Sunday, January 30, 2005

It being the 60th anniversary of Auschwitz, I fancied a read of Primo Levi, so I dug out a copy of The Drowned and The Saved. It’s his last book (before his odd suicide), and it feels more like a series of polemics and essays than his other books.

“Anyone who has been tortured remains tortured. Anyone who has suffered torture never again will be at ease in the world…faith in humanity, already cracked by the first slap in the face, then demolished by torture is, never acquired again.” Levi quotes Amery, who was also in the camps and who, as an anti-nazi intellectual, was tortured. Amery killed himself in 1978, ten years before Levi. The Guantanemo bay detainees, also claim to have been tortured, which renders all the testimony elicted from them by the US inadmissible in UK courts. Nice one, Uncle Sam. (Incidentally, the USA funds torture through the SOA – the School of the Americas, regularly pastiched as the School of Assassins. Originally based in Panama, this has trained over 60,000 Latin American soldiers in “counterinsurgency techniques, sniper training, commando and psychological warfare, military intelligence and interrogation tactics.” In 2001 it was renamed the “Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation,” and relocated to Fort Benning, Georgia, US.)

Many Jews, fleeing persecution in Germany in the 1930s, were turned back from western countries. Hence we signed into international law after the war the convention on refugees, which obliged us to take a proportion of the fleeing, no matter what. Michael Howard, a descendant of these refugees, wants to put limits on Asylum Seekers (a word the right-wing press has managed to convert from something that should elicit sympathy to something pejorative). Not economic immigrants; asylum seekers; people who claim to be fleeing persecution. He wants us to pull out of this convention, and I’m with the Prime Minister here in calling this ‘not-racist’, but just, just… I just don’t have the words to express the rage that a man could put quotas on human lives. Even rejecting economic migrants is putting a value on the quality of human lives, something we are simply not justified in making; I will not have an aristocracy introduced by the back door of oligarchy. We’ll have birth control for the poor next.

Certain people say we’re being 'swamped', and I’ll admit I’ve not had first-hand experience of the areas of the UK that are suffering (which seems, unfairly, to be mainly poor, urban hellholes; what sort of introduction is that to Britain’s society for incomers?) In amoral economic terms, we should always take as many migrants on board as possible, as their cheap labour drives down prices and fills jobs no-one else will take (perhaps because we’ve been over-educated.) In social terms, valid asylum seekers have to be accepted one and all. Yet there’s an increasing propensity, even amongst the most tolerant societies, that integration is failing. I was listening to Broadcasting House on Radio 4 this morning, and they were reporting on liberal Holland’s worries that tolerance has failed for them, with the murders of Pim Fortuyn and Theo Van Gogh. Can we tolerate those who are intolerant themselves? Is integration really necessary for a successful economy/country? What is the problem with a state within a state? Are not the symptoms that provoke a failure of tolerance (physicial and moral squalor of city areas, violent crime) ones symptomatic of poverty rather religious extremism?

My answer, and I’m sure I’ve not thought it through, is that we take the tolerant, we take the economic migrants (cos, hey, we were lucky to be born here – they’ve worked to get here – who deserves it more?), but we do not accept those who preach intolerance; whether they be young Islamic extremists or old leaders of the conservative party. Can we revoke citizenship? We have to go down the inclusive route, as otherwise we could be the next to be evicted from the UK. It's John Rawls 'veil of ignorance' at work. (see halfway down that post for Tom Paine's quick summary of the veil of ignorance argument.

Addendum: I agree completely with Frederick Forsyth in what he says here; a little polemical, but accurate.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Viceland - The Vice A to Z of Design: "Truly a marvel of ergonomic design, the modern zipper was invented by about 80 guys and nobody was sure what to make of it until 1937 when it beat out buttons in Esquire magazine's 'Battle of the Fly.' Thousands of miles of zip are produced daily and it remains one of the few truly glorious examples of cheap, simple, and easy design that makes everyone's lives a whole lot better. Those were the days."

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

I will now coin the word Fegels to describe the fake bagels they seem to sell everywhere. A proper bagel should be part-boiled before baking and contain egg, which means you can’t leave it on the shelves for any period of time, and be coated in sesame or poppy seeds. Personally, when I go back home to visit my pleasurably independent, liberal and intelligent (remaining) grandmother I stop in at the shopping centre in nearby Hale Barns, which seems to be a hub of the Jewish community on a Sunday morning and buy them out of bagels, especially the sweet, tiny, chewy mini-bagels (bageleh?) they sell.

That said, what I’ve read of bagels elsewhere indicates that my bagel-facism is entirely parochial. When you compare the enormous bready New York bagels with the great hooped, sesame-encrusted Arab baygelah and the tight Eastern European knots, there’s very little similarity. I read the very Jewish Hillel Cooperman’s recipe with trepidation. He’s obviously researched bagels a lot more than I have, so I guess I’d better bow to his superior wisdom and recommend his superior recipe. Like you’re going to make it anyway…

I get the same culinary irritation from the fake Moussaka you saw everywhere about five years ago, before the Greek community pointed out that Moussaka was not vegetarian Lasagne, as the liberati assumed, but in fact a dish involving those tricksy vegetables Aubergines, which so many veggy liberati seem to loathe. What it comes down to is an irrational desire for clear communication, especially in important fields like politics, philosophy and hedonism (specifically the gourmand subsection.) Anyway, it’s just my hobby horse and “I need not tell the reader, if he keeps a H O B B Y - H 0 R S E that a man's HOBBY-HORSE is as tender a part as he has about him…”

Saturday, January 22, 2005 ? How To Bribe Russians
Informed Comment: "

Let us consider the durable vision of our Constitution and the commitments that unite us as Americans, viz., the Bill of Rights. And let us ask whether Bush's first term left it intact:"

Oh, my. A step-by-step reflection of the American Constitution in light of President Bush's Inaugural Speech and his actions over the past five years.

Friday, January 21, 2005

Good old fashioned government cock-up.

The U.S. Federal emergence agency displays taste in the face of disaster...

Thursday, January 20, 2005

What If...
Craig's alternative life chart. Sweet.

Monday, January 10, 2005

The Dead Grandmother/Exam Syndrome and the Potential Downfall Of American Society.: "Students must never let any of their relatives know that they are at university. (Initial field tests show that keeping just the grandmother ignorant is neither feasible nor safe for the rest of the family.) It is not enough merely to lie about exams; if the family doesn't know when the exams are, they may then worry constantly and this may lead to even higher death rates. The only solution is that the family must never be aware that the student is even enrolled at a university. Students must pretend they are in the armed forces, have joined some religious cult, or have been kidnapped by aliens. All of these alternate explanations for their long absences will keep the family ignorant of the true, dangerous, fact. Although it might be argued that such large-scale deceptions could not be maintained for long periods, the success of many politicians suggests otherwise."

Sunday, January 09, 2005

Mind Control - Bewu?tseinskontrolle:
"I must confess that 'they' let in my subconscious fragments of music, simple words,'they' lead me to sound-hearing illusions, which have sometimes 'magic-demoniac' basis thanks to image manipulation on the field of vision.

I think that I have become a guinea pig for illegal experiments of mindcontrol. I assume that I have no implants in my body and that it has no connection with UFO.

I regret to inform you that these are mean tricks of unreformable clergy."

Phillip K Dick believed that (after he'd been fed too much sodium pentathol for an impacted wisdom tooth) a pink laser beam from God (or rather the Vast Active Living Intelligence System - Valis, hence the title of his abysmal autobiography) was transmitting information into his head, along the lines of geometric diagrams and visions. Which is all about as rational as the stuff you'll find on this 'mind-control' page. A fun read though.

Thursday, January 06, 2005 Life | Clothes make the mullah: "In the middle-class salons of Tehran these days, one of the lighter topics of conversation is President Khatami's wardrobe. He is seen as very elegant, and in fact as a bit of a dandy."

And you thought the British press was bitchy about fashion...

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

My current feed reading list's on the right of this page. Thanks to Rich Cobbett for pointing me at Bloglines. - Fly-eating robot powers itself - Dec 29, 2004: "The EcoBot II uses human sewage as bait to catch the insects. It then digests the flies, before their exoskeletons are turned into electricity, which enables the robot to function."

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

20 Wackiest Courtroom Moments of 2004 on
In ruling that Pennsylvania’s drunk-driving laws can’t be enforced on people on horseback, the state Supreme Court had only one dissenting judge, Michael Eakin, who phrased his dissent in a poem inspired by the “Mister Ed” theme song:

“A horse is a horse, of course, of course,
but the Vehicle Code does not divorce
its application from, perforce,
a steed as my colleagues said.
‘It's not vague,' I'll say until I'm hoarse,
and whether a car, a truck or horse
this law applies with equal force,
and I'd reverse instead."
The Policeman's Blog: "Over the Festive period, you may run out of DVDs to watch, the kids may break all their toys and you may get so bored you might decide to ring the police. If you live in the Newtown area, Mrs. C has asked me to tell you NOT to ring the police at the following times:
Christmas Eve 2100hrs to 0000 hrs
Christmas Day 2100hrs to 0000 hrs
27th December 0000hrs to 0300 hrs

Your cooperation in this matter will help ensure that I get home at a sensible time throughout the Christmas period.
Naturally this applies to minor matters, for more serious matters I would ask you all NOT to murder each other or get involved in fatal road accidents until AT LEAST 3rd January 2005.

Thankyou and Merry Christmas
PC Dave Copperfield"
My allergies drive me insane. I may have harped on this theme before, so if you’ve heard it, skip to the laughter track. I am individually allergic to dairy products, hairy animals, sesame seeds, etc. Though I’m finally growing out of these, extended exposure does bring out the relevant eczema/asthma/anaphylactic shock.

So it’s very annoying to me that the place in my life I’m happiest, at home in the snowy Peak District, is also the place where my animals allergy is the worst, due to my genuinely belov’d cat, Pansy. (we didn’t name her that; after the incident where she punched her claw through the side of a corrugated plastic box, we’d have called her Psychat, or possibly Macavity.) After a couple of days in the house (which my parents clean and clean so that I don’t have any problems, bless them), I’m normally left dopey, wheezy, and perpetually hungry and horny; like the seven dwarves in one mongrel package (though I think Horny was only in this reworking …) Thankfully the only lasting result is a tendency to get repeated nosebleeds (from, I assume, my nose running so constantly.)

Anyway, apart from the strange sleep patterns and nosebleeds, home was fantastic. The snow stuck around for three days and we went walking all over the peaks; Dragon’s Back, The Manifold Valley, Dovedale and all the other fantastically named places. It also gave me a sorely needed opportunity to catch up with my family, specifically my little sister (who’s shot up in size) and who I gave some great Shaun Tan books to (specifically, The Red Tree, The Rabbits and The Lost Thing) suggested by the singular John Walker and my dad, who I’ve failed to talk to for weeks.

Anyway, just to round that off; to Our Friends in the North; sorry I missed you this year, I promise I’ll ring tomorrow (when the sky falls on our heads …), and I hope everything’s going okay way up there.
(Silent Grill restrains
breath to catch nascent tremors
of first tsunami jokes.)
PlayBot 2005: "
'No robot was permanently harmed or injured during the shooting of the calendar.'"