Archive for November, 2008

“In the end, after a thousand years, man is just a piece of wet cake…”

The above is a quote from one of a series of ten minute plays I saw last week. All of which were odd, some of which were also very funny. One or two however, involved interpretive dance. And quite frankly, and I can’t emphasize this enough people, I fucking hate interpretive dance.

Anyone who has read Terry Pratchett’s discworld series will probably be familiar with the character of Lord Vetinari, a perfectly reasonable and just ruler of a major city with the single exception of his passionate hatred for mime artists. Anyone with white gloves and face-paint pretending to be trapped in an invisible box in this fictional city soon finds themselves upside down in a scorpion pit, on the side of which is helpfully hung a similiarly inverted sign reading “Learn The Words”

If I were an absolute dictator, a similiar level of intolerance would be applied to anyone who thinks that important messages can be effectively conveyed by the interplay of the swaying bodies of people with too little talent to get into ballet school. Interpretive dance is the visual equivalent of really bad poetry. Its painful to watch, its boring, and anyone can do it.

Yes, self-expression is commendable. But unless you’re pretty goddamn interesting its also boring as fuck. Why subject other people to it? Not to mention the fact that if you can’t fucking dance then the fact that its not really dancing is not going to help you all that much. I went to the ballet last year, and was shocked to learn that I loved it. It was graceful, beautiful and captivating. I think talented dancers are amazing, whether they perform the tango or a hiphop routine. But there is a reason interpretive dance is confined to small theatres filled with hippies, and that reason is that it fucking sucks.

I love weird-ass smale scale theatre productions, in fact my favourite ever live performance was probably done on a budget of about $23. I have a healthy appreciation of the utterly bizarre, in an otherwise fairly banal performance I can at least enjoy the absurdity of the appearance of a semi-naked angel in a white afro wig on rollerskates with a unicorn horn strapped to the crotch of her silver hotpants (yes, this did happen. New York is such a wonderful place). But I really wish people would stop trying to disguise this interpretive dance crap as entertainment.

It’s pretentious, self-indulgent wank. Go wank at home like everyone else.

Guns don’t kill people. Usually it’s the bullets that do the damage.

Though I suppose you could throw one really hard. In fact, I guess if you have a .45 then it would be a reasonably effective bludgeon, because damn those things are big. But then I doubt anyone wants to restrict the sale of handguns because of their potential for braining someone. Presumably because if you tried to ban everything that could be used to damage another human being (a category which I have to say contains about 90% of all useful items) we would all walk to work, eat with our fingers and use those sponge telephones kids sometimes play with.

The classic defense of gun laws in the US is the good old “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people”. This statement is absolutely and completely true. Then the argument goes along the lines of “after all, how many people are killed in car accidents? We don’t ban cars!” (oh, the enviable power of human logic). Yes, people die in all sorts of spectacularly stupid ways, they get accidentally electrocuted, drown in their own swimming pools, and get run over by lawnmowers. Anyone who has ever read the Darwin awards webpage is doubtless grateful for the service performed by these noble individuals by removing themselves from the gene pool.

There are a thousand easily accessible ways to kill a human being. We can’t detect poison by smell, we are easily crushed by heavy objects, lack of oxygen to the brain can be achieved in a multitude of ways very quickly, relatively small cuts to any of a number of major arteries will send us into shock through loss of blood in less than 2 minutes, and that’s a very optimistic estimate. But we don’t outlaw or restrict the sale of arsenic, large bricks, piano wire or knives. The reasons for this are pretty obvious, we can’t. The reason people are so frequently killed by useful household items is that they _are_ useful household items.

Here of course, is where the analogy breaks down. Guns are designed for killing things. Having a gun in your home is an indication you are willing to kill something should the necessity arise, whereas having say, a hatchet in your home indicates you are willing to chop wood should the fire go out. “Ah yes,” half of america cries, “but what about hunting, wild animal attacks, etc? Lots of people live in rural areas, what if there is a bear in the woodshed?”. I freely acknowledge that there are indeed parts of the states in which one might occasionally find a bear in the woodshed. To the denizens of these areas I would probably say “right, but who the hell shoots a bear with a .357 Magnum?”

Hunters have _shotguns_ people. Hunters have rifles. Hunters do not carry handguns for the purposes of shooting game, or defending their territory from encroaching wild beasts. I assume there are a multitude of excellent technical reasons for this, some of which are obvious even to me. Long-range accuracy for one, no-one wants to get too close to the bear. But essentially one has to admit that shotguns, while eminently useful as bear deterrents, are not something you can shove in the waistband of your trousers to go cruisin’ the ‘hood, at least not without creative use of a hacksaw and an unhealthy disregard for your own genitalia. No, in the vast majority of cases, it will be a handgun, something that has no purpose in design except to shoot a human being.

Handguns are about power. I have never heard an argument that even implied this was not the case. A handgun is the most easily concealed, easily carried, lethal weapon available to anyone. It is the most powerful thing you can have in your possession. It is the power to take a life in a split-second, or to compel another person to do anything you wish under threat of that power. Guns are the last word in society, just as nuclear weapons are the last word in politics.

Louis XIV had every cannon made during his reign stamped with the message “Ultima Ratio Regum” – the last argument of kings. Kings, not men. The last argument of those who believe their choices apply to all, not just themselves. The last argument of men who believe their judgement so superior to that of other men that they will force it upon them. Or perhaps worse, the last argument of those who do not care, because people are not important.

Guns don’t kill people. Delusional fucked up assholes with guns kill people. But I don’t see us getting rid of delusional fucked up assholes anytime soon.

 

“There are two skinny guys from Illinois that became president of the united states…

…Abraham Lincoln, and Barack Obama.”

“This is not a change we have here. It is a chance to change ” Barack Obama

The streets of New York are echoing with cheers and blasts of car horns. they called it at exactly 11pm EST, the moment the west coast polls closed. 338 electoral votes, including Florida, Ohio,Virginia and North Carolina. Barack Obama is the first black president of the united states.

Fuck yeah.

“Democracy is a form of government that substitutes election by the incompetent many for appointment by the corrupt few.” – George Bernard Shaw

Today is the big day here in the US. Newsrooms are buzzing with excitement, workplaces are half-empty as people take a trip to the polls. Everyone is waiting for the outcome of this momentous democratic event. McCain symbolizes tradition, social stability, a comfortable devil-you-know in the guise of an honourable war veteran. Obama represents change and potential economic recovery, but is in many ways an unknown quantity. Yes, finally tonight we find out what truly motivates the American public, greed or racism. Personally my money is on greed.

Describe it how you will, democracy boils down to majority rule. In a society of one million people, if 500,001 are for something, and 499,999 are against, then the vote passes. That is if the ballots are counted properly, none are mysteriously lost, and no-one’s brother is the governor of Florida.

But if the majority of people are ignorant, foolish, thoughtless sheep, then why should the majority rule? Do 999,999 other people have the right to decide what rules I should obey? The decisions of the multitude, whatever reasons they may have for making them, become the law. The person who most closely reflects the mindset of the masses becomes the ruler. Which I guess indicates that for the past 8 years the American people have been unable to find their own arses with both hands.and an atlas.

People are so apathetic about democracy these days that many believe their individual votes don’t actually matter. Bill Vaughan once wrote that a citizen of America will cross the ocean to fight for democracy, but won’t cross the street to vote in a national election. He would doubtless have been delighted to hear that this is not true. The words “unless there is a black guy running for President” should clearly have been added.

One could possibly be forgiven in the states for claiming their vote does not count, because technically this is true. The electoral college and the super-delegates make it possible for the popular vote not to reflect the actual vote. However this is something of a unique situation. To hear someone in a European country claim that their vote doesn’t matter because it will not be the deciding one boggles the mind. At best that’s a rationalisation of laziness, but mainly its just utter nonsense.

The reality is that democracy sucks, because people continue to be fools. Sometimes they get lucky, and vote for a JFK, or an Abraham Lincoln. But most of the time their reasons aren’t logical, the candidate just has superior charisma or a good spin. Sometimes they get unlucky, and end up accidentally endorsing dictatorships. The only thing worse than not casting a vote at all, is casting a vote randomly just because you have one. Abstaining from voting can be a valid decision, but being too lazy to go to the polls on your lunchbreak isn’t abstaining, it’s copping out.

There is no right that exists without a corresponding responsibility. The right to life comes with the obligation to respect the life of others, the right to a fair trial comes with the responsibility to judge fairly in the trial of another should you ever be called upon to do so, and the right to vote comes with the responsibility of understanding what your vote means. Democracy is designed with a world of intelligent, unbiased and benevolent individuals in mind. Currently we make do with occasionally enlightened self-interest.

Because what’s the alternative? I have heard “benevolent dictatorship” mentioned, usually as a joke, but it appeals in some ways. A modern day King Solomon to arbitrate the “McDonalds coffee is too hot and it burned me” lawsuits, to tell the media to cover things that happen outside of the damn country, to force out biased laws. To say “people are stupid, but let’s make them act smart anyway, and maybe eventually they’ll figure out that its better”.

But a well-intentioned dictator is still a dictator, and I am a firm believer in the idea that human choices are important. At least I know that when people vote for a law to be put in place, that they are also voting for that law to be applied to _them_. They are voting for their own president as well as mine, their own restriction as well mine. And there is always the possibility, the outside chance that they will be right.

The truth is that people must be allowed to be fools. Because otherwise it will mean nothing when some of them choose not to be.