Friday, July 30, 2004

best before end:

most children, as they begin to exercise their curiosity about this thing called sex that grownups make such a big fuss about, develop a very clear idea how it is: mummies and daddies do this sexing thing to make a baby or two, then, having successfully done that, they stop. that's it. no more sexing. the idea that mummies and daddies might do sexing for any other reason (than making babies) is outside the frame (ask any teenager). and, of course, as is usually the case with the infantile take on the world - it only takes a moment's consideration to realise that their version is the better one.
clearly, the vast majority of our problems as so-called grownups - physical, mental, spiritual, psychological, political, social - would evaporate if our collective libido were to evaporate after the birth of our first child (or upon our failure to propagate by a certain time determined by the biological clock - round about the mid-twenties, say). then, rather than having to do all that familiar repression and/or sublimation stuff, that hitching of cheesy-smiling happy families denial to the post of teeth-gritting real families compromise and necessity that's all too familiar to everyone (everyone) who's a parent (ie in the real world, as opposed to the celebrity makeover world of limitless resources and limited half-lives), our energies would be properly (and contentedly) directed where they were most effective and most needed - in the highly energetic business of child-rearing and getting on with our lives.
it's slightly strange that such an automatic post-partum neutering didn't evolve as a trait amongst the primates, since it would have led to far more social cohesion in the troop > tribe > family, and proportionately less psychotic behaviour amongst the males, especially. other species have managed for far longer than humans with drones rather than males, queens rather than females, or, where sperm-carriers are still considered necessary, instant despatch (mantises, spiders) on delivery. only we humans persevere into dotage with this delusive drive that's doomed, always, to end in tears.
it would not only be a huge spur to getting on with it and getting it right - the knowledge that your bits were going to blow away when you passed your twenty-fifth birthday - it would be a merciful release from a steaming bucketload of cultural bullshit connected with mid-life-and-all-points-south crises (in every sex) and dangerously inappropriate liaisons of the humbert e humbert kind, with the net result of making the whole world a damn sight safer, happier, and friendlier place.

Thursday, July 29, 2004

I'm back!

apologies to all for the week's silence - I couldn't get posts to publish - just - nada - try as I might, it wouldn't happen - so I've shifted it all back over to blogspot hosting and we'll see how that pans out.

mi casa no es su casa

US wins David Blunkett Lifetime Menace Award | The Register

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

most men live lives of quiet desperation

for whatever reason (call me a sad fuck) I've been stuck with that phrase hovering on the edge of my mind all day, wondering where it came from, vaguely (mis)remembering it as the introduction to a really good film, or something. so curiosity finally won out, and I checked it out. and it is, of course, a quote from one of Henry David Thoreau's essays, as is this - from his 1849 essay, 'Resistance to Civil Government':

I HEARTILY accept the motto,—"That government is best which governs least"; and I should like to see it acted up to more rapidly and systematically. Carried out, it finally amounts to this, which also I believe,—"That government is best which governs not at all"; and when men are prepared for it, that will be the kind of government which they will have.

*waves order papers in the air and bellows "hear hear!"*

Monday, July 19, 2004

stupid black dyslexic lesbian muslim feminists

the three most important lessons I've learnt so far (check back frequently for revisionist updates):

  • if you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him
  • the only proper thing to do with power is give it away
  • everything is about sex

the first is crucial: I have had it up to here with pundits and gurus from TV chefs to lifestyle counsellors to pop psychiatrists to garden makeoverers to feng shuisters to money managers to arts critics to the Blogging Pope and Saint Michael fucking Moore himself telling me how to run my life better.

I know I'm a stupid, lazy, procrastinating, impecunious, self-excusing, self-pitying, complacent arsewipe - I know it's all my own fault, and that all I have to do to put things right is buy fair trade organic coffee/think positively/forgive my mother/plant another tree/take that mirror out of the toilet/think more seriously about ISAS and pension funds/go to the Tate more than twice a decade/trust scientists/believe/vote - but I don't, OK? so shut up and go rattle your tin at someone else! (and anyway who in their right mind's going to pay over the odds for fair trade organic coffee that tastes like shite and is endorsed by a twat like Chris Martin?)


as for the power thang.
well - since they who acquire it have, by and large (we'll deal with the aristos at a later date - as soon as they've repaired the guillotine) spent the better part of their sorry little lives believing that, so long as they could acquire it, everything would come better for them - that they'd be safe, that their equally powerful friends would look after them, that they'd be able to tell the little people what to do, at last, and that they'd be able to have all the sex they wanted - and, when they finally manage to claw their way up there, discover that none of these things is true - that they're permanently stressed out from fear of losing it all again, that they can't trust anyone, that all the little people have been outsourced to India where they never get to see them anyway, and that the constant supplies of Viagra that they need to counter the impotence the stress induces only aggravates the duodenal ulcers the stress has already caused - they're not about to admit that it was all a mistake - a horrible, life-and-soul-destroying waste of time and effort, are they?

and as for the third: well, that's so obvious it needs no elaboration from me.

I have, in my time, been fucked over by as many of the people I thought I was honour-bound to help (the poor, the needy, the weak, the oppressed, feminists - you know - the standard Sunday-School Good Samaritan list) as by the people who I expect to fuck me over (that's anyone wearing a tie and/or lipstick, basically). I no longer think it's possible to engage in a relationship with anyone - be that as supplicant/donor, employer/employee, friend, lover, advocate, adversary - without acknowledging the infinitely braided and fearsomely complex strands of inequity that strive for dominance at every step of the way. I have yet to encounter a relationship between any two people - be they friends, parent and child, husband and wife, work colleagues, artistic collaborators - wherein I was unable to identify which way those magic scales that weigh the balance of power were tipping. It's sometimes more obvious than at others - far too easy, for example, to tell which of two long-term partners is the one who's opted for the most compromise - but, in general, it seems to be part of the human hard-wiring - a kind of savannah-atavism - that acknowledges and accepts that some people are more equal than others. it's hard, sometimes - especially when the patently inadequate (in brute savannah terms) come to muddy the gene pool by dint of post-savannah dirty tricks and technology - but true, notwithstanding, that that micro-current of inequity seems to be one of the forces necessary in order to drive the engine of social interaction. nor is it a bad thing, any more than uneven distribution of rainfall - or any other chance-determined global phenomenon - is a bad thing. it's just what happens. some people are less empowered by birth, that is by environmental or genetic happenstance, than others, and it is up to us to decide whether to exploit that, or not.

Capitalism has always opted for the former, of course. freemarket liberal capitalism has, to be fair, adopted a rather mawkish set of validations in order to justify a limited amount of exploitation in a more so-called enlightened global environment, but, frankly, no-one who hasn't got their mind on backwards - especially those outsourced Korean sweatshop child labourers stitching together £150 designer trainers for pennies - could possibly be convinced that this is any more 'right' than burning women for possessing knowledge of herbs and owning a black cat. it's a creaky old system, capitalism, and it badly needs replacing, but, seeing as we're stuck with it for a while longer yet, we're obliged to continue tinkering at the edges to moderate its worst excesses.

to deny another person equality of status and opportunity on the grounds of an accident of birth is (obviously, we now say, although we continue to do it all the time) plain wrong. the culture that bestows on me, who was born into a rich, powerful, white, Christian, American family, the axiomatic right to exploit the labour, and hence determine the choices available to someone less privileged, or simply from a less advantaged culture, is an anachronistic culture, doomed to disaster (it's already happening). such a culture must either learn to share its wealth - in every sense - or try to barricade itself - as is now happening - against an ultimately irresistible tide of - in every sense - assimilation.

in the meantime, whilst we wooly-minded liberals are obliged to maintain our vigilant opposition to the worst excesses of exploitation and discrimination, we're equally obliged to acknowledge that freedom of choice means just that - the freedom to choose ways of behaving that chime less than harmoniously with our liberal proclivities: the underdog, released, might well want to emulate the master (more likely than not, if you stop to think about it); the abused often becomes the abuser; and religious intolerance is part of the package. I vividly recall giving a smelly old beggar - "just got out of nick this morning, mate" - a quid on the Earls Court platform once, who then proceeded to involve me, his newfound best buddy, in a loud-growled and lurid fantasy about what he'd like to do to the Chelsea-pedigree blonde standing a couple of yards away (he had a hair-fetish - I'll say no more). that train took a long time to arrive.

you either believe in equality or you don't - or, in the case of the liberal capitalist, you believe in the eventual possibility of equality, all else being equal, given that a unilateral redistribution of wealth would require such a dramatic realignment of ... yada-yada-yada-yada ...

the original feminists and gay rights campaigners were courageous people whose cause was just and whose demonisation at the hands of the media was only to be expected from the mouthpieces of the establishment. their cause, however, was fundamentally inseparable from the larger political picture - their demands for equality could not, in all seriousness, be treated as a special case within the larger radical demands for equality between everyone, which was why the uneasy alliances of gays, feminists, blacks, and militant socialists were quickly formed and as quickly dissolved. in a rabidly unequal society, where the cynical manipulation of inequality is a primary political and economic tool, 'rights' were only ever going to be allocated to the lucky few who happened to be both photogenic and/or funny. your average black working-class single mother is still only going to get equal pay to the boy next to her at the supermarket checkout when hell freezes over; the radical second-generation feminist voice only has the barest chance of being heard if it issues from a comely face (Naomi Wolfe, Arundhati Roy); and the big issue has been reduced to ladette bickering over who can drink whom under the table. similarly, think of 'gay' and you think 'celebrity clown' (Graham Norton, Will and Grace) - the big issue there reduced to the anodyne security of music-hall camp (where, incidentally, it was already long established). we delude ourselves if we imagine any significant progress in terms of equality - sexual or otherwise - has been made in the last thirty years. and who needs reminding that the tory prime minister who led a government that set women's rights back to the days of the Suffragettes was - arguably - a woman?

I have, I confess, been hoist more often than I'd care to remember on the petard of my own virtuousness: I've made the classic liberal mistake of forgetting that there are two forms of bad behaviour - the longitudinal, running thoughout culture and history, manifest as an imposition of the will of the establishment minority on the disempowered majority; and the lateral, which cuts across all classes, predilections, and beliefs. it's perfectly possible to be a dyslexic and to be ignorant; it's perfectly possible to be gay and to be racist; it's perfectly possible to be a Christian and to be a paedophile; it's perfectly possible to be black and stupid. it's perfectly possible, indeed, to be all of these at once, and live in Llandrindod Wells. in each case, only the right-hand section of the equation is wrong, but to feel restrained from voicing condemnation because of what's on the left-hand side is just plain craven.

I'm less and less inclined to pussyfoot around these almost fetishised issues of propriety concerning tensions between ethnicity, gender, and/or religious belief, and personal freedom and social responsibility. they bespeak a form of political cowardice masquerading as concern. there are very important issues on the agenda here, yet I search in vain for evidence of debate. as I understand it, for instance, a significant percentage of the citizens of my country sincerely believes that stoning a woman to death for the crime of committing adultery would be a perfectly appropriate and acceptable punishment under Sharia law if it weren't actually against the local law. I personally find this mind-bogglingly abhorrent - a perfect example of that longitudinal bad behaviour thing. equally, I find it hard to shrug off the well-documented facts that the wealthy Saudi inhabitants of (and owners of most of) Knightsbridge keep slaves (surely they can afford a cheap Filippina like everyone else?), or that honour-killings of daughters who refuse to marry their family's choice have been not unknown to happen in Leicester, or that clitoridectomy-parties are still considered a sort of female Bar Mitzvah in certain parts of the Midlands. I mean, what is this? the Middle Ages? you have to blink hard to remind yourself that there was ever such a thing as an Enlightenment, a Fourth Estate, a Jonathan Swift, a Karl Marx, an Emily Pankhurst, or a dazzling set of lovely Charlie's Angels.

to withhold from condemnation of bad behaviour on the grounds that it might offend someone is so feeble it sucks willies. ALL RELIGIONS - let's hear y'all join in on the chorus of this one - SUCK! it doesn't matter which - you name it - they're all about the same thing: controlling people - keeping them in line. it's the one enduring, time-tested, rock-solid guaranteed way of ensuring that the guys at the top - the priests and the politicians and the Rotarians (who happen to be the same people in some societies) - stay on top - that they'll be safe, that their equally powerful friends will look after them, that they'll be able to tell the little people what to do, and that they'll be able to have all the sex they want (mostly with little boys, it would seem). fundamentally (le mot juste?) nothing changes, nor will it ever change, so long as the priests, the mullahs, the rabbis, the imams, whatever, stay in control. this is just so obvious. isn't it? or were things actually better in the Middle Ages? when everyone knew their place (especially the women). let's have a vote on it. should that be a secret ballot or a show of hands? maybe a referendum? perhaps we should wait and see which way the November election goes first?


let us pray.

Thursday, July 15, 2004

oh - I guess we forgot to mention...

"Guidelines published by a government panel earlier this week, calling for aggressive use of statin medications to lower cholesterol in people at high risk of heart attacks, failed to list panelists' links to pharmaceutical companies, many of which manufacture statin drugs.

Of the nine panelists, six had received grants or consulting or speakers' fees from companies that produce some of the most popular statin medications on the market."


Friday, July 09, 2004

false signals

so I woke up to a feeling of imminent something - of being just on the edge of some kind of huge revelation, of just - almost understanding - of satori, perhaps.

turns out it was just the beginning of a migraine.

Monday, July 05, 2004

I've just remembered a couple of excruciatingly embarassing malapropisms committed as a callow youth that I still blush at remembering:

- called to discuss some writer or other in class (Baudelaire maybe) earnestly describing him as a frotteur (I meant flaneur)


- talking to the youth club leader's beautiful young wife (on whom I had a huge crush) about the forthcoming production of the play she was rehearsing, and wondering if there was going to be a perineum arch (I meant a proscenium arch)

*shudders in horror at the memory*

manger de la vache enrageé

oops - France in denial as BSE-infected beef entered food chain

Sunday, July 04, 2004

Lost In Translation

*SPOILER ALERT* (skip this post unless you've seen the movie)

in venerable rhino tradition the buzz-movie of 2003 has finally been experienced at home on DVD. not much to add to the universal plaudits - all of which I'd endorse, of course - other than to wonder about part two (given that this must count as the most protracted foreplay movie in cinematic history).
clearly, the 'mystery' of that final inaudibly whispered sentence - a coup de theatre if ever there was one - is no mystery at all. there was a scripted sentence there, after all, which, although the director decided not to let it be heard, was nevertheless uttered, and its substance was transparently contained in those final parting looks between Bob and Charlotte - he walking happily backwards, she smiling through upwelling tears. and yet most critics seem to have decided that, whatever was whispered, that was the end of the affair - in the Brief Encounter-like interests of propriety, perhaps - that the relationship was contained in and defined by that hermetic cultural bubble in which it was formed, and that, beyond those confines, back in the 'real' world, both characters recognise that there is no possiblility of its continuing.
some critics even spoke of that final kiss as being 'platonic'.
as if.
which is, I think, a curiously Puritan misreading of those performances - and, as neither the fabulous Bill Murray (way to go, Bill - performance of a lifetime) nor the incredibly precocious Scarlett Johanssen put a foot wrong throughout the movie in defining, with the most extraordinary delicacy and honesty, the irresistible arc of mutual recognition developing between those two characters that the movie is all about, this is doing them a bit of an injustice, really. no, I reckon those critics have been just either too uncomfortable with their own reactions to the complicated implications of that secret resolution, or too neurotically burdened by their own prejudice as to be wilfully blind to it.
I must say, after watching the way Sofia Coppolla and Bill Murray are together in that rooftop interview in the DVD extras, I find myself wondering whether the whole production wasn't basically a fantastic pretext - a prolix seduction - of which the movie itself is part analogue part billet doux. it wouldn't be the first time in cinema history that an infatuated auteur has built a movie around the object of desire, just the first time for such an age and gender reversal: a fairly radical issue to have slipped in underneath the radar over there. nice one, Ms Coppolla.

Thursday, July 01, 2004

are you listening?

so sad, the increasing incidence of US Americans - particularly young Americans - who are articulating a sense of embarassment at their president's (and by extension, shame at their country's) behaviour. any blog-hopping trip encounters a fresh batch of hand-wringing sighs of dismay and disbelief at the latest display of swaggering contempt for every culture that doesn't genuflect before the stars and stripes on the 4th of July.
it's always sad to discover that 'for country, right or wrong' is and always has been the mantra of the right, which consists - always - of people who, in lieu of understanding the difference (between right and wrong), substitute dogma. on the other hand, it's good to discover this sooner than later. it's practically an axiom of political science that the radical perplexities of youthful freedom will morph, in time, into the more fiscally restrained, less risk-loving (ie mortgage- and family-shackled) profile of the constituency of the right: all they have to do is wait, and that demographic shift will happen. meanwhile, it's actually in the interests of the right to keep the young so disillusioned and disgusted with politics as not to want to bother engaging with it at all - because, obviously, their votes would go against the establishment. so it's probably important to remind those hand-wringing sighers out there (you know who you are!) that they are the Americans that matter, that they, effectively, have the fate of the world in their hands (given that returning this man to office for another term would be like handing over the nuclear codes to Ozzy Osbourne for safekeeping), and that, globally, they have the urgent support of a vast network of furious, indignant people who are not anti-American, nor even necessarily anti-Republican (although it sticks in the craw to say it - but one has to admit that Republicans aren't de jure evil, just de facto wrong), but rabidly anti-everything Monkey Bush and his braying corporate handlers and toadying bible-bashing drones (and that - for shame - includes Poodle Blair) stand for.
at the root of all human conflict can be found a word with an -ism as a suffix: from fundamentalism to nationalism via chauvinism, evangelism, dogmatism .... et al - once you endorse a political - or ethical - position predicated on belief (and even rationalism can become a belief) you close the only door that really matters - the one that allows both parties in a conflict to actually hear what the other is saying. one -ist never really listens beyond the -ism tag of the other -ist: everything he or she supposedly hears is as if polarised by the opposing filters of belief. an argument between one -ist and another is always effectively just a performance to the attendant gallery of fellow -ists: see how deaf this fellow is to my patient demonstrations of how we are right and they are wrong.
but, somehow, this reduction of global politics to jaw-jutting bragging and contemptuous swaggering has to be stopped, and there's only one way - democratically - to do that.
I never thought I'd hear myself saying this, but
(actually, on reflection, I'd choose Ozzy as keeper of the keys every time.)