Thursday, November 26, 2009

M is for magic

So put on the Shpongle and get ready for a trip. This is a zoom into the Mandelbrot set. It doesn't mean anything but what does?

A normal day

This is incredible and I recommend it. Wikileaks has released pager intercepts from 9/11. An ordinary morning is portrayed in pages, alerts, messages. The slow dawning of tragedy is incredible to read.

Of course, these messages will be dissected and chewed over, and "best ofs" will be printed in time (the Guardian gives some at the end of its article.

It brings home to me something I think we forget when we are all "bomb this", "attack here" or "kill the infidel". We are nearly all ordinary people going about our lives. We try to make ourselves happy, and of course that sometimes brings others unhappiness, but generally we are not trying to. We are just people who wake up on normal days, go to work, love each other, live and die in cities that sometimes others want to destroy.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

In teh news

Taking a look at the news, I'm struck as I have been before by wonder that Rupert Murdoch ever made any money, because he demonstrates a level of just not getting it that is astonishing, as evidenced by his proposed deal with Microsoft.

The internet relies on interlinking. If you want to make money from it, you must get eyes on your pages, so that advertisers see the value in putting their ads on your website. So The Times is a valuable ad space partly because Google News drives readers to it. But Murdoch doesn't see that. He sees only the capsules of news on Google News and cries theft. Of course, what Mr Murdoch is crying about is that someone is making money and it's not him.

How did newspapers used to make money? By providing news. It used to be if you wanted to know what was going on, you had to buy a newspaper. You could, once it was invented, also listen to the radio, but newspapers had that whole read on the train to work thing going on. The Times, one should note, was known as the paper of record. Not only did it carry news, but what it printed was the news. The newspaper market was intensely competitive and with the advent of television, newspapers found themselves squeezed in the news business, so more and more they began to provide a broader-spectrum entertainment.

The Sun excelled in this. It brightens up a lot of mornings. But what it isn't is a great source of information. So it can't compete well on the web.

In effect newspapers had a lock on distributing information back in the day, and Murdoch thinks he can still lock that up. But he is as far behind the times as the recording industry, a Canute trying to hold back the cybertide. Information really does want to be free. Google understands that and does not try to sequester it. It simply taps it gently; it has become a conduit for enormous amounts of information and can consequently make money by levying a tiny charge on each piece. Murdoch wants to corral information and make us pay a lot for it.

Unfortunately for Murdoch, his brands don't have enough value for us to want to pay for them in today's market. His companies are, as I found out personally, run by sycophants and turds, their news is profoundly biased and shoddy, and they don't have the bright, exciting voices that you can get for free elsewhere. We just won't miss Sean Hannity or locally Julie Novak or other ranters and haters.

***

Just occasionally you come across something that you cannot find a good way to respond to. The story of the Belgian man who was taken to be in a coma for 23 years but was, although paralysed, rather fully conscious is one of those things.

He survived by drifting into another state of being, by meditating and finding a new consciousness. It is hard to imagine how he could have survived relatively sane, but he has, and it is a testament to the human spirit that he has.

***

Nick Cohen used to be a crusader against injustice. These days he crusades mostly against Islam.

Now, there are issues with Islam, and how it can fit into a secular society, but I have little tolerance for the screeching, Dawkinsites, who wish to denigrate and attack the religious. Religion is mostly harmless. Most, nearly all, Muslims are decent people who use their religion as the foundation of a moral and decent life. The idea that they are at heart screaming dervishes says more about haters like Cohen than it actually does about Muslims.

***

The leaked UEA climate scientist emails prompt some questions, but not, despite the glee of the deniers, about the reality of climate change.

Of course scientists smooth out the data a bit; of course they bullshit on to each other; of course they dislike the other side. There's very little in the emails that were hacked from the UEA server that even ardent deniers could find joy in.

The big problem with climate change is that it is so often framed as an even debate. Both sides have points that they make and each is valid.

Wrong. There are many things in life where this would be the case. Take for instance belief in God. There's no evidence either way and unless the Big Man does cabaret for the masses, there never will be. So we have a difference of opinion. Of course, the "sceptics" have the benefit of rationality, but the believers are not, and cannot be, definitively wrong. We are working from the same facts. The believers just see an invisible sky fairy as emanating from them.

But climate change is not like that. It's a fact. The world is warming because of human-caused carbon emissions. The weight of evidence for it is enormous and wholly compelling. To deny global warming is not to take the same facts as I have and come to a different conclusion. It is to lie about what the facts are, to twist them, ignore them, rearrange them in ways that they do not fit. Ditto creationism and most other instances in which the rational believe one thing and the unhinged another.

***

The "Nubian monkey" scandal illuminates an area you don't often hear about. Did you even know there still were Nubians?

Arab racism is real though. It's in large part what drives the conflict in the Sudan. This comment from the article is superb though:
The absence of a culture of political correctness in a society that generally promotes very limited and monolithic ideals of identity means that minority rights suffer, and that most would dismiss the complaint as an overreaction to a mindless children's tune sung by an equally vacant performer. But it is not only through obvious flare-ups and incidents that discrimination is perpetuated – it is also also through the everyday normalisation of racist address and the apathy this breeds.

This is exactly right. Racism grows when your mate calls someone a nigger and you keep quiet. It flourishes when you nod along with the crowd when they're shitting on about Muslims. It thrives on the oxygen of a Nick Cohen column.

***

If you don't know Charlie Brooker, you should. That is all.

"Treat me like a fool"

When you have been lonely for a long time, you ask yourself, am I just clinging on to whatever, whoever passes by, yet I think I want to know the people I know and I feel they are not just passing conveniences because I would not trade them.

At the start of another long hot day in someone else's office in someone else's house, I am staring at his map of western Asia and I know my brain is memorising the shape of Kazakhstan and what good will that ever do me?

It's easy to ask what good anything I do will ever do me, as though the purpose of my life was to do me good and not just to feel good about what I am doing. Maybe it is not even something I do; maybe it really is something that just happens to me -- and how good or bad it will be depends on how I am about it. Right now I am okay.

I know what you are thinking though. If you are lonely, make friends. But it's not easy to push yourself beyond your boundaries when you are unsure that there is anything worthwhile to project. Twice recently I have been reminded that I am not interesting enough for people to want to know. Two old friends -- one an acquaintance to put it more accurately, but the other an old friend who I met up with in the UK when I went there -- wrote to me and I wrote back, excited and I thought conveying that excitement. Neither replied. This happens to me a lot. I know it's not a big deal. People have lives that I am barely a tiny part of. Even people who I don't think have much of a life still have a day to day that doesn't include me. But what you know and what you feel are not always in alignment.

I am constituted to go with what I feel. I couldn't change that because it's what I consist in. If I did change it, what would I be like? Would I "fulfil my potential"? Or would I simply become more coldly calculating? Would I be happier if I knew the answers, or knew how to pursue them? I know I am capable of feeling my way to happiness -- I know that with a certainty that is diamond hard because I do feel it sometmes and I know why -- but can I reason my way into it?

I sometimes wonder whether I have constructed myself this way to avoid hard answers, to make wrongness right. What I mean is, if you do wrong, you may hold yourself up to moral inquisition and blame. But if you say, I just felt it was right, you can excuse yourself. I have been trying to unravel where I have done that, not because I want to beat myself up for wasting my life and opportunities but because I don't want to continue to do it.

***

When I was, I think I was 14, I had a crush on a girl called Sally. She seemed special to me -- mostly special to look at because I didn't know her to talk to. I would watch from the window of my class as she walked to her class. She had a dignity of carriage that I still find incredibly attractive in women -- a certainty that she was worthwhile that she expressed in how she bore herself -- and she was pretty. I believed that I would be a good boyfriend for her: I did not think anything of my looks, although in fact, looking back at my pictures, I was handsome enough, but I was sensitive and kind, and I was sure that away from the playground I could listen to what she had to say and find good things to say to her. I wrote poetry about her, about my unrequited love and my dreams of walking hand in hand with her, or whatever I dreamed of. (Then, as now, I saw the person I loved as someone I wanted to hold gently, rather than someone I wanted to have sex with, although of course I was old enough to think of women in that way. She seemed too nice to think of like that.) In any case, one morning I found reserves of courage that I did not know I had and asked her out. She turned me down flat. She may even have laughed at the idea, I don't remember, but certainly she was scornful. I had to wait till lunchtime to be able to find somewhere private where I could cry.

I felt a bitter injustice. I knew I could be right for her and I had no way to show it. She had disallowed something good that I had to offer. And worse, she did it unkindly. After that, I no longer watched her from the window, I no longer wrote poetry about her (although I still have the poetry I did write) and I tried to still my thoughts about her.

But I do believe that my world should be just. I don't know why, but I do. I believed it then and I believe it now, even though I am perfectly aware it is irrational to think so. I could not credit that someone I had thought so wonderful could be cruel, so I rationalised the injustice away. I came to believe that she had chosen correctly, that I was not worth going out with, that I was too ugly, too boring, too vapid. It never occurred to me that it could simply be that some strange boy, who she had no awareness of, had approached her out of the blue and taken her unawares. Tell my heart that! It won't listen. And anyway, I was not wrong. I would have been a good boyfriend for her or anyone, and when later I had girlfriends, I was good for them. The injustice was the world's, in that it equipped me poorly in means to show her that I was the right choice, or mine, in that I expected a world that does not care to care about me, to nurture me, to not let me be lonely or unhappy, because I am still that gentle boy looking out of the window yearning and I don't know how not to be.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Estranged

At South Bank the twins are playing in the water park while I stand and watch. Here is my life in a nutshell. I feel like I am always outside, looking in at the action, or more accurately, in the middle of things, but indwelling, tucked up so tight I cannot impinge on others at all.

I'm not shy, and I don't find it hard to talk to people; I just don't know how to. I don't know how to come outside of myself and make someone else want to listen to me. At the casino, I spoke to three people who I didn't come with. One was an Irish guy with a huge stack of chips at an NL250 table. Are you good or lucky, I asked him. He said he had hit some hands. He had been there since 12, 11 hours all up, so I realised that he had to be good and the game very soft. At a table with a buyin capped at $250, he had amassed seven or eight thousand, it looked like to me. So I want to play there, but even if you beat the game, which I'm sure I would, you can lose, so I need a lot of money as a cushion. M says he will back me for 500 and I will put in 500, so that's four stacks. Four stacks! I could lose that in ten minutes if I hit a few coolers.

So I also talked to a woman who bumped into me in the Livewire Bar, but her attention was almost straight away distracted by someone who had, she shrieked, appeared on the television show, Farmer wants a wife. I'd like to think I'm more interesting than the average farmer, but apparently not. I also spoke some to an older woman, because we both laughed at something that happened and that's a good way to get talking, but I could not find a topic of conversation that worked for her, and I couldn't see any point to bothering.

In the waterpark, there was a woman who might have been Greek or Italian, Mediterranean let's say, who was quite stunning. She was playing in the water with an infant and what I took to be her child's grandfather. From time to time, she would get a distant look, which struck me as expressing an inner weariness. Her husband was sitting behind me but did not join her and she didn't look at him. When she left, he did not touch her in any way, and I thought, your marriage is over and you don't even know it yet.

Because here's a thing. You have a relationship with someone on many levels, and some can be missing, but you need a decent number of them to make it worthwhile. It's as though each of you transmits on several channels and some can become blocked. It seems very hard to me to continue though if you do not have a physical relationship.

The other day, Mrs Zen wrote to me that yeah, she realises now she could have had sex once a week and that would have made things better. Way to not get it! A physical relationship is not sex that you schedule once a week! I didn't feel I lacked sex. I felt I lacked physical intimacy, the ability to express my love and affection for someone by being in their physical proximity, by touching them, kissing them, simply being near them. It's especially important to me because I don't like touching people very much, and don't like them to get too near to me. So if I want to feel you next to me, to touch your face, to stroke your hair, you are special to me.

So it was bad when Mrs Zen stopped talking to me, making me feel as though I was too boring to listen to, my perspective unwelcome; bad because I had no one else in my life -- my friends had moved away and I worked from home, so I had no one adult even to say hello to. But I could live with that. I knew my marriage was over when she broke our physical relationship. Not just by refusing to have sex, because for me, sex has never been just the thing that you do at the end of the evening, but a natural development of the relationship you have, and express, throughout your life. Why would sex, even nightly, with an uninterested partner who is doing you a favour, be anything anyone would want? A relationship, a mutuality, that is everything. (I guess I will one day post about why I know this is true for me, because in fact there is good reason for me to believe it.)

So when I think about what I want, I don't think I want someone I can have sex with. I have never seen sex as a goal to pursue. I want someone I can want to be near. Of course that desire is built on other things, the mutual affection you express has to be built up out of the other channels of your relationship, and there can be valid reasons it lacks. But when it is gone, its lack is like a sore that will poison every other aspect of your togetherness, because if you are never together, you are never together.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

At Byron Bay

A few years ago, before we had children, Mrs Zen and I separated for a year. The circumstances were different then from where we are now and it marked a low point in life that I had to scrape myself up from. Which I did. I got my life in good shape and in time approached Mrs Zen about a reconciliation.

I was aware then that I would not have been able to offer enough to her unless I had changed, but I did change and she liked what she saw. I visited Australia for a week, and during that week we took a trip to Byron Bay.

So Byron is a special place for me because we had a great trip and rediscovered the friendship that had been the basis of our relationship. We walked on the beach and talked, which we were capable of doing back then. I am not sure whether it was more about not having wanted to have failed than about really wanting to be with her, but it felt like the latter as the sun set over the bay and, when I have the opportunity to follow my heart, I will do that.

It's easy for it to be special: Byron is like heaven on earth--it's a nice, laidback backpacker haven, slowmoving and relaxed, with a fine beach and the same good climate we have here. On my recent trip it blew gales, but generally the weather is fantastic. On the Sunday night, as I relaxed with a beer on a warm afternoon, at the pub that looks out over the sea, I felt--albeit briefly--that life needn't turn out badly for me. (And if I could live in Byron forever, maybe it wouldn't, who knows, but I couldn't, and anyway, I would be as lonely there as I am here, because that is about me, not the place.)

So this time I walked on the beach with M, and it was a different feeling. Of course I didn't have the optimism I had back then, and there is no romance in walking at midday with a mate (no offence to M but he's not my type!). Such is my life, and it feels like a pity that this was as good as it has been for me in a while.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

We never lose even when banished

My friend Father Luke has been living happily with his gf Jenifer, whose best quality from my point of view is that she appreciates a man I believe to be fine, who has overcome adversity without losing a wide streak of humanity and goodness. She posted a "poem" by her brother, whose house they have been living in (and which he has now expelled them from). I don't recognise the person he depicts in that cyber graffito, but I do recognise the type that Jenifer's brother represents: the hatred of outsiders, the anger about "different" lifestyles, the fear, the boiling resentment the fear engenders, the well of ugliness that rightwing demagogues draw on, it's all there. Jenifer seems to have the misfortune to have a cracker for a brother.

My view is that you don't have to like your sister's bf but if you love your sister, you are going to have to summon up some goodwill at least. This seems the minimum required by simple human decency. Sadly, a world in which we see Americans marching in the streets demanding that the government not give them benefits that will cost them nothing because they hate the idea of others getting them, is not overstocked in simple human decency.

I commented on Father Luke's blerg about the whole incident and I'll repeat it here. This is the bottom line for me in why we are not in a negotiation with the right wing, not in a position to compromise, but must oppose them and what they want:

The suspicion haunts crackers that others are able to love and be loved because they are finer people than the crackers, so they come to despise others. They are best combatted by continuing to love those we love fiercely and by extending to them unrelenting resistance to their worldview, which is in every way inferior to ours.

Vale Robert Enke

I have been deeply saddened to read about the suicide of German goalkeeper Robert Enke.

His widow says he spent years trying to hide his depression, because he feared that the authorities would not think him fit to keep his adopted daughter. Enke had lost his first daughter to illness.

This doesn't seem rational on the face of it but I know that you can create your own interior rationality, which you then need to integrate with that of the rest of the world. (Although, of course, what seems like a consensus is merely the interaction of six billion interior rationalities, or that portion of them you encounter.)

There is no lesson to be drawn from this. I do not think Enke could be rescued or healed. He drifted far enough away from life, from loving his wife, from his pride in his ability, his enjoyment of life that he could not come back. You cannot talk someone back or drug them back. I doubt you can even show them the way. Enke would have been able to rationalise everything into pain because all depressives are Buddhists, that's all they are, people who have realised that all life is suffering, but cannot find the way to put their feet on the Noble Path.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

We speak Shpongolese here

Just so we're clear, it's not up for debate whether this is brilliant. We are only discussing how brilliant it is.



My view? Aphex Twin brilliant. That good. The production is just seamless and the depth and complexity of the musical ideas second to none. This is the pinnacle of electronica, as good as it gets or is going to get. Best album of the year, and the distance between it and second best is enormous. If you love music, you love this, end of discussion.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Beautiful dads

When I pass Zenita in the hallway, I touch her arm, or stroke her hair, or bend to kiss her. I was looking at her at the breakfast table and she is growing into a beautiful little girl. She is the spit of her mother. It is curious that she and Naughtyman were born at the same time because they are so different.

I hug Naughtyman too, when we are in the same space. He will not always let you hold him -- he has so much else to do: usually involving the computer. But Zenella will always stop to be cuddled. She craves affection, the constant demonstration that she is loved. When you upset her, she will shout, you don't love me.

I do love her. She cannot doubt it. It is part of who I am in the deepest sense to want to show people I love that I love them, to give them affection, to be close to them and let them feel wanted and needed. It was one of the hardest things in my failed marriage when Mrs Zen turned away from me in our bed and stopped wanted to be held at night. There is nothing worse for me than for someone to tell me, to show me, I do not want you to love me any more.

I did not know this so clearly before I moved back here. But I learned it when I had children, how important it was to me. I understand it very well, why it is. When I was a little boy, my dad would often show me physical affection. When he came home from work, he would have us one by one in his lap and cuddle us, and he would often play roughhouse with me on the carpet. My mum would be angry because she thought it was dangerous, but I wasn't fragile, and I was delighted to be close to my dad. I would kiss him goodnight every night, until he told me not to.

I don't know why he stopped wanting me to know he loved me. I don't believe he stopped loving me, but it felt like it. I think the only times my dad touched me in my teens were the couple of occasions he punched me. I remember, very distantly, his talking to me about how men kissing each other was gay, and I think that is why he stopped wanting me to kiss him goodnight. I would not have stopped. I didn't stop loving him or wanting him to love me, no matter what he did or said to me. Today, we sometimes have a stiff, uncomfortable hug when we meet. It doesn't come naturally to him but it means a lot to me: I know he loves me. My beautiful dad, that damaged little boy who seems forever distanced from himself, inside him a soul that no one can touch, I know he loves me and that is all I want, or have ever wanted, from him.