Friday 30 November 2007

Mentalists in Sudan... and elsewhere

More proof that religion is a complete blight on mankind.

This week it happens to be Islam that's in the spotlight: In Saudi Arabia news that a rape victim faces lashes for the crime of having shared a car with her attackers. In Iran a woman abused from childhood and sold into prostitution faces execution.

And of course in Sudan, an English teacher escaped flogging and gets away with mere imprisonment for the heinous crime of getting her class to name a teddy bear after the prophet.

Less any Christians out there are feeling smug though: I also see this week that the Catholic League, joined by various Protestant funda-mentalists, have denounced The Golden Compass. This is the film adaptation of Philip Pullman's excellent children's (and adults') atheist fantasy stories - a sort of anti-Narnia.

So let's be clear - all these religions are mad and bad.

I'm genuinely sympathetic to the English teacher, who appears to have honestly tried to help the kids of a particularly grim part of the world. But there's a certain amount of hypocrisy in the attention that her case has attracted in this country in comparison to the Saudi and Iranian women, both of whom's fate is far more outrageous.

And possibly when visiting a part of the world where medieval lunacy is taken for granted you'd do your homework and proceed with extreme caution.
Have you noticed how all those outraged of Tunbridge Wells types who now want the SAS to be sent in to Sudan are the first to criticise immigrants in this country for not respecting our own prejudices and customs ?

As I say, all religious types are hypocritical, repressive, joyless bastards. Except posibly for the pagans - I've always had a bit of a soft spot for them - they don't proselytize and they have no conception of heresy.

Actually I was thinking of naming my bike Thor after the god of thunder, I doubt anyone will be trying to persecute me for that ...

Thursday 29 November 2007

Morrissey - tosser and bigot

If you were a student in the 80’s it was impossible to escape The Smiths. Their fucking miserable self-pitying dirge was invariably the soundtrack to every student bar.

Their theme the same as every bad teenage poet; “I’m so sensitive - why does no one understand me?”

In particular I hated Morrissey, the personification of pretentious twattery with his floppy hair and a bunch of daffodils stuck in his back pocket.

At the time my own musical tastes ran more to the NWOBH (New Wave Of British Heavy Metal to the un-elightened). This of course was derided in student circles as Neanderthal and reactionary because the ‘personal is political’. Usually by student politicos who are now enjoying careers as New Labour apparatchiks.

By the same logic because Morrissey was a tortured soul he must also be ‘right-on.’But now we know better – he’s actually just a Little-Englander racist cunt.

Suspicions were raised a long time ago when he appeared on stage draped in a Union Jack bemoaning that England had changed and that he felt that he didn’t belong here any more. Which is probably why he’s lived in Rome for years.

But now he’s back in the country at the moment and talking to the NME this week. In his interview he talks about the ‘immigration explosion’. ‘the floodgates opening” and “not hearing a British accent on the streets’.

I wouldn’t claim that Motorhead, Saxon, Iron Maiden et al were ever particularly politically aware. But at least the boys who wrote such classics as ‘The Ace Of Spades’, ‘Wheels Of Steel’ and ‘Bring Your Daughter To The Slaughter’ never sounded like a Daily Mail editorial.

Or a fucking BNP election leaflet.

Monday 26 November 2007

Oxford Union & the fascists: What's so hard to understand ?

Posh-boy Fascist Nick Griffin and bogus-historian / Nazi apologist David Irving are to speak at the Oxford Union tonight.

Angst-ridden liberals are turning themselves inside-out trying to reconcile the right to free speech with the policy of ‘no-platform to racists.’ It’s a tired old argument that seems to be revisited every time the fascists get an airing.

As a (non-angst ridden) liberal, with some experience of fairly ‘direct' action against fascists, let me explain:

Free speech protects anybody, however repugnant their views, from prosecution by the state provided that they don’t incite hatred (something by the way that both Griffin and Irving frequently do and seem to get away with).

‘No platform’ is a practical policy that calls upon organisations to take a voluntary decision to deny the fascists opportunities to legitimise their views. Campaigning for no-platform is a practical way of exposing the neo-Nazis for what they really are - and there’s no contradiction between that and free speech.

The trouble with the Oxford Union Society though is that it isn't a local community centre or a trade union branch. In fact it's not even a 'proper' student union (the real Oxford Students' Union have a no platform policy). It's an elitist private debating club for over-privileged twits who think that they are the next generation of the nation's great and good. They think they can achieve what Paxman and numerous others have tried and failed: to out-debate Griffin and Irving - who let's face it - are not going to simply roll over because they've been humiliated in a debate.

Actually that's a charitable interpretation - the upper class brats have probably invited the fascists into their hallowed chamber for the wacky shock factor - the same way they they have invited porn stars and gangsters in the past. But of course Irving and Griffin aren't bothered about that - they are just pleased to be at the heart of an Establishment institution that gives them gravitas and respectability in the mainstream.

Which is why the protests are not only legitimate but necessary.

Friday 23 November 2007

Paedophile priests

I was shocked to discover recently that my old school has featured in a sex-abuse scandal. The events happened ten years before I got there – but I did know many of the main characters who were still there in my time, and this has got me questioning my previous views of the priests who ran the place.

Personally I happily rejected the Catholic Church at the age of 15, but this was on a purely intellectual basis, not an emotional one. I just came to the conclusion that what they believed in was nonsense; dangerous and damaging nonsense. But nothing ever happened to me, or anybody that I knew, that suggested that the priests and brothers were abusers.

In fact I’ve argued with non-Catholic friends that it’s too easy and stereotypical to paint a picture of priests as an evil bunch of predatory abusers. I still don’t believe that paedophiles are necessarily driven to join the priesthood because it presents ‘easy pickings’. Let’s face it there are easier ways to get such opportunities than the seven years or so of studying and hardship that are involved in training for the priesthood. So although I don’t know the ‘stats, I imagine that there is no higher percentage of Catholic priests who are paedophiles than any other section of the population.

In my experience most of the priests were just well-intentioned individuals profoundly damaged and fucked up by their own beliefs. Let’s face it enforced celibacy fucks people up. Badly. This fucked-up-ness came out in ways that were generally more harmful to themselves than to others. So as a group they had more than their fair share of eccentrics, depressives and alcoholics.

In other-words I thought they were mad or sad, but not necessarily bad. But now I realise that was never the point.

What’s got to me is that whilst none of the priests I knew have actually been accused as abusers, they were still involved in the cover-up. In doing so they actually facilitated the abuse, and, in a nauseating and sanctimonious way, show more compassion to the abuser than the abused.

All close-knit groups protect their own: Freemasons, professional bodies, 1%er motorcycle clubs, the military, the police etc. But throw in religion and the authority and self-justification that goes with it, and you end up with a very powerful imperative to close ranks and deny everything, not just to protect each other but for ‘the greater good’.

That’s the real shocker for me; the moral gymnastics they must all have gone through to conceal and deny something so repugnant. Given the track record of the Catholic Church I should have expected no better. Diderot was right:

"Man will never be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest."

Wednesday 21 November 2007

Sorry Darling ...

After trying to scare us all witless with melodramatic commercials about identity theft, it turns out that some junior knob-head at HM Customs & Treasury has downloaded all the bank details of every family with kids in the UK on to a couple of disks. And 'lost' them.

Well actually it was TNT that lost them - it's not as if the government supports the 'People's Post Office'. And as they were too tight to even send it by traceable service, the disks have now be consigned to oblivion.

If the government were a business (and that's how it likes to see itself nowadays) then an employee could probably sue them on the grounds that they had neglected their duty of care for their personal details. But this is HM Government, so there's probably some sort of medieval crown immunity bollocks.

Still Chancellor Alistair Darling has sent out a reassuring message:

'Er sorry - we fucked up. Really sorry. Don't worry though it'll probably be OK. Best look at your statements to check that your account hasn't been cleaned out though. But don't contact your bank - they're really snowed under at the moment. Sorry again.'

Even forgetting about the financial risk - the confidential family details of all sorts of people has now been compromised - including families who are hiding from abusive partners. Until the disks are found, probably gathering dust in some TNT depot in Aberdeen because the junior knob-head put on the wrong post code, we'll never know for certain the damage that this has done.

Still on the upside: Surely nobody will now trust these fuckwits with a DNA database or a system of national identity cards ?

Tuesday 20 November 2007

Whatever happened to rock and roll ?

Saw Lucinda Williams at the Indigo 02 last night.

Raw, smoldering and languid and very much a 'Southern Thing', her voice is definitely at the other end of the spectrum from the ethereal purity of Emmylou Harris. Both prove that there's a lot more to Country than Garth Brooks and silly hats.

But I wasn't so wild about the Indigo 02, although lot of people are raving about it as London's coolest new venue.

For starters it's in the middle of fucking nowhere - well Greenwich. The fact that the name is an exercise in corporate branding doesn't help. Neither does its association with the venue formerly known as 'The Dome': Part exhibition centre, part venue and now a kind of glorified shopping mall, with a 'village' of mid-market eateries.

Maybe I'm just a romantic traditionalist but I can't regard Pizza Express, Yo-Sushi, Pret-a-Manger or All Bar One as very rock-and-roll. As far as I'm concerned going to a gig means a bar with a sticky carpet, the smell of patchouli oil and dope and a greasy burger from a van.

And bottled beer at £4 a go is just taking the piss.

Monday 19 November 2007

History means not having to say you're sorry ...

Apologising for injustices from previous generations is getting out of hand. Particularly so when values and concepts of our own times (like the nation state) are superimposed on an age that knew nothing of them.

The latest nonsense comes from the Danish Minister of Culture, who marked the arrival in Dublin of a reconstructed Viking longship to apologise for the behaviour of his ancestors towards the residents of the city over a thousand years ago. Well intentioned possibly, but he shows himself ignorant of his own people's history.

• The Viking raiders who came to Ireland were largely from the region we now know as Norway not Denmark. There were a small number of Danes in Ireland, actually largely Anglo-Danes, who came along shortly afterwards mainly to fight their Norwegian cousins.

• The Vikings didn't raid Dublin - they founded it. Along with many other Irish towns and cities like Wexford, Waterford and Limmerick. In fact there is little evidence that there were town settlements in Ireland before the Viking Age.

• The Vikings obviously did raid monasteries and settlements on the Irish coast. But actually if we take the Viking period as approx 780 to 1070 then there are at least twice as many recorded raids on these settlements by other Irish as there were by Vikings.

• Similarly the Vikings were not driven out by some sort of Irish national liberation struggle. Vikings were just as likely to appear as mercenaries fighting in one of the constant inter-Irish wars. The near-legendary battle of Clontarf in 1014 was not about Brian Boru reclaiming Ireland for the Irish - Vikings made up the elite troops on both sides.

The Vikings have had a bad press. Largely because they were pagan outsiders at a time when the rest of Western Europe was Christian. And most of the written records were produced by Churchmen, so they hardly present an unbiased view.

The Vikings were certainly no angels - but then life in general tended to be short and brutal wherever you were in those days. Rape and pillage was pretty much everyday behavior whether you were Irish, Frankish or Saxon. But the Vikings were also craftsmen, artists, merchants and explorers par excellence with an 'empire' of commerce not conquest that stretched from Baghdad to the coast of modern Canada.

Maybe History should be apologising to the Vikings ...

Tuesday 13 November 2007

Peasants & nomads

Riding a motorcycle in the city every day you rapidly become accustomed to people trying to kill you – ok maybe that’s a little melodramatic – but you certainly get used to people not giving a toss if they do you some serious damage.

My bike's a bright orange Harley with an exhaust note that is loud to the point of illegality; you’d think that I’d be pretty conspicuous. But this isn’t enough for the negligent driver who has their head so far up their arse that they are unaware of my presence. They’re too busy with the mobile phone clamped to their ear, doing their make-up in the rear-view mirror or reading the newspaper propped up on the steering wheel.

But most of the time you develop a kind of paranoia to protect you from the ‘oblivious driver syndrome’. What I’m really talking about though is the driver who deliberately tries to do you harm – here’s a couple of examples from recent weeks.

The salesman / middle manager in what was obviously a company car: I’d filtered alongside the outside of a stationery queue of traffic (perfectly legal in the UK by the way for any readers in the US), up to a red light. As the lights change, rather than let me cut in he wheel-spun for about twenty yards before doing an emergency stop, swerving towards me at he same time in an attempt to force me into a traffic island.

The builders in a white van: I seem to have offended them when I slowed down to allow a taxi to come out from the kerb in front of me. So they followed me for half a mile with their bumper about a foot from my rear wheel with the horn jammed on – they even followed me as I tried to weave through the lanes trying to shake them off.

Of course I ‘remonstrated’ with them and I expected a bit of hostility in return. But I was genuinely shocked by their sheer hatred and bile – these were people who really did want to kill or maim me (I know because that's exactly what they told me). One of them even took a laughable and very poorly executed swing at me.

I can only put this all this down to a kind of automotive penis-envy: Feelings of inadequacy and frustration at being trapped in their little metal boxes when someone else is so obviously enjoying their freedom. The eternal tension between the peasant and the nomad.

Friday 9 November 2007

The war against the machines.

In the news this morning there's some talk about problems with SatNavs in vehicles.

In particular a couple of incidents of wrong directions - one where a motorist made a turn on a level crossing and consequently tried to drive up a railway line. And a coach driver who turned into a field and of course got his coach and passengers stuck in the middle of nowhere.

What the fuck is wrong with these people? This blind faith in technology combined with an unquestioning willingness to do what they are told be a dislocated synthetic voice is surely a depressing sign of our times.

I'd go as far as to say that unless you have a boat or a plane or are exploring the Sahara, the average person has no business using SatNavs or GPS. Just buy a sodding map, look where you're going and develop a sense of direction. And if you can't cope with this, really you'd be better off staying at home.

I even see that people are putting SatNavs on bikes now. The two things are incompatible as far as I'm concerned (unless you're Ewan McGregor and Charlie Boorman). I'm enough of a romantic to think that the defining moment of Easyrider is when Peter Fonda throws his watch away into the dust.

Anyway, I'll never be able to fit a SatNav to my Harley - the vibration would shake it to pieces.

Thursday 8 November 2007

Music whilst you fight.

Went training last night and there was some debate about what music we should be playing.

If your idea of a martial arts school is a zen palace with immaculately clean wooden floors and a silence broken only by the thuds of crisply executed techniques and the 'kias' and barked instructions of the sensei then you'll probably be horrified to hear that we have any sort of music at all.

Our place is a a slightly damp and musty room that could frankly do with a bit of a clean. There's also background music and plenty of chat and laughter between the students. The sort of behaviour that in a Japanese dojo or Korean dojang would earn you a punishment of twenty press-ups.

In doing things differently we are not being trendy or 'revisionist' though: For a Chinese kwoon it is entirely traditional to have a bustling school with a constant stream of people coming in and out, chatting and joking, and with a sifu sat in a corner drinking tea and keeping a beady eye on the proceedings.

But there's more to it than just a different tradition - there's a logic too: A big aspect of martial arts, the endless repetition of forms and drills, is the re-programming of reflexes and training of muscle memory. The idea is to remove the aspect of 'intent' so that you can pull off techniques without thinking or emotion. This is not some hippy spiritual thing - it's very practical too - in a fight you're in a highly stressed situation and you cannot rely on conscious rational actions, you revert to instinct - the training tries to condition these instincts. OK - but why the music ?

As part of the learning / conditioning process at times you actually want some distractions. Maybe not in the very early stages of learning, but certainly at some part of the training dealing with
multiple stimuli and still getting it right is vital. I can remember time and time again when doing chi-sau being told by my sifu to lose my 'warrior face' and smile instead. This is easier said then done when some guy is trying to hit you at point blank range - but doing so relaxes you and definitely un-nerves your opponent.

(And this is quite apart from the obvious fact that music makes the place more enjoyable and it's all supposed to be fun after all).

Anyway back to last night:

I happened to be the senior guy there so I stuck on some Tinariwen and some Charlie Parker. There were requests for some jungle and drum and bass, but in my experience that kind of rhythm makes everyone chi-sau like a psychotic motherfucker and I'm getting too old for all that shit ...

Monday 5 November 2007

Is Jehovah happy now ?

Twenty two year old Emma Gough died last weekend at a hospital in Shrewsbury giving birth to twins. In any other circumstances a human tragedy, but actually it's a fucking scandal - Emma was a Jehova's Witness who refused a blood transfusion that would have saved her life.

If ever proof was needed that religion is a form of mental instability the Jehovah's Witness must take the credit for removing any doubt.

They base the ban on blood transfusions on some part of the bible that prescribes ingesting blood (presumably vampirism and eating black pudding are also out), but obviously not on the bit that prohibits suicide.

Quite why God should require a young woman to die and leave two children without a mother escapes me. But if it's part of some mysterious divine plan then I'm afraid Jehovah can fuck right off with it.

Legally doctors are powerless to intervene in these bizarre circumstances unless the patient is a child. But surely two doctors should be able to determine that, adult or not, the patient is not of sound mind and go ahead and give them the transfusion anyway ?

This isn't an infringement if human rights; doctors will regularly ignore patients' wishes when they try to revive suicides. (And ironically doctors who assist terminally ill people in making a dignified death of their own choosing can face prosecution for 'assisting a suicide').

Yet again beliefs that are not simply bonkers, but actually dangerous and evil, are beyond question because they are 'sacredly held'. But let's take two steps back and see the Jehovah Witnesses for what they really are - an abusive cult.

Apparently they believe that at the last judgement only 144,000 elect souls will be saved. If this is really the case why do the keep knocking on my door trying to sell me The Watchtower - surely if I sign up I'm only lengthening the odds of them not frying ?

Friday 2 November 2007

De Menezes shooting verdict.

I have noticed at work that some of the first aid boxes we have on each landing are missing; items like sticking-plasters have been used and not replaced. And every Wednesday the cleaners pile up the recycling bags against the fire doors where they remain for a few hours before they are collected. Sometimes spills of tea and coffee are not immediately wiped up.

These things are breaches of health & safety.

But pumping seven shots into someone’s head at point blank range isn’t. It's murder - or to be legally precise - Corporate Manslaughter.

But 'endangering public health & safety' is what the Met were charged with over the De Menezes shooting. Still Ian Blair has not offered to resign despite the guilty verdict. Although he has offered these insightful words to give reassurance to the public: "Sometimes, that's what happens."

And as helpful advice to travelers on public transport, the aptly named Commander Cressida Dick who oversaw the police operation has explained that: “Nervousness, agitation, sending text messages, using the telephone, getting on and off the bus, all added to the picture of someone potentially intent on causing an explosion."

So now you’ve been warned. Don't appear agitated on your way to work - you're just asking for a bullet in the head.