Fresh babble here! Innocent bystanders Stale babble here Who's to blame Zander's Tangle Last babble Last babble
Log of Smallship One - Passionate and Confused
I'm just, you know...I'm just the guy who does the thing.
All science fiction
Is bittersweet today
For every grand prediction
Has now been blown away.
We'll never voyage to the stars
Or find our destiny--
Move along, show's over,
There's nothing more to see.

It wasn't very long ago
We thought we were the boss
We knew all that there was to know
The profit and the loss
When others spoke of hubris
We called it lunacy--

When science showed us how to burn
The earth whereon we stood
To go a little faster
We said that it was good
We didn't care about the smoke
We drove on eagerly--

Then came the dawn of industry
We thought that that was best
You make a lot more money
If your workers never rest
Surround yourself with useless things
Call it prosperity--

And now we make more food each day
That we could ever need
And all the while across the world
Are hungry mouths to feed
We throw away our surplus while
They starve in misery--

The boundaries of survival
Are dwindling in our wake
The planet's had about as much
As it's prepared to take
Our avarice and arrogance
Will bring their legacy--

Our leaders scoff at science now
When once they lent an ear
It isn't saying anything
They really want to hear
The tune is drawing to a close
The piper wants his fee--

And in a few decades from now
The last of us will die
Our vast machines will slowly rot
Beneath an empty sky
The tale was fun, but now it's done
No more humanity--

Move along, show's over,
We've already lost the game
It's finished bar the shouting
And the rush to place the blame.
We'll blame the odds and blame the gods
And others' apathy
And you'll blame me and I'll blame you
But it really doesn't matter who
There's nothing anyone can do
The race is run, the story's through
We're poisoning all the water and the air--
So there won't be anyone around to care--
Not even a policeman
To issue the stern decree:
Move along,
Show's over,
There's no. thing. more. to. see.
What they all said (2) . Unless... You wanted to say something?
I'm thinking of two realms.

(I should point out, for anyone who hasn't guessed, that my knowledge of science is of the rudimentariest, but that I'm not talking here about anything I would describe as metaphysical. I also should acknowledge a debt here to Diane Duane's The Wounded Sky, possibly the best Star Trek novel ever.)

One is the realm of what we know as matter and energy, space and time, and I think of it rather like John Wheeler's quantum foam, consisting of minute bubbles floating in an interstitial medium. Each of these bubbles is what I call in Oonaverse a "protocosm," a potential universe, microscopically small in terms of the meta-space in which it exists, having no internal dimensions at that point. The other is a realm of (so far) undifferentiated awareness, possibly organised on similar lines; I'm not as sure about that.

At some point (since meta-space would presumably require meta-time as well) there is an incursion from the realm of mind into the realm of matter. One of the protocosms, acted upon by this incursion, begins to expand internally, acquiring its own spatial and temporal dimensions, the matter and energy within it organising itself according to physical laws. The point of incursion is pulled apart by the expansion, fragmenting into innumerable smaller holes each of which is attached to a particular locus, a point of matter or a quantum of energy. Time within the universe goes by, and the awareness that is attached to each hole becomes differentiated from the rest of the realm of mind, believing itself to be "in" the universe of matter and energy that has been thus created. This in turn has progressive effects on the realm of mind itself; the idea of differentiation spreads, and there are further incursions, further universes created; while the separate units of consciousness which believe themselves to be physical beings inhabiting a universe of matter retain only a dim half-memory, if that, of the realm of mind from which we came, and, as we find ourselves viewing our universe through wider and wider holes, evolving physical mechanisms to extend the range of our agency, we wonder how, in a purely physical universe, such a thing as mind could possibly have originated.

You may not think much of it as an idea, but it works for me.
What they all said (1) . Unless... You wanted to say something?
" that it's true whether or not you believe in it."

I woke up this morning (please stop strumming that guitar) and practically the first thing I saw when I looked at the net was tthis statement, attractively printed on a t-shirt and attributed to Neil deGrasse Tyson, the darling of the Smart Set.

You have to admire it. It's textbook. The perfect example of the stealth insult. On a personal level the equivalent would be something like "the thing I love best about my mom is that she's not a cheap whore." It's got absolute plausible deniability. Hey, the guy's just talking about his mom. Implying? He's not implying anything. What you choose to read into what he's saying, why, that's up to you. Geez. Touch-eee. Maybe, you know, if you're so sensitive about it, maybe there's something about your mom you don't want people to know, hmmm?

And of course, it's perfectly true. Isn't it?

Well, let's just examine it for a moment.

"The good thing about science is that it's true whether or not you believe in it."

For a start, it's badly phrased. "Science" cannot be true or false. It's a method, a methodology if you like, for finding and communicating facts. It cannot in itself be true or false, any more than "language" can be true or false in itself (Gödel). The statement should, I think, read "The good thing about the things science tells us is that they're true whether or not you believe in them." Yes, I think that's better. Not so good as a soundbite, but more accurate, and undeniably true. Isn't it?

I wonder, was it true in the sixteenth century? The seventeenth? The eighteenth? The nineteenth? I don't think so. What science told us then has since been revealed as only partially true, if that. Even what science told us in the twentieth century has been called into question in light of facts we couldn't discover, or prove, in previous epochs. Science is an ongoing process, every true scientist will tell you that.

So can we go with "The good thing about the things science tells us now is that they're true whether or not you believe in them"?

You know, I'm not sure we can. I'm not sure that, without cognisance of what science may tell us in the future, we can thus privilege its utterances now. If they had tried that in previous centuries, after all, they would have been embarrassingly wrong about a lot of things. But let's not get too bogged down in details. The scientific method is, after all, one of proven reliability, all our technologies are based on the things it has told us that have by chance turned out to be at least apparently true, and I'm sure it will one day come up with definite answers to our questions that will not be superseded by later discoveries. So we can arrive, finally, at an unchallengeable reformulation of Dr Tyson's statement:

"The good thing about the things I believe science will tell us one day is that they'll be true whether or not you believe in them."

Now that's a true statement, and I do believe it.

But we're not done yet. What is truth, said jesting Pilate, and all that. Is there such a thing as a statement that is true if you believe in it and not true if you don't? Dr Tyson seems to think there might be, but I'm not so sure. I'm a simple sort of soul; to me there is true and not true. If my shirt is green, no amount of belief on my part will make it red. If there is no invisible unicorn in this room, no amount of belief on my part will make there be one. I'm not in a position to prove either of these things--you might all believe my shirt is green, just as I do, but that doesn't constitute evidence that it is, and I don't have the kit for spectral analysis of the dyes--but that has no bearing on whether they are true or false. If there is an invisible unicorn in this room, then there is, just as there were (presumably) quarks and Higgs bosons and dark matter in Galileo's time even though they had no way of knowing it, or proving it with their science. If there is something true that science cannot prove right now, then it is true nonetheless, and belief is as irrelevant to that as it is to the things that it has (provisionally) proved.

The good thing about things that are true is that they are true whether or not you can prove them, with science or in any other way.

I ought to put that on a t-shirt.
What they all said (7) . Unless... You wanted to say something?
smallship1 is (if I've done this right) Lev Grossman's Tolkien Memorial lecture. I'm going on cherylmmorgan's notes here, because I have not yet watched it myself, but among other things he apparently says that what is wrong with fantasy is that it has become fat.

Ooo, so many ways one could go from there. Fat equals lazy, stupid, smelly, self-indulgent, gross. Fantasy should obviously get out more, take some exercise, find some self-respect, or at least show consideration for other people who don't want to see that kind of thing. If you listen closely you can hear A Song Of Ice And Fire tearfully insisting that it's really just big-boned, or The Wheel Of Time telling anyone who'll listen that it's a glandular disorder, honestly, its editor said so.

Pardon me while I vomit.

It's been obvious for some time that since it's got harder to be nasty to black people, women, gay people, Jews, and the disabled, fat people are next on the bigotry list. I've seen it rising, and the valiant efforts of campaigners against body fascism are not so far succeeding in turning the tide. And the conclusive sign of an embedded bigotry is when it manifests in metaphor. That of course started ages ago, with Thatcher insisting that businesses and government departments should be "lean," which of course means throwing almost everyone out of work. And now here we are. What's wrong with fantasy is that it's fat.

Cheryl asks in her post "Does fat fantasy need to be destroyed?" and concludes that quite possibly it does. For its own good, I imagine. As an act of mercy. As you would painlessly destroy a fat person. We should read something that's better for us instead. I don't believe the argument has actually been advanced that fat fantasy makes fat fantasy fans, but you can almost see it, there in the wings, waiting for its cue.

(Oh, and apparently M John Harrison doesn't think we should read stories at all any more. I shall certainly gratify his wish by continuing not to read any of his.)

This has made me really, really angry. Facebook angry.


What you do with your body, what you do with your books...your choice. Nobody else's.

If you want to claim there's something wrong with fantasy today, that it's not what it was when Lewis and Tolkien were writing (obviously true), that too is your choice. But there are good metaphors and there are bad metaphors, and the metaphor used here is a quite astoundingly bad choice. Especially when you then claim that fat fantasy is a fossilised skeleton.

I'm angry, and I'm disappointed, and I don't for one moment suppose anyone will understand why.

Sorry about this.

Here's a word to consider, though: ABUNDANCE.
What they all said (5) . Unless... You wanted to say something?
I saw it last night. I found it thoroughly enjoyable and would recommend it to anyone who will not be put off by the fact that it is not quite like the book. Yes, the action focuses on a battle, in which take part a number of quite sizeable armies between four and six, and this being so, it is not possible to dispose of said battle in five minutes. Yes, there are characters in it who do not feature in the book. Yes, the tone is more like the LotR films than it is like the book The Hobbit, which was a children's book in the rather twee style that was common in such books early in the last century; I seriously doubt whether a film made faithfully in that style would succeed today.

Is the film, for this or any other reason, a bad film? I would say no. If you found it so, then I'm sorry to hear it, but considering the number of nuWho episodes people have insisted are brilliant and which I found lacking in one or other respect, I think there's room for disagreement here as there.

I shall, as before, be waiting with ill-concealed impatience for the extended edition, which will complete our collection and which I am confident will be even better. (Whether it will contain a glimpse of Gollum emerging from his cave and embarking on the long journey that takes him to Mordor, I do not know, but I can hope.)

And I am very relieved, that Mr Jackson has given us a fitting farewell to Middle-earth, and that it lived up to my expectations of it.
What they all said (1) . Unless... You wanted to say something?
This is what Wikipedia has to say about it.

Basically it means "if I eat all the food, the rest of the tribe will starve, and then if a bear attacks there'll be nobody to help me kill it, and that would mean I'd die. So I'd better not eat all the food. Even though I'm really hungry right now."

It's a popular concept among people who believe we can think our way out of our problems, and it sounds good in theory. It's the root of the equally popular idea in Green circles that everyone shold become vegan, give up their cars, etc., in order to reduce carbon emissions and save the environment.

Unfortunately, it hasn't been working all that well in practice. Um, ever.

In practice, enlightened self-interest has always had to be imposed on people, with laws, and governments, and hierarchical social structures that say "no, you actually can't eat all the food, because we won't let you." For every one bright soul who gets it and lives that way voluntarily, there are n souls whose response is "look, what part of 'I'm really hungry right now' don't you get?" And laws and governments have to be run by people, and in a hierarchical social structure there have to be people at the top, and if they are of the n, i.e. not employing enlightened self-interest but the other kind, the laws and governments and social structures quickly become unfit for purpose. Sad but true.

(There are those even rarer souls who get genuine pleasure from helping others, making their lives better, making the world a better place for everyone. I'm undeservedly privileged to count many of them among my friends. They have no need of enlightened self-interest, though, being purely enlightened, so this post is not about them.)

If we were all disinterested, clear-minded logical thinkers, enlightened self-interest would work a treat. But then, if we were all disinterested, clear-minded logical thinkers, so would any political system, from communism to dictatorship.

We're not.

The real problem with enlightened self-interest is that it's hard and it's no fun. The intellectual satisfaction one gets from forgoing one's immediate benefit for the good of others may be enough for those for whom it is enough, those who strive to live, as I said in another post, in the very tippy-top of their heads and seem to have successfully trained their emotional brains to serve their intellects. For most of us, who really want a cheeseburger, or a pair of shoes that are waterproof, or a new computer, or a million pounds or whatever, the idea that because we don't have these things life is better in some small way for other people seems rather thin as a source of pleasure.

And when people are hard-pressed, as increasing numbers of us are these days, the thing becomes self-fulfilling. That cheeseburger takes on the numinous lustre of the Holy Grail, and if it happens to be something that one can actually achieve right now, higher thought be damned, get in the car, let's go for it. A million people feeling that way is a million cheeseburgers sold, a million trips to the burger joint, and the world lurches a little closer to peak carbon. And there are a damned sight more than a million hard-pressed people, even in the developed world where there are cheeseburgers. Let's not even think about those for whom a cheeseburger is just a fond dream. Not yet, anyway.

If we want enlightened self-interest to take off and really be a thing, as they say, then first of all we have to get the majority of people in our part of the world out of the state in which cheeseburgers can be that important. We have to do everything we can to make sure that more people can think beyond the cheeseburger, which means making sure that their emotional natures are not shouting down their higher brains with demands for something, anything, that feels good right now. If we can only start to do that, then other things we can do to provide the necessary enlightenment--education, the encouragement of empathy--might have a chance of working, and who knows, the reverse effect might become self-fulfilling in its turn.

But it's hard. The feels-good-right-now need is a habit that's oh so hard to break once you get into it. This, of course, is the classic argument against Universal Basic Income, or Citizens' Income, or whatever you want to call it; if you give people money they'll only spend it on frivolities like cheeseburgers, or gin, or new cars, and then demand more. This comforting philosophy has kept the rich men in their castles and the poor men at their gates for quite a while now, and education alone has not stopped the poor men (and women) wanting to be rich.

What's the answer?

There is, as one of Chesterton's characters once said, a magic wand...

"...but it is a wand that only one or two may rightly use, and only seldom. It is a fairy wand of great fear, stronger than those who use it—often frightful, often wicked to use. But whatever is touched with it is never again wholly common; whatever is touched with it takes a magic from outside the world. If I touch, with this fairy wand, the railways and the roads of Notting Hill, men will love them, and be afraid of them for ever."

"What the devil are you talking about?" asked the King.

"It has made mean landscapes magnificent, and hovels outlast cathedrals," went on the madman. "Why should it not make lamp-posts fairer than Greek lamps, and an omnibus-ride like a painted ship? The touch of it is the finger of a strange perfection."

"What is your wand?" cried the King, impatiently.

"There it is," said Wayne; and pointed to the floor, where his sword lay flat and shining.

(The Napoleon of Notting Hill)

Our parents and grandparents, at great need, took up that magic wand to rid the world of a terrible evil, and when they came home, it had transformed everything about them. Life, and other people, and peace and freedom felt very precious to them then, and they voted in a government which made laws and set up institutions to benefit everyone. This was not enlightened self-interest; this was a passion, a feeling, that the nation could not be good for one if it were not good for all. But that magic is gone now, the laws and institutions are nearly all destroyed or about to be, and the wand is only used at the behest of the rich to make them richer, and not by all but only by a few who are trained to resist its power. And I do not know of any other way to inspire that passion in a great mass of people, to make the good of others, of all, seem more important than a cheeseburger seems when one is really hungry right now.

I only know that, with the best will in the world, for most of us, enlightened self-interest just doesn't cut it.
You wanted to say something?
Somebody was raped in Game of Thrones. Some people were upset about it. Others were upset about them being upset. Other people then got upset because, well, just because, and that's all it takes because the internet is always very.

Watch closely now as I upset just about everybody.

I believe that writers should write what they want/need/think it worthwhile to write. That's what I do. If that includes dark, gritty, unpleasant things like rape, then so be it. I think that they should if possible do it well and sensitively, neither excusing nor glorifying the rapist, neither blaming nor belittling the, er, party of the second part, but nobody gets to tell them what they should or should not write.

But some of the arguments I've seen in favour of this proposition have been, to my mind, utterly ill-conceived and wrong, and if they were my reasons then I would be wrong too.

It's been suggested that if you don't think writers should write about rape then you are in favour of censorship, which is just silly. If you don't think writers should write about rape, you are an individual with an opinion. Even if you complain about it loudly, or threaten never to buy that writer's work again, or (if you are a moron) to go round to his house and smash his face in, you are just an individual with an opinion. You become pro-censorship when you write to the publisher demanding that his book be withdrawn, or his show cancelled, because of that fictional rape. You become pro-censorship when you organise a mob to go round to his house and set it on fire. You become pro-censorship when you try to get a law passed banning such scenes. That's what censorship is. It's when it stops being an individual's opinion.

Not buying books you don't like is sensible economy. Threatening to punch someone's face in is uttering threats, which is certainly an offence, but not being pro-censorship. It's a clear and distinct line, and I don't understand why people don't see it; and I don't like the converse view, which goes "you have to like this or you are The Enemy." I will defend any writer's freedom to write what they like, but I will defend any reader's right to be offended, or hurt, or traumatised, and to have their reactions respected, with the same pertinacity.

So should there be "trigger warnings"? Some people say no, violently. Other people say yes, with equal force. I say: yes, but they should not be enforced. Trigger warnings are a matter of courtesy, of good manners if you like. Publishers should have the option to include them or not. Those who do, I think, would find themselves more popular than those who don't, but choice is the point.

Another argument I've seen is that the purpose of fiction is to give us the tools to deal with such horrors in our own lives. We've seen a form of this argument before. Fiction, it says, should make us better people. It should be "improving." It should build our character and strengthen our morals. Any fiction that does not do this is "mere entertainment," or "brain candy," or "vulgar trash fit only for the lower orders," or thereabouts. Yes, we're back with the Victorians, only now they've switched their ground; from demanding that fiction should eschew scenes of horror and violence lest they "corrupt" the reader, now they demand that we should wade boldly into such scenes, whether we enjoy them or not, because not to do so is "denying reality."

Sorry, I'm not buying it either way around. The basic, fundamental, pure and noble purpose of fiction is fun, however you personally define that. Entertainment. Pleasure. Excitement. Thrills. Shocks. Passion. Pathos. Jokes. Terror. All wrapped up at the end of the book or the trilogy or the seventh season or whatever to leave you feeling better for the experience. That's what a story is for. Anything else--and there are many other things a story can do--is extra, but the "feeling better for the experience" part is pretty much mandatory in my opinion. P G Wodehouse never wrote a rape scene in his life as far as I know, but he always delivered everything I've just listed and I always feel better for reading his books. And you can sniff and look down your nose at me as much as you like, if that makes you feel good.

Stories are for fun. Anything else is gravy.

If I want to know about the real world, its horrors and squalors and treachery and senseless cruelty and monstrous injustice and general ghastliness, there are a host of news sources and non-fiction texts ready to dump it all into my lap. I don't need fiction for that, and I do not use fiction for that. I use fiction to help me deal with the real world by showing me that it could be different. Others may feel differently, and it's good to know that there are fiction writers ready and willing to cater for their tastes, but I WILL not be made to feel like the Christian Right for not liking their work, and I WILL not accept that theirs is the only "valid" or "important" or "worthy" kind of fiction.

I am an individual with an opinion. This has been it.

And now I have an entire house to clean.
What they all said (5) . Unless... You wanted to say something?
Well, I couldn't identify it. :)

I was just outside about five minutes ago and it travelled overhead, moving quite slowly. It had three white lights in a triangle and one red just in front, flashing brighter in what seemed to be a random pattern, and when ambient light from below caught it for a moment it seemed to me to present a sort of discoid profile, though I could have been mistaken. It was followed by a sort of low rumble, not like a helicopter or an airship or any plane I could identify, and I had the impression it was quite high up and quite big.

Now of course I know it couldn't have been a UFO in the popular sense, because...well, of course, because it just couldn't, right? Because there aren't any, so it couldn't have been one, which proves there aren't any. That's how it goes, right? Anyone happening to look up and see it would know it wasn't a UFO because it couldn't have been. It must have been a plane, or a helicopter, or an airship. I know that.

That's life. Things that might be unexplainable happen around us all the time, and we assume they're explainable things because we're told the unexplainable doesn't happen. Secret things happen around us all the time, and we assume there's nothing to worry about because that's what we're told. Only cranks and conspiracy theory nuts get all het up about secret trade agreements that hand sovereign powers over to profit-driven private corporations, or things like that. What sane world leader would sign that kind of deal? Nobody really believes that the earth's climate is going to go haywire just because of a little more carbon dioxide in the air, right? Why would any government let that happen? That's just crazy science talk. Everything is just normal, just like it always has been, and if you think you see something out of the ordinary, then you're obviously mistaken.

Well, maybe.

But it tickles my fancy to think that one day "UFO denial" might be a thing, the way "climate change denial" is now. And sometimes my fancy is in sore need of tickling.

This bizarreness brought to you by extreme chronic fatigue, depression and incipient house-cleaning-related panic.
What they all said (2) . Unless... You wanted to say something?
Sooner or later, you always hit a wall. Always.
Deny it if you like, but it's true.
There's no strength left in your muscles,
no more money in the bank,
nothing you can do to make the story better,
the picture more real,
the music do what it does in your head.
That one barrier past which you can't push,
the experimental error of the apparatus,
the range limit of the most powerful telescope,
the moment 0.000000000000000000000000000000001 seconds
after the Big Bang, or the one before that, or the one before that.
Life is limits. The world is walls.
Every one we manage to push through
has another just behind it,
the mountains behind the mountains
that are taller and sharper and harder to climb.
(At least I hope so. Gods,
suppose that behind one of them was just nothing?
Just an endless fall into the void?
no more walls then no more floor no more time or space just the fall...)
That's why sheer geometrical progression
continuing indefinitely into infinity and eternity
is just a child's dream.
Trust me. There's a wall there.
We're hitting a wall right now,
in slo-mo action replay,
our bumpers just beginning to cave in,
our crumple zones to crumple,
as the force of our progress
hits the great green immovable object
(that one barrier past which you can't push)
that is the limit of human habitability on earth.
We could still limit the damage,
maybe even save ourselves.
We just have to take our foot off the gas
and slam on the brake.
But we don't want to, because going fast is such fun
and we don't really believe in walls, not really,
not for fine daredevil fellows like us.
We think (Moore's Law)
that computers will go on getting faster and more powerful
into infinity and eternity,
and we don't wonder
whether at some point they'll get so fast and powerful
that we just won't be able to detect the difference in normal use
(the experimental error of the apparatus),
whether in pursuing the infinite eternal Better
we'll just be wasting our time, our resources, our effort.
We don't want to think about that.
Because we don't really believe in walls,
and we'd rather stop being human
than admit there are walls.
But the walls are there,
(and a good thing too suppose behind them there's just nothing?)
and sooner or later you always hit a wall.

The trick is to bounce.

I'd make this into a song, but I'm too tired. Maybe another day.
What they all said (2) . Unless... You wanted to say something?
My friend feetnotes and I have been having a bit of a discussion in the comments to my post entitled "What is music for?", wherein my statement that "Thinking is what we do in order to satisfy our emotional needs" seems to have caught feetnotes on the raw. I'm sorry about that, but I stand by it. We had emotions long before we had intellects, the latter is built firmly on to the former as an add-on, and its subordinate status in terms of the human being's hierarchical system may be observed being demonstrated every day of the week. We may imagine, we who pride ourselves on our rationality, that we live in the very tippy-top floor of our brain and we really don't need to think about all those messy boiler rooms and garbage chutes and storage lockers or their contents, all the poorly-lit service staircases and dripping corridors and strange corners full of unidentifiable clutter, but it's an illusion. Take away the infrastructure of our intellect and watch it crumble.

And another friend, theferrett, has clarified this for me in another way, in a post on Star Wars of all things:

"As a writer, motivations trump reasons."

Of course they do. Emotions trump intellect. Motivations trump reasons. That's how the One Ring works. All the reasons in the world why you should never use it won't stand up for a second when it promises to give you What You Want. All the reasons in the world why the idea of Frodo taking it to Mordor is suicidal and stupid don't stand up against Frodo's need to do something to resolve the awful situation his uncle helped to cause. And the reason it works that way in stories is that it works that way in real life too.

Reasons may work on the intellect, may make you think "hmm, I see, that's very interesting," but without a motivation, without an emotional need, it's unlikely that you will act on the conclusion, and vanishingly impossible that you will do anything demanding or difficult. Every human action, without a single exception, is motivated, whether we like to admit it or not, by an emotional want, need, or desire.

And that, as I've been saying for a while now, is why the Greens are not a major political party in this country. We've got all the reasons in the world why our government should make a priority of halting and reversing the deleterious effects on the biosphere of anthropogenic climate change. We can demonstrate by impeccably logical argument why reforming the system of money creation would improve the lives of millions of poorer people, stimulate the economy, reduce the spiral of personal and national debt and begin the process of freeing the country from the power of Big Business. And people look and say "yes, hmm, fascinating, let me think about that," and then go and vote for the party who will protect them from the brown people who are crawling through the Channel Tunnel with knives clasped in their teeth. Or they say "yes, very clever, but have you considered that if we make poor people's lives better we'll have EVEN MORE BROWN PEOPLE COMING FOR YOUR JOBS AIEEE!!!1! or ALL OUR BIG BUSINESS RICH JOB CREATORS WILL GO AWAY IF WE ASK THEM TO PAY TAXES ZOMG!!!!!2! or I KNEW IT I KNEW IT YOU MANIACS ARE COMING FOR OUR CARS DAMN YOU ALL TO HELL!!!!46!!"

Motivations trump reasons. Fear is a great motivator. It can override logic and reason like whoa, as they say. And we will not get anywhere, not anywhere, till we overcome this fastidious disdain for those horrid icky emotion things, get in touch with our own emotional needs and try to communicate those. People need to be motivated to vote Green. They need to want to vote Green just as much as we do. Reasons alone won't make that happen.

The opposition (our opposition, viz. everyone else) has been playing on people's emotions since the dawn of time. They've had lots and lots of practice. We're new at it, and we'd really rather people would just listen to reason and think about what we're saying...but they won't. Like it or not, this is what we've got to do.

You wanted to say something?
We feels it, precious. It callses, it does. But we will be strong, yess, gollum.

The new episode is up at long last, so that's a good. So here's a bit more on politics, before I crawl back into my shell.

A friend told me (on FB) that "the Green Party grab-bags any issue it feels will appeal to radicals." I believe that friend is mistaken, both in thinking that and in thinking that any serious political party, or any sane person, would regard that as a good way to select policies.

As far as I can see, radicals of all vaguely leftist kinds have been forming the membership of the Green Party for some time, because where else is there for them to go? They all agree on climate change and the need for action, but on every other issue in the world they have widely differing opinions about which they are passionate. And because a central, vital plank of Green policy is to practise true democracy, listen to its membership and represent them, many of those opinions have become, to one extent or another, policy. It's arguable, and it would certainly make things easier, that rather than adopt this democratic approach, we should be more like the other parties and impose a self-consistent, carefully crafted ideology from the top down. It's arguable...but I wouldn't argue it. That would be like, say, the Labour Party abandoning its commitment to socialism as a political principle. (Oh wait...)

So, the Greens are committed to listening to our membership, however loony their ideas may be. What's the solution? If you really like the idea of stopping the damage to the environment that will kill us, but can't stand our policy on this, that or the other, what do you do? Do you write us off as cranks and radicals, vote for someone else who will do nothing about the environment, or spoil your ballot in protest at the weirdoness of it all and let other people's votes decide who gets power? Well, yes, you could do that. That's always an option. I have to say it's not to my mind a particularly helpful or worthwhile option, but it's an option.

Or--and here's a thought--you could think "Hold on. Here's a party which has demonstrated, in as disastrously clear a fashion as possible, that it listens to all of its members, and with some of whose policies I agree. If I and my moderate friends were members, with a guaranteed voice in determining party policy, we could suggest alternatives to the policies I don't agree with, and point out where the loonies are wrong. We could make things better, and maybe make this party more appealing to people like us, and then it might get more seats next time and make a difference."

It's not an option for everyone. It takes time, and energy, and people have busy lives and lots of commitments. One has to prioritise, after all. But I think--as against the alternatives--it's an option worth considering.

Maybe next time.
What they all said (3) . Unless... You wanted to say something?
Chapter seventeen of Journey To Conservatoire is now up at and part twelve of Sam Armitage's new adventure in the chronicles of Mary-Sue Montfitchet, "Northcombe," is available at for your perusal and enjoyment!

Apologies for the further delay. I hope to maintain the schedule from now on.

Originally posted on Comment here or there or both if you wish.
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Five. More. Years. Of. THIS.

That's what it's looking like. Forty seats to go, and Labour couldn't find a majority to save their lives. If every seat that the other parties have won had been Labour they would still be trailing Cameron's Tories. If every one of the forty seats to go is solid red, they'll still be a minority. How the press will crow. How the triumphant vindication of the policies of the past five years will be shouted from the housetops. Proof, if proof were needed, that austerity and disenfranchisement, that wealth to the wealthy and death to the poor are the way to go. Who could ever have doubted it? The people have spoken.

I do not believe, never will believe, will always reject to my last breath the smug, self-serving lie that goes "people are stupid, unlike me." That is the pride of Satan. People are not stupid. They have not been fooled by Farage, at least, from the look of things.

The people have spoken, and this is what they have said: We do not want to take any risks. We tried it in 1997 with Tony Blair and he betrayed us, so we do not trust Labour. We tried it with Nick Clegg in 2010 and he betrayed us, so we do not trust anyone else. We learn from experience and we judge by facts. We know where we are with the Tories, and it is hell, but to move is hard and painful, so we will stay where we know we are. And maybe one day, if we are good, this intolerable burden of choice will be taken from our shoulders and we will not have to think about change any more. Maybe voting, which changes things, will be abolished and we can focus on the struggle for survival and on currying favour with our betters, because being a slave is easier than freedom, and we are used to it.

And to me, to those like me, they have said: nothing. They have said: we do not see you. They have said: we do not know you. Go away and die, for you are not even worth hating.

Somewhere in her own private corner of hell, Margaret Thatcher is laughing her quiet, patronising little laugh, because hers was the pride of Satan, and such pride can triumph even over the torments of the damned. She did her work well. She instilled fear into this land's people, who had so recently been fearless, and she made them love their fear and cling to it, and it will drag us to vileness and death.


Looking back over this, it occurs to me that I might come over as slightly disappointed. This is the likeliest consequence of holding to a fool's hope; I knew that, and I never discounted it entirely. But let me be clear. I am not at home to the pitying reasonable line. I am not at home to "people are stupid." And the first person who says to me "if voting changed anything it would be illegal" is getting the full nuclear option. Trust me, you will wish I had just banned you.

No, probably not. I don't have the energy to waste on excoriating numskulls. This is not the result I was looking for. It was, of all the possible results, the one I considered least likely, though not the least desirable (that would have been UKIP), but I was wrong. So where do we go from here?

I remain Green. I remain alive, since I have no other option. Somehow I will live through five more years of this, if it's possible, and if I can do anything to make a difference next time, assuming there is a next time, I will do it. The internet, it is clear, is still only a tiny fraction of the world, and one with a separate culture from the rest of the world. The internet is a vast, ongoing student party, where we sit around on beanbags throwing ideas into the air and thinking we are bold pioneers changing the world, while the world outside goes on the way it always has and nothing changes. I'm okay with that; I like student parties, probably rather more than I did when I was actually a student. But I should never have believed that anything on the internet had any real effect on the thinking of the majority of people. It does not.

It's life. We go on. Back to the beginning and try again. And hope. Because it's all we have.
What they all said (5) . Unless... You wanted to say something?
I don't know if you've ever zoomed in and watched people in games like Settlers and Children of the Nile. It can be fun. When someone is carving a statue, for instance, in CotN, he stands beside this shapeless lump of rock and hits it with his hammer and chisel, in the same place, over and over again, and then suddenly, the lump of rock becomes a statue. It's like a miracle. It's the same when a settler builds a house; they just hammer away in one place and gradually the building takes shape.

Of course there's a reason for that; it's easier to animate that way, and we can fill in the precise details with our imaginations if we care to do so. But it's always seemed to me, since long before there were computer games, at least hypothetically tenable that a stonecutter with enough skill and the right tools could, by striking a stone in just the right way in just the right place, set up shock waves and shear patterns in the substance of the rock that would, eventually, cause it to assume the desired shape.

...okay, maybe I used to watch too many cartoonies. Stone carving doesn't work that way, and nor does anything else. If you want a lump of rock to look like Ma'at weighing a heart against the feather of truth, you have to take a lump of rock and painfully chip away anything that doesn't look like Ma'at weighing an h. against the f. of t., and if you chip off her nose by mistake you get another lump of rock and start again.

But if that theory doesn't work for physical objects, it might yet be applicable to more abstract and tangible areas. There might be some fields of human endeavour in which the right blow at the right time, even quite a weak blow, might set up stresses and echoes in an unstable system that could generate a feedback loop which, in turn, could reshape the system quite dramatically.

We can hope so, anyway.
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And this will be all I have to say on the subject. (I hope. Esprit d'escalier is my constant companion these days, but I shall try to suppress it.)

I'm not going to try any subtle tricks to influence your vote. Green indeed I would be if I thought that that would work. What I will say is: if you're in a "safe seat" for a party you don't like, which would you rather do; fail to achieve something you want, or fail to achieve something you don't want? Vote for what you want. I plan to.

The Greens have put forward a number of policies that some people don't like, and much has been made of this by the other parties who, evidently, in spite of the number of "safe seats" in the country, see the Green Party as a credible threat. I can understand why people were concerned by the poor wording of the copyright policy. I can even understand people objecting to the party's stance on horse racing. All these things, though, are side issues, and the attention being given to them by the media is quite deliberate.

The important facts are (a) that human life on this planet is facing an ecological catastrophe and the Green Party is the only party committed to addressing that issue; (b) that the gap between rich and poor has been steadily widening for decades and the Green Party is the only party committed to addressing *that* issue. All the other parties, yes, even Labour, are committed to the failed ideological austerity experiment, and are funded by large business interests many of which are actively opposed to any reduction in the damage we are still doing to our life support system here on Earth. They are all following the course laid down thirty-five years ago by the late Margaret Thatcher, and they can not break away from that course or they will lose their support. To me this makes the question of whom to vote for very simple. We need the Greens. It's as simple as that.

What will happen if you vote Green tomorrow? Well, best case, a Green MP will get in, and begin fighting for these causes straight away. Maybe she won't get in, but will take an appreciable fraction of the vote away from one or more of the other parties, causing concern at the local party level which may lead to some policy changes. Worst case, your vote will make no appreciable difference...except that you will know that, just for once, you voted for what you wanted...for what we need. And maybe, if we're all still here in five years' time, you'll do it again, and then it will make a difference.

What will happen if you don't vote, or spoil your ballot, or vote for the major party you dislike slightly less than the other to stop the other getting in? Nothing. Squat. Zilch. The party that was going to get in will get in; if it's the Greens, you'll know you didn't help; if it's the Tories, or UKIP, you'll know you didn't do anything to stop it.

(And if you're thinking of voting Tory, as I know some of my friends do, it would please me very much if you read this: It's long, but it's thoughtful, well-supported, and not in any way intended to offend. Whether you agree with it is up to you. I'd just like you to think about it.)

Vote. Vote for what you want. And if you want the same things I want--continued human occupancy of this planet, a fairer society, a responsible approach to government--vote Green. And then we'll talk about horse racing and copyright and all those side issues, because we're also committed to real democracy and that means listening when people are concerned. None of the other parties can honestly say that; in fact, they've proved otherwise.

And let us hope, one more time, for a good result on Friday. We're really due one.
What they all said (7) . Unless... You wanted to say something?

Here's my half of the shared album I did with Talis Kimberley many many years ago, rescued from mp3dom and available on Bandcamp. The quality's not brilliant, but the songs are quite good, I think. If I could only get rid of that bloke singing...

Originally posted on Comment here or there or both if you wish.
What they all said (3) . Unless... You wanted to say something?
Apropos of the paragraph I added to the end of the "What is music for?" post a while back, I have finally heard Robert Reed's album, "Sanctuary."

My brother, who knows Robert Reed personally and is therefore the person in our family who is one degree of separation away from Steve Hackett and no I'm not bitter about that at all :), ordered me a copy when it first came out, but for some reason it never got here, nor did it go to the other place where our post sometimes goes. I have no idea what happened. So when I found the Bandcamp page linked to above, I listened, and stupid as it was in the situation we're in, having at that moment a little ostensibly spare cash (thanks, as always, to a kind friend), I've ordered it. I hope it will get here this time, and in the meantime I have the digital download and have listened to it five or six more times in succession since. I love it.

Sanctuary, for those who don't know, is Robert Reed's tribute to Mike Oldfield. It's an album consciously crafted to be as much like the early Oldfield's music as possible, and yes, there are allusions to some of Oldfield's actual tunes. He's taken pains to reproduce each of the particular guitar voices that Oldfield uses (and even though I can barely get a note out of a guitar, I would seriously love to know what combination of effects and settings that takes) and plays all the instruments on the album in the authentic manner. There are nonsense vocals (quoted in part at the top of the post), a glockenspiel, mandolins and of course tubular bells, and it all works beautifully, and since Oldfield is not currently making music like this any more (though I still hope for another Amarok one day), oh gods YES I'll take it. Emotionally, Sanctuary produces exactly the same elation and exaltation in me that I still get from Tubular Bells 1 and 2, Hergest Ridge, Ommadawn, Incantations and Amarok, and I need as much of that as I can get my hands on. You can't get music on the NHS. (And if you could I'd still be paying almost as much.)

As for the various unkind things I have seen said about it in places on the net (someone said that the only thing lacking was the late Viv Stanshall announcing "Plus...Mike Oldfield's...lawyers!"), I disagree utterly. When Beethoven wrote his First Symphony, he wrote it for the same sort of orchestra that Mozart used, and nobody complained. For hundreds of years, music in our smallish corner of the world sounded very much the same. In the early to mid-sixties it was still often quite hard to tell the sound of one pop group from the sound of another; individually recognisable instrumentation, as for instance in Manfred Mann's "Ha Ha Said The Clown," was a rare thing. The explosion of different sounds and voices we enjoy now is a very recent thing.

Is Sanctuary a pastiche? Reed has said he didn't intend it to be. I don't honestly know whether he's succeeded in avoiding that, but I don't care. As an exercise in recreating "the Oldfield sound," and as a piece of music in its own right, it succeeds brilliantly, and that, as they say, is good enough for me.

You may feel that when I'm constantly broke and frequently having to beg for help with one crisis or another I should not be doing foolish things like buying music, and you'd be right. I'm sorry. I can only say what I've said, and hope for your understanding. And if you listen, and you like it as much as I do, I hope you'll do the same.
What they all said (3) . Unless... You wanted to say something?
The title...sorry, I don't know what came over me. Nothing whatever to do with what I'm thinking about. And as usual, I've been inspired, if that's the word I'm after, by something on Facebook.

Every so often, a post pops up in which some well-meaning soul does some hand-wringing about the rising tide of anti-science sentiment in America. More and more people, it seems, are turning out not to know anything about basic science, and not to be that bothered about it. Why has this suddenly started happening? they cry. Where have we gone wrong? What is to blame for this change?

I know very little about America. I'm the first to admit that. I have never experienced at first hand the horrors of fundamentalist religion that take place there. But I'm going to go out on a limb and say that this has nothing to do with that, or very little anyway, and a lot more to do with a phenomenon I mentioned in an earlier post.

Among the neterati, or at least the sections of it in which I hang out, there is a deep and urgent concern that everyone should Know About Science. In part, this is founded in a very real and justified concern that only an informed populace can vote for people who will take action to fight the effects of climate change, rather than people who have been profiting from it for years and plan to continue doing so till they die and fuck everyone else. I don't think you need to Know About Science to know that greedy, venal, dishonest, arrogant, smug, hypocritical sacks of slime should not be running any country in the world, let alone any one of the ten richest, that even an honest idiot would do a better job--

ECCLES: Somebody call?

--but that's just me. There seems, however, to be another concern behind this drive to teach everyone All The Science, or possibly more than one. I'm not going to go into that, though.

Because this drive is running up against an immovable object that has been there for a very, very long time, which is the fact that people, on the whole, have never been that bothered with science. I don't actually think there is a rising tide of anti-science sentiment. There are other tides that are rising (guns, racism, poverty), and they are genuinely worrying, but the failure of people in general to get all excited about the Large Hadron Collider, or even to be quite clear on whether the earth goes round the sun or vice versa, has been with us always and is unlikely to change any time soon. There may be a fleeting fashion, among those who bother with fashions, for attending Mr Faraday's most diverting lectures, and I'm sure that there's a general perception, somewhere in the dim hazy background of people's minds, that science is mostly a good thing, but it just doesn't interest a great many of us, and some of those whom it does not interest will get defensive if it's pushed at them.

I could be way off base here, I know, but I grew up in a small town in the country, and now I live in another small town in the country, and I'm pretty sure most of the people around me know exactly as much about science as they need to know for their daily lives, and are utterly uninterested in knowing more. They also aren't necessarily that interested (though some might be) in knowing more about art, literature, history, twentieth century composers, or Latin irregular verbs. A better education system, a better government to fund it properly, might make some small difference to that for future generations, but I think not a vast difference. So, while railing at it as though it were a new thing because you've only just noticed it may make you feel better, I hope you'll forgive me if I don't join in.

For one thing, it's a huge distraction. If you think the politicians who are denying the scientific evidence for climate change, evolution, etc., are doing so out of genuine ignorance, then I think you're being a little naive. They do it because there is money in it, and even if they do not know the truth, telling them would make no difference. Ignorance is not our problem. Mistrust of science is not our problem. Electing dishonest people is our problem, all the time, every time. And knowing science won't stop that.

That's what I think, anyway.
What they all said (11) . Unless... You wanted to say something?
David Gerrold (may his lawn never grow kids) posted a parable on Facebook, about a man who built a house by a river. From time to time, people would float down that river, dead or badly beaten, and he would bury them if dead or nurse them back to health if beaten, and this gradually became his life's work. David tells us that after some time he began to consider himself a saint because of all the people he helped, but that this was bullshit because he never went upstream to find out why people were getting beaten up and thrown in the river, or try to stop it happening. Far from being a saint, David describes him as "this fucker."

I commented to the effect that it was bullshit because you don't "consider yourself a saint." Sainthood is not within our gift to confer upon ourselves. It's done by others. If you pat yourself on the back for doing something good, as the man said, you have your reward.

But this was beside the point. Why did the man not go upstream? Because David told us he didn't. A parable tells you exactly what the writer wants it to. Maybe he knew what was upstream. Maybe he knew that upstream was a huge waterfall, at the top of which was a village whose inhabitants traditionally went walking out on the rocks to catch fish among the white water, this being a trial of manhood, and the people who came floating down the river were the ones who fell in. David doesn't tell us. Maybe some of the people he nursed back to health pressed his hand warmly and tearfully told him he was a saint; maybe others turned on him angrily shouting "where were you when I fell in, you fucker?" David doesn't tell us.

In real life, of course, we know what's upstream; the world and all its woes, many of which consist of other people. And some of us do go upstream and try to make a difference, and some just do what they can to help, and others are part of the problem, while most of us in our lives do all three in some proportion. We hurt and are hurt, we help and are helped, we pass by and are passed by. And whether we are thought of as saints or fuckers, or thought of at all, is in the gift of others, including people who write parables.

And it's the same with monsters.

There's been a lot about monsters on the net of late. Vox Day. Requires Hate. Marion Zimmer Bradley and her husband. Various politicians. Thinking of them as monsters, as creatures apart from humanity, makes it easier to feel okay about being human oneself. Similarly, thinking of people like Mother Teresa as saints makes it easier to feel that, after all, such goodness is more than anyone could ask of ordinary people like you or me. (I'm aware that Mother Teresa's sainthood is disputed these days, but examples of saints seem rather thinner on the ground these days than monsters. Or maybe they just aren't talked about as much.) The people who go upstream, either to help or to harm, are not like us, we think. We don't imagine Vox Day being kind to animals, or the saint of your choice relieving her feelings by swearing at the kids on her lawn. That would be human, and muddled, and unclear. No, they have to be all good or all evil, and thus palpably not like us. Saints at one end, monsters at the other, and us in the middle, doing what we can and being basically all right on the whole. The fact that the saints, from all the testimony I've seen, don't consider themselves saints, and the monsters (I'm pretty sure) don't consider themselves monsters, is just modesty on the one hand and self-delusion on the other.

I don't know if this kind of thinking helps. I'm very keen on the idea that we're all human, and that ruling people out of the human race for any reason, while a very human thing to do, is a bad idea. Nobody is entirely, irredeemably evil, or entirely and irredeemably good for that matter. Vox Day is human, and aside from his political and religious beliefs and prejudices and his fondness for trolling and stirring up controversy, may in other respects be a good person. I don't know, and unless you know him personally, neither do you. It's nonsense, and dangerous nonsense, to assume either that a person is so evil as to have no redeeming qualities, or that a person is so good as to be allowed no flaw or weakness. And I think it is equally nonsense to call someone nasty names just because they are neither a saint nor a monster.

But of course, when you're writing the parable, you can say what you like. And that is the real lesson behind all parables.
What they all said (2) . Unless... You wanted to say something?
The late Antony Hopkins (Not The Actor), who wrote and broadcast on classical music quite a lot last century, was apt to get quite sniffy about the notion that music was all about creating an emotional response. Were that the case, he was wont to say, it would be nothing better than a drug. The important thing, for him, was the intellectual pleasure derived from understanding the intricacies of the form of the music. Small wonder he had little time for rock and/or roll. The fact that intellectual pleasure is itself an emotional response seems to have escaped him.

I have great respect for Mr Hopkins, but here, I have to say, I feel he is mistaken. Music is all about creating an emotional response, whether through the intricacies of its form, the tender beauty of its melody, or a lead guitar break that removes the top of your skull and frisbees it out of the nearest window. Emotions are what we are about. All the thinking stuff is icing on the cake. (I've said this before.) Thinking is what we do in order to satisfy our emotional needs. Music is one of the products of this thinking, along with just about everything else we've done. And apart from physical survival requirements, emotional needs are the only ones we have. Try tracing any need back to its origin; sooner or later you'll come to the simple fact that you will feel better if that need is satisfied.

So, is music no better than a drug? I'd say it was tons better than most drugs. It doesn't muck up your perceptions or your understanding, it doesn't rot your brain or wreck your health (some people do complain about secondhand music, but nobody's died of it), it's not illegal yet, and you can even get it free in some places. And like many drugs, it can be vital to our well-being or even to our survival, because, as I said, our emotions are what we are about, and when they are out of balance, our whole being suffers. Music can't cure everything, but it can help with some things; the right music at the right time can change our emotional course and guide us away from the rocks and shoals. And, of course, the wrong music at the wrong time can do the reverse, so it has to be treated with respect. If it's a drug, it's a potent one.

There is nothing mean or disrespectable about using music in this way, nor about making music with this end in mind. However, it does rather cause problems with the myth of the modern artist constantly pursuing something new, something unheard-of, something only he and a select few will have the intelligence to understand. I've alluded before to James Blish's contention that there is no such thing as evolution in the arts, only in the technologies and techniques surrounding them. That said, it is true that our emotional receptivity to music can be extended and has been extended over the centuries; there was a time when people reacted to Beethoven's latest symphony the way our parents reacted to Elvis or Jerry Lee Lewis, with blank incomprehension and sometimes horror. "That's not music," they would cry. But we learn and we grow--we evolve, if you want to put it that way, though it's not evolution as such--and now it's possible for a person to enjoy the entire range of music composed from the fourteenth century to last week, and from Land's End to, well, Land's End again, the long way in all directions. And that enjoyment is, at bottom, an emotional response, whatever excites it. So take that, Mr Hopkins.

So what happens when an artist, whether because of the myth I mentioned back there, because of illness or death or because she just got bored, stops making the music you like? Are you obliged to stop liking it, and wanting more of it, just because there won't be any more of it? No, of course not. My tastes have expanded over the years, but the same kinds of music that thrilled and moved and delighted me when I was twenty still do it for me today, and if I find someone writing and performing anything like them, I'm overjoyed.

All of which means that you will never hear me sneering at an artist for being "derivative," or "old hat," or despising tribute bands, or for that matter any kind of art that recalls the work of another artist (unless of course it is fraudulently presented as the work of that artist, which is an entirely different matter). That kind of snobbery is a pointless game we play to feel superior to one another, and I have no truck with it. Originality in the arts is only useful when, and insofar as, it enables the art to do its job more effectively; to evoke the intended emotional response more intensely and from a greater variety of people. Apart from that, it's just an endless series of blind alleys.
What they all said (15) . Unless... You wanted to say something?