Wednesday, 28 February 2007

Continuing a Conversation

I thought it was a bit odd to have a discussion about UFOs in the comments of a post called "Lawmaking", as I have been with commenter "Crushed by Ingsoc" so I'm going to broaden the discussion in a new post.

Some of CBI's points addressed something I failed to in my earlier posts about my old interest in flying saucers: the fact that if you haven't seen something which to you can be explained in no other way, you need to bend logic and reasoning in order to accept as I did the ETH (extra terrestrial hypothesis). Seemingly obvious concepts like few astronomers sighting ufos need to be explained away or ignored. In my case I ignored them completely - they didn't pass under my radar. I assume that sceptical friends would have raised them but I don't recall. I have mentioned before my need or desire to believe in something that would prove I was mistaken in my assumptions and my understanding of the world around me; but there is more to it - the need to be accepted into a group, to will oneself into being an outsider within a group of likeminded persons. For me that was the only way I could try and avoid the point that it was my social inadequacies causing my outsider-sense, and that becoming a UFO buff was only likely to make it worse.

But then that itself is self-reinforcing. It was self-evident to me that people who laughed at me were deluded, lulled into a life of ignorance and alcohol by the manipulative Government (always spelled with a capital G). So the more excluded I felt, the more I got into it, and the more excluded I -was_, and the more excluded I felt, and so on. It meant, as a by product of this, that I became an acolyte of truth, a kind of deskbound crusader for something that everyone should know: another way it diverted my religious impulses.

It is also worth bearing in mind that this was the mid 1990s (say 1993-1996), that long bleak period of post black Wednesday political ennui and cynicism that haunted John Major's government like the ghost of a snarling dog. The incompetence of that shambling wreck of an administration was plastered over all media night and day and David Mellor even hosted 606 for goodness' sake. I wanted to think that governments might actually be competent, devastatingly so, because all I could see was wastage everywhere. I wanted to think that there were levels of government in which Major was involved (don't laugh) which actively and ruthlessly pursued an agenda and, by and large, achieved it. Looking back on that period now we kind of forget how many people felt about that government, how its sexual indiscretions only seemed to point to a wider and indeed a fundamental disappearance of ethics or responsibility, how its utter lack of charm or charisma detached it from the people like the bits on lego blocks. Yes there was Blair waiting in the wings but until early 97 he was often seen as thin, idealess, vague (even if he was miles ahead in the polls). The government, the country, was tired, really dog tired, probably from the trauma of the 80s - whatever. This was how I saw it and this was the background to my mid 90s keeness on ufos.

As I've said before, the wish for there to be something hasn't changed. Only my credulity has taken a massive battering so that now although my old interest stirs when I read a sighting story or see a ufo photo, the scepticism kicks in - twelve years ago I'd have called it denial.

Monday, 26 February 2007


As usual, *disclaimer* - I'm not a lawyer, nor do I hate them.

I am perplexed though by the current wave of lawmaking, which is happening at local, national and EU level with seemingly breakneck pace. As polluters, not as citizens, our local council has decreed fewer rubbish collections and penalties for people who leave rubbish out,put it in the wrong box, and so on. We hear repeatedly on the radio that prison is generally a *bad thing* and should be reserved only for serious crimes - in which case why will fiddling with the road-pricing boxes or not cooperating with a road pricing inspector carry a 6 month jail sentence?

I read with some consternation, and it must be said, a fair amount of ignorance, on DK yesterday that the EU have already finished their draft directive on Holocaust denial, which will need to be implemented by July 2007. A quick googling doesn't throw this up as definite, though I'm happy to be corrected. In any case, even as draft legislation it is worrying. I see why the law should exist in Germany: but it is just plain dishonest to pretend that the whole of Europe needs the law in the same way. Britain has holocaust deniers of course and one of them exposed himself to ruin and his cause to ridicule under existing laws. David Irving's demolition was far better served by his libel case than by his imprisonment in Austria, which made him a rallying point for far-rightists. Europe does not have homogeneous political and social problems or backgrounds and so blanket laws of this kind are unsubtle and are liable simply to create criminals where none are needed. No attempt has been made than I have read to show that this law is needed in Britain, simply an assumption that what is good for Germany is good for all Europe, backed up by punishments of a scale that make British sentencing look tame. 3 years? For saying something? When you can kill someone and be out in 6 or so? This law is not designed to be good for Britain, or to solve a problem which exists there. It is simply designed to impose upon Britain the problems of others. It assumes, as do so many modern laws, that the people are nasty and bigoted, and must be forced into nicer habits of mind.

Besides of which, as DK and others have pointed out, it creates far more dangers with the concept of a government decreed version of history. In the Telegraph story linked to above we read:

General Lewis MacKenzie, the former commander of UN peacekeepers in Bosnia, courted controversy two years ago by questioning the numbers killed at Srebrenica in 1995.

He took issue with the official definition of the massacre as genocide and highlighted "serious doubt" over the estimate of 8,000 Bosnian fatalities. "The math just doesn't support the scale of 8,000 killed," he wrote.

Balkans human rights activists have branded Gen MacKenzie an "outspoken Srebrenica genocide denier" and, if approved, the EU legislation could see similar comments investigated by the police or prosecuted in the courts after complaints from war crimes investigators or campaigners.

and today we learned that:The UN's highest court has cleared Serbia of direct responsibility for genocide during the 1990s Bosnian war.

It is difficult to think who the human rights activists in the first quote think might be responsible if not Serbia. Some things are held to be true by application of all the evidence, and some things open to revision. It was initially thought, from Soviet figures, that 4 million died in Auschwitz. We now know this figure cannot have been accurate: the true figure is around 1.1million. For me, as for many, the holocaust is a supreme fact of Europe, the great descent into barbarism and degeneration. But to put legitimate researchers under threat of prison sentences for trying to sharpen our understanding - as they would be, treading on eggshells and possibly needing government approval for certain lines of research, or just as bad, feeling that it is needed -is ridiculous and deadly to scholarship and enquiry.

Sunday, 25 February 2007

Good Sport

Another sporting post. England got stuffed (their own manager's words) at Rugby by Ireland yesterday, 43-13, a record defeat. Your drummer is an Englishman by birth and sympathy but in 1920 his antecedents (father's side)were involved on the republican side in precisely the war which is so important to Croke Park itself and Hill 16 (a side of the stadium built on the rubble of O Connell Street)in particular.
Despite the predictions of some, the performance of God Save the Queen was well observed and the match a mixture of wonderful attacking rugby by Ireland and pisspoor skills, tactics and performance by England. I thought before the game that the whole occasion would have made it very difficult for even a good England side to win, but for a poor one - it was an impossible task.

I wouldn't change it for the world, though. The game was played. The world moves on.

Saturday, 24 February 2007

Football Fracas

Football fan bloggers might have noticed a bit of a stir going on this week between Man United and Lille. Utd defeated the French team 1-0 in Lens (the Lille stadium currently being rebuilt) but the result was overshadowed by controversy including unpleasant scenes of fans being hauled over fences, tear gas, faked tickets, and, according to Lille, an unfairly taken free kick, leading to Lille taking off their players. I am staggered by the club's refusal to admit responsibility for any of this at all, but you can read more about the serious stuff hereand decide for yourself. Lille also insist Utd are to blame for the faked tickets - at the moment I don't know whether there were any or not, but anyone who comes into a game with a fake ticket should be banned for life. End of.

However, as soon as the match was over, Lille wrote a formal complaint to UEFA...about the free kick! The club insisted that in France when there is a disputed decision the players kick the ball out of play to talk to the referee - as if they were completely unaware that they were not playing a French match, but a UEFA Champions League game. They also maintain today that 'The feeling of injustice is shared with all those who love football'. In totally typical modern style, Lille have attempted to assume victimhood, and have also assumed widespread public support. Well maybe in France. But here in England that is not the case. Utd were entitled to take a quick free kick, and did so. Also end of. Had Lille not tried to blame the cock ups on everybody and anybody not part of the football club of Lille they might have more support here than they do. But to suggest that everyone who loves football feels aggrieved is ridiculous. What Giggs did was allowed, was skilful, and was a nod to the fact that a free kick is meant to be an advantage to the team with the ball, and not meant to be a demonstration of egalitarianism.

Thursday, 22 February 2007


Let me begin this post with a disclaimer: I am not a philosopher, nor an historian, nor do I have an MBA or any other business qualification. I am a fool who likes to post his thoughts to the internet.

Reading Michael Burleigh's remarkable "The Third Reich: A New History" I noticed that he tries to draw parallels and show continuities, mainly for conservative purposes, throughout the book. One of these concerns the SS. He writes: "If these were legacies of the war and its denoument, a managerialist emphasis upon competition and performance...has an enduringly modern ring to it." (p195) I had thought that managerialism - the idea that processes and outcomes can and must be regulated by targeted effort, among other ideas - was an offshoot of the breathless industrialisation of the USA, rather than the Great War: but I can understand how one could make a case that the War, in which for the first time millions of human lives were just movable columns of statistics, did more to foster the growth of this concept. Burleigh is more concerned with ends justifying the means, the fight being its own meaning, and sheer, furious brutality as being remnants of the war which found their way into a generation's hearts and hence helped to build the SS, than he is with the modern business consequences; but I wondered whether our western obsession with performance, targets, accountability and regulation could be traced in part to yet another thread of the First World War that still affects our lives. I understand that regulation, to some degree, hails from a universalist, napoleonic code in which things must be legalised before they are allowed (unlike our traditional common law system). However, I'm drawn to this idea that we culturally continue to act out an ancient trauma through the rituals of modern capitalist society in which an individual is conceived solely or predominantly as an agent of delivery, rather than something worthwhile in its own respect: it reminds me of the persuasive idea that cultural cataclysms cannot simply be forgotten, however much we like to think they can be. They survive in our dreams and nightmares, among other places. Burleigh also points out, again rather mischeviously, that modern identity politics, in which an individual is respected in so far as they belong to a group, has its own similar antecedents.

Incidentally, today Wimbledon announced that it will henceforth pay equal money for men and women, and rightly so. However, the BBC's Jonathan Overend, in discussing the news, dismissed arguments that they should do equal work for that money as "irrelevant and illogical". I wonder whether he would agree that men should work longer hours than women on building sites, buses, in factories, on the basis that "on average" men are stronger than women: instead he simply argued that female 100m runners are paid the same as men for slower times, which hardly seems to wrap up the argument to me. He concluded his little puff for gender equality with "the feeling here is.." which reminded me of another of Burleigh's phrases: "politics as feeling". I don't mind arguments being refuted, smashed, or destroyed: arguments simply being ignored is something else. Neither the Wimbledon guy, or anyone on the BBC attempted to engage with what seems a very simple idea. Before I get accused of hating women, or anyone else, (hate features prominently in modern political discourse, especially as the motivation of one's opponents) let me reiterate that I think it's a good idea to pay equal money, but there are other issues around it, which are being completely ignored.


...and I'm still owed A$100 by an unscrupulous ex-mate!

Er, but naff joke aside, it is that time of the year again when feeble Xtians like myself attempt to grapple with things that are far too difficult to think about the rest of the year. Drink being one of them. I have given up drink in the past and managed it quite well but this year I scrubbed it off the list of possible things to relinquish for a single, obvious reason: I could not. No way. Now I could rationalise this in many ways, but choose not to, for another obvious reason: it leads to unpleasant conclusions about oneself. I can go on the wagon for hours or even days at a time, but weeks... In the pessimistic Christian's mind, it is always Lent and never Easter: Lent attacks you soon after the Christmas revels are ended and you wait for it from Easter Monday onwards. It is a grey, pained, dull time. At mass last night (in the dark, needless to say) the priest made plenty of the significance of the ash: from dust we came and to dust we return. Ash = all burnt up and fit only to be thrown into the wind. Ash Wednesday, a day of fasting and abstinence in which one's fasting actually amounts to a feast for many people around the world but which obligation one continues to resent. In the end I decided to give up work; that's right, not a single moment to be spent on the accumulation of money or the productive creation of wealth, or the satisfying achievement of something that might last for years after my death, for the whole of Lent. From now on I will devote myself with urgency and zeal to doing absolutely nothing at all.

I went to buy a paper later on in the evening and the guy behind the counter in the garage said:" you realise you've got a black stain on your head?" I had forgotten it was there and immediately made to rub it off, though, typically, I was coy about how I came about it.

Tuesday, 20 February 2007


Yesterday your Drummer took a trip back into his own recent past. As a conservative I'm often accused of looking back to a "mythical golden age" (as if it is completely impossible to conceive of life as ever better than it is now - but that's beside the point - just like whenever we say something isn't right we're stirring "moral panics"); but I do have the all-too human trait of going through a rough patch and then looking back on it as though it were quite comfortable actually. Call what I did last night "ostalgia" and you might be nearer the mark - living in the east (Reading), with its appalling prices, clogged up roads, London commuters, Heathrow jets coming overhead every 30 seconds, and culture of work: I didn't enjoy it much but going back last night I managed to forget all that and focus on the good times, the couple of times a year successes: now why couldn't I do that while I was still there?

In fact it was a strange experience, going there, much stranger than being there. Retracing a journey I made 400+ times was a curious blend of emotion and thought, with anxiety thrown in as well - as though I really were driving to work with something difficult to do, whereas I was just popping back for a meeting. Funny how the psychic defence mechanisms kicked in. I had to stop and think: "You are not employed there anymore. You don't have to go if you don't want to" before I could carry on. In the event, so little having happened since, I slipped back into the old relationships with bosses and parents rather quickly - but then I left quickly too, before that could grow uncomfortable.

Thursday, 15 February 2007

Reading Difficult Things

As I hinted before, I'm currently reading some Primo Levi. During the last ten years or so I must have read over two thousand pages of history concerning the Nazi regime and its atrocities. At first my reaction to it was a kind of dazzled horror - and I'd be lying if I said there was no fascination too. I was once asked by a patronising PGCE tutor whether I had heard of what the Nazis did to the Jews - the only question I think I've ever been enraged by. I don't know whether it is that I'm older, or that Primo Levi is such a different writer (only the third author I've read who has actually suffered in the camps) but my thoughts, reactions and feelings are now completely different. For a start I'm finding it (The Drowned and the Saved) extremely hard going. I'm averaging about 10 pages per sitting. It is the pained anger, the bafflement, the long, isolated memory that is so hard to read. This is neither historian nor novelist but a mixture of both, admitting as he does that he weaves his fallible memories into things he knows from outside. The ethics of his writing are just agonising for him - you can feel it: he knows there is no forgiveness, is utterly contemptuous of fashionable theories of victim/oppressor relationships, and most of all, he is tortured by an indefinable but strong sense that his survival, utterly contingent, means that he did not see the truth of the camps, and that some element of something he would rather not be, or have, enabled that survival.

Secondly most of the book is predicated on this experience being something most, if not all of his readers will literally be unable to imagine, even with practice. That it is a category of being utterly outside of his readers' view. There is a particularly memorable passage in which he struggles to define the pain of camp-hunger and seems - to me, shouting as he does so -to be flailing around in finding a comparison. There is the difficulty of interlocking the boredom and the terror and trying to find a way to explain that these were two halves of an existence, not totally different habits of mind or moments. As a reader this is much harder to read than an academic work, even one liberally interspersed with eyewitness accounts, because it drips from every page and every word. At no point can the reader relapse into a communication with someone who has also not experienced this, and thereby touch a common ground, as I find I can reading (say) Martin Gilbert (utterly painful though a lot of that is too).

Finally, reading it now, one knows that the author took his own life not too long after completing the book. This always gives a work itself a different complexion and makes it a matter of discipline not to jump to neat conclusions (I'm especially guilty of this, as a fan of Sylvia Plath and Joy Division). It also layers more tragedy onto a work that throws its hands up in despair and confusion as it is written.

By way of a conclusion, the single most striking passage, and the one that resonates with me, as a coward and a doubter: Levi recounts facing another selection, knowing that if he looks even a little too weak to work he will be sent to the gas chamber that day, considers offering up a prayer. But with death more than likely imminent, he realises he cannot change the rules of his life, and cheat both himself and the deity, should it exist.

Wednesday, 14 February 2007

Pathetic Thing To Post When Western Civilisation Is Collapsing Alert!!

I've always had a soft spot for Neighbours, the pisspoor Aussie soap that airs here in the UK at 5.30pm. It's generally been harmless, entertaining fun. But I'm increasingly pissed off with it; it has taken a serious swerve towards the postmodern "everyone on tv has to be beautiful" tendency, and, rather more disturbingly for a reactionary like me, today's episode was the first I've seen for ages where people didn't nip off for a quick bit of casual sex in the middle of the episode. The relationships are increasingly secondary to a consequence-free ideal of casual sex between largely beautiful people (alright, except Lou and Miska) - how does that translate to the people watching this? It's just fine to say "sex is fun" as a message, but when you refuse to discuss contraception or any of the other problems around it, it becomes a fantasy, and a fantasy for good looking teenagers at that. There must be twenty-first century 15 year old versions of the Drummer around somewhere thinking something is deeply wrong with them, as they're not getting any. Or don't they exist anymore? That must be how they feel, given that the whole tenor of sex education is not for them, and quite openly exludes them. OK. I haven't mentioned Sky and the several month controversy over the fatherhood of her baby - could have been any of 3 men at one point - that certainly shows some of the consequences. But at just the point at which it might have been worthwhile, with two men fighting with themselves to take responsibility, it was swallowed up in fantastical plots around kidnap and arson. And what of Susan, the high school head, who let the 14 year old in her care go on a camping trip with her 18 year old alcoholic boyfriend?

Anyway. Carmella has just decided to keep her scar but everyone around her thinks it's a terrible idea and they just want to make sure she's "doing it for the right reasons" - whatever they might be, they're not being fully explained - they think she must be nuts and into self-punishment (she's an ex-nun).

Maybe it's just going through a crap patch at the moment. I was, however, gratified to learn that at least one subplot involving a totally-non-threatening bizarre triangle of implied hard porn, car theft and blackmail appears to have been resolved with a murder. Marvellous stuff for the kiddies.

Monday, 12 February 2007

Odd Blogging Weekend

Strange things afoot this weekend: A Radio 4 profile of Guido followed by some defamatory (I believe) allegations against him - retrieved from 20 years ago by the Guardian - published and carried on leftist blogs which have been gunning for him for a while now (although Harry's Place defends him); Andrew Marr's AM show carries Iain Dale and the Yazzmonster, who concludes that despite being a progressive egalitarian, blogs are a bad thing (and Oliver Kamm, the egalitarian blogger agrees) - you could almost think something was going on.

Guido places himself in a position of vulnerability to these attacks because of what he does. I still find it odd that instead of celebrating the exposure of sleaze, as the left did throughout the 90s, we're seeing efforts to discredit the whistleblower. Nevetheless. He does what he does and people will attack him wherever possible.

As for this little outburst of left commentators slating the blogosphere (Taylor,Toynbee,Yazz,Kamm now it seems): the pressure keeps building it seems. For Kamm to slate it, despite being a fine blogger himself seems strange to me. You would have thought that a sphere which anyone can access for the price of an hour in an internet cafe every so often and which can bring the views of really ordinary (I don't just mean Guardian-writer ordinary, but people who sweep streets for a living ordinary) to a world-wide audience (ie potentially far larger than the Guardian gets to) -would be welcomed by the egalitarian left. No. According to Kamm and Yazzmonster, having loads and loads of people blogging politically actually, by some mysterious process, reduces the amount of debate taking place; worse than that, the genuine mass participation in politics we're witnessing through the blogosphere, via the people who post, the people who comment, and those who read - is, presumably by the same mysterious process, in fact bad for democracy. Somehow it just hardens people in their own views and sets up a vast "echo chamber". Well I don't know how much research has been done in this area - plenty, I assume, as egalitarians are big fans of evidence-based knowledge - but I don't understand it. How is a choice of say 20 great blogs with different shades of opinion worse than just reading the Torygraph? How is there less debate going on when various shades of the right are available in the form of the Devil, Guido, MrE, Tom Paine, Daily Pundit, David Farrer, and Croydonian? In the old days (last year, for me) I could only pick up the Torygraph for one shade of rightist view. But the left seem to be getting together to agree that this is a bad thing - perhaps the violent abuse being meted out to politicians, most of which is richly deserved, is what offends them (don't read MrE today on Patsy Hewitt then) - even when they make use of the sphere themselves. So what if the tone of comment and debate is full of rage and disgust? We care. We want things done well. We want honesty, competence and reliability. We don't get it. We assert (not wish for, meekly, waiting for it to be granted) - we assert the right to be shrill and angry, in a free sphere, open to all. Left pamphleteers have been doing it for centuries. At least we're not apathetic (or perhaps that now becomes the preferred choice).

Or perhaps we're just witnessing the cries of those who know that the media is changing for ever: their position of doling out wisdom (wth plenty of shrillness and hate when it suited them) to citizens whose only choice was either to write angry letters that don't get published, read, noticed or even opened; refuse to buy the rag; or set up their own local little sheet (did it myself years ago - at school, in fact) has vanished - those days are gone. People are having the say that is long, long overdue. And as the technology changes it will continue to morph, into videos, music, whatever - print blogs are just the start. So get used to it.

Friday, 9 February 2007

Winter's Jacksie

Now it is raining but cold, and the pavements in the village are turned to filthy slush. The gardens, walls and cars of the absent are still bathed in snow, but snow of a type that knows its time has come, pockmarked and wet. At least I could burgle about 5 houses in this street without fear, given that those who have pissed off for whatever reason are brazenly obvious. You might say the same for the drummer's house - ie the roof is still full of snow - but this is simply to belie the temperature inside the house, namely 11.5 degrees C. I can no longer do 10ft skids on the road here; it is merely greyish sludge, and the rest of the snow longs for its own dissolution. God it looks so messy out; the pavements and road outside the window are like chopped up mash potato, on some intransigent teenager's plate. How can one thing look so beautiful and so ugly, within one day? Good luck to it though: it's pissing down and so much of the snow is resisting arrest. Up the frozen revolution.

Incidentally, I do have photos of this but my computer is so desperately old that I can't install the necessary software, etc etc (it was built in 2000 - I mean Jeez, man) - but I am certain that a 3-legged creature has walked across our back garden. There are three hoof - or paw, not sure at the moment and I can't be bothered to go out again - prints and then a gap, and then another three, all in close proximity. I had vaguely heard rumours of a three legged cat on the estate, but had never seen it. It just seems, whatever it is, to have sauntered across the lawn and towards the fence at the back. I bet the b****** took a crap at some point too. Bloody hell, that is all I need: some weird creature coming and evacuating its bowels over my garden! Yes, I will say on a future Channel 5 docu-drama, its turds were the size of tyres. No wonder my winter garlic is tardy to say the least (but then again it started badly, being saturated in cat's -or was it cats'- piss).


England have won....again!!! England have just defeated Australia in a nail-biting ODI at Melbourne, thanks mainly to Collingwood's 120* and McGrath's failure to take any wickets. They've now beaten Australia twice in two matches. This is excellent stuff and frankly ridiculous.

Also excellent is the fact that I have a _second_ day off work owing to the fact that it's still snowing. I'm going to do a bit of reading, Primo Levi and Umberto Eco probably.

Thursday, 8 February 2007

The Last Ditch well worth a read at the moment especially; Tom seems to be on top blogging form, and recent posts have included a minor spat with philosopher and, unsurprisingly, liberal, AC Grayling; today has an interesting account of Will Hutton's speech to a conference - Tom is bringing us news here!


A day off work: school is closed because of the snow which has been falling all over the Midlands for the last twelve hours or so. Accordingly I went for a walk to check out the village in its snowbound form: of course, it was beautiful (it's been about seven years since we had proper snow like this, about 8 inches' worth). However, this is the twenty first century, and Britain, so there was a big gang of teenagers on the village green throwing snowballs, with their rustic cries of: "Fuck off! Fuck off! Fuck off!" with barely concealed genuine aggression; which also proves that such aggression is not merely drink-related (it was 9am). So the place was gorgeous - apart from the people, naturally.

Not so excellent is Ivan Lewis' (Labour health minister) brazen hypocrisy on the subject of maternity unit closures. I'm well behind Mr E on this, but I picked it up in today's Torygraph. Lewis is full of bluster and bullshit, opining that just because he is a minister, it doesn't mean he ceases to have views, or that he ceases to represent his constituents. Quite so. It _does_ however mean that when people from _other_ constituencies complain, they are told to fuck off. It is good for everyone in the country, it seems, except the constituents of Labour ministers. They still haven't explained quite how mothers in this village (for instance) will in fact benefit from a minimum 40 minute drive to a maternity unit, they just keep repeating it like a mantra. I'm sure that when we get a load of babies born called "A40"; "Sixways" and "a layby just off the A436" they might start to get the message, although I'm well aware that parents tend to name after place of conception rather than place of birth. Having said that, I'd be ok with being called "A40" as opposed to "Alleyway Outside the Pub".

Not so excellent either is the ridiculous silence, or at best whispers of mild discontentment from the Tories on the subject of NHS closures. We do have a Tory MP here but he has remained steadfastly silent on this issue - as on many others - as if he were contractually obliged not to speak. Cameron has lost his balls recently and pulled his punches (the two are probably related - loss of testosterone). After siding with Labour over adoption, asking pointlessly minor questions in the House last week and barely reaching the target this, I wonder what exactly _is_ his strategy for winning the next election. I am seriously beginning to fear that a Cameron govt will look, sound and act distressingly like a Blair one.

In fact, now I come to think about it, today has been a rubbish day. Bloody hellfire, I wish I were at work.

Wednesday, 7 February 2007


...was the choice"; so goes the payoff in a deeply underrated but beautiful Doctor Story starring Peter Davison of the same name. The main focus of the story concerns beings - Eternals - who need to divert themselves with entertainments (they are currently racing sailing ships in space), but the snag is that they have no imagination: they possess great power but no real ability of thought or feeling. Manipulating the story's race - the prize being Enlightenment - are the two Guardians, black and white, the two halves of morality.

There are many many reasons why this is a wonderful story: its slightly elegiac tone being one of them, but I mainly love its two messages - the exercise of choice, for the right reasons, is Enlightenment - and the simple idea that the gods or godlike beings are flawed, bored, unimaginative creatures, while the quick-dying Ephemerals (you and me) are glorious creative things (even if we expend a lot of that creativity finding ways of dying). It seems to me part of the gently subversive nature of Doctor Who that it could undermine the concept of godlike beings, show us for the magnificent things we are - and chide us for our murderousness, all in the same slow, careful, ninety minutes of drama.

Tegan is at one point being hounded and harrassed by Mr Marriner, an Eternal with, it seems a deep crush on her, who continually tells her how important she is to him, how she makes him feel alive:

"Wait a minute, are you trying to say you're in love with me?"
"Love? What is love? I want existence."

Tuesday, 6 February 2007

Nuclear Stupidity

According to Peter Allen on R5 Live Des Browne has just said that one reason for possessing nukes is that if we were subjected to a nuclear terrorist attack (by no means impossible), we could retaliate with a nuclear strike on the source of the attack. Apart from the obvious strategic, intelligence and moral problems of finding which country the terrorists came from, and making the inhabitants of (say) Riyadh pay for their actions, it would be an act of monumental idiocy: it would be a change in the balance of power so massive that it would simply invite further nuclear terrorist attacks, or more likely, a counter-strike from a non-western nuclear armed country. There is a reason we've never used nukes, and that is simply because retaliation is both unpredictable and certain. It could be: a) like for like; b)targeted heavier retaliation; or c) all out war. All three options are possible if one country uses a nuclear weapon in calculated anger. The other option, to do nothing, is unlikely - because of the sudden mutation of global policy and power it suggests. If the material is out there, and one weapon has been exploded, expect the terrorists to use our retaliation as an enormously powerful recruitment method for further strikes. There are also reasons why we had a hotline to the Kremlin and we don't have one to Al-Qaeda: namely that most of the time the rulers of the USA and the USSR didn't actually want to provoke massive, pointless slaughter. The leaders of Al-Qaeda (or whoever) don't play by these rules,as we've seen. Who can say that Al-Q wouldn't in fact be delighted if we destroyed the House of Sud in a nuclear attack? I'd say it was positively likely.

It is one thing for governments to talk in deliberately vague terms about the importance of a deterrent: it is another to make a threat, however hypothetical, about its use. MAD is, and always was, a grammar of survival, in which the certainty of reprisal and the near impossibility of guaranteeing victory plays an important part. To disregard these rules,for whatever reason, is ridiculous and foolhardy. It was with Reagan's talk of Star Wars in the 80s (whether or not it ended the cold war, it helped to bring it to another climax of paranoia); it would be now. Just because there doesn't seem to be an immediate superpower interest doesn't mean there isn't.

(Speaking of the grammar of MAD, the vocabulary of MAD is interesting too: "strategic weapons" involve very little actual strategy, being massive agents of destruction, while "tactical" weapons are only tactics in the sense that a blunderbuss is a targeted weapon. Europe was a "theatre" (I'm aware this has general military use too)."Fallout" and "ground zero" were used after 9/11 and the meaning of "megadeaths" is almost comically brutal (millions of deaths), "fire zone" surgically scientific, and "burst", as in "airburst" or "groundburst" reduces the concept to that of a balloon going pop. In fact this casual brutality is almost a sub-subject in itself (the US referred to their 25 MT weapons as "citybusters" - nice)).

I'd love Britain to disarm, unilaterally or multilaterally; and I'd love a world without nukes - but not because we've used them all. And it could still happen easily.

Remember:"If anyone dies while you are kept in your fallout room, move the body to another room in the house. Label the body with name and address and cover it tightly with polythene, paper, sheets or blankets..."


...was the kind of day I remember or seem to remember from my childhood: sharp, cold and clear, with a hazy blue horizon and rows of tall empty trees all around. Frost spent the day trying to melt or evaporate but only half winning the battle. It was a classic winter's day of the historical imagination, of the kind you could be forgiven for thinking had disappeared completely. And above all it was just beautiful. The frozen and the freezing world, mechanical and natural, kept an angular beauty, ascetic in its lines and fragments. The kind of day, uncomfortable though it could be, that makes you glad to be alive and amazed that things are beautiful, as if just being here at all isn't enough.

No I'm not taking prozac, or especially happy, but days like today bring out the existentialist in me.

Monday, 5 February 2007

Scepticism, Enquiry and Reason

As regular readers of my blog will know, but perhaps not care greatly about, I am a sceptic who wishes he wasn't. I look for patterns and sense in the world, as well as for things to counter my limited view of reality - the strange, the unaccounted for, and so on. You might also remember that I've mentioned in the past my disappointment that these things have failed to turn up in my life. Technically I suppose it is unreasonable or irrational to want there to be other things than I can see, but there are three main elements (rather than reasons) behind my belief:
1. I cannot believe that the perception of such a limited creature as myself should bear any resemblance to the great truths of reality or existence;
2. I do not want our cultural arrogance to turn out in fact to be the case;
3. I would like there to be purpose to life, irrespective of whether we can or choose to give meaning to it.

These have not been arrived at through logical thought; rather through experience, disappointment and irrationally choosing one position over another on the sole basis that I find it more morally-aesthetically appealing. I am a sceptic but a reluctant one - a position which for me refutes the idea commonly advanced in favour of hating certain groups of people and being able to express it loudly in law, that they "choose" their worldview. I don't. I have it. If I do become an atheist at any point (I'd rather not) it would be because I felt I had no choice in view of how I saw the world. I could not simply change the way I understand life, it would change me. I would like to be shocked (as I often pretended to be as a teenager) into a radically different view of the world, but as it happens I have never been.

I mention all this because of a recent post over at James's place in which he used a photo I was sure I'd seen before. Right enough it was a photo of the 1950 Trent Farm UFO sighting, one which though it has been put through lots of analysis has yet to be proved definitively fake. This means nothing of course, except that it is evidence in favour of a kind of faith (at the moment), and is a minuscule reason to hold to the idea of other things. I am often asked whether ufology is compatible with religious belief - I've never seen the contradiction myself (a la God, in the great Radio 4 series Old Harry's Game: "Do you really think you're the best I could manage?"). The Trent Farm photo proves nothing, suggest very little. To me it just means that there might, still, be something else. All too often evidence for the existence of ufos has been thoroughly and incontrovertibly smashed into fragments. Perhaps this will be (I've seen it happen often enough to "good" pictures). But it's still out there.

Alas I'm struggling to publish it here but you can see the photo here

It doesn't look much, but I'm told it's been terribly good in tests.

Area Newspaper Harsh on Substitute's Performance

The Cotswold Journal is just that - a journal for the Cotswolds. Its sports reports are mainly those of ultra-non league clubs in the area, like, say Bourton Rovers. These guys are amateurs in the true sense of the word: they play sport because they love it, not for financial reward. They play in front of some trees, and enjoy doing so. Which makes this week's Journal's report on Bourton Rovers somewhat distressing (I imagine) for the local man (whom I vaguely know) who came on as a sub during a recent game. He gets the headline AND a paragraph all to himself.

Payne error causes pain!
By Sportsdesk
Kingswood 2, Bourton Rovers 1 ROVERS travelled to second in the table Kingswood confident of a victory after their six-goal mauling of Huntley seven days earlier.

...However, they still restricted Kingswood to only one effort on target but it was a crucial one as it found the net!

An initial shot was blocked on the line by substitute Mark Payne but, with the ball at his feet, he was caught in two minds and, instead of blasting the ball away, he tried passing it out and it hit a home striker and rolled over the line.

Now far be it from me to correct the work of print journalists but this guy works at something else and plays footie because he likes it. Now he's been embarrassed and humiliated in the local press. You mean bunch of bastards! Here's a new story for you then: "Local Paper's Stupid Reporting Contributes to Obesity Crisis as Area Grown Ups Refuse to be Humiliated by PissPoor Hacks."

What next? My puffing and panting in the gym, as my voluminous stomach wobbles alarmingly? "Drummer's Stomach 'Too Big' Says Local Gym Owner"?

Sunday, 4 February 2007

Shut Up, I Don't Like You

Iain Dale notes, but rather pulls his punches away from, another arrogant, selfish column from Polly Toynbee. This time she rails against - mainly right wing - bloggers, whom she accuses of rudeness and vitriol. This is rather rich, coming from someone who has earned plenty of money making unsubstantiated accusations and vituperative rantings, directed in part at people of my religion. She believed herself to be a greater moral authority than a man who worked underground in Nazi-occupied Krakow, and thought she knew a great deal more about the world than he did. Whatever. That's not my point here.

Iain quotes her thusly:

I have around 50 arch-enemies who seem to get up at about five in the morning — they have obviously never bought The Guardian, they wouldn't contaminate their fingers with it, and they are right-wingers who hate The Guardian and everything it stands for. Letters used to be quite polite, emails were a bit ruder, but this is of another dimension because you can't answer back unless in public because they're anonymous. I think that's wrong — they should have to put their own names up there. It would make them stop and think twice if they thought their colleagues and families would see what they wrote. Anonymity brings out real mischief in us. It is a debased discourse.

My two-pennorth on the anonymity issue is: so what? Writers and hacks have used pseudonyms and written anonymously for thousands of years: we've no idea who wrote most Anglo Saxon poetry. Doesn't stop it being good poetry though. Polly evidently thinks that rudeness should be the province of the left (read some leftist blogs to see what I mean), and that for rightists to be rude is beyond the pale. The fact is that with a left-dominated government, left ideals becoming law in various areas of public discourse and civil society (my school anti-racism policy reminds me - in bold print- that a racist incident is one defined as such by a victim or any other party - a total regression from basic notions of justice or ethics); with Labour's brazen hypocrisy on matters of human rights among other things being totally unhighlighted by the BBC and even the right media (the Telegraph is bloody useless) the right blogosphere needs to shout to be heard. And it's worked so far, though judging from the recent blogwars the left is starting to get its act together.

Another noise is getting louder though: from the government advisors we roundly fisked months ago, to left bloggers, to left columnists now - the movement seems to be on to shut the right blogosphere down or restrict it (the implication being that some kind of code of practice might need to be introduced). I've no stomach for fights myself, and I can quite easily be the good man who does nothing but I'd implore other right-leaning bloggers to get hold of this article and vigorously refute its premises and conclusions.

UPDATE: 4.30PM. As usual I'm very slow on the uptake. See the Devil for rather more substance on the idea of controlling blog-speech.

EastEnders and Moral Justice

One thing that the curse of postmodernism and the Age of Irony doesn't seem to have battered into total submission is our sense, innate or cultural, of moral justice. Generally, though it may be thrilling occasionally to see a villain prosper, we prefer to see good win over evil and people who act well to succeed. EastEnders has subverted this on many occasions, which is, oddly enough - for me, at least - why it keeps its position among the soaps despite its ridiculous storylines. It exerts a sort of gruesome fascination with its relentless close ups of human misery and gives us a vicarious suffering, one we can switch off. In today's combined edition of the previous week's episodes, we saw Kevin (Phil Daniels) be attacked and abused by his own daughter - for the crime of bringing her up with love and respect, but without telling her he was not in fact her father. She ended the episode by storming out, inviting him to "do what you've always wanted to and push off". With his life in tatters he drives away in the dark. This is why EastEnders leaves me feeling dirty and uncomfortable: a good man, acting out of love, duty and care, brings another man's children up without their mother, comes to see himself as their father, is torn - as you might expect- between self-fulfilment and duty and finding the synthesis of the two his real destiny. His reward, to be rejected by the adult child in a fit of hysteria. I don't know what it's like to be adopted or discover you aren't who you thought you are - but I do know good men when I see them (even if they're not real) and there is so much evil in the real world that it leaves me deeply dissatisfied to see them destroyed on television or in books. It is, no doubt, occasionally what happens: but it is wrong and disturbing. A man is destroyed and we just turn over to watch something else, caring only while we see his face. I'm not using this to make an argument that EastEnders is great literature, just to point out the pervasiveness of evil, the swathe of nihilism that surrounds us, and our moral balances which may have different weights on them but can be held steady.