Tuesday, December 28, 2004

In my living room, in a large tank, there live two turtles Ronnie and Reggie. They belong to my flatmate's girlfriend and, whilst he is visiting her somewhere in the southern hemisphere, it seems that I am their daddy. One's big fat and greedy, the other small and prone to anxiously withdraw into his shell.

The problem with turtles is that their life spans are about as long as a human's. This means that if you get one as a pet, you have the responsibility of looking after it for the rest of your life. Making them the last pet I would choose – especially considering their tank takes up space that a sofa could otherwise inhabit. Bah.

And this reality is what many parents tried to inflict upon themselves and their children in the eighties after the much-watched Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles started a fad for the hard round eating-machines. I never watched this flagon of other peoples toss, but I remember enough about it to say that it was like Charlie's Angels, but with turtles. In sewers.

I tried to tie bandanas around my turtles eyes but they weren't having any of it.

And here is the interesting thing about it: After a relatively short amount of time, hundreds of annoyed parents flushed said animals down their toilets thusly populating the sewers with turtles and setting up the possibility that a shit children’s cartoon could have become the ultimate self-fulfilling prophecy.

The full extent of my ambition however is simply to keep the things alive until Tom returns from porking his woman on a Fiji beach. When I told people about Ronnie and Reggie's existence some told me that turtles are virtually indestructible. So to see the little one (cannot remember which ones are which) eating very little recently is a bit scary. Should the little bastard die a day before Tom comes back I'll be in trouble; a one-day turtle hunt would produce an unsatisfactory result so preparation is key. I'm already scouting pet shops for identical replacement turtles.

So you should not be surprised to hear that it is not the turtles I am worried about following Boxing Day's tsunami in SE Asia. I never visited any of the Andaman Coast beaches on the Western coast of Thailand but I went to a few similar coastal resorts and spent many weeks in Thailand. Therefore images of suffering and destruction have been doubly affective to my mind as I am fully able to imagine the lives and places that have been affected.

I cannot really speak for those citizens of Sri Lanka, India, Sumatra or the small islands around that area, but Thais are a philosophical bunch. Life will go on after the clean up; places and people will not be allowed to pass out of memory; prayers and shrines will be offered; always eager to eek out any opportunity, buildings will be re-erected; and normal life, accompanied with smiley faces, will eventually return.

I hope these areas recover quickly and I hope people realise that such events occur both randomly and extremely rarely and that tourism - which is vital to so many locals livelihoods on the coasts - quickly returns, because these are magnificent places full of beautiful and friendly people.

For the very latest news, apart from the obvious sites, try visiting Tsunami Blogs.

Saturday, December 11, 2004

This week some campaigners have been in overdrive trying to get violent video games banned. Last week a friend lent me Manhunt for the wondrous Playstation 2. I found out subsequently that the game has been held responsible for inspiring the recent murder of a British schoolboy. Manhunt offers little in the way of depth other than that presented by the range of deaths one can inflict upon a victim. And as my friend handed over the game he advertised it proudly, “this was banned in New Zealand”.

“Cool.” I replied.

Why would I, and doubtless also most of my peers in the same situation, be so positive about such news? I’m not a bloodthirsty loner desperate to gain a thrill by enacting gory simulated murders. I cannot say I’ve ever experienced any sort of adrenaline increase when executing a computer-generated character. But rather that when I get hold of such a game I want to play it because I’m curious to see what the fuss is all about. By playing such a game I am exploring societies tolerances and measuring myself against them. I don’t think I would have turned the game on had it not been banned. And actually it’s pretty dull but I’m playing it still, curious to see how far it goes…

Banning Stuff Encourages Its Use Shock!

Which is why Dutch locals don’t really bother with drugs. Why Brits with their strict drinking rules binge drink. Why Catholic priests are renowned, unfairly or not, for kiddie fiddling. And also why American teenagers - strictly denied any sort of narcotic, legal or otherwise - go completely and utterly over the top when off on their ridiculous “frat” parties.

Of course age restrictions should be properly enforced. I don’t think 6 year-olds should be free to play games in which they can get a satisfying pop from the head of a pedestrian using the sniper rifle they had to murder three Yardie Gangsters to obtain. But I do think adults should be free to do so if they wish. The basic principle is: if it hurts or affects nobody else, I should be free to do what the hell I like. As a loyal existentialist I would defend such a basic right to the end.


Which is why all drugs should be legalised for adults. It’s both controversial and staggeringly obvious. Anyone not exposed to the incessant media-induced morality and with half a brain would deduce nothing else without a doubt. No, I don’t think people mainlining crack is a good idea. But I am an adult; if I want to fuck up my body I have every right. Recently suicide was legalised, so how is this any different?

The current state of affairs is this: Any anthropologist worth their salt would be forced to admit that narcotics use is a constant that every human civilisation has always partaken in throughout all of history.

A sizeable proportion of intelligent and reasonable (as well as unintelligent and unreasonable) people take both legal and illegal drugs responsibly (and irresponsibly).

Any intelligent legislative thinker would openly admit that good law making must always follow society and its trends.

Users of illegal drugs, in order to obtain said substances, are forced to turn to a black market that is driven by people who use the money for criminal activities or, worse still, to fund organised crime, gang violence, and even terrorism. The principle, remember, is that we should be able to do anything as long as it doesn’t affect others.

Sorry to patronise here but DO YOU SEE?

Drugs legal: nobody else affected.

Drugs illegal: people take drugs anyway. Other people affected via black market criminality and hooked drug users thieving and begging to fund their dealers.

Drugs, it seems, more adversely affect the general public whilst they remain illegal than they would do if they were to be legalised.

How unbelievably simple does this logic have to be?

Let us explore other ridiculously obvious arguments that even a ten year old could grasp (maybe not the statements themselves but the deductive and inductive processes without a doubt):

Drugs legal: people have the choice to take all narcotics, all admittedly damaging, some less than the current legal ones; others more.

Drugs illegal: tens millions of Britons choose to consume the two major narcotics that are really quite damaging. Any other uses of major narcotics are often those that those dealers would like you to take, which - shock of shocks! – are the drugs that are the most addictive!

Drugs legal: People would feel much more open about asking questions to the right people such as a doctor, allowing young adults to make better decisions. Think how well informed we all are about nicotine and alcohol compared with heroin and cocaine.

Drugs illegal: Dissemination of the facts about drugs the realm of the drug dealer, the peer pressuring friend, stereotypes, cultural pressures, campaigning groups battling against sensationalist headlines and school lectures by police which although may be largely true is usually distrusted due to the blatant inconsistencies in drug laws which everyone down to the most innocent 12 year old is aware of.

Drugs legal: Police and judiciary time and finance freed to concentrate on burglars, rapists, murderers, terrorists and, er, nowadays, motorists.

Drugs illegal: police, politicians and judiciary expending huge amounts of effort, money and manpower on maintaining a war against drugs and, oh yes, the massive numbers of related problems exacerbated by this, let’s face it, culturally central phenomenon’s illegality.

Drugs legal: Drugs sold pure, manufactured by companies operating within safety guidelines and with all tax from profits going to the treasury. Industry and jobs created. More tax. Drug prices not inflated meaning addicts not encouraged to steal to pay for unneccesarily expensive habit.

Drugs illegal: Drugs laced with rat poison, baking powder, bleach, random chemicals and other horribly dangerous substances that drug cartels and unscrupulous amateur manufacturers use to heighten their profits. Leah Betts mum is a leading campaigner for a zero tolerance against drugs. Most people free of emotion and with the facts to hand should see the irony in this: had her daughter taken a legally produced ecstasy tablet, she would have almost certainly had a good time and gone home safely. Although still illegally: she would have been underage. So maybe she still would have used the black market, but more probably would have obtained legal ones illegally.

'Drugs are bad. M'kay?'

The change itself would probably lead to an increase in the number of users. Change always does. But it’s not the process of change that is important but the situation that needs to be bought about. Once the change has become the norm the numbers of drugs users would probably, using the common laws of anthropology and psychology as a guide, drop from today’s levels. And after all they could hardly rise.

What sane person, in possession of the facts, would voluntarily decide to start injecting him or herself with heroin? Many still would no doubt; and a black market would still inevitably remain for all the drugs – like it does for cigarettes and alcohol. But the problem would be massively reduced without a question. And inevitably fewer people would take the highly addictive, depressant, anti-social, car wrecking, vastly toxic, and violence inducing alcohol – and frankly that can only be a good thing for everybody. (Here’s a question: why is an alcohol comedown, arguably one of the very worst of all the drugs, given a friendlier name?)

Any politician who searched his or her own mind must know all of this, but who can blame them for valuing their careers? Such a move would never enjoy even a decently sized marginal support in today’s world. But it would be one hell of a brave move and I bet, if explained properly and despite all the inevitable headlines and follow up stories designed to dispute the facts we’d see splashed across the Express and the Mail for weeks on end, would get at least the respect of the public for being a genuine attempt to do something meaningful.

Meanwhile video games won’t be banned. Although I wouldn’t support such a ban it would probably be easily enforced. Hardcore video games would be genuinely difficult to get even with the minimum policing. Drugs’ trafficking on the other hand is policed like a bastard and yet the flow is bountiful. Could it be that our society is intrinsically linked with drugs? Well, durr…

“We are losing the war on drugs” politicians say. When only one side bothers fighting a war and still loses it really should be prepared to consider that the war is a fundamentally misplaced one. As the late great Bill Hicks once said: "Well you know what that implies? There's a war going on, and people on drugs are winning it! Well what does that tell you about drugs? Some smart, creative motherfuckers on that side."

Just for the record and in case you’re thinking I’m trying to justify some habit of mine I am not a great illegal drug taker nor am I the only person? who thinks this. I have not tried most drugs and probably never will, although my existentialist duty forced me to experience one or two. When you realise how pathetic some of these are to alcohol in particular you have to laugh at the ridiculousness of it all. Until you really think about it using basic cold logic.


Monday, December 06, 2004

It is always disappointing to look into the London night sky. Firstly it usually consists of one gigantic cloud; but when the way is clear the number of objects one can spot in the night sky is roughly about three. And that annoyingly includes the moon. The authorities have attempted to lighten our mood so to speak by lining Oxford Street with tens of large spotlights which wave into the sky so all the foreign visitors to Christmassy London can observe the cloud 24/7.

It is all so depressing when I think back to the time I reclined on a warm and powdery Fraser Island beach, which lay perhaps 40 miles from the nearest significant artificial light source, and wondered at the southern night sky.

I stared up at the literally millions of visible stars in awe.

“There are loads in a stripe over there,” I said pointing upwards to someone I had earlier befriended, but “if only that long bloody cloud would move out of the… ah.”

I had made a realisation.

“That cloud’s not actually a cloud is it?” I continued.

“Oh yeah” agreed whomever it was I was with in a tone that suggested I had pointed out something both revelatory and blindingly obvious.

Even a masturbating Claudia Schiffer could not have distracted me from the splendour that was the Milky Way at that moment.

The Milky Way. Londoners may not know that this can only be seen in the southern hemisphere. And they aint in it.

Curse London and its light pollution.

Over the millennia that have seen the rise of human intelligence, wondering and philosophising under a starry sky has gone hand-in-hand with our development as a species. I have found there seems to be a direct relationship between the friendliness of an average person and the number of objects that can be observed in the night sky in their skies. When city folk visit a region like, say, eastern Australia, they tend to open up and become much more ready to embrace things like the possibility of connecting with a total stranger. It must be the stars.

Why is it I think less of a person who walks onto my tube train wearing a beaming smile?

Perhaps I think they are stupid for not realising the obvious connection between stars and friendliness. I’m betting that astronomers are the salt of the earth. If I ever need someone to lend me money I’m going straight to the nearest observatory. Although traditionally an under-funded discipline, I’d at least get a smile along with the inevitable rejection.

“Are your family also astronomers?“ I would ask with an urban-induced furrow on my brow.

“No my friend. Tea?”

“Lots of milk lots of sugar. Is your house near any artificial light sources?

“Yes, I suppose it is.”

“Fuck off then; your family makes me sick.”

It's some sort of international scandal really.

Hail the International Dark-Sky Association!

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

In September 1996 I got myself a compact-looking Sony stereo. The CD function has long since failed replaced now by a CD player connected to the stereo via its auxiliary function. In fact it shares this function with my computer on which is composed weird-ass electronic music (you can of course hear compressed evidence of this by clicking on the song titles listed in the left-hand column on this page) all facilitated by a mixer which means I don’t have to worry about constant fiddly lead manipulation to toggle between the two. Hang in there now I might be going somewhere with this.

I use my stereo constantly to listen to the radio and even occasionally a tape. Actually I get to digress here and mention a magnificent couple of 90-minute tapes I have which bestow a recording of Dave Rabbit’s show on a pirate radio station called Radio First Termer who broadcasted live and unofficially to US troops during the Vietnam War. Dave’s show played, in his words, “hard acid rock music” and featured deep philosophical musings such as “fighting for someone else freedom is like fucking for someone else’s virginity”, tips on where to score the best acid and of course where naked women might be found on that particular evening. It’s a glorious three-hour recording – I only wish you could hear it too. And in fact you can. Bloody marvelous.

Anyway the reason I bring the subject of my stereo to your attention today is because I want to pay homage to the two AA batteries that have been housed in it’s remote control for about 3,000 days providing me with a regular and fault-free service without the need of any sort of tinkering whatsoever. For the record these batteries are not Duracell, Duracell Ultra, Energiser or Ever Ready whatever-colour-isn’t-the-shitty-fail-after-two-weeks version, but Sony’s own brand no frills comes-with-the-remote version. After all this time I can still point my remote directly away from my stereo and the infra-red signal will bounce off my wall and give me instant volume increase or whatever other irrelevant requested available service.

I congratulate Sony on getting the little things right. Even if the stereo looks dreadfully ugly, houses buttons that often perform the actions of neighbouring buttons instead of their own, has preset EQ settings rather than the much simpler, more practical and better sounding bass and treble knobs, and has a CD laser that stopped working only two years after I started using it.

Battery issues are important. There is not a consumer alive who doesn’t curse a manufacturer when they release a product from its wrapper and open up the battery compartment only to find the bastard thing takes three fucking batteries. Who designs these things? Batteries are only sold packaged in even numbers you twats. I swear it’s a conspiracy. Apart from forcing you to buy an extra battery, it might also encourage some who already have the standard two to find another battery of a different make and use that as the third. Mixing different makes in such a way reduces their lifespan drastically again meaning you have to buy more batteries more often... Conspiracy!

And that is the Capitalist system we live in. Would such a trick be played on communist Vietnam? Well actually yes because Vietnam is as commercial as hell but with electronic goods sold at even more expensive prices than here; although oddly batteries are far cheaper (some indecipherable part of the conspiracy I wonder?)

But what if the whole world was Communist? Not a chance.

There might be lots of other massive massive disadvantages readers but getting conned into buying lots of batteries would not be one of them.

Makes you think doesn’t it?