Archive | July, 2012
Aside

My Lasting Memory of the #Olympic Opening Ceremony

29 Jul

It won’t be Danny Boyles amazing spectacle charting British history or Daniel Craig’s James Bond collecting the Queen or Rowan Atkinson doing Chariots of Fire; not even the replica of Glastonbury Tor being used to hold the flags that I’ll remember most about the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympics.

No all of this will fade in time,, but there is one piece of footage that I fear will not fade. OIt’s a tiny piece of footage compared to the whole spectacle of the opening ceremony, but it made me cry my eyes out:

Please watch the above video of Muhammad Ali. I need your help…

I need to know whether you think the man in that footage is in control of his faculties, ie is he aware of himself and his environment? This is important

Having watched the video numerous times myself and, while no expert, I’m not entirely convinced Muhammad Ali would be declared mentally competent to make decisions for himself.

I sincerely hope that my eyes deceive me, my gut is wrong and Ali is still sound enough of mind to make decisions for himself. I sincerely hope that he used his intact mental capacity to choose to attend the Olympics opening…the alternative to this would be horrific.

The only real alternative would be: Muhammad Ali is no longer capable of making decisions for himself and someone holds a Power of Attourney agreement to make decisions on his behalf. If this was the case, it’s hard to argue that accepting an invitation to take part in the Olympic opening ceremony on behalf of a man in the late stages of Parkinson’s Disease, would ever be deemed in the best interests of that individual. Unless I’m missing something, this would be exploitative, both morally and ethically bereft.

Based solely on appearances it seems to me that these are reasonable questions to be asking. It’s not about it being Muhammad Ali, it’s about a vulnerable man of 70 with advanced stage Parkinson’s and whether his interests are being correctly safeguarded and his dignity maintained.

Luckily there has at least been one Journalist who seems to have met Ali a few days before the opening ceremony.That journalist is Paul Hayward, Chief Sports Editor for The Telegraph His piece uses this video as proof of the point that ‘Muhammad Ali’s electrifying aura whips up an Olympic frenzy at awards ceremony’. You must draw your own conclusions on whether the footage demonstrates that.

Even Hayward admits in the article that: ‘A hand lifted to acknowledge the adulation of a London crowd was Muhammad Ali’s only physical contribution,’ Telegraph Source.

I have more questions than answers.

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Aside

Message to #Olympic Nations and World

28 Jul

I have yet to remember the name of the country, but I recall a BBC commentator say that a small country had halted it’s raging civil war for 16 days while the games are played out. There is something surreal about pausing a war. What a wonderfully curious species we are, but it got me thinking…

You remember that moment when representatives from pretty much every country on our entire planet were standing together and no one got stabbed, blown up, raped or tortured?

Yeah, it needs to be like that from now on.

Those Guns, Bombs and other kill kill death things you’ve so ingeniously created to kill enemies real, perceived or otherwise, you don’t need them. They’re Ours now. That war your currently enjoying, sorry to give ending away but here it is: loads of people die, infrastructures get fucked and things are bad. Eventually the right people realise that things were better before all the death and stuff. So it’s quite simple, unless yours is definitely the first war that will solve things that talking wouldn’t, then stop. Stop now, your guns have a better use.

Your armouries are made of metal, metal is finite. As you no longer need to blow the fuck out of each other, then we need metal, lots of it and cooperation. We’re going to sort this stuff out, all of it and build a spaceship together.

Or not

It is our choice, but the alternative to our crazy spaceship is that we’ll continue to destroy each other and the environment. We will fail as a species and you will die here.

Music to F**k to (Or Paul’s Rough Guide to Tricky)

26 Jul

I enjoy a lot of different music, but there are some artists and albums that I’ll always come back to. Tricky is most definitely one of these. I was first introduced to Tricky by my dear friend Will Snow, whilst we were at university and I’ve been a fanatic follower ever since (of Tricky not Will, the judges restraining order put paid to that). Actually, I just wrote that because it sounded funny, not sure (for legal reasons) I’ve been a fanatic follower of anything, but Tricky has always struck me as one of the most diverse and interesting characters kicking around the music industry over the last few decades.

Tricky is Bristol Born, though now LA-based, musician Adrian Thaws. He is often credited, along with Portishead, as being the founder of the Trip-hop genre of music to come out of Bristol in the 1990s. Tricky was part of the original Massive Attack line-up, under the name Tricky Kid, before leaving the group to release his first solo album, Maxinquaye, with vocalist and love interest, Martina Topley-Bird. Since that point, Tricky has released 9 studio albums and collaborated with a diverse range of artists from Nelly Furtado and Paul Oakenfold to the Red Hot Chilli Peppers and Alanis Morissette. Randomly, he also appears in Paul Verhoeven’s The Fifth Element, a cameo almost as strange as his appearance on stage with Beyonce at her 2011 Glastonbury headline slot (not sure how/why that happened).

As for the name of this post? I was once drunk (I’m a liar, it’s been more than once) and asked by companions to describe the type of music that Tricky was. In one of my less articulate moments and without thought, my answer: it’s like, music to fuck to.

It’s kinda apt and it stuck. So, here’s my rough guide to Tricky and 10 tracks:

1995-98 The Martina Years

A lot of Tricky’s sexiest and by far the best music comes from this period. Maxinquaye (1995) Nearly God (1996) Pre-Millennial Tension (1996) and Angels with Dirty Faces (1998) can be listened to, in part, as an intimate account of the turbulent relationship between Tricky and Martina, which lurches from deep, soul-quenching satisfaction to icy contempt and hatred.

Martina Topley-Bird has one of the most outstanding voices I have ever heard, a haunting mix of scary strength and broken vulnerability. More often than not it is Martina who does the singing, while Tricky’s voice skulks in the background of tracks, gutturally growling the same words as Martina, but a moment out-of-time. The title of the first track that I’m going to share kinda speaks for itself, from Maxinquaye, Suffocated Love:

Also taken from Maxinquaye, Abbaon Fat Tracks, which contains the somewhat sinister lyrics: ‘I fuck you in the ass, just for a laugh/
With the quick speed, I’ll make your nose bleed’

Taken from Nearly God, You promised me ‘Poems’:

Taken from pre-millennial Tension, Makes Me Wanna Die is one of the most unsettling and yet beautiful songs that I have ever heard. At it’s core, it is simply Martina singing Tricky’s deepest and darkest feelings about her. There is no way you can tell that story and it sound anything other than horrific and it is, in a way, listening to it is uncomfortably voyeuristic but it still feels…Romantic and filled with longing:

From 1998’s Angel with Dirty Faces, the last studio album that Tricky worked on with Martina, the track Talk to Me (Angels with Dirty Faces). Interesting as Tricky’s and Martina’s vocals seem a lot more fragmented, mirroring the distance growing between them in reality, but this track is no less full of longing and lust:

1999 – Present: Post Martina Years

It can hardly come as much of a surprise that Tricky and Martina eventually parted company, both professionally and personally. Initially, music journalists were keen to write Tricky off, reasoning that they had always seen Tricky as a duo with Martina and no more Martina could only mean no more Tricky. This was not the case and in 1999, with relative unknown female vocalist Kioka Williams in tow, Tricky released his fifth studio album Juxtapose with credit to DJ Muggs and Grease.

Since juxtapose, tricky has found several other female muses for his dark love poems and released Blowback (2001), Vulnerable (2003), Knowle West Boy (2008) and Mixed Race (2010). While his output has continued to be adept, sexy, diverse and interesting, later offerings have fallen just short of earlier work featuring Martina Topley-Bird’s Vocals.

Here are some of my favourites:

If ever I accidentally pull my headphone jack out of my phone during my commute, treating my fellow bus passengers to my music, you can guarantee this track is playing. Very, very rude and best described as a 16 year adolescent’s fantasy, taken from Juxtapose, I like the Girls:

By Tricky’s standards, Blowback (2001) was intended to be a much happier album and it was hoped, thanks to some rather impressive collaborations and a more upbeat tone, it would get both more airtime and chart higher than his previous albums…it did not, but still has some brilliant track on it, my favourite being Evolution, Revolution Love:

In 2003, Tricky released Vulnerable which was titled such, by his own admission, because ‘it’s my most honest and open record. On this album, I’ve stopped hiding, and I’m allowing people to see different sides of the real me.’ Vocals throughout are provided by Italian Singer Costanza Francavilla, a long time fan of Tricky who approached the singer after a gig in Rome. Vulnerable remains one of my favourite albums and doesn’t contain anything that could reasonably be described as filler. My two favourite tracks, however are the cover of The Cure’s Lovecats, which Tricky skillfully makes sexier than the original and this track – Wait for God:

Tricky’s collaboration with Costanza only lasted for a single album and 2008’s Knowle West Boy was notable for not having the strong reliance on a female vocalist. The track Puppy Toy, the third single from the album, is pure sex-on-toast:

Tricky’s latest album, Mixed Race (2010), for this fan, is as close as Tricky has come to the sheer brilliance of Maxinquaye. Once again, there is no featured female vocalist; Tricky is fully out from the shadows, where he has lurked and stalked, for so many of his albums. My final track to share is Come to Me:

Listen to some more of my thoughts on music and the evocation of memory.

Well if you don’t like these thoughts, stick around, I have others.

My dirty little secret…

17 Jul

No, not that…

This:

If you added together the time played on each of my multiple World of Warcraft (WoW) characters, it would total more than 230 days…

There, I said it.

If ever there was a number not to be proud of, it’s that. Of my 30 years of life, over half a year of precious time was spent immersed in a virtual world of Dragons, Giants and eternal wars. Here are three random things I learned playing WoW:

  • Getting 40 normal people to do anything that requires any form of simultaneous, strategic coordination is next to impossible.
  • Guilds, the player-led social organisations within the game, are inevitably torn apart by raging and conflicting egos, petty politics and in-fighting; and
  • Somehow, the evil geniuses at Blizzard had managed to digitise crystal meth and have it delivered on the back of Photons directly to the eyeballs.

So there it is, my dirty little secret, I love games and have done since my very first Commodore Amiga. I keep thinking that maybe I’ll grow out of it but it doesn’t look likely. I imagine, if you combine the times I’ve spent playing other games (most recently Skyrim) I would bet the 230 days starts to look more like a year, perhaps even more. So, so proud…

I’ve reviewed some games for the Fortean Times and here are a sample:

Fortean Times: Darkness Within 2 Review

Fortean Times: World of Warcraft – Wrath of the Lich King Review

Fortean Times: Jade Empire Review

Happy to review more XBox 360 titles if anyone wants to send me any to review, at least you know I’ll put the hours in.

Here’s the definition of shameless self-promotion.

For anyone wondering: my main character was Foxenigma, Night Elf Warrior, on Arathor EU Server. I was in thr Guilds The Murder of Crows, The Brotherhood of Steel amd Azeroth’s Paradox.

What I believe: On Religion

14 Jul

I will not pull any punches with this post nor will I apologise if it causes offence. I often find myself amused by how angry religious people get about their religion being criticised and how little such people actually understand the concept of faith.

What do I mean?

If you believe in something , have faith that it exists and someone tells you that you’re wrong, you won’t get angry, right? Because you know they’re wrong. If any part of this post angers you, perhaps you should question the strength of your faith and if your anger stems from that little voice in your head that is hidden beneath all the dogma, that whispers doubt. I would never seek to take away a person’s right to believe whatever they want to believe and if your faith is strong enough then not a single word I write should be able to take that away.

I was raised Church of England by my parents and used to attend Church. From quite an early age, I remember worship left me cold, I felt nothing but a guilt that I was doing something wrong. I’d look round our old, beautiful village Church to see the faces of people enthralled with faith and I was envious. I’m not envious any more and I’m certainly not Church of England.

Then What am I? Muslim? Hindu? Atheist? Agnostic? The truth is: I just don’t know. I think it’s okay not to know. I do know that I believe in science and I believe in people, their capacity to make links with others in ways that we are only just coming to understand and I believe in a connectedness with the natural world around us. I’m not an atheist I don’t think, at least not by most definitions, I guess if forced at gunpoint to pick something to believe in (should you ever find yourself in this situation, here’s a handy flowchart to Pick a Religion), it would be an adapted form of Paganism.

But organised religion has long fascinated me.

Religion is insane

There’s no getting away from it.

Religion is insane.

If ever there was a task with zero return on the amount of time invested in it, it’s religious observance. But not only that, in order to fully utilise this zero return on investment, you have to accept things, that you know are categorically not true, are actually truths. Oh and you can’t pretend, you truly have to believe the lot, because otherwise the unseen bearded sky fairy will judge you harshly…it’s called faith, it allows you to do and say stupid things and treat other people with a heady mix of condescension, contempt and, often, just good old fashioned violence. Here are some crazy things you have to believe (and do) to have a faith:

  • God(s) exist (Religions mostly rely on some form of bearded sky fairy…In my honest opinion, of those religions widely practiced, Hinduism has the best Gods.)
  • Homophobia is not only acceptable it’s to be encouraged (Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism etc)
  • Women should be subservient to men (largely all Western Religions)
  • The earth is only a fraction (14 000 years old based on the Bible) of it’s actual age (Most creator myths have flawed timescales, none more so than the Bible).
  • There are minor God’s who reign over things like household chores (Hinduism).
  • The souls of vaporised Thetans, who once inhabited our planet, are bound to the souls of all humans living (Church of Scientology)
  • Joseph Smith is a prophet (Mormons – Seriously, watch the South Park episode on the Mormons, it’s a work of genius. Jo Smith gives us all hope that anyone can end up getting revered as a prophet.)

Irony car haz ironyz

Religious people do not get irony. I recently witnessed people with strong Catholic beliefs criticising the beliefs of Scientology because they were ‘crazy and far-fetched’ and, best yet, that ‘Scientology causes more harm than it does good’…I’m not sure another better definition of irony exists than either of those statements. Simply because your particular brand of crazy has a longer history than  another, doesn’t make it any the less batshit crazy. Let’s not even get started on the numerous vile abuses by the Catholic Church over centuries that make most of the quite-frankly sinister goings on in the church of Scientology seem like high-jinx.

Religions biggest crime

I’m not going to claim that religion starts all wars, it contributes to many, sure, but we’ve never needed much help. Take away religion and war will remain, the study of history is the study of a species constantly evolving new and varied ways of bashing the shit out of itself and every thing else around.  No, for me religion’s biggest crime is keeping people stupid. Though it claims to provide answers religion offers nothing in the way of truth. Richard Dawkins refers to a reliance upon a ‘God of Gaps.’ For the religious mind, God, their great deity, exists in the gaps in our current understanding of the universe, but those gaps are closing.

It’s totally impossible to write this post without mentioning Richard Dawkins’ most controversial work, The God Delusion. It;s heavy-handed and patronising in parts, but remains a work of brilliance in explaining, in eye-searingly exhaustive length, why religion is dumb and God almost certainly does not exist. Richard Dawkins is almost definitely right, I find him an objectionable little man,  but he is right. His writing style has always struck me as being much like the Big Labowski’s Walter:

“Am I wrong, am I wrong?”

“No Walter, you’re not wrong, you’re just an asshole!”

So, I highly recommend reading The God Delusion and many of Dawkins’ other works, being a bit of a dick doesn’t necessarily make you wrong. I find commonality with him in the belief that the natural world, evolution and biology are wondrous enough to not require bearded sky fairy God to add extra wonder to my life. Go outside and look at the intricacies of a flower; think about the complex social interactions that make up our daily life; the way a squirrel walks across a razor thin fence; the giant cock of a Sperm Whale; the hive minds of ants and bees…Wonders and there’s no need for God.

In slight defence of religion

I’ll never allow myself to be fully critical of religion, I’ve seen it’s power at work, first hand I’ve seen a benefit. My Mum faced death and was empowered by her religion, was not afraid. My Mum truly believed her God had designs for her and her illness and passing were part of his plan. Now, I might have my opinions about that, in fact I entirely disagree, but I could not have taken that belief away from her, it goes back to that point I made at the beginning: if your faith is strong enough, then it is armour to protect you from my words. But if I could have taken her faith away, I truly believe she would not have faced her death with such humour and grace.

We probably need religion

It’s always been with us since the earliest Hunter Gatherers started forming complex societies, Göbekli Tepe, built in Northern Turkey, some 11, 000 years ago was largely built for ritual and religious use and on to the present day. So often throughout history,  the temples come before the city; religion, worship and bearded sky fairies of one brand or another have been here a long, it’s unlikely they’re going anywhere soon. Perhaps it is true as some have argued, we have a need for religion, as a species, not because it gives us senses of ethics or morality, but because it does something else. Logic dictates it must have a benefit to us as a species otherwise it would be unlikely so many would have devoted so much of their time to it, whilst ignoring a lot of serious flaws in the dogma.

Many writers on futurism don’t see a future without religion or belief, in fact many see a return to more Paganistic or even Shamanistic belief as a response to the increased reliance on technology, including the widespread genetic and technological augmentations that is predicted. So while belief in, broadly-defined, greater powers may not go away, most futurists seem to agree the future for oppressive bearded sky fairies is unlikely the last, in anything more than small pockets, for more than the next 100 years.

I’m going to write two more posts similar to this On Science and On Magic.

If nothing else take away this final thought from my post:

You know the drill, if you don’t like these Thoughts, stick around, I’ve got plenty of others. x

Further Reading

Richard Dawkins – The God Delusion

Richard Dawkins – The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution.

Alaine De Botton – Religion for Atheists

Christian Post – Atheist Alain de Botton Insists Society Needs Guidance From Religion

Scott Adams – God’s Debris (Free PDF copy)

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