Thursday, August 31, 2006

When in doubt, put your hands under your buttocks, sit tight and do nothing.

What does this picture have to do with the theme of this blog? Not much I can think of. But why, you may wonder, if wonder you do, is it so much apparently brighter inside the inner arc of the rainbow? Or is it? For the people down there: is it brighter for them, or is this an optical effect occasioned by physics and visual perception? For those interested, answers can be found here. And for those wanting to see more stunning rainbow images, go here.

Does knowing the 'how' change the emotional/esthetic impact of the 'what'? It depends on your disposition, I guess. As for me, I find that knowing 'how' enhances my feeling of emotional and existential connectedness to everything.

Anyway, back to the subject if this blog.

When in doubt most people do put their hands under their buttocks and sit tight—even if they know that in all likelihood doing nothing will result in a worse outcome than action. The phenomenon is sometimes known as the 'omission bias', and it is a member of a long list of cognitive biases that writers would do well to study at some length, because out of them flow a wealth of possible stories. Anybody writing fiction would benefit from spending some hours pondering the extensive list provided here.

I just thought I'd mention this, because during some recent discussions on the rights and wrongs of... well, world politics stuff, so let's be unspecific ...a lot of those biases came to the fore, to such an extent that observing them was much more interesting than the issues we were discussing. I found myself making statements whose sole purpose wasn't to further the discussion, but to evoke expressions of these behavior patterns, trying to make mental notes about what was said and why.

This is potentially dangerous, of course, because the issues being talked about end up just being a kind of background, while the real focus is ad hominem. So, in the end I wondered if I was doing the wrong thing here. Bad boy, stirring up shit to see who reacted and how. And then it occurred to me that I was just doing what any writer worth his salt actually should be doing: looking at people, rather than getting carried away with and/or worked up over 'issues'.

More than that, it is what everybody interested in human society—on all scales—should be doing; for ultimately everything of real interest to us as human beings, individual and social, derives from the way we 'work'; think, reason, emote, react. All of history and mental and social evolution is a complex framework of the interaction between external contingency and individuals. Said 'external contingency' is basically anything that happens and which, by some means, can be taken as being different and distinct from whatever identifies us, to our minds, as not-being-that-other-thing we're interacting with.

But we're also partially 'external' to ourselves and hence the very not-that-other-thing. Therein, of course, lies one of the great mysteries of 'existence'—and, by the way, dragging anything labeled 'spirit', or anything dualistic, into it doesn't solve or 'explain' the riddle/mystery; as anybody with more than two interactiong neurons should be able to figure out in a thrice.

Since fiction is ultimately about people—you can have people-fiction without grand issues, but you cannot have of fiction without people—it appears sensible to suggest that we should indeed start with 'human nature' and whatever it is disposed to making us do this and that, here and there and then and now and tomorrow. Hence, it seems to me, that thinking about why somebody says something is indeed more pertinent than what he says. In doing this, we will ultimately acquire a greater understanding and empathy with one another.

The subject requires more explication, but I'll leave it at that. At least those who try to write interesting fiction, however, may have a more than fleeting interest in investigating this further.

However, here's something else:

A bias not listed here is one that I'm not sure has a name, but which is so utterly pervasive that it surely deserves one. It may be argued that it's composed of other biases, but the same can be said in other instances. This one here deserves its own place in the pantheon of human predispositions. Because I don't know of any name for it, I'll give it a TLA ('Three Letter Acronym', for those not familiar with the vernacular): 'RPB' (Rosy Past Bias). It's the inclination, which usually becomes more prevalent with age—physical and/or mental—and the associated sclerosis of body and mind alike, to regard what was as more desirable than that which is or will be. Old movies seem so much better because they're old, and 'then' 'they' made movies so much better. 'Ancient wisdom'—worse 'ancient knowledge'—is probably more profound than what is current; as are philosophies, social systems, attitudes and mores, the behavior of the 'young', the 'general state of the world/society/culture' and so on. "Where is it all going?" usually doesn't elicit excitement, but trepidation and apprehension. Future Shock was so phenomenally successful partially because of its title, which, a mere two well-chosen words, wrapped up our basic attitude toward tomorrow. Often that attitude degenerates into a sad kind of petulance, that the world should be going where it is going, instead of falling into line with some familiar rythms from yesteryear—which, of course, to those growing older then appeared equally, or even more, unfamiliar and threatening.

I think the bias is grounded in more than plain neophobia, and indeed has more to do with the profound difference between 'past', 'present'—a dicey concept at the best of times—and 'future'. The past is infinitely controllable through hindsight, interpretation and fitting facts to theories; or making up facts for that matter. After all, 'history' by and large is fiction. And it's gone; safely in the past. We look back as we drive on. We know we've been there—though I dispute that most of us ever really know where they've been.

The present: a place we can never even out our finger onto. The future: a scary landscape we're all being pushed onto by Father Chronos. It scares the bejesus out of many of us. Unexplored, unknown, unknowable, subject to the whim of contingency. We can't manipulate it the way we can the past, or tweak and adjust it. It doesn't stay safely behind, but is always ahead.

And worst of all, one day... Well, we all know what it will bring to each and every one of us—no matter how long we live.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Stalkers of the Internet

Well over a decade ago I wrote a short story—more like the core of a long story—which featured, inter alia, a technological device that today is laughably common and totally yesterday: a GPS receiver you can slot into the accessory bay of a laptop. It wasn't a major part of the story, which was about something quite different, but I needed it and thought that postulating the existence of such a device was sensible, and by the time it might become published it wouldn't be entirely outdated. Alas, it is outdated today, but all I'd have to do is tweak the story a bit and adjust the gadgetry and Bob's your uncle.

In System Crash, a novel written not too long after that, and set in the near future, some 10-20 years hence, I extrapolated from certain trends in the Internet universe to what even to me then appeared like a grotesquely unlikely scenario. Bill Gates, founder and head of that corporate obscenity known as 'Microsoft', merged with another creepy character, Rupert Murdoch and became 'Carl Ilkwood', as twisted and nasty a character as you could get, with his empire extending into every home and throughout a global network only somewhat more advanced really than it is today—the dangers of extrapolation and futurology!—and his aim being effective dominance of what exactly went from where to where, and his probes extending into every machine plugged into the system.

Well, now that I have been plugged into the system on a broadband basis—careful to use only Mac OS based machines in my home to connect directly to the internet; something I would recommend to everybody as a minimum security precaution!—I'm more than usually alert to the signs of precisely those things that went awry in the imaginary future of System Crash.

Disclosure: I'm not one of those who is naive enough to think that 'privacy' as we know it will survive for much longer; not in the technologically developed places of the world anyway. Maybe a member of those people who don't even have access to a telephone will have what's known as 'privacy', but I doubt it. Privacy was always a canard anyway. The only question was as to who exactly was poking their noses into our business.

For a while, urbanization helped us with anonymizing ourselves. It served to disrupt the implicit village/small-town privacy invasion that comes with communities connected internally—as opposed to entities outside themselves; or larger, enveloping communities and organizational systems. But that stage of urbanization was a glitch in history; a transition between one state and another. Urbanization is now a 'mature', ongoing, social process; and the halcyon days of comfortable anynonymity are gone and will not return; not unless we create another state-change that will restore a semblance or image of others that allowed anonymity to flourish. The whole imaginary future history that eventually includes the world of Keaen, starts with yet another such sea-change; which is the mass-exodus of people from Earth. This, at least partially, is the theme of Coralia, the sequel to System Crash. Readers of the Cosmopolis Literary Supplement may be familiar with it.

The 'privacy is being destroyed' ship has long sailed. Actually, it was only in port for a rather short time, as history goes. It may by now have sunk on the high seas, never to be seen or heard of again. I suggest everybody stop moaning about it and tearing their hair out, and learn to live with what's upon us now—for there may be a ship that just about to leave the harbor and it's just possible, if we act quickly enough, to stop it. I doubt that anybody will, because we are so enthralled watching its glittering displays and fireworks, that we're oblivious of how it's sliding from the pier and into unreachability.

Further disclosure: while I regret the passing of privacy and have watched it disappear below the horizon with a heavy heart—for I had no illusions about what was happening to it a long time ago—the aspects of it least troubling me is are those connected to the usual evil scapegoats of privacy invasion: the policing and intelligence services of the world. FBI, CIA, NSA, DHS, SIS, MI5, MI5, BKD, every municipal authority or police using public surveillance systems, and so on.

Why is this so? Because, not to put too fine a point on it, as far as I am concerned, these people really and ultimately have a comparatively minor interest in invading my personal privacy—and if they do, as they well might in the course of sifting through communications originating from or destined for my computer(s) or phone(s), they're not going to find anything much of interest to them. Someone might well be sifting through this blog, for blogs are extremely likely targets for surveillance, what with being riddled with millions of bytes of logorrhoea by dimwits of all colors and shapes and sizes. But, let's face it, anybody using such a forum to incite something that might be worthy of the attention of any of the agencies listed above actually is a dimwit. And why should anybody waste their time with them? No doubt such f-tards exist—and I had good fun taking the piss out of them in Seladiënna. In that instance they were Neo-nazis, who are always good fun to poke a stick at; though maybe the kissaki of a katana might be more productive.

No, the people that really concern me are private corporations and interest groups, who, unfettered by any possible popular control—such as is, at least in principle, possible in your averege 'democratic society' through a process of making a government and its agencies accountable for their actions—are beginning to sneak their way into our homes. Currently, the excuse being used is 'copyright infringement'; but rest assured, this really is just the very tip of a humungous iceberg coming to sink our ship. The dismal vision I had hinted at in my original draft of System Crash is cheery compared to what we are facing here. You think Microsoft, MacDonald's, the oil, tobacco, pharmaceutical and arms industries are evil? Folks, you ain't seen nothing yet. At least we know how evil these people are and what they want. You can see them coming a mile off, with very little pretense but some platitudes nobody believes anyway—and who really believes that Bill Gates' 'charity' is anything but either an attempt to salve belated twinges of conscience for inflicting the abommination called 'Windows' on the world (something he can never make up for) or else just an elborate way of writing off profits so he gets taxed less and looks good and great at the same time.

But here we're talking about something much more nasty and devious than any government agency: namely the entertainment industry—who brings us crappy reality shows, awful pop music and the Oscars. The great liberals from the US West Coast, together with their backers from Japan—yes, and Microsoft—in particular. The self-appointed champions and avant garde of civil rights and peace on Earth; railing against the evil GWB and his cronies. These are the very same people who encourage, promote and will be the ultimate beneficiaries of the pernicious spying on would-be copyright pirates that is now being proposed and will soon become commonplace. They will use that excuse not only to invade our privacy without any available recourse—excepting that of making all servers 'secure', so communications can not be deciphered in transit—but will also, all in one fell swoop, use the same data collected for the most widespread and pervasive exercise in commercial profiling ever undertaken.

Indeed, I think—call me paranoid, but I don't think so!—that the whole damn thing just is an excuse for initiating precisely this process; only their stooges here in NZ, for example, like that organization calling themselves 'NZfact' (New Zealand Federation Against Copyright Theft), are too clueless to realize what exactly they are stooges of.

Paranoid? Think again. And when the ship's gone and sunk somewhere out of sight, torpedoed by these f-ers, don't say I haven't told you so... By then, of course, it will be too late. Maybe it already is.

Now, you may sit back and tell yourself that surely the world is full of people who share this paranoia and will complain and fight and lobby and write letters to editors and organize demonstrations against having their 'civil liberties' diminished and being spied upon and so on; and, of course governments have set up the 'privacy commissioners' of the world or their equivalents, and surely complaints will soon be responded to and...

Ha!

Thing is, people always complain; about just about everything that doesn't suit them or gets on their goat. There is a cacophony of complaints out there, merging into a general din of background noise, with so much of it that even screaming louder doesn't get you heard any more, because people just turn down the volume and/or tune out completely. And the trendy lefty documentary makers of the world aren't going to pick on this one, because they are too preoccupied with more flashy and eye-catching issues: the evils of Bush, Israel and the NSA, MacDonald's and Smith & Wesson; the conspiracies that aren't conspiracies but just plain ordinary cluster-fuckups of human life and society; stuff like that.

I have a real bad feeling about all this. Life's about to change again, in a direction I had thought of as being just a nice speculation for backgrounding a near-future novel. And here's another bit of—real, I hope—paranoia. With Microsoft so deeply enmeshed in other 'information' industries and also the 'entertainment' industrial complex, is it really so hard to make that next step and wonder if maybe the leaky-Windows syndrome is not a design flaw but a feature? I know Microsoft says otherwise, and their promises of providing more security ring loud and strident; but isn't it odd that every new 'security' measure for Windows seems to come with another encroachment of further de-autonomizing Windows-based computers. And isn't it odd that there really doesn't seem to be that much more 'security' coming about as a result? The inroads available to 'illegal' hacking are the same available to those with an apparently 'legitimate' reason for access and spying, no matter how ultimately sinister.

Thing is, it's not that difficult to get hold of a reasonably secure computer; but it'll have to run, say Linux; or, of course, Mac OS X. So, let nobody tell you that somehow the fact that 90% of Windows computers are likely to be infected with spyware is somehow a 'fact of life'. If it is, it's only because we allowed those who designed it that way to fool us for far too long, and now it is, indeed, too late to change.

2+2=4; not 3 or 5, or even 2.

To end—on a completely unrelated note, but since I've just discovered it I thought I might as well 'share' it as well—if you're in a mind to read a Vance story on-line, have a look at Green Magic. One of my favorites among his short short-stories.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Sequiturs

Sometimes I think I may hear divine laughter.

Harking back to a couple of blogs ago, you may be interested and even amused to read that the man who organized the BoB parade, and who was berated by Auckland's mayor at length, now has declared his plans for running for the mayoralty himself in the next election. So Auckland would go from being presided over by a Cereal King to a Porn King.

Only in New Zealand! I tell you—this may be a very normal place in many regards; but you know, when you're talking about a land of opportunity... I think, in some ways, this may be the place. From a peeping-Tom government minister, to a trans-sexual MP, a Cereal King mayor and Boobs on Bikes.

Where else? I ask you. Where else?

There's a Dark Side, too, of course. But I'm trying to be cheery today. Got some grim stuff for a following blog.

And here's a picture taken as I walked to the bus yesterday morning. The main advantage of having a small, hi-res digital camera is that you can carry it with you just about everywhere—and I do.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Religion and sex

How's that for a title, eh? Should draw in the crowds. Well, here's something to reward your attendance.

First of all, here's the link to the site for that religious school which does 'corporal corrections' and which I mentioned in the previous blog. Read it; be amazed; weep; throw up.

New Zealanders, methinks, should really clean up their own backyards before they keep harking on about the evils and decrepitude of 'Amercian Religious Fundamentalists'. The way this country is going, it is acquiring a dense fringe of religious lunatics and green moonbats, all of whom will sooner or later have to be courted by the main political parties—already have, to a significant degree—with what will no doubt be further horrific effects on the already-strained mental capacity of the citizens of the country. Ahh, what else is new?

Secondly, for those of SouthParkesque inclinations...

The Documentation section of the company I work for is a bit of an eclectic bunch. Occasionally post cards trundle in from those of us on travels or maybe their friends. We tend to stick them up in a whiteboard, so we can all see them. Here's what just happened to accidentally configure itself today...

OK! OK! So it wasn't entirely 'accidental'—and the temptation to 'Photoshop', as they say, this image into something truly offensive was almost too hard to resist. I'll leave it to your feverish imaginings.

Friday, August 25, 2006

'Global stalker'...

...is what one of my daughters called me when I sent her an image, taken from Google Earth, of the apartment block she lives in—in London—and asked her to indicate the location of her flat in that place.

Well, that's the Dark Side of being broad-banded into that brain-like network known as the Internet. The comparison to a brain is indeed becoming more pertinent, the more I think about it. Which brings me back to metaphors. How come they do work? How come, to be even more 'basic', that you and I can communicate at all?

To bring things back to Earth—to Austria, or Österreich, to be specific—yesterday someone pointed me at this. Words fail me. Apparently though, it is real enough...

And, not taking too far a leap, and back to NZ and that strange body known as the 'Auckland City Council', click on the image below to link to that late night news item the kiddies weren't supposed to see. I digitized the news clip for your edification.

Look at that remarkable multi-cultural mix of people, all of whom obviously totally hate being there, looking at exposed breasts.

As for the Dark Side of things—for there always is one—here is a clip of soundbites from parents driving their kids into that institution I wrote about in my last blog; the place where the teachers and other, possibly hooded, correctional staff apply 'corporal correction', or cosmetic surgery or whatever, to the students; presumably without anesthetic, and possibly with paddles applied to bare bottoms; or, as apparently was socially acceptable during the teacher days of one of our senior government ministers, onto hands taped to desks—and maybe with tennis balls stuffed into mouths. The mind boggles at what kind of 'corporal correction' those moronic parents, being quizzed as they drove their kids into that place, were willing to sign. Their faces and answers—possibly an unkindly-chosen selection from a larger pool—demonstrate that evolution is indeed a statistical process, with lots of throwback freaks in the tail ends of the probability distribution curve.

Why do I keep on about this, you ask? Because I think it's really, really funny—in a grim kind of way.

Thing is, one day in the future—no far how far away that day may be from this moment—you and I and everybody till draw our last breath; have our last thought. The last few neurons in the brain will fire and then become inactive and cease to function forever within minutes. What follows will be less than darkness; for darkness is something. What will follow is nothing at all. The world will go on without us, and never, ever will we be a part of it and life and that amazing thing called 'the future' again.

Never.

The only thing that remains of us is a rotting corpse, and maybe the grief and memories of those who cared that we existed and are now dead forever. And our children, of course: the products—until now anyway—mostly of sexual activity; which often involves the...manipulation...of and pair-bonding applications of the female breast for...

...well, this is a PG blog and all that, so supply the continuing text yourself.

One may also note that the female breast is of some significance in the raising of offspring, and has been acknowledged by science as providing the best supply of nutrients to very young infants. One might suppose that even some of the evolutionary throwbacks in that clip above might have availed themselves of the services provided by these anatomical instruments—just as much as I would suppose that the 'Family First' commentator who admitted that he found pronography (typo, folks! but a funny one!) 'attractive', though of course morally repugnant, has probably done some sampling of said medium with ample visions of female breast in the process, being used for all sorts of things.

So, here you have it. There's the mayor of Auckland, who one day may well be eulogized, as he lies rotting in his coffin, as the man who stopped the Boobs on Bikes parade; together with the women holding up their naff 'Sleeze' posters, and screaming their hearts out, of course. Let's face it, who really gives a damn? Those people in that clip appeared to be enjoying themselves—said people apparently representing a curiously wide cross-section of the populace.

Imagine the eulogy. Imagine the coffin with the lump of meat that once used to be a human being, getting all self-righteous about people enjoying yesterday's parade. Admittedly, it was commercially motivated, initiated by an industry of highly dubious merit; yet no more dubious than many a socially-respectable 'industry' or activity. An industry that does exploit the simple fact that human beings are profoundly sexual, and that sexual stimulation is achieved through amazingly simple and predictable triggers. When it comes to sex and people's attitude toward it, that seems to be one of the basic factors that makes them so uncomfortable: that ultimately there's something there over which they have little control; something which is an incredibly cheap, democratic and ultimately uncontrollable instrument of pleasure more profound than anything else a normal human being can achieve—short of using drugs of getting aroused by religious or ideological fervor, or other activities that qualify as truly repugnant and revolting.

Let's face it, the BoB parade was tame, tacky and would have drawn very few to the Erotica Expo (which it was effectively promoting) that wouldn't have gone there anyway. The rest just had a good time. I had to chuckle at the dad and kid atop the car. Dad taking pics with his cellphone, the kid sucking an iceblock and probably wondering why all those mum's were walking about with their titties hanging out—if he was actually 'wondering'; looks like he was just taking it in.

Who, do you think, when the end comes, has had more 'life': the mayor with his pompous-twit posturing and pruney uptightness; those women yelling 'Sleeze'; or that father and son just enjoying a little moment bonding while watching pretty girls with bare breasts parading past? Dad probably will get a bit of a hard time at home, but I have a notion it'll be a tease, rather than a gripe.

Who wants to be remembered as some pathetic tight-ass jerk when it's all over? Wouldn't it be much nicer to know, in your last moment, that your kid may remember that day—supported by a snap-shot from that cellphone pic—as the day he went out with dad and just sat there, comfortably supported by dad, looking at something you both liked looking at...

So it wasn't the Venus of Milo. So it wasn't 'art'. Does it really matter?

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Corporal corrections in D-cups

Further to my last blog: the titty-parade went ahead (look where the link takes you to! — and here's another one with the inevitable pun headline) and was a roaring success.

20k watchers—mostly thanks to the free advertising provided by the incredibly stupid Auckland City councillors, and the careful exploitation of said stupidity by the parade's organizers. Hear me laugh!

And here are some of the protesters. Yeah, right.

The real joke is the political correctness implied in the reporting of the sign in the article, which reads "A small group of Pacific Island women waved placards throughout and kept up a steady chant: "Sleaze brings disease". You see, these people were 'Pacific Island women'; and implying, even if this were done merely by reporting accurately, that they have issues with English spelling would be...well, unspeakable, unutterable, inconceivable. Therefore the reference to the 'chant' and not the signs, which would make the report essentially accurate. Unless they chanted 'sleeze' as well. Given the mentality that wrote the placards I wouldn't put it past them. Also, it should be mentioned that the woman holding the placard on the left in the picture doesn't look much like a 'Pacific Islander' to me, unless one wishes to count any inhabitant of NZ as a member of that group. If she is, she certainly appears 'assimilated', as the Borgs would say.

(By the way: there are serious questions lurking here, which should not be blithely dismissed without further consideration. If we speak a language and can't spell it properly, do we speak it with the spelling errors? How much is written language connected to the spoken variety—at least in those cultures where written language is as closely tied to the spoken word and everyday life as it is in ours and where literacy is considered 'essential'? Does that make us different from cultures where this is not the case? What about cultures with different systems of writing things down?)

As for 'corporal corrections'...

The principal of a Christian college was questioned about the practices of beating kids, which he refused to comment on; though after some quirming and prodding by the interviewer he admitted that he thought the Bible and God required certain methods of dealing with 'discipline'. He then referred to the practice as 'corporal correction', which had me almost lose control over the car because I started laughing so hard.

'Corporal correction'? Isn't that really a synonym for 'cosmetic surgery' or implanting boob-enhancers or something? Or do they beat up the kids so badly at that school that the victims are suffering physical deformation—and/or require cosmetic surgery afterwards? Of course, he didn't mean that. At least I think not. But what do I know?

By the way, someone I know—and I'm being coy about any hint that would allow identification of the person in question—when hearing me saying something along the lines of what I've just written, made suggestions so outrageous that even I hesitate to include them in my blog. It was to do with 'cosmetic surgery' all right, but he expanded it to suggest that maybe the surgery inflicted was intended to create a likeness between the corporally—or should it 'corporeally'?—adjusted child and a personage of major significance in the Christian context.

Worthy of a South Parkesque? Absolutely.

Meanwhile, it should be noted that prime-time news, when reporting on B0B, delicately avoided showing anything resembling a female breast. The news later that night, which I apparently missed, wasn't quite as reticent. Same channel, too. Did they think the kiddies had gone to bed by that time? Hear the peal of laughter! What boy, in whom the sap is rising or has risen, will be in bed by 22:30?? Unless he goes to that Christian college, of course, and has been corporally/corporeally corrected.

Meanwhile, for your edification, to end on a cheery note and to scandalize the prudes of the universe, a chaste shot from the parade. (Easter-egg hunters may wish to find the hidden treasure(s) lurking beneath this and the other images in this blog.)

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Storm in a D-cup

Auckland is in turmoil. The Boobs on Bikes parade in Auckland is about to go ahead, and may have done so by the time you read this. A number of (Warning: salacious link!) topless women—quite a few of them I'd guess with an...enhanced...physique; and also otherwise suggestively-clad—will ride behind/in-the-laps-of/wherever-convenient-on black-leather-clad bikers on bikes with large exhaust pipes, making deep throaty blubbering sounds. The air will be frigid and the ladies will no doubt have goose-bumps; as well as exhibit other...features...connected with their breasts being exposed to the cold. Some of them might be inclined to help keeping warm, and providing extra stimulation for the watchers, by not exposing all of their upper torsos, but only strategic aspects of it. They will also be wearing regulation helmets, just to remain legal. The cops watching the parade to ensure compliance, will, no doubt, regard the task as particularly onerous.

Auckland City Councillors have been flooded—'inundated' as one pious twit councillor put it—with emails from people disagreeing with the parade. Something like 500 emails clogged up their server! Imagine that!

The councillor in question stated that their presumption is—based on experience and whatever other indicators they claim to have to support the claim—that each email represents about another 100 people, who think similarly but don't write in. That would make it about 50,000 people, who would, one may conjecture, come from the Greater Auckland region, which comprises something like 1.5 million heads. If we want to be fair, let's take out .5 million for people not in a position to perform value judgments on this matter; like the prepubescent, the demented, politicians, violent criminals, child molesters and so on. That leaves us with a cool 1 million, and 50k people who object; meaning 1/20 or 5% of the population. It may be safely concluded that the remaining 95%:

• don't feel strongly enough against it to bother emailing, or
• are for the thing going ahead, or
• don't really give a shit.

So, an election issue this isn't going to be. Still the ACC, with the backing of the mayor, is going to make sure this parade doesn't happen again, and they are going to change the city's bylaws so it can't. It'll be interesting to see the clauses inserted to justify the action, but it's fairly certain that 'public standards of decency'—meaning 'standards of decency imposed by 5% of the populace'—are going to be included in the phrasing.

Parades in Auckland are a dime a dozen, of course; almost all of them commercial, though some have a much more sinister agenda, like, for example, the religious Nazis called The Destiny Church, whose members have never really had a problem getting permits for parades. There may have been voices of protest, but nothing to prompt bodies like the ACC to change bylaws! I mean, this country promotes religious freedom, right? And Destiny, with being such a multi-cultural concoction of morons (though Asians appear somewhat under-represented) obviously doesn't preach socially unacceptable doctrines as racial hatred. They just hate sexual 'deviants', promiscuous teenagers and anything else having to do with religiously uncontrolled sex. So we let them mill around in their black regulation outfits, making ominous gestures and nuisances of themselves, intimidating people, and trying to whip the masses into some kind of enthusiasm against whatever moral decrepitudes they happen to contrive—an effort that seems to be succeeding, at least with certain parts of the NZ populace.

So, here we have it. It's OK to let these freaks parade around as they will, but by all means ban the gratuitous public display of the female breast—surely, by and large, one of the most esthetically pleasing aspects of human physique. Of course, it's problematic that the BoB parade is associated with an Erotica expo; but it may also be noted that advertising said expo on public billboards has been interdicted—while Brian Tamaki's leering visage appears to suffer no such constraints.

The message is clear; at least to me. Female breasts and sexually suggestive displays are somehow incompatible with 'public morality'. Religion, no matter how demented, is fine. Sexuality, one of the most fundamental expressions of who and what we are as human beings, is something our children need to be protected from for as long as possible, and even adults really should not be exposed to too much of it. Spiritual incontinence, such as that provided by the likes of Destiny, is something that isn't going to really hurt anybody.

Anybody else think there's something wrong with this picture?

Disclaimer and admission: I didn't invent the Storm in a D-cup title, but stole the pun from a woman commenting on the whole affair on a NZ National Radio talkie programme. I forgot her name, but whoever you are, lady: thanks! Very funny. 8)

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Eye in the Sky

So I watch Threat Matrix, and there are always eyes in the sky looking down at what happens on the ground, with occasionally unbelievable precision. But then I look at a readily-accessible map of where I live—somewhere near the middle of the image—and I wonder... All you have to do it type the appropriate URL into any web browser and bingo! And that isn't even the best zoom available. Still, even on this image, crummy as it is—and with minimal post-processing—I can see the car parked on the road opposite to our place; and it makes me wonder whose car it was. I keep on looking at that image on a daily basis, waiting for an update, so I get a notion of the update frequency.

Anyway, this is just a measly Google map. Now imagine something taken by something more advanced than some everyday mapping satellite...

Spooky, ain't it? Creepy, actually. Of course our municipal council provides high-res maps also; but this here is different maybe because it's become so...well, maybe 'common' is the word here. Just type in a simple search, zoom in, and bingo. With additional software like Google Earth and World Wind doing the job on a dedicated basis, this provides us all with a living-room version—minus zero gravity and the 'immediacy' effect of being there—of the kind of experience astronauts must have when they circle above the Earth. All it takes is a computer and broadband...

On a more personal matter the experience of speaking to someone on the opposite side of the world using Skype, without delay and a much better and 'being there' quality than a telephone provides: that's even more impressive. The casual ease with which this can be done—and the fact that it costs nothing, computer-to-computer, and therefore encourages its use...

Don't knock technology, folks. It may not only be our only hope for survival of the species, but it also ads genuinely good things to our lives. Being able to Skype-talk with my daughter in the UK is the other face of what is usually seen as the divisive and de-socializing influence of technological progress. Without it, she would be far away, reachable at best sporadically and making each such contact a major 'occasion'. Much of social intercourse is based on being able to do things casually, spontaneously, prompted by whim, rather than plan. Technology enables me to almost achieve the same with someone 12 hours out of phase and 180 degrees around the globe.

Not that I am in need of proof of the potential and actual beneficence of technology. Nor am I ignorant of the price we pay for this being possible—for, as usual, nothing is free. But I try to see the good things, and I think we all should, because we need to in order to believe in the existence of a future.

Monday, August 21, 2006

You see, it's just like...

Yesterday, Radio NZ's vapid, but highly voluble and predictably opinionated, film critic/commentator/reviewer commented favorable on the return of 'realism' into movies and reflected on its absence in much other material extant. Listening to him—as well as others in the Sunday afternoon 'arts' programme on National Radio—the gulf between what I am aiming for in my personal exhortation of good 'story telling' and what passes for the kind of 'art' being lauded by those who influence and adjudicate what's to be supported and what isn't...that gulf is very wide indeed. I'd like to think that I'm on the side of the chasm belonging to the 'good guys', but I'm acutely aware that this in entirely a matter of point-of-view. If nothing else, I have no need to yearn for, as the Green Day song goes, being a minority. But it does make things hard, and sometimes keeping one's head down and sticking to your guns—sometimes that's all you can do. Don't get cranky; don't get disheartened; don't let the bastards get you down; and don't compromise yourself for the sake of being accepted. And, yes, I'm talking to myself as much as you, dear reader, whoever you are—just in case you happen to be wondering about similar matters.

The day before this depressing bit of radio-chatter, another canard was propounded by someone from the world of science; not a psychologist, and definitely someone who demonstrates that being a 'scientist' does not stop one from accepting 'common wisdom' with a stunning lack of critical thought. The gentleman in question felt compelled to articulate the notion that 'creativity' is something likely to 'peak' in the earlier part of one's life, that being anything before 40. That's why, he reminded the interviewer, most 'scientific discoveries', of either experimental or theoretical nature, are made at 'a young age'. After that, it's all downhill, because people 'slow down'.

Two occasions where I almost hit the off-switch; but didn't, because I kind of wondered what inanities were going to come next. And they came... Boy, did they come; thick, fast, relentless.

Regarding the issue of brain function and age, it may be of use to make public some recent discoveries from the world of neurophysiology, which revealed that, contrary to a long-held belief, neurons actually continue to be produced in the human brain, but that in order for them to actually survive they need to be used and connected into the system; if they aren't, they'll die off. It may be that, in many or most cases, they don't survive; but this appears more due to life-contingency rather than some biological necessity. Should it be presumed that someone coming to science later in life—maybe in the context of a new career—is less likely to produce some major 'creative' work than someone in his late 20s, say; just because of his greater age? Does anybody but me notice how dismally silly that idea is?

Speaking from a personal perspective, I don't feel hampered by 'advancing age', and I could rattle off several writers who didn't actually start serious work until they were well past their putative use-by date.

As for that nicompoop who bemoaned the lack of 'realism' in movies, don't get me started! But, yes, it is true that I find it galling—in those moments where I allow myself to be galled by what goes on in the media—that such people do have the freedom of the airwaves to propound their vapid inanities. I admit to being unamused. But who said life was amusing?

However, the matter prompts me to submit to you a notion that might not have occurred to you before and it is this:

You all know about 'metaphors', right? Closely allied to that term are others, like 'analogy', 'simile', 'representation' and so on.

Well, I suppose you also are familiar with the notion that, in some way, stories are metaphors for things that might qualify as definitely 'real'. One could argue, and indeed people have, that metaphors, despite their intrinsic problems—the need for example to abstract from particular details of that which is being 'metaphorized'—are a much better way to show significant 'truths' about this or that—not despite but because of those very shortcomings. It's like...think of a painting: never is it going to capture all the detail of its motif; yet by virtue of that very deficiency it may well reveal something essential about what it represents that one might well have missed otherwise.

I think these things are quite self-evident and require not further elaboration. But something else does, and it is this: how come metaphors can 'work' at all? What I mean is, how come we're able to create and understand metaphors? How, to make the question even more basic, is it possible that a physical system such as a living human being can exist, configured in such a way as to be able to perform the process of creating and understanding metaphors? And what actually is that process—if 'process' is the right word for it?

Example—and I am just making this up, and it is not intended to be terribly profound:

Story about a man putting a huge amount of his personal energy into trying to change the world and finding huge resistance; and about another man trying to change things bit by bit, finding little resistance in the process.

The former fails; and the harder he tries, the more resistance is put up against his efforts. The latter succeeds with what little he does, and then tries to change another small thing, and succeeds again...and again and again, and so on. By judicious application of his efforts, he finds that he can make small changes to large things without expending unavailable amounts of force or exposing himself and those who depend on him to danger or risk. It's slower going, but in the end he accomplishes the same things the first guy failed at.

Reader A, who has a background in physics, will say to himself "Aha! Newton's Third Law and the principles of 'fulcrum' and 'leverage' applied to world-changing. Cool metaphor!"

Reader B looks down upon the efforts of the slow plodder, declaring him to possess no grandeur of thought or action, being a coward unwilling to stick out his neck and 'dare—and therefore not worthy of the attribute 'great', which he would, however, unhesitatingly attach to the one who tried grandly, but failed. In that case the 'metaphor' might be understood as being for how pathetic little guys, intent on playing it safe and taking the smallest risks possible, can plod away and succeed where 'greatness' may fail dismally. Jeez, isn't the universe unfair?

Actually, what was in the writer's mind at the time he wrote the story, wasn't either. It' was meant to be about someone who desperately wanted to change something about the world he felt needed changing. But he had a family, and felt he that his responsibility to them was greater than that he had to anybody or anything else. That's why he played it 'safe'; that's why he developed clever ways to solve problems and effect changes without making risky decisions. That's why it took him longer. That's why he wasn't 'great'.

So, how come—and this question is, of course, also related to the much-debated problem of 'interpretation'—that a story written with the intent stated ended up being 'understood' as it was by readers A and B? How can a story about a man and his life be taken as a metaphor for the behavior of the physical universe? How can it be taken as a metaphor for the futility of greatness? How can it be taken in either of those ways when it wasn't intended to be?

Since I strive to stimulate thought, I'll leave this with you for a few blogs. Not that I expect answers from anyone. 8)

Meanwhile ponder this mess in our oven...

...and this painting, done by a friend of mine, Jim Scopa...

...or maybe this Dali...

...or this one...

Ponder 'metaphors' and their ontological implications...

By the way, I've lost touch with Jim some years ago. Addresses changed and suddenly poof! Tried to google him, in the vain hope that he might have a 'presence' somewhere, but can't seem to find him.

Here are some more of his paintings. If anybody has a notion that they know the artist or may have heard of him, please drop me a line.



I hope Jim is all right. I was rather fond of the guy. Pity how some people just drop from the radar screen of one's life.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Finnegan's Wake

Yeah, well, it ain't James Joyce—not even remotely so. Just a short story of mine, written quite some time ago. Some of those familiar with the former Cosmopolis Literary Supplement will already have read it, since it appeared in Issue 21. If you want it in PDF format go here and download that issue—or any others you might be interested in. Else just get it by direct download. Click here to read it on my website in HTML format.

Why Finnegan's Wake? It was just a cool title for a story; and everything ultimately flowed from that: I needed a wake for someone called 'Finnegan'.

It also features a priest called 'Father Kean' and may be my only religiously benign story. It gets a bit racy in parts though, so those of tender sensibilities might find it unamusing.

Where is my frog?

The NZ National Museum, Te Papa, currently has a major exhibition of the work of John Constable, a painter whose work I like very much. A few weeks ago I had a chance to visit the exhibit, in the company of my wife and one of my daughters. Both of them, for reasons of their own, expected far less than they found there and came away impressed. The sometimes-ghastly picture frames notwithstanding it was definitely an experience worth the comparatively low entry fee. Since we also managed to throw a visit to the encore exhibit of paraphernalia and memorabilia from the making of the Lord of the Rings movie, it was a very worthwhile visit indeed. The visit to Wellington was further enhanced by getting to see Fool for Love, directed by a certain Julie Noever (Reviews: 1 2 3 4).

I noticed that, coincidentally, Fool for Love also being shown in the London West End, featuring former NZ soap star Martin Henderson opposite Juliette Lewis. The other day I saw a few snippets of the West End production on a TV magazine programme about Martin Henderson ; one of those Kiwi actors who managed to establish a career outside NZ. Even without being excessively prejudiced here for reasons of familial attachments—and, yes, I am capable of that—it seemed to me like the bit of acting I saw was notably inferior—it had an air of much more posed 'staged-ness'—to the corresponding snippet I saw at Bats in Wellington. There's a lesson in that somewhere.

And now—about the frog...

Years ago, when I was younger, as I was—then—and still living in Germany and possibly at high-school, I went to a museum somewhere in Holland (name forgotten) and there saw, inter alia, a painting (name forgotten) by some Dutch artist (name forgotten), which caught my eye; and, like some things just hang in there throughout your life, it stuck in my memory. It was a huge oil painting—or I think it was; sometimes 'size' changes during recall of such long-ago things—of a rustic scene and at the bottom of a large tree in the right foreground sat a tiny green frog with even tinier spots of white.

I've never forgotten that frog—though I am leery of saying that, because 'memory' is terribly unreliable and confabulatory, and it may be that I am remembering something quite different; if anything at all!—and I keep trying to find it each time I see one of those carefully painted bucolic scenes, as for example in that Constable exhibition.

But, no froggy! I did look carefully, and engaged my daughter to look out for it as well. I peered particularly closely at the two Vale of Dedham paintings, done years apart and shown below, because they seemed to suggest at least the possibility of, especially the later one, being the one to hold my little green friend.

To no avail! I am aware that it was probably more wishful thinking than anything, because the dim recollections of the rest of that painting from way back contain quite a different setting, and especially, and maybe most importantly of all, the painting was in 'landscape' format.

Oh, well; gotta keep looking. One day...

Meanwhile, and until the next blog, I invite you to contemplate the two paintings; done at different times, but from essentially the same perspective. I dare not speculate whether the changes are just those provided by changes in the actual environment, or whether the artist himself maybe inserted things into the later one that quite possibly weren't there.


By the way, don't forget Nuncupatories!

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

FREE!

Dawns like this come 'free'. After all, you just have to get up at the right time to catch it, rather than sleeping in. Right? Right!

Well, they don't, and if you look at the image you'll immediately realize why not. Think about it for just a moment before reading on...

Thing is, it's much cheaper to live down in the valley before us. Meaning that by choosing to buy a house where we bought it we actually paid for 'view' and those amazing dawns.

If there is one rule in the universe it is that nothing is—or can be!—'free'; in the sense that something can be obtained without rendering some kind of equivalence (20% Extra FREE). Nor is there anything than can be rightly be called 'freedom', in the sense of describing a state of existence of anything without associated constraints. Other canards are the notions of 'independence', which is closely allied to 'freedom', especially in a political context; as well as 'freedom of speech'.

The reason why I'm bringing this up are the plaints, growing louder and progressively more petulant day by day, by individuals in those nations finding themselves at the actual or potential business end of terrorism. Travelers complain at having their travel plans inconvenienced. Folks in the street berate the presence of armed police and 'security forces'. Others tell tales of woe about being mistaken for potential maldoers. Others claim that their freedom to express themselves without some governmental agency tapping into their conversations is being violated on a regular basis—which, by the way, it probably is. And so on.

The presumption of all these people—if they think about it at all, rather than just being the spoiled, petulant children of comfort they are—is that 'freedom' is some kind of 'right', granted to humans by either deity or the universe or some other agency capable of granting any 'rights', and that abrogation of said right constitutes a violation of something. Most of said 'rights' are presumed to be 'free', in the sense that they are considered to be something inherent, without therefore there being any price to be paid—except maybe in the payment of taxes and abeyance of traffic rules and such like. Unfortunately the grim truth is that the universe as it is does not even grant a 'right to exist' to anybody, or any living creature for that matter.

I think we all know this, but would like to think otherwise. Hence the fervor evident in those who promote ideological agendas involving 'human rights'.

Am I saying that there should not be such a thing as a 'human right'? By no means—actually quite the contrary! If anything is to define us as human beings it must be our willingness to grant to those in our human societies 'rights', because by doing that we define our humanity as individuals as well as members of our social contexts. This is, of course, an existentialist-humanist position—just in case anybody needs to pin a label to it.

The consequence is however that we must understand that 'human rights' are a matter of definition and agreement between those capable of granting said 'rights'—which usually means a society. Unsurprisingly, notions about those rights should be will vary, depending on who you're talking to and when. Intimately connected to these rights are the freedoms granted to members of said societies—and these freedoms are always circumscribed and always subject to being changed by intent or contigency. Right now, such a change of definition is upon Western societies. That's just the way it is. There's no point in moaning about it, for that ship has indeed sailed and is well on the way to the high seas.

For those heartbroken over the loss of our putative 'freedom'...

One of the most disturbing books about the dark side of 'freedom' and the price it may exact—and, to an extend, it can be seen to do so everywhere you look, on a regular basis, though not as extremely as presented in the book—is Norman Spinrad's The Men in the Jungle. I remember reading it decades ago and how profoundly it shocked me; for it descended into some pretty horrific scenes and a very grim depiction of the Law of Unintended Consequences. I also recall a then-friend of mine finding the book so horrible and disturbing that he berated me at length for suggesting he read it. Of course, his mind was somewhat fragile due to excessive exposure and consumption of grass and LSD. Maybe I should have known better; but who does at the age of 22, when enthusiasm for communicating novel, interesting—and, yes, disturbing—notions to one's friends is at a peak?

Men in the Jungle still is a grim read, even after all these years. But nowadays I also appreciate the skill with which the writer drags you into the story and identification with the main protagonists. They're not great or noble people, but somehow they grow on you, despite their dubious personal characteristics: one a cynical adventurer and political opportunist, the other a whore. By the time they are witnessing the horrific, bloody consequences of what looked like just another con-job, the reader is right there with them; and it is very hard to effect detachment, for by that time it's too late. Great story-telling, but definitely not for the faint-hearted. Few of Norman Spinrad's novels are. Men in the Jungle is a satire, but less so, and much more personally involving, than The Iron Dream, another Spinrad novel; this one exploring another ubiquitous human disease: the fiendish synergy between those who crave political power and those who are all-too-willing to allow themselves to be dominated.

To end, another early dawn image; 'dawn' being a potent symbol of 'change'. This image was taken some days before the one at the top. It wasn't 'free' either, imposing on me as it were the necessity, forcing me to, get up early enough actually see it. In the event, of course, I was already up. So maybe it was 'free' after all? Or was it just that the price of having to pause in whatever else I was doing to view and photograph it was truly such a pittance compared to the reward, that maybe this actually qualified as a 'bargain'? Not counting the price of the camera that actually allowed me to put this photo here, plus internet charges and... ahh, never mind...


And....andandandand!

Here's an fairy tale only Kiwis will understand and hopefully appreciate.

Once upon a time, there was a NZ politician called Helen Clark, the then-leader of the NZ Labor Pary, who inappropriately used moneys from the public purse to help get herself re-elected by having a 'pledge card' printed, which she put to good use—for people are easily hoodwinked by colorful printed things. Helen stole this idea from another politician in Europe, where voters obviously are even dumber than in NZ, because everybody and sundry was suddenly spending money on these things.

Sometime later, plagued by doubt and remorse, she issued this card...

...and also proceeded to ensure that all the misused funds were restored to the people from whom they were originally purloined.

The End.

Who paid for this latter card? Ahh, yes, therein lies the rub. I didn't say it was a nice fairy tale.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Tethys - in progress...

Here's an updated sample from Mac and Naela's voyages. Warts and all. First draft.

Right now, I'm at 77k words. Progress over the last few weeks has been slow, but last weekend was very productive. But now I have to kill someone I rather like, and I want to do it right. There is a point to the death, and it takes sensitivity to make it.

Define 'right'? That's a tough one. I would like to have it happen unexpectedly. Bad things happen when you let your guard down. Yudan Nashi and all that—never forget!

So, for a change, I'm actually agonizing over a mere paragraph or two—or three.

------

New series on TV, Threat Matrix—plays on NZ TV2 late at night.

TVNZ probably bought it cheaply, because it's several years old and ran only for one season in the US. The vitriol heaped on it by IMDb reviewers pegs it down pretty nicely. Oddly enough, it fared much, much worse than 24, another show that pulls no punches about who 'the enemy' is, though, despite coming from Fox, pays some lip service to those requiring PC-ness.

Thing is, if you watch Threat Matrix carefully—as I do—underneath the pro-American theme, there's a good deal of thoughtfulness that 24 doesn't provide. A lot of questions that lift this show well above mere jingoism. It's also good fun, and has the virtue of not letting you hang for 24 episodes until you get to a conclusions that isn't a conclusion.

Still, I am unsurprised it didn't make it. People prefer to hate the Department of Homeland Security, which has nothing of the glamor—tarnished though it may be—of CANOLA agencies like the FBI, CIA, NSA, CTU or whatever; all of which, by the way, are actually a subset of CANOLAs, namely TLAs.

Remember ships-that-sailed, folks...

Monday, August 14, 2006

It's all fake anyway


This one is a doozy!

I was talking to someone in a shop, where I also happen to know the sales assistant, a 22-year old girl. In my conversation with the other person the name 'Neil Armstrong' came up; and on a whim I turned around to engage in a most strange conversation:

Till (to shop girl): You know who Neil Armstrong is, right?
Shop girl: Of course.
Other person (to shop girl): It's just before your time. Different generation.
Till (to shop girl): Lots of people your age don't.
Shop girl: I watch the news!
Till makes a questioning face, because Neil Armstrong hasn't exactly been on the news recently.
Shop girl: They say it's all a fake.
Till (trying top keep a straight face): Ahh, yes. I see. Cool. Anyway, see you later.
Till and other person leave shop.

I rest my case.

Can't figure out what 'case' I'm resting? Maybe it's time to read a different blog...

Sunday, August 13, 2006

The ships that sailed

I never cease to be amazed by the human propensity to think ships are still berthed in the local harbor, while in truth they're already out of sight and reach. The metaphor occurred to me after watching Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, because that has a lot of ships in it—as you might have guessed, even if you haven't seen the movie, but you really ought to. I can't wait for the last instalment!

Back to ships that have sailed: a strangely appropriate way of representing the even stranger state of mind of the people I'm talking about. I'm trying to find a name for the condition; some snazzy and memorable CANOLA (Cool Arbitrary-Number-Of-Letters Acronym) like AIDS, SARS or ADD. I was trying out a few, like SLGBIDN (Ship's Long Gone But I Didn't Notice), which is too long and doesn't flow. Then there was NESS (Non-Existent Ship Syndrome), but that didn't do it for me either. I settled on BSI (Berthed Ship Illusion), since, I've decided, the matter may not be a 'mental disease'—a term back in high fashion—but maybe something more like your average optical illusion; though in the occasional instances where there actually never was a ship at all, berthed or in existence, in-head disorders appear like a much more parsimonious explanation.

The symptom of those subject to the BSI is behavior centering around an imaginary ship berthed at the pier. In mild cases we have such erratic actions as people arguing about whether the ship actually should sail or is about to. At the other extreme are those whose delusions are sufficiently potent to make them try and board the non-existent or departed vessel across an equally not-there-any-more gang plank. This tends to land them in the waters of the harbor; with amazingly few breaking their necks in the process and even fewer noticing the splash of putrid water as they plunge in. And there they are, doggy-paddling around in circles, talking to all the other loonies doggy-paddling aimlessly in the oil-slick covered, stinking waters with them, because they are the only ones close enough to actually hear what's being said.

Feel free to elaborate on the metaphor. I was just trying to stimulate your imagination and encourage further exploration.

The matter has a certain grotesque South-Park-like humor about it, especially if you look down from the pier—the one without the ship—and see them paddling about in the grubby waters. Unfortunately, as usual, there's a dark side to it. Several actually.

For one, these people are in grave danger of being killed when the next ship arrives to berth at exactly this very spot. And arrive it will. And the more people are paddling around there, the more of them are going to get hurt.

Secondly, contrary to what you might think, a lot of these people actually qualify as 'intelligent'—one of the reasons why I'm inclined to think that we're dealing with a kind of systematic 'optical illusion' effect, rather than some 'disease'. And everybody paddling around in the discarded bilge-waters of ships-that-may-have-berthed-here-but-are-gone-now is an intelligence wasted; and would be infinitely more useful indealing with the consequences of past departures; or maybe with all those ships just a little further down along the string of piers, and which would probably benefit from being equipped much better than they are for their own voyages—or those that should maybe never sail and be blown up on the spot; or maybe have their destinations adjusted.

I invite you to make your own list of ships-that-sailed; those that are still visible as they leave the harbor; and those already beyond the curvature of the horizon.

And don't forget the ships-that-never-existed—for there are a number of incarnations of the 'Flying Dutchman' (not all of them commanded by a tentacle-faced Davy Jones and crewed by slimy distortions of human beings!) that never berth anywhere, for reasons immediately evident, but which are really only shadows in the night, glimpsed from the corner of your eyes, where spatial resolution is dismal, and it's all about shadows and motion and flickers of existence and, all-too-often, just 'imagination' that gets blown up to a bizarre reality.

And, no, I'm not going to give you a list of my personal favorite instances of the BSI—though some of you will probably be able to make an informed guess at some of them. As usual, my main aim is to make the reader think; in the, possibly vain, hope, that some of those among you paddling around in polluted waters manage to drag yourselves back up onto the top of the wharf.

Friday, August 11, 2006

It's the 11th of some month again...

OK, so I wasn’t going to talk politics, but my daughter is in London and the matter is close to my heart, since my a part of my immediate family at least once escaped a terrorist attack only because Lady Luck looked upon them, and me, kindly.

So, these people were going to blow themselves up in mid-air and take lots of innocent people with them? Not that I mind them blowing themselves up, by why can't they do it where there's nobody else around? In that case, by all means provide them with any means they might require. Meanwhile, however, while they insist on taking as many innocents with them as they can—and with my own family being a potential target—I would like provide readers of this blog with the quintessential portrait of those apologists in ‘The West’, who think, even for one deluded instant, that the root-cause and driving power behind of all of this is anything else but religion.

Note which part of their anatomy is sticking up most prominently and therefore is the most inviting target for getting kicked in or shot at. And it's probably going to be done by someone who thinks that by doing so he is going to be assured of blissful immortality; with said 'bliss' being mostly of the priapic kind.

I could go on, but I have neither the time nor the patience. Still...

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Confluences

So, I was going to write quite a different blog, and I even started it, but now it'll have to sit there for another day, because this bit here is more interesting—or at least I think so.

Back to the issue of what 'influences' what one writes—from day to day, as opposed from, say, novel to novel. Yes, you might say that occasionally things coincide to contribute to a definite action, in relation to what is being written down, composed, thought of, hinted at at any given moment.

Yesterday it was the confluence of several things, which initially might appear disconnected, but together they evoked a synergy of thoughts that ultimately not only led to other thoughts of a more 'general' nature, but also to s pecific new and unanticipated twist in the continuing story of Tethys.

1) I came across an comparatively uncomplimentary review of Keaen; the gist of which was that it was shallow and, above all and most unforgivable in the view of the reviewer, a romance in the disguise of fantasy. (Chick-lit? Me? Really? Whoa!)

This contrasts with the review I mentioned in an earlier post, where Keaen was labeled as a convoluted political novel. With the current reviewer I had a chance to inspect the other books he's reviewed and read, since he has a long list of them—having read, as he assures us 'a lot of books. I mean a lot of books.' The list contains a single, unreviewed, book by Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land; not a single work by Jack Vance; and it places Keaen in his ranking ('C') alongside Dickson's The Dragon and The George, Hogan's Thrice Upon a Time, Brooks's Sword of Shannara, Tolkien's The Hobbit, the collaborative Asimov/Silverberg Nightfall, and so on. Which means I'm in really, really cool company—as all of these happen to be books I enjoyed and would unhesitatingly recommend to anybody. Sometimes, I realized, being trashed can actually be a compliment.

2) Both, NZ National Radio and TV yesterday temporarily suspended their current frenzy of anti-Semitic rethoric—both implicit and occasionally obscenely openly, as when a radio news bulletin referred to "continuing attacks by the Jewish state", without an obvious context provided by an associated reference to "Arab states" or something like that—and even allowed both verbal and visual expressions of their point-of-view of the sentiments of Israeli pilots. Maybe the most pertinent one of those came from a male pilot, who noted that he was profoundly sad about the deaths of innocent civilians, because each time he heard about it he thought of the same thing happening to his people when the Hizbollah rockets rain down on Israel. He added that his mother had barely escaped the Nazi holocaust as a little girl, though the rest of her family had been massacred. "I know," he concluded, "why I am doing what I do."

3) In the car, driving to pick up my wife, I caught a snippet of a review of a recent book by a woman author whose name I have forgotten; said book being a new addition to the tide of 'Male vs. Female Psychology' tomes—this one being called a 'celebration of the female psyche' or something moronic like that. From the synposis provided by the reviewer, which included a few choice quotes, it sounded, not like the result of 'extensive research' claimed by the author, but more a mindless repetition of clichés and currently-in-vogue stereotypes and inanities. Ideal material, no doubt, for an Oprah Book-of-the-Month.

These things combined to remind me yet once more some of the principles one might want to keep in mind when writing a story that'll stand the test of time and of...well, let me call it 'relevance'.

The first of these principles is stories should always have, at their center, the characters. The world in which they take place is just a setting; like it is for that Israeli pilot. When he climbs aboard that jet and launches Hellfire missiles at a Hizbollah site—carefully planted in civilian areas by those brave freedom fighters—knowing damn well that innocent people may die in the process; he remembers his mother, his murdered family, his living family, the people that provide him with the values that make up his life and the need for their protection. It is not the faceless government, but he—or the women pilots in the IDF, who have to make similarly heartwrenching decisions—who shows us his people's soul. It is about him one writes stories. Everything else is just an 'issue'; and 'issues' are devoid of meaning—and, of course, 'meaning' is what stories are all about; not the fleeting contingencies of history.

The second of the principles is that stories must entertain. Not every story will entertain everybody, because not every story can contain every element required to entertain everybody. People will either 'get' the story or not. If they do, they'll love it. Otherwise it's all a big yawn. The writer must have the courage not to try and please everybody. Attempting to do so will result in a story written by a committee of all possible readers. What a ghastly prospect.

The third principle is that stories should not be designed to 'persuade' anybody of anything; only to reveal what might otherwise lie concealed. Stories should be tools of setting people free. The way to do this is to help reveal the structure that lies beneath and supports the empirical, the 'current events' in which we find ourselves immersed. Explicitly referencing these current events is probably the least useful way to help reveal that hidden structure.

How did that influence the next words I wrote in Tethys? Well, it prompted me to do yet again what I have already done in the three previous sequels to Keaen: resolved an old, lingering mystery in one fell swoop, while at the same time pointing at another mystery, which has always been lingering there out in the open, but so glaringly obvious that nobody even thught of it as anything to even question!

And in this, I would hope—without being explicit about it—lies revealed a hidden truth about the world and life and everything...if only we care to look and see what's really there.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Politics? Thanks, but, no, thanks!

Someone asked me the other day if current-day events influence what I write, or how I write it, or if I try to be at least allusive, though maybe not blatantly so.

The answer is "Duh!"—though I was more diplomatic to the person in question. I mean, how—unless I were a writer of Mills & Boon romances—could I not be aware of and influenced by 'current world events'; or what happens in the universe of 'science'; or in the social developments across the human universe on the surface of the Earth?

Does that make my novels 'political'—either in terms of the slant of something I'm currently writing, or am planning to? I remember a friend laughing—with a barely suppressed touch of derision as I recall—when I told him that someone had labeled Keaen as a 'political novel'. I never had looked at it that way before reading said review, but then it occurred to me that the reviewer was right, for ultimately, I extolled the potential virtues of a benevolent monarchy and the deliberate keeping-the-people-in-the-dark about significant facts about their origins. If that wasn't political, I don't know what is.

Not that those doing the keeping-in-the-dark much liked this option themselves, but the notion that this might indeed be the wisest thing to do under certain conditions conflicts with my usual advocacy of a political system of open-information-flow democracy; said advocacy being implicit in my berating an oppressive system in the sequel I'm currently writing.

And, yes, there was no religion in Keaen! How much more 'political' can you get?

In Finister I took another volley at the ludicrous nature of religious belief. One of my protagonists was a low-class thief. The upper classes didn't get much of a looking here, except as objects of derision and implicit vitriol.

In Tergan we were back to monarchy and its various expressions, benevolent and beneficial or exploitative; but ultimately it wasn't an advocacy of 'democracy'.

In Fontaine a group of strangers with advanced technology wreaked havoc and severely interfered in the social processes of the societies they chanced upon.

In Tethys, the leader of the invading strangers has to return to the worlds of the empire he used to be an emissary of, in order to prevent an invasion by the powers-that-be—some of which are thinly disguised metaphors for the powers extant in the world today, and who are, in many ways, even more severely flawed than those of the societies he originally interfered in.

You can't get more political than that—short of writing yet another novel or producing yet another 'documentary' about the evil doings of the hegemonist US in the halcyon lands of the Middle East.

Things is—at least I would like to think so—that I've gone out of my way to make my position clear, at the same time as at least hinting at the problems inherent in taking any firm position on anything. There's a minimum of two sides to every coin and lots of sides to every dice; and everyone has a different story to tell—and, yes, one person's defender of the homelands is another's aggressor, and one's terrorist is another's freedom fighter.

'Politics' is a minefield I like to hover above, rather than move through on foot. Very soon you start forgetting about your original directions, while just trying to dodge the mines; and you leap this way and that and forget all about where you wanted to go, and it all becomes about survival and minutiae—which is where, as we all really need to understand, the devil really hides.

Part of what I want to show, in among all the politics and shenanigans, is that 'politics' ultimately is not an indicator of the quality of a society and the individuals composing it. A society consists of a large body of people who just want to get on with their lives, and who ultimately really don't care about much else. They are the 'body' of the species, if you will. They are manipulated with amazing ease into believing an amazing range of sometimes preposterous propositions, including those provided by that canard known as religion, but not confined to it alone and extending to a dazzling variety of fads and fashions in all areas of human thought and activity.

At the extremes of the population curve are those who drive the manipulating—for a plethora of reasons which nobody but they will ever fully understand; and I suspect most of them don't understand themselves either.

People-focused story-tellers tend to focus on people at the extremes, or on those who are dragged out of the 'body' to those extremes; because it is there that the truth about 'human nature' is revealed—and it is revealed in the actions of those people when exposed to circumstances that serve to do the revealing. Where, in other words, they are being 'tested'; and that process invariably involves trouble and toil.

It's not a question of somebody doing what is 'right' or 'wrong'—for that presumes a point of view from which something can indeed be just 'right' or just 'wrong'. There is no such point of view, because there is no absolute.

So, how to show 'human quality' without the comfort of absoluteness? How to fulfill at least partially the mandate of a story-teller, of making his or her story a vehicle to help the recipient through his own life? How to give them the courage to make decisions, not in a spirit of blind fervor and righteousness, but in the knowledge that every decision will be wrong for somebody? How to make them base their decisions on 'humanist' grounds, rather than those provided by some demented religion or ideology? What in our decisions is it that matters?

Is the man who crams himself into a refugee van, rather than allowing his space to be filled by a child, of a lesser caliber than one who stands back and risks his life by following the 'women and children first' maxim? What does it say about the societies these two men belong to and which condone or give rise to such behavior?

Is the man hiding behind a woman and a child, using them as human shields while he aims a gun at an opponent who stands there covering a woman and child, a lesser kind of human being than that other man? If the two can be said to represent the attitude of those societies or religions who gave rise to them behaving in this way, could this be used to judge which society is more worthy of survival?

Is a man who picks up a sword to defend the glory of God a lesser or greater man than the one who picks it up to defend his family?

In the actions of individuals we see instantiated any question one ever can possibly ask about even the most high-brow discussion. In the actions of individuals these questions are actually answered. That, in my opinion, is a far better way to discuss politics than any other yet devised.