Established 2003. Now incorporating The Sudbury Hill Harrow and Wherever End Times

Sunday, July 31, 2005

Language as understanding

You could argue that while we have no language to describe, we have no understanding. When people say they can't understand the motivation of the suicide bombers in London, at the same time they are saying that they have no language to describe it. I thought when Police Commissioner Blair said they behaved like a cult, a death cult, that was it - he had classified them for us. It's a way of understanding Al Qaeda, a religious cult with a typical charismatic leader, and a typical tropism to suicide of the members.

I'm only referring here to the indoctrination of the cult members, their organisation and behaviour. The politics underlying the formation of the cult are more complex and are well-known. A lot of people agree on some of the politics, and are angry about the injustices, but very few are minded as a result to kill themselves and massacre the general public.

Equally when people talked about a clash of cultures or clash of civilisations, we were at a loss to know how to answer. Was it something observed, which simply had to be accepted? We hadn't the language to respond. That is why it seems helpful to me that the Spanish prime minister should call for an alliance of civilisations to combat terrorism. Even if it's embraced by the most guilty, as a sort of cop-out, I think it's a useful idea, a useful phrase, a worthwhile aim. It sounds very simple now, but until the language was adduced it was as if we were to some extent in a state of suspense and danger, a question was left hanging.

When the Spanish prime minister contemplated the problem, perhaps his thoughts constituted a search for the words, and his words are a gift to us, a gift of understanding conveyed in words. Not new words, but a classification of something unclassified, with a rightness, a sort of solution to a puzzle. The quest for understanding of something being a puzzle, and the words of explanation being the solution. It might be a solution instinctively known, and embodied in the behaviour of "right-thinking" people, but until the words were formulated there was a hunger, a need, an uncertainty. From uncertainty, fear and anger and then violence are born.

What is the sense of rightness, of solution that I feel on hearing these words? One person's solution may ring true to some people, but false to others. For me I think it's the extent to which the solutions, the new words, give hope and reassurance, and also propose a goal or direction to pursue that leads towards peace and security, away from war and the threat of destruction.


Friday, July 29, 2005

Small Wonder

"THE short story festival"

Speaking of Rachel Seiffert (see below)... Not to mention Ian Rankin, William Boyd, Zadie Smith, Grace Paley, many more and the exceptional Irish novelist and short story writer John McGahern, a hero of mine. I've got my tickets.

Charleston was a secluded retreat for the Bloomsbury literary set, very close to the middle of nowhere, which is no bad place at all. As well as a beautiful house, lived in, but open for viewing at set times, with sequestered pond, statues, tea room- it is also a working farm. You can actually stand and watch till the cows come home, heavy, ungainly like primeval creatures migrating, one lame one straggling last behind the herd.

There is a huge barn where the readings take place, an unusual, uneven environment, with eerie sounds of wind and trees by night and the occasional bird twittering and flitting far above in the rafters. One smart bird interrupted Yann Martel. I think the birds are critics there. It works.

I'm going to try and enter the short story slam again this year. My piece from last year is still online, I think, somewhere here (update: not any more). Small Wonder runs from September 15th to 18th. Don't wear your brothel creepers.


Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Clerical murder*


Iran executes 2 gay teenagers

The Iranian clerics should be dumped in the rubbish bin of history, to stew for eternity in shame, infamy and contempt. They are maniacs, destroying this world to satisfy their own bloodlust and bigotry. All those despicable old ratbags should be run out of town.

The same disgusting oafs who try to subjugate men, want to enslave women and treat them as chattels, like "precious jewels" - like property. They've even brainwashed them to forget their right to freedom. No man should be under the heel of any superstitious, irrational tyranny. And no person, woman or man, should be the property of any other. That such unregenerate, blind old fools should enslave and subjugate their people is beyond endurance.

To hell with them, strike for freedom! Down with them! Fight you women, fight you men who yearn for freedom, smash the clerical regime to smithereens! Let it be a hateful memory to fade quickly in the light of a new, humane, non-religious, free and fair society. To hell with all religion and clerics, may they vanish from the earth.

E. L. Voynich

*Will this breach the proposed new law against Incitement to Religious Hatred? Ed

On the train to Cardiff today

There was a very big man, who needed two seats, diagonally opposite me with a table between us. He was a bus driver, with vouchers that let him travel anywhere on Great Western for a fiver. He had a hot pie and beer for breakfast. A lot of crumbs were flying everywhere. He read a magazine about steam trains for a while. Told me all about the places he could go with his vouchers, up the Pennine way, Carlisle etc. He went to San Francisco last year. Not very many trains in America. Thirteen in the morning and thirteen in the evening rush hour and that's your lot, in San Francisco. It has a good underground, but it doesn't go very far. Las Vegas has no train station at all. The railway goes through but doesn't stop. We both agreed that was very funny. Our train was 20 minutes late, had to slow down because of some problem ahead. Nothing, apparently. Know how many late the trains are arriving in San Francisco from Chicago? 130. What, 130 minutes? Yeah. They had to follow behind a train two miles long full of pig iron or something like that, going up hills at about 12 miles per hour. Two of these things collided there some time ago head on, and the locos were flipped 120 yards away. Know how much one of those locos weighs? 160. 160 tons. Insisted on helping me locate the slot for my Bluetooth adapter on the back of my notebook computer, took command and slotted it in. He has one of them on his as well.


Monday, July 25, 2005

Running to catch a train? Shot dead

Short walk and the No2 bus - a very ordinary journey to death

Could Jean Charles de Menezes have been shot because he ran to catch a train arriving in the station? He was late for his appointment in Kilburn, ran to catch the train, and as he reached the doors, was felled by detectives and shot. If there were any challenges*, he might not have been aware that they were for him, for example.

Somebody on Radio 4 just asked the question, why was he allowed to make a bus journey if they thought he was a suicide bomber? That's another puzzle. You can visualise the police not thinking of killing him till he started to run -- to catch a train?

*There are reports that the secret new Kratos guidelines police are operating under forbid any warnings to suspected suicide bombers. They are to be shot without warning. You can draw your own conclusions. Ed.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

No man should ever...


A concise horror story.


Real estate / real politik / one state not two

Israel has seized the West Bank, it looks as if Jordan doesn't want it back, and the Gaza strip is separated from the West Bank by a long stretch of Israel. Both the Palestinians and the Israelis want Jerusalem as their capital. Isn't it obvious that the only way forward is one state including Israel, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, with its capital in Jerusalem? Forget about a state for one religion / people / nationality. It's time to stop dividing and excluding people and start bringing them together.

Mona Bone-Jakon*

*Mona's book 'Instant Solutions to All Problems' will be published next year. Note: No connection with Ayatollah Khomeini's book 'Solutions to All Problems' is intended. If you want to know whether it's lawful to have sex with your auntie by accident following an earthquake which causes you to fall through the ceiling into her bed, the Ayatollah's book is still the first place to look.

Science for the Confused - an occasional series

No. 4: Quantum science meets Ontology

Problem: Split a photon, each half always maintains the opposite spin to the other even when the spin on one is changed and the other half is far away but its spin changes instantaneously too. Any communication between the two halves would have to travel at faster than the speed of light, which is impossible.

Could it be that part of the split photon exists only in one dimension, a dimension which we cannot cut. We can take a two-dimensional drawing, cut it in half and move the two halves around, thus changing the relationship of lines in the two halves. But we cannot cut an unknown dimension, and move two halves of an entity into a different relationship with each other. In other words some property of the photon is not involved with three-dimensional space, does not partake of it, existing only in the one dimension which we cannot cut and thus the two halves are still locked together in that dimension, and the communication between them is along that dimension and so remains instantaneous. The parts we see in our dimensions are tied together by a string in another dimension, which we cannot cut and which is involved with the spin of the parts we can see.

At the quantum level we hit the boundary of our dimensions, the wall between existence and non-existence, the limit of what we can investigate with our three dimensions. Timespace is the dimension of existence, the more something exists the longer it is in timespace. To have no timespace is not to exist at all. To look for something with no timespace is for it to disappear, to see it at the smallest timespace possible is to watch it come into existence, but particle or wave, is there another dimension that allows our dimensions to come into existence? The question of existence is not why, not when, not how, but what. What is it? What does existence consist of?

Must everything be made of something, something else, can nothing be made of itself? When everything we know about is inventoried, listed, exploded into a kit of parts, and there is nothing else however tiny to see through any microscope, and nothing else however huge to see through any telescope, and everything has been written down, we will still have the question "What?" What is it made of? An element may be said to be made of atoms of something and atoms may be made of something else but at the end of the list, what is the last something made of?

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Professor Kronk*

*Note: Our science correspondent changed his name by deed poll to Professor Kronk. He was formerly Helmut Kronk. Ed

No benefits unless you swear an oath of non-aggression


Nobody whether native or foreign should receive any benefits from the British state unless they swear an oath on whatever they believe in - Bible, Koran, whatever - that they will not perpetrate or incite others to perpetrate violence against the people of this country, or against any fixture or entity belonging to this country, whether at home or abroad, if such violence entails injury to people of any nationality in the vicinity of such entity.

This oath should be applied retrospectively to such people living on benefits as the various poisonous so-called sheikhs who condone such attacks, so that they publicly swear on the Koran to denounce, and renounce the attackers, and to support the right of people in this country to freedom from such attacks. The penalty for failure to take the oath should be removal of all state benefits, public housing and in the case of foreign nationals, deportation to their own country, any other country willing to take them, or failing all else, Antartica.*

Taxpayer, Willesden
(Name and address supplied)

*Exile to Antartica doesn't sound very practical. Why don't we give them a rowing boat each, a pair of oars, a bucket and a fishing rod, and set them adrift in international waters? That seems fair. Ed

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Look out Fleet Street, we're moving in

At last we'll be able to take on the Thunderer, gobsmack the Guardian, outshine the Sun... How? Thanks to typical Euro incompetence. A mix-up in the Spanish lottery ("El Gordo") has resulted in a windfall for yours truly and a number of other lucky people whose names and addresses got mangled in some Brussels banana-straightening computer. All I have to do now is send my bank account details and signature by return to Madrid, on the fund transfer form provided* to claim the sum of 596,879.94 euros. And all thanks to Mr Antonio Pratt of Allan Security Company S.A. whose eagle eye spotted this marvellous Euro cock-up and kindly took the trouble to notify the beneficiaries by post. Give that man a medal.

Red Woodward

*One tiny thing, Mr Pratt, you might like to check the spelling on that form. I don't think "Paided by" sounds right. Feargal?

Monday, July 18, 2005

A very welcome radio programme

Late Story - Short stories in the small hours

Currently reading from "Field Studies" by Rachel Seiffert, including the beautiful, yes and haunting as they nearly always say, award winning story, "The Crossing". I wish I could write like Rachel Seiffert. Her story reminded me a little of something by Platonov. It's marvellous, though I was a disappointed to hear at the end that it had been "abridged by" somebody. That explains why it flew by so quickly. Ironic, considering the story is about crossing a river near a bombed out bridge.

I heard some high up on Radio 4 say they would include some new short stories as well as classics, and that they would be open to submissions though she also referred to the BBC Writers Room for further guidance. I hope that's not just another BBC "show willing" exercise / distraction.


The definition of a martyr

Religion for Dummies - Part 1

A martyr is somebody who is killed for his or her beliefs, not somebody who kills himself or herself. A martyr is someone who is killed, not someone who kills. Idiots who blow themselves up in a crowd of civilians are as far from martyrdom as they can ever get. They are stupid, inhumane people who live and die in ignorance, duped and killed by their own dispatchers.

Rev. I. Draper

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Another fire tonight

If you draw a straight line from St Mary Magdelen's church spire to St Andrew's church spire and extend it, the fire is somewhere along that line, which is virtually due north. It looks like it might be in Cricklewood. The one on Thursday (see below) was due west.

Update: Monday 20th

It's still smouldering, though steam not smoke is its output now. I believe it was that mountain of wooden pallets that grows near Staples Corner, which I believe is hauled away weekly. The fire disrupted traffic nearby. Ed.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

2 minutes silence at Edgware Road

I was driving today near Edgware Road underground and got caught in the two-minute silence. Well I suppose that's an ungenerous way of looking at it, let me say rather I took part in the two-minute silence. All the traffic stopped for more like 10 minutes from 5 to 12 till 5 or 10 past 12 p.m. Workers came out of offices. Chefs with tall chef hats were among the staff from the Metropole on the corner opposite. People got out of their cars to look. The car radio announced it was on 2 minutes silence after the chimes of Big Ben. I couldn't see anything, but people ahead of me were looking across the road towards the station, so I assume there was some sort of ceremony. I saw more on TV when I got home. Staff from St Mary's Hospital came and stood in front of the main entrance, nurses, doctors. These were people who had treated the wounded. The Greek bus driver whose bus was blown up, gave an eloquent and marvellous speech. This man walked for 6 miles covered in blood in shock after the blast, but today he could have been a famous author or politician. We have great people driving buses and in all walks of life, you know, we just don't hear them often.


Forget the Macarena (if only we could)

Numa Numa Dance

Grown people have been known to wet themselves laughing at this (not men, people.)

Factory fire near Wembley

Visible for miles. 50 firefighters fighting it, according to BBC. Advice to close your windows and turn off air conditioning if you are in the area.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Friday, July 08, 2005

Hellooooooooo London!

Hi, everybody. I've been to Hopfast Grange for a week, lost a few pounds, eaten a few sticks of celery, been slapped by stocky women in white uniforms and watched a lot of Sky Movies. Did anything happen while I was away?


Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Starting today: "All about fruit"

1. Know your melons

with Kelly Peck*

Here's how to pick a watermelon, cantaloupe or other melon.
Please realize "maturity" is different than "ripeness."
Maturity is the state of full development. Physical growth stops.
Ripeness, for comparison, means ready to eat.
For instance, commercial growers pick tomatoes when they are mature. Those tomatoes will not grow bigger, no matter how long they stay on the vine. However, they are inedible: green, unripe, but if allowed to stay on the vine, would ripen. They are picked, treated to ripen and then shipped off to markets. Got it?

Melons have tell-tale signs of maturity, and of ripeness.
Maturity: First, look at the melon. Are the sides concave or convex? If concave, hollow, with hourglass figure, that melon was not mature. If convex, full, or fat, it is mature. Another test is, check the stem end. Best if the stem has fallen away entirely, or withered on its own. If it's been cut, suspect it of being immature.
Ripeness: Check the spot on the rind that isn't green. If white, it isn't ripe. A yellow color reveals a degree of ripeness.
For cantaloupes and other non-water-melons, check the blossom end. A ripe melon should be soft and smell good.
'Thumping" a watermelon has a science. Imagine there are fibers in the watermelon flesh similar to your vocal cords. If those fibers are short, the melon "pings" as a sign it's not ripe. A ripe watermelon has a longer fiber and a deeper tone, "thunk."

*Kelly Peck is the "chief pimp poet and bottle-filler" of Urge Vitamins. Visit his website at

Willesden Herald lifestyle - "The fruit is out there"

Monday, July 04, 2005

Mosquito blows up car

Deep Impact smashes all expectations

"[...] the Hubble Space Telescope [...] took three images, presented [in] an animation here. It shows the inner cloud of dust and gas surrounding the comet's nucleus increasing by 200 kilometres (about 120 miles) in size." (New Scientist)

Some mosquito that turned out to be. It only requires a small effort to affect the course of an object significantly at a great distance. Maybe they hit it with a nuclear weapon, secretly, to test possible defences against asteroids?

Well, I suppose you think they went to the moon - haven't you seen that excellent documentary, Capricorn One?

By the way, I've just remembered I pushed the QE2 a half metre from its dock just for fun one day, with the tip of my little finger.*

Prof. Kronk

*Note: Are you sure you didn't imagine that after being hit on the head by that guanabana / soursop / guyabano? Ed.

Slideshow (reprint)

If you want to see a slideshow of Ossian Lennon's & Onion Mbeke's pictures click here.

Fireworks (reprint)

Trafalgar 200? The 4th of July? Fallujah?

Friday, July 01, 2005

Comments - restored*

The comments lost on switching to the free Blogger system have now been restored. The third-party "Squawkbox" system was replaced in January 2005, so the "old comments" link below only relates to articles posted before 2005. They were backed up in an archive XML file and I have written a computer program to extract them and save them as HTML pages, one per article.

Simon Moribund

Versions of this message are available in Hindi, Punjabi, Urdu, Gujurati, Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, Welsh, Swahili and English

*Well done, Simon - a feat comparable with recreating the library of Alexandria. Reading those ancient documents makes me realise that I've forgotten more than I ever knew. Ed