Thursday, September 30, 2004

A Cloud In Trousers Part I

Part I

You think malaria makes me delirious?

It happened.
In Odessa it happened.

“I’ll come at four,” Maria promised.


Then the evening
turned its back on the windows
and plunged into grim night,

At my decrepit back
the candelabras guffawed and whinnied.

You would not recognise me now:
a bulging bulk of sinews,
and writhing,
What can such a clod desire?
Though a clod, many things!

The self does not care
whether one is cast of bronze
or the heart has an iron lining.
At night the self only desires
to steep its clangour in softness,
in woman.

And thus,
I stood hunched by the window,
and my brow melted the glass.
What will it be: love or no-love?
And what kind of love:
big or minute?
How could a body like this have a big love?
It should be teeny-weeny,
humble, little love;
a love that shies at the hooting of cars,
that adores the bells of horse-trams.

Again and again
nuzzling against the rain,
my face pressed against its pitted face,
I wait,
splashed by the city’s thundering surf.

Then midnight, amok with a knife,
caught up,
cut him down –
out with him!

The stroke of twelve fell
like a head from a block.

On the windowpanes, grey raindrops
howled together,
piling on a grimace
as though the gargoyles
of Notre Dame were howling.

Damn you!
Isn’t that enough?
Screams will soon claw my mouth apart.

Then I heard,
a nerve leap
like a sick man from his bed.
barely moving,
at first,
it soon scampered about,
Now, with a couple more,
it darted about in a desperate dance.

The plaster on the ground floor crashed.

big nerves,
tiny nerves,
many nerves! –
galloped madly
till soon
their legs gave way.

But night oozed and oozed through the room –
and the eye, weighed down, could not slither out of
the slime.

The doors suddenly banged ta-ra-bang,
as though the hotel’s teeth

You swept in abruptly
like “take it or leave it!”
Mauling your suede gloves,
you declared:
“D’you know,
I’m getting married.”

All right, marry then.
So what,
I can take it.
As you see, I’m calm!
Like the pulse
of a corpse.

Do you remember
how you used to talk?
“Jack London,
But I saw one thing only:
you, a Gioconda,
had to be stolen!

And you were stolen.

In love, I shall gamble again,
the arch of my brows ablaze.
What of it!
Homeless tramps often find
shelter in a burnt-out house!

You’re teasing me now?
“You have fewer emeralds of madness
than a beggar has kopeks!”
But remember!
When they teased Vesuvius,
Pompeii perished!

of sacrilege,
and carnage,
have you seen
the terror of terrors –
my face
am absolutely calm?

I feel
my “I”
is much too small for me.
Stubbornly a body pushes out of me.

Who’s speaking?
Your son is gloriously ill!
His heart is on fire.
Tell his sisters, Lyuda and Olya,
he has no nook to hide in.

Each word,
each joke,
which his scorching mouth spews,
jumps like a naked prostitute
from a burning brothel.

People sniff
the smell of burnt flesh!
A brigade of men drive up.
A glittering brigade.
In bright helmets.
But no jackboots here!
Tell the firemen
to climb lovingly when a heart’s on fire.
Leave it to me.
I’ll pump barrels of tears from my eyes.
I’ll brace myself against my ribs.
I’ll leap out! Out! Out!
They’ve collapsed.
You can’t leap out of a heart!

From the cracks of the lips
upon a smouldering face
a cinder of a kiss rises to leap.

I cannot sing.
In the heart’s chapel the choir loft catches fire!

The scorched figurines of words and numbers
scurry from the skull
like children from a flaming building.
Thus fear,
in its effort to grasp at the sky,
lifted high
the flaming arms of the Lusitania.

Into the calm of the apartment
where people quake,
a hundred-eye blaze bursts from the docks.
into the centuries,
if you can, a last scream: I’m on fire!

By Popular Demand we present...

A Cloud In Trousers

Your thoughts,
dreaming on a softened brain,
like an over-fed lackey on a greasy settee,
with my heart's bloody tatters I'll mock again;
impudent and caustic, I'll jeer to superfluity.

Of Grandfatherly gentleness I'm devoid,
there's not a single grey hair in my soul!
Thundering the world with the might of my voice,
I go by -- handsome,

Gentle ones!
You lay your love on a violin.
The crude lay their love on a drum.
but you can't, like me, turn inside out entirely,
and nothing but human lips become!

Out of chintz-covered drawing-rooms, come
and learn-
decorous bureaucrats of angelic leagues.

and you whose lips are calmly thumbed,
as a cook turns over cookery-book leaves.

If you like-
I'll be furiously flesh elemental,
or - changing to tones that the sunset arouses -
if you like-
I'll be extraordinary gentle,
not a man, but - a cloud in trousers!

Dylan and Dylanology

Bob Dylan recently gave an interview to promote his autobiography. The interview reveals "I came from a rock'n'roll background". In today's Independent John Walsh says
This is nonsense: Dylan had any number of musical parents - blues, hootenanny, Beatnik poetry - but none was rock'n'roll. This is Dylan trying to rewrite his past by claiming that, when he went electric in 1965 he was only reverting to the rock music that had always been in his soul.
. .
Did we know he contemplated joining the army and going to West Point military academy? That his childhood heroes were Robin Hood and St George? And that he read Clausewitz's Principles of War...? No, I didn't know any [of] this either...
And then you start to wonder if any of it's true...It's never been a thankful task trying to find the real Bob Dylan. And it looks like his autobiography isn't going to help much. But I'm sure he had fun winding up his adoring public.

Without a deep immersion in Dylanology it is difficult to tell what's new, what's true and what is there to tease. But the liking for Robin Hood goes deep. There is a quote from Dylans's 1965 London tour
I want to get some thigh length boots while I'm here. No - better than that, waist length. Just like Robin Hood. I'm a bit fed up with these here boots I've got on. I call them my Damon Runyon boots.*

* Dylan, Bob. Bob Dylan in His Own Words. comp Miles. London: Omnibus Press, 1978. 33

Liverpool as seen on C4 News

Last night Channel 4 news argued that it is only now that Liverpool is recovering from the excesses of the Militant Tendency led by Mulhearn and Hatton (or Ant and Dec as nobody called them at the time). That is to confuse the outward display of a reaction to depression and decay with the depression and decay itself. Major decline in local industry in the 70s and 80s led to mass unemployment. Despair led to support for a rather reactionary and workerist left sect that offered hope for Liverpool's working class communities through a series of transitional demands such as no redundancies, nationalization of the top 200 companies, and a 35 hour week. The transitional demands served two purposes: to attract the working class; and to expose the inadequate nature of the Labour Party leadership.
Militant's reactionary nature can be seen in the way it rejected campaigns on racism, feminism, peace and sexuality as "distractions and irrelevancies"1.
The regeneration of inner Liverpool is a product of reformist policies and investment led by property developers that may, or may not, improve the lives of people on the outer estates. To argue that regeneration has been delayed because of the 20 year Militant Tendency hangover is to ignore the deep economic and industrial decay in the city.

1 David Coates. "Parties in Pursuit of Socialism". Coates, David and Gordon Johnston et al. A Socialist Anatomy of Britain. Cambridge: Polity, 1985. 213

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Taxes II

Talking With The
About Poetry - Vladimir Mayakovsky (1926)

[Translated from the Russian by Peter Tempest]

Sorry to bother you,
Citizen taxman!
No thanks...
Don't worry...
I'd rather stand.
I've come to see you
on a delicate matter;
The place
of the poet
in a worker's land.
Along with
and land users
I'm taxable too,
and am bound by the law.
Your demand
for the half-year
is 500 roubles,
And for not filling forms - 25 more.
My labour's
no different
from any other labour.
Examine these figures
of loss and gain,
The production
I have been facing,
The raw material
I had to obtain.
With the notion of "rhyme"
you're acquainted, of course?
When a line of ours
ends with a word
like "plum"
In the next line but one
we repeat
the syllable
With some other word
that goes
A rhyme
is an IOU,
as you'd put it.
"Pay two lines later"
is the regulation.
So you seek
the small charge of inflexion,suffix
In the depleted till
of declensions,
You shove
a word
into a line of poetry
But it just won't go -
you push it and it snaps.
Upon my honour,
Citizen taxman,
cost poets a pretty penny in cash.
As we poets see it,
a barrel
the rhyme is,
A barrel of dynamite,
the fuse is
each line.
The line starts smoking,
exploding the line is,
And the stanza
a city
Where to find rhymes,
in what tariff list,
That hit the bull's eye
with never a failure?
a handful of them
still exist
Faraway somewhere
in Venezuela.
I have to scour
and tropical climes.
I flounder in debt,
I get advance payments.
My travel expenses
bear in mind.
Poetry -
all poetry -
is an exploration.
is just like mining radium.
To gain just a gram
you must labour a year.
Tons of lexicon ore
All for the sake of one precious word,
how searing
the heat of this word is
the smouldering
heap of waste.
There are the words
that go rousing,stirring
Millions of hearts
from age to age.
Of course,
there are different brands of poet.
Famed for sleight of hand
are quite a few.
Verses they pull,
like a conjuror,
Out of their own mouths -
and others' too.
What can one say
of the poetry eunuchs?
They write
stolen lines in -
not turning a hair.
like that
is nothing unusual
In a country
where thieves are enough and to spare.
odes ans verses
Which with rapt ovations
audiences greet
Will go down
in history
as overhead charges
For the achievements
of a few of us -
two or three.
It takes
quite a time,
to get to know people,
Smoke many a packets of cigarettes
Till you raise
that wonderful word
you're needing
From the deep artesian
folk wells.
the rate of tax
grows less.
that wheel-zero
of the total due.
I pay one rouble 90
for a hundred cigarettes
And one rouble 60
for the salt I consume.
I see your form
there's a host of questions:
"travelled abroad?
Or spent all the time here?"
What if
I've run down
a dozen Pegasuses
In the course of
fifteen years?!
You want to know
how many servants
I'm keeping,
What houses?
My special casee please observe:
do I stand
if I lead people
And simultaneously
the people serve?
The class
with the words we utter
And we
push the pen.
The soul-machine
wears out,
begins to splutter.
They tell us:
"Your place
is on the shelf."
There's ever less love,
less bold innovation,
strikes my forhead
a running blow.
There comes
the most terrifying depreciation,
The depreciation
of heart and soul,
one day this sun
shall like a fattened hog in
A land rid of beggars
and cripples
Dead by the fence
have long
been rotting
Along with
ten or so
colleagues of mine.
Drae up
my posthumous balance-sheet!
I tell you -
upon this I'm ready to bet -
all the dealers and climbers
you see
I'll be
a unique case -
hopelessly in debt.
Our duty is
to roar
like brass-throated sirens
In philistine fog
and in stormy weather.
fines in cash
and high interest
on sorrow,
The poet
is always
the Universe's debtor.
And I
owe a debt
to the lights of Broadway,
A debt to you also,
Bagadady skies,
To the Red Army
and to Japan's cherry blossom -
To all
about which
I had no time to write.
did I undertake
this burden?
With rhyme to shoot,
with metre anger to spark?
Your resurrection
the poet's word is,
Your immortality,
Citizen clerk.
Read any line
a hundred years after
And it brings back the past,
as fast as a wink,
All will come back -
this day
with the taxman
With a glint of magic
and the reek of ink.
Come,you smug dweller in the present era,
Buy your rail ticket
to Eternity
the impact of verse
and distribute
All that I earn
over three hundred years!
Not only in this
lies the power of a poet,
That it's you
future generations
will think about.
Oh no!
Today too
are the rhymes of a poet
A caress,
a slogan,
a bayonet,
a knout.
Five -
not five hundred -
roubles I'll pay
You,Citizen taxman!
Delete every nought!
As of right
demanding a place
With workers
and peasants
of the poorest sort.
But if
you think
all I do is just press
Words other people use
into my service
come here,
let me give you my pen
And you
can yourselves
write your own verses!


transcription:Rami Zakh (

Taxes I

George Monbiot writes a good piece. Shock. All about taxes. Making tax returns public documents.
Tax avoidance in the United Kingdom deprives the exchequer of between £25bn and £85bn a year, according to the Tax Justice Network. It's hard to get your head round these figures, until you see that the low figure more or less equates to the projected public-sector deficit for this financial year. The high figure represents 74% of the income tax the exchequer receives. It is more than we spend on the national health service. The super-rich are fleecing us.
I sent the Inland Revenue a list of questions last week. Is it true, I asked, that (as the Liberal Democrats have claimed) "the poorest fifth of the population pay a higher percentage of their income in tax than the richest fifth"? Has the contribution from the richest fifth been rising or declining? Is it true that there has been a shift of income tax receipts from the rich to the poor and middling over the past 10 years? What proportion of total public revenue does income tax provide? Has this been rising or falling?

The Revenue's press officer rang me back. "These questions," he told me, "are blatantly political." Eventually, he promised to send me an email. When it came through, the answer to all of them was: "No such analysis is published by the Inland Revenue." I asked him whether the Revenue had produced an estimate of the amount of money lost through tax avoidance. It hadn't.

Surely it is important to know percentages of tax paid by each income quintile. When I last studied economics I'm sure such figures were kept. Ah those rose tinted spectacles of youth. When beer was under a pound a pint, singles were 75p, the West Indies beat England at cricket, R.E.M were Gardening at Night on Radio Free Europe . . . oh where was I. Tax.

Let's start a campaign for proper collection of tax and also proper collection of statistics about tax.

Those peaceful Christians

Fight. Fight. Fight. Went the cry around the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The Grauniad reports
Fistfights broke out yesterday between Christians gathered on the site of the crucifixion and burial of Jesus Christ.
"There was lots of hitting going on. Police were hit, monks were hit ... there were people with bloodied faces," said a witness in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, reputed to be Golgotha where Christ was crucified, and the site of the tomb where he was buried.

The punch-up erupted during a procession to mark the discovery in 327 by Helena, mother of Constantine, of the True Cross.

A Greek Orthodox cleric said Franciscans had left open their chapel door in what was taken as disrespect. Priests and worshippers hit one another at the doorway dividing Orthodox and Franciscans, said a police spokesman.

The Telegraph says
Eleven monks were treated in hospital after a fight broke out for control of the roof of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, the traditional site of Jesus's crucifixion, burial and resurrection.

An Ethiopian monk nurses his bruises after the clash
The fracas involved monks from the Ethiopian Orthodox church and the Coptic church of Egypt, who have been vying for control of the rooftop for centuries.

The fight erupted over the position of a chair used by an Egyptian monk near the entrance to the roof.

He sits there to assert the Copts' claim to the rooftop, which is mainly occupied by a few African-style huts which the Ethiopians, who have been evicted from the main church over the centuries, use as their monastery.

On a hot day, the Egyptian monk decided to move his chair out of the sun. This was seen by the Ethiopians as violating the "status quo" in the church, set out in a 1757 document which defines the ownership of every chapel, lamp and flagstone.

After several days of rising tension, the fists began to fly on Sunday. The Egyptians said their monk was teased and poked and, in a final insult, pinched by a woman.

Does that final "pinched by a woman" say more about the misogynistic nature of much religion or about the Telegraph? But this piece just says it all about the divisive nature of religion.

Monday, September 27, 2004

Hak Mao has a splendid piece discussing David Aaronovitch's Observer column on secularism.

a fundamentalist Christian, who asserted that he only behaved "morally" because he feared God, and that anyone who, not believing in God, behaved "morally" was insane. That behaving decently to fellow human beings for no other reason than it might encourage them to be decent in return was a nonsense. The only concept of free will he understood was you decide to obey God, or not - and as a consequence, are damned.

Kant's categorical imperative gives as good a formulation as any for a workable G_dless ethics:
Act in such a way that you always treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never simply as a means, but always at the same time as an end.

A sense of morality solely based on fear and obeying the orders of a supreme being
is reactionary (both in its political sense and in the sense of reacting to a stimulus). "Today I think", says G_d, "it is immoral to wear Dunlop Green Flash and drive an SUV. Cast such people from your communities."

Cue worried parsing of the sentence:
"Look I drive an SUV but I don't wear Green Flash. I'm not immoral. Phew".

Friday, September 24, 2004

The iPod backlash.

Ipods and walkmen I have always considered a privatisation of public space. This gives further evidence.
In the past year, I had grown increasingly numb to my surroundings, often oblivious to the world around me, trapped in a self-imposed bubble. My detachment stemmed from the twin white earplugs of my iPod, which in recent months had burrowed their way deep into my ears - and my psyche. A device the size of a pack of Marlboros had come to dominate my daily existence. On the train that morning, I decided enough was enough. I needed a break from the handheld music contraption that had taken over my life.
Looking back, the consequences of my iPod affliction ranged from the mildly comedic (trying to switch songs as I deftly doused my thigh with scalding hot coffee while my train clattered down the tracks one morning), to the potentially tragic (not hearing a truck careening toward me on a road near my apartment in Brooklyn, New York). Almost anywhere I went, I plugged in and tuned out.

Making music is a social activity and so is the listening to it. G_dforsaken bands in G_dforsaken sweaty basements were/are/always will be my favourite experiences of music.
Moving with other people in a public display of emotion. Yes there are also times for private music in private places. Wandering through a metropolis is a time for listening to the music of the city. The vitality, ther buzz, the hum of the street.
The iPod is a bad thing. It causes an individualistic privatisation of public space. Would the Paris Communards have been the same with an iPod apiece? How do you coordinate the storming of the Winter Palace when everyone has their own soundtrack? The iPod is a bad thing. The ipod backlash starts here!

Thursday, September 23, 2004

Learie "the Great" Constantine

Norm recently pointed out Learie Constantine's birthday. Looking for Learie C in the index of the CLR James Reader* I was directed to Engels's Introduction to Class Struggles in France on successful Christian revolutionaries
". . .the succeeding autocrat of the whole Roman Empire, Constantine, called the Great by the priests, proclaimed Christianity as the State Religion."

Intrigued, I followed the previous index entry for Constantine (the Great). This took me to an essay on Garfield Sobers
"Constantine in the slips and at short leg prowled and pounced like a panther."

I had confirmation of the true greatness of Learie Constantine.

*The CLR James Reader. CLR James. ed.Anna Grimshaw. 1992. Oxford: Blackwell, 1999

Universality of Human Rights

There is a splendid letter in today's Grauniad arguing the moral case for the war in Iraq over the legalist case of the UN.

I hate to disillusion Mark Seddon (Letters, September 18) but it is unclear that, even with a second resolution, the invasion of Iraq would have been legal. The fact that so many on the left are keen to embrace the UN system and international law is strange, given that the central value of both is not human rights but state sovereignty.

. . .To aid the victims of tyranny is illegal; to defend yourself from the threat of WMD is not.

Too many on the left treat the UN and the system of international law as if it was what they wished, rather than as what it is. The focus on state sovereignty means that it protects tyrants, not their victims. . . . So the war in Iraq may well have been illegal, but that does not make it immoral. Unjust laws are there for the breaking. The principle of state sovereignty is the most unjust law of all.
Adam E Rule

Given the 20th century's experience of internal state repression and genocide is it not time to junk the concept of State sovereignty as out-moded, dangerous and going against a belief in the universality of human rights?

This Pugwash report argues cases of human rights violations, sovereignty is never a defence; in cases of gross violations of human rights, it has no role to play; it does not impede the Security Council from concluding that such violations create a threat to the peace and to draw the appropriate consequences in accordance with Chapter VII of the Charter; and it cannot even protect Heads of States from international prosecution.
While the UN is focused on issues of State Sovereignty it is failing victims of gross Human Rights abuses.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Captain Kirk

Last night I watched Fight Club.
Tyler asks "which celebrity would you fight?"
Cornelius (Ed Norton) says "Shatner. I'd fight William Shatner."

I'd probably agree, because of this

List of Iraqi dead

Marcus over at Harry's Place lists some of the victims of the Iraqi "resistance".

In today's Grauniad Tony Benn argues that the "resistance" is legal.
Kofi Annan, as secretary general of the UN, has now told us that that war was illegal and contrary to the provisions of the charter - which only provides for military action in self-defence or when authorised by the security council - which must mean that those Iraqis now defending their own country are acting within the law.

Just because action A is illegal does not mean action B that is opposed to action A is legal. For instance if I see a BMW (why is it always a BMW?) haring up the motorway at 101 mph I would not be legally justified in passing it at 121 mph and shooting out its tyres with a kalashnikov (not the newly launched brand of vodka).

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Ethnicity and The Grauniad

Dear Grauniad,
Your use of the term "Ethnic" is breaking the rules from your style guide.

20th September 2004: main section p6 "Illegal Meat Racketeers Exposed"
"The trader was also taped discussing his involvement in the supply of 'smokies' - sheep carcasses illegally slaughtered and prepared for the ethnic market"

21st September 2004: BT Education Awards Section p4
"One of the few ethnic pupils . . ."

No. No. No.
Anthropology 101 - Everyone has ethnicity ergo everyone is ethnic.

Another guilty party is my local Co-op. It sells bhajis, samosas and pakoras as "Ethnic" food but does not so label "Black pudding" and what could be more ethnic than "Black Pudding"?

An Epicure writes: Surely the ethnic dish par excellence is "avocado puree", or "Yorkshire caviare"?

A Silver Mt Zion

Just found some excellent reviews of "He has left us alone but shafts of light sometimes grace the corner of our rooms".

He Has Left Us Alone But Shafts Of Light Sometimes Grace The Corner Of Our Rooms may be one of this year's most beautiful albums. On it, A Silver Mt. Zion (three members of acclaimed Montreal art-rock collective Godspeed You Black Emperor!) test and prove the theorem that opposites do not just attract, they engage. Fear, boldness. Shadowy, revealed. Atonality, harmonics. Portent, hope. Defiance, capitulation. Minimalism, apocalypse.

A Silver Mt. Zion - Efrim, Thierry and Sophie, the absence of last names feels like a homily to listeners to leave their piety at the door - weave their magic by paring down the Godspeed You Black Emperor! sound to sparse piano chords, haunting violin and tape samples. But if the parts of this music are simple to pick out, the experience of the whole is an indivisible sonic symphony.

Recorded in the dead of winter in a huge loft in Montreal's Mile-End, it's an easy stretch to imagine the band rehearsing for the record, and drawing inspiration from the desolate whine of trains plying the nearby tracks. There are, of course, no train sounds on this record. What the record is filled with instead is an overpowering sense of the frozen distance the trains travelled, and, by suggestion, the need of the human heart for connection.

Lee Chung Horn
BigOJune 2000

It's music for introspection but also music for hope. Listen. Ecoute (note to self: that needs an accent; note to others: my French is not as good as it could be).

Monday, September 20, 2004


Ian Gilmore, in Saturday's Guardian Review, reviews James Naughtie's "The Accidental American" and says "the idea of Blair as a poodle is more of a portrait than a caricature".
"In his [Blair's] view regime change is enough to justify the war and the occupation. yet funnily enough the badly needed regime change - his own departure in favour of Gordon Brown - does not seem to appeal to him."

What chutzpah. What gall. Sir Ian Gilmore, sometime Tory minister, arguing for leadership change in a Labour administration. Either join the Labour Party where your opinion could count for something or shut up.


There is a theory made public by the Grauniad diary and
Thus, envision this G.O.P. whispering campaign soon directed to women, liberals and the legions of centrist, semi-hawkish, non-angry Democrats: If you want the Clinton Restoration to the White House in '08, the only way to make it happen is to stay the course with Bush in '04.

A dirty trick? Undoubtedly. I disavow any connection to it.

Is the best hope for a Democratic White House really Bush in 2004?

Comrade Tulayev

The Guardian Review on Saturday has a splendid review by Nicholas Lezard of a new edition of "The Case of Comrade Tulayev" by Victor Serge. The 'new' relates to the translation by Willard Trask and the introduction by Susan Sontag.

As Lezard puts it
"But was ever a dictator portrayed with more convincing restraint than when an investigator reports to him that someone has "confessed" to sabotage?
"The word confessed produced a distinct feeling of discomfort between them"

And that is just one of many reasons why the novel is still well worth reading now".

Go read it.

Friday, September 17, 2004

Leonard Cohen - Happy Birthday

Marcus over at Harry's Place has a good piece on Laughing Len at 70.

On the Ethics of Torture

On reading this

"How can I know that another person is truly in pain?
In Stanley Cavell's memorable restatement of the problem let's imagine that I am a dentist drilling a patient's tooth and the patient suddenly screams out as a response to what seems like the pain caused by my clumsy drilling. And yet, in response to my embarrassed show of remorse, the patient says 'No, it didn't hurt, I was simply calling my hamsters'.
Now how can I know that the other person is being sincere, short of his hamsters scuttling obediantly (sic) into my dental surgery?
The point is that ultimately I cannot. I can never know whether another person is in pain or simply calling his hamsters.*"

I stopped and thought "This is a torturer's defence":

Prosecuting Counsel -"Did you realise you were causing pain
when you applied the drill to his teeth?"
Torturer - "No. I thought he was calling his hamsters".

This may be a defence based on a strict epistemological interpretation of "know" but a more pragmatic approach is called for based on empathy ("if this was happening to me I would be in pain") and a sense of human decency, if we are not to justify some evil acts.

*[Critchley, Simon. The Ethics of Deconstruction - Derrida and Levinas.
2nd ed. Edinburgh: Edinburgh UP, 1999. 285.]

Humour for Nerds

Today's Grauniad has a story (sorry but I cannot find it online) about graffito in Cambridge. Outside the lab where Watson and Crick discovered DNA (with the help of Rosalind Franklin) someone has painted on the road a diagram of Guanine. The article goes on to say

"Gq - Phospholipase - C
The point may be lost on those who are a little rusty on the interactions of phospholipases and guanine nucleotides; some of the humour, of course, drives from the fact that phospholipase is an enzyme that catalyses the hydrolysis of a phospholid".

I can already hear Jimmy Carr suing Jim Davidson over that one.

Thursday, September 16, 2004


Ah the gentle sound of country life, tally-ho and the revolution's here led by Otis "Sitting In the Dock" Ferry.

How to spoil a joke, method number 1, explain it. For those who don't yet know Ferry Junior was named for Otis "Sitting on the Dock of the Bay" Redding.

I - Thoughts on the zeitgeist.

Thoughts on the anti-scientific, anti Enlightenment values
dominating the zeitgeist.

This is a scare story with no real evidence to back it up. A number of people thought they had had their drink spiked in a bar. Speaking personally sometimes I can feel out of it on 2 drinks, sometimes on 4 glasses of Coke. No-one is denying that some people have been raped and cannot remember what happened. That is bad enough. Undeniable. To then jump to the claim "My drink was spiked" may be a leap too far. It may be true or it may not be true.

A study of spiking drinks should include toxicology screenings of drinks; samples taken from drinks in bars. That would be a proper scientific enquiry.

Asking people "has X happened to you" can come up with some ropey results. Witness there are 4 million Americans claiming to have been abducted by aliens or had a kidney removed. People admit to things in surveys that are not true.

Conclusions drawn from limited, controvertible evidence takes us down the path of " medieval science all over again! Step one, you sneak up on a phenomenon. Step two, you zap it with your patented catchall theory. Step three, Conclusum est!
you announce another victory over Nature! Next patient,
please, and all that. Real successful method; kept Europe asleep
for a thousand years."

[GRUDIN, Robert. BOOK - A Novel. New York: Penguin. 1992. 134]

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Motto of the day.

"If Adam had cut down the cherry tree and
Washington had eaten the forbidden fruit, would
Lenin have ever reached the Finland Station?"

CALAS, Nicolas. Art In The Age Of Risk. New York: Dutton, 1968. 236.

On reading Tawney and getting back to basics.

Reading Tawney I came upon this splendid quote last night.

"The considerations which justify ownership as a function are
those which condemn it as a tax. Property is not theft, but
a good deal of theft becomes property. The owner of royalties
who, when asked why he should be paid £50,000 a year from
minerals which he has neither discovered nor developed but
only owned, replies "but it's Property!", may feel all the
awe which his language suggests. But in reality he is behaving
like the snake which sinks into its background by pretending
that it is the dead branch of a tree, or the lunatic who tried
to catch rabbits by sitting behind a hedge and making a noise
like a turnip. He is practising protective - and sometimes
aggressive - mimicry. His sentiments about property are those
of the simple toiler who fears what he sows another may reap.
His claim is to be allowed to continue to reap what another has sown."

Tawney, R.H. "The Acquisitive Society" 1921. Glasgow: Collins 1961. 68.

But what noise does a turnip make?

Monday, September 13, 2004

A tentative entrance.

A place for discussing Napoleon, Clive Lloyd, Learie Constantine, Moshe Dayan, Martin Luther King, Karl Marx, CLR James, Bob Dylan, Lee 'Scratch' Perry, Jack Kerouac, Bob Marley, Godspeed! You Black Emperor, Pere Ubu, Philip Roth, Thomas Pynchon, Vladimir Mayakovsky, Spaced, Repo Man, In The Heat Of The Night, Casablanca, Ezra Pound, The Roots, Lambchop, Antonio Gramsci, Casablanca, Kathy Burke, The Fisher King, Frederick Douglass, The Big Lebowski, Charlie Mingus, Thomas Macaulay, Marathon Man, The Parallax View, Umberto Eco, The West Wing, Milan Kundera, Imelda Staunton, Alisdair Gray, Rosa Luxemburg, Lisa Rullsenberg, Jill Scott, Percy Shelley, Einsturzende Neubauten, Perl, Rodchenko, Left Politics, Logic, Ethics, Civics, Economics and anything else that inspires.