Tuesday, May 31, 2005

the grand order of water rats

Thanks to Stoatie, I've found out about an organisation called the Grand Order of Water Rats. Imagine a sort of showbiz freemasons, or if the Knights Templar had been founded by Ernie Wise.

For this year, their King Rat is Melvyn Hayes, who played 'Gloria' Beaumont from It Ain't Half Hot Mum.

On their site they wax lyrical about the Ball where they made Melvyn the King Rat.

Where else could you see Sir Norman Wisdom receive a lifetime achievement award, sing 'Don't laugh at me' and get a standing ovation and then - half an hour later - watch Brian May, Rick Wakeman, Joe Brown, Chris Barber and Chas McDevitt perform 'Freight Train' and again have the whole room on it's feet? No one does it quite like The Grand Order of Water Rats.

Brian May, Rick Wakeman, Joe Brown and Chris Barber? Put them in the same place and surely some supernatural seismic rumbling starts and demons pour onto the earth.

There's more. For only £75 you can go to their Showbiz Quiz hosted by Jeremy Beadle.

Are there any Biblical scholars who can confirm whether the Grand Order of Water Rats are mentioned by name in the Book of Revelations?

Verily from the waters a rat did come. In the little silhouetto of a man was a King of Rats and he spake unto the people saying 'Gor blimey sergeant major', and the unholy Barber did sound his mighty trumpet, and the cloaked demon did noodle on with a keyboard solo of many years, whilst the righteous bled from their ears, until the Bearded Trickster led an inquisiton that parted the feeble minded from their coins, until all good was undone, creation itself faltered and the Smug did reign supreme over the lands of the earth and engage in much self-congratulation for their foul deeds.

Friday, May 27, 2005

to buttfuck or not to buttfuck

OK, so Narodowe Odrodzeine Polski may be a load of scary homophobes who produce leaflets about how gay men are paedophiles, but still I have to admit there is something that makes me laugh about their choice of campaign logo.

Firstly, it appeals to me on a juvenile smut level. Don't let all the earnest chinstroking fool you, I'm a big fan and font of toilet humour.

I co-wrote a massive zine of the stuff called Junk Mail Backlash, where we sent off Freepost coupons with rude names just to see if we'd get replies. I was profoundly amused to receive catalogues addressed to Mrs A Pigfucksme, British Gas writing to Mrs Gufflighter, or having a letter that starts 'Dear Mrs Methsdrinker, thankyou for your inquiry about our incontinence products'.

Indeed, the NOP logo is reminiscent of artwork form another project I was part of, the back cover of Radio Savage Houndy Beasty's album Millennium Buggery.

Really, all that guff about the Millennium Bug and yet it seems we were the only ones to have thought of that pun.

The other thing I like about the Polish sign is the attempt at specifying the sexes.

The generic figures used in such signs are usually sex-neutral. I've often thought this about the traditional toilet signs; they seem to be actually advertising facilites for bipeds and monopeds.

But that would miss the point for our Polish chums, so they've added a comically weeny cock on the figure at the front. Notably, there is nothing to specify the sex of the person at the back. They appear to be campaigning against fucking men from behind.

Not only is this an activity enjoyed by straight women , but gay men having sex by no means necessitates anal sex from behind.

My own view is that most homophobia, if one wants to use that rather crummy word, has almost nothing to do with sex.

‘But have you any idea what these people actually do?’

Self-righteous members of the House of Commons loved standing to ask that question during our last parliamentary debate on the age of homosexual consent.

‘Shit-stickers, that’s what they are. Let’s be clear about that. We’re talking about sodomy here.’

Oh no you aren’t. You think you are, but you aren’t, you know.

Buggery is far less prevalent in the gay world than people suppose. Anal sex is probably not much more common in homosexual encounters than it is in heterosexual.

Buggery is not at the end of the yellow brick road somewhere over the homosexual rainbow, it is not the prize, the purpose, the goal or the fulfilment of homosexuality. Buggery is not the achievement which sees homosexuality move from becoming into being; buggery is not homosexuality’s realisation or destiny.

Buggery is as much a necessary condition of homosexuality as the ownership of a Volvo estate car is a necessary condition of middle-class family life, linked irretrievably only in the minds of the witless and the cheap. The performance of buggery is no more inevitable a part of homosexuality than an orange syllabub is an inevitable part of a dinner: some may clamour for it and instantly demand a second helping, some are not interested, some decide they will try it once and then instantly vomit.

There are plenty of other things to be got up to in the homosexual world outside the orbit of the anal ring, but the concept that really gets the goat of the gay-hater, the idea that really spins their melon and sickens their stomach is that most terrible and terrifying of all human notions, love.

That one can love another of the same gender, that is what the homophobe really cannot stand. Love in all eight tones and all five semitones of the word’s full octave. Love as agape, Eros and philos; love as romance, friendship and adoration; love as infatuation, obsession and lust; love as torture, euphoria, ecstasy and oblivion (this is beginning to read like a Calvin Klein perfume catalogue); love as need, passion and desire.

All the rest of it, parking your dick up an arse, slurping at a helmet, whipping, frotting, peeing, pooing, squatting like a dog, dressing up in plastic and leather — all these go on in the world of boy and girl too: and let’s be clear about this, they go on more — the numbers make it so. Go into a sex shop, skim through some pornography, browse the internet for a time, talk to someone in the sex industry.

You think homosexuality is disgusting? Then, it follows, it follows as the night the day, that you find sex disgusting, for there is nothing done between two men or two women that is, by any objective standard, different from that which is done between a man and a woman.

What is more, one begs to ask of these Tony Marlowes and Peregrine Worsthornes and Paul Johnsons, have the guts to Enquire Within. Ask yourselves what thoughts go through your head when you masturbate. If the physical act and its detail is so much more important to you than love, then see a doctor, but don’t spew out your sickness in column-inches, it isn’t nice, it isn’t kind, it isn’t Christian.

And if the best you can do is quote the Bible in defence of your prejudice, then have the humility to be consistent. The same book that exhorts against the abomination of one man lying with another also contains exhortations against the eating of pork and shell-fish and against menstruating women daring to come near holy places.

It's no good functionalistically claiming that kosher diet had its local, meteorological purposes now defunct, or that the prejudice against ovulation can be dispensed with as superstition, the Bible that you bash us with tells you that much of what you do is unclean: don’t pick and choose with a Revealed Text — or if you do, pick and choose the good bits, the bits that say things like ‘Let he who is without sin cast the first stone’, or ‘Love thy neighbour as thyself’.

And please, whatever you do, don’t tell us that what we do, either in love or lust, is unnatural. For one thing if what you mean by that is that animals don’t do it, then you are quite simply in factual error.

There are plenty of activities or qualities we could list that are most certainly unnatural if you are so mad as to think that humans are not part of nature, or so dull-witted as to believe that ‘natural’ means ‘all natures but human nature’: mercy, for example, is unnatural, an altruistic, non-selfish care and love for other species is unnatural; charity is unnatural, justice is unnatural, virtue is unnatural, indeed — and this surely is the point — the idea of virtue is unnatural, within such a foolish, useless meaning of the word ‘natural’.

Animals, poor things, eat in order to survive: we, lucky things, do that too, but we also have Abbey Crunch biscuits, Armagnac, selle d’agneau, tortilla chips, sauce béarnaise, Vimto, hot buttered crumpets, Chateau Margaux, ginger-snaps, risotto nero and peanut-butter sandwiches — these things have nothing to do with survival and everything to do with pleasure, connoisseurship and plain old greed.

Animals, poor things, copulate in order to reproduce: we, lucky things, do that too, but we also have kinky boots, wank-mags, leather thongs, peep-shows, statuettes by Degas, bedshows, Tom of Finland, escort agencies and the Journals of Anaïs Nin — these things have nothing to do with reproduction and everything to do with pleasure, connoisseurship and plain old lust.

We humans have opened up a wide choice of literal and metaphorical haute cuisine and junk food in many areas of our lives, and as a punishment, for daring to eat the fruit of every tree in the garden, we were expelled from the Eden the animals still inhabit and we were sent away with the two great Jewish afflictions to bear as our penance: indigestion and guilt.

Stephen Fry, Moab Is My Washpot

Saturday, May 21, 2005

deaf cat

Saw this in a Cornish back street

Aside from the endearing ear trumpet and casual pose, I love the way the sign looks mass produced.

Is there a factory making these things somewhere? Are there that many deaf cats about?

I advise continuous caution until we know for sure.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

donate against the g8

Ordinary people from across the world are being asked to take part in a massive grassroots fundraising effort to support the protests around the G8 in July.

The G8 are the rulers of eight of the most powerful economies in the world. From 6th-8th July 2005, they will hold their major annual summit at Gleneagles Hotel, Scotland.

The G8 was created in 1975, amidst global oil crisis and an upsurge in social struggles. Its intended role was to act as a crisis manager for the global economy, so consensus could be reached amongst the most powerful nations on issues such as world trade, migration, oil supplies, and security.

The G8 still exists to protect the interests of the world's biggest economies. This year, Tony Blair has called upon the G8 leaders to solve the problems of climate change and world poverty, with a particular focus on Africa.

Yet, as he announces this, his domestic policies of massive airport and road expansion show he has no intention of taking real action on climate change. As Blair said to the World Economic Forum earlier this year, 'if we put forward, as a solution to climate change, something which involves drastic cuts in growth or standards of living, it matters not how justified it is, it simply won't be agreed to'.

Think what that means, 'it matters not how justified it is'.

Similarly, there is no real African representation at the G8, as they focus on opening up African economies to 'free trade', using the series of strings and conditions that will be attached to the debt relief.

The G8 upholds a system whose impacts we see all around us: war, famine, and environmental destruction. However, resistance is growing around the globe to create a better world. Struggles are diverse and numerous, as people fight to regain a sense of humanity, and 'a world in which many worlds are possible'.

Resistance to the summit itself will reflect this diversity. From big blockades of nuclear bases, to community permaculture projects, and skill sharing and workshops, the diversity of the protest promises to be enormous.

The Dissent! Network has been set up to instigate and co-ordinate action against this G8 meeting. They've begun organising 'convergence spaces' in which resistance can flourish. These will be self-managed zones available in the run up to and during the Summit, aiming to house and feed many thousands, whilst providing inspiring examples of free, ecological communities. The spaces will be used by all kinds of people voicing the concerns ignored or opposed by the G8; drop the debt, anti-capitalist, fair trade, anti-war, anti-climate change, and many more.

Dissent! needs a significant amount of money to make this happen. Considerable fundraising has already been done but there is still a sizeable shortfall (around £40,000). Funds raised will go directly to financing the convergence spaces, as well as to legal and medical support teams, and to fund transport and publicity.

They've launched The Tenner Appeal, asking anyone who opposes what the G8 stands for to donate 10 pounds to Dissent!

So, are you against what the G8's for? Got a tenner to do something about it?

There are several ways to donate. You can send cheques (in pounds sterling drawn on a UK bank account, payable to The Dissent Network) to;

The Tenner Appeal,
23-25 Wharf Street,
Leeds, LS2 7EQ

You can pay cash in at any Co-Op bank in the UK (find a branch here), or do a bank transfer.
Sort Code: 08-92-99
Account Number: 6515 5518
Swift Code: CPBKGB22

For international bank transfers quote the IBAN number: GB85 CPBK 0892 9965 1555 18

Or make payments online at the appeal website.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

our friend the torturer

The killing at the protests in Uzbekistan has put a usually unnoticed country into our mainstream media.

Uzbekistan's been ruled by dictator Islom Karimov since independence from the Soviet Union 14 years ago.

The US State Department's webpage about Uzbekistan says;

The police force and the intelligence service use torture as a routine investigation technique

What kind of torture? As George Monbiot describes;

There are over 6,000 political and religious prisoners in Uzbekistan. Every year, some of them are tortured to death. Sometimes the policemen or intelligence agents simply break their fingers, their ribs and then their skulls with hammers, or stab them with screwdrivers, or rip off bits of skin and flesh with pliers, or drive needles under their fingernails, or leave them standing for a fortnight, up to their knees in freezing water. Sometimes they are a little more inventive. The body of one prisoner was delivered to his relatives last year, with a curious red tidemark around the middle of his torso. He had been boiled to death.

Our wars are not about removing tortuous dictators from power or beinging democracy to people. If they were we'd be bombing and invading Uzbekistan.

But what are we doing? Bush has never criticised the Uzbekistani human rights record. Indeed, that same State Department page that names the systematic torture says;

Uzbekistan is an ardent supporter of U.S. military actions in Afghanistan and Iraq and of the war against terror overall. The United States, in turn, values Uzbekistan as a stable, moderate force in a turbulent region.

It's a rare moderate nation that tortures thousands of its citizens to death.

The US has granted Uzbekistan 'most-favored-nation trade status', exempting it from many US trade tariffs, in addition to the hundreds of millions of US taxpayers dollars given every year for assorted government and military projects.

They get high-level, high-profile personal support. Donald Rumsfeld has visited three times in the last two years. During Colin Powell's visit he passed Bush's personal thanks for the Karimov regime's 'support of the anti-terrorist campaign and other spheres of activity.'

The Memory Hole has a page of details entitled Senior US Officials Cozy up to Dictator Who Boils People Alive

Why would they do this? Like so many news stories, this is yet another facet of the oil story. As Colin Powell said, 'our interest in the region is not limited to the Afghan crisis only'.

The US has some enormous military bases in Afghanistan. Far more than they'd need if they were merely securing a quick changover from Taliban rule to representative democracy. The bases are there for the same reason they have large bases in Uzbekistan.

The Middle East produces around half the world's oil. In a decade or so, it will be around three-quarters. The rapidly industrialising Chinese economy will really want that oil, and there won't be enough for them and us. So if the West is to keep control, we need a lot of military presence in the land between China and the really big oilfields; Afghanistan, Iran and Uzbekistan.

In the meantime, Uzbekistan has a bit of oil of its own, and we can forgive a lot when someone's giving us oil on friendly terms.

We want those oil-producing and China-buffer countries in the hands of people we can do business with. If Karimov were to allow democracy, the 88% muslim electorate would put people in power with a great deal more sympathy for the countries the West has attacked. So the non-Islamic nation allies keep quiet. When the Uzbekistani elections six months ago only allowed candidates who supported Karimov, Russia declared the election transparent, democratic and well-organised.

As with the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, so it is with the future plans for securing the Middle Eastern oilfields; the British government knows that if it wants second dibs on the oil then it has to back the Americans all the way. In this case, we have to allow Karimov to remain in power.

So when the Craig Murray, the British ambassador to Uzbekistan, started publicising what was happening under Karimov, he was told to shut up by the Foreign Office and publically discredited.

When he continued to expose details he was sacked and smeared again.

Murray stood against his libeller and former boss Foreign Secretary Jack Straw in the general election, getting 5% of the vote.

Murray's continued effort to draw attention to the Karimov regime's human rights abuses made the British agree to send a junior minister, Bill Rammell, to Tashkent to discuss it. The Uzbekistanis simply refused to permit the visit and that was the end of it.

Karimov continues to ruthlessly put down Islamic groups. He blamed the killing at this week's protests on 'Islamic criminals'. Uzbekistani authorities have blocked foreign news media from broadcasting, whilst failing to mention the peaceful protests in the week before the violence.

After some delay, Jack Straw has condemned this week's events. The British government has, he claims, 'long been concerned about abuse of human rights, about a lack of democracy'.

He doesn't say why they've gagged someone expressing such concern and given continuous tacit approval of the Karimov ragime.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

an old man wanking into a sock

Harry Hutton's blog Chase Me Ladies, I'm In The Cavalry is unusual in many ways. Most glaringly, he lacks the anger, dullness and/or self-righteousness that seem common to many of us.

He is instead tremendously funny whilst occasionally doing a really well-informed political post.

For instance, there's this:


I was leafing through Abu Hamza’s sermons on the beach this afternoon. OK, he’s not everyone’s cup of tea, and I wouldn’t vote for him myself. I disagree with him about the need to blow up London; nor do we see eye to eye on the subject of flying airliners into buildings (he’s for, I’m against.) But in his wider argument that the UK is a moral cesspit and that the British are filthy drunken animals, I thought he made some valid points.

"They want only to look at nude pictures, go to football matches, have a few pints and go to sleep." This is not an ignorant ill-informed caricature; it is actually quite accurate, and the only riposte I can think of is that it beats blowing yourself up.

I post you this nudge because his new correspondence with Boris Johnson had me literally slapping my table with laughter.

I'm starting a new political party, and that is why I am writing. We could use a guy like you. We are looking to attract people disillusioned with the Tories. The modern Conservative Party is an old man wanking into a sock. You have to admit that. And look at Howard. A husk of a man, despised by all, prematurely bald from self-abuse. Is this what we fought the Falklands for? If we love our country, he must hang.

Thursday, May 12, 2005


Me and my brother send each other postcards from places we visit with lyric puns.

Some are geographical, with particular favourites being;

Worcester story morning glory

Exeter movement of Jah people

It's these little things they can Poolewe under, live your life filled with joy and wonder

and my all-time number one, Piccadilly Circus with the staue of Eros carefully cut out captioned no more Eros anymore.

Others reference the picture on the front of a card, such as badger by golly wow or I don't care too much for Monet.

I travel more than him so I get to send more, but recently he's been touring America in the footsteps of the civil rights movement. His postcard from Heathrow said he'd 'walked off to look for America'. (My Heathrow card a few years back went for a quote from Cool For Cats).

I got this card

and the caption?

He tried his best to actually transcribe the riff, as he explained in an email

I really wanted to write an instrumental line from Apache on that card. Sandy and I sat on the steps of the Montgomery Visitors Centre for 20 minutes trying to write out some "duh duh duhs" that would make sense.

Which is a comedy vision in itself.

This, coinciding with my putting up a ska version of Apache on my MP3 blog made me go and dig out the original.

It is a truly great record.

I know The Shadows are seen as something safe and sanitised and, well, Cliff Richard's backing band for fuck's sake, and also those later albums full of covers of contemporary hits turned them into a sort of guitar version of Richard Clayderman, but that's no reason to dismiss everything they ever did.

They came through in a time when pop music was very simple. The emotions expressed were largely just 'I've got you I feel great', 'you've left me I feel bad', 'I like you but haven't told you yet', etc. The idea of doing less easily defined feelings and blends of contradictory emotions wouldn't really come through till the mid 60s with things like God Only Knows and Help!.

Yet back there in 1960 The Shadows came out with this really cool yet unearthly track. There's no rock n roll backbeat, indeed the drums are pushed right into the background and the acoustic guitar is the driving rhythmic force. The atmosphere just hangs; arid, sweeping and sinister.

Ennio Morricone's soundtracks for spaghetti westerns are rightly recognised as masterpieces of sparse prickly tension. Apache is a pop precursor to those compositions.

Really, go download Apache, it's amazing.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

oscar wilde (slight return)

Last October the long-serving DJ and even longer-serving inane twat Mike Read opened his new stage show in London Oscar Wilde: The Musical .

Really, I'm not making it up.

It closed after one night cos it was so rubbish, leaving his wallet and ego severly assaulted. For a man who inflicted himself in that Nicey & Smashy way throughout the 80s, a man who wrote a Cliff Richard musical (titled, wait for it, 'Cliff!'), and also Oh Puck!, an adaptation of A Midsummer Night's Dream as a musical set to hits of the 80s, it was surely the worst thing that could happen.

Oh no. I'm pleased to share with you a little gem found in The Independent's Pandora column that updates us on the story. (I would link but it's a subscription archive)

You have to sympathise with Mike Read, in his ill-fated quest to become a West End impresario.

Last year, the veteran DJ's Oscar Wilde became the shortest-running musical in British history when it closed after one night, due to poor ticket sales.

Now the cast of the play - which starred Peter Blake in the title role - have called in the lawyers, claiming they are still owed unpaid wages.

"The cast are still pursuing Mike through the courts," says the agent of one. "They were hired for five weeks' work, but haven't been paid for that.

"It's a contractual matter, and they are claiming around £15,000."

Read declined to comment yesterday, but has previously blamed the show's failure on box-office problems at the Shaw Theatre, where it was staged.

Reviewers at the time weren't so sure, though. "In 1895, Oscar Wilde was sentenced to two years' hard labour," wrote one. "A more cruel and unusual punishment has been devised by Mike Read."

My favourite is still The Daily Telegraph's review entitled Wilde suffers again thanks to Mike Read which said it was 'hard to feel anything other than incredulous contempt'.

Go check my blog post from the time for more background info and hilarious review quotes.

Friday, May 06, 2005

electoral aftermath

Well yes a few more tories but still a major slog to give them any hope of getting in next time.

And a few bright lights. Kilroy barely kept his deposit (although he polled more than the guy standing in the same constituency for Church of The Militant Elvis. Shame, that).

Here in Leeds Central Nazi scumpig Mark Collett lost his deposit.

Socrates had a fourfold increase on last time, getting 500 votes in Leeds East (but sadly still losing his deposit).

In the one piece of joy at a Tory victory, in Newbury the LibDems' David Rendel - the pro-road fuckhead and personal champion of the Newbury Bypass - lost his seat. Ahahahahahahahahaha!

Yes yes, I know the Tory would probably have been just as pro-road. But a) at least he wouldn't have pretended to be the friend of the environment the LibDems so falsely claim themselves to be, and b) it's personal about Newbury.

I met Rendel there. He said it wasn't as bad as we said cos it wasn't really a new road as it would be designated the same number, A34, as the existing road through Newbury. I pointed at the woods behind us and said 'you want those trees cut down and tarmac laid. I call that a new road.' As obvious and simple as it was, that argument stumped him. Any political misfortune that befalls him is fuel for a fire of glee for me to skip around.

This afternoon, Lord Falconer spoke for Labour about what the results mean nationally. 'The electorate have sent the clearest possible message that from now on the government must respond to people's priorities'.

Er, 'from now on'?

What was supposed to be the purpose of previous elections?

Clearly to them, after 18 years of the Tories and the two Blair landslides, elections were nothing to do with the will of the poeple, they were about getting your cross on a bit of paper before running off for five years to do whatever the fuck they want.

Hearing people like Howard, Redwood and Dorrell get taken seriously has been chilling. These are the people who brought us the Poll Tax - which, according to Howard answering questions about the Council Tax during this election campaign, was a good idea. This is Stephen Dorrell, the man who privatised the railways before coincidentally getting a £100,000 a year part time directorship with Stagecoach, owners of South West Trains.

SWT were the people so well equipped to run a train company that they sacked a large proportion of the drivers (less wage bills, more money for shareholders). Then they had to cancel loads of services because of a shortage of drivers ('Oh, so that's why we employed them then, now I see').

So, as Howard himself says he's too old for this game, the baton will be passed to a new generation who've no experience of government, no specific atrocities to pin on them personally. But, in the absence of the hoped-for third Tory electoral meltdown last night, the Thatcherite vision will endure.

Michael Howard has said he'll quit as leader of the Tories. 'Mr Howard said he would stay as leader until the party had the opportunity to consider whether it wanted to change the rules for electing a successor. '

Translated; 'oh for fuck's sake, we go and instate the most democratic electoral system for choosing a party leader and what do the membership do? Kick out the charismatic guys and go for one twitchy right armed slaphead after another.

Hello, you bunch of decrepit bigoted buggers, you think we'll ever get elected like that? We don't care if it's what you want, we don't care what we have to say, we want power back'.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

vote for socrates

It's not every day you can vote for a Greek philosopher who's been dead for a couple of dozen centuries.

And May 5th 2005 is, technically, no different.

In Leeds East there are the candidates for the big three parties and a great wild card independent, Socrates 322, aka Peter Boswell.

On the ballot paper he's known as the hybridised Peter Socrates. Shame that; at least do the full deed poll thing and make the result sound great.

Reminds me of the Crosby by-election in 1981 when a comic masterstroke was attempted by a guy called John Desmond Lewis who changed his name to the one from the Monty Python sketch, Tarquin Fintim-Limbim-Whimbim-Lim Bus Stop-F'Tang-F'Tang-Olé-Biscuit-Barrel.

The killjoy announcer declaring the results called him merely 'Tarquin Biscuit-Barrel', and was met with a loud chorus of derisive noises and booing.

Weirdly, at Crosby the seat was taken by Shirley Williams for the SDP. They were a bunch who'd quit Labour cos it was too lefty. The mutated into the LibDems, who are now the ones people vote for cos Labour are too far right.

Anyway, Socrates has had a great leaflet delivered to his prospective electors.

He puts in some democratic principles

Republics should not be confused with democracies. A truly democratic society is governed by its citzenry. Elections need to be replaced by proxy voting.

Some almost-understandable policy
A start would be the establishment of independent 'international' courts. These special courts would:
- Make determintations relating to contract. Validity thereof and breaking thereof.
- Make determinations relating to guardianship.
- Arbitrate ownership disputes (thereby establishing valid ownership)
- 'States' to become valid voluntary agreements (contracts) of consenting adults (citizens).

These courts will have no punishment role and no enforcement role. Neither will they interpret statute, (as present 'justice' systems do). So they need not be coincident with states. International Charities please note.

He adds some comic defeatism

Should you vote for me, I shall not suppose that you otherwise agree with me on "policy matters" (I do not expect to win)

Love that one; vote for me whatever you think!

I bet the Tories wish they'd thought of it first.

Then there's a poem he's written

16. The Tower
I asked for a whiskey
And when the job was done
I had another
The last tree was felled
The chaos was well begun
Death disease destruction war
And now
no way back
Did no-one see this coming?
No-one looked up
I poured another whiskey
"This one for Easter Island"
The next is for you.

And a spot-the difference pair of pictures of him next to a statue of the original Socrates. You've gotta admit, the resemblance is a bit uncanny.

I understand a candidate needs to poll 5% of the vote to get their deposit back. Socrates needs to get about 1,500 votes if he's to see his (poetically enough) 1,500 quid again.

Still, he's the only one standing apart from the big three parties, so you never know, maybe he'll catch the we-hate-them-all ballot paper spoilers and people falling prey to a last minute flash of conscience. Here's hoping.

The fact that deposit retention is based on the percentage of the vote means I'm forced to participate. My constituency, Leeds Central, has the fascist British National Party's potential next leader Mark Collett standing.

Although an irrelevance for much of the 1990s, in recent years they BNP have dramatically increased their haul at the polls, even getting seats on local councils. So I've got to vote for somebody to help keep the BNP's proportion low and ensure they lose their deposit.

But who?

That Who Should You Vote For? site is, incidentally, a waste of time. As with all those online polls - Which Star Wars character are you?, Which breed of dog are you? - it tells you far more about those who set the questions than those who answer them and is merely a device to make you get a bit older.

I did it for the hell of it several weeks ago, got roughly;

Tory -65
Labour -25
Green +20
LibDem +85

Which, I assure you, is total arse.

I just did it again and got;

Tory -58
Labour +7
UKIP -23
Green +129
LibDem +133

Odd to get it so different when I'm sure I haven't changed that much in two weeks. Still, at least I've lost that scary positive number for UKIP.

But it's still nonsense. They aren't asking questions about issues that I believe to be important. There is no mention of climate change or peak oil, compared to which all other issues are pathetically trivial.

They don't have any options to veto somebody who has a policy to do something unconscionable. Like perpetually threatening the world with illegal Weapons of Mass Destruction. Like the ludicrous and suicidal belief in the myth of permanent economic growth.

So, frighteningly enough, I've got to think up the answer for myself. As I've explained in earlier posts and above, the big three can fuck right off. Which leaves me with the swivel eyed loons (try typing those three words into Google and see who you get), or a choice of three independents.

One of them is standing as 'Alliance For Change: Restore People's Freedom'.

Alliance For Change is a banner used by independents of a vaguely similar outlook (essentially quite fluffy), in the hope that one day there'll be enough to cross the threshold required for a 'party' to get a TV election broadcast.

Although every candidate gets propaganda delivered to electors for free, my house has received none of it. The only leaflets we've had are for the English Democrats, who aren't actually standing in my constituency. Their leafleters appear to have strayed across the border from Leeds North West where they are standing. There's a nice irony in a Nationalist party not recognising borders.

My friend Bluebell, a co-Leeds Centraller, has had all the fliers and says the AFC guy is some kind of Christian. Hmmm.

Of the remaining two, one is an independent socialist. The egalitarian principles are all well and good, but his guiding ideals are to build workers power. Whereas I want to see power destroyed and work abolished.

Which leaves me with a guy called Oluwole Taiwo. He too is apparently a Christian. However, I'm presuming with a name like that he's a black man of African origin, so as my vote is really just an anti-BNP vote it'd be very funny to see Oluwole poll more votes than the racist fuckwits.

Where's Socrates when you need him?

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

the ricin ring that never was

The evil terrorists planning a massive ricin attack on London! Except they weren't, they've been acquitted and you couldn't use ricin like that anyway.

There's a post over at Chicken Yogurt about censorship of a Guardian article about it. Written by the veteran political investigative journalist Duncan Campbell, it detailed how the 'ricin terrorists' were a fabrication; that this was known while Blunkett was still saying it was true; that in fact the 'Afghan training manuals' were published on the internet (and from America too!).

The Guardian have mysteriously removed the article from their website. Chicken Yogurt was one of a couple of sites who responded by reproducing the article. The Guardian have been trying to get them to remove it, so the idea is that if loads of people put it up it will be a lost cause to them and the article and its extraordinary revelations will stay where they belong, in the public domain.

They show that (as we already know) most of the reasons given for the war on terrorism are, like the reasons for the invasion of Iraq, hogwash. Which always raises the question - then why are they doing it?

Here's Duncan Campbell's piece in full.

If you do a blog or some other sort of site, please reproduce it.

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =


Yesterday's trial collapse has exposed the deception behind attempts to link al-Qaida to a 'poison attack' on London

Duncan Campbell
Thursday April 14, 2005
The Guardian

Colin Powell does not need more humiliation over the manifold errors in his February 2003 presentation to the UN. But yesterday a London jury brought down another section of the case he made for war - that Iraq and Osama bin Laden were supporting and directing terrorist poison cells throughout Europe, including a London ricin ring.

Yesterday's verdicts on five defendants and the dropping of charges against four others make clear there was no ricin ring. Nor did the "ricin ring" make or have ricin. Not that the government shared that news with us. Until today, the public record for the past three fear-inducing years has been that ricin was found in the Wood Green flat occupied by some of yesterday's acquitted defendants. It wasn't.

The third plank of the al-Qaida-Iraq poison theory was the link between what Powell labelled the "UK poison cell" and training camps in Afghanistan. The evidence the government wanted to use to connect the defendants to Afghanistan and al-Qaida was never put to the jury. That was because last autumn a trial within a trial was secretly taking place. This was a private contest between a group of scientists from the Porton Down military research centre and myself. The issue was: where had the information on poisons and chemicals come from?

The information - five pages in Arabic, containing amateur instructions for making ricin, cyanide and botulinum, and a list of chemicals used in explosives - was at the heart of the case. The notes had been made by Kamel Bourgass, the sole convicted defendant. His co-defendants believed that he had copied the information from the internet. The prosecution claimed it had come from Afghanistan.

I was asked to look for the original source on the internet. This meant exploring Islamist websites that publish Bin Laden and his sympathisers, and plumbing the most prolific source of information on how to do harm: the writings of the American survivalist right and the gun lobby.

The experience of being an expert witness on these issues has made me feel a great deal safer on the streets of London. These were the internal documents of the supposed al-Qaida cell planning the "big one" in Britain. But the recipes were untested and unoriginal, borrowed from US sources. Moreover, ricin is not a weapon of mass destruction. It is a poison which has only ever been used for one-on-one killings and attempted killings.

If this was the measure of the destructive wrath that Bin Laden's followers were about to wreak on London, it was impotent. Yet it was the discovery of a copy of Bourgass's notes in Thetford in 2002 that inspired the wave of horror stories and government announcements and preparations for poison gas attacks.

It is true that when the team from Porton Down entered the Wood Green flat in January 2003, their field equipment registered the presence of ricin. But these were high sensitivity field detectors, for use where a false negative result could be fatal. A few days later in the lab, Dr Martin Pearce, head of the Biological Weapons Identification Group, found that there was no ricin. But when this result was passed to London, the message reportedly said the opposite.

The planned government case on links to Afghanistan was based only on papers that a freelance journalist working for the Times had scooped up after the US invasion of Kabul. Some were in Arabic, some in Russian. They were far more detailed than Bourgass's notes. Nevertheless, claimed Porton Down chemistry chief Dr Chris Timperley, they showed a "common origin and progression" in the methods, thus linking the London group of north Africans to Afghanistan and Bin Laden.

The weakness of Timperley's case was that neither he nor the intelligence services had examined any other documents that could have been the source. We were told Porton Down and its intelligence advisers had never previously heard of the "Mujahideen Poisons Handbook, containing recipes for ricin and much more". The document, written by veterans of the 1980s Afghan war, has been on the net since 1998.

All the information roads led west, not to Kabul but to California and the US midwest. The recipes for ricin now seen on the internet were invented 20 years ago by survivalist Kurt Saxon. He advertises videos and books on the internet. Before the ricin ring trial started, I phoned him in Arizona. For $110, he sent me a fistful of CDs and videos on how to make bombs, missiles, booby traps - and ricin. We handed a copy of the ricin video to the police.

When, in October, I showed that the chemical lists found in London were an exact copy of pages on an internet site in Palo Alto, California, the prosecution gave up on the Kabul and al-Qaida link claims. But it seems this information was not shared with the then home secretary, David Blunkett, who was still whipping up fear two weeks later. "Al-Qaida and the international network is seen to be, and will be demonstrated through the courts over months to come, actually on our doorstep and threatening our lives," he said on November 14.

The most ironic twist was an attempt to introduce an "al-Qaida manual" into the case. The manual - called the Manual of the Afghan Jihad - had been found on a raid in Manchester in 2000. It was given to the FBI to produce in the 2001 New York trial for the first attack on the World Trade Centre. But it wasn't an al-Qaida manual. The name was invented by the US department of justice in 2001, and the contents were rushed on to the net to aid a presentation to the Senate by the then attorney general, John Ashcroft, supporting the US Patriot Act.

To show that the Jihad manual was written in the 1980s and the period of the US-supported war against the Soviet occupation was easy. The ricin recipe it contained was a direct translation from a 1988 US book called the Poisoner's Handbook, by Maxwell Hutchkinson.

We have all been victims of this mass deception. I do not doubt that Bourgass would have contemplated causing harm if he was competent to do so. But he was an Islamist yobbo on his own, not an Al Qaida-trained superterrorist. An Asbo might be appropriate.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

i've read it in books

*sigh* I wasn't going to do this.

There's this 'my favourite books' meme going around blogs at the moment, and the final question is 'who do you nominate to do this next?'.

I got nominated by Jim Bliss. Whilst I'm flattered by what he said, I thought I'd leave it. Jim seems one of the best-read people I've ever met. His number one book is Ulysses for fuck's sake. He's one of the two people I know who've ever managed to finish it. Me, I've never dared try to start.

I'm probably the worst-read literate person alive. There was a point a year or two ago where I think I was writing more than I was reading. Reading books, like having a job, is one of those activities that everyone seems to do and I just don't know where they find the time.

I manage to finish about one book out of six that I start. I hardly ever read fiction, so my knowledge of literature is sporadic, haphazard and frankly not worth a great deal. I'm way more likely to have my nose in a Marvin Gaye biography than A Portrait of The Artist As A Young Man.

As my dad says, the saying 'everyone's entitled to their opinion' is simply not true. An uninformed opinion is invalid. If you don't agree, next time someone dear to you needs surgery, whose opinion on the procedure would you be inclined to follow, mine or the trained surgeon's?

Whilst there may be, say, some sculptures I like and I'm entitled to my feelings about them, I'm not equipped to talk about sculpture in general. I'm in the same position with books relative to pretty much everyone else I know.

But then I just got nominated again. And it's in one of those things that makes a blogger's heart melt; someone I've never met or communicated with who already links to my blog, and their explanation of why they like my writing is a description of everything I'd hoped I could achieve with it.

because the books he talks about on his blog all strike me as being of vital importance, and because he seems to be doing all he can to free himself and others from injustice, absurdity, violence and ugliness in this troubled world, and he opposes these things using positive actions.

So, Helen from Take Every Day As It Comes, Brothers And Sisters, this is your fault. Bless you.

You're stuck inside Fahrenheit 451, which book do you want to be?

It's an enticing angle to ask from. A simple 'favourite book' would be stale and, crucially, not quite the same question. The last book question I liked so much was being asked 'what book would you recommend for everyone to read'; great angle isn't it? Not 'favourite' or 'best', but something that has a universality and accessibility for all kinds of people, but still something real to impart that everyone could benefit from.

For that one, I answered Is That It? by Bob Geldof. So much about commitment, passion and the unending process of learning from your life and the lives of those around you.

But on the Farenheit 451 thing, I have two lines of thought. My first impulse is to take something nobody else is likely to have memorised so that it will be preserved. I mean, there'll be hundreds of Nineteen Eighty-Fours out there, won't there? Ditto Vonnegut's novels.

Whereas I'm not sure anyone else would go for Martin Millar's stuff. He writes wonderfully dry, funny, melancholy witty novels of the giro generation. It's tough to choose, he's pretty darn consistent. Milk Sulphate and Alby Starvation? Dreams of Sex And Stage Diving? The subtler cleverer Suzy, Led Zeppelin and Me?

Nope, at the end of the day despite one or two of the others probably being objectively better, I'd go for Ruby And The Stone Age Diet.

A friend gave me Ruby in 1990. She'd been lent it and said I'd love it. I started it before going to bed one night and just couldn't stop. Despite having to get up for work at 5.30 the next morning, I read it straight through. Then the ending so goosed me that I sat there for as couple of hours unable to sleep. It was so downbeat, so uneventful, so realistic, similar to the end of Nikita or the way Woody Allen ends Manhattan and Celebrity. It's way more shocking than neat resolution with all the ends tied in.

It's that realism in describing what are actually extraordinary lifestyles - sprinkled with twists of magic - that makes Millar's work so great.

Thinking about it, there's a lot of parallels between Allen and Millar. If Allen was a Glaswegian living in Brixton in the 80s and 90s into squats and drugs and punk, that is. The wit, the whirly melancholy/romantic mix.

I lent that copy of Ruby to a friend. He lent it on, and it never came back. So I had to buy a new one to give back to the person who'd lent it to me, to give back to the original owner. The fact that all copies I know of were read and lent on and on and on speaks for itself.

But anyway, here's what I mean about my randomness in literature - like Iain Banks, Millar also writes fantasy novels (as Martin Scott). Have I read any? Have I read his adaptation of Jane Austen's Emma? Like fuck have I.

When I was recently dumped a beloved friend advised me to turn to Ruby And The Stone Age Diet.

No need to be telling you to get hopelessly drunk and listen to music for days on end.You've probably already been there. 'Ruby And The Stone Age Diet' helps.Page 64 if I remember correctly.
How splendid that she's so very literary and so very goth that off the top of her head she would remember the page number of the most miserable part.

[The narrator and friend have been dumped.]

Cis shouts my name through the letterbox and I run down the hallway to open the door.

There is no-one there. I have imagined it all.

'Why are you wandering naked in the hall?' asks Ruby, her lilac dress crumpled from sleeping in it.

'No reason'

'Make me some tea'

I put on a pot of water. We have an electric kettle but we are having trouble paying our last electricity bill.

The God Of Foolish People Who Walk Around Naked In The Hallway Thinking Their Lover Is Shouting Through The Letterbox is called Alexander and really there is nothing good to say about him at all. He is more of a demon than a god.

His brother is called Philip The Terrible and he is responsible for delaying people's giro cheques in the post and sending out electricity bills that no-one can afford.

Yesterday Ruby and I spent four hours wandering Brixton trying to accidentally bump into our lovers but my plan was a failure. We met neither Cis nor Domino, despite calling into every place where they might be.

'Sometimes it's difficult to manufacture coincidences,' says Ruby, sharing a drink with me before closing time. 'A pity. I would have liked to fuck Domino right this minute.'

'We could try again tomorrow.'

'It won't do any good,' says Ruby, morosely. 'Nothing does any good. You fall in love with someone and they leave you and you feel like dying. You meet their friends in the street and you tell them how unhappy you are and you hope this news will get back to your ex-lover and they'll take pity on you. Or else you meet their friends in the street and you tell them you're having a great time and you hope this news will get back to your ex-lover and make them jealous. You think about things you could have done and what you would do differently if you had the chance, you wait for the phone or doorbell to ring, you hang around the fringe of conversations hoping to hear some snippet of information about how they are.

'You can write poems and send them or not send them, you can turn up drunk at their house and plead with them to come back or turn up drunk and pretend you don't give a damn, you can send flowers or love-notes or a few intellectual books, you can discuss it endlessly with your friends till they're sick of the sight of you, you can think about it all day and all night, imagining that somehow your mental power will win them back, you can sit on your own and cry or go out and make yourself frantically busy. You can think about killing yourself and warmly imagine how sorry they'll be after you do it, you can think about going on a trip round the world and probably when you got back you'd still hope to run into them on the street. You can do anything at all and none of it is any good. It is completely pointless. Lovers never come back. You can't influence them to do it and you would realise this if only you weren't so dementedly unhappy all the time.'

The pub is noisy with little room to move, and we have to guard our drink against a marauding barman who keeps trying to snatch it off the table even though there is a good half-inch left at the bottom.

'So we won't try again tomorrow?'

'We might as well. What else is there to do?'

Anyway, despite all that, I don't think I could go for Ruby. I acquiesce to my second line of thought on contemplating the question. I think I'd want to pass on something equally humane but a damn sight more useful. George Orwell's four volume compilation Collected Essays, Letters and Journalism

Orwell is my main man. I love the clarity, the way he doesn't let the literal inaccuracy of a generalisation stand in the way of making a good point, the way he was unafraid to change his mind and explain why, his commitment, his scathing wit, his will to really roll up his sleeves and get into the cogs and gears of social mechanisms and see how to engineer change.

His Collected Essays Letters and Journalism is especially enlightening because unlike the proper books it wasn't written with an eye on posterity. Much of it was written either as private letters or as quickly turned out pieces for magazines. Book reviews paid the bills in the Orwell house, and he often used them as a platform for a superbly insightful rant some distance from the subject of the book he was ostensibly reviewing.

Reading about the 1930s in words written at the time is very different to the modern stuff; in the differences we see how we've been emasculated by a sense of inevitability and fatedness. But in Orwell's contemporary writings, the Spanish Civil War is still fresh, the communists in the UK are siding against the non-Stalinist troops, the Second World War isn't inevitable, sympathy and indifference to the rise of fascism are widespread. There's everything to play for, and in this there are parallels with politics today and clues for wise action.

Is it cheating to pick a four volume set as my book? Hey, at least I wasn't smartarse enough to be the staggering 20-volume £750 Complete Works of George Orwell, a collection so mighty it leaves out only one known piece of writing he ever did (KGB archives won't let it go apparently), and putting it together left the compiler needing heart bypass surgery.

Have you ever had a crush on a fictional character?

Nope, although I have been powerfully persuaded to share certain viewpoints. I love how Cis in Ruby and The Stone Age Diet has her hair in a bleached crop, but is described as one of those people who'd look great whatever she did with her hair. Better, 'one of those people you see once in the street, then think about once a week for the rest of your life'. That one was so good I nicked it to describe Cas in my book.

(That was an entirely gratuitous mention of my book just to make Jim Bliss feel better - see his nomination of me for more info)

The last book you bought is:

Bought, you say? I buy a tiny minority of books I get. I tend to avail myself of the poor security arrangements at corporate bookshop chains. I recently got three copies of Colin Tudge's So Shall We Reap so I can give them away to friends. It's the most important book I've ever read.

Oh, actually since then I've got Mark Lynas' High Tide: News from a Warming World. It doesn't argue that climate change is inevitable. It demonstrates that it's already here. Only read the intro and am already astonished and horrified. And yet still they launch the largest passenger aircraft in history.

The last book I actually bought was The Lorax and Oh, The Places You'll Go! from a charity shop in Bradford about a month ago. I got copies for my nephews last christmas, and I'm sure I'll find happy homes for these copies. They're as good a welcome and motivation for newcomers to earth as I can think of.

The other main method of acquisition is loans and gifts. I just got given The Closed Circle, Jonathan Coe's sequel to The Rotter's Club. Enjoyed the latter immensely, although for me What A Carve Up! shines above the others of his I've read. It's combines great tenderness with a detective story and an intelligent fury against Thatcherism. But it might be cos it was the first one of his I read.

When you get your first book by a great writer or your first album by a great band it often stays your favourite. Subsequent stuff is sort of more of the same, whereas that first one opened out that whole world to you.

Iain Banks said that if Complicity - an superb novel, btw - had been his first book it'd have cause much more fuss than The Wasp Factory. Similarly, Ruby's the Martin Millar I plumped for, and asking other people they always love their first Millar the most, but if it were given a single transferable vote system Dreams of Sex And Stage Diving would win, it's everyone's second or third favourite. It's got a clearer moral than the others, and could even bee seen as heavy-handedly doing so, but it's a book with lofty aims and hilarious sleaziness.

Criminally, the miserable fuckheads at Fourth Estate have let Millar's stuff go out of print. He's talking with his new publisher, the excellent Codex Books - who also do the essential A259 Multiplex Bomb "Outrage" by Simon Strong - about reprints. I will try to stop talking about him now. I think you've got the point.

The last book you read:

The Boy Who Kicked Pigs by Tom Baker. A dark twisted macabre short story, very vivid, great savouring use of florid language. And all helped by hearing it in your head in Baker's voice as you read. Him and Stephen Fry, the best speakers of English I can think of.

Oh, Fry was simply born to be the voice of the book in Hitchiker's Guide To The Galaxy. The movie's pretty good. Like Shaun of The Dead, it manages to be intelligent yet lightweight, a perfect day-after movie; playful with ideas, but no matter how munted you are you won't be bewildered.

What are you currently reading?

I start many more books than I finish. I don't know if I'm going to get any further for a long time. There's usually several such books on the go at any one time. By my bed at the mo (apart from the concise Oxford dictionary which lives there permanently) are:

Julian Cope's The Megalithic European, a stunning continent-wide companion to The Modern Antiquarian.

How To DJ Properly excellent, very witty and in a field that invokes pretention, egotism and wilful mystification of technique more than most it's very clear, down to earth, accessible and encouraging.

Norman Davies' The Isles: A History, a big fat history of these islands that is, for once, from something like a balanced perspective. Simon Schama's 'A History of Britain' was largely actually just a history of the English monarchy. The BBC website for his TV series had a link to English Heritage but not to Historic Scotland or Cadw.

The Penguin Book of Twentieth Century Protest. It's a compilation of writings from throughout the century written at the time, mostly by the actual people involved in assorted struggles. Though the title aims a tad higher than it delivers, being very much from a British political perspective.

As with Orwell's thing, writing from the time is very instructive for its freshness and its urge to make changes that aren't yet inevitable/lost. Keir Hardy, Sylvia Pankhurst, Ghandi, Martin Luther King, Trotsky, Thatcher, Tony Benn, Malcolm X, Hitler, Germaine Greer, Haile Selassie, Che Guevara, Churchill, Arthur Scargill, Gloria Steinham, George Monbiot. Hell of a book. I love the format; it's dip-in-able without being superficial.

That's a quality we consciously aimed for when we set up the Godhaven Ink writing/publishing coolective; a way of writing that was intelligent, inspiring, informative, substantial in content yet concise.

Maybe it's the punk ethic of DIY and brevity. Growing up on punk, glam rock and 60s pop I got steeped in a value system that said 'make your point well, memorably, then shut up'. Anyone can find a good idea somewhere in a 17 minute guitar solo, but to set up, declare yourself, put a twist on it and leave all in two and a half minutes - and all in a way that sticks in your head even if you only catch it once in passing on the radio - now that's talent.

As Woodrow Wilson said, 'If I am to speak for ten minutes, I need a week for preparation; if fifteen minutes, three days; if half an hour, two days; if an hour, I am ready now.'

And on a related tip, as Orwell himself said, 'never use a long word where a short one will do'.

Five books you would take to a desert island.

I strongly dislike the use of 'desert island' as an image in this type of question. Most of the books, records and other cultural items I love resonate deeply because they help me make sense of this life. They equip me for a future in this culture, they embolden my heart to stay robust for the challenges this society gives me.

There'd be little point in having lots of songs that help you cope with the complexity of human relations if there were no more humans with which relations were being had.

I think a more accurate phrasing - but more unwieldy so I don't expect it to catch on - would be 'if you were only allowed to have access to five books for the rest of your life what would they be?'

That list would look like this:

1. The Modern Antiquarian by Julian Cope.
A huge book in size, scope and effect. Over 300 British Neolithic monument sites documented, and so much more. But for all the good the gazetteer has done to get me properly out of doors, the real power is the hefty wodge of visionary writings that aim to understand why . Why these places were built, why it's still relevant and how we got from then to now.

These monuments aren't from a Golden Age, they're the beginning of humans insisting on leaving their mark, on reshaping the world to suit them, the beginning of alienation and neurosis; the farthest back where we can understand the psyche of who we're dealing with and the start of modern humanity.

Stunningly set out in thought and visually, this inspired work isn't like anything else you've read. A book that, in every sense, makes you see the world a different way.

2. Ruby And The Stone Age Diet by Martin Millar.
The best book for someone like me, a relentless soppy realist dreamer from the Thatcher era.

3. Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut.
Could have been a number of his. God Bless You, Mr Rosewater is often overlooked, Timequake grossly underrated, Slaughterhouse Five and Slapstick are bona fide masterpieces too, but in the end it's this one that contains all of the greatness of those and more.

Playful with ideas in a way that only a writer who came of age in America's mid 20th century sci-fi years can be, Breakfast of Champions is Vonnegut firing on all cylinders. Warm and deeply compassionate, it encourages a tenderness in the reader, you can feel your hard scales of cynicism dissolving.

4. Love by Mahalia.
Is it bad form to pick a book I had a hand in publishing? Well why the hell would I be publishing something that's not astonishing, that's like books already out there?

Love is an unusual format - mixing short stories with poetry (but don't let the p-word scare you) - and mixes scouring emotional honesty with subtlety, an uncommon intellectual perspective and laugh-out-loud wit, always seeing deeper meanings and resonances in human interaction. The workings of the heart told in scenes lit with a light as stark and precise as a laboratory, yet as mysterious and enchanting as a full moon.

Egads! It's got to be one of my beloved dip-inable compilations, but which? That Penguin Book of Twentieth Century Protest is the likeliest candidate, but really, to the exclusion of John Pilger's Distant Voices ? Vonnegut's Palm Sunday and Fates Worse Than Death? Or, if this is a Desert Island Discs style thing and money's no option, that complete Orwell thing that chucks in all the novels too? Can I?

Who are you going to pass this stick to (3 persons) and why?

Step on up,

Green Fairy - The first blog I ever got into, and still a big favourite. She combines political intelligence and eloquence with caustic humour, and you know she couldn't give a monkey's what anyone thinks of her writing.

Miss Badger - Discovering each other through a mutual love of Green Fairy and badgers, she's a clever unashamed feminist and we so need a lot more of those around the place.

Uncarved - Culturally, John's a tireless observer, commentator, catalyst and instigator, and brings so many diverse strands to his mix that he's bound to put you on to good things you've never come across any other way.