Feb 2007

Dream haiku

Empty offices
I’m surrounded by signposts
And yet I am lost

3 comments  |  Posted in: Poetry

Feb 2007

Green Party support for BioFuels [updated]

This is a copy of a letter I’ve just emailed to one of my parliamentary representatives, Mr. Paul Gogarty TD. He’s a member of the Irish Green Party and my email was in response to a mail-shot on the subject of energy. Much of the leaflet was sound information on energy efficiency, renewables, grants for installing solar panels and heat pumps, a denunciation of nuclear energy… all good stuff. But the very first item is an article under the headline, “Biofuels can create new Irish jobs”. This piece heralds the worrying news that the EU has apparently set a target of almost 6% of transportation fuel to be sourced from biofuelstock by 2010.

I have a lot of time for The Greens, but am simultaneously irritated by their apparent desire not to rock the boat too much. If society decides to take the issue of Climate Change seriously, and in the face of a peak in oil and gas supply, then it will mean that individuals consume significantly less energy than they currently do. And although this may well provide long-term health and fulfillment benefits, it will be extremely uncomfortable, unpopular and maybe even unpleasant in the short to midterm.

Anyways… the letter…

Dear Paul,

I received your latest mail-out today (entitled €NERGY). With the exception of The Green Party, there is nobody in the political mainstream that comes even close to representing my views. Yet you seem to be doing your level-best to alienate even me, and turn my Green vote into a protest spoilt-ballot.

Your leaflet made some interesting points about energy efficiency, offered a rational dismissal of nuclear power and provided some useful information about renewable energy grants. But it also contained an extremely worrying recommendation of biofuels. You may as well have lauded China’s expansion of coal-power on the front page.

In fact, both your website and this latest mail-out trumpet “Biofuels” as a responsible alternative to fossil fuels. This is itself a wildly irresponsible position. The Chief economist at the UK’s Department for International Development recently estimated that “the grain required to fill a 25-gallon SUV gas tank with ethanol will feed one person for a year”. He may have been ’rounding-up’ the numbers for effect, but it still makes a mockery of biofuels as ‘ethical’ in a world where millions starve.

Even worse, George Monbiot’s excellent article, ‘Worse Than Fossil Fuel’, explains exactly why large scale biofuel projects have traditionally worked out as being even more carbon intensive than burning oil or gas!

We live at a time when global climate change is perhaps the largest issue faced by our civilisation, and at a time when oil and gas supply could well be peaking. Organisations like The Green Party need to be loudly and frequently emphasising the need to dramatically scale back our energy usage as a society.

Yet such calls, where they are made in your literature, are greatly outnumbered and overshadowed by the glowing promise of more jobs (“Biofuels can create new Irish jobs”) and shiny new technology. One of the physical definitions of energy is ‘the ability to do work’. Our economy (the sum total of the work carried out by society) is no less than a giant engine to convert energy into material wealth. By promising more jobs, you are merely promising to accelerate that process.

Anyone who genuinely seeks to reduce carbon emissions needs to accept that the primary method of doing so must be a scaling back of economic activity. To promise such a thing may well seem like political suicide, but it would be honest. And I’ll always vote for the honest man above the good politician.

Yours sincerely,

Jim… (name and address provided)

[UPDATE] A Reasonable Response

Rather to my shock, Paul Gogarty TD responded to my email within a couple of hours of my sending it. More than that, he responded in a reasonable and measured manner which made my initial letter seem a wee bit shouty. I should probably make it a rule in the future not to write letters to politicians immediately having written a blog entry. It’s one thing being a bit strident and righteous when proclaiming to an unseen audience of billions; it’s quite another in a letter to another person.

Paul comes across very well in his response. I was just about to email him and ask if it was OK to post it here, when he posted it himself in the comments below (hi Paul!) which is where I’ll add a few further comments when I’ve worked out exactly what they are.

8 comments  |  Posted in: Opinion

Feb 2007

The methadone metronome

I don’t watch much television these days. There have been periods of my life when my weekly viewing probably matched the average American (i.e. waaaaay too much). And there’s been times when I watched none at all for long stretches. Growing up, I saw very little TV. There was one in the house but it was used sparingly and was heavily censored. My grandfather’s shrill denunciations of “that terrible box” reverberated throughout the many branches of my family tree. That terrible box was responsible for ripping the heart, and the church, out of Irish society he insisted. It sold selfishness and glossy foreign ways. I can vividly remember the furore when Dallas was first beamed into Irish televisions. It represented the death of Irish civilisation, and by extension – at least to grandad – the death of civilisation itself. It was brainwashing us into abandoning tradition and seeking lives of empty self-gratification.

Not that I want to paint the daft bugger as some kind of wise old patrician. His views about television may well have been perceptive, but his views on just about everything else were mad as a badger.

Just before I hit my teens (when my parents attempts at censorship would have ceased to be successful), we moved overseas and I spent the next seven years or so in countries where I didn’t speak the language. So I watched some CNN now and then, but basically the tellybox was where films on video appeared. By the time I hit my late teens I had unconsciously dismissed television as being trash. The world of soap-operas and sit-coms and light-entertainment and cop shows and cartoons was just one big gaping pit of cultural excrement. You could have pointed me towards David Attenborough‘s wonderful documentaries, or perhaps Monty Python’s Flying Circus. But my distaste for the medium blinded me to the idea that it had anything at all to offer.

The Truth Is Out There

Then, however, came The X-Files. For me, that was the beginning of television. In retrospect The X-Files was actually foreshadowed by Twin Peaks, but I came to that one late – many years after it had first been broadcast. I only stuck with The X-Files for the first few seasons, but it made me realise that the medium had finally matured to the point where something truly interesting could be done with it. This was sharp, smart, well-written stuff with production values that rivalled cinema. It was well-acted, had genuinely likeable characters and fit perfectly with the mood of the times.

But it wasn’t just like a half-length movie every week. The X-Files wasn’t cinema reinvented for the MTV generation. It was it’s own unique thing. You can do things over 12 or 20 episodes that you just can’t do in a film. In many ways, a good television series is far closer to a good novel than even the best cinema. The time exists to fully flesh out characters, to linger over intriguing sub-plots and to provide detail and atmosphere that would simply be sensory overload were you to compress it into 90 or 120 minutes. I think of good television as a form of literature.

Since The X-Files there have been a small handful of TV programmes that manage to reach or exceed the bar it set. Probably far fewer than there should be. But at the same time… it’s a wonder any get made at all, given the culture of anti-intellectualism that clearly exists within the television industry. For those interested; here is that list in its entirety…

  • Twin Peaks. David Lynch‘s gloriously warped masterpiece. The one that began it all. An FBI agent shows up at the isolated mountain town of Twin Peaks to look into the murder of young and beautiful Laura Palmer. He goes about investigating the crime as though the murderer was one of the locals, yet all the while connecting Laura’s death to a series of others that happened miles away. Twin Peaks is filled with some of Lynch’s most memorable characters and a rich, dark, claustrophobic atmosphere that infects your dreams. Special Agent Dale Cooper – played to perfection by Kyle MacLachlan – would feature high on a list of Great Literary Characters. A latter day Sherlock Holmes (who switched the cocaine and opium for something a little more psychedelic), Cooper attacks problems with a singlemindedness that usually appears anything but, and a method that is often – quite literally – madness itself. You still can’t get Season 2 of this on DVD, which is nothing short of criminal.
  • Millennium. This series was created by Chris Carter (the man behind The X-Files) and is – in many ways – superior to his more famous work. At least, the first two (of three) seasons are. If you assume the show ends at the final episode of season 2 then you have a near-perfect piece of television. It follows the experiences of Frank Black; another truly fine character, played this time by Lance Henriksen (Bishop from Aliens); an ex-FBI profiler recently recovered from a serious emotional breakdown. Frank gets visions. Of evil. And as the series progresses those visions become increasingly apocalyptic driving him closer to madness. The shadowy Millennium Group is trying to recruit Frank to their ranks, and as he battles to hold his family together in the face of internal and external pressures, the whole world starts to come apart at the seams. Dark as a dark, dark thing. And then some.
  • Buffy The Vampire Slayer (including spin-off series, Angel). The best of them all. Potentially never to be bettered. Joss Whedon created one of the great works of literature of the late 20th / early 21st century, yet lots of people still think it’s “just Beverly Hills 90210 with monsters”. Certainly that’s the phrase I used when my friend Justin recommended it. I seem to recall he described it as “the best thing ever”. He was right. The premise is deceptively simple… vampires, zombies, werewolves, demons, ghosts… “everything you’ve ever dreaded was under your bed, but told yourself couldn’t be by the light of day. They’re all real!” But luckily for the human race, there’s one girl in every generation gifted with special powers to fight the hordes of darkness… the slayer. Sarah Michelle Gellar plays the lead role, but Buffy is very much an ensemble piece. That’s the beauty of the show; it’s actually about human relationships. Not monsters. From the beginning of Season 1 to the final moments of Season 7, the central theme of Buffy The Vampire Slayer is the human condition. Just like almost every truly great work of literature. The supernatural setting merely provides the writers with a wonderfully colourful backdrop against which to explore that condition. So in one episode they can magically remove everyone’s ability to speak… almost an entire episode with no dialogue. In another, Buffy gets the ability to hear everyone else’s thoughts… rapidly driving her insane. In yet another she becomes convinced that her entire world of vampires and demons is a psychosis she’s experiencing while confined to a lunatic asylum. In another, everyone gets their memory wiped by a spell gone wrong. Over and over these fantastical premises are used not (merely) as rollicking good eye-candy, but to highlight the strengths – and the frailties – of the human heart.
  • Firefly. Like Chris Carter before him, Joss Whedon decided not to follow the massive success of Buffy by retreading the same ground. And like Chris Carter before him, this clearly displeased the moneymen. Firefly was never going to sell calendars and mousemats and pencilcases the way Buffy did. It just wasn’t that kind of show. Mind you, at its deepest level, Firefly had exactly the same premise as Buffy… a bunch of outsiders and misfits unite against a hostile universe, and through their love and friendship forge a life worth living. The Ur-Plot. I guess most people will be more familiar with the later film, Serenity, than with the original source material. Which is a tragedy of sorts despite the movie being excellent in its own right. Firefly was cancelled after half a season, and the film serves as a stop-gap “end” to a rich story that had been slowly unfolding. For those unfamiliar with either the film or the TV series, Firefly follows the travels of a starship, ‘Serenity’ (a ‘firefly’-class freighter), as the crew scrape a living on the galactic frontier, all the while evading the law… hot on their heels (in the form of shadowy, sinister covert agents as well as big starships filled with uniformed troops). It’s the life you imagine Han Solo was leading right up until that fateful day in Mos Isley. That said, there’s no aliens in Firefly. Space turned out to be empty when mankind started to explore it. Instead the setting is a very human one. It’s a dirty, dusty future that fuses China with the Wild West. And gone are Buffy’s highschool misfits to be replaced by a bitter war-veteran (from the losing side) and his best friend. Then there’s the best-friend’s Hawaiian-shirted pilot husband; the good-hearted and lovely ship’s engineer; an elderly disillusioned priest; a high-class prostitute; a once-wealthy and influential doctor and his young sister (the character around whom the primary plot arc revolves). The writing was of a quality you rarely encounter in any medium… somehow the characters that Joss Whedon creates have a life and a reality to them that makes him the envy, certainly of this writer, and I suspect many others too.
  • Veronica Mars. Yet more Californian highschool shenanigans. This time though, we dispense with the supernatural and the science fictional. Veronica Mars does to the Whodunnit? genre what Buffy did to horror. The show starts a year after the murder of Veronica’s best friend. A year in which her life has been turned completely upside down. I wouldn’t be doing justice to the gloriously convoluted plot were I to try and summarise it here. Rob Thomas has clearly drawn a lot of inspiration from Raymond Chandler‘s novel The Big Sleep as well as the film based on it, and the whole genre it typified. At the same time, Veronica Mars feels fresh and very relevant… one of the central themes of the first two seasons is the economic inequalities that blight American (and by extension, Western) society… as rigid a class system as has ever existed despite the superficial “anyone-can-make-it” classless nature of America. When Veronica describes her school she points out, “if you go here your parents are either millionaires, or your parents work for millionaires.” Veronica is an exception, and is in the unique position of knowing what it’s like on both sides of the fence. Her father used to be the town Sheriff. Top law man. And power is as good as money. But when her Dad accuses the richest of all the rich men in town of the murder of his own daughter; Veronica’s best friend; he finds himself hounded out of office and becomes a Private Detective to pay the mortgage (and, it turns out, to continue his investigation into what really happened the night of the murder). Philip Marlowe meets Buffy without the monsters. But in a very very good way.
  • Battlestar Galactica. I’m the first to admit that this programme shouldn’t be half as good as it is. I mean, a remake of a dodgy 1970s space opera famed as much for the preening ponces on the flight deck and their godawful cheesey dialogue as for the ludicrous Greek-mythology allusions. But the creators of the show (and it does seem to be the creation of a team, rather than the vision of one person implemented by a team) have clearly taken a leaf or three out of Joss Whedon’s book. The look and feel of the show is straight out of Whedon’s Firefly… a fact that’s very much to its credit. And just as with Buffy, the fantastical setting is used simply as the backdrop against which the writers can explore human relationships and moral problems. And it is when examining ethical and moral issues that Battlestar Galactica is at its best. The first two seasons are excellent television and alone warrant inclusion in this list. However the third season opens with — to my mind — perhaps the six finest episodes of television ever broadcast. Using the science-fiction setting to create the necessary ‘distance’, the programme examines — amongst other things — the potential justifications for terrorist attacks against an occupying force, up to and including suicide bombings. It does so in a shockingly direct and — dare I say it — compassionate way. More than once while watching I was reminded of Talking Heads’ Listening Wind. Can there be higher praise?

If I’ve omitted something obvious, then let me know. But that short list pretty much covers — for me — the literature of television. My stance with regards to that terrible box has mellowed a little over time, and there’s plenty of other things that are occasionally “worth watching” (The Simpsons, The Mighty Boosh, Futurama, etc) but by and large, when you consider the sheer number of hours of programming broadcast in the English language over the decades, it’s a disturbingly short list.

22 comments  |  Posted in: Reviews » TV reviews

Feb 2007

Catching up Two

Ummmm, first I’d like to pose a quick question of style, dear patient reader. Do you think it’s better for a blogger to write three or four short posts, each about a specific topic or news item or whatever; OR, one longer piece incorporating all? Y’see, my natural tendency is to write vaguely chatty meandering posts that take in a few issues… sometimes giving them their own sub-heading, sometimes just allowing them to run into one another and do their own thing. It’s how I think… probably has something to do with spending the 90s trying to be both a philosopher and an industrial engineer. And I’ve noticed that I’m very much in the minority on this approach to blogging. Most go down the several shorter posts road. While that clearly makes a blog easier to reference and arguably more useful as a source of information (as far as a blog can be), it’s just not the way I write.

All the same, if a huge majority of my readership (say… three or more) felt that shorter, punchier posts might make this a groovier place, then I’d certainly give it some consideration.

Which doesn’t mean I’d change my style of course. A part of me would indeed consider it, but there’s also a part of me that would think, “oh, who gives a rat’s arse what they think?” And I’m not entirely sure which part of me would win that battle.

All of which is a characteristically verbose introduction to another, ooh look! a collection of links and a paragraph about why each of them is noteworthy post. Dig.

First up is Steve Bell’s most recent “Dr. John” Reid cartoon. What I find both chilling and very funny (don’t you love art that inspires wildly conflicting emotions?) is the fact that the cartoon merely depicts Reid along with a caption that accurately sums up his position on freedom of speech. It’s phrased wickedly, of course, but it’s basically no more than a bald statement of fact. Lovely.

Then we have the news that a US Air Force pilot has been demoted / forced to resign because she posed naked for Playboy. Of course, anyone who knows me will immediately realise that I’m only drawing attention to this story because it allows me to quote Apocalypse Now in context… not that you really need a justification for quoting The Now whether in or out of context. All the same, who can read that story and not hear the voice of Kurtz…

We train young men to drop fire on people. But their commanders won’t allow them to write “fuck” on their airplanes because it’s obscene!

Can you think of anything more ridiculous than an organisation that trains its members to more effectively murder people, getting squeamish when one of them flashes a bit of flesh?

But I wouldn’t want to think all the best stuff is happening in the mainstream media. Cos it ain’t. You never ever get lines like, “It illustates more eloquently than my analysis ever could just how utterly fucking deluded Mr Bond is.” in the mainstream media. And the world is a poorer place because of it. Read Merrick’s short but sweet piece over at Bristling Badger; have faith in the market.

Meanwhile, on the ever-readable journal of David Byrne is one of the best bits of writing I’ve read online for quite a while; Free Will, Part 2: Support Our Troops. I have to wonder though… is he dropping by and nicking my ideas…

Is there such a thing as a psychology of nations, of people? Do nations get neurotic? Crazy? Sad and angry? Bitter and resentful? Proud and arrogant? I think maybe they do.

Oi David! That’s my Masters Thesis… back off mate! Or at least wait until I’ve been accepted onto the course.

Although I’m no longer a Londoner, some my friends are. I still take a great interest in the goings-on of London, and still have a bit of a soft spot for Ken Livingstone despite his conversion from Red to Reddish-Purple. Without a doubt, one of the best things Ken did was to start the process of forcing car owners to pay for some of the damage they do. For this reason, reports of the Congestion Charge being a failure should be vigorously exposed as the blatant lies they are whenever they appear. For more on this, head over to Pigdogfucker and read Lies, damn lies, and the Congestion Charge.

And in brief…

  • On Everday Apocalypticism over at Smokewriting… “the sense of having participated in an apocalypse which one failed to notice”. What a splendid turn of phrase. Rochenko’s post tackles some of the the same themes that David W. Kidner explores in Nature & Psyche: Radical Environmentalism and the Politics of Subjectivity (I imagine. I only started reading Kidner’s book today having been delayed by a pressing need to re-read Nineteen Eighty-Four).
  • At Random Speak, L has discovered one of the most startling statues I’ve seen in a long time in Another Post on Odd Art. It’s difficult to believe the sculptor didn’t know exactly what he was doing.
  • Via Perfect I discovered this long but excellent essay by Jonathan Lethem; The Ecstasy of Influence. Well worth a read for anyone interested in the creative process and how it relates to the expropriation, rearrangement, remixing and fusion of pre-existing ideas. The first novel I wrote contained two chapters which were entirely composed of cut-up and rearranged Jorge Luis Borges stories… done the old-fashioned way too, enlarged in a photocopier and physically cut up and pasted onto card… none of yer fancy software solutions. So Lethem is very much preaching to the choir with me, but a fascinating piece nonetheless.
  • Justin at Chicken Yoghurt has this to say in his latest post… “This blog is now taking a break. I don’t know how long that break will be but hopefully it won’t be a permanent one.” This is sad news indeed and displeases me enormously. No doubt the chap has his reasons. But it’s still bad news and his voice will be missed. There’s a whole Serious To-Do going on in the UK political blog scene right now with threats of legal action being made left, right and centre. Well, mostly ‘right’ actually. I’ve avoided the subject but may well weigh-in with a suitably inappropriate comment or two in the near future that’ll offend absolutely everyone involved and see me vilified and attacked with sharp lawyers.

6 comments  |  Posted in: Opinion

Feb 2007

David Cameron and cannabis

There’s an essay by Robin Fishwick called In Defence of Hypocrisy which everyone should read. It’s very short but wonderfully perceptive, and it makes a point that should probably be made more often. In fact, I’m a walking illustrative example of Fishwick’s point. As mentioned recently, I was a strict vegetarian for most of my life; I did some hunt-sabbing in my late teens and I’ve been on a bunch of anti-vivisection or anti-whaling or anti-bloodsports demonstrations. I’d even put myself in the philosophically difficult position of believing that animals have certain ‘rights’ and that our behaviour towards them is in the sphere of ‘morality’.

However, since my early twenties, my footwear of choice has been the classic 7-eye, ankle-length Doc Martin black leather boot. And you wouldn’t believe the number of times I’ve been hassled about this fact. Confirmed carnivores, fresh from stuffing their faces in MacDonalds somehow feel justified in pointing out my ethical failing. “How can you wear leather boots”, they demand, “and yet still call yourself a vegetarian?” Of course by now I’ve developed a full repertoire of responses depending upon the person challenging me. My personal favourite is “The same way you can have shit for brains and still call yourself a human being”.

Thing is, my reasons for wearing leather Docs wouldn’t pass the ethical tests against which I judge the food I eat. I don’t have some great moral justification… it’s just that I really really like the boots, they’re very comfortable, and they work out quite cheap (despite not being cheap to buy) as they only need replacing every five years or so. I guess I’m simply failing to meet the ethical standards I have set for myself. I’m a hypocrite.

But I’m in good company. The vast majority of the people I truly admire have stuggled and continue to struggle to reach the standards they have set for themselves. If you’re reading this and thinking “Bah! I always achieve the standards I set”, then I humbly suggest you’ve not set them high enough. Albert Einstein, a great thinker and a profoundly moral man, was a strong proponent of vegetarianism for most of his life. But Einstein was also a human being with human failings and a real taste for German sausage. In letters to friends he wrote about his “terribly guilty conscience” every time he gave into temptation and ate his favourite food.

Should we deride the man for saying that “Nothing will benefit human health and increase chances for survival of life on Earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet” and then occasionally succumbing to the temptation of a smoked sausage sarnie? Or should we celebrate him for recognising a truth and doing his best to live his life accordingly, even if he failed from time to time? If it’s flawless heroes you want, then the human race probably isn’t the best place to look for them. We are imperfect creatures, and those of us who strive to overcome those imperfections – despite knowing that battle can never be completely won – shouldn’t be berated for each stumble.

Passive Vs. Aggressive Hypocrisy

But that’s hardly the whole story. There’s a hypocrisy that can’t be defended. One that is not the passive failure of individuals to meet the standards they set for themselves, but the aggressive insistence of others that we all meet standards they themselves fail to achieve. This form of hypocrisy can usually be seen in the three ‘P’s (parents, priests and politicians). So a child is threatened with a grounding if they get caught with a cigarette, despite the father smoking 40 a day. The congregation is threatened with eternal damnation if they steal, by a priest pilfering cash from the poor-box. And the public get threatened with a criminal record and imprisonment if they possess cannabis, by a politician who was an occasional toker for several years of his life.

All three of those are utterly indefensible. If a father wishes to punish his child for smoking a cigarette (not an unreasonable thing to do by any means) then he needs to give them up first. If a priest wishes to be a moral leader; to proscribe a standard of behaviour and threaten punishment for those who fail to achieve it; then that priest needs to live to that standard. And if a politician wants to enforce a law under which cannabis smokers are jailed or receive a criminal record (along with the various restrictions that places on the rest of your life), then that politician better not have been a toker himself.

Here’s an interesting question… does anyone believe it would have been possible for David Cameron to become leader of the British Conservative Party if he had a criminal record? Oh come on Tories! Be honest, there’s just no fricking way he’d even have gotten selected as an election candidate. Yet Mr. Cameron and his party have a policy that states clearly that Mr. Cameron should have been criminalised for his earlier actions. I love the description of the punishment Cameron received when his cannabis-smoking was discovered at Eton…

Eton launched an investigation into reports that some boys were buying drugs in the nearby town. During the course of the inquiry, Cameron and a number of other pupils admitted smoking pot…

Cameron was ‘gated’- meaning that he was deprived of school privileges and barred from leaving the premises or being visited by friends or family. His punishment lasted for about a week.

An Eton contemporary said the punishment had been particularly humiliating for the future Leader of the Opposition because it had come shortly before the annual ‘Fourth of June’ gala day, when the college is thrown open to pupils’ parents, relatives and friends who are invited to enjoy exhibitions, speeches, sports events and the traditional ‘Procession of Boats’.

‘Cameron was gated just beforehand, so his parents, who had been looking forward to spending the day with him, had to apologise to their friends,’ the student said. ‘It was all painfully embarrassing. But after that he pulled himself together and became an exemplary pupil.’

Awwww… poor lickle David… gated for a full week! And all that embarrassment. Meanwhile the latest Tory policy statement I can find on the subject of cannabis demands that the government reclassify cannabis as a Class B drug (rather than Class C as it’s currently classified). This means the Tory Party believe that anyone caught in possession of cannabis should be jailed for between 3 months and 5 years, receive a minimum fine of GBP2,500 and have a criminal record for the rest of their lives.

The Tories are prepared to forgive Cameron his youthful indiscretions of course. They’ve just spent over a decade in the wilderness with one unelectable leader after another; political expediency demands that they turn a blind eye to Cameron’s pot-smoking (and coke-snorting allegedly) days. But that’s just not good enough. The only reason David Cameron is within touching distance of power is because the policy he proposes regarding cannabis possession doesn’t apply to him.

Careful with that Vote

I was talking about the upcoming Irish elections with a friend recently. He was advocating a vote for Fine Gael for tactical reasons (a classic ‘anyone but the incumbent’ strategy that involves voting for the strongest opposition even if you don’t like them). “But D,” I argued, “you can’t vote for Fine Gael… you’re a pot head!” He dismissed this initially by pointing out that he didn’t vote on single issues. “Yeah, but this is one hell of a single issue D. You’re electing someone who wants to put you in prison. Who wants to take your family, your home and your job away from you. It’s sheer insanity for you to want that person in power.”

He’s reconsidering his position.

And I damn well hope David Cameron is reconsidering his. I’d love to ask him whether he believes his life would be better had his cannabis possession been subjected to the punishment he advocates for others? Would Mr. Cameron be a better, more-productive member of society if he’d been expelled from school, spent three months in a juvenile detention centre, and received a criminal record barring him from numerous positions (as well as travel to several countries)? Would society be better off to have one more half-educated ex-con with a chip on his shoulder?

We are all of us hypocrites from time to time, but David Cameron is guilty of an aggressive hypocrisy that makes him dangerous and untrustworthy and – I sincerely hope – entirely unelectable.

UPDATE: It strikes me that being “a half-educated ex-con with a chip on his shoulder” probably qualifies as “a better, more-productive member of society” than does Leader of the Conservative Party. However I suspect Mr. Cameron doesn’t think that.

23 comments  |  Posted in: Opinion

Feb 2007

Catching up

While I was away struggling with the short days and the gloom, the rest of the world saw fit to continue doing it’s thing as though my participation were utterly irrelevant. I thought that was rather impolite of it, but figured I wouldn’t kick up a big fuss as everyone seemed to be having such a good time. And why let all that mulled wine go to waste, eh?

All the same, I think a quick recap of the news over the past few months is in order, with perhaps a brief comment from yours truly… the kind of comment that probably would have turned the tide of debate on the issue and brought about a swift and equitable resolution had I made it in a timely fashion. Now though, it’ll just seem like staggeringly obvious hindsight. But if staggeringly obvious hindsight isn’t what blogging is all about, then I for one don’t know what is!

Before I get onto that though, let me pass on a couple of links that have floated my way and which are particularly noteworthy. First up is the silly, wry and very funny short film, Pitch’n’Putt with Beckett and Joyce, which came via email from Gyrus. Favourite line: “No! Not a Milky Way! A Topic You Arse! (all fecund in its nuttiness)”. Go and watch it… you’ll understand.

Also via Gyrus (I think) is this; The World’s 12 Worst Ideas. I actually disagree with a couple of Fred Halliday’s points (for example, when people say “the world is speeding up”, I believe they are describing a very real phenomenon even if they have chosen a clumsy phrase to express it) but it’s nevertheless a very interesting and perceptive little piece.

Oh, and one other thing from Gyrus… this time his review of David W. Kidner’s Nature & Psyche: Radical Environmentalism and the Politics of Subjectivity. I’m just about to start reading this, and it looks absolutely excellent.

Recent Oniony goodness (usually via email from Mahalia) included Meth Addicts Demand Government Address Nation’s Growing Spider Menace, Kansas Outlaws Practice Of Evolution and the short but sweet White House Quietly Retracts Entire State Of The Union Address.

But what of world events and international shenanigans? What of them?

What indeed.

Looking for satellites

One thing that leapt out at me, though didn’t make as big a splash as perhaps it might have done, was the news that China has zapped an orbiting satellite with a ground-launched missile. I wonder if there was a West Wing moment in the the White House, where Dubya faced the Joint Chiefs and asked, “so what contingencies do we have to defend Taiwan against a Chinese invasion without the use of satellite surveillance, communication or navigation?” and one by one the assembled brass all shook their heads and looked down at the desk in front of them.

You have to admit, it was a masterstroke by the Chinese. In one fell swoop it completely alters the military situation around Taiwan. I’ll bet there’s some very busy folks at the pentagon right now. I noticed some muted complaints coming from Washington. But not only is that all a bit pots and kettles… who really wants to piss off China?

Comin’ over here, stealin’ our jobs…

My eye was also caught by this – far smaller – story: Ecuadorean footballer rebuilds village. It’s about Ulises de la Cruz, a professional footballer playing for premiership side, Reading FC. Mr. de la Cruz is using his great success (premiership football is a goldmine) to help drag his home village out of poverty. He’s sending back the money to build homes, schools and community centres and the village of Piquiucho is benefiting marvellously from their famous son.

And good for them too! I’m just amused by the media… the fact that de la Cruz’s celebrity and wealth means that he’s celebrated for his “philanthropy”, whereas if he were a labourer on a building site sending half his paypacket home to his family in Piquiucho then he’d just be some bloody immigrant syphoning money out of the British economy.

Climate Change

Of course Climate Change has recently hit the headlines like never before. The combination of the extremely emphatic IPCC report and Al Gore’s lightweight but popular An Inconvenient Truth has really stirred things up. And about time too. Of course, Climate Change – like Peak Oil – is what James Kunstler describes as “a long emergency”. It’ll be difficult to keep people engaged with this issue when the climate doesn’t make some sudden, obvious change in a couple of months. That said, this emergency won’t be stretched over a long enough time so as to be unnoticeable. Millions of people are being, and will be, seriously affected by it. I’ve got a long piece in the works regarding the environmental policies of Ireland’s main energy supplier, Bord Gáis, so I’ll not say too much on the subject now. Except to point you at this excellent piece on the BBC website: The semantics of climate change. And – more importantly if you live in the UK – please read Merrick‘s excellent piece, How Green Is Green Electricity? and act accordingly.

Merrick (from his other blog) is also providing the soundtrack to these times. Go listen to the orchestral version of The The‘s wonderful Armageddon Days Are Here (Again). What a track!

4 comments  |  Posted in: Opinion

Feb 2007

New look! Same old crappy content

I figured I’d herald my return from the darkness with a bright new template. All white and simplified. It’s modelled on certain parts of the US deep south. I’ve tested the template in the latest versions of the main PC Browsers. Now, I don’t care what browser you use. I’m fairly agnostic about the whole thing these days. I personally use Firefox, but both Internet Explorer and Opera are perfectly decent pieces of software that do the job. That is… assuming you’re using the latest version.

You see, while I’m fairly agnostic about which browser a person chooses, I have little time for those who insist upon using a four-year-old version. Web technology is simply changing too fast, and I can no longer be arsed expending the time and effort ensuring that my website looks good in Internet Explorer 5.5. If someone wishes to pay me lots of money for that kind of ridiculous code hacking, then all well and good, but I can think of better things to be doing with my spare time (watching paint dry for instance).

Anyway, you can find the latest version of each browser here…

If you like Firefox, then for god’s sake upgrade to version 2… it’s a painless process and makes you that little bit more friendly to website creators. If you’re a fan of Internet Explorer, then the decision to upgrade to version 7 is a no-brainer. It’s about a gazillion times more secure (according to the latest independently verified tests), has a bunch of new stuff (new, unless you’ve used Firefox or Opera) and is without a doubt the best browser Microsoft have yet to foist upon us. As for Opera… the new version dispenses with the annoying in-browser adverts / sponsorship and has lots of other neat bits and pieces that you’ll be amazed you ever lived without.

If you’re on the Mac, however, then I can’t help you. Nor do I have much sympathy for you. “Oooooh, but Jim, the website doesn’t look right on my absurdly bulbous orange screen”. “Really? Well that’s ‘cos you have a bloody stupid computer. And a crap haircut too.” Seriously though folks; if there’s any glaring problems with the template or just comments / suggestions about it, then don’t be shy.

Windows Vista?

Whaddya think? I really want to install it (and it’s just a download from Microsoft) but I’m not sure if I should.

Pros: It’s new. It’s shiny. Did I mention that it’s new?

Cons: It might well be crap. It costs money. It doesn’t really do anything I can’t make XP do if I could be arsed.

But it is new. And it’s shiny. And that’s an awful temptation when it comes to computer operating systems. It’s less of a temptation with, say, vintage wines… so it’s not a universal recommendation by any means, but new generally means better when it comes to software (and yes, we can all name the myriad exceptions to that rule, but does anyone really want to go back to Windows 3.1 or Mac OS 2?). Hmmm… well, I’m resisting the temptation so far. I’ve rationalised it thusly; why not wait until the first time Vista can do something XP can’t (which will probably be when Alan Wake is released in a couple of months time).

But of course… then it won’t be so new anymore, and it’ll probably look a bit less shiny too… who knows… perhaps I’ll download it tomorrow…

14 comments  |  Posted in: Announcements

Feb 2007

Hitler was a vegetarian

It’s weird. The “Hitler was a vegetarian” thing. I was involved in an online discussion of vegetarianism recently and someone posted the cryptic message… “Hitler was a vegetarian. (Enough said!)”

Now, the person posting was almost certainly just making a stale wry comment. But still they got me thinking. See, having been a fairly strict veggie for most of my life (I recently relaxed things a little for health reasons), it’s a line I’ve heard time after time. But I’ve never really understood it. Leaving aside the somewhat salient fact that he wasn’t, in fact, a vegetarian; what’s a person trying to say when they claim “Hitler was a vegetarian”?

Are they saying: “being a vegetarian doesn’t make you a good person”? Is that really it? Because I don’t actually know anyone who claims that it does. Most vegetarians simply feel that their conscience won’t permit them to be involved with the meat industry (for ethical or ecological reasons). The rest eschew meat for more direct “empathy” reasons. Only a total nutter, or a sanctimonious fourteen year old, would make the claim that their diet makes them a good person. Certainly nobody serious.

Vegetarians believe that involvement in something so questionable as the modern meat industry is a choice they simply don’t need to make. So long as an adequate alternative diet is readily available; as it is; then choosing not to eat meat is no different to choosing not to participate in blood sports. It doesn’t make you a good person to obey the dictate of your conscience. Merely a normal one.

That said, the odd hostility with which vegetarianism is often met makes me wonder if there isn’t a lot of defensiveness going on… like maybe there’s lots of people not listening to the dictate of their own conscience. Can you imagine hassling someone at the dinner table because they don’t like badger-baiting?

Apparently Hitler also wore socks. Oh, and I’m told he liked to listen to music. Next time you encounter someone listening to a cd, why not point out that “Hitler was a music listener”. Then add enigmatically, “enough said” as though you’re making some general point about listening to music. If the person listening to the music is also wearing socks (and is eating vegetables), it’s probably best to scream “FASCIST!” and beat them to death. Y’know… just in case they decide to annex the Rhineland and invade Poland.

13 comments  |  Posted in: Opinion