Monday, October 29, 2018

Raconteurs recording new music, October 28th, 2018

Good news! From The Raconteurs' Facebook page:

Raconteurs recording in the studio in Nashville, October 28th, 2018.
Sign up for Third Man Records Vault Package 38, featuring their first NEW MUSIC in ten years, by Wednesday at midnight
If you have not previously been a member of the Vault, it's Jack White's subscription vinyl service. To get this package you would need to sign up in the next two days. Don't sign up too late because you won't get it. You'll be charged the same amount and get the NEXT package, which hasn't been announced yet and could be anything. Well, any Third Man Records thing worth around $60. 

Raconteurs in the studio, October 28 2018

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Where's the one? Eric Clapton and J.J.

Genesis Publications sent me a pamphlet advertising "Sunshine Of Your Love: The Crossroads Festivals 1999-2013" by Eric Clapton and Friends which is nice of them. I'm unlikely to buy it, but I don't mind mentioning it here for those who are interested.

Genesis have me on their mailing list because I bought the expensive edition of Jimmy Page by Jimmy Page. In fact, I bought the affordable edition as well. They're good quality, well made books.

The Eric Clapton pamphlet had a quote in it that I wanted to reproduce here. Regarding playing with J.J. Cale he says,

We played 'After Midnight' and I didn't recognise it at all. I had no idea what he was playing, and I didn't know where the one was. That's an essential component for musicians like me - I will often ask, 'Where's the one?' In most Western music, there are four beats to the bar: 'one, two, three, four.' If you come in on the two, thinking it's the one, your day is over. So it's quite common for someone in the band to say, usually to the drummer, 'Where's the one?' and he'll indicate it with 'one, two, three, four.'But with J.J. I was getting no slack at all; I was playing up there in another world. I finally heard him say, 'Midnight.'And I realised,'Oh.We're doing "After Midnight"!' and managed to get back on track.
[Reasonably accurate copy of spacing and punctuation, so sic]

And I thought, "You too, Eric?" I thought it was just me.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

The Pretty Things: article in Guardian today (10/25/18)

The Grauniad has a long piece on the Pretty Things today, as it's the 50th anniversary of SF Sorrow and there's an upcoming gig at the O2 on the 13th December.

The Pretty Things are a favorite of this blog.  The Norman Wisdom film, What's Good For The Goose. The Electric Banana album. The various sixties and 1970 videos and more.

The Guardian piece (link at top) is worth a read. I won't reproduce it all here, but I will reproduce the videos and accompanying remarks.

“The Blokker festival,” nods May. “It turned into a riot. The security were hitting the crowd with truncheons. I always think that was the first time the kids kicked off, instead of being knocked about and told to behave. They picked up the fucking crash barriers and charged the security. You could see the looks on the security guards’ faces: this shouldn’t be happening, I’ve just hit you with a truncheon and now you’re fucking smashing me over the head with a barrier.”

drummer John “Twink” Alder does a mime in white face and Napoleon hat, while May shoots him a succession of furious glares. He looks as if he wants to kill him. “Oh God, yeah,” nods May. “We all did. He got completely carried away. It was like: what are you fucking doing? It was his Marcel Marceau period.”

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

ISS passes over Hurricane Michael as it nears landfall

People keep telling me that man was not meant to live in space. It's inhospitable, no atmosphere, deadly etc. etc. Looking down from the ISS to Earth today, it's clear that the atmosphere, while barely thick enough to be breathable half-way up a decent mountain, is quite capable of mounting its own violently lethal bag of tricks. It looks about as hospitable as Jupiter down there and I'm sure the ISS is quite happy to be out of the way of's filming.

Monday, October 08, 2018

SpaceX SAOCOM 1A launch 10/07/18

(Image heavy post)

On Sunday, October 7 at 7:21 p.m.Pacific time, SpaceX launched the SAOCOM 1A satellite from Space Launch Complex 4E at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The rocket flew out over the ocean as it gained height. The satellite was deployed about 12 minutes after liftoff.

The first stage separated from the rocket and landed at SpaceX's Landing Zone 4, also at Vandenberg. It was the first landing on solid ground on the West Coast.

Vandenberg AFB is about 200 miles north west of me in San Juan Capistrano so I wasn't able to hear the liftoff or the sonic booms as the returning stage came in for a landing. I did get a very clear view of the rocket as soon as it lifted clear of the low clouds on the coast. 

I used a cellphone camera. 

Oops. Had the flash on.

Oops. Still had the flash on.

I think the bright planet (in the clear sky above the palm tree and slightly to the left)
is Jupiter. Jupiter, Venus and Mercury were all in pretty much the same
 direction last night but I think Mercury and maybe Venus would have set by then. 

Wednesday, October 03, 2018

Occidentalism: The West in the Eyes of Its Enemies by Ian Buruma and Avishai Margalit (book, review)

Ian Buruma’s 2004 book Occidentalism: The West in the Eyes of Its Enemies told me more about my own culture than its enemies.

There was a recent kerfuffle about Ian Buruma, whose name I had not heard for some years prior. Apparently recently made editor of the New York Review of Books, he intended to publish an article by accused sexual assaulter Jian Ghomeshi. The staff warned against it, but Buruma allegedly insisted, and the resulting rather self-pitying article went down like a lead balloon with the public, culminating in Buruma quitting his post after only a year on the job. (The previous editors started in 1963 and served for 43 years (Richard Epstein) and 54 years (Barbara Silvers) so it’s fair to say the magazine’s editors normally have more staying power.)

His book, A Japanese Mirror, was well thought of in the 80’s, during the Japanese economic miracle. This new spat brought his name back to my attention. I remember once vaguely having believed he was Japanese, and indeed he’s published many books on Japan, though he’s not a native. (I think I mixed his name up with “burakumin” anyway.) On reading more about him, I saw that he’d also co-written the book I’m discussing today with co-author Avishai Margalit.

The brief description I read piqued my interest. It was written shortly after 9/11/2001 when “the West” (as in most Americans) first learned that they had somehow managed to make enemies of…someone. “Why do they hate us?” a colleague memorably asked me at work that morning, and from the press the answer came back, “They hate us for our freedoms.” This book is an attempt to look at this question less jingoistically. Indeed, it betrays traces of having been written in a hurry to supply an answer. Its argument that there is a enemy-culture-wide understanding of “Occidentalism” equivalent to Edward Said’s “Orientalism” falls apart on several occasions. It’s still an interesting book.

Ordinarily, the essay would have to establish that the “Orient” sees the “Occident” as a unified culture, and other than Oriental in ways similar to those established in Said’s famous book. It should establish that “Occidentalism” is a collection of stereotypes tending to dehumanize its enemy so that it can be destroyed without pity. It doesn’t. It looks at some of the flowerings of the Occident – like cities and modernity – and tries to make the case that cities and modernity are sufficiently different in the West than in the East to make them abhorrent. It also fails to make the case that people from the “Orient”, with their criticisms of “modern” life can have conflicts with the West in a way that Westerners themselves do not. It continually undermines its own thesis by situating the early criticisms of modernity in the thoughts of Western thinkers. 

In all fairness the book does spend a little time on actual non-Western thoughts about the West. A section on Japan, which adopted modern western methods early on and raised the ire of Japanese traditionalists; a section on Russia and the Eastern Orthodox Church which I was impressed by (though, knowing nothing about it, I may be too easily impressed) and a section on Islamism, which certainly filled me in on a lot I did not know, though it approached it from the aspect of jahiliyya (religious ignorance, nowadays referring to a species of Western idolatry based on love of material things rather than God) but not so much with the attempt to establish a Caliphate, with which I’m more familiar. Even so, the authors manage to site most of this thinking in Western roots – Communism, Nationalism, National Socialism – rather than endemic, non-Western thought.

In the first section, The Occidental City, the fear of Godless and amoral cities is traced back to the Biblical story of the Tower of Babel. It seems somehow relevant but not…relevant to Occidentalism, The West in the Eyes of Its Enemies. Next up is Juvenal – a Westerner - writing about the iniquity of Rome, the city being a hotbed of lying, robbing and mercantilism. There’s the Goncourt brothers, describing a prostitute in Paris as moving in a mechanical way, literally a soulless whore of the city, of the “machine civilization”. William Blake, who abhorred the Dark Satanic Mills that blighted England’s Green and Pleasant Land. It references T. S. Eliot’s poetry about secularism in city dwellers, comparing the godless to animals.

The book cites Richard Wagner, where Tannhäuser’s Venusberg is “Paris, Europe, the West,” according to the man himself, having more “freedom and alienation” than our “provincial Germany with its comfortable backwardness”.

Another problem with cities is the fluidity of relations that are conducted using money. With money as the medium of exchange, emerging rules about money and the use of money are both godless and conducive to the growth of communities of strangers with no kinship bond or attachment to the soil necessary. Voltaire is cited. Friedrich Engels (also not Oriental) saw something “repulsive” in English cities as there was a mingling of classes without any societal rules, and with indifference leading to “atomization” of individuals pursuing “selfish” interests.

This reduction in the importance of position in the clan and relationship with the feudal lord leads to the newly alienated individuals feeling lost and forgotten when they arrive in the city, and the book talks about movies from India, Thailand and Japan in the 1950s. (It does not name any.) Finding no brothers in the city, the newcomer often turns to violence. The book goes on to say, “It is a universal story, this clash between old and new, authentic culture and metropolitan chicanery and artifice, country and city.” If it’s universal, where is it between Occident and Orient?

Hitler (also notably a Westerner) in one of his Table Talks said membership in a Volk was “organic” while citizenship in England or the US was open to anybody. In another Table Talk Hitler said, “American civilization is of a purely mechanized nature. Without mechanization America would disintegrate more swiftly than India.” Japan may be foreign, he said, “But my feelings against Americanism are feelings of hatred and deep repugnance.” Arthur Moeller van den Bruck also saw Amerikanertum (Americanness) as the society that was changing our way of thinking of the Earth as something we were dependent upon to something we could exploit for our own purposes. Trotsky is said to have described Capitalism as the “victory of town over country”. Johann Gottfried von Herder was a folklorist who “believed that nations were organic communities, which had evolved like trees, rooted in native soil”. “Nature’s children were better off, purer more authentic”, he thought. Buruma and Margalit say that for Romantics, “organic” is a good word and “mechanical” is a bad one (p 80).

The subsequent section, Heroes and Merchants, is about the love of comfort vs. the love of death.

It begins with German, not Oriental, romanticism with Thomas Abbt and his essay “Dying for the Fatherland”. Germany saw itself as different from the West – i.e. the French – typified by Napoleon. Germans loved their Kultur, their roots and Romanticism, which developed into a military culture based on honor. 

Werner Sombart, during WWI, wrote the book Händler und Helden (Heroes and Merchants) describing a battle between two Weltanschauungen (world views), that of shopkeepers like England and that of heroes like Germans. Sombart refers to “Komfortismus” meaning material possessions and living comfortably, as the enemy’s mode of living. In this worldview the bourgeois have a habit of hanging on to life and not dying heroically in order to achieve grand goals. They are happy to be individuals who will not fight for the greater good of a system of ideals. De Tocqueville thought similarly, though he was less hostile towards it. “If your object is not to create heroic virtues but rather tranquil habits…” Ernst Jünger wrote about the “closeness of death” being the rush that real heroes – Germans – craved. His brother Friedrich Georg Jünger fretted that Germany was “part of the west” now that it had internalized Western values including “civilization, freedom and peace.” German thinkers such as Heidegger made a particular enemy of what they called Amerikanismus, the love of America that they saw as sapping the European soul. The slavophile, says the book, believes the Will is superior to reason – and so did the Nazis (p92).

Arthur Moeller van den Bruck said liberal societies allow “everyone the freedom to be a mediocre man”. Preference is given to the everyday, not the exceptional. Examples given in the book are Dutch paintings and English novels which show ordinary life, not heroic, manful, out of the ordinary events. This desire for a quiet life represents a threat to a utopian society as it encourages people to settle for the ordinary, and not fight for an ideal. 

Another dislike of the West is based on its supposed rationality, its reliance on science and logic as opposed to contemplation and prayer. The section called the Mind of the West starts with a quote from Plotinus who differentiated between discursive thought and nondiscursive thought, nowadays referring to soulful contemplation (nondiscursive) and reasoning (discursive). Occidentalism is said to believe that the west is only capable of the latter and allows the spiritual to languish. The authors quip that Occidentalists believe the West can find the “best” way to do things, but not the “right” way to do them (p 76). Herder, the folklorist, thought that the world was frozen by philosophy, meaning the effect of cold reason (p 37.) One of Dostoyevsky’s characters is mentioned as convinced by Crystal Palace (at the Great Exhibition of 1851) that the West was committed to scientism, trying to engineer society in the same way they could engineer the magnificent glass palace. It was a “common Romantic belief”, the authors write, “that excessive rationalism caused the terminal decay of what was once the vital organism of the West. Rationalistic cleverness was held to be a Western disease: cleverness without wisdom.” (p80). 

To me, this dislike of the “Occident” by its enemies began to sound very much like the (Western) Romantic Left’s and the alt-Right’s dislike of “things nowadays”. And the book, which was written well prior to the recent rise of the modern alt-Right, acknowledges this very briefly: “some of the rhetoric now coming from the United States, specifically in neoconservative circles, comes close to this vision.” 

And that’s most of what I got from the book’s long list of western civilization and its discontents. That the Occident’s “modernity” – city living, appeal to science for the best way forward and rules for society that are limited to rules for the flow of money – has had internal enemies from the early days. The Romantic movement, a reaction against the Industrial Revolution and in many respects against the Enlightenment itself, may not have “dehumanized” the West preparatory to attempting to destroy it, but it did call upon the West to be more human and less mechanical, which by inference shows that they thought it was insufficiently human. If non-Westerners saw this critique and adapted it, it’s unsurprising and not a sign that “they” have characterized “us”. (The book is ringingly silent on whether or not a couple of centuries of regime change and carpet bombing may have had something to do with creating a “them and us” situation with the West, or an association of the West with Israel. Israel has become “a prime target of a more general Arab rage against the West, the symbol of idolatrous, hubristic, amoral, colonialist evil, a cancer in the eyes of its enemies that must be expunged by killing,” says the book. (p139) Note that it “has become” – passive tense. Nothing is proposed to have caused it.)

It seems to me that this strain of self-induced Occidentalism, having survived, would explain such disparate matters as the flight from science as a source of knowledge, the embrace of folk remedies, a desire for things which are “natural” and a preference for foods which are “organic”. A rejection of vaccination fits in well as a feeling that science may have found the best way but not the “right” way to deal with epidemic disease.

Of great interest to me was the-then subcurrent, and now fast flowing river, of far-right thought that agrees with this supposedly enemy Occidentalist dislike of godless, atomized, unheroic city dwellers concerned only for their own comfort and increasingly easy mechanisms of mercantile exchange. The book acknowledges this briefly but back then, in 2004, there was little to show what the alt-Right would become. The Dark Enlightenment, Neoreaction and Accelerationism seek to overthrow modern capitalism and undo the Enlightenment, democracy apparently having been a mistake. Happy-go-lucky alt-right fans of Julius Evola’s Revolt Against the Modern World, and Aleksandr Dugin’s dismissal of modernity, such as Steve Bannon, Richard Spencer and Milo Yiannopoulos were just a gleam in the Right Wing’s eye. These modern western “thinkers” seem to fall right in with Buruma’s and Margalit’s statement that “The Romantic always feels that he is at the nadir of the fall, from which he looks up in the hope of redemption. The fall is marked by total fragmentation, estrangement from one’s own true self, alienation from one’s fellow human beings and estrangement from nature (or God).”

I would be interested in an updated look at the issue from Buruma and Margalit, now that they’ve had a little more time to think about who the enemies of the West – and the Enlightenment – may be.

Friday, September 21, 2018

Applied Ballardianism by Simon Sellars (book review)

An Augean non-place (Alice in the rabbit hole)

Applied Ballardianism by Simon Sellars is a huge novel, larger than its word count would suggest. 

It's an account of a man whose thoughts are ruled by the works of J G Ballard, the writer whose novels and essays explored the effects of changes in technology, environment and suburban development on human psychology. He encounters UFOs, thugs, strangely belligerent ferrymen, barflies, computer-game avatars, a dwarf on a bicycle, and much forbidding architecture. Several people are eager to give him drugs, one of whom is a doctor. His burning desire is to figure out how Ballard’s work ties this accelerating madness together before it all crashes to a halt.

Applied Ballardianism arrived in an ordinary, expected Amazon bubble wrap envelope, slipped under the gate. It had been loosely bagged with an order of Silverfish bait in a carton that had dented the corners of the pages. I’d ordered the baits because a population explosion of Silverfish is assailing the house. If you’re not sure what these are, they’re little silver robot-looking bugs that are to be found all along book shelves, chewing at pages and leaving ragged holes in the texts. They also favor living inside household picture frames, consuming the images and dying under the glass like self-mounting museum pieces.

A silverfish, yesterday

Applied Ballardianism's genre is described as ‘theory-fiction’, which was new to me. I had to dig for definitions. It’s a construction from philosopher and wordsmith Jean Baudrillard. DeBoer says of Baudrillard’s theory-fiction, “Theory must abandon production for seduction and revel in the ecstatic supersaturation of its own linguistic nature. Baudrillard does not have to theorize with the intention of affecting a 'reality,' but can let his theory stand as fiction or literature that persistently draws attention to its own lack of grounding.” In the book, Sellars points out the word ‘Baudrillard’ surrounds and subsumes the word ‘Ballard’.

(Picture by LH; index is not in book)

Theory-fiction is credited (by Wikipedia, and of all things, Urban Dictionary) as being pioneered by philosopher Nick Land, whose work has been described as speculative realism in which formalism and representation become continuous with respect to one another, wiping out the real object to which they ostensibly refer. “The collapse of the signifier/sign/signed triangle in semiotic theory into a duality of signifier and signed.”

This definition seems to me to be a case of having had too much to think. Just like little Jim Ballard in the movie of Ballard’s Empire of the Sun.

More simply, according to Wikipedia, Nick Land’s version ‘is noted for its unorthodox interspersion of philosophical theory with fiction, science, poetry, and performance art.’ In other words, it’s just theory – philosophy or literary theory – mixed with fiction. There’s a list of theory-fiction here, which seems to agree with Wikipedia’s definition, but even as I type that I realize I am getting caught in the Baudrillardian lobster pot of multiplying words and hoping it will help.

So, to recap, we have some theory-fiction, by Simon Sellars, which will either explain a theory by using fiction or will collapse the semiotic triangle into a duality, or both.

(Picture by LH; index is not in book)

Now I come to think of it, I’ve read theory-fiction of this type before. Valis, by Philip K Dick, which I’m not going to summarize here because we don’t have all day, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, by Robert Pirsig, and probably less well known and a surprise to Sellars, The Man Who Killed Mick Jagger, by Richard Littlejohn.

ZATAOMM is the writings of a man on a long motorcycle trip with his son. He remembers he used to be someone else, and his pre-breakdown self is still inside his mind as an alter ego. As the trip progresses, he remembers that his previous self, an adjunct professor, broke down from “thinking too hard” about the philosophical concept of Quality. He now champions a different way to work on the problem of Quality, rationality, which he illustrates and practices via motorcycle maintenance. His mind begins to heal. He even works out why he sometimes dreams his son is on the other side of a glass door- it’s an analog of the door between them in his old mental hospital.

TMWKMJ has stuck in my memory since the day I read it, in 1979. As I recall, it recounts the maturing of a philosophizing, unlovable failure as he does a Grand Tour of European Culture and frets constantly because the modern world refuses to live up to the glories of his beloved Medieval Art. A run-in with violent thugs does not help matters. Having been subjected to enough philosophy to harm himself, he has internalized Nietzsche. He’s different, the superman. He must clean up his civilization. He begins with the idea of killing Mick Jagger, onstage, at the Oakland Coliseum, and he ends there as well, as his jump to make the attempt is the last line of the book.

Applied Ballardianism follows an unnamed protagonist who is styled as ‘I’. I’m going to call him ‘Sellars’ as his life follows the broad outlines of the life of Simon Sellars, the author, with whom I’m acquainted on Facebook and elsewhere online. ‘Sellars’ was working in a warehouse in the nineties, an aficionado of the cyberculture of that time, with its transhumanism, piercing rituals, hippie boosterism and much-lauded white-hat hackers. Unimpressed by their promises of a bright future, he gravitates to the scene's more nihilist cyberpunk cellar. From his new perspective, he quickly comes to see the onrushing digital world as a “tsunami of data”. Convinced he has “Information Fatigue Syndrome”, he visits a doctor to see what can be done about it. “I’m a cyberwarrior,” he tells the doctor. “And my mind is going.” This is the first of many times ‘Sellars’ sees himself start to unravel – the scale against which he measures his mental health changes exponentially, so he’s mostly drifting around the low end of an increasingly mad world. The doctor gives him some pills, imprinted with the symbol of a dove, that have unexpectedly disorienting effects.

i-D magazine Devil Girl cover

Picking up one of the cyberculture glossies – i-D magazine, the issue with a devil-girl on the cover – he reads an interview with J G Ballard.  The writer is pictured making a sanpaku-eye gesture, challenging 'Sellars' to look more closely.

He decides to “risk it all” and read Ballard’s most famous, and infamous, work, Crash. Crash’s narrator is ‘James Ballard’, whom ‘Sellars’ describes as a “rough copy of the real Ballard, a flawed clone.” We’ll hear a lot more about ‘copies’, doubles and ‘clones’ later. This is the beginning of the end for poor ‘Sellars’. Crash “snaps” him. Head filled with theories about Ballard’s oeuvre, he enrolls in university and begins to study for a PhD in Ballardianism. When his tenuous connection with cyberpunk fails – when he learns they have embraced Billy Idol and yet have no room for him, "Sellars', at their S&M parties – he throws himself into drilling down into the source of Ballard’s apparent importance.

All this puts 'Sellars' in my bailiwick, since I had some similar experiences - I was at ACM Siggraph in 1993, when Billy Idol appeared at a party there to plug that album. That was either the year I had a press badge or the year before, I forget. On seeing what was on offer, I told my editor nothing of interest happened and I couldn't be bothered to write the article. (He did not object.)

An Augean non-place (from The Fly)

‘Sellars’’ life spins out of control. His lover repudiates him. Academia fails to hang on his every word. People keep offering him those pills with the dove imprint. UFOs are spotted. Street lights mysteriously go out when he walks by them. Almost everything that happens reminds him of a Ballard story. The few that don’t remind him of postmodern philosophers or movies. (If you have not read Ballard or Baudrillard, this is not a problem as Sellars describes each piece and how it pertains.) He gets a job as a travel writer, but everywhere he goes, he sees only the Ballardian surface which by now coats every aspect of reality. Hotels and airports, the "non-places" that aren’t truly anywhere? Marc Augé, and Ballard. Dubai? Mostly Ballard, some Chris Marker. The concrete bunkers of the western Atlantic coast? Virilio, and a lot of Ballard. Back home to Australia? He gets himself his own Ballardian “hoodlum scientist” and moons after him in a very Ballardian way. He’s sure everything is connected. If only he could mentally shift things into another configuration, it would all come together and make sense.

(Picture by LH; index is not in book)

Applied Ballardianism, billed as a “memoir from a parallel universe”, is a mixtape, a series of samples set to a rhythm, a supercut. It’s autobiographical (and there’s nothing more standard than a professor writing about the colossal in-fights of academia – academic politics are so vicious precisely because the stakes are so small, as they say, and for a TA they’re smaller still), it’s science fiction, paranormal mystery, a critique of consumer society and a travelogue of post-modern theory.
It’s hyperreality, where fiction and reality are blended together seamlessly, both at the level of ‘Sellars’ and his wildly out of control imagination, and at the level of the reader observing Simon Sellars, the writer, extrude ‘Sellars’, his fictional double, his portal-mirror and his off-kilter double exposure.

Scalpel from Cronenberg's Dead Ringers

For more information on postmodern theoreticians, click here. For even more information, click there again.

(Note: The 'index' is not part of the book. It's from my notes. Picture selections are my own as well.)

Monday, September 17, 2018

Carnival Nine by Caroline M. Yoachim (review) and more

This month's Old People Read New SF is a review of Carnival Nine by Caroline M. Yoachim. I am one of the old people doin' the reviewin'. Guess which one.

It's possible that some people clicking on that will be puzzled that the website name is I am, every single time, but that's because I'm old. The website is called that because noted SF reviewer James Nicoll's original project was to have Young People Read Old SF (and F) to see if it was as enthralling to them today, as current young people, as it was to us back in the day when we were also young people. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, they rarely fell over each other with enthusiasm about the Old SF they were assigned to read. I did find it a bit disappointing, as many of the stories were multiple-award winners and many were repeatedly reprinted up until the present day, and I did think they had something going on. 

Shirley Jackson's The Lottery? Jerome Bixby's It's a Good Life? (Better known as the wishing people into the cornfield Twilight Zone one.) Light of Other Days? Of Mist, and Grass, and Sand? Flowers for Algernon?

And many, many more.

I read, or rather re-read, all of them before reading the Young People's views and thought that most held up well. The most common complaints, that the characters are of purest cardboard and 'women' characters are sprinkled in for decoration only, were, alas, quite true but...I guess I was used to it, back in the day. If you go looking for the stories, beware that not all of them are legally online, although most of almost all of them are in PDF form in some teacher's notes or other, and therefore googleable, if unlike me you do not have an extensive musty library teeming with silverfish.

Young People Read Old SFF is here.

Another one of James's projects is New People Listen to Old SFF. These old radio shows are available on the web, and linked before each set of reviews, so get listening and see if you agree with the young people!

Mysterious Ebbing and Flowing Well, Settle

I used to visit the Ebbing and Flowing Well at Giggleswick with my parents every time we drove past, which was frequently.  It's on the B6480 (or Clapham Road) under Buck Haw Brow (pronounced bucker brow) near Settle golf course. If you're inclined to visit, be aware the road is pretty busy and there's no pull-out for the well.

"Ebb" - to drain away. "Flow" -  a stream of water.

Humphrey Bolton / Ebbing and Flowing Well, Buck Haw Brow B6480, Giggleswick / CC BY-SA 2.0

Although it's reputed to have a grander and more folk-magic past, it is nowadays a little livestock drinking cistern by the side of the road. Regularly, it begins to fill up - mysteriously, since the flow isn't associated with rain - and then drain again, almost immediately.  The water height change is only a few inches, and you can easily spend half an hour staring at it wondering if the water is ebbing, flowing or just lying there prompting hallucinations.

If you read histories of the well, they mostly say, "the well these days has stopped ebbing and flowing".  This isn't actually true, it's just most people have the twitches from too much smart phone wrangling and don't watch for long enough.

Being old enough to have grown up without the phone twitches is good in one way, but not in others - for example, I don't have any of my own photos or videos, because cameras cost a fortune back then. So these two videos are cribbed.

The first has a description of the history and location of the well, with a time-lapse of the effect.

(From bill bartlett's YouTube)

Then there's this nice example from John Barrow's YouTube, who has disabled it so it doesn't play on Blogger. It's worth the extra click. It shows the well at a very active point - and the people speaking in the video have hit on how it works. It's a siphon, so once the water reaches a certain point down the (invisible) outlet, it will continue to 'mysteriously' empty, far below the point the where it started draining.

I'm not sure why I remembered this today, and went looking for videos. Perhaps it's just a nostalgic day - my other chase down the internet rabbit hole this morning was to follow the fate of the Bethnal Green Mulberry, which is at least 500 years old and may even have been planted for medicinal purposes by the Romans. For years it was in the grounds of a hospital, but the hospital moved out and the developers moved in.

Monday, September 10, 2018

Why I haven't reviewed Applied Ballardianism yet (non review)

I thought it would be quite easy to review Simon Sellars' Applied Ballardianism.

In fact, reading the book was quite easy - and enjoyable for a number of reasons, including the several They Live-style beating scenes.  The non-places - airports, parking lots, freeways and hotels. The Heart of Darkness/Lovecraft island of Nan Madol, which I thought was fiction at first and had to look it up.

Reviewing it is proving harder, however, because of my woeful lack of knowing who the hell Baudrillard was.  On attempting to remedy this, I hit a patch where the entire world dissolved into an unsorted pile of unreferenced signs which interfered with my ability to write anything down. In fact, I was so discombobulated, I wasn't even happy working at my Twitter mine.  I usually put my shift in pressing the "like" button and occasionally "retweet" for several hours a day but Baudrillard took the fun out of it.

You know Searle's Chinese Room? After I got to a certain point in the Baudrillard thing I realized Baudrillard thought of us as the AI in the Chinese Room, taking in signs from the left door in one language, looking up the corresponding sign in the second language and handing that word out of the right door.  Maybe a bit more, as we occasionally add a "LOL" or "AYFKM" as we hand it back out.

Except I'm not seeing an argument for us as Strong AI, i.e. all of the handling of the signs is done by an unthinking, inhuman machine. Which means I don't exist.

Of course, that may be because I'm reading Baudrillard For Dummies, but that's about my level.  I don't usually do this, but a scan of the book is available online. It's Chris Horrocks's and Zoran Jevtic's Introducing Baudrillard 1999. I have some other books in the same series - Derrida, for example - but came across the full text of Baudrillard while I was investigating whether to buy it.  I thought it would take me a day to figure it out. I'm still stalled on day 8. The relevant part starts on p 103.

French philosophers are weird. It's 28 been years since the reunification of Germany so there must be a crop of German philosophers just about ready to harvest and then we can drop the French ones.

Saturday, September 01, 2018

"To Be Read" pile - Various memoirs of the Space Age - and the inner space age

I enjoyed the Nick Butt memoir ElectricNick: No Direction Home so much that I'm currently reading the similarly-situated Roy Weard memoir, The Way To(o) Weard

For balance, I'm concurrently reading the inner-space focused Applied Ballardianism; A memoir from a parallel universe by Simon Sellars, which is positioned as an autobiography but is something much more.  I'll be writing about those two when I'm finished.

Sadly, I did find a 60's Ladbroke Grove book which did not manage to hold my interest. That was Polly Put The Kettle On by Hillary Bailey. I thought that Bailey, Michael Moorcock's wife at the time and Ladbroke Grove regular, would be of interest automatically given the date and the situation. I found that it had two issues which drew me up short. First, she uses an odd punctuation for speech, which meant that every time a character (for this is a novel, not a memoir) spoke, I bared my teeth in a snarl and had to spend a moment before I could return to the plot. Second, the events described seem a little low-key compared with the writings of the male denizens. She may have been aiming for literary, or Kitchen Sink as it was called, but for me ended up with the Eight Deadly Words.

I don't care what happens to these characters.

She didn't have the money to pay the rent and Brian knew it.
'Oh, Trevor, the tea is ready', she said, 'I've mashed it in the china pot with the pink pigs on.'
Trevor was a stocky man with a round face from Chepstow. She met his eyes half way.

(This is not an actual quote from the book.)

In contrast, the books I'm getting on with read more like this:
Zoomer made the obvious joke and so we renamed our band the Mass Debaters. We were young and pretty naive, so we hadn't realized how off-putting this name was to girls, or for that matter men, promoters and managers.
Zoomer was a man with no luck at all, but plenty of drugs. He took three tabs of the brown acid and totaled a new car by running it into a tree. He said he'd swerved to miss a giant Zebedee who had sprung out from behind it. He hadn't even bought the car yet - he was test-driving it. Funny thing is, that was the second time that happened to him. 
 (This is not an actual quote from a book either.)

Anyway, back to the reading mines.

Friday, August 31, 2018

ElectricNick: No Direction Home by Nick Butt (Kindle book review)

The Kindle-only ElectrickNick: No Direction Home by Nick Butt is the fascinating story of a young man who appeared fated to sink rapidly into homelessness and addiction after leaving his dysfunctional family, but escaped and ran through London’s Swinging Sixties and early seventies like a hippy Zelig. Everyone you could possibly think to appear in the book does so. Nevertheless, Nick manages not to come across as a name-dropper; he (and his co-writer Richard Marris) simply recount, in an unadorned and workmanlike fashion, the things that happened around him, and it turns out to be everything worth happening.

The closest memoir I can think of is Joe Boyd’s White Bicycles, but Nick’s story lacks the air of glamour and the inevitability of success that peppers Boyd’s gallivant through the upper echelons of the Hippie Establishment.

Indeed, Nick writes, without mentioning any names, “In hindsight, many of the leading figures of those times were at best self-serving and at worst exploitative and sexually predatory. Their voices and endlessly self-promoting stories dominate the history of our British version of the counterculture, while people with fresh angles and insights take them to the grave.” This comes just after a mention of his (then) recent meeting with one of the London scene ladies, where she says she now “views a lot of what she experienced in her early teens as paedophilia, somehow justified as a form of self-expression.”

But the book is in no way explicit, nor salacious, nor judgmental. It merely describes Nick’s journey, which takes him from Middle Earth (the London Club of that name), Notting Hill, through Pacific Island paradises, via clapped out hippy bus-rides through the Middle East and non-airworthy planes to Bali, to Australian communes and back. What lifted him out of the quicksand of poverty that overtook so many at the time – the traps laid for troubadours who got killed before they reached Bombay – is his uncanny affinity with the mechanical and electrical. Every time the money ran out, he met someone who needed an engine repair, a recording studio built or a demon-possessed transistor radio exorcising. And in the counter-culture territories of New South Wales, everyone needed solar panels.

Thrill to what happened to the enameled pot that came in handy initially because he had dysentery and needed to bail stuff out of the window! Find out how to explain to the highway patrol why the handbrake of your faltering vehicle is lying on the seat! Have fun with adventures like the following, which almost unbelievably happened in London, not the New Hebrides:

“One Sunday afternoon a few months later we were putting on a benefit for a group called The Tribe of the Sacred Mushroom when we were raided aggressively by the Bow Street constabulary. As they left they told the market traders that we were burning a child at the stake, which goaded them into smashing up the whole club with axes and grappling hooks.”
Delight in anecdotes such as this, which is also incredibly set in England:

“Septimus had bought it [a contraption apparently composed of batteries and CRTs] for £5 from a local farmer who maintained it was a UFO he had seen crash land in one of his fields. We later learned that a local eccentric, who claimed to be Mick Jagger's uncle, had produced it as a prototype for a spaceship. Maybe he built the real thing because he disappeared one day, leaving all his belongings behind and was never heard of again. I bought the vessel for £7 as a conversation piece but before I could collect it a chap named Scorpio smashed it up with an axe 'because it was evil'.”
Or this:
“We had dropped acid on the ferry and all seemed normal until we were confronted by the 50 or so clocks in Gabe's parents' living room and by the time we sat down for tea my sausages were breathing. My efforts to force them down weren't helped by Gabe's mum, who'd had part of her gullet removed, pulling a tube and funnel out of her cardigan and pouring pieces of bacon and egg into it.”
And did you know:
“The French were testing nuclear bombs at Mururoa Atoll, 3,559 miles of nothing but sea away and the electro-magnetic pulses from the detonations fried transistors all around the South Pacific.”
I’m not using up all the best tales here, because there are literally hundreds of them. Every page has something incredible happen, or someone incredible met. Much is funny. The first half has the 60's rock royalty. The latter half, where he and his lady build a home and garden from scratch in the Australian eucalyptus forests, is equally gripping. The middle, island-hopping tales in the Pacific, are like Heart of Darkness meets Trobriand Cricket.

Nick and his co-writer seems to have been working from diaries, because they seem sure of dates, names and number of appearances. Which is interesting, because Mick Farren told me the Deviants had never played with Led Zeppelin (only with the Band of Joy) but Nick says they did, and describes the event. I guess that’s the advantage of keeping good records.

An excellent companion book to more famous memoirs by people who may have had an interest in whitewashing their sixties exploits.

Edit: Nick provided the proof!


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