Sunday, February 29, 2004

The lunatics are taking over the asylum 

Hey Folks,

No, this post isn't about me, it's a rant about the Government's new plans for asylum and immigration. The bastards. Not that I've made up my mind, or come to any conclusions on their stance you understand. Basically, I have a question that I've wanted answering for a long time: When did refugees become asylum seekers? When did people who we knew were fleeing persecution become people who, we are equally certain or so the Daily Mail tells us, are just coming to steal all our benefits while simultaneously stealing all our jobs? Tell me, when did this happen? I can remember watching John Craven, when it was still his Newsround, in the 1980s telling me about Vietnamese boat people and they were known as refugees then. I went to primary school with the son of an Iranian exile - okay, I admit it, all my posts are in some way about Iran. Now shut up and pay attention - and his family were never stigmatised or humiliated and to us he was just another normal child. As a citizen of a country that colonised two thirds of the planet's surface, I am ashamed that we treat people from other countries so badly. I get so angry when the term asylum seeker is used, it can be, I think, as vile as Paki or nigger and yet it's used every day by politicians and members of the public. I admit it, I use it too. I am ashamed. It's ridiculous that we treat people so poorly.

The thing is, we need skills that refugees posses: in the main they are the educated classes of people in their country - the doctors, engineers, teachers and other skilled persons - and this country has a dire need for those skills. But this, remember, is Daily Mail Island. So what do we do? Yep, you've guessed it: when we actually let these educated, pre-skilled people into the country, we condemn them and their families to living on sums of less than half what we pay our own long-term unemployed. Recently, some crazy kid of an MP suggested that maybe we should let them work in their respective fields. No shit, Sherlock. Personally, I was absolutely appalled that this hadn't been going on. It's yet another sign that I'm far too sensible to be involved in politics.

And now it's getting worse. This story is yet another depressing insight into how warped New Labour is. Gone, it seems, are the days of social responsibility and compassion for your fellow humans. Maybe I'm being unfair, though. Perhaps it is just one of the many things that becomes necessary in the murky gutter of politics to ensure electoral survival. I for one would love to see the day when someone in government is actually brave enough to slap down the media and the public and refuse to bow to the demands of N from Barnsley, lately of the Ceefax Letters Page. I'm not sure any of us will ever see that happen sadly. My liberal heart is hemorrhaging.

Come on people, get a grip!

Friday, February 27, 2004

They call me the seeker 

Hey Folks,

September Blue's Dad has come up with the goods on what Ann Winterton actually said, so head over there you sick bastards* and see what she said.

Further to songs rant from earlier and as an adjunct to my previous post, I'll post a couple of lines from a song that, I feel, captures a great part of the Christian experience:

They call me the seeker/
I've been searching low and high/
I don't get to get what I'm after 'til the day I die

(Courtesy of Messrs Townshend, Daltry, Moon and Entwistle.)

Just because it's not Biblical doesn't make it irrelevant

*You sick bastards who will no doubt be amused. I was.

Testimonies Evening 

Hey Folks,

Christians trouble me. Specifically, university Christian Unions trouble me. Our university's is fairly representative of the type and it is full of people that if they were Middle-Eastern, you wouldn't let them near a chemistry set for fear of what they might be commanded to do. But they're white, late teens, from our own country, so that's okay then. The CU was streets ahead of Dubya with the "either with us or against us" dictum and it makes it very difficult for moderate, dare I say liberal, Christians like myself to deal with them. To them, I'm, despite the depth of my beliefs and the qualities of my action, a bit of a lost cause. Because I don't do things exactly like them, I'm condemned to the Big Bad Fire (to use Catholic child-scaring theology) and there's not a damned thing I can do about it. I object to their gloating ways. To illustrate my point further: a couple of years ago, when I myself was going through a particularly devout phase, I was stopped in the street by a young man and woman. Do you go to believe in God, they asked. Yes, I said. That was a good start for them, they seemed really pleased that they'd button-holed a believer in the street. But then I started to disappoint them: they asked if I went to church and I said that yes, I attended a local Church of Scotland church and that we had an excellent parish minister. Their faces got longer and longer as I went on. You see, these people were part of a House Group. House groups are fine in circumstances of state oppression like in Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union, but Stirling is not quite like either of those environments. House groups (note the lack of capitalisation) can be a good way to discuss things that you've heard in church, and for Bible study and the like - no problem with those - but House Groups in my experience are populated with people with rather extreme views that I really would rather not be spending an evening with. Those people in the street were where CU-ers end up if they don't chill out a little.

Anyway, the point is that tonight the university's CU is holding a testimonies evening. Like most CU initiatives, it is of US origin and involves a group of people sitting and telling each other how God Saved Me - whether we are indeed saved in life is up for discussion, at least with me anyway. Lately, I've been a bit of a Job-esque character - new readers can find out for themselves in the archives - and I was wondering if I should go along and prove to them that belief does not equate to inner peace or an easy ride. Because that's the thing about these testimonies evenings - once you have found God, they seem to say, there are no further problems. I hope that this belief is simply due to the immaturity of those in the CU - 90% under 19 - and not due to their own fundamentalist interpretations of scripture. I find it interesting that in discussions with such people, when they say that God tells them something, it is somehow more valid than what God has told me - if only there was a way to broadcast prayers over a PA or stream them on the internet, I'd show them. My real problem with testimonies, however, is that they implicitly exclude normal people. As a friend remarked to me, why the heck would you want to go to church and hang out with people who are all ex-murderers/junkies/thieves/insert Zacheus-figure here. And this is the crux of the matter: although God arguably does work in the lives of people who have done terrible things, the vast majority of people who are Christians are just that - people like you or I who've lived their lives and made mistakes. Testimonies evenings and suchlike create yet another layer of religious elitism where ordinary people are excluded because they have not suffered some amazingly traumatic experience. People who put too great a value on the power and use of Testimony miss the point: in God's eyes everyone is amazing. All 6.5 billion of us.

More from Tory Central Office 

Hey Folks,

Thanks to all the visitors who've come here because of the Ann Winterton, but I can't help you with what it was she actually said. For that, you'll need to wait until September Blue asks her Mum. Go on, go and get the good news from her.


Tourist boards and advertisers take note 

Hey folks,

I've decided that I need to get this off my chest once and for all. Has anyone noticed the trend of advertising agencies to pick background music because it sounds good, with no thought as to what the song's actually about? I'm talking about the ridiculously foolish choice of Clannad's Theme From Harry's Game being the anthem, if you like, of the Irish Tourist Board. Have these people watched or read Harry's Game? Given that it is about a Military Intelligence agent on an assassination mission in Belfast, I suspect not. Or, if they have, then I salute their amazing sense of irony for they must have a wonderful sense of humour. This advert, with the danced-up Clannad track has been around for a while but there is another more current one out. A Fiat people-carrier is being advertised with Iggy Pop's The Passenger. Now, I had always thought that this song was about a misanthropic sociopath and wouldn't have been my first choice for an advert. Hang on, I've just remembered that MPV drivers are misanthropic sociopaths...

History is littered with inappropriate interpretations of songs: I'm friends with people who think that Every Breath You Take and Hazard, by Sting and Richard Marx are sweet love songs. I don't mind when songs are ambiguous, but come on people, they're clearly not typical touchy-feely love songs. Pay attention to the lyrics - you'll get more out of the song that way - and stop pissing me off by telling me I don't get it. Further to the Harry's Game confusion, I've included an English translation of the lyrics from the Gaelic:

Imtheochaidh soir is siar
A dtainig ariamh
An ghealach is an ghrian

Fol lol the doh fol the day
Fol the day fol the day

Imtheochaidh an ghealach's an ghrian
An Daoine og is a chail 'na dhiadh

Fol lol the doh fol the day
Fol the day fol the day

Fol lol the doh fol the day
Fol the day fol the day

Imtheochaidh a dtainig ariamh
an duine og is a chail ne dhiadh

Fol lol the doh fol the day
Fol the day fol the day

(Copyright http://www.jtwinc.com/clannad/sharryga.htm English translation by Ron Burns)

See, if the ITB's advertising agency could actually understand Gaelic, they'd get on a lot better:

I will go east and go west
[To the places] from whence came
The moon and the sun

The moon and the sun will go
And the young man
With his reputation behind him
I will go wherever he came from -
The young man with his reputation behind him

This actually resonates with the storyline and the plot's themes, but does not, to me at any rate, smack of golfing and happy evenings in the snug by a peat fire. Advertisers, get it right!


Thursday, February 26, 2004

Well I never... 

Hey Folks,

It seems that Ann Winterton just can't help herself. It's a shame she's so mad, really, as The Ex tells me that she's actually a very good constituency MP - aside from the obvious insanity issues. Y' see, when I saw the Tory leader sacks cockler joke MP headline, I just knew it would be her, but only because Prince Phillip is not an MP.

Anyway, joking aside, I'm now another year older being as it was on Sunday my Birthday. It was pretty tough as apart from Christmas just past, it was the first "milestone" occasion without my other half. It's been six months or thereabouts since she left me and I still often find myself referring to her in casual conversation and thinking of myself as being part of a couple. Five years, it seems, is long enough to ingrain habits and such and one thing that seems to hurt more than most - currently at least - is that she changed me in so many ways and those changes make her absence all the harder to accept. For instance, if I hear music that I would never have listened to previously, I'll think about going home and listening to it only to realise that I don't live there any more and it is most definitely her iTunes. The same goes with literature: I was very much a techno-thriller aficionado, but now I've started reading Proper Books, I've no one there beside me last thing at night to discuss them with. It's truly amazing just how life conspires to remind me, and I assume the collective Us as well, of those we've loved and lost - or, in my specific case, those we've loved and betrayed, destroyed and driven away.
If anyone has any tips on how to win back lost loves, or stories of breakups that have been patched up, I'd like to know. Bear in mind that these have to be bloody good tips and if anyone plans on commenting along the lines of "because the lady loves Milk Tray", I shall remind you that StatCounter.com will help me to find you...

Thursday, February 19, 2004

Hey Folks,

Since I laid off on the insane personal threats, I seem to be gradually building a readership other than people who come here to make sure that I've not gone and topped myself - now if only I could port this success into my personal life! I'd like to say thanks very much to the people who've linked to me, it means a lot. However, with great numbers of links comes great responsibility, I feel and I'll have to start blogging about important and meritous things. In fact, maybe that's how all the serious bloggers - those who don't provide us with tales of mirth and woe - got started: they get worked up, say a couple of vaguely poignant, controversial or otherwise interesting things, and quicker than you can say "Diana Gould giving Margaret Thatcher what for on Nationwide", you've got legions of expectant fans watching your blog for the latest anti-establishment rant. If you want pro-establishment rants then I suggest you go and take a look at the Christians being fed to the lions here. If you like that sort of stuff, though, I can give you the number of a really good psychiatrist, who may well be able to help you. Thankfully though, I just say silly and annoying things that occasionally ramble into paths worn by fitter and smarter boots.

If anyone has tips on how to persuade mentally retarded people that they won't starve if they don't eat their lunch right this very second, I'd like to hear them...

Hot off the presses 

Hey Folks,

Ivan Noble's latest installment of his phenomenonal Tumour Diary is on the BBC's webpage. I've been reading this for a while now, and I blogged about it a few weeks ago, simply because it never fails to make such a resounding impression on me. I linked to it then, but I've updated my template and linked his very first diary entry entry - which has links to all his other entries - on the sidebar so that everybody can look at it. I encourage you all to read it as it is truly amazing, and it is an object lesson in the power of the Internet.

Man, George 'n' Karl are gonna be so pissed... 

Hey Folks,

Now, it's been said by more than a fair few folk that I am person that suspicious of the motives of others. One person went so far as to use the the term "paranoid psychopath", but since it wasn't my beautiful psychiatrist I think I can ignore them and their mean comments. For the record, I'm a paranoid post traumatic stress case. Get it right, okay! But I digress...

Anyway, when I saw this article about Japan buying Iranian oil I thought "good, the US aren't going to invade Iran now that one of their biggest allies has such a huge stake in the country." It has always been a worry of mine that despite the current reform-orientated nature of Iranian politics, those in the White House, lacking as they are in any appreciation of comparative religion, regional politics, ethics and dare I say, the slightest shred of human empathy, would steamroller right through Iraq into Iran and bring them all Democracy - despite the fact that they seem to have been moving in that direction for the past few years, despite the current round of tensions between the reformists and the hardliners. So this has been a long-standing worry of mine, and I'm sure my concern is shared by a good number of people. In one way, it makes me glad that the post-Hussein occupation has been so difficult for no other reason than it has prevented even the War President from considering an attack on Iran. Japan buying up 75% of Iran's oil will go somewhat further if only that the US would be unable to sell it to pay for "reconstruction" efforts post-war. Last night, that article was the last thing I read before taking myself off to bed, and I did feel a bit happier about the situation in the Middle East.

Imagine, then, how I felt when one of the first things I found on the BBC News website was this little gem about how Iran appears to be falling down on it's Non-Proliferation Treaty commitments. After all, but how did the run up to war against Iraq start but with claims about WMD and the like? Now, feel free to call me a suspicious paranoid, but I for one am very glad that this announcement did not come a day earlier. Hopefully, the Japanese will stick to their guns - after all their need for oil is large - and refuse to back down and continue to invest heavily in Iran. I feel that they should do this for two reasons: firstly, as already stated to spoil any US plans for an attack into Iran and secondly because it will allow Mohammed Khatami to say to his people "look at all the foreign investment I'm pulling in to the country", which will, I believe, have a similar effect as Gorbachev's policies in the mid-1980s and allow fuller economic and political engagement with Iran. After all, in 2001 HMG had spent the best part of three years getting close to Iran using diplomacy rather than out and out threats, but then came along 9-11 and Iran was banged on the Axis of Evil list - which scuppered everything until very recently.

We have made a grave mistake by attacking Iraq, and I pray that it will not be compounded by even threatening to invade Iran. They may be safe for just now, people, but don't smash up your No War For Oil placards just yet.

Wednesday, February 18, 2004

"In Room 101 is the worst thing in the world; you know this Winston" 

(At the Uni, it's the politics postgraduate teaching assistants, but that's another matter...)

Hey Folks,

Now, the few of you that visit - but never, ever comment* - know that I'm possessed with a pretty strange sense of humour. A couple of weeks ago, I resolved to set about finding out how many people actually visited my blog to read my tales of woe - can I say that without infringing Scary Duck? Anyway, I went to StatCounter and singed up for, well, a statcounter.

And what a tool it is. I get the feeling that they've basically adapted some form of a 1980's era spymaster's toolkit that gives l'il old me the ability to find out who visits my blog, how they got here, and where they came from - it seems like my guerilla marketing campaign is bearing fruit :-D I'm trying really hard, but I don't know how long I'll be able to resist the temptation to use these tracking functions for the purposes of evil. Apparently, though, as well as offering me an intelligence gathering capability that would make Kim Jong Il - and quite possibly George Tenet too, given the CIA's recent lacklustre performance - green with envy, StatCounter offer similar services to all those spam emails that end up in your inbox. You know the ones, the ones that offer your Mum Viagra, or a bigger penis... It seems that for $9 a month, StatCounter offer to Increase The Size Of Your Log! Now that may mean something to all you webheads, but it means something completely different to me... I'm off to see a man about a photo-reconnaissance satellite.

Just call me O'Brien.

*Not that I'm putting any pressure on you, or anything. It's not as if I know where you live...

Marco Pantani, we salute you 

Hey Folks,

Hard to believe, but the passing of one of my sporting idols almost escaped my attention. I'm torn between feelings of loss for Pantani was one of the greats of his sport, a sport that I used to be keenly involved with, and an inescapable sense that he brought it on himself. As a former - mediocre, surely - athlete I do have quite strong feelings on the use of drugs in sport and I must say that I detest people who cheat. I do have sympathy for those who do not knowingly use drugs, but they must too pay the price for their lack of vigilance over what they ingest into their bodies. It is my opinion, however, and that of the UCI and the Italian authorities, that Pantani was indeed a cheat. Ultimately he brought it on himself and brought about his own death - either by accident or design - at just 34 years old. I cannot help but have some sympathy and compassion for him though - after all Bringing Things Upon Yourself is the raison d'etre for this blog - on a personal if not professional level: he was, after all, a human being, with human weaknesses and I agree totally with his mother in saying that I believe that he was being hounded by the police despite the fact that the bans he had received from the cycling authorities were far more of a punishment than any fine or legal sanction. I could understand, and entirely support, such police action if they suspected that he was supplying others with performance-enhancing drugs, but the fact was that he wasn't, and so was a matter for him, his body and the UCI.

Regardless, Marco Pantani was one of the most gifted cyclists the sport has ever seen, and is left much poorer for his passing. Yes, he made mistakes but he was paying for them and he really had lost everything as a result of his own actions, and one wonders if this was punishment enough.

Marco Pantani 1970-2004

God bless you.

Thursday, February 12, 2004

The nature of political satire 

Hey Folks,

For satire to be truly funny, it needs to have a smattering of truth for us to identify with and to act as a contrast to the truly ridiculous stuff. I'm sure that I'm not the first person to wonder what happens when what is supposed to satire actually seems to contain too much truth.

If the class opens their books at The Onion and look down the page, then they will find this quote: "Every couple of days, he refuses to let us look under his bed," an unnamed soldier said. "There's never anything under there, but sometimes he likes to make a big deal out of refusing." Hits the nail right on it's pretty little face if you ask me (which you implicitly are if you choose to come here). See, thing is, Saddam Hussein and I have a few things in common: We both have a tremendous ego problem that refuses to allow negative perception of self image. In my case, it was a refusal to accept looming financial meltdown and relationship destruction, his was the need to be perceived as a big man in the Arab world, a man with the best and deadliest hardware, so when UN rolled up and said "where are you hiding the gear?" (In my scenario Hans Blix and all the other weapons inspectors sound like DI Frank Burnside from The Bill), rather than telling the truth and admitting that all banned products had already been found by UNSCOM or destroyed by Iraqi forces themselves, Saddam did his usual tough guy act of "go ahead and bomb me, see if I care, I'll outlive all you bastards." This is a similar approach to Kim Jong Il in North Korea, obviously influenced by too much British day time television advertising: "population starving? Spent all your cash on tanks? No credit? Well we can help! Just threaten to produce a nuclear stockpile and watch those donations of food roll in."

Saddam Hussein's above approach has worked several times in the past 12 years. What had changed was the man in the White House, a man with "bloodthirsty revenge and killing on my mind". Although satire, the linked piece does seem to throw a fair bit of light - i.e think billion candle-power magnesium flare - on George Bush's mindset. I may be getting into the discussion late, at least blog-wise, but I think that Saddam Hussein totally miscalculated the 9-11 Factor and its effect on, well, let's be honest here everything. Just because he knew that Bin Laden hated him as much as if not more that the entire Western world, didn't mean that George Bush knew it, or cared. If he had seen the writing on the wall sooner, he may well have thrown open the doors and let anyone who wanted to look for the merest hint of VX come ahead. But he didn't, so he's gone. Now, I'm not some sort of Bathist apologist - now there's a good title for a blog if there ever was one - and I am glad that Iraq is no longer run by Hussein et al. I just can't help feeling very dubious about the way that the US and the UK have run roughshod over International Law. One of my earliest memories was of the gassing of Halabjah, and one of my strongest memories of Desert Storm was of a Shia fighter shooting at a tank with a machinegun after George Bush Snr had encouraged them to rise up and take back their country. I would have felt a lot more comfortable with the whole concept had the UN been involved from the start, if the US/UK had given the Inspectorate a few more months - ironically, the same few months that the ISG is now needing itself - hell, I would have felt better about it if after the fighting had been won, the UN had been given the entire civil side of the occupation/rebuilding process to take care of. But it didn't happen, so I don't feel better about it.

A wholly better policy, I feel, would have been to build closer relations with Iran the aim being to bring about gradual change within Iraq, similar to Nixon's policy of engagement with China in the 1970s bringing about glasnost and the eventual collapse of the USSR. Such a policy would have had the advantage of showing moderate - and possibly even extremist - Muslims, that we in the West do treat Islam and its people with respect. That didn't happen either, and Jihadists are flooding into Iraq to fight what appears to them to be very much a 21st century Crusade. Don't get me wrong, I'm the first to admit that wars do need to be fought from time to time - I am a living contradiction (or maybe just a realist) in that I am nominally a pacifist but I have more than a passing interest in military affairs and a firm belief that force does indeed have a place, but only when used through the proper channels.
I suppose that my views on warmaking fall somewhat in line with the Christian theories of a Just War and Lee's dictum of it being a good thing that war is indeed so terrible a thing to stave off a growing fondness for it. Nothing fills me with more hope than when former enemies on the battlefield can sit down together and try to make peace on behalf of their nations and peoples - the peace process between the Israelis and the Palestinians has, I feel, never recovered from the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, and I often wonder what might have been had he in fact lived. There was so much potential accomplishment there and it was all destroyed in a few seconds by the actions of one fundamentalist. A tragic waste, and that one action has probably caused the deaths of thousands since that may well have been avoided.

Tony Blair seems to be this country's most aggressive PM for the past 100 years or so. I've agreed with several of his decisions to use force, because there appeared to be no better option. I was pleased with the intervention in Kosovo because I remember watching with horror the entire Balkan conflict, Sniper Alley, the Sarajevo market place massacre, the impotence of the UN; all these things, and when in 1999 Tony Blair and Bill Clinton stood up and said "let's do it, and do it now," I was behind them. I actually wanted an escalation, soldiers on the ground earlier, so that Allied Force would not just be faceless bombing from 30000 feet up. It seems to be the case that when soldiers engage in combat on the ground, and behave well towards their enemy and the civilian population, that this reinforces the "rightness" of the cause in a way that smart weaponry deployed from above does not. Boots on the ground would also have had the effect of actually preventing the genocide in Kosovo itself while going some way to avoiding, or at least minimising, the tragedies and PR blunders of civilian deaths in the Republic of Yugoslavia.

In the case of last year's action in Iraq, I disagreed with Messrs Bush and Blair about the necessity for action at that time, and it seems like history is bearing up my view of events rather than theirs. As a historian, however, I know just how subjective a mistress she is so I think I'll be bold enough to admit it if I am proved wrong, or some way towards being wrong. George Bush seems to think that Tony Blair has the spirit of Churchill - given that the Tories have Nicholas Soames MP, maternal Grandson of Winston Churchill, in the party, they should be able to go one better than that if they ever get elected; but I digress - within him, or guiding his actions. One of Churchill's most famous axioms was "jaw-jaw is better than war-war." Governments both sides of the Atlantic would do well to remember that, I feel. Give them a few years, though, as Churchill only said that after six years of the most destructive war the planet has ever seen. Time will tell whether or not the peacemakers are indeed blessed, I suppose. Fingers crossed.

Tuesday, February 10, 2004

The true character of the Outpatient is revealed... 

Hey Folks,

I found this beauty of a link on Skippy Stalin's blog Enjoy Every Sandwich. He's down as a "Complete Psycho" - fitting for a man who works in the security industry - but me, I'm something a little bit different... Results in the sidebar. Enjoy.

Prepare yourself, you know it's a must... 

Hey Folks,

When I saw this article, I knew that the time had come for me to start giving my posts titles, and just what that first title would be. In the words (?) of a teenaged fanfiction reading webfreak, OMG!!111 WTF?//111. Or something. I dunno...

Anyway, the point is that if the pilot in question had been, say, an Arab, or a Sikh - after all those turbans make 'em look Araby and that's what counts - then in all likelihood, the plane would have been blown out of the sky before said religious zealot had a chance to fly it into the tall structure of his choice. But because Christians are nice, because Christians can cope with the wonders of technology without thinking "Which hated symbol's destruction will win me God's favour?" , because Christians would never dream of hurting their fellow humans, this guy is probably going to get away with nothing worse than a slap on the wrist and some sensitivity training. In short, because this man is white, nothing bad will happen to him because he was completely non-threatening in his whiteness. Just don't put him in charge of a flight to Saudi Arabia on the off chance that he decides to strike a blow for Christian rationality and drives his plane into the Kabba* to highlight how crazy Muslims are for wanting to visit a big black box...

This is yet another case where the supposedly sane, rational, educated and modern "Christian" West comes over as the crazy side. Thank you very much, I don't think.

*Now I have truly seen everything, and can die a happy man. Blogger's spellcheck suggests that I replace Kabba with Kappa. How we laughed.

Friday, February 06, 2004

Hey Folks,

I've been in a decline for, I suppose, the past four years or so. In a way, I suppose I've always been depressed about something or other but up until recently it's been...manageable is the best way to describe it. My problem is - and regular readers can score an easy ten points here - that I have always been able to hide it. I suppose it kind of proves the case for the proverbial British stiff upper lip and it seems to have been a recurring phenomenon for the past several generations of my family. My paternal grandfather served, like many if not most of the young men of his generation, in the Second World War fighting in Africa and Italy with the Scots Guards. He was present at the sweeping victory over the Italians in the desert, was driven back by the Afrika Korps and months later drove Rommel back into the sea. He fought on Sicily and then into Italy at Salerno and then on to the hell of Monte Cassino where his unit saw some of the bloodiest fighting of the European theatre. As well as these momentous historical landmarks he was involved in most of the other, "lesser" battles of the Mediterranean campaign. He died from lung cancer when I was six months old, but my Dad tells me that he only said three things about his entire service: that the Tommies used to trade the Yanks their superior foul weather gear for US issued tinned fruits, that it was cold at night and that at Cassino both sides would stop fighting at night to recover their dead and bury them. Three accounts from seven years - including service in the post war occupation - of near-continuous service and that's all that the man would ever talk about. In a way, the war reached out and claimed him nearly after forty years as he only decided to start smoking while onboard a landing craft approaching the maelstrom of Salerno and he said later to my Dad - make that four things, pedants. Yes, this means you - that he had resolved there and then to take up the habit if he made it off the beach alive. The history of the Scots Guards, and indeed that of the entire Eighth Army, during that period is absolutely fascinating and I may well feel motivated to put something on my site about it. I suspect however, that Geocities do not offer anywhere near enough the space to allow anything other than a cursory treatment of the subject.

Given my own recent experiences, I believe that my Papa had a case of survivor guilt. Having learned - as much as possible as it is for a book to convey the sheer horror of close quarter infantry combat - a little of what he likely went through, I believe that survivor guilt is a plausible conclusion. This is the First Generation. And so to the Second: When he was just 18 years old my father, a top school-level athlete, gifted musician and all round Popular Guy, was involved in the Ibrox Disaster. He only got out alive because an older man lifted him over a barrier before he too was crushed to death. It was that close, and I know that he feels terribly guilty for "running away" - a direct quote. I suppose in this my father demonstrates that he is a passive-aggressive and that most of his drunken abuse is in some way an attempt by his inner self to balance his supposed cowardice on that January day. It's painfully clear to me that that day in a sense was the end of my Dad's life. Trauma counseling and the like was unheard of - or worse, for "jessies" - and I wonder if his nervous breakdowns, his suicide attempts and his rampant and seemingly uncheckable drinking and all that that entails could have been avoided if it had been, or we lived in a culture where it was acceptable to seek such help. Maybe not though, maybe his is just a bastard through and through and that regardless of what he experienced I would have had to have lived my life as it is anyway.

And then there's me, the Third Generation. So far I've got one up on my progenitors in that I have sought help and I actually possess a diagnosis. Ironically, given the above, I have a fairly acute case of Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome coupled with latent, and currently active, manic depression - I suffer from it, so don't tell me that I have to call it bi-polar these days. Also, I've got a good case of the good old, you must truly be able to guess, survivor guilt too. When I was at high school I was bullied mercilessly, as only children can, day in day out for five years. Now what truly adds spice to this otherwise mundane tale of troubled adolescence is that I was able to forgive the people that did what they did to me, because I knew that it would be the only way for me to get over what had happened and get on with my life. So I forgave them, told them so, and one went so far as to apologise to me in return. I fully believe that he needed to do this for himself as well as for me, and he became my friend - turning the other cheek indeed. All was fine, I had left school long behind for university and I was finally starting to live my life and live it in a way that I had never thought possible before. One day in December of that year, when I was 18, police divers found severed body parts in bags in a loch in central Scotland and what will surely become a legend was born. Watching the police recovery operation on the news with mild and fleeting distaste, I had no hint that the dismembered body that they were recovering was that of my friend. That day, the news became very real to me.

How do I feel about some perverted man murdering and desecrating my friend like that? I think that you can tell, but what really hurts me is that although there was a point when I would have happily have killed him myself, I had moved on and forgiven him for what he had done and left myself vulnerable to him again albeit in a different way than before. His life mattered to me, and a sadistic and depraved individual killed him for his own gratification. His murderer is in prison and will not see the outside for a very long time if ever, and the challenge I face in this regard is to forgive him for what he did, or else the original act that meant so much to two people will be entirely meaningless.

Today is my friend's Birthday. He would have been 23. I'm sorry that I couldn't save you. God bless you.

Monday, February 02, 2004

Hey Folks,

It appears that there has been some kind of voting process these past few weeks and months to decide, albeit probably not definitively, what the Top Ten Movie Speeches of All Time are. Yadda yadday... The list can be found here.. I must say that in my pathetic geekdom I have managed to see all of the winning films and in the case of a few, quote them in their entirety. So is the sum total of my life's achievements...

I've been a little manic today and my brain's been fizzing away making all these little connections to sights and sounds and tastes. When I shut my eyes, I my skin seems to take over from my visual perception. For those who grew up in the UK in the 70s and 80s, I feel like I must look a little like the Redy Brek Kid with that cool orange halo. For the rest of the world -albeit the geeks - when I close my eyes I feel a little like Luke Skywalker onboard the Millennium Falcon when Obi Wan makes him don the blast helmet for his lightsabre training. To quote ACDC, I feel a little like a "live wire." But I digress. In my manic Sundayness, I was spurred by the above news item to thinking once again of Full Metal Jacket, Which also segues nicely with yesterday's theme. Now Stanley Kubrick was a master film maker, of that there is no doubt, but I personally feel that he could only do one thing well in each film. In 2001 it was the imagery, specifically the classic jawbone-becoming-space-station - if only the ISS had it so easy - and the plot was a tad, shall we say, slow. But 2001 was a beautifully crafted film nonetheless. The Shining suffered a bit in this way too because although the Overlook was fantastic and the lad playing Danny Torrance gave a powerful performance, I feel that it was let down by the over the top nature of Jack Nicholson's performance. It wasn't so much a psychodrama of one man's descent into madness - with which I can relate all too well lately - but more of a "Jack-Torrance-is-already-obviously-insane-and-it-is-only-a-matter of-time-before-he-ups-and-kills-you-both-YOU FOOLS!" played out in mesmerising surroundings. Spartacus, I feel, bucked the trend. It had everything. I also liked *gasp* Eyes Wide Shut and *medic!* AI, although there was a less than seamless transfer of directorship to Steven Spielberg. If you haven't seen it, believe me you could sit there "and Kubrick dies...here". It was still pretty good, though.

And so to Full Metal Jacket. IN FMJ, it was the dialogue that made it for me. Although R. Lee Ermey stole the first part of the film with his ad-libbed insults of the young marine trainees, there is no drop-off in the quality of the dialogue after the action leaves Parris Island for steamy Saigon. It is an eminently quotable film, the film that made "I love you long time" a catchphrase of a Graham Norton-watching generation. The stand out exchange from the entire film takes place towards the end and is between Joker, the main protagonist, and a Colonel:


You write "Born to Kill" on your helmet and you wear a peace button. What's that supposed to be, some kind of sick joke?!

No, sir.

You'd better get your head and your ass wired together, or I will take a giant shit on you!

Yes, sir.

Now answer my question or you'll be standing tall before the man.

I think I was trying to suggest something about the duality of man,

The what?

duality of man. The Jungian thing, sir.

side are you on, son?

Our side, sir.

Don't you love your country?

Yes, sir.

Then how about getting with the program? Why don't you jump on the team and come on in for the big win?

Yes, sir!

Son, all I've ever asked of my marines is that they obey my orders as they would the word
of God. We are here to help the Vietnamese, because inside every gook there is an American trying to get out. It's a hardball world, son. We've gotta keep our heads until this peace craze blows over.

Aye-aye, sir.

(Copyright Stationfive.com)

The duality of Man indeed. Although that entire exchange raises many points, it is that, the duality of man where a man can wear a CND badge and have born to kill stenciled on his helmet, that I am thinking about. So just to recap for any one who's wondering what the hell they've walked in on: we have Jungian psychology, by way of Full Metal Jacket which we got to because of a discussion of film quotes.

For more evidence that the duality of Man is alive and kicking, read this and contrast it with this. Yup, the duality of Man... For those who can't be bothered following yet more of my inane links, I'll throw a couple of teaser quotes at you.

From the former: Crowds gathered in Adelaide to cheer off the "Ghan", named after Afghan camel drivers who traditionally ran the route after European colonisation.

And the latter: Australia's tough stance on a boat-load of refugees is sending Prime Minister John's Howard's popularity with voters soaring just months away from a general election. To provide a little balance in my analysis, I'll throw another one at you from the second piece: Packages containing bullets and detonators were sent to three politicians critical of the government's stance. I bet those Afghans are so glad that their ancestors had a piece in making Australia the country it is today.

Obviously, I shan't tar every Aussie with the same xenophobic brush because it would be vastly unfair. It just strikes me as particularly strange that a nation that seems to have no real issues with gays, lesbians et al - you're all right as long as you neck your Fosters it seems - can appear to react on such a visceral level towards immigrants. I suppose every society needs it's hate figures - one day we will drive all the Catholics into the sea, it may not be tomorrow but that day is coming* - but the Australians I know just seem, well, too laid back to care... Ach, I dunno.

*If American or if you've had humour bypass surgery, please note that this is a cunning blend of irony and sarcasm