One bonobo's view of the world...and stuff.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Wee Devil

This weekend was Glasgow's biennial Radiance Festival of light art. As part of this, Adam and Sophie took part in the production, 'Wee Devil' by an arts group, Giant Productions. They put in a lot of work, making shadow puppets, rehearsing and appearing on three succesive nights.

It was a multimedia production, with live actors and narration and a film projected against the mediaeval Provand's Lordship, Glasgow's oldest house.

Here's the performance.

And here's a cast photo. (Adam on left, Sophie on right, holding demon mask)

Afterwards, we had a spooky walk in the Necropolis.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

More from Yorterborrr

Gothenburg = Göteborg (pr. Yorterborrr). More photos from my recent trip.

City of Many Canals

One of a dozen or so contenders for the coveted 'Venice of the North' title

A disturbingly erotic woolen shorts-sox-knee warmers combo

An ergonomic supermarket basket-cum-trolley

A society so hi-tech that even the rodents are online.

Shrimp boat is a-comin' ('restaurang' where dinner is delivered on radio controlled boats)

In the last couple of weeks the fish have wised up and have started attacking the boats. Evidence for evolution?

A refreshingly down-to-earth attitude to fleshly matters.

This is what Swedish Marine Engineering Officers look like.

A poster for my public seminar.

Not a real ship. Only a model. A well cool model! The Captain is real, though. And also a Professor.

Where I did the gig.

The view from the cafeteria.

What a university department might look like, if you didn't forget to fund it for thirty years.

A fat bastard, teaching a university class.

Hej då!

Friday, November 02, 2007

Faux amis pour mes vrais amis.

Linguistic confusions in Scandiwegia:

I think I'm lost. I thought this was Copenhagen?

Probably the most boring licorice shoelaces in the world.

You'd have to be either stupid or stoned to shop here.

I've been up Jorck's passage

Oh, I don't know. I thought he looked like a cute wee...whatever he is.

Now I don't like that!
(but the sensible Scandiwegians have it under control - as always)
This tram got out of the wrong side of the bed.

Snakes in an Elevator!

Well, yes. Bacardi and sex is a fatal combination.

It'll never sell. Mind you...Cafe au Lait flavour seems somewhat appropriate...

And finally...this one speaks for itself...

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Baby Doom

I like these:

More from A Softer World

It's one damned thing after another.

"History is written by the victors", says the slogan. In fact, in the case of the Vietnam, it has now been re-written by the losers - as evidenced in George Bush's speech to US veterans yesterday.

In fairness, it didn't start with Dubya. There is a current of popular mythology that says that the war could have been won if the US hadn't soft-pedalled to appease the lefty peaceniks (and if the draft dodgers had done there part...oops better not mention that). Bush is playing on this when he talks about the US 'withdrawal' from Vietnam. That's 'withdrawal' as in 'kicked out.' The US were licked fair and square. Despite their overwhelming advantages in firepower and logistics they had no choice but to 'withdraw'.

Nevertheless, they shouldn't make the mistake of withdrawing again. Last time, we're told, that led to the horrors of the Khmer Rouge killing fields. He has a point there. The US left the region in a shocking state. Part of the mess was the power vacuum created in Cambodia, in large measure due to 'Operation Breakfast' and 'Operation Menu', the covert carpet-bombing of Cambodia which Kissinger used to destroy peace talks and to suppress Viet Minh elements that were in opposition to Pol Pot's faction of the Khmer Rouge. Cambodia and Laos were to be sacrificed to buy time in Vietnam. In so doing, the US shares a large part of the blame for creating a monster.

And who was it who sorted out the mess? In 1968, Cambodia was liberated by Vietnam.
Tip o' the hat to this guy for his photo title.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Looks a scream, hang him on your wa-a-all.

Last week I visited the Andy Warhol exhibition, showing at the National Galleries of Scotland as part of the Edinburgh Festival (loyal readers will recall that last year's blockbuster was Ron Mueck).

I didn't have too much interest in Warhol previously...some good ideas, sure, but I'd got the idea. Or so I thought. In fact, we weren't going to go in at first (we were headed for the Picasso ceramics at the Museum for Scotland), but the queue was short and it was a spur of the moment thing.

I was blown away! I got more out of it than I have from an exhibition in many a year. here's some ramblings.

Warhol was the master of praxis. Just do something, and work out what it is afterwards. Keep churning out repeated images and new ideas will emerge. Say a starlet is terrific and It Shall Be So. Portray yourself as an artistic genius and things will happen. Repetition was obviously his Famous Big idea, but he did all sorts of exciting things with it:

  • The Brillo pads and soup cans - in an industrialised, mass-market era, artifice has no value. The artefact becomes art. The trick is to continue to make art at a detached distance from the product.

  • Jackie O. (This sort of thing - except with the images more mixed up). It took a while to realise that there were only three separate images, combined in various enlargements. What he's done here is added a time dimension - cf Picasso's 4-dimensional paintings. But he's added a televisual element for the media age: it's not a linear portrait, but a series of snatched glimpes of a public persona beamed intensively into living rooms over a period of intense interest. So it also adds multiple perspectives - the same image of a fixed event, viewed repeatedly by different people and/or the same person, over time - a blurring of time and viewpoints.

  • His death paintings - stunning use of silk screen and silver nitrate photography to add noise to images, making the viewer work to draw out the content. In a version of this one (scroll down to Green Car Crash) it comes as a shock that the impaled victim is not the first thing we notice. A version of this has the image repeated, in one repetition with a lot of visual noise. The shock comes when one realises that a faint blur in the corner is the falling figure. (And again - it says something about time: Before and After). In another, one gradually realises that a hospital scene shows a baby being delivered by Caeserean section.

  • Skull Paintings. Screen print on heavily impasto'd paint, lending subtle variations to each reproduction and making each one fresh.

  • Screen tests. Films to be viewed as portraits. What is a film but a stream of still photos? (I had my own screen test done).

  • Stitched photos. He's take four identical B&W photos and stitch them together (he left the the ends of the thread visible). When you look at them, you realise that you're focusing on something different in each repetition. It also turns out that he was a master of composition.

I could go on - but better not. I'll leave you with some children playing with his iconic 'Silver Clouds'.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Capitalism 101

A few words on the Mattel toy recall.

There seems to be a lot of criticism of Chineses safety standards. But is it entirely fair to lay the blame on Chinese subcontractors?

Here's how Capitalism works. Corporations are more or less obliged to constantly find ways of cutting their margins. This is how they maintain a compatitive market position, allowing them to stay in business and re-pay their investors. Those in favour of 'Free Marketeers', who are in favour of unbridled criticism, constantly rail against 'regulation' which imposes non-negotiable costs on companies. (eg John Redwood's call for de-facto tax cuts).

Regulation includes things like financial probity, workers' pay and conditions and product safety. These are the responsibility of national governments and are put into place in response to democratic agreement. In effect, the electorate says "We'd rather not have lead in children's toys, thank you." One way for companies to avoid the costs associated with local regulations is to shop around for laxer regimes - ie to source products from markets where labour is cheaper and less money is spent on product safety.

So...say you're a toy supplier placing subcontracts in a competitive market. Your priority is going to be the bottom line...isn't it? Because that's the impersonal law of The Market. The subcontractor offering the best deal is quite likely to be the one who's paying workers pennies and cutting corners on safety (and environmental impact...etc. etc. etc.).

We know this. Right?

So whose job is it to check whether subcontractors are meting our minimum standards? And whose job is it to ensure that companies supplying into our country do not place contracts on subcontractors whose business model relies on terms and conditions for their workers that we would deem unacceptable? At present, we recall poisonous toys. We don't recall garments made by sweated child labour.

Monday, August 13, 2007

The Way We Live Now

I've got a new phone - and, more's to the point, a new supplier. My old provider's Loyalty Department didn't come up with the I was disloyal. Slut!

My new supplier is these people. They are slightly unusual in mobile telecoms terms in that their business model is based around the sale of 3G content. Their handsets are set up with shortcuts to their content portals - some of it free (eg. news - albeit mostly tittle-tattle about people I've never heard of) , but mainly paid-for content (TV; empeethrees; games).

It hardly needs saying that mobile telecommunications have changed our lives within a very short space of time. It's hard to imagine how we did without our phones. Example: I was (re)watching one of my favourite films, Gregory's Girl recently. The scene where he's stood up by Dorothy at the clock in the plaza...that would never happen nowadays. We no longer have to make elaborate arrangements to meet people and hand around waiting in anticipation; we can make arrangements on the fly. And I'm sure we've all got stories about life/sanity-saving incidents.

But that's not all. I was browsing through the various 3G offerings, and discovered that I am twelve or so twitches of the thumb away from pornography. Here's a thing; High Street shops all over the UK are openly selling devices which give easy, discrete access to commercial sex product, menu choices including gay, lesbian, MILF, gonzo, anal...etc. I don't wish to moralise about this (although debate always welcome), but merely to highlight it as a a societal change. Gone are the days when images of erections were only available (if at all!) through scary backstreet emporiums.

It's a well cool phone, incidentally. Who'dathunk I'd be carrying not one but 2 video cameras around in my pocket (and a much better camera than on my last phone!). I've got this photo as my wallpaper, my ringtone is The White Stripes' 'I Think I Smell a Rat' and for the alarm, in tribute to Brian Wilson who woke his family up with it every day, The Ronettes' 'Be My Baby'

Friday, July 27, 2007

Hearts, Minds and Prawn Cocktails

A wee tidbit which is perhaps indicative of why the occupying forces in Afghanistan have failed to win hearts and minds.

I chanced upon a Ministry of Defence newspaper which had a mayor feature on new types of field dressing being used in Afghanistan. The dressings contain Chitosan, a compound which reduces blood loss and inhibits sepsis. It sounds like a good biotechnology. Odd, though, that the MoD think it useful to highlight the use of a compound derived from the shells of prawns, which Islam deems haraam.

Remember what happened when rumours spread that bullets were greased with pork fat?
TV nolstagics will recognise the accompanying image as the scampi (with friends), from Fingerbobs. All parts played by Yoffe.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The Bonobo Interview

Azahar has got me involved (not exactly kicking and screaming) in a blog meme whereby another blogger (In this case, she) puts interview questions to me. Her own interview is here. Being a self-absorbed show-off, I'm happy to oblige.

Damn good questions, Az! I warn you...I tend to digress - but you probably know that about me.

You call yourself a 'militant atheist'. Why do you think it's important to take a militant stance on this matter?

I've already admitted to a tendency to show off - I've a pathetic tendency to want to portray myself as 'different' (and I could probably talk for hours about how this is a psychological defence mechanism caused by not feeling as part of the crowd in the first place.) So obviously there's a large degree of pour épater la bourgeoisie. Although there's a serious side, too.

The full title was 'Born-Again Militant Atheist Fundamentalist'. Born-Again, because although I've been an Atheist at least since the age of 12, for much of my life, I was happy enough to countenance countenance pseudo-religious, mystical hippy shit...Taoism, Zen, UFOs, Telepathy...again, all part of voluntary difference; I probably thought it made me more interesting. Of course, they're all nonsense. Militant - yes, that's pretty much a pose. I'm more strident than militant, in that I don't actively seek out religious people to attack and abuse (but if you hand around long enough, they'll come to you...), so that's really redundant. Whether or not I'm militant, people are going to carry on believing all manner of tosh.

Atheist and Fundamentalist I'm entirely comfortable with. Atheism is really so obvious that it really doesn't need any explanation. There is simply no reason to suppose there is a god - nor indeed things like souls or spirits or cosmic forces, or anything outside/ alongside our physical existence. Further, the idea of god in no way helps us think about the universe or our own lives. It's a useless, meaningless concept. Fundamentalism - yup, here I get to retain my outsider credentials. Fundamentalism, usually religious, is generally held to be A Bad Thing. The accepted wisdom is that the religious headbangers who deny evolution and/or murder innocent bystanders are to be distinguished from the nice, sensible religious (those for whom I've coined the phrase 'fluffies'). Now, from a Rationalist, Atheist perspective, I've got any number of arguments against such bastards. Indeed, I'm sure I share these arguments with the religious. However - I cannot conceive of any even vaguely plausible religious arguments aganst them. Such like "That's not true religion" or "That's not what god wants" don't stack up. How do the fluffies know? It's all too easy to throw back "Yes it is" and "Yes he does". Religion just doesn't have any good answers, either to scientific or moral questions - and that's what I'm fundamentalist about. I have to apply the same standards to the fluffies as to the murderers.

But there's another side, too - partly following on from my outsider stridency, but in a good way. Religion - proper religion - is held up by the religious (and even by some non-religious) as being better than non religion at all. It gives us a place in the universe, a meaning to life, a moral code, a sense of beauty, awe, wonderment, mystery. At worst, the religious look down in pity (or even anger) at those who simply don't get it. But even those who are open to the idea that there are many ways of being religious tell us that we need our 'spiritual side'. There's an implicit - and often explicit - suggestion that religion makes us Better People. Well...of course, I react against this. I regard myself as a tolerably moral person. And I can't prove it...but I'm reasonably certain that I feel spiritual sensations (although I'm allergic to the word 'spiritual') in pretty much the same way and just as intensely as the religious. I'm bound to! We share similar neurobiology. I doubt I'm missing anything.

Even more...there is something that the religious are missing. The fact is that we are all biological entities, sharing a common, physical existence. Our whole perception of the world and our various ways of getting on with one another has to take this into account. We have to think about these things in Atheist terms, rather than adding random, god-centred logic. And if we all want to get along in a democratic world, we have to talk about them in common, secular terms. So I'm Fundamentalist about religion adding absolutely nada to human understanding. In terms of organised religion, this obviously means we shouldn't privilege the language and terms of reference of those who live within theological houses of cards.

And here is where the anti-Fundies may start to get agitated - I'm afraid I have to be equally Fundamentalist about disorganised religion. Some people, while eschewing the mainstream, claim a personal; spirituality or god concept. (Hi, Az! ;-) ). Now they're entitled to use whatever mental models they want, but when they start talking, I'm afraid it doesn't help me to understand where they're talking about. Which is fair enough...except that if they're thinking in god terms, it doesn't help them either. If they're trying to think about anything of real world relevance, there's a good chance they're not going to be coming up with much sense. Sorry - I'm only trying to help.

So that's me - a nasty, prickly Atheist Fundamentalist. What I'm trying to say with the phrase is "Sorry - religion does not give privileged insights into the world or the self. Quite the opposite."

How has being bipolar affected your life? Are there any positive aspects about it?

I think Azahar was kindly concerned that I might not want to answer this question. For the record...I have absolutely no embarrassment about my illness. I'm deliberately open about it, and on the whole haven't experienced negative reactions.

It will be helpful if I take the second part first. It's also something I feel strongly about. The notion of bipolar disorder as having positive aspects - the highs as massive compensation for the lows - has entered public mythology. For example, Stephen Fry has made high-profile statements along the lines of "If there were an 'off' button to take away bipolar disorders, sufferers wouldn't press it." Well, I'm sorry...maybe Stephen hasn't experienced extreme highs...maybe he has sufficient life cushions (wealth; life in a tolerant, arty circle) that his highs haven't damaged him. Yes, many people with bipolar disorder speak of the creativity the highs give them...but they're a self-selecting group of high achievers. Could it be that there's a hidden population, perhaps undiagnosed, whose lives have been ruined? Think of that next time you pass a homeless drunk slumped in his own piss.

As for hypomanic episodes were scary and destructive. They started with an upswing into happiness and creativity...and I wouldn't have sought help for them because, I told myself, I was having a whale of a time, living life to the full and solving all the world's problems. But even at the time - I think knew that something Wasn't Quite Right. And there were definitely a few scary moments when the brain went into complete short circuit (although I'd dismiss them a few minutes later and carry on running, full-tilt). Put it this way - at the end of the day, I needed to be in hospital for my own good. Being Sectioned is scary! Trust me - you wouldn't want it. Neither would you want the realisation, on coming down, that all that 'fun' stuff in the lead up was absolutely fucking embarrassing. Even now, hardly a day goes by without my breaking out in cold sweat on remembering something I did or said.

And it goes even deeper. Hypomania is the extreme end of the creative, happy spectrum. So how would you feel if every time you felt happy or creative, you had to think "Is this going to get out of control? Do I have to take a step back? Am I allowed to feel this way?"

Which all goes some way to answering the first part of the question. I have a bipolar brain (latest evidence is that b-p is associated with abnormalities in midbrain white matter - although it's not clear whether this causes or is caused by the condition). I guess if I didn't have the illness, I wouldn't be me...and since I've come to see my good points, I guess I have to accept - reluctantly! very reluctantly! - the disorder as a net positive. But I could certainly have done without the disabling episodes in my life.

It took me a long, long time to be diagnosed, and this is typical for sufferers. I've been treated for depression since my mid-twenties. With hindsight, it had started by age 14...and possibly by 12. There was quite a bit of misery along the way, leading up to the thing I'm most proud of in my life - checking myself into hospital instead of killing myself. could say my illness has affected my life. And in other ways - lack of self-confidence, failure to achieve, inabilty to cope with life's turmoils, etc. etc. put it in context...what doesn't kill you makes you strong. I'm me, and I like the result reasonably well. Mostly. I was in a hospital casualty department with an eye injury yesterday, and the doctor asked me if I had any other conditions. "Only bipolar disorder," I said. (To quote Woody Allen, "What's so 'only' about it?"). Yes, it has and continues to be a major factor in my life, but I guess I can cope with being a pharmaceutically-regulated bipolar person. It's a killer disease, and for the untreated prognosis is not good.

When did you become a vegetarian and why did you make this choice?

Ah...I'm afraid this one really is down to deliberate difference. Age 20, I did it as a sort of experiment. You should try anything once (Except incest, folk-dancing or sitting through Star Wars). Being vegetarian for one meal hardly counts, so I tried it for a while and it got to be habitual. It would be nice to pretend there was some sort of ethical underpinning...but truth be told it made a change from finding different ways to cook a quarter of mince. Up to a point, I have absolutely no qualms about animal suffering - it's humans that count for me - and so I in no way mind others eating meat, or even find the idea personally repellent. In fact, it's probably a little daft of me to keep ordering the vegetarian choices on menus, even when they're boring. I like food, so why should I compromise? (Although if I did waiver - I think I'd waiver towards seafood or offal. In fact...I sometimes have a notion for braised lambs hearts. I think it's possibly genetic. It's the one thing my Grandpop ever managed to cook in his life.).

You have a very interesting Desert Island Disks list on your blog. What would be your 10 Desert Island Books?

Thanks for the compliment, and for giving me an ever-welcome chance to talk about books.

Contrary to some impressions (eg my wife's), I really don't go in for that whole, male, Hornbyesque list-making shit. In fact, I hate the idea of 'Best Of's. My attitude is more "This is good...and so's this...and have you read this?". But Desert Island Disks isn't really about best ofs either. One way to play it woukld be that I'd like to take ten books that I've never got around to, to keep me busy. Ulysses, War and Peace, Gravity's Rainbow, etc. etc. But the best thing to do is to choose books that are meaningful in the story of one's life (although in reality...I might not want to read them again). So...let's go for:
  • Some kind of classic 'Space Opera' SF - I'm tempted to go for Arthur C Clarke's The City and the Stars - but I can get extra credibility for the wonderful The Star Diaries by Stanislaw Lem.

  • Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut (I should choose Slaughterhouse 5 - but this was my first proper literature)

  • On The Road by Jack Kerouac

  • The Good Terrorist - Doris Lessing

  • Candide - Voltaire

  • Penguin Modern Poets: The Merseysound - Roger McGough, Adrian Henri, Brian Patten

  • A History of Western Philosophy - Bertrand Russell

  • Selected Poems of Hugh McDiarmid

  • Another Country - James Baldwin

  • English Bread and Yeast Cookery - Elizabeth David

Eek! Where's the Greene, the Burgess, the Salinger, the Steinbeck...10's not nearly enough! (Funny - in my Desert Island Disks, I chose the complete poems of Norman McCaig. That's a nice thick book that I'd like to delve into more, but it's not really part of my story).

If you could change jobs tomorrow, and money and qualifications weren't a factor, what new career would you choose?

I always say that if I win the lottery, I'll go and study something. Anything. I'd enrol in a university and study stuff. If I could, I'd do it without bothering about exams or qualifications. (I suppose I'm an intellectual at heart. That's what my university old tutor still maintains...ever since he saw me coming out of the library on the day after finals had finished, with one of the books on the above list. Mind you - at my university it was a relative term). I do also like teaching people stuff - although I don't think I'd want the hassle or discipline of working in formal education. Maybe I could be some sort of 'public intellectual'. (Gawd! That sounds poncy and self-aggrandising - but we did say qualifications weren't a factor)It's all a complete pose, of course. 'Intellectual' doesn't imply that I'm smarter than anyone else - just that my head's full of more shite. (I'm dead serious here. There's more than one way of being clever. There's more than one way of being a good person).

Alternately - a baker.

Or a fluffer for Lesbian porn films.

The rules of this meme are here. Feel free to ask me to interview you.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

It was twenty years ago today...

I've just found a twenty year old cassette tape (remember them?) that I'd used for a compilation*. I haven't anything to play them on, but I managed to track down a device that is normally used to play The Singing Kettle. Endlessly. Here's what I was listening to twenty years ago:

Should I - Barrington Levy
Starvation - Jerry Dammers etc**
Desmong Dekker and the Aces - Israelites
Picture on the Wall - The Natural-Ites
Too Much Too Young - The Specials
Gangsters - The Specials
The Bottle - Gil Scott-Heron
Shut Them Down - Gil Scott-Heron
Bring Him Back Home - Hugh Masekela
I Am Down - Salt 'n Pepa
Across the Tracks - Maceo and the Macks
Into the Groove(y) - Ciccone Youth
Surfin' USA - The Jesus and Mary Chain
Nobody's Twisting Your Arm - The Wedding Present
Hand in Glove - Sandie Shaw
Mandinka - Sinead O'Connor
Hit The North - The Fall
That Petrol Emotion - Swamp
I've no idea what this one's called***. It's in Xhosa - Mahlathini and the Mahotella Queens
Hey, La' - Gone to Earth****
Waxy's Dargle - The Pogues
Big Decision - That Petrol Emotion
Someone To Love - Jefferson Airplane
Drop The Bomb - Trouble Funk

I have to say - I'm impressed by my young self. I'd stand by all those tracks. Certainly no "Jaysus - what was I thinking" moments. Ah, memories, memories...

* Explanatory note for 'Young People': In those days, you couldn't just whack together an empeethree playlist, hohhhhhh, no! You had to get out these big plastic disks called a 'record', start them playing on a special rotating machine, hold down two buttons on the 'cassette' recorder, wait until the whole song had played, then stop the 'cassette' machine before the 'record' started making a funny scratching noise at the end of the song. Compiling a 'cassette' could take the better part of an afternoon.
** The alternative 'Do They Know It's Christmas'. Double A-side with 'Tam-Tam Pour L'Ethiopie'
*** But I do recall it was on 'The Indestructable Beat of Soweto, Vol II
**** You won't have heard of them. Punkish Folk on Liverpool's Probe Plus label. From the album 'Vegetarian Bullfighter'.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Ethical Flipping

Apparently, the latest trend is flipping . That's when you buy a limited-edition thing - say a Banksy Paris Hilton CD, Boots anti-wrinkle goo or one of those I am a smug twat bags* and turn a handsome profit by flogging on to some gullible fool via ebay. I find it hard to see much wrong with it, frankly.

But I've got a better idea. I've been sorting and pricing books at Oxfam from time to time. Sometimes I've come across books that I know won't sell - at least not there - but someone will want them. For example - a dozen ancient hardbacks by Canadian humourist Stephen Leacock and lots of obscure titles by Churchill.

Now as it happens, Oxfam are quite professional about sifting out the rarities, and they have one or two specialist bookshops dotted around. But I've often come across the odd book in a charity shop or at a car boot sale which I don't particularly want for myself, but I know it's reasonably collectable.

So here's a socially useful idea: flip 'em on ebay and donate the proceeds. We might not be talking loadsamoney, but it's a thought.

*Yes, you can buy parody versions.

As it happens, I went to a school car boot sale. I have a spooky ability to get what I need at these places. This time, I went in thinking "I need a new PC monitor". I decided to have a quick once-around before looking in greater detail, and the third store I came to...17" monitor, £10.

Plus a reflecting telescope.

Currently giving poddage to:

Modest Mouse
The Hold Steady
Mark Ronson (I'm not convinced. We're basically talking The Jools Holland Big Band and Guests, aren't we?)

Friday, May 11, 2007

Blair's off...

...on 27th June.

Damn this delayed gratification!

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Election tactics.

It's certainly a relief that the British Nazi Party didn't make their feared electoral breakthrough - not in Scotland, where their share was trivial, nor in England and Wales. But there's no reason for complacency. In Glasgow, their posters were - still are - prominently displayed on street furniture, heavily plastered in working class areas and scattered on major routes as far out as the leafy suburbs. Every one an affront to human decency. This is the first time I can recall anything other than the occasional, rare sighting.

This fits in with the BNP's tactics. Their rebranding as just-another-respectable-party is a front. They have always been and remain a mess of violent thugs whose favourite hobby is intimidating and beating up 'ethnics'. As they showed in the summer of '01, and in cases like this* they consider it a victory if they can stir up a climate of fear and hatred.

That's what the election posters are for. They will remain, signalling hostility and distrust, for weeks to come.

*Some readers will know of my personal connection to this.

This R4 documentary tells you everything you need to know about what a shady bunch of heid the ba's the BNP are - if you didn't already know. (Available streamed for 1 week from 8/5/07)

How to help

Wednesday, May 09, 2007


I liked this story which I (ahem) came across the other day.

It suggests a new military tactic. Cripple enemy communications by sending in the Women's Royal Masturbation Corps.

(Oh dear...I find that image somewhat more alluring than perhaps I ought...)

Thursday, May 03, 2007


For Dan.

One isn't really meant to quote poems in their entirety, but the Penguin Selected Poems by Hugh McDiarmid seems to be out of print, so what the fuck. Probably appropriate on this parliamentary election day, anyway.


I lo'e the stishie
O' earth in space
Breengin' by
At a haliket pace.

A wech o' hills
Gangs wallopin' Owre,
Syne a whummlin' sea
Wi' a gallus glower.

The West whuds doon
Like the pigs at Gadara,
But the East's aye there
Like a sow at farrow.

You need a Lallans glossary with McDiarmid. It's deliberate. It's a constructed language, only loosely based on anything actually spoken by Scots. The idea is that you can read for the rythm, or slow down to catch the meaning.

(these translations are only approximate):
stishie = stir
breengin = hurtling
haliket = giddy
syne = then, and then
whummlin' = tumbling
wecht = weight
gallus = reckless
aye = always

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Anarchism begins at home.

So I'm sitting at my doorstep last night, drinking a red vermouth with tonic.* Across the road, on the grassy gushet**, two six year old boys are playing with a ball. A neighbour parks and gets out of his car. He approaches the boys and says,

"You'd better stop playing with that ball. There's a sign saying you're not allowed."

I don't like bullies. I don't like pettyfogging regulations. I saw red. I stood up and said in my best theatrical voice (my voice projects!),

"I think we should get rid of that sign, boys."

The neighbour takes exception:

"Never mind that. They're not allowed to play there."


"Because there's a sign!"

"Why is there a sign?"


As Chomsky says:
"Power is not self-legitimating."

Twat said he was going to "Phone the council." Ooh. Scary. Seems he's always phoning the police about this and that.

*Shaping up to be this summer's drink. Non-Martini vermouth is dirt cheap! Nicer than last year's - Campari.

** Scots word - a triangular piece of land beteen two road forks.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Margaret On The Guillotine*

This being the 25th anniversary of 'The Falklands Conflict' (never officially a war, you'll note), the mind turns to The Beast of Grantham.

What with her getting on in years and being in ill health, I've wondered more than once what will be the reaction when she dies. One isn't meant to speak ill of the dead (especially while they're still alive)...and maybe I should be slightly ashamed to admit this...but won't it be fucking great? I have visions of a solemn radio announcement followed by a collective "Whoop!". Air punched. Car horns sounded. Spontaneous outbreaks of smiling and friendliness. "Maggiemaggiemagie! Dead! Dead! Dead!" Then later in the week the inevitable, now mandatory, minute's silence accompanied by the banging of dustbin lids, pots and pans**. (Shall we make a solemn pact right now to do this?)

Granted, all this will be to the disgust of a significant part of the population. But we won't be able to contain ouselves, will we?

Or is it just me? Am I 'A Bad Person'?

* 'Tramp The Dirt Down' would have been just too obious.

** aka 'The Divis Orchestra'.

Another Falklands Flashback is Defence Secretary John Nott. When the AIDS epidemic hit, the government convened an emergency cabinet session to discuss What Is To Be Done. They agreed on the famous ad campaign (crashing icebergs) and a leaflet to be sent to anyone not called Doris or Albert.*** They were discussing whether contents should include explicit advice on oral sex. It was said (I think by Alan Clark - but I'm not sure) that one minister had to have the concept carefully explained to him and couldn't believe it is a mainstream practice. Said minister is rumoured to have been John Nott.

*** One suggestion, so as to spare the blushes of the elderly.

Giving 'Poddage to:

The new Kings of Leon

Neil Young - Live at Massey Hall

And still smitten with Regina, of course.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Baby's got blue eyes.

I read this article by Peter Singer. I've not got much time for him (as blogged previously, I think the notion of Animal Rights is wrongheaded), but this ws rather interesting. He basically says we shouldn't rely on our 'instincts' to tell us what's right.

Then, last night, I caught part of The Moral Maze on the topic reproductive technologies. One panelist (I think it was Ian Hargreaves) was quizzing a director of an American clinic about what he'd do if someone came to him wanting only blond, blue-eyed children.

Sounds like the Lebensborn programme? Well, let's prod it a little.

OK. So let's assume that the parents are Nazis. Obviously we don't approve. But what if they aren't Nazis? Well, OK...perhaps we still don't approve. Surely parents should love their children irrespective of physical appearance?

Now let's look at the majority case. Say Nazis are conributing to a voluntary breeding programme. Blue-eyed blond guys are coupling up with blue-eyed blonde chicks. Bad! On the other hand...if it just happens to be two Finns in love...?

So how can we tell the diffference?

Are we entitled to enquire into the political beliefs of blond prospective parents? Or pass laws requiring blonde women to be randomly impregnated? Of course not!

So what's the difference with reproductive technology?

But none of the above is relevant in any way whatsoever. To connect reproductive technology with Nazi eugenics is a cheap tactic. So what if modern parents wish to breed Aryans, as the Nazis did? Would it make any measurable difference to the global gene pool? Selective breeding ws the least of the Nazis' crimes. Principally, they were mass murders.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Lies, distortions and half-truths

...but not necessarily in that order. This is a catch-up post. There's three things I want to talk about.

A fatal miscarriage of justice.

The recent death of Sally Clark was more than tragic. The sudden deaths of two children would be hard enough for a parent to overcome, without the disgraceful ordeal of being wrongly convicted for their murders and the subsequent villification from the media and fellow prison inmates. Although she was eventually after her conviction was overturned, it appears that, in common with similar cases, she was given absolutely zero government support to help her to readjust. And it can't have helped that her renmaining child remained in care after her release (although, granted, there may have been legitimate reasons to reintroduce the child gradually).

Her lack of support is especially disgraceful given the outrageous circumstances of her conviction, which relied heavily on the 'expert testimony' of the now discredited Prof. Roy Meadow. I'm not sure that he should take all the blame, though. At the time, I remember being askance at the statistical fallacy he was putting forward. It was telling that the defence counsel, judge, jurors and the population in general seem to lack the basic numeracy to have spotted the glaring error.

To recap...Meadow stated that the likelihood of two babies having died of natural causes was 1:73,000,000 against. This was based on multiplying the population incidence for a single death.
Let's put it this way:

  • Someone buys a lottery ticket. The probability of winning is (near as
    dammit) 14 million : 1.
  • Someone wins the lottery and invests £1 of their winnings in
    another lottery ticket. The odds of winning with that ticket are...guess
    what?...14 million : 1. Oddly enough, the laws of chance are not determined by
    the player's past history. Similarly, if the chances of cot death for one
    baby are 8,500 : 1, then the chances for a baby who already has a dead sibling
    are 8,500 : 1.
  • But...imagine you have some kind of inside knowledge that lets you skew the
    winning lottery numbers towards your own. Then your chances of winning are
    somewhat more than 14 million : 1 - and this is true every week.
    Similarly, if you are the carrier of a condition that makes your children prone
    to cot death...

But, hey, whole idea of the lottery is based on ignorance of statistical probability*.

* Actually, that's not quite fair. Possibly most players know full well that they're unlikely to win but feel they can afford the low stakes for the pleasure of fantasising.

Credit where it's true

With the commemoration of the 200th anniversary of the abolition of (direct British involvement in) slavery, the focus is on William Wilberforce. And, indeed, he's worth celebrating. But it shouldn't be forgotten that the slave trade ended for strictly economic reasons, and the abolitionists** only made inroads when it became increasingly unviable. A leading reason for this was direct action by slaves***. They were too expensive to control. Other notable fallacies:

  • The Vietnam War was ended by US protests. Methinks the Vietcong had something to do with it.

  • The British Colonial Legacy. We left them with a sound infrastructure of democracy, law and education, didn't we? Nnnn...except the normal time between Britain declaring an intention to grant independence and then clearing out was one month!!! Hardly an orderly transition; we didn't even bother to clear up on the way out. Even the Mountbatten Viceregency was a mere 60 days.

  • (Heard on the radio last week) "If it wasn't for intervention by international governments, Apartheid would never have ended in South Africa." And what intervention was that? Any participation in sanctions - economic or cultural - was down to individuals and independent organisations...and let's be honest, that was pissing in the wind.**** Nope, South Africa was liberated by South Africans.

Oh...and while I'm at it...

  • "Slavery was a long time ago. Can't we move on and stop blaming it for all of black people's problems?" Except that we haven't moved on, have we? We've hardly begun to acknowledge that our economic advantage was founded on slavery. We've nowhere near begun to address the continuing, structural legacy of disadvantage.

** Including black activists such as Olaudah Equiano - who I see is payed by Youssou N'Dour in the current Wilberforce biopic whose name escapes me.

*** For a classic account of rebellion, see 'The Black Jacobins' by the great CLR James, chiefly an account of the Haitian, Toussaint L'Ouverture.

**** I speak as a former leading member of 'Trolleys Against Apartheid'. The deal was to stack a supermarket trolley with SA produce and leave it in the aisle. Bet that had the Boers quaking in their boots.

Say 'Nope!' to dope.

The moral/legal position on the Blessed Lamb's Bread Beloved of Jah Ras Tafar-I seems to have swung 360° in recent years. Rosie Boycott as editor of The Independent on Sunday championed a campaign for legalisation, and under the (normally illiberal) David Blunkett***** it was re-classified to a Class B - later C, alongside the likes of Haliborange or PG Tips.

But now The IoS has vigorously retracted its position citing, amongst othet things, the alleged increasing potency of the skunk varieties now available and the possible links between intensive cannabis use and schizophrenia. On the potency argument: this article rather puts the kibosh on it. On the mental health aspects...well, the scientific evidence remains mixed. We have to consider:

  • If there's a correlation between cannabis and psychiatric disorders, is this because the drug causes illness?...or do the mentally ill have a propensity towards self medication? Note that many mentally ill people also havy users of alcohol and tobacco.

  • Does the drug interact with other factors, eg genetic tendencies?

Probably the best source of guidance is The Royal College of Psychatrists. Their advice on the topic is here. There's enough there to suggest that I personally am wisest to refrain on medical grounds******...but it doesn't seem to me that they are giving an unequivocal warning to the population as a whole.

So why the volte face by the IoS? It seems to me that this is part of a political trend. The government are also becoming twitchy. Legalasiation is increasingly off the agenda. Perhaps a clue comes in the IoS's follow-up article: UN warns of cannabis dangers as it backs 'IoS' drugs 'apology'. Why would the UN be concerned top comment on a domestic issue? (note that most of the UK's cannabis is now home-grown). I'm speculating that there are some machinations afoot. One powerful nation is so caught up in 'The War Against Drugs' that it refuses even to licence diamorphine as a painkiller (and this is also partly why it is bogged down in Afghanistan by its inability to provide economic alternatives to opium farming). And then, of course, there's the domestic political culture which is increasingly socially macho. "Tough on Crime, Tough on the causes of crime". It seems that - in the light of New Labour's inability to address social conditions - we are to understand that crime is caused by druggy schizos with no respect.

There may be sound medical arguments for and against legalisation - but I fear they're being swamped by domestic and international politics.

***** Who hardly has to worry about glaucoma, surely?

****** bugger.

Giving 'Poddage to:

Regina Spektor. Obssessively.