Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Judges ban sale of porn videos on net

"so let me get this perfectly clear - apparently there are certain unsavoury individuals who wish to sell this saucy stuff on the watchemercallits - the computernets"
"apparently so, m'lud"
"then they must cease."
"absolutely, m'lud"

"next case"

Monday, May 16, 2005


turning the corner today - finally! - on the worst of this utterly debilitating virus infection that seems to have pole-axed half of the world as I know it but hasn't been mentioned anywhere as far as I can tell as the life-threatening epidemic it obviously isn't, I found myself meditating on something doctor Jane told me (after indulging in the usual med-prof gallows-humour comfort about five days down and another five days back up) about the way viruses work, which is (only vaguely understood - pace you others, including the nearly-one who's just taking the last of his finals in Sheffield tomorrow - wahay!) that they 'borrow' a snippet of their host's DNA in order to replicate themselves, then (such gentlemen!) replace it, slip it back onto the shelf, as it were - except that it's now been changed a little bit. a tiny bit. an almost molecularly tiny bit. but still, a bit, as if a random word on a given page - the word 'if', for instance - had been replaced by, say, 'when'. so, after we've finished suffering the collateral effects of this latest invasion, we emerge, literally, transformed - slightly less the person, more the virus we were(n't) before. which sounds like one of those cryptic Chinese-type moments of seeing a crisis as an opportunity, or something, and making the most of this nudge in a new direction. so who shall I be now, then? or, at least, in another four or five days of increasingly less painful coughing, feebleness, and migraine. better, please God, just better. I'll do anything. I won't pre-judge the new Coldplay album. even when if it sucks.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

things that really don't matter

in the same way as we find it hard to understand why, twenty years ago, we couldn't see how ridiculous we looked in padded shoulders and mullets (and that was just the boys), or that, in another twenty years time, we'll look back on the way we're dressed and coiffed today and regard that with similar derision, there'll come a time - sooner rather than later, if Allah is, indeed, merciful - when we'll look back on the things that preoccupy us today to the extent that they occlude all but the lower-brain functions with a wry smile and the briefest nod of acknowledgement that, after all, there were more important things - like noticing how fast our children were growing up, or experimenting with altruism, or failing spectacularly at being the person we wrongly imagined we wanted to be.

there are, despite much of what the mediated world pretends, real events populated by real people whose reality actually requires little or no endorsement by anyone other than those people immediately affected by their actions. however, we seem to have come to regard as normal the outlandish - if admittedly entertaining - behaviour of jack ok and jill hello and their ilk whose primary motive to get out of bed is the need to discover how many more people are aware of their existence today than yesterday. by what stagnant backwater of evolutionary accident we arrived at a point when success is measured by media profile is too recent to call, but it's clearly sooo yesterday to be outstandingly successful - as they used to say - 'in one's own field'. it's how you look onscreen whilst you're doing whatever it is that you do that really matters. it's curious how few 'successful' virtuoso violinists are female, fat, and ugly; conversely, it's quite unremarkable - indeed, a weekly occurrence - to go platinum with a wafer-thin blonde who everyone knows sings like a cat in heat but can shake her booty like a biatch.

clearly, the unexceptional narratives of our own lives will benefit from an inspirational acquaintance with someone remarkable. if we're very lucky, it might happen once or twice in a lifetime that we actually meet, touch, hear, and smell such a person, and vice versa. but it's far more likely, things being as they are, that we'll make that acquaintance at a distance mediated by time as much as by space. those who claim an intimate acquaintance with God, for instance, will, unless they happen to be one of the people who He chooses to speak to directly, have negotiated that acqaintance through a long chain of related experiences, mostly written down and transmitted, more or less accurately, in the form of stories either about Him or about other people who'd heard other people's versions of stories that they'd heard about what other people had heard about Him. and so on.

similarly, if less tendentiously, everything we know about anyone truly remarkable as opposed to numinous or merely famous - the late Susan Sontag, let's say, since that's the first name that sprung to mind as I wrote that - will, unless we were fortunate enough to have been included in her circle of acquaintance, either have come from our reading about her, or from seeing her on television, or from reading her books. obviously, the only one of these options which matters is the latter. primary sources - a useful mantra. hard as it was to try not to be mesmerised by that lightning-bolt of white in her hair, she was always fairly opaque in interview, or, rather, overly conscious of and too sceptical about the processes of mediation at work between herself and her audience, whoever that might be, to be able comfortably to occupy the role required of her. she tried, bless her, but she was obviously uncomfortable with it. in this, she was simply representing her type - the mid-European intellectual translated into the American academic/critical environment - as both supreme exemplar and, I fear, ultimate, final flowering. there will never again be her like, because the mediated world has opted for a totally different approach to thinking and doing from the one she exemplified. the mediated world's interpretation of events and ideas requires that bite-sized summaries be delivered at great speed, with frequent repetition and an abundance of sexy CGI and a composed-through electro-acoustic score, to an audience whose discriminatory faculties are assumed to be delegated to the medium. in twenty years time, however, it is more than likely that it will be her way of regarding the world that will be recognised as having been lost, and a revisionist breed of nouveau-intellectual podcaster will be virally reviving Sontagism as a radical alternative to the rolling weekly top hundred of everything.

by the same route as the soap is descended from the Greek tragedies, the celebrity is a devolved version of the mythical hero. both, being objects of patent centrality in the cultural arena, are examples of things that don't matter co-existing with things that do. what matters, within the cosmetic shell of their not-matteringness, is what they say about how we function, and specifically about the pervasive historic continuity of the human habit of organising its spirit through different forms of surrogacy. whatever the reality of their real lives, the role of a celebrity is to occupy the soap opera version of it which is constructed around them (with their complete, if naïve collusion) by the slick operatives of the mediated world - who themselves occupy roles previously performed by priests and shamen.

a common theme of the heroic myth is the chance selection of an ordinary individual to perform extraordinary events on behalf of his or her fellows. so it is with the celebrity. a previous life of startling ordinariness used to be helpful, in that this helped prime the fantasy-pump of identification that irrigates the whole process. the A- to D-list (and counting) categorisation of celebs by ratings-value, however, has necessitated widening the net considerably, and there's now a growing interest in dynastic successions of celebrity that lends further credence to the tragedy-becomes-soap model. the mediated world that is the set of the celebrity soap is experiencing a runaway population explosion caused by the sons and daughters of celebs succeeding to the mantle, a latter-day Malthusian catastrophe in the making were it not for the seemingly infinite capacity of the media to adapt to these geometric progressions of celebrity spawnings with the cold arithmetic progressions of market supply: the more celebs, the more channels for them to fill, the more channels, the more need for celebs to fill them.

the mediated world prefers percentages to numbers: this is how election results are always declared, largely to disguise the relatively small numbers of people who our elected leaders actually get elected by. there are 44 million people on the UK electoral register. in last week's General Election, the number of those who turned out to vote was 61% = 26.8 million. of those who voted, the number who wanted New Labour's Tony Blair back was 36% of that, which is 9.6 million - less than a quarter of the electorate. when Big Brother fires up again this summer, the Endemol team at Channel 4 will be pulling out all the stops to beat last year's achievement, when UK viewers chose a Portuguese male-to-female transsexual called Nadia (wahay!) to win the competition: she won 75% of the vote, which, in real numbers, translates as 3.9 million. which means that Tony Blair is worth just two Nadias in terms of things that really matter to the citizens of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. personally, I think that's generous, but that's democracy for you.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005


"Captain Abbirose Adey, a TA officer serving as the British Army's representative alongside Iraqi officials coordinating the refurbishment of Basrah's hospitals, holds a baby delivered in the new maternity ward just completed at Al Faihaa General Hospital, a former Iraqi military hospital now converted to look after the needs of the local community. The construction work was funded by UK grants and implemented by Iraqi workers."

(from the Operation Telic archive of the Ministry of Defence website)

one of the reasons we find it so difficult to think outside the frame of the war culture is that the instruments of that culture - the army, and, to a certain extent, the police - have managed to pull off a first-rate piece of cultural subterfuge, almost completely concealing what they actually do beneath the PR facade of delivering babies and tending to sick and injured bunnies and other abandoned fluffy creatures.

the very terms we have become used to employing in describing military activity are a triumph of semantic topsy-turviness over reality: the so-called Ministry of Defence has not been called upon, since the Battle of Britain, to 'defend' anything other than our supposed national right to impose our will in the field where it most matters - usually in the usurpation of a weaker nation's right to capitalise on its native resources. how the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq can be construed as defensive beggars belief, but so it goes. all is spin.

the war cultures of America (and, by extension, the UK) work in a very simple way: the staggeringly huge sums of money available from the manufacture and distribution of weapons and military materiel is one of the golden geese, almost a sine qua non - together with pharmaceuticals and tobacco and CocaCola - of the bluechip portfolio investors, whose individual and corporate infuence in the corridors of power is proportionate to their value. armies use this stuff, but it's actually useless unless they use it, so a compelling cultural perception of its necessity needs to be maintained, regardless of whether or not that need can be justified in rational terms. almost any excuse to start a new war is therefore welcomed as a means of keeping this cycle of profit rotating and - even better - expanding. each new theatre of war is a proving ground for the latest technology - a forum of demonstration and justification for the very large sums of money billed for its development and production.

clearly, the public needs to be kept onside in regard to the fiscal extravagance of all this. why the American people haven't risen up in arms against their leaders' year-by-year extended overdrawing of the national budget in order to fund these military adventures is a staggering demonstration of the triumph of institutional mendacity and propaganda over common sense. it's happened here, too, of course, but, in truth, it's actually been going on for a very long time - the extension of the war culture far beyond its sell-by date.

the basic lie that sustains all the other lies is that the outside world is a constant threat. it's an attitude unchanged since the time of Genghis Khan, and, although it's been demonstrated time and time again that it's nonsense, it's a simple and effective way of keeping a population scared, and therefore compliant. as long as we can be made to believe that any relaxation of 'security' and its consequent military backup will result in our homes being invaded by bloodthirsty foreigners and our throats cut and womenfolk abducted and enslaved then there's no problem in rolling out the next generation of stealth cluster-scythes and armoured boomboxes which are supposed to help protect us from same.

the perpetuation of the lower-grade version of the same global threats - the myth that the streets are increasingly unsafe, that there are violent crims around every corner, and that teenagers attend mugging workshops as a matter of course - serves two vital services: encouraging an individual state of fear that fits naturally into the larger, paranoid mindset of the culture of war, and fuelling the other section of the economy that feeds most heartily off this culture - the insurance industry, the forgotten fifth horseman of the Apocalypse.

this intolerable tension between the facts and the fictions of our diurnal experience as citizens has only one inevitable outcome - a pathology of social denial that requires the continuous application of cosmetic bullshit to that tenuous membrane of suspended disbelief at the interface of the actual and the spin-doctored state of affairs in order to sustain it. such blatantly manipulative PR gambits as showing soldiers caring for children is typical.

individually, soldiers are as good or as bad, as morally equivocal and fallible as the next man or woman. collectively, an army of soldiers is by definition excused both ethical and individual responsibilities. an army is the unthinking iron fist of the body politic, and is not required to do anything other than act when ordered to do so. the bottom line is that a soldier is licensed to kill, and that he or she may, in turn, be killed, in the line of duty. such very tenuous restraints on the limits of that license as the so-called 'rules of engagement'- and the Geneva Convention - are more a part of the PR exercise than of the military culture. there are too many instances of latter-day berserkers going apeshit in the zone - from Katyn to My Lai to Abu Ghraib - to pretend otherwise. obviously, as long as there are armies, and as long as 'our boys and girls' (yet another instance of tabloid-endorsed PR) in those armies have been trained properly, ie convinced that 'the enemy' is a dehumanised object - a target only - there will be atrocious killings, and not just of other soldiers.

what happened at Fallujah and Abu Ghraib - what is still happening at Guantanamo - is acknowledged to be the tip of the iceberg of the barbaric behaviour that is par for the course of the war culture. none of this was 'necessary' in any sense other than the contractual. the sooner we come to terms with the fact that such events as these are unexceptional - merely the ones that, more by accident than design, have come to light - the better our chances of moving on to something else, something more appropriate to humanity.

so show me no more images of softly smiling soldiers holding children like a loving aunt or uncle. show me the real image - of the roaring warrior snatching the baby from its mothers breast, swinging it by its ankles, and smashing its brains out against a wall. I'm a grownup. I can take it.