Nov 2006

Blog comments

Just a wee bit of blog administrivia. Some of the older posts on this site are generating quite absurd quantities of comment spam. I’m talking about several hundred pieces of spam per day per post. In order to save myself the bother of scanning through them all to find the occasional first-time commentator requiring approval I’ve decided to close the comments facility on any post that hasn’t received a comment for a couple of months.

In the unlikely event, dear reader, that you wish to comment on one of these posts, then simply post the comment on a more recent post with an explanatory sentence about where it should go. I’ll then shift the comment to that item and re-open the comment facility.

There’ll be one or two exceptions… the posts that generate most of my google traffic will retain the comment facility where possible.

Bastid spammers!

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Nov 2006

Retract and be damned!

A fellow blogger has been threatened with legal action for libel. In the following piece, all names and any specifics are entirely fictional (except the bit about Oliver Kamm which is true). I’ve no intention of writing anything that could identify the blogger, the person making the legal threats or the controversial claims that caused the fuss. That said, I’m going to set the scene…

I’m an occasional reader of Bob’s blog. He’s got a nice way with words. Also, we were on the same polo team in Singapore in the mid 1980s. About three months ago an article appeared in a magazine detailing the behaviour of a well-known businessman. Bob quoted this article in a short blog post and thought nothing further of it. Two and a half months later, Hello magazine backed down and published a retraction. They admitted they had no evidence – beyond hearsay – that Sir Digby Jones had “gotten off” with a goat during a recess at the recent CBI conference.

Bob noted this with interest but was still surprised when Sir Digby dropped him an email demanding that he remove his post citing the offending article. If he didn’t, then legal action would swiftly follow.

Now, because of who I am, my initial response was “Screw the bastid!” Don’t remove the offending post, I urged Bob, until someone is literally holding a gun to your head. It’s probably not worth dying over, but it’s certainly worth getting aggressively self-righteous about. No question there.

What you have to understand is that – in my own weird little world – “suing for libel” is only a notch or two above “mugging old ladies for spare change”. It’s essentially setting the rozzers on someone for calling you names. I mean, when it boils down to it, that’s what’s going on. Yes, yes, yes, there’s a million legitimate reasons right? What if the libel ruins your business or makes you unemployable or upsets your mother…? Well look, I’m not saying that having lies told about you can’t be damaging… even ruin a life. Yes that can happen. And that’s wrong and horrible. But I’m a moral absolutist. You know that by now, dear reader, and whatever the circumstances I think you’re pondscum if you set the police on someone for writing something.

Corporations, incidentally, are fair game. You understand that right? Use whatever means necessary to kick Big Media in the balls. Lawsuits, boycotts, petrol-bombs… whatever’s to hand really. But you just don’t threaten another person with the police for something they say. That should be part of the implied social contract we each have with one another. It’s extremely bad form. Which isn’t to say you should take it lying down. When Oliver Kamm called me a Nazi-sympathiser on a public website the idea of suing for libel would have been absurd. Instead I decided to call him a kook and a tosser and point out that I wouldn’t piss on him if he was on fire and he’s got a stupid head, roughly once every three months for the rest of my life.

None of which is very relevant, but it’s nearly three months since I made fun of Kamm so I wanted to shoe-horn it in somehow.

Anyway, Bob doesn’t want to take down the piece. And quite aside from my “screw you” gut reaction, I don’t think he should either. You see there’s an issue here that needs debating, and maybe even something worth taking a principled stand over. And it’s got nothing to do with whether or not Digby Jones enjoys kissing goats.

The Memory Hole

You didn’t think I’d go the whole month without an Orwell reference now, did you? In Nineteen Eighty Four the memory hole is where all the little bits of un-news get placed when The Party makes a revision. So a war hero who later speaks out against Big Brother not only disappears, but finds himself removed from history. The books and newspapers are all recalled and alterations made. Entire wars get sent to the memory hole.

To the furnace.

I’m not suggesting that this particular instance of alleged libel has a great deal of political or historical import. But while ‘Hello’ magazine have published a retraction in the current issue, they’ve not been required to somehow recall every offending copy and modify it. There’s no army of temps scouring doctors’ waiting rooms as I write this, desperately snipping out the libellous paragraph… removing it from all but imperfect memory.

Similarly, I don’t see why a blog should be forced to alter its past “issues” rather than merely publish a current retraction. Digby Jones isn’t denying that the allegation was made, merely that it’s wrong. Insisting that the thing is erased from history is absurd. Bob should post a retraction and an apology. As a compromise he should also post a prominent link to that apology from the article in question. Insisting upon anything more is using the tactics of The Party.

Initially I tried to argue that expecting Bob to remove his article from the web was oddly akin to asking a big-circulation magazine to do a recall of a three-month-old issue. With google-cache keeping a copy of web content and sites like archive.org doing their thing, it’s clear that Bob no longer has control over the piece once it’s been distributed. It’s unreasonable, therefore, to even ask him to try to “recall” the post.

Once I’d made that argument, however, someone pointed out that google-cache refreshes itself eventually and archive.org tends not to grab blogs. So when I say “sites like archive.org”, which ones do I mean? Off I went to take a look…

And I have to admit there aren’t as many as I expected there to be. Certainly far less than there used to be. I can remember a number of different sites that archived huge chunks of the web and offered specialised indexing and searching. I guess google has killed them all off as only alexa.com seem to be still in the business. Now, the fact that even one such service exists may be enough to prove the point, but I accept that could be reaching a wee bit. So if anyone is aware of any such archive sites or services then I’d be interested to hear about them. Otherwise it’s maybe not a valid argument.

Although I guess I could put my money where my mouth is and set up a mirror of Bob’s site on a webhost in Brazil (actively and explicitly against Bob’s wishes of course so that he has no culpability). Nobody in their right mind – no, not even Digby Jones – would try to sue a resident of Ireland, from the UK, for a minor act of libel occurring on a website in Brazil. Even I don’t have that kind of free time on my hands.

You see, if nothing else, the “libellous” piece is now sitting in the browser-caches of a whole bunch of visitors to Bob’s site. Some people regularly clear their caches, but others don’t. Some people will even save a copy of a controversial page to their hard-drive just to demonstrate the point that once published, Bob no longer has control over what happens to his page.

I admit it… I’m actively searching for a rationale for a gut feeling here. It’s clear that Bob has far more control over his post-distributed content than ‘Hello’ does. Maybe even enough control to make a decent case that removing it from his website will remove it from the web.

But again, I just feel uncomfortable about removing something published months ago in a periodical. It’s insisting upon more than a traditional “public apology and retraction”… it’s an attempt to falsify an historical record. And whatever one may think about Bob’s blog, or blogs in general, there’s something just not right about that.

The trouble with all of this is the fact that bloggers can, and often do, habitually edit past entries for all manner of (usually perfectly innocent) reasons. So maybe it’s all just a load of bollocks really. Nonetheless, suing someone for libel is a low and nasty thing to do. That much is still true.

12 comments  |  Posted in: Opinion

Nov 2006

147 and counting

From Europhobia (now dressed in lovely WordPress trousers and sporting a shiny new URL) comes news that investigations into European complicity in US war crimes have identified 147 occasions when Irish soil was “suspected of being used for ‘extraordinary renditions’ or transfer of prisoners without trial or legal redress to sites such as Guantanamo Bay or Uzbekistan.”

It’s clear that the so-called “neutrality” of Ireland is a sham. At Shannon we provide transfer, refuelling and storage facilities for the US Air Force. I suspect that our government would not have offered the same hospitality to the Iraqi airforce in the geographically unlikely event that Saddam Hussein had made the request.

That said, our constitution is pretty damn clear about the neutrality of Ireland, and it’s always been a strict rule that Shannon could not be used for combat missions. This means that long-range bombers can’t refuel in Ireland on their way to drop explosives on a city, but a plane full of marines on their way to shoot people in that city is acceptable. I wonder whether the revered group of idealists, poets, socialists and agitators who framed our constitution would be proud of a government willing to make such spurious distinctions.

Or of a people willing to quietly acquiesce.

But use of Irish soil during these CIA ‘extraordinary renditions’? That brings the moral transgression and culpability to a whole other level. Here we have the Irish State actively and regularly assisting a policy of kidnap and torture. And 147 flights over a period of a few years is pretty damn regular. We’re not talking about a couple of isolated incidents here.

Protestations of ignorance are hollow and meaningless. An independent neutral republic not only has a right, it has a duty, to regulate any foreign military traffic that crosses its border. And for precisely this reason! So that we are not complicit in acts inconsistent with our international obligations. If a US airforce plane lands in Shannon and it contains people snatched from the street by the CIA en route for torture in an Uzbek detention centre, the Irish authorities have an absolute legal obligation to detain that flight and prevent a crime against humanity.

That these flights were never once detained demonstrates either than the Irish authorities were aware of their nature and chose to provide assistance nonetheless; or that a deliberate policy of ignorance was in place. Imagine an Irish airport had been used as a stop-off point for plane-loads of Afghan heroin for the past few years. Imagine that in order to gain favour with the heroin producers, the Irish government ordered the contents of the planes not to be examined. Imagine that the government later claimed they didn’t realise anything dodgy was going on. Lastly, imagine how naive you’d have to be to believe them.

You may consider that an extreme analogy. And it’s true, it would take a peculiar kind of eejit to think nothing dodgy was going on if Afghan heroin producers asked them to ignore some planes. But the C.I.A.? I mean, come on! You can trust them to be completely legit and above-board, right?

As I say; a peculiar kind of eejit. The kind we seem to elect.

What’s worse is that even despite widespread acknowledgement that these torture buses were fuelled and resupplied by Ireland, we have not denied the US military use of the facilities at Shannon. Instead we have accepted assurances that such flights will never stop in Ireland if indeed they ever happen which they don’t.

So we’re checking the planes now? Well no. They’ve promised to be all legit and above-board from now on, so we don’t need to.

Who has? Ummmm… the C.I.A.

You mean the kidnappers and torturers? Doh!

1 comment  |  Posted in: Opinion

Nov 2006

The Blog Digest 2007

For those awaiting my review of The Beatles LOVE, let me assure you that it is on the way. See, I’d been writing for a while before I realised – after about a thousand words – that I’d not yet mentioned the new album, and had instead spent a thousand words telling you just how much I like The Beatles. Which isn’t really news. And can be done in a lot less than a thousand words. So I’m going to have another go at it sometime soon. Until then you’ll have to put up with some other stuff. I’m almost finished a controversial rant about multiculturalism. So that’ll be fun.

This morning a heavy thump from the letterbox heralded the arrival of The Blog Digest 2007. It’s a hefty tome being flogged for a reasonable price, and according to the back cover it “is the ultimate anthology of blog writing from the last twelve months. From searing topical commentary to hilarious musings on modern life…” Hmmmm… I have real trouble recommending a book that describes itself as “hilarious”. It’s not a word that should ever be self-applied. You may as well tattoo “tries too hard” on your forehead and be done with it. Metaphorically.

However, it’s edited by Justin of Chicken Yoghurt which is a significant point in its favour. Also, a brief flick through has revealed plenty of stuff from people on my blogroll, including Merrick, so it’s certainly got that going for it. However, there’s also a couple of submissions from this very blog which may well put off the more discerning reader. I can only assure you that a thick black marker pen will – in very little time – rectify this. I believe many retailers are including just such a pen in the price of the book. Shop around.

It was quite horrifying reading those couple of pieces as it happens. As I always seem to be saying… context is everything. When you arrive at this blog, dear reader, you quickly get a feel for what’s going on… it’s all very loose and casual; sometimes I talk about matters of life and death… sometimes wordplay is as important as what’s being said… sometimes it’s not obvious which is which. I rant, I vent neuroses and once in a while I say something worth listening to. And – if my stats are accurate, for about a hundred people – it works. What little sense exists here comes through an understanding of the context. Leastways, I think.

The discomfort I felt reading my work in The Blog Digest is precisely what prevents me posting on The Sharpener for instance, much as I’d like to expand my audience a little. Viewed in the right context, my blog-writing-style allows me to occasionally get across something worth reading. When placed into the context of semi-mainstream journalism though…? Well, let’s just say I’m not sure it works.

That said, there’s a hell of a lot of good writing to be found within the book, and it’s well worth checking out. As I say, half my blogroll is in there… so clearly it’s writing I recommend.

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Nov 2006

Let's try that again…

I spoke too soon. Within hours of proclaiming myself back online, my swanky new graphics card gave up the ghost. I’m now using a very old (borrowed… thanks K) card until a replacement swanky one is dispatched by the shop. I understand, of course, that ATi can’t individually test every card that comes off the assembly line for several days to see if there’s any flaws in the chip (which will be revealed only after the GPU heats up and cools down a few times through regular use). That doesn’t stop it being a right royal pain in the arse when you get sent a dud though.

Anyways, during my extended absence from the internet (that word is only one and a half letters away from ‘internment’, y’know) I generated a lengthy backlog of emails which I’ve now pretty much caught up with. If you’re reading this and are expecting a reply to an email, could you please resend it as you wouldn’t believe the amount of spam I received, and I was getting pretty damn cavalier with the delete button at a few points there.

But among the emails I received were several containing links to interesting stuff. And some of those are worth sharing.

First up is this piece on Wolves and Dogs (via Gyrus). The notion of a “mutual domestication” process between man and dogs/wolves isn’t new. It’s covered quite well, for instance, in Colin Tudge’s essential So Shall We Reap (and when I say “essential”, that’s not just hyperbole… I mean “please go and buy the book now and read it”. Seriously. Go and do it). But Jason Godesky’s article takes the idea to some surprising places. It’s well-researched and coherent. Some of the conclusions he draws are perhaps a bit further out than I’d be willing to go, but interesting stuff nonetheless.

Next, something silly… the Notepad Secret Trick video. For those without Windows XP to try this on, I can assure you that it’s completely accurate. If you save a file in Notepad containing the words “Bush hid the facts”, it will be scrambled into an unreadable character set when you reopen it. Just imagine trying to explain the online video demonstrating this little oddity to someone living 150 years ago. If nothing else, technology has made the word a far weirder place.

And for that, I salute it.

Mahalia sent me this wonderful News In Brief item from consistently funny, The Onion. I’m not sure there’s been a single issue of The Onion that hasn’t had at least one thing in it that made me laugh. And I’ve been reading it for almost a decade. Outstanding stuff.

From R.A., YouTube (of course) have the promo-video for Spearhead‘s “I Know I’m Not Alone” (the single from the sublime Yell Fire! album). The song itself is a wee bit Michael Franti goes U2, and perhaps not entirely typical of Spearhead, but still a groovy tune. I mention this primarily as Spearhead are touring Europe again during the first half of December (full dates) including Saturday the 2nd in Dublin! Yay!

By the way, I’ve spent most of this week listening to “LOVE” by The Beatles. A full review of which should hopefully appear here sometime very soon. As a sneak preview… the review will essentially be the two words, “bloody awesome”, expanded into several hundred.

Anyways, I hope all is groovy with you, dear reader. And let’s hope I’m back up and running for more than a few days this time.

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Nov 2006

Anyone still here?

Wouldn’t you know it? I’m only gone for a few weeks and yet I manage to miss the most fertile month for blogging all year. The muslim veils farrago… the Madonna adoption thing… the Iraq U-Turn (except it’s not really a U-Turn, it’s a “reassessment”, honest)… the Macca divorce… the Enron guy getting 24 years… the US elections and Rumsfeld getting sacked… climate change hitting the front pages. Politics, celebrity, war, big business; there’s even been some peak oil stuff worthy of a rant. My, how the chattering classes are chattering.

Thankfully we’re far from all that noise here on the quiet road, dear reader. It’s a virtual backwater out here. Hell, I can even write about the Israel / Palestine situation and raise nary a murmur of disapprobation, let alone the online equivalent of an outbreak of mindless violence that it would generate anywhere else on the web. Perhaps it’s the irregularity of posting or perhaps it’s the denseness of the prose. It’s hard to say. Speaking of which, may I quickly remind you that there’s a new Pynchon novel out next week. The author has provided a synopsis…

Spanning the period between the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893 and the years just after World War I, “Against the Day” moves from the labor troubles in Colorado to turn-of-the-century New York, to London and Gottingen, Venice and Vienna, the Balkans, Central Asia, Siberia at the time of the mysterious Tunguska event, Mexico during the revolution, Paris, silent-era Hollywood, and one or two places not strictly speaking on the map at all. With a worldwide disaster looming just a few years ahead, it is a time of unrestrained corporate greed, false religiosity, moronic fecklessness, and evil intent in high places. No reference to the present day is intended or should be inferred. The sizable cast of characters includes anarchists, balloonists, gamblers, corporate tycoons, drug enthusiasts, innocents and decadents, mathematicians, mad scientists, shamans, psychics and stage magicians, spies, detectives, adventuresses, and hired guns. There are cameo appearances by Nikola Tesla, Bela Lugosi, and Groucho Marx. As an era of certainty comes crashing down around their ears and an unpredictable future commences, these folks are mostly just trying to pursue their lives. Sometimes they manage to catch up; sometimes it’s their lives that pursue them. Meanwhile, the author is up to his usual business. Characters stop what they’re doing to sing what are for the most part stupid songs. Strange sexual practices take place. Obscure languages are spoken, not always idiomatically. Contrary-to-the-fact occurrences occur. If it is not the world, it is what the world might be with a minor adjustment or two. According to some, this is one of the main purposes of fiction. Let the reader decide, let the reader beware; Good luck – Thomas Pynchon.

If you’re not tingling with anticipation, you bloody well should be!

You may or may not be interested to know that I’ve resurrected my novel (The Stockhausen Manuscript) which ground to a halt a couple of months back. I’m certainly not promising anything, but this one might actually get finished. Mind you, even if I do finish it, there’s no guarantee I’ll let anyone actually read the thing.

But look, I know what you’ve really come here for. And it’s not to read me droning on about my half-written psychedelic thriller. It’s to find out what I think about stuff like the muslim veils farrago… the Madonna adoption thing… the Iraq U-Turn (except it’s not really a U-Turn, it’s a “reassessment”, honest)… the Macca divorce… the Enron guy getting 24 years… the US elections and Rumsfeld getting sacked… climate change hitting the front pages, and maybe a bit of peak oil rantiness. All of which I’ll try to cover over the next couple of weeks by way of catching up with the rest of the blogosphere.

An absence explained

Incidentally, if you’re wondering where I’ve been for all this time, the answer is “right here, but without a computer”. You see, my PC’s power supply unit (PSU) decided to die. But it didn’t want to face the recycling yard alone, so it took a few other things with it. I was in the middle of responding to an email from the groovy Tom Fourwinds who runs megalithomania (he’s just published a new book incidentally… Monu-Mental About Prehistoric Dublin) when three things occurred simultaneously. There was a loud bang, the screen went blank, and a tiny wisp of acrid smoke rose from behind my desk. It took a couple of days to replace the blackened chunk of ex-PSU at which point I realised that wasn’t the only thing wrong. A closer look at the inside of my computer revealed scary-looking char-marks on several other components including the circuit boards on all three hard-drives. Yes, even the one I’d named “backup”. It was at this point that I repeated the word “fuck” very loudly about seven or eight times. I hadn’t backed up onto shiny silver disc for a good three or four months.

Anyways, I’ve had to replace the hard-drives and the graphics card and the RAM though – bizarrely – not the motherboard or CPU. Those of you who know a bit about how PCs are put together will understand how weird that is. And I’ve lost all the writing I’ve done for the past four months or so. Although it wasn’t the most productive period of my life it’s still a serious pisser. But at least I’m back up and running and I’ll try to resume semi-regular blogging. Hopefully I’ll have caught up with the email backlog before the end of the week too. Laters y’all.

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