Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Benefits of Civilization

Well, our 'civilization', and in particular that part termed 'Western', plus those bits of it that have spread to those places having benefited from it. That, ironically, means a lot of countries who once were 'colonialized' by the evil European colonial powers. And, yes, there was a lot of evil there.

I've been thinking about the benefits of civilization, because I was watching, as I mentioned before Legend of the Seeker, and here we have this essentially brutish bucolic world, where people do live short, brutish lives, are subject to the whims of tyrants and warlords, small and large, and so on. Plus there's magic, but let's ignore that for a moment.

Clearly, we don't live in that kind of world anymore—and never did, but let's ignore that for a moment as well. We're gonna be ignoring a lot of details for a moment.

Anyway, so I was asking myself, "Well, what really has our civilization brought us that really could be thought of as 'bettering' the lives of those existing here and now; as compared to the lives of those people, there and then?"

Well, the main one by far is this:

Health.

I know what many of you might like to say to that, but think about it: it's really all about health. Health, health, health.

Less disease, less violence, longer lives.

All this has been achieved through everything from medical science right through to civil engineering and certain political developments (which may or may not revert to something else, of course!). If you think about it a bit more, you'll find that ultimately, in terms of benefits to the individuals of our species, just about everything else we might come up with as 'benefits of our civilization' boils down to some sort of infrastructure development that supports increased human health.

I mean, as a thought experiment—and do exercise your imagination a bit, even if it hurts; but it's good for you, trust me!—just suppose that the world were such that the same effects could have been achieved with something like 'magic'. Suppose we didn't need hospitals and doctors and animal experimentation and medicines and all that kind of crap. Suppose the world were such that there were lots of 'Sareens', the healers in the Tethys series, who could not only cure any wound but also all disease with a touch.

Do you really think that the world would be, or could ever become, even remotely as we know it now??

I could envisage a novel based solely on the notion that all health care is magical and provided by individuals whose actual knowledge about what they're doing is as limited as the Sareens'—who just heal by wanting to heal and make whomever they heal healthy again. No need to know that the thigh bone connects to the knee bone or that neurogenesis is true or that high blood pressure needs to be brought down to avoid bad long-term effects.

It's likely, given increasing population levels—if we want to assume that—we'd have cities and urban infrastructures. But since we really would not have to worry about hygiene, should one really expect that anything related to that would be implemented, execpting maybe for the purposes of esthetics? We'd have transport technology and maybe have had a physical science of sorts that might have led to this:

Electricity and its distribution? Probably. The Health Industry, including drug manufacturers and snake-oil peddlers? Hardly.

Physics as we know it? I doubt it. Physics as we know it springs, to a very large degree from inquiry fueled by a desire to understand the universe in order to control. And, yes, I think the whole thing about it being driven by a spirit of inquiry into the nature of the universe, rather than more utilitarian promptings, is bullshit. And if the CERN super-collider appears to indicate otherwise, you might want to think about the simple fact that things often assume their own momentum, pushed on by people with limited and vested interests, which range from those profiting from the construction to those wasting endless research funds using the device and potentially snuffing us all out of existence.

You might want to ponder this some more yourself. The thoughts expressed above led to so many possible avenues of speculation and further 'suppose' scenarios, that I really don't have the time to elaborate.

But the thing I'm strying to work out is, whether there is truly anything else but 'health' that we might claim as a supreme achievement of 'civilization'. I can't see anything, really. For what else is there that is of a 'value' so distinct and grand that it has been provided to us by this civilization of ours?

We may have better evidence to support certain assertions—and as someone profoundly interested in the nature and mechanisms of cognition and everything else that goes on in my and other people's heads, I am acutely ware of this—about why 'human nature' is as it is, and why certain philosophies and views of what the universe is, were really based on ignorance and are simply false, and so on. But do we therefore actually know more about whatever 'human nature' is, and how much of that actually matters in our lives?

If I'm right in thinking that everything about us has the structure of 'narrative', and not just in terms of what it is at any gven time, but how it develops throughout a human life; then I really have just rediscovered, with maybe considerably more scientific justification, something that is an integral part of the lore of indigenous Australians. If that doesn't occasion a serious bout of humility, what will? What can?

And if this view is true, then ultimately we're just changing the narratives in use within the different groups, societies, nations. Some of these are useful, of course. See healthcare. Some aren't. See your average ideology; and of course every single monotheism extant.

So, I'm thinking—and I'm not a romantic pastoralizer—what if...

Yeah, suppose we could have all the health benefits arising from an essentially 'magical' practice. Better stuff even than we have today.

But, worst case alternative scenario...

Could I live without my civilization and its comforts? Without my trusty Mac? Without my books? Without electricity? Without being able to fly across continents to visit friends? Without good movies? Without takeouts? Without the ready availability of all sort of victuals; but having to depend on the local and the seasonal?

As long as the 'health' issues were solved for me and mine and everybody else—meaning there would have to be magical health care plus a functioning system of societal context that provides some kind of law and order, and preferably one that's no more slanted toward the rich and powerful than what we have now, highly imperfect as it is...

Well, yes, I'm confident that I could not just handle it, but it would be very cool indeed. And you know what? I think a lot of other people would, too. And not just your average 'throwback' weirdo!

And there would be a lot of folks, who wouldn't go for it as well. Funny, that. Or maybe not. People come in all different shapes and sizes and persuasions.

But in the end...in the end...meaning after they have figured out what's bullshit and what isn't...maybe...

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Why People who like Fantasy are different from those who don't

Yeah, wouldn't you like to know...

Anyway, the title is simplistic and deliberately deceptive to suck you in. But it's just a title, and now that you're here, let's see what we have.

This thing came about because I started watching episodes of the first season of Legend of the Seeker, which is based on Terry Goodkind's first fantasy novel, Wizard's First Rule. Remember a couple of blogs back? Yeah, that's where it came from. Everything's connected...

With most of my close friends not really 'into' fantasy at all or just reading it occasionally—to the extent that many of them wouldn't even look at my own novels, because they just can't relate to them—I naturally wonder what makes people relate or not-relate to any type of literature and, of course, my own 'relate-to', fantasy and sci-fi. And you'd think that after all these years I would have figured some of it out.

Well, I think I have, but most of this figuring-out had to do with general explanations of context imposed by upbringing and life and disposition and all that. Some people just relate to this and that and others don't.

But that's rather general, and I had a notion as I started watching LotS that maybe there are, at least for certain aspects of the fantasy and also the science fiction genre, more concrete explanations. This results in me drawing lines through those genres, and saying that those lines are actually important to understand certain parts of it. Those lines aren't ususally drawn, because 'genres' tend not to be divided up, but lumped together as one unit; which they seldom are.

Still, I am aware that even so I will be generalizing, but that's unavoidable. So, if you find a counterexample, do not jump up and down and tell me I'm wrong. Since we're dealing with human beings, there are always instances that don't seem to fit. (Notice that I said 'seem'.)

So, with all these preliminaries out of the way, here's the thesis:

The difference between people who habitually 'go for' fantasy and science-fiction—and especially for the kind of science fiction that is not 'hard' science fiction—and those who don't, is that the former have a much stronger need for the reinforcement of the notion that human limitations are not actually 'real, and that there is a definite possibility that there's so much 'more' to us than meets the eye or as revealed by everydayness.

I know, this doesn't sound very original—not to some anyway—and I'm not saying that it is! But I've considered this at some length and I think this particular reason is important for people's choice of fantasy over other kinds of literature.

The notion gained more strength as I considered those friends and acquaintances of mine who are not into SF&F, and how they are disposed. And there are those who do include only certain variants of the genre in their reading; particularly those that carry strong 'social' or ideological themes, usually on the left of the political spectrum. The correlations between these folks' characters and predilections and inclinations, the ways they look at the world and their belief systems and so on are pretty obvious.

There's obviously a pretty deep divide here between people. One can almost use this relate-to-fantasy-or-do-not as a criterion to map out the chasm and how they meander across the psyches of various individuals.

And the reasons why some of them occasionally break out of the mold, be it pro or con, are even more revealing; because it indicates what aspects of stories appeal and 'speak' to them, and which don't. There may be certain elements that make a fantasy so appealing to a non-fantasy person that they'll go for it anyway. Conversely, there may be others that turn even fantasy fans off. One review of Keaen, for example, berated it for being too much romance, and that apparently was a serious turnoff. The reviewer obviously saw it as a romance novel in fantasy drag. Others related to the book because of the romance, which was strong enough to allow them to ignore the fantasy, something that they ordinarily would not have related to.

Since I know what's in my books and what isn't—for usually the balance of romance, philosophy, action, fighting, adventure, traveloguing, world-building and so on is deliberately chosen; albeit, I admit, usually with intuition and not careful consideration, because that would be truly boring for me!—it's a fascinating exercise to note people's reactions or lack thereof. Many don't even seem to see the deliberately mystical element mixed into the science. I keep hinting at it, especially when I get to 'Sareens'—and, let's face it, the Tethys series started off with a definite 'fantasy' slant—but somehow when I talk to people about it, it's either flying somewhere under the radar of their perception, though it may still have an effect, or else it just whizzes right past them.

In a similar manner, the essence of 'fantasy' remains undiscovered by those who can't relate to it. It's not about 'escapism', as so many of its detractors would have it; and as they are wont to express, with often difficult-to-conceal snobbery emerging from ignorance and blindness. It's really about our sense that we are more than we fear we are. Of course, you could say the same thing about 'religious' literature; but it's different. Fantasy is, at its heart, pagan and a-monotheist. It speaks of hidden things lurking all around us and asserts that we, too, have many hidden dimensions that we might tap into, if only...

Yeah, 'if only'.

It might be useful to point out that fantasy readers are usually far more ready to accept that maybe science will one day—and maybe one day soon-ish—bring us discoveries about the world and ourselves that will in effect be indistinguishable from the magic of fantasy. After all, the 'magical powers' of fantasy, and its strange and impossible creatures and happenings, are just based on things that those practicing 'magic' know about, while the rest of the common ruck don't.

Fantasy is the literature of hope; of a hope that goes beyond mere "you, too, can realize your dreams, if only you try" and shit like that. Fantasy is about the human condition and its terrible limitations. It tends to admit freely just how 'terrible' and terrifying those limitations are for an intelligent, sentient, survival-oriented, emotion-capable creaure like ourselves; and especially ourselves. Yet at the same time it always shines a beacon of some sort into dark nooks and tells us that though we may feel terror, we also have the power not just to overcome the terror, but to become masters of our fate. And I mean truly to become masters; not just in some waffly metaphorical way.

I think that people who can't relate to fantasy—and I'm not talking about those who rightly turn up their noses at a lot of 'fantasy' shit that's produced out there in print and film and computer games; because that's a completely different matter—are people, who deep down either have no hope and are afraid to ever have hope that such things could be possible and that they and the world may be so much more than meets the eye or is encompassed by the powers of their impoverished imaginations.

I know that sounds harsh, and it is a generalization. But I wonder just how much 'generalizing' it really is...

One thing though I know for sure. Show me a cynic; or someone who appears to scoff at existence and anything that smacks in any way of the non-scientific or 'rational'. Or show me someone who fulfills the sentimentality-fear alluded to by Robert Solomon in In Defense of Sentimentality. Show me that person's collection of fiction books, DVDs, P2P downloads, audio-books, cinema tickets.

If that collection contains certain works of fantasy by certain authors, and if there's more than just a smattering of it, I'll tell you with utter certainty that s/he's a liar; and that the face s/he presents to the world and maybe him or herself is a mask, a disguise; that beyond it there lurks at least the desire for 'more'. And maybe more than just a desire. It could well be a burning and desperate hunger.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

The Creepy Office


I'm glad somebody said it out aloud. Wrote it anyway.

It's one of those near-taboos in many societies, fostered by the corporate world, mainly for the purpose of manipulating their employees and profiting from it.

Upbeat office culture fake and creepy

I must confess that the attribute 'creepy' hadn't sprung to mind with me before reading this, but now that I look back on at least one place I worked in the past, where the bosses were actively dysfunctional, the culture was not only hypocritical to the nth-degree (n >> 1)—and apparently continues to be so, reaching new heights of, yes, 'creepiness' is a good word!—it isn't that hyperbolic a term.

I think most of us, who have worked in offices (or shops or anyplace which closets people into rooms together), which are a breeding ground for this kind of culture like dead meat or shit for flies, basically know that this is true. Right now, I am unbelievably fortunate with my choice of workplace for the last 16 months; and over and above that I telecommute for several days a week. But I know what it can be like, and some friends of mine are still stuck in a place that's got to be experienced to be fully understood. I sometimes feel that right now is a kind of payback for years of office-creepiness; but I also know the truth of the matter and bow to the fickle Lady Luck.

The author of the article concludes with this thought:

So what to do if you hate your job or feel like you’re wasting your life?

"I think take those feelings very seriously," says Mr de Botton, who says having a crisis of meaning is completely normal.

"On a Sunday afternoon, the light is dimming; a lot of us feel ‘well where am I really headed?’ But then we try to quash that thought, we put on the TV or go jogging or something.

"My advice would be stick with that thought, allow yourself to have a crisis, take the crisis as seriously as it deserves to be, because it is a major part of life."


Sound familiar?

Friday, April 24, 2009

Chargoggagoggmanchauggagoggchaubunagungamaugg

OK, so, now what's the language coming to? Is no word sacred and/or exempt from the assaults of misspellers, especially on public signs?

Chargoggagoggmanchauggagoggchaubunagungamaugg
definitely was one of the victims, as research appears to have revealed. Check it out if you dare!

For the record, there's a hill in New Zealand called Taumatawhakatangihangakoauauotamateapokaiwhenuakitanatahu, which is actually longer than the name of this lake.

And do not forget the town in Wales: Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwyll-llantysiliogogogoch.

Still, they are eclipsed by the Thai name for 'Bangkok', which actually is, at least for English speakers, less...ahh, 'suggestive' I suppose...than 'Bang-kok': Krungthepmahanakonbowornratanakosinmahintarayudyayamahadilo
ponoparatanarajthaniburiromudomrajniwesmahasatarnamornpimarn
avatarsatitsakattiyavisanukamphrasit
.

Be careful though, if you travel to Thailand. Never attempt to spell this out. The danger of getting jailed for the act of making a mistake—it might be considered comparable to saying anything in writing about the monarch, or any now-dead monarch or his or her associates, no matter whether it be complimentary or not—are considerably higher than getting jailed for a similar orthographic offense in Western demesnes, where you might actually get rewarded instead for lingusitic 'creativity'.

Think I'm joking? You wish!

Anyway, next to this bit of major miscreant misspelling mischief the following almost pale into insignificance, though of course, otherwise they might stand out more.

Obama Earth Day Flights Burned More Than 9,000 Gallons Of Fuel

Clown cannot wear giant shoes due to health and safety

Punishing a Doctor-Patient Romance

The first of these items merely supports my conviction—which as yet begs for a counterexample!—that politicians universally are opportunist hypocrites, and even more so if they wear any kind of green. As far as the current US administration is concerned...well, just start the video and play it as you read on!



Surely, the delicious irony of this piece cannot escape any but the dullest or dimwitted and/or ideologically indoctrinated; whether said indoctrination was inflicted by others or just their own inability to think that crucial extra thought or ask that all-important extra question or two.

The last two items above have in common that they deal with issues of the control of human behavior by state and/or other institutions of authority, secular or spiritual (meaning 'ethical' and 'moral' and so on).

The first one, about the clown, is so laughable that the laughter almost turns into a sob, occasioned by the kind of existential nausea one might feel when one realizes that humans, and especially on the societal scale, almost universally obey the Wizard's First Rule:

"People are stupid; given proper motivation, almost anyone will believe almost anything. Because people are stupid, they will believe a lie because they want to believe it's true, or because they are afraid it might be true. People’s heads are full of knowledge, facts, and beliefs, and most of it is false, yet they think it all true. People are stupid; they can only rarely tell the difference between a lie and the truth, and yet they are confident they can, and so are all the easier to fool."

Sometimes it's difficult to believe in the future when confronted with this truth. Still, we must soldier on. And since today, April 25, is Anzac Day, let us pause and, with The Who still loudly praying that we won't get fooled again, remember those who died, mainly because the WFR is so ubiquitously applicable and there's always, always someone to exploit that.

Always.

A comment on the last of the articles referenced above—the one dealing with the whole issue of the ethics and the associated 'professional body' meddling in people's lives, of what happens when a medical practitioner and a patient happen to be physically and romantically attracted to each other—reads like this, and I considered it appropriate:

"Two adults can’t have a consensual relationship because one is a doctor and the other is a patient? The Medical Board will decide what is and isn’t appropriate? The patient is a wee baby, incapable of deciding what is or is not in his/her best interest and what is/is not in his/her own heart? God save us from these intrusive busybodies who can’t seem to attend to serious failures but instead want to waste society’s precious resources on such matters. The nanny state grows apace as the world falls apart around us..."

The last sentence is the most interesting. It had not occurred to me until today that the nanny-state may indeed, at least in part, arise from the same phenomenon that will prompt an individual to try and exert excessive and unreasonable and unrealizable control over his/her environment. The nanny state—the 'benevolent' variety, meaning the 'lefty' kind; as opposed to basically unconcealed tyranny by ideologues and/or powerhungry cretins who should be shot on sight and on their way up, rather than trying that when it's already too late—does indeed attempt to do the same thing to society and its members, with them being the essentially uncontrollable elements (standing in for 'life', if you will) that require said control.

In NZ recently the nanny state outlawed all forms of smacking or laying-hands-on children under tha age of 14. The consequences are not just predictable, but there are a whole lot of them that nobody thought of. Like what hapens when even the police are constrained not to lay hands on a youth one day away from the age of 14 (just to construe an extreme case to illustrate the point), even if he is making a public nuisance of himself. In the case of open criminal activity there is a difference, but in NZ what constitutes a crime has also been sanitized to the point of the ludicrous.

Ahh, what the heck, let's leave it at that.

Have The Who finished yet? Well, if they have you can play this one. It's another of those songs used in part in the intro to one of the 'CSI' series.

In Motion (Again...)

Blogging is a tad spotty these days, not least because other matters have intervened. Nothing 'bad', I hasten to add; just stuff that takes up mind-space and time.

Mind-space and time... Wouldn't you now it? Could it by chance have anything to do with moving house? You betcha!

"Why, why, why?" You wouldn't believe how often I—and my wife and just about everybody who knows about this—have asked that question.

The answer is complicated and multi-faceted, but only for pedants. At the heart of it lies the desire for space. There's also the general effect of city or suburban noise, which a lot of people can happily live with, but which I, for one, never found conducive to contentment. Then there's light pollution. For me that a real biggie. For anyone stepping outside urban light pollution and looking up into the sky it should be a biggie. If it isn't or doesn't look like it is, I suspect it's either just simple denial of the obvious and/or would-like-to-but-it's-too-difficult, or a case of CUDS (Compulsive Urban Dweller Syndrome).

Besides, we're in bloody Australia! The vast majority of its populace has squeezed itself into a minute—compared to the available free space—urban area, most of it into a strip along the eastern and southern coast. This is done mostly because for practicality. Urban areas is where people work, and with the distances involved in this country even a non-Greenie would readily see the difficulty associated with extra-urban commuting. This is the lifestyle imposed on the species by itself and historical contingency; not only in Australia, but, or so it appears, throughout the world.

Still, I repeat, we're in Australia, and with my own work-style, which involves significant telecommuting—a style I intend to pursue as far as I can—'distance' doesn't matter so much, and therefore certain constraints do not apply. So...

The enterprise was not simple, even before the actual move, which is still a couple of weeks off. Selling a house right now is a losing proposition, and we finally gave up and are renting it instead. Meaning that the place we bought—and which is located near Woodford, north-west of Brisbane—is stretching things a tad. But, as someone once said to me, it all amounts to making a decision as to what place you'd want to come home to after the day is done, and what you're willing to pay for it.

We could have waited with doing this, but, just as it's a bad time to sell right now, so it's a good time to buy, and especially anything 'rural'. So, we're going to hang on to our house 'in town' until times get better and take it from there. I've held off with telling people about this because of the to-ing and fro-ing with selling/renting and subsequently the dicking around by the bank. Until yesterday the mere fact that at the moment banks are being very tardy with loan processing—and it was a case of it almost all going terribly wrong—had us on tenterhooks and our nerves on edge.

Anyway, looks now like it's all going ahead (touch wood) as planned. So, in a few weeks we'll be 'rural', with 5+ acres to take care of. This will create a whole raft of issues. Indeed, it will! And no doubt you'll her of it in due course.

Gonna be a busy year...

Friday, April 10, 2009

Real Bad Science. ('Science'?)

OK, so you thought that religion is bad enough for mental health, eh? Or maybe you didn't, but it so happens that I do. Ahh, never mind; there's worse things than that, though this one here does have its roots in religion as well, or at least makes copious references to religious themes.

Still, this goes beyond mere religious-inspired idiocy. And I quote!

The Rotating Earth..

Theory, Fact or Fiction?

Yeah, I kid you not. Read this thing; not for its value as an argument against the Copernican model, but as an example of an extreme, though by no means untypical, case of evidence for the thesis—and, yes, I know I'm pushing my own point here!—that people will believe what they want to believe, and that, as long a reality can be ignored and provides no 'reality-checks' with respect to those things that are being considered, people will always place their beliefs about what 'is' over the weight of the available evidence.

I know I'm playing into the hands of those believing in the power of 'reason', who will instantly jump on this and decry the benighted-ones who are represented by the article cited. They'll roll up their eyes and will say "are you really surprised?" and "some people are just stupid" and "that's what you get from all that Christian influence in America" and so on.

But supporting such claims is not the intention of this blog. Those subscribing to 'reason'—or to the perfectly unjustifiable notion that reason is the only thing that can lead to the determination of truth—ignore a giant body of evidence that points to the inability of reason to do so. And they do this by being just as unreasonable as the people who wrote this article, whose beginning I am quoting below. How often have to read 'rationalist' arguments that, with a little editing, could end up as near-verbatim clones of the thought processes of any ideologue:

Throughout ancient times it was obvious that the moon went around the earth. This is still accepted today. But in the past it was just as obvious that the sun went around the earth as well. This was not because men in those days lacked fantasy and forgot to imagine non-existent movements of themselves and their surroundings. It is because they did their homework and examined all the evidence before them, that they came to the understanding that the earth was a firm, motionless sphere, neither in rotation around itself nor wandering through space around another body.

This geostatic and geocentric nature of the earth was repeatedly tested and verified as being factual for a quite some time (going back thousands of years) by knowledgeable, civilized, free people of all stripes, i.e. those who were supposed to know, like astronomers, natural philosophers (a.k.a. scientists), explorers, teachers, traders, seamen, navigators and various other free and educated men (as opposed to schooled, wage enslaved, homogenized, "experts" of modern times who wouldn't dare bite the hand that feeds them).

Then, all of a sudden, just 400 plus years ago, a band of court astrologers started pushing this idea that the earth was orbiting the sun this time, and that the sun was standing still at the center (hence the claim of the system being a 'solar' system). Nevertheless this new claim was not accompanied by any new proof. It was simply invoked and declarations were made that the fixed nature of earth needed to be disapproved.

And it gets better with every line...

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

More on Flogging

Here is another comment on this blog of mine. It is a grim and cheerless comment—and it entirely befits the event.

And it also appears that significant elements of some societies—mostly represented by the males of said societies— are so resistant to change, that they do indeed present us with some very stark and difficult choices regarding our attitude toward, and our tolerance and treatment of, them.

AUSTRALIA, the movie – now out on DVD

Finally! Been waiting for it and was somewhat p-o'd that it was released first in the country whose public gave it such a shithouse lukewarm-to-cold reception. On the other hand, I hear that Australia didn't do so badly at all in the end; and it seems that DVD sales are going through the roof. It gives me heart, because I was despairing about the sensibilities of the viewing public.

Not that the movie had a terribly good treatment in Australia itself. The dimwit intellecualigentsia and those afraid of allowing anything approaching national pride to intrude on their thoughts and feelings—and who, by and large, are exactly those targeted by Robert Solomon in his book In Defense of Sentimentality—have shredded it many a time. On a recent edition of an Australian ABC programme called The Gruen Transfer, which is apparently littered exclusively with people who get a rise out of rubbishing everything they don't understand, the anti-Australia rethoric rose to new heights; or sunk to new lows, depending on how you look at it.

Stupid, stupid people! Don't they see that Baz Luhrman—who otherwise isn't exactly my favorite director—has accomplished something that the rest of the filmworld ought to be, and maybe is, insanely jealous of. He's managed to create what amounts to a epic saga of a country he loves, its people and its (short but eventful) history. In doing so, he's exposed the best and the worst of what Australia—as well as humanity at large—has to offer. But he's been so carefully evenhanded that this alone, I suspect, makes so many people dislike the movie. Nobody gets away scot-free.

However, the baddies aren't only bad, but, at a very fundamental human and emotional level, just stupid and insanely self-righteous and/or self-centered; which is indeed a common feature distinguishing those who make the world a worse place than it needs to be.

So, good on you, Baz. Well done. Screw the critics—or, maybe more appropriately, shove some sharp sticks up where the sun don't shine. What do they know, eh?

Or, so a part of me wonders, do they know what Luhrman has accomplished, and are they just angry that it was he who did it, and that it was done in this particular way; a way that's probably anathema to them?

Hmmff. It's possible and maybe even likely.

Anyway, go out and buy the DVD. It's worth every cent.

Monday, April 06, 2009

An Unhealthy Obsession

Many nations have their unhealthy obsessions—some more than others—but one that seems to be of a universal nature is that men, by and large, desire sons in preference to daughters. Right now this appears to be reaching epidemic proportions in China, where people are so desperate for sons that kidnappings are becoming commonplace. An example that epitomizes how sick this whole thing really is, can be seen in this quote from the NYT:

"A girl is just not as good as a son. It doesn’t matter how much money you have. If you don’t have a son, you are not as good as other people who have one."
SU QINGCAI, a tea farmer in China who paid $3,500 for a 5-year-old boy.

Bizarre? Maybe, but it's really just one more expression of an obsession and attitude that has been at the root of gender discrimination almost forever. Yet, at the same time, it's been noted that the great Indian Emperor Chandragupta Maurya was guarded by a cadre of Amazons, loyal only to himself—equals of any man. Ladies, one would think, to be very scared of.

My almost-contempt for those who think that women are inferior to men in anything but certain innate likely physical attributes is profound; and anybody who has read my novels will surely have discerned this this. They're 'different', but 'difference' does not per se confer superiority/inferiority or say anything about 'quality', either as a human being or as a member of a society. Anybody who thinks it does, is definitely inferior!

And, just to rub it in, never forget this: females are far more important for the survival of any mammal species than males. If there's any reason to drag in biology as a rationale for superiority, the ladies win hands down.

Guys: you're just incidental, and a few of you would do just as well as a crapload; though the latter would provide desirable genetic variety; but that's hardly something to brag about. The only way you can really be worth anything, the only way you can rise above your essential biological irrelevane, is by your deeds. Surely this must be limpidly obvious to all but the utterly dull of mind and spirit.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Are you being flogged, Sir?

Sometimes it may appear that, judging from my blogs, I am moderately-to-seriously oblivious of what goes on in the real world day-to-day. The political stuff above all, the global monetary and 'recession' crisis and all that good stuff.

Well, I'm not, but there are so many people writing and pontificating about it that my voice would drown in an ocean of babble. And it just isn't worth it. Besides, everybody has an opinion, just like—as the saying goes—everybody has an asshole. So what's one more opinion, especially if there are so many opinions by assholes? And there's only an inch or so... Ahh, never mind. Watch Team America!

But every now and then something comes one's way that seems to epitomize the basic dilemma of the existence of differences between people; which, when applied internationally, leads camps of entrenched opinion to either demand that we intervene and fix stuff and damn national sovereignty, or that we ought to intervene in some way but respect 'international law' at the same time, or that we should live-and-let-live.

The first won't work, because it'll lead to a state of perpetual war, may annihilate the species, and will also eventually terminally corrupt those who impose their way of looking at things on others—leading ultimately to oppression and into dark places that I'd rather not have our societies go.

The second won't work because 'international law' is a canard and there's basically nothing to be 'respected'. It's just an excuse to do nothing and gives a gazillion do-gooders ample occasion to demand stuff without ever really having to do anything serious about it but protest in the streets or in the media, or to use it to advance their pathetic political ambitions—because let's face it, to politics is where many of the otherwise useless often head.

The third won't work, because if we just let things be, then, like in Afghanistan, we provide safe havens for those who will most definitely not live-and-let-us-live.

Yeah, it's a shitty, messy, unpredictable world out there. Maybe it's most unsettling attribute is that we can't tell what's going to happen. A lot of people are deluded into believing that we can actually control it, but that's bullshit. We may be able to guide it, to prod a little here and a little there, to lean this way or that, to do our best not to allow things to fall to pieces, and so on.

But 'control'? Nahh, never. We can't even control what happens in our own lives beyond some small pathetic pushes here and there, based on our deluded ignorance of what's really going to happen as a consequence. We are immersed in the river of life; and a powerful stream full of unpredictable eddies and surface- and undercurrents it is. Swim with it we must, not against it. Adapt to its whimsy. Go with the flow and use the currents to empower us to steer this way or that, rather than waste our energy decrying them for being vicissitudes. And be grateful for the tiny measure of that kind of control we have, because there are billions of people—who won't be reading this blog—who don't even have that.

And be grateful that nothing truly terminal—personal or global—comes and steps on all our plans and schemes and hopes and dreams, and just snuffs us out.

Seen against that backdrop, the fact that one 17-year old got flogged in public by some Taliban while a whole bunch of (male) perverts watched and, I suspect, enjoyed it and possibly got a sexual rise from it—and that's ignoring the religious rise—seems to pale into insignificance. And, yes, much worse things happen to people around the world. But I'm not talking about those worse things. I'm not talking—not now anyway—about some general concept of the consequences of the brutality of all ideology, 'left' or 'right', 'religious' or 'rational', or how that affects 'people'. I'm just talking about one 17-year old girl being flogged in public. And for those who care to, you can, if you really want to dig into real-life horror stories, follow this up by looking at the stuff coming out of pre-invasion Afghanistan, where it wasn't just floggings but public beheading of adulterers, usually women. And stoning. Let's not forget stoning.

If you really need something to hang your own opinion-making on, forget about all the ethics and morals bullshit for a moment. Forget about your precious politics or ideologies, religious or secular. Forget them if you can, and maybe you'll be set free for the few moments that you're not referring to the usual bullshit bouncing around in your head. Forget about 'right' and 'wrong' and your convictions and what they dictate. I know they're still around, but you can still try not to let them intrude into your thoughts as justifications.

Instead just make an effort to see that one person. More than that even, try to see the world—for a few moments anyway, and probably very inadequately so—from her point of view. Try this, because it's easier to relate to her than to someone who is more 'distant' if you will. Very few of us will actually be able to assume even fractionally the point of view of a near-death starving child or of a victim of extreme torture. But we all should have sufficient imagination to relate sufficiently to that girl, lying there on the street, being held down and flogged, while all those men were looking on.

And then just allow yourself to feel. If your mirror neuron system is working all right, you ought to be able to do that. If your brain hasn't been completely taken over by somebody else's ideologies you ought to be able to do that.

And when you're done feeling, then tell me if that's as things should be. Ever.

But it's the way they are, in that great swirling river of our existence.

I think it was in the movie Welcome to Sarajevo that a character said something about just saving one person. You can't save the many, so just save one.

Not that 'saving' is necessarily the right term here, because you actually can't really 'save' anybody. You can just make their life more livable.

"I just don't like people to suffer," says 'Angel'. Maybe that's a better way of looking at it. And it's not just about 'people'. Never think about 'people', because 'people' are faceless things. Always think about a concrete individual. Every 'people' is an individual. Very few of us can feel the suffering of 'people'. But most of us can relate to the suffering of this person or that, if they're lifted out of anonymity and brought into prominence and close enough to touch.

Imagine it's you lying on the cold stone ground and being flogged, while everybody and sundry looks on. Just imagine that.

KNOWING (it isn't going to make any difference, but...)


Knowing is an end-of-the-world flick with a curious mix between science and mysticism. I hesitate to say 'religion', because I don't think it's that.

The ending reminded me of The Quiet Earth—a 1985 New Zealand film. For those who know that movie, it'll be a tantalizing hint.

Despite its grimness I would consider Knowing an optimistic movie. No doubt those believing firmly that science is 'it'—whatever they understand to be 'science'; which they probably don't, even if they are often 'scientists' themselves—will cringe at the contents, but since the debate of 'random' versus 'hidden variables' is unresolved and will forever remain that way (because it's in principle unresolvable!) we'll just have to let them cringe.

What I can talk about without inserting spoilers is that Knowing, more so than other disaster movies, rubs in the notion that you really, really need to get a sense of perspective in your life. Like seriously so.

Or, I sometimes wonder, is it actually asking too much of people; or expecting too much of them? Maybe we're talking about a 'limited capacity' situation here, that applies to most. Or maybe it's actually about what one might called 'education'; the kind that needs to be with us from childhood. But, since our schools are governed and operated by people who don't have a sense of perspective, and since most parents don't have that either, how can anybody expect—except if it happens by shit luck—that kids growing up will be 'educated' into those kinds of 'perspective' kinds of thinking patterns? The blind leading the blind and all that.

What is asking too much? Well, just that people tread the thin line between doing what needs to be done and living their lives, yet not getting carried away, remembering that everybody is just a heartbeat away from extinction—as is the whole damn species and everything else on this planet. We just don't know what's coming. We can plan and scheme and do our best to have those things that we can help along here and there work out as they should, and maybe they will. But there is a mind-numbing multitude of things we'll never control.

I suppose one could argue that this can induce hopelessness or fatalism, and maybe therefore one shouldn't expect of people to pull their heads out of the sand and take a good look around. Denial is so much more comforting, is it not?

And yet, denial in its many forms is probably the greatest common threat to our individual existence, as well as that of the species. Or maybe I should say, the 'consequences of denial' are the actual threat. Denial itself is just a, maybe very human, though immensely stupid and ultimately existentially unforgivable act.

Unforgiven by whom? Actually, it's not 'whom' but 'what'. For we may not have control over the vicissitudes of cosmic contingency or the consequences of human stupidity—the latter, some may argue, being a form of said 'cosmic contingency', because evolution made us what we are, and that's a shitload of 'contingency'!—but if we try to look up and cease denying, we may see how we can deal with a lot of those consequences, for the eventual benefit of ourselves and those who depend on us.

One can dream...