Wednesday, February 23, 2005

First lines

I've just bought the Good Beer Guide 2005, and was intrigued by a quote on the back. Its predecesor, The Good Beer Guide 2004, opened with the line "A beer revolution is taking place in Britain," and, apparently, that august organ, The Sun, has chosen this as one of "the most famous first lines" in literature (I quote the blurb here, so it may be misleading, but still...) Ranked alongside this are, apparently, The Bible, Harry Potter and Nineteen Eighty-Four. In that order (at least on the back, as I said). Now whilst I can agree that the bible has a fairly well-known opening line, and I know the first line from 1984 ("It was a bright, cold day in April and the clocks were striking thirteen") who on earth knows the opening line to Harry Potter? Which Harry Potter, for a start - there are about 7 of them, aren't there? And whilst, yes, they sold a lot, and yes, I'm even prepared to admit they are entertaining and distracting (well, the ones I read - I gave up on the later ones, because they were too long, and I have other things to do with my time...) they are hardly memorable.
Having said that, whilst its a nice opening line from the Good Beer Guide, its hardly that memorable itself - I didn't remember it, and I have the 2004 edition, too! However, re-reading it, the opening line it most brought to mind was another famous one - more famous than Harry Potter, I would say - both in style, and in its reference to "revolutions". That line is, of course, "A spectre is haunting Europe - the spectre of Communism". Which was translated in its first English edition as the marvellous line "A frightful hobgoblin is stalking through Europe..." - sadly, this was superceded by the more well-known line above...
Still, I don't suppose we can expect The Sun to have "The Manifesto of the Communist Party" amongst its famous first lines, can we? Not when there's Harry Potter to compete with....

Monday, February 21, 2005

"I do not advocate the use of dangerous drugs, wild amounts of alcohol and violence and weirdness -- but they've always worked for me"

Bob Dylan penned the line "To live outside the law you must be honest" for his song "Absolutely Sweet Marie", and Hunter Thompson seemed to take it to heart - he used it to berate both Nixon and Dubya Bush - both men who try (or tried!) to ignore the rule of law, but lacked any sort of integrity - and, as a modern-day outlaw himself, living on a fortified farm with a large supply of drugs and guns, he understood its truth.
I've spent the day trying to read his obituaries. I won't try to write one myself, because I couldn't do him justice. What do you say? A precis of his life can be found anywhere. A summary of his work? How? For instance, Jon Ronson - a splendid and entertaining writer - wrote an article in today's Guardian. Much of it was, I thought, valid - how many aspiring journalists want to be Thompson, but get distracted by the whole drugs/alcohol thing, whereas the importance is an involvement in the story - a genuine passion, often driven by anger or a feeling of righteous indignation, a desire to right injustice. This is what Hunter had. Ronson, however, I thought, was overly dismissive of his later work. True, some of it - indeed quite a bit of it - lacks the quality of his earlier writing. But not all of it - I would contend that his polemics against GW Bush are amongst some of his finest, and his book, "Kingdom of Fear" is as perceptive an analysis of modern-day America and its paranoia as has been written. Meanwhile other writers have tried to summarise his opinions through the use of isolated quotes - always a bad idea with Hunter, who could say something he didn't even remotely believe, merely to elicit a reaction in his audience.
Ultimately, though, I still feel saddened by his death. I don't normally get like this with people I didn't know. I just feel that another of the great writers and fighters has been taken from us when we still needed him.


I woke up this morning to the sound of the news on the radio telling me that Hunter S. Thompson had died. Shot himself. For some reason, this has shocked me deeply.
One more American who understood where things were going has gone. One more voice of reason is silenced. We have to fight on with one less warrior. And we have all lost a truly great writer.
I feel profoundly depressed - even more so than a normal Monday morning. Goodbye Doc, the world is a poorer place.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Scary things I've read today...

Home Secretary Clarke's remark, reported in the Guardian: "I'm all in favour of human rights, but I'm even more in favour of our national security being protected." I wonder why he thinks there's a conflict between the two. I also wonder what he thinks he's protecting with the second by denying the first. Who exactly would want to live there? Why bother trying to defend freedom against terrorism if in doing so, you remove freedom? It seems obvious, but, looking at the media, it seems it must be repeated over and over again, to get the message through...
Then again, we can compare the main parties and their attempts to put forward the most bigotted, racist immigration policies - is it some sort of competition? Coming home tonight, I passed a poster for the Tories saying something like "Is it really racist to restrict immigration?" Well, yes, it is - you're stopping people coming into the country on the basis of where they're from - what else could it be? What next - "Is it really racist to deny someone a job because they're black?". Hmmm.... So consider instead Mr Tony and Mr Clarke's proposition to stop people coming into the country unless they can amass enough points on some arbitrary scale. The one's who don't can be held in detention camps - presumably with some inspiring message above the gates about how work makes you free?
I sometimes wonder if this country's lost it's claim to be civilised. Maybe I should leave. But then I wonder where I can go...
The whole planet is heading down the shitter, and no one cares.
Still, mustn't grumble, right?

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Western Medicine? What is it?

As you are unlikely to know, I am a subscriber to various e-mail mailing lists. On one of which, tonight, some chap (I presume it was a chap, and will henceforth refer to this person as "he" despite the fact it may not have been - I don't have the patience to type anything else) said he was opposed to "Western Medicine".
This is one of the most stupid things I've ever seen anyone write. Why? And what exactly are you opposing? Could you, for example, go and get a prescription for antibiotics, if you had a bacterial infection, as long as you lived in Hull? Or would you have to live further East, like China? Of course, if you keep going East, you get back to what we might call the West, again, so maybe Western medicine should be more qualified.
I presume he wasn't in favour of chopping up tiger penises (as is considered highly medicinal in China - although those opposed to "Western Medicine" don't like to be thought of as wiping out endangered species...)
What I assume he meant was he was opposed to large drugs companies and the power they wield. Which is, in fact, a reasonable position to hold. But you have to be able to draw the line between said drugs companies, and the scientific produce they sell at their inflated prices. Otherwise, you can become just "anti-science" which does no one any good... And, in fact, does a lot of people harm, when they suffer from easily curable diseases, but are told not to take the requisite drugs because they're sold by big, bad drugs companies, and instead they should take carrot juice and ground tiger penis. And then die.
I sent this chap a mail, with a similar rant in it to this. I'd be intrigued to see if he (or anyone else on the list) replies. I'm already a pariah for suggesting that Nik Turner's band might be better than Dave Brock's, so we'll have to see how many more people I can irritate....

Careering off the rails

It is with a vague interest that I note the current pope is ill. Quite ill, in fact. Purely because, as I may, or may not (I can't quite remember, and can't be bothered to go and check) I want his job. I like the idea of Papal Infallibility, you see. The celibacy that people talk about is clearly optional - I could get shot of that by standing on a "Let's Get Back To Renaissance Values" ticket, and reminding them all of what the Borgias were like when they held the papacy. I can even hold regular orgies round the Vatican, if anyone wants to come along...
But no, the College of Cardinals - I reckon I can convince them. I went to college, after all, and know more about cardinals than most people - how many people can discuss transfinite cardinals, and the power-set of Aleph_0, after all? Woodin Cardinals? I have Set Theory covered, damn it.
But Papal Infallibility, imagine the power. I could go down the pub, and shout at the football, "Damn it, ref, Wayne Rooney should have been sent off for that", and, when the chap next to me says, "What for? He hasn't done anything, yet...", I can respond, "Because I'm infallible, and I know he should be sent off".
That'd see them packing. Papal infallibility - give it to me, now...

Tuesday, February 01, 2005


At times like this (after midnight, after the pub, alone but for a small ginger cat...) I get to wondering if this whole writing crap on the internet business isn't some sort of technological equivalent of downing several purple tins and shouting at trees.
I hope it isn't. But I can't convince myself all that often.

Elections, religion, immigration, schools and other trivia

Ah. So it's all coming to a head. Elections in Iraq. Freedom. The reason for all the bloodshed. Presumably this means the killings will stop? No? Oh, I must have missed something. But then so have many others, it seems. I have noticed many, seemingly sensible people who, quite rightly, opposed the war, now opposing the elections. Why? They'll impose an American puppet regime? Quite possibly, but, let's face it, you're going to get that inevitably if you don't have elections. There is a lot of resistance amongst certain elements in Iraq, but they all seem to be connected to the old Baathist regime - not the sort of people you want as your friends. And their arguments are incredibly weak. Today's Guardian, for example, featured Salim Lone, a former UN advisor, arguing that the election somehow legitimised the US occupation (dubious, since almost all the main parties are united in their belief that the US should withdraw) and would be opposed by Sunni Muslims, who felt they should have a greater say in the running of the country. Well, excuse me, but it was the Sunni minority (let's repeat this, minority) who had the greater say during Saddam Hussein's rule. Now, to my untutored mind, democracy, whilst it should respect minorities, is about deciding which government the majority want. And whilst this is in no way a perfect representation of that (witness the intimidation which has gone unchecked, the foreign occupying army's tanks on the streets and so on), the minority has no right to demand an unrepresentative say.
On the other hand, democracy must also protect minorities from mob rule. This was brought home with unprecedented vigour last week, as Michael Howard launched the Tory Party's most bigoted attempt to play the "race card" at an election in many years. Demands that the UK withdraw from even the most basic of provisions to care for refugees and immigrants provided by the UN are a disgrace. What is possibly an even bigger disgrace is Tony Blair's cowardly non-rebuttals of this. Instead of tackling the issue head on, pointing out the errors and lies in it, he simply said that the proposals were impractical and too expensive. Really, Mr Tony? So if they were cheaper and more easily enforceable you'd do them, would you? You'd turn away desperate people, probably to die, from a country that could help them, a country that, despite the lies from neo-Nazis, is not even remotely "full", but, in fact, has a need for more immigration, not less. A self-proclaimed "Progressive" putting forward that sort of an argument has more to be ashamed of than an admitted right-wing nutter like Howard. But, I suppose, we shouldn't be surprised by anything Mr Tony says, should we?
Such as his support for faith schools. I've touched on this before, but, since I'm on a long rant, let's go back to it. Faith schools are inherently divisive. They propagate one particular superstition - let's, for example, assume that the faith in question is that of flat-earthers, though it could just as easily be Islam, Judaism, Christianity or any other half-baked rubbish - and spread it, whilst rubbishing all others. If that faith happens to contradict scientific fact - for example, that the earth is not flat, then too bad for science. Now many people point to the good results achieved by such schools. What isn't pointed out is that any school with supportive parents and a selective entrance policy will do better than a school forced to take in everybody. If selection and private education were banned - if children were obliged to attend their local school - then everyone would benefit, as all schools would have a mix of children, there would be no ghetto schools, and "middle class" parents could worry about how good their local school is, not just leave it to rot, because they can afford to send their kids elsewhere. And whilst we're at it, ban religious symbols. Be they crucifixes, skullcaps or headscarves. More signs of division. These are kids - too young to be able to understand the full nonsense of religion, anyway. As Richard Dawkins once pointed out, no parents would say that their 5 year old is a Marxian Anarcho-Syndicalist, but many would describe their child as a Christian, Jew or Muslim. Let them decide themselves, when they're old enough to understand. Not try to force these opinions on them.
Which, essentially, is the theme of these seemingly disparate strands. Choice. Freedom. Beware of those who claim to offer it. But always make sure you have it...