papal deaths, royal marriages and Iraqi or UK elections don't have anything like the same sort of implications). In the week since the news was announced I have watched (sometimes a tad obsessively I admit) to see whether it would be picked up by someone other than Aljazeera.

It was.

It was picked up by Nebraska's "Electric Vehicle World" magazine (Bank of Montreal Reports Largest Saudi Oil Field Now In Decline). And "The Village Voice" mention it in an article about a potential conflict between China and Japan over the right to exploit the South China Sea oilfields (Crude Behavior: China and Japan's latest beef; talk of fuel rationing gets serious). Incidentally, Michael Klare's book Resource Wars warns that even though we in the west may be focussing our attention on what's happening in the Gulf right now, there's a lot more going on around the world than just that. He speaks of a very real risk of China and Japan going to war over the South China Sea resources in the coming decade. He details a dizzying naval build-up in the area with Vietnam, Malaysia, and the Philippines; as well as China, Japan and Taiwan; all locked in an arms race which is seeing most of them doubling and even trebling the size of their deployed navies every three years or so. And he lists numerous clashes between the various countries in the area which have - thankfully - not spiralled out of control.

But aside from EV World and Village Voice (plus a handful of indymedia-type sites), the Gharwar story has not been picked up by anyone at all in the west. The world's largest oil field (by a long way) has just entered permanent decline. This is the oilfield with which Saudi oil ministers have spent 30 years calming the fears of The Market. And whether or not you completely agree with my assessment of the implications, the fact alone surely merits the epithet "news".

If Gharwar is past peak, then chances are so is Saudi Arabia. If Saudi Arabia is past peak, then chances are so is the world.
Full post...

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Who should you vote for?

With the UK election campaign well and truly underway now, this seems like a good point to write a bit about it for my overseas readers. Just what political parties are involved? What do they stand for? What issues are considered most important? And what are the implications of the most likely outcomes?

Before I get down to the nitty of the gritty, however, let me point you towards the Who Should You Vote For? website. This web survey asks a series of simple questions about what are seen to be key issues. Then it tells you how close the five most visible parties come to representing your position. Unfortunately, just like most political polls, Who Should You Vote For? offers such a narrow range of options on such a narrow range of issues, as to make it utterly pointless for those of us who take positions a long way outside the mainstream. That's why it's assessment of my voting intent (which is based upon a good deal more than the answers to a handful of poll questions) is somewhat wrong.

Tory: -63. UKIP: -28. nuLabor: -8. Green: +35. LibDem: +80

In truth, there's not a party among them that comes close to proposing the sorts of policies which I would implement were I declared God-Emperor of Earth tomorrow. But the Green Party comes closest, and though I wouldn't want to see them put in charge of anything more complex than say... a large music festival... I would still probably vote Green in the hope that a few hundred thousand votes that direction may at least remind future generations that we weren't all selfish morons willing to sell them down the river for our personal gratification. Sadly the Greens aren't standing in my constituency (voting district) which leaves me looking at the Socialist Party lurking on the fringes. Their website makes it very clear that they are the party of The Worker, and even has an image of Marx and Engels on each page to prove it.

I have roughly as much a desire to define myself as a Worker, as I do to define myself as a Consumer. I'm a Human Being thanks very much, and not a single party appears to be targeting me in this campaign. Aaaaanyways....

The Players

For as long as records have been kept, England has been a Two-Party State. Well, for as long as most people can remember anyways. The other countries within the UK (Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland) have a variety of other parties, sometimes in addition to the Big Two, sometimes at the exclusion of one or both of the Big Two. But as it is English Members of Parliament (MPs) who make up the vast majority (by virtue of England being far more heavily populated), so it is that the UK as a whole has been a Two-Party State for as long as records have been kept. Well, several decades anyways.

There is some indication that this particular status quo may face a serious challenge this year (election date is May 5th 2005 by the way). This is due to a number of factors... widespread disillusionment with both main parties; people taking a third party far more seriously than previously; and a splitter party on the right wing that has the potential to tip the scales in certain constituencies.

The two main parties, of course, are "left wing" Labour and the "right wing" Conservative Party. The third party which has the opportunity to mobilise the disillusionment vote if it works out a way how, is the Liberal Democrat Party. The right-wing possible splitters are the "as far right as you can get without the automatic assumption of dodgy racism" UK Independence Party.


(a.k.a. New Labour, Current Government - since 1997)

Labour was traditionally the party of the working class. It had a resolutely socialist agenda, and is responsible for the fact that the UK has one of the finest welfare systems in the world (through focussing the agenda, if not always direct implementation). Up until very recently in fact, the UK was broadly speaking, a socialist state. This was preserved, even under the many Conservative governments, because of a broad recognition that the British people wanted it that way. This changed under the 18 years of Thatcherism when the privatisation of the majority of national assets took place.

American readers; please be aware that "socialism" is not seen as a dirty word here in Europe, and you'll have to get past that I'm afraid. For the record though, I do not identify myself with socialist movements as they place far too big an emphasis on energy consumption ("work").

The present Labour government took office in 1997. The dynamism of Tony Blair and a slick business-friendly "New Labour" swept John Major and the party of Thatcher from power. Labour had realised that being the party of the working class was electoral suicide now that so few people considered themselves working class. The Cold War was over, communism had died on TV, and Thatcherism had made socialism next to impossible by destroying every public revenue stream save direct taxation, which nobody votes for.

But the British people, apparently unaware that they agreed to dismantle the welfare state to fund Thatcher's short-termism, still stubbornly demand that each government it elects maintain the basics of a civilised European state (i.e. sick people don't have to die because they are poor, and the unemployed don't starve to death in the streets). This is why Labour still claims to be the party of Public Services. And why no party will be taken seriously without promising to retain free health care, and free 1st and 2nd level education, etc.

In truth, however, the Labour party is not the party of Public Services. In their bid to claw votes from their right wing opponents they found themselves drifting ever further in that direction. Until now in 2005 they are essentially a centre-right party in all but name. This has been a good electoral strategy for the Labour leadership to date; keeping just enough of the socialist past to hold on to their core vote, but presenting themselves as efficient, business-like, can-do managers of a modern free-market economy.

This core vote, however, has become increasingly disillusioned and it is the possibility that Labour voters will stay at home in protest on May 5th that most worries the party. Tony Blair, once known as "Teflon Tony" (nothing sticks, you see?) is suddenly no longer the golden boy of British politics. It is a testament to his consummate skill as a politician that Labour have not completely collapsed in the polls as a result of the personal animosity felt towards him by a lot of people.

It was the war that did it for a lot of people. The traditional Labour voter felt nauseous when Blair got together with Dubya Bush. The traditional Labour voter, given the facts as we know them to be now, would declare George Dubya a far greater threat to world peace and stability than Saddam Hussein was. There's an understanding here that Bush is heir to Reagan. And there's a memory here of Reagan and Thatcher's close relationship (horrible though it is to visualise... you just know they did the dirty in the White House; for those two, power was the ultimate aphrodesiac). Blair's association with Dubya (and all it's led to) has been his greatest error of judgment, and the single thing that has turned most traditional Labour voters against him.

One can only assume that the UK has received some guarantee from the US, as yet unknown to the public, in return for Blair's backing. If not, then Blair was just a fool.

The final nail in his political coffin was his response to the largest ever protest march in British history... "history will be my judge".

Well no Tony you smug arrogant git. Take another look at those millions in the streets. See them? Well, they're your fucking boss Tony! Not history. So it'll be them who judge your performance in the job they gave you. That history will also be your judge is something none of them give a shit about. But is something you should be very sad about indeed.

But it's not just the war, or Dubya Bush. Traditional Labour voters in London don't much like Blair's involvement in recent mayoral elections here. Even though Ken Livingstone has been readmitted to the party and all the animosity in the past, Londoners still remember how Labour Central Office tried to cheat them out of their preferred candidate. And that control-freakery of New Labour is another thing that people have gotten very fed up with.

Replacing the welfare state with a police state is not a trade off most voters expected to see a Labour government make.

As a result of this plummet in our collective estimation, Blair is not the focus of the campaign as he was in the past. He has acknowledged that this will be his last election, and his successor (barring a heart-attack or something) Gordon Brown, is as prominent a figure in the campaign as Blair himself. This fact is irrelevant, however. People vote for challengers based on what they think they can offer them. They vote on incumbents based on their record. Blair will be the face in every voters mind when they see Labour on the ballot sheet. And that's what matters.


(a.k.a. Tory Party, the tories, Main Opposition - since 1997)

I'm willing to bet that there's nobody reading this blog who doesn't have a fair idea of who Margaret Thatcher is. Let that be your starting point when considering the Conservative Party which is now being led by one of Thatcher's most trusted lieutenants, Michael Howard. He held ministerial offices throughout Thatcher's government and by the early 90s held the office of Home Secretary; one of the Big Three positions - the other two being Chancellor of the Exchequer (finance) and Foreign Secretary.

Lest I be accused of not being transparent about my own personal bias, allow me to point out that it was a personal loathing of Michael Howard which inspired me to get involved with direct action politics in this country. He was the face of the Criminal Justice Bill, a draconian piece of legislation to clamp firmly down on youth culture (raves, free festivals, student protests, etc. were suddenly illegal thanks to Michael Howard). And he was still Home Secretary when the Road Protests in the mid-90s got going, and when I was publishing a bunch of psychedelic zines and getting involved in illegal free festivals.

The culture that I was part of, and felt at home within, came under direct attack from Michael Howard. A friend of mine died at an illegal rave in early 1996. Before Howard's Criminal Justice Bill my friend would have had access to a medical tent. He would at least have had a chance. Michael Howard decided to disregard the lives of young drug users in a bid to be tough on crime. He fought a war on plants and chemicals and declared that children were acceptable collateral damage. Michael Howard is an evil man and should be resisted at all costs.

And now, my balanced analysis of the tories...

Well no, there is none. The tory party are right wing extremists and do not deserve a balanced analysis. They do not believe in fairness, in justice, or in basic human compassion. And by imposing their cold, bitter views on the UK for 18 years they forfeited the right to be treated fairly. There is no "fair" with the tories. They stand for ruthless capitalism. They are the party of the rich and powerful (and of any dupes who can be convinced that one day they too may be rich and powerful). They are mean, spiteful and will immediately relegalise the torturing of foxes for human sport, and send people like me to jail.

No really. Michael Howard wants me in jail. The chance of me voting for him, therefore, is precisely zero. "Tougher punishments for cannabis users. Jail sentences for persistent offenders!" Let's get this straight, shall we...

Here I am, a legal immigrant worker. I have never in my life drawn state benefits, I paid the full fees for my university tuition (having had been a resident outside Europe for three years previously or some malarky), and paid more tax to the UK exchequer in the past 12 years than the average British worker will pay in their lifetime. I am contributing far less to the exchequer these days than I was when I was running large engineering projects, but they're still making a profit on me. I still draw no benefits, still pay my allotted amount in taxes and plan on continuing this behaviour for a bit longer.

I have been a net financial benefit to this country. Plus I have contributed my little bit to the cultural life of this country, have been guilty of no crime with a victim, and indeed have intervened and prevented three violent crimes during my years here.

Sadly though, I don't like alcohol, but I do find that cannabis is beneficial in relaxing me, preventing migraines and making good music and films even more enjoyable than usual. For this reason Michael Howard wants to stop me contributing to society and make my finding a job next to impossible. And he wants the exchequer to start paying for my incarceration. He's a fucking moron. And a cruel one at that.

And he's surrounded by a party of buffoons and company directors. His finance guy (Oliver "puppy torturer" Letwin) was a bigwig at NM Rothschild financial megaglomerate. But he didn't have a Road to Damascus experience and decide to dedicate his skills to public service. Like fuck did he! In fact, it's only a year and a half ago that the tories were able to convince him to resign his position. Eventually he got the message, it might be a conflict of interest to be running the nation's budget, setting taxation policy, regulating the financial sector, and what have you, whilst still a director of NM Rothschild. Just might be a conflict of interest.

And this is something that more people should be talking about. Most of these tory spending plans that are being bandied about at the moment are the work of a man who was working for NM Rothschild whilst formulating them. It is safe to assume therefore, knowing as I do the workings of corporations at high levels, that these plans are first and foremost the plans of a Rothschild director, and second the plans of a public servant. You just don't exist at that level of a corporation if you're playing for any team but the home one. Feel free to deny this if you choose. You will be wrong though.

A tory vote, therefore, should be cast full in the knowledge that your hopes and dreams need to coincide with those of NM Rothschild if you expect your MP to address them.

The tories want to impose stricter immigration controls. Apparently immigrants are The Big Problem facing this country. They're not by the way. Oil and gas depletion is. But we're discussing party politics here, not reality, so we shouldn't expect the real issues to be discussed. Did you know the phrase "Peak oil" does not appear in any manifesto? Not even the Greens. This is despite the US Dept of Energy recently announcing it's The Big Problem for us all. And the International Energy Agency quietly proposing, a couple of weeks back, a total ban on private cars to combat the Peak Oil problem.

But to leave the real world briefly, the next party we should look at is

The Liberal Democrats

(a.k.a. LibDems, the liberals, The Other Opposition - since pretty much anyone can recall)

LibDem leader Charles Kennedy launched his manifesto today. A couple of days before that his wife gave birth to a baby boy. Charles Kennedy is a busy man.

As well he should be. For the first time in ages there's a real chance for a third party to make significant ground in British politics. With Labour and the tories battling it out to see who can make life hardest for the dispossessed, there's an opportunity to galvanise the left-of-centre vote as well as the disillusioned anti-war vote.

It should be pointed out that although they play up their anti-war stance now, it wasn't quite so cut and dried at the time. Anyone who remembers Charles Kennedy's remarkably distasteful "Now is the time for silence" comment needs no further proof that the man is as much a career politician seeking power as the rest of them. He comes across as more genial, a nicer guy... someone with whom you could have a drink without it ending violently. But that's all down to the "proximity to power" factor.

You see, power corrupts. It just does. Everyone who argues against that points to the exceptions. As though Howard or Kennedy or Blair could possibly possess the sort of centered and focussed inner peace and compassion that Mandela learnt in prison and Gandhi appears to have been born with. These type of people come round once in a generation. People whose great humanity immunises them from the corruption that exercising power over others breeds. People wholly unlike anyone fighting the current election campaign.

So Charles Kennedy is a nicer person than Howard or Blair. But that's mostly because he's so much further from real power than they are. And imagining that won't change if the LibDems do very well is truly naïve. I recall watching an interview with William Hague (the last tory leader but one) a year or so after he'd lost the leadership, and with it any chance of real power. He was actually a half-decent guy. Again, not someone I'd choose to hang out with, but if we found ourselves sat next to one another at a function of some sort, I wouldn't resort to impaling him with the fish-knife after 10 minutes conversation. But back when he thought he had a shot at being prime minister he was just another vicious and nasty politician treating the electorate with ugly contempt.

Still, people think of the LibDems as the anti-war party and that gives them a powerful rallying point. If they could work out how to successfully exploit it, we could see a real shift in the political landscape. My money is on them failing miserably. The British people are conservative (small 'c') by and large. I understand the sociocultural reasons for this, but still think it sucks a big one. Indeed I find it one of the least-attractive elements of British culture (amply compensated for - let me point out - by the finest subcultures in the world). But it does mean that it'll take something huge to shift the electorate en masse away from The Big Couple. And I don't see Kennedy as capable of delivering that.

The LibDems are the only one of the three to propose tax increases (for all earnings above GBP100,000 per year - that's about USD190,000) which go directly into paying down the national debt and improving public services. Realistically, therefore, they're probably the only party likely to deliver genuine improvements in the Health and Education systems. Realistically, however, they'll not find themselves in power, so I can make that prediction with no danger of being caught out on it.

The Liberal Democrats (as befits their name) are also quite liberal when it comes to social issues (Note to Americans: "Liberal" is also a perfectly acceptable word to use in polite society here in Europe. Crazy, huh?). This is actually quite popular here in the UK where mad religious nutballs haven't got hold of the national debate just yet. They propose softening the approach to drug use (good plan) though falling way short of some form of controlled supply which is what's required (anyone who thinks that placing the production and sale of dangerous and addictive substances into the hands of violent gangsters is a positive thing for society is a fucking lunatic). They seem less interested in stripping away our civil liberties than the other two. And they seem less likely to cosy up to Dubya, and more likely to move towards Europe, than the other two.

These are good things, if limited, in my view. But like the other parties the LibDems fail to address the real issues. There's no talk of reassessing capitalism or globalisation, no indication they'll be taking sustainability seriously, and far less about social justice than you'd expect from a party hoping to pick up the disaffected left. I like their tax rise for the rich. And I like a lot of their liberal social policies. But their economic plans still call for the unsustainable squandering of the last of our natural resources in a suicidal orgy of destructive resource wars. Which is something of a turn off.

I can't lend my voice to the capitalist chorus. So Charles loses my vote. And I expect he'll lose many more for similar reasons.

The Others

(a.k.a. The Green Party, UK Independence Party, Respect, The Socialist Party, The BNP, Veritas, etc. - never been more than pressure groups really)

Due to an archaic electoral system which conveniently excludes minority views from any representation whatsoever, a small party like the Greens for instance could garner as much as 5% of the national vote but not have a single MP in the House of Commons. That's 2 and a quarter million voices completely ignored.

For this reason, I shan't spend as long on each of these parties as they are unlikely to win a single constituency, and hence unlikely to have an opportunity to take part in the political process for another 5 years.

The Green Party is largely run by a likeable bunch of well-meaning folks interspersed with serious nutters. Like nutters in all the fringe parties, they tend to be far more extreme than the nutters in the mainstream parties. The flipside is that there are also plenty of folks with a genuine social conscience in many of the fringe parties. This is another factor, along with the first-past-the-post electoral system, which excludes them from power.

The Greens have a fairly predictable manifesto this time round. They say lots of excellent stuff, but also fail to mention that the future will be anything other than business-as-usual (albeit in a shiny wind-powered Britain rather than a grubby fossil fuel one). They talk about generating huge numbers of jobs which translates as a huge increase in energy demand, and then talk about demand reduction being central to their policy. Like everyone else in politics they seen incapable of understanding the physical systems which drive the economy and how they are destined to change permanently over the next decade and a half.

So yeah, I like the people in the Green Party. I spent much of the 90s hanging out with people who were part of, or went on to become part of, the Greens. But they don't have a grip on the problem at all. And they offer simplistic pipe-dream solutions to very complex issues. Also by refusing to elect a single leader they seriously damage their ability to function as a modern political party. Call it less authoritarian, more balanced, or whatever you want, but it pisses off the media and that's just bloody stupid during an election campaign.

The UK Independence Party (UKIP) has emerged as an expression of the more extreme end of British europhobia. This is despite the fact that it's elected members all sit in the European Parliament (they are MEPs rather than MPs). They are unlikely to increase their number of MPs from zero this time round either. There was a slim chance that they'd have gotten their leader elected had they decided to allow Robert "You're not an arab are you?" Kilroy-Silk be their leader. But instead, almost immediately after their surprise showing in the European elections, UKIP imploded and ex-talkshow host and prominent disliker of Arabs and the Irish, Kilroy-Silk ran away to form his own party, Veritas.

Veritarse is a complete joke, and worthy of mention only to poke fun. UKIP might well be the same were they not threatening to steal some of the Tory vote. UKIP believe that the biggest threat facing Britain now (just ahead of immigrants) is Europe. They believe that closer proximity to Europe will endanger British culture, autonomy and way of life. At heart they have taken over from the tories as being the Party of The Empire (Thatcher maintained that façade for a while. But she was a rapacious globalising private capitalist, which has precisely nothing to do with how the empire was run). UKIP are nostalgic for the days of their great-great-grandfathers.

So a vote for them is a vote for extreme isolationism and a massive increase in historical re-enactment societies (because let's face it, that's as close as The British Empire will ever come to existing again).

The British National Party (BNP) are the far right. They don't like you if you're black and will say so to your face. Often with a broken bottle. They manage to punch above their political weight thanks to the fact that racial tension in Britain can periodically erupt into localised social disturbances, which tends to end up with them winning a local council seat or two and everyone in the media freaking out about the return of fascism.

The main danger from the BNP however is their ability to influence the agenda for the other right-wing parties. In a marginal constituency, a few hundred votes can make all the difference. When a tory finds themselves up against a BNP candidate threatening to take a thousand... well, the question becomes how far right is it acceptable for a tory to get in the hope of switching a few of those votes? And that's not a good question for a potential MP to be asking in my view.

Respect is another fringe party. Run by erstwhile Labour MP, George Galloway it paints itself as anti-war and socialist. Because of Galloway's high-profile and media savvy, they have gotten far more coverage than the official Socialist Party and look to be a serious contender in the constituency where Galloway is standing. I'm not a fan of George Galloway. He strikes me as being just as opportunist as any of the others, and even though I applaud some of the positions he has taken, I don't trust for a second that he wouldn't choose a different side of the barricades if he felt he'd gain personally from doing so.

The Likely Outcome

It seems that the result of this election will be a third Labour term under Tony Blair with him stepping down round about mid-Year 3 in favour of Gordon Brown. However, the Labour majority will undoubtedly be severely dented as a result of lacklustre turnout, the toryfication of Labour and the staggering lack of imagination of the British electorate.

The tories will have won just enough extra seats for Michael Howard to hang on for a year after the election, whereupon he will stand down.

The LibDems will make very very modest gains indeed. Far less than they were secretly hoping, and less than they'd publicly hoped. Kennedy will be replaced within a year and the LibDems will fade into obscurity.

None of the other parties will gain a seat, and grumblings about electoral reform will be heard for a while and then forgotten about.

Soon after Gordon Brown takes over from Blair, the energy crisis will cause the arse to fall out of the economy and the tories will get swept to power in 2010.

A Possible Alternative

Realising that the tories are still the vile pondscum they used to be, the public will express their anger at Blair and "business as usual" politicians with a protest vote for the LibDems (the only alternative that doesn't tax their imagination beyond it's limits). The tories see themselves slip into third place with several of the more well-known MPs being pushed out in favour of a LibDem.

By becoming the Official Opposition, the LibDems can force the agenda in a completely new direction. Charles Kennedy consolidates his position and electoral reform is seriously up for discussion, as are a host of other issues.

The tories immediately sack Howard and an internal struggle begins which rips the party to shreds. Some of the MPs join UKIP, further weakening the Conservative presence in parliament and some even jump to Labour. The remaining 70 MPs cease to be a serious political force by the following election.

Labour, however, will have capitalised on the tory bloodbath by increasing it's majority over the official oppostion whilst having a slightly diminished majority overall. Blair will still step down in favour of Brown in 2008, but the 2010 election will be fought on slightly saner ground.

My vote

On election day I will go to the voting booth. Because I despise the ridiculous idea that a low voter turnout has anything to do with "apathy". People do still care about the issues that matter. They just know that politicians won't do anything about them if it means interrupting their power-tripping turn at the trough. People are disillusioned not apathetic, and when politicians fail to make that distinction they are guilty of one of the more insidious deceptions of our time.

I'll be there on May 5th. Because I'm anything but apathetic. But my vote will have None of The Above written in large black letters across it. Thanks to this archaic system, that means my vote will be declared "spoilt" and lumped in with all the morons who thought they could vote for 3 candidates. But with a bit of luck one of the candidates will be walking past the table when my vote's counted and will realise that at least one of the spoilt ballots was a protest vote against every single one of them standing in that room.

Minor correction (Apr 15th, 4:23pm):

I described Oliver "puppy killer" Letwin as a director of "Morgan Rothschild". As it happens no such financial institution exists; Letwin was actually a director of NM Rothschild. It was a slip of the tongue, so to speak... I'd been reading Morgan Stanley's (another large financial powerhouse) 2004 analysis of the global energy market just before starting to write the above bit, and the names became conflated in my mind. Sorry for the inaccuracy.
Full post...

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Are you thinking...? At all?

The Tories have been fouling up the environment recently with their deeply offensive poster campaign. The posters are simple handwritten questions or statements above the line Are you thinking what we're thinking?

Like most right-wing political advertising the posters manage to insult the intelligence of any thinking person who sees them, offend a good deal of people, and incite fear, anger and outrage amongst unthinking bigots about entirely fictitious issues. One of the posters asks the question:
I mean, how hard is it to keep a hospital clean?
Clearly the response the tories are looking for is: "Duhhhhhhh... Yeah! Fookin' dirty hospitals!" In other words, they are assuming the electorate are, by and large, severely retarded.

Because as anyone who gave the question 30 seconds of thought knows, the answer is actually: "Pretty damn hard indeed!" Hospitals are filled with the most biohazardous and infectious things imaginable; sick people. And unless you eliminate them, you are never going to have completely clean hospitals. Of course, a quick glance at their spending plans and policies and you begin to suspect that the elimination of sick people is something that will increase dramatically under another tory government.

Hospitals are probably the most difficult things in the world to keep clean. And the Conservative solution; "Put matron in charge" (I'm quite serious... that's their "solution"... an unholy alliance between soundbite politics and the ideas of a demented 6-year-old); is easily the most patronising simplification of a complex issue that I've encountered this year (which is saying a lot). It patronises everyone working in difficult conditions to keep these buildings clean, as well as everyone who reads the blasted poster, or hears Michael Howard speak on the issue.

I mean, how hard is it to keep a hospital clean? Fuck you Tory scum! A far more relevant question is How dare you treat so many people with so much spite and contempt?

Conservative election poster

The Tory Poster Generator was discovered via Chicken Yoghurt and Nick Barlow. Scholars and gentlemen, both.
Full post...

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

... and the shepherd's name was 'Book'

There's a blog meme thingie doing the rounds at the moment. I've noticed it ripple through the ether like a malevolent sliver of raspberry sauce. And finally someone has gotten round to spiking my dessert with it. I never asked to be nominated. In fact, as a protest, I considered asking a Native American to write this response on my behalf. But in the end I relented, and have decided to respond to The Great Spring (in the northern hemisphere anyways) Book Meme.

Update: John B over at Shot by Both Sides appears to have nominated me as well (just now!) John seems like an interesting and very groovy chap, but dear god in heaven man! Why Martin Amis?!*

You're stuck inside Fahrenheit 451, which book do you want to be?

Fahrenheit 451 was one of the first science fiction novels I read that wasn't about space aliens or landing on the moon. The basic premise, for those who haven't read it (or seen Truffaut's highly stylised, though excellent, film version) is that the written word has been outlawed as seditious. And the government employs groups of 'firemen' to root out and burn all remaining books. Those found guilty of trying to preserve them are severely punished. As a response, resistance groups engage in the revolutionary act of "becoming" books. Individuals dedicate their lives to memorising a particular book, and then to perpetuating it... teaching it to anyone willing to undergo the same metamorphosis.

It's a fantastic novel. Worthy itself of saving from the firemen. Not, sadly, by me though. Likewise, George Orwell's 1984 (as chosen by Chicken Yoghurt) would come very high on my list. But the fact is, I'm not entirely sure I could live life as either of those books. I have nothing but respect for those willing to preserve the cautionary dystopia; but I'm already too damn neurotic to cope with that extra weight.

For me, ultimately, it comes down to a choice between the 20th century's two finest authors (in this humble writer's opinion); James Joyce and Thomas Pynchon. And I really can't separate the two in my mind. So ultimately; based on the fact that Joyce already has worldwide societies dedicated to the accurate preservation of his works; I figured I'd give the finest American writer some support. And although every novel he's written is worthy of preservation, it is Vineland that I would become.

The novel opens with one of the protagonists, middle-aged hippie Zoyd, carrying "an elegant little chainsaw", wearing make-up and a woman's dress, and jumping through the window of his local bar in his annual demonstration of the fact that yes, he is crazy and can continue drawing medical benefit. Each year the local news show up and film whatever proof of his madness he's come up with this time 'round. It's a bit of an event in the area... almost made Good Morning America in fact.

But Zoyd's past is about to catch up with him, drawing a whole heap of feds and other shady types to Vineland County... which won't go down well with Zoyd and the other marijuana farmers... nor with the Thanatoids (an isolated community of living dead folk just trying to mind their own business). And Godzilla's about to attack Tokyo, ninja death nuns are going to get involved and a whole host of scary information about a shadowy totalitarian government maintaining "re-education camps" and a private transport network kept off the maps starts to leak out. And about those who resist it... such as the People's Republic of Rock'n'Roll (formerly College of the Surf) and the Death To The Pigs Nihilist Film Kollective.

Jeez... I could write all day about Vineland and still not scratch the surface. Every character is human and fully rounded... yet every character is a perfect symbol and cypher... the hilarious, gripping and thrilling plot involving these glorious people acting out their absurdly fantastical lives is also the most incisive critique of modern American culture that has ever been written. And like with everything Pynchon does, the writing is simply glorious.
Described in Aggro World as "a sort of Esalen Institute for lady asskickers," the mountainside retreat of the Sisterhood of Kunoichi Attentives stood on a promontory dappled in light and dark California greens above a small valley, only a couple of ridgelines from the SP tracks, final ascent being over dirt roads vexing enough to those who arrived in times of mud, and so deeply rutted when the season was dry that many an unwary seeker was brought to a high-centered pause out in this oil painting of a landscape, wheels spinning in empty air, creatures of the hillside only just interrupting grazing or predation to notice. Originally, in the days of the missions, built to house Las Hermanas de Nuestra Señora de los Pepinares - one of those ladies' auxiliaries that kept springing up around the Jesuits in seventeenth-century Spain, never recognised by Rome nor even by the Society, but persisting with grace and stamina there in California for hundreds of years - the place had acquired extensions and outbuildings, got wired and rewired, plumbed and replumbed, until a series of bad investments had forced what was left of the sodality to put it up for rent and disperse to cheaper housing, though they continued to market the world-famous cucumber brandy bearing their name.
- from Vineland
Aaaaanyways... I promise not to spend too long on the other questions. That one got somewhat out of hand. Sorry.

Have you ever had a crush on a fictional character?

Yes actually. Most of my youthful crushes focussed on female musicians (Siouxsie Sioux, Debbie Harry, Kate Bush, and many more) but the sadly-named 'Fenchurch' from the fourth Hitch-hikers book, always came across as the sort of woman I'd fall for in real life... which isn't quite the same as 'having a crush', I suppose, but there you have it.

The last book you bought is:

So the Wind Won't Blow It All Away by Richard Brautigan. I haven't read it yet, so can't really say much, except that Brautigan is one of the great writers. If you've not read any of his stuff then I would heartily recommend you check out Revenge of The Lawn, one of the finest collections of short-stories you'll ever encounter. In fact; if you follow that link, you should be able to download some of them!

The last book you read:

I tend to have at least three books on the go simultaneously. The last one I actually completed was David Quantick's Revolution: The Making of the Beatles' White Album which I would recommend to any serious fan of the Beatles. It's about as in-depth about one album as you want a book to be, with plenty of little nuggets of trivia that'll be new to pretty much every reader (I've read a lot of Beatles books and there was stuff new to me in it). Waaaay too deep in the "hardcore fans only" barrel to warrant a recommendation to the casual fan or reader, though.

What are you currently reading?

I never seem to get round to updating those wee lists in the right-hand column. Amongst the books I'm currently reading is still Resource Wars by Michael T. Klare. I'm at the taking-notes and cross-referencing stage with that book though... so hardly still "reading". Colin Tudge's So Shall We Reap (of which I have just read the intro) is also on the go. Described by my friend Merrick as "the most important book" he has ever read, it's been variously subtitled: "What's gone wrong with the world's food and how to fix it". And: "How Everyone Who Is Liable to Be Born in the Next Ten Thousand Years Could Eat Very Well Indeed; and Why, in Practice, Our Immediate Descendants Are Likely to Be in Serious Trouble". It promises to be a fascinating read.

Five books you would take to a desert island.

Well that was a bit bloody predictable wasn't it? Your five desert island books? Never saw that question coming.

Incidentally, I'm conveniently omitting Vineland from my list, as I'm assuming that the likelihood of my choosing to memorise Vineland due to the actions of a totalitarian government is at least as great as that of my being marrooned on a desert island with a small list of my favourite books. So there's every chance that by the time I end up on the island, I'll have committed my favourite Pynchon novel to memory.
  1. Jorge Luis Borges' Collected Fictions. The complete short-stories of Borges. These are brilliant, sometimes funny, sometimes dark but always re-readable.
  2. Love by Mahalia. This is the third book by a dear friend of mine, and it's his best and most important to date. Combining poetry and short prose, Love talks about human relationships in a way that is beautiful, compassionate and at the same time unflinchingly honest. Reminds me more of Bukowski's best work than anything I've ever read.
  3. Ulysses by James Joyce. The finest book ever written. To dispute that fact is to reveal a basic misunderstanding of literature as an artform. It pleases me immensely - for reasons with no basis in rationality - that the world's greatest piece of literature was written about my home city, by a native of the same small island that I myself come from. (That the finest album ever recorded; Van Morrison's Astral Weeks; is also the product of that small island pleases me also).
  4. The Politics of Ecstasy by Timothy Leary. Just because it's such a rip-roaringly good read. The incredible optimism of mid-60's Leary is infectious, and he says far more about far more than people give him credit for. He played the jester, he played the outlaw and he played the celebrity but his writing is filled with such an exuberance and joyful love for life that it's impossible not to be positively inspired by this book. If America was honestly interested in a 'Culture of Life', it could do a lot worse than revisit some of Leary's ideas.
  5. It's absurd trying to narrow it down to five! Almost as bad as Top 10 album lists (any list of favourite albums less than 50 long has been compiled by someone who doesn't like music very much). Are you saying that I have to choose between Bukowski's Tales of Ordinary Madness and Burroughs' Nova Express... between Orwell's Essays and Hesse's Steppenwolf... between Ballard's Vermillion Sands and Vonnegut's Sirens of Titan? Forget it mate! Because any such choice would require leaving Einstein's Relativity behind, and Jim Dodge's Stone Junction, as well as Grant Morrison's Invisibles and Mark Twain's Letters from the Earth. I won't make those choices. And nobody can force me to.

Who are you going to pass this stick to (3 persons) and why?

Do I really want to inflict this meme upon others? It seems cruel. Yet at the same time strangely satisfying. And ultimately an obligation of sorts. Very reminiscent, then, of training your dog to shit in the gardens of tory voters.
  • Merrick over at Bristling Badger should really do this. Friend and fellow traveller, I'm interested both in his answers, and in how subtly he manages to slip in a mention of his own book (which is well worthy of mention, let me stress, both for being a bloody great book, and for featuring a couple of cameo appearances by me).
  • The mysterious L, one of those American bloggers who reminds you that Born-Again Bush and The Bastid Squad are actually holding quite a few hostages over there. She also does a blog dedicated to book reviews, so is likely to be interested in this meme.
  • It'd be very interesting to read Joel Biroco's responses, though I suspect he's above such things as perpetuating silly cyber memes. And his online journal isn't really the sort of place such things would feel very at home. Still, I nominate him anyways. Because I'm contrary like that.

* I jest of course. Plenty of folks seem to rate Martin Amis very highly. I just can't connect with his writing at all for some reason.
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Monday, April 11, 2005

Unitarian Jihad

We are Unitarian Jihad, and our motto is: "Sincerity is not enough." We have heard from enough sincere people to last a lifetime already. Just because you believe it's true doesn't make it true. Just because your motives are pure doesn't mean you are not doing harm. Get a dog, or comfort someone in a nursing home, or just feed the birds in the park. Play basketball. Lighten up. The world is not out to get you, except in the sense that the world is out to get everyone.
- extract from a Unitarian Jihad statement
I would like to heartily endorse Unitarian Jihad, and I look forward to seeing it emerge as a powerful cultural force in the United States. Do I wait in vain?

Via John B.
Full post...

Where's he got to?

Yes, yes, yes. I took an unannounced break from blogging. Sue me! I received an email which included the line: "It's only polite to let people know when you plan to take more than a week's break..."


Anyways, the fact is, I wrote two excellent pieces for this blog recently. There was my account of campaigning for the papacy. It included a cardinal-by-cardinal analysis of the competition, as well as an "Insiders Guide to Conclave '05". I thought it was one of the funnier bits of prose I've written. Sadly blogger seems to have retained only the first couple of paragraphs (of a very long piece), and my text file copy has mysteriously disappeared.

When a piece of writing satirising the Catholic Church gets deleted from two separate computers for absolutely no reason at all... well, it's a bit bloody spooky.

The other thing I wrote was a rather forthright piece about how I felt upon being stood up by the person I'd invited along to the Dead Can Dance concert last Wednesday. Sadly I wasn't in the frame of mind to deal with the snub very well, and it wound up rather spoiling the concert for me, as well as much of the next couple of days.

Thankfully I never got round to actually publishing that piece. When I read it on Saturday, in a less aggrieved headstate, it was rather obvious that I'd made more than a couple of unfair generalisations about women. Just the kind of things that are perfectly acceptable from a "venting frustration having just been stood up" standpoint, but probably not from a "published for posterity under your name" standpoint.

I considered rewriting it from a more objective angle... but there's no real point. It was a rant, not a serious analysis of gender politics and relationships.

So yeah, I'm back from that gloomy place. And although I'm frighteningly busy with work stuff this week, I plan to resume regular blogging. Expect an angry piece about the Tories and why voting for them is the moral equivalent of torturing puppies. Plus a piece about Peak Oil, and the fact that it has suddenly become the orthodoxy (though this has yet to filter down to the schmucks who take their orders from The Market just yet... but it will do. Quite soon). I've also got some more to say on the subject of advertising. Those who currently work in marketing may wish to avert their eyes during that rant.

I hope y'all are doing OK.
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Monday, April 04, 2005

I announce my candidacy...

... for the recently vacated position of Pope. In fact, the forthcoming Conclave of Cardinals (that's the name of the big smoke-in where they choose the next Pope) is the perfect test for the existence of the Roman Catholic God. If some elderly cardinal with murderously insane beliefs about contraception gets elected as the man to guide the 1.1 billion Catholics into the future, then the election was clearly not guided by The Divine.

On the other hand, if I get a phonecall from Rome over the next few days, inviting me to get fitted for my swanky new hat and coat, then we know God is guiding their hands. Right?

And contrary to popular belief, a person doesn't need to be a Cardinal to be elected Pope. In fact, you don't even need to be a member of the clergy at all. You just need to be a Catholic (I can easily bluff that one given my background), you need to be at least 33 (which gives me a whole year's breathing space), you need to have a penis (very important that... tales of a female pope; "Pope Joan"; are untrue... the Church has never had a woman in charge, and it plans on keeping it that way), and you can't be a schismatic (not a chance... I plan on consolidation) or a simonist (compared to the last lot I'll be good as gold).

Yes, yes, I know there was that proclamation of the Council of Pope Stephen III (in response to the unfortunate antipope Constantine incident) excluding anyone other than a Cardinal from becoming Pope. But the Church was suffering an extended interregnum at the time (not technically, but certainly from an ecclesiastical standpoint) with all manner of silly stuff being said and done by Popes. The Carlovingian Empire was collapsing all over the place and the whole period was one of - what can best be described as - rampant abuse of the office. Pope Otto I (just as a for instance) insisted that the next Pope not be chosen by the cardinals... but by his son.

Ahem... his son?

So there's a lot of Catholic scholars who would tend to ignore most of that nonsense and accept that, although it hasn't happened since Pope Urban VI in the 14th century, a member of the laity can indeed be elected to the office of Bishop of Rome. And if God wants a representative here on earth... well, I'm not one to boast... but can you really think of anyone more suitable?

I'm pretty certain I'll be a damn sight better than the last bloke. Don't get me wrong; as popes go, he did more groovy things than most and roughly the usual amount of damage. So yeah, he was pretty groovy. As popes go. I trust you understand the full weight of that condition. He didn't deliberately start wars or personally murder people so far as we're aware. Which puts him streets ahead of some popes. And he apologised for a lot of the nasty stuff his predecessors had been responsible for. Which was nicer than actually doing those things. He told Dubya Bush that his war in Iraq was unchristian. He spoke against neoliberal globalisation. And he genuinely did a lot to raise the profile of poverty and global inequality as issues that need addressing.

But of course, as the first pope of an HIV positive world he also condemned millions of people to a slow and painful early death by his declaration of war against condoms. Which weighs heavily on the downside I'm afraid. As does ordering hundreds of millions of the world's poorest people not to practice birth control. That made him partly responsible for the staggering inequality he spent so long campaigning against.

So yeah, given that he had the power to make a significant dent in the spread of AIDS, yet failed to do so... that alone makes all of the current glowing obituaries sound hollow to my ears.

And is a perfect example of why the Holy See requires a complete change in direction. Vote for me Ratzinger! You know it makes sense.

Also, given that the blanket media coverage of the wedding between Camilla Parker-Bowles and Prince Charels was bound to be a deeply unpleasant experience for them both, they must be secretly toasting JP2's conveniently timed funeral.
Full post...
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