Saturday, August 28, 2004

the earth at night (click on pic for explanatory link and larger image)

Friday, August 27, 2004

technical support

When helping someone fix their computer over the phone, and you want them to see if all the cables are plugged in correctly, don’t ask, “Have you checked to see if the cable is plugged in?” because the customer will always say, “Of course I did, do you think I’m a moron?” Instead say, “Remove the cable, blow the dust out of the connector, and plug it back in.” The customer will most likely reply, “Hey, it’s working now—I guess that dust really builds up in there!”

(from a selection of excellent tricks of the trade posted by Matthew Baldwin at The Morning News.)

bad news for maggie

first her
useless whelp
is arrested on suspicion of participating in a coup (just for the money, you understand...)

now her best friend, the torturer, is at long last stripped of immunity from prosecution for his crimes

what goes round comes round, I guess

(is this just wishful thinking, or do I detect the faintest hint of remorse at past sins in that evil Gorgon stare?)

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

war without end - amen

The aim of Fahrenheit 9/11 is to stop Bush fixing the next election as he fixed the last. Its focus is on the totally unjustified war in Iraq. Yet its conclusion is larger than either of these issues. It declares that a political economy which creates colossally increasing wealth surrounded by disastrously increasing poverty, needs - in order to survive - a continual war with some invented foreign enemy to maintain its own internal order and security. It requires ceaseless war.

(the impeccable John Berger in the Guardian)

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

around the world in matey ways

yet another pair of bored rich prats try to convince us that setting yet another fatuous world record has somehow more to do with a kind of existential nobility than straightforward vanity.

"there is a very real risk that something could go terribly wrong."

thank heaven for small mercies.

Saturday, August 21, 2004


so who wants to know?
there are obviously certain self-descriptive protocols that operate as contextual thumbnails according to the circumstances: the summary of our selves that we offer to others is subject to endless nuances of modification.
if, for instance, in answer to the formulaic, "so what do you do?" I were to reply, "well, I started off working for an art dealer but I got laid off then I was a lay preacher for a bit and I trained as a missionary but I've been unemployed for the last ten years and my brother supports me and I have a bit of a drink problem but I'm into art therapy and that helps" - it would be unsurprising if my innocent interlocutor were to suddenly check his watch and remember that he was late for an appointment.
if, on the other hand, I were to reply, "I own Microsoft" - I'd expect you to be a little more attentive, as, indeed, you would have been if I'd originally stuck to - "I'm a painter. what's with the ear-bandage? I cut myself shaving."
we mere mortals mostly adopt a chancy shorthand - something generically truthful (I'm a teacher/student/graphic designer) rather than the actually, specifically truthful (I'm a failed actor/a heroin addict/I have testicular cancer) as 'About', simply because the latter set, albeit containing the over-riding definitions, the defining motivational characteristics that eclipse all others in those personal cosmos', have no social currency except on 'reality' TV or in confessional magazine features.
truth, generally speaking, is unbearable.
so those About Me's that are (mostly) there for the clicking-on in the menu bars of the majority of blogs need, I think, to be taken with a pinch of salt. if they're not generic, bland, and boring (I'm a thirty-year-old mother of four and part-time torturer's apprentice from Paris, Texas, and I like reading Baudelaire and Counting Crows), they're most likely going to be 'entertaining' and boring (I'm an 18-year-old fifty kilo gymnast in a forty-year-old one-thirty kilo unemployed security guard's frame, and I like tarantulas, pizza, and counting crows). certainly, neither is going to be 'true'. especially the ones that are barely-disguised come-ons - see what a wonderfully attractive and exciting guy/gal I am - wouldn't you like to be my friend? leave a comment.
one of my favourite blogs is a totally anonymous one - xymphora - who just posts under a cryptic tag on a site totally devoid of style or decoration, with no contact details, no comments, no about me, nothing but his intriguingly well-informed, slightly psychotic, somewhat conspiracy theorist commentary on global wrongdoings. he reminds me of a gothic gargoyle, gurning on the pious complacent pomposities passing through the cathedral doors below, and occasionally dowsing them in a cold shower. I'm sure he'd be a complete pain in the arse to actually meet, but his viewpoint is from somewhere the mainstream media - whose compromised affiliations he despises with surpassing biliousness - never get anywhere close.
xymphora would approach my own ideal of the artist - a completely anonymous creator, totally aloof from the twentieth-century cult of the individual bullshit (I'll discuss that another day) - if it weren't for one personality flaw giveaway: he's still sufficiently vain to keep a counter on his site - which rather endears me to him (or is that the other way round? - never been sure of that).
(oh, and yes, I'm fairly sure he is a he - check his style out for yourself on the gender genie - which is a fun way of passing an idle hour, by the way.)
so - to return to my original question - who wants to know?
my take is - if anyone out there really wanted to know, they'd ask - it 's happened a couple of times - no, really, it has - hi phil, hi sarah - and meantime, I assume this stuff is just being sifted in the manner it's being deployed - as spindrift on the surf, something that catches a rainbow from time to time.

I like my job, says the lap dancer. No you don't, says the feminist.

Friday, August 20, 2004

Britain being battered by waves hurling giant rocks

Atlantic storms are causing waves so large and powerful they are ripping giant boulders from the top of cliffs in exposed areas and hurling them as much as 50 metres inland.

"Personally I would advise people not to picnic on the top of the cliffs facing deep water, at least not in a storm."

film composer Elmer Bernstein dies at 82

"Film music....should give the film a kind of emotional rail on which to ride."

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

mickey and bill are lefties! wahay!

Americans for a Republican Majority are obviously going to give 100% of their donations to the Republicans. EMILY's List, unsurprisingly, gives 100% to the Democrats. but in between, there are a few surprises. I would never have expected that either the Walt Disney Corporation, Time Warner, the American Airline Pilots Association, or the Microsoft Corporation would be giving the majority of their political donations to the Democrats in the current election race. but that, apparently, is the case, according to the list of the top 100 donors published in open secrets.

Monday, August 16, 2004

I know you know I know

once, a long long time ago, I shared a disgustingly run-down but qualifyingly cheap house off the Beverley Road in Hull with three fellow students during the first term of our second year. they were John and Mary, who had paired up in the first year, Caroline, and Paul. Paul was a lively sprite - gay, Marxist, and Welsh. his spirit was disproportionately huge to his slight frame, his character irrepressible, mercurial, occasionally abrasive, painfully honest, frequently dope-befuddled, but actually as sharp as a pin, and a dead cert for fame and fortune - Director of the National Theatre of Wales, at the very least - somewhere down the line.

one day, he told me that in all the time he'd known me, he'd never heard me say "I don't know". I resented that, at the time, although I took it as part of the mutual intellectual sniping that characterised our relationship, and parried with some bluster about his never asking me hard enough questions. but I knew what he was talking about - a particular sort of arrogance that regards the intellect as a weapon and knowledge as ammunition; and at the time I considered the few people who I judged to be my intellectual equals fair game for a particular kind of debating style that prefers bare-faced sophistry to any admission of weakness - and an empty clip equals weakness, in such a world.

under the superficially wisening influence of the years, I've come to adopt almost the opposite position: the great cloud of not knowing now seems almost to be my default intellectual position, and I exercise immediate and almost instinctive caution on encountering such confident certitude in others.

unfortunately, the association of confidence with authority is embedded as an axiom of social organisation to such an extent that to admit to uncertainty in a wide field of decision-dependent practises would amount to professional suicide. the unholy alliance of politics and economics, for example, requires that each conforms to certain 'laws' in order to sustain the authority of the other. in truth, any economy larger than a potlatch operates according to laws that are as viscous and ephemeral as they are elusive: the Bank of England might as well make its up-or-down decisions about interest-rates on the basis of reading a rabbit's entrails or consulting the i ching for all the predictive insights its 'laws' offer it. the economist - as far from being a scientist as the gambler (whose 'laws' are suspiciously similar) - inhabits a Newtonian enclave in a post-Heisenberg world, where it is considered satisfactory - nay, necessary - to employ terminology unchanged from the Age of Steam (overheated, safety-valve, pressure) to describe economic fluctuations, and, when all else fails, resort to the language of voodoo (the spectre of inflation is one of my faves) - and as long as all this is done with the appropriate air of authority, everyone is happy.

do you remember the first time, as a child, you lay in the sun with your eyes closed and saw those strange floating shapes, like simple-celled transparent protozoa drifting along across the bright pink background glare of the inside of your eyelids? and whenever you tried to focus on one of them, it darted just to the side of your point of focus, and kept drifting, tantalisingly perceivable but absolutely unseeable?

Paul floated out of my circle of acquaintance fairly soon after leaving university, and it took a while for the news to reach me about his developing AIDS, and his subsequent death. I can't remember when we said goodbye to each other. I think it was after finals. he'd been threatening for months that he was going to make a political issue of it, and that nothing would change unless we all did as he was going to do - to sign in to the exams, then walk out. which is what he did. stupid prat. it's unlikely that we would ever have met again, but it's always salutary to consider that all farewells, however casual, contain the germ of that possibility - that you'll never see that person again.

the little we do know about ourselves and our place in the universe seems to be maintaining the same ratio of understanding to ignorance as it has throughout history: if anything, there seems to be a 'law' that supports this, which would state, if it were susceptible to definition, that what seems to be the case now will eventually turn out to be several miles off. if our understanding of the largest and smallest observable phenomena could have expanded by so many degrees of magnitude in bare centuries - each expansion preceded by statements of scientific certainty that this (the atom - the celestial sphere) represented the unsurpassable limit of cognition - then how much further off are we likely to be about current certainties - or, in the case of the post-Heisenberg world (already almost a century on), uncertainties?

the universe is no respecter of lives or careers or reputations - it proceeds, as it has always done, in ways that remain as mysterious and unknowable to most of us as when the first storytellers spun the first tales out of the rising sparks from the cavemouth fire and the fixed sparks in the black night sky.

me? don't ask me. I know naaaaathink.

could this be you?

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

let the games begin

ok, so I know it might sound a little cynical, but can there truly be any conscious, sentient being left standing on this beautiful blue planet who doesn't believe that the Olympic Games have nothing - nothing whatsoever - to do with sport?
chauvinistic nationalism - yes. monomaniacal egoism - yes. professionally clandestine drug abuse - yes. sport - I don't think so.
unless you happen to agree with the truly cynical consensus that, at that level of game, the winning - at any cost - trumps all other considerations - ethical, medical, or legal - and that the acquisition of a gold medal in itself somehow represents a pinnacle of human achievement rather than the irrelevant apex of a squalid pyramid of cheating, corruption and political chicanery - you surely have to concede that the only 'sport' is in second-guessing the coaches' ever more imaginative methods of pharmaceutically modifying the participants bodies, and even more imaginative methods of evading detection (blood-doping is my current fave).
the point about sport is its glorious pointlessness. it is enormously important that some human activities - such as sport and the arts - should be pointless, if not entirely meaningless. but sport has become invested with meaning - with currency - in the crudest imaginable sense. the glorious thing about a man or woman running incredibly fast in a circle is that it is utterly pointless - a completely meaningless event whose very meaninglessness becomes the empty field that the spectator can populate with mythic significance. once you divert the rationale for that socially inclusive - and supremely important - theatre of struggle from the pointless (the doing it for its own sake) to the aspirational (the doing it for the sponsorship deals, the commercial contracts, the material rewards of celebrity), you reduce the relationship between participant and spectator to the banal rubber-stamping of a trading licence - a credit agreement trading in some egregious futures market of human perfectibility.

Friday, August 06, 2004

go naaaaaaaaaaaaaaadiaaaaaaaaaaa!!!!!!!!!!!!

growing up is hard to do

the majority of adolescents, by the time they leave school - whether to go on to further academic pursuits or to begin work - have already discovered that the majority of their elders are insane. the first day of work experience - that first glimpse behind the PR facade of any 'normal' working environment - is a shocking vision of institutionalised bedlam, wherein a microsociety of miserable, angry, frustrated people pretends, for eight, nine, ten hours at a stretch, that what they are doing matters, that it has meaning, and that it is worth doing, if only for the salary; whereas, given the choice, every single one of those individuals would be doing something else. this is insane, psychotic behaviour, and yet, very quickly - if they wish to survive in this world - the novice worker learns to accept that it is normal behaviour, and that seeing a circle but calling it a square is just what happens. exceptionally, there are some working environments that engage the willing commitment of an enthusiastic team of co-workers whose primary motivation is not financial - but they are few and far between. most people hate what they do for a living. 'the office' is not a satire. david brent is not a caricature.

'delusional' is one of those pseudo-scientific terms dragged from the bargain-bin of the most delusional of the pseudo-sciences (psychology) to justify defining 'normal' behaviour by how successfully the individual manages to constrain their impulse to liberate themselves from themselves (the latter being the self-constrained, 'normalised' version of themselves that they have been persuaded to believe is the more 'real').

reality - as in 'get real' - is such a contentious, over-rated state.

I'm absolutely convinced that the majority of the people I meet in the real world are virtual simulacra, with the 'real' version of their reconstructed selves silently screaming and writhing inside their socialised carapace. entire lives lived in a state of more or less stoical endurance, forever repeating this self-inflicted bonsai on the true self - clipping here, trimming there, always on the alert for some rogue root, branch, or leaf that aspires to a larger life, to a better, more fulfilling life, to - a life.

there are good constraints, of course - the learnt behaviour that modifies the infant's belief that the world revolves around them, that revenge is justice, that rules only apply to others, that might is right, and that the world is a limitless resource - is behaviour necessarily learnt in order to fulfill the minimum criteria on the syllabus of developing social skills. the self-adjustments required of the maturing adolescent, however, as he or she negotiates the cynical chicane of the education battery-farms and prepares for adulthood, is of a quite different order, requiring that they see a circle but agree to call it a square - because, in the real, conforming world, the prerogative of inclusion is conformity.

I hold to a tenacious belief in the interplay between inevitability and exceptionality in human affairs: hardly a superstitious belief, because it is a demonstrable phenomenon, but a creed in the sense that I believe that there are exceptions to every 'hopeless' situation, and that merely to be mindful of that can help turn hopelessness into hope. whenever, all too often, there is a moment of media attention on a disaster - an earthquake, for example, when whole towns are reduced to mounds of rubble in seconds - there seems always to come a moment, many days later, when the rescue workers have turned their attention from finding survivors to finding bodies, when someone is discovered alive, and rescued, in circumstances which are always described as 'miraculous.' miracles are rare, but they do happen - all the time - literally, all the time, in such fields as quantum mechanics and string theory, where the conformist restraints - physical, temporal, even dimensional - of the macro-elemental world get short shrift. so it seems to me to be no less necessary in the wider scheme of things to acknowledge the inevitability of these exceptional events than to acknowledge the field of inevitable contingencies out of which they emerge in the 'real' world.

if it is delusional to anticipate or to expect the exceptional, the highest aspirations of the noblest and most virtuous men and women in history were delusional - prior to their achievement; the whole of art is predicated on delusion; the leap of faith that is love is delusional; the expectation of life itself is, essentially, delusional.

this is not to deny that self-delusion is a form of stupid arrogance - or even, in some sense, just another sort of conformity - a romantic fallacy. clearly, to continue in the belief that, say, your opinion matters more than that of a hundred million people who disagree with you, and that, with god's grace, in time, they will come to see that you were right and they were wrong, is to embrace self-delusion in the most essential sense - this is the way 'leaders' behave all the time (the monkey, the poodle, and the pope, to cite the obvious current examples). it is stupid and it is arrogant - and it is 'real'. what could be more real than the suffering inflicted on countless millions as a result - however indirect - of our great leaders' decisions?

to apply the same term as a sort of generic insult to anyone who dares to dream outside the box, however, is ultimately just a distortion of envy - the macro-cultural expression of every harassed grownup's response to the adolescent's flamboyance: 'how would it be if everyone did just as they wanted to do?' and depending on whether a continuing response to that question suggests a vision of paradise or a vision of hell decides perhaps one of the most important choices of our lives.

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

Family Life In The Middle Ages

How different was life for the nobility compared to Peasents?

Areas to consider

  • Work
  • Marriage

'Life in the Middle Ages was very different for peasents compared to the nobility for example....The peasents had to work extremely hard all day in the fields while the noblemen stay at home bossing the servants around endlessly. Peasents also live in crampt damp dark huts while the noblemens housings is much finer with plenty of windows light and tons of servants rooms and art.
Also most Noblewoman had arranged marriges to big fat pigs but with lot's and lot's of money and they normaly never met there husbands before the actual wedding!
While peasents married for true love!'

(Jack T-R - 7C)

That's my boy!

Kafka on Guantanamo

Monday, August 02, 2004

mr p

an e-mail from my ultra-indulgent editor at no ripcord asking why I haven't sent in any reviews for the last couple of months. thing is, I did send one mid-June-ish, but it never appeared on the site, and, rather than simply e-mail the guy who's been acting editor whilst dave's been on extended holiday, I found myself lapsing into an unbelievably childish sulk about it, and got into an extended well fuck you then flounce that belies any whisper of rational justification.
no - this is not entirely true.
when I sent the review, I also sent a chummy e-mail saying hi, for the first time, to ben - said acting editor - who's the only writer on the site whose reviews I really enjoy (I mean, the others are good - but he's exceptionally good) - and the fact that neither my e-mail nor my review were even acknowledged sent me into a faintly hysterical paranoid spin - especially when I saw that said ben seemed to be using his temporary powers to cram the site with stuff of his own. so what was I thinking? that he'd taken one look at my byline and spiked it out of malice? far more likely that the e-mail and attached .doc simply never arrived (although it's an odd coincidence that an e-mail I sent on the same day to someone else on the site - who dave had said I should contact with wish-lists during his absence - never got replied to either).
it's really getting about time I grew up.