Political Weekend (Part 1)

The day started, as so many of my days do, with being woken at midday by a phonecall, reminding me to be somewhere.

This reminder was for the antiwar rally at 2pm. Simon M and I had a vague plan for brunch and flag construction at his place beforehand. The brunch was pasta, and the flags were 2 5-foot by 3 affairs with the designs of Lebanon and Palastine (UKP5 each from Ebay), to be attatched to 8-foot beanpoles rescued from a shed, by crocodile clips hastily purchased from a hardware shop.

I'm always nervewracked before a rally or demo, and bouyed up afterwards. This one started - in good trotskyist tradition - half an hour late and ran to twice the intended 45 minutes. All 6 speakers overran, most a little boringly but one was great - because he got heckled.

The heckler's line was that although we call ourselves antiamerican (we don't), we're all hypocrites because we love MacDonnald's (untrue) and watch Disney films (not noticably). Richard L may write the most cringingly "satirical" songs and insist on bellowing them before and after any rallys - the kids all love him, but not for the reasons he thinks. But woe betide the heckler who questions his sincerity.

The poor dumb fellow got reduced to lightningstruck speechlessness by a blistering improvised declaration of the visceral horror of war and the urgent need for tolerance and peace. Wonderful stuff, creating the biggest applause of the event - for a normally mild mannered IT tech with a catalogue of dreadful songs.

People came and went, but at it's height there were over a hundred of us clustered around the guildhall steps. More than half of these were youngsters - mostly schoolchildren - who showed none of the reticence that debilitates middle-class 30-somethings like myself. We're not sure where a lot of them came from - they were unfamilliar faces not on any of the usual lists of reliable rally-goers. A few seemed to be individuals who just happened to be around, saw the placards and banners, and decided to get involved.

After the rally itself, there was a short march through the shopping precinct, chanting anti-war and pro-palastinian slogans - led by a group of the schoolchildren. The end point of the march was Tesco, where we handed out leaflets urging shoppers to boycott Israeli goods - largely symbolic, both for us protesters and for any shoppers who actually boycott, but symbolic gestures aren't always entirely useless.

Most of us dispersed afterwards - after leaving contact details for future events on my clipboard - but about 20 opted for one of the other good Trotskyist traditions - the pub. This usually means a gay pub, because all the dozens of others are desperately unwelcoming.

Portsmouth's premier gay pub was closed...so we crossed to street to Portsmouth's second gay pub. There are actually two others, but one is painfully pretentions, and the other caters to the grungy student crowd.

Inside the Boulevard (what do you mean, "screamingly gay name"?), Tom (Roxanne C's incredibly sensible but somehow insecure other half) announced he's officially joining the SWP. And I got to meet a comrade new to the area - Adam. He's 21, already experienced in socialist politics, and if he isn't as gay as the Boulevard then I'm a monkey's uncle.

The time having somehow reached 1900, John M took me out for a curry, with a comrade called Mick, visiting our town with the other star speaker of the rally, Chanie Rosenberg.

She's the widow of Tony Cliff, who is one of the absolutely all-time greats of British socialism - a man of breathtaking intellect and a personality like a force of nature. It's one of my regrets that I'll only know him through books and articles.

And so to bed, reading a borrowed copy of American Psycho and trying to digest that curry.

The political weekend isn't over. On Sunday, some of us are going to see Ken Loach's latest film, The Wind that Shakes the Barley. Then there's a forum on Trotsky. Adam will be there :-). And then Gareth E has asked me to get him up to speed on some of the more philosophical aspects of marxism.

Anyone would think I was one of those strange people obsessed with politics.

Hello Dolly

Today's Distractions:
1) Signing on. The good news is there are vacancies this week. The bad news is they're all for lobotomisingly tedious jobs, and I'm sending my CV off for three of them.
2) A comrade asking for advice on a DTP project. I spent many years as a freelance graphic designer, but describing the dropdown menu choices involved in changing text kerning - over the phone, from distant memory and without a computer in front of me - is a bit of a stretch.
4) Another comrade wanting company, conversation, and help copying CDs. Welcome, but time consuming.

However, I did manage to hasily record some vocals for For the Time Being, and produce a workable demo. Kamakura liked the result - especially the modelled electric guitars - but thought the drums sounded fake. He's right - sampled drums are infuriatingly difficult to make authentic sounding. Even with the best samples and the most expert modulation in the playback parameters, they just don't vary in the same way as the real thing.

However, I've managed to make them sound a little more non-sampled, and the result is...here.

The lady singing harmony on the chorus isn't Dolly Parton. She's me, pitchshifted up an octave and formant-shifted around. I've christened her Dolly Eek, for any fans of polari out there. Hopefully she'll appear on future songs.

The song is a foray into indie guitar rock, but I'm still basically a synthhead. Future stuff will probably be more electronic - with occasional rocky bits.

Anyway, I'll send it off to this week's SongFight competition, and see how badly it'll be misunderstood.

Play that Junky Music, White Boy

I could go through everything that happened today, or I could just say: "Delays!". I had exactly one plan for the day - record vocals for the latest song. But every time I got near a microphone, there was some technical problem someone needed me to do something urgently.

Sometimes it would be nice to be a selfish bastard with no friends. That way, I might get stuff done.

I tweaked the lyrics last night. They now look like this:

For the Time Being

Verse 1:
I never promised to love and obey
I never told you I was here to stay
I never said that you were the one

So no regrets and no long goodbye
Could never find words tell to you why
Got days or weeks then I'm been and gone

For the time being, I'll stick around
For the time being, it's love we've found
For the time being, I'm here for you
For the time being, this love is true

Verse 2:
This life's to short to be on your own
One minute's too long to hang on the phone
Can't see the future and don't trust in fate

Not Cassanova, not like Don Juan
Ain't like a movie and I'm not your man
Better to lose than turn into hate

I just don't know if I'll ever get to record them. Humpf.

I also started work on a rap last night. I'd had one of those late night brainwaves that seem like such a good idea at the time. This one was to do a line-by-line "reimagining" of TS Elliot's The Love Song of Alfred J Prufrock, as a drug trip.

Yes, well. It did honestly seem like a good idea at the time. After two hours of working in as many sequential quotations and "misheard" lines from Prufrock as possible, I grabbed a few hours sleep.

It was only on waking it hit me that, although it's not a bad piece of rap poetry in itself, the idea behind it is just so...lame. Having said that, with some fairly extensive rewriting and partial deprufrockification (good word, must use more often), there's the basis of something good in there.

The outside world intrudes. The neo-conservative (or if you prefer, neo-liberal) project in the Middle East has detoured between Iraq and Iran through Lebanon. Or if you believe the BBC, Israel has responded to Hezbollah taking two of it's soldiers prisoner by invading Lebanon. Or if you believe Fox News, islamofascist zionist sympathisers with Al-Qaida connections need to be pacified with guns to restore the pease.

So, for me and my comrades, there's the familliar round of demos, rallys, leaflet drops and meetings to organise it all. There's also a campaign to boycott Israeli goods from supermarkets. There's reasonable thinking behind it, but I think it'll be seen by the public as tokenistic.

Back to fantasy. Taz and Pig have a net radio station! Not the most leftfield playlist in the world, but professionally put together. The mixing and the jingles could have come from one of the better local commercial stations - but without the teethgriding adverts that make you want to smash up the radio.

Taz's tones and manner - with occasional X-rated interjections from the unexpectedly camp voiced Piggy - are laidback and friendly. Cirtainly preferable to the smug artschool blather you get in the high frequencies of your FM wireless.

Blond Forever

Some small changes to the blog. The blogroll categorised and aphabeticised, and Stronger Medication added, as he was nice enough to add me to his.

Some headings changed, and a new picture added - a detail from Rene Magritte's "Son of Man". Hey, I've got two degrees in art theory, so there should be something art related.

Also, the first four entries were deleted - once I figured out how. Blogger doesn't let you list more than the most recent 300 entries in the edit/delete view, so to delete earlier posts, you have to view them, make a note of some key words, use the search facility in the edit/delete view to find them, and then delete.

I originally set up this blog as a place for philosophical musings, but it quickly became something less exhaunted but hopefully more readable. The first four posts were somewhat abstruse notes on formal and dialectical logic. They were unreadable to the novice and obvious to everyone else, plus they didn't fit with the rest of the blog.

My hair grows pretty fast, and it's several weeks since I bleached it, so it's now dark brown with pale tips. Most bleached queens have the problem of dark roots - I have the exact opposite problem. So, I bought some cheap hair staining cream, to turn my pale bits dark again. And the result is...exactly as blond as before.

On a related note, mother doesn't like being grey and black, so got a peroxide and colourant kit to go a subdued red. The result was a wonderful firey orange. Very punky and visible a mile away. One more colourant later, and she's a kind of brown russet. Exactly the same colour as Dino, our dog.

There's always something. Something that goes wrong just when you thought all the problems were ironed out and you really need everything, just this once, to go smoothly.

Apart from being a general description of life, that applies especially to making music with computers. Today I've had to rejuggle all the guitar sounds because, although individually they all sounded great, when played together they melted into audio sludge.

In the end, it wasn't just the guitar sounds that clashed - it was that there were too many guitars. By taking out the "supplementary" strummed rhythm altogether, the song became a good old fashioned ensemble of drums, bass, rhythm guitar, lead solo guitar and vocals.

And the moral of that story is: Just because you like to be adventurous and experimental, don't be different for the sake of it. There's a difference between using cliches because they're useful in the circumstance, and using cliches because you're so buttock clenchingly banal you can't think of anything else.

Later on, one of the very few plugins that I use on almost every track - a harmonic exciter for mastering - mysteriously stopped being recognised by the mixing program. After reinstalling it and the mixer a few times, it started working again equally mysteriously. I'm afraid to change anything else now, in case whatever I did to make it work gets undone.

Oh yes, and my singing was rubbish when I recorded it.

One of the many reasons I want to lose weight and get healthy is I think it will improve my singing. Less fat taking up space inside the abdomen, so more space for the lungs to work, right? Not getting out of breath climbing stairs means better breath control, so better voice control. I suppose.

The most compelling reason though is that I want shallow people who only want to have sex with thin muscular types to have sex with me. There's the small detail that I only want to have sex with people who aren't shallow, but there's a saying about beggers and choosers. Or else I haven't quite thought it through.

However, I am losing weight! Partly as a result of intermittantly sticking to Peter Kitson's dietry advice of "Eat small meals, v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y". And partly through being too broke to binge on chocolate.

Unless I'm just sweating it all out, of course.

Yes, the weather is cooler - slightly. And less humid - slightly. And from what I hear, this is true of most of the western world. Attributing it to "global warming" is just as vacuous as saying it's "a blip". The former is simplistic, the latter meaningless.

I don't know what constellation of variables has given us temperatures elevated so much for so long over such a wide area. I just know it's a little bit freakish, and rather uncomfortable.

Nine 2 Five

Two things I've learned about electric guitars:
1) You can change the sound in an amazing number of ways.
2) The best physical modelling synthesisers, amps, effects boxes and speakers can, with a great deal of tweaking, give you exactly the sound you want. But they can't play like a guitar.

I've been trying to create a simple chugging Texas blues-rock rhythm line. And after a day's tinkering I can configure the various plugins to give a pretty good approximation of the unamplified guitar sound, the distortion pedal's softclipping, the amplifier's "warm" tube response, the 70s 12x2 speaker cabinet and the condenser microphone next to it.

And the result sounds like an authentic recreation of a period sound system, but with the guitarist replaced by a clunky robot. Everything from the vibrating strings on the guitar to the vibrating membrane in the mic is there, with lots of authentic variation like in the real world. But...something about the MIDI triggered playing is jarringly unsubtle and mechanical. And this is a rhythm line, which is supposed to be a bit mechanical.

I've only been doing this for a day, so I'm obviously missing out on a lot of the software's potential, plus I'm probably oversensitive to minor problems. But it does seem like the only way to sound like I've got a real guitarist...is to get a real guitarist.

Name this flower.

12 hours later, I've got a passable grungy guitar backing - what was meant to be ZZ Top became Weezer, but hey, that's okay. My usual graveyard tones won't cut through that kind of soupy sound, so I'll have to force my singing up an octave, into the realms of breathy campness. Which sounds okay if given loads of chorusing and reverb - I'm thinking My Bloody Valantine in ethereal mood.

However, by playing around with a defunct Steinberg plugin called Voice Designer, I can shift the recording up another octave. Which makes me sound like...guess who? Dolly Parton!

I am so so tempted to use Dolly as a trio of backing singers.

Name this sheep.

Yay! I'm on the Infomaniac, Stronger Medication and Minge blogrolls. My little semi-private diary, kept to be read in my old age (should I have one), is part of that online community thing that hip and trendy people talk about.

Watch out, there'll be a Kapitano myspace pretty soon. Well, there would be if there wasn't one already. Humpf.

Name this backing singer

Wet Wet Wet

New fast Windows XP installation, with programs, plugins and data in neat sensibly placed folders and drives. I wonder how long all that will last.

Here's the vague plan: Instead of trying to use Sonar and Nuendo (and a few dozen complex plugins) to compose entire songs while learning how to use them, compose songs on software I'm familliar with, but use the new stuff to make loops and "special" sounds.

In 21 years of messing around with music technology, apart from a few early experiments with loops of tape, I've never used prefabricated loops. But if it's me doing the prefabricating - I'll give it a go.

The British weather looks to be finally making it's transition from hot and moist to cold and wet. Of course, it has been unusually hot (25-30 deg C) and unusually moist (80-90%), and we've had a series of brief thunderstorms over the last 36 hours - so just how cold and how humid and/or rainy it's going to be I've no idea.

Remember a book called The Bible Code? "Prophecies" produced by applying skip codes to biblical passages in Hebrew - pseudo-crytological junk but quite fun. I think I recall the prediction that a war would explode in the Middle East. In mid-1996. Leading to the end of the world.

Israel preparing for a land war in Lebanon, and America barely holding down two impossible occupations and preparing for a major terrorist war with Iran - partly to ensure the burgeoning Chinese/Russian bloc don't get the oil they need to become an empire. Hmmm.

On the bright side, FilmFour - the UK's best cable film channel - is now free. So I can steal samples from hundreds more movies, and put them in my music. At least, I can put them in music when the computer which makes the music isn't occupied with capturing films. Er.

Not as nice as Anton, but I like it.

Squashed Tomatos and Stew

Mother's birthday, celebrated by eating far too much Indian food in the same resteraunt as last year. Same table in fact. And then having terrible indigestion.

My brother and his girlfriend travelled down from London to join us. Which meant my parents spent most of the morning frantically hoovering and tidying up. They always do this whenever guests are expected, in the hope the visitors won't realise we live among enormous piles of cluttered stuff. I suspect my brother, having been raised in the stuff for 25 years, was not fooled.

Right. 8 CDRs of backed up data in front of me, Windows XP installation disc waiting, and as many crossed fingers as I can spare.

Countdown to format and reinstllation...5...4..3..2...

Why I Don't Rock

I've got some music software. I just don't know how to use most of it.

There's Revitar, a physically modelled acoustic guitar. Very realistic, widely configurable, and not completely baffling to tweak.

There's also Guitar Rig - a collection of VSTs that can be stacked to create pretty much any guitar stage setup you can imagine. Amps, cabinets, delays, filters and a load of other stuff, that can turn you into the Cocteau Twins in 5 minutes. That's 5 minutes after the six months intensively getting to know each of the 45+ modules.

Plus Avox Vocal Kit to change the sound of my recorded voice, and Autotune to stop me being off key. And Microphone Modeler to make my Sennheisser E825S mic sound like several dozen high-end brands and models I've never heard of.

And Nuendo 2.0, which may be the most powerful sequencer in the world, and Sonar 4, which still does more than I'll ever need.

I do know quite a lot about synthesisers. I know why Human League sound more like Yazoo than Kraftwerk, and I can tell you in excruciating detail the differences between the TR808 and TR909 drum machines.

I've been using Reason and Audition for years, and reckon I'm a pretty good engineer with the former and producer with the latter - because I've been using them for years.

But when it comes to the difference between the setup of Aerosmith and that of Black Sabbath, I don't know where to begin. How do I make a guitar sound like New York Dolls without winding up with Extreme Noise Terror? No idea.

Give me a year, and perhaps I'll be able to do what I want to do this week.

I'm under some pressure to go to this demo in London. The comrades who generally organise the rest of us have recently discovered that email and text messaging is quicker and cheaper than spending an hour telephoning everyone in turn. They have also found the power of repeated messages to nag reluctant comrades into action.

I don't have the money to spare for the train. But I also didn't have the money to spare for getting drunk with my equally bankrupt comrades. Is this what they used to call Champaigne Socialism?

Mother's birthday tommorow. She won't tell us which birthday it is, but she doesn't let us forget it is one.


This is Anton. Nice isn't he?

Every so often, I dip my toe into the strange mirror-world of internet dating. It ranges from Gaydar, which isn't so much about finding love as the quickest shag possible, to OutEverywhere, which is the exact opposite - an online community with the emphasis on comminity, with friendships a distant second, followed by relationships. And sex bringing up the rear, so to speak.

In essence, therefore, it's a gorified bulliten board, and therefore full of mindless drivel. Just like communities in the real world, I suppose.

There's Squirt, which manages to be even more direct than Gaydar, and the now defunct GQueer, which tried to avoid the extremes, and work equally as community, dating lounge and pick-up point.

GQueer seems to have been reincarnated as the cheesily titled Mand8 and Guys4Men.

I joined Guys4Men over a month ago, had trouble with my internet connection, and forgot about it. Today Anton sent me an email saying he liked my profile and is looking for good, strong love with a man like me.

There is the small detail that I never filled out a profile, and live half a world away, but it's a pleasant sentiment.

I wonder who Anton is. A lonely young man who deserves the happiness which eludes him? A manipulator playing the field? A front for an internet scam sending out scattershot snares in the hope that a few will be taken in? No, just another youngster discovering the paradox of sexual liberation combined with personal isolation.

TV news divided roughly equally between:
1) Inexplicable hot weather. Enjoy the record temperatures (36-40 deg C) by finding a beach.
2) Inexplicable war in the Middle East. Hezbollah (bad) bombing Israel (good but volatile) for vague reasons, followed by Israel overreacting slightly. 800 Britons evacuated so no need to worry.

There's a hastily arranged "emergency demo" in London on Saturday against the Israli bombings of Lebanon. The word has gone out that we should attend if we can, but the half dozen comrades I've spoken to have been too broke to afford the journey.

Interesting documentary in the Horizon series, about the risks of nuclear radiation. Interesting chiefly because the facts presented were obscured by the way they were presented, to support an unrelated conclusion.

The facts are simple. Low doses of radiation - less than 100 millisiverts per year - are harmless. One millisievert is equivalent to about five medical x-ray scans. Natural background radiation is 2.5 millisieverts. The radiation from Chernobyl was low-moderate - below 200. Hiroshima was "in the thousands". 10,000 causes death in weeks.

The implied conclusion was that, because low doses are harmless, public fear about high doses is unwarrented (huh?). We won't get nuclear accidents because the Chernobyl reactor was Russian and therefore rubbish (yeah, right). And because nuclear energy is the only viable alternative to fossil fuels (it isn't), the public must be educated before nuclear power stations can save the planet from global warming (it can't).

The programme noted that radium was promoted as a health-giving elixier in the 1920s. I remember an edition of Horizon a few years ago which noted the same thing, but went on to document the horror stories of people who used it. This time, we were reminded that some of the stories about Hiroshima were exaggerations - presumably indicating that it wasn't all that bad, really.

What a coincidence that, just as the nuclear lobby is gaining power with neo-cons, we should get documentaries on how nuclear power is safe and anyone who doubts it is ignorant and paranoid.

Nothing to Report

As nothing much happened today, I thought I'd give a selection of blogs which have surfed into mine over the last few weeks.

Did you know, that in the average 10 minute conversation, each person tells 2.92 lies? Or that Mandarin has more speakers than English? This person collects that kind of factoid.

This young lady is a majorette, who also likes Duran Duran

I like Duran Duran too. They made synthpop with guitars, their lyrics sound profound and mean nothing at all, and they were a boyband from before the term existed and boybands became desperately boring.

Probably the most minimal blog I've ever seen.

Theatrical reviews, in what I think is Portugese, even though the author lives in Spain.

In Spanish. With location listed as "Océano atlántico". Hmmm.

Spanish, gay, film buff. I see a lot of blogs in Spanish, but this is one of the few I wish I could read.

How far apart are heaven and hell?

Amanda works with children.

Some tediously worthy godbotherer.

A more interesting godbotherer.

Though he does write that the reasons christianity has survived is that it's true - presumably all other religions and belief systems that survive do so because of satanic influence.

Actually, he says the bible survives and thrives in spite of being shown countless times to be self-contradictory, counter-empirical, unhistorical and often just plain meaningless. And in a certain sense he's right. The bible is indeed one very convenient source of myriad conflicting justifications for whatever policies of convenience the church of any given time promotes as eternal truth.

However, being full of christian forgiveness as I am, I give thanks for this bit of useful information:

There is a simple way of making lost or stolen mobiles useless to thieves and the phone companies know about it, but keep it quiet.

To check your mobile phone's serial number, key in the following on your phone: star-hash-zero-six-hash ( * # 0 6 # ) and a fifteen digit code will appear on the screen. This is unique to your handset. Write it down and keep it safe.

Should your mobile phone get stolen, you can phone your service provider and give them this code. They will then be able to block your handset, so even if the thief changes the sim card, your phone will be totally useless.
Pop and media trivia in...Dutch, I think.

Zombie movies! In...Dutch, I think.

Sweedish man, interested in natural history, also writes in english, has a girlfriend, and is fond of...zombie movies.

I have absolutely no idea.

Environmentalist science and politics.

Rock music...and lycanthropy. A time honoured combination.

"Here's the news, just the way you like it. Fun. Quirky. Short. All natural ingredients and 100 percent fat free!"

The Doug Kenline Report. The subheading - "Education on freedom and liberty" - tells you you're dealing with a rightwing lunatic. Probably one who feels himself persecuted by the taxman or the monolithic forces of political correctness.

And upon skimming the blog...that's exactly what it looks like.

Money! Great thick throbbing wads of it.

Not illucid, not deranged, not at all psychotic. Just rather difficult to understand, like a diary written to be read only by the writer.

Canadian style!

Some people find my blog through blogspot searches. Some of the more interesting ones are:

*Male Bodybuilders
*Tony Blair Bisexual (?!)
*Hugh Pew Barney McGrew mp3 Song
*Plain White Ts.net
*Communist Party of Britain
*Winniebago Cocaine (huh?)

and, probably my favourite:
*Alka Seltzers Explosive

Remember I said our little theatrical performance might get one review, probably in Socialist Worker? Well, here it is:

The Investigation by Peter Weiss
by John Molyneux

The performance of Peter Weiss’s play at the Arcola Theatre in Hackney, east London, on Thursday of last week was a remarkable event.

Based on the Frankfurt war crimes trial, it showed Auschwitz survivors confronting their persecutors.

Every word was testimony, fashioned by Weiss into a six hour drama then edited to a performable two hours by director Waldemar Maxim.

It conveyed with great power the absolute horror of the Holocaust combined with authentic information on how it operated.

It provided real insight into the psychology of the survivors and perpatrators of history’s worst crime.

The excellent performance was entirely by amateurs­, some from Portsmouth where the play was first shown and some from London.

The full house was rather stunned but warmly appreciative. Hopefully it will soon be put on again.

And finally...

Fame at last! Rolling Stone Magazine are aware of me. Well, they're aware of a remix I did in 2004.


On the TV news, a story about how humanity must co-operate to save the amazon rainforests, because the climate is already changing and it'll soon be too late.

The next story, with no trace of juxtaposition, was about "Oh what a gloriously hot summer we're having, with record temperatures predicted next week. So enjoy, but remember to drink plenty of water and wear a hat."

Do these people have no sense of irony?

Reading Equus this afternoon, I remembered someone I hadn't thought about for years.

The play is about a teenager who cobbles together a complex personal religion from fragments of christianity and his childhood association of horses with freedom. His god gives him the genuine religious experience that modern society and church lack, but he finds that he can't bear it's judging gaze.

I once knew a boy in his late teens who got off on blasphemy. He'd had a relationship with a priest who's particular kink had been having sex in church - especially on the altar.

The boy had picked up the taste, and between them it mutated into a fetish for sacrilage. Urinating on the crucifix, shouting "Fuck God!" and "I spit on Jesus!", even dabbling with satanist imagery.

When I knew him, the relationship had been over for a few years, but he liked me to spit vitriol at god while he masturbated. He liked it that I was partially trained for the priesthood, and didn't mind that I was an atheist. Presumably the priest is still around, turning devout boys into something equally irrational, but somehow more meaningful.

An evening out of moderate drinking at the One Eyed Dog turned into a somewhat heavier drinking session with half-a-dozen almost-strangers at the Deco, then into an after-hours drinking bout back at the Dog, then a completely unnecessary curry and rapid introduction into the tangled romantic lives of Portsmouth's bohemian youth.

I was supposed to be saving money, after having most of it eaten by two weeks in London. So much for good intentions. Right, start living like Scrooge tomorrow morning.

Still, I did get to meet Melissa - a remarkably switched-on and cool diminutive hippie-chick. One thing: Absolutely all of them know CW from way back.

Dracula: Red and Loving It

I feel a bit like a lobster. Purple, cooked and tender.

My head, lower arms and lower legs are various shades of red or scarlet, and any abrasion gives a stinging, burning sensation that lasts several minutes.

The last time I had that symptom, I was spending 3 days in hospital 11 years ago, as the result of a never-diagnosed aliment that one doctor said looked exactly like scarlet feaver, but couldn't be.

The Tolpuddle festival can manage without me, especially as it's actually hotter today than it was yesterday - and I don't want to know what another day in the sun would do.

So...asleep inside all day with curtains drawn, unable to go out in the sun, unwilling to look in the mirror, a certain aversion to christian symbols and a creepy fondness for young virgins. Maybe I'm a vampire instead of a lobster.

Being trapped here in this dread castle, I spent the afternoon OCRing Peter Schaffer's Play Equus. I was impressed by the film version years ago, but have never got around to reading the script.

Of course, in the hour it took to OCR, I could have read it, but nevermind.

Mother has found an intriguing alternative to flyspray. And I bet that's the first time you've ever read that precise sentence.

With the heat giving us flies buzzing around the kitchen, and the cost and unsanitary nature of toxic aerosol sprays around food, we now have...a venus fly trap on the fridge.

And no more flies. I have this premonition of a venus flytrap in every room. It's just a little plant - the pot would fit easily into my hand - but there's something about it that looks...predatory, somehow.

Rick, if you're reading this, let me know what's happening in your life. And maybe even send me a picture, so I know what you look like.

Every Girl's Crazy 'bout a Hard Pressed Man

Tolpuddle. I'd completely forgotten about the Tolpuddle festival on Sunday. And about saying I'd go this year. It's an annual thing marking an event in early trade union history.

Last time I went, New Labour sent Estelle Morris to address the audiance from the podium about how the original Tolpuddle martyrs were Blairites. She was virtually booed offstage - and thoroughly deserved it.

I don't know who's drawn the short straw in the New Labour cabinet this time, but I expect the same speech and the same response.

There's also live music from the stage. Last time the headline artist was Billy Bragg - and he was pretty dire he was too. This year, Asian Dub Foundation would be nice, but I'm expecting another man with a guitar.

Anyway, another two and a half hour journey in a hot car, this time to Dorset. Followed by selling Socialist Worker simply to annoy the shop stewards, "participating" in the speeches, and "discussing" points of contention with the stalls of other far-left groups. And then another car journey back again.

Take some sunblock. Because I've got sunburn and I don't want any more of it.

UPDATE: I'm told it's Billy Bragg again. Sigh

It's getting close to that time again. The time when I have to wipe this laptop's hard disk and reinstall Windows and several dozen applications from scratch. Because, in spite of regular ministrations from System Mechanic, Ad-Aware, Tracks Eraser and Spybot, operation is slowing down to unusable levels.

But first, the ceremony of backing up mp3s and wmas, jpgs and gifs, installation files and miscellanious data to CDRs. Followed shortly by the ceremony of losing the CDRs after the disk is formatted.

It's also somewhat past that time when I move all the items in my bedroom between surfaces in an effort to make things neater. This is a little like sorting the grains of sand on a beach into bands of colour, right before dancing on them.

Oh, I found the Gatecrashing song via the magic of P2P. It's...okay. Much like most other songs by the band, very 80s with horns, crashing snares and chunky bass.

I also rediscovered ZZ Top, one of those bands I always enjoyed hearing if their music was playing, but wouldn't select from a jukebox. There's a lot of music like that - passively enjoyed a great deal, but never actively sought at the time.

The Beginning of Wisdom

The Australian government is talking about deporting extremist Shia muslims who follow Sharia law. Here's a few basic questions for people with an opinion on the matter.

1) What is the difference between Sunni and Shia?

1a) In Iraq the Shia are given power by the American occupiers because they deem the Sunni unstable. But they view the Shia rulers of Iran as unstable, with the Sunni as moderates. Why?

2) What actually is Sharia law?

2a) What does it say about terrorism?

2b) True or False: Most Shia don't follow Sharia - they follow Jaafari.

2c) Why do you think the difference matters, or doesn't?

3) Can you find a definition of "extremist" which never applies to yourself or your government?

3a) Why is this impossible?
(Hint: It's the same reason you can't define "bad" to apply only to your enemies.)

4) True or False: The UN was unable to pass resolutions against terrorism because they couldn't come up with definitions which excluded war and occupation.

5) How many of these questions did you not understand?

The Marquis de Sade once wrote that it's impossible to believe in a statement one does not comprehend. He was wrong.

Sing Us an Old Song

Last night: SWP organisational meeting - 10 minutes of organising, plus 90 of dissecting the day's news and sharing thoughts about the conference most of us were at.

In the news we have Tony Blair's personally appointed fundraiser arrested on corruption charges, 200 killed by a bomb in a Mombai train station, and Israel bombing the hell out of Lebanon "in retaliation" for two of their soldiers being kidnapped.

As for the Marxism conference, roughly half the 4000 attendees were young and/or first-timers, giving a fresher vibe than in recent years. The party seems to be finally growing as anarchists get more cohearantly politicised.

Drinks with the comrades afterwards, then more drinks in another pub with Simon M, who had bought me a gift. A Doctor Who teeshirt showing an old style dalek on a battlefield with purple sky. Lovely stuff. No way I'd be mistaken for a heterosexual or non-computer-geek in that.

We both missed the final episode of Season 28 at the weekend (I was at Marxism2006), so the plan is to see the repeat together on Friday - wearing the shirt, of course.

In the pub, we bumped into a Liberal Democrat councillor - Stephen something - who demonstrated precisely what's wrong with career politicians.

I said I was a socialist - he became a "social liberal democrat". I said something vaguely antimonarchist - he waxed lyrical about how he hated the royal family. I flirted with him - he dropped hints about possible bisexual leanings. Perhaps if I'd become an old fashioned stalinist he'd have got wistful and misty eyed about Russia.

The trouble with cold reading is, your script is written by the one you're scamming.

Signing on today, and my "jobsearch" adviser showed me a surprising alternative to ignoring the A15C form and filling out the original paperwork again. It's to fill out the A15C form, but not according to the instructions given. And then fill out all the original paperwork again.

I'm slowly copying the minidisc recordings of the Marxism presentations to computer, and using my dubious sound engineer skills to make the sound less like they were recorded in an echoy room through a crappy UKP5 computer microphone.

Just a thought about musical influences. A lot of songs that influenced my own compositions existed (and exist) as dim memories. Some songs that I heard once or twice on the radio created deep but imprecise impressions, much deeper than songs I heard frequently.

For years, elements from my vague recollections of What's on Your Mind by Information Society found their way into occasional tracks from albums I put together in teenage years. I'd heard the song once on a badly tuned MW radio in about 1985, then not at all till Napster came along in the late 90s.

It was pretty much as I remembered it, which is more than can be said for Gold Rush by Yello - also heard just once, half remembered and often referred to. James Brown is Dead by LA Style stayed with me accurately, but See How It Cuts by I Start Counting did not.

Living in a Box, known for their single of the same name, also released Gatecrashing, but their record company hastily withdrew it due to fears of upsetting the public - it came out in the same week as the Heisal stadium disaster. Now the song is hopelessly obscure and Limewire can't find it.

Compare with Fade to Grey by Visage, which spent years as a seminal classic among dance music trainspotters, before being reborn as a song everyone knows in mp3 form.

Hollywood Beyond was a more-or-less one man act in the mid 1980s. He was a young black fellow with dark specs, wild dreadlocks and a passion for maximal variety in his listening and output. He also had two muscular dancers in loincloths whenever he sang on television - which was daring and rather nice.

The first release is now a minor classic - What's the Colour of Money?. The second, called No More Tears I heard two, maybe three times, before the song and the singer sank into oblivion. He now exists as a set of broken links on mp3.com, and as a reverberating blip in my childhood.

Sublime to Ridiculous

Back, grimy and exhausted from London. Very informative and uplifting conference, but ultimately too much. I tried to make some notes, but didn't have the time or energy to write much in the notebook - and then lost the notebook anyway. I'll see what I can tell from memory later, after a long shower and longer rest.

While I've been away, the civil service has seemingly slid further into the black pool of incompetence that's not just garden variety blithering idiocy, but 100% proof Kafka.

Two thursdays ago (29/06/2006) I filled out an innocuous form at the jobcentre to the effect that I'd done 3 days voluntary work, and furthermore, seeing as it was voluntary and therefore unpaid, my total pay amounted to zero pounds and zero new english pence.

On the day I leave for London (06/07/2006), I get an A15C form to fill out. These were the relevant sections:

Front: "You have a part time job or are doing voluntary work"

Question 1: "Do you have a Job?" Answer: "No". Go to Question 2.

Question 2: "If you do not have a job, what was your last job?" Answer: "Technician". Go to Question 18.

Question 18: "Have we asked you to answer the questions in Part B about your partner?" Answer: "No". Go to part C.

Part C: Your Signature.

Signed, dated, and sent off to whichever tedious penpusher sent me the pointless form in the first place. Now I get the form back, and a note, saying:

You provided a declaration of work/earnings, stating that you did some work at the Door One Theatre on 29/06/07

Incorrect. I stated that I had done three days voluntary work for the Door One theatre company, starting on 29/06/07, at the Arcola Theatre in Hackney. There is to my knowledge no Door One Theatre

We sent you form A15C...which you returned stating you didn't work.

Incorrect. I ticked a box stating that I was not in paid employment. The form did not ask about "work" - it asked whether I had an employer to who I sold access to my skills for a specified period. That is, whether I had a job.

Can you either:-

* Complete the form fully, if you intend to still work for the Door One Theatre.

Ah, I see the point where you have become confused - sometimes you correctly distinguish between doing work and having a job, and sometimes you don't. Please clarify what you mean by "work" (paid or, in this case, unpaid) as opposed to "job" (paid by definition).

If you mean any human labour at all, that includes all human activity except possibly sleeping. If you mean performing tasks on a voluntary basis that might otherwise have been done by waged labour, I will have to register with you as "Prostitute" the next time I have sex. If you mean paid employment, I haven't done any, and this makes the third time I've told you that. If you don't know what the hell you mean, please fall under a train so someone who knows what they're doing can take over.

* Provide a statement confirming that you only worked one day and do not intend to work there again.

I never said I worked one day, I said I worked three. I was never asked whether or not I intended to work there again.

Yours Sincerely

Yours Faithfully. If you're going to misunderstand your own nomenclature, at least try getting the form right.

There's a saying about being nibbled to death by ducks.

In any case, I have no plans to do further work with Door One, for the same reason almost all the actors don't - the director is the equal and opposite of these civil servants. They are sticklers for irrelevant details which they then get wrong. He doesn't do details at all, and consequently gets the whole thing wrong.

UPDATE: Regional head office were a little difficult to get in touch with, partly because both telephone numbers they rubber stamped on their forms were wrong, and partly because they don't answer the phone much anyway.

Eventually I got to talk to a helpful lady who, after much digging and consultation with colleagues, found that (surprise surprise) some of my documentation had gone astray. Which does seem to happen quite a lot.

The upshot it, I can completely ignore the A15C and the nasty covering letter, provided I do all the paperwork I did two weeks ago again. This also seems to happen quite a lot.

CW sympathises, because his bank also messed up recently. It looks like I won't get to see him for another two weeks, because just as my busy fortnight away ends, his begins - huh, typical. Some people have long distance relationships because they live 100 miles apart - we have one because our homes are 2 miles apart, but we're never there at the same time.


Toothbrush, mouthwash, deodorant. Minidisc recorder, minidiscs, dictaphone, microphones, recharger, batteries, audio lead. Mp3 player, headphones. Notebook, pens. Snacks, water bottle, mints. Change of clothes, ibuprofen, switch card, cash, phone, conference ticket. Check.

Right. What have I forgotten? London map - where on earth did I put it? Nevermind, get one in London. Razor - get one from the bathroom. Keys - on the hook.

Existential dread - take it again this year? Why not, it doesn't take up any room.

Breakfast. Might be a good idea.

Phone charger! There's always something. Where in the name of sodomy is my phone charger?

Back on Tuesday. Cheeriebye.


A few days ago, I was in a queue for a cashpoint machine in a shopping precinct. The man in front of me was withdrawing some notes, and as I looked at him, two simultainious thoughts collided in my head. One was "Someone in a wheelchair". The other was "Oh, he's rather sexy".

He was about 25, and would have stood maybe 6 foot, but had minor difficulty reaching up to the console. His neatly cropped hair and the grooming of his pleasantly regular features showed that he took care over his appearance. His strong back and shoulder muscles worked under his teeshirt as he fumbled the card, cash and wallet into place - perhaps he'd got muscles pushing the wheels.

His hairless legs didn't move, but they didn't look immobile or atrophied - they looked like he could run for miles. He was wearing football shorts a size too small, that snugly traced the curve of his buttocks.

Yes, I probably looked at him a little too hard, but if he'd once looked around I'd have been overcome with embarassment. He wheeled over to a young lady who was waiting by a lamppost - she was about the same age, slim and ablebodied. I felt a quite unwarrented twinge of disappointment as he craned his neck up to kiss her on the lips.

At the end of my street there's a run-down care home for people with multiple disabilities. I pass it every time I visit the co-op, and there's often a middle aged man outside, begging. He moves like a chimpanzee - a kind of loping half-crouch - and he speaks in a lax bark when asking for money for a cup of tea. He gets 50p or a pound from my pocket.

The rest of the steet is about one third care homes for the elderly, and from the age of 4 I grew up with their inhabitants shuffling along the street, muttering to themselves - occasionally shouting.

When I was 6 there was a girl with severe learning difficulties, living in an adjoining street. She lived with her father, who somehow juggled a fulltime job with being her fulltime carer. She tried to befriend me and I could see she was lonely, but I refused because I was afraid of the way she drooled all the time.

Around a street corner is a guest house run by a stupid but good-hearted man, and his wife who went deaf in early middle age. He's become quite proficient in sign language, but I can only catch the gist of their conversations.

At university I befriended a deaf student and learned some BSL (British Sign Language) to help communicate, but I never got good at using it.

There's a boy with what looks like a very severe form of Neuro Fibro Matosis, often to be seen on the street chatting merrily with friends his own age.

There's an elderly man who used to work as a solicitor. One side of his face looks like it's half melted and then reset. The first time I saw it I was 18, and we passed by chance on some stairs - I saw him for two seconds and was in a state of hyperventillating terror for ten minutes.

At about the same age, I got involved with a man who had cerebral palsy. He was a sometime mentor to me, when we weren't having sex or endless discussions about music.

We both knew a folksinger who's career as a racing jockey was terminated by sudden total blindness. This fellow had the most wandering, groping hands in the world, and the most reckless libido.

One of the most powerful political speakers I've heard is Pat Stack. He has one arm and no legs due to a thalidomide pregnancy. I once worked out a route for him, so his wheelchair could get from the train station to a meeting hall without encountering stairs, cobbles or bumps.

The producer of the play I was in a week ago has Multiple Sclerosis. We developed a cordial mutual dislike.

At university there was a student with an artificial leg that made me nervous because it looks so almost like a real one.

There was also a navel engineer who'd become an artist after being confined to a wheelchair and deprived of most speech by an accident that snapped his spine. His car and motorised wheelchair were equipped with the most wonderful thunderbirds-like contraptions to enable him to get around and communicate.

Yes, there's been no shortage of people with various disabilities around throughout my life. I've admired some, been friends with a few, and occasionally more than friends.

So why does it still make me feel awkward?

Blonds Really Do Have More Fun

More excessive drinking, more immoral debauchery, and more complicated lovelives as a result. It's not just that I'm no good at monogamy - it seems no one else is either.

However, from Thursday till Tuesday I will be mostly concerned with political theory and practice, and with up to five seminars a day in London, I expect to be too exhausted and too broke for anything naughty and blogworthy.

I'll try to make some notes again, though some of the notes I made about the last time I was in a London suburn have got lost somewhere.

It's Independance Day. A day when we remember what America is all about.

"A group of bio-mechanically enhanced conservatives led by Sean Hannity, G. Gordon Liddy, Oliver North, and a young man born on September 11, 2001, set out to thwart Ambassador Usama bin Laden's plans to nuke New York City."

I also like the completely irrlevent quote from Karl Marx at the top of the page.

I set up a blog for John M. It's not a diary - it's a repository for any short articles he writes, to be updated whenever he writes them. I keep meaning to get his major articles (and books) onto the Marxists Internet Archive.

So far on the blog there's five brief articles, each introducing one of the basics of marxism. They were written for translation and publication in a Korean leftwing newspaper.

I can either let my hair go naturally back to dark brown, or keep it blond and touch up the roots. These are the opinions so far about the bleached Kapitano:

Simon: You look really evil.
Roxanne: It makes you look like a robot.
Max: Oh my god.
Lee: You look like a paedophille.
Anna (audiance member): It makes you look rather handsome.
Craig: ...
Gareth: It makes you look really gay. I mean, gayer.

My Intelligently Designed Life

Did I say I'd have free time after Sunday? How optimistic of me.

The Marxism conference begins on Thursday, so I'll be out of action there till probably the following Wednesday. John M is giving two presentations there, and needs help putting together powerpoint slideshows for both - so tonight I'm doing that. And picking up the minidiscs of the interview he conducted a few weeks ago, and if there's any time at all, begin transcribing it.

I had two hours to prepare my forum presentation on darwinism and creationism, so I just sat and wrote notes from memory, and selected from them as I presented. It stimulated a good discussion, covering Social Darwinism (aka Sociobiology), the place of real Darwinism in industrial capitalism, the conflict between science and religion, and the nature of certainty.

Roxanne came, bringing her ever delectable brother. Being flat broke between us, we went for drinks and a completely unnecessary curry afterwards while discussing how we couldn't really afford to go to Marxism2006. But were going anyway.

Oh, the weatherman says the country is set to get even hotter towards the end of the week, just as I'm crammed into a series of badly ventilated lecture halls filled with sweaty socialists who spent the night fitfully kipping on each other's floorboards.

My designated floorboards are in Tottenham, which means three hours on the bus each day. If politics were a love affair, I'd have gone celibate by now.

Anyway, these were my notes for the forum:

The christian religious right is attacking science and rationality. There's nothing new about that, but right now they're on the offensive, and though they haven't won any major victories yet, they're organised, well funded, and numerous.

The current main target for their propaganda is Charles Darwin's Theory of Evolution. So the first question I want to ask is: Why chose evolution? The second question is: What arguments do it's opponents use - and what's wrong with these arguments? And the third: Why should it matter to us? But before that: What is the theory of evolution anyway?

It's very simple. Offspring are slightly different from their parents and from each other. A few of these differences give small advangates or disadvantages in coping with the physical environment. Individuals with the advantageous differences have a marginally higher chance of breeding, and so passing on their variation. Over dozens or hundreds of generations, these variations build up into a general shift in the form of the species as it adapts.

There are plenty of little details. For instance, some species become overspecialised for their environment, so can't adapt quickly enough when it changes. Others divide into several isolated groups that diverge into seperate species, or into distinct subspecies that can interbreed but are significantly different.

You can fill libraries with the details and with examples, but the principle is amazingly simple.

So, why have the American fundamentalist christian political right chosen evolution as their target? I mean, there's plenty of other scientific theories, some of them really far-out and counterintuitive like String Theory and Quantium Mechanics. Others, like Einstein's Relativity, can be easily misrepresented as an attack on knowledege itself and moral values, and so attacked on those grounds.

Fluid Dynamics, Chemistry and the laws of thermodynamics are so badly misunderstood by the general public that it would be easy to rubbish them. Actually, pretty much all these theories are badly misunderstood by the general public.

I think one reason is that evolution is not necessary to industrial capitalism. The electrical laws and indeed some of quantum mechanics is obviously essential to build electronics. Newton's laws of motion and Solid Dynamics are needed for engineering. But you don't need knowledge of evolution do these things. In fact, often you don't need evolution to study most zoology or medicine.

Capitalism relies on technology, and so it relies on notions of science, reason, evidence and such. Capitalism also relies on these selfsame notions never being applied to itself - if you apply scientific method to capitalism, you get marxism, and capitalists don't want that.

So if you, as an ideologue on the offensive under capitalism, wish to begin destroying those parts of the Enlightenment legacy that threaten you, but keep those that support you intact, you need to begin by attacking, not the easy targets, but those you can most easily do without.

Certain kinds of evangelical christian like to range arguments against evolution that don't rely on their own religious faith. In the past few years, some of them have attempted to attack evolution on scientific grounds. Grounds like:

Evolution has never been observed
This is just preposterous. The first section of The Origin of Species isn't about exotic parrots or enormous tortoises - it's about pigeon fanciers. Professional breeders and racers of pigons have known for a very long time that the offspring of two fast birds are more likely to be fast than the offspring of two slow birds.

The fact that selective breeding works, whether you like it or not, shows that evolution occurs, because it shows that it can be controlled. You might say that the theory of eugenics is older than the theory of evolution.

Random chance can no more produce a working animal than a storm in a junk yard could produce a working car
But we’re not talking about random chance. We’re talking about selections from bounded variation.

Evolution is just one man's idea
Some say Darwin invented the whole of evolutionary theory in his head, and the rest of the scientific establishment inexplicably swallowed it. The idea is that before Darwin, everyone believed the literal word of the bible, that god created all the animals and they've never changed.

This is a rather strange thing to say, because Darwin's contemporaries knew perfectly well that species did change over time, that some died out and new ones appeared. Those who collected and studied fossils were very often priests with sidelines in paleontology. Academics were often required to know theology and be at least tokenistically christian.

It had long been common knowledge, even among the most devout, that the book of Genesis could not be literally true - it was effortlessly reinterpreted as a series of metaphors, as happens to all religious texts when they're disproven. And this process never damages the authority of the church for long.

The reason Darwin's theory attracted so much controversy was not that suggested species change, or that it proposed a mechanism for this change - there were several competing theories at the time, and most were quite similar to Darwins. No, the reason Darwin's explanation for species change was so controversial was that it said nothing about god.

According to Darwin, God was not necessary for evolution to occur - it happened whether or not he existed. The Origin Of Species in no way questions the existence and nature of god, and doesn't attack the church. It just doesn't give god anything to do.

Evolution relies on chance mutations, which are selected for those which give some advantage. Genetic mutations are common in people living near the sites of nuclear explosions, but none of these mutations are positive, and these people aren't evolving faster than the rest of us.

This is simply a confusion about the meaning of mutation. Whenever a new human is made by reproduction, the mix of parental genes creates a new variation on an existing template. In addition, some genes will also mutate in the sense that small random changes are introduced by the planet's background radiation and by tiny chemical hiccups in the cells.

The vast majority of these variations and mutations have no measurable effect at all. Even the small number which affect the physical form of the offspring are well within normal parameters. Creationists here are confusing mutation with disability.

The lunatic wing of creationism is called Intelligent Design Theory. They are explicitly and unashamedly religious, but try to juggle this with the claim that a creator being need not be the supreme being of any existing religion.

When the chips are down though, they always name this creator as Yahweh if they're christian, or Allah if they're part of the growing Islamic creationist movement.

Behind all the obscuring verbiage, their message is: God will send you to hell if you believe in evolution, and...

Darwin was an atheist
Therefore presumably he published his theory to attack the church. Darwinism is part of an anti-faith conspiracy of godless scientists who want to impose their shallow materialism on decent folk.

Not that it matters, but Darwin was a committed christian and uncritical supporter of the church and establishment. When he wrote about social issues he was just as racist and incohearant as any other victorian gentleman.

They also say scientifically illitarate things like...

Evolution is only a theory, not proven fact
Whenever I've come across this one, I have to ask "What do you mean by Theory" and "What would constitute proof". At which point I'm hyserically accused of being a liberal, an atheist, a communist and probably a homosexual. I can’t think why ;-).

All these objections to evolution are pretty stupid. I mention them because they're quite common, but they hold no water at all. However, there are a few *good* objections to Darwinism - by which I mean, objections that rely on more subtle misunderstandings, and which need more than a second's thought to tear apart.

5% of a wing
Mammals don't fly, but some reptiles do. I can't think of a single species that has a system of internal heat regulation that has wings, and I can't think of a single creature with wings that also regulates it's body temperature in the way mammals do. Which suggests that there's a connection between a species not having mammalian physiology, and that species having the ability to develop wings.

This relates to one of the more common carricatures of Darwin's theory - the notion that evolution is completely free. That any species can develop in any direction if it's advantageous at the time. That cows could develop an extra pair of legs if the environment changed and they needed to walk on rocky terrain, that humans could develop feathers for warmth in an ice age, or rats could come up with eyes in the back of their head to better see predators.

Evolution is not free. Cows have no existing structures of bone and muscle that they could turn into extra legs, mammals could never develop feathers because, unlike reptiles, they don't have the scales that can be modified into feathers, and rats can't afford to take a few centuries off re-engineer their skulls for extra eyes.

In fact, no species does, and this is another carricature of evolution. Evolution does *not* allow species to go through useless or dangerous intermediate stages (for ten generations or a thousand) to eventually produce a useful adaptation. Each stage of adaptation must be useful at the time.

There's no way for that part of the fish jawbone that eventually becomes the mammalian hearing mechanism to think to itself, "I know these proto-ears have no function at the moment, and their development is causing havoc to the rest of the head, but trust me, in a few thousand years they'll be really useful".

But surely, the creationists say, if proto-ears and proto-wings are useless, they couldn't develop at all. I mean, what use is 5% of a wing?

The answer is that 5% of a wing is no good as a wing, but is useful as a means of cooling the body, but only to species that don't have internal temperature regulation. And that's why reptiles can develop wings but mammals can't.

5% of a wing is essentually a cooling fan flapped by muscles in the back. And 10% is a larger fan, powered by larger muscles. But 25% can also be used to glide when jumping from trees. And although 50% is too large and unweildy to be used for it's original cooling purpose, it's still useful for gliding, and it can go on growing because, up to a point, the bigger the sail, the better for gliding.

Then there comes a point where the sail gets so large and heavy that it's weight overcomes it's use in gliding. But by that time the wing is large enough and the muscles in the back are strong enough that they can flap, and take off.

Provided of course that the reptile would gain some advantage from flying. And if it lived in a desert without trees, it might need cooling fans, but it wouldn't need to develop sail to glide down from them with. That's why you don't get flying lizards evolving in places without trees.

It's all very elegant, determined only by the basic laws of physics and the need to survive in the circumstances given by the environment. There's no need for a creator who designs animals to fit their environment, or one who guides evolution by periodically redesigning them. The redesigning is automatic, built into the system.

Of course, you could then say that god created the system and then left it to run. But that's a pretty empty notion of god. It's like the god who creates the universe and then retires into noninterferance - praying to a deity to give you money or courage or salvation when you believe he never intervenes seems a tad pointless.

Irreducible Complexity
This comes from a subtle misunderstanding of that insight - that intermediate states in evolving organs don't occur if they don't serve some function, whether or not the intermediate use to which the organ is put is the same as it's eventual use.

The idea is that the various parts of the eye - retina, eyeball, cornea, optic nerve bundles etc - are seperate organs, each with their own evolutionary path, and the eye is therefore a composite of their various operations.

And that there's no reason for the evolution of the cornea to 'co-operate' with the evolution of the retina, because of a known mutual eventual benefit. These two organs have their own 'agendas', and it's therefore extremely unlikely that their unrelated interests should dovetail so neatly. It's like the monkeys on a typewriter hitting exactly the right keys to produce Hamlet.

It would be like ICI, Microsoft, Halliburton and a dozen other multinationals, each competing in their non-overlapping sphere of business, accidentally creating socialism from the chaos of capitalism.

Irreducible complexity is William Dembski's big idea. He says complex organs could not evolve in this way, and therefore a creator must have designed them.

There’s two problems here. First, it’s perfectly true that it’s monstrously unlikely for a cornea for emerge in just the right place over an iris without forward planning. But we’re not talking about organs evolving into existance by co-ordinating with each other, we’re talking about the most simply of light sensitive organs becoming more complex.

You might ask: What use is a very primative eye giving weak blurred vision? Ask a blind man.

But this is really just the old obervation that, "Isn't it fortunate that cats happen to have holes in their fur exactly where their eyes are?" Isn't it amazing that your feet are on the end of your legs instead of on your elbows? I mean, if they're in exactly the right place for you to walk on them. That can't be chance.

It's like when Tony Hancock in that famous "Blood Donor" sketch explained the existence of blood as something for the heart to pump around.

These two objections - 5% of a wing and what we now call Irreducible Complexity - were objections made at the time by the more intelligent of Dawin's critics. In fact, Darwin answered them, quite correctly and completely, in the second edition of the book.

The third good argument with Darwin dealt with was that bodily dimensions are densely interrelated, so changing one involves changing them all.

Increasing the length of the leg means increasing the width of the bones in the leg to support the extra stresses. But this also entails enlarging the muscles so they'll have the strength to move the larger bones, and proportionately engarging the connective tissue and skin. But it doesn't stop there, because the muscles of the lower back and abdomen are also involved in moving the legs, and the ribcage and spine will have to be modified to accommodate them. And so on. So one small change may end up entailing a complete redesign.

But this isn't the problem it appears. All it means is that, for a tall person to avoid back pain in later life, it would help if they had larger back muscles. It doesn't mean that tall people are instantly completely unviable. It does mean that humans are not perfectly designed.

Which is an argument against a perfect designer. Which may be one reason why this argument is currently unfashionable.

Evolution is true. By this I mean: There is a staggering ammount of evidence for it, no body of evidence against it, and no competing theories whatsoever - aside from "God did it".

There are of course details still being worked out, as with any science. And creationists love to point out these areas as "flaws" in the theory, but strangely never do the same for theology.

There are differences in emphasis between different thinkers. Richard Dawkins concerns himself with the evolution of DNA, regarding the animals and plants they code for as mere containers, and the species they belong to as part of genealogy. Stephen Jay Gould took the opposite view, that species evolve, individuals are the units that reproduce to allow this, and genes are the physical substrate. Darwin himself was in the middle, regarding individual acts of procreation as the site of evolutionary change.

There is also the debate over Punctuated Equilibrium, which is another difference of emphasis - does evolution occur for the most part slowly and steadily, or are species stimulated into a mad rush of rapid risky adaptation by environmental disasters and sudden change. Both modes occur, but which is the more common?

Again, creationists like to portray a developing science as a nonscience, as though a theory is only respectable when there are no more questions to answer. If that were the case, there would be no respectable sciences in the world ever.

But the creationism debate isn't just about the details of Darwin's theory. Just as fighting holocaust denial isn't just about historical accuracy.

Creationism is part of a broad attack on the values of independant thought, rational debate, and skepticism in the true sense of the opposite of gullibility. And whenever a set of values is being attacked, it's because the attackers want to replace them with another set of values.

It's about the surpression of dissent, and the rise of authority as the only arbiter of truth. Not just in distant matters of religion and science, but in personal morality, political power, and the maintainance of empire.

Hang on a Moment

I'm back from 3 hot and stressful days in London. The play was a success but I don't want to be an actor again soon. I made handwritten notes but there's no time to transcribe them yet. I need to prepare for the Sunday forum presentation on Darwinism and Creationism, and before that I need a good night's sleep because I'm too tired to prepare now.

So, when my schedule stops being hectic, which is hopefully Sunday night, I can begin catching up with the blog, as well as work on music, writing and dozens of little domestic chores. See you then.