Wednesday, November 29, 2006

There's Been A Disturbance

There has been a disturbance which has produced turmoil of some proportions. People are facing what they are calling "a crisis". I am watching people in a state of mild panic, and wondering why they are so concerned when they have the dials of disturbance control at their fingertips.

What do you think of the dials?

Let me know, and I'll pass on your comments to those concerned.

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Monday, November 27, 2006

All I Want For Christmas Is

I've been a tad silent over the last couple of weeks, at least as far as this blog is concerned, and that's been due to a mixture of things, including workload, the reorganisation of my entire working life, and attending conferences - three in 8 days, something of a record. Meanwhile, my long-planned mid-winter excursion to Kerala, in order to plan my retirement, has had to be postponed. GGF had to pull out of the trip. She has a sick relative in Jordan and needs to go visit. She misses her mother whom she hasn't seen in a year. She wants to go to a dentist and have some tooth work done at about one third the cost of smiling Britain.

At first, I was upset, but made a show of magnaminity, which I wish had been present in my actual emotions, but the truth is that this realisation depressed me so much that I went into a sulk for three days and refused to talk.

GGF became increasingly distraught. I'm not proud of this, I'm just reporting, OK? This is the bleeding edge of inter-fucking-personal-fucking-relationships, not a how-to manual, for fuck's sake. I just couldn't cope with the adjustment. I didn't want to go to the middle east, right now, I wanted us to go to India, for God's sake, far away from occupation, from soldiers, from checkpoints, and relax in a new world of lush lagoons and water-borne diseases.

Fair enough, the sick Aunt and Mum; but DENTISTRY? She's blowing out my long-awaited visit to India for a fucking DENTIST? OK, this wasn't the best reason to give me, it was very low down on the list, and GGF has a charmingly honest tendency to examine every possible angle, however small. But, I was hurt, offended, felt rejected - even though I was the one being rejecting. Adults: you know how it can be. Children: don't do this at home.

Night three, I woke up at 4 in the morning, with the thoughts finally running clear in my head: I am being cowardly. It is just fear that is preventing me from changing my plans. I must go with her. I can go to India another time.

I realised that I had the utter luxury of being able to sulk over an opportunity many would envy. But maintaining that sophisticated level of dissatisfaction is my particular cross to bear...

So, although it took us another 48 hours to put things right between us, mostly because of my making the situation far worse by my negative reaction, the result is that over the winter break we're going to be in Jordan (currently a stable oasis of peace, apart from the odd maniac shooting tourists) and Jerusalem, where GGF was born and grew up, which is currently a relatively stable place. I am actually looking forward to the experience.

And so we enter the fever of planning, ticket-buying, and stocking up on goodwill presents to take with us, as I prepare to enter the thorny bosom of civilisation, the fount of its contemporary suffering and travail. I'm looking forward to seeing Petra, wandering the old city where your man Jesus strutted his stuff, the Mount of Olives where my Grandmother's Bible comes from, and I may even visit the dentist.

Thank fuck they have agreed a ceasefire in Gaza, and let's hope it holds.

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Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Cell Come Journey

Sometimes, having creative friends can be a miserable endeavour, even if, being creative yourself, you have sympathy for their disaffected moods, the lack of satisfaction shown after great effort, the tangenital butterfly mentality which defies logic. However, if truth be told - and given that we can establish what truth actually is, it can be - the nonsense is practically always worth it.

On Saturday I sat, exhausted after a long day on my feet, having said the word "podcast" so many times that the word had begun to lose all meaning - "frogcart" and "poshcarp" being my two favourite malapropisms deriving from this temporary psychosis - with a charming, intelligent and slightly shy clinical psychologist, and we began to discuss the meaning of "creativity". The restaurant was all show and no ingredients, they didn't even have COFFEE on the menu (not that I would have drunk it, but NO COFFEE?? How crap is THAT??) but the conversation was calm and logical and gentle and interesting. It moved at an after-dinner pace and I found myself soothed by the traditional views that were present.

Creativity, I said, can be the moment when, rather than sitting tired at a bus stop, waiting for 30 minutes in the rain, you realise that, if only you move around the corner, catch another bus, take a different route, you can be home in 15 minutes. My companion said that she thought Creativity meant the Arts - writing, drawing, acting, music, that kind of thing. Having made the case for a wider view, still, I could not disagree with her. She works with brain-damaged people. I ventured just far enough to explain that I didn't think it necessary to imply to anyone that there was any kind of heirarchical distinction to be made - we're all monkeys on the face of this earth, scratching in the dust, equally confused, however elegant and sophisticated the level of our confusion. Healing is creative, I said, you are making people whole again. She smiled; I felt enormously better.

This beautiful video is by one of the most creative people I know, and contains some footage of my holiday in Norway from earlier this year.

It's Wednesday - a perfect time to be creative.

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Saturday, November 18, 2006

Indi's 30th, Innit

He's from Leicester, innit.

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Friday, November 17, 2006

Future Tat

Some weeks trawl by, and however hectic life gets to be in this exotic northern junkyard they call London, every other hour I am surprised that it is still only whatever time. Shit, I think, surely it must be later than that? Not that this is an indication of my level of stress or bordeom, just an observation that some days, I am apparently, on the inside anyway, still 7 years old, when days lasted weeks and seasons lasted decades.

This week and last, I have been experiencing the same kind of time dilation. Those among you who know of Dr Who may refer to the TARDIS at this point; others might refer to Philip K. Dick or perhaps, Afred Bester. Bester wrote in 1956, Tiger! Tiger!, later re-titled The Stars My Destination - a most marvellous tale, brilliantly told, which predicts many of the later themes to be found in cyberpunk.

Bester conjured up a fantastic vision of a bestial, vengeful man who is transformed into an evolutionary next step. I used to read three books a week as bored a teenager, and for years, my preferred diet was science fiction. Within this genre, I could project forward and outwards from family incarceration, my teenage angst and alienation. At least somewhere, I was on another world, "jaunteing" (teleporting) through space and time, and not stuck indoors, ignoring homework, waiting for Monday to start the whole drab process once again.

Which brings me neatly back to the inspiration for my current muse. Woolworths, I read, have prepared "souvenirs to mark the anticipated engagement of Prince William and Kate Middleton... The chain-store's items range from traditional china plates and thimbles to a mouse mat and a range of Will and Kate-shaped pick and mix sweets. The retailer's bosses said they wanted to be prepared in case the couple announced they intended to marry." (BBC)

This is futuristic act is at once appalling and marvellous, and it opens up the truly science-fiction possibility of mega-corporations, on a biologically failing, near-exhausted planet, making products and stockpiling them for possible future events, so that anyone who could accurately predict outcomes, such as gamblers, mathematicians, psychics, mediums, would become extremely valuable, fought after, traded, locked in guilded cages, sources of power, even, those who avoid early detection and exploitation, utimately powerful in themselves.

Or maybe, we can just come up with some randomly amusing suggestions for Future Tat which might become incredibly valuable just because, well, it might. Like, the Charles and Camilla Avian Flu Mug - a commemoration of their great work in the pandemic of 2009; the George Bush Global Feet Warmer - for those cold nights around a June fire when as a result of rapid warming, Earth surprises us all by actually cooling; or the Apple iFog - a must in the urban centres of the future, when finding your way around is no longer possible by eye alone, and personal radar becomes indespensible... Let's get them made.

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Thursday, November 16, 2006

Saint Nathan, Patron Saint of Podcasters

It was one of those silly threads that just come from nowhere and end up with a new saint. The man beatified was Nathan Barley, that fabulous comic invention.

We love you, Nathan, Patron Saint of Podcasters. You make us laugh like hyenas on a portable music player.

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Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Sing A Song Of Sixpence

Row, row, row your boat, gently down the stream, merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily, life is but a dream...

If young children are sung nursery rhymes, they have a head start in learning. So says UK children's minister Beverley Hughes. But research suggests that class is still more important than intellect when it comes to achievement.

I remember being taught all the songs, and it wasn't long before I was repeating them, and shortly after that I was making them up. I remember all five of us kids doing the same. When I first sat at a piano, aged 5, I knew how to play it. It wasn't quite a Mozart virtuoso performance, but I can still remember the two-fingered, rhythmic tune I played, based on middle C, without ever having been formally taught, and also the enormous fuss that was made of me when I calmly climbed down from the piano stool. I must have observed people playing - I certainly had enough opportunity, as I was in and out of jazz clubs before I ever went to school. The tune however, was in my head. I distinctly remember deciding to play it. I didn't make it up - I already knew it, like the shape of a flower, or the texture of sand.

I tend to believe this research that class has everything to do with what happens to children - it's hard not to follow the examples set by your role models, including parents locked into secure nine-to-five jobs, older siblings into non-academic training. My two older brothers were passably musical, but not to the same extent as I, and as they hit adolescence, they would drone out the tunes they sang with a boys-own careless delivery. My perfect pitch began to follow suit; from the age of 12 onwards, I unconsciously adopted their slightly off notes, so my own singing would fit the mold they were establishing. I began to sing off-key, lazily, not ever quite hitting the notes.

One day, aged around 13, after a whole harmonious afternoon spent in the company of similarly musical children, I came home and had a moment of insight which doubtless changed my life - I saw clearly that I was letting my standards slip, just to fit in easier with the brothers, protecting terrors as they were, to be feared, looked up to, relied upon, and emulated. And I stopped myself doing it. From that day on, I deliberately reversed the conditioning.

I think the fact of my musicality and my later achievements are linked; later, I went to college and got a degree - I'm the only one of five to have done so, but no more intelligent than any one of us. I don't know where the determination to do this came from, but I have always suspected that music had something to do with it.

I am grateful that I had the example not just of my immediate family, but of my grandparents, who bucked the trend, and played their part in the great social revolution of the 20th century. If ever I despaired at the work-to-death treadmill ahead of me, I looked to Fred for inspiration, Fred who was unafraid to lose his cushy job to expose fraud, who brought up not one but two families on the strength of his refusal to accept the social mores of the time, and who knew that it was class which kept good people down at the bottom of the heap, that it was no lack of talent that kept them there, but more a lack of confidence and self-belief from having been systematically denied opportunities for change over countless generations.

Yet, even the best opportunities in the world require the assumption of our success - or at least the perception of the chance of success - for us to take advantage of them. Or else, as we subconsciously know, we'll have a great fall, and not even a King's horse will put us back together again.

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Friday, November 10, 2006

The Zen Hotdog Half Joke

At a recent visit to the Byam Shaw school of art, up at the top of Holloway Road, Archway, I found this poster advertising an exhibition, which tells half a joke.

Q: What did the Zen master say to the hotdog salesman?
A: Make me one with everything.

Good attempt noted. However, the interchange continued thus:

The hotdog salesman hands the Zen master a fat hotdog with relish, onions, mustard, the works, and says, "That'll be five dollars." The Zen master hands him a ten, and the hotdog salesman takes his money, and turns to the person behind him and says, "Next?"

The Zen master waits patiently until the hotdog salesman is done serving, then asks him, "What about my change?"

The hotdog salesman replies, "Change comes from within..."

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Wednesday, November 08, 2006

While America Looks Inwards, Israeli Tanks Pound Palestinians

"It is the saddest scene and images I have ever seen. We saw legs, we saw heads, we saw hands scattered in the street," 22-year-old eyewitness Attaf Hamad told Reuters news agency.

"I saw people coming out of a house covered in blood. I started screaming to wake up the neighbours."

Read the BBC article.

People often represent this conflict as two-sided, and point out that Israel suffers rocket attacks, but the line between self-defense and civilian collective punishment is not blurred, it is simply ignored by Israel. The Israelis have pulled out of Gaza, but they continue to bomb, strafe, use unmanned drones, sonic booms, and fire their own tank artillery and guided missiles from jet fighters into this scrap of Palestine. In a single attack, that's another 18 dead - women and children included, who can go nowhere else, hemmed in as they are by borders, barbed wire and armed men.

Somehow the residents do not give up and continue to resist. The rockets are token more than anything - they say, look, you can kill as many of us as you like, we will never give up.

The rockets are short-range, crude, home-made affairs - nothing like the Katyushas with which Hezbollah killed civilians in the July war. Not that this condones the firing of rockets, but is a gross mis-representation of the truth to claim that the fight is equal and the Israeli response justified. According to the BBC, the last 2 months have seen 300+ Palestinian dead, and two Israeli soliders, one of whom was killed by his own side.

This is the most systematic, barbaric oppression of a captive population that the world has seen since the end of the second world war. The Israelis know that without American support, they have no power. With America engrossed in their own political battle, this news is off the screens, and their military can do what it wants.

Israel 2006 = Nazism 2.0.

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Monday, November 06, 2006

I'm A Lasagna, Sang A Salami

Today, the 6th day of the Eleventh Month, Two Thousand and Six. In the rest of the world, we call it: 6/11/6.

Happy Palindrome, Madam!

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Saturday, November 04, 2006

Full Moon Surveillance

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Objects Of God

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Every so often in the spam wars, the spammers manage to invent a new weapon which gets through the filters.

I have four filters, two working at server level, one in my router, and another working in the email program I use, so I guess I am used to only reading the emails that are actually meant for me. Plus, I have control of my email server, being an internet "Alpha Geek" (Tim O'Reilly © ® ™ ℗ ☮ ☯ ) and I make sure that any email address which starts to gather the detritus of unwanted spam attention gets sent to my special email destination, junk_sucks. Nobody knows what happens to the spam which goes there. It is a dark place and full of emptiness.

Nonetheless (and let us dwell on that word so as to appreciate it all the more)... None... the... less... very occasionally, junk does manifest in my mailbox, and very, very occasionally, it reveals to me, beneath the phishing and the viagra, a special world of random poetry. In these scattered sentences, gazing upon the surface of verbal waters, truth is revealed.

I thus invite you to enjoy the arcadian metaphysical poetry, written by "respect, etc" and given the provisional title, "promote overall wellbeing". However, this piece is better titled by using the final line in this provocative text, and so I have exercised editorial discretion.

The superficial purpose of this email is to ask me to invest in shares which will surely make me millions overnight; but, once the veil is rent, it is clearly a palimpsest work of considerable subliminal genius.

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Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Baby Bush And Other Moments

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