Monday, July 31, 2006
Sunday, July 30, 2006
I first encountered David Stuart Ryan in 1980 when I was fresh out of rehab and he used to run a weekly poetry venue by candle light in the gothic basement of the Troubadour Coffee House in Earls' Court, London.
Thanks to Ryan, the listings in Time Out used to bill me as "A Stormtrooper of the Mind." When the billing matter became, "Mike Burgess, humourist," I thought I had arrived. It was not easy getting my swollen head into the building for a Monday night reading.
For my own amusement, and probably nobody else's, I used to publically mock Ryan as a boring old hippy for his bongo rhythms and his reminiscences of the road to Kathmandu. I can still recite lines from his free-verse ballad about Dr. Death: so there's greatness in the work after all.
Our feud was always tongue-in-cheek. And I wish we were half as clever then as we thought we were.
Ryan gets the last laugh. He's punting out a bunch of books through his Web sites. He runs a nice little online horoscope business. And Dr. Death has not knocked on the door of 134 Elsenham Street even after all these years.
"One word we cannot use is good-bye..."
"For Cecile" — drum poem performance by David Stuart Ryan
Contact: Kozmik Press, 134 Elsenham Street, London SW18 5NP, UK
T: +44 20 8874 8218 F: +44 870 052 2265
The Cream of the Troubadour Coffee House
Saturday, July 29, 2006
Top Stories from AlterNet for July 29, 2006 The ‘Baby Bump’ is So Hot Right Now Readers Write: Who is the Real Hugo Chávez?
Ellen Goodman, Truthdig — In times of war, babies become the new bling.
Jan Frel, AlterNet — Did the CIA take over AlterNet? That is a question readers asked after reading two articles published about Venezuela president Hugo Chávez.
The ‘Baby Bump’ is So Hot Right Now
Readers Write: Who is the Real Hugo Chávez?
New at AlterNet Video:
Diane Wilson: bring the troops home, fast In conjunction with peace group Code Pink, Wilson has reached her 24th day of fasting — on nothing but water — to protest the war in Iraq.
AlterNet’s best stories of the week:
The Case for Breaking Up Wal-Mart
Barry C. Lynn, Harper’s — Wal-Mart’s massive growth has begun to disrupt America’s entire retail economy, forcing companies large and small to adapt to its ruthless practices if they want to do business. Is it time to bring in the government to break up the mega chain?
How Legalizing Drugs Will End the Violence
Norm Stamper, AlterNet — If Steven Soderbergh’s gritty 2000 film “Traffic” caused you to squirm in your seat, the real-life story of Mexican drug dealing is even more disquieting.
Who Must Really Answer for 9/11?
David Sirota, AlterNet — Republicans running for re-election believe the American public will swallow another batch of lies and distortions about 9/11 — but this time, Democrats are pushing back.
Corporate Media Censor Moveon
Joel Bleifuss, In These Times — In a new series of TV ads, MoveOn exposes GOP lawmakers’ fealty to the corporations that fund their campaigns. Now if only the stations would run them...
Donate: Visit https://www.alternet.org/donate/ to support AlterNet and independent journalism.
Monday, July 24, 2006
Composites eNews Publisher Steve Loud Dies, 65
Composites industry chronicler and advanced materials advocate Steve Loud, 65, of Solana Beach, Calif., died July 21, in Scripps Memorial Hospital, La Jolla. The cause of his death was the acute and incurable form of lung disease known as usual interstitial pneumonitis (UIP), which doctors diagnosed in early July, according to his wife, Susan.
Steve was born Stewart Loud in Detroit, Mich., Sept. 13, 1940. After he graduated from the University of Michigan with a business major, he spent more than 40 years in the polymer matrix composites industry, including 17 years in a variety of management and marketing positions with Owens Corning of Toledo, Ohio.
He and Susan lived in Solana Beach, Calif., for 24 years. In 1993, they established a business based on his knowledge of the industry, its issues and its players. Composites Worldwide Inc. and its Composites News International division published newsletters including the print Advanced Materials & Composites News and the online Composites eNews. Also, Steve provided consulting services and dispensed industry intelligence through seminars and other forums.
The Society for the Advancement of Material and Process Engineering of Covina, Calif., recognized Steve as a SAMPE fellow in 2002. It is no exaggeration to say he was widely respected and admired throughout the industry.
No services are planned.
Messages of condolence may be sent to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Filipino Family Day Makes a Splash
Ladies man Francis Florendo (9) wowed an adoring crowd when he sang at the ninth annual Filipino Family Day held at at Knott's Soak City, 2052 Entertainment Cir., Chula Vista, July 22. Already something of a seasoned performer, he won the grand championship in the San Diego County Fair Superstar Contest (Youth Division) but he isn't ready to give up his day job as a 3rd-grade student at Hedenkamp Elementary School, Chula Vista.
Another singing star was Chula Vista's gay mayor Steve Padilla (left), who sang a duet with Councilwoman Patty Chavez. Ever a passionate karaoke performer, Padilla's spirited interpretation of the Tom Jones classic, Delilah, at Dock's bar on Chula Vista's Third Avenue after a turbulent council meeting is legendary.
Nevertheless, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune, Padilla's "most egregious" act as mayor may have been the rushed and flawed process to fill a City Council vacancy by appointing Chavez. It was egregious because, in a city where appointees don't lose elections, the perceived goal was to deprive voters of having a choice November 2006.
Photos by Manny Ramirez
Wednesday, July 19, 2006
First Bush Veto Maintains Limits on Stem Cell Use
President Bush issued the first veto of his administration July 19, rejecting a bill that would have removed some restrictions on federal funding of embryonic stem cell research. The proposed legislation would have allowed funding of research conducted on surplus embryos generated by in vitro fertilization (IVF) procedures.
These surplus embryos — of which there are about 400,000 in the United States — are typically discarded as medical waste. Despite the fact that the Bush administration knowingly allows these surplus IVF embryos to be disposed of as rubbish, Bush defended his veto by characterizing the embryos as human beings, entitled to the same rights as other human beings.
In a rush vote that same day, the House of Representatives failed to override the President’s veto. The Bush ban on funding likely will remain in effect at least through the end of the year. However, similar legislation is likely to be introduced in the next Congress, especially if the composition of Congress changes substantially after the mid-term elections.
The Center for Inquiry (CFI) vigorously opposes Bush administration policy on this issue, which is as ill-advised as it is harmful. Embryonic stem cell research holds the promise of developing therapies that would help millions of Americans who suffer from debilitating illnesses, such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases, diabetes, heart disease, and spinal cord injury.
The lack of federal funding has significantly impeded the progress of this research. The arguments against federal funding of embryonic stem cell research are fundamentally flawed, both scientifically and morally, as the vast majority of Americans recognize.
Early in its development (when it exists as a blastocyst), the embryo is not an organized, determinate individual, as demonstrated by the fact that it can spontaneously separate into multiple parts (a phenomenon referred to as “twinning.”) An embryo that lacks the capacities and properties of human persons and also has no prospect of developing these capacities and properties — because it will not be implanted in a uterus — does not have the moral status of a human person. The Bush veto guarantees that existing blastocysts will simply be wasted, and immeasurable potential good resulting from the scientific research in which they could be used will be delayed or lost needlessly. The Bush policy on stem cell research demonstrates once again that slipshod science and misguided ethics combine to make bad policy.
CFI’s Washington, D. C. Office of Public Policy has prepared a white paper on embryonic stem cell research, analyzing in more detail the arguments for and against embryonic stem cell research:
Soak City, USA
Once again, it's time for family, friends and neighbors to join the Filipino community for a full day of fun, live music, arts and crafts, a martial arts demonstration, a raffle, a display of orchids, a variety of dance exhibitions and the search for Mr. Muscle and Miss Body Beautiful at Knott's Soak City, 2052 Entertainment Cir., Chula Vista, California, 91911, for the ninth annual Filipino Family Day from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sat. July 22. Phone: +1 (619) 661-7373.
Aerial photo taken by event photographer Manny Ramirez at the event this time last year.
Friday, July 14, 2006
A Wave of Sexual Terrorism in Iraq
Ruth Rosen, Tomdispatch.com Behind the rape and murder of an Iraqi girl and her family lies a far larger story of what’s happened to women in Iraq since they were ‘liberated’ by the Bush administration.
Female Soldiers Treated ‘Lower Than Dirt’
Rose Aguilar, AlterNet The case of Suzanne Swift reveals that women deployed in the Middle East are facing rape, abuse and sexual harassment — from their own comrades-in-arms.
Israel’s State-Sponsored Terrorism
Marwan Bishara, The Nation Israel’s offensive against the besieged territories — and now Lebanon — will only leave the region with more destruction, and the Israeli government with more deadlock.
VIDEO: Are Israel and Lebanon Heading for War?
Maybe — it’s the worst violence in 24 years.
L.A.’s Invisible Riders
Dan Koeppel, Bicycling For the hard-pedaling day laborers of Los Angeles, bicycling isn’t exercise, a hobby, or a statement. It’s a way to get to work — if there’s work to be found.
Real Christians Fight Intolerance
Rev. Jim Rigby, AlterNet A reverend declares that gay bashing is an attack on the gospel — and that real Christians don’t participate in any form of discrimination.
New in VIDEO: Daily Show Exposes Stevens’ Net Neutrality Expertise
Jon Stewart exposes Sen. Ted Stevens’ thorough knowledge of Internet freedom.
Letterman: Top 10 Chapter Titles in George W. Bush’s Memoirs
Letterman suggests some chapter titles for President Bush’s memoirs, including ‘The War in Iraq, a six-foot sandwich, and other things I started but couldn’t finish.’
New in PEEK: Valerie Plame filing ‘conspiracy’ suit against Cheney, Rove and Libby.
Fresh in THE MIX: Jan Frel on how the Cold Warriors almost managed to stomp Russia into the ground — but now the country looms mightily over Asia and Europe once again.
Donate: Visit https://www.alternet.org/donate/ to support AlterNet and independent journalism.
Sunday, July 09, 2006
During his UK-wide pub crawl, comedian Ian Marchant found a girl being attacked and decided to act
Great Driffield advertises itself as the Capital of the Wolds, and was once an important market town. The glory days of the 19th century when it was the fastest-growing town in the East Riding of Yorkshire have long gone, but the Bell is still a smart old coaching inn with comfortable rooms. Planning a quiet Sunday night, Perry and I ordered a bar meal, which was brought to us by Karen, receptionist, waitress and good egg. She was lovely, but the meal was horrible. The hotel manager, whose resemblance to Basil Fawlty almost scared us, sat at the back of the bar, reading the Sunday papers.
We asked Karen what the pubs in Driffield were like, and she recommended three: the Tiger, the Full Measure and the Star. We agreed that we would have a quiet half in each and set off round the mostly deserted town centre. The Tiger was empty. The landlord, having worked out that we were southerners, assured us that we would like his Sam Smith’s. “After all,” he said, “the beer down south is as flat as a fart.”
We each had a half of foamy northern beer before moving on to the Full Measure, which was full of schoolboys, actual schoolboys in their uniforms. Even my dad, when he ran a pub, drew the line at schoolchildren in uniform. These were not adults dressed up as kids for a “school disco night”; these were real kids, some of them no older than 14. They were drinking tequila shots and screaming at the solitary barmaid.
We downed our halves and crossed over the empty street towards the last pub on Karen’s list, the Star. But another 50 yards on, on the opposite side of the road, a lad was holding a girl by her neck against a large pair of double doors. She was screaming blue murder. An unwelcome realisation lurched inside my guts. There was nobody else about. This was down to us.
Perry said: “I suppose we’d better do something.”
“Yeah. I suppose so.”
She was a plump, short, pretty girl with bottle-blonde hair pulled back so tight she looked like a Hollywood actress of advancing years, victim of a dozen face-lifts. She could not have been more than 15 or 16, and she was screaming, crying, wailing at the top of her voice. The yoof, 18 or so, in regulation chav gear — tracksuit bottoms, hoody, baseball cap, low brow, bad teeth — had her gripped by the front of her top, his face an inch away from hers.
“Do you f*****’ ’ear me, you f*****’ slag? You f*****’ ’ore! Do you f*****’ ’ear me?? I’ll f*****’ twat yer, yer f*****’ slag!”
I didn’t want to do this. This wasn’t my job. Why was there nobody else to do this but us? But I knew it had to be done, and the closer we came, the calmer, the more in control of the situation I felt.
As I crossed over the street towards the couple, I called out to the girl: “Are you all right, love?”
“No,” she sobbed.
“F*** off!” said the yoof. He was very drunk.
“Would you like us to walk you up the road to the phone box, so you can phone your mum?” I said, all the time talking to the girl, ignoring the boy.
“Yes please,” she said, her sobs subsiding a little.
“I told you faggots to f*** off!” said the yoof.
Now I turned my attention to him, armed only with my one small nugget of self-defence know-how, which I had been taught by an old boardmarker called Tony on my first day of working for William Hill, the bookies. It was Tony who trained me how to write up the results of horse races, how to make proper tea, and how to look after myself if ever I got in trouble in the sometimes alarming atmosphere of the betting shop. He called me Educated Evans, Educated for short.
“Educated,” he said, “there’s three kinds of people you never have a go at. They are ****s, ******s and blokes over 40.”
“Why not blokes over 40?”
“Look at you, Educated. You are strong and fast.” (I was 21.) “Now look at me. I’m 48 and fat and slow. If you come at me, I know that I’ve only got one chance, and that I’ve got to hurt you. If the fight goes on, you’ll win. An old guy has to hurt you. He’s got no choice.”
So here I was, 25 years later, and the yoof was young and strong and fast and I was 46 and fat and slow. So I knew that if he did come at me, I would have to hurt him. Also, since he was pissed, although his emotions might be running high, his reactions would be slower than mine. One more thing in my favour; there were two of us, and we were both twice his size. Only if he was very stupid would he actually have a go.
“Come on, son,” I said. “Calm down. It’s okay. Leave her alone. You go that way, we’ll walk her up the phone box, and you can call her tomorrow and say you’re sorry.”
I touched him on his forearm. I’m not sure which was worse from his point of view: that I had touched him or that I had implied that he might have done something for which to be sorry.
“We’re f*****’ engaged,” he said, which I’m sure was all the justification he needed for his behaviour.
“Not now, we’re not,” sobbed the lass.
“Come on, love,” I said. “Come on. We’ll find the phone box, and your mum can come and pick you up.”
“I told you faggots to f*** off!”
And he came at me. It was very strange. It seemed to happen very slowly. I felt as calm as I had ever felt, as though I was watching Devon versus Cornwall in a Minor Counties cricket match on a drowsy afternoon in June. As he swung his first clumsy punch at my head, I stepped to one side, and grabbed the little idiot in a headlock.
I don’t think I’ve ever felt less worried about anything in my whole life. The yoof was struggling as I held him round the neck, but I said to his ex-fiancée: “Off you go, love. You go up on to the high street and phone your mum. We’ll keep him here.”
The girl ran up the street, towards the phone boxes. And I had a prize, held under my arm, trapped in my power, a struggling yoof, a witless chav, a little shit in a baseball cap. It was too good a chance to miss. Suddenly, at once, my calm melted away to be replaced by livid anger, and I hit him, hit him hard in the face, three times in quick succession.
I felt my fist in his face, and I loved it. I still love it now. I loved each punch. Thwack . . . for your girlfriend, for all the times you’ve hit her and threatened her and terrorised her, for all the women you’ve terrorised and will terrorise. Thwack . . . because of what you are, what you wear, what you represent, the sneaking crimes you commit, the petty sneaking thefts, the pointless aimless vandalism, the joyless stupidity of your empty mind, for what you are doing to England, useless dregs of the earth, you and all the people like you. Thwack . . . for me, for the pleasure of it, because I can, because I love the feel of my knuckles against your flabby mouth, your flat nose, your vacant eyes.
Now the point of Tony’s argument about age difference and violence began to make itself felt. I had got in first, and stopped him and, I hoped, hurt him. But he was stronger and faster than me, more agile and much, much nastier. He was struggling free, like a slimy eel. Perry stepped in to help me restrain him, and he managed to get his nails into Perry’s cheek. He wriggled and shook us off, and he was gone, running up the street, shouting after the girl: “Gemma! Get ’ere, you f*****’ slag! Gemma!”
So I pulled out my last weapon. My mobile phone.
“Leave her alone,” I called after him. “I’m phoning the police if you don’t leave her alone.”
We chased up the road after him, rounded the corner. He had caught up with her, had manoeuvred her into a shop doorway, and was screaming in her face again, while she sobbed in fear. There seemed little point in taking him on again. It was beautiful punching his face, but it hadn’t worked. I dialled 999, and asked for the police. I explained that we had been witness to violent and threatening behaviour, that the yoof was still screaming at her, and threatening her, and that we’d done about as much as we could do.
I offered the yoof one last chance.
“I’ve phoned the police. Walk away. Go away. Leave her alone. We’ll look after her, the police will take her home.”
He ignored me. We stood a few feet away, knowing that there was no point in temporary restraint, followed by her escape, followed by him chasing after her again. This needed ending. We watched in case he hit her, and waited. Within a minute, two at the most, a squad car came round the corner, blue light flashing.
The yoof jumped back from the girl.
“Did you see that?” he said to the first copper who got out from the squad car. “She pushed me.”
“All right, son,” said the copper. “Get away from the girl. Just calm down.”
“You can f*** off an’ all, yer c***. We’re f*****’ engaged!”
The driver of the squad car got out and came over.
“There’s no need for swearing, son.”
“I know my f*****’ rights, you f*****’ c***s. Didn’t you see her push me? What are you f*****’ going to do about that?”
“Son, if you don’t stop swearing, I’m going to arrest you for disorderly conduct.’
“Just you f*****’ try, you f*****’ wankers.”
“All right, if that’s what you want; I’m arresting you on a charge of disorderly conduct. You have the right to remain silent . . .”
“You’re not putting them f*****’ cuffs on me.”
He started to struggle against the two coppers, who were trying to pin him down, to get the cuffs on, while he wriggled and fought. I was quite gratified to see that two policemen couldn’t restrain him either. One of them called for assistance on his radio, while they tried to control the little moron. Within another minute, a police van pulled up, and two more coppers got out.
One helped his two colleagues get the yoof to the pavement, face down, and pin his hands behind his back and snap on the cuffs, while the fourth went across to comfort the girl. The yoof was screaming now. The three coppers manhandled the squirming yoof towards the van, when, O horror of horrors, his baseball cap came off. This was too much for him. The proud badge of his stupidity fell onto the pavement.
“Me cap!” he wailed. “Me cap’s fallen off!” That’s when Perry and I started laughing. And as they got him into the van, and just before they closed the doors on his evil little face, he let fall one last gem: “This is a nice way to spend yer birthday, innit?”
Back in the hotel, Karen the receptionist, Sean the barman, and Basil Fawlty the manager were waiting for us. Basil was anxious lest we had caused trouble; Karen was anxious lest we had been hurt. We told them what had happened; Basil relaxed, and Karen glowed at us. Sean poured us each a whisky, and I started to shake. What if he had had a knife?
Then came the post-match analysis. Part of me wanted to say, “Poor little lad. What chance does he have in life? There are no jobs for stupid people any more. He’s got no future. He must have been brutalised at home. And the drink companies exploit kids like that, and fill them with cheap booze, and it’s not his fault he can’t handle it, poor wee baby.” But that’s not really what I think.
Really, I can’t buy into relativistic accounts of behaviour at all, despite a lifetime of Guardian reading. Plenty of people live in poverty, bad housing, are the victims of an education system which serves only to prepare people for life in a call centre. Plenty of people get pissed. My own mother was brutalised at home by her father in conditions of unthinkable squalor, and she didn’t take it out on anybody else.
What I really think is this: there is evil at work in the world. Some people are evil. That kid was evil. Not naughty, not misguided, or led astray. Evil.
Evil — not what you expect when all you want is a quiet night.
Extracted from: The Longest Crawl by Ian Marchant, published by Bloomsbury at £12.99.
Monday, July 03, 2006
By David Koepsell
Some secularists may cringe over the potential that the Golden Rule is an immutably divine ethical principle derived from Christian theology. It is this Golden Rule to which the biblical Jesus refers when he admonishes us to love our neighbors as we wish them to love us. In truth, it is and it isn’t; Jesus did not invent it. It dates at least as far back as Confucius, and possibly much further back in philosophies as distinct as Zoroastrianism, Buddhism, and Judaism. This rule, as with any other rational mode of behavior, admits of certain notable exceptions, so the masochist is not licensed to start flogging people at random, and has an excellent secular defense in the philosophy of Immanuel Kant.
Kant has several formulations of essentially the same rule. The first is: act only according to that maxim by which you can at the same time will that it would become a universal law. He justifies this maxim first by arguing that other moral theories, which look to results rather than acts and intentions, cannot be universalized. When a moral precept is based upon results, or is consequentialist, then one cannot make intelligible moral commands. They then come in the form of “you should do X if Y results” or “you should not do Y if Z results.” He argued that the moral property of an act is tied up not with the expectation of a particular outcome, but rather with the action of a “good will,” and thus consequences are irrelevant. He backs this up by appealing to two types of duties: perfect and imperfect. Perfect duties are those which logic demands, such as the maxim not to steal. If we don’t abide by the rule not to steal, then we logically cannot justify property. Lying is another example: without a rule against lying, then language itself—which rests upon implicit agreements to mean what we are saying and that words even have meaning—becomes meaningless.
Imperfect duties come from rules that must exist because they succumb to the universalizability principle. To be consistent, our wills demand that certain behaviors occur in ourselves just as we wish them to occur in others. Kant claims that we can see, by empirical observation, that just as everyone would expect others to aid her or him when she or he is in need, thus she or he must aid others when they are in need, i.e., the Golden Rule.
Now, Kant alleges that he gets to these moral principles by reason alone, and he makes a convincing argument. But there are some noteworthy issues if we take him too seriously, and he doesn’t really give us satisfactory solution. It has been left to other philosophers to try. One prime example is the problem of conflicting duties, such as where the duty not to lie requires us to aid a murderous pursuer looking for his prey, should we happen to know where his potential victim is hiding. Some philosophers have suggested that perhaps certain duties outweigh others (the duty not to abet a murder, for instance, outweighs the duty not to lie) but numerous difficult cases can be imagined, making such weightings Byzantine.
Nonetheless, recent studies indicate that the Golden Rule is naturalistically based. Studies of ape culture, and other animals, have shown that reciprocal altruism abounds in the natural world. This makes a certain amount of sense. If one’s species is to survive, one has to help one’s fellow monkey, armadillo, human, etc. This general rule, simply stated, makes good sense, although there are also certain common-sense exceptions. Also, teaching it may not only make good sense but is already, to a degree, generally acceptable to most children once they develop the psychological capacity for empathy and can envision themselves in the shoes of another. “Now how would you feel, Sally/Billy, if X did Y to you?”
Compassion and empathy seem to be the bases for “ethical” behavior in a number of species, and it seems to be a naturalistically based, utterly rational reaction of a member of a species toward other members of that species. It is consistent with Dawkins’ notion of the selfish gene, which seeks to maximize its survival. It stands opposed to situational ethics or moral relativism, and is a sound basis for moral realism without theology.
David Koepsell is the executive director of the Council for Secular Humanism.
© 2006 Council for Secular Humanism