Apr 2007

A bunch of stuff

Right. Well first up I’ve just upgraded to the latest version of WordPress. Previous upgrades have gone very smoothly, but this one was a bit of a nightmare (there was a brief moment when I thought the database backup hadn’t gone to plan and I’d lost all the comments… quite stressful really). Anyways, I think it’s sorted now, but I’d obviously be grateful if you let me know of any bugs or problems that you notice.

You shouldn’t see any changes on the site (all the interesting stuff is behind the scenes) and my initial impression of the upgrade isn’t all that favourable to be honest… it’s all well and good, more responsive, bits and pieces of AJAX here and there and what have you, but the ‘HTML’ button has disappeared from the rich text editor. This used to allow a separate window to be opened into which you could type raw HTML (paragraph tags and all). They’ve now substituted that for a new “code view” that’s like some bastardised halfway house between rich text editing and HTML. Some tags show up, but others don’t. Very silly and very very annoying. All the same, it would now be a serious pain in the arse to downgrade, so I’ll soldier on for a few days and see if I get used to the new editor. If not, I’ll take on that arse pain as a learning experience.

There also seem to be some quite serious problems with the various pop-ups within the rich text editor (link and image inserts and the like). Leastways in Firefox. So yeah, I’d think long and hard about upgrading past version 2.0.x if I were you. This new 2.1.x malarkey seems like a step backwards to me (the running autosave is the reason I upgraded, and should cut down on posts lost to browser crashes, but I don’t know if it outweighs the problems). But hey, maybe it’ll grow on me.

And now to cast an eye over the headlines…

Blair’s delight

First up is the fascinating news (fascinating if you’re a fricking idiot that is) that “Friends of Prince Harry have denied reports that he will quit the Army if he is not allowed to serve in Iraq.” In fact I only read the story to snigger at the obligatory quote claiming that it’s “important that Harry [is] treated as much as possible like an ordinary soldier”. All the contradictions of royalty rolled into one tiny phrase. He must treated as an ordinary soldier… an ordinary person. But of course, he isn’t. He’s royal. I still find it mind-boggling that any modern nation can tolerate royalty. What a load of bollocks.

But the story contained an unexpected treat. A statement from Tony Blair that paints him as an even more monstrously detached and absurd figure than I’d thought possible. Apparently the lunatic has revealed to journalists that he’d be “delighted” if one of his kids wanted to serve in Iraq. Er… what!? I’m not a parent, but I’m fairly certain that you’d have to be some kind of freak to be “delighted” that a child of yours wanted to significantly increase their risk of having their limbs blown off by a roadside bomb. I can — just about — understand a parent who claims to be “proud” that their child donned a uniform and went to a place where people were willing to kill themselves in order to hurt people wearing that uniform.

But delighted? For feck’s sake, what an idiotic remark!

But did he leave a tip?

Via Gyrus comes the unsettling news that diners in a London restaurant were recently subjected to a display of self-mutilation that indicates either a very serious mental illness or an equally serious dedication to Flanaganesque performance art. I suspect the former.

The poor guy wandered into a Zizzi pizza restaurant, grabbed a knife from the kitchen and proceeded to stab himself repeatedly with it. He also cut off his penis (which surgeons were later unable to reattach).

Now, I’ve been in some very dark places in my life. Which is OK. It makes the brighter places that much better. I can empathise with most self-destructive behaviour because, knowing how dark the world can be, I understand those who seek extreme ways to escape that darkness. My closest friend for many years commit suicide during the 90s and although it was a terrible and traumatic time for all those who knew him, and despite the fact that I was angry with him for a long time afterwards, I nonetheless understood his action even while disagreeing with it.

But to commit a public act of such extreme self-mutilation goes far beyond mere self-hate. It reveals a multi-layered psychosis, producing an act of aggression aimed as much at the involuntary witnesses as at the psychotic himself. It’s a very deliberate act of destruction against The Other. And in this case The Other is everyone. Including The Self. Oppositional dualism has a lot to answer for.

Colony Collapse Disorder and misattributed quotes

Some time ago I read an article on the BBC news website which opens with the statement that “All over America, beekeepers are opening up their hives in preparation for the spring pollination season, only to find that their bees are dead or have disappeared.” Now this phenomenon appears to have crossed the Atlantic and beekeepers in Somerset are worried that it has hit them.

I’ve read several theories as to why this could be happening (from climate change to an as-yet unidentified chemical pollutant to mobile phone masts to GM pollen) but whatever the reason, it’s very very bad news. As every schoolchild is aware, bees are a very important (if not the most important) mechanism for pollinating plants. And not just pretty flowers… our food-crops are largely bee-pollinated. It’s this fact that (via David Byrne) led Einstein to remark…

If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe then man would only have four years of life left. No more bees, no more pollination, no more plants, no more animals, no more man.

It’s certainly a scary thought. But, after a bit of digging, it appears that actually it wasn’t Einstein’s. There’s no record of him saying anything of the sort, and indeed the more I analyse the quote, the less it sounds like Einstein. He often spoke about the apparent unpredictability of complex systems (unpredictable not because of any lack of causality, but because the mechanisms of causality in most complex systems are so many and often so convoluted as to make prediction impossible in practice) and would be unlikely to make such a simplistic series of links as can be found in the second sentence of that quote.

He was also certainly smart enough to know that bees are not the only mechanism of pollination.

But that doesn’t make the massive decrease in the bee population any less worrying. As I mentioned; the vast majority of our food crops are indeed pollinated by bees and anything that significantly reduces their numbers will almost certainly result in a significant reduction in crop yields.

My own theory doesn’t lay the blame on any single factor. It’s my honest belief that human industry is degrading the ability of our planet to sustain life in a myriad of ways. A massive confluence of causes — GM crops, mobile phone masts, climate change and chemical pollutants (plus about a thousand others) — are having unpredictable effects. And I doubt very many of those effects are going to be welcome.

Posted in: Opinion