Friday, 17 May 2013
Train) created Colonel Chinstrap, a pickled former Indian Army officer
who perpetually believed he was being offered a drink, replying: "I
don't mind if I do". Chinstrap was based on a real person. Train was
visiting the BBC's chief announcer, John Snagge, when in came a
bleary-eyed former army man, another friend of Snagge's.
arrival said: "John, I've just done the most marvelous piece of
business. I've bought a water heater on 10 years' hire purchase and what
the gas company don't know is that I am drinking myself to death."
When the man heard the show he failed to recognize himself but
commented: "Wonderful character. I knew silly buggers like that in
India." And then, nine years and five months after the first meeting,
Snagge sent Train a telegram:
THE COLONEL BEAT THE GAS COMPANY BY SEVEN
-From the Wikipedia article on wartime radio comedy 'It's That Man Again'.
Friday, 10 May 2013
Hannibal's biggest enemy was his own nation. He was only ever a member of the super-rich Barca family and not the leader of Carthage itself. In a sense he was a sort of Bond villain, privately funding his own ingenious plan (Alps crossing + elephants = WTF?!?!) to bring Rome to heel.
When the senators of Carthage found out H was on Italian soil they decided not to send help, for fear he would be successful and return with tyranny in mind.
What exactly did they think the Romans--the ROMANS mind--would do next once they'd kicked Hannibal out of Italy?
"Oh, I reckon they won't do anything, probably put the whole matter
down to experience and get on with their lives. Bunch of Dalai Lamas, the
Pricks didn't deserve Hannibal Barca. Yes, I know, it's been 2 and a 1/2 millenia and I should let it go but...
Sunday, 28 April 2013
Magical stuff, isn't it? It's the work of Indian fine artist Ganesh Pyne, who I've only just happened upon thanks, sadly, to an obituary. According to Wikipedia he spent his childhood in a crumbling family mansion in Calcutta (now Kolkata) listening to his grandmother's folktales which, to look at his work, kind of figures.
To this add 'the week of the long knives'; the Great Calcutta Killings of August, 1946, that followed the understatedly titled (in retrospect) 'direct action day'. Amongst other horrors, a nine-year old Pyne witnessed a cartload of bodies pass him and his family as they made their way to a safe zone. As with J.G Ballard's experiences in the civilian prison camps of the Imperial Japanese, one senses the blood poured into Pyne's art. Both men, I think, understood that beneath civilization's veneer lurks a ready violence. Hell is round the corner, should we lose our decency and choose to go that way.
His Wikipedia entry lists cubism as an influence, which I don't really know enough about to comment on. Neither, of course, can I say much for the cultural context this art was made in- I've never been to India. But what I can say is this work, in its choice of tones and imagery, resonates with me on some level.
It reminds me of my childhood in rundown eighties Leicester. I think of a closed down shop I used to walk past, its window dirty with traffic fumes and the dust of Midlands industry. The shop was black and empty when you peered through the window, but--somehow--a female dummy remained, still wearing a red sari. The sari had sequins or tiny mirrors (my memory now is as faded as that dress) all over it and they glimmered from the streetlamps outside.
A peculiar sort of image--a Leicester-Gothic, you might call it--and Ganesh Pyne's visions dredge it up from my depths. But that's great art for you: able to find context in any locality.
You can find your own here.
Tuesday, 23 April 2013
|Put that i-Phone down, Richard!|
It's fair to say Richard Dawkins's adventures in Twitter-land have been, for the main, pretty disastrous. He's always been a remarkably clear thinker--anyone reading his books can tell that--but not a compact one. Here's his latest lamentable qwerty-dive:
"Mehdi Hasan admits to believing Muhamed [sic] flew to heaven on a winged horse. And New Statesman sees fit to print him as a serious journalist."Yeah. Not his most nuanced work, let's face it. To me it's more like some hastily scribbled thespian snark in Kenneth Williams' diary ("Hancock doing his stuff in too slow a tempo. He and Sid James' conversation real pleb stuff. Don't care for them at all") than one of the world's foremost explainers.
Self-destructive? Not 'alf! Online atheism, after all, is surrounded by hordes who'll willfully misread its every utterance, as the columns of the UK's press--both self-pleasuring right and de-clawed left--well attest. 'Dawkins Screams All Muslim Journos Should Be Sacked' swiftly became the Web's Tabla Rasa.
Andrew Brown inevitably stuck his conk in, while this time around even faux-eccentric MP Tom Watson gleaned another self-aggrandizing freebie with 'You're a gratuitously unpleasant man'. He'd never felt safe enough to say that to Murdoch, even.
The sad part, at least to me, was that the tweet forever tarnished one of Dawkins's best moments. In a debate for Al Jazeera, he asks Mehdi Hassan (whose journalism I generally admire, I hasten to add) if he believes Muhammad flew up to heaven on a Horse. Hassan replies yes. Not as a metaphor--rich as the tale of Buraq is with that--but literally.
Watch this clip. Watch it and forget whatever preconceptions about RD you may have. There's no red-faced secular-nazi-pope Strawkins here; just calm, reasoned inquiry into the privileged indolence of religious literalism. 'Why up?' is a bloody good question. 'Yes, let's' is very funny. Hassan knows he's being enfiladed here because he's an intelligent guy, but that same intelligence is reduced to spinning about in a tight shell of religious upbringing. It's as plain as day.
Dawkins has posted an apology for the crudity of his tweet up on his site, explaining what he meant to say. It's an ambulance at the bottom of a cliff however, for the media won't have the nuance or objectivity to print or link to it. It's doesn't fit the narrative. I just hope Dawkins learns to use Twitter as a means to link to longer pieces because, as things stand, theists and faitheists--like Christ with his loaves--can stretch 140 characters into a heckuva feast.
Speaking as a non-believer it's his irresponsibility that depresses me most. He should know by now that a million arsewits lie in the cyber-heather, ready to pounce at his slightest gob-wrong. They intend to make him an irrelevancy.
It's funny. People talk about the pigheadedness of atheism but no one speaks of how atheism's critics subconsciously will it to be pigheaded. The mere act of being an atheist puts peoples' noses out of joint. They've loved ones who've passed away and it's understandable they want those loved ones' to still exist somewhere, somewhere where they will meet again. But daily, with each new scientific insight (the scale of the universe compared to us, the increasingly explicable chemical emergence of DNA etc), that very human need is increasingly weighed upon. Few, if any, like to be reminded.
Laugh if you like, but I'm one of that silent chunk of non-believers who wish people would just accept them as openly atheist and leave it at that (OK, so I rant about religions extremes but so do many theists). But in social situations it never works out like that. It's assumed I am angry.
Once I'm 'outed' someone will get irritable and pick and prod. Eventually, dammit, I bite: I like a debate as much as the next pub boor. Things heat up and almost always it becomes an unpleasant experience. My opponents mouths will be sneering and laughing, but their eyes...
...their eyes dammit, have this pleading look (You'll see it in Mehdi Hassan's in the above vid. The body language is archetypal too). An atheist among believers becomes a sort of totemic death's head, a raven mocked by jays. It's no longer a debate, because you've become the death of a parent, a dear friend or, ultimately, themselves. Seeing this, my mouth keeps up the bravado but my heart loses resolve. My heart--sap that it is--wants only to reassure my friends, tell them I'm sorry and that everything will be fine.
As below so above. The media plays upon these fears, fear equaling click-bait, and a minor industry has emerged of columnists who'll soothe the reader's brow by dismissing atheism with intelligent-sounding sentences. 'What these atheists don't understand about faith...', 'It's a sort of religion, with Dawkins its fundamentalist pope...' etc. You know the drill.
In such an atmosphere, whether your non-belief is strident or conciliatory, you have to accept there's something like a -20% modifier to any statement you make being understood, let alone accepted. On Twitter it is something more like 40% (If this blog's anything to go by men are particularly susceptible to its inherent traps, with anger, privilege and--in my own case--swagger being clumsy y-chromosome hooves.).
Any self-aware atheist--which I once took Richard Dawkins to be--would do well to remain wary of that. Every utterance should be checked over for clarity, for leaks of comprehension. In fact it's a responsibility. The other side never have to, of course, so it's not a fair fight. But it never has been.
Monday, 22 April 2013
Sunday, 21 April 2013
Thursday, 18 April 2013
|The Write Agenda's Poster Campaign For Theodore Beale/ Vox Day|
You, er, couldn't make it up, as they say. Well, you could, but friends would say you're painting a very bleak picture.
As reported here last October, The Write Agenda are the fake publisher conman community's answer to having their racket strangulated by the information age. Before the internet it was simplicity itself to dazzle some novelist wannabe with a paper-mache 'publishing front' and then siphon them of cash and, in the process, hope. Nowadays, of course, the Rubes and Marks merely have to tinkle your company's name into a qwertyslab to see you're far from kosher. How's a villain s'posed to make a buck, huh?
The answer is to go on the offensive. Create a website full of 'concerned' but oddly faceless writers who attempt (the operative word here) to besmirch efforts like Writer Beware (headed by the wonderful Victoria Strauss); a group of publicly-minded individuals who have done much to depth-charge these wolf-ships of publishing into financial insolubility. To view the Agenda's site is actually oddly life-affirming. For once, it's the bad guys trying to Canute back the tides.
But with this latest move, King Canute has just belly-flopped into the brine. Anyone who visits here regularly or, indeed, keeps up with SF goings on online won't need me to tell them who Theodore Beale, aka 'Vox Day' is: a mainly self-pubbed fantasy writer and Christian fundamentalist-creationist who believes that working women are more dangerous to society than rape, that they shouldn't vote, that they shouldn't be educated and that the brainless thugs who assaulted an Indian man living in Britain for thirty years will be 'the heroes of tomorrow'.
You'd think the only affection in existence for such a man would be located in the nerve endings of his own penis. BUT... here's The Write Agenda's endorsement of his presidential campaign for the SFWA:
"Theodore Beale is an agent of change, but this is not why we are endorsing him. We’re endorsing him because we have reviewed John Scalzi’s term as President (here, here, here and here) and we know the set of skills that one needs to succeed in the position. Simply put, Theodore Beale has them. He is the right person for the job. He has our vote, and if you are SFWA member, we hope that you will give him your vote as well. Beale is the “warrior scholar” . . . give him your vote!"
I'm not so much flabbergasted by The Write Agenda's crass leech-fest (few would be outside of Sesame Street) as reassured by their obvious stupidity. TWA's entire strategy depends upon being and owning the narrative. To be seen to own 'the narrative' requires a public image that's reasonable and balanced (OK, so their website's prose fails that requisite, but still...), something--and tell me if I'm out of line here--that is nigh-impossible when you support a 'warrior scholar' who thinks Hispanics should be expelled from the States and that humanity is very possibly 'divided into various subspecies'.
At some point TWA dimly sensed this and attempted to defend Beale's racist, misogynist and anti-enlightenment ideals with this lone statement:
"Theodore Beale’s only crimes are that he writes controversial pieces and that he disagrees with John Scalzi. Being controversial is nothing new when it comes to past (or present) SFWA Presidents. Why is it such a big issue now?"
(The author John Scalzi, you'll recall, is the outgoing Prez of the SFWA and shared enemy of both Vox Day and TWA (Go John!), due to the SFWA's links to Writer Beware)
Damn it, people! Why are you making such a big deal of a rape over work bias? Why a mountain out of a mere violent assault-lauding molehill? Get over yourselves, Puh-leease...
A moral vacuum makes for strange bedfellows it would seem (And I urge you not to compare Vox Day with TWA and fall into the easy pit of 'Well, he's a bigot but at least he's consistent'. He isn't. As this post shows, Day was happy to lick up to Scalzi when it suited his sales and equally happy to turn on his benefactor when that worked better). The irony is, Vox Day would come down as hard, possibly harder, on the scammers TWA represent. Not from any moral imperative, I hasten to add, simply the fascist's need to be seen attacking a nebulous other whenever their administration begins to look weak before the masses. Which, if Day was ever allowed to rule the roost, would be quite-a-bleeding lot.
Anyway, I tweeted TWA and asked them why they are supporting a vocal white supremacist. I'll keep you posted, though I don't expect an answer. That would be too much like conviction.