Helga's Chickens

Helga's Chickens take the floor
around eight thirty every night.
Could anybody ask for more?

Perhaps some spotty troglodyte
would rather hide away and write
computer code, but that's a bore

and hardly likely to delight
Helga's Chickens. Take the floor
for instance - even if it wore

a carpet of a lurid white
our eyes would still be on the door
around eight thirty. Every night

the Paranormal's heaving. Quite
a crowd prepares for what's in store
and brightens as they dim the light.

Could anybody ask for more
than Helga and her brood? Before
you rush to call her 'parasite'

or breathe the appellation 'whore',
perhaps some spotty troglodyte
will rush to her defence and cite

an evening back in '94
when he succumbed, gave up the fight
and sang - O come let us adore
Helga's Chickens!

A stone of no importance

There is a stone of no importance. Grey
and warm in sunshine, black and cold at night,
wet in the rain, reddish by evening light,
its properties dependent on the day,
on ambience; volition has no play,
nor will. It does not move, though science might
demur predictably, going on to cite
particulate vibration. Others say
Life is all-pervasive. This, if true,
negates my first assertion, opens wide
the door to those religions that imbue
the nescient world with consciousness, as tried
through aeons past, by many peoples, who
spoke to the stones, not one of which replied.

Posterity

We could be happy now (and if you are
I hope my tangled ramble will not spoil
a perfect day. I have no wish to mar
your mardi gras or to disturb your oil
with troubled water, nor to bring you pain).
The opening took so long I'll start again -
We could be happy now, as birds of air
(which ones? the happy ones of course) but there
is something evil holding us in thrall -
Posterity - the notion drives us spare,
as if the future cared for us at all.

Instead of stepping out to travel far
and wide, we hide inside to sweat and toil
on some dull masterpiece, apply the tar
and feathers to our own behinds. We boil
our brains in brine, the better to attain
the unattainable, the merest grain
of immortality. We claw and tear
at trivia and pray that we may fare
better than all the others. To stand tall
among the greats, to shine without compare,
as if the future cared for us at all.

No need to play the precious superstar.
Sufficient to be diligent and loyal
in service of the muse. Avoid the bar
at least till one o'clock and show a royal
displeasure verging on a fine disdain
to anyone who asks us to explain
our antisocial tendencies. Beware
of all who interfere. A rabid bear
with toothache is a model sure to stall
the curious; or freeze them with a glare -
as if the future cared for us at all.

And everywhere from Rome to Zanzibar
a hell of fellow scriveners embroil
the waking hours in faking on a par
with Stevenson or even Roddy Doyle.
A form of madness favoured by the vain,
this writer's clamp, the stamp of the insane
and insecure. Poor fools who never dare
to do, we step aside and idly stare
at braver players fighting for the ball,
call it 'research' and pack it neat and square
as if the future cared for us at all.

Like Valient-for-Truth, each mark and scar
bears witness to our time above the soil,
but who will value scratches on the car
as evidence of valour? We recoil
too late from recognising that the main
thrust of our lives was gazing at the rain
and sitting, sitting, sitting in a rare
resemblance of a scrawny Rodin, bare
bulb overhead, in front of us a scrawl
of doomed ambition, martyrs to a chair
as if the future cared for us at all.

Posterity, you ought to have a care.
You're irresponsible, for everywhere
in every age you lead to our downfall.
We banish happiness, embrace despair
as if the future cared for us at all.

The Pessimistic Ballade of Arbitrary Behaviour

Nathaniel thought the way ahead
was clear. He looked at Clementine
(a silly name) and softly said
"My only love, will you be mine?
A word, a nod, a glance, a sign
that I'm your Jack and you're my Jill?"
But then he swallowed turpentine
for people do as people will.

She laid him on her mother's bed.
(Her dad had gone to Lichtenstein
in search of mirth and maidenhead,
which some considered out of line.)
She called the priest at ten to nine.
He leaned across the window-sill
and purred, "Your arse is very fine!"
for people do as people will.

He died (Nathaniel) but, instead
of grieving, she went out to dine
(that's Clementine) on garlic bread
and marinated porcupine.
She choked (of course) upon a spine
that lay concealed in fronds of dill.
The waiter gave her shoes a shine
for people do as people will.

Rational souls, though you decline
to heed my dismal codecil,
pull up a chair, uncork the wine
for people do as people will.

measure me

and measure me where skies are blue
  and life is a designer brand
    and rrussian girls go how arr you

and cultivate the favoured hue
  preferring what they understand
    and measure me where skies are blue

and winter warms me through and through
  like summer from another land
    and rrussian girls go how arr you

and have you night enough for two
  to dim the bleak beyond that's planned
    and measure me where skies are blue

and high apartments block the view
  of sand and sand and sand and sand
    and rrussian girls go how arr you

and how are you my darling do
  you feel a hardness in your hand
    and measure me where skies are blue
      and rrussian girls go how arr you

Nightfall in the Souq

When - as the shadows lengthen and the light
   of day gives place to sodium, and I,
   for lack of purpose, walk towards the night,
   unmindful of the multitudes who ply
   their multifarious trades, who make, who mend,
   who dignify the evening, who collect
   to celebrate acquaintances, who lend
   and borrow, who regale me, who respect
   my solitude, who while away the hours
   in company, who dream, who merely sit -
the call to prayer from a hundred towers
commingles with the market's hubbub, it
intrudes on my somnambulance, where dwells
a recollection of Cathedral bells.

The Model and the Miracle Man

I only ever performed one miracle..

and that was ten years ago. It changed two lives forever, mine and someone much more famous, though her fame was to come later. I remember it vividly; how could I not?


I'd just arrived back in London from a six-month tour of duty in Saudi Arabia and was in need of three things: a bacon sandwich, a beer, and to see some women wearing less than the Saudi norm. Much less, in fact. And of course I knew of a pub that could provide all three, with knobs on. I'm telling you this to dispel any illusion that I'm setting myself up as some kind of holy guy. I'm not. I'm just another engineer who happened to work a miracle, once.
So, duly sated in all departments, I'd left the pub and was walking East along Pentonville Road, enjoying the normality of a bright sunny day after the searing furnace of the Middle East. I wasn't consciously thinking of anything in particular, but there was nothing at all wrong with my world. It was good to be back.

The best thing I ever did

was have my agent send my African photo-shoot to Benetton. I was just starting out then but I was like, why not aim high? My dad always said if you don't ask you don't get. We heard nothing of course, but I was doing OK. No big breaks but plenty of steady work. Magazines and a few TV commercials. That was before my accident...
It was my own fault for stepping off the track. Crazy that answering a call of nature can cost you half a leg. I'd been too long away from Eritrea and was only thinking about seeing my family again. Land mines were the last thing on my mind. The rest you know. I'd rather not talk about the worst times.
But I wasn't going to let it beat me. If I was to have half a leg, so be it. I'd wear an athlete's prosthetic, bare titanium and carbon fibre, and wear it proudly, with short skirts and one thigh boot on my good leg. That was my style and I was sticking to it.
And the work kept coming in. Folk don't realise that a lot of modelling work is face, hair, upper body, sometimes just hands. It's not all about the cat-walk.

It's not something I'm proud of

but if she hadn't been drop-dead gorgeous, and a far cut above the bar girls in every way, nothing would have happened. Something about my overnight flight, the beer, the bright London noontide, her physical perfection, my heightened appreciation of all things non-Saudi, perhaps even the bacon sandwich - all these came together in the moment our eyes met and we both knew, without even looking down, what miracle had taken place.
I panicked. I pushed past her and ran for my life, for my sanity.
The next time I saw her was in a cinema ad for the United Colours of Benetton campaign, on the cat-walk. Of course she's a household name now, a supermodel, and could buy and sell me twenty times over.
it isn't all about the catwalk
it isn't all about the catwalk

I was feeling pretty good

about life that day. I'd had lunch with my agent and she had a new offer for me. A shampoo commercial. Prime time, so good money. But that wasn't the best of it. She'd been contacted by none other than Benetton. Someone had found my old photo-shoot and wanted me to audition for a new worldwide campaign they were planning to launch. Of course they didn't know about my accident. OK, it was never going to happen, but it made me feel special to be asked.
After lunch, I was walking up Pentonville Road, near to The Angel, and there was this guy walking towards me, kind of staring. I'm used to that of course, but this was different. He seemed to look deep inside me, almost through me. It should have been scary but wasn't. In fact I've never felt so calm in my life. I suppose he was some kind of faith healer? I don't know. It just felt completely natural to have two good legs again.
And then he ran away!

And that's the story

I don't pretend to understand how it happened. I certainly don't claim to be able to work miracles to order, nor am I any kind of magician. Nothing like it has happened to me or anyone else in my circle, before or since. In fact, I'm very careful who I mention it to. All I know is at that moment I was the instrument or conduit of some power, and no doubt so was she. It has all but destroyed my sanity. I used to joke about this very subject. I'd say, why do faith healers never heal amputees? I notice they still don't, but I hold my peace.
Why did I run? Because I could. I'm running still.
Thank you for reading

Predestination - Believe it or Nuts!

As good a place as any to begin

Halfway through the fourteenth bar of Tárrega's 'Recuerdos da la Alhambra', Michael's 'A'-string breaks at the bridge. The sudden crack and the sharp squeak of spiral-wound silver against skin stirs not a few of the audience into rapt attention. Novelty, after all, and perhaps another's discomfiture, can more than make up for a temporary glitch in performance.


Peter, realising a short break is inevitable and conscious of his pre-concert beer, excuses himself politely and negotiates the eight knees and thirty-nine toes (Ms. Jessica Armstrong had a childhood accident involving a bacon slicer) separating him from the aisle.
Joe, on the scaffolding, applies himself to the rotting soffit board. Too far gone for patching and filling, this is a full replacement job. He hooks the claw-hammer under the board's lower edge and jerks the shaft sharply downwards. The decayed timber cracks and splinters. Eight hundred and seventy three out of eight hundred and seventy four tiny fragments miss his eye. In a way, that's lucky. He drops the hammer and swears.
Standing at the porcelain, half finished and already quite comfortable, Peter, on a whim, grabs the Victorian brass handle (with his free hand) and throws open the frosted glass casement. Joe's liberated hammer, now approaching thirty miles an hour, strikes the top corner of the cast-iron frame with a loud report. Understandably, Peter drops his penis and swears. Shaken but unhurt, he recovers from his fright, inspects his trousers, and swears again, this time with feeling.
Joe, with the corner of his handkerchief and much grimacing, succeeds in de-splintering his eye. Thus relieved, he looks around for his hammer, remembers dropping it, spots it five storeys below on the pavement, says 'bollox', then (wrongly) 'but no harm done' and sets off down the ladder and out of the story, another innocent emissary of Providence.
The rest of the concert no longer an option, Peter slinks out of the hall by a side exit and proceeds homewards by the back lanes, oddly bent, and with inturned toes. Such attempts to avoid human gaze are always futile and he soon collects three small boys, excellent mimics all, and paramount among them, one Josie, shock-headed, bold and gallus.
'Haw Mister whit's up wi yer legs - canny walk right?'
Silence - the wrong response. Emboldened, Josie picks a lump of moss from a crack in the wall. Moss that's only growing there because fourteen years ago Sammy Gow had a minor stroke and afterwards never quite got around to clearing the gutters. These last two years before he died, well, the wall got a bit wet and, anyway...
So Josie chucks the moss and catches Peter behind the ear. He ignores it and keeps shambling on. Again, the wrong response, because the next missile is a small stone. Then a bigger one that hurts. Peter spins round and Josie's in his element:
'Ye canny walk - ye canny run - ye canny catch me!'
Josie's pals take up the cry. It's a good one, after all:
'Canny walk, canny run, canny catch me! Canny walk, canny run, canny catch me!'
Now under a hail of moss and stones, Peter loses the place and charges at Josie...
jonathan livingston calvin (another emissary of providence)
jonathan livingston calvin (another emissary of providence)
Seagull 'A' still has the herring but seagulls 'B' and 'C' are gradually wearing him down. With his beak clenched on the fish, his oxygen intake, essential for power flying, is impaired and, though bigger and stronger, he can't shake them off. He drops his quarry and, beak agape, wheels right, breaks free and swoops back towards the harbour...
Josie skites on the new-fallen herring. Peter trips over Josie. Both set up a roaring and a door flies open.
'Maw - this auld man's chasing me' Josie starts up, but she skelps him on the ear and says 'Aye, cause ye're throwin stones again. How many times huv I telt ye...'
But now she sees Peter's wet trousers and her face changes:
'Ye dirty wee pervert wi yer filthy breeks, chasin' wee boys, see if ma Joe wis here, ye're deid meat. He's a scaffolder'
Peter doesn't bother to argue the non-sequitur but beats a hasty retreat and runs the last mile home. Safe at last, washed, changed and comfortable, he sees it's only 9 p.m. He's home a full hour earlier than if he'd stayed for the whole concert. Never one to waste the gift of time, he opens up the laptop to do an hour's work on his latest article:
There is no such thing as chance - he types - all that happens, everything that moves, breathes, waxes, wanes, is merely enacting God's perfect plan, set forth at the dawn of time. when there was neither heat nor cold, light nor darkness. Praise be to God. Even the humble seagull...
Thank you for reading!

The Poverty of Prophecy

paraglider family picnic, c 1959, scanned from kodachrome slide
family picnic, c 1959, scanned from kodachrome slide


PARADISE REGAINED

It is the year 2210. At the podium, a Professor of Historical Sociology is about to give a lecture entitled The Poverty of Prophesy. Let's listen in.
This year marks the 200th anniversary of the year 2010, generally considered the beginning of Modernity, though of course the rump of Primitivism took at least one hundred more years to fade to oblivion. Traces of it remain even to this day, but for the most part we must go to the re-enactment societies and historical "movies" (two-dimensional projections of "moving" pictures) to get a feel for the barbarism that was once the norm, and even celebrated as virtue.
2010 was indeed a remarkable year, though as is always the case, very few commentators of the period understood or even noticed the significance of the changes that were taking place. Foremost among these was the collapse of the European economy. This, coupled with a major volcanic eruption in November (there had been a minor eruption six months earlier) effectively isolated most of Europe from the rest of the World for a period of fifty years. At first, the isolation was primarily physical: "airliners" (early flying machines powered by fossil fuel) were grounded, and road transport came to a halt soon after, as so-called "inflation" rendered fossil fuel unaffordable. But what made the isolation complete was the unexpected failure of high frequency communication networks, as the suspended volcanic ash prevented all satellite access. Local communication was largely unaffected and there was a quaint revival of Medium Wave radio, but to all intents and purposes, Europe fell off the World.
The rest of the World effectively abandoned Europe as a lost cause (i.e. of no economic or military significance - such was the poverty of early 21st Century conventional thought) and continued along its self destructive path. Supra-national financiers continued to accrue power and wealth to themselves, while cynically propagating hatred, prejudice and ignorance among the people, to keep them in a dismal round of conflict at home and war overseas.
The greatest irony is that such writings as have survived from this era refer to Europe as having entered a new Dark Age, whereas we now know it was Europe, and Europe alone, that had escaped the collective madness of competitive global consumerism.
So, what was happening under that ash cloud? At first, there was a great deal of hardship and considerable loss of life. There were outbreaks of disease and even of madness, as unsustainable technologies, infrastructure and primitive social practices collapsed, one by one. But in contrast to this "decline in civilisation", there came great advances in community and in "conviviality" as first talked about by Ivan D Illich fifty years previously. And from this convivial atmosphere came a re-valuing of what we now understand as true "wealth" - the virtues of intelligence, imagination, compassion and cooperation, so absent from the manic world outside.
For us, today, it is difficult to see anything remarkable in what we have just described, but we must remember that prior to Europe's second Renaissance 200 years ago, public morality had so far declined that politicians held more sway than philosophers, competition was preferred to cooperation, celebrity was valued over talent, personal wealth over integrity, and greed was the top of the pile. A strange world indeed, not unlike the "hell" mentioned in the old religious texts. And there is another delicious irony here too, that the most vociferous defenders of this "hellish" lifestyle were often the greatest devotees of the "holy" books that purported to abhor evil in all its forms. This is, of course, entirely typical of the uncritical confusion that characterised the Primitive era.
However, our purpose here today is to discuss the "Poverty of Prophesy", not merely to summarise two hundred years of history, so let us close this introduction by simply acknowledging that it was Europe's convivial society alone that made possible the cooperative development of our two great para-technologies, telekinesis and hyperacuition, that, following the final dispersion of the volcanic ash blanket, were poised to usher in, Globally and irresistibly, the Convivial Era of Modernity that we have enjoyed for the last one hundred and fifty years.
Let us now turn to our subject proper - The Poverty of Prophesy.
Or let's leave that for another day.
Thank you for reading!
(This hub, and my return to hub-writing after nearly six months lay-off, can be blamed on my good-natured friend, James A Watkins, and in particular, to this)
.

The New World Order - a discussion

Richard W Posner (ColdWarBaby) and I had a running conversation recently on our blog, Dropout Nation. The theme of Richard's original article was that convinced members of the public should support and contribute to those few organisations that are attempting to spread awareness of the ravages of global capitalism and a monetary system based on private banks and loan-interest. Our conversation took us into even more sinister territory and though we did not reach a full agreement, I thought the ground we covered might be of interest to readers here.

I am well aware that some would dismiss our discussion as a debate between the far left and the farther left still, but I'll take that risk for the sake of all who value any honest attempt to seek out the truth. I hope you enjoy our exchange.

Dave (Paraglider):

A theme that's been running through this blog since the start is not far under the surface here, and that is the complete dissociation of the superficial circus of US politics from the real issue that is at the root of the crisis, which as you correctly say, is the privately owned debt-&-interest based financial system.
I must admit though that this is the first time I've heard anyone suggest that we could beat them at their own game, simply by raising enough funding for organisations promoting alternatives. It's worth giving it a try, but it's going to be a hard sell, especially if you weigh up the benefits of giving your last spare $5 to AMI (American Monetary Institute), Red Cross or the homeless guy on the corner. Tough one.

Richard (ColdWarBaby):

It's an impossible sell by now. American society is so divided and fragmented that it's simply impossible to get enough people focused on a single issue to get anything done. And this is the only single issue that will get anything done. 
All the causes you mention are of course worthy but, in the end, will amount to nothing but momentary catharsis. 
If the privately controlled monetary system is not eliminated, there will soon be no causes to donate to. This country is being pushed into the ranks of the third world much more quickly than it seems. Unless this fundamental change to the monetary system is made very soon, we'll be seeing U.N. or NATO "peace keeping" forces brought in to quell riots and put down a civil war. Then we'll be faced with "refugee camps" for the new american majority, which will simply be a slave labor force. That's how bad it will have to get before the american zombies try to come back to life.

Dave:

I'm always a bit wary of any claim that one issue is the only issue that matters. Take the two Georgias for example. In the newer of the two, the American economy is very important; in the old one, a bigger concern is whether the Russian tanks will stay on their side of the border. It's a truism that the American economy affects the whole world, but if it collapsed tomorrow, the world would get along. That's maybe why I'm more concerned with pragmatic ways of improving local conditions than with taking on the Machine. In fact, I think it's important to do both, seizing whatever opportunities present themselves and always looking for more. But that's pragmatism.

Richard:

The capitalist economic paradigm; a privately controlled monetary system, commodity currency circulated at interest (usury), privately owned manufacturing, privatized everything, is a disease that has infected, to a greater or lesser extent, every nation on Earth.
As long as such privately controlled, commodified money is the basis of the global economy no significant or lasting changes are possible.
The moment any movement, group or even a sovereign nation, shows the slightest indication of being a genuine threat to the globalist plutocracy, steps will be taken to make certain it is eliminated.
The imminent collapse of the american empire may well be a purposed step in the agenda of those who are establishing the New World Order.
Please do not laugh off that phrase as just another "conspiracy theory".
"We are on the verge of a global transformation. All we need is the right major crisis and the nations will accept the New World Order." - David Rockefeller
"The world can therefore seize the opportunity [Persian Gulf crisis] to fulfill the long-held promise of a New World Order where diverse nations are drawn together in common cause to achieve the universal aspirations of mankind." - George Herbert Walker Bush
"In the next century, nations as we know it [sic] will be obsolete; all states will recognize a single, global authority. National sovereignty wasn't such a great idea after all." - Strobe Talbot, President Clinton's Deputy Secretary of State, as quoted in Time, July 20th, l992.
It's no laughing matter and no amount of "improving local conditions" will hinder it in the slightest.
What you're suggesting is something akin to putting a terminal cancer patient in hospice in order to make the last days a little less excruciating.
I won't disagree with the idea of working at both these efforts simultaneously. However, I am close to certain, and I emphasize "close" most emphatically, that if eliminating the usurious monetary system is not given priority, all the local efforts at improvement will be undone without hope of recovery.

Dave:

Richard, you said - "The moment any movement, group or even a sovereign nation, shows the slightest indication of being a genuine threat to the globalist plutocracy, steps will be taken to make certain it is eliminated."
I agree with that in respect of grass roots movements, opposition parties and smaller or less powerful countries. But if, as I expect, Russia rises again from the ashes of the Soviet, it's going to be a tough nut to crack. Because I think the Kremlin has its own view of a new world order in which the gang of Western bankers don't feature. In other words, there is not just a single coterie seeking world dominance. For all the rhetoric of the Rockefellers, some very proud and old nations will not fall in line.
Of course, this can lead to another World War. Not good. But isn't it as least as likely a future as the one you are envisioning?

Richard:

If the re-emergence of Russia as a world power or the fall of the amerikan empire is seen as advancing the globalist agenda, either or both those things will be allowed to happen. If such events are deemed highly desirable, they will be given whatever impetus is required. I really think a point has been reached and passed where the supremacists have grown so powerful that they can readily manipulate world events. The sovereignty of nations has been more or less eliminated. The illusion is left intact only because it better serves the agenda at this time. When that is no longer the case, all pretence will be abandoned. 
This attitude may seem extreme and I have resisted it as long as I could. The more I study, the more I learn, the more conclusive the evidence becomes.

Dave:

Among this evidence, can you cite instances of meetings that can reasonably be understood as 'cabinet' meetings of this unified supremacist group? I'm not for a second questioning the existence of such people, but I'm less convinced that they are united and operating cooperatively, not least because competitive activity, not cooperation is the nature of that particular beast. 
I think two other scenarios are plausable - one is that there is a competition for global dominance going on, rather like an enormous game of Risk. In previous times the protagonists were states and empires. Now they are banks and corporations. Or two, the machine of interest based global finance is simply in runaway, no-one knowing how to stop it, most not even knowing how to get off.

Richard:

The meetings go on yearly. G8, G20, Bilderberg, WMF, World Bank, BIS, Trilateral Commission, Basel Committee on Banking Supervision. There are numerous gatherings of the ruling class and their cronies. Some may be inconsequential, some not. We are not permitted to know. That should tell you something right there. 
There may be "competition" going on but I don't think it's amongst the "royal" names such as Rothschild, Rockefeller, Morgan, Dodge, Mellon, Pratt, Harkness, Whitney, Duke, Harriman, Carnegie, Vanderbilt, DuPont, Guggenheim, Astor, Lehman, Warburg, Taft, Huntington, Baruch and Rosenwald. 
I think it will ultimately be shown that truth is more outrageous than fiction. 
This is not by any means a modern phenomenon. Even Plato was an advocate of totalitarianism. The lust for supremacy has been the primary engine driving the cycle of human history. That engine has always been fuelled by the same archetype. For many centuries it has been the same families, their descendants and branches.
The rise and fall of empire has always been confined to limited regions. The explosion of technological "progress" in the twentieth century has at last made actual global conquest, by a relatively small group of individuals, a real possibility. 
I really think it's that simple. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Dave:

Yours is a plausible interpretation and I certainly agree that there are people whose lust for power knows no bounds. Where I can't follow you is in the notion that this is the only game in town. Maybe it is, for a time, in the modern US, but I see far more diversity elsewhere and many peoples who would rate the global financial model pretty low down in their list of major issues. My experience is that all universal answers are wrong, or at least inadequate to describe the complexity (and richness) of the human condition. Whether political or religious, all faiths fail in the face of diversity, just as every prophet since the beginning of time has been proved wrong, by events. As you know, I've had similar arguments with our friend Magdy, less about his content than about his certainty that his is the only truth.

Knees, Plungers & Aliens

The old way

A long time ago, I studied photography. I used a manual SLR camera, took light measurements (incident and reflected), applied filters, adjusted focus, aperture and exposure, developed my own negatives, mixed my own chemicals, did my own darkroom work and, occasionally, achieved some pretty creditable results, none of which appear on this page.

I did all this because I wanted to be in complete control of the image, from inception to display. But recently, because of my traveling lifestyle, my photography is reduced to quick snapshots with a mobile phone - low quality, granular, soft, flared, shaded, blurred - but fun and immediate. And you know, I'm thoroughly enjoying it. But there's a special class of picture for which the mobile phone is second to none - the complete accident!
what plungersome thing art thou?
what plungersome thing art thou?

Exterminate... Exterminate...

The phone rings, you fumble it out of your pocket, press a couple of keys by mistake, and click - another random picture for the archives! This one could almost be a wounded Dalek, its infamous sink-plunger attachment sadly limp. Or maybe Davros has put it on floor-sweeping duties as a punishment for failing to exterminate the Doctor, yet again. Or it could just have fallen downstairs of course. The Daleks would hate Lisbon. Stairs everywhere. They'd be completely scuppered. Rome isn't much better. The Spanish Steps. Daleks top and bottom and the girls would still be selling flowers on every tread. The human spirit triumphs over technology again.

being a triptych

the knee
the knee
the alien
the alien
the peak
the peak

Sights unseen

Sometimes, body parts feature. Here is the right knee, mine, and seated, if knees can sit. With a crease that wouldn't shame Beau Brummell. But what about the other leg? Not mine. The turned table-leg, emerging from, or perhaps disappearing into, the Stygian gloom. Its machine-cut concentric rings flashing wan highlights through the knee-lit murk.
- o -
When they come, they will not be green. They will not speak with human tongues. They will know you. They will know you. They will know you. And then you'll say - is someone there? Your voice is all the sound you'll hear. And still they know you, know you, know you.
- o -
Though you bind me, even to my face, I will break free. For through the tightening shroud, will there come no light? I am no wrapped parcel for your friends' amusement. Are their teeth as white as mine? From the strained peak shall spread cracks. As Prometheus, as Samson, even as the Phoenix, I shall rise again, and sing of things untold.
That third picture in the set of three - the one I called 'the peak' - has me completely baffled. I have absolutely no idea what the phone camera was seeing. That's the joy of accidental photography.

serendipity

where there is life
where there is life

And finally

After so much surrealism, let's close with something less outlandish. This accidental phone-snap has four people in it, one relaxing, three going about their business. The guy mostly hidden by the chair he's sitting in is Croatian. The walking girl in blue is Filipina. The man in the distance is Syrian, and the one standing with clasped hands is Tunisian. And that's one of the things I love about the Middle East - a genuinely random accidental photograph catches four different nationalities in one place. It's a privilege to live and work here among people from all over the World.
I hope that, after reading this, you might look again at some of your own happen-stance pics, before automatically going for the delete key. You too might have some hidden gems, or even the seeds of a flight of fancy. Thanks for reading my nonsense. Click, click!

How to win a War

Let battle commence

Wars are not good. People get killed and hurt, and not only the fighters. Innocent parties are not spared. The web of bereavement spreads wide. Entire infrastructures, physical and societal, are destroyed and even the ostensible winner usually comes out of the affair substantially damaged in one way or another.


Nevertheless, wars happen, and if you're going to get into one, it's probably better to win than to lose.
In this hub, though I've called it How to Win a War, I'm not going to talk about modern military tactics or strategy. What would a mere civilian know about these? Instead, I'm going to look look back through the years to try to rediscover what winning a war really means, because we seem to have forgotten.
chess - the greatest war game in the world
chess - the greatest war game in the world

It isn't all a game

Let's start by considering something pleasanter than war - the ancient game of Chess. Chess is the oldest and greatest war game, and gives us more than an inkling of the way people used to see war.
There are two main ways to win a game of Chess. The first (and most satisfying) is the checkmate. To win by checkmate is to capture the opponent's King, i.e. the King is attacked and has nowhere to go and no available defence to knock out the attacking piece.
The second (and commoner) way is to build up such an advantage in forces, territory and threats that your opponent resigns the game, seeing no possible recovery.
(There are other ways to win but they apply mainly to tournaments and involve adjudication or your opponent running out of time).
The checkmate recognises that war is all about Kings and Kingly pride. Little people have punch-ups with neighbours, but don't start wars. Through the ages, wars have always been about making the King stronger and richer and there were a number of ways of achieving this:

Winning Ways

1. The enemy has something you want: gold, silks, spices. They don't want to share and you have nothing to trade, so you march in with a stronger army, overpower them and help yourself. Before you go home, it's a good idea to kill most of the young men. Raping the women has no strategic advantage, but it's a traditional option, if you have time. No-one said war was pretty. Whatever else, you have to destroy most of the cities, preferably by fire. This makes sure that they won't recover enough to trouble you for quite a few years.
2. The enemy has an 'endless' supply of something you want, but most of it is still underground. In this case, it doesn't make a lot of sense to destroy the means of production. Better is to defeat the army, destroying (or stealing) their armaments, then enslave the survivors and the rest of the population. After all, someone has to work the mines for you. It doesn't much matter if you kill their King or just stuff him in a dungeon somewhere. He's not important any more.
3. A variation of the above is when the enemy has a particular piece of land you want, typically controlling an important mountain pass or sea crossing. In this case, you have to realise that you're in for the duration. It takes at least a generation to subjugate a people. You have to defeat the army of course, and in this case it's best to bump off the King too, so he won't be a focus for rebellion. But it's not too clever to destroy all the seats of power, because you're going to have to occupy them when you start to rule the country. You'll have to pass a few laws of course. For starters, everyone has to speak your language and follow your religion. It's probably a smart move to burn a few books too. Symbols count for a lot.
4. A particularly nasty kind of war is the kind that is truly about nothing except pride and hatred. In such cases, you have nothing to gain by winning and, as your people would normally be clever enough to understand this and rebel, you have to be careful to keep them stupid, by feeding them a diet of lies about the enemy. I'm sure you can think up your own, but good standards that usually do the trick are: they worship the devil, they sacrifice children, they are cannibals, they will outbreed us and take over, they are developing mighty weapons, and so on. Such wars usually lead to the destruction of both sides, because, with no clear war aim, there is no reason ever to stop.

Modern Times

So much for history. Let's go back to the original topic - how to win a war. And because it's always easier to talk about real examples than hypothetical, let's talk first about the War in Iraq. Looked at historically, this war is incomprehensible. The 'Allies' attacked (on a false premise), destroyed the country's infrastructure, suffered some losses but killed far greater numbers of the 'enemy', subjugated the authorities, deposed the 'King', drove him into hiding, rooted him out, had him killed. Checkmate. By any historical standard, the war was won, twice over, by 2004. So why is it still going on?
The simple reason is that the expectations were fatuous. At no time in recorded history has an invading army marched in, destroyed and killed, toppled a regime and marched out again leaving peace in its wake. Never. The historical conclusion is inevitable. The 'Allies' made one of two possible mistakes:
If the war was meant to be punitive, it didn't punish enough. If they had wanted out after only a year they should have destroyed and murdered far, far more. That's the horrible truth about how it used to be done, because half measures don't work. Ask Napoleon if you don't believe me.
But if the war was actually about control of underground resources (did someone say oil?) and/or territory, there is no historical precedent for achieving this without long-term occupation, usually brutal occupation, lasting for at least a generation. Latter-day psycho-babble about hearts and minds is so much hot air. No-one likes occupation.
The fact is, the 'Allies' didn't have the stomach for either option and so should not have started what they can't finish. The result is as we see, a disaster. Yet politicians in US are still saying victory is in sight.
Then we have the so-called War on Terror. If anything, this is even less comprehensible than the war in Iraq. After all, throughout history there are several examples of wars fought against the wrong target or for the wrong reason. But surely no example of a war against nothing and everything. Imagine a game of chess where your opponent has no King. By definition, you can't win. You can't even destroy all his pieces because, in this strange new version of the game, whenever you capture a piece, it just reappears somewhere else on the board. Your own pieces don't regenerate though. Only your opponent's. You just lose, inevitably.
the hydra - spoiling for a fight?
the hydra - spoiling for a fight?

End Game?

Remember the Hydra? In Greek mythology, the Hydra was a ferocious creature with nine heads. Whenever you struck off a head with your sword, it grew another one. In declaring the War on Terror, President Bush has recreated the Hydra, and if you doubt this, look at what's happening in Afghanistan.
The best thing the new President could do is repeal the declaration of this lunatic 'war' and concentrate instead on a foreign policy that makes fewer enemies.
Thank you for reading!

Good Morning America

Good Morning America - a Letter from the Free World

Here is the News. You will soon be electing a new President, the 44th man (as Hilary is out of the race) to hold that greatest office of state. Will it be Obama or McCain? I promise you now, I will mention neither name again in this hub. That is not my purpose in writing.


The Leader of the Free World

This honorary title will inevitably be applied to the eventual winner, if not by the man himself, then certainly by many of his supporters. Grudgingly perhaps, also by some of his opponents. Leaving aside the elusive question of exactly what constitutes the Free World, let's assume for the moment that such a World exists, or is desired to exist, and that many people inside and outside USA feel they are, or would like to be, a part of it. Hard on the heels of any such assumption must come the question - what is freedom?
Let's not get sidetracked into the details of tax thresholds, health provision, oil prices, etc. Such things fluctuate by nature and are the stuff of politics and market forces. The truer measure of freedom is empowerment of the individual. Empowerment to think, believe, speak and act, or even to choose to do none of these things, with impunity, and without State interference (except in extreme cases which we needn't itemise here).
It is further generally accepted that even in a 'free' society everyone can't have a direct say in everything: special cases make bad law, while the sheer logistics of putting everything of consequence to a referendum makes nonsense of the very idea. The familiar answer to the problem of reconciling individual empowerment with centralised power is universal suffrage. If you don't like your leaders, vote them out at the first opportunity. Again, while it's a truism that the available choice might sometimes seem to be between undesirables, the fact remains it's one choice more than you'd get in a totalitarian state. Citizens who don't vote are more socially irresponsible than those who vote against your candidate!

Two Types of Leader

I am a British subject (technically we're subjects of the Crown, not citizens). Prime Minister Gordon Brown is the leader of the country whether I like it or not, and I am bound by the laws enacted by his Government. He was voted into Parliament by his local constituents, and into the highest office by his internal party machine, as successor to Tony Blair. Our system is very different from the American, though both are considered democracies. Gordon Brown is, in a sense, my de facto 'leader' insofar as his policies directly affect me. (As an aside, I've chosen to live mainly in Qatar, but let's not complicate matters!) Though I can't vote directly for or against Mr Brown, I can support or oppose his party at the next election.
A very different type of 'leader' is my favourite Scientific and Political Philosopher, Karl Popper. He's dead now, but continues to inspire me by the clarity of his thought and the boldness of his ideas. But my point is not to discuss Popper here - it's merely to demonstrate that there are leaders who are thrust upon us, albeit by a majority vote, mainly our political masters, and leaders we choose for ourselves, as individuals. These may be from almost any field, as befits our individual leanings - religion, science, politics, sport, even mere 'celebrity'. Call them role models if you like; they are still our chosen personal leaders.
As President of the USA, the eventual winner clearly falls into category one - elected political leader - with a mandate to act on behalf his constituents, American Citizens, and within the bounds of his constituency, the USA. Many Americans express the view that they would prefer their elected Administration to confine its attention to domestic affairs and leave the rest of the World to its own devices. This, of course, is a politically naive expectation in a modern globalised economy.
However, as Leader of the Free World, the new President can have no mandate whatsoever, as the Free World outside USA cannot vote in the American election. He can only aspire to be a category two leader - the role model type. Before he (or his Government) can claim to lead the Free World, it is incumbent on him to win the hearts and minds of Free World Citizens outside the USA. To do this, he must understand the different cultural values, predilections and aspirations of non-Americans. He must not act unilaterally in flagrant disregard of such Free World Citizens' wishes. Because to do so is to change his status overnight from leader to pariah. This requires no election.
American voters - do you want an isolationist USA, self-sufficient but crouched behind razor wire, taking no interest in the greater world? Then by all means find such a 'leader' and instruct him to stay at home. Or do you want to pull your weight for the greater good and hold due influence abroad? If so, please do your homework before you vote. Learn something beyond the stereotypes about Europe, Asia, Africa and the Middle East. Learn what these people think about America's recent foreign policy adventures. Learn what your friends around the World think. Learn even what your enemies think. Read their newspapers - visit their websites - watch their television. But do it for yourself. Don't rely on anydomestic service for all your information.
The American and World News Agendas
The American domestic news agenda is dominated (at present) by the US economy, mortgage foreclosures, oil and gas prices, illegal immigrants, off-shore drilling, Iraq and the so-called war on terror. Plus or minus daily variations. While not denying the importance of any of these, they hardly constitute a World Agenda.
I'm going to close this hub by juxtaposing RSS feeds of CNN World News, Al Jazeera English Channel and BBC World Edition. (N.B. not CNN or BBC Home). As they are RSS feeds, clearly I have no control over what they feature, but here are my observations:
  • Usually two or three of the top four stories are the same (allowing for time zone variations)
  • This suggests a wide consensus on what's important in World affairs
  • The difference is mainly in the journalistic interpretation. (E.g. Jazeera and CNN may disagree over Palestine, but not over an earthquake in China)
  • When we focus on our common humanity, we begin to tolerate, respect and eventually appreciate each other
Have a read, from all sides. In your largesse as a great nation, please take your responsibility seriously. And remember: the only possible Leader of the Free World is a leader that the Free World respects. When you cast your vote, please respect our wishes too. Thank you for reading.

Bull-neck and the Blue Lagoon

More random photographs

We can't be serious all the time. What follows is my latest selection of wholly accidental phone pictures, usually taken in the process of fumbling the phone into or out of my pocket. The descriptions probably say more about me than about the pictures, but I'll leave others to judge.

 

bull-neck and the blue lagoon
bull-neck and the blue lagoon
"Without prejudice" mutters Bull-neck, apparently to himself, lost on his mission to pass through life unencumbered, even by clothes. The almost apologetic bolt from the blue makes no impression; if he so much as notices it, he gives no sign, but blunders on, looking forward and down. Always down. His early baseball cap years have taught him there is no sky, no stars. Now sure in this knowledge, he has no need to shade his eyes. There is no light.
memories of a copper still
memories of a copper still
The roof is long gone. The malting loft has crumbled and fallen onto the the stills below. Rats have ravaged the barley sacks and mice gleaned their leavings. Wind, rain and time have stolen the last vestige of brewing aroma, leaving instead dankness and mildew. But the gleam of copper, caught in a wet Hebridean sunbeam, still speaks of uisge beathe, the water of life, and of death. 
the farm of dragonhide
the farm of dragonhide
The Farm of Dragonhide is where the lines are straight and all that is green is painted.Clapped out tankers pass for tractors for nothing is sown, nothing grown and nothing harvested.

Dragonhide Farm mattered once.No-one remembers why.

the lady in purple mohair
the lady in purple mohair
And if I see you when the rowans are ripe, walking alone by the mill stream, will you remember two younger people, eager and a little scared, talking of blackbirds and finding new ways to hold hands by accident? Will you know me still, or see only a worn mask? And will you be wearing that purple mohair, the one that smelt of spilt Guinness and Hartnell's 'In Love', the best a student could afford? 
the shining ones
the shining ones
This is the cavern and council of the shining ones. This is their forum. They are their own light. When they meet it is always in splendour. The golden ones are first among their kind, their radiance of a higher order. They do not speak in words. There is no need, as they come together in perfect agreement, and their will is done. They know us, know our ways, and wonder. 
the nevada desert highway
the nevada desert highway
This picture is a complete mystery - a fortuitous combination of colours and camera movement conspiring to create a highway crossing a red sandstone desert. It's one of my favourite random snaps. One I'd have been proud to have created deliberately. Suffice it to say it's indoors, in Doha. I've been to Nevada, but this wasn't it! 
hey mr dreamseller
hey mr dreamseller
Come buy, come buy! The shrouded dreamseller rattles his wares, with promises of a chemical future. Come buy! He needs your love, your, trust, your money, as all his own is gone. His face, too, is gone, with the last of his humanity, He who should have died, remains to kill. Come buy, come buy!
By now, if you've read this far, you probably think I'm quite mad. But I'm not. Not quite :)
Thank you for reading! 

A Cure for Arthritis in Dogs

The early signs

Arthritis, in dogs as in humans, usually starts slowly, typically in middle age, though the early symptoms may have been present and ignored for several years. Humans are (or should be) aware of the condition and are likely to notice some early signs, like swelling of knuckle joints, or general stiffness, especially in the early morning,
It's not quite so easy to spot the start of the condition in your four-footed friend, but be on the lookout for:
  • reduced enthusiasm for the morning walk
  • walking rather than running when called to dinner
  • laisser-faire attitude to passing cats
This last sign is particularly telling. Think of the loss of self esteem, of dignity, experienced by the old chap when he realises his cat-chasing days are at an end. How can he meet his pals in the park, with no stories to tell of 'the one that got away'. Everything has changed. I'd have caught him if he hadn't dived under the fence - scores maybe seven points. I'm just not quick enough anymore - scores a miserable zero. Don't underestimate this. Why doesn't he want to walk in the park? He can still walk, even if he can't run fast. He is ashamed to meet his pals! Dogs are not politically correct. They will laugh at a loser, and he knows it.

Talisker says...

Don't assume stiffness or lameness in your dog or cat is necessarily arthritis. There may be many causes. Always seek a professional opinion from a qualified veterinary surgeon and follow the advice or treatment. Much as we don't like going to the vet, we know it's in our best interest.

Help is at hand

As so often happens, if you look into the problem, you will see the solution. The problem is the cat. Perhaps, then, the cat is also the answer? Let's take a step sideways and consider the kitty:

Here is the Mews

In case you hadn't noticed, no dog has ever caught a cat. There is always a hole in the fence, a convenient tree, the home-run cat-flap. Why is it always just in time? Because that's the game the cats play; the cats plan the route, they match the route to the dog's prowess and, except for silly puppies, the dogs know it well. There's a league table out there - the top dogs in any neighbourhood are paired up with the quickest cats. It's not about catching - it's about how close can you get!

Where is this leading?

Not surprisingly, cats also suffer from arthritis and they, too, endure mental torture when they have to drop out of the Great Game. Fortunately, the Cats' Protection League understands this fully and can usually offer, to a good home, a retired champion whose arthritic advancement is a close match to your ailing dog's. Often, the dog and cat will choose each other if you take the trouble to walk him through the retirement cattery. Ears will prick up. There will be that old familiar bristling and brindling, as the two veterans recognise each other through a handed down tradition of respect.
And you will be proud, and happy, to watch, perhaps for five more years, these grand veterans trot, then walk, then amble around your garden, till they finally lie down together to sleep. And dream of the Great Chase in the Sky where joints are purest silk and the final escape is shaved to a whisker.