Humans are supposed to sleep between 5 and 8 continious hours every 24. I've just done 16, and I feel like another few.

A few months before starting this blog, I had an extremely bad cold for two weeks. I was literally unable to get out of bed - or do anything at all - the whole time. I was just stuck in a mental haze, conscious enough to be aware of aching joints, sore head and throat, and having difficulty breathing, but not able to form many thoughts beyond that.

I'm told the symptoms of coming off heroin are similar to a 2 week debilitatingly severe viral infection. If nothing else this gives me more sympathy for someone going through cold turkey - if I'd been able to stop feeling hideous by snorting a gram of white powder, I wouldn't have hesitated.
However, I've been well enough to write this blog, do some graphical work yesterday, and attend a completely pointless meeting last night.

The SWP Central Committee had decided what the Portsmouth and Southampton branches really needed was a joint "aggregate" meeting, addressed by a member of the CC. Telling them what they already know (civil servants and teachers have been on strike) and what they would like to believe but know to be false (the strikes herald a new age of working class resistance).

Oh, and there's 8500 usenet pictures of gentlement in various stages of undress and intimacy waiting to be sorted. Maybe 2 dozen will be usable for advertising pills, and a few hundred...will find another use when I have the strength. It's an oddly sexless procedure.
Just as I'm about to click the mouse to publish this entry, the radio tells me that Stanislaw Lem has died at age 84. He was a Polish writer of novels and short stories who used science fiction as a vehicle for satire on the Stalinist government he lived under, and for some creditable philosophy about epistemology, politics and AI.

You might think of him as the East European version of JG Ballard. Personally, I regard his work as some of the most audacious and genuinely thought provoking literature I've read, and a vidication of science fiction as intelligently relavant to the modern age.

Anyone who thinks science fiction is the flashing lights and childish morality of Star Trek should read Lem. Actually, everyone should read Lem.
Oh, I almost forgot:

Bad to the Bone

I walked our of a political meeting tonight. It was to mark the official start of Respect fighting local elections, and plan leafletting, hustings, campaigning etc.

Unfortunately, I wasn't staging a dramatic walk out on a matter of principle - I just felt so lousy I couldn't stay.
According to a meticulously researched questionaire, less than a third of me is evil. But more that a quarter.

You Are 30% Evil

A bit of evil lurks in your heart, but you hide it well.

In some ways, you are the most dangerous kind of evil.

Probably not enough to plot world domination.
I'm sure I've forgotten something...

There are So Many Possibilities

I have the night to myself, alone and without anything pressing to do. I could listen to music or make some, read or write, drink tea or vodka, or invite round a friend for nostalgia, gossip and...well, you know me well enough by now.

So what do I do? I sit and sniff. I sit with the dogs in front of the fire, my head full of cotton wool, my nose full of water, my voice reduced to a whisper. That's right, I've got another bloody cold. Humpf.

Normal service will be resumed as soon as possible. In the meantime, here's a cute young man with muscles.
Isn't he adorable? Probably straight, of course.

Education, Education, Scmeduaction

Now, it's probably time for today's hunk.

CW is not impressed with my fitness plans. He thinks it's the start of the mad narcissitic road to "using fake tan and waxing your arse".
According to the BBC news, the government is worried about school students cheating in exams. Let's think about that for a moment.

Scenario 1: You are a school student taking exams. You are told (falsely) that the better your exam results, the more chance you have in getting one of the scarce worthwhile jobs. You know that some other students will cheat, and simply studying harder is not enough to beat them.

So you can either 'level the playing field' by cheating too, or be 'honourable' and effectively punished for it. Chose one.

Scenario 2: You are a headteacher running a school. You want your school to be as high as possible in the league tables. You institute practices that try to minimise student cheating. A competing school has the same policies, but only enforces them tokenistically.

The students in the competing school get away with cheating, get higher grades than your students, and push their school up the league tables.

So you, as headteacher, have a choice: turn a blind eye to cheating and rise in the tables, or reduce cheating and get left behind by those who don't. Choose one.

This government seems to want it both ways - to have intense competition in every sphere of life, and have everyone play fair. It's not just the current Blair government, obviously - this failure to think through the consequences of competition is centuries old.

But for a government that believes so passionately in creating artificial scarcity and introducing market fear into every part of our lives to adopt the moral highground when schoolboys crib each other's notes, that's a bit rich.
If you think that was a rant, go here.

Now I've got to spent the next six hours installing software for music and sound. And if there's another virus at the end of it, I shall be ever so slightly annoyed.

Ecce Homo

Would you buy a creatine supplement from this man?

There's a problem with using cropped gay porn images (which this isn't) for non-porn purposes. The problem is they still manage to look like gay porn, even without a trimmed public hair in sight.

The irony is that the many (probably most) of those who will buy the product are men who want to look good and buff...for other men. So I've got to find pictures of pornstars posing but not looking like they're in porn to sell something to men who want to look like pornstars.
The above is one of the few images from alt.binaries.erotica.male.bodybuilder that shows a healthy, attractive, muscular man. As opposed to a dehydrated mutant with scarily prominant veins and a posing pouch.

Serious competative bodybuilders - the kind who imbibe dangerous amounts of steroids and diuretics (and experiment with worse things) - are in some strange way the opposite of sexy, and the opposite of healthy.

They are cartoons of health and sexiness, much as post-op male-to-female transsexuals are sometimes cartoons of women. As addicts of plastic surgery are caricatures of beauty, and as people with 'florida style' facelifts display a caricature of youth.

We recognise anorexia as a sickness, where something desirable like low body fat gets taken to absurd lengths. Gross overeating is recognised - at least by enlightened doctors - as an equal and opposite sickness to anorexia.

People with these conditions can get sympathy and treatment, but an out of control psychological dependance on weights, drugs and pain has somehow become a sport. Once it takes hold, it's encouraged by competition and the promise of cash prizes.

Not all bodybuilders - not even heavy drug users - are like that. I've known some muscle development enthusiasts, and they weren't in the least out of control. What I'm saying is, there's a blurred, indestinct rubicon territory that someone can cross without noticing, until they find they're spending hundreds on a cocktail of chemicals every month and don't know how to stop.

The line between enthusiasm and obsession, between dedication and sickness, is not clear. You only know you've crossed it when it's already far behind.
I don't want to spent too long on this project - I want (again, still) to return to music making. Though my genre of synthpop is often aimed at...the same kind of man who wants to be buff for other men.

Sex! Sex! Sex!

I didn't expect to find so many newsgroups devoted to the erotic male body. Like, about 150 filled with JPEGs and GIFs, plus around 25 for MPEGs, WMVs and AVIs. It takes a day just to download the headers. There's a vast amount of duplication between groups, and of course frequent reposts of old material, but that's still gigabytes of images each day.

I'm using PowerGrab, which can filter out duplicates, and the ACDSee viewer, which can filter out any that PowerGrab misses. By restricting the download to either the (say) 10 most posted-to groups, or (say) 25 moderately busy groups, the traffic may become managable.

Was it really Agatha Christie who said, "Nothing is duller than dull pornography."?
I have been introduced to the work of William Mcgonagall, late victorian writer of entrancingly bad poetry. He is either the world's worst poet, a gloriously incompetent social climber, or a very clever satirist - I strongly suspect the latter.

Whichever he was, his horrible versification stands as a warning to lyricists of the dangers of cliche, inflated style, oversincerity and words not quite meaning what you intend.

Anyone who wants to take up writing poems or songs should first read some Mcgonnagall, as a warning - "It might come out like this, and if it does, make sure you can live with it."

Having enjoyed some of his output, I now feel able to share the poem I composed for the occasion of Paddy's 24th birthday.

Oh Paddie, with your eyes so bright
You are one year older tonight.
With good excuse get slightly pissed,
Your girlfriend is a feminist.
You play guitar, oppose the war,
Your hair is green, and even more,
Committed now to Socialism.
You still won't let me suck your jism.
Simon and me are seeing an excessive amount of each other - people will talk. Actually I'm sure they're talking already. And they'll talk a lot more when our mutual fitness regime starts on Wednesday.

I've not actually seen the exercycle, dumbells, stepper, rowing thing and eliptical device of Heath Robinsonesque torture yet, but I'm assured they are lying in wait.

Anyway, for the record, there may be hot sweaty pumping involved, and probably much grunting and moaning, but the kind that needs a hot shower, not a cold one.

Mother's Day

What I want to know is: Why does a shiny new fast wireless card connect at 11Mpbs with a weak signal, when it connects at all, while an old slow semi-obsolete one gives strong signal and 54Mbps?

Mother and me spent the entire day trying to get wireless network connections to work. Networks are a bugger to get right, and wireless setups are the worst.

It was her eventual brainwave to try cheap hardware and old driver from the depth of the cardboard storage box, and it works fine. I've got her an enormous bar of chocolate as a thank you for giving me back the internet - and Sunday is Mother's Day.
Simon M runs a small ebay business selling bodybuilding supplements - with my help in anything technical. He wants to soup up the graphics and make it look snazzy. So he's asked me (as an old graphic designer) to put together some digital photomontages of healthy, toned, muscular bodies.

So I now have the hellish and thankless task of...downloading thousands of pictures of gorgeous built hunks, cropping out any phallic elements, and artistically arranging the result. A tough job, but I cope with it manfully.

My somewhat appropriate reward is access to a gym so I can get muscles of my own. That and a small stack of DVDs detailing the 18-cert antics of masculine military men in sunny secluded outdoor locations.

Mother would possibly not approve.

Square Eyes, Red Eyes

It takes half an hour or so to install windows on an average PC. It then takes another five or more to get all the software installed, registration keys found and entered, and fiddly things like network connections sorted out. It's 0545, I've been installing and configuring since midnight (after an evening of fixing problems on two other computers) and I need a few hours sleep before resuming battle.

I was supposed to be helping out with election leafleting at 1000, but have the excuse of a rather large hangover, courtesy of the 100+ minutes last night not spent in front of someone else's screen. I have the distinct advantage of having no capacity at all for alchohol, enabling me to approach paralytic status after three rum and cokes, but this has a downside the morning after.

Oh yes, there's always something I forget to back up before reinstalling. This time it was the lyric collection - which, amazingly, is the one thing that failed to back up properly the last time.

And speaking of backups and losing things, the replacement drum sample CDs have arrived, and this time I've made several copies, just in case I'm as organised as usual.

"Why Does the Universe Hate Me?"

Oh good. Just what I needed.

Rincewind seems to have a virus, Nobby needs drivers reinstalling again, and I can't find the right discs. CW's modem is buggered, H is still silent and Mother says I'm still putting on weight. My camera is rubbish, the database of thousands of TV recordings has vanished and I've just stepped in a puddle of dog urine.

And there was a small bombshell dropped at tonight's organisational meeting.

Gareth E, co-ordinator for Portsmouth Student Respect, cosignatory of the Respect candidate in upcoming local elections and full time regional organiser for south east SWP, has resigned suddenly and without explanation from all his roles. Which leaves the rest of us lefties overstretched and in the lurch in those three areas.

I got thoroughly drunk with him at Paddy's 24th birthday bash two days ago, and he seemed fine then. But I know what's happened because it's happened before. He's one of those people who piles on the responsibility, coping magnificently until he suddenly can't cope at all, and collapses.

My own strain reaction is to find endless displacement activity - his is to jump into a deep dark hole and blot out the outside world. He knows I'm there for him when he's ready to talk, just like he's been there for me in my times of crisis.

In the meantime, I'm taking on a some of his responsibility for the electoral campaign. Right after I fix everyone's computers, again.

Pet Corner

Today's major event in the Kapitano household: Sidney has laid another egg.

That's how we discovered he's a girl. Sidney is one of our three parrots, a small round green senegalese affair with a maternal instinct that's not so much fierce as psychotic.

The probable father, and therefore probable male, is Percy - an african grey. Percy's chief talent is immitation - of telephones, smoke alarms, squeaking doors and people blowing their noses. That and certain phrases like "No!", "Get back in your cage!", "Stop that!" and "I said no!".

Sidney has been occasionaly producing eggs for around two years, and none have hatched. It seems unlikely to me that species so different could produce offspring.

The third parrot is Molly, a cockatiel of entirely ambigious gender. He/She was reputedly once part of a 'parrot circus', riding around on a skateboard. She's the tamest, happily sitting on people's shoulders and genteelly dunking bits of digestive biscuit in her water bowl.

For a few months we had Barney, a manically destructive bird who could brazenly attack stray cats. He (?) had a fascination for shiny reflective objects. We gave him an old metal teapot to keep him quiet - he spent hours muttering into it, the almost human speech sounds reverberating as though in a cave.

There was also Nancy, who has absolutely the loudest and most persistant squawk I've ever heard.

When I was very young, we had Fred, whose main occupation (when not escaping from his cage) was meticulously unhooking curtains from their tracks.

Over the years, we've had these six parrots and three dogs. During the two and a half years I lived with Stuart, he and I kept two fish - Mr Greedy and Mr Chatterbox. Mestopheles the concrete cat doesn't count.

There's a family of frogs that lives in the drains, snails that appear in the garden when it's wet, and mice that used to scratch inside the walls before we got ultrasonic repellents.

Oh, and there was a tabby cat known as Tiger that adopted my parents - and most of the street. Tiger was so butch he preferred dog food, which was okay, because our dogs preferred the cat food we bought for him.

Mork Calling Orson

The short version of last night is: Too much alchohol, too much flirting, too much money spent combining into a vague creeping melancholy, later drowned in fried food.

The morning seems better though, with my new mp3 player arriving. Nice design, warm sound and no hassle.
The conservative party are sending me junk mail. How did that happen?!

I do know someone who managed to get himself off a junk mail list. He drew skulls, knives dripping blood, and swear words over each page of the brochere they sent, and mailed it back to the sender with a note saying if they sent him any more of their *&^%ing !£$%{@<:ing junk he'd sue them into bankruptcy.

Never recieved anything from them ever again. It's got to be worth a try.
I'm not the only one turning into Orson Wells - CW is gruff and snuffly too.

I'm spending my gravely time writing lyrics that might be singable and might make sense when I turn back into Truman Capote.
Mother says she's seen my old mp3 player somewhere this week. Bugger.

I Meant to Remember

There's an old joke about a man who buys a book called "How to Improve Your Memory" and puts it on his bookshelf next to a still unread copy of "How to Improve Your Memory".

Well, I am completely unable to find the "World Drums" sample CD or the mp3 player I bought from ebay a few months ago, so I've just bought another 2 sample CDs and another mp3 player. The originals are probably at the bottom of a cardboard box somewhere - a box full of things I put in a safe sensible place one day and therefore lost.

UKP29 in total, which isn't a bad deal. There's no end of stuff waiting to be flogged off to top up the paypal account - most of it sitting in, erm, cardboard boxes.
I haven't had to cook a meal for 4 days now. There's enough people wanting my computer skills, my listening ear and my eccentric but harmless company keep me fully fed. "Will work for food" indeed.

One small irony is that my own net connection keeps failing and there's been no time to fix it.
Still sniffing and snuffling with the kind of cold that doesn't keep you from doing things - it just keeps you from doing them well. Love and viral infections make you muddle headed and moody. If you're lucky they confine you to bed too ;-). But while love may or may not be infectious, it generally doesn't give you a voice like Orson Welles.

Sounds Familliar

I woke up this evening inspired with the lyric:

His name is Leo and he dances with the band

Which if nothing else tells you something of how my mind works, and that I've been listening to Duran Duran.

In vaguely similar vein I wrote a rap song in 2002, with the idea of a stream of lyrics composed entirely of quotations, fragments and references to other songs and pieces of popular culture. The result was Riverrun (Part 1).

Part 2 may be finished sometime soon, but I've more or less finished rewriting Part 1. Here is what it looks like at the moment:

Riverrun (Part 1)

Riverrun, the world in a grain of sand
I am not a number, I'm the man with the movie cam
It's a lot like life, life is a cabaret
Let there be light, god is a dj
The world is not flat, there's no code in Da Vinci
Elvis is a dead dog, so is democracy
The video word made flesh, he is risen
Is this the real life? It's only television

Language is a virus, the universe is made of string
It's like pornography, better than the real thing
Towards a hermenutics of postmodern vanity
Edge of darkness, age of nuclear insanity
One night in Bangkok makes a hard man humble
Outside refugees are making rumbles in the jungle
Brown girl in the ring, Russia's greatest love machine
Jack your body you're a clone zone scene queen

Doctor in the tardis, Sauron in his dark tower
Age comes with wisdom, youth is a sweet flower
One is all that you can score when two tribes go to war
Understanding is a three edged sword
Bug powder dust and mugwump jism
Get educated, march with anticapitalism
What's the meaning of life? is there life on red mars?
Touch the monolith, my got it's full of stars

Hear the breaking glass, crash in the underpass
Shiny piece of leather, princess of people's hearts
Here in my car I feel more human than human
Welcome to the real world, Mr Truman
On the hour, jam today, have your cake and fake it
Don't know what i want but i know how to take it
Sapphire, steel, reassigned, the emporer has a new mind
Psycho killer, we are vain, we are blind

Peace and junk and drums, no bridge over troubled water
Every revolution has more than one daughter
Hardcore, you know the score, nature is a whore
Socialism, barbarism, the choice is yours

Damn I'm Good

Simon's computer is now working perfectly, I didn't have to lend him mine, John now has a decent powerpoint presentation and the skills to make more.

The only downside is, I feel pretty lousy - one of those slow burning viruses that takes days to creep up on you. Maybe the fact that I've been grumpy over the last few days (don't say you haven't noticed) is down more to a bronchial infection than the state of the world.

So, get plenty of bed rest, drink plenty of fluids, avoid a few meetings and catch up on reading.
Oh yes, the reason Nobby kept crashing? An out of date USB driver, of all things. Not completely unknown - I once spent a week working on another computer that bluescreened on bootup, eventually tracing the problem to a corrupt mouse driver.


An oddly upsetting day, not because I spent most of it failing to fix Simon M's computer (or indeed to discover the problem), but because there was Radio 4 on in the background the whole time.

The news and discussion programs were roughly devided between the latest phase in Tony Blair's project to dismantle comprehensive education, a thorny case of child euthenasia, and a shocking and bizarre case of six men severely poisoned by a phase one clinical trial.

I wrote an entry about all three, especially the latter, but decided not to post it. None affect me directly, and there's nothing I can do about any of them, but they're still depressing. Yes I know, I'm too sensitive.

Some people get drunk or stoned to forget what distresses them, some play a sport, go dancing or blast their ears with nostalgic music. I immerse myself in tacky sci-fi from the 70s. So that's what I did.
If I can't fix Nobby, I'll lend Rincewind for a few weeks till Simon can scrape together the funds for a new computer.

CW texted to reopen communications. I promised to write him an email summarising the 18 months since we last spoke. My god, is it that long?

I could probably do without a cold sitting on my chest at the moment. It means even if I had the time to do some recording instead of learning/teaching powerpoint, I couldn't. Humph.

Today's consumer complaint: A packet of 10 bic razors "for sensitive skin" at 99p sounds good value, even if each blade only lasts for one shave. One face-shave managed to blunt two of them, and give me shaving rash.
Sometimes songwriting produces a fragment that almost writes itself, followed by weeks of intermittantly bashing your head against a wall, trying vainly to write more lines, before giving up.

Here's a chorus that occupied me for three weeks, failing to find verses. Devoted to the ironies of internet dating and cyberlove.

Sex, lies, and internet
Because I'm not what you wanted and you're not what you said
Sex, drive, and in your head
We got a whole lot of loving and an empty bed

The Day After Monday

People always seem to need me. Text message from Simon M - "Nobby needs lurve". Not an invitation to carnal debauchery, but an elliptical way of saying "The computer's showing the blue screen again. Please come and repair it ASAP because I need it to run my business, and I'll make you a slap up meal."

On the way there, a call from John M, saying he needs to learn Powerpoint by the end of the week, for a prestigous lecture he's giving. So I've promised to brush up on powerpoint (erm, learn it) and teach him.

After a complete format and Windows reinstall, Nobby still keeps crashing, but there's an armful of tricks in my sleeve, and I'll spend tomorrow afternoon working through them. And not just because I left my mobile phone in Simon's kitchen.

In other words, life continues as normal, I'm too tierd to comment on the day's political events, I still haven't got around to doing any recording, and I'm posting largely to keep myself in the habit of blogging.

The Day Before Monday

The forum went okay, I suppose. I spoke for 15 minutes, summerising most of what I'd learned over the past two days, and a decent discussion followed - most of it not about what i'd said.

I don't like speaking about things I don't understand in detail. Give me six months to read about and around a subject and I'll be fine, but to spend two days essentially rearranging the paragraphs of someone else's summary of several years work - that feels dishonest.
I've been reading the archive of eXile, an "alternative newspaper" based in Moscow. It's the kind of posily cynical, not-as-leftwing-as-it-thinks-it-is publication that young intellectual nihilists like to read.

But is is anti-humbug, and that always appeals to me. Sometimes it's better to reject a bad idea than to accept a good one. I'm ploughing through the book reviews.
H isn't getting back to me. He may just be busy - and he usually is snowed under with work - which is fine. Or he might be roughing it without email on one of his holidays touring far flung parts of the world - and that's fine too. Or he might just not want me around - and I suppose in a different way that's fine as well.

I don't mind too much if a friend doesn't want to be a friend anymore. I'd just rather he told me. Whatever happens, I'll be alright.


The gig was "a celebration of 29.5 years of UK punk".

The venue was appropriate for oldschool punk - a slighly dingy pub called "The Barn" populated by a mix of beery oiks and art students. Also appropriately punky was that three of the bands shared half each other's members. And perhaps that the gig started an hour late.

Strict Machines (the unshared band) opened with the now predictably blinding 20 minute set, in spite (or perhaps because) of the state of the members. Fabio and Anna were exhausted from work, and Paul was stoned out of his skull.

I took some pictures, but the light was far too low, and the band were dressed in gothic glam, so the images came out mainly black.

I wasn't paying full attention, having bumped into an old friend from previous gigs. I say "friend" - I can never remember his name, he's absolutely always drunk, and he's one of those "I'm completely straight me, but my girlfriend's just dumped me and I'm wondering if I'd like it with a bloke" types of men.

A flirter, but one who will happily let someone bite his ear and stroke his nipples, just so long as he can tell his watching crowd of friends that it's not really his scene.

So we flirted and threw double-entendre's each other's way - in front of the girl who later turned out to be the one who'd dumped him half an hour previous. This continued through the next band - Goffman, who play "grown up" (their term) blues rock.

A little too grown up for me - the kind of musicianship you can breathlessly admire, but leaves you unmoved.

Then I was rapidly overcome with a feeling that really ought to have a name, but doesn't. The feeling of "Why am I going through with this drivel? What's gone wrong in my life? Where did my youth go?". Or perhaps "This is a waste of time and I'm not even enjoying it. There's got to be something better than this. This life is wasting away."

So I made some quick goodbyes and walked home, consoling myself on the way with a box of chicken and chips. It didn't help, partly because some of it came up a minute after it went down.

But I did come up with a name for the feeling: Zeitschmertz - loosely, Time Pain.

I have until 8pm to prepare a 20 minute seminar presentation, and a pervasive sensation that something has got to change.

Right. Seminar first, then change.

Heroes and Idiots

Looks like I'm going to be quite busy over the next few days, so here's a quick, unrefined breeze through my thoughts, to be going on with:

On the one hand, The Abu Graib torture/detention camp (set up by Iraq's last government and taken over by the latest one) has reportedly been closed down, exposés of the situation in Iraq (like the "Road to Guantanamo" documentary on Channel 4 tonight) are a common media sight, and it's hard to find real people (as opposed to newspaper columnists or Radio 4 pannelists) who retain any illusions about the Iraq war.

On the other hand, it's getting to look like America (and the UK, of course) really is preparing to bomb Iran - after a period of sanctions, most likely. And the "anomaly" or Guantanamo remains.

It's a remarkable situation - an unpopular government with domestic trobles fighting two wars in permanant stalemate with "easy targets" wants to start a third against an enemy with real teeth.

Who was it said, "Only an idiot fights a war on two fronts."?
I've got myself a CD of David Bowie's "Heroes" album - I'm surrounded by musos who rate and recommend him highly, but I barely know his work, so it seemed a good idea to get aquainted.

Three of these musos are Strict Machines, who would like a "meetup and meal with music and merriment" to run their latest songs and variations past their sound engineer and critic-in-residence (me), before playing a major gig on Saturday.

So with the forum that's the next three evenings and nights fully booked. The rest of the time will be mostly forum research.

And then I'll record vocals and do mixing for the EP. Which should be a quick process, provided my voice behaves - well in time for the deadline near the end of the month.

And then there's another, much delayed musical collaborative project which I really want to get back into.

Elvis in Space

It's one thing to have several different singing voices - it's another to have no control over which one you sing in from one day to the next. Today, my vocal chords decided I was an Elvis impersonator. "Uh-huh".

I've got four (maybe five) complete backing tracks, and only odd hours here and there to record vocals. So maybe I should just sing in whatever voice I have at the time.
There is a forum organised for Sunday, on Rosa Luxemburg - the great european marxist thinker of the World War One period. The planned speaker can't do it, and when I said I thought the forum was still a good idea because I wanted to know more about her...I was asked to be the new speaker. Huh.

I know almost nothing about her, and I've got four days to put together a 25 minute presentation. And responses to likely questions.

I'm supposed to be good at rapid study, but this is a little unexpected.
Loads more to say and report, but it can wait, and for the first time in weeks I'm exhausted at around the time people usually sleep. And so to bed.


I could talk about how I spent the night nursing a sick (and therefore very smelly) Dino. While watching an unhealthily large number of Star Trek: Voyager episodes.

But instead, here's some more song lyrics. This is a modified version of my first SongFight.

Goodbye Monster

Bride of the Monster
Bride of Frankenstein
Mask of Fu Manchu
Dawn of the Dead, Nosferatu
Beast with Five Fingers
Beast of Yellow Night
Arsenic and Old Lace
Plan 9 from Outer Space

The monster mashup, come from outer space
The monster mashup, eyes in a latex face
The monster mashup, rising from the deep sea

Doctor Blood's Coffin
Doctor Jekyl and Sister Hyde
Texas Chainsaw Massacre
Taste the Blood of Dracula
Evil Dead
Evil Spawn
The Pit and the Pendulum
Scream and Scream Again

The monster mashup, rising from the deep sea
The monster mashup, with Christopher Lee
The monster mashup, terrorise the world

Nightmare on Elm Street
Night of the Demons
The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari
The Exorcist and Carrie

The monster mashup, terrorise the world
The monster mashup, chasing young girls

Romeo is Bleeding

I had sex tonight. Which was nice. Until I started to drip blood. Then the other fellow freaked out.

It seems the process of razor-assisted genital beautification (aka ballshaving) had left a cut, which probably formed a small scab, which broke when blood pumped more energetically.

A pity, because he was a nice man, and obviously enjoying himself up to that point. Ah well, he was good enough to drive me home, and suggest we try again when I'm "healed".
Two years ago, after getting into SongFight and songwriting, I set up an account at Cnet's music hosting service, as a place to store my musical efforts.

This is the same Cnet who bought up the very useful TV Tome site, turning it into the almost unusable So I quickly changed my mind, but found I couldn't delete the account.

To remove myself from Cnet, I have to write an email to their technical support asking them to do it. Which I've done several times without result.

I'd had a similer experience at another mp3 hosting service, IUMA, which also didn't allow artists to delete their own pages. They also stopped answering user questions when they got taken over by Vitaminic - the same company that took over and progressively destroyed

As I recall, they acted surprised and hurt when their users deserted them after after they installed a raft of new policies. Stuff like closing down all their european servers, vetting songs for "offensive content" (and taking weeks to do so), sticking popup ads everywhere, limiting the songs hosted per artist to three unless they paid through the nose for the "gold" service, and effectively making the artists lose money on their own CD sales.

Incidentally, guess which company bought when it went bankrupt, turning it into a portal for buying CDs from already successful commercial artists. It was Cnet.

Judging from their "under construction" site though, Vitaminic is in trouble. Good.

I haven't checked recently, but the only good mp3 hosting service left is probably Soundclick. It doesn't matter so much now, because it's a lot easier for artists to make their own websites. But for the same reason, the online music community is more fragmented.

Another Piece of Chocolate Cake

Some days I can hold a tune, and some days it's like nailing quicksilver to a cloud. Yesterday I tried recording and gave up after an hour without a single halfway usable take. Today I've got a range of three octaves, loads of breath and pretty good accuracy. But no opportunity to record. Gah!

It's probably to do with my dubious state of health, which wasn't helped last night by keeping John M company till five in the morning, sharing really bad scotch, really bad red wine, and an enormous chocolate cake. With extra cream.

In between disecting the internicine rivalries in universities we've known and watching a boxing match (a new experience for me, and more exciting than it's comfortable to admit), we poured scorn on the BBC news.

It seems Pakistan has very publically sent death squads into Afganistan to kill "pro-taliban regional militants inspired by Al Qaida". This is a way to signal to America during President Bush's visit that Pakistan is fully on board with the war on terror - in the hope that America won't notice that it's involvement is desultory and under duress, and if Osama bin Laden is alive anywhere, he's probably in Pakistan.

All quite clear, except for a few minor details. Like, what does it mean to be "pro-taliban"? What exactly is a "regional militant"? Which of the hundreds of tiny groups now calling themselves "Al Qaida" are we talking about? When did "terror" stop being a tactic and become an ideology? And how can you fight either a tactic or an idea with an army?

All this though seems to be less newsworthy than a government minister (Tessa Jowell) kicking out her husband because he scuppered her political career by getting caught taking bribes from the Italian Prime Minister in business deals supposedly blessed by his nonexistant close friendship with Tony Blair. Though it's "unspeakably sick" and "cynical" to say so.

Oh well, more sick pro-boxing militant singing cynicism inspired by Blair next time.

Me and God

I started calling myself an atheist at 13. Not that I'd had a faith prior to that - I'd just never regarded religion as important enough to give myself a label on the issue before.

So far as I can remember, believing in heaven and going to church were just two more perplexing and annoying things that adults did. Like hitting me for "telling lies" (telling a truth they didn't want to believe) before sternly instructing me to "be polite" (tell people lies they want to hear).

I was raised in the British tradition of extremely vague protestantism, and was fortunate enough to go to a primary school where christian faith was highly encouraged by bundling dozens of young children into a cold church and making them sit through sermons.

But without explaining why a 70 year old man in a dog collar was reading us fairy stories, or threatening us with hellfire for not listening. I don't recall a single child professing anything more than boredom for the whole exercise - it was just another thing the teachers thought was vitally important, like correctly spelling words we didn't use and calculating the hypotenuse.

So, religion wasn't something I rejected - it was something I'd never been concerned about enough to embrace or rail against. What changed was that I went to a new school - a small privately run single sex affair with three classrooms and a headmaster who was a fully quallified catholic priest.

Martin H Williams was his name, and his favourite biblical story was the one about the pillar of salt. He often thundered against "unnatural vice" and "immorality", reading the goriest passages of his bible to the classes. He also liked to spank 12 year old boys and tell them they were pretty.

He took me under his wing somewhat, as I was frequently bullied by the other boys for being small, smart and gentle. No, there was no sex - not with him. I think if he had any "urges" they never reached his conscious mind. But we did discuss faith.

He was a well-read man, but his defence of his catholcism boiled down to Pascal's Gambit - the idea that there's no good empirical evidence for the existence or nonexistance of god, but if you chose to believe then you won't go to hell, whatever the truth. It seemed an instantly unconvincing argument.

There was, however, sex elsewhere in the school - furtive gropings, sometimes under the excuse of bullying. It's probably ironic that, at an age when most boys were discovering girls and some were discovering religion, I was discovering boys and atheism - and even now my faithlessness and my sexuality remain oddly linked in my mind.

Until my mid-20s, I sparodically felt a religion shaped hole in my life, and tried to fill it with the company of christians. But it never lasted for more than a few weeks.

At age 24, I even took the first year of a theology degree, and it was probably this that finally stopped my wanderings among the faithful. Most of my fellow students couldn't defend or even define their faith and the eternal truths of the catechism turned out the be the political expediancy of centuries ago.

So now, once again religion itself doesn't greatly interest me, except as a psychological oddity, or a coping mechanism exhibited by people under trauma. Unfortunately, religion has now become a political issue - creationism, holy wars and faith based schooling mean I again have to explain and defend my atheism.

I Don't Sound Like That...Do I?

Okay, I may have been a little overoptimistic about getting an EP completed by Monday, but I have got the vocals for one track recorded. In spite of small impediments like stomach cramps and hiccups.

Now I have to perform the arcane alchemical processes that (hopefully) turn adequate vocal performances into good ones. These mystic methods, passed down from generations of sound engineers, look something like this:

(1) Noise Gate - I usually just cut anything below -48dB. Removing the frequencies of quiet ambient noise also works, but tends to thin the sound.
(2) De-esser - optional.
(3) Smoothing/Compression - reduces the wavering in volume you tend to get in quiet singing, like mine.
(4) Normalisation - optional but advised.
(5) Manual Denoising - silence out any unwanted sound between the vocal parts if they weren't removed by the noise gate. I usually remove breaths too.
(6) Pitch Correction - I tend to waver or be slightly flat on high notes, and if I had the patience I'd only apply correction to these. But global pitch correction is a reasonable substitute for years of vocal training.
(7) Excitation - optional, but it gives a good full sound to the voice, making reverb less necessary.
(8) Chorus - easy to overdo, so apply tastefully, if at all.
(9) Reverb - I prefer to use reverb as an occasional effect, rather than a general way of giving sheen to the sound.

There's also echo, and shifting lines or words slightly forward or back to correct small errors of timing. The latter can be quite painstaking, and I'm far too lazy to do it much.

I have yet to get to grips properly with Stereo Imaging. This involves breaking the signal into frequency bands and introducing small delays between the left and right signal within each band - the higher the band the greater the delay. It's supposed to create a solid bass end and a feeling of airy openness at the top.
UPDATE: One track now complete. That's "complete" as in "I've spent four straight hours working on it, I think it sounds pretty good, any further changes will be quite minor, and I need to go the bed because it's nearly five'o'clock in the morning."

Oh My God! It's...Horrible!

This essay began as a response to a comment, but it grew somewhat.

Why is it, when Fritz Lang makes a film about the dehumanising effect of homogenised industry and corporate control, but sets it in the future, the result is credited as a major classic? But when he makes a film on the same theme, setting it in the present and showing the effects instead of hinting at them, some people get embarrassed? Metropolis is praised, but M is quietly ignored.

Abel Ferrara's film Driller Killer is about a man who kills a lot of other men with a portable electric drill. Except it isn't. The film chronicles the slow psychological cracking of an artist faced with the prospect of bankruptcy and homelessness, which when it finally happens results in a stream of frantic murders.

Anyone who watches it expecting a gorefest will be disappointed - there is some blood in the final half hour, after an hour's dissection of one man's quiet desperation.

David Lynch's Eraserhead is another film about a man being slowly driven insane by an intolerable situation. In this case, the protagonist is trapped in a marriage with a deformed baby, neither of which he ever wanted or knows how to handle.

The Medusa Touch is a supernatural thriller with horror elements. Richard Burton stars as a man who clearly sees and boldly writes about the corruption of politics and the hypocrisy of everyday life. He can telekinetically influence the world, but finds he can only create disasters - suicide, car accident, a plane crash etc.

Of course, it might be argued that these are exceptions to a general rule. That a very few horror films transcend the limitations of the genre - becomming significant and worthy in their own right. That they say something worthwhile in spite of, and in no way because of, their horror status.

And it's certainly true that the vast majority of horror movies are utter tripe, without even pretention to be serious. There's hundreds of flicks concerning a group of teenagers trapped in a house in the middle of nowhere, at the mercy of a motiveless psychopath who gruesomely kills them one by one. There's hundreds of others about Dracula sucking the blood of nubile virgins, or indeed nubile lesbian vampires sucking the blood of equally nubile brides.

The first thing to say is that this is just Sturgeon's Law operating - 95% of anything is crap. How much science fiction is actually worth watching? How many medical dramas or sitcoms don't insult the intelligence? This is uncontroversial.

But the second thing is that giving special pleading to specific horror films as transcending the genre misses the point. The argument that a few of them are redeemed by containing some worthy non-horror elements contains the implicit assumption that horror elements themselves are bad by definition.

Which in effect argues that a good horror film is a good film which has been contaminated with horror, and that if the horror were to be extracted, a worthy film would remain. But this reasoning doesn't stand up.

What would The Exorcist be without the horror? I don't mean "what would be left if the gore, vomit and grotesque makeup were to be excised?". I mean "If the fear, threat and shock were left out, what would remain?"

The Exorcist is a good film - maybe even a great one - and without the horror it could not exist. The horror elements of the film are not peripheral and removable, they are at the core. An innocent child is violated by something powerful that can only hate, but knows your insecurities.

Say we agree that Rosemary's Baby is a good film - not a great one, but good enough to stand up to repeat viewings. Could it hypothetically be remade without the horror? The notion of something malevalent growing where a baby should be, and the sense that everyone else knows what's going on but won't tell you. No, it couldn't - the result of trying wouldn't be a different kind of film, the result would be no film at all.

Apply the same question to The Blair Witch Project, or to science fiction films like Cube or Solaris that borrow from the psychological horror tradition.

In The Wicker Man there's the lurking threat of an elusive conspiracy climaxing with the sheer blind faith of a human sacrifice. In The Omen there's the question - could you kill your baby son, even if he were the devil himself? In Alien, an unstoppable force, immune to reason or compassion it hunting you.

There are even a few 'slasher' horror films - as opposed to the psychological 'nameless menace' and 'fear of the dark' ones - that are good films while still being unanbigiously slashers. Halloween is firmly of the 'teens and psycho' type, yet the opening scene where a brutal killer turns out to be a small boy is a classic.

There are good films about love, war, superheroes, detectives, politics and bank robbers. There are also good films about fear of the unknown, extreme stress and the incomprehensible.

Between the Two of Us Guys

Much grapevine information is unavailable to those who don't spend too much time in pubs. Maybe that's why it's the grape vine, instead of coffee or knitting.

Last night was spent getting slightly drunk (Which I can do on one barcardi double) getting the latest gossip on the university's art department - where I spent 10 years as student or technician. It seems the Head of School has applied to become dean. This is a lady who after 6 years hasn't noticed the utter contempt and vitriol thrown her way by absolutely everyone - students, collegues, superiors and visitors. It's like George Bush Jr wanting to be, nevermind. But here there is zero chance.

I also hear that dear old Max, theatrical auteur extraordinaire, has somehow got our little play booked for two nights at the Hackney Empire. Fortunately it's the small stage with about a hunded seats.

Typically, Max is incommunicado on an Irish holiday for the next three weeks, so we have no way of knowing the legal situation of the production, who has been approached to be in the cast or given what roles, or anything else.

This time though, we have a professional producer - Richard P, who is experienced in theature, a long-time socialist with plenty of connections, and someone who won't put up with the egomania and ultra-laidback incompenence of last time.
I spent the small hours coming up with a sort-of techno backing and rewriting lyrics for it. That makes 3 tracks that are "complete" in the sense that I'll probably only make minor changes if any, and I know exactly what I'll have to do in recording and processing the vocals. That is, the plan is complete, now I've just got to carry it out.

There's another one that's half-"complete", so with luck I'll have an EP by next week. Fingers and vocal chords crossed.
For my next period of bleary-eyed insomnia, I've been capturing films from The Horror Channel - but only those that don't involve teenagers in a log cabin. Three today:

M - Fritz Lang's classic 1931 Kammerspeil of corruption and oppression driving an ordinary man (Peter Lorre) to child-murdering madness.

The Vampyr - 1932 Danish psysho-horror rarity, much praised for it's surreal imagery.

King of the Zombies - Er, probably a load of old rubbish, but could be fun ;-).

I don't think I'm quite ready for the sub-Buffy serial of wisecracking college witchcraft "Vampire High".