Oct 26, 2005

Something is happening but you don't know what it is

The online universe is tingling with indignation (or maybe, as DK has pointed out, its just all the rain in this small corner of Scotland).

First off, the aforementioned resident of the devil's kitchen tears a new arsehole for this poor bastard over his status as designated mourner for the ID card scheme.

Now being the bleeding-heart liberal I shamelessly am I'm rarely in total agreement with my good friend in the kitchen, but on these he (and in fact the rest of those knowledgeable folk on the web) are entirely on the button. A lot has been said on the subject and I have little constructive to add, simple go read whats already been said.

In a narrative similar to the motives for the Iraq invasion, the benefits claimed for the cards have changed as each has been systematically rebuffed. This does not inspire confidence. What is the point of the cards if they will not stop terrorism or identity fraud? And what is the real reason for the government's enthusiasm for them?

Meanwhile in another dusty little room in Edinburgh, bookdrunk is ripping great big stupid-holes in the government's new white paper on education:

Given the desirable situation is for every school to be a good school, we're left wondering exactly what criteria will be used to exercise 'choice'; it's inferred that this might mean 'specialist' schools or religious schools, but for a document stating a new principal for education it's still left tremendously unclear. There's a curious blend of comprehensive values ("excellence for all") - and free marketeering ("individual choice for all") that has yet to be resolved in any coherent fashion.

And finally, a 'shout-out' (in the lingo of our esteemed tory leader-in-waiting) to another new Edinburgh blogger, the fluffy economist who's latest blog is fighting the corner for a long-dead Greek in the face of a whole tidal wave of confusing Germans. And my position on the subject?

Well, far be it from to take the intellectual high ground, but to (mis)quote from Peter Shaffer's Amadeus 'philosophers are not horses to be run against one another'. The idea that everyone of any import has to be dug up, tossed in a ring and forced to fight it off against one another is simple absurd. Whether they're great Britains or great Philosophers or great chartered accountants, to list them in any form is going to rely on current cultural whim and fancy (as Marx would surely tell us) and any spurious factual basis is nothing but a reality effect.

And as for relying on a general(ly uninformed) public guided by some token b-list celebrity backer.... do not get me started.

Next time Anne Robinson comes anywhere near Nietzsche, I'm gonna beat her to death with a copy of 'Thus Spake Zarathustra'.

Two children stamping on each others face for eternity

“It has taken over 24 years to get to this point, that is a long delay and I would hate to add to that delay.”

And with that two decades spent crawling over broken glass towards redemption are dismissed. Stanley ‘Tookie’ Williams will die pretty soon.

I find repulsive the blood thirsty eye-for-an-eye mentality that inspires support for the death penalty; in my mind it represents the kind of self-destructive backward thinking that sees law and government spiralling downwards to the level of those who carry out the crimes in the first place. It denies the possibility of progress, the possibility of humanity. It reduces us to a state of barbaric stasis, two children stamping on each other’s faces for eternity.

If Superior Court Judge William R. Pounders had been able to give American justice the German efficiency he clearly feels its missing, Stanley Williams would have been a beefy footnote in the moronic history of gang violence; the founder of one of the most destructive gangs of all times, executed for a series of brutal murders that took place during two robberies in the 1970s.

And yet in the last 24 years, he managed to achieve the thing that Death Penalty advocates fear the most – reform.

'It didn't happen overnight. There was no epiphany. It took seven years of solitary confinement, of soul-searching, to realise what I had become and that I didn't want to be that person any more.'

Since then Williams life reads like the script to Ron Howard film.

Williams has written nine anti-gang books for teenagers under the umbrella title ' Tookie Speaks Out Against Gang Violence ', launched the Internet Project for Street Peace and mentors schoolchildren by telephone. He has received more than 50,000 emails from young people, parents, teachers and law enforcement officers from around the world testifying that his writings have changed and saved lives.

He once negotiated a peace treaty between rival gangs and has been nominated five times for a Nobel Peace Prize and four times for a Nobel Prize for Literature.

Regardless of what he did in the past (for which he is at present locked up) this is a man who is doing more to loosen the sweaty grip of gang culture on the American (and indeed global) poor. And yet the supreme court, positively salivating with glee, are willing to have him killed.

What possible fucking benefit could this hold to anybody?

Whether or not he did the things he is condemned for (this is questionable), justice should be about more than revenge. This man is not going re-offend. How many fucking Nobel prizes of peace do you have to be nominated for before they know you mean it? If he hasn’t been punished enough, lock him away for the rest of his life. Keep him there. Or is he enjoying it too much at the moment? Does he need to suffer? This is revenge. Mindless, repugnant, emotive revenge. That is all this can possibly be.

Oct 24, 2005

Anyone that owns a football club can't be a bad man, right...? right?

This via europhobia on Romano Prodi's beating-one's-head-against-a-brick-dictator attempts to defeat Italy's charmingly megalomaniacal president Silvio Berlusconi.

"A few months before the elections, a governing majority which knows it no longer enjoys the country's confidence, which has lost all the electoral tests of recent years, which is divided and fragmented on the inside and incapable of leadership on the outside, is about to strike the definitive blow at our constitution."

Why is it that everyone views Berlusconi's attempts to battle his way out of both responsibility for his own corruption and plain old fashioned democracy with the same wry look-what-he's-gone-done smile we normally reserve for the tear-away infant who leaves a teeth shaped hole in his grandparents anniversary cake?

Is it because he writes love songs?

Italy ain't that far away folks.

Tim Lott plays harmonica while The Independant dances naked on the grave of post-colonialism

Carnage in the independant on Sunday as they valiantly attempt to wrestle with some Big Ideas but are alas, hopelessly and brutally defeated.

First Tim Lott who manages to wow us with the revelation that Britian is a little bit complicated, sometimes repressive and at other times not. Well stick me in a floral dress and call me Susan, who would have guessed? Surely anyone who's been following Lost knows that when you crash 60 people on an island, liberty and oppression, tolerance and prejudice flow back and forth with every new generic plot incident. Now, times that by a million (the people and the generic incidents) and he thinks this is commentary?

What's more annoying however is his repeated 'these aren't facts but I'm saying them anyway' attitude to journalism.

Figures about European homophobia are hard to come by, but it's hard to believe that homosexuality is less acceptable here than in, say, the macho cultures of Italy, Spain or much of Eastern Europe.

Let's rephrase that shall we: "Figures are hard to come by so the best thing we can do is fall back on our preconceptions of the European mentality." And what would Tim Lott have to say about the tolerance of a European article that assumed our attitudes to vegetarian must be hoplessly philistine because we all like roast beef and fish and chips?

If at first you fail to find statistics, make shit up, seems to be the motto here.

There is an every replenishing sump of resentment and violence that is always with us.

You don't have to go to statistics for this [oh, that's good - TJ]. Anyone who looks in their own heart [what? ok hang on a second] honestly enough knows it to be true.

What the flaming fuck?

There is an every replenishing sump of resentment and violence that is always with us.

You don't have to go to statistics for this. Anyone who looks in their own heart honestly enough knows it to be true.

This is truly incredible. The argument being, I can't find statistics for my poorly made generalisatiosn, so if you want to argue with them, you're not being honest to yourself.

Fuck off Tim Lott. Don't tell me what's true or false based on some spurious claim of knowledge of the inner-workings of all 60 million inhabitants of this 'complex' country. If you can't argue a point don't write a double paged commentary in a major Sunday newspaper. I know a whole bunch of people who could do a vastly better job.

And what kind of defeatest ethno-centric offal is this that he's passing off as an argument anyway? There is no reason we should be a replenishing sump of violence, unless we are conditioned to resent others in order that we are satisfied with the position alloted to us.

And what's the conclusion from his two pages of waffle and tripe? That we are always going to be violent and prejudice so its just a case of having tolerance... but (gasp) how tolerant should we be?

The question is now how far should tolerance go - that is to say, should we tolerate the intolerance of others?


No, no, no Tim.


That is not the question now. That was the question over 50 years ago when cultural relativism first reared its head. That is not to say it is not a valid question; on the contrary it remains of crucial importance, especially considering our schizophrenic relationship with regimes such as those in North Korea, Iran and Saudi Arabia. But it is certainly not enough to posit it at as the revelatory new conclusion of your thinking. That is fucking lazy. We have made it this far. Now this should be our starting point.

Even more worryingly however, he then goes on to give one small paragraph to answering a question that has been thrown about by the great minds of the second half the twentieth century. In his typical rabid bull in children's ward fashion, Tim manages to give this question a one word answer.


No to tolerance. So that's our solution is it.

How about, rather than crudely dismissing 'outdated' forms of tollerance in an entirely unhelpful (and indeed destructive as suggests carte blanche for those people who are all too willing to see any practise or ideology they don't understandas barbaric) manner, we begin by breaking down some of the crude generalisations and stereotypes that are the root cause of such friction and conditioned antipathy. Maybe by attempting to allow other cultures as much complexity and pragmatism as we are all too willing to lavish on our own, we can begin to generate a discourse that can go some way to finding some common ground and basic principals regarding tollerance and hopefully even mutual understanding.

But then maybe Tim Lott's right, the Independant simply isn't the place for such things; as we are shown elsewhere, in this article on the 'Woman who swapped London fashion for a Kenyan warrior'. The article is a fairly bland piece on some rich white girl who married a poor black man and is now using such a heartwarming story of cultural understanding to open a themed hotel. However it starts with this:

Outside a hut made of cow dung, a bull was slaughtered. Entrails spilled at the feet of a white woman in a burgundy suede dress, but she did not flinch as the Samburu tribesmen of Kenya eagerly scooped up and drank the dead animal's blood.

And suddenly we're proppelled back into the dark colonial fetishisms of Victor Hugo. The white woman, given the best British education, remains tough in the face of the animalistic silent black tribesmen. And it is the silence that is of interest here. We hear from the white woman, and her white family, and her white friends. And yet all we here of the non-westerner is this;

The family spend most of their time in the designer's elegant house in Karen, an upmarket suburb of Nairobi, surrounded by giraffes and warthogs. A few cultural differences remain - Mr Lemarti does not drink and often feels his English is not good enough to hold his own at dinner parties - but overall the two seem to have built a life together.

So the 'cultural differences' are that he still cannot be part of the cultural environment of her 'elegant' house and its dinner parties. He remains silent, mysterious - the other.

What kind of schlock colonial journalism is this? Full of enlightened white people and dark mysterious strangers, open-minded colonial kindness and strange tribal rituals.

As long as The Independant and others run this kind of narrow-minded bollocks as journalism then we, as cultures and societies, will continue to stare at each other blankly through a fog of incomprehension and useless tossers like Tim Lott can preach about the innate human capability for prejudice in commentaries with dick-all use but further reinforcing the social divides they claim to question.

Oct 22, 2005

Thieves of Time

About four years ago one of the most magnificent robberies in the history of the world took place.

What makes this all the more impressive was that it occured while the perpetrators were suffering through one of the greatest of great tragedies.

In 2001, despite the ravages of the attacks on the World Trade Center and The Pentagon, the United States of America managed to steal from us one whole day. They stole the 11th of September from under our noses, and we will never get it back.

I feel, however that this accusation requires some clarification.

History is an illusion (a very good one). With its footnotes and its tables of facts and figures and its Authoritative Gentleman stalking across fields that once were battlefields, it creates a highly compellings 'reality effect'. An hallucination of objectivity and fact. Behind the costumes and the stagecraft history is an almost infinite, chaotic vacuum.

Reality television works through a carefully disguised process of construction. The editors on Big Brother take over 24 hours of footage from a variety of different cameras, and distill it down into a half hour narrative. This is a narrative constructed through moments, gestures, quotations of silences; built from nothing, the editors make a compelling (or not as the case may be) story, and people imagine it as reality. This is also the case for History.

Whether you want to believe the polo-necked frenchman who tells you (through cynical blasts of a vile European cigarette) that there is nothing outside language and therefore all history is fiction, it is hard to argue that there aren't an almost unlimited number of permutations for any given historical moment; that as I type this there aren't an almost infinite number of things happening elsewhere. And whereas you could quite concievably argue that all these things objectively happen, any significance placed on them is entirely of our own making.

Hence history as we see it is a narrative, an entirely constructed story. Moments are knitted together arbitrarily like so many episodes of Big Brother, but with a far more significant purpose. This is narrative of power. Dates are made and the space around them is filled with silence - leaving only one story.

And so we return finally to the US of A, everyone's favourite wounded bull elephant of a nation.

They suffered a terrorist attack back in 2001 (I'm sure you all heard about it). But whereas in the past such things were given a fairly descriptive moniker - either geographical (Lockerbie, Pearl Harbour, Oklahoma City) or otherwise (The Kennedy Assassination, The Embassy Bombings, The Washington Sniper) this one was named 9/11 after the day it occured. Not 9/11/2001 but merely 9/11. And thus a date was made. But not just a date in a single year - a date for all time.

A date was made and a day was stolen.

It was stolen from everyone with a birthday, everyone who died of a heart attack in the back garden, every marriage, every election victory and every military strike.

Most specifically it was stolen from Chile, and 28 years of history were made worthless.

General Pinochet came to power in a military coup d'├ętat on September 11, 1973, in which rebels bombed the Presidential Palace with British-made Hawker Hunter fighter jets.

The Americans stole a day from us. A day that forever more will be associated not with arrogant and paranoid American intervention but with 'unprovoked' aggression on American soil. It is a day that forever will recall several thousand reasons why Americans should fight for their safety against all opposition (political or military). It is a day that will be held up like so many bloodied american bodies in desert storm uniform - look how we suffer, look why we are justified in doing what we do.

So depending on who you are, or what you think, this is a day that was stolen from us and used against us. And this was no accident of language.

And as with everything else, we now scramble to do the same.

I am tired of 9/11, I am tired of 7/7. I am sick and tired of too simple stories, told by liars to idiots. Both the present and the past are far more complicated than such strategies will allow us to imagine.

Oct 21, 2005

*Bang* *Bang* We come in peace

In one of Tim Burton's less syrupy gothic interludes, he made a film called Mars Attacks. It was a good film.

Said cinematic satire involved a collection of skeletal martian midgets who ran buck-wild across the the US massacring all and sundry without a single inkling of remorse, all the while politely informing the generic screaming extras that they come in peace.

*Bang* *Bang* We come in peace.

And I mention all this, only it was the image that darted through my head on reading about this.

Embassies will tell local governments that reported abuses by US troops in Afghanistan do not reflect American values. The documentary, on the Australian SBS network, showed US troops setting fire to the corpses of two Taliban fighters after a gun battle in southern Afghanistan. One soldier uses the smoking corpses to taunt local villagers, describing the Taliban as "cowardly dogs" and "lady boys".
Which comes after this,

Indeed, the freedoms that we champion are as important to our success in Iraq and Afghanistan as the guns and missiles with which our troops are armed.
And maybe even this,

He insisted that detainees were well treated. They are given culturally appropriate food and drink and are allowed to practice their religion, he said. They are given clothing, shelter and health care and are allowed to send and receive mail.

*Bang* *Bang* We come in peace.

Oct 20, 2005

TinyJudas is not feeling well, the consequence of a little too much drinking prior to and post the knowledge that I will be playing Romeo in a forthcoming production of Shakespeare's little humdinger of a play.

So the first monthly (who am I kidding its likely to be tri-weekly) award for making me laugh when i'm hung over in the morning goes to bookdrunk, giving that awful antipodean's lackeys a good thwacking for another piece of useless non-journalism, this time on whether gender affects su doku.

If a man had won, I doubt whether we would have had an article asking if men are naturally better. A man winning would have been unremarkable. But a woman?Fetch me a scientist and priest. There's devilry afoot...

I feel a little better now.

Oct 16, 2005

Track me back.

Seems folk in these here parts are gettin' all stirred up by track-backs and back-links and what have you.

Always one to leap gracefully on a passing bandwagon, I have duly added them.

Now let the good times roll...

All we need is crap

As we wandered tonight past the office of a local ghost-tour company who gleefully inform you how they drag massed groups of dazed tourists and over-excited hen parties through the private burial place minor historical footnotess (into their mausaleums no less) for the sole purpose of providing anti-climatical moments of fear, my friend asked me a very good question:

Quite how ethically sound is archeology (of the excavating tombs/graveyards and other assorted burial grounds variety)?

As is not surprising given the nature of a question so firmly buried in history, this got me thinking about my childhood, and in particular my parents propensity for marching my younger brother and myself far and wide across this sceptered isle in search of every rock, ruin and remnant that might have once resembled a castle. Essentially, if it had a National Trust logo my parents (ever the pound-stretching NT members) were pulling up in the driveway no sooner than you could say 'doesn't this look an awful lot like the very similar pile of castle that we saw last summer in Devon?'

Through this somewhat forced education I came to appreciate that there are two places in every castle that draw people like moths to a security lamp. The first is the dungeons, a fact that is unsurprising to anyone who has walked along The Royal Mile in Edinburgh and seen the gratuitous number of Ghost Tour companies cashing in on the public's unquentiable thirst for all things bloodied and miserable. The second however, is the privy, and this to me is far more interesting.

I believe the medieval toilet holds such a fascination as it is the single silvery thread spiralling back through history that connects us with Elizabeth I, or William the Conquerer or even Joe Portcullis-operator in an unremarkable castle in Northumberland. We crap. They crap. And despite all else that may have transformed our lives in the intervening years it is fair to say we do it very similarly. When we stare into a small room containing a stone bench with a whole cut in it and the damp and lingering smell of urine, we get a comforting sense that this is something we know.

History becomes real. People are no longer shadows in armour, no more human than a couple of stitches in the Bayeux tapestry, they are people who need to relieve themselves. People who stand outside a toilet shuffling awkwardly and pulling creatively clenched faces as the person before them does their best to cope with a gruesome dose of the shits.

It is this humanity that is missing when Tony Robinson rips through some anonymous anglo-saxon carcass. It is an object, that was no more alive than an attractively decorated piece of pottery. No amount of average 3D animation of a man in a couple of pieces of fur is going humanise that. He is so alien to us as to be unreal. And so his dignity, his faith and his death are drowned in the sea of history. What matter what he believed about his passing when he is (and indeed was) no more alive than a Middle-English shovel or a two-dimensional Egyptian wall drawing?

We need to reconnect with these people as people. We need to seem them living. We need to see them crapping. Then maybe we would be a little slower to assume a tour through their graves is no more sacred than a gaudy carnival house of horror.

Oct 14, 2005

Pro-Life Christianity and the language of hypocrisy

Pro-Life Christian.

Not since Billy-Ray Cyrus have three words and a hyphen caused such tidal waves of anger and disgust. This loose assortment of what Bill Hicks once eloquently called ‘annoying, evil, idiot-fucks’ swan around damaging people’s lives, wasting people’s time and generally disparaging anyone who doesn’t hold the exact opinion they do.

And yet, and yet…

The simplest of simple pieces of logic will tell you that an absence of any discernable evidence for God is no proof of his non-existence, just as the existence of any infinite number of green emeralds will not provide proof that all emeralds must be green. All it needs is for Jesus to show up with a blue emerald clutched in his wounded hand to blow both theories out of the water.

If (and I know this is about as likely as David Blunkett turning down a quick hand job from anyone called something like Candie) The Big Man himself were to descend (all aglow and looking like a varnished John Peel) and tell you in no uncertain terms that it really was him and yes, it was all real (34AD and all that) and that you, yes you, needed to scream it from the rooftops and devote your life to saving as many souls you could, no matter the ridicule, no matter the anger. This was what must be done. Well, one’s response might be slightly different.

There is no argument against faith. Believing will always be justification enough for your actions. Unless someone can convince you out of believing, their going to have a hard time convincing you what you’re doing is wrong. I find it hard to argue with their reasons for fighting.

That’s not to say I agree, I just find it hard to argue. And I enjoy a good argument.

However, there is still ample space to find fault in their methods.

I personally find it pretty repulsive that people can have such contempt for people’s ability and right to independent thought. A quick skim through the lapsarian opus of that most verbose of Christians John Milton will present you with a clear message that the importance of people comes from their ability to choose faith in God and to follow his teachings. Having no option but to goosestep down the footpath laid by the almighty may have been a damn sight easier, but where’s the challenge in that? We’re hardly deserving of our own personal cloud if we haven’t had to think for ourselves.

Thus the bullying and violence that are the stock in trade of your common-a-garden militant Christian are to me decidedly unchristian not just because ‘blessed are the meek…etc.’ (let’s face it the Old Testament Almighty was nothing if not smitey) but because the logic inherent in their use is to forcibly remove the element of choice. If you firebomb an abortion clinic you remove the possibility of people to make a choice as to whether they use that service or not. This I believe to be wrong. Set out your stall, as convincingly as you can (and if you are the messenger on Earth of an omnipotent creator you should be able to stitch together a decent argument), and allow people the opportunity to choose that option. Give people space for a run up and allow them to make a Leap of Faith.

In other words you cannot lead people down the path to salvation by barricading up the edges.

And this is just one example of a disfigured, dislocated and generally confused ideology that has been warped so many times to fit the specific hypocritical arguments they wish to pass off as real thinking it so barely still deserves the name Christianity.

Take another more specific example, from Tony Wyatt, the man battling to save the life of his two-year old premature child. A man who in the past has had to have security accompany him in a hospital because of his violence towards the staff (that’s right all you lovers of hypocrisy, a pro-lifer trying to damage those people who’s job it is to save lives… but that’s the only trip I’ll take down that path, taking pot shots at the moniker pro-life is like shooting dead fish at the bottom of an empty barrel).

[Tony Wyatt said] he believed in miracles. "If the man upstairs says this person should live, then this person should live," he said

Now, this is a child that not only ‘will never see or hear, walk, sit or eat properly, and will require round-the clock care until she dies’ but who also ‘has never left hospital and has stopped breathing five times. She is fed by tube because she cannot suck from a bottle, and needs a constant supply of oxygen’. Tony wants them to cut open her throat and permanently insert a pipe that will breathe for her. Does any of this sound like the work of a God who wants someone to live?

Or does it sound like medicine keeping alive a tiny ball of nothing but pain.

The same medical science that is so often castigated as flying in the face of all that is natural and healthy is here (for exactly the same reasons) held up as the work of The Divine One. How does that work?

Hypocrisy and brainless rhetoric abound. And I haven’t even touched on the abuse of the bible for these and other (anti-homosexuality being the first that springs to mind) dubious and blinkered causes.

One has to ask the question, when ‘God’s word’ is mutilated to such a violent degree, who is serving whom?

HP sores

An entirely suitable (and therefore justified) pause from me of late that was clearly (clearly) in celebration of the 75th birthday of playwright Harold Pinter.

Although it seems that not everyone is on the same page about this particular 'event'

In Dublin they're going buck wild over the old man, screaming his name from the rooftops and holding whole festivals of theatre in his honour.

At the same time those venerable Europeans who head up the Nobel prize for literature have just gifted Pinter with the $1.3 million award, describing him as 'the foremost representative of British drama in the second half of the 20th century'.

In fact the man's name echoes throughout the continent.

And in Britain itself, his home nation, his own land, the site of his most memorable productions?


Why are we not carrying him aloft like so many gaudy sporting events, dangling him alongside the Olympic rings as decoration on the great Christmas Tree that is this fine nation?

I'd like to imagine that its out of respect for the personal space of this most private of men, but I think it probably has more to do with the dire British attitude to anyone that shows an interest in politics. The sarcastically arched eyebrows and knowing smirks that slither from the cracks in peoples faces at the merest hint of political earnestness.

We could manage Pinter in the old days, when he talked of psychological realism and the hidden tug of war buried in everyday language, but when he began to mention politics, even (gasp) write overtly political plays, he was shuffled off to one side like a grandfather who'd just wet himself in public.

We like our theatre old and our national treasures mindless.

Jimmy Saville and Seb Coe can fuck right off.

Give me Harold any day of the week.

Oct 8, 2005

no news is good news

There is nothing to send the heart soaring than pleasure-boating through the becalmed waters of an unashamedly Slow News Day. Join me, fellow explorers, for a brief sail through the guardian today.

First off we have the sarcastic scribblings of some poor bastard who was shipped off to brixton in the journalistic equivalent of an x-files episode to try and spot any crack addled squirrels. Alas, the answer was invariably no... but the truth is out there.

Then a few pages later we can read about a years-old coronation street-esque grudge between two women that finally resulted in fisticuffs, only one of these women happened to hold office in their local district. hence the guardian treats us to the wonderful headline...

Women, 87, punches mayor

Magnificent stuff thus far I think you'll agree.

But hold on to the hand rails my fellow shipmates for at this point the waters get a little choppier and things take a turn for the absolutely fucking bizare as we have a triumvirate of crazy-mad news stories... Wickerman islanders abusing children and worshipping satan... former AC Milan footballer seeks presidency of African country... Al-Qaida ask Iraqis to kill people less brutally... as i believe Voltaire said, the world is a funny old place.

Though I do have to say that despite my outrageous flippancy all of the above are very interesting articles and in particular for me (as scandalous and tragic as the first was) as a rather sheepish Chelsea supporter, George Weah's attempts to become president of Liberia are truly fascinating.

Two former presidents of Liberia have been murdered and a third lives in exile. Mr Weah is conscious of the danger he faces. "When it comes to African politics, everyone that runs for the highest office faces danger," he said. "Life is a risk, and I'm taking a risk for my people. Anybody would be afraid. I have a beautiful life, and I'm putting it on the line for my people."

However, we finish our voyage in the same shallow waters we began, thanks to news from the finance section that Zen Buddhist Leonard Cohen is staying calm amid serious financial problems.

And there we have it, you know that when the papers are reporting that a Zen Budhist stays calm, they can't have a lot to talk about.

Oct 6, 2005

on hitler, nazis and the denial of history.

Godwin's law - As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazism or Hitler approaches 1.

We've all been there. Whether in reality in a bar or a classroom or a coffee house, or more likely on this electronic soup of political nut jobs and awful debaters we call the World Wide Web. An argument is preceeding along nicely, you're not exactly Gore Vidal but you're certainly not George Bush either and you can hold your own. Until that is, the twerp on the other end likens you (or your ideas/policies) to Hitler or Nazism.

And its all over.

None of this is new. What i am interested in is why.

In my opinion there is more to blame here than the last stand of a desperate rhetorician (or a complete goon who's debating tactics run a little too close to american foreign policy - i.e. if we can't win properly just blow everything to hell). It has to do with the cultural manipulation of Nazism.

Nazism has become Objectively Evil. This is no longer a period faschist government in Germany in the early part of the 20th century caused by financial weakness, the political turmoil of post-war Europe and the harsh treatment of Germany at Versailles. No, this is when Devil Ruled Central Europe.

At this juncture in my argument I'm going to take a moment for the likes of Owen Barder and say I am in no way condoning the horror of Nazi Government, Hitler's policies or the indescribably awful extermination of Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals and other such 'undesirable' groups.Got that? No really... got it? Good.

As an example I defy anyone to open a school text book, or even a library book, on Hitler or Nazism, and find a picture of Hitler as a baby that has not been touched-up to include a little 'Hitler-moustache' covering the infants top lip. Now this, you may argue may just be the harmless japes of bored schoolchildren. But I believe it goes deeper. People cannot except Hitler as a person. In that moustache is burried an adult life drowned in racism, bigotry and horror. That moustache is horns and a tail. To imagine a Hitler without that, a Hitler who had not committed these acts. A Hitler, if you like, who is one of us, at the very least very disquietting and at the worst nie on impossible.

However, when this period is classified as objectively evil, as satanic beyond argument, it has two effects; one mildly annoying, the other incredibly dangerous. The first is that it gives useless morons in debating forums and newspapers an instant gettout clause because the moment you liken someone's policies or ideas to nazism they become intrinsically evil beyond argument and any defence of said policies is therefore a defence of the indefensable. This is annoying.

Secondly, however, it has the effect of isolating this period in history. Whereas other horrors come and go, rising and falling like so many waves against the beach of humanity, Nazism protrudes like a rock, immovable, somehow different.

But Nazism is not different. It is merely worse. It is bigotry, racism, faschism, brutality on a grander scale. In a more efficient mould. But it is still the same cruelties, prejudices and horrors underneath. Aime Cesaire has argued that Hitler is the logical culmination of Western brutality. That Hitler took the years of prejudice, horror and ethnic cleansing that made up the larger part of the colonial experience and turned them on the colonisers. Hitler is the west getting a taste of its own medicine. And although this is dramatically flawed (was it purely jews, gypsies and homosexuals raping the horn of africa and cleansing the carribean of its people? no. of course it wasn't.) the point stands that to set Nazism apart (for its barbarism, for its prejudice) is to deny the course of Western history.

And then of course, we come on to The Holocaust itself. Europe's most horrifying skeleton. And yet why The Holocaust? Where is the talk of the Caribbean Holocaust? We label it the discovery. By calling the extermination in Germany the Holocaust we assume it status as a one off, something that can only happen once. And in that respect i think we give ourselves too much credit.

Here is the crux. By Fetishizing Hitler and Nazism. By setting it to one side, as evil like no other, we devoid ourselves of responsibility for it. It was just a period in which Hell reigned on earth and there's not a lot anyone could have done about that, apart from be thankful that its over. By imagining that it is something that happened once, we soothe ourselves to the potential for cruelty we carry. We deny the possibility of it happening again.

When Stanley Millgram conducted post-WW II experiments to prove the German psyche was more susceptible to authority, he was shocked at the lengths of barbarism to which the ordinary American would sink, when asked to by a man in a lab coat. If we constantly deny the presence of the brutality of Nazism within western history, if we constantly set it apart, we leave ourselves open to the possibility of the return of such systematic horror.

The world does not go away when you close your eyes.

Oct 3, 2005

even more useless than we could possibly imagine.

A gloriously heartwarming cover story at the Scottish Daily Record today.

Turns out scotland (nay Britain's) most untalented hack of an 'artist', jack Vettriano is in fact not even worth that title, being as he is nothing more than a preening self-engrandising colour-inner.

The Illustrator's Figure Reference Manual, more commonly used by graphic designers, was published in the same year [as Vettriano began painting].

The handbook is filled with photos posed by models which can then be traced or copied.

It cost £16.99 back in 1987 and was republished twice, but is now out of print and can only be bought second-hand.

The figures it features bear a striking resemblance to those in Vettriano paintings, sometimes appearing only to have been slightly adapted, for example with the clothes changed.

I loathe Jack Vettriano. I loathe that artists (from a variety of backgrounds) who are trying (and I will admit on a great number of occasions failing) to challenge themselves, to find new modes of thinking and new aesthetic means of expression, are dismissed by the media and the public as pretentious or pompous while this showy tosser fills in the spaces in some paint-by-numbers graphic design textbook and while drowning in money and attention has the audacity to claim that his lack of critical respect is down to 'jealousy'.

It's not the fame Jack, or the money. It's the shitness. Pure and simple. And in maskarading as 'art' your brand of bubble-gum starbucks wank is nothing but damaging. People fill their walls with your execrable outpourings because they are comfortably, bourgeois reassurances that art is nothing but pretty pictures. That it is candyfloss. That it is Coldplay.

The same cunts dismiss a true genius like Howard Barker for the same reasons.
I'll let him finish this post for me.

And she listened to everything Understanding some things
But not others
Laughing rarely, and always without knowing why
Sometimes suffering disgust
Sometimes thoroughly amazed
And in the light again said

If that's art I think it is hard work
It was beyond me
So much of it beyond my actual life

But something troubled her
Something gnawed her peace
And she came a second time, armoured with friends

Sit still, she said...

And in the light again said

That is art, it is hard work

And one friend said, too hard for me
And other said if you will
I will come again

Because I found it hard I felt honoured

(Barker, prelude to The Bite of The Night)

Oct 1, 2005

nice show, shame about the journalism

An heads up in the Guardian today for anyone who hasn't come across The Best Show on American TV (best show that is, not prefixed by the letters CS and I). The article manages to stay afloat despite the best efforts of the fucking useless hack journalist to sink the entire thing by blasting giant stupid-holes in his writing.

Surely, surely, there has to be a more enlightened, interesting way of describing an alien show/figure/concept than to throw it haphazardly between two generic pop-culture equivalents. For the love of all that is holy, someone lend that man a simile.

In one terrifically awful paragraph Gary Younge manages to describe The Daily Show as 'somewhere between Have i got news for you and the Fast Show' (bollocks is it... but i digress.) and its wisecracking ring-a-ding-ding frontman Jon Stewart as not only 'less blunt than michael moore but more politically engaged than late night hosts david letterman and jay leno' but also as combining 'the irreverence of Chris Evans with the wit of Armando Ianucci'. And yet despite this tidal wave of useless name dropping our man (clearly with one too many copies of the Radio Times lost in his unconscious) is not yet done; just for good measure, we are informed that The Onion 'a spoof magazine that blends the best of Viz and private eye'. The best of Viz and Private Eye eh? So that would be the Spoof parts would it?

Not only is all of this completely irrelvent to our understanding of these assorted american institutions but they're hopelessly patronising to boot. Are we all so culturally imprisoned? Treat us with the a bit of respect. The kind of respect that has won the Daily Show such high acclaim.

And for those who haven't yet, watch it.