Thursday, 31 December 2009

2010



Balcony New Years Day:

As I finish my first coffee of 2010, an unusually cool breeze sweeps over my body; a welcome relief from the rapidly rising humidity. It's 11am and Cockerels confusingly sing their song of dawn, tricked by the absence of the sun's glare and the momentary dip in temperature. I close my eyes and drift away to a Greek rooftop. There I sit at a wicker table dressed in blue, with fresh bread, feta cheese, and steaming coffee. The white-wash buildings look at me with lustrous eyes, against perfect sky-blue visa - postcard perfect. My Mediterranean fantasy is cut short by a honking horn; a heavily tattooed lady is selling bamboo juice.

So here we have it - 2010. I can't fathom what this year has lying in wait, but; it feels good. Everything is in it's right place. A comfortable realization of mental calmness soothes my soul, leaving me smiling like a man who just found a lost ten pound note. The emerald green trees seductively russle as if attempting to flirt with an unseen entity, while street dogs lick their flees and sniff the ground.

On my left, the restaurant waits patiently for the grand opening day. Then, it's muscles will flex, and vault into action, morphing into a money making machine. Below me my classrooms are filled with the distant echos of last weeks lessons, their white boards covered in verb conjunctions - Everything feels beautifully sedated.

2009 was a year packed to the brim with achievement and nuances, to many to name. One has gorged himself on a buffet on classic literature, greedily attempting to feed an insatiable intellectual diet. The path to personal freedom has been activated by the words of Orwell, Huxley, Flaubert to name but a few; their wondrous texts as sweet as chocolate, and as filling as Christmas dinner.

A insightful individual stated: "When I don't like a piece of music, I make a point of listening to it more closely."
This has been my mantra for 2009. A wave of new music has pounded me like a crashing wave, leaving me at times gasping for air. Certain bands have captivated my imagination, most from the punk, and subsequent post-punk explosion of the late 1970s, and early 1980s. What a sparklingly exciting time for music! The hippy movement had had it's day, and people were tiring of laborious progressive rock of the decade. They found sanctuary in the nihilism of punk-poets like John Cooper Clarke and Mark E Smith. Their sardonic acidic cocktails are potent enough to drunken my psyche for years to come. One simply has to mention Souiex and the Banshees, The Mekons, The Cure, The Fall, The Buzzcocks, The Specials, The Clash, and a plethora of others, who have made my 2009 musicially very special indeed.

This is going to be a good year, I can almost taste it.

Mike

Friday, 23 October 2009

Why Don't Students Like School - Daniel T. Willingham



"Why don't students like school?"

It’s a question that most of us have asked at some point in our lives, some as an educators, others as a parents.

Many students ask that question too as they stare aimlessly at the front of the room, looking like a Goldfish at feeding time. What’s really on their minds is the outcome of their online gaming challenge, or which movie star they find the cutest.

"If you ask 100 high school students if they like to learn new things, almost all of them will tell you they like to learn," said Daniel Willingham, a University of Virginia cognitive psychologist. "But if you ask those same students if they like school, many of them will tell you they don't."

Willingham addresses these issues in a very readable and entertaining way in, "Why Don't Students like School?," where the reader finds out how the mind works, and more importantly, what implications this has for learning.

"The mind is actually designed to avoid thinking," Willingham said. "Thinking is a slow process; it's effortful and even uncertain. People naturally want to avoid that process, and instead rely on memory, the things we already know how to do and are successful at."

Willingham uses cooking as an example.

"If you want to make spaghetti sauce, you could go onto the Internet and search out new recipes. You could go through all your cookbooks. And if you are really into cooking, you might do exactly that. But most people will just make the sauce the way they always make it, because they already know how. And so it's a lot easier that way."

So when you switch on your child’s bedroom light at 6.30am in the morning and get a less than enthusiastic response, you know the reason why: At school they are forced to think and learn, putting them into direct conflict with how our their work. According to Willingham, we are not programmed to learn new things easily, thus it is difficult. Kids and adults naturally take the easy option and avoid the painful cognitive tasks.
But this is true only up to a point, as people are also curious beings.

"People actually enjoy thinking - when it is at a level that is not too simple, and not excessively difficult," Willingham said. "People like to be challenged. That's why we play games, it's why we read books, why we do many of the things we do. So there's a sweet spot, a level where learning is neither too simplistic to be interesting, nor too difficult to be enjoyable. This is the spot that teachers are always trying to find for their students in the classroom."

This is where creative teacher, using a combination of storytelling that evokes emotion and thought, and exercises that put lessons into context, that build upon students foundational knowledge, and help them progress.. It's also sustained hard work, Willingham said, that creates thinking skills dependent upon factual knowledge.

"We want to create learning experiences that last," he said.

Willingham spent about 15 years of his career as a research cognitive scientist, conducting studies under laboratory conditions. Then he started talking to teachers' groups and discovered that what he and other researchers had discovered in the lab was of great interest to teachers in the field.

One question teachers keep asking is how to work with students' different "learning styles." They don't really exist, Willingham said.

"There are different abilities, but really, we all learn the same way," he said. "It's not left brain versus right brain, or visual or auditory or kinesthetic. We learn using a combination of skills, and we are all more similar in our learning styles than different."

And students naturally learn better in the areas or disciplines where their abilities lie. So the challenge for teachers and parents alike is to recognize childrens strengths and exploit them. Obviously this presents a problem: Thirty teenagers in a classroom, some flirting, others fighting, and all with a burning desire to get out of the confined space as quickly as possible. It is a massive challenge, but one that has to be undertaken if the accumulated wisdom of generations is to be passed down to the next effectively. Reading this book is a great read for all those with an interest in the area of educational psychology, and also for an insight into the mind and cognition. Willingham has made complex subject matter highly readable and sparklingly entertaining.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Monday, 19 October 2009

Flashes from a life that is.



Jeff’s house was of the modest kind, nestled at the foot of a large hill amongst mature palm fruit trees. Every morning he walked through the dense vegetation, until he came to a small winding path that led to a magnificent natural lake, surrounded by pristine jungle. Here he strolled and thought about how beautifully simplistic life was. He walked over armies of ants that striped the path like pieces of black wedding ribbon, and was amazed by the sight of wild pigs and giant preying mantis. At the waters edge he felt free. He looked at his reflection in the water and saw a man that had found meaning in life. He was experiencing each sensation and savoring it. Every shade of green and flash of sunlight through the jungles thick canopy fascinated him. He was on auto pilot navigating his way through life’s beautiful meanders, absorbing it all with long slow strides; enjoying the spaciousness and sweet music of the jungle.

Jeff sat silently on his veranda at an ornate teak Sino-Portuguese table.. He watched as the sky turned a wonderful light blue. Grey and white wisps of cloud inched their way towards an unknown destination; a journey without a beginning or an end. Simultaneously, people, animals and plants breathed a sigh of relief, as the days suffocating heat began to subside. It was like a prayer had been answered. The early evening shadows began to lengthen on the rust coloured slopes of the mountain, making intricate black patterns on the dark red clay, like a traditional Chinese paper cutting. The Palm trees swayed flirtatiously in the soothing late afternoon breeze, and the crystal clear stream in front of the house trickled effortlessly. As the daylight continued to fade, a breathless dusk grew ever closer.

After a short drive the first of the encroaching out-of-town retail park became visible. The bright lights and clean cut interiors, made Jeff feel uneasy. There were too many people there: The Nuevo rich posed, students hunted in packs, and everyone else looked dazzled by the wonders of corporate America. Necessity brought Jeff to shop here, and he usually left as quickly as he came in. He knew it was melodramatic, but somehow he felt partly responsible for the whole vile circus show. His white skin made him guilty by association - a tacit consenter – a pawn in the corporate conspiracy.

The intercom sounded clear and direct: “Home-Pro’s Homecard – A card for lovers.” Shelves were stacked thirty feet up with all manner of DIY conveniences, and home improvement products, all promising the consumer a piece of happiness. Jeff walked down the power tool isle, his hands in his pockets; he wondered how the mountains of stock would ever be sold. As he pondered the thought he overheard two suited men talking in the Bathroom section. One of them had a beard and was sweating profusely. He seemed on edge to Jeff. He began to speak feverishly to the other man.

“To cash in on this particular bonanza, one has to live and breath the image of the ideal home – Picture this: A mother stands in her modern kitchen, fully equipped with time saving time devises, mahogany paneling and marble worktops; her bright eyed twins skip into the room, singing a sweet lullaby, brimming with youthful innocence; the father of the household sits on a wicker chair in the corner reading a newspaper, he nods in simple recognition, fully aware that his parenting skills are an example to all,”
His colleague stared at the floor. He exhaled deeply and said with a beaming smile. “This is without a doubt the Home-Pro family. It’s simple, offer people a dream. Let them get lost in the mediated environment, breath in the offers of the day, the mood lighting and the canned relaxation music – emancipate themselves from the painful reality of their own family – another future is possible - for a price.”

The two men retained straight faces thought out the conversation. Jeff’s stomach churned.

“Perhaps I can buy my way out of all this,” thought Jeff sardonically. He was only there to buy a light bulb, but already the situation was getting to him. He came to the island four years ago, fell in love and never left. Now the girl was gone and he was alone with his thoughts. When he was young he always imagined himself repeating the life of those around him – fulfilling cultural expectations like paying tax and going to church, but life for Jeff was very different. His time was his own and he used is wisely: he read and painted vivaciously, hungry for knowledge, on a never ending pursuit to entangle the mysteries of life. A gallery in the city had been exhibiting his work for seven months – he had a handful of sales. His agent talked incessantly of New York connections and the big time; Jeff simply smiled at this talk. Even if it was true, he knew that the limelight was not for him.

On the floor, workers in bright orange aprons competed for his attention. Commission was to be had, and Jeff was visible on the store radar. The blasts of air-conditioning, mixed uneasily with the humidity, giving him hot flushes like woman ten weeks gone. It seemed as if the staff were being controlled automatically: perhaps concealed above the ceiling was a nerve centre where every staff movement was planned in advance, then robotically follow for the duration of the shift. Jeff noticed the banal elevator music, its velvety smooth time signatures, numbing him into a false sense of relaxation. The intercom rang out once more. “Home-Pro discount card. The one way ticket to happiness for everything in your home.” For a moment, Jeff felt half convinced, as the employees swayed rhythmically, waiting to pounce, with their orange aprons glowing like cigarettes in the darkness. Jeff turned round, dazed by the entire experience, to find a worker smiling and ushering him to the lighting isle. “You like hear special price sir?” Jeff smiled and excused himself, safe in the knowledge that his delicious consumer bones were not for the picking. He inhaled the air deeply like a smoker having his first draw of the day, turned around, and walked out of the store.

Mike

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

"Hells Angel: Mother Teresa" by Christopher Hitchens



Originally broadcast in 1994 on Channel 4; Aired again on October 23, 2007

Mother Teresa has become synonymous with saintliness, but is her reputation deserved? Christopher Hitchens investigates the Mother Teresa myth, looking at her work in Calcutta, her global campaign against abortion, her alliance with the most conservative Pope in recent memory and her apparent penchant for right-wing regimes and dictatorships.

Sunday, 11 October 2009

A Coconut Tree Moment




Mid afternoon coffee and cake on the veranda. A man shuffles up a forty foot palm tree directly in front of me in search of coconuts - no harness - no fear. All he has to do is avoid a slip and he will be just fine. The man's flippancy and carefree attitude towards such a death defying act, got me thinking.

In my place of birth, Northern Ireland, people used to be free to take chances. I look back on my childhood with somewhat rose tinted glasses, remembering a time when there was such as thing as an accident - people allowed themselves the luxury of bending rules, to obtain what they wanted.

On a recent trip home, I spent a full year living and working within a system that I barely recognized. The workplace, and society at large, was a place where people where tripping over themselves, not to literally trip up. Accidents, it seems, have become a thing of the past. Now, as a result of a greedy a manipulative legal system, borrowed from the US, there is no such thing as an accident.

"Where there's blame, there's a claim."

I tried to explain this eventuality to a Thai friend and he was very confused indeed.

"But, what do you mean if you fall in work, it's not your fault?" was his perplexed response.

I might as well have been speaking Swahili.

A man in work, climbing up a tree with his own consent in Northern Ireland, would sadly now cause a large degree of nappy wetting. In fact, I could imagine it becoming front page news in a local newspaper, the headline reading:

"Man sacked, and jailed for deliberate and shameful health and safety violation."

One could picture the scene with police, ambulances, fire engines and rapid
response, yellow jacket wearing, private security experts on the street all looking skyward with a look of disgust of their faces.

"Where are his hat, goggles, and safety net"

"Does he have a climbing license from the local council?"

"Just who does he think he is?!"

At what point in the future will a beacon of rationality reveal itself and say:

"Enough of this bullshit. what have we become?"

Depressingly, Probably never.

The precedent has been set. The ball is rolling, and people are making real money out of common sense, at the expense of individual freedom of choice. Personal freedom is not what it was. Stressed workers from builders to engineers, are all tip-toeing round their work places, spouting the latest vomit inducing soundbite from the dinner time news.

"That's a health and safety", I was aggressively told my a superior in my last job in Ireland. "I wasn't aware that health and safety is a noun" was my forward and frustrated reply.

In all honestly, the year I spend back home I felt violated by nonsensical parroting like the aforementioned. Here in Thailand, there may be corruption, chronic dis-organization and borderline anarchy, but at least you feel human - animated. I saw people on the verge of hemorrhaging because a yellow mop bucket, was being used on a red mop bucket's floor space - I kid you not.

For those of you who live in Britain, this will not come as a shock, in fact you are probably thinking

" Yeah, of course you shouldn't be using the incorrect mop, that's simply ridiculous!"

Pithel of this type, has anesthetized an entire generation, squeezing their ability to think straight. Once trivial issues, are now punishable by one the spot fines, or even a lengthy stretch in jail. Personally, I question a governments ultimate intentions when shouting in a car, or arguing with a privately employed traffic warden are criminal offenses.

What's next in this crazy state of affairs; enforced euthanasia to solve the problem of an aging population? Is an aging population a helath and safety issue? Who knows where it will all end?

The point is that anything can become law if twisted in the right way, and repeated often enough. Rapidly, liberty is being eroded, and people are too busy working to pay tax to notice. Like a faulty tap dripping, freedom is being stolen drop by drop; insidiously sucking the joy of life from people, replacing what were everyday actions, into incriminating offenses.

Next time your in the car and your afraid to turn over the radio because there's a policeman nearby, think of the Thai man in the coconut tree, and wonder where it all went wrong.

Saturday, 10 October 2009

Food, Inc. (2008)




Food, Inc. (2008)

The current method of raw food production is largely a response to the growth of the fast food industry since the 1950s. The production of food overall has more drastically changed since that time than the several thousand years prior. Controlled primarily by a handful of multinational corporations, the global food production business - with an emphasis on the business - has as its unwritten goals production of large quantities of food at low direct inputs (most often subsidized) resulting in enormous profits, which in turn results in greater control of the global supply of food sources within these few companies. Health and safety (of the food itself, of the animals produced themselves, of the workers on the assembly lines, and of the consumers actually eating the food) are often overlooked by the companies, and are often overlooked by government in an effort to provide cheap food regardless of these negative consequences. Many of the changes are based on advancements in science and technology, but often have negative side effects. The answer that the companies have come up with is to throw more science at the problems to bandage the issues but not the root causes. The global food supply may be in crisis with lack of biodiversity, but can be changed on the demand side of the equation.

Mike

Download:

http://www.mininova.org/tor/3033237

President O Bama Recieves the Nobel Peace Prize



Lets have a little glance at what he has been up to since coming to office.

1. Climate change regulation – India and China gave him a thumbs down and are still building coal fired plants.

2. Guantanamo bay – He asked it to be closed by February 2010, will not be done.

3. Health care reform – the opposition to that bill in the house and senate is mind numbing

4. Reduce nuclear weapons – Iran and North Korea want nuclear weapons. India, China and Israel won’t sign nuclear non-proliferation treaty.

5. Afghanistan – in his campaign he said he will bring the fight against terrorism hard to Al Qaeda, but now he has second thoughts about troop increase.

6. Job losses – Said job losses will not be above 9%, currently in the USA that figure stands at 9.8% with no end in sight.

7. Israel-Palestine conflict – Israel won’t stop building settlements and Hamas criticized that Obama received the noble peace prize.

8. Iran – USA wants sanctions, but co-operation from China and Russia is lukewarm to say the least.

9. Honduras – Wants the ousted president reinstated, no one is listening.

Does the power of rhetoric really count for more than real political achievements?

This remind me of a satirical joke.

The writers of the theonion.com could not have written this one any better.

Food for thought.

Mike

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Morning in Ao Nang.




Ao Nang.

Day one:

Rolled out of bed at 10am with a mild hangover. Nothing terminal. Had a superb breakfast of fresh orange juice, toast, fried rice, and coffee over looking the emerald green ocean. My heart went out to the sophisticated Germans who sat stiff and upright, at the opposite table. I was aware of their awareness. I breathed deeply the sea air. I was hungry. Have they never seen a man eating aggressively before? Does this not happen in the Munich beers halls? Anyway, eating like a man who just located his desert mirage, I soldiered on; appetite dangerously out of control on a beachfront table. Gluttonously, I filled my plate for the third time and strolled triumphantly past their beady stares, feeling like a medieval king covered in banqueting grease. Anyway, spotty teenagers can eat like a pig, and so can street drinkers for that matter, so why can't I? I hold my hands up; guilty as charged officer: I am a food lover, not a fighter - Bite me.

With breakfast hundred per cent swallowed, fifty per cent chewed, and zero per cent digested, it was prime time for a dip in the crystal clear pool.

At this point, the reader may be pondering why one would swim in a pool when twenty metres away is the wondrous Andaman Sea? The answer can be expressed in one simple word - monsoon.

The tidal surges at this time of year are as unstable as an alcoholic on a tightrope. One minute you are playing in a rubber ring, the next screaming at dots on the horizon.

Scores of well fed, sun burnt, white folk, lose their lives every year on these sun kissed shores. Their belligerent defiance of local advice costs them dear; sucked out as easily as a message in a bottle. The crystal clear waters hold dark secrets at this time of year; secret fables, not worth pursuing, and secret games, not worth playing. Beware

Mike

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Holiday Time



Breath deeply, and hold it, a bit more, then exhale. Relief.

Tomorrow Kay and i are setting off for a few days at a beautiful hotel in Krabi province.

- For once I have been busy:

The camera batteries are charging like little eggs in a basket; seven mix CD's containing over five hours of John Peel 'Festive Fifties', are sitting neatly on my unmade bed; reading materials and notebook are waiting our departure. In my infinite wisdom, I have proposed having an ceremony before setting off in the morning:

It has been decided that in unison, we will switch off our mobile phones with one hand, and clink our whiskeys and ice with the other, in thanks to the holiday God who has bestowed us with this plentiful bounty.

"For this we are thankful, oh merciful one. Thanks be to to booze, books, beaches, blogger, and of course, buggering off.'

Never one to turn my nose up at a bargain, Kay's cousin's 'bit on the side' happens to be a manager of a wonderful hotel beside an even more wonderful, sun set view point. Thus, in the spirit of family unity, corruption and nepotism, I am prepared to look the other way, for a 50% reduction is simply a thing of beauty.

So, a couple of days of mental refurbishment await.

Let me spare a moments thought for all those people getting up a 6.30 am in the cold, fighting for their position in rush hour traffic, or looking out their bedroom window, only to see another ash gray sky; my heart goes out to you all, it really does. But alas, the next few days belong to my wife and I, and we are going to make the most of this sparkling moment, that will be enjoyed wholeheartedly, and savoured forever.

Mike

Monday, 28 September 2009

Garbage Warrior (Movie of the Month)



If I say the word 'Earthship' what immediately comes to mind?

A science fiction geek in a fit of madness, builds an intergalactic meeting place for humans and our extra-terrestrial cousins? If this was your guess, then you get top marks for imaginative ability, but you are way off the mark.

It may sound like something from a Star Trek episode, but is in actual fact the brain child of architect Michael Reynolds: an architect who is pushing the boundaries of design, with one eyes on the future, and another on the diminishing environmental security of our present. An inspirational figure; driven by an assiduous desire to make a practical difference to the global warming dilemma, with a combination of grit, determination, and direct action. Reynolds feels that design is not evolving quickly enough. As a result, is failing to keep up with ecological/environmental concerns.

Unbelievably, Reynolds makes his 'Earthships' which are livable dwellings, out of all matter of household waste, including, beer can walls, and car tire structures. For many, this may sounds like an eco-hippy trip gone too far, but when seen in practice, one can't help admiring him and his team of conscientious naturalists.

The movie was shot by director Oliver Hodge over three years, and follows the life and times of Reynold's and his team as they fight the laws that be for legal recognition just outside of Taos, New Mexico.

The 'Earthships' can in Reynolds own words 'take care of themselves.' By that he means they require no outside power or amenities. Amazingly, sewage, water, electricity, heating and cooling are all taken care of by an ingenious design that makes self-sufficiency a livable reality.

Reynold's vision is shared by a band of merry men and women who came and eventually built their own properties, calling themselves the Greater World Community in 1990. This is now a legal subdivision, but only after Reynolds and the families emerged from several tedious years of bureaucratic hell. Reynold's fight against the powers that be is a dirty and at times, heart-wrenching battle, that he eventually wins.

This is a movie for those who like the underdog. Reynolds is an architectural punk, whose gives two fingers to the system, but at the same time plays the game, and gets what he wants. His style is rather abrasive at times, referring to the bureaucratic 'horseshit' in one moment of frustration, but his sense of urgency and tenacity elicit mountains of admiration, and leave one with a sense that the world needs to change.

Mike

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Hitchens on Q-TV

Turner - Snowstorm



I am astonished by the way in which Turner accepts the apparent randomness of the natural elements, and paints them as they are. There is brutal honestly in this work, and Turner gives one an insight into a helpless and unenviable moment; making it tangible for all. The madness of a second in stormy sea is represented as the chilling and terrifying moment that it must be.

Legend has it that Turner undertook a death defying voyage on a ship to experience at first hand, what he was about to render on canvas.

Turner said, "I only painted it because I wished to show what such a scene was like; I got the sailors to lash me to the mast to observe it; I was lashed for four hours and did not expect to escape, but I felt bound to record it if I did. No one has any business to like it."

Contemporaries saw Turner's work as having 'dreamlike' qualities. These 19th century flirtations with metaphor may seems to us now as uninformed, even a tad pretentious, but they contained some insight that is worth commenting on.

Thanks to the likes of Froid and Jung we now have knowledge of dreams as the expression of deep intuitions and buried memories, allowing us to examine Turner's work again and note that his pictures do have the oblique qualities of a dreamlike state. The warped perspectives, blurred focuses, image metamorphosis, and the general feeling of otherness and uneasiness: These are the images of the dreamer, or someone dabbling in hallucinogenic substances.

Within our sub-consciousness mind there are various patterns that pop up time and time again. One of these is the whirl pool or vortex, of which there is a strong suggestion in the Snowstorm. This became a reemerging image in some of Turner's later paintings.

Relax for a moment and allow yourself to be absorbed into the vortex, a scary and dangerous ledge, over which lies the abyss. The visual impact is caressed by the grim tunnel of darkness that leads one to the ships hull, at which point is shot towards the heavens by a band of bright light.

Mike

Monday, 21 September 2009

The Cups and Balls - Ricky Jay



This is easily the best rendition of the classic magic trick on the net.

Truly breathtaking stuff.

Mike

A Meeting of Great Minds



On the 30th of September 2007, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens sat down for a first-of-its-kind, unmoderated 2-hour discussion, convened by RDFRS and filmed by Josh Timonen.

All four authors have recently received a large amount of media attention for their writings against religion - some positive, and some negative. In this conversation the group trades stories of the public's reaction to their recent books, their unexpected successes, criticisms and common misrepresentations. They discuss the tough questions about religion that face to world today, and propose new strategies for going forward.

Credit:

The Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science

http://richarddawkins.net/

Sunday, 20 September 2009

Hunter Thompson-The minuteman of the Rockies.



By Christopher Hitchens. Posted in Slate magazine,Tuesday, Feb. 22, 2005.

In early August of 1990 I went to Aspen, Colo., to cover what looked as if it would be a rather banal summit involving Margaret Thatcher and George Bush. (The meeting was to be enlivened by the announcement of the forcible annexation of Kuwait by Saddam Hussein, who would go on to trouble our tranquility for another 13 years.) While the banal bit was still going on, the city invited the visiting press hacks for a cocktail reception at the top of an imposing mountain. Stepping off the ski lift, I was met by immaculate specimens of young American womanhood, holding silver trays and flashing perfect dentition. What would I like? I thought a gin and tonic would meet the case. "Sir, that would be inappropriate." In what respect? "At this altitude gin would be very much more toxic than at ground level." In that case, I said, make it a double.

The very slight contraction of the freeze-frame smile made it plain that I was wasting my time: It was the early days of the brave new America that knew what was best for you. Spurning the chardonnay and stepping straight back onto the ski lift, I was soon back in town and then, after a short drive, making a turn opposite the Woody Creek Inn (easily spotted by the pig on its roof). And there, at the very fringe of habitation, was Owl Farm and its genial proprietor, Dr. Hunter S. Thompson. Once inside these well-armed precincts, I could drink and smoke and ingest any damn thing I liked. I finished a fairly long evening by doing some friendly target-practice, with laser-guided high-velocity rifles, in the company of my host. An empty bottle didn't stand any more of a chance outside than a full one would have had within. It was vertiginous, for me, to be able to move from one America to another, in point of time and also of place, so rapidly.

It had been in 1970 that Thompson first ran for local office in Aspen, and stood against the wave of bourgeoisification that would soon make it a place where the locals could no longer afford to live. Local police officials tried to harass him in numberless ways, only to find that they were dealing not with some hippie or freak, but with one of the charter members of the Colorado National Rifle Association. Thompson was to pursue this feud, with absolutely Corsican persistence, for many decades. If he had done nothing else, he might be remembered as a village Hampden, or a minuteman of the Rockies.

But, as Carey McWilliams of The Nation had recognized a long time before, Hunter was more than just a "character." His proposal to write about the Hell's Angels for the magazine, once accepted, was more than a brilliant piece of observant and participant journalism. It helped to curtain-raise the '60s, and perhaps most especially the hectic excess of that decade in California. Keen as he was on the herbivorous and antimilitarist side of that moment, Thompson wasn't at all blind to the noir aspect, and helped prepare readers for the Manson and Altamont dimension. He'd been in this mood since at least November 22, 1963, when he first employed the words "fear and loathing" to express the way he felt about whomever it was who had murdered the president.

"The only things I've ever been arrested for," said Hunter in one late interview, "were things I didn't do." It would take a very long article to describe all the deeds for which he could have been indicted, and all the days and nights when he could well have ended up dead. I hope that it isn't true that he became depressed and miserable about the pain and immobility of a broken leg, and that the only lethal crime he ever committed was against himself in a dark hour, but the thing seems depressingly plausible, and there would always have been a firearm, and ammo, within easy reach.

I'm not that crazy about the gonzo school, or any other version of the new journalism either, but Thompson's signature style was not always, or not entirely, about faxing unedited notes or having his life insurance cancelled by Jann Wenner. He was, above all, a highly polished hater, and could fuel himself as well as ignite others with his sheer contempt for Richard Nixon and all that he stood for. This involved, for some years, a life where there was almost no distance between belief and action. And it is why his 1972 book on the campaign trail holds up so well. But even then he knew, as he was to keep repeating, that "the wave" of the insurgent '60s— "a fantastic, universal sense that whatever we were doing was right: that we were winning"—was a wave that had not only "broken" but had "rolled back."

This was a rapture that was hard to recapture. In Wayne Ewing's oddly effective movie, Breakfast with Hunter, it is possible to detect the sensation of diminishing returns. The old enrage doesn't really look that comfortable as he is card-indexed by the historian Douglas Brinkley (who edited his collected letters, for Chrissake) or venerated as an icon by George Plimpton. He doesn't even seem all that keen on being played by Johnny Depp in the celluloid version of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. He's fine when hanging out with Warren Zevon, but he appears a bit lost when he's discharging fire extinguishers, or hurling blown-up fuck-dolls around the scenery, as if this sort of thing was expected of him. "He was never one to hang around when it was time to go," a mutual friend e-mailed me on Monday. The realization that this might have occurred to him before it occurred to us is a very melancholy one.

Saturday, 19 September 2009

Boogie Time on Karon Beach - RoyFest







'Roy' means enjoyable, fun and delicious in Southern Thai dialect. When combined with an international music festival, expect no less than days and nights of musical ecstasy and dancing paradise.

RoyFest brings the best of domestic & international DJs and artists together to perform on the stunning sight of Phuket sea view for the first time. With the objective of endorsing local tourism, to wide spread the beauty of Thai beach and a vision to locate Thailand as one of the top destinations on the world party map.

Expect uncompromising entertainment from Ken Ishii (Japan), Adsorb (UK), Lord Warddd(USA), T-Bone (Reggae Ska Thailand), DJ Seed (GTRonline),
DJ Dragon (homebass commu) and many others who will contribute to “Roy”ness on Karon Beach, Phuket 25-26 September 2009.

Mike

Eight years on - HST and 9/11



I'm a week late in posting this, but what the hell.

Eight years of mayhem and carnage have passed since September 11th 2001. Many countries have been made into places where freedoms are lost daily, and justification requires only one excuse: The War on Terror.

Since that terrible day the term has been repeated continuously, and has entered our daily language. Paranoia, and Cold War rhetoric have bolstered support for unbridled military spending, and consequent intervention in Afghanistan and Iraq. This sacred cow will be milked until it runs dry; paving the way for nation-building projects throughout the world.

On a recent visit to Britain I was sleeping in Heathrow and woke from my slumber to find a huge black Robocop figure pointing an assault rifle at me. For me, this was highly intimidating and unfortunately, a very common sight these days.

What would have deemed unthinkable ten years ago is now a reality for many around the world.

September 11th, 2009 was a sad day for humanity. When the planes hit you knew in your heart that the world was never going to be the same again.

The late great Hunter Thompson blasted on his typewriter as the events were unfolding.

His prescience is chilling, his anger is subtle, and his ability to make sense out of the chaos is what causes millions of readers around the world to pick up his books when in need of some courage.

Mike

'It was just after dawn in Woody Creek, Colo., when the first plane hit the World Trade Center in New York City on Tuesday morning, and as usual I was writing about sports. But not for long. Football suddenly seemed irrelevant, compared to the scenes of destruction and utter devastation coming out of New York on TV.

Even ESPN was broadcasting war news. It was the worst disaster in the history of the United States, including Pearl Harbor, the San Francisco earthquake and probably the Battle of Antietam in 1862, when 23,000 were slaughtered in one day.

The Battle of the World Trade Center lasted about 99 minutes and cost 20,000 lives in two hours (according to unofficial estimates as of midnight Tuesday). The final numbers, including those from the supposedly impregnable Pentagon, across the Potomac River from Washington, likely will be higher. Anything that kills 300 trained firefighters in two hours is a world-class disaster.

And it was not even Bombs that caused this massive damage. No nuclear missiles were launched from any foreign soil, no enemy bombers flew over New York and Washington to rain death on innocent Americans. No. It was four commercial jetliners.

They were the first flights of the day from American and United Airlines, piloted by skilled and loyal U.S. citizens, and there was nothing suspicious about them when they took off from Newark, N.J., and Dulles in D.C. and Logan in Boston on routine cross-country flights to the West Coast with fully-loaded fuel tanks -- which would soon explode on impact and utterly destroy the world-famous Twin Towers of downtown Manhattan's World Trade Center. Boom! Boom! Just like that.

The towers are gone now, reduced to bloody rubble, along with all hopes for Peace in Our Time, in the United States or any other country. Make no mistake about it: We are At War now -- with somebody -- and we will stay At War with that mysterious Enemy for the rest of our lives.

It will be a Religious War, a sort of Christian Jihad, fueled by religious hatred and led by merciless fanatics on both sides. It will be guerilla warfare on a global scale, with no front lines and no identifiable enemy. Osama bin Laden may be a primitive "figurehead" -- or even dead, for all we know -- but whoever put those All-American jet planes loaded with All-American fuel into the Twin Towers and the Pentagon did it with chilling precision and accuracy. The second one was a dead-on bullseye. Straight into the middle of the skyscraper.

Nothing -- even George Bush's $350 billion "Star Wars" missile defense system -- could have prevented Tuesday's attack, and it cost next to nothing to pull off. Fewer than 20 unarmed Suicide soldiers from some apparently primitive country somewhere on the other side of the world took out the World Trade Center and half the Pentagon with three quick and costless strikes on one day. The efficiency of it was terrifying.

We are going to punish somebody for this attack, but just who or what will be blown to smithereens for it is hard to say. Maybe Afghanistan, maybe Pakistan or Iraq, or possibly all three at once. Who knows? Not even the Generals in what remains of the Pentagon or the New York papers calling for WAR seem to know who did it or where to look for them.

This is going to be a very expensive war, and Victory is not guaranteed -- for anyone, and certainly not for anyone as baffled as George W. Bush. All he knows is that his father started the war a long time ago, and that he, the goofy child-President, has been chosen by Fate and the global Oil industry to finish it Now. He will declare a National Security Emergency and clamp down Hard on Everybody, no matter where they live or why. If the guilty won't hold up their hands and confess, he and the Generals will ferret them out by force.

Good luck. He is in for a profoundly difficult job -- armed as he is with no credible Military Intelligence, no witnesses and only the ghost of Bin Laden to blame for the tragedy.


OK. It is 24 hours later now, and we are not getting much information about the Five Ws of this thing. The numbers out of the Pentagon are baffling, as if Military Censorship has already been imposed on the media. It is ominous. The only news on TV comes from weeping victims and ignorant speculators.

The lid is on. Loose Lips Sink Ships. Don't say anything that might give aid to The Enemy.'

-- Dr. Hunter S. Thompson

Friday, 18 September 2009

A night to remember

September 2006, Bangkok.

The air was thick like a winter duvet, full of leaded bus fumes. Mushroom clouds of black smoke bellowed from speeding Tuk-Tuks, dancing manically between the lanes. There was a conspicuous lack of people on the ground and I began to sense that something was not quite right. Ghost like figures floated past me with an urgency in their stride and a seriousness etched on their facial expressions.

Political riots are common in this city, so concerned; I stopped a commuter to find out the story.

"Is everything OK in the city tonight?” I asked her directly.

"Go back to wherever you are staying, this is not a good night to be walking on the streets” she said with a forceful air.

The ladies tone and lack of explanation left me in a mentally strange place; confusion and perplexity made my mind fizz with thoughts and images of homicidal craziness. I had to make a decision. This was not something that I felt could be made out on the street. The atmosphere was feeling sourer by the minute, like an acidic wind was howling down the intersection.

I needed a drink, so bounced into an adjacent gay bar for deliberation.

The bar was a standard Thai gay bar. Tables of all ages, struggling to connect thought the repetitious din of 4/4 dance music, with a few pouting lady boys roaming the room, making eyes with men in suits. It was a sleazy and dirty sight to behold, but this was no time for moral judgments.

I knocked back a beer and decided to have a large whiskey before I went back to my hotel. As I starred around the bar, men with dresses and eye shadow, chattered incessantly.

I stopped a waiter and spoke in Thai.

"Could you tell me what is going on outside?”

"Bad men fight – you go.” He replied with a cheeky grin; his sparkling eye lashes flashing under the roaming strobe.

I don’t know whether it was the waiter’s nonchalance, or a sudden burst of paranoia, but I knew I had to get out of there quick. A sea of mist descended on my thought process, making coherent evaluation impossible: it was time to go.

Gathering up my belongings I paid and made my way to the exit, passing strange gender benders; some groping at me on my way past. This was not a good place to be, like some weird acid flashback. I had my eyes g-clamped on the finishing line, my vision was blurred and my head spinning with dark thoughts.

Suddenly, the doors of the bar flung open and in marched men in uniforms. The rigid expressions on their faces told me immediately that this was no ‘men in uniform’ night; these monkey men meant business.

As the thoughts of a washroom window escape flashed through my mind, I was startled out of my trance by a megaphone.

"Martial law is in effect. You have thirty minutes to get home. Anyone seen on the streets after this will be shot."

This guy was not playing games, he was serious. My insides felt like a worn out mangle and my head as if a tumor was threatening to hemorrhage.

As the imperious messages were repeated from the megaphone, I composed myself and made my way out onto the street. Scores of anxious people tried to work out how they would make it home before the military asserted themselves.

In front of me the huge highway opened out. To the right were armored tanks with manned turrets and machine guns pointing in my direction. Swarms of military, heavily armed, were marching towards me - impenetrable lines of khaki.

I remember having what felt like a meltdown. Thoughts of capture, torture, hostage videos, and the Bangkok Hilton. (Notorious Thai jail) were flooding my consciousness.
There was only one option available: run very quickly in the opposite direction and hitch a ride on a Tuk-Tuk before martial law took affect.

I ran and didn’t stop for what felt like an hour. My lungs were burning and my eyes stung in the polluted chaos. Luckily, a multi-coloured Tuk-Tuk pulled up, the driver stuck his head out and said, “Where you go?”

I returned to my hotel disheveled and badly shook up. Luckily, the convenience shop was open downstairs and I bought a bottle of gin to unwind in the room.

After pouring a pint of Gin and tonic I laid down on the bed and switched on the television.

All the channels showed the same looped military video.

I had been caught in the middle of a revolution and had narrowly made it out alive.

People were being butchered on the streets as I lay and drank super human strength cocktails.

Gill Scott Heron came to my melting mind.

'The revolution will not be televised.'

And here I was in Bangkok, watching it unfold on the box.

Mike

Thursday, 17 September 2009



Here is an ambient mix from the black dog, the 2nd of a 12 part podcast series they're doing. I'm a big fan of mixes like this that show a different side to an artist. In this sense, it reminds me a bit of Cio's 'on clouds' mix. Anyway, it struck me as something worth sharing in blogland.

For all the hardcore audiophiles.

I should warn you that it is unfortunately only 128kbps.

http://www.theblackdogma.com/tbd/download-manager.php?id=26

01. Intrusion - Under The Ocean - Echospace [detroit]
02. Intrusion - Static Waves - Echospace [detroit]
03. Louderbach - Autumn - Minus
04. Terry Riley - Poppy No Good - Rough Trade
05. Robin Rimbaud - Sans Soleil - Bine
06. Peter Broderick - Music for Falling from Trees, Pt. 3_ Pill Induced Slumber - Erased Tapes
07. Peter Broderick - Music for Falling from Trees, Pt. 6_ Electroconvulsive Shock - Erased Tapes
08. Stars Of The Lid - Hiberner Toujours - Kranky
09. Robin Rimbaud - Anna Livia Plurabelle - Bine
10. Peter Broderick - A Glacier - Erased Tapes
11. White Rainbow - April 25th 11.14PM - Kranky
12. The Black Dog - Plinth (Tones) - Soma
13. The Black Dog - Plinth (Beatless) - Soma

have a good sunday people.

Mike

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Telling the Truth About the Armenian Genocide

We must resist Turkish pressure to distort history.

Fighting Words

By Christopher Hitchens


Even before President Barack Obama set off on his visit to Turkey this week, there were the usual voices urging him to dilute the principled position that he has so far taken on the Armenian genocide. April is the month in which the Armenian diaspora commemorates the bloody initiation, in 1915, of the Ottoman Empire's campaign to erase its Armenian population. The marking of the occasion takes two forms: Armenian Remembrance Day, on April 24, and the annual attempt to persuade Congress to name that day as one that abandons weasel wording and officially calls the episode by its right name, which is the word I used above.

Genocide had not been coined in 1915, but the U.S. ambassador in Constantinople, Henry Morgenthau, employed a term that was in some ways more graphic. In his urgent reports to the State Department, conveying on-the-spot dispatches from his consuls, especially in the provinces of Van and Harput, he described the systematic slaughter of the Armenians as "race murder." A vast archive of evidence exists to support this claim. But every year, the deniers and euphemists set to work again, and there are usually enough military-industrial votes to tip the scale in favor of our Turkish client. (Of late, Turkey's opportunist military alliance with Israel has also been good for a few shame-faced Jewish votes as well.)

President Obama comes to this issue with an unusually clear and unambivalent record. In 2006, for example, the U.S. ambassador to Armenia, John Evans, was recalled for employing the word genocide. Then-Sen. Obama wrote a letter of complaint to then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, deploring the State Department's cowardice and roundly stating that the occurrence of the Armenian genocide in 1915 "is not an allegation, a personal opinion, or a point of view, but rather a widely documented fact supported by an overwhelming body of historical evidence." On the campaign trail last year, he amplified this position, saying that "America deserves a leader who speaks truthfully about the Armenian genocide and responds forcefully to all genocides. I intend to be that president."

For any who might entertain doubt on this score, I would recommend two recent books of exceptional interest and scholarship that both add a good deal of depth and texture to this drama. The first is Armenian Golgotha: A Memoir of the Armenian Genocide, by Grigoris Balakian, and the second is Rebel Land: Travels Among Turkey's Forgotten Peoples, a contemporary account by Christopher de Bellaigue. In addition, we have just learned of shattering corroborative evidence from within the archives of the Turkish state. The Ottoman politician who began the campaign of deportation and extermination, Talat Pasha, left enormous documentation behind him. His family has now given the papers to a Turkish author named Murat Bardakci, who has published a book with the somewhat dry title The Remaining Documents of Talat Pasha. One of these "remaining documents" is a cold estimate that during the years 1915 and 1916 alone, a total of 972,000 Armenians simply vanished from the officially kept records of population. (See Sabrina Tavernise's report in the New York Times of March 8, 2009.)

There are those who try to say that the Armenian catastrophe was a regrettable byproduct of the fog of war and of imperial collapse, and this might be partly true of the many more Armenians who were slaughtered at the war's end and after the implosion of Ottomanism. But this is an archive maintained by the government of the day and its chief anti-Armenian politician, and it records in the very early days of World War I a population decline from 1,256,000 to 284,157. It is very seldom that a regime in its private correspondence confirms almost to an exactitude the claims of its victims.

So what will the deniers say now? The usual routine has been to insinuate that if Congress votes to assert the historic truth, then Turkey will inconvenience the NATO alliance by making trouble on the Iraqi border, denying the use of bases to the U.S. Air Force, or in other unspecified ways. This same kind of unchecked arrogance was on view at the NATO summit last weekend, where the Ankara government had the nerve to try to hold up the appointment of a serious Danish politician, Anders Rasmussen, as the next secretary-general of the alliance, on the grounds that as Denmark's prime minister he had refused to censor Danish newspapers to Muslim satisfaction! It is now being hinted that if either President Obama or the Congress goes ahead with the endorsement of the genocide resolution, Turkey will prove uncooperative on a range of issues, including the normalization of the frontier between Turkey and Armenia and the transit of oil and gas pipelines across the Caucasus.

When the question is phrased in this thuggish way, it can be slyly suggested that Armenia's own best interests are served by joining in the agreement to muddy and distort its own history. Yet how could any state, or any people, agree to abolish their pride and dignity in this way? And the question is not only for Armenians, who are economically hard-pressed by the Turkish closure of the common border. It is for the Turks, whose bravest cultural spokesmen and writers take genuine risks to break the taboo on discussion of the Armenian question. And it is also for Americans, who, having elected a supposedly brave new president, are being told that he—and our Congress too—must agree to collude in a gigantic historical lie. A lie, furthermore, that courageous U.S. diplomacy helped to expose in the first place. This falsification has already gone on long enough and has been justified for reasons of state. It is, among other things, precisely "for reasons of state," in other words for the clear and vital announcement that we can't be bought or intimidated, that April 24, 2009, should become remembered as the date when we affirmed the truth and accepted, as truth-telling does, all the consequences.


Christopher Hitchens is a columnist for Vanity Fair and the Roger S. Mertz media fellow at the Hoover Institution.

Afternoon in Kathu



The rumble in my stomach has the quality of distant thunder and lets me know that it's around 2 pm. Eating patterns provide me with a practical and reliable alarm clock - one that relies on rice, not batteries.

Sometimes my insides can feel like they are brawling, an internal struggle for energy sources; a fight to the death - acids vs. enzymes.

At this point the mind gives up on many levels, and concentration gives way to a blinkered one way street, with a vender selling fried dumplings and bbq chicken visible at the end.

Images pour in to the mind like an intense light source; smiling faces smeared in meat juices and sticky fingers lifting delicious pieces of spiced pork, delivering them to their salivating resting place.

The day is long and bright, but for once the shining beacon in the sky is not burning white.

Monsoon weather has it's benefits. Humidity and suffocating heat are not present today.

The world looks like a different place.

I can look out into the distance without a painful squint, and can feel fresh in mid afternoon without the need for a paralytic nap.

This is a good time to be productive - no time to rest.

Productivity is not a given in Thailand; the climate does not always permit free flowing activity. Like a fisherman, you have to pick the correct moment and move fast, no stalling or the moment will pass.

As the evening draws ever closer people start coming out of buildings, like ants between the cracks of concrete, their motorbikes groan and then howl, as they make their way to their destinations.

Even with a forest of black clouds in the sky the locals wrap their bodies in clothing, afraid of it's relentless UV assault.

This lesson is ignored by the blossom faced tourists who ride bare-chested, oblivious to the damage to their skin, on an insatiable quest for temporarily darkened skin.

Vanity squares up and eyeballs cancer.

Only one can be the victor in this battle.

Eat where the locals eat and do what the locals do if you are serious about staying in an alien place for long.

Take heed and learn their lessons. Be open to things that you initially disreguard as nonsense - Hold back your pride and embrace the unknown.

It's time to leave the world of words on a blog level and assert myself within the classroom.

Teaching English is a rewarding and challenging job. One in which you will never know it all.

For that, I am thankful.

In the immortal words of Confusious, "A great teacher is always learning."

Time for class.

Mike

Friday, 21 August 2009

Music



This morning a woke up earlier than usual. After gulping down a coffee and some cake, I could think only of one thing: Music.

The last seven months have been dominated largely by setting up a business, which is now doing very well indeed, and attempting to adjust and assimilate within Thai culture. The former has not been a problem, while the latter does provide one with challenges that are not always simple. These two factors have drained my energy and have soaked up my time, leaving me suffering from what feels like, severe music withdrawal.

Music has always played a very important role in my life, from early childhood experimentation, to formative teenage dabbling in all manner of sounds, then on to where I am now; a twenty eight year old man with a head full of the past, and a yearning for something new in the present.

It is time to find my way again musically; get the ship back on course. Seek out all that is new and inspiring, and let it do its work on my wanton ears. Music has the ability to sooth one’s mind, as well as energize and motivate. There is no time to waste.

I want music back in my life, for good.

Mike

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Yale University Press & Freedom of Expression



Christopher Hitchen’s latest article for Slate entitled, “Why did Yale University Press remove images of Mohammad from a book about Danish Cartoons?’ is a well reasoned piece that points out some ominous facts that if left to run their course, will result in not only the watering down of the medias effectiveness, but further the erosion of free speech and open inquiry.

Cast your mind back to 2005 and the controversy surrounding the Danish newspaper Jylland Portem that hosted a competition for cartoons depicting the prophet Mohammad. This caused a media shit storm that reverberated around the world, consequently resulting in the deaths of at least one hundred people.

I thought this particular issue had been laid to rest, but recent events have placed it firmed back onto the political agenda. Yale University Press has decided to publish a book called “The cartoons that shook the world” by Danish –born Jytte Klausen, who is professor of politics at Brandeis University. It tells the story of the horrid and preplanned campaign of “protest” and boycott that was orchestrated in the closing months of that year. The publication will see the removal of the twelve original caricatures that caused the initial hysteria. On one hand, this could be seen as expedient maneuver considering the related murders and threats carried out by Muslim extremists; on the other hand, a question has to be asked:

How far can the religious push this kind of censorship, and where will it end?

We can already hear Mullahs in the West shouting from their minaret tops for the banning of innocuous children’s fairy tales like “The Tree Little Pigs” and nonsensically lambasting fictitious television character like Miss Piggy. Laughably, one of the twenty centuries most revered novels, George Orwell’s profound and powerful “Animal Farm” has been banned from Muslim curriculums because of the central character is a pig.

The decision taken by Yale University is a momentous blow to all who believe that free speech is necessary and healthy within a functioning modern society. As Hitchens states, “According to the Yale logic, violence could result from the showing of the images-and not only that, but it would be those who displayed the images who were directly responsible for that violence.” This kind of logic creates all kind of problems and complexities. In theory an individual or group could be seen as the aggressor and perpetrator when in actual fact, they were upholding their right to freedom of expression.

During the first calamitous episode in 2005, those vehemently against the cartoons exclaimed that they would result in the “instigation” of violence. As Hitchens points out, “If you instigate something, it means that you wish and intend it to happen. If it’s a riot, then by instigating it, you have yourself colluded in it.”

The ramifications of this type of misinformation prove to be fatal, as the religious continue on their sadistic and sectarian crusade, against rationality and secularism. This particular masochistic bending of the rules by the religious can not go on if we are to maintain a level of decency and modernity in our world. Media outlets and the population writ large must have the confidence to stand up to these socio-religious bully boy tactics.

Sam Harris, one of the spearheads within the so called, “New Atheist Movement” postulates that religion should not be given such an elevated position within society, as it is merely a belief system, on a par with political allegiance. By this assumption, religion is given an artificial position within our society; one that can and should be challenged.

Hitchens surmises about the possibility of his own life being threatened or put in danger by his high profile polemics. He imperiously states, “Who’s to say a homicidal theocrat won’t decide to be offended now. I deny absolutely that I will have instigated him to do so, and I state in advance that he is directly and solely responsible for any blood that is on his hands.”

I take my hat off to Mr. Hitchens, and feel like him, that it is time for the media and people to stop sound biting democracy, and face facts that there is an encroaching beast at work - organized religion, that is not content to keep its views private; but insidiously attempts to force them upon others.

One would think that the religious would be overjoyed with the fact that they have uncovered the truth and discovered the dark and wondrous secrets of life to which, the rest of us are ignorant, but this is not the case. The religious with their tele-evanjelist conmen and their apocalyptic Mullahs continue to peddle fear, lies and damnation to the credulous, playing on peoples’ innate fear of death, and need for simple answers to life’s difficult questions.

A lot of blood has been split in attaining things that we now take for granted, such as free speech, which has undoubtedly accelerated our development as a race, and enhanced the lives of millions of citizens. It’s important to remember these undeniable facts, and not let the zealots dilute the effectiveness of progress made.

The monotheisms written as they were, by men sitting round iron-age campfires, have little relevance today and their majestic mutterings now look frail under the microscope of modern science and philosophy. These ‘great’ religions were probably our first attempt at understanding the big questions in life, of which some still baffle people today; but the point is that out first attempt at philosophy, has now been overshadowed and overtaken by sober, rational inquiry.

Evidence and facts, have felt their way slowly to the mainstream, and there they will stay.

The Yale University happenings are not the way forward for a democratic society and set a macabre example to all those who want to further their own fraudulent agendas. As Hitchens concludes, “What a cause of shame that the campus of Nation Hale should have pre-emptively run up the white flag and then cringingly taken the blood guilt of potential assassins and tyrants upon itself.”

I will conclude by saying that we all have the right to free expression in any form, and Yale University Press has provided a copybook example of what can happen when rationality is pushed a side in favour of a capitulation to the demands of opportunistic dogmatists.

Mike

The photograph voted the winning wonder of Ireland .




Belfast Telegraph:

An amateur snapper from Co Down fought off thousands of competitors to win a tourist photography competition, it was announced yesterday.

Ryan Wilson impressed the judges with his entry entitled Into the West to take home first prize in the Wonders of Ireland contest.

The winning picture features Tyrella beach near Downpatrick against the stunning backdrop of the Mourne Mountains, with a horse and rider in silhouette.

The photo also shows a dramatic sky with heavy clouds and sun bursting through, which was described as “typically Irish”.

Irish and visiting tourists submitted thousands of photo entries, with 56% of images coming from visitors.

The 11 runner-up photographs were the work of Belgian, Dutch, Spanish, UK, German and Irish tourists.

The announcement was made by Gulliver Ireland at the launch of the GoIreland.com Photography Awards 2009 yesterday.

Held in association with John Hinde Ireland, the GoIreland.com Photography Awards is an international amateur tourist photography competition that highlights Ireland and its tourism qualities using a different theme each year.

Sunday, 16 August 2009

Free Time Wondering



I dander…………………………………….

Hellish Hondas zip past like belching bees, under a bruised and nebulous sky.

The relentless waves of heat and mugginess stultify the brains capacity to think.

Movement feels unnatural; awkward - controlled by an outside force like some celestial deity lounging in wicker furniture with fingers poised on a remote.

The heat stifles and entraps the form squeezing like a boa constructor.

There’s no escape, nowhere to run.

A refreshing, albeit, short-lived breeze massages my face, allowing me for a short moment to escape the tiresomeness of natures onslaught.

Quaint housing lines the narrow streets lined with pretty tropical flowers and trickling streams.

Families sit on plastic chairs, some stare into space and others watch them do the same. Life is on the move and so am I.

Breathe deeply and know your alive.

Feel the aliveness of the moment and march into battle.



The queen of Thailand stares down from her perch over the intersection, watching closely the circus show below.

Chaos and pandemonium compete on the roads for superlative status; wild driving and obliviousness of danger dominate the scene.

How does one stay alive for long in this rat’s nest?

One can duck and dive, but sooner or later a brush with death is on the cards.

Myriads of students dominate the sidewalks, unmistakable in their regimental white and brown uniforms; shining lights of impeccability.

Minuscule paces and grease smeared faced surround; seas of youth and happiness; every step an image of the beautiful spring time of life.

Beads of sweat continue to lose their grip with gravity and make their saline decent south.

...................................

Following the shade I come across Thalang Road which is like looking into a crystal ball at Phuket’s past.

Shops many more times longer than they are wide are adorned with heavily accented latticework entries, and brightly coloured exterior paintwork.

The scene is like that in Pennang, Malaysia crossed with the Big Bad Wolf’s sugar coated residence in the famous children fairy tail; a multi-coloured vista of brilliant colour and intricate bi-gone architecture.





Just off Thalang Road lies Soi Romani, an interesting little back lane that has had, even by Phuket’s standards; a sordid past.

This quaint blip on the map was once a red light district for the many Chinese labourers who came to work the tin mines.

It has been restored to it’s former self in recent years and now is full of small drinking holes.




This grandiose Sino-colonial spectacle, once occupied by Phuket's tin barons, stands as a living monument to the town's past.

The name of this soi is intriguing as 'romani' is an old-fashioned Thai word, roughly translating to 'naughty with the ladies'.

Having frequented this area by night I can reassure the reader that little has changed in a century.





By night, young ladies, scantly dressed prowl the street looking for ‘customers’ and men of all ages and nationalities do the same fueled by booze and a wanton lust for fresh meat.

There no point being shocked. No one cares. This is Thailand after all.

As the propitious locals would say,

“Relax......Same same, but different...... not serious”

Mike

Another Day, Another Dollar



Well there we go folks, another fun packed day in the classroom has screeched to a halt in Thailand. It has not been a

remarkable day, nor has it been one to forget; it's time to simply pack up my things and go to a nice restaurant by the

beach for some well deserved down time. After a few tough days teaching, the best ways to unwind is with cold beer

and North Eastern Thai food - nicely settled, in time for sunset. That's enough for me really: simple, beautiful and

chilled. The roads on the island are not a busy on a Sunday night as for many the weekend is drawing to a close and

the world of work beacons tomorrow, but for me it's the end of a busy week, a week that has provided me with some

closure on issues that have been bugging me. It's a great feeling when something that has been weighing on your mind is

suddenly emancipated, leaving you energized and flighty. So, the time has come to change into the civvies, pour a very

large gin and tonic and get myself to a picturesque little table over looking the Andaman Sea.

Mike

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Bass Heaven

Hitchens on the Labour Party



Labour’s Lost?

No, Prime Minister

Britain’s Labour Party, the author’s first political home, when he was a young idealist, now stands for nothing in his eyes. Unless one counts the Nixonian power lust—dirty tricks included—of Prime Minister Gordon Brown.
By Christopher Hitchens August 2009

Prime Minister Gordon Brown took office in June 2007, and it’s been downhill for the Labour Party ever since. Illustration by André Carrilho.

Finally all other emotions were lost in the overflowing sense of relief that his days of waiting for achievement were over.… To Gordon it seemed no more than the inevitable entrance into a kingdom which was his by right of conquest. —Alec Waugh, The Loom of Youth.

Early this past June it became hard to distinguish among the resignation statements that were emanating almost daily from Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s Cabinet. The noise of collapsing scenery drowned out the individuality of the letters—one female minister, I remember, complained that she was being used as “window dressing”—but there was one missive from a departing comrade that caught my eye. It came from James Purnell, a man generally agreed to have done a more than respectable job as minister for work and pensions, and it began like this:

Dear Gordon,
We both love the Labour Party. I have worked for it for twenty years and you for far longer. We know we owe it everything and it owes us nothing …

I sat back in my chair. Yes, it’s true. One suddenly could recall a time when membership in the Labour Party (or “the Labour movement,” as it would call itself on great occasions) was a thing of pride. I remember deciding to go and join it in 1965, on the very first day that I was old enough to be eligible, and leaving the battered old union hall where I had signed up, delightedly clutching a membership card that called for common ownership of the means of production, distribution, and exchange.

Yes, well, you don’t need to tell me that there were some drawbacks to this position (though now that practically everything in sight is being nationalized by liberals and conservatives I occasionally allow myself a smirk). But in the political battles of those days, about inequality and exploitation, about nuclear weapons and apartheid and Vietnam, one went to a Labour Party meeting expecting, and getting, a fight over important matters of principle. There were even occasions when some of us would say, and mean it when we said it, that we would rather lose an election than give up on our ideals.

And now look. The British Labour Party has just, in elections to the European Parliament, received its smallest share of the vote since 1918 (when it was a new and young third-party force). Its candidates in local elections have trailed in third and even fourth place, losing ground in working-class districts to openly Fascist groups such as the British National Party. This is not a defeat. It is a humiliation. And on exactly what question of principle was Labour brought so low?

If you can’t answer that question, you are in good company. The main if not the sole “issue” appears to be the self-love and the self-pity of a prime minister—Gordon Brown—who has never won a general election or even a contested leadership election within his own party. He is in power only in order to be in power. He is in power only because he believes he has long had a natural right to be prime minister. For many years he waited as a resentful dauphin, swallowing his envy and bile. And then, like the fruit of the medlar tree, he went rotten before he was ripe.

Gordon Brown is Labour’s Richard Nixon.… The buttoned-up suit, the mouth slightly agape, the physical awkwardness, the alarming smile which seems to appear from nowhere as if a button marked “smile” has been pressed in his head. —Robert Harris, The Sunday Times, September 10, 2006.

The author of Fatherland wrote those words as Brown was staging the near-incredible “My turn! My turn!” tantrum with which he disgraced the transition between Tony Blair and himself. And the Nixonian diagnosis has recurred to many minds since then, because of the discovery of a “dirty tricks” operation run at the very heart of Brown’s own government. “Filthy tricks” might be more like it: the prime minister’s chief political aide, a bloated and mediocre nonentity named Damian McBride, was found using official e-mail channels to spread the rumors that David Cameron, the leader of the Conservative Party, suffered from an embarrassing ailment; that his economics spokesman, George Osborne, had been caught with hookers and a dildo and photographed in drag; and so forth. (There was also a planted slur about Mr. Osborne’s wife that not even Rupert Murdoch’s tabloid The Sun was prepared to print.) This you might think was foul enough: using the taxpayers’ money to smear the opposition party with baseless insinuations. But what shocked me much more was how unshocked the Labour Party was. “Put it like this,” said a stalwart old comrade of mine. “The Tories and the press are only now finding out how Brown has been bullying and threatening his own colleagues.” Fat Boy McBride, of course, was given the heave-ho as soon as his picknose activity was unmasked, and it was claimed, as is customary, that he had acted alone and without permission from his boss. I have asked around a good deal and have not met or heard from anyone—anyone—who believes that this cover story is true. Instead, and this in a party that used to pride itself on open debate, you hear dreadful whispers about carpet-biting, furniture-hurling spasms by someone whose contorted face reproduces the awful slobbering mask of a weak king.

Ivan Lewis, a Labour M.P. and junior minister, developed a few mild criticisms of the Brown regime and suddenly discovered that news of indiscreet text messages of his, addressed to a female subordinate, had found its way from government channels to the gutter press. Martin Bright, political editor of my old lefty magazine the New Statesman, was effectively hounded out of his job because he was rash enough to object to the Labour machine that was then running the mayoralty of London.

Gordon had his fingers on the pedestal of fame, and he intended never to loose his grasp. —Alec Waugh, The Loom of Youth.

The true definition of corruption, it seems to me, is the diversion of public resources to private or politicized ends (see above). There are other and lesser definitions, such as milking the public purse or abusing the public trust by “creative accounting.” The cloudburst of lurid detail about the expenses racket, which has made the current Parliament into an object of scorn and loathing, is a cloudburst that has soaked members of all parties equally. However, the Brownite style is by far the most culpable. It was Brown’s people who foisted a Speaker on the House of Commons who both indulged the scandal and obstructed a full ventilation of it. As if that weren’t bad enough, Gordon Brown still resists any call to dissolve this wretched Parliament—a Parliament that is almost audibly moaning to be put out of its misery and shame—because he still isn’t prepared to undergo the great test of being submitted to the electorate. Say what you will about Tony Blair, he took on all the other parties in three hard-fought general elections, and when it was considered time for him to give way or step down, he voluntarily did so while some people could still ask, “Why are you going?,” rather than “Why the hell don’t you go?” For the collapse of Britain’s formerly jaunty and spendthrift “financial sector,” everybody including Blair is to blame. But for the contempt in which Parliament is held, and in which a once great party now shares, it’s Blair’s successor who is the lugubrious villain.

When I first met Gordon Brown, in the late 1970s in Scotland, we were both miles to the left of center. (What I remember best about him is his fingernails, which were gnawed down to the knuckle. Warning: Contents under pressure.) The Labour Party was in due course moved to the right, but not only, or not merely, to catch the votes and donations of the middle ground. Tony Blair, who supervised the makeover (and whose famous Chicago speech linking Slobodan Milošević and Saddam Hussein was delivered exactly 10 years ago), is still a figure who, even his enemies concede, has shown conviction and commitment.

Labour under Brown has forgotten even the meaning of such terms. The sweets and fruits of office are all that count. Take a single example. Brown’s allies leak to the press that the foreign secretary, David Miliband, is to be offered another job in a Cabinet “reshuffle.” Mr. Miliband then lets it be known that he has no intention of moving. So feeble is Brown’s position that he then retains, as the man responsible for Britain’s diplomatic relations, a person who clearly does not enjoy his own prime minister’s confidence in that important role. So, Britain’s allies and enemies both know at once that they are negotiating with a secretary of state who doesn’t count. But who cares about such a trifle? The survival of Brown and the retention of power are the main objectives, and even some of the cronies who hate and fear him are more afraid of the verdict of the voters.

Some of the elements of tragedy are present in Brown, as they were in Sir Anthony Eden, who fretted himself into misery while waiting for Winston Churchill to step down, and as they were in Richard Nixon, convinced that he had been robbed of the 1960 election. Like Eden and Nixon, Brown appears to have gone a little mad while in office. (He is also said to be gravely worried about losing the sight in his remaining eye.) But one’s natural sympathy is canceled by the realization that he is leading from behind, bribing his party to stay in line by clinging to their perks for just one more season, or one more year. The old Labour anthem had a couplet of especial scorn about “the weak and base / whose minds are fixed on pelf and place.”

Labour used to be a party of dissent, but now British policemen are to be seen on video as they mash puddles of blood out of demonstrators against the government and even out of bystanders who are not demonstrating at all. The inclination of traditional Labour supporters was perhaps not all that much in favor of monarchy, but Mr. Brown managed to insult the Queen, and the veterans of D-day on the Normandy beaches, for no better reason than that he wanted to hog the entire stage for himself. He got booed by the crowd on an occasion that is usually almost supernaturally silent, and then he contrived to make an idiot of himself by alluding to Omaha beach—a near-totemic name for anyone with a sense of history—as “Obama beach.” Enough is enough. The Labour Party must make up its mind to throw off and outlive this imposition, or else to endure it further and find itself a dishonorable grave.

As Gordon walked back alone, he had the unpleasant feeling that the best was over.… The friends of his first term … had all gone, scattered to the winds. He alone remained, and with a sudden pain he wondered whether he had not outlived his day, whether, like Tithonus, he was not taking more than he had been meant to take. —Alec Waugh, The Loom of Youth.

Christopher Hitchens is a Vanity Fair contributing editor.