Sunday, 30 August 2009

And now for something completely different 3

The third instalment of that story thing I posted a while back. Parts one and two can be found here and here. This may be the last you see of this in a while because I haven't written any more of it so another instalment would require me to do some work and I'd rather not do that. The reasons I'm not doing a normal blog this week are twofold; lack of anything interesting going on in either my life or the world at large, and a filthy cold which has robbed me of any inspiration.
It is odd how, when you take away someone’s face, they do not loose their individuality. Rather than use someone’s face as an identifying feature, you use certain mannerisms of theirs; the way they walk for example, or the way they hold themselves. Not only can you distinguish between people by noticing these things, you get in an insight into their character as well. When you also remove people’s names, these mannerisms become an essential way of recognising someone and then identifying them. We identify each other not by names; we cannot know each others names, but by nicknames which reflect our character. For the record I myself have earned the nickname ‘The Writer’ for obvious reasons.

It is, however, the consequences of this loss if identity that I have been contemplating and I wanted to get my thoughts down on paper. You see, the beauty of our rebellion is that it is entirely leaderless, entirely faceless and entirely nameless, it does not even have a voice, this is because none of us have faces, or names, or leaders. Superficially the Scotsman – for that is what everyone calls him – coordinates everything, but were he to die tomorrow another would merely take on his mantle. As a consequence of our lack of an identity, the government, our chief enemy, has not face, no name and no leader to attack. They cannot launch a propaganda war against us because they have nothing to launch it against. All they have is actions. No words, no face, no name, just actions. They can call down our actions, condemn them, denounce them over the radio and television directly into people’s homes, but with no name, or face, or slogans to relate it too, their rantings are almost entirely useless.

This is why we will always exist; because they cannot target us directly and because there will always be people sympathetic to our cause – there are always people who will stand up for what is right – we will always exist. Even if we are not coherent, even if we exist in different places across the globe we will always exist. We exist, not as an organisation with a name and a face and a slogan, but in the hearts and minds of all men, women and children who dream of freedom. We have always existed, ever since man has sought to suppress its fellow man; the flame of freedom had fought back as viciously as we fight back now. We are just this generation’s version of a movement that has been in existence for thousands of years.

I have been scratching hard into the paper with my rather cheap biro for the last two paragraphs so I ought to stop before I tear this page in half with my pen strokes. I am almost embarrassed at the viciousness with which I attacked my page just now but I suppose that is why I am writing this in the first place: ‘to vent’ as I told that most pleasant American the other day. Had I been feeling more sentimental I would have told her that I was writing this so that future generations could understand out struggle, and I guess, being either a government official about to feed this too the fire or one of those future generations, that you had assumed the same. I was not feeling sentimental a few days ago and I don’t feel sentimental now – I do not have the luxury of being sentimental.

The Writer put his book down and leant back, resting his head on the cold brickwork of the sewer wall. The wall curved upwards, making his head lean forwards slightly. He could feel the slimy texture of the pathetic excuse for plant life which grew on the walls, wallowing in the damp, dimly lit atmosphere of the rebel hideout.

He looked round the anonymous part of tunnel in which he sat, in the shadows several of the rebels sat, some doing various jobs, others simply sitting, watching. Several watched the Writer, their attention now wavering given that he had closed the small, tatty black notepad which he so closely guarded. The Balaklava hid the Writer’s smile.

It is slightly disconcerting when you stop what you are doing and look round at other people; at least half of the people present are watching you. Just sitting amid the grime and stagnant water, the dim lights that hang precariously along the roof of the tunnel barely illuminating them, watching. They sit in the shadows; the intensity of their faceless stare turns my skin cold. The most worrying thing is when you catch yourself doing it.

I suppose the most reasonable explanation is a mix between curiosity and boredom, but sometimes I get the feeling it’s more than that. The thing you most notice most when people do watch is the balaclava; after the first few days you get used to people wearing them, but when you see two or three people in balaclavas watching you it sends a shiver down your spine. They look like something out of a horror film; their faces eaten by the darkness, made expressionless by the tool of our anonymity. The way they watch you is the worst part; when you haven’t got a balaclava on, you use sidelong glances, you watch for short periods, averting your eyes when the subject moves his or her head slightly, trying to avoid being seen to be watching. When wearing a balaclava you just watch, protected by the facelessness.

“Can I read it?” The Writer was cut off by a voice piercing the silent air; it was the American woman, who had been nicknamed ‘The Hacker’ for obvious reasons.

“Sorry, it’s sort of private.” There was the vaguest hint of an apology in his voice.

The Writer bent down to put pen to paper again but he was interrupted once more. “What are you writing about?” she was sitting beside him now. He closed the book.

The Writer sighed. “Waffle mostly, I’ve sort of run out of steam.” He signed.

“You seem like quite an educated guy,” The Writer turned his head towards her. “Did you go to college?”

The Writer smiled. “Yeah, I went to Bristol, to study history,”

She mused for a moment. “I’ve never understood history, why study what is in the past? I mean, it’s happened, right? Why does it matter?”

The Writer paused for thought, trying to put into words the answer to her searching question. The existential question that had long plagued him through long nights of futile study in his tiny university room.

Finally he spoke in an overconfident tone, as though he was trying to convince himself as much as anyone else. “People are all fundamentally the same; they respond to the same stimulus, respond the same way to certain actions. With an acute knowledge of history we can help predict the results of certain decisions and hopefully prevent past mistakes.”

“But it didn’t help this time, I mean, we’re still in the mess we’re in. History didn’t help here.”

“That’s because it never had the chance. The government refused to listen to people who warned against what they were doing; instead they threw them in prison. Many of them are now tasked with rewriting history so that it conforms to the government’s ideals.” He paused and there was a contemplative silence. “’Whoever controls the present, controls the past, whoever controls the past controls the future.’” The Writer quoted.


“You’ve read it?” the Writer sounded bemused.

“Yeah, I hated it; it was so depressing! I read for enjoyment and I just can’t enjoy something which is so downbeat.”

The Writer chuckled. “That’s not the point.” There was silence once more.

The Writer checked his wristwatch. “I’d better go; duty calls.” She nodded and he rose to leave.

As he was waking down the tunnel to wherever duty called, she called out to him; “Hey!” the Writer turned to her. “What’s your name?”

The Writer smiled, turned and walked away.

Sunday, 23 August 2009


For a while now I’ve been reading this blog on the internet. It updates every Saturday (most of the time, although he has been known to be a little late and even not show up on occasion). It’s written by a guy in his late teens from what I can gather and yesterday marked its one year anniversary. While it’s predominantly a current affairs blog, he also does reviews of various different media, relates ‘interesting’ anecdotes from his personal life, occasionally writes fiction and showers his readers with photos from the obscene number of holidays he goes on (three in the last 12 months).

As I said his mainstay is current affairs and in the last year he’s rambled and ranted about news ranging from the benign, such as people who think the earth is flat, to the magnanimous, such as the MP expenses scandal. Despite this range he always manages to keep the same tone of not quite taking it seriously, which sometimes affects the quality of his analysis. He does occasionally make some quite telling points, although this is more likely to be sheer fluke given the general tone. He has an annoying habit of segwaying from everything to one of his personal pet topics, such as human rights, the role of government and nationalism. At times this feels father forced and gets tiresome. He also has a tendency to philosophise about even the most unphilosophical matters, leading him to over-think things a lot of the time. However, despite their shortcomings, his entries about current affairs are usually fairly entertaining, if lacking any serious journalistic credentials.

Over the last year he has also done a grand total of ten reviews, half of them about movies, one about a TV series, two about the very same videogame, one about a different videogame and one about an album. In terms of movies he reviewed The Dark Knight, The Quantum of Solace, Australia, Twilight and the Patriot; well to be fair he didn’t do a full review of the Patriot, instead he segwayed onto nationalism, again. Most of his film reviews are fairly decent, although pretty safe; he doesn’t exactly break new ground with what he says. He has a tendency to be a tad inconsistent; he always complains about length, whether a film is too long or too short. He can’t seem to decide whether a film should be short or long and it gets very irritating. His analysis is always very critical, while he often has a point; there is always the feeling that he’s being rather harsh, maybe he thinks being mean is funny. Being mean isn’t funny kids. Don’t be a dick. His reviews of video games are rather limited due to the fact that he clearly doesn’t play many games. Nevertheless his two reviews of Empire Total War were not too bad, mostly because he hid them amid some other stuff which made the entries bearable. Overall his reviews are normally pretty entertaining, if somewhat lacking on occasion. Still the reviews are on the whole better than the current affairs stuff, but maybe that’s because he doesn’t do so many of them.

He’s clearly a fan of music; as well as reviewing Guns ‘n’ Roses (badly) he often recommends various bands that he’s discovered over the last year, in fact one of these seemingly innocent recommendations turned into a full on rant about indie music snobs which was actually pretty entertaining, if a little harsh at times. He has an annoying habit of doing that actually; half the time is feels like his entries have ended going where even he did not intent them to, leading to the writing at time feeling rambling and rather disorganised.

Very occasionally, something happens in the life of our little blogger nerd that he feels he should tell us. Thankfully this has only happened a couple of times because they’re normally not very interesting. In fact half the time it feels like he just wants to laud what he’s done over us, for example he keeps bringing up the fact that he went to the download festival last year, as if that makes him special, the smug git. He also does this whenever he goes on holiday; for some reason he’s got it into his head that we want to see his holiday photos so insists on showing them to us. Annoyingly he also seems to go on lot of holidays; Austria, Japan and Madeira in the last year alone. You get the feeling that he’s just showing off.

So all in all it’s pretty entertaining, if a little inconsistent; at times it seem to take itself too seriously, and at times it doesn’t take itself seriously enough. The writer is clearly pretty intelligent and equally arrogant. He has a tendency to try a little too hard to be funny and ends up just being silly; I mean he even did one entry which was an entirely self-referential review of his own blog. I mean what the hell?

Anyway, I need to go buy myself a new fourth wall, so I’ll just finish by saying thanks for reading all year, I hope you had as much fun as I did. Here’s to as many years as I can be bothered to do this. Personally I’m surprised I’ve kept it going this long.

Sunday, 16 August 2009

Banning the burka

In an interview with the Financial Times today the French Urban Regeneration Minister Fadela Amara urged the banning of the burka (a type of Muslim headdress which covers the entire face, leaving only a slit for the eyes), saying that it represented “the oppression of women”. These comments come at a time when a commission has been set up in France to look into whether the burka should be banned or not. Ms Amara (who is an Algerian) argues that the burka represents “the political manipulation of a religion that enslaves women and disputes the principal of equality between men and women”. In effect she is saying that the French government should forcibly remove this symbol.

However the burka is just that; a symbol. Covering up ones face does not, in itself, imply enslavement. The burka is the symptom of the real problem, removing it will solve nothing. If the French government wants to prevent the oppression of women it needs to go far further than banning a piece of clothing. While it may represent something, in reality it is just a piece of fabric. Simply banning the burka will do nothing to prevent women from being oppressed. Essentially President Sarkozy, in pushing for this ban, is making himself look like a hard line politician willing to do bold things to solve endemic problems. It is all elaborate shadow play; in reality he is doing nothing to solve the problem, he is simply removing one of the major symptoms of it, making it look like the problem has gone away when it hasn’t

I do not doubt the claim that, in many cases, women are forced to wear the burka and I do not dispute the claim that this is immoral. However there are women who wear the burka out of choice; to ban it would be an affront to their freedom, the very thing that is supposedly be protected by this proposal. It would be akin to banning the wearing of a Christian crucifix. While the burka is not an item of clothing specifically Muslim (it actually predated Islam quite considerably), it has become synonymous with extreme Islamist regime, most notoriously the Taliban in Afghanistan, who required women to wear the burka. There is some grounding for the wearing of a Burka in the Quran; it says that both men and women should dress modestly, but does not specifically mention the burka or any other variant on the headscarf typically worn by Muslim women. The Taliban’s forcing of women to wear the burka was of course absolutely immoral, however the question has to be asked; what is the difference between forcing women to wear the burka and forcing them not to?

The French government claims that this will make women more free. However this belies a complete misunderstanding of the concept of freedom; freedom is a mindset, just having the rights to do something does not mean that people will embrace the. By forcing them not to wear the burka, the French government are trying to force women to be free. Freedom is defined as being without compulsion, so forcing or compelling one to be free is inherently paradoxical. In a seemingly innocent act intended to be against the oppression of women, the French government is trying to square a circle, it will simply solve nothing.

However the problem with the French proposal runs deeper than the paradox of forcing freedom on people, or failing to get to the heart of the issue, if they ban the burka the French government will go against the single purpose of government; the protection of its citizen’s rights to life, liberty and property. All humans have a fundamental right to do what he or she desires so long as it does not infringe upon the rights of others, that is to say we all have the right to say, think, do, wear, eat, drink and write whatever we want. So long as we do not prevent others from doing what they want, the government has no right to stop us. Any attempt to forcibly impose a standard of decency completely goes again the principles of government. So whether it is banning so called ‘hate speech’ or preventing women from wearing the burka, the government is acting not as the representatives of the people, protecting their rights, but as a dictator imposing arbitrary standards on its citizens. The French proposal to ban the burka is symptomatic of what is fundamentally wrong with governments the world over; it is impeding, rather than protecting our basic rights.

So Ms Amara may be right that the burka represents “the oppression of women”, but so, paradoxically, does the proposal to ban it. If the French government wants to stop the oppression of women it needs to do just that; stop the oppression of women, directly and without compromise, rather than simply engaging on political shadow play to make it look hard line. It is the duty of the French government, and all governments around the world, to protect its citizen’s rights, rather than further oppressing them.

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Holiday Schnapps

Oh look a late blog...

Yes it's that time again. Having returned from yet another holiday, that third I think since I stared this thing, almost a year ago actually which is pretty mind boggling, it's time for more holiday snaps. And yes this is late because I have better things to do in the last few days of my holiday that compile a blog of photos.

This time my destination was Madeira, a small Portuguese island off the west coast of Africa. It's not particularly exciting to be honest, but my parent like it enough to keep going back so there we go. Anyway, without further ado, some photos.We went to some botanical gardens, which were actually pretty nice. My camera can take the credit for this next one though, I really was not expecting this one to come out as well as it did.

Oh look, a nice house with a lake and a waterfall and some other random stuff... well I liked it

I don't know why these guys were even here to be honest, maybe they got lost on the way to the British Museum. They're terracotta warriors, from the tomb of the First Chinese Emperor; the British Museum did an exhibition of them a while ago, in case you didn’t get that joke. Obviously these guys aren't the real thing, just mock-ups, pretty well done though. I'm still unsure as to what they were doing in a botanical garden in Madeira

More nice flowers, well done again to my camera, I really can't take the credit for it.

My parents really like walking and they dragged me along on a couple of them.

unfortunately it was pretty hard to tkae photos becuase of the haze and the shadows making for very uneaven light and washed out photos. Nevertheless I think I got some decent photos to give you an idea of the truely amazing scenery.

As i'm sure you can see we were above the level of the clouds, which made for some pretty spectacular views.

Unfortunately the clounds closed in on the second walk, so I couldn't get many good photos, which was a shame because I'm sure the view would have been lovely.

Well that's about all I can be bothered for now, next Saturday, normal services resume, probably.

Sunday, 2 August 2009

And now for something completely different 2

Due to the fact that I'm currently sunning myself in beautiful Maderia (with my laptop close by of course) I have no inclination to write a proper entry this week. Instead i present to you the second part of this little story, the first part of which I posted a couple of weeks ago. Un fortunately I really dislike this little bit and despite rewriting whole chunks of it i'm still not particularly happy with it.

Contrary to cliché killing is no easier second time round. While the situation may be more comfortable; the Scotsman was disturbingly professional, the horror of robbing a man of his life, no matter how much he deserves it, is always profoundly horrific. While the adrenaline may override sensibilities in favour of instinct, as soon as it is out of your bloodstream the true implications of your actions hit with the force of a high speed train. While I am certain that I am doing the right thing, I cannot get over the horror of killing, no matter how justifiable.

Our victim this time, although victim is not the right word; victim implies innocence and the man we killed was far from innocent, was relatively senior within the government; more so than the first that I killed. He took the same route home every day so planning the attack was easy. The choice of location was not very different from the scene of my first murder; dirt and grime covered the walls and litter was strewn across the street. I could hear the barking of dogs in the distance above the drone of cars. The only thing in the entire street which carried any semblance of modernity was the security camera, perched in the corner of a building, painfully out of place in the dingy street.

I waited for what seemed like forever in the entrance of a long abandoned house before the man walked past, wearing a smart, but well-worn suit and carrying a briefcase, slightly tattered, as though it had seen it’s best days; a perfect reflection of the neighbourhood. He walked quickly, apparently anxious to be home; perhaps he had a family waiting for him, kids waiting for daddy to come home so they could eat the meal lovingly prepared by a dedicated wife. I stepped out behind him and followed him, far enough not to attract attention, close enough not to loose him, I did not care that daddy wasn’t coming home tonight. When he reached the end of the street the Scotsman stepped out in front of him. Our target stopped dead. Although I could not see his face, it was clear from the way that his body stiffened that fear had him in an iron grip. He knew what was coming.

“I mean you no harm, I haven’t done anything, I swear!” he called out desperately, holding his hands up to protect himself from the Scotsman; he did not expect the crowbar to the back of the skull. He crumpled and fell to the ground. The blow had killed him instantly. The Scotsman slit his throat anyway, just to make sure. We did not speak as we returned to the tunnels

The woman walked up to the man writing the diary. Crouching beside him she spoke.

“I’ve been wondering ever since you started” she had an American accent, quite nasally; probably from the north east, maybe New York. “Why do you keep a diary?”

The man stopped writing and put the small book away. “It’s the first chance I’ve had to write for pleasure since all of this started.” He did not need to say what ‘all this’ was. She looked at him inquisitively so he went on; “I used to write, back when they didn’t read everything you wrote and check it for antigovernment propaganda.”

“Why did you stop?” Her voice rose, embracing the spirit of rebellion which lingered in the swears

“Fear. Fear that I would write something they didn’t approve of and get arrested. I wrote my opinion and when it became illegal to have an opinion unless it had been approved by the state I stopped writing.” The man sighed, lost for a moment in nostalgia of a better age.

“Did you ever have anything published?” Her question pierced his memories.

The man laughed. “I was never good enough for that, I didn’t want too anyway; I wrote for myself and I wanted to keep it that way.” There was a haunting pause. “How about you?” He spoke eventually, more out of desire for conversation than information “What did you used to do?”

“I used to write computer code, design websites, hack into places I shouldn’t hack into!” she accompanied the last few words with a chuckle of embarrassment.

The man smiled, but the balaclava masked it. “Criminal?” he asked jokingly.

“Nah, I didn’t used to do that kinda’ stuff, I wasn’t in it for the money, I just wanted to challenge myself, you know, I got a sense achievement from hacking stuff, as if I was beating the system. I had to stop when they started cracking down, they didn’t use to mind so long as you didn’t steal any information, but then they started caring and so I had to stop; I didn’t want to wind up in prison. When I joined the rebellion I stated trying to hack into the government’s system, trying to use my skills for something productive.”

“I’m afraid I can offer much assistance there; I’m useless with computers!” they both laughed at the poor joke, more out of formality than amusement.

There was a silence in which they both noticed the Scotsman watching them from a few metres away.

“You said you wrote reports, what did you used to do?” the woman reignited the conversation.

“I worked for a business; it was one of my jobs to write reports of our particular sector’s progress to the board, very boring, very technical. I hated it!” she laughed.

“I used to design websites for companies…” she paused for a moment, contemplating. “You said you were writing a diary because you had to stop writing once this all started, but why a diary in particular? Why not just write a novel; the same sort of thing that you used to write?”

The man stopped to think. “I needed somewhere to vent, somewhere to write down my thoughts, my…” he trailed off with a sigh. “I suppose I had to justify my actions to myself and try to get clear in my head exactly what had happened, and what is happening.” The conversation trailed off, the two masked figured sat, deep in thought.

Next week... holiday snaps, as usual