<$BlogRSDURL$>

Wednesday, March 31, 2004

Have you heard the one about the MP with feline DNA? 

Hey Folks,

Ann Winterton, scourge of drowned cockle pickers and Asian shopkeepers alike, has today managed to get the party whip back after an unreserved apology to Michael Howard. If they ever invented a Twelve Step Programme for politicians, she should be one of its first members.

Glad you're back, Ann, the House - and after dinner speaking engagements - were duller without you. Better be careful, though, as you've only got seven lives left and there are so very many "jokes" left to tell...

And I can't wait to hear the one about how much of a killer that the Madrid commute can be.

I'm sure you'll think of something.


"To commit oneself by a promise to do or give; pledge" 

Hey Folks,

One of the reasons that New Labour got elected was that before he became Prime Minister, Tony Blair did seem very trustworthy and he put a lot of stake in his "I'm a decent guy" image. Perhaps he was decent guy, but I don't think anyone will disagree with me when I say that he seems to be trying to turn himself into Margaret Thatcher - it seems that whatever his intentions, he's slightly less trustworthy than he was several years ago. Of course, that whole linking of Iraq to the War on Terror may have had something to do with it, but that's another matter. What worries me today is that Blair is meeting the UK families of the Lockerbie victims to explain why he let Gaddafi off the hook when they met last week. This wouldn't be so bad except that

Mr Blair wrote to UK Families Flight 103 in 1997 and vowed he would seek "justice" for them.
And everybody knows that although the Camp Zeist trial was far from a whitewash, it still did not provide the definitive answers the families were looking for. The allegation that Libya was simply used as a surrogate for the attack by Iran in revenge for the shooting down of an Iranian Airbus on July 3 1988 by the USS Vincennes has never been adequately investigated in any court and Blair should be pressing for any and all information in Gaddafi's possession. His letter to the families commits him to this and this is one promise that he would be best to keep for Pan-Am 103 is still such an emotive issue for us. His lack of perseverance also calls into question just how vigorous he will be in supporting the Saville Inquiry, or John Stevens's report into collusion between the security forces and paramilitary groups Northern Ireland.

Hopefully the next young, crusading Prime Minister that we get will actually live up to these weighty promises because I don't believe that Blair will.

Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Go Jack, go 

Hey Folks,

Like they do most people, politicians generally make me cringe. This happens especially when they step into the middle of any pressing issue and offer their often inexpert input. My mother is a nursery nurse and she earns the £13,000 which is total peanuts for the work that she does. She's currently seconded to a programme designed to prevent kids being screwed up from a very early age by their parents and surroundings, so she earns a little more - but with even more hours and responsibility. She's still at work, crossing picket lines and getting abuse for two reasons: 1) her kids truly do need her and her colleagues as some of them live appalling lives and 2) she makes so little that she can't afford to go on strike

Nursery nursing is a lot more than just "playing with the kids," and nurses play a great role in readying children socially and academically for primary school. They fulfill many of the roles that a fully-paid teacher would in a primary school and have a great responsibility for huge amounts of paperwork and the paydeal that they have been offered, with the attendant restructuring of hours and holidays, amounts to an increase of fifty pence a week. Fifty. Pence. Their union is understandably fighting this and demanding that the local council pay them more. This ultimately goes back to the Scottish Executive who fund the individual councils, so it was with great worry that I read this article:

McConnell anger over pay strike

As I expected him to be ranting about the selfishness of the nursery nurses over their demands for more money and for "abandoning the weans" - something said in many Letters to the Editor and by columnists across the land. Unlike most politicians, though, Jack McConnell is a former teacher and actually has some idea about the impact that nursery nurses have on the lives of children and their future success. In the last paragraph he slipped this little beauty in:

"They should be round the table, publicly or privately, having discussions, getting the dispute finished so they can have a national review of their carers' conditions."

Although it was all very diplomatic and apparently fence-sitting, the First Minister has just come down firmly on the sides of my Mum and her colleagues.

Thank you.

Something that always makes me cry 

Hey Folks,

I've blogged before about how image-centric my brain is, and I'm also pretty good at remembering news events. Indeed, when people ask me what my first memories of childhood are, I automatically respond with "the Brighton Bombing" and "Challenger blowing up," before I think of my sister being born and toys and the rest. It's not that my family aren't important to me, it's just that that was all day to day stuff and are harder to recall than major events. I'm surprised when I talk to the kids in my youth group or classes about things that have happened in their lifetimes and they don't remember them at all - it used to frustrate me a lot until I was able to recognise that it was a me thing rather than a them thing. Thinking deeper, it's perhaps yet another reason why I used to feel more secure in the company of people older than me, for I could discuss issues that were most likely out of reach of my peers simply because I remembered them happening and they did not.

This image has been forever etched into my mind, and it still holds as much power for me now as it did when I was eight years old. If it wasn't so damn serious it would be hugely funny, but The Man in the White Shirt was apparently one of the first to be executed. His was an act of singular courage and reckless bravery that could only ever end in one result; his bravery was such that it stands out from the midst of the mass bravery of all those students - a powerful individual statement in a culture that demands conformity. It seems that China still cannot bear to confront the memory of June 4 1989, and such actions as these will only further harm any attempts they make to normalise their relations with the outside world.

That picture from Tiananmen Square made me want to know more. Even as an eight year old I thirsted for knowledge and information that was denied by the news blackout that the PLA had emplaced. Even then I knew that what had happened was hugely significant and that it could perhaps lead us to war or result in a new revolution in China. I had gradually become aware of the significance of international events in the year leading up to Tiananmen Square because of two other graphic images: those released in the weeks after 16 March 1988 of the gassing of Halabja during the Iran-Iraq War and the remains of nose section of PAN-AM 103 after it had been brought down over Lockerbie on 21 December 1988. These unrelated events nonetheless stoked my curiosity about the world and ever since I've strived to get to the core of the issues, the who, what, when and when are all important, but it is the desire to know why that is almost insatiable. It's not all bad events, either, as I fondly remember hearing of and watching the fall of the Berlin Wall on the 9 of December 1989. In my case the old adage about one picture speaking a thousand words is so very true, and I wouldn't change it for the world.

It's all you other buggers that need to. Adapt to me, damn you!

Sunday, March 28, 2004

"Your strength comes from the land" 

Hey Folks,

This article offers a very interesting perspective on Ariel Sharon's thinking. I have always been intrigued by the almost mystical significance that is given to the concept of "land" by right-wingers and the quote from Sharon's biography sounds eerily reminiscent of Bismarck's Blood and Iron speech, but even moreso of the Boer nationalists of the AWB. Perhaps this is because both the Boers and the Israelis are in the position of being the minority population-wise, but otherwise holding the majority of the power. Having lived within a fifty-mile radius of the hospital that I was born in all my life, I can only imagine what it feels like to have to cling to an identity when you believe others to be denying your right to that identity. To be honest, my opinion of Sharon has been forged by his actions in the Lebanon and I suppose that it is incredibly easy to dismiss him as The Bulldozer, but to do this ignores the man's complexity and makes him appear simplistic and cartoonish. He is obviously a sophisticated politician - he must be to have lasted in the turbulent Knesset for so long - and a man who excels in safeguarding his own position. Few remember that it was Sharon's visit to Temple Mount in 2000 that started this Second Intifada, that his promises made while standing at a site holy to three religions to build yet more settlements in the West Bank and Gaza were what started the violence and destroyed Barak's government. Back then, I believe that Sharon thought that he would be able to control the violence that he surely knew his comments would provoke once he was in office; the necessity to form a coalition with the most extreme parties on the Israeli Right doomed any hopes of moderation from the start. The violence escalated and matter were made worse by the isolationist policies of George Bush, who were unlikely to criticise anyway given the ratio of doves (0) to less-hawkish (1) to hawks (12).

Then 9-11 happened and the conflict, to use Donald Rumsfeld's words, "would forever be seen through the prisim of the events of the 11th of September 2001." A difficult diplomatic situation was now infinitely harder to deal with and this was compounded by US actions in Afghanistan - however justified they were, they sent out the signal to Sharon and to Vladimir Putin that military action rather than diplomacy was the way to resolve the land issues that underpinned terror attacks. Gone are the days when the US would condem Russia for it's treatment of the Chechens. In no way do I condone terrorist attacks on civilians in Russia, or the taking of foreign hostages in Chechnya, but an occupying army that makes no distinction between civilian or soldier is surely a valid target. People are talking about the Spanish decision to leave Iraq as giving encouragement to terrorists, but Israel itself was created in part by the terrorist attacks on the British Army of Palestine that drove UK forces from the area. It is hardly surprising that knowing this, the Palestinians seem determined to fight on. My greatest fear about America's post 9-11 strategy has been confirmed time and time again: every time a country acts in an objectionable manner worthy of condemnation and sanction all they need to say is "the USA does it", or "we are protecting ourselves from terrorism." With our involvement in Iraq, the UK faces this problem of hypocrisy too. Ultimately, though, all these policies achieve is to demonstrate the the oppressed peoples of the world that there is one rule for those with power, and another for themselves. At times like these, when we are trying to spread the values of peace and democracy and freedom across the globe, we need to be purer than pure. Every hypocritical action, every unacknowledged responsibility and every unpunished misdeed widens the gulf between where we are and where we need to be. In this War on Terror our greatest loss is not our citizens' lives, but the moral high ground that we so desperately need to show the as yet unradicalised people across the globe that we stand for the highest moral codes and are willing and able to apply those same codes to ourselves as well as others.

Saturday, March 27, 2004

"It's a sad, sad situation and it's getting more and more absurd" 

Hey Folks,

Over at The UK Today Balders has posted a fair number of times about responsibility and personal trustworthiness of public figures, namely politicians. I would go so far as to say that it is a matter of honour, and sometimes it appears that honour's day has passed. I can remember two resignations in my lifetime that have been timely and purposeful - hardly a record in over 20 years. Today, though, a little of my faith in the servants of the people has been regained with Kofi Annan saying in this article that

"I believed at that time that I was doing my best, but I realised after the genocide that there was more that I could and should have done to sound the alarm and rally support."

Now Mr. Annan is in no way complicit of the genocide in the way that Hitler was of the Jews et al, but it is still a rather breathtaking act of courage when you consider that he has, however tenuously, connected himself with the slaughter of almost a million people.

One thing that comes up time and time again in cases of litigation, whatever the cause, is invariably the plaintiffs say "all we want is an apology" but they've been forced to take action because the target refuses to offer one. It's got to the stage where organisations like the NHS won't even allow staff to say sorry in case this is used later as a tacit admission of guilt. I was born through a botched foreceps delivery and there was inadequate supervision and staffing that night. I ended up with brain damage that thankfully isn't too severe, and my parents took me home and loved me as best as they were able to. No one said sorry to them and I think that they were just happy to have me alive, but if I'd been born a decade later I imagine that my parents would have sued the arse off them. At the time, though, such action was extremely rare and my parents just accepted that they had to cope as best they could. Perhaps if there was a general drift back towards taking responsibility for your own action - hell I'm doing it, so can you - then the world would be a happier place.

I just wish to extend my support to Mr Annan for his brave comments, and I hope that his example inspires other prominent figures. We've seen one way of accepting responsibility, an acceptance in a gracious and mature manner befitting a man of his position. Here's a less dignified one, courtesy of the US President.

You sicken me George Bush jnr, you really do.

Of mice and men 

Hey Folks,

I had me a night out last night. I went to Glasgow to see Dennis Locorriere in concert at the Concert Hall with my friend S. I'll give you a run-down of events: I went to see my client, C, to make sure that he was okay and fed and watered, then I dived home to get changed into my gigging shirt and a swanky new pair of trousers - the expression "gigging shirt" comes from my former almost father in law who was the man to coin the phrase. His shirt was okay, but mine's nicer. After donning aforementioned clothes, it was off to the train station where I was handed a leaflet by a British Transport Policeman warning me to be on the lookout for, well, everything. It's a nice gesture on his part, but a little wasted on me given my own inbred paranoia; yesterday I was especially on the look out for those rotating knives that Lioyd was good enough to warn me about.

Board train, text S to let her know that I'm on my way and listen to the radio for a while. S boards the train and we chat for a while, interspersing our conversation with DO IT - those of you who've seen Starsky & Hutch will be right with me on this - and get off the train 20 minutes later in The Big City. We go in search of fodder and go to a restaurant that I've been to before but couldn't get in as we hadn't booked - an oversight entirely mine -so we went to another eating establishment nearby and spent an enjoyable hour catching up and eating dinner. Conversation exhausted, we decide to head for the Concert Hall for the next part of the evening. We arrive and are directed to the auditorium and S gives the tickets to the usher. Apparently Door Four will take us to our seats the quickest. And then realisation spreads across the usher's face. "Dennis Locorriere was last week"

Me: "Good joke there, lady"
S: "Shit"

We thought that we were arriving half an hour early; in reality the concert had been and gone a week ago. What had happened was that S had got the date fixed in her head as the 26th rather than the 19th and had been so sure of this that she hadn't looked at the tickets once since buying them. A simple mistake, but we're down a total of £34 with no plans for the evening and late license to be out. We need something to fill at least two hours, what can we do? S is not a fan of pubs, and lately I've been feeling paranoid in claustrophobic situations so I'd rather avoid them too - add to this the fact that drunks always seem to find something about my face objectionable enough to want to hit and we're already struggling for options. It hits me: "The cinema!"

We go to the cinema. We see Starsky & Hutch. We go home, determined to tell the truth about our foolishness.

And there you have it, of mice an men.

DO IT

Friday, March 26, 2004

Damned for all time... 

Hey folks,

It must be said that I don't believe in astrology, but for some reason satirical astrology is not only believable but inerringly accurate. For the 18th consecutive week Lloyd Schummer Snr, Retired Machinist and A.A.P.B.-Certified Astrologer has correctly predicted my week:


Pisces: (Feb. 19—March 20)
An important warning sticker will be missing this week. The stars can't tell you where it should be, but it should say "Caution: Rotating Knives."


Ain't life a bitch...

Wednesday, March 24, 2004

"What kinda name is Donnie Darko? It sounds like a superhero name." "Who says I'm not?" 

Hey Folks,

I had dinner with my friends P and M and their son H last night. Also present at the dinner was P and M's 24 week old foetus who made exceedingly good company. I must say that I'm looking forward to being an Uncle again. H has been walking for about three weeks now and he was sporting a rather fetching set of black, with shades of green and purple, eyes after a collision with a coffee table. It was asserted that he was far more accident-prone than I could ever hope to be, but I promptly disabused them of this mistaken notion by failing to sit on a footstool and landing on my arse.

After we'd had dinner we sat down to cake and Donnie Darko on DVD. I thought it was amazing despite the fact that I'm still trying to figure it all out, for it was rather "deep." I also have an overwhelming urge to show it to my youth group - why, I don't know, but I have a feeling that a film that confusing must be educational! Viewing it through the lens of the mental health issues, I found it to be quite uncomfortable for its accurate portrayal of the subject. I also found Frank to be incredibly disturbing to the point that I almost left the room. The only other time this has happened to me was when I watched One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and I had to leave the room during the ECT scene because I identified it too closely with my father's treatment for depression. Despite feeling disquieted, I would wholly recommend Donnie Darko to all and sundry - if you figure it out, let me know...

"We're looking at each other and we don't know what to do" 

Hey Folks,

Well it's been a long time since I wrapped at you but things have been pretty hectic in Outpatientville. Anyways, I figured that I should let you all know that I'm still alive and hadn't gone off and topped myself after stating that Limp Bizkit were good. Note, though, that one good video does not a good band make...

I did the whole Mothers' Day thing with the family at the weekend after meeting up with my sister again in Glasgow. I secured an invite to her and her on/of boyfriend's flat for dinner at some uncommitted to future date. I fully intend to take her up on this as it will allow me to investigate her current living arrangements and then sell this intelligence onto our parents. I'd try to resist, but my Mum knows only too well that I, like everybody else, have a price and years of experimentation have shown her that mine is a fillet steak cooked just so with a cabernet shiraz on the side. Of course, if my sister and her boyfriend and myself can come to a similar arrangement then all bets are off...

So I went home for Mothers' Day bearing gifts for she-who-carried-me-in-her-belly-for-nine-months-and-what-good-has-it-done-her? only to discover that my friend R was in our local hospital and in quite a bad way. R was born with Spina Bifida and has been in a wheelchair all his life. He woke up last Tuesday morning and couldn't move at all - his left hand side was completely frozen. At first his Mum and his rapidly-summoned GP thought that it might have been a problem with his shunt - a device that drains excess fluid from the brain - as it goes down the left side of his neck and can get blocked, causing problems, but it turns out that he has a fusion of the vertebrae in his neck which is a side effect of SB. He's been treated with drugs and he has recovered some motion on his left side but the only long-term solution is rather risky surgery that could leave him totally paralysed from the neck down.

This is obviously a great worry for R and his family especially since he is now an adult - it's been a decade since any comparable decision had to be made - and has to choose for himself what he wishes to happen. Being paralysed from the neck down would be just as terrible for him as it would be for any fully bodied individual - it's not just a matter of being half paralysed again - because despite his disability he leads a full and active life and he can take care of himself reasonably well. He has just as much to lose, socially and dignity-wise, as you or I and I fear for him if he has to go down the surgery route. The galling thing is that all this is contingent on the results of an MRI that will show how severe the fusion is and he is at the end of a rather long waiting list for access to the MRI scanner. Obviously at this stage there is every reason to be hopeful but it is a great worry to all concerned.

And so to other areas of great concern. This article has managed to succinctly sum up the whole Israel-Palestinian Intifada in one sentence. For those of you who can't be bothered, here's what I'm talking about:

Israel has vowed to kill more top militants, while Mr Rantissi has urged Hamas to avenge Sheikh Yassin's death.

That just about says it all, really.

Saturday, March 20, 2004

"My love is vengeance, that's never free" 

Hey folks,

Now I've ranted before about music and I'm going to rant some more before I take myself to bed. There's a lot of music that I really can't stand, but I will admit that I'm open to persuasion. Having been paid today, I decided to allow myself the dubious treat of a meal in our university's students union. Another reason for going there was that I was suffering from a rather crushing feeling of loneliness and I just wanted to be somewhere where there would be people for me to look at, but not necessarily have to talk to. Anyway, I got myself a burger and a pint and I sat on my stool and watched some music videos that were playing on the huge HDTVs that they've spent our student cash on. Chomping away at my tea I admired Gwen Stefani's red lace bra in No Doubt's It's My Life video in which a serial husband slayer is dragged kicking and screaming to the gas chamber. It's a bloody good video. A few minutes later I had my mouth and nose deep in my pint when I heard the unmistakable intro bars of The Who's Behind Blue Eyes from their Who's Next album. All well and good, except that we were watching the Q Channel and I knew in my heart of hearts that it wasn't going to be the original. And it wasn't. It was Limp Bizkit and mightily did I curse. After I'd stopped slamming my head on the formica tabletop, I resigned myself to watching the video in the vague hope of getting a laugh at Fred Durst. So I watched the video and to my shock it was really rather good as it captured the spirit of the song and Durst sang with what seemed like real emotion. For the record, dear readers, this is still me that's writing and not some 14 year old wannabe fanboy. I recommend that you see the video soonest and it actually would make a great double bill with the No Doubt one for it too has a Death Row setting. The Limp Bizkit video actually has a really cunning twist so I shan't spoil it for you.

This brings me with great abruptness to The Point: A lot of music is frankly rotten, but a good video can go a long way to making up for deficiencies in other areas. Videos allow the artist and the director to create a spectacle far in excess of the song itself. The ultimate expression of this has to be Massive Attack's Teardrop - it blows me away every time that I see it, even though it is incredibly simple in concept; nothing more than a heartbeat.

Goodnight

Friday, March 19, 2004

Courage, brother 

"I need another craniotomy like I need a hole in the head" is possibly the most bittersweet joke that I've ever heard. Ivan Noble has provided us with another installment of his Tumour Diary and it seems that he is doing as well as can be expected given the circumstances. In his last installment we learned that his wife is expecting a son in July and once again I find his fortitude amazing; I cannot begin to think of how I would cope knowing that I would be leaving behind my wife and two children, nor can I imagine how his wife is feeling knowing that she will soon lose her husband and father of her children. What does his daughter think? Does she understand? Will Ivan live to see his son's birth - even he doesn't know but he says that he will go on fighting until there is no other avenue left which is all he can do. The one consistent thing that has always come through in his writing is his determination to enjoy the time that he has left with his family and friends and it is possible to sense the sheer joy that being a Dad-to-be brings him. Like John Diamond and Ruth Picardie before him, Ivan Noble has touched millions across the world with the story of his fight against his own body. I imagine that it is the journalist's instinct that drives him and those who have gone before him to keep us informed of the minutiae of their lives - they give voice to the nameless dreads and fears that we all have; that ultimate fear of the unknown.

I fear that Ivan shall not be with us for much longer and even though do not know him other than through his Tumour Diary, I know that I will be dreadfully sad when he leaves us. I pray that he will live to July so that he may see his son and I take heart in knowing that no matter what happens between now and then, Ivan will live life as fully as he is able to. It's a terrible cliche to say that his writing puts my problems in perspective, but he truly is an example to us all.

God bless you Ivan.

Thursday, March 18, 2004

Bono may still not have found what he's been looking for, but I have 

Hey Folks

Funniest Onion article ever

'Nuff said.

Meet the new boss... 

Hey Folks,

Well it's a little after 5am and I think I've done well getting about four hours sleep. I'm glad that I've managed to sleep even a little at night although the past few days I've crashed out during the day so I'm not worried. It's when I've been grinning like an idiot for 48 solid hours that I know action needs to be take, but hopefully this night-sleeping business will continue.

It seems that despite whatever I try, I can't not blog about political things - when I read this article, I knew that I would have to respond. Since starting blogging, I've realised that a blog is kind of like an email to your MP and letter to the editor that actually gets sent. The fact that you're here reading my views makes me feel that I've actually achieved something, unlike the times when I have written to my MP and the Prime Minister or gone on demonstrations. The aforementioned article makes my blood boil - or it would, if I weren't on anti-depressants - because it shows just how blinkered the senior elements of the Republican administration and the US armed forces have become. It appears that they do truly believe the "you're either with us or you're with the terrorists" rhetoric. On several military-affairs discussion boards, I have seen Spanish voters referred to as terrorist allies and as cowards - nothing, to my mind, could be further from the truth. Nowhere has the Spanish PM, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, said that his country would withdraw troops from Afghanistan and other commitments, but that he would bring Spanish soldiers home from Iraq if the UN does not have a significant role by June 30th. The vilification that he has borne from the US government and the media goes to show just how confused US and our own foreign policy has become: the fact is that the events in Madrid have made Al Quaeda another mortal enemy and no one, not even a socialist government, is going to let what happened slide. The idea that a left-leaning government would not respond to such a outrage is ridiculous. Yet here we have General Myers and the Speaker of the US House of Representatives accusing this man and his government of cowardice for the simple reason that they believe that the war in Iraq - regardless of the motivations responsible for it - is a diversion to the main aim of eliminating international terrorism. This attempt at character assassination shows just how deeply the US has confused the idea of removing Saddam Hussein from power with crushing Al Quaeda and that the US will stoop low indeed to protect its self-image. It's a common enough reaction for many of us find it difficult to cope with embarrassment and lash out at others; could it be that there are some stirrings of shame in Washington?

The Spanish Civil War shows us just how ruthless and forceful any Spaniard can be when they have a cause to rally round that they believe in. Defeating Al Quaeda will most likely become that unifying cause and I fully expect the Spanish to take the lead - behind the scenes at the very least - in dismantling terrorist networks across the globe. If Al Quaeda believe, as the Republicans seem to, that they have somehow defeated Spain or broken the will of the Spanish people, then I believe that it is they that will soon receive a grievous blow. It will be swift and effective and I doubt that there will be press conferences preceding it to warn the enemy of its nearness. When the bombs began to fall on Afghanistan in 2001, I knew then that the US was not particularly interested in capturing Osama bin Laden at that time for they attacked Afghanistan in a wholly unsuitable way - using Cold War tactics completely inappropriate to the situation simply telegraphed the coalition's intentions and allowed the targets to escape. It would have been perfectly possible given the state of the Taliban's defences to capture bin Laden and then removed the Taliban. Certainly, the type of close infantry assault required for such an operation would have cost a lot in US casualties, but for a nation that had seen 3000 innocents wiped out in a single morning such operational losses would have been insignificant. Capturing bin Laden and putting him on trial would have justified those losses and a moral victory would have been secured as well as a tactical one. Instead, by using the Northen Alliance as proxies the US allowed bin Laden to escape and weakened their moral and ethical case by making it appear that the leader of Al Quaeda was not worth the expending of American lives.

I fully believe that when the time comes Spain will sacrifice more of its citizens, but will do so through the pursuit of a clear goal based on a moral foundation rather than dubious geopolitical reasons. I doubt that when this happens that George Bush and Rupert Murdoch will apologise for their recent statements, but I hope, however forlornly, that perhaps Bush will take stock an realise that it is possible to act nobly and morally without being an American puppet.

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Oops 

Hey Folks,

Now I know that I said I would stay away from current events an politics, but I couldn't let this one pass. In one sentence, Jack Straw has changed our government's policy and made it clear to the world what our agenda is. You can find the article here. It's actually quite subtle and tricky to spot, so I shall highlight the section that's got me rather worried:

"Nobody, nobody should believe that somehow we can opt out of
the war against Islamic terrorism..."


Way to go, Jack - let's try convincing the moderates in the Arab world that we're not out to get them now. I'm sure that it was just a semantic error on his part but knowing that will not make its impact any less when it comes to the perception of our policies. The fact that this came rolling out of his mouth shows that our own government, generally more moderate than that of the US, has a subconscious bias against Muslims. It worries me more that Jack Straw felt he could say this given his Jewish heritage - if, after all, had the Foreign Secretary of [insert nominally-Muslim state here] said the exact same sentence but with "Jewish" substituted for "Muslim", all hell would be breaking lose.

I've a nasty feeling that something nasty is going to happen

Monday, March 15, 2004

It gets better... 

Hey Folks,

I've decided to make a conscious decision to stay away from politics and current events - I think my entries over the past couple of days have burnt me out in that respect and I feel like I have a very bad taste in my mouth. But I digress.

Following the nice news of an astronomical discovery, I've just discovered that Manchester United lost 4-1! To Man City no less! Take that ya dobbers!

I'm off to spend an hour in the company of a beautiful woman - I'll let you know about how my latest therapy session went when I get back...

"He calls me Charlie Mason, a stargazer am I" 

Hey Folks

Some nice news for a change. I wonder if there's anyone up there, and if they are, whether they're looking back at us. What are they thinking?

Having woken up after a sleeping for an hour, I then proceeded to step on the cat and she's not too pleased. It reminded me of one night when my ex-fiance, in a fit of semi-sleepwalking, stepped on me as she crawled across the bed. Conversation as follows:

Me: YAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRGGGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHH!
Her: Um
Me: Agh, getoffme! Whatthefuckareyedoing? You're snapping my LEG!
Her: Um...Going to the door
Me: (removing her as gently as possible from my ankle regions)It's 3.30am, what the hell do you want to go to the door for?
Her: Um... (Pointing) The DOOR [At this point the door seems to have gained a significance unknown to the awake and agonised]
Me: Yes it's a bloody door, Why did you crush me?
Her: Um...I don't know...(attaining a state of consciousness) Sorry about your ankle.
Me: That's okay, it was my GOOD leg
Her: (Snores)

The cat, to her credit, just yelped and hissed a bit. I'm going off to get her something to eat.

Goodnight

Saturday, March 13, 2004

"The Telex machine is kept so clean and it types to a waiting world" 

Hey folks,

Eight years ago sixteen children aged five and six and their teacher were murdered by as they did a warm up for their gym class. I was fifteen when this happened and my first thoughts were that it must have happened in America because that's just where stuff like that happens. Except that it wasn't; it had happened in my own country where stuff like that just does not happen - we're above such things here, or so we tell ourselves. But it did happen, and it happened here. Being an insensitive teenager I don't think it really bothered me at the time, but perhaps it was just a state of great shock that I was experiencing for over the years I've gone through many emotional phases regarding this and other similar events.

I think that I decided I wanted to be a teacher about nine or ten years ago. It's extremely rare to know what you want to do you've hardly hit puberty but I was lucky as even then I had found my niche and over the years I've gained experience and skills to back up my innate skill, my gift. I was at university, training to be a teacher, almost finished my first year when Dylan Kiebold and Eric Harris slaughtered the classmates and staff who wouldn't accept them, wouldn't go to the Prom with them or give them the time of day. They, like Thomas Hamilton before them, were determined to die and to take as many innocent people with them in the process. At this time, I think I was beginning to experience depression for the first time and I had what could be termed as an extreme reaction to the news coming out of Colorado. You see, I made a choice and my decision has kept impacting upon me in harmful ways, but I'll never be able to reverse it. Put simply, in 1999 I vowed to die.

One striking feature of any school shooting is that there is always at least one, and often more, staff member among the dead. They die placing their bodies in the path of bullets to protect children who will likely as not be gunned down seconds later and in 1999 I vowed that if, heaven forbid, such a thing should occur in my school then I too would pay the price. The only way I can explain is in terms of parenthood: the concept of paternal duty - in loco parentis in the Latin - is enshrined within the Scots educational system. I imagine that it's in every schooling system in the world, but I'm most familiar with my own. In moments like those, teachers act as any parent would: they die for their children. People who have spent their lives helping others can't, it seems, step away from that final dreadful task even if they have families of their own to care for. That day, I swore that I would do my duty for my children if such a situation arose and I actually said "not on my watch" allowed. I know that if I were ever confronted with such a desperate situation I would do what was necessary because I've acted well in two other fairly similar situations.

This combination of willing self-sacrifice and not-on-my-watch is where my mental health issues stem from because it has happened on my watch and I did not prevent it. It happened when my friend was murdered, it happened again when another perished in a car accident - all my prior traumas are now seen through the prism of not-on-my-watch. Until starting my medication, I was tormented in my dreams by the certain knowledge that I had let my friends down- that they were dead because I had failed them. This is ridiculous, I know, because what can a six year old do to save his friend from leukemia when the best drugs and doctors can't? Nothing, but I still feel responsible. What can a fifteen year old do when his friend's brother dies in a car crash in bad weather? Nothing, but again, I feel responsible. What can an eighteen year old do when his lifelong enemy but recent friend is abducted, sodomised, killed and dismembered and scattered across the country? Nothing. But I feel that I should have been able to have done something. The past torments me, but the future comes to me in dreams too: graphic visualisations of the time when I will be called to prevent all this from happening again on my watch. That is how ill I had become, it was no longer a case of a very infinitesimal "if" but a very great certainty that one day I would have to die to protect my friends and I must admit that it consumed me. Walking along the street, my mind would be filled with images of bullets piercing, knives slashing, flames burning; It became normal to me and I lived in expectation of my nemesis's appearance. People around me became little more than potential threats and I viewed them in terms of their vulnerabilities: the soft flesh of the throat where, if necessary, I would ram my house keys or chop at with the edge of my hand; the arm that I would snap if they drew a weapon. All through this, I didn't really recognise that I needed a great deal of help.

As I've said before, these thoughts were the first thing to vanish when I started taking my medication and therapy has helped me to confront them at their source so that they hopefully will not return when I enter the next phase of my recovery. It helps to know that I'm not alone in such thoughts: my psychiatrist said that I have a classic case of a messiah complex and that it stems, remarkably, from having a natural inborn concern for the welfare of others that in effect mutates into the above described when the neurotransmitters in the brain go haywire through depressive illness. It's nice to have the last five years of your life summed up so succinctly, and it's a relief to know that I am not a schizophrenic like I thought I may have been. I know all this, and it helps, but the drugs and the therapy do not take away the feeling that I could have done something for my friends, something to save them. Perhaps I feel that if I gave up the small hard knot that I feel inside me because of my failure, then I would lose what little I have left of them and even though it hurts me terribly, I'm not yet ready to give them up.

My life is still very much a work-in-progress and I'm having to learn a lot of things about myself and my surroundings and to function as a normal person without all the buffers that I've put in place over the years, but I am getting there. Perhaps one day I'll be able to let go of my past and maybe then I'll finally be free of all the pain that I've suffered and brought on others because of what I've done to them.

Perhaps one day.

Friday, March 12, 2004

"Just got the Al Kida, that's K-I-D-A, blues" 

Hey Folks,

It seems that Eta are denying responsibility for yesterday's attack. Simultaneously, Al Quaeda are claiming responsibility. The question on everyone's lips: who's to blame? I don't know, but I have a theory. Despite the mass casualties inflicted, I still believe that this is an Eta operation that's, if you'll pardon the phrase, become too successful. Eta, if it is indeed Eta responsible, know that they have done a terrible thing and are most likely running scared, trying to come up with some way to justify carnage on such a scale. When people state that it must be Al Quaeda because Eta have never killed this number of people before, we are duty bound to remember that the only reason Eta - and other groups - have not killed this number of people is because we have been extremely lucky. Every terrorist attack has the capacity for mass killing and we should never forget that. We focus far too much on the death tolls - 198 killed but over 1200 injured. A significant proportion of those wounded will be permanently maimed with missing limbs, blinded and paralysed victims - the numbers of actual killed is only part of the story.

It is deceptive reasoning therefore to suggest that the high death toll automatically leads to Al Quaeda bearing the responsibility for this attack as Eta have always had the capability to kill on this scale, it has just never happened before. We must remember that when a bomb is set with a time fuse in an urban environment then short of accurate, specific and timely warnings, it will explode as desired and the group or individual responsible has no power whatsoever to limit casualties stemming from the blast. When terrorist organisations kill more that they intend - i.e the number of casualties that they predict based on weapon size and timing of explosion - they often seek to blame others for their deeds. Witness the Enniskillen bombing on Remembrance Sunday 1987 when an IRA bomb was detonated by radio signals from an Army helicopter: the IRA, quite ignoring their inherent responsibility for the bomb being there in the first place sought to move the responsibility for the deaths to the procedures of the security forces. In Omagh, the poor quality of the Real IRA warning led to people being evacuated towards the bomb, but again the Real IRA sought to blame the RUC. Eta now seeks to deny responsibility, and has blamed Al Quaeda instead.

We must also remember that it actually suits Eta for AQ to take the blame for this, regardless of any AQ involvement, for it may allow Eta to survive the retaliatory blows that will surely follow. Likewise, it would suit AQ for Eta to be blamed for the exact same reason for it would take the pressure off them if any forces were withdrawn to tackle Eta. The strong Catholicism that is a pillar of the Basque people, itself very conservative and traditional, makes Eta as much an enemy of the Islamic Al Quaeda, with both having the opinion of infidel and crusader of the other, as the Great Satan of the USA and her unflinching ally the United Kingdom.

Time, and effective investigation, will allow us to discover who was behind this terrible act. Hopefully those responsible will live to enjoy a long stay in prison which should allow them suitable reflection on the nature and ferocity of one's beliefs.

Thursday, March 11, 2004

"I fear we have awakened a terrible resolve" 

Hey Folks,

Some very bad news is coming out of Madrid right now. A terrorist group - presumably the Basque separatist group Eta - has detonated several bombs in the city and at least sixty people are known to have died. My prayers are with the victims and their families.

Admiral of the Fleet Yamamoto spoke the words in the Title line after the Imperial Japanese Navy's attack on the US Pacific fleet's base at Pear Harbour. Although a brilliant tactical move on the part of the Japanese, Yamamoto knew even then that his country could not hope to win against the United States, and he also knew that His fleet's actions would be viewed in the most heinous light by an American public obsessed with notions of fairness. He was right: America, so keen to remain isolated from the war taking place in Europe, rose like a tiger with fangs bared once war had been forced on it, in the process exacting a terrible price on Japan and Yamamoto personally. I fear that Eta may have made the same terrible miscalculation. Although the Basques have always suffered persecution from both Spain and France, especially under Franco's reign, they have no real reason to wage anything other than a political campaign in today's world. With the ongoing War on Terror, with Spain's support of the US, it is a monumentally stupid act that will only destroy Eta's credibility on the world stage, and most likely result in their annihilation at the hands of Spanish special forces

Or maybe not. When a similar act of barbarism was visited on the people of Omagh in 1998, it was perhaps the most severe test that the Blair government had had to face. With 29 innocent people, one a women almost nine months pregnant with twins, butchered on a Saturday afternoon, the entire country was screaming for bloody vengeance. The controversies over Loughall, Gibraltar and Shoot to Kill were forgotten - if anything, such stories of state-sanctioned murder told us that we had the capability to eliminate every Real IRA member across the entire island if we chose to do so, providing a macabre reassurance in the face of such horror. In what will possibly be the only time I could say I was proud of Tony Blair, he refused all these calls to go back to the worst days of The Troubles. A remarkable act of moral courage from a man sensitive in the extremis to the vagaries of public opinion. Instead, he swore that we would act through legitimate channels to bring those responsible to justice. To date, convictions relating to the slaughter in Omagh on that beautiful day are thin on the ground - the families of the victims have been reduced to seeking private prosecutions. Rumours abound however to the effect that the Real IRA men responsible were pardoned in an effort to save the Good Friday Agreement. In effect, those 29 people and two unborn children have been offered up as a sacrifice to future peace. Hopefully, for the sake of their families, and all else who've died in the midst of strife, they shall not have died in vain.

The Spanish government now faces a stark choice: to act with rage, or to try and seek some good from this tragedy. Personally, I cannot say what they should do, but I know that I am glad that it is not a decision that I will have to make.

God bless you all.

Airstrip One 

Hey Folks,

Despite David Blunkett's best efforts, we don't have anything similar to the US Patriot Act - yet. Whether down to sheer bloody-mindedness or a genuine desire to protect our civil rights, the House of Lords has so far ensured that Blunkett's powers have been checked. Fact.

As I've mentioned in a previous post, I'm a living contradiction in that although I'm nominally a pacifist, I believe that there are times when war or armed intervention is the least bad option. I have also studied military history fairly extensively, and to be honest, I find a lot of military hardware pretty damned cool. Consequently, I keep a close eye on military affairs and one of the sites I use most frequently for this is Global Security.org as it is a mine of information on all things military and technological. A few months ago, the GS staff were getting quite a few requests from the media to explain what the Pentagon's new LifeLog initiative was all about. (Wired News has a similar article here). In summary, LifeLog will allow the Pentagon/CIA/FBI and other agencies not really known to the general public to build histories of everybody, be they terrorist or not, for the purposes of intelligence gathering. The rationale, apparently, is that with a database with which to compare and contrast your actions, the authorities will be able to take preemptive action if you appear to be doing things out of the ordinary. Fact.

This morning, looking at the BBC News website, I found this headline: Log your life via your phone. The cogs started to turn - remember what I said before about my mind's powers of cross-referencing? It can't be, I thought to myself. But it was: Nokia is developing software that will help turn its phones into life loggers. Frighteningly, the BBC did not draw any parallels whatsoever with the Pentagon initiative, presenting it as a cuddly "capture your cherished moments here" piece of technology.

Fact.

Blue eyes holding back the tears 

Hey Folks,

I was helping my friend J, who has cerebal palsy, with some of her coursework earlier tonight. She's doing sociology and presently, she's studying crime and the foundations of the legal system. I was reading extracts from a text dating to 1764 and it described the perfect, as the author saw it, legal system I cannot recall his name right now, but he was certainly a philosopher of some regard. I'm pleased to say that almost 250 years later, we are lucky enough to have the legal system, with due separation of powers and responsibilities, that he could only dream about. I actually felt quite pleased and upbeat as it's nice to hear someone thinking society does things right - even if it's from a man who's been dead for two centuries.

So feeling all happy about current legal process, I logged onto the internet, and found out that all the Brits returned from Cuba had been released by the police due to insufficient evidence. I kid you not, faith in the legal system was approaching untold heights. Then I saw this article and my spirits plummeted. I am so angry right now that words truly fail me. Now, I can appreciate that mistakes can and do happen in war, but this was not a "heat of battle" error; it is a case of criminal negligence and someone has to go to jail for it. Given that Local Afghans told the BBC the intended target had left the village 10 days earlier. , I'd suggest that whoever authorised this raid, rather than the pilots, gets the privilege of an extended stay in Leavenworth. I know too well just how easy it is for people to deny responsibility for their actions, but I do not believe that I could live with the deaths of nine innocent children on my conscience and I marvel at the ability to justify such a terrible act. I know I've blogged about this before, but how does the US believe that it is reasonable for it to demand exacting standards of democracy and respect for human rights when it callously protects murderers in its own armed forces?

If you want something to cheer you up after that, here's a link to a story about unpunished war crimes in Afghanistan. Cheerful stuff.

I'm so angry I can't even cry.

Tuesday, March 09, 2004

Something's very wrong indeed 

Hey Folks,

Something is indeed very wrong. What it is I don't know, though.....Ah! I'm listening to Won't Get Fooled Again at a low volume. Oh well, easily fixed. Better. A live version no less. Oh yeah! Radio 6 is yet another reason why we mustn't allow the government to damage the BBC - where else can I get live concerts featuring the Who, Joni Mitchell and James Taylor and other notables in the space of two hours? Seriously, go here and worship in the temple.

I realised after I'd published my post last night that I'd got away somewhat from the point I'd intended to make. I'd meant to talk about the sheer elation that music brings me, and I touched on this, but I'd also meant to provide a context. I detest rave music, but I realise that there's a power to it if you like music like that. Realistically, there's very little material difference between the soaring guitar solos from Hendrix, Page, Townshend or Clapton and a mix by Judge Jules. Obviously there is a vast difference in the sheer skill required, but the effect on the listener is mostly the same - I just appreciate musical talent far too much to be able to give both genres equal status. It's fair to say that one would not have existed without the other, however. Currently I'm listening to some Jethro Tull, who are famous for one track concept LPs featuring 20 minute long flute solos. At least at a gig, you'd get to see Ian Anderson dancing around on one leg playing aforementioned flute. There is a clear link between the concept albums of Jethro Tull, ELP and the Blue Oyster Cult and current styles of House music - their bastard progeny, if you'll pardon the expression. Despite this, I still find trance etc so incredibly boring. Watching footage of Jimi Hendrix doing a Top of the Pops gig a few months before he died, you can't help but be struck by the raw power of his whole performance, and it is this sort of individuality that separates the wheat from the chaff. You just know that Pete Tong isn't going to suddenly start playing his keyboard behind his head in Ibiza, nor belt out God Save the Queen using his teeth. I suppose I don't find Tong and his ilk too objectionable.

That is, until they think that they have the right to sully my musical heritage by running an appalling cover version of tracks that I've spent my life loving. Then they must die, and die painfully.

But that's for another day.

"The exodus is here, the happy ones are near" 

Hey folks,

I saw an advert on the telly earlier that I thought was quite good. Myself and advertising have a somewhat rocky relationship for it seems that I'm blessed with a memory that allows me near-perfect recall of a 30 second slot advertising everything from tampons (an issue for another day), cars, foodstuffs or the government's latest health initiatives. I can remember these fore years, but I'm not sure that I'm such a perfect target for advertisers as I when I see an advert, my brain cross references all prior information about the company - commercial practices (yes, Shell, I've not forgotten what your good ol' boys do to Nigerians), reputation, any anecdotes of experience with said company from friends/family and possibly most importantly: any previous bad adverts. This takes about a nanosecond, and I sorely wish that I could train myself to use this skill in other aspects of my life, but I think it's hardwired. Incidentally, the same process works in reverse when I'm in a shop and see items for sale. As I said, advertising people probably hate me. This ability to remember adverts has caused many a family problem when I try and initiate a discussion on whether an advert is "good" and what makes it so. My parents just see it as me having been over-influenced by them, but they fail to realise that if I were an academic, I could make a fair bit of cash on the subject.

One thing, however, that is always guaranteed to get my attention is music - but it has to be good. The advert I saw earlier was for yet another people carrier, but unlike this dismal attempt to sell a car, the music track actually complemented the images on screen. Basically, the advert followed this successful looking man along a busy city street, and he had this perfect rectangle of his own space surrounding him. For those who've not seen it, imagine the scene in The Matrix when Morpheus and Neo are strolling about; everyone collides with Neo but Morpheus is able to navigate freely, without even looking where he's going. This advert has a sequence very similar to this with the Hendrix version of All Along the Watchtower playing over the images. It's perfectly paced and uses the music well, and the song's lyrics - although not heard - fit nicely too. See, the advertisers were selling it to 30/40 somethings who a) could afford and perhaps need such a family car and b) those same people people who actually knew who Jimi Hendrix was.

And that brings me to The Point: One of the few things that my parents did to Bring Me Up Right was to instill in me an appreciation of proper music that means that I'm often at odds with everyone around me. I regularly reference songs and artists from 30 years ago - and, it seems, not in a cool way. A glimpse of my MP3 or CD collection would surprise and quite possibly frighten you for it contains tracks of an alarming breadth and depth. It scares me too. As I've grown older though, I've found that it's helped me fit in as I've met older people. Given that my teens are now long behind me, I suppose that this is some kind of pay off. It seems that I can discuss music with middle aged people that was cool when they were kids - maybe I make them feel younger or something, I dunno. I'm glad that I've finally found people apart from my Dad that I can trade compact discs with - he's a bastard to get a borrow back from - but some times I wish that I could meet people my own age and not have to endure yet more strange looks because I've mentioned an artist that lived fast and died young a decade before either of us were born. There was a time, when I was much younger, that I actually told people that I didn't like music - I found it was easier to be labeled an "anti-social little bastard" than to have to defend my musical tastes - but I've learned to accept jeers and jibes from all and sundry.

Since my breakdown, music, I'm glad to say, is still with me. So much of "me" was trimmed away last year that I was wondering where the process would stop. It hit me recently that the best way I could think of to describe recent events is through Das Boot. There's a scene in that where the submarine has been damaged and is in an uncontrollable descent towards Crush Depth and death. The controlroom crew stand watching the depth guage's dial slide round to the red zone. They pass Crush Depth and from that moment on the crew are in uncharted territory, listening to the ominous creaking of the pressure on the hull, praying that the hull will hold. Then the miracle happens: the U-Boat snags on a sandbar almost on the very seabed. That pretty much describes how life has been for me recently, if you'll forgive the simile. My love of good music, however, has survived the entire process so far and I'm recognising, perhaps for the first time, the truly therapeutic value that it can play. It's a growing thing, a nourishing influence, and I'm glad that I've still got something from the past that's actually good and worth hanging on to.

Radiohead will come and go, but 60s rock will save your life every time.

Monday, March 08, 2004

Abandon hope all ye who enter here 

Hey folks,

I went home to see my parents this weekend, which was pretty good - when I'm greeted at the door with a fillet steak, I know everything's going to be just fine... Before going home, I met my sister for a post-work drink. We had a pretty good time, and I got a rather interesting peek at her social life: hearing her talk about the places she goes with friends and colleagues - she works at an incredibly upmarket hairdressing salon - I couldn't help but recall American Psycho and Patrick Bateman's endless and ultimately futile attempts to secure seating at the restaurant de jour. Worryingly, my sister seems to have far more success than ol' Pat, so if you're ever in Glasgow and fancy an evening with a bit of class, email me and I'll see if my sis can arrange something for you. My sister's job fascinates me for she meets so many rich/famous/interesting people - the beauty of it is that my sister has no real grasp of current affairs so when she's asking the Scottish Secretary what she's doing that week, gets the response "going down to London", A will automatically say "Why, will you be shopping?" and be genuinely surprised to hear that the Scot Sec will actually be in London for parliament business. Once she's told who someone is, she's very good at remembering them, but it amazes me that some people don't know politicians and such by sight. If I'd been doing the styling, I would have had a few choice questions about current policy, and that's why my sister is the crimper in training and I'm a university dropout. Ouch. Another thing about my sister's job is the way that practically everyone in the family has been into her salon as a model. It's a great experience: all sorts of drinks are offered, cakes are brought, I had my hair washed four times in one session and even though your not paying, the staff still treat you as they would if you were spending £500.

I discovered that the biggest perk, however, is the status that you get as a "client" of the salon. To explain, on my first visit there, I was having my hair done right next to the windows, which look out on one of Glasgow's busiest streets. From my chair I was able to watch people hurrying by, but I noticed that all too often people would slow done and look in as they walked past, trying I imagine, to get a glimpse of someone rich/famous/interesting. Instead, they got me - but how were they to know that I was only in there as a freebie, and as a favour to my little sister? Answer: they weren't. All those people looking in thought that I was someone special, which I'm not. It's an interesting lesson on how society confers status onto people. I can understand how some crave fame and fortune, for I must admit that I too got a fair kick out of people looking at me and wondering who I was to be able to afford to get my barnet cut there - it was, I'm sad to say, a feeling that I could get used to.

Power, it's an aphrodisiac.

This is not an exit.

Friday, March 05, 2004

Tada! OR Insert annoying Microsoft noise here... 

Hey Folks,

Just thought I should bring the modified sidebar to your collective attention. I'll be updating it along the self evident lines described by the headings, but there's enough there to be getting on with. I've added a few new blogs that I've been reading so check them out. All are, in their own ways, exceedingly interesting and worth a look; ditto the sites listed under the Campaigns heading.

All for now.


Thursday, March 04, 2004

A couple of updates... 

Hey Folks,

It seems that Ivan Noble (see sidebar) has garnered further acclaim for his Tumour Diary. Article can be found here.

In other good news, 1Lt Jason Van Steenwyck has made it out of Iraq safely. I knew from his posts on his blog that he would be extremely busy, but when people in a combat zone don't write, I get a little worried for them. I'm glad he's safe.

In less good news, it appears that GWB is not above using 9/11 as an election platform. Although it would be inaccurate to deny that 9/11 hasn't shaped his presidency, I can't help agreeing with the families of the victims. Oh, and that firefighter makes a good point too. The question is, why do we no longer hear about the Bush administration's treatment of veterans?

Ready to serve you! *BEEP* 

Hey folks,

Surprise surprise, I couldn't sleep last night. I spent all night playing with my Statcounter and got no hits until about 4am. Turns out it was an lurgy-ridden individual looking for something to read. Which I didn't provide. Many apologies, hopefully this will improve matters for you.

Anyways there I was, sitting in front of the PC at about 6am. I was thirsty, so I went to get myself a drink from the hot drinks dispenser. This was where I hit upon the first Universal Truth of the morning. UK-based readers may recall a series called The Secret Life of Plants where cameras were placed in gardens to observe plant growth and wildlife interactions. On my experiences of this morning, I'm going to be directing The Secret Life of Vending Machines: after all, did you know that hot drinks dispensers have a maintenance routine program inbuilt? Neither did I, so it was a surprise when I went to get my "Milky Latte" and suddenly the bastarding thing starts beeping and the screen flashes on and off with DANGER: Flushing system with HOT water! my first thought was that there had been a reactor accident within the Nescafe machine and that it was too late to run: Lord, I knew I was not long for this world but must it end like this?. My second, admittedly much more rational thought, was that it was all just fate's way of having a laugh at me while denying me a coffee. Then the maintenance cycle stopped and the ever-friendly ready to serve you message flashes up. God, it seems, still loves me. I put my money in, it drops a cup down, fills it and says *BEEP*. I take my drink and walk back to my computer.

It was then that I discovered the second Universal Truth of the morning: when you have successfully avoided scalding and/or radiation poisoning at the hands of a vengeful coffee dispenser, you are destined to trip on the stairs and spill the spoils of your victory everywhere. Fate, it seems, is not without a sense of irony...

Wednesday, March 03, 2004

"Death has come to your little town, Sheriff. Now you can either ignore it, or you can help me to stop it."  

Hey Folks,

I spent Valentines day with a friend in Edinburgh where we exorcised the V-Day blues by watching horror films. Because a mutual friend had never managed to see Halloween and we're both die-hard terror fans - why do I have a feeling that Bruce Willis groupies and the Feds are going to be visiting here? - we decided to initiate him into the world of John Carpenter's finest. It didn't work, though, because the DVD we rented was scratched to shit and skipped several scenes. We were able to play them back using the scene selector function, but it screwed up the ambiance. That was after we'd dealt with some technology integration issues regarding A's set-top box/hi-fi/DVD player. I've just realised that calling my friend A is a bit silly, as all three of us are As. D'oh! The night wasn't a total washout as we had some good booze - not too much for me, wary as I am of fucking myself up with my tablets - good food and very good company. Given that two out of the three were depressives and one a close miss, I think we gave a good account of ourselves. To fingers were raised to the comercialisation of St. Valentine and it didn't bother me at all that I was a single person. Good fun was had by all.

I've seen Halloween loads of times and I thought I knew it inside out, but something new about it struck me while we were watching it. Basically, Halloween is all about Taboos: you have the brother killing his sister, illicit teen sex, the nature of Evil. This is all fairly obvious, and not the New Thing I realised about it. Up until now, the two most powerful images - in order of appearance as they say - from the film are the scene outside the school when little Tommy is being tormented by his classmates about the non-existence of bogeymen - I absolutely refuse to use the American term. Grr - and when they run off home, one of them collides with Michael Myers himself. The look of sheer terror on the child's face is amazing, and I get a sense of so many emotions from Myers even though you only see his forearms and lower body. The tension is palpable and you cannot help but feel that Myers is unsure if he is looking at a younger version of himself. Secondly, and arguably the most powerful sequence in the film for what it says about society is the scene where Laurie runs screaming for the neighbour's house and bangs on the door. The overhead porch light comes on and she screams through the window at the householder to let her in. The light goes off. The householder, we assume, goes back to bed. It's an incredibly poignant moment in the film, and Carpenter captures it excellently.

This was the first time I'd seen the film since starting my treatment, but I wasn't expecting any surprises from it having seen it so many times before. Then I realised what the New Thing, one other major Taboo that I'd been missing for all these years: the doctor who, after trying for so many years to help his patient, is prepared to kill him. Now don't worry, I'm not worried about my safety with either of my doctors, but I suppose that this therapy and everything else must have influenced my thinking for me to notice that. It's quite strange that I've never picked up on it before as it is the central theme of the entire film. The doctor-patient relationship in life is an incredibly strong one when you consider it: many of us keep the same doctor for life and it is supposed to be one of trust rather and care than one of attempted murder. Perhaps this is why people find Thomas Harris and his writings about Lecter so fascinating and why we see "angel of death" headlines in connection with medical staff who kill. More to the point, look at the outcry over Harold Shipman. In reality he was no different than any other mass killer other than that his position of trust in the community allowed him access to victims and to conceal his crimes. Underneath, though, the psychopathology that motivated him would be unlikely to be different than that of Peter Sutcliffe, Dennis Nilsen or the man who killed for gratification, got off through sloppy handling of the case and one night in 1999 decided to kill my friend. I'll admit that I, as do most people I suspect, find the world of mass murder interesting simply because it is so divorced from our own lives, that we have difficulty conceiving of it. I think that the reason we fixate on Shipman and other professionals is because they manage to rise above the crowd. In effect, in our mass media society, even the act of serial murder has become mundane.

I suppose the fact that Sam Loomis is utterly prepared to kill Michael Myers from the moment that he escapes from custody is akin to the matricide that underpins Psycho or the sex abuse in Peyton Place in that it is the corruption of the accepted and expected order of things. It's obviously not within a psychologist's remit to go after a patient with a loaded gun vigilante style. Yes, Loomis is acting for the greater good, but we know that what he is doing is actually wrong, and yet we allow ourselves to accept this very wrong situation and we know in our hearts that he will never face censure for his actions. Halloween says more about society than I previously thought.

I forgot, there is a third scene that is absolutely excellent: at the very end, after Loomis has shot Myers and he discovers that he is not lying dead on the ground outside, there is a montage of shots of the street and houses that has formed most of the set of the film. These images are overplayed with the theme music and - we assume - Michael Myers's breathing. The message that I take from this is that Myers could be anywhere. Even right behind you

Happy Halloween!

Tuesday, March 02, 2004

The Sofa of Sleep 

Hey Folks,

As regular readers - I know you exist, thanks for stopping by - will know, I have great difficulty in sleeping a lot of the time. Not so last night, I got nine solid hours of sleep. Go me. I was visiting my friends P and M and their son H (it strikes me that MPH could be an acronym that would amuse me for years) yesterday, to celebrate my birthday. Yes, I know that it was over a week ago, but it's difficult to find the time when one party has a baby and the other has no life whatsoever - why this is, I really don't know... Anyway, to get back on track, I went for my dinner and we had a lovely lasagne - almost as good as my Mum's, great praise indeed - followed by some cake and coffee, plus a glass of wine. We then watched University Challenge, Nevermind the Buzzcocks and gasp Coupling. Normally I detest this, because it's, well, shit, but last night it just upset me because the two main characters had split up. Then we watched a recording of The Man Who Ate His Lover which cheered me right up again. We chatted for a bit, P and M went to bed and I stretched out on the sofa and went to sleep.

I'm a little under six feet tall and the sofa is a fair bit shorter than that so it's always a bit of a squeeze to get comfy, but for some inexplicable reason, sleep is far easier for me to achieve on couches rather than in beds. The same thing happened when I visited my friend S and stayed at her parent's place, so it's not just P and M's sofa. I've been wondering if it's something to do with the fact that I'm used to sleeping in bed with someone there, but a sofa has an association with solo sleeping and no expectation of someone else's presence.

I dunno.

Monday, March 01, 2004

It's not all doom and gloom 

Hey Folks,

Contrary to what you may be thinking, my life is not entirely a tale-spinning descent into misery. Some things do make me very happy, and reading about things like this is one of them. I'm currently updating my sites links and the look of my sidebar and when I finish it will more accurately show the organisations that I'm involved with and campaigns that I'm a part of. Woohoo, we can all get together over here at my blog and try and staunch the flow from our liberal hearts. Other things make me happy, too: music still does. I went for a walk round the middle of campus very early this morning and the loch was entirely frozen over and everything was so beautiful. In the space of ten minutes my radio spewed out some real gems: One by U2, Ordinary World by Duran Duran, some Norah Jones and some brilliant Classic FM stuff too. It was just really nice all round, one of those moments that just makes everything else okay. It helped me to think properly about a few things.

One of the things I thought about was my job. I've been...disquieted by it for some time, but I wasn't able to put a finger on the problem until today. Working with C places a lot of responsibility on me and right now, I'm not so sure that I can be totally responsible for myself, let alone another person with a handicap. I need to learn how to look after myself again, I think, before I can be responsible for others. This will actually be quite difficult for me as I've always used other people and their problems as a way of ignoring my own, but if I am to improve at all, that has to stop and the sooner the better. I'm not saying that I'm going to call up and quit today, but I will need to consider some alternative strategies. For me, and nobody else.

All for now.

"What are you doing Saturday?" "Killing myself." "Okay, what are you doing Friday?"* 

Hey Folks,

I've used my blog a lot lately for ranting about stuff in the real world - Ann Winterton has been quite healthy for my number of hits - but not so much about me lately, and that is, after all the point of the exercise. Maybe I feel now that I know people actually come here, I don't actually want to be too open in case it upsets or disappoints my few faithful readers - after all, I don't want to make you depressed - or maybe it's some other reason. I'll try and figure out how I feel about it.

Anyway, things haven't been too good lately. I went right through Thursday and Friday and into Saturday not having slept at all, which worried me because it is a sure sign that I was pretty manic. I've talked to both my doctors about this and they're in agreement that unless things really start to slide, then they won't change the drug side of my therapy to include Lithium and I'm happy about this. As an anecdote, the mother of a friend of mine is also a manic depressive and she went seven days without any sleep and she ended up in the hospital from October through to Christmas last year. My record is four nights and that was bad enough - even without mental illness, four nights without sleep would test the strongest healthy mind. As I've said before, it's a great feeling being slightly manic as it makes you feel happy and productive and positive, but you know that you're heading at an ever quickening pace towards the abyss. Thankfully, I've never fallen in but it might still happen and I must admit that the thought of being hospitalised for this scares me a fair bit. This would be unlikely under normal circumstances, veteran as I am of many hospital stays as a child, but being a psychiatric inpatient would be rather different from Children's Ward 3. Generally speaking, however, I'm coping with things fairly well and I've taken steps to free myself of some of the millstones hanging round my neck - I've asked the local council to house me as there's no way I can afford to get a flat in town here on the money I earn and I think I need to move out of my present accommodation as it is not my home, and I don't feel secure there. Security, I feel, will be important in helping me get better, especially as I am likely to be cutting back on my medication in the next few weeks.

Whether I do start coming of these tablets is still up for debate as things haven't been quite right lately: one of the first things that disappeared after commencing treatment were my constant thoughts of death and horrific dreams. I've had a resurgence of these dreams and, to a lesser extent, thoughts in the past week or so. Bizarrely, when filling out mental health questionnaires, I've always had trouble answering the do you have thoughts of death and/or suicide? question as I fixate on my own death, but not at my hand, and scenarios where my friends die too. It can be difficult to answer this question accurately. It can mean the difference between drugs, hospitalisation, or worse: no treatment at all. For all I worry about being sectioned, it actually can take a fair bit to convince a GP or other doctor that help is needed as I found out last year. I think I inhabit a bizarre sub-category of mania where I know that I am very ill indeed, but present a cheery can-do attitude regarding recovery once help has been sought. I know it to be true that this has confused at least one overworked SHO and about three GPs, as they expect the severely depressed to act, well, severely depressed. I doubt that I'll be coming off the medication if these thoughts keep occurring, if anything, I may be in line for an increase in dosage. I think I'm disturbed by their presence as they've been gone for so long - I take this, the very fact that they do disturb me, to be a very good sign as I lived with them for a long time without even realising that they were not normal. We'll need to see what happens.

I read a brilliant interview with Carrie Fisher and it really lifted my spirits. I know it's tacky, but it does help knowing that even famous people go through this sort of thing too. She describes much of what I think and feel extremely accurately - and she's a lot funnier too. One comment that she made resonated a fair bit:
[on her over-active imagination] It’s like having a tenant. I’m like ‘Shut up! It’s three o’ clock in the morning! Can I sleep?

I know how this feels. I've recently started posting on a discussion board that I'd been following for a few months simply so I could vent some of my ideas in the forlorn hope that I could get my mind to shut the hell up and give me some peace. In reality, I've just pissed a lot of the regulars off with foolish questions, but it may well have saved my life so it can't be that bad. It's funny, I have always had a tangential mind that often does its own thing, but it's not bothered me so much as it has now. My relationship must have offered a lot of outlets to use up its energy: it helped that I was with someone with an intellect far in excess of my own as that always provided stimulating conversation (for "conversation" read row over Cartesian philosophy at 4am) and there was always someone there to talk to, to drown out the hum of my own mind.

Now that I sleep by myself, I have to listen to my own thoughts a lot more. It's hard.

*Don't be alarmed, please, I just like the quote...