Wednesday, December 29, 2004

susan sontag (16th jan 1933 - 28th dec 2004)

a total inspiration. gone.

Friday, December 24, 2004

hearty greetings to each and every one of you

Merry Christmas & Happy New Year!
Joyeux Noël et Bonne Année!
Froehliche Weihnachten und ein glückliches Neues Jahr!
Feliz Navidad y Próspero Año Nuevo!
I'D Miilad Said ous Sana Saida!
Shenoraavor Nor Dari yev Pari Gaghand!
Boas Festas e Feliz Ano Novo!
Prejeme Vam Vesele Vanoce a stastny Novy Rok!
Glædelig Jul og godt nytår!
Vrolijk Kerstfeest en een Gelukkig Nieuwjaar!
Jutdlime pivdluarit ukiortame pivdluaritlo!
Hyvää Joulua or Hauskaa Joulua!
Zalig Kerstfeest en Gelukkig nieuw jaar!
Kala Christougenna Kieftihismenos O Kenourios Chronos!
Juullimi Ukiortaassamilu Pilluarit!
Shub Naya Baras!
Gleðileg Jól og Farsaelt Komandi ár!
Rõõmsaid Jõulupühi Head uut aastat
Idah Saidan Wa Sanah Jadidah!
Buon Natale e Felice Anno Nuovo!
Shinnen omedeto. Kurisumasu Omedeto!
Wesolych Swiat i Szczesliwego Nowego Roku!
Nave sal di mubaraka!
Pozdrevlyayu s prazdnikom Rozhdestva i s Novim Godom!
Sretam Bozic. Vesela Nova Godina!
Vesele Vianoce a stastny novy rok!
Noeliniz Ve Yeni Yiliniz Kutlu Olsun!
Veseloho Vam Rizdva i Shchastlyvoho Novoho Roku!
Naya Saal Mubarak Ho!
Nadolig LLawen a Blwyddyn Newydd Dda!

Thursday, December 23, 2004

more on travelling - less travelling

obviously, there are moments of pure sublimity associated with travelling: I have seen the three suns of Taiga Epsilon rise in sequence above the slow liquid methane cascades of Asgara, and watched from orbit as the great volcanoes of Meldran flung their flowering lava plumes fifteen kilometres into the air; I have swum with torcnymphs in the thick world-circling seas of Keet, and wandered alone among the twenty-thousand-year-old mander trees of Margate ... but mostly, my travelling has been the same as everyone else's - up before dawn to avoid the worst of the traffic and despite allowing four hours for a three hour journey still managing to be crawling at walking-pace through the Heathrow underpass tunnel ten minutes before the final call for check-in for a flight that then won't take off until it's been stationary at the end of Runway Two for forty minutes whilst they sort out a trade dispute at the air traffic control centre in West Maldon and change a set of tyres and a couple of crew members and finally arriving at wherever it was you wanted to go to with all-over cramps and possible food-poisoning still trying to remember what it is you have a nagging feeling you left behind in this morning's rush - and discovering, when you finally - at last! - arrive, that it was your self-possession, your dignity, your composure, your well-being, and everything else that used to make up your personality, which might or might not be slowly catching up.

so I shall be the first to sign up when someone finally comes round to offering the only sort of travel service that's utterly painless, and I see it like this:

having determined my itinerary, I go to the Fardream website and type in my destination and preferred times of departure or arrival both outward and inward, which, apart from confirming the booking and making the payment, is all that I have to do. at the appointed time, having packed my bags in the supplied case, I go to the Fardream terminal branch, of which there is at least one in each town, and make myself comfortable in one of the departure booths. I then take the blue pill ... and wake up in my bed at my destination.

the interim will have seen my comatose body transferred into a custom travelling pod and loaded, together with a full complement of similarly occupied pods, into, first, the local container truck, which will have transferred its cargo to a pod wagon at the nearest railway freight depot, and then into the vivarium cargo hold of a wide-bellied jet; this, carrying only a small minority of wakeful passengers, will have flown to my destination of choice, where, upon landing, my rack of pods will have been transferred to a local container truck, thence to a smaller delivery truck, which will have discharged its pods individually to the exact destination requested, where its collection will have been supervised by a Fardream rep, who will be present, wearing a reassuringly professional smile, as he or she revives me.

no aspect of this journey will have troubled me in the slightest: every detail of the journey will have been taken care of by Fardream. I will arrive with no sense of any more time having passed than after a good night's sleep. even if the journey time has been as long as it takes to fly halfway around the world, my nutritive and excretory needs will have been taken care of with maximum discretion, and I will arrive not only with no symptoms of either jet-lag or fatigue or cabin-pressure bloating, but having not had to experience any of the exhausting tortures that present-day conscious travelling inflicts - from traffic and airport delays to bad coffee to cramped seats to airline food to screaming babies to fascist immigration officers to chain-smoking mafia taxis - none of it.

clearly, not everyone is going to feel as easy as me about being loaded into a coffin and treated as an animate parcel: the Fardream PR will have to play that aspect down in favour of concentrating the client's attention on the obvious benefits. but I bet there's thousands - tens, hundreds of thousands - of people like me who'd be perfectly happy to travel in this way, and leave the so-called romance of travel to those young and foolhardy enough to be able to embrace its trials as a character-building exercise, or something. once you'd ironed out little details like health and safety stuff, and worked out ways of overcoming those obvious concerns about people submitting to being treated just as cargo, and drumming up sufficient investment to capitalise it, I reckon the subsequent savings on all the expensive paraphernalia of keeping people comfortable en route - from seating to feeding to entertaining - would probably begin to make such an enterprise viable within quite a short period of time.

I must admit I'll miss the sight of that triple sunrise over the Asgaran methane cascades - but hey, it's bound to have a Travelodge - I could always stop off there for a couple of nights.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

typical Iraqi Christmas wishlist

1. 20 liters of gasoline
2. A cylinder of gas for cooking
3. Kerosene for the heaters
4. Those expensive blast-proof windows
5. Landmine detectors
6. Running water
7. Thuraya satellite phones (the mobile phone services are really, really bad of late)
8. Portable diesel generators (for the whole family to enjoy!)
9. Coleman rechargeable flashlight with extra batteries (you can never go wrong with a fancy flashlight)
10. Scented candles (it shows you care- but you're also practical)

(posted at Baghdad Burning)

Friday, December 17, 2004

the rhino's top fifteen albums of 2004

(well, it's that time of year, isn't it?)

1. (joint) Gustav - Rettet Die Wale (Mosz)
Lost In Translation (OST) (Rykodisc)
(really can't choose between these two - the Lost In Translation OST has been the soundtrack to my year since its release in January - and Gustav has proved the single most effective antidote to 11/2, for which I shall be forever in her debt)
2. The Album Leaf - In A Safe Place (Labels UK)
3. Max Richter - The Blue Notebooks (Fat Cat -130701)
4. Lali Puna - Faking The Books (Morr)
5. Le Fly Pan Am - N'Écoutez Pas (Constellation)
6. Lullatone - Little Songs About Raindrops (Plop)
7. Fennesz - Venice (Touch)
8. Air - Talkie Walkie (Source)
9. Cyann and Ben - Happy Like An Autumn Tree (Gooom/Locust)
10. Gravenhurst - Flashlight Seasons (Warp)
11. Múm - Summer Make Good (Fat Cat)
12. Björk – Medúlla (One Little Indian)
13. Joanna Newsom - The Milk-Eyed Mender (Drag City)
14. The Caretaker - We'll All Go Riding On A Rainbow (V/Vm)

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

blame it on the parents

Pinochet's son sentenced to prison

"The day his elderly father was indicted on human rights charges, the oldest son of former dictator General Augusto Pinochet was sentenced to 541 days in prison for accepting a stolen vehicle.
A court in Curico also fined Augusto Pinochet Hiriart 500,000 pesos ($A1,253) for the additional charge of illegal possession of a pistol."

(it just gets better and better)

Monday, December 13, 2004

friends in deed

how did it all go so terribly terribly wrong right?

on discovering the meaning of life in Little Gidding

I stopped trying to broaden my mind a long time ago in favour of dedicating more time to trying to narrow the field a little. I think the turning point was when I realised that, however extensive my understanding of the world and its peeps 'n' places and my vanishingly insignificant place in it, it all (all that understanding) ended up residing in here (*points to own shiny pate*), where it was subject to such an overwhelmingly selective process of memory distortion that the only thing that distinguished my own recollections from those of others was that mine were less interesting (to me - obviously, to others, they represent the apogee of scintillating entertainment), since they held no surprises - and what's the point of living without surprises?

obviously, travel was out, since this is top of the list of the stuff that's supposed to broaden the mind, and I must say I have very few regrets about deciding never again, except in conditions of dire emergency and/or astonishingly lucrative job offers, to go out of my way to move further than the bottom of my garden. and yet it's still there, very much in one's face, the lure of the exotic to such innocents as once, I suppose, I used to be, who suppose, if only they could save up enough to purchase one of those round the world backpacker tickets and beg enough from their parents to subsidise it, that their experiences will open a secret gate of understanding into the nature of life the universe and everything, or at least provide a lengthy list of entertaining anecdotes with which to bore one's friends for the rest of their lives. in the more enterprising cases, of course, they'll scam the ticket from some reality TV show in return for allowing themselves to be arbitrarily tormented and humiliated en route in order to provide the material that the viewers supposedly demand.

just as sipping retsina on a grey day in December in South West England converts it, by some cultural alchemy, from the divine nectar you experienced when sitting at a harbour-side bar in Skiathos in May watching the sun set into a glassy wine-dark sea into something vaguely reminiscent of disinfectant mixed with cat's piss, so all foreign experience, uprooted from its time and place and context, serves little purpose other than to be able, later, to reflect 'that was different' - which is about as good as it gets, really. anyone who imagines that by witnessing a bunch of barefoot local ragamuffins kicking a tin can around in the dirt of a grassless field behind a gaudy tin can church in Trinidad they're learning anything about anything is deluding themselves: poverty means you improvise and happiness can sometimes be a tin can - there - was that useful?

by default, travel writers and photographers are the most culpable of the travel = mind-expansion pimps. their hugely enjoyable lies about the gawpsome exotica to be discovered at any randomly intersecting lines of latitude and longitude need to be understood in the context of the world post-Thomas-Cook, ie in the vastly profitable world of tourism. and, please, let's scotch, once and for all, that tired distinction between the tourist and the traveller. the traveller is a tourist who believes the junk the travel writers and photographers peddle. the tourist is a traveller who believes the junk the brochure writers and photographers peddle. the one inevitably despises the other. they're both equally gullible (well, the honest tourist marginally less so, cos all she wants is cheap sun and sangrilla and sex, which she's more likely to get than the other, who wants spiritual enlightenment and/or acquired depths of pan-cultural understanding formerly reserved for lamas and librarians as well), since the only relationship that matters between an impoverished country (of the kind that attracts the most visitors for its plucky charm and cheap accommodation) and the foreign visitor is the economic. inevitably so.

as usual, of course, I speak from the insufferably smug position of immense privilege - that of having had, and having exploited many opportunities to travel, more often than not in the context of work (in an earlier life in the theatre, touring in Europe mostly, with the occasional foray to extremely foreign parts like Wales), which is how I prefer it.

once, during a Spanish tour at the time of the Falklands War, we were unloading the van outside the gig in some tiny town way out in Extremadura and attracted the usual crowd of kids who all started chanting 'Malvinas! Malvinas!' (the Spanish name for the Falklands, to whose present claim by Argentina Spain was supporting, of course). for sure, the kids had no inkling about the issues, but knew we were Ingles, and that the Ingleses were in a funk about something that they said belonged to them, so it was like a football match, wasn't it? Malvinas! Malvinas! none of us in the company spoke more than a few words of Spanish at the time, but we got the gist of what was going on, so we all mimed surrender and scribbled 'Las Malvinas' on the backs of the company fliers and started handing them out saying "take them, they're yours, we never wanted them in the first place", and other stuff which the kids couldn't understand, of course, but found totally hilarious. nice gig. those stupid Ingleses. they just rolled over and died.

I love Spain. I also love Denmark. (Denmark is my very own personal secret country. I don't want anyone else to know about it. stay away.) both countries seem to awaken something in me that remains dormant between visits.

the staggeringly wise Noam Chomsky proposed, some time ago, that all children are born with a basic understanding of language and the mental capacity to learn it very quickly - far more quickly than ought to be possible, considering the complexity of the task. his thesis - known as the nativist perspective on language acquisition was developed from the astonishing observation that all babies begin by babbling the phonemes (basic sounds) of all languages to begin with, ie the infant's 'babble' contains, as well as all the familiar vowel sounds from the European languages, the unfamiliar ones from, say, the Asiatic languages, and the totally alien ones, such as the glottal clicks, from the older, rarer languages such as the African. his proposal was that, at birth, the brain is 'over-connected' in the sense that it comes ready-wired with this universal capacity for language, with an immensely complex network of connections, many of which, if not used (ie the infant only hears its parents using a limited combination of those sounds to construct meaning), simply die out or become dormant, whilst new connections based on experience start to build on the most-used ones.

given the even more recent work on the mapping of the human genome, and the discovery that the genetic difference between each and every one of us is only marginally more significant than between us as individuals and the common fruitfly, it strikes me as not being too far-fetched to extrapolate from these kind of findings the notion that cultural and linguistic divergence is just a kind of macrocosmic geophysical analogue of that chance-driven engine of genetic evolution. the reason for my sensing something in me coming online, as it were, only when I cross either the Spanish or the Danish borders could be, quite simply, that my particular programming - my own much-modified hard-wiring - happens to resonate, at those crossings, in the same frequency as has evolved and been adopted as the carrier-wave of the Spanish or Danish cultures. who knows why? Scandinavian gloom counterbalanced by Spanish passion? well, why not?

the Delphic oracle's cryptic maxim - 'Know Thyself - Nothing in Excess' - might or might not have just been one of the drunken babblings of an ancient glue-sniffer. whatever. the understanding that learning to know yourself, at least (the nothing in excess part seems generally to have fallen on deaf ears), constitutes the beginning and the end of wisdom has become one of the prima facie canons of Western philosophy. this being the case, inarguably the process requires that we venture beyond the borders of the known and the safe in order to pursue such self-knowledge. there's a time for doing this in the literal sense, but, equally, there's a case for recognising that there's something about the traveller/tourist mindset that contributes less about learning about yourself through learning about others (the travel-broadens-the-mind school) than about the opposite - and that such travelling, by distracting ourselves from our time-and-space-bound selves, could actually represent a kind of escape from our selves. certainly, I recognise in my own Wanderlust years (mine the equivalent of a week's sniffles compared with the full-blown life-fever of a few people I've known) a correlation with my love of flying and science fiction - the one an escape from gravity and level horizons, the other an escape from reality. if the agoraphobic has to confront his fear of exterior spaces, whatever I have become or am in process of becoming seems to be addressing some previously unacknowledged fear of inner spaces. fear of self-knowledge would have been an absurd idea to those Greek Apollonians, but I bet they'd have had a word for it. egophobia? this way to the Minotaur.

"We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time."

(T.S.Eliot - Little Gidding from Four Quartets)

Saturday, December 11, 2004

the horror

"charging a man with murder in this place was like handing out speeding tickets at the Indie 500"

(Captain Willard - Apocalypse Now)

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Posh and Becks in wax nativity

Victoria and David Beckham's wax doubles have been given starring roles in a celebrity nativity scene at Madame Tussauds in London.
The pair play Mary and Joseph, while Tony Blair, George Bush and the Duke of Edinburgh make up the three wise men.

gets my vote for most fabulously tacky stroke of genius of the year.
jeff koons - damien hirst - (insert favourite tack-artist here) - look and weep.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004


"what it don't get I can't use" (Radford/Cordy - 'Money' from 'With The Beatles' - 1963)

with two cards on the mantelpiece already - one from my sister-in-law's mother, the other from mel's dentist - it's time to upend the piggy-bank and make a budget.
having long ago forsworn the pursuit of wealth in favour of something else (don't rush me - I'll remember it in a minute) I do wonder, from time to time, whether or not I was wrong, and whether money can, in fact, buy happiness. certainly, a great deal of the unhappiness that goes with poverty can be mitigated with money. equally certainly, it's clear from the behaviour of those who appear in the public eye, and from my own limited experience of contact with the very rich, that unhappiness isn't the prerogative of the poor. but as always, it depends on how you define the two factors - happiness and wealth.
I can see an easily identifiable set of circumstances which would constitute happiness, for example, in 99% of the population - male and female - at or around the age of twenty - circumstances that revolve around recreational sex, drugs, rock n roll, the ready acquisition of cool stuff, and travelling in style, all of which could be, and indeed are readily available on the open market. I can see that there are circumstances in which the prolongation of this behaviour - and the happiness that it brings - into late middle-age could be maintained as long as the money held out, and that plundering the world for new experiences - if that was your bag - could be inexhaustible fun.
finding myself in a rare non-judgmental mood, I see no but's in this. (you were thinking he's about to point out the downside of being someone like Jack Osborne or Prince William or Paris Hilton, weren't you? sorry - no can do - they've got it made and they're making the most of it - good for them. the small but wicked compensation for the rest of us consists in the pathetic Schadenfreude of watching them make the inevitable total fuckup of the rest of their lives, but that's another story.) provided - ok here we go with the 'provided's' - you're ok with limiting your definition of happiness to nothing to do with, oh, I dunno, intelligence, let's say, or self-knowledge, or trust, or responsibility - you know, boring grownup virtues - I reckon it can be bought, ninety-nine times out of a hundred. that proviso, however (what a giveaway) might turn out to matter in the long run.
I think time has to be factored in somewhere, although I'm none too clear how you might go about that. I mean, is the stuff that will make a twenty-year-old happy the same stuff that will make, say, a fifty-year-old happy? well, duh, yeah, actually. except that, in the majority of cases, the fifty-year-old's expectations will have a) been moderated by experience; b) been subjected to the physical limitations of ageing; and c) (probably the single most significant factor) been subject to the unpredictable alchemy of parenthood.
having kids changes everything. there's no single aspect of behaviour that's not fundamentally altered by that experience. you have to be a totally self-dedicated selfish egotistic bastard of a fuckup and a total failure as a human being not to consider your kids' happiness above your own. this kind of comes with the territory. it's something most parents discover within minutes of the birth of their firstborn. no secret. neither is it any particular hardship. it's just what happens. but
(ok there was always going to be a but I just held out as long as I could)
but what - apart from all the latest cool stuff and that new game that all their friends have got and instant gratification of every whim - do kids most want? (you see where this is going, I expect) and where can you buy it? and how much does it cost?
whenever I hear the merry ka-chinng of another mythical christmas till being prepped (don't you miss that merry ka-chinng?), I think of those sad car-stickers that the RSPCA dishes out every year - a dog is for life, not just for christmas - and think, yeah. woof.

Monday, December 06, 2004

the gates - central park new york - feb 12th - feb 28th 2005

after 24 years, Christo and Jeanne-Claude finally get permission to make a stroll in the park.


Friday, December 03, 2004

crime and punishment

I’m not proud of those summary judgements I’ve made in the course of my learning how to be a father. I reckon that in half the cases I pulled the twins apart and shouted at one of them for trying to bite the other’s ear off it was the other one’s fault.

there's no pragmatic test of whether or not a judicial system works. justice, like most social systems, is an idea: as much a matter of belief as analysis. under Taliban rule in Afghanistan, theft is said to have dropped dramatically compared with former years. whether or not this had anything to do with the fact that Taliban justice was peremptory and ruthless, in strict application of Shia law, so that thieves always had their hands chopped off within minutes of a judge's edict, is in fact a matter of belief as much as anything else, even though the connection would seem to be conclusive. a Taliban philosopher would argue that the strict application of the law and the punishment of transgressors was merely one factor in the improvement of the Afghan moral character, part of the reforming principle that applied throughout the country under the Taliban guidance at this time. he would maintain that the more rigorous resumption of a devotional study of the Qu’uran was the more significant contributory factor in the reformation of criminal characters, whose moral lapses such teachings would inevitably have pre-empted.

at risk of being considered a total social terrorist, I have to confess that I don't much believe in law and order. I’d better explain that. I think it matters that each of us should have some idea as to how we'd like to see things being run, rather than just grumbling about how badly it seems to be run, even though we know that such dreaming is utterly futile, and one of my little foibles is that I think people, left to their own devices, are perfectly capable of sorting things out for themselves without having to resort to the law, which, far too often, gets it terribly terribly wrong. the Lord Chancellor’s Department’s statistics show that since 1985 there have been over 85,000 miscarriages of justice, as evidenced by successful appeals against criminal conviction. now, I know that I'm supposed to think that there are bad men out there who want to take things from me and harm my family, and that's why we have the daily mail and the sun and itv news and crimewatch to keep us informed about them, and that's why we have a legal system to protect us from them and punish the wrongdoers. however, the longer and the harder you look around with eyes uncorrected by such lenses, the clearer it becomes that the amount of wrong being done on an annual basis by these people to people such as you and me is but a teeny-weeny gnat's turd compared to the sewage farm being dumped on us daily by the real villains.

imagine a world without police. what do you see? total collapse of civil society? looted shopping malls, cars burning in the streets, gang shootouts outside safeways, that sort of thing?

so imagine, instead, starting over, re-inventing this tinderbox society with one that wouldn't explode the moment you removed the safeties. you don't actually have to do very much. we're already - most of us - bringing our kids up to believe that it's wrong to take things from each other without asking permission, that it works better to cooperate with each other in order to achieve an objective than to fight over it, that some difficult things are worth working at rather than giving up on, that bullying is wrong, that it's important to recycle and look after the planet and give money to help starving kids in Africa. so where's the problem?

there are some - count me out - who believe in something called 'evil', which comes in various shades from grey to satanic black, and that some kids get infected by when they start growing breasts or beards (or, in a few unlucky cases, both), and that this accounts for how they get to be wayward and start doing wrong and needing to be brought back in line by being sent to prison or having their single-parent benefits cut or excluded from ever being allowed to appear on television, ever. so anyway, this evil thing, once it happens, means that we all need to be on our guard against it and take precautions, which are often quite expensive. living in a safe part of the city is expensive. sending our kids to the right kind of school is expensive. being comprehensively insured against all contingencies is expensive. so, the more money we have, the better we can insulate and defend ourselves and our families from it. so that's why it's good to be rich. and that's why we call the rich the winners and the poor the losers, because the poor have lost their way in this fight against evil, and they're to be both pitied and treated warily, because, at the slightest opportunity, they'll slit our throats and take away all our money and spend it on drink and drugs and gaudy entertainments.

them and us - the only historic divisions that matter.

but what if 'evil' doesn't exist? (it doesn't, by the way, just in case you were wondering about the rhino's position here) what if it was the inspired invention of - oh, some priest, let's say – conceived in order to help convince us that we should do what he advises or else.... and what if this idea were taken up by some other people - politicians, say - who, recognising a good scam when they saw one, thought hey, that's a really good way of keeping people on their toes, keeping them onside, keeping them quiet about all the little compromises they'll have to make in the course of keeping this evil stuff at bay.

there are some of us - go on, chortle, have your fun - who really thought we'd seen the back of all that 'evil' stuff some time ago. this was meant to be the dawning of the age of aquarius, for those of you who need reminding. but times change. boy, how they do change.

by and large, I still reckon people are essentially decent. scoff as much as you like. I've said it before, I'll say it again. the only difference between that palestinian kid and that israeli kid is an historic cultural difference - and if you're going to try and persuade me that arab genes are different from jewish genes, then you can fuck off right now. neither is born with an inherited tendency to tear the other’s throat out on sight. similarly, if you're going to argue that a kid born to a black single mother from the St Pauls side of Bristol is inherently more inclined to be a loser than the daughter of a BBC producer living in Clifton, you're going to have to say why, and you're going to have to do so without pussyfooting around either the race or the social deprivation thing. that both will more likely than not turn out to be decent citizens is a triumph of common sense over media distortion of the blindingly obvious demographic facts.

given a level playing field of education and social opportunity (indulge a dreamer), the average kid will turn into a decent person, provided you don't poison that well of education with religious and/or nationalistic dogma and/or throw in the bias of an excessively wide gap of social advantage. the majority - I say again - the vast majority of this gloriously diverse mix of sentient beings called humans consists of decent, sensible people who know what the difference between right and wrong is without having it rammed down their throats by either the priests or the mullahs or the rabbis or the politicians, and, given a free choice, will choose to behave well towards their family, their friends, their neighbours, and strangers, in that order, so long as that behaviour is reciprocated.

a system of justice that wrongly condemns over four thousand innocent people a year – and subsequently compounds that by presenting them with a bill for their board and lodging in prison – is nothing to be proud of, but it could be a whole lot worse.

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

market day

the tuesday market, in the st john's car park behind the church, is a mishmash of the usual market town stuff - straight veggie stalls flogging their six-for-a-quid oranges alongside the organic veggie bloke doing his best to compete on principle; traders in dodgy chinese tools, extra-large-size tights, baby clothes, t-shirts saying I heart ny, crappy cheap toys and wilting bedding plants next to the unfailingly cheerful fishmongers (even on a frosty morning such as today's, when merely to watch them dipping their hands into those trays of ice makes you wince in sympathy), and the hippies eternal car-boot sale (this week, amongst the battered stringless guitars, incense-holders, framed t-rex prints, and dog-eared copies of carlos castaneda they had a disturbingly genuine-looking life-size fake-mediaeval plaster saint james - I didn't ask). but today there was a new stall, a stall that felt like an intrusion into our world of something dark and heavy and malevolent: a stall selling replica firearms.
there was nothing either discreet or furtive about it - beneath a large hand-printed felt-tipped sign on fluorescent card saying 'replica firearms' was a double-trestle stall stacked with boxes of guns. not toy guns - these were replicas, with prices ranging from thirty pounds to two hundred. mostly the sort of badass chunky things you see characters in vice city and grand theft auto using, but also smaller, more discreet beretta-type things, a few uzis, a couple of AK-47's - familiar ware to anyone who has watched a James Bond film or, indeed, any American cop show.
I can imagine why someone might want to own a real gun, but what is it about replicas? the word 'replica' kind of dignifies with pretentious gravity the fact that these are nothing more than toys for the boys who grew up with the toys and always wanted the real thing but are too wuss to go the final mile and shell out and risk the police hassle for something that they can actually kill someone with. they are, of course, attractive to petty criminals who want to appear more threatening than they really are - although, considering the increased trigger-happiness of police armed-response units, I'd have thought that sort of thing was becoming fatally stupid. 'collectors' (another of those words that cheats the anal-retentive of their poo-clogged due) seem to get some kind of proxy thrill out of owning a facsimile of something that's designed to kill - that's behaviour out of the same psychological paperclip-box that accounts for the crowds attracted to the sites of fatal accidents and (hello Donald) hoarding bits of collapsed skyscrapers. and the more serious (ie the most wealthy) collectors profess a discerning connoisseur's delight - often expressed in pseudo-sexual hyperbole - in handling such exquisite workmanship, blah blah blah.
like any town, we have a (still relatively small) proportion of lost souls who meet their daily fix requirement through theft and prostitution if they can't meet it through begging. they're a small, identifiable core group, known to everybody who - well, everybody, really. their supplies arrive from Bristol on different days in tragically recognisable style - the flashy boombox, the furtive dudes with nokias and attitude, the swift exchanges - and filter down through a monthly rotating set of flats to which a small but steady trickle of visitors arrive as the word goes out. all known to the police, all monitored, mostly ignored - these are the smallest of the small fry - a complete waste of everyone's time to arrest. their economy works through a slow but steady expansion of the market via recruitment, on the street, of the town's future generation of lost souls - those kids of thirteen, fourteen, who've been excluded from school since year seven and whose reward for acting as untouchable (because of their age) messengers and go-betweens has been both pocket money and a bit of crystal, weed, whatever. a familiar story in every city in the civilised world.
so far - touch wood - there's only been one instance of armed robbery that I know of in our town: a clumsy shop raid a year or so ago by a couple of guys from Bath who were caught and later identified from the CCTV tape. they were using a replica gun.
it's not going to be the dealers who buy these things - they already own the real thing - it's those kids. they'll flaunt them to their mates and impress girls and rob year eights of their lunch-money with them. and then, one day, because they're invulnerable, and high, they'll decide to use them - why not? - to rob a bank. and the armed response unit will corner them after an exciting fence-jumping chase - just like in the movies - in a corner of the car park. and, because they're wearing balaclavas - like they do in the movies - the police will fail to see that their villains are children, but see them as an armed threat, and when one of them, stoned and out of bravado, refuses to respond to the call to drop the weapon, and (independent witnesses will argue about this at the subsequent investigation) begins to raise it, he will be shot. and that will be everybody else's fault than that chirpy mr market trader man who was, like it says on the box, just supplying the market.

dominus illuminatio mea

in the course of drafting a review of the new battles ep I kept thinking, for no other reason than the assonance, of that short but disproportionately influential period in my melancholy life when battels were bills, the buttery was a bar, subfusc a suit, encaenia a procession, the schools an examination hall, the bod a library, scouts made beds, the four seasons were renamed michaelmas, trinity, hilary, and long vac, and a myriad other locally-specific events and/or places and objects were known by an arcane glossary comprehensible only to fellow students and academics. there were no women, a computer was something that science students had to book time on in a building of its own and probably had less processing power than a current mobile phone, and in order to pursue your own chosen study of english literature you still had to memorise Virgil's Aeneid and The Battle of Maldon (in Latin and Anglo-Saxon respectively). heady, hermetic times which were at once breathtakingly thrilling and morbidly depressing, essentially formative and cruelly destructive. all, then, was potential, and the legacy of that frivolous dissipation has proved three-fold and equivocal: a sense of (totally undeserved) election, quasi-tribal pride, and irrecoverable loss - a legacy shared, I expect, by everyone fortunate enough to have experienced an alma mater. funny what music can do.

Monday, November 29, 2004

"Peace and the New Corporate Liberation Theology"

[The 2004 Sydney Peace Prize lecture, delivered by Arundhati Roy, November 3, 2004, Seymour Theatre Centre, Sydney University.]

...So, all you young management graduates don't bother with Harvard and Wharton — here's the Lazy Manager's Guide to Corporate Success: first, stock your board with senior government servants. Next, stock the government with members of your board. Add oil and stir. When no one can tell where the government ends and your company begins, collude with your government to equip and arm a cold-blooded dictator in an oil-rich country. Look away while he kills his own people. Simmer gently. Use the time to collect a few billion dollars in government contracts. Then collude with your government once again while it topples the dictator and bombs his subjects, taking care to specifically target essential infrastructure, killing 100,000 people on the side. Pick up another billion dollars or so worth of contracts to “reconstruct” the infrastructure. To cover travel and incidentals, sue for reparations for lost profits from the devastated country. Finally, diversify. Buy a television station, so that next war around you can showcase your hardware and weapons technology masquerading as coverage of the war. And finally finally, institute a Human Rights Prize in your company's name. You could give the first one posthumously to Mother Teresa. She won't be able to turn it down or argue back...

(full text here)


of the university of california berkeley quantitative methods research team's assessment of voting irregularities elsewhere than in the ukraine.

"Perhaps the most chilling complaints concerned the electronic voting machines....We received several reports of voters who repeatedly pressed the name Kerry on their voting screen only to have Bush appear. In other cases, voters pressed Kerry and were later asked to confirm their Bush vote."

(ZNet Blog)

Sunday, November 28, 2004

breathing mercury

ever since I discovered, several years ago, the overwhelmingly convincing evidence linking the incidence of dental amalgams containing mercury with monopolar depressive disorders, I've wondered how different my life might have turned out if I'd been less addicted to sugar and better educated in brushing and flossing. a non-melancholy rhino. hmmm.
certainly, I've become more of a miseryguts as the years have passed, but that seems to be par for the course, regardless of the amount of mercury leaking from the fillings in your mouth. ageing has no compensations whatsoever - you'd better believe it. anyone below the age of thirty-five reading this - make the most of it! I'll say no more on that subject.
there is, actually, a jolly me, a funny fellow who makes people laugh and leave dinner-parties clutching their sides and exchanging notes on which of my entertaining post-prandial anecdotes they found the funniest, a life-and-soul of the party rhino who will be remembered as the only redeeming feature of a dozen dreary social functions. this me is camouflaged, however, behind a mask of grumbling severity and tends only to emerge when everyone has gone home, rehearsing what he would have said, with what pithy bullets of acid wit he would have reduced that asinine asshole with the bad breath and philistine attitude to cowering respectful silence, if only he had so chosen.
I hate, actually, the idea that I've been nursing this toxic tooth-leakage for a good number of years, and that it might well account, at least in part, for some of the darker episodes in this melancholy life. on the other hand, I seem to align myself quite happily with other melancholics whose creativity seems not to have suffered, indeed seems to have been defined and enhanced by their melancholia. would curing Kafka of his existential gloom not have deprived us of some of the finest aperçus on the nightmare of unbridled bureaucracies in existence, for instance? would Buster Keaton's genius have been enhanced by his adopting a toothy grin and a tickling stick? would a timely dose of Prozac in Kurt Cobain's night-time cocoa have transformed Nirvana into a cheery boy band? and would this have been a Good Thing? is not melancholia a more preferable condition to the kind of fake jolly-chapiness that oozes from celebrity abominations like Ant and Dec?
chronic depression must be an utterly debilitating condition - I'm not about to decry those poor sufferers who seem unable to do anything at all about that terrible black cloud. a touch of melancholy, on the other hand, seems no particularly bad thing. unless it's the fault of those demon dentists, of course, in which case damn them all to hell with a blunt drill up their mendacious backsides.

Saturday, November 27, 2004

being sixteen

I know nothing about how random polling works, but companies such as gallup, mori, and ICM have been around long enough for them to have worked out some fairly accurate systems, I would have thought. although, having once been corrected by a scientist for confusing 'accuracy' with 'precision', I'm not sure that we should regard even their results as anything more than a slightly better than guesswork indicator of what they purport to represent.
today's guardian's poll of sixteen-year-olds attitudes to life death and the universe is clearly more weekend supplement entertainment than science, but none the worse for that.
I wonder how random is random in such a survey. I'm quite sure that the responses to some of these questions would vary in the same person according to the circumstances in which they were put - depending on whether the questioner was male or female, on their age, on their colour, on their accent, their demeanor, their smell, the sound of their voice, their hairstyle, clothing, height, weight - on that myriad of intangibles that determine whether or not we choose to confide in someone with a clipboard whom we've only just met coming out of the virgin record store. fairly certainly, the same set of questions put to a sixteen-year-old girl by a forty-year-old bearded white man in a suit with an Oxbridge accent would trigger a different set of answers than if the questioner looked and sounded like Konni from Blue Peter, particularly if, as these questions did, they were intended to reveal some intimate details about her lifestyle.
having said that, however, this poll is tremendously reassuring - confirmatory, yet again, of the fairly widely-held belief (in itself reassuring) that the world would be far better run by sixteen-year-olds than the sorry bunch that are actually doing it.
what happens to it - all that youthful sense of fair play and responsibility, that ability to discriminate - so early - between what is obviously right and what is obviously wrong? how possible would it be for us jaded, compromised grownups to revert to factory settings and recognise the hopeless futility in our continuing to behave as if this were the only way because it was ever thus and nothing ever changes? every generation, it seems, arrives eventually at this point where they are able to see the world for what it is, and becomes determined to improve it, to take it by the scruff of the neck and shake some sense into it. and then something happens, and it all evaporates.


one of the more curious spinoffs from eleven-two has been a serious tightening of the domestic ground-rules chez rhino. ever since the boys went to school I've been uneasy with the steady seepage into our home environment of a sort of casual carelessness about sex and violence that leaks from the pores of the music video/video game cultures. so saturated are the kids with this stuff that even to mutter censoriously about it is to invite derision. but there came a point, a week or two ago - I won't betray my kids trust by elaborating on that - which pumped up my tolerance gland to critical mass. in brief, I realised that their continuing childhoods - and, at twelve, they are children - needed rescuing and protecting from a culture whose only function is to mould them into mindless, amoral consumers with a deep and cynical disregard for the imagination, for social organisation, indeed for human life, when such inconvenient concerns interfere with their dedicated pursuit of personal gratification: to mould them, in other words, into Red Americans.
it's been there for a long time, of course, but now that I allow myself to stop avoiding it, and to recognise it, the ubiquity of it, I sense it as a kind of malevolent irrigation system - a ceaseless spray of shit that comes with a parental advisory - just so the corporate sprayers can't be accused of actionable indiscriminate malevolence. how is it that, in the course of a single evening, between going out skateboarding, doing homework and having supper, it has become quite normal for a child of twelve, on PS2, to hunt down and kill a hundred graphically credible enemies whose heads will explode in a vermilion cloud and who will collapse into an expanding pool of blood, listen to a thousand expiring screams and endless reiterations of mothafucking fucker to the endless tattoo of gunshots and explosions; or, on TV, watch fifty girls waggling their barely legal booty, fifty boys strutting their contemptuous stuff, and fifty sweaty couples grinding their crotches together in time to some jiggly dance music which is to dance and to music what a big mac and coke is to food and drink?
it has become normal through a conspiracy of misguided tolerance on behalf of us parents to the supposed inevitability of peer-pressured participation, in younger teens and children, to the culture foisted on their older siblings.
no more.
not in this house.
there's a wonderful simpsons episode which exposes the moral ambiguity of my position here, in which marge takes this feeling to its gloriously insane conclusion and, through concerted civil action, puts pressure on the makers of itchy and scratchy to delete the sine qua non of itchy and scratchy - the mindless cartoon violence. she becomes a local hero, but is forced to retract her position when asked to endorse a boycott of the museum for showing a statue adjudged pornography by her neighbours - the statue of david by michaelangelo - but which she happens to admire.
one man's meat will always, of course, be another woman's poison, but the truth of the matter is that the majority of video games are made for boys, and have no redeeming value whatsoever: their sine qua non is the enjoyment of inflicting great violence on as many opponents as possible before they get you. (as a training for a tour of Iraq, for example, they are exemplary. doubtless there are a few boys out there right now who think there's a restart button for when they get killed.) however you want to wrap it up - in the false history lessons of world war II combat, or in the urban samurai myths of gang warfare - the truth is in the splatter-effect: the satisfaction of aiming your weapon at an enemy and pressing the button that causes the bullets to make their heads explode, and doing it so often that it becomes boring, when you have to purchase the next game, which wraps the splatter in a different pretext and even better graphics.
we've never allowed them to own these kind of games - they've just gradually become part of the swapping thing that happens between all kids, and more and more have sneaked in under the radar, as it were. I'm personally horrified at how many of their friends parents seem not to care about the classifications at all - very rarely, the boys have weaseled a 15 out of me, but they know an 18 is an absolute no-no. I'm not stupid - we all know that they're still going to watch and play this stuff at their friends houses - I deplore that, but I can't do anything about it. the point is, they've been reminded of how much I disapprove of it. they - and their friends - know that here, in this house, it's not going to happen, not for quite a while yet.
it's called a principle.
who said it was going to be easy?

Thursday, November 25, 2004


JULY: Ukrainian presidential candidate Viktor Yushchenko as he looked less than five months ago before being hit by a mystery illness.
NOW: A shockingly altered Yushchenko as he appeared in Kiev yesterday, where he declared victory in Ukraine’s disputed election.
(pics: GLEB GARANICH/VASILY FEDOSENKO/REUTERS) - Was it poison or just spoiled sushi?
(well worth the minute it takes to register in order to savour the James Bondian inferences about Ukrainian electioneering techniques exposed here)

Fuck the South

Wednesday, November 24, 2004


respect to eminem for 'mosh.' someone like me finds it all too easy to scorn the soft political alliances forged between celebrities and fans - from Dylan to Bono via Lennon and Geldoff, I've scorned 'em all in equal measure in a properly grumpy rhino manner. the 'mosh' video, however, directed by guerilla news network's Ian Inaba, seems to me to have emerged from a genuinely angry conviction that - I admit - surprised me. it pulls no punches and names names - and it isn't in the slightest way patronising. it gets fairly close, I would have thought, to being indictable under the Patriot Act for fomenting revolution - certainly, if this had been made out from under the megabucks ramifications of his celebrity, it would have been, although even the monkeys henchmen must have been able to calculate just how stupid that would make them look.
now, mr mathers, all that's lacking to turn you into an icon for the new left is to go that extra mile down the liberal path and recognise that faggots might be niggas, too.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Saturday, November 20, 2004

hollywood predicts huge savings on actors fees

"Siffredi is optimistic. He thinks the work of French extremists like Breillat will push filmed sex further into the mainstream and looks forward to a day when 'some good actress like Julia Roberts, gives a great blow job to a great actor, like Harvey Keitel.'"


Wednesday, November 17, 2004


suddenly the media is awash with cries of 'foul' as an American soldier is caught on-camera despatching an injured resistance-fighter in Fallujah.
ostensibly, we're being invited to witness the application of fairness in the struggle for the hearts and minds of the about-to-vote Iraqis. this occupying army, it says, is an honourable force that, like all organisations, contains one or two bad apples who taint the barrel of wholesomeness. look, it says, witness the speed of our reaction: within hours of the event taking place the soldier is suspended and withdrawn from front-line duties, several senior officers issue statements indicating that an enquiry will be initiated, and phrases like 'rules of engagement' and 'possible lapse of discipline' are repeated as if they referred to the rules of monopoly.
we are supposed to understand that the residents of this city of 500,000 souls - that's the same size as Edinburgh or Beirut - were given the option to evacuate before the Americans began their offensive. we are supposed to understand, therefore, that those who chose to remain must come under suspicion of leaning to the idea of resistance rather than acceptance. also, we are supposed to understand that this city had become the final redoubt of an intractable enemy - an Iraqi Masada - whence, once uprooted and neutralised, this evil seed of resistance would never henceforth trouble the peacemakers and the seekers after democracy.
so - you can't make an omelette...
the mosque may or may not have been being used as a centre of resistance. the injured fighters left inside it may or may not have been abandoned by their comrades and their bodies booby-trapped. they may or may not have already been examined by a previous patrol who left them to be picked up later, they being presently occupied with the more urgent matter of securing the next objective. this message may or may not have been relayed to the patrol that subsequently re-entered the mosque and re-discovered the injured men. the soldier who killed the unarmed injured man may or may not have had reason to suspect that he was booby-trapped.
none of this is relevant.
the cameraman who secured this footage for CNN was one Kevin Sites, formerly a 'so-jo' - a solo freelance journalist - who has been reporting from war-zones for the last three or four years - formerly in Afghanistan, now in Iraq. depending on how you look at it, you may perceive him either as a heroic witness to events as he sees them or as a foolhardy egoist who recognises that in times of war, the war-journalist becomes a pander to some dark, base appetites indeed, and that in a war such as this one, where the originating illegitimacy has swiftly been forgotten in the selective illuminations of triumphalism, the market for war-porn becomes fabulously bullish.
his reports - regularly blogged with spectacular success at until his employers - CNN and NBC - insisted that he desist from giving away what they were paying him for - aspire to Hemingway and Gelhorn, and read like a movie script. he is handsome and crop-bearded and long-haired. his preferred headgear - he eschews the battle-helmet - is, naturally, the bandana. he holds his camera as if it were an AK-47. his sights are clearly focussed on one target - the Pullitzer prize. in the movie proper, he'll be played by Willem Dafoe.
meanwhile, he's after a scoop, and, limited though those opportunities are within the strictures of being 'embedded', he seems to have succeeded. on-camera, he's caught a soldier shooting an unarmed and injured man in cold blood.
credit where it's due - the military, thinking fast on their feet, very quickly recognised the value of a damage-limiting loss-leader. in a situation such as Fallujah - an ongoing massacre - it's far better, from their point of view, that the world's eyes should be focussed on this one single supposed infringement of the rules of war (that phrase sticks in the craw) and their own properly righteous reaction to it than on what's really going on - which, given their record so far into this war, is all too imaginable.
so everyone's happy (apart from the arab world): kevin's happy - he got the scoop that secures his reputation, the media's happy - they get the horror-footage that secures viewers and readers, the army's happy - they get a PR gift, Red America's happy - they get confirmation that all's going down as it should in Ey-raq, and Blue America's happy - they get confirmation that the appropriate checks and balances are in place.

Sunday, November 14, 2004

another christmas, another band aid

"This isn't about creating a record to support people in Africa - this is a kodak moment for Bono, Midge Ure and for Blair to manipulate public opinion and push through a destructive economic agenda to serve Western economic interests."


(update - 15th nov - the case rests)

Friday, November 12, 2004

the chinese for 'crisis' is 'dangerous opportunity'

I never got the Arafat charisma thing - he always seemed to me as though he'd have been happier, had things turned out differently, to have been a drummer in a garage band - the one who clowned around but everyone loved cos he had twinkly eyes and a pathetic beard. but that's not to detract from his status as a focus of Arab nationalist hopes, nor to diminish the significance of this moment in middle eastern history.
whatever the real reason why the Disunited States has continued over the years to subsidise Israel ( *ahem - oil*), it's surely time for a radical revision of the game-plan.
if I might make a suggestion...
the whole idea (Israel) has turned out to be a catastrophe. consider - if parliament had decided, way back in 1917, that the county of West Yorkshire was going to be given over to a lost tribe of dispersed Maya because their God had appeared to one of their leaders and said this was to be their promised land when they fled from Inca enslavement three thousand years ago, and if, when the West Yorkshiremen who were booted out started complaining and trying to get their land back, parliament had responded by assisting the Maya in creating the most heavily-armed defence force, per capita, in the world, you'd expect, wouldn't you, that the lunatics who'd decided all this would have been replaced, by now, by real people who'd worked out something better. well, that's not happened, so here's the plan:
move the State of Israel to America.
no, no, wait a minute, don't look at me like that, think about it for a minute.
Israel is totally dependent on America for the funding that provides its security. it is already, to all intents and purposes, the fifty-first state. one only has to ask the stupid question - to whom is Israel closer, culturally - America or its immediate neighbours? - to recognise the self-evidence of that. it costs America more to keep Israel afloat than it does to keep its entire navy afloat. the benefits to America would be incalculable - do the sums on the degree of enhancement to the American economy on the immigration of such an industrious, virtuous, law-abiding, predominantly middle-class population whose business and personal taxes would henceforth contribute to federal funds rather than drain into the bottomless pit of armed conflict six thousand miles away. calculate the pros and cons, both economic and political, of making this grand gesture to the Palestinians at this moment in time - here, take it back, it's yours, sorry to have troubled you - whilst at the same time welcoming the Israelis into the secure embrace of the Homeland, never again to have to live in constant fear of random suicide bombers and more conventional military attacks.
the Mormons seem to be perfectly happy in their desert - so why not give another to the Jews? it's not as if America doesn't have space to spare.
where? Oklahoma, obviously. big, mostly desert, mostly impoverished, miles from the centres of power but still staunchly conservative, with a population too few, too poor, and too ignorant to put up any significant degree of resistance to displacement. imagine how creatively a new generation of New Zionists would rise to the challenge of, yet again, irrigating a desert and turning it into a promised land.
what's the alternative? does anyone seriously imagine that, four years from now (not a figure chosen at random), there's going to be peace in the Middle East? not a snowball's chance in hell. I doubt if there's an Israeli alive who wouldn't seriously prefer to bring up their family in the safety of the American mid-west rather than in the middle of an escalating war-zone. obviously, there's a few madmen who would prefer to remain and face out the re-occupying Arabs as a matter of principle. that could be arranged.
anyone got any better ideas?

(thanks to xymphora)

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

the bright side

I've been looking for the bright side ever since last wednesday, and I think I've finally found it: the future, at least the broad picture, is now a known. it's appalling – as bleak a prospect as the darkest Goya - but at least it's not going to disappoint any raised hopes or expectations, which four years of the other bloke almost certainly would have done. this is the thing about fascism: it delivers.
I had a friend at school - allen - who was a cheerful pessimist, ie he always expected the worst in any given situation. that way, he proposed, offered the best chance of happiness, since one was never reliant on the vagaries of chance to improve one's lot. as long as you assumed that everything was going to remain the same, and that everything was going to be awful, you'd never suffer the depressing disappointment of dashed hopes, and every vaguely good thing that happened by chance in your life would be a bonus. he was the predecessor personified of marvin the paranoid android. I hitched around France with him one summer. one of the bigger mistakes of my life. it rained all the time and we spent most of it standing in puddles as cars drove past, drenching us. the tent leaked. he hated French food. I came close to killing him.
it helps to know that practically the whole of the rest of the world and the better half (because that the monkey stole it again goes without saying, of course) of the Disunited States considers this administration a pack of lying criminal thugs, and that, whereas they have almost limitless power to do what the fuck they please, they will be universally hated and despised for it. there’s a tremendously powerful inertia in that sort of solidarity that the political establishment ignores at its peril. if – big if – they have the mental capacity to process the implications of that degree of revulsion, it will of course only serve to reinforce their determination to proceed. expect much reiteration of terms such as evil, resolve, conspiracy, god, freedom, united, security, tolerance and understanding (only joking). but they’ve got a helluva domestic battle on their hands to extract ongoing compliance from those blue seaboard states. it’ll be fun to watch how they apply their sophisticated Afghanistan- and Iraq-tested ways of winning the hearts and minds of the people to winning over those of their own.
the point is recognising where not to invest your hopes. the politics of red v blue america is no longer the issue – as long as government is yoked to religious fundamentalism as its populist prop, that arena is completely deaf to the sort of reason that applies in any grownup forum. there is, simply, no arguing with people who believe that god made the earth and everything on it (including the fossil record, which He placed there deliberately to test their faith, doncha know) in seven days sometime around three thousand BC, and that Terror is an enemy nation. nothing personal, but a conversation with a sea cucumber is more productive. the progressive expansion of that sphere of international contempt and ridicule manifest on the internets is, on the other hand, one very hopeful indication of what’s in store for the monkey and his minders. the steady drip-drip of global ridicule – don’t forget your bulge, george – will do more, in the long run, to erode that flimsy dam of inflated fears and insane paranoid fantasies than any amount of head-on polemical confrontation.
unleashed, the rabid monkey is an undeniably frightening prospect, but he’d better look out for where he drops those banana skins.
meanwhile, over here, we have some fun of our own in store planning how best to punish the poodle for his incontinent roll-overiness next Spring. obviously, this tragic alignment with the leftover Special Relationship of the Maggie/Ronnie fuckfest days has just got us thoroughly shafted to no purpose whatsoever. any idiot could have told him that. several million did. so, as long as the monkey’s in charge, he’s fucked, and he knows it. and since the only thing that seems to ignite any passion at all in this anaemic parliament is the absurd debate about whether or not we’re part of Europe, I fancy that goading him about how little Europe actually cares whether we’re part of it or not, and that he’d be better off rolling on his back to Brussels rather than Washington and begging that they let us in instead of pretending that we’ve got any negotiating position left worth their consideration is the way to go. he’s looking old and tired and disillusioned, poor pooch. expect more of the following: sovereignty, history, balance, shoulder to shoulder, global, resign (I wish).

Friday, November 05, 2004

martial arts

for all the talk about how the role of the modern soldier is different now than it used to be, it remains the case that, fundamentally, a soldier is a soldier is a soldier - a state-licensed killer who, from time to time, will find him or herself in a life-threatening situation. squirm as much as you like, this is definitive.
all British and American soldiers are, for the time being, volunteers. like it or not, those men or women who sign up to be soldiers, whether full-time or as reservists, are not being employed primarily in order to enhance their engineering, computer, or leadership skills, and those nifty bits of kit they're issued with - night-vision goggles, body-armour, lethal weapons - are not designed primarily to enhance their personal self-esteem.
politicians love being called war leaders - their comic posturings on the tops of tanks and in ill-fitting combat gear are tolerated by the professional soldiers as a necessary part of their own enablement - the charade of leadership in a situation where nary a man or woman amongst them them knows jackshit about anything. the last real wartime leader was Winston Churchill, who, for all his faults, at least knew what war was about, having personally killed more people than the monkey and the poodle have swatted wasps. and not at the clinical distance of the artillery or aerial bombardment either - as a cavalry officer in the 4th Hussars serving on the Indian North-West Frontier and in the Sudan between 1896 and 1898 he would frequently charge down on the heathen Pathan with a lance, would you believe, fatally skewering this thing into their writhing screaming bodies, time and time again. yup, when Winston warned wartime Britain that war was about 'blood, toil, sweat and tears', he was holding back on the worst of it.
now, of course, the newly deployed squaddy, fresh in from the battle sims and the bivouacing on the Brecon Beacons and the routine weekend binge-drinking in Aldermaston, believes what he's been told - that he's there to help the locals, to deal with insurgents, and to do the job he or she's been trained to do - and that, whereas this involves a certain greater element of risk than, say, working in the local MacDonalds, well, it's nothing that the platoon can't handle. until the first suicide bomber drives up and detonates himself a few metres away.
that guy, too, was a volunteer. he, too, believed what he'd been told - that he was there to help the locals, to deal with the invaders, and to do the job he'd been born to do.
and here, back home, the families mourn, the politicians cringe and justify, and another young man or woman decides, well, I'm not going to get a better offer than this with my qualifications in this deadend town, and walks into the recruitment office.
reality check - the definition of a soldier has remained unchanged for the entirety of human history. anyone who thinks they have legitimate grounds for complaint about a soldier getting killed or injured in the course of doing what they're recruited to do is living in a strange and different universe. the heroics last until the armour-piercing shell enters the battle-wagon and the heavy metal on the stereo gets displaced by the heavy metal of fragmentation. the honour lasts as long as it takes for some aristo to pin a medal on your chest and get you photographed in front of the war memorial.
the reality is that a soldier is and always has been an expendable unit in a much, much larger equation, wherein the device that killed your mates and left you a permanent cripple was, more likely than not, assembled in a factory owned by one of these politicians' cronies in an English or American town not dissimilar from your own, which depends for its livelihood, as so many of them do, on such cynical investment.
and right now, right at this moment, someone from Telford, or Derby, or Bethesda, or Lexington is doing a quality check on a device that, a few months down the timeline, after having passed along a nicely profitable chain from dealer to dealer, will kill or maim someone. and whether that someone else was born in Farnborough or Falls Church or Falls Road or Fallujah, whether they're allies or insurgents, our side or theirs, is of absolutely no concern at all to anyone involved in that chain (including, by default, the government that intitiated it). it's just the way things are. business as usual.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

only 1459 days to go

oh dear
they just don't get it, do they?
so we just have to spell it out (again).
I know you couldn't give a monkey's, but the entire planet (apart from Israel) now holds you and your wretched disunited states in COMPLETE CONTEMPT - look at me whilst I'm talking to you! - and will certainly hold you accountable for all the crimes you are now about to commit in the name of this thing you keep calling 'democracy'(don't laugh, children, it only encourages them).
now just go and sit over there on your own for a little while and have a little think about how stupid you've been and start thinking about how you're going to get yourself out of this mess. and for godsake wipe your nose and stop playing with your willie!

Thursday, October 28, 2004

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

john peel 1939 - 2004

this is shockingly sad news - peelie was a totally cool geezer: I've personally relied heavily on him to show me the way to the newest of the new in music over the years. who else could we trust? there's a complete demographic cross-section mourning him right now with genuine affection - I can't see that happening again with anyone else in his field, really.
bbc obituary

wet welsh weekend


Monday, October 25, 2004


"This Pillar is called Mail Coach Pillar and erected as a Caution to Mail Coach Drivers to keep from Intoxication and in memory of the Gloucester - Carmarthen mail coach which was Driven by Edward Jenkins on the 19 Day of December in the year 1865 Who was Intoxicated at the time & drove the Mail on the wrong side of the Road and going at Full Speed or Gallop met a Cart and permitted the leader to turn Short round to the Right Hand & went down Over the Precipice 121 Feet when at the Bottom near the River it came against an Ash Tree when the Coach was Dashed into Several Pieces."

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

miracles happen

so I'm making myself some coffee earlier, and reach for the filters, and - dammit - empty. so I spin the packet over onto the work-surface nearest to the back door to remind myself to get some more when I go out later - and this is how it lands. upright. I just stood and stared for several seconds. then I ran for my camera, took this pic, and spent the next three or four minutes tossing the same packet from the same position at the same spot over and over again in order to try and duplicate that singular, extraordinary little event. with total lack of success, of course. but it did happen. gather round and listen. once, I tossed an empty pack of coffee filters across the kitchen onto the work-surface three metres away and it landed upright. if that can happen, anything can happen. can't it?

Sunday, October 17, 2004


REUTERS/Juda Ngwenya

A black rhino is released in an area created from four adjoining properties in Kwa-Zulu Natal province October 15, 2004. The properties removed their border fences to create a barrier-free area of about 20,000 hectares for 15 black rhinos which will be released in an exercise run jointly by the WWF and the Kwa-Zulu Natal Wildlife Black Rhino Range Ezemdelo Project, which aims to run for a period of 20 years.

begrüßen Sie meinen Führer

it's becoming difficult to displace the ominously looming feeling that if the monkey does manage successfully to get returned for another term, then that's almost it - oligarchy 2 democracy 0. three strikes and you're out. get used to it.
there's still time - and, god knows, the monkey's so vulnerable on so many issues that he might as well be walking around with a target painted on his arse - but the tall guy with the long face just doesn't seem to have the balls. does he really want to be the pres, or was all this just some kind of misunderstanding?
I overheard one of those old codger conversations in the chemists the other day between a couple of blokes wearing star of burma medals who must have been about twenty on VE day. their concerns were about immigrants, the breakdown of authority, the inefficiency of public transport, and the lack of nationalistic backbone generally. I suppose that, at the time, they had been convinced by the incumbent authority that going off and fighting in the war was the right thing to do. I don't suppose that it's ever occurred to them since that they'd be a lot happier now if we'd just let Hitler win, which our then future monarch had wanted all along.

Friday, October 15, 2004

the pariah club

"AN INTERNAL report prepared by Israel's foreign ministry paints a gloomy picture for the future of the country's global standing, giving warning that in the coming decade it could suffer the pariah status of South Africa under apartheid."
(Irish Independent)
and the global poll results:
"Israelis are the only people to back the incumbent and to see American democracy as a model for other countries"

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

je ne regrette rien

'Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind' adds another layer of gilt to the shrine that already exists in this house to the complicated Charlie Kaufman (Being John Malkovich; Adaptation), and another layer of guilt to its fellow, attic-banished shrine of painful memories that refuse to submit to the relentless attrition of time - grim granite outcrops in a sandstone landscape.
I know it's fashionable to live a life of no regrets, but really, come on.
so your soulmate dumps you - what are you supposed to do? 'move on', of course! (one of those lumps of sticky jargon that have migrated across the pond via the yoof-kulcha network - see also 'closure', 'get over it', etc). as if this thing you perceived as having been the single most important event in your life were a dodgy paving stone over which you've tripped. so - pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and dum dum diddle dum dum. but what if the memories of the good times - the things you're recommended to concentrate on by the fixed smiley school of positive thinking - are precisely, exquisitely unbearable simply because they define the horrifying scale of the void caused by the absence of the presence that they embodied? time, eventually, is supposed to seal it all away in a muffled morphean cocoon, after all.
and it's just this gaffer-tape-fix take on human complexity that Kaufman challenges in this remarkable and refreshingly equivocal (for Hollywood) movie: what if, he proposes, there was a way of erasing those memories completely, the good and the bad - what if you could fix it so that none of it had ever happened?
it's a doozy, this memory thing.
it's a premise, of course, that doesn't withstand much logical scrutiny - but that's not the point (discovering a trapdoor into John Malkovich's head doesn't, either, and that one worked, too). few people can negotiate a way through being alive without suffering - physically, emotionally, mentally, psychically. an individual's capacity to endure, indeed, is regarded as a measure of their character. none of us freely choose it, but our humanity seems to be defined, in large part, more by the way we negotiate adversity and pain - both our own and others' - than by any other set of circumstances. at its simplest, the experience of pain is a warning that some external threat is compromising the body's physical integrity: that, unless you withdraw your hand from proximity with that flame, there will be damage. under such circumstances, the physical reaction is automatic - the pain-ouch-move hand away sequence is very fast. job done. however, this sequence, unchanged since we were amoeba, is overlayed with a shimmering, fearsomely complex neural net of higher brain functions which, under different circumstances, will assess this thing we call 'pain', and evaluate it.
the calibration of pain, however, is an inexact science. it's difficult enough, confronted with a scale of one to ten on which one is mild discomfort and ten is screamingly intolerable agony, to place accurately the level of a severe case of tennis elbow, for example - pain, like the body's other wave-functions, displays characteristics of frequency and amplitude, so a self-assessed scale 7 might be an average of 5 and 9 at different times of the day and under different physical conditions. and as for emotional pain - well, you might as well construct the scales out of fairy-dust.
who, in their right mind, having suffered the agony of rejection that is failed love, would freely choose to go through all that again? 'Eternal Sunshine...' asks - and, because this is, when all's said and done, a Hollywood feelgood comedy, the answer's never in doubt: just about all of us. how else account for the thousands of millions who do - just - keep on hoping - that they, in the face of the overwhelming statistical evidence to the contrary, will be the ones who will be able to say - we made it, eternal sunshine, nous ne regrettons rien? foolish, stupid even, but essentially human.
our memories, essentially, are indispensible: an accretive entity, a part of our selves as deeply rooted in our sense of self as the image we see in the mirror. we might not like half of them, but tough - we might not like our feet, either, and what would we do without them? fall over, that's what.

Monday, October 11, 2004

Tuesday, October 05, 2004


just a tiny reminder - especially if you happen to live in one of the swing states (Pennsylvania, Michigan, Ohio, and Florida, especially) - this is the final week for voter registration.
it matters.
no, really. it really, really matters.
click the button.
go on.
do it for the rhino.

Monday, October 04, 2004


on January 20th 1950 a revue called 'Dance Me A Song,' written and directed by one James Shelton opened at the Royale Theatre on Broadway. like so many others of its kind, it flopped, running for only 35 performances, and closed on February 18th. there was one song in the show, however, sung by an actress called Hope Foye, which, for some unrecorded reason, came to the attention of the immortal Nina Simone, who sang it unaccompanied on her album, 'Wild is the Wind,' released in 1966, the year in which Jeff Buckley was born. this, in turn, came to the emerging young musician's attention, and he chose to cover it on his first album, 'Grace', which was released in August 1994. Jeff died on May 29th 1997 at the age of 30 - drowned in a freak swimming accident in the town of Memphis, Tennessee, in the Wolf River, a tributary of the Mississippi, whilst waiting to greet his new band members to start recording his most eagerly-awaited follow-up album.
'Grace' is one of the finest albums ever recorded. 'Lilac Wine' is possibly one of its finest songs.
read a few reactions to the new Legacy Edition of 'Grace' here.

Sunday, October 03, 2004


I've just been reading an article on trafficking, so I'm in a bit of a - let's say - misanthropic - mood.
I myself simply can't understand - no matter how hard I try - how a girl who's been abducted, raped, pimped, and then dumped deserves to be treated, instead of with infinite compassion and care, as an object of revulsion and contempt, a lesser being, for whom death is a blessing because she's been abducted, raped ... etc. but then, I'm not from the kind of 'culture' that finds this sort of thing normal, because girls are chattel, and have no value except as virgins. no exceptions. zero tolerance. somehow, because this is happening to white girls who look like girls from Bristol rather than dark- or yellow-skinned girls from remote unenlightened corners of the globe where the word of god has yet to reach and civilise, it seems all the more shocking - which just shows how far I've come in the racial awareness module. but it makes me wonder - not for the first time, and certainly not for the last - is it possible that all this talk of goodness and mercy and justice and equality and love is all just so much bollocks - that, really, the human race is totally fucked, is, compared with, say, the axolotl, a worthless self-seeking self-destructive thing, a careless god-turd dumped by a careless god, for whom extinction can't come too soon?
does one mozart balance out the pimping of a thirteen-year-old girl from Albania?
was it for this the trees grew tall?

Friday, October 01, 2004


by one of those quantum twists of cyberspace, the rhinoblog has suffered collateral damage from a random act of vandalism on the server owned by a very nice and generous guy called Graham who's been letting me use it for the bigger files. the details are boring, but suffice to say that, whereas he's lost a shocking amount, I've only lost most of the supporting images and sound files posted here and in the music section over the last three or four months. I'll find a way around it eventually, but I doubt if I can be bothered repairing what's gone. it's gone. ta-ta, data.
did it define me?
does it define the cowardly sniggering bed-wetting leprous-dicked friendless crapulous obese louse-ridden sewer-breathed athlete's-footed acne-ridden lonely little heap of anonymous shit who did it?
look up 'karma,' big boy.
it begins with a 'k'.
that's the one before 'l'.
for 'loser.'

good question

"Father Amaro: Can a person vote for a man running for President, knowing he is for abortion? Will one have to answer to God for this? I know in my heart it's wrong. - Andrew"
Father Amaro answers (scroll most of the way down the page).
personally, I just want to shake these people, but, by the same token that I consider it a necessary penance to watch Top of the Pops now and again to check out the latest atrocities being foisted on the innocent masses by the high priests of popular culture, so I think it useful to check out the current vernacular of god's chosen representatives from time to time. for a priest, this one seems reasonable, plausible, and persuasive (and fairly diplomatic, actually - note that he doesn't actually answer the question). you either buy it or you don't I guess.

Wednesday, September 29, 2004


being a believer in my dear mother's mantra that, if you've got nothing to say, don't say it, I choose to continue applying it for the moment. but pause to note that all my images seem to have disappeared. whoops.

Sunday, September 26, 2004

it has words and pictures in it

this is a magazine - issue 13 - the coolest magazine on the web?