Friday, 31 October 2008

On the Cold

Well we don't really get it here, but a few days of mildly unwarm weather reminds me why I don't like it being warm. I like the freshness and the ice on my car; I like the fact of needing to wear more clothes and feeling more protected; I like the lack of winged insects; I like the way the seasons are definitely changing, adapting, that life goes on in different ways than before; I like the way tea suddenly assumes a far greater importance in life.

But above all I like the fact that I don't sweat so much. I can stay awake longer and can be more alert in the cold than the warmth.

Hence, despite the clothes making me look like a balloon, I retain far more dignity when it's cold than when it's warm, and my beads of sweat make me look like an ageing version of Piggy out of Lord of the Flies. Without the glasses.

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

This Is A Bloody Awful Time, All Round

Well, what more could possibly happen, apart from everyone losing all their money and pensions and jobs and houses?

Well - what did you think?

For F's S.

Just when you thought life couldn't get any crapper.

All I can say now is - not John Simm. Great actor and all that but don't let the Master "merge" into the Doctor or something equally crap.

Consensus' End

I finished the second volume of Bernard Donoughue's memoirs (Downing Street Diaries) this week, which are an account of working in No10 under Jim Callaghan between 1976 and 1979. He was a political advisor who worked closely with the PM and various civil servants on policy (ie not spin, though he did have words of spin-related advice for Jim).

What is fascinating is the way the three years, seen from inside No10, veer from immediate crisis, to an eighteen month period of calm, to total and utter chaos. It is also curious (though i've heard this before in contemporary accounts) that Donoughue, as a Labour man, is frustrated by the actions of the unions, but also feels strongly that the British people themselves are to blame: they've lost their elan, their desire to work, their whole spirit. He ends his accountin May 1979, believing that the Tories and anyone else would fail if they could not get the people as a whole up and running again, with belief and commitment in their work.

The central stumbling block during 1978-79 seems to be the 5% pay policy, which had to be thrashed out in the teeth of ministerial opposition and then had to be enforced - which, especially after the laws on sanctions for companies who broke the policy were defeated in the Commons, was impossible. Inflation had been brought down to 7% during 1978 and though Donoughue does not mention it, it was clearly rising again at the end of the year.

But the way in which things, aided by the weather, collapse utterly between December 1978 and February 1979 is startling even to someone who's taken an interest in this period for years. Mad pay demands, threats to strike even during the negotiation process, wildcat strikes, secondary picketing, a Labour party so bewildered by the betrayal of its people that it did not know where to turn. In this quick period, No10 seem to become convinced that the Labour movement has been betrayed. Donoughue writes at one point that what they were doing was not Trades Unionism, but capitalism in its rawest form - we want whatever we can get and stuff everyone else.

He reserves his sharpest scorn for public sector unions, and particularly the ones responsible for picketing hospitals.

This whole experience leaves him convinced that Britain in general really is sick.

It does leave me wondering, if this account is reliable, and if Labour had won decisively in the autumn of 1978 (as many had though might happen) what would have been the course until 1983. I doubt, strongly, whether incoming North Sea Oil would have made any difference. I think it would have been used as fuel for more pay demands, because the political will for union and public sector reform generally was only just gestating at the time of the 1979 election within Labour and would have been delayed even longer than it actually was. Some movement into tax cutting territory might have happened, and there would not have been the great shift to indirect taxation. It is also clear that Britain would have deindustrialised, just as it did, though probably more slowly. In the Diaries, the Cabinet are shown to have no idea what do about the collapse of Steel except let it happen. They know it's useless, they know the collapse will be desperate, but they cannot afford to bail it out and don't really have the political will or nous to do so. They just let it go, slowly but definitely. And that's what would have happened if Jim had been in power in that 1980-81 period. Some more investment in bad products made with bad practices, no reform, same result. Possibly less painful in the short term, but leading to a similar result: the death of the traditional industries in Britain. Even in 1978 Donoughue talks about "another wave of deindustrialisation", admitting that it has been going on for years.

But that's not really an informed view. That's just me, thinking on the basis of one book's ideas. But it is interesting to see things one normally associates with THAtcher, already happening. Another one is monetary policy, forced onto the government by the IMF.

Of note in the diaries is the constant, weaselly treachery of Tony Benn; the desire of Labour not to lose the Catholic vote by being too extreme on abortion (unlike today, when Labour seems desperate to lose the left-footer vote and indeed has); the self-interest and laziness of the Civil Service.

I think the book is well written, clearly prejudiced like any first person account but overall fair both to its subject (Jim) and the times. It steers well clear of "revelations" and personal stuff (except in small doses), and it does not seek to backstab. Above all, it's been hidden for 30 years, rather than the two minutes we've come to expect from "I Was There" books.

What did Jim famously say?

"You cannot now, if you ever could, spend your way out of a recession."


Hey Darling, your tax or mine? fnarr fnarr.

Repairing The Road

Is what is going outside here today; it means i am sort of stuck here. But it is half term anyway so I was only planning on a trip to the gym. I thought the time was right for a quick gym update, so here goes: I have recently completed 100 miles on the exercise bike in 3 weeks rather than 4, which was the challenge (in aid of Breast Cancer) though I did it at the expense of everything else and ended up with some rather nice thighs. I have been bench pressing a mere 20kg (30 if you include the bar, or at least that's what the guy tells me) but it is creating some new chest muscle.

Unfortunately I continue to drink far too much, and eat too much fatty and salty stuff. This means I now resemble a cut-n-shut human being. Waist downwards: athletic, poised, full of youth and vitality. Waist upwards: balding barrage balloon.

End of update.

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

On the Frustrations of an Inadequate Imagination

One of the annoying things about trying to write - stories and poems, I mean - is never really knowing what to put, and sitting here with a vague concept in mind, or a scene of some kind, or sometimes just a word, and then attempting to make something of it. Generally I don't put enough effort in, and I flick through various bits of music on iTunes, or I scribble and delete stuff, or I just end up doodling. I am not very good at doodling but I have a nice way with sort of squares and diamonds and straight lines. This blog is a sort of linguistic doodle.

I read somewhere (I think it was Ted Hughes) that you need to train your imagination, and develop it like a muscle. I have been trying that lately, by writing things of different genres. It has been frankly toe-curling to read the results. Not only have I chosen genres which I should stay well away from and don't even read, but what have I come up with isn't even a morass of sentiment and cliche; it's just meaningless verbiage, duckspeaking. This work has issued from my fingers with no input from my higher brain centres at all.

And yet the sheer number of words I have declaimed to Microsoft Word lately: 4000 on Wednesday last week, with 2000 most days before and since for around two weeks. How can so many words say so little, and how can they be so poorly arranged?

The problem for me - and, I suspect, many tenth rate authors - is that my range of sympathies and interests, and therefore imaginations, is narrow. So I have to force the imagination into action. And if one's imagination works like a slightly surreal film, then on these occasions mine is like a three year old's picture done in very heavy blue crayon. But for so long I have failed to do this, and have just focused instead on the "things I know" (to quote a writerly phrase), that I have exhausted these things, and been left with a paucity of spirit and creative soul.

It has also left me quite astonished at how little I do know. Even of the daily things of life: the materials of clothes, the looks of emotions, the workings of televisions, the ingredients of famous dishes. I know nearly nothing at all about colours, different types of rain, types of cloud, the appearances of the sky in different seasons: in short, the stuff of observation which is supposed to characterise writers.

Which makes me wonder: what on earth have I been doing all these years? Why have I failed to retain so much of what I must have seen and even noticed at various times? It must be because I have not really been interested enough in the world around me. In me - yes, for sure. In the outside of me - hmmm. It all seems too much like reflections of my moods, which means I either ignore it, love it or loathe it. Finer distinctions, such as would come from a genuine interest in life and the world, seem to escape me.

I don't think I can be a writer because I am too uninterested in the mechanics of existence.

That doesn't stop me wanting to pour out words, and sometimes in great quantities, very quickly. It just means I have to do it into the void, which wouldn't be a void if I had paid more attention earlier on.

The Ross/Brand Defence

1. It was funny.
2. Sachs deserved it for playing a racist character.
3. The girl's a know...
4. The campaign is led by the Mail, which proves that the complaints are invalid.
5. Why are we talking about this when there is genocide in x y or z place?

Not saying I agree with any of the above points (especially No.1) but I've just read them all over at The Grauniad's comment piece about it (which is actually quite good).

I did laugh when I read No2 as a defence. I had to read a few more comments than I was expecting to get to it, but it was worth it.

Saturday, 25 October 2008

Why Would I Post In Defence Of Freedom When Everyone Thinks It Is Shite?

I don't know.

Just this feeling I have, that alcohol is better than Caroline Flint: that thoughts of different worlds, where you don't have to prove who you are, are better than Harriet Harman; that you exist, regardless of what Yvette Cooper thinks: that actually, despite the spew talked by Ed Balls, it is quite good to know things about the world, I mean real things, like where people live and what they are called and what they speak and what they make: and that learning about multiculturalism is like, learning about fuck all.

If children learn things,

if they know stuff about the world, I mean real stuff like where people are and what they speak, and what they make, then the "learn about socialism" Left are without a cause, without a home, without a voice.

Suck the voice from the Left.

Learn the World's Capitals today.

The Elites Cover All Their Tracks

Someone please confiscate my computer!

- post deleted for being stupid sweary nonsense.

Sunday, 19 October 2008

Not An..Oh Fuck It I Suppose It Is...

It is official.

The Book is indeed an instruction manual.

DK's campaign is well-intentioned but doomed. You see, the people who matter loathe and despise liberty. The people in parliament and in the universities, the people who actually think of, draft, vote on and implement laws, they do not see liberty as anything worth discussing at all. They love control and they mask it in all those fluffy words like "equality", "social justice", "social harmony" and now, "choice-editing". Oh, of course they love some freedoms, the ones that use cocks and cunts particularly, and sometimes arses, but show them a freedom of words, of movement, of belief, of association, of a fair trial, of non-execution; and they become jittery, adducing imaginary terrorist atrocities that will come if we do not all have our wrists stamped. An individual is a danger, because it carries the potential to think other things, things we do not like, things we do not understand. And if we do not understand then it must be made illegal.

Well fuck you lot, yes i am going to have my wrists stamped. With "Ingsoc" and "If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face - for ever."

So fuck you: every time I wipe my arse, every time I take a wank, every time I stick two fingers up at a fuckwitted agent of the evil state, every time I pick my nose and eat it, every time I drink, there it will be, the reminder of your essential evil, your desire to control every part of me, the fact that you satirise me by your very existence, and by the fact that I hate you with everything I have now and will ever have. All the love I will ever have I hate you with, I hate you with everything good in me, all the respect and tolerance and compassion in me, I hate you with it.

I hate you. And the more that this convinces the enemies of liberty that I am a lunatic, the better. Here it is again, fuckwads:

I hate you.

Now I come to think of it:

It's odd, actually, how often the word "social" comes into excuses for denying people basic liberties.

Saturday, 18 October 2008

This Government Is Evil

A government which acts to stoke fear and division, and which is openly derisive of liberty, can be nothing else. Imagine this: a government minister brazenly announces that if we don't accept draconian surveillance measures, we will die. This is a free society?

So, in case you had missed it, here it is again:

But the Lib Dems' communities spokeswoman Julia Goldsworthy said it sounded like "something I would expect to read in [George Orwell's book] 1984" and questioned whether the government and councils could be trusted not to misuse the powers.

She asked: "How much more control can they have? How far is he prepared to go to undermine civil liberties?"

Mr Hoon interjected: "To stop terrorists killing people in our society, quite a long way actually.

"If they are going to use the internet to communicate with each other and we don't have the power to deal with that, then you are giving a licence to terrorists to kill people."

He added: "The biggest civil liberty of all is not to be killed by a terrorist."

This government must be defeated, crushed and destroyed. With such raging contempt for a value that has taken centuries to build, in painful and slow-moving struggles, which needs to be at the heart of any civilisation - the right of an individual to be themselves, and not to be afraid of constant monitoring and punishment, not be assumed to be a criminal - they have set about tearing down the boundaries between state and citizen.

There is a word for this approach of governments to their people, when they promote fear, want to watch every aspect of an individual's life, want to punish, both judicially and extra-judicially, who demand conformity, and who, crucially, leave innocent people guilty (the "recording" of allegations, the DNA theft,) or ensure they are unaware when they have committed a crime.

This word begins with a "t". Ironically, it is a word they often use themselves, to defend these inhuman measures.

It means to be afraid.

I'm not going to say it: even the word itself makes me shudder.

Monday, 13 October 2008

Dystopian Dinner Party Schmooze

*You know what fits in between these stars*

Well it is 10pm and i am in bed, as is usual, but finding it difficult to wind down properly so I thought I would blog, which is less usual. Not so much in the hope of anyone paying the slightest bit of attention, but more in the expectation of opening a new line of thought. This is unlikely but not impossible.

I have a long and complicated relationship with 1984. It was my first literary love, and although I have had passionate affairs with other novels, notably The Information and Crime and Punishment, as well as an immensely satisfying fling with Middlemarch and something of a powerful one-nighter with Birdsong (and a less satisfying, drawn out affair with Atlas Shrugged), in addition to various flirtations here and there, it is to 1984 I return whenever I have a spare few minutes. As readers of this blog will now know, I have thought about it endlessly - and in the main, more for political reasons thab literary ones. In some ways I am only coming to appreciate the artistry of the novel, since as a bog standard novel, it fails (lacklustre characters, slightly jarring prose, curious plotting - check out the semi-magical transformation of Charrington, for example).

I don't make a secret of the fact that I think we are heading vaguely into the direction of a type of Ingsoc: a surveillance driven, penalty oriented kind of technocracy, in which rationing, reduced services, increased obligations and conformity will be the order of the day. Our rulers are not taking the same road as the Inner Party, though, they are dressing up their control in clothes of compassion: cameras to save lives, DNA databases to catch rapists, terrorism laws to save the country, draconian environmental laws to save the planet. Our authorities behave as just that, with little regard for any notion of service.

And so on.

But that aside, which is contentious and possibly (hopefully) wrong, the book deserves to be read as the work of art it is. Not a conventional one, to be sure. But there are little elements of literary substance that deserve to be picked up on.

For example: the theme of repetition that runs through the book: Julia sometimes repeats Winston's words, Charrington does, O Brien does, the fatal telescreen does. These are intimations of connection, of the kind of spirit which Winston attempts to invoke during his long torture. They are hints of a common humanity.

And the fish Julia describes during their first assignation, which makes Winston feel that he is being brought to the Golden Country of his dreams: living, gloriously ignorant of the Party, life surviving, outside the Party, regardless of its claims to absolute control over matter. Yes, if the Party want to believe that stuff about inventing reality, it can: but the fish and the river are still there, and life does survive.

Incidentally, mentioning Charrington's transformation (not an original idea of mine, but I can't remember where i read it - the reference has slipped my memory for a moment). There are hints of magic throughout the novel: the Party could not control with its technology without some kind of supernatural involvement; the insight O Brien has into the very words of Winston's thoughts is too clear for surveillance alone to have given him (and he claims to "always detect a lie"); the interpenetration of O Brien and Winston's very mind.

You could, I suppose, argue that these mean that the novel should be taken as a fable, or as a magic-realist novel, or even as a lazy satire. To me this latter is more likely: I think a subtext of the novel is that the Party is the direct inheritor of the Catholic Church, and these hints of supernaturalism are sly references to Catholic doctrine. O Brien certainly could be read as a kind of twisted confessor. I don't even need to mention the Party's sexual ethics.

I ought to leave you be now, as I can see you staring into your drink and longing to catch the eye of that rather attractive blonde woman you have been eyeing up for a while. No, it's ok, really. "It was nice to talk to you and everything but I must be-excuse me - Ah, are you?"

Sunday, 12 October 2008

500th TTD post

Crikey. I don't seem to have said all that much over the years!

And I know one post is still in draft, but that's because i can't get my computer to upload a scary bit of Arthur C Clarke's World of Mysterious Powers!

The Internal Contradictions of Ingsoc

(see CBI's comment on the post below)

- There aren't any.

Ingsoc is a theory designed to secure total power for people who want, who know they want, and who forget that they want, total power. Total power includes, specifically, the power to destroy and remake human beings. Such naked evil, though of course we do it all the time, whenever we are able, sustains itself because it is having fun. It is spreading its wings and enjoying its creative potential on the bodies and minds of people. As O Brien acutely remarks, there is no reason why a civilisation founded on hate should be less vital than one founded on love.

The only possible internal contradiction is that, as O Brien points out, the human face "will be there forever". Namely, although the Party desires the existence of the heretic to maintain its power - ie it depends on the heretic, in a wholly predictable and foreseen way (this is part of the fun - watching the cowed Outer Party members try to make themselves believe we have always been at war with Eastasia, and that Goldstein is the enemy); but more than that, it means that the human, as Winston understands it, the "spirit of man", will always exist - the Party will never actually crush that spirit, even as it denies its existence, because if it did, the Party would cease to have any purpose, and would have nothing to act upon. The Party would die.

Other than that, it is a totalitarianism that commands beings in and out of existence, without those beings needing to be in any way physical entities. Comrade Ogilvy was a hero, but he never existed: Syme was an orthodox goodthinker, who was lifted out of time. He is the subject of O Brien's first visible piss-take of Winston ("His name has slipped my memory for a moment").

Power is a drug and the Inner Party are a group of men and women able to destroy the entire world for their fix.

No contradiction there. But we have a habit of seeing contradictions in things we think are evil, as a way of convincing ourselves they cannot work.

This is no criticism of CBI or of his comment: it just got me thinking.

A Note on the Appendix

*Nineteen Eighty Four related vol-au-vent*

I'm afraid I can't share the optimism of some that the appendix suggests, through its use of the past tense, that Ingsoc was eventually defeated and that the narrator of the Appendix writes from a free society. I think the narrator might just have mentioned the defeat of Ingsoc and the public execution of O Brien (er, I'm guessing). It would have been a big enough deal, no?

Pronoun Note


Here's another of those traditionalists decrying the use of the singular 'they'. As far as I can tell, his objections are: (a) that he doesn't like it; and (b) tradition. I've nothing to add to what I've said before on this. I do find it interesting, however, that he seems also not to be comfortable with using 'she' where you mean 'he or she' (or, indeed, the singular 'they'). What possible objection could there be to doing so, when 'he' was so long used in this way and still often is? Mix it up, that's my view: say, now 'she', now 'he', now 'he or she', now 'they'. It will help to end such pointless pedantry.

I'm not a big fan of "they". While it works, and does the job reasonably well, and can even sometimes be elegant, on the whole it clunks a bit. But Norm's suggested solution, to mix up the pronouns, is an excellent idea and one I use a lot (not necessarily here). If nothing else, it keeps readers on their ideological toes. It also keeps you, the writer, on your aesthetic toes, because in different sentences, contexts, the different pronouns will have varying effects. So, following Norm, - try them out!

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Winston and the Old Man

*Nineteen Eighty Four related vignette*

Although the narrator and Winston both seem to imply that his visit to the proletarian quarter and the strange beer-shop was wasted, the reason is not because the old man is talking nonsense: it is because the variations of ideological truth under the Party and the exigencies of Ingsoc have left Winston without any clear way to understand. Hence the conversation becomes a synecdoche for the entire theme of the novel: how, denuded of truth, an individual's links to the world around them collapse.

In particular, the old man refers to hearing a powerful speaker denouncing the Labour Party as "lackeys of the bourgeoisie! Flunkies of the ruling class!" This indication of radicalism, which would have told an educated Winston that the left was being assaulted from its fringes before the Revolution, bypasses Winston's sense altogether. In fact he knows nothing of the Labour Party at all (he is even vague as to whether Airstrip One was ever known as anything else: he thinks it might have been called England or Britain). As an aside, I wonder whether the speaker was one of the three bastards in the post below.

The old man then gives Winston, under heavy guidance, a narrative that chimes in almost exactly with the teachings of the Party: "They liked you to touch your cap to 'em". He talks about being insulted and threatened by exactly one of the ruling classes the Party complains about in its history books ("The chief of all the capitalists was called the King, and..."). It is at the point at which the old man is developing this narrative to a peak that the narrator says: "A sense of helplessness took hold of Winston." - which is odd, because the old man is making sense. It isn't what Winston wants to hear, and he isn't interested in the old man's life, just the past, the pure past.

Of course this is the problem. There is no such thing. The past - at least the kind Winston wants to know, human experience - is indeed filtered through minds, and can be located there and there only. To this extent the Party is right, and with Winston being a child of the Party, albeit a rebellious one, he has no time for or patience with the stories of people's lives (he tells Julia a lot more about his than he asks of hers).

Winston's failure to understand therefore has the fingerprints of the Party all over it, and strongly suggests that even in his act of crimethink he still belongs to them. Worse, you could argue that his failure is because he is hearing what the Party tells him anyway - and thereby opening up an even more pessimistic reading of the book than most of us already have.

At precisely this point of despair, he makes one last ditch attempt. But without any confidence, and phrasing it like a bureaucrat, indeed, like O Brien might do later on, "Perhaps I have not made myself clear. What I wanted to know was this", Winston loses the old man completely and he utterly fails to answer the question.

The fault is not the old man's, nor his mind; but the cracked, desiccated mind of Winston Smith.

Monday, 6 October 2008

Jones, Aaronson and Rutherford Were As Guilty As Hell

*Nineteen Eighty Four related post*

Let's be clear about this. Although the narrator suggests that Winston feels some sympathy for these three bastards, as they sit in the Chestnut Tree Cafe with broken noses, and the sympathy is even more blatant in the 1984 film; the fact is, they deserved what they got.

They were tried in about 1965 and finally executed in around 1968. They had clearly then survived "the great purges of the fifties and sixties" - in the main - and had maintained their high places in the Party, hence the famous photo that did not exist of the three of them "at some Party function in New York" taken in 1965.

In other words, they were complicit, from the beginning, in the distant drumming of machine gun fire, the purges, the adoption of Newspeak, the programme of pure power that motivated the entire Revolution, and that was, as O Brien put it, refining itself all the time.

It just refined itself on their asses. They deserved everything they got.

Sunday, 5 October 2008

We Could Have Been The Best of Friends

Fuck it: this is why I refuse to join any political party: no-one reflects my views, or gives a fuck about them. I am not really a libertarian and those fuckers really, really hate a large part of me (not my knob, all parties love my knob); they loathe the idea that I choose to see the world differently. Well fine, fuck them. Fuck Labour, who are the world's biggest authoritarian cunts; fuck the Tories, who are close behind, fuck the LibDems, who are fuckers, fuck UKIP who just are not with the programme, whatever the fuck that means, and fuck the Libertarians, who, at the sunset of the long summer's light show, are people who hate my guts.

I had thought of joining them. But I'm not, and I can't.

Fuck it.

I am me, and I am a minority of one.

I am mad.

So what?

Who cares.

Really. Who cares.

Saturday, 4 October 2008

Sanity on Leave

You might be thinking: well where is TD? The world is collapsing into fiscal chaos, into political impotence, and into the virulence of ideology, and one of our most vile spewers of undiluted verbal toxicity is strangely silent.

Well, the answer is that I have been forced to work for a living. I mean obviously I've been working for a while but the pace has recently been increased somewhat, and I've been trying to write proper stuff (ho ho) so it's not that my time for blogging has been cut, but my energy for it.

Besides of which the world's own actions recently have revealed that the blogosphere is in fact a haven of sense and reason, and it is the world itself that is the unrestricted, unregulated purveyor of nastiness. Everywhere you look someone is hysterically braying about people who don't agree with them, invoking illness, suffering and death; someone is calling for more death for anyone they feel does not deserve to live; someone is urging the closure of freedoms; someone is denying the existence of freedoms; someone is screwing something up and blaming everyone else. Implicating everyone, crying foul, lying about their own records, screaming cliches and rehashed sententiae to a world which seems too dazzled to care, or too busy to care, or too cynical to care.

I'm almost too afraid to read the newspapers or listen to the radio: not because world events themselves frighten me, but because the people in the media and politics now seem afraid -of what, I don't know: Sarah Palin, maybe, or the fact that so many people just do not care what they think anymore: their privileged positions as dolers out of knowledge, refracted through an educated, elitist standpoint, are under threat, not from argument, or attack, but from apathy. And from the rise of the blogger. Bloggers are still a narrow, self-selected bunch, especially the UK political blogging scene, but they are a blot on the landscape of the opinion professional.

They must be well pissed off that we survived the first attempt to regulate and control us: they'll be back for the next round though.

And - the worst thing, Peter Mandelson is back. I was laughing until I heard the BBC's serious analysis, with Labour people naturally, of the move: fuck me they mean it, they really mean it.

Oh well, as I said, I've been busy. Not really followed the news.