New Decade, Dead Century

After a restful Christmas and New Year, in which I avoided blogging deliberately, and in which I ate far too more than necessary, drank a fair bit, and played with my new toys (Rock Band full set, an alarm clock that fires a rocket, remote control Caterham 7) while doing not much else, I had to go back to work today.

So, after that ordeal, I thought I’d do what pretty much every other blogger still active does and look back over the last year, and the last decade from my perspective.

2009

Just over a year ago I was on ‘garden leave’, having seen the contract I was working on cut short due to an outsourcing deal, and awaiting reassignment. That came, starting early in the January, but meant that I had to relocate from Sussex to the Midlands. Even though work is in Northampton, we (the gf and I) decided to move to Rugby, as it’s closer to her family in Brum, nicer than Northampton, and houses are cheap. The idea was that she would follow me up as soon as she found work up here, but as yet we are still living apart. We are hoping that gets sorted out soon, so that we can sell the place in Crawley and find a permanent home up here in  2010

In terms of politics, 2009 has been pretty dire. Labour in government seem to be unable to sort themselves out, meaning that the best hope for the General Election is that the Tories shoot themselves in the foot over the next few months. The BNP got seats in Europe, and the Tories joined up with a bunch of far right wackaloons there too, meaning that the UK is less influential where it matters, and in both Rugby and Crawley I saw decent councillors lose their seats while MPs from across the land were staying put despite dodgy expenses claims.

Football was far brighter. Fulham achieved their highest ever league position, finishing in 7th place and qualifying for the Europa Cup. I went out to Basel to see them win a fantastic match that puts them into the knockout phase of that competition, and despite dire prognostications of the effects of a European run, Fulham are having a pretty good season at home so far. Best of all, Fulham have beaten Manchester Utd twice in 2009, both times without conceding a goal.

On a personal note, I am happy to relate that my sole remaining grandparent has fought back against the cancer she was diagnosed with in the year – with the help of the NHS and some pretty powerful drugs – and is fighting fit.

In music, there have been some reunions and reprises from bands I love from years back, with Metallica touring and putting on a great show at the O2, Alice In Chains putting out a new album, and Rage Against the Machine getting a Christmas No 1. Slightly more modern acts have been around too, with Kasabian putting out the stunning West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum being my highlight. I also took a trip down folk-memory lane when I saw the tribute to Ewan McColl in Salford.

The Noughties

Ten years ago, I had just bought my first house, was working in IT support (which meant 24 on call cover, including on the weekend of the millenium), and was preparing to stand for election to Crawley Borough Council. I spent the last night of 1999 in Wandsworth, at a party held by friends from Uni (most of whom are now married, many with kids), while some of them watched systems they support just in case the Y2K bug hadn’t been completely vanquished.

I didn’t know what to expect from the past 10 years at that point – I suppose I was assuming that I’d still live in Crawley, would probably be on the Council for a while, perhaps even take a stab at being MP, and that at work I’d be moving from mainframe to more modern technologies but would still essentially be coding or doing support work.

As it worked out, I’ve left Crawley, stood down from the Council after one term and am not likely to go back to that level, let alone national politics for at least some time if ever, and I barely ever get to look at a line of code at work, now that I’m moving towards Business Analysis.

The most important difference between then and now is that I was single back then, and in December 2009 I’ve been in a relationship for 8 years.

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The power of the interwebs part 2

After outflanking overzealous lawyers for unscrupulous oil firms, the ‘blogosphere-twitterati’ axis had another shot at idiocy this week.

I don’t read the Daily Mail voluntarily, with it’s constant stream of drivel designed to invoke fear in the middle classes, the coded stories that play into BNP and racist tropes, utter tripe dressed up an science etc., but I did look at the comment piece by Jan Moir yesterday (here is a screen shot showing the original version, before it was ‘tidied up’ and retitled by the DM).

Despite her subsequent protestations of innocence and accusations of a ‘orchestrated campaign’, it looks very much to me like here homophobic article sparked spontaneous reaction. As for Trafigura, it was sparked by people reading the online version of a newspaper, and passing on their reactions to others. Rather than being orchestrated, what really seemed to happen was that people joined on to a bandwagon, adding their own suggestions (“complain to the Press Complaints Commission”, “oh, they will reject complaints if it’s not from those mentioned in the article, what about an advertiser boycott?”). Reading some of the articles and the comments beneath them, it certainly looks to me as if it was ad hoc, not planned out.

The most disgusting aspect of the whole affair is that Gately’s family are holding the funeral for him today. There really is a ghoulish element in the press – even though Moir said in her article that it wasn’t “being ghoulish to anticipate, or to be mentally braced for, [the] bad end: a long night, a mysterious stranger, an odd set of circumstances that herald a sudden death” having listed a group of still living people that she does this for, apparently. Sorry, but that pretty much is ghoulish – as is raking through the dirt on a guy barely dead a week and extrapolating all sorts of nonsense from it.

Anyone with any decency would at least hold off for the sake of his family and friends. Not the Daily fucking Heil though.

The godless meme

Like Unity, I’m not big on memes. But like Unity, I like this one

Q1. How would you define ‘atheism’?

The lack of belief in God/gods.

Q2. Was your upbringing religious? If so, what tradition?

No. My parents were not religious at all. My first introduction to the concept of ‘God’ was at school. Apparently I was pretty annoyed at Mum and Dad for not having mentioned this whole thing about one bloke making the whole world. It’s not as if they ‘made me’ an atheist, they just didn’t see any point discussing it, and left me to find out for myself.

As a child I was generally agnostic until I was about 11 or 12. The religion I was agnostic on would have been that fluffy Anglicanism that we English cling on to. I was a cub scout and in St Johns Ambulance as a cadet, so every week I had to pledge to God (and the Queen), and I knew that I was lying (on both counts).

Q3. How would you describe ‘Intelligent Design’, using only one word?

Mistaken

Q4. What scientific endeavour really excites you?

That’s a really tough question, as there are loads of possible answers – the Human Genome project, space travel, quantum computing….

My background is Mathematics, and so it may not be ‘sexy’ or have an immediate impact, but I’d say Game Theory is a favourite, and I can apply it to playing Diplomacy.

Q5. If you could change one thing about the ‘atheist community’, what would it be and why?

I’m not sure that there is a ‘community’, or that there could or should be one. I’d rather that atheists as individuals didn’t attack religion for the sake of it, but on the other hand I’d also want them to defend each other more robustly when the religious attack some of us.

Q6. If your child came up to you and said ‘I’m joining the clergy’, what would be your first response?

I don’t have kids, so I don’t know how I’d react. I’d like to think I’d have some clue that a child of mine was religious already, so it shouldn’t be a massive shock. I’d probably make a joke about them getting a free house.

I would not force my atheism on my kids, just as my parents didn’t force theirs on me. I would, however bring my kids up to question everything, and I would certainly make sure that they were equipped to question their own beliefs (or lack thereof). If they decide that they want to become a priest, nun, whatever, then fine. As long as they are happy, and don’t try to convert me.

Q7. What’s your favourite theistic argument, and how do you usually refute it?

I’m not sure about it. The most common one is the idea that everything has to have had a beginning, and that beginning is God. The challenge (if not a refutation), is that this is unknowable. Time could be infinite, in which case there is no beginning.

Q8. What’s your most ‘controversial’ (as far as general attitudes amongst other atheists goes) viewpoint?

Dunno. Perhaps continuing to support the Labour Party even though Blair and Brown (and most leaders in fact) have been religiously motivated in some way.

Q9. Of the ‘Four Horsemen’ (Dawkins, Dennett, Hitchens and Harris) who is your favourite, and why?

I’ve not read much Dennett or Harris, but what I have is a little too confrontational for it’s own sake. Likewise, Hitchens just likes to take an argument and let loose the rhetoric to show how clever he is. When I agree with CH I can nod along vehemently, and when he’s wrong (as he is on Iraq in my opinion), he’s an annoying git.

So it’s Dawkins then, by default. Actually, I’ve read The God Delusion and it’s pretty well presented (and is often misrepresented in order to demonise him and through him all atheists), so it’s not just be default. He does, however, sometimes go a little too far when speaking.

Q10. If you could convince just one theistic person to abandon their beliefs, who would it be?

I can’t think of a specific person. Perhaps a Jehovah’s Witness who’s refusing to accept life saving treatment as a result of their beliefs.

Right, there it goes. I don’t nominate people to pick up a meme (in fact, if a meme is a true meme, it would be taken up without me needing to).

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Old book meme

Searching around today, I found that I’d been ‘tagged’ by snowflake5 back in September. Ho hum…

1. Name a book that changed your life.
‘The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists’ by Tressell, which for the first time introduced me to what this socialism thing was all about. Until then I’d been simply tribal in my politics, but at the age of about 14 I borrowde my dad’s copy and started to understand

2. One book you’ve read more than once
‘Sideshow’ by Sheri S Tepper. It’s where I got my pseudonym from.

3. One book you’d want on a desert island
Can I take the entire ‘Baroque Cycle’ by Neal Stephenson?

4. One book that made you laugh
Any by Pratchett. ‘The Colour of Magic’ is still the best one of all the Discworld novels

5. One book that made you cry
I’m a bloke. Books don’t make me cry. What utter nonsense!
(ok ok, I did sniff a bit while reading ‘Feersum Enjinn’ by Iain M Banks, when Bascule is trying to climb the fastness – but don’t tell anyone, right?)

6. One book you wish you’ve written
‘Harry Potter and the thingummy wotsit’. Then I’d be a squillionaire!!

7. One book you wish had never been written
Anything by Ayn Rand. Particularly ‘Fountainhead’, which I tried to read but gave up as I hated every single character and what they stood for, particularly her ‘hero’ and ‘heroine’. There’d be a lot less nerdy american libertarians about if it wasn’t for her drivel.

8. One book you are currently reading
‘Basket Case’ by Carl Hiaasen. I like a bit of Floridian sleaze and intrigue.

9. One book you’ve been meaning to read
There’s a few that I have on a shelf waiting for me to get to. ‘The Euro-killers’ by Julian Rathbone, which is a book he wrote a long time before his historical novels.

10. Now tag five people
What, and make them go through this? Nahhh.

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Not that bloggers ever self obsess…

I’ve been ‘tagged’ by Skuds, so I’d better provide my reader with a list.

I am sitting down
I want a socialist government
I wish I had more enthusiasm
I hate intolerance
I love marmite
I miss trains
I fear my boss noticing how rubbish I am
I hear the birds nesting in my roof
I wonder where Tories come from
I regret having spent too much time on regret
I am not as dumb as I look
I dance like no one’s watching
I sing to Pantera
I cry at the end of Mean Machine
I make arguments
I write less than I ought to
I confuse myself
I need a good strong coffee
I should get out more
I start as late as possible
I finish the few things I don’t forget about
I tag no one. so there

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Been a while…

Sheer slackness really.

The sheer drudgery of the football season, with Crawley bobbing around in the relegation zone and Fulham heading for mid-table mediocrity if they don’t lose it, has not been much of an inspiration. Neither has the state of politics – every time I start thinking that the Labour Government is starting to respond to the Party and the people, they do something like the Education Bill.

And don’t even get me started on the local council and the way that the Labour Group completely lost the plot over travellers. All I’ll say is that after all the moaning about how we can never allow a Tory Mayor, or even Deputy Mayor, we got one anyway.

Oh well. In the meantime, I did get to find out about this:

The Evil Atheist Conspiracy

I’d join it, if it exists. Which it doesn’t. Of course.

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The book meme

Apparently having been tagged, I have to do this….

1 Total number of books I’ve owned

Pass. I have 2 and a half full ‘billy’ shelves from Ikea, which are all starting to double up, plus a row of computing books in the office. Most I bought myslef, but I ‘inherited’ about 50-100 non-fiction books from a couple who left Crawley, mostly political and social commentary, some of it religious. I think I read half of one of them…

2 The last book I bought

I bought a few books about six weeks ago (I tend to splurge):

The Scar by China Mieville (I’d read King Rat and Perdido Street Station and was hungry for more of his weird dark fantasies)
What a Carve Up! by Jonathan Coe (Never read him before, and it looked like a good social satire)
The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson (Strangely, I picked this only because the local Ottakars Book Club was featuring it)
Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
Hey Nostradamus! by David Coupland
Martin Cruz Smith omnibus: Red Square and Gypsy in Amber (Haven’t read his stuff for ages, having been hooked by Gorky Park – and only 50p)
Mammoth Book of Best New SF 17 edited by Gardner Duzois (29 short stories from 2003).

3 The last book I read

I am about halfway through Best New SF 17, so maybe that doesn’t count. As it’s a collection of short stories anyway, I will discount it. Before that I finished The Scar. This is set in the same world as Perdido Street Station, but in a different city. Mieville obviously loves cities, and this one, Armarda, is like no other. Constructed from stolen and salvaged ships, it sails the oceans, surviving and growing through piracy. As this world is subject to strange magic and bizarre human hybrids, the city is hardly a normal place. Told from several points of view, with each character trying to out-plot the others and with their own dark secrets, this is an intriguing read. And Mieville can write incredible descriptive prose. Loved it.

4 Five books that mean a lot to me

a) Sideshow by Sherri S Tepper. Tepper is an American writer, often tagged as a ‘feminist’, which I suppose would put a lot of people off. Certainly the main protagonists of her novels are mainly female, and often find themselves up against a male-dominated society which perpetrates fairly awful abuses. Sideshow is set on a world which has become a haven for ‘pure’ humanity, after the rest of the inhabited galaxy has been assimilated by the Hobbes Land Gods. These ‘refugees’ are in various societies, each seperate and each brutal in the way it behaves. The ‘uniqueness’ of each society is policed by ‘Enforcers’ who ensure that they are not interfered with, despite their nastiness. My pseudomyn comes from one of the characters, Danivon Luze, a boy rescued from child sacrifice who becomes an enforcer and then… well, you have to read it.

b) White Teeth by Zadie Smith. A second woman writer, this time English and about my age. Some of the main characters are my contemporaries, and there is enough familiarity for me to identify with some of the characters. Not that anything like the actual plot happened to me, but the timing, growing up in the eighties, having friends with strong views on Salman Rushdie etc. certainly does resonate. The writing style was very easy for me to get into, and evoked a lot of memories. The TV miniseries was ok, but nothing like the book for style.

c) The Crow Road by Iain (M) Banks. I could have put almost any of his books on this list (and easily filled it with five: Consider Phlebas; Use of Weapons; Dead Air; Complicity; and Against a Dark Background. In fact, the only ones I don’t really love are Walking on Glass (too poncey) and Canal Dreams (reads like a screenplay for a mundane American action movie). Crow Road, however is just about my favourite. It starts off like a murder mystery, and it seems like that it mainly what it is, but really there is a whole lot more to it, as the protagonist finds out more about his strange family and, in doing so, about himself.

d) A Scanner Darkly by Philip K Dick. Better than Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep (filmed as Blade Runner), with more character emphasis than the excellent Man in the High Castle and less off his head completely than The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch. This is an exellent book about the effects of a psychotic, addictive drug on a society, and in particular on one man.

e) Catch-22 by Joseph Heller. The stupidity of War. As much as I think that fighting the Nazis was most definitely the right thing to do, this (and Slaughterhouse 5 by Kurt Vonnegut), brilliantly captures the basic inhumanity of a system which is set up to kill people. The sheer insanity of most of the characters and their situations is so well described that it is entirely believeable. Which is the scariest thought of all.

What did I have to reject coming up with that list? Lord of the Rings, of course, as the definitive fantasy with elves and dwarves (in other words, everything else since basically sucks). Altered Carbon and Broken Angels by Richard Morgan (cyber-noir I suppose).

I’m not sure who I can tag for this. I’ll think on it.

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