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Wednesday, 12 December 2018

Words on Wednesday: Norman MacCaig 'Rings on a Tree' 1968

I recently 'discovered' poet Norman MacCaig in typically circuitous fashion. I was recommended Andrew Greig's excellent memoir/homage/meditation 'At the Loch of the Green Corrie' (2010) which I would also recommend to you dear reader.

In these pages I read about the author's connection to this spindly spiky Edinburgh schoolmaster, poet and sometime fisherman, Norman MacCaig, who was one of the explosive set of Scottish poets from the middle to later half of the last century, a group that included such legendary figures as; Edwin Morgan, Sorley MacLean, Sydney Goodsir Smith, Iain Crichton Smith, George MacKay Brown, Hugh MacDiarmid, and others, some of whom I'll be writing about at a later date.


Knowing that my local public library and employer has a reasonable collection of 20th Century Scottish poetry I investigated the reserve and choose this collection to start with based purely on the name, Rings on a Tree (1968). Here are a few from that collection.

Rings on a Tree
Norman MacCaig
The Phoenix Living Poets
Chatto and Windus with the Hogarth Press
London
1968
SBN 7012 0304 8



Starlings


Can you keep it so,
cool tree, making a blue cage
for an obstreperous population? -
for a congregation of mediaeval scholars
quarrelling in several languages? -
for busybodies marketing
in the bazaar of green leaves? -
for clockwork fossils that can't be still even
when the Spring runs down?
No tree, no blue cage can contain
that restlessness.  They whirr off
and sow themselves in a scattered handful
on the grass - and are
bustling monks
tilling their green precincts.



Crossing the Border


I sit with my back to the engine, watching
the landscape pouring away out of my eyes.
I think I know where I'm going and have
some choice in the matter.
I think, too, that this was a country
of bog-trotters, moss-troopers,
fired ricks and roof-trees in the black night — glinting
on tossed horns and red blades.
I think of lives
bubbling into the harsh grass.
What difference now?
I sit with my back to the future, watching
time pouring away into the past. I sit, being helplessly
lugged backwards
through the Debatable Lands of history, listening
to the execrations, the scattered cries, the
falling of roof-trees
in the lamentable dark.



Balances


Because I see the world poisoned
by cant and brutal self-seeking,
must I be silent about
the useless waterlily, the dunnock's nest
in the hedgeback?

Because I am fifty-six years old
must I love, if I love at all,
only ideas -- not people, but only
the idea of people?

Because there is work to do, to steady
a world jarred off balance,
must a man meet only a fellow-worker
and never a man?

There are more meanings than those
in text books of economics
and a part of the worst slum
is the moon rising over it
and eyes weeping and
mouths laughing.




Sunday, 9 December 2018

Sports on Sunday: Football Lads

Yesterday, 'my team', Chelsea beat Manchester City 2-0 at Stamford Bridge. During the match Manchester City forward Raheem Sterling reported that there was racist abuse directed at him from among the home supporters. That this is not surprising to me is much to do with the history of Chelsea's support, a portion of whom have been long acknowledged as violent racists. Indeed, like many firms, for them this is a badge of honour.

It has been a recent fantasy that since 1990 the 'bad old days' of hooliganism had been expunged from football. That it had instead been replaced with a family-friendly inclusive and modern way of supporting teams and following the game. Something that meant that 'being a fan' was paying for a Sky Sports subscription, rather than actually attending matches and experiencing the game itself. A more distant and impersonal attachment to sport, something that allowed for a global reach, that was more like marketing a brand, and was to many something that started to feel plastic and hollow. Football support, that is watching and not playing, is about the crowd and belonging. This is something that Bill Buford recognised.

'Among the Thugs' (1990) by Bill Buford captures a certain restless self-destructive energy that describes the society of the hooligan. A willing giving of the self to the crowd, to throw away individuality into a nihilistic ecstasy of frenzied togetherness. The wish to belong, to be part of something, and to feel that you are special in that. What makes you worthy is ironically that you have given up your personality for membership of the crowd, you have ceased being singular and are now part of a collective. That this collective is dedicated to violence is bizarre, irrational, even utterly foolish, but more than the collective wish to enjoy music or sport or be together in some ideological spirit, instead the hooligan embraces their outsider otherness, their wilful destructive hate. It is more enlivening, more thrilling, more real, because it is so anti-conventional. A line has been crossed. It is this 'line' that Buford seeks to describe in other crowd behaviours; the Yugoslav protest turned violent, the football crowd pushing themselves to cross the street, and in doing so make a physical sign that they have transgressed the rules of normalcy and that now, anarchy rules, the mob rules. Standard practice is being, temporarily, abandoned in favour of; self-abnegation, public destruction, social disorder, and the joy, the thrill, the excitement of violence. Whether an individual participant threw a punch or not, they were there when it all "went off."

Joe Kennedy's 'Games Without Frontiers' (2016) also points to another development in this resurgent hooligan attitude in football. That it is the working-class man's game and that the behaviours that they, the ultras, engage in are those that are 'true' to the authentic British male's experience. This experience rejects the hollow and plastic commodification of the game, but it also rejects the perceived middle-class gentrification of what is 'theirs' in another way. It labels the social improvements (as I would see it) of anti-racism, anti-misogyny, anti-homophobia (in short, anti-bigotry) as itself being unauthentic to the British working-class. A nonsense that effectively denies the fact that any working-class person could ever be anti-racist (f.e.) without being either a class traitor or a fake. So, something that started being about rejecting commercialisation of sport is now about the definition of what 'real' British maleness is, or at least, this is what the politicisation leads towards. And what counts as 'real' is the anti-feminist, anti-Islam, anti-immigration agenda of the far-right, which portrays itself as the 'real' voice of the working-class.

Racially abusing a black player on the other team therefore is, in this mindset, merely a case of a 'bit of banter', as it wasn't directed at all black players on both sides, it was just 'part of the game', just a bit of ridiculing the opposition and what if the middle-class PC SJW snowflakes don't like the language used, it's 'only words'.

Something that Buford also highlighted in his book was the attempted politicisation of these football firms in the 1980s by the National Front. He describes attending a gathering at a remote country pub that was organised by Nick Griffin. Then of the NF but who would later lead the British National Party to their, thankful, demise after a modicum of political success. However, although the BNP has dissolved back into the shadows. The people involved and, more importantly, their ideas did not.The attempts to hold influence over various different football firms coalesced into the English Defence League, which was founded in 2009 with 'Tommy Robinson' soon becoming the group's leader.

The Football Lads Alliance was founded in 2017, but represents only the most recent part of this ongoing politicisation of football fans, or more expansively, of the white working-class male. That this has also come on the rising tide of nationalism and of anti-Islamic feeling in Britain is no surprise. It was no surprise, because this has always been their intent. Our contemporary Nick Griffin, 'Tommy Robinson' is today participating in the Brexit betrayal march in London and like the attention parasite he is, this has particularly prescient timing. The ongoing 'yellow vest' riots in Paris (to which many in the far-right have added their support), and planned for only two days before a major vote on the future of Brexit in parliament. This march represents another attempt to infest one cause, Ukip's obsessive "Will of the people" hard Brexit, with the opinions and attitudes of the far-right.

Let's bring this back to the original case, which I see has now already turned into a 'one bad fan' story and carries with it the ubiquitous allegedly. It is also unhelpfully tinged by the excessive reporting on Raheem Sterling, who is a somewhat controversial figure in football, in that he seems to have opinions and the ability to articulate them (and he's black). Of course, it will be a simple enough matter to dismiss this as one rare occurrence and not in the 'true spirit' of the everyday fan. Well, of course, this is the case, it is not as if the far-right's opinion of the British working-class is in fact true. Worryingly though many other (non-working-class) people seem to buy into this depiction and (f.e.) blame Brexit on this stereotyped view of the thuggish racist working-class, something aided no doubt by sensationalist media coverage.

Certainly the attitudes and behaviours of many 'everyday' football fans don't help their case in the public eye, but then this is confusing an ebullient, albeit aggressive, atmosphere at football matches with something inherently dangerous. Much like the conservatives reaction to punk, or rock n' roll, or anything that seems counter-cultural (to them). In short, it is partly motivated by a fear of the working-class, something that only helps strengthen the far-right's attempts to show that they, the white working-class men, are the 'real victims' or other such falsehoods to gain recruits to their agenda of hate.

I will be writing more about Stephen Yaxley-Lennon AKA 'Tommy Robinson' and the recent soft coup of Ukip and the general 'crowd behaviour' dynamic of many online communities, but this story felt like it needed an immediate response and it's been a subject on my mind for some time.

P.S. Although this should really have been titled 'Secular Sunday: Football Lads' I couldn't resist.


Both are recommended reading.

Friday, 7 December 2018

Foodie Fridays: Butternut Squash Pasta

I suppose I could speak about the reasons for nearly deleting my blog (again) but instead let's just breeze over that and talk about one of my staple foods, as it's tailor made for this time of year, because I don't know where you are, but at the moment in Scotland it's definitely winter and despite my desire to continue to eat healthily (see some of my previous years winter salads, some healthier than other) sometimes you just need a bit of comfort.

& this meal is the physical manifestation of comfort!

I've given up on measurements, go by the eye and stomach of the chef.

Requirements:

  • 1+ Butternut Squash
  • Some Mushrooms, closed caps like chestnuts are best
  • Rosemary, fresh or dried
  • Mascapone
  • Something "green and fresh" (this is a JJ addition and can include; peppers, courgettes, spinach etc.)
  • More cheese, Parmesan or the closest approximation
  • Pasta (conchiglie is our #1 choice, but anything that 'holds sauce')
  • Olive Oil
  • Roasting Tin of a 'certain size' (i.e. it must hold everything)

Modus Operandi:

  • Pre-heat oven to around 200c/fan180c/gas6/400f
  • Peel, deseed and chop the squash into whatever consitutes bite-sized chunks for you.
  • Roll the squash about in the roasting tin with some oil and rosemary.
  • Roast it!
  • After about 25 minutes add your mushrooms (chopped) and diced peppers/courgette (if using)
  • At this point also:
  • Boil a pan of salted water and cook the pasta, don't drain it yet!
  • Once the mushrooms and squash (and others) have had another 15 minutes take out.
  • Place on the hob, still in pan, add a ladle or two of the pasta water.
  • Add the mascapone and heat on the hob while stirring.
  • Drain pasta and add (and add spinach if using).
  • Serve with plenty of ground black pepper and parmesan grated on the top.

Good with a rocket and tomato salad, garlic bread, and a good cold white wine.

There is presently no photographic representation, because it doesn't last long enough to get a snap!

Does not contain...

Sunday, 2 December 2018

Songs on Sunday: Maxïmo Park


The 2005 debut album by Maxïmo Park 'A Certain Trigger' was an exceptional piece of British Indie Rock. It was more of a shock for me, because at the time I was mostly listening to Electronica, Ambient and Techno, indeed, I probably only heard Maxïmo Park because they were signed on Warp Records.



I'm slightly upset that a number of previous YouTube video I've shared have since been deleted, leaving me with an ugly empty grey box, but I'm hopeful that this video (posted by the band) is less likely to be removed.

Warp Records are a music label that mostly focuses upon electronic music, so everyone was slightly surprised when they signed this post-punk slightly abrasive Newcastle indie rock band. There's not much I can say about the album other than it was my most listened to album for 2005 and for a considerable period after that as well.

However, although I continued to appreciate the excellent lyricism of the next two albums; 'Our Earthly Pleasures' (2007) and 'Quicken the Heart' (2009) they weren't reaching me in the same way and I drifted out of contact with the band.

Very recently, last week, I made an arbitrary decision to update the music on my smartphone and came across Maxïmo Park on my hard drive storage (which contains a great deal of not listened to and not watched films that makes me feel occasionally strangely guilty).

Listening to the first three albums I was surprised to discover that I found the later albums (particularity 'Quicken the Heart') were much more musically interesting to me than my old favourite 'Certain Trigger'. Although I would definitely still consider their debut a thing of real beauty, now I found I was more able to appreciate the subtlety and the word play more.

Intrigued (and aware the band were still around) I looked them up. Starting with their most recent album, the excellent 'Risk to Exist' (2017) and working back.



I feel strangely smug as if I've 'discovered' something, which is of course ridiculous. It's not like they were in hiding or anything. I suppose I'm just pleased that I've reconnected, albeit in a different way, with something that I appreciated so much before and to find it's not the same, it's better.

Friday, 30 November 2018

Filosophy on Friday: Vegetarian or not

Non-ethical Vegetarianism. Written and unpublished in 2009.


Vegetarianism is often described as an ethical lifestyle choice. I became a 'vegetarian' primarily for health reasons, this is something other vegetarians have a tough time figuring out. First, let me describe my position. My diet is not correctly vegetarian, but pescetarian or what is amusingly called 'semi-vegetarianism', basically, I occasionally eat fish. About twelve years ago I decided to stop eating all other meat, I did not have to provide a reasoned argument to myself, but I have since had to retrospectively provide one for other people who cannot understand either; why I wouldn't eat meat or why I wouldn't call it an ethical position. Before that, let's look at what other proper vegetarians are likely to say about their reasons.

A less-than-common ethical vegetarian position is “animals are people too.” The argument of this position is that animals have complex emotion lives, feel pain, are in other ways similar to us and therefore they should be respected and (presumably) cared for in the same way we care for other people. This argument is based on a flawed premise (several actually), it is the fallacious position of 'argument by analogy'. This argument has also been used to describe why we would react to seeing a person in pain or to put it another way, 'how do we know that that person is in pain and not acting?' The argument from analogy says that because they seem to be in pain and we have experienced similar pain we can then surmise that they are probably in pain. This argument is extremely problematic (which is polite philosophical term used when something is obviously wrong) for a number of reasons, so I'll just stick to the ones that help our human/animal picture, it presupposes that every perceptual experience of an event requires a mental process. Now, science may describe something like a process, light in the form of radiation effects the eyes and neurons fire in the brain inciting memory and so forth, but this sort of 'subconscious' activity isn't particularly illuminating in how we phenomenologically encounter things (whether they be people or animals in pain) in the world. I'll summarise my position as “we see pain.” We might say that we simply recognise another in pain and our reaction to that may be called ethical, i.e. we don't start on the assumption that she might NOT be in pain (unless we have grounds for that conclusion) but that she is and the decision to help or aid them (secondary to the recognition of pain) depends on who we are and where we are (to simplify matter). Our reaction to other life forms is more complex, we would (I assume) react with more emotion to the death of a horse or dog than we would to the death of a rabbit or pigeon. This shows that our reactions to animals in pain is somewhat cultural convention and leads to a more sensible vegetarian position.

A more common-sense vegetarian position is that “animals are living beings that do not deserve to suffer.” This is further elaborated with the argument that we, as the dominant intelligence, do not need to kill animals for food anymore. Of course, the 'we' in question might only be the developed 'West' as in developing countries there really isn't always much choice over what to eat. If you have meat and the other option is starving, then it isn't much of a choice, although the poor in the developing countries also tend to have a 'vegetarian' diet as well, but this isn't an ethical choice either (more of an imposition). So, let's just focus on people with enough food to make a choice of what to eat.

A common argument against vegetarianism (and that we do not need to eat meat to sustain a healthy diet) is simply, “I LIKE eating meat and dislike vegetables, why should I give it up?” One might reply with moral or environmental (more common nowadays) reasons. The environmental position for vegetarianism is that cattle (etc.) use up so many resources in their rearing and adversely effect the environmental in the process that it is in our best interests to cut down the amount of cattle we have. The simple-minded reaction to this (carrying on with the theme) is, “what would you do with all the cows, kill them all?” Well, no, it wouldn't need to be immediate. The amount of cattle born would simply be controlled more rigorously. However, an appeal to environmental grounds is unlikely to convince our steak-loving friend to whom the prospect of Global warming is seen as an opportunity to work on his tan. For the environmental argument to be more persuasive there needs to be a cultural shift in the acceptance of environmental issues, however this still does not address the practice of rearing animals for meat as a moral wrong. So, let's return to that position.

We might say, with the common-sense vegetarians, that although animals are not equal to people that they ARE fellow life-forms and that we, as intellectually superior beings, have a duty to protect and not exploit them, especially when the vegetarian or vegan diet is show to be more healthy and sustainable than a meat-based diet. Let's call this the 'guardian' position. First, the claim for vegetarianism as a more healthy and sustainable diet is refuted by other claims, also backed up with scientific 'evidence', only going to prove (I think) that science can pretty much prove anything (especially if properly funded). The guardian position leads back into the environmental picture quite easily, "our reasons for adopting this ethical stance are due to a holistic understanding of the planet." That is, accepting our place in the Global ecosystem is also to realise the importance how we source our food and how that effects every other structure. Perhaps, this guardian position leads not to total vegetarianism but to a more balanced diet. However, in this holistic picture a certain religious view also becomes apparent. A new-age, pseudo-buddhist/hindu, that advocates vegetarianism as a 'higher' calling. To this, as with most religious views, there is little argument (that will be heard).

Of course, we might say “are we the ones to protect the planet, can't it look after itself?” However, this position probably just looks cavalier and arrogant (if not slightly ignorant). A less extreme version of this could be to say that "we kill as we live, everything we do adversely effects the planet anyway." I say, less extreme, but this nihilistic position is really just the reverse of the guardian position. That is, “it's all fucked anyway so let's have a burger and fuck 'em.” To these young men (as they mostly are) I would reply that, it is true that everything we do effects others in some ways. Even sustainably sourced food (vegetarian or not) might be construed to have negative implications, but that it makes more sense to try and limit one's impact than to simply wave one's hands in the air and give up.

Finally then, what are my apparent non-ethical reasons? As I stated at the beginning it was for 'health' reasons, now, that's not particularly true. Since I've stopped eating (most) meat my diet HAS improved, and I've become a much better cook too, but I was never overweight or had any particular reason that my diet needed to change radically for health reasons. In fact, my position might just be the opposite of the man that loves his steak and chips. But that's not quite it either. Really, I suppose, I just don't have a reason. If you ask me, I might tell you something, but there's no great philosophical reasoning behind it and why must there be? Must we have a complex set of reasons behind every benign choice (or seeming 'choice') we make with our lives?

My 2018 Reply: Non-ethical Morals


I stopped being a vegetarian, or more correctly a pescetarian, in February 2012. The defining meal was not as impressive, it was a reduced to clear chicken sandwich from Tesco's in Coventry, but the action was a total rejection of the 'lifestyle' I had lived up until that point. There were several resons behind my change, some of which I had been internally debating for some time, but the final push came about because of the death of my close friend. It should be noted that after Thomas died, I also fully withdrew from my PhD and made other decisions that were more or less motivated by grief. Some of which, I retracted from (that is, I didn't kill myself), others I regretted, and others (like this decision) I did not change from. In the case of vegetarianism, it was because, as I said, there was an already exisiting conflict within myself concerning my 'lifestyle' at the time, as well as a cultural shift (as I perceived it) towards what would become known as 'virtue signalling'. Although that term has been quickly corrupted by the alt-right and is now merely a term of abuse rather than anything worthwhile. For a contemporary history of the term 'virture signal' watch the informative youtube video by hbomberguy.

You might wonder how could I proclaim (in 2009) that I had 'no complex set of reasons' behind my ethical lifestyle and also state that I was conflicted about said choice. Perhaps I would have been less conflicted if I had adopted a more militant ethical position? It would have at least given me a stock answer to every time as I was challenged about my behaviour, which was almost constantly.

However, as I have said in other discussions on other topics, to do so would not be to act as I am. Being in state of anxious self-questioning is my default position. Why then cease to be a vegetarian?

If my reason to stop vegetarianism was to have an end to the repeated questioning about why am I doing such-and-such then it was a monumental failure. As I now have the question 'why did you stop?' as well as people expecting that I am vegetarian (because they have forgotten or, more interestingly, they are simply assuming it in me) and then having to describe both why someone might want to be vegetarian and why they would not. Luckily that was not the reason.

Did I miss eating meat? Well, not really, certainly not at any point while I was a vegetarian, although it is true that I have found several things that I ate before and have only recently tried that I do now enjoy. We never used to eat roast chicken when I was younger, for example, something that I now quite look forward to. However, I felt constrained by my choices certainly and as someone who at that time (in 2012) was living on very little money, I found it difficuly to get a proper meal within my budget. Potatoes, lentils and cabbage only provide so much.

It was such that when a vegetarian meal would always cost the same as a meat-based meal despite being essentially the same meals, but with one of them including meat, it started to highlight some social attitudes. The fact that by weight tofu would cost more than chicken, or that some cheeses would cost more than beef, or that asparagus would cost more than fish. That the former 'peasant' staples of polenta, bulgur wheat, couscous, and quinoa would also find their value increasing as the demand for such items increased, showed that vegetarianism had become profitable.

Once a 'style' has shown itself as a marketable commodity we can expect saturation, followed by a backlash and then either a return to a previous early state (and it's later revival) or the disappearance of said style. As fashions have always been about more than clothing and music, but also hold a particular worldview, then their cultural appeal and limited lifespan can be well expected. However, when these 'fashions' were (or are) about rejecting this commodification it is something of an abhorrence to find them comercialised in such a manner. In a sense, it can be seen as the further success of 'capitalism realism' in the cuture wars, in that all perspectives are shown to be reducible to capitalism as such there is no other possible way of existence. At least, that is the perspective being sold to you.

However, even if we bypass this aspect of the effect of capitalism and anti-capitalism (there is yet no such word to successfully encapsulate the opposition as no such opposition has yet been successfully formed) upon our 'lifestyles' there is the more generic position to be considered. If you want to belong to such-and-such a group then you must be prepared to pay for your membership.

Although the cynical perspective is to dismiss such-and-such a lifestyle as a 'fad' (something in itself unarguable) this does not lessen their present cultural impact (not unless this view becomes the majority view and even if it does counter-cultural is very marketable right now). Although it might draw some attention to the shallowness of the actual lifestyle being portrayed. That is, as a performative cultural display of a lifestyle, rather than one that holds onto any actual ethical values. Those who are vegan today for stylistic reasons are unlikely to have the moral wherewithall to withstand even a slight cultural shift against their 'beliefs'.

You might now turn this argument upon myself. Was then my own dissolutionment with pescetarianism because my beliefs lacked the certitude of a definite background argument? Was it, in fact, nothing more than a performance of having a identity, one that I lacked the backbone to critically support when placed under any sort of pressure?

Perhaps. Perhaps I've never really cared. Perhaps my environmentalism is rather born out of my own fear of death. Perhaps people do not really care for others, but only for their own sake, but then the thief also believes that everyone else steals. However, I believe in the truth and value of care.

My personal perspective does not refute or deny vegetarianism, nor is my argument with capitalism one that denies others a moral life within capitalism. I do believe it is possible to be a moral being in even the most non-ethical states of being.

So, when I eat my burger now I do not say “fuck 'em” but neither do I interrogate my own actions for moral reasoning at every step. I do retain an awareness that allowing these 'breaches' in moral culpability is the slippery slope of middle-aged acceptance of dogma. I try and eat a balanced diet within my budget, I consider my environmental impact, but I do not punish myself for when I cannot live up to certain ideals.

Tangentially Related Photo of a Favourite Public House

Thursday, 29 November 2018

Thoughts on Thursday: Empty Words, then and now

Empty Words: April 2009


The manifold problems of our present day cannot be solved with a return to the 'good old days', and a reintroduction of the religious attitude into work-life. This puritanical desire to flush the system clean is understandable considering how corrupt World society is presently, but the abolishment of decedent entertainments and of a refocusing upon work, the family and the soul (whether worldly or individual) would fail almost immediately. The problem is not in what our practices are but in how we approach them. Put simply it is a matter of how and not of what. Losing an arm changes what one is, but not how one is. A good man who loses an arm is still a good man, but is now a one-armed good man. This is only a recent belief, of course, for a long time the persecution of those born or made 'different' was positively encouraged, e.g. “the disabled are paying for sins in past lives.” This rhetoric is hateful nonsense.

The problem resides, I believe, in language. This is not to say that if we cleaned up our grammar we would clean up our souls. Not exactly. It is not so simple a matter, however, language is still a part of it and part of the problem. The problem lies in its use, or rather, its misuse. A phenomenon I will call 'empty words' pervades our experience of the modern World. Governments and the media are adept at using them, as is academia and the 'man on the street', that is, the public in all its generality. Politicians talk and talk, academics write book after book, and people engage in seemingly endless gossip about everything, but nothing ever seems to get said. All those hours of interviews with sportsmen, celebrities, politicians, people 'having their say' and all ultimately worthless, because nothing is actually being said. There is no acceptance of fundamentals true to human existence. Even the greatest work of art that attempts to deal with these vital subjects is diluted and dismissed in the public arena of empty words. That we engage in idle speculation and chatter is not a new phenomenon, indeed, it is as important as any other part of what goes to make up being a human. It is as important that we can sometimes brush over the dark and weighty issues that could otherwise drag us down into a nihilistic stupor. The problem is that this 'sometimes' has now become the norm and any other engagement is an extreme rarity. It was in a time that we may call 'the past' (setting an actual date for the birth of the totality of empty words is itself an empty gesture) that words were acknowledged as powerful, but we can not go back to this idealised past, we can only go forwards or collapse entirely.

A young man I know replies when asked how he is with the same answer every time, “good, extremely good.” He is neither a fool or a liar, but has grown up with these empty linguistic structures all around him. Even the fact that I ask him 'how he is' is testament to this society-wide acceptance. So, I would plead with you, the next time you ask someone how they are to actually mean it, if you are to ask them at all.

This might seem an ill-founded concern to some, but in the use of these 'empty words' we stop actually communicating to each other. This can only mean that governments hold more power over us, by dissolving language (whether purposive or not) to such a low-level that it is now almost impossible to get anything heard they effectively remove any resistance. Such is the constant noise of millions of empty words echoing across the all-encompassing moronic media coverage, it's like screaming into a storm. And this is freedom? The freedom to say absolutely anything, no matter how shallow or banal, but who is actually listening if everyone is talking? Everyone wants to be heard, but no one wants to listen. This will all change, in time, but what it will become can only be hoped for or dreaded.

Empty Words: November 2018


You might have guessed that I recently found some old writings of my own on a previously lost USB. If so, well done for paying attention.

This is another from a fairly prolific period that came with the completion of my Masters dissertation. What followed was what felt like a very difficult period in trying to best convey my ideas for a PhD, something that I never managed to do clearly enough to those that provide funding and this lack of financial support was the main reason I gave up in my research. Although there are essays totalling around 50,000 words (or more) from that time and I'm surprised in the breadth and depth of my researches. A lot of the writings about the 18th century merely passed through my head and I've utterly fogotten them, so that reading them now is akin to an out-of-body/mind experience.

However, let's deal with the subject at hand and not my own personal historic digression. It seems that with this topic of 'Empty Words' what I am decrying is the lack of intentional seriousness within our conversations in society, perhaps not at every level at every occasion, but that an occasional slackness has now become the norm and that a failure to even attempt to communicate something truthful has taken root. Certainly in 2009 this might have seemed far-fetched, but it seems like I might have been onto something, if not a something that I described with very much precision.

Let's look at today's 'Humpty Dumpty' POTUS, who uses words to mean exactly what he means them to mean, except that this linguistic failure on his part is not merely in his use of 'hot air rhetoric' or 'salesman diatribe' or my own 'empty words' that pepper his every speech (just look the difference between a live performance and reading a transcript of one of his 'speeches' to see what I mean) that I was concerned with. It is his, and many others, constant 'hiding in plain sight' or 'dog whistle' comments within their public speeches that are of greater present concern.


That being said, the rise of fascism back in 2009 seemed like a historic concern. It felt like although perhaps we weren't quite getting the promised future from our counter-cultural days in the 90s (my own perpsective) and that New Labour had, in fact, turned out the be The Man, but in another form. Despite that, things seemed alright and even the threat of militant fascist Islamism represented by Bin Laden's Al-Qaeda was sufficiently distant or alien as to be a thing to unite against and that the threat from inside our own cuture was an unthought-of possibility. This might explain my focus upon 'the religious attitude' meaning the medieval authoritarianism of the Taliban for example.

Who was indeed listening? As I mentioned. Well, the extremists within every culture apparently, who took this freedom to say anything, to say the most vile and inciteful things possible in the open space of the internet (to begin with). To stir up what they consider necessary, a race war, another one of their final solutions. But, of course, none of them now will use this language. Many of our words might be hollow, but they (the fascists) do know the power of certain words and even in denying the 'left-wing academic' focus on language use, they will use very specific phrases to 'dog whistle' their supporters.

I remember a conversation (around 2008) with an American Zionist who was convinced that secular Europe's fading Christianity (it's "spiritual void") would be replaced with Fascist Militant Islam (if they weren't careful!). He was only partially right, but I suppose I should allow him that foretelling, it's just that it wasn't Islam but Fascism (the distinction between Fascist Islam and Islam will be saved for another day, but it is hoped you can already see it) and they are doing this through our own Empty Words, turning them into Meaningful Fascist Words right in front of us, albeit one's that have eminent deniability built into them.

Monday, 26 November 2018

Melancholy Mondays: Now We Are Forty

So, the day came and I turned forty years of age.

The heavens did not proclaim anything, no unanticipated solar eclipses happened, I did not turn to stone, crowds did not gather, indeed, despite being an unexpectedly sunny and clear day the ninth of September 2018 was just another day.

I had some old friends around me, who know me well enough to not make a big deal of it all. There was no heightened expectations like we always used to have for every single Hogmanay party, which never ended in anything other than an abject disappointment.

It would have been better, however, if the woman I love was feeling better, but at that time she was suffering with terrible morning sickness. Something that has slowly faded now she is in the second trimester. Still, there are other things to look foward to, and if anything, this was an excellent lesson in "you aren't the important thing anymore."

The important thing is to come. The important thing is my son. The important thing is the life we make for him together. The important things are what we can teach him.

I don't suppose I'll end my Melancholy Mondays, or my various concerns about things in the world, it's just that I've something else now. He might not have arrived, so to speak, but his presence is already here. It is changing how I see the world, see my place within it and my future role as a parent.

I had always looked to being a parent with both hope and dread, as I suppose many have, but now it is imminent I have no fear. Not to say that I am without concern (that will never happen) but that the overwhelming fear of it all has faded away and a certainty has replaced it, now there is only a longing to begin.

Not that I expect things to be easy. For most of my life I've being waiting for this one thing to be sorted and then everything will be alright. Except, that has never happened and it's taken me a long time (too long really) to realise that this really is what John Lennon meant when he said, "life is what happens when you are busy making other plans." Well, it's high time to focus on the life and leave the plans to others.

My worklife isn't were I want it to be, nor will it ever be unless I can make certain changes or sacrifices, or more likely, to simply accept the way things are going. Libraries might never leave society, but they will certainly change and actually they always have. The basic message that we liberal-minded folk hold, the 'free access to all information for all' might be our current mantra (and one worthy of fighting to hold onto) but it is not the librarian's Hippocratic oath. There is none in the profession, beyond preserving knowledge, and I suppose that's something after all.

Tied to this is the fact that I only every wanted to be an artist, like my own dad did, and like him through cowardice and other handicaps neither of us have achieved this. Although until my own death, I still have this as potential in some form. Do I need to be a writer to consider myself worthy? I once did. I once thought that only in being an academic, would I have achieved something. It's not that I've given up (entirely) on the 'Art Life' it's just that I don't need you to tell me I'm worthy. Not anymore.

We all do what we can with what we have. There is no point delaying being a good person, the time to be good is now. I learned this lesson from Thomas. This isn't to say that I always make the right choice, the kind choice, the noble choice. Often times I act like an immature brat and am capable of being cruel and stupid in equal measure.

I've lost a lot of people in my forty years, some through carelessness, some through misfortune, some due to my own foolishness, some just because it was time. We are all just drifting, hoping to find some pure reason behind it all. Some delude themselves into thinking it is such-and-such a cause or ideology. I'm not going to proclaim that I know the answer, I don't, I just mean to do my best with what I have. To be the best father that I can. What else is there?

Salvador Dali, 'Geopoliticus child watching the birth of the new man' (1943)

Wednesday, 21 November 2018

Quotes Worth Saving (24): Georges Bataille "What We Are Starting Is A War" from Sacred Conspiracy

Georges Bataille (1897-1962) was an intellectual, writer, mystic, poet, archivist, revolutionary, surrealist, communist, sexualist, and librarian. In short, he kept himself busy.


"What we are starting is a war. It is time to abandon the world of the civilised and its light. It is too late to be reasonable and educated - which has led to a life without appeal. Secretly or not, it is necessary to become completely different, or to cease being. The world to which we have belonged offers nothing to love outside of each individual insufficiency: its existence is limited to utility. A world that cannot be loved to the point of death- in the same way that a man loves a woman- represents only self-interest and the obligation to work. If it is compared to worlds gone by, it is hideous, and appears as the most failed of all. In past worlds, it was possible to lose oneself in ecstasy, which is impossible in our world of educated vulgarity. The advantages of civilisation are offset by the way men profit from them: men today profit in order to become the most degraded beings that have ever existed. Life has always taken place in a tumult without apparent cohesion, but it only finds its grandeur and its reality in ecstasy and in ecstatic love. He who tries to ignore or misunderstand ecstasy is an incomplete being whose thought is reduced to analysis. Existence is not only an agitated void, it is a dance that forces one to dance with fanaticism. Thought that does not have a dead fragment as its object has the inner existence of flames. It is necessary to become sufficiently firm and unshaken so that the existence of the world of civilisation finally appears uncertain. It is use less to respond to those who are able to believe in the existence of this world and who take their authority from it; if they speak, it is possible to look at them without hearing them and, even when one looks at them, to "see" only what exists far behind them. It is necessary to refuse boredom and live only for fascination. On this path, it is vain to become restless and seek to attract those who have idle whims, such as passing the time, laughing, or becoming individually bizarre. It is necessary to go forward without looking back and without taking into account those who do not have the strength to forget individual reality."

BATAILLE, from THE SACRED CONSPIRICY



 
 
I think that this quote, one of my favourites, can be read in several ways. Many of which will be wrong, not that I believe my own perspective is the definitive, indeed, in a sense even an erroneous interpretation is still worthwhile in that it might shed a differing view. It is rather whether we take this singular description as the only description, rather than as one way of many. Reading through Bataille's own works will give one a greater idea of the author's own intent, but I will assume that those reading this might not have spent this time.
 
Here then is one thought. The 'civilisation' being rejected is the so-called civilised world of the neo-liberal capitalists that we all now inhabit. A world that has made us all ignore the beauty of a communal society for one of individualistic striving and domination. 

Tuesday, 13 November 2018

In blogs past: The Phenomenology of Death

Here's a positively ancient blog post from way back in 2008 when I was a Masters student of Aesthetics.

I found the novella 'The Blind Owl' purely by my habit of roaming about interesting sections of the library and I'm glad that I did. I think a re-reading is on the cards and I'm fairly confident that the excellent National Library of Scotland will provide...


The Phenomenology of Death

The Blind Owl by Sadeq Hadayat


The Blind Owl has been interpreted in various ways; as a treatment of the author’s addiction, a reaction against the authoritarian regime of Reza Shah’s Iran, a work of existential psychology dealing with the author’s unease of the female and attraction/repulsion thereof (although the latter is a basic Freudian analysis and, by my opinion, not up to much). However, this short piece will not attempt to give such a broad generalisation for such a complex story as the Blind Owl (as one could easily bring up ancient Hindu and Buddhist texts concerning enlightenment, the mythology of owls, the history of Persia etc). Rather I will focus upon what is a definite ‘thread’ throughout Sadeq’s novella, that of the phenomenology of death. It is not to be doubted that all the other themes mentioned (even the Freudian) play a role, but to reduce the story to only one message is to destroy it. The confusion of powerful images gives it its coherence (we might think of Rimbaud’s poetry as a similar example).

The work is entirely poetic and should be understood as such, for example when Sadeq has he character say that he, “felt a pleasant pain.” When I say this you would understand me, but logically it is a nonsense for pleasure and pain are opposites such as cold and heat. We can all understand quite what a pleasant pain is describing, this is quite a basic example, but the work is full of more complex poetic juxtapositions. Death is a metaphor for the living, we cannot know it. To talk about it poetically makes sense, to talk about it factually we have to be indirect, discuss its effect and so forth. Here Sadeq considers death it what it means to us. That is, how it effects our life (thus phenomenologically).

At this moment my thoughts froze. A unique, singular life was created in me, because my life was bound to all the existences that surrounded me, all the shadows that trembled around me. I felt an inseparable, deep relation with the world, with the movement of all creatures and with nature. All the elements of myself and of nature were related by the invisible streams of some mind-disturbing, agitating current. No thought or image was unnatural for me. I could understand the secrets of the ancient paintings, the mysteries of difficult, philosophical treatises, and the eternal foolishness of forms and norms, because at this moment I was participating in the revolution of the earth and the planets, in the growth of the plants, and in the activities of the animal world. The past and the future, far and near, shared my sentient life and were at one with me.

At such times everyone takes refuge in a strong habit, or in a scruple that he has developed in his life: the drunkard becomes drunk, the writer writes, the stone-cutter cuts stones, each giving vent to his anxiety and anger by escaping into the strong stimulant of his own life. And it is in moments like these that a real artist can create a masterpiece.

It is with this, and at various encounters throughout the novella, that the narrator encounters the immediate potency of one’s own death. That it is I that will die, the realisation floods one with an anxiety that empowers or destroys. With acceptance one can “create a masterpiece” and it is only with this facing up to one’s (everyone’s) mortality that the world can be understood to make sense, thus the participation in everything. This ‘enlightenment’ moment obviously has links with Hinduism and Buddhism, and also with the philosophy of Heidegger and the French existentialists, but it is not a philosophical treaty masquerading as a story. The existential plight of the main character is palpable and considered one of the reasons it was banned for so long.

The dream-like imagery of the novella crowds in and overwhelms the reader (especially during the frantic second part), in effect the over emphasis upon the highly powerful sensory images and descriptions used by Sadeq stun. The language is so intense that it dissolves itself and we are left with the ‘feeling’ of dread, with the struggle of the ‘painter’ (the narrator) the make sense of the world. Who is the girl? His Wife, death itself, addiction/sickness, love, all of these. With his over determination upon language (his attempts to explain) we find that incessant describing is precisely because of its own insufficiency. The ideal then must be silence (death?) “I always thought forbearance from speech was the best of things.” And in this end it is death that “never lies” whereas with speech we constantly make dreams and images that continue to confuse.

The whole novella is a cycle, a dream within a dream. Complex and multi-layered, it's own over abundance of imagery reduce it to the silent image of a corpse.

31/07/08

Saturday, 23 June 2018

Quotes Worth Saving (23): William Lindsay Gresham 'Nightmare Alley'

William Lindsay Gresham's Nightmare Alley is a novel about the rise and fall of con-artist who uses his carnival freak-show learned preformative misinformation to exploit others, although as cynical noir-tinged story written by an alcoholic depressive you would be correct in assuming that there is more going on and that this is not going to be the hero's journey narrative. Each chapter of the novel is represented by and alludes to a specific Tarot card. The book was first published in 1946 and was quickly picked up by 20th Century Fox. The film starring Tyrone Power came out the following year (1947) and although now regarded as a classic film noir, it was considered 'shocking' at the time due to its salacious content and due to this reaction was not a financial success.



Anyway, here is a speech/rant given by Stanton Carlisle to his psychoanalyst/co-conspirator:

Apropos of late stage Capitalism...

And a certain 'Leader of the Free World'

I'm a hustler, God damn it. Do you understand that, you frozen-faced bitch? I'm on the make. Nothing matters in this goddamned lunatic asylum of a world but dough. When you get that you're the boss. If you don't have it you're the end man on the daisy chain. I'm going to get it if I have to bust every bone in my head doing it. I'm going to milk it out of those chumps and take them for the gold in their teeth before I'm through. You don't dare yell copper on me because if you spilled anything about me all your other Johns would get the wind up their necks and you wouldn't have any more at twenty-five bucks a crack. You've got enough stuff in that bastard tin file cabinet to blow 'em all up. I know what you've got in there - society dames with the clap, bankers that take it up the ass, actresses that live on hop, people with idiot kids. You've got it all down. If I had that stuff I'd give 'em cold readings that would have 'em crawling on their knees to me. And you sit there out of this world with that dead-pan face and listen to the chumps puking their guts out day after day for peanuts. If I knew that much I'd stop when I'd made a million bucks and not a minute sooner. You're a chump too, blondie. They're all Johns. They're asking for it. Well, I'm here to give it out. And if anybody was to get the big mouth and sing to the cops about me I'd tell a couple of guys I know. They wouldn't fall for your jujit stuff.

William Lindsay Gresham
Nightmare Alley
New York Review Books, NY, 2010
ISBN 9781590173480


Sunday, 17 June 2018

Secular Sunday: Father's Day 2018

longer now without a dad
than i ever spent with one

M. C. Escher, 'Eye', 1946

I forgive my father and possibly, more importantly, I forgive myself for my own emotions on the matter of his death and his own failings as a parent (& my failings as a son).

Even if/when we accept that the parent is a fallible human 'just like us', something that is part of becoming an adult, as we do with the surrounding grown-up environs that we now inhabit, even if, we still have a greater idea to conquer/over-write/subsume/erase and that is the parent as a divine creator. The parent as literal god figure.

This might seem foolish to you, you might think that this description of a belief towards one's parents hardly fits for you or your relationship, but I would beg you to reconsider, because it is already built into how most of the world sees itself and how it prioritises the family. Each and every human society believes that their distinct experience of family is unique and hold more universal truth than any other cultures, and at the crux of this belief is typically the idolisation of the parent.

That our existence might not have been part of god's plan, that we might not have really been expected or truly wanted or were anything other than social pressure upon the incurious minds that birthed us, is not something we likely consider, but we should.

In either becoming or considering being a parent ourselves we should remember that our step into the unknown is what all other parents, including our own, have done before us. In accepting our weakness as one whose decision is guided more by hope than by anything certain, we should also welcome this chaotic mystery that life brings.

The desire to make the god's plan personal is the desire to narrativise our own existence as something ordained and with significance, whether this is by the idolisation of the parent or through actual religious fervour, both are a creation, a sham. Are we ready for what the rejection of this perspective might bring?

It involves our compassionate acceptance not only of our parents as flawed, but of our self, of our own choices as not being either truly individual or truly given. We are the paradox of consciousness and the result is not to deny this, or to seek a transfer to some other authority, but it is our responsibility to care.

I miss you dad. I love you. Happy father's day.

FMM 1944-1996

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

Quotes worth saving (22): Daniel Keyes 'Flowers for Algernon'

This is a beautiful melancholy novel, which only just about counts as a genre novel, a science fiction.

FLOWERS FOR ALGERNON
by Daniel Keyes
Gateway/Gollancz
SF Masterworks
2002 this edition
1966 original publication



Intelligence is one of the greatest human gifts. But all too often a search for knowledge drives out the search for love. This is something else I've discovered for myself very recently. I present it to you as a hypothesis: Intelligence without the ability to give and receive affection leads to mental and moral breakdown, to neurosis, and possibly even psychosis. And I say that the mind absorbed in and involved in itself as a self-centered end, to the exclusion of human relationships, can only lead to violence and pain. (p.173)

Daniel Keyes (1927-2014)

This was the way we loved, until the night became a silent day. And as I lay there with her I could see how important physical love was, how necessary it was for us to be in each other's arms, giving and taking. The universe was exploding, each particle away from the next, hurtling us into dark and lonely space, eternally tearing us away from each other - child out of the womb, friend away from friend, moving from each other, each through his own pathway toward the goal-box of solitary death.
But this was the counterweight, the act of binding and holding. As when men to keep from being swept overboard in the storm clutch at each other's hands to resist being torn apart, so our bodies fused a link in the human chain that kept us from being swept into nothing. (p.205)


Tuesday, 12 June 2018

Love is the Law (5): Infinite Rewards

Yesterday, I spoke about the inherent withering of any structure, system, or substance.

The thing is, it's not true of everything.

Love requires constant rejuvenation to exist.

In Loving I am constantly seeing again, reconfiguring, aligning myself with another.

My Love for/with JJ continues. It is not static. As that beautiful immortal Ursula Le Guin wrote:

Love doesn't just sit there, like a stone, it has to be made, like bread; remade all the time, made new.


When I see her now, I do not see our relationship of the past, I do not look with nostalgia, I see anew.

Each day refreshes, each exchange deepens our connection.

Yes, these human relationships can falter, can weaken, can fall into entropy.

It requires work on our part; to take responsibility, to show weakness, to open one's self.

But, the effort isn't harder, the rewards aren't lessened.

Love is not the atrophying of some past peak, now slowly spiralling down.

It springs eternal.

Love is the forever we were promised.

'Time defeated by Hope and Beauty' by Simon Vouet (1627)

Monday, 11 June 2018

Melancholy Mondays: Diminishing Returns

Can't help but feel that physically I've passed the point of no return. That I'm never going to suddenly develop into a startling muscular figure, or become the long-distance runner that I never properly trained for. I can still maintain a certain standard of physical fitness and try to keep the beer belly bulge at bay, but it's only going to get harder and take more work. Exercise that will take longer to recover from, with a body that is less flexible and resistant than it was before.

Mentally, they say that your intellectual peak can come much later, post-forty certainly, but it's also true that certain things have got harder. That my memory, previously almost faultless, is now rather defective and the possibility that I might completely forget something is more of a regular occurrence than I'd ever considered. It's frightening and more than a little embarrassing to find yourself with no memory. "I have no recollection," after all, is the statement of liar. Certainly as used by politicians, celebrities, and other criminals.

All life works towards a downward spiral. Eventually, the effort put in is not met by the active response. More has to be expended to reach what was easier to accomplish before. All things weaken, age, diminish, and finally perish. There is no eternal reoccurrence, no perpetual motion. Some things just take longer to die.

We might consider large-scale collaborative endeavours, such as Science, as somehow excluded from this basic law of entropy, but consider Civilisations. Why do they 'fail', perhaps entropy is absolute. The scientific method itself seems to accept a potential replacement with a 'better' system.

The epigenetic clock is ticking...


'The Seer' Giorgio de Chirico

Thursday, 17 May 2018

Game Day: LeCraft - Fantasy Combat


Almost all RPGs are focused entirely upon combat, even the ones were there is an attempt to develop internal politics and other non-violent means of conflict resolution, still the inevitable fighting mechanic forms the central core of the game and must be detailed. As these are games and as players are conditioned to play to win, so the swiftest resolution is always with combat and a few dice rolls, "bang bang, you're dead"... "but I built my character with debating skills"... "my character has an M14 rifle and shoots your character in the brain stem. Game over."

Perhaps it's simply the fact that RPGs have developed from war games, perhaps it's the way we play games, perhaps it's our violent natures.

In any case I can imagine that a game or story that did not involve either actual violence (action) or the threat of violence (horror) to be dismissed as 'boring' or 'not realistic'. Let's be clear though, my game/story world is not a passifist utopia.

However.

Not to remove the reality of violence, instead as a story mechanic it's use should not be without danger or consequence, the use of violence is rarely a solution, as it merely creates the potential for other worse situations. The cycle of violence, revenge, permanent injury, the loss of one's identity to that of a corrupt 'other place' (cf. Lynch). Much like magick is this world's literal depiction of the corruption of power, of influence, so that violence here should also be extreme with the possibility of perma-death (what other kind should we think of?), of physical damage (although fixable by magick, this too lends itself to risk), or of mental-spiritual damage, leading to becoming feral, a lesser animalistic being. 

That is, if we consider violence as an animal instict and therefore basic or innate, should it be feared or controlled or denied or embraced?

 Perhaps something we should watch for is the trivilising of this attitude, or the domestication or even the gamification of violence. This is because it can help manufacture the idea that this is what we really are. It makes the assumption through it's repeated use in games and stories that violence is basic is innate is true to what we are. The argument of its inescapability meaning that we must embrace this lust for violence, but this sadistic pleasure in causing pain, in 'getting back', in solution (because surely when they are all dead there can be no more problems), is a social construct, it is the argument of authoritarianism, of Fascism, of the sociopath.

The animal does not love violence.

Innate does not mean always, it is appropriate only with the context. The hawk does not kill without 'reason'.


So, this isn't to disparage those that enjoy the combat aspect of their games. Indeed, as I said, it's obviously a key component for most games for a reason. Might I suggest that it is because it is more directly emotive and more easily generalisable for a wider audience. What I wish to develop is that idea of combat in games being more than just a few 'exciting' dice rolls, I want it to be something that players are actually apprehensive of.

In stories this 'realism' of combat can be described to convey the physicality, the danger, and so forth, but it is unlikely the writer will be as literally descriptive as players in a role-playing game. Indeed, the 'shot-for-shot' description of a conflict from a rpg into a story would be incredibly dull. However, something a rpg can convey is complex multitude of instant decisions that one might make during a fight (albeit they think over these choices for far longer and can strategise).

Dice-rolling mediated by additional factors (skill, environment, equipment) does a reasonable job of depicting the potential randomness of violent confrontation, but due to the gamifying of the event this introduces a level of agency and control to the situation that is inauthentic.

Simply put, it is not random or final enough. The only time I can recall something 'real' occuring in a rpg was the old-style D&D that I first played aged twelve. At first level your character had 1D4 of hit points if a thief or a magic-user. Most basic weapons and animals do 1D6 damage (arrows, clubs, spears and short swords) meaning that you have a reasonably high likelihood of dying in one hit. Even fighters, whose whole class focus is fairly obvious, only start with 1D8 of hit points (although this can modified up to +3 with bonuses), which means that several good hits will kill pretty much every first level character. Also, despite resurrection being possible in D&D this comes with a gold value (hurray for fantasy capitalism, there is no escape) meaning that again first level or low level characters can not afford it and must offer their services for repayment (useful as a plot hook, often exploited).

However, unfortunately, if your characters survive long enough they get to the point were this one-hit-kill possiblity is utterly removed, indeed, at high levels a single player character can overpower entire armies. Note: There is the possibility of high-level spells killing, 'disintegrating', characters but by this point characters are normally able to raise the dead themselves. Making death not the end, but instead a minor and temporary inconvenience.

Monday, 14 May 2018

Melancholy Mondays: Amor Fati

This is the year I become forty. Woe is me.

They always tell you that one day you'll look at contemporary youth culture in the same dismissive disparaging way that your parents did and you say, "there's no chance that will ever happen to me, because I'll always remain in touch and up to date with society."

And yet, here we are, it wasn't music that did it (after all pop music has always been mediocre), it wasn't even contemporary entertainment (all those superhero films and endless 'binge-watch' TV series).

No, for you in came in the form of comedy. Something you'd always prided yourself for understanding in a nuanced way. Maybe it's that they remind you of bullies, something that has always been a trigger for you.

Whatever the root cause, this is it, the shitposting edgelords of twitter, reddit and imageboard sites are the thing that makes you go, "what the F💥CK is wrong with young people today!?"

Well done old man.

“A Golden Thread” by John Melhuish Strudwick (1885).

Wednesday, 9 May 2018

Final Verdict: Dankula - Who Means and Who Memes

So, as mentioned, here is my own final verdict concerning the case of Markus Meechan. To be very brief, it is both better and worse than I had first considered. Something I was already aware of, however, was the fairly reprehensible behaviour of the British 'free' press. Whose style is more about sensationalist entertainment over objective facts, in short, it is an approach that is more tabloid.

James Matthews, Sky TV Reporter: You said 'Gas the Jews' 23 times, what's funny about that?
Markus Meechan AKA Count Dankula: The context of it. It's the juxtaposition of having an adorable animal react to something vulgar.
MM: That was the entire point of the joke. Have you seen the video?
JM: Do you accept you committed a crime?
MM: Have you seen the video?
JM: I have.
MM: Alright again, so I've explained the context of it so why are you asking me that again?
JM: Well, the context is that you've been fined £800 for a crime that you've committed?
MM: No, report under the context of the video. Don't try and move on me.
JM: We have in court that you committed gross offense against a large community of people.
JM: 6 million Jews were killed in the Holocaust.
MM: You just said the statement a couple seconds ago.
MM: Why should I consider your context if you're not concerned with mine?
JM: You've broken the law, do you regret breaking the law?
MM: You just broke the law two seconds ago when you said the phrase.
MM: Remember context matters mate.

Above is a transcript of a journalist attempting to perform a 'gotcha' interview on Meechan just as he was leaving Court after sentencing. Meechan's point isn't particularly earth-shattering, but it's telling that the journalist has no comeback. Mainly because he really isn't that interested with the 'news' he is reporting, just doing his job of humiliating people for entertainment.

Here's my brief comeback to Meechan on the above point, but just be crystal clear I'd like to point out that I think the 'journalist' is behaving shamefully. Context, however, is not just the structure of an idea (in this case, the 'point' of the joke), it also refers to the 'social' environment. This is, after all, what the judge felt was sufficient grounds to find Meechan guilty, the social environment of anti-Semitism. Whether this was a correct assessment is another matter, and one we'll return to.

Below is a video of Meechan giving his response to; the trial, the sentencing, and the situation around it. I think he comes across as a fairly observant and thoughtful, if flippant, person.

https://youtu.be/5VDfcrDHvzE


[After watching the video, I left the following comment directed at Meechan]

Did I like the joke? No.
Do I think you should have been arrested? No.
Do I think this is a dangerous precedent for freedom of speech? No, not really.

Here's why. You said that the court disregarded your 'context and intention'. I don't think that's correct. They heard your version of context and intention and the judge disagreed, now perhaps this is a sign of a conspiracy to stop free speech, but I think it was just one legal decision. I mean, they haven't changed the law in response have they? A different case would be treated as that case.

So, do I defend your right to make s****y jokes? Yes.
Did you make a mistake publishing the video on YouTube? Possibly, but people make mistakes.
Do you deserve to get punished for people being 'offended' by that? No. YouTube does, if anyone does. All they needed was a 'click-through' warning.

This should be unifying people of all political beliefs not dividing them, but it is also not the case for allowing ALL speech. Free speech doesn't mean saying what you like without consequence, but we all mostly know this. As you say, Context matters!

Does this mean that governments should police individuals on the internet? F*** no.
Police the companies instead. Maintain the context itself.

Although I can say whatever I like in private without fear of repercussion, it doesn't follow that I should be able to say the same thing in public UNLESS we are using our free speech to criticise; the corruption of institutions and public figures, societal structures and injustices. This includes satire, art and comedy in general.

I think the real problem is that the lawmakers have no idea how the internet operates and so we get this reactive nonsense right now. I think that in a few years when those setting the laws and policies are 'like us', that is, grew up in this internet age that it will all (hopefully) quieten down. Doesn't mean we should be silent though, they don't know it's wrong or over-reaching if people don't tell them.

[I've edited out my own 'jokes' from the comment because they're not that funny. Below, is a response that although making incorrect deductions is representative of the general feeling]

A man made a joke and was fined 800 pound[s]. So it's a very dangerous precedent for freedom of speech. It's as black and white as that - if we start policing what people say then eventually the only space you'll have is the four square inches in your head.

[I wrote a reply to the comment, which if I get another response that is similarly useful I will also include and reply to, but here's my first answer]

Well, that's the thing isn't it. You say, "made a joke" and the problem is, comedy is an art form and therefore subjective. Law deals with facts. What were the facts of the case? That some people found it "grossly offensive?" I'd argue that this reaction is as subjective as the definition of a joke and is therefore not the grounds for a legal case. The legal grounds would be that it "incited racial hatred" or something along those lines. And did it? No. Could 'comedy' do this? Yes. Nazis make jokes too and they are bigoted lies masquerading as jokes. Being comedy isn't and shouldn't be a 'get out of jail free card'.

It's not a black and white issue, indeed, I'd suggest that almost nothing ever is. Just because you agree with something doesn't make it right. How is this a dangerous precedent? Do you really think this is the first step to an automated totalitarian police state? We already police what people say, that's why Abu Hamza was arrested or do you think we shouldn't have done that? (It took long enough as it was) Total freedom is impossible, it's about deciding what should be allowed. Should 'bad taste' jokes be allowed? Yes, I think we should be able to make them. Context depending, of course.

As I said, I think the problem is that those making the laws are so out of touch with the internet, the culture on the internet, and the sense of humour on the internet.

Is this part of a larger conspiracy? No, calm down, it's not. Doesn't mean that people should remain silent in the face of unjust decisions like this, but let's not start another moral panic. The internet's a great place for ramping up irrational concerns, sometimes people just need to stop and think, like they would in a 'real world' situation (paranoiacs notwithstanding).

I like the idea of a protection body for free speech, because it's the 'small' people that are getting done by this. They picked on Meechan because they thought he was small, they hadn't counted on the support he'd get. There were 'moral panics' (from the press mostly) that threatened Frankie Boyle, Chris Morris and other comedians before, but they backed down because of the public outcry.

But then, are we talking about ALL free speech or just comedy/satire?

***

This Forbes article is by far the best that I've read on the subject, as it offers constructive criticism of the law and Markus' own behaviour, which I also claimed wasn't helping his case. It also details the judges own lack of knowledge of internet culture, even of the basics of how the technology operates.

https://www.forbes.com/sites/fruzsinaeordogh/2018/04/30/a-nuanced-take-on-count-dankulas-nazi-pug/

In a reply to the author, Fruzsina Eördögh, Meechan spoke of,
"a huge discussion in our circles right now" about the notion of "who means and who memes." To explain it in the context of this post, how popular Internet memes have been co-opted by hate groups and the mainstream and it is becoming increasingly difficult to tell who is being ironic and who actually means it.

Whether this 'discussion' is to be truly believed depends on how much of a conspiracy theorist you are. I have some faith in human nature and therefore hope that both the Scottish Courts and Meechan's circles are not actually part of a convert plan to undermine democracy via totalitarian thought control or by fascist infiltration into mainstream. It's worth keeping an eye on however...

***

Thanks to the UK's internet super-bureaucracy I was able to find the judge's sentencing comments in the Meechan trial. http://www.scotland-judiciary.org.uk/8/1962/PF-v-Mark-Meechan

The document contains several interesting comments, not least this statement in the closing section,
This trial, unusual though some aspects have been, was therefore concerned, ultimately, only with the narrow fact-based question of whether the Crown has proved beyond reasonable doubt that your using a public communications network on one day to post the video onto your video channel, constituted an offence contrary to section 127(1)(a) of the Communications Act 2003. I found it proved on the evidence that it was. My finding establishes only your guilt of this offence. It establishes nothing else and sets no precedent.

So, we can take the Sheriff Derek O' Carroll at his word as a member of the judiciary of Scotland, or we can consider him a conspirator in a devious plot, as I say though, I remain hopeful about human nature.

What struck me, and this is mainly due to my lack of attention to the nature of the case itself, was that the sentence was under the Communications Act 2003, Section 127, which is not about 'freedom of speech' or 'hate speech' but instead related to the 'improper use of public electronic communications networks' and has typically been used to prosecute people who make threatening or offensive comments on Twitter and Facebook.

Below is the legal definition from the UK Government website.

https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2003/21/section/127

And here is an article on the Communications Act, detailing some of the cases (including Meechan) and some of the ongoing problems with the law. Most notable the definition of 'public' in the public electronic communication network. At this stage, the use of public is to describe that they are free to use and open to view, although this has already be disputed and is open to interpretation.

https://wiki.openrightsgroup.org/wiki/Communications_Act_2003/Section_127

For me, this raises some issues with the Meechan case itself, as I had previously thought he was being tried under hate speech laws (Crime and Disorder Act) and although disputable that at least made some sense. By using the Communications Act 2003, I am immediately drawn to the parallels with the Paul Chambers 'Twitter Joke' Case in 2012. Chambers was also first convicted and ordered to pay a fine (also losing his job in the process) and he subsequently successfully appealed his conviction in the High Court (albeit at the third attempt). So, things are looking good for Meechan. Although perhaps he should go for the support of people like Stephen Fry and Al Murray (who supported Chambers), rather than Alex Jones and 'Tommy Robinson'.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Twitter_Joke_Trial

Concluding Remarks

1. As I said before, it's not illegal to choose 'bad company' or to be a rude c*** nor should it be illegal to make jokes in 'bad taste'. Meechan achieves all of these things; he is unlikeable (from my POV), he associates with 'less reputable' YouTube personalities and 'activists', and he makes crass childish 'jokes' at the expense of others. None of these things are against the law, thankfully.

2. Eventually, we'll come to see that too much internet usage is a bad thing, like drink or other drugs, and maybe this generation of sh*tposters will be the ones to teach us that.

3. We do need to be able to challenge laws that are being badly executed or improperly used. We also need to watch that our challenges are brought about by logic rather than a moral panic. If we look at the law and how it is being implemented, I would hope that it would alleviate the concerns of the UK becoming a police state or any other far-reaching rumour mongering, but such analysis would also show that there is an absence of a decent conversation about freedom of speech in public and that sometimes the law makers are acting without sufficient thought or knowledge of the area that they are dealing with. This reminds me of this statement by O'Carroll in his summing up, "although I invited both legal representatives to make legal submissions during the trial about the law on freedom of expression, that was done only to a very limited extent. In the absence of focused submissions on that topic by either the Crown or the defence, all I can say is that, while that right is very important, in all modern democratic countries the law necessarily places some limits on that right."

So, rather than finding this case as a reason to further spread irrational fears on the internet, let it instead be a reason to ignite a public debate of what freedom of speech means to us all and why that might be important and not just another piece of sensationalist entertainment 'news' that will quickly be forgotten.