Thursday, July 29, 2004

Pub talk

Things often get sorted in pubs. Or at least decided. So this as much as a reminder - memo to self, sort of thing. But I feel that Mr Tony is one of the most corrupt Prime Ministers this country has ever had. Yet he's defended by the phrase "At least he's better than the Tories". Well, maybe. Or maybe merely just as bad. But with the Tories, at least you're expecting a government that is going to line its own pockets, and those of its big business friends, at the expense of the rest of the country. It always used to be different under Labour. Or I thought it did, at least.
Nonetheless, I will, over the course of the next few weeks, be chronicling all the bribery, all the corruption and all the lying that has gone on under Mr Tony. From the early days of trousering Bernie Ecclestone's cash for ensuring formula one escapes bans on tobacco advertising, through the Iraq massacre, up to the restoration of Mr Peter "Twice involved in bribery scandals, but now back" Mandelson. Oh yes. It's going to be fun. It's also going to take a spot more research than can be done at 12.40 on a Friday morning. Thus this note. Ah well, it's a start.

I can walk, anytime, round the block...

I may have mentioned this before. It is, however, worth returning to. There are too many young (and, I suppose, not-so-young, albeit equally immature) boys driving fast, flashy cars. They go hurtling down the high street, in built-up areas at ridiculous speeds. And they slam their brakes on, and look annoyed, whenever a pedestrian dares to try to cross the road at the sight of a green-man.
Whilst the ideal solution would be to ban all cars, it seems impractical, given the current paucity of public transport. Obviously part of the solution could be for huge amounts of government investment in public transport, creating a hugely improved system, and lots of new jobs. Which is obviously good for the economy. Basic Keynesian economics, kids - it's been proven to drag economies out of recession and back into the good-times over and over again. Whereas the currently popular neo-liberal dogma has no successes - merely a litany of failures. But the likes of Mr Tony don't want to talk about that. However, I digress. I was talking about cars. Yes - how about employing civilian public guards at all traffic lights, armed with guns. Whenever a boy-racer in his Porsche Boxster, or whatever, comes screeching to a halt, the guards drag him out of the car, throw him face-down on the pavement, and shoot him through the back of the head, like a dog.
Harsh, but, ultimately, I feel, fair...

Saturday, July 24, 2004

Pop music

So I went to the 100 Club tonight. And saw Space Ritual. A pop band. An aging pop band, I'll grant you, and not one the kids seem to listen to, but, nonetheless, one I can highly recommend. King of Pop, Nik Turner, belts out tunes like Michael Jackson, except without the child-abuse, and with slightly more sax playing. The rest of the band seemed to have learnt how to play together, and their song "Sonic Savages" is the sort of thing that Hawkwind should be writing. But, apparently, aren't.
Go see them. Soon.

Monday, July 19, 2004

How democracy gets stolen...

OK - some points that people may (or may not) be aware of...
Firstly, some facts concerning the "election" (to abuse the word) of Mr Tony Blair's good friend, George W. Bush, in the year 2000. Decided in Florida, and, of course we all know who's brother the governor of Florida is....
1) The Secretary of State for Florida - the person in charge of the Florida elections - was Katherine Harris;
2) The person in charge of George W. Bush's presidential election campaign was Katherine Harris (yes, don't bother asking, they are one and the same...);
3) George Bush "won" (ha, ha, ha....) the state of Florida by 537 votes. A large number, perhaps;
4) But not as large as 50, 000;
5) So what has 50, 000 got to do with the price of fish? Well, that was the number of people that were illegally excluded from the Florida electoral roll. Most of them poor and black. Meaning that most of them would have voted for Gore;
6) How were they removed? A company called DBT was given the task of removing felons from the electoral register. Unfortunately (if you care about democracy, fortunately, if you're a member of the Bush family, or one of their friends) they removed 50,000 people who shouldn't have been - people who were innocent of any crime, people guilty of misdemeanors, as opposed to felonies, people who had been convicted of felonies in other states (than Florida) but had their right to vote returned - in essence, a purge of people who, for the most part, were likely to be non-Bush voters;
7) What do you mean, deal with it? OK, so 3rd world countries expect their elections to be rigged, but does the self-styled leader of the free world?;
8) Apparently, yes. But that's OK - it won't happen again. Will it?;
9) Don't be too sure. Whilst the secretary of state's department in Florida was barred by the Florida legislature from hiring a private company to once again sort out their electoral rolls (as it was the private company last time which removed all the non-Bush voters);
10) So what did the Florida state department (still run by Katherine Harris) do? Ignore the legislature, once again bring in a private company which is contracted to sort out the electoral register;
11) And what excitement do they have in mind for the future? Electronic votes - a touch screen, which records votes;
12) Given that the current mechanical vote-reading apparatus, which, in largely white districts was programmed to spit back spoilt papers, but, in largely black districts, was programmed to chew them up, does anyone trust the new readers? Particularly given the fact that they have no paper trail that can be followed, being entirely electronic;
13) What's that nice Mr Tony's view on the electoral future? What's that - electronic voting? With touch screens? Hmmm. Anyone else smell a rat?

Saturday, July 17, 2004

Dropping an E?

Apropos of nothing.
Avoid this. Adair didn't, though...
This is his translation (A Void) of another man's work (G.P.'s La Disparition).
Look at the book, is all I will say. It's worth pursuing.

Black Bird, by Arthur Gordon Pym.

'Twas upon a midnight tristful I sat poring, wan and wistful,
Through many a quaint and curious list full of my consorts slain -
I sat nodding, almost napping, till I caught a sound of tapping,
As of spirits softly rapping, rapping at my door in vain.
"'Tis a visitor," I murmur'd, "tapping at my door in vain -
Tapping soft as falling rain."

Ah, I know, I know that this was on a holy night of Christmass;
But that quaint and curious list was forming phantoms all in train.
How I wish'd it was tomorrow; vainly had I sought to borrow
From my books a stay of sorrow - sorrow for my unjoin'd chain -
For that pictographic symbol missing from my unjoin'd chain -
And that would not join again.

Rustling faintly through my drapings was a ghostly, ghastly scraping
Sound that with fantastic shapings fill'd my fulminating brain;
And for now, to still its roaring, I stood still as if ignoring
That a spirit was imploring his admission to obtain -
"'Tis a spirit now imploring his admission to obtain -"
Murmur'd I, "- but all in vain."

But, my soul maturinng duly, and my brain not so unruly,
"Sir," said I, "or Madam, truly your aquittal would I gain;
For I was in fact caught napping, so soft-sounding was your rapping,
so faint-sounding was your tapping that you tapp'd my door in vain -
Hardly did I know you tapp'd it" - I unlock'd it but in vain -
For 'twas dark without and plain.

Staring at that dark phantasm as if shrinking from a chasm,
I stood quaking with a spasm fracturing my soul in twain;
But my study door was still as untowardly hush'd and chill as,
Oh, a crypt in which a still aspiring body is just lain -
As a dank, dark crypt in which a still surprising man is lain -
Barr'd from rising up again.

All around my study flapping till my sanity was snapping,
I distinctly caught a tapping that was starting up again.
"Truly," said I, "truly this is turning now into crisis;
I must find out what amiss is, and tranquility obtain -
I must still my soul an instant and tranquility obtain -
For 'tis truly not just rain!"

So, my study door unlocking to confound that awful knocking,
In I saw a Black Bird stalking with a gait of proud disdain;
I at first thought I was raving, but it stalk'd across my paving
And with broad black wings a-waving did my study door attain -
Did a pallid bust of Pallas on my study door attain -
Just as if 'twas its domain.

Now, that night-wing'd fowl placating my sad fancy into waiting
On its oddly fascinating air of arrogant disdain,
"Though thy tuft is shorn and awkward, thou," I said "art not so
Coming forward, ghastly Black Bird wand'ring far from thy domain,
Not to say what thou art known as in thy own dusk-down domain!"
Quoth that Black Bird, "Not Again".

Wondrous was it this ungainly fowl could thus hold forth so plainly,
Though, alas, it discours'd vainly - as its point was far from plain;
And I think it worth admitting that, whilst in my study sitting,
I shall stop Black Birds from flitting thusly through my door again -
Black or not, I'll stop birds flitting through my study door again -
What I'll say is, "Not Again!"

But that Black Bird, posing grimly on its placid bust, said primly
"Not Again", and I thought dimly what purport it might contain.
Not a third word did it throw off - not a third word did it know off -
Till, afraid that it would go off, I thought only to complain -
"By tomorrow it will go off," did I trustfully complain.
It again said, "Not Again".

Now, my sanity displaying stark and staring signs of swaying,
"No doubt," murmur'd I, "it's saying all it has within its brain;
That it copy'd from a nomad whom Affiction caus'd to go mad,
From an outcast who was so mad as this ghastly bird to train -
Who, as with a talking parrot, did this ghastly Black Bird train
To say only, `Not Again.'"

But that Black Bird still placating my sad fancy into waiting
For a word forthcoming, straight into my chair I sank again;
And, upon its cushion sinking, I soon found my spirit linking
Fancy unto fancy, thinking what this ominous bird of Cain -
What this grim, ungainly, gahstly, gaunt, and ominous bird of Cain
Sought by croaking "Not Again."

On all this I sat surmising, whilst with morbid caution sizing
Up that fowl; its tantalising look burn'd right into my brain;
This for long I sat divining, with my pain-rack'd back inclining
On my cushion's satin lining with its ghastly crimson stain,
On that shiny satin lining with its sanguinary stain
Shrilly shouting, "Not Again!"

Now my room was growing fragrant, its aroma almost flagrant,
As from spirits wafting vagrant through my dolorous domain.
"Good-for-naught," I said, "God sought you - from Plutonian strands
God brought you -
And, I know not why, God taught you all about my unjoin'd chain,
All about that linking symbol missing from my unjoin'd chain!"
Quoth that Black Bird, "Not Again."

"Sybil!" said I, "thing of loathing - sybil, fury in bird's clothing!
If by Satan brought, or frothing storm did toss you on its main,
Cast away, but all unblinking, on this arid island sinking -
On this room of Horror stinking - say it truly, or abstain -
Shall I - shall I find that symbol? - say it - say it, or abstain
From your croaking, `Not Again'."

"Sybil!" said I, "thing of loathing - sybil, fury in bird's clothing!
By God's radiant kingdom soothing all man's purgatorial pain,
Inform this soul laid low with sorrow if upon a distant morrow
It shall find that symbol for - oh, for its too long unjoin'd chain -
Find that pictographic symbol missing from its unjoin'd chain."
Quoth that Black Bird, "Not Again."

"If that word's our sign of parting, Satan's bird," I said,
"Fly away, wings blackly parting, to thy Night's Plutonian plain!
For, mistrustful, I would scorn to mind that untruth thou hast sworn to,
And I ask that thou by morn tomorrow quit my sad domain!
Draw thy night-nibb'd bill from out my soul and quit my sad domain!"
Quoth that Black Bird, "Not Again."

And my Black Bird, still not quitting, still is sitting, still
is sitting
On that pallid bust, still flitting through my dolorous domain;
But it cannot stop from gazing for it truly finds amazing
That, by artful paraphrasing, I such rhyming can sustain -
Notwithstanding my lost symbol I such rhyming still sustain -
Though I shan't try it again!

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

life, love and pies

Mmmmm, pies.............
I was asked, today, what exactly constitutes a pie. Where the question came from is a good question - I suspect it may have to do with the fact that myself and the person who asked were, on Tuesday night, in a Fuller's Pie And Ale House, on Tottenham Court Road.
Nonetheless, it's a good question, and one I have pondered regularly. You may think it's simple - a pie is a small, round (or possibly rectangular) thing, covered in pastry, with foil wrapped around the base, and with some sort of meat/vegetable/cheese filling. Marvellous. But, whilst we all acknowledge size can vary, size, despite what I'm told by disappointed women, isn't everything. What about cottage pies? Or shepherd's pies? Where's the pastry? There isn't any, yet they're still called pies. Plenty of pubs sell steak and ale pies with a puff-pastry top, yet no base at all (other than the porcelain dish they're served in). And yet the pastie isn't a pie strictly speaking, yet differs only in shape. Indeed, topologically, it's equivalent to a pie. But then, topologically, a coffee-cup is equivalent to a doughnut, so perhaps we shouldn't take these mathematical abstractions too seriously (although I've often claimed that we are all just mathematical abstractions. But I'm prepared to admit it may just be me, and you're all well-rounded human beings. Better than me, obviously. But I, as usual, digress...) Surely a pastie has more in common with the traditional pie than a cottage pie does?
As with so many things, Wittgenstein provides insight. His "Philosophical Investigations" contains (indeed, some may say it largely just is) a large discussion on language games. Whilst the concept may be fluid, and the terms at the edge may change, there exists a "pie family" that we can refer to, at least at the moment - or until it's determined by speakers of English - via some sort of consensus - that my definition of pie is wrong.
So, let's go for the extended pie family:
Traditional meat/potato/cheese/steak/etc pies - covered in pastry.
Pies which have a puff-pastry top but no real base to speak of - as long as they're served in a dish, to preserve some sort of shape.
Cottage/shepherd's/fish/vegetable pies which have no discernible pastry at all, but still have some sort of shape, and a potato topping.
Pasties - very definitely part of the pie family.
Flans/quiches - pastry base, and definitive shape.
Sweet pies - obviously, but I think we need to make it explicit.

Things that aren't pies:
Samosas - they have a batter coating, not a pastry one, and traditionally are grouped separately than the above.
Stews - although a pie-esque filling, they lack a definite shape, defined by a pastry (or potato) border.
Sandwiches. Obviously. This isn't stupid, you know.
But the borderlines are flexible. And we need more discussion.

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Cultural excitement, part 2

It's getting late. I'll keep this brief. I want to sleep. But probably won't. Nonetheless...
So, I was out tonight (strictly speaking last night, see below, etc, etc...) watching Farenheit 9/11. I read a lot of mixed reviews of this - the usual right-wing mendicants slating it (as an aside, I was impressed by the sheer hypocrisy garnered by Christopher Hitchens. A man who, in his (very impressive, entertaining and worthwhile) documentary on Mother Theresa managed to attack her for dressing in shabby clothes. So if she'd have worn a Versace dress, you'd have been happier, eh, Hitch? Nonetheless, this man attacks Michael Moore for making a polemic and somewhat one-sided film? What? Good enough for you, but not anyone else, eh? And then attacks Moore for trying to make Bush look stupid? I don't think he was really trying - true, it got cheap laughs, but it was surely a more honest representation of the man than if he'd been presented as intelligent? Hmmm, anyway, back to the issue...) and a suprising number of people who might have been thought to support it also lining up to have a go. Possibly Moore's a little too brash, too loud, too American. Almost certainly too self-congratulatory (although that came across in the film far less than I was expecting). What can't be denied is that it is a very powerful piece of film-making. And whilst it has its flaws (the section showing how the poor are those who sign up for the military is hardly suprising, whilst accosting senators on the street trying to get them to sign their children up for the army was never going to be more than a gimmick, and did little to reinforce the point that only one of the 500-odd men and women who sent troops into Iraq have serving children) the opening section contains criticisms of Bush that Moore's detractors ignore. That he stole the election - not really deniable. That he did business with the Bin Laden family - a matter of public record. That his close relationship with the Saudi royal family helps to keep tales of Saudi atrocities out of the press, and allows attention to be redirected to other countries - obvious, really. That he's a liar, an idiot and not fit to run a parish-fair cake stall, never mind the sole remaining super-power? Well, that has to be derived, but it isn't difficult.
Go see this film. And hopefully it'll help see Dubya out of office.

cultural excitement part 1...

Music. Last night. Or, since it's Wednesday now (I get confused by all these days flowing into other days) the day before. London's popular 12-Bar club.
I can't recommend Paul The Girl highly enough. Very few musicians these days are that dark, that twisted, that passionate.
Buy her CD. And go see her. That's my advice.
She supported Morris Tepper, who was also good. In a Beefheart-esque, weird guitar-tunings, Tom-Waits-style-growlings and general howls of anguish way.
So, something for all young pop fans.

But wait, there seems to be more...

I must be some sort of insomniac.
Or just like typing shite at ridiculous hours of the morning. But something I wrote previously, regarding being told I'd go to hell by an ex-girlfriend reminded me of something (best leave these things undisturbed, else they'll clearly bring no end of trouble).
I argued that my reasons for not believing in the existence of god were based on rationality - there seemed to be no good evidence supporting the god hypothesis - and that if I was wrong, I'd happily explain my error to the big (wo?)man and apologise. This, apparently, cuts no ice. If you don't accept things when you're alive, regardless of the evidence, you're doomed. Which struck me as being unfair. Considering that god is meant to be, after all, loving and just, to condemn someone to an eternity of punishment for what is merely a mistake seems a tad excessive, and beyond anything that might be described as "natural justice". Indeed, I could go further and argue that as a mortal human any crime I commit, no matter how great, is still finite, and thus only deserving of a finite punishment. And yet god hands out eternities in hell to all and sundry. Why? Theists don't seem to want to answer that, and god sure as hell isn't telling...

Cats, opiates and other distractions

Indeed. Cats know they don't like chilli sauce. Particularly those cats that have tried it before and turned their feline noses up at it in a thoroughly non-equivocal style. So why, then, are they obsessed with trying to eat your kebab, which they know is drenched in chilli sauce? Clearly, they just haven't thought it through.
In any event, we move on. As we all must.
I was on a train, yesterday (or, to be more accurate, the day before yesterday, since as I write this, it's considerably past midnight...) Two things inspired me to write this. One, a piece of extremely unpleasant toilet based graffiti (or whatever the singular of graffiti is...) which read "Islam is for retards" and Nick Cohen's Observer article, in which he gave a (mostly) reasonable argument for opposing Blunkett's bill to make incitement to religious hatred a criminal offence. Any reasonable individual reading the toilet graffiti would be offended, and quite rightly so. However, as the increasingly right-wing and increasingly mendacious Cohen points out, legislation is not the answer (as an aside, I used to like Nick Cohen, much as I used to like Christopher Hitchens. However, as Hitchens becomes more and more obsessed with ensuring he retains his invitations to those fashionable Washington drinks parties, his attachment to the truth has diminished. A similar criticism can be made of Cohen, although without the same rationale. To cite just one instance, he (and indeed, Hitchens) stated that all leftist, secular groups in Iraq supported the US invasion. Not even remotely true - both journalists are well aware of the existence of the Kurdish communist party - both used to quote it a few years back, when they pretended to care about these things - and yet both ignored its opposition. And that was just one of the largest groups. But I digress). Legislation would just be used to increase censorship - and the blasphemy laws already allow enough of that (albeit from a purely Christian perspective). Not merely that, it would also be futile - as Cohen correctly recognises, all religions believe that they alone posses The Truth, and that any deviation from this will inevitable lead to a fiery doom for all eternity (or some such equivalent). As an aside, an ex-girlfriend of mine once told me I would go to hell. Which was nice. She, obviously, wouldn't, since she accepted Jesus as her saviour (although she didn't seem to pay too much attention to the prohibitions on pre-marital sex, which just goes to show how these "philosophies" are pretty much "pick and mix"....) Did I really write that? These things clearly still grate, even after all these years!
Anyway, where was I? The truth, I believe. Fundamentalist Christians believe that, if you fail to accept the Christian bible as the literal truth, you will go to hell. Fundamentalist Muslims feel much the same way about the Koran. Similarly fundamentalist Jews and the Torah. Since most of these documents aren't even internally consistent (and ask any fundamentalist what the value of Pi is - if they say anything other than 3, they've not read 1 Kings 7:23. If they say 3, don't trust them to navigate anywhere. Ever.), the chances of various disparate sects ever agreeing is minimal. And since they're all duty bound to convert the others, to save their immortal souls, they can only accuse each other of peddling falsehoods, and breaking the laws designed to protect them and their ridiculous beliefs.
Having said all that, Cohen's article does betray his unpleasant side - for example, accusing Ken Livingstone of being political allies with fundamentalist Muslims. I'm no great admirer of Livingstone - indeed, I believe him to be something of an opportunist - but that sort of criticism would be akin to someone describing the BNP as being political allies of Cohen, since they share similar opinions on Iraq (and, it seems, on Islam).
One does wonder what's prompted his move to the right. One can only really conclude that it's down to watching his hero Hitchens doing the same thing, and possibly the idea that he could get a much bigger salary spewing out Melanie Phillips-esque bile for the Daily Mail than writing a thoughtful, questioning column in the Observer. Which is really rather sad.
On a brighter note, hello to my friend Laura, who reads this. You're wasting your time, though, Laura. It's all pointless drivel.

Tuesday, July 06, 2004

Put out more flags? Hmmm....

I lived in the USA for a while, some years ago. As a nation, they're very fond of flags. Indeed, when you reached the 4th of July, flags seemed to be standard practice. As it were. And after the 11th September 2001? Well, naturally, you can imagine, it was flag central. In the UK, however, we're much more reticent. Euro 2004 brought them out, but only briefly, and, after England lost to Portugal, they disappeared with an almost unbelievable rapidity - to the extent that, the next morning, barely any were left, and those that were hung limply, their energy spent, whilst passers-by walked on, trying not to be embarrassed.
What can we learn from this? Sod all, to be frank. But I've had a few beers, and was in the mood to ramble.
I really dislike terms like 'national psyche' - implying that the 60million disparate individuals living in England can all be grouped together by a bunch of lazy-arsed journalists. Or that the millions of people who supported Ralph Nader's last presidential campaign in the USA can be lumped together on July 4th with the bible-bashing morons who helped get Dubya into power. National boundaries have an input to our character - how could they not, when everything we learn at school, see in the media and so on is determined by which country we live in - but they don't define us. I should write something here about the international working class, and such, but I gave up Marxism only a few years after I gave up more transcendentally-based religions. Still, it'd be nice to believe, wouldn't it? Wrong, but nice...

Monday, July 05, 2004

Where the terminal go

Endings seem so final, don't you think?
Smacking children seems much in the news at the moment. With much talk of "children's rights". An odd concept, with many similarities to "animal rights". Neither children nor animals are moral agents - animals because they can't reason and children because they haven't learnt to be. Yet some people want to endow them with rights? Where on earth has this come from?
This of course isn't to say that children should have the crap beaten out of them (although that mewling brat on the train yesterday could be an exception...) - indeed, quite the reverse, adults have a duty to behave towards children with kindness and respect - partly because they need it to survive, and partly because they won't learn to grow into decent human beings themselves if they're maltreated. But this comes from the responsibilities and duties of adults, not some spurious "rights" of children.
An important distinction, I feel.

Sunday, July 04, 2004

But wait - more...

Chesterfield, then. Thoughts thereon.
(Thereon? What the fuck sort of word is that? Nonetheless, let's not digress).
The main thing that sticks in my memory was an incident in a curry house. A decent sort of place. It was late at night. We were all a touch drunk. And there was a table of blokes and a table of women. Who seemed to start bantering. And after a short while, and some exchanged glances, one of the women departed to the toilets with one of the men, then, 5-10 minutes later, left after her friends had gone. The man left shortly after, with his mates. Now, in no way do I wish to sound censorious, but that seems to require a level of emotional detatchment I would find difficult to achieve even with the most spurious of one-night stands.
Still, that's Chesterfield for you.

Happy, happy, happy, joy, joy, joy....

Ah. No misery on this site. Oh, no. Everything is for the best in this, the best of all possible worlds. Or, to put it in the words of Kurt Vonnegut, everything was beautiful and nothing hurt.
And so. On with life. Travel. Trains again. And underground boats, in Derbyshire. And then underground trains, taking me home (albeit not to West Virginia, which seems slightly disappointing.) Intriguingly enough, the man sat in the booth at Colliers Wood tube station had a whole load of notes reading "delayed" pinned to the wall behind him. It seemed somehow appropriate.
And what else has happened in the world. Well, apparently Iraq is now ruled by Iraqis. Which is nice. Or would be if it were true. Unfortunately, the government has been saddled with a whole host of laws which they're not allowed to rescind. Such as one banning trades unions (Saddam Hussein himself passed a similar one. Plus ca change). Or the fact that they do not have the right to ask the American army to leave their country. One might, if one were feeling flippant and cynical to excess, invoke the memory of the Vichy government. Ho hum.
And then, end of the month. And payday. Which always reminds us of the Mephistopholean bargain we enter. A small sum of money in return for our supplication. Our lives. Our souls (Our souls, you hear? Our souls!)
On which note, we go...