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Peregrinations around my Armchair

by Austin Johnson

Revision begun 8th October 2008

Revision ended 13th March 2009
Hard copy begun 12th March 2009
before completion of edit.
Page count changed from 256 to 254
Hard copy finished 15th March 2009


Peregrinations around my Armchair is not meant to be an

autobiographical sort of book. However, unless I explain one
idiosyncrasy about myself, Peregrinations may prove a more puzzling
text than it needs to.

I read somewhere that nearly everybody by the age of twenty-five has

become fixed in their opinions and rarely has an original or
conflicting idea after that.

In my own case I am not that sort of person and my opinions and

beliefs are volatile. At fairly regular intervals I experience
"conversions" from one belief to another in all sorts of areas -
philosophy, history, current affairs, religion, politics, art etc
etc. I also have a tendency to wax evangelical over the opinions
which have recently been adopted via conversion. This can be
irritating to people who know me well, since they realise that in a
few months time I could well be arguing an opposite opinion with the
same fervour.

Changes in opinions and beliefs also result in changes in my

character and behaviour, in my moral standards and my perceptions
about many things. So onlookers not only have to put up with the
change in opinions, but also in the "new look" Austin Johnson that
accompanies them. All these changes were particularly marked during
what my ex-wife tartly refers to as my "religious mania" period.

Peregrinations was started in 2004, and there have been "conversions"

since then. It follows that some of the nodes will not be consistent
with other nodes on the same subject. I will highlight some of the
changes but leave others unedited.

Peregrinations around my Armchair Page 1 of 163

Dramatis Personae

It may help to know who a few people are:-

1. Alice Johnson. Daughter.

2. Anthony Tovar. AKA Roscoe. Friend and correspondent.
3. Mike Reid. Friend and correspondent.

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or how I set about creating Peregrinations around my Armchair.

M00 - 11.08.05 - Peregrinations will consist of items called “nodes”,

which will be identified by a number.

M01 - node date missing - Paragraphs will be separated by blank


M02 - node date missing - Nodes will be separated by three blank

lines (double double spacing).

M03 - node date missing - Nodes will begin with the node number
followed by a space and a hyphen and another space. Then the node
date in the format 00.00.00. Then another space, hyphen, space. Then
an optional title for the node followed by a full stop. Otherwise the
node simply begins, with a capital letter.

M05 - node date missing - Nodes can be revised. They can also be
deleted. Node numbers will be retained during revision, and will
disappear upon deletion.

M14 - 15.10.04 - Nodes with node dates missing will be annotated

"node date missing".

M17 - 18.12.04 - Node dates are the dates on which the node is begun
in this text. Some or all of the material contained in the node may
have originated at an earlier date, which may be specified.

M18 - 03.02.05 - When I import material into Peregrinations from

another source, like a letter, I shall annotate the original source.
Mark it with the node number, so that I do not, at some future date,
come upon it and consider it for inclusion for a second time.

M28 - 12.12.07 - I will assemble some of the nodes, still with their
original numbers, under various topic headings. Number order will be
maintained within the topic.

M31 - 11.04.08 - Some deleted nodes are preserved in a separate file.

Their original node number is lost.

M32 - 15.03.09 - Nodes originating from earlier material, including

letters, may be edited.

End of Methodology

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America (AA)
Free Will (AB)
Iraq (AC)
Mind and Matter (AD)
War Crimes (AE)
Films (AG)
Democracy (AH)
Kant (AJ)
Darwin (AK)
Fear of Death (AL)
Progress (AM)
Economics (AN)
Medical Matters (AO)
Music (AP)
Memory (AQ)
Television (AR)
Sex (AS)
World War I (AT)
Writers (AU)
World War II (AV)
Middle East (AW)
Limits of Knowledge (AX)
Global Warming (AY)
Purpose of Life (AZ)
War (BA)
Science (BB)
Computers (BC)
Working (BD)
Drugs (BE)
Language (BF)
Religion (BG)

Miscellaneous Peregrinations (ZZ)

Peregrinations around my Armchair Page 4 of 163

America (AA)

0107 - 29.11.04 - Perhaps George Bush will end up impeached or

inducted for his crimes, for his lies, for his corrupt practices. Who
knows? Perhaps a whole bunch of his cronies with fall with him. Who
knows? And perhaps he will have done some good - part of the time by
lying. Who knows? We will have a better idea in, say 2014.

0114 - 07.12.04 - Perhaps it is economic folly - the devaluation of

the dollar - that Bush will be remembered for.

0246 - 01.08.05 - The subjugation of the blacks is the most abiding

disgrace of the United States. The civilised part of the world moved
from a stage where slavery was taken for granted, it was just a
question of who served who, to a stage where it had become illegal.
This development was part of the eighteen century Enlightenment. And
along with other secularising countries, the United States moved too
- but, oh, so slowly. If slavery existed in the slave states, then
apartheid existed, and continued to exist, in the free states. In a
fierce attempt at reconstruction, after four years of war, the North
tried to impose an equality on the South it was not willing to
implement in its own territories. Modified forms of slavery persisted
North and South. It took until the 1950s and the 1960s to shatter
this structure, and that was only the beginning of a process that has
not ended in 2005. And these racist Americans dared to preach to
racist Germans, and to racist Britons, and to racist Frenchmen. It is
a horrible blemish on a wonderful country.

0456 - 12.12.06 - 54 people were killed during the Rodney King riots
of 1992 in Los Angeles. Wow, terrible! But let's get some perspective
on this. More people than that were killed today in Baghdad - 60
Shias blown to pieces. It's part of American parochialism that the
1992 riots look so serious - something that happens to them is many
times more important than when it happens to anybody else.

0534 - 19.09.07 - When one is looking for positives to chalk up to

America's account, perhaps one of the greatest is not her entry into
World War II, for which she exacted a heavy penalty, but her generous
protection of Western Europe from the end of that conflict until the
fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. That was more than we deserved.

0546 - 27.09.07 - I have finished reading the book by Clyde

Prestowitz, Rogue Nation: American unilateralism and the failure of
good intentions. Basic Books 2003. As indicated in node 0536, this
book has had an effect on me, making me more critical of American
foreign policy. I think the best way to describe it is that I feel
disappointed, just as I have felt disappointed in the past, like
those times in the 1980s, for instance, when you found out that the
US had signed up another set of Latin American bad hats because of
some perceived Cold War advantage in doing so. America is being
wicked. Again. America is being stupid. Again. Disappointment.

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0825 - 12.12.07 - The American quest for security is paranoid. The
destruction of the Twin Towers has created, or merely amplified, an
insatiable craving to make all Americans everywhere safe. It cannot
be done. The pursuit of such a policy will only provoke more attacks
than would otherwise occur.

In the first series of The West Wing Michael Sheen as President of

the US compares the current situation with that of ancient Rome, when
a Roman citizen could walk the roads of the empire unafraid, since he
could always halt any harm coming his way with the magic words,
"Civis Romanus sum". Well, it makes a nice story, but is it actually
true? Were Roman citizens really protected against enemies, against
bandits, against foes of all colours?

0888 - 29.03.08 - America lost 58,000 dead in the Vietnam War. Well,
suck it up! Most of those people went over to Vietnam armed to the
teeth, and did more than their fair share of killing. During the
whole Vietnam war from the war with the French down to 1975, it is
calculated that there were 3.4 million Vietnamese casualties. The
figure needs drastic reduction to take account of the years spent
fighting France, and casualties include wounded and missing. But
there is a huge difference between the losses suffered by the
Americans, which gets mentioned all the time, and the losses suffered
by the Vietnamese, especially the civilians, which gets mentioned
hardly at all. How come an American life has so much more value than
a Vietnamese life?

0893 - 29.03.08 - Why does American foreign policy get it wrong so

often, how is it that they can make stupid mistakes so frequently? A
book by a one-time ambassador to the United Kingdom, Raymond Seitz,
called Over Here may have thrown some light on this matter. It is to
do with the differences between the political systems in the US and
in the UK and what happens after a Presidential election, as opposed
to what happens after an election in Britain.

In Britain there is a smooth transition and handover of power and the

civil service that performed on behalf of the previous administration
continues to serve the new government. Not so in the United States.
All the experts who worked for the previous administration get fired
and the President and his staff spend their first few months filling
the empty chairs. So in spite of the intellectual excellence of many
who work at the pinnacle of the American system (and Clinton,
originator of much foolish foreign policy, was no numbskull either)
there is every possibility that under the pressure of events foreign
policy will get made in a ham-fisted, on-the-hoof, sort of way. Any
night in the American foreign policy establishment may be amateur

0897 - 29.03.08 - There was always something frantic about the anti-
communism of the USA. What were they so afraid of? And in 2008 they
still don't have proper universal medical care because it's socialist
medicine. A bad case of throwing out the baby with the bath-water.

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Not everything proposed by socialists or communists is wrong or
unworkable. The attitude to communism in Europe was very different.

0922 - 06.06.08 - There has never been a country as powerful and

influential as America currently is. Even Great Britain in the
nineteenth century did not come close, although it had a navy in all
the sea lanes of the world. It was still only one great power among
several. America in 2008 is first without equal. The mightiest empire
the world has ever known. And yet it is hamstrung by its political

America can project unprecedented military force, but because of the

political system of checks and balances, because of the existence of
a free media and a public opinion, because it is a government by
consent, it can only project this military force under certain
conditions, not on any occasion that the administration would like
to. Barbara Tuchman in The March of Folly points out that the
Japanese misunderstood the American system and thought that the USA,
like Japan, could be sent to war whenever the government wanted to
send it. So they got in their pre-emptive strike at Pearl Harbour.
Had they realised that the US would require a casus belli which would
convince the public and Congress, they could have helped themselves
to British, French and Dutch colonies, and kept away from American
territory, and they would not have had to fight the Americans.

America is an empire without an imperial form of government. Perhaps,

in view of the devastation it wreaks on the world anyway, we should
be grateful.

[11 October 2008. I don't know if the first sentence in the previous
paragraph was something I thought of, or something I read that was
proposed by somebody else. An empire without an imperial form of
government. Is that true? What did I mean by it? It sounds like it
could be a clever sort of remark. This node comes from June 2008. The
anti-Americanism which has now taken up home in my mind once again
was already, back then, plainly on the ascendant.]

0959 - 20.03.09 - The quote that follows is from a letter started 6th
Jan 2007 and sent to my friend Mike Reid.

Why I am not anti-American right now
With me it has been a knee-jerk reaction to be anti-American in a
political sense for most of my adult life. Steven Pinker in The Blank
Slate refers to that piece of folk wisdom that everybody is born a
little liberal or a little conservative. I think in my case I was
born a liberal with an excessive optimism in people's ability to get
along with one another. Consequently, I have been easily upset by
examples of America's nastiness in the world, of which the decades of
my life have furnished me plenty of examples.

(Pinker's point in the context of his book and the theory of man that
it describes, is that, of the two viewpoints, it is the
"conservatives", with their bleaker view of human selfishness that
makes a closer fit with the facts.)

Around 2000 or so I had another attack of anti-Americanism. At that

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time I started reading Noam Chomsky, whose loathing for his country
is perhaps unparalleled. On September 11, 2001, I applauded the
destruction of the Twin Towers and the damage to the Pentagon. I was
quite miffed that one aircraft was downed before reaching its target,
and equally pleased that the towers did not just have holes punched
into them, but collapsed, one after the other. My viewpoint at that
time must have shared some common ground with Bin Laden's.

But also during this anti-American period I persisted in my reading

in politics and history. I swung back to a non-oppositional stance,
broadly in approval of America, the United Kingdom and the European
legacy of liberal humanism with all its pillars: (a) free and fair
elections; (b) division of church and state; (c) freedom of speech
and the press; (d) rule of law; (e) free market driven by private
enterprise alongside a public sector; (f) enforceable laws of
property and contract; (g) party government with the peaceful
transfer of power.

Perhaps for the first time in my life I spent months actually

thinking about politics and history, rather than quickly embracing a
formula. Anyway, I am not anti-American right now, and I prefer Bush
in the White House to Kerry, because the one man is capable of
exercising leadership in foreign policy, whereas Kerry could probably
not see beyond pulling the troops out of Iraq.

A general, but not uncritical, approval of the American empire in

world politics rests on a number of rather dismal principles about
life in 2007. Such as:

• Conflicts between nations will be resolved, in the last resort,

by military force. This in spite of the existence of the United
Nations and the growing body of international law.
• Everyone of us has been thoroughly programmed by natural
selection to be selfish - or we would not be here. Views of the
world which exaggerate the capacity for love and affection and
co-operation and high-mindedness of the average person, or
average polity, are wrongheaded and dangerous.

Some years ago, post-fall of the Berlin Wall but before my 2000-2001
burst of anti-Americanism and shortly after the first Gulf War, I had
this thought, "A new world order needs a world tyrant." With all its
faults, we can be grateful that the world tyrant that emerged in the
20th century is the United States.

One can do salutary thought experiments. Imagine a world in 2007 in

which the US abandoned completely its leadership (imperial) role. Or
imagine a world in 2007 in which there was more than one world
leader: say the US and Russia and China. A three-cornered Cold War.
Or imagine a world in 2007 in which the world hegemon was not the
United States, but some other country - say Russia. We're getting off
lightly, if the US is the hegemon. END QUOTE

Free Will (AB)

0157 - 03.02.05 - There is an argument that determinism implies

fatalism. If you realise that events unfold inexorably then you
realise that you cannot make a difference, and there is no point in

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The modal verb is incorrect - we need "will" instead of "can". As one
of the actors on the global scene, you "will" make a difference. You
can't help making a difference. In any particular case you cannot
know that there is no point in trying because the future, although
determined, is not foreseen by you.

But, psychologically, there is a very real sense in which one unpacks

the meaning of philosophical determinism, and concludes that one
might as well "go with the flow, there is no point in trying". But
will you cease to strive in the way you did before, after that
revelation? Perhaps you will, perhaps you will not. The entire
determining thrust of the past, and not just the one encounter with
determinism, will decide what you do.

The future is determined, but unknown, and your speculations on the

subject are one determining factor in your behaviour, among many.

But surely someone who has never been introduced to the idea of
determinism is more likely to strive for their goals, than someone
who has?

0158 - 10.02.05 - Determinism says that the future is as fixed as the

past. But it is also true that the future cannot be foreseen by me,
or by you, or by anybody else, simply because there are too many
variables involved, and monitoring them would change outcomes, which
would need monitoring in turn, ad infinitum. So the future is fixed,
including your personal future, but it is unknown, according to the
deterministic viewpoint. There is nothing to stop you from assessing
the likelihood of alternative outcomes in your future, indeed, you
will probably do this. But certain knowledge of the future will
always escape you.

So, does the fact (according to this viewpoint) that the future is
fixed, mean there is no point in striving to attain personal goals,
like freeing a political prisoner, or getting a law changed, or
obtaining a promotion? Since the future is as unknowable as it is
determined, it does not mean there is no point in striving for
personal goals. Such goals may be unlikely to come to fruition,
judged by common sense and experience of the world, but they are not
affected by determinism.

And supposing someone comes to believe in determinism, and then

becomes more fatalistic as a result. What is going on here? We can
say that the person has adopted as his own a determinism which is
poorly constructed and misunderstood. Certainly it can have an
influence on his future actions. It can encourage what natural
inertia he already has. But our actor is not behaving rationally,
because he has not understood the implications of determinism
properly. All of which, of course, was pre-determined.

Iraq (AC)

0030 - 23.09.04 - When I started this node, Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi, a

significant player in the current emergency in Iraq, had beheaded two
American hostages and was threatening to kill the third and last, a
Briton called Kenneth Bigley. Now, actions have consequences.
According to a Times article of yesterday, al-Zarqawi's family lives

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in Jordan, in a place called Zarqa. Wife and four kids. Now, how did
we get ourselves into a situation where we cannot do something like
the following: snatch the entire family and take them to a military
hospital. Cleanly amputate the foot of one of the children and send
it to al-Zarqawi. Simultaneously, put a display of photographs of the
procedure onto a website. Demand the return of Bigley, or more bits
will follow.

This does not imply the wholesale abandonment of the rule of law and
all norms of civilised behaviour. What I am asking is how we got
ourselves into a situation where we do not have any rules and lawful
means of dealing with enemies in extreme situations like this one?
Tactics to be used only in such circumstances.

I am not making an ethical point here. I am not trying to argue for a

lex talionis. I am not saying that an atrocity justifies an atrocity
of our own. I am just asking what practical measures can be taken to
hurt al-Zarqawi; to punish him, if you like. What can we do to make
his actions costly to himself? [Monday 10th November 2008. Let this
entry stay in Peregrinations. It reflects my attitudes during my John
Wayne period, which lasted from 2002 to 2006. And it raises a valid

0081 - Node date missing [2004] - US soldiers in Iraq are targets,

serving as decoys to draw out the enemy, and divert them from
attacking civilians in New York, or Chicago, or Miami. The soldiers
are in their primary role, standing between the civilians of their
country and an attacker. [10th November 2008. Plausible but probably
untrue. The invasion of Iraq certainly did not reduce the likelihood
of an attack on American soil.]

0093 - 29.10.04 - The Lancet. A study in this venerable medical

magazine calculates the number of Iraqi excess deaths since the
invasion of 2003 at 100,000. Many of these casualties the result of
inaccurate bombing by American planes. Oh, say it isn't so! Can the
cowardly bombing tactics have killed so many women and children?

And does one have to deduct the number of women and children Saddam
Hussein would have allowed to die while sanctions continued, had the
invasion never taken place? Is this figure included in their

0097 - 04.11.04 - Iraq is not turning into another Vietnam. But is it

turning into another Algeria, as Alister Horne suggests?

0108 - 29.11.04 - So, Saddam Hussein was bluffing. Jeeee-sus. No, he

wasn't exactly bluffing. He said he had no weapons of mass
destruction. So was that a double-bluff? Perhaps his mistake was
making himself so thoroughly disbelieved and distrusted. A bit of
trust would have come in useful in those weeks before the invasion.
Or would it? Wasn't America, and perhaps other powers, intent on a
casus belli. Let's be honest here.

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0155 - 03.02.05 - Mealy-mouthed morons continue to claim that Saddam
Hussein killed "his own people" when he had the Kurds in Karbala
gassed, with 5,000 dead. But, of course, "his own people" are only
those Sunnis who live in the Tikrit region. As part of the tribalism
of Iraq, it is clear that the Kurds of Karbala are not "his own
people" in any sense, except that of living within the boundaries of
the nation state.

0305 - 14.09.05 - A bloke in a mini-van encourages unemployed Iraqis

in Baghdad to gather round him with promises of work, then blows
himself up and takes over a hundred of them with him. What possible
political or religious goal does such an act support, even a Utopian
one? [10th November 2008. Such terror tactics strike at the
occupation forces and their Iraqi allies. It makes people afraid to
leave their homes. It makes normal life impossible.]

0320 - 09.11.05 - I supported the invasion of Iraq. I thought the

benefits would largely outweigh the costs. Looks like it has turned
into a major screwup. Just one nuance of the situation - two members
of Saddam Hussein’s defence team have now been murdered. Time for
Austin to eat a little humble pie, perhaps? If a society has not
reached a stage at which it is ready to move from a basis of tribe
and family to a basis of nationhood in a world of nations, then there
is little that can be done to help it into the modern world.

0392 - 08.06.06 - Teletext reports that Al-Zarqawi, head of Al-Qaeda

in Iraq, was killed in a bombing raid yesterday evening. One of the
many turning points in the history of modern Iraq, maybe. In any
case, that was one fucker who really needed to die. [10th November
2008. A typical response during my John Wayne period, 2002-2006.]

0452 - 21.10.06 - A report on the impasse in Iraq in which the former

Secretary of State James Baker was involved has suggested, among
other things, that Iran and Syria might be officially invited to
involve themselves in the Iraq counter-insurgency - on our side, of
course! Is this cynical realism, or is it one of the silliest ideas
ever to have been suggested by political experts?

0465 - 08.02.07 - Sometimes the situation in Iraq baffles me. Like a

few days ago when a lorry exploded in a market. 135 dead and 400
wounded. Just what the fuck is happening? Whoever did this makes the
leaders of Al-Qaeda look like hard-headed pragmatists.

Why am I baffled? Because I want to know what possible motive there

was for exploding a bomb in a market place with this horrendous loss
of civilian life. And even more mysterious is the fact that after
such an atrocity, nobody claims the responsibility.

It seems singularly pointless, hardly a political act at all. You do

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not say who you are, or what you want. You just kill and maim people.
Now, there was a bomb recently in Israel, and not one, but three
organisations claimed responsibility. Horrible as the act was, at
least it made some sort of sense in that context.

Who are you? What are you trying to do? What do you want? What are
your objectives?

0469 - 25.02.07 - Extract from letter to Mike Reid started 6th Jan

[Tuesday 16th Jan 2007] TV teletext report. According to a United

Nations body in Iraq, there were 34,000 civilians killed during 2006,
and 36,000 wounded. Figures taken from hospital returns and Baghdad
morgues. Iraqi government says these figures are "grossly
exaggerated", but they would say that, and the figures do not seem
unreasonable. Blowing up civilians in public places with car bombs
is, technically speaking, an easy way to reach a high body count.

I can't get a figure for the total population of Iraq, but for some
reason the number seventeen million sticks in my mind. Using that as
a guide then the population lost 0.2% of its members to this
violence, and about the same percentage wounded. In one year.

Sometimes these killings seem like fratricidal lunacy, although I

realise that most of them must have a rationale behind them, however
bizarre. And a lot of it is making territorial claims. Drive all the
Sunnis out of a suburb of Baghdad, for instance, and turn it into a
Shia enclave under a warlord, and a no-go area to government troops
and the US. But that would not explain a bomb that blew up 60 today,
mostly students waiting for their transport home, outside a
university. That looks like a military strike against knowledge and
learning of the modern type.

0.2% of the population. I ask myself cold-bloodedly, whether such a

rate of attrition is sustainable? Given a population that probably
reproduces at a far greater rate than is needed to replace natural
deaths, then, yes, it probably is. That assumes that the population
does not rise up in a mass at all this violence and run screaming for
the nearest frontier. Which has also been happening, to a certain
extent. [15th Oct 2007. Make that a large extent. One and a half
million refugees in Syria, two million internal refugees, as the
result of ethnic cleansing. Even that is not the whole story of the
disruption. And the population of Iraq is about 25 million, I

0503 - 16.07.07 - My support for the 2003 invasion of Iraq was based
on my state of knowledge at the time. Now in July 2007 I have to say
that the invasion was a mistake.

Mind and Matter (AD)

0010 - 12.09.04 - Is Epiphenomenalism Absurd? Since 1990, when I saw

my sister's dead, green face lying on the pillow of her hospice bed,
I jettisoned all my previous dualistic beliefs and settled for a

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metaphysics that says there is just matter and energy in the
universe, and that sentience, consciousness and the way it feels to
be alive, are just epiphenomena of the natural causes that make
everything, without exception, happen. Sentience is like a colourful
froth which spins off the real events happening below, without having
the least effect on any of them.

It seems to follow that sentience could be dispensed with and that,

outwardly, everything would still remain the same. I would still go
on typing this, a zombie, but I would have no "experience" of typing
this, or of the rain on the picture window, or the smell of coal
beginning to burn in the grate. If cause and effect all occur on the
material level, a world of zombies seems possible.

What seems to make Epiphenomenalism absurd is this. First, there is

no reason why zombies should not have learned to communicate via
symbols - one thing standing for, or representing, something else.
Birds can make a particular kind of caw stand for "danger". In
principle this can be extended over evolutionary time until human
beings talk about football, politics and relationships. They can even
talk about philosophy and metaphysics - zombies can. What zombies do
not seem to be capable of talking about is the so-called problem of
consciousness. Why are we sentient? Why does being alive feel like
something? In other words, if I were a zombie, I would not have typed
Node number 10. That is because there would have been no sentience,
no consciousness, no feeling like something, to present a problem in
the first place.

It seems to follow that, at least in some respect, a world of zombies

would not be, could not be, identical to the world we live in. But
how can the presence, or the absence, of epiphenomena, make a

Perhaps the answer is that, in our world, the epiphenomena are there,
and can be thought about. In the zombie-world, by definition, they
are not there, and therefore cannot be thought about. Perhaps the
argument against epiphenomenalism falls, when this is taken into
consideration. I got the argument itself from a graphic comic
entitled Introducing Consciousness. It did seem at the time a
knockout blow. One of the lessons of philosophy may be that there are
no knockout blows. An argument is only as strong as its premises.

0014 - 20.09.04 - If I have been talking to a friend, or I have been

watching a film on television for almost two hours, what has been
going on does not seem to be adequately described in terms of
electric currents running along nerve fibres. There does seem to be
at least one more level of reality at work here - the realm of
meaning. It can be said that this reality emerged, in the course of
evolution, from the material reality. It can be emphasised that this
level of reality is firmly based in the physical reality. For
example, it seems likely that most of the notions I have around the
name "Napoleon" are based on a cluster of nerve cells in my brain,
which are heavily interlinked. Precise damage to that area of the
brain could result in my losing nearly all my "memories" of Napoleon.

0017 - 20.09.04 - The Problem of Dualism Returns. If one suggests

that there is a world (or level, or dimension) of sentience and

Peregrinations around my Armchair Page 13 of 163

meaning as well as a material world, this takes account of the very
real problem of consciousness, but brings back the problem of
dualism. Are these two kingdoms to be seen as interacting? If they
are, then presumably the causality at the material level is not
uninterrupted. There will be gaps into which non-material causes will
insert themselves. Equally, the sentient realm will have equally
fragmented chains of causation. The argument against this is
empirical: that such gaps in the chain of causation on the material
level do not seem to be observed.

Alternatively, the two realms operate their own, independent chains

of causation. The problem then becomes - what keeps the two realms so
remarkably well synchronised?

0023 - 23.09.04 - Levels of a Conversation. Perhaps there is a way

round the problem of causality, when we think dualistically of a
realm of matter and a realm of mind working together. Take a
conversation as an example. Then on the material level there is no
denial that nerves are firing and sounds being uttered and picked up
by vibrating eardrums. However, the messages carried by interlocutors
also have a real existence and a causal relationship to one another.
But I fear this description will not lead us out of the problem.
Because the next message I send frames the sounds that I will utter,
and we are plunged again into a model of two realms interacting,
which is what we want to avoid. How can the two realms work in
parallel, but remain synchronised? And surely what I want to say does
determine what nerves fire and what sounds I utter?

0025 - 23.09.04 - The Problem of Sentience. The problem of sentience

is a real one. Why are we (and at least some other organisms) not
just automatons? Perhaps it is because something like communicating
an argument and changing someone's mind cannot be achieved on the
physical level. [This originated in a handwritten note made some time
in June 2002.]

0026 - 23.09.04 - Mysterian theory says that we are simply not

equipped to understand the answers to problems like the enigma of
consciousness. We can rack our brains, we will never "get it". We are
trying, with a consciousness that emerged through evolution by
natural selection, to understand in an objective way, that same
consciousness. But consciousness was never designed to comprehend
itself. In fact, consciousness was never designed.

0031 - 24.09.04 - Etiological causes operate from the past on a

"push" basis. Things like material forces, instinctual drives etc.
Teleological causes operate from the future on a "pull" basis. Things
like intentions, plans, purposes. Distinction comes from Aristotle.
Materialism says that all teleological causes are really etiological

0036 - 25.09.04 - Where do New Ideas Come from? Specifically, how do

Peregrinations around my Armchair Page 14 of 163

you progress your ideas on a particular issue, like the problem of
consciousness? New ideas come from obvious places, like reading a new
book on the subject. But because the brain is more like the Internet
than a hierarchical organisation, new ideas can also come from non-
obvious places, from just about anywhere that nerve cells have joined
up. Remembering a ghastly holiday in Bolivia can suddenly shed light
on the problem of consciousness.

0040 - 26.09.04 - Wow! The extent to which we live in a world of

symbols and representations. When we talk, or phone, or write. When
we read or watch TV. When we think. Most desk jobs involve us almost
all the time in the world of representations and symbols, only
mediated by the world of material things.

0047 - 06.10.04 - Does synaesthesia throw light on the problem of

consciousness? I play the piano and my hearer detects no sounds, but
sees a succession of colours in front of him. The representations
conjured up by the sound-waves striking his ears, and being processed
by his brain, are abnormal, because he is a freak. But this probably
has no logical connection with the difference between material events
and the world of representations (whether abnormal or not). Later: a
search on the web revealed that the sense impressions of the
synaesthesiac do not replace the ordinary ones. Synaesthesia is

0054 - 07.10.04 - The Mind is What the Brain Does. Initially

plausible, subsequently bogus. There is an awful lot of what the
brain does - nerves firing, neutro-transmitters transmitting - that
has nothing to do with mind.

0063 - 13.10.04 - My gut feeling is that it is in the realm of

meaning - where one thing stands for something else - that we have a
refutation of materialism. Meaning is simply something that matter
and energy cannot "do". We can cunningly mimic understanding in a
machine - like a thermostat that notices that the temperature is 60
degrees, and this "means" it is now too hot. But mimicry is all that
it is.

0065 - 14.10.04 - For materialism to succeed as an explanation,

meaning must be reducible to natural causes - "What is really going
on". To movement in space, to collisions between molecules, to
electronic jumps and magnetic fields. That sort of stuff. How can it

0066 - 14.10.04 - I will never believe that evolution is true. I will

have to remind myself that it is every time I think about it. This is
because the neural pathways of creationism are too deeply embedded in
my brain. I had the falsity of evolution banged into my head too
often as a child.

Peregrinations around my Armchair Page 15 of 163

0090 - 27.10.04 - Materialism Reconsidered. I hope, as I reconsider
my physicalist assumptions, that I do not start out on my
metaphysical travels again, and, that if I do, I do not proclaim with
the customary evangelical fervour, whatever new philosophy I fall
into love with.

0104 - 19.11.04 - Evolution may not throw any direct light on

philosophical questions, such as the relationship of mind to brain,
or how we can live in a world of meanings. However, evolution does
give us insights into what sort of "mind" we have, how it is
composed, what functions it has served. It is the mind, as it has
been honed by natural selection, that is the tool with which we do
our philosophising. This may be directly relevant as to why some
questions seem so difficult. As if we only had a hammer with which to
apply paint to the wall. It can be done, but rather poorly.

0105 - 20.11.04 - Perhaps consciousness emerged when it was "needed"

to perform actions that were otherwise impossible. I can be hungry
and go looking for food in an automatic way with perfect ease if I am
a unicellular organism. Perhaps I need consciousness to "tell" mother
that I am hungry, so that she will get food for me. Perhaps conscious
experience is needed to communicate information. On the other hand,
that was a rotten example. I only need to wail to let mother know I
am hungry.

0116 - 14.12.04 - I hold to a type of reductionist materialism or

physicalism, but I confess that this is a "wounded" version of that
philosophy: subject to analogies, readily attacked, unable to explain
basic features of our existence. It looks a poor thing, like market
economics, until you examine the alternatives, which are even lamer.

0124 - Node date missing - On 8th August 2004, before I started

Peregrinations, I wrote this: 11:30pm. Sentience does make a
difference. Without sentience we could not do all that we do. Perhaps
a "Eureka Moment" would help me to understand what Dennett means by

0126 - 06.01.05 - Actually, materialism (physicalism, reductionism)

does not state that everything is matter and energy. It says
everything is force, mass, gravity, electro-magnetic charge, and
every other fundamental force and entity we need to postulate to
explain the world. Put like that, it sounds a richer philosophy.

0140 - 18.01.05 - The paper I read recently by Ascoli, which is a

review of Colin McGinn's book advocating "Mysterianism" has struck
chords. Moved things along a little. The way science works when it

Peregrinations around my Armchair Page 16 of 163

tries to give an account of the world is to posit fundamental
entities like mass, gravity, electrons etc and relate them in
mathematical formulae which "explain" as much as possible of what is
out there, without discrepancies, or falsifying the figures. Then
along comes a phenomenon, like electro-magnetism (I think this was
Ascoli's example) which cannot be explained with the set of
fundamental entities available and their mathematical relationships.
No problem - we simply posit some additional fundamental entities.
The point is that we get an account of the world which has as its
base these fundamental entities and relations, which are axiomatic.
They just are. The speed of light = c. It just is c. It is not c+100,
or c-100. It may be that consciousness and experience and sentience
can all be explained within the physicalistic world-view, by positing
some more extra fundamental entities and relationships between them.
This does not seem intuitively possible, but who knows?

0143 - 22.01.05 - Wowie! How much of our cognitive activity actually

is zombie-like! Consciousness is not involved, we are not aware of
what we are doing.

0171 - 20.02.05 - One thing I would not think a product of a

mechanistic system would be able to do is - figure out how it works.

0172 - 20.02.05 - When motives predispose a man to one decision among

several alternatives, then, when he questions his decision, it will
always feel right to him. Even if he has just been presented with
powerful arguments for an alternative course of action, when he
returns to himself and consults his viscera, he will still get a warm
feeling of conviction. So how could he be wrong?

0319 - 28.09.05 - Meaningful, Meaningless and Semi-Meaningless. This

is not an original idea, but may be one of the most significant ones
I have had. Nor is it the first time I have had the idea, by any
means, but it is perhaps the first time I have tried to express it.
Nota Bene: the semi-meaningless statement could equally well be
termed the semi-meaningful statement.

To begin with, there is the meaningful statement, like “John went to

the Post Office”. Then there is the meaningless statement, like
“x89juthfbgeh”. Finally, there is the semi-meaningless statement,
exemplified in much of the work of Bob Dylan, and Leonard Cohen, and
Tom Waits, and countless others since the emergence of modernity in
the early twentieth century. Here is an example of a semi-meaningless
statement that I have just composed: “Arthur had a bacterial nature,
suffused with ocarinas”.

One feature of the software that comprises the human mind is that it
will seek meaning in places where it might be, but actually is not.
From regularly interpreting meaningful sentences on a day-to-day
basis, it is not much of a step to attempting to interpret sentences,
even phrases, or random collections of words or near-words, as if
they were meaningful and had content. If the human mind did not
contain this proclivity, then a great deal of modernistic art and

Peregrinations around my Armchair Page 17 of 163

literature would die from inattention. It would be included in the
category of the meaningless and tossed aside, while the mind snuffled
on to seek out something with pith and content.

However, we are stuck with this quirk of our nature. God knows what
function it serves, or perhaps served in the past. And it has a
further feature, that the semi-meaningless is not only examined and
interpreted as if it was meaningful, but it actually acquires more
significance because of its obtuseness and opacity. The semi-
meaningless set beside the meaningful is like the magic trick set
beside the mundane explanation of how it is done.

“Arthur had a bacterial nature, suffused with ocarinas” resonates

within one, does it not, just like Bob Dylan telling us about whoever
it was who played the electric violin on Desolation Row. You say it
is because it conjures up an image. Well, maybe it does, but the
image of Arthur or the violinist is just as stupid and meaningless as
the verbal description.

And does this mean that purveyors of the semi-meaningless can achieve
success and notoriety by a sort of con trick? Yes, it does. And is
semi-meaningless stuff easy to write, or paint? Yes, it is, because
all you have to do is connect things randomly, and the possibilities
are infinite. You could write a computer programme to compose new
subjects for paintings or lyrics for the next Bob Dylan album. My
friend Roscoe told me many years ago, when I argued this case, that
many people said it was easy to write Dylan’s stuff, but found it
difficult when they sat down to do so. Well, I still disagree with
Roscoe. It is easy to write Bob Dylan stuff, or late Tom Waits stuff,
because it is easier to write semi-meaningless stuff than it is to
write within the restraints of meaningfulness. And apparently it was
easy for Bob. He just churned out the garbage. And lots of it sound
so mysteriously meaningful, because of the need our brain has to fill
in holes with meaning when presented with cues.

In the genre of mystery writing those who tread a path between the
meaningful and the meaningless reap an unfair advantage because of
this peculiarity of our nature, to seek out meaning in the most
unlikely places. A meaningful mystery story with a satisfying plot
and genuine surprises is very difficult to write. But inject a little
surrealism and it becomes very easy to compose something that is
convoluted and baffling and, in the end, inexplicable. The symbolism
of the TV series The Prisoner is a good example. Antonioni’s film
Blow-Up is another. And all the strange clues that led nowhere in the
tragedy of Laura Palmer as told by that prince of self-indulgence,
David Lynch.

And yet, beyond the pseudo-significance that attaches to the semi-

meaningless, there is another kind of significance which is akin to
absurdity. One can savour the semi-meaningless like poetry. One can
embrace its absurdity for all that it says about the human condition
and the fact of this universe. It says nothing, of course, because it
is semi-meaningless. But it expresses the unsayable. [7th Oct 2007.
Does it?]

0389 - 23.05.06 - If I could imagine, if I could visualise, a

plausible way in which consciousness (lived experience) integrates
with the underlying neural states, it would do little to calm my
major anxieties. It would bolster the metaphysical materialism I am

Peregrinations around my Armchair Page 18 of 163

trying to formulate, and it would remove a conundrum. In fact, a
plausible explanation would probably cause me disappointment, leaving
yet another aspect of the world disenchanted. Just as when the
apparently impossible feat of a psychic turns out to be due to fraud,
or natural causes.

0398 - 16.06.06 - Why do we need pain? As machines, there could be

some automatic neural response to physical threat which does not
involve pain, or perhaps any experience whatever? Why is it necessary
to feel pain? The response of the skin to sudden and extreme heating
(by fire) could be an avoidance response that involved no sensation
whatever. But then, we would not know why we had made the movement of
avoidance. And the hand might be put straight back on the hot stove.

Of course, this is only part of the larger problem of why it is

necessary to have any sort of conscious experience at all - any
feelings of any kind. This chestnut continues to rattle around in my

[We do not need pain now, some of us at least. We could respond now
to a more subtle signal that something is wrong. But back then in our
evolutionary history when pain was selected as an adaptation by
natural selection, we (whatever organisms we then were) did need
something this crude. 10th August 2006.]

0406 - 10.07.06 - The notion that the "self" is an illusion, which

the neuroscientists tell us, would not have been a novel idea to
myself at age 18, or 19, or 20 or 21. I went through more than
changes of mood in the course of a day. While not splintered into
multiple personalities I experienced myself as extremely chaotic.
Difficult to plan a life, or even a day, with that amount of internal
change going on. Gradually I solidified around a recognisable
character, but it took a long time.

0505 - 02.08.07 - I have been reading, or perhaps re-reading, an

article in The Economist about an experiment done with placebos.
Subjects were put into a state of pain and then given a placebo, but
told it was a pain-killer. Meanwhile, their brains were monitored.
What was observed was the release of pain-killing endorphins which
would have been released had they been given a genuine pain-killer.
The "suggestion", the authoritative assertion that they had been
given a pain-killer, seems to have acted in the same way that a
genuine tablet would have acted. The action of the material tablet on
the material nervous system is not problematic. The action of the
experimenter's verbal assurance on the subject's brain states, on the
other hand, seems to be.

Here we have words producing changed brain states, which is one of

the large problems which materialistic monism needs to solve. And, of
course, it happens all the time. "Dinner's ready!" is liable to get
the gastric juices going, when they were inert before this call. If
your testicles are fondled by an attractive female an erection is
likely to result. But the same effect can be obtained, without
touching, and while both remain clothed, if the same female asks,
"Would you like to put your hand inside my panties?"

Peregrinations around my Armchair Page 19 of 163

Words as puffs in the air, as sound waves, obviously cannot have the
multifarious effects they have on our nervous systems. Words have
this power because they are one means of conveying meanings. It is
meanings that interact with the nervous system, but how can one
preserve materialistic monism and avoid dualism by giving a physical
description of a meaning?

The practical implications of studies like this one on placebos are

enormous. If the brain can be tricked into releasing endorphins by
the words of an experimenter, perhaps the subject himself could
produce the same result. Perhaps I, or anybody else, could release my
own natural pain-killers by some verbal formulation, or even just by
thinking certain thoughts. Comparisons with certain yogic practices
are obvious.

There is a downside to this ability to release one's own endorphins.

This is the problem of addiction. Of course, in principle, one would
only use this new ability for periods of intense pain, when that pain
was serving no useful purpose. In practice, one is likely to release
endorphins for trivial reasons, or even for no reason at all, simply
because it is pleasurable.

However, this is only one example of how conscious control might be

obtained over changing brain states. Anything that "suggestion" has
historically been authenticated as achieving can, it seems, be
achieved by the subject herself, taking control of the suggestion
directed at her brain states. Becoming both subject as well as object
of the exercise. Anything the hypnotist can provoke in a person
could, if this hypothesis is correct, be duplicated by the person
hypnotising herself.

The power of words, which contain meanings. But what are meanings?
They are related to symbols, to one thing "standing in for" or
representing another. The final, and most difficult step, is to
translate this into something which is comprehensible in a world
which is physical in nature, and only physical.

0521 - 08.09.07 - This node comes from a letter to Anthony Tovar

started on 7th August 2007:-

For the materialistic monist, like myself at present, who asserts

that all there is in the universe is materiality (physical reality),
the biggest problem seems to be the apparent existence of non-
material stuff. How can physical reality account for intentions and
emotions and wishes and meanings and information and consciousness
and self-consciousness?

It is not a knock-out blow to materialistic monism that it has this

problem. I think it was Mike Reid who casually mentioned to me in
passing that there are problems with every philosophical world view.
So, if I adopted dualism or another different philosophical system, I
would still inherit major headaches. But for the time being I am a
materialist monist and the apparent existence of non-material stuff
does seem the major problem with the philosophy.

I was reading an old Economist article yesterday from the September

3rd 2005 edition. It was about particle physics, and it reminded me
how complex elementary particles have turned out to be compared with

Peregrinations around my Armchair Page 20 of 163

the old days.

The article reminds us of the basic units of the atom - the neutron,
proton and electron. "But protons and neutrons themselves are made of
more fundamental particles called quarks." (page 72) Nor is this the
end of the story. "But besides these permanent quarks, quantum theory
predicts that so-called virtual quarks, together with their anti-
matter partners, are continuously emerging from the vacuum of space
and then disappearing again as a result of Heisenberg's uncertainty
principle." (same page).

The implications of this sort of view of matter is that any

straightforward view of determinism with causes reliably generating
effects, is unlikely to be correct. Intuitively, the quantum
particles and their unpredictability seem to inject a random element
into the foundations of reality. Perhaps it would be correct to say
that a deterministic view of the world is a "good approximation" of
how things work out. I imagine that the random activity of quantum
particles will, statistically speaking, produce stability as one
random event cancels out another, only occasionally tipping the
balance in a direction it would not otherwise have gone. I am
supposing that there are statistical regularities in the way the
various virtual quarks and anti-quarks appear and disappear, which
are analogous to the number of times 13 turns up on the roulette
wheel per 10,000 spins,

But the hoary chestnut of whether quantum physics undermines

determinism was not the thought which struck me when I was reading
the article. What I felt was how strange the fundamental material
stuff of the universe is. And if protons and neutrons are composed of
permanent quarks and transitory virtual quarks and anti-quarks, then
perhaps it is not so surprising that consciousness and meanings and
emotions are among the edifices erected out of such peculiar building

This thought takes me no further in an explanation of how this

happens. It just seems a bit more likely that it does happen.

0535 - 21.09.07 - Are reasons really just causes?

0659 - 06.10.07 - We are not self-aware or conscious while we are

asleep, that is understood - with the possible exception of dream-
time. But are we conscious or self-aware all of the time that we are
awake? I suspect not. I suspect that we are not self-aware most of
the time we are awake. We become self-aware only when we need to be

What is self-awareness required for? What tasks? When is it needed?

Certainly not when we are performing a routine chore we have done
hundreds of times before. But we need to be self-aware and alert when
we are doing something for the first time. And we need to be self-
aware and alert when we have to make a difficult or important

0682 - 08.10.07 - I had supposed that the thought experiment in which

Peregrinations around my Armchair Page 21 of 163

we imagine androids (or zombies) walking around with all the
properties of humans except consciousness to be an easy one to
conduct. There is reference to this thought experiment as early as
node 0010. But now I am not so sure.

Can we really imagine these zombies having conversations? Asking for

directions to the market? Debating foreign policy decisions made by
their betters? Filling in a crossword puzzle? And yet surely we can
have information and meaning without consciousness or self-awareness?

0849 - 19.01.08 - When a man turns right on a Melbourne street after

consulting a map, he has not been constrained in that direction by a
physical push or a gust of air, nor by an inner surge of desire or
motivation. He turns right for a reason, because of information he
has obtained from the map, which has meaning for him. It does seem
impossible to translate this into physical processes involving
muscles and nerve fibres. But is it?

0850 - 19.01.08 - According to Marvin Minsky we have many minds. We

are many-minded. We do not have a single, consistent self. We contain
multitudes, or at least a plurality. And yet we usually try to think
of ourselves as a single, consistent self - which is bogus.

0870 - 27.02.08 - "Conscious experience" is something of a misnomer,

since experience is largely an unconscious experience. We see but we
are not looking, we hear but we are not listening. Only when the
focus of attention is fastened on something can the experience be
said to be conscious.

0871 - 03.03.08 - Is the debate about consciousness around David

Chalmers anything more than a private discussion within the
empiricist enclave in philosophy? Why does nobody mention the
Copernican Revolution of Immanuel Kant, let alone say how this
relates to the ongoing discussion?

0872 - 03.03.08 - I clung to reductionist physicalistic monism (and

perhaps I still cling to it) for fear of finding something worse -
like the child in Hilaire Belloc's poem.

0873 - 03.03.08 - What is the neural correlate of thinking?

0875 - 03.03.08 - When I puzzle about conscious experience versus the

material substratum, the sort of examples that intrigue me are things
like planning a holiday or watching a film - high-level activities
where symbols and representations are rife. And I was thinking a few
hours ago that when David Chalmers speaks of the hard problem he is
not thinking about examples like these, but simple sensations like

Peregrinations around my Armchair Page 22 of 163

seeing a red patch. This may well be true, but since I had that
thought I read a short paper by John Gregg called Cognition versus
Qualia which claims that this distinction is unreal and that
cognitions, like planning a holiday or watching a film, are always
also qualia. Hmm.

0878 - 17.03.08 - Without having resolved the mind-body problem we

throw ourselves into other subjects of discourse, and roam there at
will. The implication is that while we have not resolved the mind-
body problem, and while we may yet be awaiting our Newton and our
Einstein to enlighten us on the subject, we have assumed the truth of
one of the answers to the conundrum, as part of the background from
which we now converse on other subjects. My guess is that we operate
with a qualified kind of Cartesian dualism. It is assumed by us, it
is in the background of all we say, that mental, or conscious,
events, interact with physical events and vice versa.

0880 - 26.03.08 - Introducing Mind & Brain, a sort of non-fiction

comic by Angus Gellatly and Oscar Zarate, makes some interesting
observations about behaviour which seems intelligent but in fact is
mechanistic. Frogs will only try to eat moving flies (page 49) and
will not respond to stationary dead flies. The frog is blindly and
automatically responding to a stimulus and not trying to catch a fly.
The next page deals with young herring gull chicks gaping their
mouths when mother returns to the nest with food. But what they are
reacting to is a red spot on the mother's yellow beak. Paint it out
and the chicks do not gape and will not get fed. Waving a yellow
pencil with a red dot on it in front of them elicits wild gaping and

Behaviour that on the surface appears to be intelligent and to be

concerned with that most fundamental of activities - getting fed -
turns out to be a mechanistic stimulus-response pattern, of the sort
beloved by Skinner and by Watson. On several occasions I have asked
myself whether all behaviour, no matter how complex, may not turn out
to be mechanistic rather than intelligent.

Intelligence seems to be linked to flexibility, to a way of escaping

from the limitations of the mechanistic response. Because the
mechanistic response can lead to a breakdown in the behaviour - the
frog and the motionless flies, the herring gull chicks and the yellow
pencil. It certainly seems possible that there is a category of
behaviour which is more than mechanistic, which is intelligent in a
true sense.

One of the favourite examples with which the Jehovah's Witness

belabours the Darwinian is the life history of the liver fluke. When
recounted this does seem an incredibly complex way of earning a
living, involving not one, but several metamorphoses. But from an
evolutionary point of view it is possible to see how even such a
complex pattern of automatised behaviour built up over time. The
important thing is that the liver fluke always does the same thing
every time it embarks on its complicated path in life. It is always
the same pattern. Much more difficult to explain, or to understand,
is the development of flexible, intelligent behaviour, with a range
of alternatives.

Peregrinations around my Armchair Page 23 of 163

0881 - 26.03.08 - What an absurd situation for science to be in at
the beginning of the twenty-first century. To understand so much
about the world, and yet to be unable to coherently account for the
conscious experience which is the very basis for almost all (and
perhaps all) that we know?

0898 - 29.03.08 - It may be relatively easy to imagine that conscious

experience is necessary for processes that involve meaning or
language or interpretation like a conversation, or watching a film,
or speaking in a debate, or planning an itinerary, or learning
algebra, or how to ride a bike. But a lot of conscious experience -
of mental states - involve nothing which has to do with language or
meaning or intention or planning or strategy or any of those things.
The famous example of colour perception, for instance. The retina
distinguishes different wave-lengths of light. We end up seeing
colours. Why? And something like hunger has no relation to the
intellectual faculties. Why do we have to experience that at all? Why
can't these activities that do not involve meaning simply take place
on the mechanistic level?

0899 - 29.03.08 - What is my assumed model of the mind-body

relationship. My physicalistic monism cannot account for both mind
and body, so when I deal with them in everyday life I must be using a
different philosophy to make sense of them. But what philosophy?

0901 - 30.03.08 - Just finished reading Moving forward on the Problem

of Consciousness by David Chalmers. This is a "reply to my critics"
type of paper. More generally, I can see a certain homogeneity in
this bunch of philosophers circulating around Chalmers. I realise
that a lot of what John Gregg has to say on his site is almost
verbatim the same as what Chalmers or one of his critics or
collaborators is saying. What I am getting at is that "consciousness
studies" is a closed circle of academic discourse, and is unlikely,
for that reason, to come up with many other interesting insights.
This bunch of philosophers will just keep on repeating the same
arguments to one another, or trumping one another's arguments with a
further refutation - all within the terms of reference of the problem
as seen by their group. It's a matter of the natural conformity and
docility of the human being. The group dynamics that drives towards
consensus, or at least a strictly limited number of alternatives.
Thinking "outside the box" is forbidden because it is precisely a box
that these people are inside. Reading Noam Chomsky yesterday on media
debates about foreign policies issues like Iran, the interpretation
of a closed circle of discourse is a less abrasive way of accounting
for the paucity of alternatives that are even considered in the media
debate. Group dynamics again, producing consensus, coherence and a
forest of assumptions.

My own thinking on the problem of consciousness may, in spite of my

amateurish approach and intellectual limitations, lead to some new
insights because I am not inside Chalmers' circle of discourse. I am
too old, for one thing, and have knocked around with too many world
views to make a disciplined committee member in the consciousness

Peregrinations around my Armchair Page 24 of 163

studies group. That group is restricted by some of the assumptions it
has made to get where it is today. In my clumsier way I may
fruitfully question some of those assumptions, and a new path opens

For example, they all seem to agree that any sequence of events can
in principle be accounted for as a set of physical processes even
with any conscious experience removed. A conversation, for example,
could entirely be accounted for in physical terms without having to
make reference to the conscious experience of the two interlocutors.
Maybe I'm just dense, but I can't agree. And maybe I am not dense,
but they are blinded by their assumptions.

0905 - 01.04.08 - The mysterious world of mental events, or conscious

experience, contains many weird phenomena, even stranger than a
conversation between friends, or watching a film. Hypnosis, as a
prime example. How strange that some individuals can, without any
physical contact whatsoever, convince a subject that he is a chicken
and get him to peck at the floor. This is a very strange interaction
between two central nervous systems. What is going on?

Also a little bizarre, though not as strange as hypnosis, are the

experiences had by mediums and clairvoyants. I strongly suspect that
it is not the dead with whom they communicate, but their visions and
auditory hallucinations, which I am sure, occur in most cases, need
explanation themselves.

Weird experiences under the influence of drugs are not so strange as

the previous two examples, because there is an obvious chemical
intrusion into the central nervous system, and this can be studied,
(within ethical guidelines, of course).

0907 - 02.04.08 - Not having a proper ontology, which can account for
matter and for mind as well, is like living in the time before
Darwin's theory was promulgated. Knowing that contemporary
creationist explanations had to be ballshit, but having nothing
better to replace them with. And I will almost certainly die in this
fog of ignorance, awaiting the Messiah who comes bearing the new
Ontological Theory. The solution of the mind-body problem.

0908a - 04.23.08 - The mind/body problem, the problem of

consciousness. Perhaps we can make progress by asking questions,
including stupid ones.

0909 - 04.23.08 - You need your whole body to think, not just your
nervous system. We are bodily creatures, entirely bodily creatures. I
should read Antonio R Damasio's book, Descartes' Error: Emotion,
Reason, and the Human Brain.

0910 - 04.23.08 - There is a lot going on when I am watching a film

or reading a book. Lots of brain activity, hormonal release etc. But

Peregrinations around my Armchair Page 25 of 163

surely what cells fire is determined by the meanings of the words on
the page of the book I am reading. Meanings and their relationships
are causing physical processes to occur. Surely.

Reading about the DNA and origins of life discoveries of Francis

Crick yesterday, it struck me that these phenomena have been
successfully reduced to physical processes. What seems different when
you get to the single-celled organism is the notion of an
"individual", something with a skin, an inside and an outside. And a
great deal of goal-directed behaviour, which does not seem reducible
to natural causes and ordinary physical processes like collision and
attraction and repulsion, involves activities which maintain the cell
in existence with the right stuff inside and the right stuff outside.
Are there physical processes which can account for the origin of a
single-celled individual and others that can account for the ability
it has to maintain itself and not fly into pieces? Analogically, bits
of matter in the universe operated on by physical laws, do form
stable "individuals" called planets and stars, and yet there is
nothing goal-directed or teleological in action here.

0920 - 03.06.08 - In what follows I speak as a child, and the proper

response to what I am saying may well be a belly laugh. I simply do
not know.

When I am thinking or remembering or anticipating or day-dreaming the

physical activity on which that mental activity depends utterly is
occurring in my cortex.

Electric currents are running along axons and out onto dendrites
where they meet with synapses and either (a) jump across, or (b) stay
where they are, depending on the strength of the electrical impulse
at that point. This is a sort of digital Stop/Go system. And the
cortex is filled with thousands or millions of these electrical
impulses. The question is, What is the relationship between some of
this activity and the thinking I am doing?

My thinking will rely on a different system of connection than the

digital connections which are made, or not made, across synapses. It
will rely on the association of ideas. Also my thinking will proceed
along one, not many lines, although this may be extremely elastic,
erratic and even surrealistic. Meanwhile, the brain, which is doing
all the physical work, is thundering away along multiple circuits.

In my naivety I suppose that each of my ideas sits in a particular

axon. So here is a blurry picture of Henry VIII and here is a blurry
picture of my aunt Margaret. And here is a blurry collection of
pictures, each occupying one axon, and all related to my holiday in
Italy in 1982.

When I associate one idea to another because of contiguity or

similarity, then I imagine that an electric current travels from the
relevant axon to the relevant associated axon, so that the
association, whether word or image, can be experienced. But the
arrangement of axons and their connections is built up by a different
system to that of the association of ideas. From the point of view of
my mental site map, the associations are dumped in random axons, all
over the place. My next association may be on the other side of my
brain! In order that I can experience it, the electrical brain
currents must travel, like an email zig-zagging halfway across the

Peregrinations around my Armchair Page 26 of 163

world from one server to the next, across the entire cortex. This is
not a path for the electrical impulses which would occur naturally.
To cross such a distance, the electrical impulses would have to be
constrained and determined by the requirements of the mental
apparatus. Mind affecting matter. And that surely does not happen.

There seems to be, I regret to say, no isomorphism between the way

the connections are made in the cortex, and the way my ideas are
associated. So how is that brain activity the physical basis for all
my thoughts, impressions and memories, as it must be?

0924 - 13.06.08 - Here is a rather good recapitulation of the

philosophical steeplechase that was started by Descartes. The book is
English Men of Letters: Hume by Thomas Henry Huxley (1879). The title
is unintentionally ironic since Hume detested the English.

BEGIN QUOTE Descartes taught that an absolute difference of kind

separates matter, as that which possesses extension, from spirit, as
that which thinks. They not only have no character in common, but it
is inconceivable that they should have any. On the assumption, that
the attributes of the two were wholly different, it appeared to be a
necessary consequence that the hypothetical causes of these
attributes—their respective substances—must be totally different.
Notably, in the matter of divisibility, since that which has no
extension cannot be divisible, it seemed that the chose pensante, the
soul, must be an indivisible entity.

Later philosophers, accepting this notion of the soul, were naturally

much perplexed to understand how, if matter and spirit had nothing in
common, they could act and react on one another. All the changes of
matter being modes of motion, the difficulty of understanding how a
moving extended material body was to affect a thinking thing which
had no dimension, was as great as that involved in solving the
problem of how to hit a nominative case with a stick. Hence, the
successors of Descartes either found themselves obliged, with the[Pg
166] Occasionalists, to call in the aid of the Deity, who was
supposed to be a sort of go-between betwixt matter and spirit; or
they had recourse, with Leibnitz, to the doctrine of pre-established
harmony, which denied any influence of the body on the soul, or vice
versâ, and compared matter and spirit to two clocks so accurately
regulated to keep time with one another, that the one struck when
ever the other pointed to the hour; or, with Berkeley, they abolished
the "substance" of matter altogether, as a superfluity, though they
failed to see that the same arguments equally justified the abolition
of soul as another superfluity, and the reduction of the universe to
a series of events or phenomena; or, finally, with Spinoza, to whom
Berkeley makes a perilously close approach, they asserted the
existence of only one substance, with two chief attributes, the one,
thought, and the other, extension.

There remained only one possible position, which, had it been taken
up earlier, might have saved an immensity of trouble; and that was to
affirm that we do not, and cannot, know anything about the
"substance" either of the thinking thing, or of the extended thing.
And Hume's sound common sense led him to defend this thesis, which
Locke had already foreshadowed, with respect to the question of the
substance of the soul. Hume enunciates two opinions. The first is
that the question itself is unintelligible, and therefore cannot
receive any answer; the second is that the popular doctrine

Peregrinations around my Armchair Page 27 of 163

respecting the immateriality, simplicity, and indivisibility of a
thinking substance is a "true atheism, and will serve to justify all
those sentiments for which Spinoza is so universally infamous."

In support of the first opinion, Hume points out that[Pg 167] it is

impossible to attach any definite meaning to the word "substance"
when employed for the hypothetical substratum of soul and matter. For
if we define substance as that which may exist by itself, the
definition does not distinguish the soul from perceptions. It is
perfectly easy to conceive that states of consciousness are self-
subsistent. And, if the substance of the soul is defined as that in
which perceptions inhere, what is meant by the inherence? Is such
inherence conceivable? If conceivable, what evidence is there of it?
And what is the use of a substratum to things which, for anything we
know to the contrary, are capable of existing by themselves?

Moreover, it may be added, supposing the soul has a substance, how do

we know that it is different from the substance, which, on like
grounds, must be supposed to underlie the qualities of matter?
(Project Gutenberg Download. From the beginning of Chapter IX.)

0954 - 06.03.09 - At the beginning of his chapter on human evolution

in his book Taking Darwin Seriously (Chapter 4) Michael Ruse suggests
that epistemological dualism (as promulgated by Rene Descartes)
remains the common-sense view of most people who think about it. That
seems to me to be correct. My own intuitive view, in spite of what I
have read on the subject, remains an interactive dualism, in which
the worlds of mind and matter impinge back and forth on each other.

Volume 201, Number 2964 (7th February 2009) of New Scientist contains
a cover story Natural Born Believers. This suggests that a radical
division of the world into the animate and the inanimate is hardwired
into our brains, leading to all sorts of notions later in life,
including life after death and a creator God. It also means that we
have an innate disposition to see the world in a dualistic way, no
matter how sophisticated our reasonings about the matter.

This is not the only major axis on which our visceral, innate view of
the world clashes with what we have discovered about reality. But
when truth is counter-intuitive, it finds difficulty in lodging
itself firmly in the mind. Like Hume's scepticism, it may be true,
but is apt to be dissipated by the next contact with everyday life.

The first important thing to be said about this matter is that we

seem to arrive with the germs of certain notions, like dualism, fixed
in our brains. The second important thing to be said is that we will
continue to believe these notions, irrespective of their truth or
falsity, all our lives, because they will seem to be necessarily
true. They feel true.

0958 - 17.03.09 - This node comes from a letter started on 9th August
2008 to my friend Mike Reid.

BEGIN QUOTE When it comes to your criticism of my assessment of some

permanent traits in your character as "a bit off target", I think
your judgement is probably correct, and I am not much surprised. One
of the motifs of the last year of so has been the notion that we do

Peregrinations around my Armchair Page 28 of 163

not understand the characters or motivations of others very well, and
are equally ignorant about our own. The constant social demands that
we "account" for some behaviour of ours, or for some behaviour of
somebody else, means that we are frequently engaged in making up
theories about why we and other people have done particular things,
but theories seem to be all they are. Might be correct, might not be.

One of the pleasures of the novel is the existence (usually) of the

omniscient and reliable narrator. That which we cannot produce in
real life - veridical and trustworthy explanations for our own
behaviour or that of others, is routinely supplied by Henry James or
Thomas Mann or Agatha Christie. We don't know why we do things. We
don't know why we make certain decisions (usually). In fact, the only
decisions we generally do know the reason for, are the ones we make
very quickly on impulse. The impulse is the reason. END QUOTE

War Crimes (AE)

0131 - 13.01.05. I may have done James Bacque, author of Other Losses
and Crimes and Mercies a bit of an injustice. I do not doubt that his
research is deeply flawed and polemical, but he gets some
confirmation from Caroline Moorehead's book on the International
Committee of the Red Cross, Dunant's Dream. The French behaved
atrociously to the German prisoners in their charge, after World War
II was over. The Americans, with much less excuse, were almost as
bad. The British were less culpable, but I fear that this was only
because we had not experienced the pain of occupation, and so hated
the Germans less.

0160 - 10.02.05 - Winston Churchill was the greatest of the British

war criminals during the Second World War. We can own up to them now,
every country had some war criminals. And for Britain, Winston
Churchill, in spite of all his virtues, was one. He was partly
responsible for a policy of terror-bombing of civilians. Then, in
1945, he distanced himself from the policy he had callously embraced,
with the skill of a politician. And he possessed a character defect,
or a "missing part", that made him careless of the deaths of enemy
civilians. This made it easier for him to commit mass murder through

[20th August 2006. He was not responsible for picking targets - that
was up to Bomber Command. But he was certainly involved in the policy
shifts which began with targets where some civilians died as
"collateral damage" and ended up with targets where civilians were
deliberately targeted. I am still not convinced by the arguments for
bombing Dresden, in the way it was bombed, or the other, less-well-
known German cities that suffered a similar fate. And on the other
side of the world similar atrocities were taking place against the
Japanese mainland, for which Churchill was not primarily responsible,
but which he approved of. Later I may be able to provide chapter and
verse for this approval. Whatever the military logic, there is
something that should make a democratic leader hesitate before
ordering the mass destruction of civilians. Should have made
Churchill hesitate, and Harris and Portal, and Roosevelt. But did

Peregrinations around my Armchair Page 29 of 163

0206 - 27.05.05 - The two greatest British war criminals of World War
II were Winston Churchill and Charles Portal. Their war crime began
in late August 1940, when they seized the opportunity offered by an
accidental offloading of German bombs over Greater London to begin
reprisal bombings against the city of Berlin. This was not only an
opportunity seized, it was an opportunity anticipated, hoped for and
desired. Discuss in less than two pages.

0214 - 29.06.05 - It seems that Churchill did much to ensure that

Britain embroiled itself in a war with Germany and, once that war had
begun, he did much to make the war more brutal than it would have
been without his influence. He deliberately escalated the degree of
hostility and the level of atrocity by provocations. He positively
invited the Battle of Britain, because the bombing of British cities
would unite public opinion behind him, and give him public support
for the bombing of German civilians. What is startling is how much
his method depended upon propaganda and spin, vices for which
present-day politicians are much maligned.

0405 - 08.07.06 - I am much impressed with Frederick Taylor's book on

the firestorm of Dresden, which I have nearly finished. I am coming
to have a much more nuanced view of the attack on Dresden on 13th and
14th February 1945, and of the whole issue of area bombing of cities
by the Allies in World War II. Previous convictions that Dresden and
other attacks were examples of Allied war crimes are shaken.

0445 - 02.09.06 - I was thinking about that film Dambusters. We are

very proud of that raid. The ingenuity behind it and the courage with
which it was carried out. And the economic effect of breaching one
(or was it more than one?) dam. Yet it is part of the moral
deterioration that has taken place since the British blockade of
Germany in 1914 that we do not reflect on what the "busting" of a dam
means to those civilians who live around it. Destruction of
infrastructure is war carried to civilians.

0453 - 28.10.06 - One plausible explanation for the descent into

barbarism of the civilised world during the twentieth and into the
twenty-first century is World War One. The scale of it and the length
of time it went on. It changed all the rules.

0478 - 22.03.07 - Sadism, the enjoyment in torturing and humiliating

another human being, seems to be related to the much more general
enjoyment we all obtain from observing the pain and humiliation of
others - even those we love.

In war we are urged to inflict pain and humiliation and death on our
enemy, and this must encourage our natural proclivity to enjoy the
discomfort of others, as well as our sadism. War is a competition in
which the penalties can be lethal. In war we deceive, or try to
deceive the enemy. Caught helplessly in our ambush and shot to

Peregrinations around my Armchair Page 30 of 163

pieces, our enemy is a sight to rejoice at! How we enjoy the view,
the culmination of our own cleverness and lethality.

What is a war crime, or a "crime during wartime" or a "crime in a

wartime context"? What is unacceptable behaviour in war-time?
Gloating over a trapped enemy being riddled with bullets? Is that
acceptable? If it is, then what about Chinese or Japanese style
tortures of captured prisoners, purely for the sake of gratification?

Sadism of this type should be distinguished carefully from the rule-

based sadism and masochism that is practised by a minority of sexual
deviates. There is no element of "let's pretend" when a man is flayed
alive or a pregnant woman's child is delivered by bayonet, upon which
it is later transfixed.

Sadism of the thorough-going type may not be a feature of our species

alone. It would be very odd if only humans practised deliberate
cruelty. And if cats can be sadistic, and whales too, and perhaps
other species, then it may have some adaptive value which leads to
the behaviour being chosen by natural selection.

0485 - 28.03.07 - In a fair world Sir Winston Churchill would have

been hanged, or sentenced to life imprisonment, for being the person
principally responsible for the indiscriminate bombardment of German
civilians in World War II. There would have been much to say in
mitigation, and many character witnesses could have been produced,
but in a fair world that would have been the result.

0489 - 03.05.07 - Churchill remarked on one occasion, "Are we taking

this too far?", when referring to the aerial bombardment and
dehousing of civilians, the policy for which he was partly
responsible. Taking it too far was not the issue. It should not have
been taken at all. The evidence that this was a crime and known to be
a crime was there at the time - with the coverup that took place when
the policy changed to dehousing and this was denied in the House of
Commons. With the guilt and shame associated with Bomber Command
after the war, so that they never got the recognition they deserved
for the non-criminal part of their campaign.

0492 - 13.05.07 - Perhaps the deliberate mass slaughter of German

civilians and the destruction of their cities can be justified as a
means of "knocking the fight out of the Germans", who had not learned
peaceful ways after the carnage of 1914-1918, but regrouped and
attacked the European continent again. Certainly, this was never
stated policy, as far as I know, but it may have been a tacit agenda.
I am reading Churchill's speeches currently, and some of his
statements hint, and sometimes do more than hint, that this might be
his, and his country's agenda.

0500 - 01.07.07 - It was necessary to make German civilians, as well

as Germans in the armed forces, suffer during World War II, in order
to discourage any post-war German attempt to destroy the peace of
Europe for the fourth time. Discuss. Also, in the climate of the

Peregrinations around my Armchair Page 31 of 163

1940s mass destruction of civilians and their homes was far more
acceptable than it would be in the 2000s.

0863 - 12.02.08 - According to a book review in The Economist the

poet Robert Lowell served jail-time in 1943 for refusing the draft.
He was protesting against the allied bombing of German cities. This
is in 1943! Of course, the surprise is that there was no more of
this, but this is a striking example, if true.

0879 - 18.03.08 - Genocide, the extermination of an entire race or a

nation of people, may have been more common, at least in aspiration,
than we currently realise. The genocidal attempt to exterminate the
Jews, grandiloquently referred to now as "The Holocaust", was
actually put into practice and would have succeeded completely had
the Nazis not lost the war. But another genocide was also upon the
cards during World War II, and might have been put into practice,
indeed was partially put into practice during the military actions of
the Pacific War. Plenty of Americans (and 10% is plenty) were in
favour of the extermination of the Japanese people - every man, woman
and child. (Jonathan Glover. Humanity. Page 176.) Had the Pacific War
turned out differently, it is not inconceivable that an American-led
genocide would have taken place, until the Japanese islands became
lifeless ruins.

An administration that firebombs Tokyo with the loss of 100,000

lives, is capable of going to the final solution, and wiping out the
entire population. Had the war in Europe taken a different course,
there is no saying what hells a British administration might not have
unleashed on the people of Germany. As it was they chalked up 600,000
civilian corpses. Men, women and children.

Neither Germany nor Japan was the object of a genocide. Think about
modern Germany and its people and modern Japan and its people. The
cities, the economies, the cultures. How could people, no matter what
the pressure, get into their heads notions of exterminating all that
is of a people, and preventing all that can be? It beggars belief.
But I think that both the British public and the American public, had
things got rough enough, would have stood behind a policy of

Films (AG)

0051 - 06.10.04 - The fascination of a film classic like Casablanca

or Citizen Kane is exhaustible.

0053 - 07.10.04 - For all my approval of realism in movies, I do not

want to see a truly horrible incident, like the killing or rape of a
child, on a film. Even the murder of Joe Pesci in Casino upsets me.
Why is this?

0083 - 19.10.04 - I'm becoming disillusioned with feature films and

Peregrinations around my Armchair Page 32 of 163

TV series. It has become obvious, in spite of the pretence that these
are action and visual genres, that in fact they are little more than
stage dramas, where the actors do not have to shout because of
microphones, and where extra locations are added. Even violent
feature films are about 90% chat. [30.03.05 - Tarantino, as a defence
against the "violence" criticism, described Reservoir Dogs as a
"talking heads movie" with three brief moments of violence - an
accurate description. And that is what, although I enjoy Reservoir
Dogs, I am complaining about.]

0168 - 19.02.05 - Watching a movie that's on the Mills & Boon level.
Film star walks off set, goes to a small mill town, ends up buying
the local steel mill and saving 1000 jobs, and marries the manager.
Keeps her film career, but tones it down.

Two scenes in the movie cracked me up. The one near the end where she
tells the manager, "I just bought a steel mill. Me and twenty other
people. And we need a manager." And earlier, when she was waiting at
the train station for a train out of Lincoln, going to Boston. A guy
on the seat tells her his daughter is coming home. He hasn't seen her
for four years. She's travelled a lot in Europe. Even gone to the
Arctic and the Antarctic. About then I got a notion this was not
going to be any ordinary sort of visit. I'm choking up even now,
remembering the train pulling in, and the men bringing off the

0191 - 30.03.05 - I have watched Something about Mary twice, if I

recall correctly. Both times I was under the impression that there
was something physically different about Mary, of a sexual nature,
that was the point of the movie. There was something peculiar about
her cunt.

0213 - 29.06.05 - I am so tired of the cliche of the unsupportive

wife in dramas and feature films. The latest example was the
whistleblower's wife in The Insider. So tired of hearing them whinge
about their husband's jobs, or his attempt to do the right thing in
difficult circumstances. What about the cliche of the ballsy wife?
Reading Alfred Tennyson - Enid and Geraint. Now, there is a proper

0220 - 19.07.05 - 'Motherfucker 'is not a euphonious expression. It

does not spring from the lips with the vigour of 'cocksucker' or
'turd burglar', because it depends for its rhythm on the repetition
of the final slurred vowel sound - 'er' - which is not attractive
anyway. 'Cocksucker' has a repetition of the 'k' sound. 'Turd
burglar' has a euphonious variation on the 'ur' sound - first with
'd' and then with 'g'. Tarantino, who has some reputation as a writer
of dialogue, should beware of the overuse of the ugly expression
'motherfucker'. It makes Odell Robbie (Samuel L Jackson) In Jackie
Brown sound very lame and verbally challenged when he is trying to
sound his hardest. It makes the same actor look foolish when he
speaks in Pulp Fiction. There is an argument that a black man in that
kind of situation (in both films) would pepper his talk with

Peregrinations around my Armchair Page 33 of 163

'motherfucker' as often as Jackson does. That is not the point. If
that is true, then the utterances need artistic embellishment, by
restricting the use of the expression - varying it with other curse

0221 - 19.07.05 - Windtalkers. Starring Nicholas Cage, directed by

John Woo, gets some stinking reviews on the Amazon website. I saw it
on TV for the first time a few days ago. John Woo does the Second
World War. The extreme violence may owe something to Saving Private
Ryan, and a lot more to Woo's own background of balletic violence in
Hong Kong gangster films like The Killer. But it struck me as
admirably realistic. One reviewer criticised Cage for doing an over-
the-top performance when he attacks the Japanese on Saipan. Indeed,
he does look demented. But perhaps that is realistic too. How many
veterans of previous firefights landed on Saipan and fought the
Japanese with the same concentrated, animal fury? The battles for the
Japanese islands were somewhat over-the-top.

0223 - 19.07.02 - Astonishing how many American male movie actors are
of medium height, or under. The screen is positively dominated by
these midgets and hobgoblins. There is little Al Pacino, of course,
and dwarfish Tom Cruise, and tiny Dustin Hoffman. Richard Gere, David
Caruso, Gary Sinise, Willem Dafoe. Yanks, whether of European or
Latino extraction, tend not to be tall. John Wayne is the exception.
For height we need to look to Scandinavia and, as my ex-wife
observed, Czechoslovakia.

0243 - 31.07.05 - Life is so short, and so much of mine already

consumed, that there are films I want to see, which I will never see
before I die. Like The Misfits.

0289 - 04.09.05 - In the character-driven story we readily empathise

and identify with the leading characters, and care what happens to
them because of that identification. What happens may only be a minor
rebuff, rather than gross mayhem, but we react to it because of the
degree to which we inhabit the skin of the protagonist. Action
movies, on the other hand, tend to have wafer-thin characters and
broad stereotypes. Dialogue verges on the awful. So, I ask myself,
what is it that makes us care about what is happening to the main
characters? Certainly not any empathy. After seeing both volumes of
Kill Bill my conclusion is that we care about what happens to the
character because of the extreme and violent nature of her
predicament. What gets stimulated is not empathy but something more
basic - adrenaline. And that is why we care about Uma Thurman in Kill

0293 - 07.09.05 - One of the pleasures of watching old films is the

speed with which the end credits swish past, and how brief they are.
I have the sort of pedantic personality that has to watch the
credits. But nowadays! Is there some law out there now that says that
every fucker that had a hand in making a movie has to get a mention?

Peregrinations around my Armchair Page 34 of 163

I’m serious, surely only a legal requirement explains the unmitigated
tedium and exhausting extension of end credits. Fucking accountants
and carpenters, for Christ’s sake! Kill Bill Volume II seems to be a
terrible film and a great disappointment, but it caps it all with the
sodding credits. 131 minutes it is supposed to run, of which about
115 minutes are the movie. Then you get vignettes of all the main
characters and who played them. Then we go through the whole fucking
list again as end credits. Then we get all the other fuckers who took
part in the film, including the cooks and the hairdressers and the
fucking chiropodists. And then the credits for the three trillion
songs they played a few bars of each.

0330 - 30.11.05 - I have watched Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 on

television and on DVD (with extras). I have downloaded and read most
of a critique of the film called 59 Deceits by a conservative called
Dave Kopel. I have now downloaded a critique of Dave Kopel's critique
from Daily Kos as well as other defences of Michael Moore's film.
Austin is doing his homework.

All technical criticism aside, one thing that did strike me while
watching the film, was the way Moore used, and continued to use after
the film was made, the personal grief of the mother Lila who lost a
son when his Black Hawk went down. Someone who drags around a
bleeding person like he does, to make a political point, is either
very naive about what he is doing, or very callous. The political
point, the moral point also, was whether the invasion of Iraq was
justified. The point is not strengthened, one way or the other, by
the amplification of an individual's grief. Or perhaps it is, in the
tabloid world of populism and demagoguery in which Moore works. He's
nasty piece of work.

[16 Dec 2008. His treatment of an arthritic Charlton Heston in

Bowling for Columbine is on a similar level. Question: Why did Chuck
come to town for a gun rally when a child had recently been shot down
there by another child? Answer: I was not aware of that. Later, when
Heston terminates the interview, Moore, resembling Lieutenant Colombo
in this, calls him back to invite him to respond to a photograph of
the dead child. When Heston continues to walk away, Moore places the
photograph against the wall of Heston's home. This kind of behaviour
is not only nauseating, but creates in me a sense of embarrassment
for Michael Moore - I am embarrassed on his behalf. I do not want to
see Moore showing himself up in this way, apparently not realising
what a pratt he is.

I remember a similar reaction to a news clip in which Margaret

Thatchet, for whom I had no warm esteem at the time, boasted that she
had managed to impose, as UK Prime Minister, the least possible
sanctions possible on South Africa at the meeting of Commonwealth
leaders she had just attended. She made a gesture with her thumb and
forefinger to represent how "tiny" had been her concessions to the
other Commonwealth heads. Her policy was her own affair and could be
respected as such, but boasting about being so underhand was what
made me embarrassed on her behalf. Her small-mindedness stood out
like a wart.]

0350 - 26.12.05 - The tricks memory plays. Manon is the young girl of
Jean de Florette who turns up in the sequel as an adolescent goatherd

Peregrinations around my Armchair Page 35 of 163

with all the big hair that French girls were wearing in 1986 when
this film was released. But I am expecting to see Emmanuelle Beart,
and do not recognise her in this actress with the big eyebrows and
hair, but without that distinctive, pouting appearance that Beart
has. I wait for the film to move forward in time, so that EB can step
onto the stage as an older version of the goatherd, but no, we stay
with the goatherd all the way through. So she must have been
Emmanuelle Beart. OK, so this film was made about twenty years ago,
that's what she may have looked like then. But she played a whore in
Cimino's Heaven's Gate, and that must have been made before 1986, and
she looked like Emmanuelle Beart then! Yes, it was released in 1980.
So what tricks has my memory played on me? Oh, the trick is that the
actress I am thinking of, the one in Heaven's Gate, is not called
Emmanuelle Beart at all, but Isabelle Huppert.

0355 - 22.01.06 - Too much fucking swearing. In the three-hour

Magnolia nearly everybody swears. All the main characters, with the
possible exception of the police officer. People of all classes, of
all backgrounds. And, of course, it is modern swearing, without the
variety and complexity the Elizabethans were capable of. It's fuck
and shit language, with the possible variation of the uneuphonious
motherfucker. And, a swearer myself since adulthood, I do not like
this. I wonder why.

For instance. There is a dramatic climax in a film - two human beings

in violent verbal conflict. "Fuck you!" screams one Hollywood star at
the other. And his rebuttal? A feeble "Fuck you!" What has happened
to the cut and thrust of repartee?

0370 - 16.02.06 - In The Way of the Gun the two actors playing Parker
and Longbaugh were trained in gun handling by a Navy SEAL. This is
supposed to be a plus for the film. But these two guys are small time
criminals making an attempt at one big score. Where would they ever
get training in gun handling? Much more likely is that they would
have an amateurish familiarity with firearms, and that's all.

0380 - 13.04.06 - Saw most of Levity on TV last night, after a local

terrestrial TV signal to my indoor aerial, which had deteriorated a
couple of weeks ago, suddenly sprang back to crisp life. Featuring
Billy Bob Thornton, who, for an actor in independent cinema, makes a
remarkable number of Hollywood films nowadays.

With a title like that I knew I was in for a grim story. Some
beautiful photography could not compensate for another one of those
appalling films aimed at middlebrows, who are going to think they
have gone through an intellectual, or even a spiritual experience,
watching it. I nearly downloaded some pages of Amazon reviews, but
the thought that most of them would probably be glowing, depressed me
too much.

[16th December 2008. One scene that did make an impression on me

takes place in a vagrant hostel where Billy Bob spends the night. He
is woken to the sound of screams to find out that a brutish vagrant
has mounted an old man and is fucking him in the arse.]

Peregrinations around my Armchair Page 36 of 163

0382 - 19.04.06 - Yesterday I watched a free copy (Observer) of David
Lynch's Dune, which my neighbour Carole Glasswell gave me. That film
is a two hour hole in anyone's lifetime. It's meant to be the
eleventh millennium, if I understood that much without subtitles, but
the technology, clothing and the general appearance of the universe
is very nineteenth century. This is the science fiction of H G Wells
and Jules Verne.

0388 - 23.05.06 - Once upon a time in the West. Bought this recently
watch it again, convinced that it is a really bad film. Two hours and
thirty-nine minutes later - yes, it is.

For all it's good points ... yes, the first fifteen minutes is
wonderful ...

1. Brett McBain, the Irishman, shot early on by Frank (Fonda) and

his mob. In a film in which he hired a lot of American actors,
perhaps Leone should have made an attempt to get an actor who
could plausibly appear to be Irish-American. A small, picky
point perhaps, when one considers this is a common fault of
Spaghetti Westerns. But this was a big-budget Hollywood
production. [Apparently, the actor is American. Nevertheless,
he manages to look and sound like a dubbed Spaniard.]
2. Jill McBain. I have never seen the point of Claudia Cardinale.
Unlike some of the other pneumatic Italian actresses, she
seemed to have no perceptible talent beyond her bristols.
Playing an avaricious whore who was also in love with her Irish
husband, she makes a complete hamfisted job of it.
3. The story is rubbish. Leone's critique of American big business
(the railroad) is so weak it goes beyond naivety. It seems that
the young Sergio grew up with a love of American westerns and a
European Marxist envy and resentment of the United States. So
the entire film is to a large extent Leone pissing all over
American achievements. The casting of Henry Fonda as a
psychopath is not just original, it is also malicious. The
discussions between Frank and the railroad boss Morton on the
train about guns and money and business are risible, almost
4. The story is not just implausible, which is not a severe
criticism, it also becomes incoherent as we draw towards the
end, perhaps because of some cuts imposed by the studio.
Cheyenne (Jason Robards) is captured by Charles Bronson
(Harmonica) and turned over to the authorities for a $5000
reward. They are going to put him on a train for Yuma. In a
later scene Cheyenne turns up with no explanation for his
escape. Nor does he seem pissed off at Harmonica, who takes his
return equally casually. Earlier on Jill McBain realises how
valuable the property she has inherited is and dashes off to
the Sweetwater farm to retrieve a model of a railway station
she found there. Frank is lying in wait for her. No sooner have
they confronted each other than we cut to a hillside where
Frank is talking to his boss Morton, who suggests buying Jill
out. Worst of all, when Frank rides back to the train to
confront his boss, who has sent men to kill him, he finds
everybody except Morton shot dead, and Morton dying. No

Peregrinations around my Armchair Page 37 of 163

explanation for how this happened. Presumably in the bit that
is cut out Cheyenne is put on Morton's train (which would not
be going to Yuma, it would be exploring the extension of the
railroad) and rescued by his men in a bloody gun battle. But
I'm just guessing how these geniuses originally shot the film.
5. Embarrassment. Stupid names for the characters. For example,
Charles Bronson is called Harmonica, because he plays one. A
thickset character with braces is called Wobbles. In Once upon
a time in America Robert de Niro's character is called Noodles.
These are all really fucking stupid names. Also stupid is
having Bronson play the harmonica every time he has a scene.
Yes, there is a back story reason for it, but it is a really
stupid idea and gets very, very irritating.
6. There is a good 90 minute film in there somewhere, but Leone
believed the hype about himself and produced this overblown
abortion instead. Like many creative artists, Leone was
intellectually deficient.

[Original entry from a letter to Roscoe begun 10th Feb 2006 and
posted 6th March 2006]

0430 - 08.08.06 - In the director's commentary on Hotel Rwanda Terry

George talks through the film with the real-life hotel manager. What
becomes clear is how divergent the film story and the real story are,
in hundreds of details and in many significant ways too. At times
Terry George is just feeding him questions he knows the answer to for
the sake of the commentary, but at other times it seems George does
not know the answers, is really not familiar with the detail of what
actually happened during those one hundred days, as opposed to the
detail of his own film. And probably doesn't care either. The result
is a film which tells an over-simplified story of a man's heroic
defence of innocent civilians. The real Paul makes some interesting
off-the-cuff remarks - about Belgian soldiers stripping off their
insignia and hiding in the basement, about the elite status of the
refugees in his hotel, including many currently active Rwanda
politicians, about the international network he operated from his
office phone, and the amount of outside help he had (much reduced in
the film). The actual story is clearly much more interesting than the
fiction of Hotel Rwanda. I wonder if it will ever be put down on

He wasn't even the manager of Milles Collines at the time. He was

manager of the Diplomat Hotel. He went to Milles Collines
specifically to save the refugees who were there. In that respect he
was even more heroic than the character as played by Don Cheadle.

0459 - 31.12.06 - Watched on TV yesterday a film starring one of my

favourite actresses, Sandra Bullock. Murder by Numbers. Wanted to see
if it rated buying the DVD, or was it a stinker. It was a stinker, so
I have saved ten euros.

The basic plot, about a Leopold-Loeb type of teenager murder duo, who
frame the janitor for the killing they perpetrate, was quite strong.
What ruined it was the depiction of Sandra Bullock's character as
another in the endless string of "cops who are messed up". Dirty

Peregrinations around my Armchair Page 38 of 163

Harry has a lot to answer for (1971). The cop has to be flawed -
going from mildly insubordinate to completely fucked up. It is almost
obligatory now that the policeman has to be haunted by demons, or an
alcoholic, or a misanthrope, or a ragged bag of character defects. We
spend half our time agonising about the policeman as he fucks up his
investigation, riles his seniors and subordinates and generally
grandstands. What it does mean is that the mystery plot that needs
unravelling can be pretty simple. No need to think up something that
will have to hold attention for the full ninety minutes. At least
half of that time will be occupied by watching the detective fall
over his shoelaces.

Can we please have a relatively balanced detective, male or female,

with a fairly stable family life and a supportive spouse, who expends
his energies on solving the crime and building a case against the

0464 - 08.02.07 - A film about film editing which accompanied a DVD

of Bullitt made me realise how much manipulation goes on during the
course of a feature, and how much is down to the editing. In fact,
manipulation is usually going on all the time. "Right, just at this
moment we want the public to reach for a hanky."

And yet most of us want to be manipulated most of the time. When I

dislike a film, the way I dislike Mystic River, or 21 Grams, or
Capote, it is not because it is manipulative, but because it failed
to manipulate me in the way it intended. I did not feel sorry for X,
as I was supposed to. I did not root for Y, although that was the
intention. I did not believe the story the director and editor told

When a film-maker deliberately sets out, with the help of his editor,
to make a film in which manipulation of the audience is kept down to
a minimum, the result is often tedious beyond words. We expect to
have our emotions played expertly like a violin and what happens
instead is that we are presented with a series of images and listen
to dialogue and nothing happens to us, except boredom. We can read
into what we are seeing and hearing whatever we like, but we can do
that standing in a queue in the local bank on a Monday lunchtime. It
does not make for that stimulation of the intellect and the emotions
which is called entertainment.

0468 - 25.02.07 - Sometimes now when I watch a film with subtitles

on, some of the dialogue that I see is not audible. Could I have
hearing loss I am unaware of?

0486 - 28.03.07 - Watching a foreign film Head On about Turks in

Germany the night of 22/23 March, I had an eerie experience. The male
protagonist, a junkie and alcoholic, jealous because his "mariage
blanc" wife is going out with someone else and will have sex with
them, gets progressively wrecked in their apartment and then digs out
an air rifle, loads it and starts shooting up the room. He shoots a
photograph of the happy couple. I did just this when my first wife
Laura went out with a negro co-worker called Ken, and in just the
same way pretended not to be jealous before it happened. One

Peregrinations around my Armchair Page 39 of 163

difference is that I did not tidy up before she got home, as the
fellow does in the film. People like us - like me and the character
in the film - we always do the same things. Often with exactly the
same equipment. Viz, an air rifle.

0490 - 05.05.07 - I predict that there will be virtually no market

for either of the formats of high definition DVD player/DVD drive, or
for the high definition discs.

People will accept high definition on their televisions when their

new televisions are capable of displaying it. They will not pay
premium prices for the new drives. They will not buy them until the
price has gone right down, which, without the market, it may never

But if there is not a customer base who possess high definition

players and drives, there is no market for the high definition discs
seither, unless they are playable on ordinary players and drives, as
HD-CD is playable on an ordinary CD-player. But high definition DVD
is a denser format with more data on the disc. It would be unplayable
on an ordinary drive. So the drives and the discs may go the way of
the Mini-Disc and the DAT tape - used only by professionals.

[3rd March 2009. The situation altered when the Blu-Ray format won
the high definition war. Blu-Ray DVDs have appeared in shops and the
players have fallen from about 500 euros to about 250 euros. The sale
of regular DVDs at sale prices when I was in the UK last June
suggests that, over there at least, they were expecting Blu-Ray to
wipe out DVD, as DVD had wiped out the VHS cassette, and were pushing
it for that reason. However, the triumph of Blu-Ray has not yet
occurred, and most DVDs on sale are still low definition.]

0495 - 11.06.07 - Watching Larry Clark's Kids again, I remember

reading somewhere recently that adolescents are all psychopaths. The
neural networks that will sensitise them to others have not yet
developed. Children are controlled by other neural networks which
lose their power as adolescence approaches. Then there is a marked
fall in behaviour when adolescence is achieved.

0594 - 29.09.07 - I played Shooting Dogs, the film about the Rwandan
genocide in 1994, for the second time in the early hours of today. I
thought it looked better on a second viewing. First time around there
were too many vomit-making scenes, and I am not referring to the
atrocities, but to John Hurt as the priest Christopher, and to a
lesser extent, Hugh Dancy as his assistant teacher on a gap year.

This time around I could broadly accept the John Hurt character
because that is what priests are like. Right from the mild sexual
innuendos he tosses at the nuns in the first few minutes. Those
celibates just have to talk dirty.

Hurt's progress to an apotheosis on the road where he declares the

love he feels for the man who is about to kill him was a journey I
would have preferred not to take, but, once again, perhaps the priest
at the school on which Hurt was modelled was a bit like that. I did

Peregrinations around my Armchair Page 40 of 163

notice that Hurt got it from a pistol, not a machete, even several
times, not very plausible when you consider the cost of bullets in
Rwanda. So Father Christopher even got a racist preference in the
manner of his slaughter. But let that pass.

The matter of the UN mandate was stated with clarity by the Belgian
captain - they were there as peace monitors, not peace keepers. The
journalist and her cameraman were both excellent, especially the
journalist on the difference between seeing dead Bosnians and dead

In some ways this is a more terrible film than Hotel Rwanda, which is
a story in which an awful lot of people are saved. Two and a half
thousand people at the school are not saved but massacred when the
Belgians withdraw. Hugh Dancy promises to stay with the refugees and
then turns tail and leaves with the Belgians.

Perhaps unintentionally, the film points up one of the major

afflictions that the Rwandan people have had to endure, and continue
to endure, apart from the scars of colonialism and the grinding
poverty that comes from too many people trying to scrape a
subsistence living from too little land. I refer to what Gerard
Prunier in The Rwanda Crisis: history of a genocide refers to as
"Catholic church social hegemony" (page 59). (Prunier's worthy book
is one that I have been reading over the last few years at the most
dilatory rate. Today I reached page 60. I apologise.)

What Shooting Dogs exposes is the sheer weight of suppression and

superstition represented by the Roman Catholic Church in Rwanda.
Again and again during the siege of the school, Hurt assembles the
refugees for a mass, or a baptism. The sheer dependency and will-
less-ness of these Africans. Nobody during the period of siege makes
any attempt to organise a defence. There are trees in the ground
which could have supplied the wherewithal to make spears. Their
attackers have few firearms, mostly only machetes. Those who have
firearms are probably lousy shots. There must have been tools and
kitchen implements on site that could have been converted to weapons.
Some sort of resistance would have been possible, if only to show a
spirit of defiance. But there was nothing. Just John Hurt smiling
inscrutably as incense is blown at him. What was lacking was native
initiative or, in its absence, Peter O'Toole as Lord Jim. Of course,
partly this is just me not wanting to see thousands of people I have
been watching milling around for an hour and a half end up being

0799 - 28.10.07 - Just gave a third viewing to what seems to have

been a critically acclaimed film - The Three Burials of Melquiades
Estrada - starring Tommy Lee Jones and with heavy TLJ involvement in
the production. He is also the director.

However, the film did not improve much on a third showing. It seems
to be Tommy Lee Jones' political statement, bashing the Bush Jr
administration. Wicked, arrogant, affluent, insensitive America, in
the person of Barry Pepper is knocked around, humiliated and
subjected to numerous stressful experiences by Tommy Lee until he is
redeemed as a humbled, caring individual. Tommy Lee is an old border
cowboy. The Mexicans in the film are generous, friendly and guileless
and represent an ideal culture which arrogant superpower America has
rejected. When I am dead and gone this will be shown as a typical

Peregrinations around my Armchair Page 41 of 163

Bush Jr administration western, just as some westerns we watch today
are clearly influenced by the Vietnam War, or by the Cold War.

But this film is basically a turkey. Like other well-known Hollywood

actors who turn to directing themselves in later life, Tommy Lee
Jones has nothing interesting to say, and says it beautifully.

0816 - 13.11.07 - In the intriguing, occasionally silly and

unhorrifying horror film from Japan called Ring a vengeful ghost
called Sadako makes a lethal videotape. If you watch the tape, then
seven days later you die. There is a late twist to this plot, but to
mention it would be to obscure the point I am making.

There is, in reality, nothing very extraordinary about this notion.

Tonight, all over the world, there are people who watched Sadako's
videotape today, and after seven days they will die. It's just that
most of them don't know it yet. Are you one of those people who have
just seven days left to live? If not, one day you will be.

0836 - 05.01.08 - Here is an extract from a recent letter composed

to Jim and Bronia Beck in Australia. This version may be edited.
Letter started 1st January 2008.

Lord of the Rings

I don't believe I shall ever be converted to Lord of the Rings. Half
a century ago I read and enjoyed thoroughly The Hobbit by J R R
Tolkien. My conviction that the expansion of that imaginative world
into a three-volume trilogy was a mistake has yet to be shaken. I am
watching, for the second time, the trilogy on DVD, this time with
subtitles turned on. I have never managed to get further than a few
chapters into the book.

[2nd Jan 2008] I have now watched all three DVDs. One cannot quibble
with the effort that went into three years of filming this epic.
Kudos to Peter Jackson, the New Zealand director. And the trilogy
gives me an opportunity to see some of the countryside where my
daughter is now living - even if they are on the south island and
most of the filming is on the north island.

It was the autodidact Colin Wilson who alerted me, in one of his
books, again about 50 years ago, to one of the problems with The Lord
of the Rings - the holes in the plot. Frodo, the hobbit, as the whole
world must know by now, is entrusted with the Ring of Power, made by
the evil Lord Sauron. His mission is to take the ring inside Mount
Doom in the Land of Mordor (where it was manufactured by Sauron in
the first place) and throw it into the lava-filled heart of the
mountain, which is the only way this evil artefact can be destroyed.
Lord Sauron is very anxious to get his ring back, having had it
chopped off, along with his finger, in a battle 3000 years ago.

The fundamental problem of the narrative, pointed out by Wilson, is

that once Lord Sauron knows that the ring has surfaced and is on the
move, he will, in all probability, and given his awesome powers and
those of some of his acolytes, including the nine Nazgul, find it and
Frodo and get it off him. What follows for 1200 pages of the book, or
9 hours of the film trilogy, is one (literally) incredible escape
after another, all pointing up the Incompetence of Evil. But I

Peregrinations around my Armchair Page 42 of 163

suppose we can let Tolkien get away with this. It is a convention of
this sort of quest-epic that there should be hair-breadth escapes and
that the heroes should vanquish unimaginable odds. It's pretty

But there was a point in the third film where my credulity, which I
had stretched to the limit, began to crack once more. I noticed that
after the ring was tossed into the molten lava inside Mount Doom and
dissolved, there were severe consequences for Sauron, who was
involved at that precise moment in a battle he was bound to win
against the remaining forces of Good. The destruction of the ring
apparently destroyed him as well. Down came his dark tower and the
ground opened up under his thousands and thousands of minions,
swallowing them up in less time than it takes to say "computer

Now put yourself in Sauron's place. He knows the ring is on the move.
He knows that if the bearer of the ring can get inside Mount Doom and
onto the ledge over the lava-filled heart of the mountain, he can
throw the ring in (in fact it goes in by accident) and wreak all this
destruction on Sauron and his dominion. And he knows that there is a
path cut into Mount Doom leading to this ledge and there is even a
doorway in the mountain wall, opening onto the path. And what is
there a complete absence of, around, behind, in front of, this
doorway to the path inside the mountain? Guards, that's what. The
most sensitive spot in his realm and he leaves it unprotected.

At this point we need the late Graham Chapman from Monty Python to
step up in military uniform and terminate a sketch with the word
"Silly!" I think the accusation against The Lord of the Rings, as a
book and as a film trilogy, stands. A lot of it is silly.

The creation of Gollum is a high point of the trilogy. I think that

works very well. One low point concerns the marketing, which is
generally the arsehole of any movie production. Once you have stumped
up your ten euros for The Fellowship of the Ring and ten euros for
The Two Towers and ten euros for The Return of the King, you then
discover that there is going to be (for the first two films at least)
an extended version available, with half-an-hour's extra footage
especially shot for this extended edition. Not deleted scenes or out-
takes or alternative endings. Additional footage fully as important
and significant as the existing footage, which means that ideally you
get to stump up for two separate versions of the trilogy, and they
trouser your money, twice.

Having been so critical, I can see that I may end up forcing myself
to read the book. Or at least try to, once more. There's quite a few
moments in the film trilogy which had me really confused, even after
a second viewing, and maybe the book would enlighten me. Also I would
like to see if the book is as sexually sanitised as the film trilogy.
The audience for The Lord of the Rings is, after all, largely
composed of children.

The Irish film censors had a wonderful time with the trilogy. The
first film got a PG rating, so your five-year-old could see if it you
accompanied her. The second film got a General rating, so you could
send your five-year-old off on her own. This is the film that
contains a scene where one of the Riders of Rohan says, "We
slaughtered a load of Orcs back there. We piled them up and set fire
to them." Then off go our heroes to root around in this smouldering

Peregrinations around my Armchair Page 43 of 163

heap of bodies, looking for evidence of their friends, Perry and
Merry. Very suitable for a young child that. Then the last film got
whacked with a 12 rating. There must have been a lot of frustrated 10
and 11-year-olds around who saw both the earlier films.

So I will try to read the book. 1200 pages is a lot. But, in the end,
I managed the 3000 pages of Proust's novel, and that text is denser
than anything Tolkien is going to throw at me.

I do realise that there are many of these fantasy films and each one
has its following of brain-dead fans. There is Dune (remember that
clunker?) and Star Wars and, of course, Star Trek. And for the last
two decades Hollywood has been plundering the world of comic books
(and more recently the world of graphical novels) for fantasy epic
after fantasy epic. And there's got to be a Superman fan-base and a
Batman fan-base and a Spider-Man fan-base and even a V-for-Vendetta
fan-base. So The Lord of the Rings has a lot of competition, but I
think its ambition, and its pretentiousness, its cultural
significance and the amount of hype which has been pumped into it as
a cultural object, make it stand out.

And what about the themes dealt with by The Lord of the Rings? Works
of fantasy are ways of escaping themes by pretending to deal with
them. Works like this are essentially a sedative and a solace, a 20
mg Valium given along with a lot of vicarious excitement. For a film
which reflects reality try a story about an abortionist in the 1950s
- Vera Drake. This film trilogy (and, I believe, the book on which it
is based) is really just so much less than it is touted to be.

0885 - 29.03.08 - The crazy world of film ratings, whether it is the

"guidelines" of the MPAA or the enforceable ratings in the UK and
Ireland. According to the commentary on the DVD for the zombie movie
Land of the Dead, it was edited in many places in such a way as to
tone down the gore and violence and earn the movie an MPAA "R"
(restricted) rating in the theatres. Then they edited a DVD version
with more gore and violence for home viewing. So the one place where
children would be bound to see the movie - the home - was the place
they added in extra gore and violence. And when it was the Irish
censor's turn to play her part in this ludicrous dance, what did they
conclude: "Fit for viewing by persons aged 15 years or more". A
little lenient, no? (I guess these ratings only affect the sale of
DVDs. Under fifteens are not supposed to be able to buy the DVD.
However, they can watch it when someone older has bought it.

It has become common now for a film to be recut for DVD with extra
sexual activity, more swearing and extra, or more extreme, violence.
They intend to produce two different versions going into the editing
process. Well, probably three - in degrees of freedom they are the
formats for (a) television; (b) theatres; (c) home viewing.

0886 - 29.03.08 - I watched a black and white film starring Norman

Wisdom in the cinema during the 1950s. He ends up in Nazi Germany, or
perhaps occupied France, I don't remember, gets caught and handed
over to the Gestapo.

This was a comedy, but it had a chilling effect on me, so that I

remember it to this day. As a teenager I had been brought up to

Peregrinations around my Armchair Page 44 of 163

believe that at some time in the near future the forces of government
repression would be directed, in Britain as elsewhere, against
Jehovah's Witnesses, as God's representatives on earth. The measures
that would be taken against us would be comparable to those the Nazis
took against the Jews and their other enemies. No wonder I shuddered
when I watched this comedy.

0887 - 29.03.08 - What's with these muddy colour palettes so many new
films adopt? Far and away the leader of the field was The Libertine -
what I could watch of a scratched copy. Perhaps one of the reasons
directors so often give us a brown or mud-coloured picture in which
virtually no other colour is discernible, is a desire to return to
the monochrome values of black-and-white.

0890 - 29.03.08 - Throne of Blood - Kurosawa's shot at Macbeth. It

makes you realise that with all their ingenuity the Japanese missed
out on some pretty obvious things. Like chairs. Nobody invented
chairs. In fact, given the influence of traditional Japanese culture
on this film, it could be characterised by referring to it as "Noh

0950 - 01.03.09 - The last time I saw A Streetcar Named Desire

(perhaps the first time too) was about twenty years ago, when I was
in France. It was the remake, not the Marlon Brando and Vivien Leigh
1950 original. On that occasion I was genuinely moved by the struggle
and eventual collapse into madness of Blanche Dubois. Having just
watched the Elia Kazan version on DVD I feel no sympathy at all for
the narcissistic Blanche Dubois or the actress who is so much like
her fictional counterpart (Vivien Leigh). I am even left cynically
wondering if Blanche is being carted off to a free public lunatic
asylum or whether she is being taken to a private facility, for which
presumably Stella, her sister, and Stanley, her brother-in-law, will
have to pay.

I get that the Blanche character had some hard things happen in her
life and hard times to endure, but she seems utterly contemptible to
me right now, and a positive menace because of all the harm she does
to others. Drama queen. Prick teaser. Wanker. Hysteric. Probably a
bit like the playwright.

0960 - 20.03.09 - The long quotation that follows is from a letter

started 6th January 2007 to my friend Mike Reid.

In the silent film era a director called Murnau made an unauthorised
adaptation of Bram Stoker's Dracula. I picked up a very cheap print
of this on DVD, which was so blurry it was almost unwatchable. Then I
got a wonderful restored version off the Internet. I also bought a
copy of Werner Herzog's 1979 remake. Both films are called Nosferatu.

Watching it again, I find myself asking whether it really has a

coherent plot? My difficulties keep coming back to the matter of

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conveyancing. The film begins with an estate agent called Knock
telling his employee, Hutter, that Count Orlock from Transylvania
wants to buy a house locally in Wisborg. Knock identifies a property
to offer the Count and sends Hutter off with the plans and a contract
to Count Orlock's castle in Transylvania.

Hutter (Jonathan Harker in Bram Stocker's original) and Orlock

(Dracula in Bram Stoker's original) duly meet and discuss, among
other things, the house purchase. At one point Orlock signs a
document, presumably the contract to purchase, and gives it to
Hutter, who shoves it into his bag. Fine so far. There is no postal
service in Transylvania, according to the film, so this business is
going to be entirely transacted by messenger, i.e. Hutter. He goes to
see the Count. The Count agrees to purchase the suggested property.
The contract is signed. Fine so far.

One would expect Hutter to leave the castle and return home with the
signed contract and, perhaps, also with at least a deposit on the
purchase price. But this does not happen. Instead the relationship
between the Count and Hutter deteriorates. Orlock keeps him shut up
in the castle, he comes at night and drinks his blood. During one of
Hutter's frantic day-time searches of the castle for means of escape
he discovers the Count lying motionless in his tomb. Then, while
Hutter is still a prisoner, Orlock leaves the castle and starts off
on a long journey he will take by sea to his new home at Wisborg
(which is, presumably, on the North Sea coast). Later, Hutter climbs
out of a window and lets himself down with the help of a sheet, but
has a great fall, and wakes up later in a local hospital with brain
fever. This is no way to treat an estate agent!

The technicalities of conveyancing seem to have fallen into one of

the cracks of the plot. Orlock arrives in Wisborg and moves into the
property he was offered. But where is his title to do so? The only
document relevant to the transaction we saw pushed into the bag of
Hutter, who was left, a prisoner, in Orlock's castle. This also is
strange. Since Orlock has behaved so atrociously to Hutter, and since
Hutter is a potential witness against him, why did he not dispose of
him before leaving the castle?

After watching it the last time, I began to re-read Dracula itself,

to see if Bram Stoker wrote a story as incoherent as the one Murnau
filmed. I think Stoker plots it in such a way that the contract to
purchase, and the abominable treatment of Jonathan Harker, remain
plausible. I am nearly halfway through this book and I am not sure
whether the plot, in its entirety, is actually coherent.

These thoughts led me to think about vampires in general, and to ask

myself whether they are not, in themselves, an incoherent fiction?
And they need not be. There are no mammals who are half men and half
horse, and yet I can see nothing logically incoherent in the idea of
a centaur.

In Herzog's remake (but not in Murnau's original) Nosferatu complains

bitterly about the tedium of being immortal. And yet he is vulnerable
to sunlight. If he was so bothered about it all he had to do was stay
up for the dawn and his worries would be over.

Then there is the idea, apparently introduced by Stoker, that those

whose blood is sucked by a vampire, become vampires in turn - a
notion that has spread through hundreds of vampire movies and through
the sister-genre of zombie movies.

Peregrinations around my Armchair Page 46 of 163

The idea of the original, non-proliferating vampire may be plausible.
Given a population of these blood-sucking immortals, one can even
imagine ways in which their needs could be catered for by the welfare
state. Perhaps a special department of the blood bank. But problems
really begin when everybody they drain of blood, even everybody they
bite becomes an immortal blood-sucker as well. It's an ecological
nightmare, with the population of vampires spiralling uncontrollably
upwards with every meal or snack, and the population of available
food sources shrinking in inverse proportion. One is left with a
world in which all that remain is this population of vampires with
nothing to feed off. What normally happens in these circumstances is
that the hungry individuals starve and die off. Except that these
vampires are, ahem, immortal. Incoherent.

And yet these stories might gain power, rather than lose it, from
this very incoherence. Perhaps a more plausible tale might lack
dramatic force. But why?

I am led to this hypothesis by my experience of dreams and of another
film, The Beyond, made in the early 1980s by the Italian horror
director Lucio Fulci. It is true that there is one body of opinion
that explains away the nonsensical plot twists and the non-sequiturs
of this film by simply saying that the director did a shoddy job. But
assume, for argument, that it was meant to be the way it is. How is
this film and, how are both versions of Nosferatu, like my dreams?

Not in the conventional sense, which describe dreams as chaotic,

surrealistic messes, which may have psychoanalytical interpretations.
My dreams, with which I am plagued almost every night, are not like

They are to a large extent like life, or a well-made story. They are
linear and coherent. Sometimes they are very much like feature films
and seem to last, accordingly, for two or even three hours. I wish I
did not dream so much, or so vividly. I would prefer more of restful
oblivion. But that is not the point.

My dreams are not entirely realistic - far from it. There are
saltations, sudden changes of location or costume. The personnel of
the drama may alter suddenly. These changes parallel the kind of
incoherence I observed in Nosferatu. The plot of my dream may seem
too rich, like an over-egged pudding. Same with the film, where
Orlock is not only an immortal, blood-sucking vampire, he also has
dominance over a legion of plague-carrying rats.

This does not make my dreams chaotic, as dreams are usually depicted
when people speak of them. They exist in a world which is something
in-between our everyday world and the chaotic world in which any
association can hold, or be dissolved. END QUOTE

Democracy (AH)

0003 - 10.09.04 - The tolerance that is a feature of the modern

liberal democracy is, and should be, a defensive tolerance, not one
that is afraid of censure and, if need be, of violence. It is a
tolerance that is intolerant of intolerance. All manner of behaviour,

Peregrinations around my Armchair Page 47 of 163

like private vengeance, is frowned on and restricted within the
liberal democracy, and frowned on when practised by outside
societies. Tolerance should not be the end of conflict. It is
conflict chosen on a new battlefield. This could be expressed in a
better way. A way that more clearly dissipates the fog that surrounds
this issue because of the use of the word "tolerance".

[27th September 2007. A liberal democracy is a state based upon a

monopoly of violence. There are also ground rules which all citizens
of the state must obey, or become liable for penalties. Such ground
rules are not negotiable. So a tolerant society will have its

0044 - 04.10.04 - The Importance of Pluralism. The sharing of power

in human affairs may turn out to be more important than whether the
form of government is democratic or totalitarian. Checks and
balances, pluralism, the sharing of power - the opposite of
dictatorship - are needed. So that errors can be corrected, and
alternatives discussed.

0242 - 31.07.05 - A liberal democracy has several significant

features, including representative government, rule of law and
division of church and state. There are governments in the world
which are not quite liberal democracies because they have failed to
adopt certain salient features of the type. Israel is apparently one
such example - no division of church and state. No civil marriage and
no civil divorce. For a country founded by secular Zionists, doesn't
that make you want to puke?

The Muslims suck, with their 'convert or die' policy, but the Jews
suck equally, and so do the Christians. The three Judaic faiths -
Judaism, Islam and Christianity, share an obnoxious exclusivity. For
a lot of Muslims, a lot of Jews, and not a few Christians, it is as
if the Age of Enlightenment never happened. These arseholes need to
be told that if they want to go on being Jews, or Muslims or
Christians, and live in a modern liberal democracy, they have to
chill out. Raw Judaism, raw Islam and raw Christianity are just not
acceptable in a modern secular polity. They are all morally inferior
to that polity and have no place in it. So knuckle down, or else. The
irony is that what is unacceptable is the raw, the traditional, the
genuine forms of these religions. What is acceptable is the
bowlderised version, the watered-down version, the version that has
compromised with the times it lives in. Yes, there is no place for
traditional Christianity in a modern liberal democracy. Or
traditional (i.e. Orthodox) Judaism. Or traditional (Koran-based)
Islam. So suck it up.

I repeat that Judaism is as repellent as Islam or Christianity, when

taken neat. The chosen people. The reason the history of the Jews is
not littered with atrocities committed against outsiders, as the
history of Islam and of Christianity is, is because, for a long time,
up until 1948, the Jews did not govern anywhere. However, they have
now made a start, in Israel. And that is not a modern, secular state
- it is a Jewish state. Of course, the population is very mixed and
not represented in its entirely by orthodox fanatics. But there are
enough of them to poison any attempt Israel makes to enter the modern
world. One 19-year-old has recently (written 5th August 2005)

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deserted from the Israeli army, mounted a bus and murdered four
Israeli Arabs - to help bugger up the proposed Gaza withdrawal. [26
March 2008. Oops! Of course, there was a Jewish state. In fact there
were two of them - Samaria in the north and Judea in the south.]

0362 - 04.02.06 - Syrian demonstrators have set fire to the Danish

embassy in Damascus because of cartoons mocking the prophet Mahomet
in Danish publications.

This is one of the things we in the West have to be prepared to die

for - the right of anyone to take the piss out of the prophet
Mahomet. This is a non-negotiable right of free expression. Now watch
us buckle.

Muslims, please note. The world is full of non-Muslims. They believe

that there was nothing special about Mahomet and that the Koran was
not divinely inspired. Learn to live with it. And another thing. If
you are going to act so sensitive, censor your own utterances about
the holy objects of others.

On the 7th February the UK Director of Public Prosecutions, speaking

about the Hamza sentence of seven years, said something like, "People
have the right to ridicule other people's religions." Absolutely.

What we have to defend, when we defend free speech, is the right to

exercise bad taste. To be offensive. But not, as the DPP observed, to
the extent of inciting the murder of those of whom we speak.

With respect to the nefarious 12 cartoons, they were jokes. Their

primary purpose was not to offend one social group, but to amuse
another social group, the group capable of being amused by them. Non-
Muslims. And some Muslims.

By the same argument one has to defend racist humour and denigration.
Just so long as it does not incite to murder etc. Which only applies
to countries like the United Kingdom with race hatred legislation. In
the United States, apparently, you even have the freedom to incite
race hatred and murder. It's your First Amendment right.

It is now February 8th and the cartoons have started an international

war between Islam and the West. The Muslims are reacting like infants
in a tantrum. And Western figureheads like Chirac are buckling at the
knees, handing over our liberties for the chance of a bit of peace.
Bravely, a French satirical magazine, Charlie-Hebdo, has reprinted
the cartoons.

0368 - 12.02.06 - Moneygrubbing Irish President MacAleese was at the

Jeddah Economic Forum today. Asked about the cartoons of Mahomet she
said “We abhor them“. It's enough to make Voltaire spew his ring.

A thought on republication. While the original publication of

cartoons which ridicule Islam is permissible, a question hangs over
the matter of republication, once the cartoons have been seized as an
opportunity for a political shit-storm. The issue then ceases to be
simply one of freedom of speech, it also has a political dimension.

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0379 - 12.04.06 - It seems to be a fact that societies that are still
run by traditional tyrannical governments have been moving, and
continue to move, towards a system based on representative
institutions, free and fair elections, and peaceful transfer of
power. [24th January 2009. If this is true, why is it happening?]

0471 - 07.03.07 - Some of the ground rules for decent government have
been discovered. One of them is the separation of powers, checks and
balances. No individual, no organ of government, must have unchecked
power. The downside is that the government can suffer from managerial
indecision. [24th January 2009. This is one of my startlingly naive

0483 - 22.03.07 - All governments depend, in the last resort, on

violence, and defend themselves, in the last resort, by violent
methods. How is a liberal democracy different in the way it resorts
to violence, compared with an authoritarian regime?

0507 - 08.08.07 - The active promotion of liberal democracy as a

political way of life is desirable. Discuss.

0531 - 18.09.07 - Is spreading, by whatever means, the political

system known as liberal democracy to countries which do not practise
it a form of cultural imperialism? Discuss.

0536 - 23.09.07 - Perhaps my move from the anti-Americanism of around

2000 to the pro-Americanism of more recent years, bolstered by the
views of Anthony Tovar, is not the end of the story. Perhaps I am now
moving towards a third stance, which is critical of America, which
sees it as a curate's egg, good in parts, bad in parts. The
influences here being the book by Timothy Garton Ash Free World and
the one I am currently reading by Clyde Prestowitz (an American
conservative and Presbyterian elder), Rogue Nation.

There is a debate to be had about whether we should be evangelical

about liberal democracy, promoting its adoption by societies which
have more authoritarian institutions. But what does seem to be beyond
debate is that there exist a plurality of liberal democratic forms of
society, of which the American form is only one. The notion that
liberal democracy is to be exported, and that it is to be exported
solely in the American form, is the height of arrogance.

0823 - 07.12.07 - Could a country in which the dominant religion was

Islam operate a successful liberal democracy? Well, if a country in
which the dominant religion is Christianity can do it, then I do not
see why not. America operates a far-from-perfect but undeniable
liberal democratic political system, and the majority of the
population have their heads stuffed with Christian fantasies about

Peregrinations around my Armchair Page 50 of 163

God, immortality, judgement and morality. And, for another example,
there is a large country in which Hinduism is the dominant religion,
and that manages to operate another far-from-perfect, but functioning
liberal democracy. So it seems that religion can, in general, coexist
with liberal democracy.

0939 - 11.11.08 - While the financial crisis seems to indicate that

the American version of free-market economics is inferior to the
European model, the reverse seems to be the case when it comes to the
liberal value freedom of speech. In Europe the tendency is to buckle
to the demands of illiberal political and religious factions. In
America freedom of speech is guaranteed by the constitution and may
prove to be a sturdier plant.

Nick Cohen makes me realise that the current European shift over
freedom of speech means that right-thinking left-liberals may find
many allies on the right on this issue at least, while many of its
left-liberal friends may turn out to be reneging on this hallowed
liberal value. [Nick Cohen, by the way, has not had a Jewish ancestor
for 100 years. Then, where did that name come from? Umm?]

Kant (AJ)

0068 - 16.10.04 - What does it mean to say we should always treat

people as ends and not as means?

0573 - 29.09.07 - In the period of my teleological anguish, which

stretched from the age of seventeen perhaps right up until I was
thirty-two, there was only one philosopher who rang my bell, and that
was Schopenhauer, because he was a pessimist and said that life was
shit. Even so, I never managed to scale the immensity of The World as
Will and Idea, although I started it a couple of times. I think I
also had a Penguin volume of his essays, which essays I have
downloaded, in a much more voluminous form, from Gutenberg.

0576 - 29.09.07 - Now it is a fact, from a Darwinian perspective,

that we are restricted and limited by the sensory and conceptual
apparatus we bring to existence, as all other forms of life are. To
jump from this limitation to the positing of another world, as Kant
does, when he speaks of the world of "things-in-themselves" seems to
me a jump too far. What we are in touch with and experiencing within
the boundaries of our formation is the world of things in themselves,
of which we are, individually, a single member.

0578 - 29.09.07 - Schopenhauer is Bryan Magee's main man. Here is a

direct quote from the master, from a Gutenberg download.

BEGIN QUOTE We are like lambs in a field, disporting themselves under

the eye of the butcher, who chooses out first one and then another
for his prey. So it is that in our good days we are all unconscious
of the evil Fate may have presently in store for us--sickness,

Peregrinations around my Armchair Page 51 of 163

poverty, mutilation, loss of sight or reason.

No little part of the torment of existence lies in this, that Time is

continually pressing upon us, never letting us take breath, but
always coming after us, like a taskmaster with a whip. If at any
moment Time stays his hand, it is only when we are delivered over to
the misery of boredom. END QUOTE - my underlining

(This from The Essays of Arthur Schopenhauer: Studies in Pessimism

being a selection from Schopenhauer's Parerga and Paralipomena
translated by T Bailey Saunders. The original from which Saunders has
adapted was a two-volume collection of essays published in 1851.

It is pointless to try to give a page notation for a quote from a

text download, but I can say that this quotation comes from the first
essay On the Sufferings of the World.)

0579 - 29.09.07 - A quote from The Essays of Arthur Schopenhauer:

Studies in Pessimism being a selection from Schopenhauer's Parerga
and Paralipomena translated by T Bailey Saunders. Internet download.
This quotation comes from the first essay On the Sufferings of the

BEGIN QUOTE The delight which a man has in hoping for and looking
forward to some special satisfaction is a part of the real pleasure
attaching to it enjoyed in advance. This is afterwards deducted; for
the more we look forward to anything, the less satisfaction we find
in it when it comes. END QUOTE

0588 - 29.09.07 - Now that I have read as far into Magee's book,
Confessions of a Philosopher, as his exposition of his great
discovery, Schopenhauer, I find that, as I anticipated, a study of
this philosopher, while it may prove very illuminating, also involves
the traversing of hectares of bull shit. Magee has a theory of 'as
if' or analogy or myth, which means that some of Schopenhauer's
wilder strokes may be implausible but enlightening at the same time.
We shall see.

0708 - 09.10.07 - When one talks of the limitations of the human

being, the human organism, whether it is in a Kantian sense, or in
some sort of post-Kantian sense that draws on the work of the great
philosopher, then I can see a slight objection forming in my mind.
The title of Richard Dawkins' toughest book is The Extended
Phenotype. That is my objection.

We have the senses and the nervous system supplied by the gimcrack.
opportunistic process of natural selection and by contingency. But,
like certain animals, we have tools, and we have stuff that is more
than tools, ways of extending ourselves. Binoculars. Electron
microscopes. Motor cars. Drugs. Computers. Does none of this, I ask
myself, qualify as an objection to a Kantian view of the human
organism as fundamentally and permanently limited in a particular

Peregrinations around my Armchair Page 52 of 163

0709 - 09.10.07 - I think my current opinion on the Kantian
philosophy accepts that there is some sort of framework within which
we have experiences and which we cannot transcend. That would follow,
from a Darwinian perspective. What I don't accept is that we cannot
know anything about reality - the "things-in-themselves". In fact, we
seem to know a darn sight more about material reality than we do
about ourselves.

It also seems nonsensical to me to deny that our experience is

"caused" by the things-in-themselves impinging on us. Of course it
is. Nor am I convinced that space and time are part of the framework
and not features of reality. Which does not leave much of the Kantian
structure left perhaps. Maybe I should try to make my own list of the
"categories" which are pre-supposed in experience.

0745 - 15.10.07 - In spite of what Kant says, it appears that we have

been able to find out some information about the "things-in-
themselves" which lie "outside" the world of experience. For example,
we have found out that the "things-in-themselves" are composed of
sub-atomic particles which cannot be perceived by human senses (that
agrees with Kant) but which behave in accordance with certain
mathematical formulae.

0758 - 22.10.07 - One of the things that I am arguing is that when

scientists speak about sub-atomic particles then they are referring
to Kantian 'things-in-themselves'. They are talking about particles
which cannot be part of anyone's direct experience and whose
properties can only be known by analogy and by the mathematical
formulae to which their behaviour conforms. And yet something
whispers to me, 'electron microscope'. Does this piece of equipment
actually allow the observer to see electrons?

0927 - 07.09.08 - Yesterday was a red-letter day, when I finished

reading Max Muller's translation of Critique of Pure Reason by
Immanuel Kant. And here is an interesting quote from the end of the
book - from Supplement XXVII.

BEGIN QUOTE The task of explaining the community of the soul with the
body does not properly fall within the province of that psychology of
which we are here speaking ... According to our doctrine, however, a
sufficient answer may be returned to that question also. The
difficulty of the task consists, as is well known, in the assumed
heterogeneousness of the object of the internal sense (the soul), and
the objects of the external senses, the formal condition of the
intuition with regard to the former being time only, with regard to
the latter, time and space. If we consider, however, that both kinds
of objects thus differ from each other, not internally, but so far
only as the one appears externally to the other, and that possibly
what is at the bottom of phenomenal matter, as a thing by itself, may
not be so heterogeneous after all as we imagine, that difficulty
vanishes, and there remains that one difficulty only, how a community
of substances is possible at all; a difficulty which it is not the
business of psychology to solve, and which, as the reader will easily
understand, after what has been said in the Analytic of fundamental

Peregrinations around my Armchair Page 53 of 163

powers and faculties, lies undoubtedly beyond the limits of all human
knowledge. (Pages 804-805 in the facsimile PDF from Online Library of
Liberty - my underlining) END QUOTE

Has Kant solved the hard problem of consciousness?

Darwin (AK)

0007 - 12.09.04 - "Are you claiming that the internal organisation of

the unicellular organism, and the symphonies of Mozart, came about as
the result of blind chance?" Do not allow your opponent to dictate
the terms of description you use to define your position. Say
"natural causes" rather than "blind chance".

0016 - 20.09.04 - Can people transcend their evolved natures? [24th

Jan 2009. I am in two minds about whether to delete this node or not.
On the one hand it does seem to be one or my more simple-minded
efforts. On the other, there may be something worth unpacking in the
question. I let it be for now.]

0018 - 21.09.04 - Selfishness no Crime. If we evolved through natural

selection, then the reason we are so self-centred and self-favouring
is because this attitude is conducive to survival. There is no need
to talk about basic human depravity or Original Sin. This self-
centredness forms the core of a describable and discoverable human
nature. And it is not appropriate to feel guilty about it. Like feet
and eyes and skin and hair, we needed that selfishness to survive.

0048 - 06.10.04 - One reason why it is difficult to explain the

importance of evolution to a creationist is because it is, to him,
just another scientific theory. To us, however, it is the vehicular
theory which contains the whole of biology within it. It explains
everything, how everything came to be. It has to be understood before
anything else can be.

0077 - 16.10.04 - Until humans, the evolution game was played

according to the rules of natural selection. Now, with humans, some
of the adaptations that developed under the old rules are subverting
the game itself. Humans are drawing up new rules, like ones which
proscribe nepotism (highly desirable under the old rules).

0085 - 20.10.04 - Natural selection ground on, with its own

imperatives, a sort of ethical programme, aimed at copying genes.
Then humans arrived. They began to add some imperatives of their own,
new ethical programmes. Some of their imperatives flouted and defied
the imperatives of natural selection. Hooray!

Peregrinations around my Armchair Page 54 of 163

0106 - 20.11.04 - Mother and Child. The children of mothers with the
kin-preference gene were more viable than children of mothers who did
not possess it. More copies of the kin-preference gene were made than
copies of the no-kin-preference gene. And that is why most mothers
experience kin preference today, and why it is widely approved of -
most female onlookers share it. But surely this is a reduction
indeed, of mother love to mindless competition between genes and
genotypes. If it is not a reduction, explain to me why it is not.
[29th September 2007. I downloaded a paper which attacks this
problem. It is by David J Buller and is called DeFreuding
Evolutionary Psychology: Adaptation and Human Motivation. I finished
my first reading of this on 24th July 2005 and failed to grasp
completely the distinction he was making between underlying genetic
"motivation" and conscious motivation.]

0138 - 18.01.05 - Kinship Demystified. Once you realise that the

strong feelings you have for your son or your daughter are hard-wired
into you by natural selection, it takes away much of the value you
imputed beforehand to that preference. [1st October 2007. But see the
downloaded paper on DeFreuding Evolution referred to in Node 106.]
What is left, after that disillusionment, is the experience of caring
so deeply about another human being. No matter what caused the
feeling to flourish, something did, and it now exists, where before
it did not. Is there a value to caring deeply for another human
being, divorced from reason, divorced from rational motive? Is that
feeling, irrespective of its object, valuable? Worth experiencing?

0180 - 13.03.05 - Exhortation achieved, and will achieve, little.

Even when exhortation seems to obtain a result, it is only a false
positive produced by hypocrisy. Exhortation cannot overcome, can
barely influence, the natural selfishness of each individual,
genetically programmed into her. Other means than exhortation are

0184 - 25.03.05 - The following notion settled for a moment in my

mind on the 19th inst. That what emerges in evolution with mother
love is structure - a bond maintained over time. I have no intention
of applying it across the animal kingdom. But look at the human
species. For all its perversity, in that it generates preference for
one individual based solely on his genetic descent, it links two
individuals over a very long period of time. Individuals, who, things
being otherwise, would just go their separate ways. What I seem to be
feebly getting at is that the forces that bind individuals together
into dualities, into triads, into groups etc are of the utmost
importance, because of what can be achieved by super-individual

0225 - 21.07.05 - Nothing purposive or providential drives the

organism and shapes it for evolutionary survival, via offspring, or
destruction, without offspring. Those behavioural patterns and
motivational structures which happen to enhance fitness are the ones
which, in a mechanical fashion, persist, through DNA transmission.
However, motivational structures, once established, take on a life of

Peregrinations around my Armchair Page 55 of 163

their own. The organism persists in implementing them, in doing them,
because of the pleasures she receives. The connection to evolutionary
fitness, over the generations, can become thin indeed. The behaviour
involved can even begin to work against evolutionary fitness. So one
engages in stamp collecting or anal sex, and neither activity is
related to evolutionary fitness at all. Have we found here an area in
which human motivation and behaviour, wanting and doing, are free of
the mechanical pressure of natural selection? Yes, we do seem to have
done this. But we have only exchanged one mechanical pressure for
another. The stamp collector or the turd burglar is only engaging in
the activity for the pleasurable rewards it brings. Our buttons are
still being pressed. We still have all the autonomy of a chocolate

0333 - 08.12.05 - If I had to think of something that I "believe in",

in the way that other people "believe in" Islam or "progress", then I
would have to answer that I believe in Darwin's theory of evolution
by natural selection. Many of my current beliefs can, and will, be
shaken and re-arranged without producing any seismic disturbance in
my mind. But if I became convinced that Darwin's theory was wrong, or
seriously in need of supplementation, then I would be deeply stirred
and disturbed.

0342 - 11.12.05 - Finished Mystery of Mysteries by Michael Ruse in

the early hours today. There's a paleontologist called Jack Sepkoski
who does not believe that natural selection is the main driving force
behind evolution. His alternative I was unable to comprehend - too
difficult for me. But compare node 0333.

0346 - 20.12.05 - Because there is no Creator, no Designer, the

natural order of things is not something that has to be adhered to,
or complied with. The natural order exists, but as a brute fact. The
human species, more than any other, has the ability to shape and
alter the natural order of things to make it a better fit with human
goals and values. Hence the option of same-sex marriages and children
growing up in homosexual families. The one caveat is that the nature
of things is not infinitely plastic and malleable. Limits to change
always exist, beyond which the cure is worse than the disease. But we
can resist the natural order of things, we have resisted it in the
past, and we will continue to resist it, and reshape it. Hallelujah.

0352 - 28.12.05 - As some Irish scientist explained in a talk on the

radio some days ago, a scientific theory is not, as in popular
parlance, something of questionable belief. It is a hypothesis which
has survived the testing of experimenters and the criticism of
opponents. An example of such a solid chunk of scientific achievement
is the theory of evolution, which most Americans do not believe to be

0421 - 05.08.06 - Before we argue about the grounding, or lack of it,

of morality, let us ask, "Where do moral feelings come from?"

Peregrinations around my Armchair Page 56 of 163

We have moral feelings because they were built into us by natural
selection in a way that they were not built into any other living
species. [12th October 2007. Is this true? Or do some other social
species also have moral feelings and values?]

0518 - 08.09.07 - It is possible that something we would be justified

in calling a god may emerge during the course of evolution on this
planet. It is even possible that one or more such beings may already
have emerged on other planets where evolution is taking place. But
even if such a god, or gods, existed, how far we are, conceptually
speaking, from the Deity of Mediaeval scholastic philosophy. This god
would be finite, contingent and with limited powers. It would also be
part of the evolutionary process, not superior to, or the originator
of, it.

0641 - 05.10.07 - Evolution is not progress towards, it is progress

away from. Away from the original simple life forms. I think this is
a paraphrase of something in John Horgan's The End of Science. It is
also one of the two themes of an entire book by Stephen Jay Gould,
Life's Grandeur.

0883 - 29.03.08 - One of the characteristics evolutionists assign to

some species, including ours is "flockability" or "docility". Doing
what they are told. Imitating. However, if a species is characterised
by such qualities then a genetic explanation of behaviour becomes
suspect. Perhaps only a few members of the population originally
exhibited the behaviour and the rest just imitated them?

Evolutionists make up "just so stories" to explain how a certain

behaviour or a structural change may have come about. Noam Chomsky
correctly declares that this is not science because it is not
testable. We cannot run evolution again to see if the same behaviour
emerges. We cannot re-run evolution once, let alone the number of
times laboratory science would seem to demand. [27th January 2009.
Compare this node with node 0712.]

0884 - 29.03.08 - Perhaps the existence of masters and slaves in the

human species has a genetic base. Genes for dominance and genes for
docility and obedience. In a social species like ours it helps to
have individuals who can lead, and plenty of individuals who can obey
and follow.

0919 - 02.06.08 - Why is it useful to believe that the universe was

designed, rather than the result of purely natural causes? William
James has something to say about this in the third lecture of his
book Pragmatism.

BEGIN QUOTE Let me pass to a very cognate philosophic problem, the

QUESTION of DESIGN IN NATURE. God's existence has from time
immemorial been held to be proved by certain natural facts. Many

Peregrinations around my Armchair Page 57 of 163

facts appear as if expressly designed in view of one another. Thus
the woodpecker's bill, tongue, feet, tail, etc., fit him wondrously
for a world of trees with grubs hid in their bark to feed upon. The
parts of our eye fit the laws of light to perfection, leading its
rays to a sharp picture on our retina. Such mutual fitting of things
diverse in origin argued design, it was held; and the designer was
always treated as a man-loving deity.

The first step in these arguments was to prove that the design
existed. Nature was ransacked for results obtained through separate
things being co-adapted. Our eyes, for instance, originate in intra-
uterine darkness, and the light originates in the sun, yet see how
they fit each other. They are evidently made FOR each other. Vision
is the end designed, light and eyes the separate means devised for
its attainment.

It is strange, considering how unanimously our ancestors felt the

force of this argument, to see how little it counts for since the
triumph of the darwinian theory. Darwin opened our minds to the power
of chance-happenings to bring forth 'fit' results if only they have
time to add themselves together. He showed the enormous waste of
nature in producing results that get destroyed because of their
unfitness. He also emphasized the number of adaptations which, if
designed, would argue an evil rather than a good designer. Here all
depends upon the point of view. To the grub under the bark the
exquisite fitness of the woodpecker's organism to extract him would
certainly argue a diabolical designer.

Theologians have by this time stretched their minds so as to embrace

the darwinian facts, and yet to interpret them as still showing
divine purpose. It used to be a question of purpose AGAINST
mechanism, of one OR the other. It was as if one should say "My shoes
are evidently designed to fit my feet, hence it is impossible that
they should have been produced by machinery." We know that they are
both: they are made by a machinery itself designed to fit the feet
with shoes. Theology need only stretch similarly the designs of God.
As the aim of a football-team is not merely to get the ball to a
certain goal (if that were so, they would simply get up on some dark
night and place it there), but to get it there by a fixed MACHINERY
OF CONDITIONS--the game's rules and the opposing players; so the aim
of God is not merely, let us say, to make men and to save them, but
rather to get this done through the sole agency of nature's vast
machinery. Without nature's stupendous laws and counterforces, man's
creation and perfection, we might suppose, would be too insipid
achievements for God to have designed them.

This saves the form of the design-argument at the expense of its old
easy human content. The designer is no longer the old man-like deity.
His designs have grown so vast as to be incomprehensible to us
humans. The WHAT of them so overwhelms us that to establish the mere
THAT of a designer for them becomes of very little consequence in
comparison. We can with difficulty comprehend the character of a
cosmic mind whose purposes are fully revealed by the strange mixture
of goods and evils that we find in this actual world's particulars.
Or rather we cannot by any possibility comprehend it. The mere word
'design' by itself has, we see, no consequences and explains nothing.
It is the barrenest of principles. The old question of WHETHER there
is design is idle. The real question is WHAT is the world, whether or
not it have a designer--and that can be revealed only by the study of
all nature's particulars.

Peregrinations around my Armchair Page 58 of 163

Remember that no matter what nature may have produced or may be
producing, the means must necessarily have been adequate, must have
been FITTED TO THAT PRODUCTION. The argument from fitness to design
would consequently always apply, whatever were the product's
character. The recent Mont-Pelee eruption, for example, required all
previous history to produce that exact combination of ruined houses,
human and animal corpses, sunken ships, volcanic ashes, etc., in just
that one hideous configuration of positions. France had to be a
nation and colonize Martinique. Our country had to exist and send our
ships there. IF God aimed at just that result, the means by which the
centuries bent their influences towards it, showed exquisite
intelligence. And so of any state of things whatever, either in
nature or in history, which we find actually realized. For the parts
of things must always make SOME definite resultant, be it chaotic or
harmonious. When we look at what has actually come, the conditions
must always appear perfectly designed to ensure it. We can always
say, therefore, in any conceivable world, of any conceivable
character, that the whole cosmic machinery MAY have been designed to
produce it.

Pragmatically, then, the abstract word 'design' is a blank cartridge.

It carries no consequences, it does no execution. What sort of
design? and what sort of a designer? are the only serious
questions, and the study of facts is the only way of getting even
approximate answers. Meanwhile, pending the slow answer from facts,
anyone who insists that there is a designer and who is sure he is a
divine one, gets a certain pragmatic benefit from the term--the same,
in fact which we saw that the terms God, Spirit, or the Absolute,
yield us [sic] 'Design,' worthless tho it be as a mere rationalistic
principle set above or behind things for our admiration, becomes, if
our faith concretes it into something theistic, a term of PROMISE.
Returning with it into experience, we gain a more confiding outlook
on the future. If not a blind force but a seeing force runs things,
we may reasonably expect better issues. This vague confidence in the
future is the sole pragmatic meaning at present discernible in the
terms design and designer. But if cosmic confidence is right not
wrong, better not worse, that is a most important meaning. That much
at least of possible 'truth' the terms will then have in them. (my
underlining) END QUOTE

0951 - 03.04.09 - The fact that I believe in Darwinian evolution by

natural selection does not mean I have to like it. I find the
explanatory scope of Darwin's theory dazzling, but as for the process
itself, it fills me with revulsion.

I saw part of an animal documentary yesterday, which re-affirmed my

visceral attitude to evolution via natural selection. In one scene a
lioness had a zebra by the throat in water and they struggled, with
immense slowness and in intense silence, like two wrestlers, until
the zebra, by an unexpected move, upended the lioness and fell on top
of her with its full weight, nearly drowning her so that she had to
let go and the zebra escaped.

In a later scene a cheetah had captured a fawn and was toying with
it, letting it run off, then catching it up and knocking it over.
This went on happening while the parent deer stood by helpless, until
the cheetah went for the fawn's throat and ended its cruel play.

The whole business of evolution, not just the destruction carnivores

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wreak on other animals, is depressing. I begin to think that if I
could concentrate on those aspects of it which upset me with enough
clarity, I might lose the will to live.

I have been thinking about cognitive dissonance. The sort of thing

that allows one to agitate about the ill-treatment of animals and
then sit down to a rare steak with onions. While cognitive dissonance
often causes mental discomfort, so that we strive to adjust our
opinions so that they are consistent and the dissonance disappears,
it seems often to supply an even more vital function: it allows us to
hold two contradictory positions because we need to maintain both to
sustain our will to live. If we admitted to the full horror of
evolution by natural selection, we might give in to despair.

I was led to think about cognitive dissonance by Susan Blackmore, who

was claiming that it makes us uncomfortable. I had a similar idea
back in the 1960s when I said "Doubt cannot exist in the human mind".
She was writing in the context of belief in the paranormal. According
to her, one either believed in the paranormal or one did not believe
in it. It was impossible to do both. And she had chosen not to

There is much to be said for her position, but in view of the fact
that people do frequently hold inconsistent and contradictory
opinions in the same head and that the "epigenetic rules" (as Michael
Ruse calls them) which are hardwired into our brains may also be
inconsistent, it is difficult to say that people do not remain in
states of cognitive dissonance, rather trying to resolve the
contradictions at any cost.

I did try arguing with myself that humans could not be happy with
believing a contradiction - e.g. that a rose is red and not red at
the same time. However, I thought they might hold inconsistent
beliefs, like a religious belief in the Garden of Eden and a
scientific belief in evolution. But when you unpack this idea it
becomes clear that inconsistent beliefs imply contradictions - e.g.
that there was a Garden of Eden and there was not a Garden of Eden.

I fear that all of us live with cognitive dissonance all our lives,
and perhaps the best we do is to try to minimise it. Hardwired
beliefs (epigenetic rules) probably include one which divides the
world into things and souls - a naive dualism which is inescapable
because hardwired into the brain and yet inconsistent with more
sophisticated thinking. Any attempt to rise rationally above a
hardwired intellectual predisposition will always involve cognitive
dissonance, because the epigenetic rule is not something you ever can

0961 - 20.03.09 - Natural selection. Replicators whose actions

increase the probability of their own replication will tend to
survive and proliferate in a population of replicators.

Fear of Death (AL)

0001 - 10.09.04 - What I am seeking, probably in vain, is the comfort

of believing, of having reasonable grounds for the belief, that my
coming death will not mean extinction.

Peregrinations around my Armchair Page 60 of 163

0029 - 23.09.04 - If death is the end, then perhaps life is not all
that worth having. Currently, I worry about my health, I shrink from
thoughts of suicide, even in a situation in which I was suffering
from progressive dementia. My attitude is to cling to life, to
stretch it out as long as I can, because I have nothing to look
forward to after it. Perhaps this is a mistake. If death is the end,
then perhaps life is not all that worth having.

0034 - 25.09.04 - Death Again. Even if there is an independent realm

of reality peopled by mental entities like sensations and thoughts,
it seems to have emerged from and to be dependent upon, the material
realm. You need a brain to think. So this would leave untouched the
finality of death. Including mine.

0035 - 25.09.04 - The Absurdity of Survival after Death. There is not

just one absurdity, but many. For example, problems really start when
you try to work out just who survives. Presumably all humans. What
about pets? If pets do not survive (and they do for C S Lewis) then
are we not still unconsoled? And if pets survive death, then what
about other animals? What about insects? [27th January 2009. In an
article called Human Immortality: Two Supposed Objections to the
Doctrine William James argues convincingly that it is a failure of
the human imagination that raises such a difficulty. In reality
Heaven could be filled with all the souls that ever were. There is no
reason to suppose, from a Heavenly point of view, that existence
there has to be denied to any example of a dead insect, or to any
expired bacterium or virus, or to a germ cell that has failed to
fertilise its opposite number. By all means add in every miscarried
or aborted foetus. James does not give examples as extreme as these,
but they are implied by his thesis. And I cannot fault his logic.]

However, in comparison with such fantastic speculations, the cold

clarity of death as finality stands out as intellectually pristine,
and, sad to say, credible.

What we desire of an afterlife is that it should be a continuation of

this one, with some of the bad bits left out. And even that is not
enough. When I believed in survival of death, I still dreaded
"passing", because of the things I would miss.

What would I miss? Well, precisely my being alive on Earth with the
human relationships and the interests I had developed there. Dying,
by this scenario, would be like taking boat for New Zealand and
knowing you could never return, and that contacts with the world you
were leaving would be restricted, at best, to the communications
possible in the spiritualist seance or via the ouija board.

0038 - 25.09.04 - Nuclear War Panic. In the early 1980s the world was
swept by a feeling of panic, anticipating a nuclear war between the
USA and the USSR. I certainly experienced it. It ended for me one day
in London when I became angry that Ronald Reagan and his Russian
counterpart should be blackmailing the rest of the world into

Peregrinations around my Armchair Page 61 of 163

submission with this threat of nuclear destruction - "Don't make us
do it!" I reacted thus: "If you want to kill everybody, fucking get
on with it." My fear left me. If death is going to finish my life,
could I cope with my dread of it by devaluing the life that is going
to be extinguished? Any life that death can end, is not worth having.
Compared to what?

0060 - 13.10.04 - If I could live indefinitely, because technology

had made this possible, O then it would make a huge difference. It
would also make the loss of life, for some principled purpose like
love of country, even more awful than it is now.

0101 - 14.11.04 - The deaths of others confirms my immortality. [29th

September 2007. How?]

0182 - 18.03.05 - If I did not dread death, but accepted it as the

quiet ending, the simple cessation that it almost certainly is, I
would still be afraid of my approach to death. Of the illness that
may lead up to it, of the pain before the terminus, of the
possibility of senility or disability.

0253 - 10.08.05 - Suicide as positive, proactive. Rather than waiting

for Death to come looking for you, you set out on the highroad and
find him, tapping him on the shoulder with a, "Hurry it up, dude."

0387 - 17.05.06 - To every anthropology which claims that Man is in

some kind of existential "fix" or "bind" like that hoary chestnut of
Original Sin, my inclination is to ask, "How do you know? How can you
be so sure?" How would such a problem arise in the evolution of the
natural world, nasty as it may be? Mmm. The fact that I describe the
natural world as nasty indicates that at least this example of
humanity, me, may suffer from some kind of existential anxiety.

Re-reading The Denial of Death by Ernest Becker and wading with

difficulty through a lot of what seems to be psychoanalytical
bullshit, I still find him striking a chord in myself over and over.

Perhaps man does find herself unable to accept her finitude. Her
contingency and coming oblivion. And perhaps this is a state from
which man would wish to be saved. And it may be true that salvation
does not exist. Man's "god-shaped hole" may be unfillable, except
with illusion.

So man dies but man cannot accept this. And nothing real and true can
lead him to accept this. Does seem true of me. And for consolation I
look to things like progress - especially progress. I tell myself
that on a broad definition things have been getting better for the
human race, and could well get better still. And I still cannot
accept my finitude, my contingency and my coming oblivion and wiping
out in death. And I still wait in hope that the next novel or movie
or piece of news or anecdote from a friend will reveal a wonderful

Peregrinations around my Armchair Page 62 of 163

truth - that will either (a) enable me to accept my finitude etc, or
(b) show that that finitude is an illusion, that I am much more than
a finite, contingent and dying creature. And nothing ever does.

If man is in this fix, and salvation is not possible, then we can

expect the sort of fruitless questing I have just described in my own
case. Perhaps the answer lies in the love between two people? In
certain special cases anyway, at least? Perhaps the answer lies in
religion? In suicide? In madness? In artistic production?

As well as looking for relief from this dread of finitude and death,
man will do things which are bad and anti-social and violent and
destructive - all as part of his coping mechanisms. Man will engage
in all manner of absurdities in an attempt to escape from fear of
finitude. Else, given the high social cost, why would any person
elect to become psychotic? And I do not mean that someone makes a
rational plan to go mad, but that at a subterranean level it is seen
as a preferable alternative to being normal and having to deal with
one's finitude and contingency and coming death.

When I stepped out of the wreckage of the childhood beliefs instilled

in me by my Jehovah's Witness parents, I went looking for the purpose
of life. Nearly sixty-two years old now and lying in bed thinking
that one day soon my heartbeat will have stopped and I will no longer
exist, I have made no progress at all since my first tentative steps
in early adulthood.

Perhaps it would be well for me to examine the ways in which I

currently cope with my dread of coming death. The ways in which I
manage to think about it and acknowledge, even if at a superficial
level, its reality and inevitability, and yet not become terrified.
Partly, I am sure, by telling myself I have many more years to live,
so thinking about it seriously can be put off till tomorrow. And that
old standby, that thinking about it at all is a waste of time, now my
will has been made. Chug along in blissful insouciance until the
hammer falls. If only I could.

And then again, rather than spending time, which after all is limited
- and this is rather the point - in thinking about my coming death,
and my inability to accept it or become resigned to it, and the
reasons for this, and possible ways out of the dilemma, why not turn
to more amusing pursuits - like a bit more gardening, or watching
another Civil War short by D W Griffith, or having another wank?

Jesus Christ, it's flooded outside, and the rain has stopped for the
moment, thank God, so the water level gets a chance to fall. But
there's one Hell of a wind blowing and just a pale hint of sunlight.

Philip Larkin was obsessed by his coming death, so I am in good

company. And even having a one-way ticket to Heaven has not
suppressed this dread in some people. John Betjeman for instance.

There is the pain of dying, of course, which may, or may not occur,
depending on the manner of one's decease. Difficult to believe that
my scarce-breathing mother felt any great paroxysm of pain before she
died supine in her bed. But many do. A heart attack is agonising, or
it can be, if it goes on long enough. But this is like an anticipated
visit to the dentist, or major surgery that has been booked. It is
not the same dread as the dread of oblivion, of ceasing to be.

Peregrinations around my Armchair Page 63 of 163

0391 - 05.06.06 - Isn't it remarkable that a modern state can send
young men to fight and be killed? When you think of what that means
to the young men involved, and their families. Ernest Becker really
does seem to have been on to something. Man is an animal who denies
his death. Escape from Evil is particularly full of insights that
indicate that Becker was on to something. He can even make sense of
primitive societies.

0395 - 14.06.06 - Suicide. Death may come for me suddenly, as it came

for my father, and at a comparatively early age. In that case I have
no decisions to make, or to fail to make out of passivity. Or death
may not come suddenly. It may take its time.

Colin Glasswell's father suffered a series of strokes. After the last

one he recovered enough to go back to living in his own bungalow,
supported by relatives and a home help. Then he fell down. Hospital.
Then a nursing home. Then back to hospital, to a geriatric ward. His
bungalow will be put up for sale. I don't want my dying to be like
that, and the only way to avoid it seems to be through suicide.

I suspect that the means of self-murder are less important than the
decision to die. From my limited experience this is not a difficult
decision to make, but it is difficult to live with. Suicide on
impulse is one thing, to make up your mind to kill yourself next
October, that is something else. Planning it like a vacation.

But so many things about chronic illness are awful, like the bruises
on the back of your hand where they have shoved a needle into the
vein. All that humiliation and gross physicality.

0396 - 14.06.06 - Teeth. They can sometimes seem glamorous, when they
are white and perfect. I disagree. To me now they are never
glamorous, never attractive, never sexually exciting. They are, after
all, bones used for gnashing, grinding, tearing and ripping food.

Ernest Becker has something when he says that physicality is

disturbing. The denial of death is the denial of this physicality -
that's not really me. I am not somebody with teeth - and very ugly
ones at that. I cannot bear to think that I am physical, that I am
finite, that I am going to die.

0506 - 04.08.07 - We are all on death row.

0617 - 30.09.07 - God, how wonderful it is to meet, even if only

within the covers of a book, someone who is as afraid of death as I
am. Perhaps even a bit more afraid. Bryan Magee.

0739 - 14.10.07 - Is the dread of death universal? It is said that

David Hume did not fear death. I believe Carole Cuadrado, my ex-work
colleague, told me the same. Is it really universal, or at least

Peregrinations around my Armchair Page 64 of 163

general in the human species? Ernest Becker's theories rather depend
on it being very generally shared by members of the species.

0740 - 14.10.07 - Fear of death may not be universal, or even

general, but it is something that I certainly have. And it seems that
one way I have tried to cope with the fear is by familiarising myself
with death at several removes, almost immersing myself in it. Like
someone trying to overcome a phobia for spiders forcing himself to
look at photos.

In my case there is the way I took over the deceased X-ray files at
my last job. And took over a similar filing job for dead patients at
Normansfield Hospital, some of whom had died in the nineteenth
century. And then there is my choice of historical subject of
interest. World War One with the massive carnage on the Western
front. And my interest in atrocities with high body counts. It is as
if I am trying to reduce the anxiety I feel at the prospect of my own
coming death by telling myself how common it is.

0741 - 14.10.07 - Many of my fears are hypochondriacal fear of

something that may never happen. My fear of death, on the other hand,
is fear of something that will happen.

0798 - 28.10.07 - Blood on my toilet paper the past couple of days,

although none after the most recent shit. This is likely to be caused
by my rock-hard constipated turds slicing through the top of one of
my piles. However, it is just possible that it is my death sentence,
arrived in the post. Constipation or prostrate cancer? Take your

0814 - 12.11.07 - It is possible that my fear of death has diminished

a fraction, perhaps because of all the attention I have been giving
it lately. But there is also an ancillary fear which needs some
consideration, which I will call "post-mortem anxiety". This is
worrying about the state of affairs after your demise. The condition
of your body, how your funeral is arranged, whether your property
descends cleanly and conveniently to your heirs, etc etc. And really
this is a fear that is out of all rational limit and clearly has
subterranean motivation.

What I leave behind me if I die today is mainly a bungalow. I have

made a legal will and my daughter has the original. The worst that
could happen is that the bungalow is allowed to deteriorate before it
is either sold or converted or whatever. There's not much I can do
about those possibilities. There is an absurd reluctance to cause a
fuss by one's death, but this is unavoidable. And I ought to took on
the bright side. The immediate aftermath of my death will involve
fuss and expense. But on the other hand, a non-producer will have
stopped consuming goods and services, so the economy will benefit.

0815 - 12.11.07 - Another ancillary fear to the fear of death is the

Peregrinations around my Armchair Page 65 of 163

fear of leaving nothing behind. It is another fear that I need to
face and examine, in the hope that it will diminish in the light of
day. Like anyone who dies, even a pauper, I will leave things behind
- including, probably, a draft (or several drafts) of Peregrinations
around my armchair. Whether anything remains, after a few months or
years, is really up to others. I need to establish the notion of
finality as it applies to my death. Any control I have over my life
or that of others stops then. Stops dead, in fact.

0819 - 03.12.07 - One feels so permanent. Oh, fatal illusion.

0869 - 26.02.08 - To be conscious it is indispensable to be material.

So, no survival of death.

0921 - 05.06.08 - Surviving death (and pre-existing birth). Even when

I am wearing my hat as a physicalistic monist, I have to admit that
non-survival of death is only a consequence of a hypothesis - the
hypothesis that the universe is fundamentally material and that
survival lasts only as long as the body. The portion of Kant I was
reading this morning, as part of a reading regimen, has something to
say about this:

BEGIN QUOTE The decision of all the discussions on the state of a

thinking being, before this association with matter (life) or after
the ceasing of such association (death), depends on the remarks which
we have just made on the association between the thinking and the
extended. The opinion that the thinking subject was able to think
before any association with bodies, would assume the following form,
that before the beginning of that kind of sensibility [p. 394]
through which something appears to us in space, the same
transcendental objects, which in our present state appear as bodies,
could have been seen in a totally different way. The other opinion
that, after the cessation of its association with the material world,
the soul could continue to think, would be expressed as follows:
that, if that kind of sensibility through which transcendental and,
for the present, entirely unknown objects appear to us as a material
world, should cease, it would not follow that thereby all intuition
of them would be removed: it being quite possible that the same
unknown objects should continue to be known by the thinking subject,
although no longer in the quality of bodies.

Now it is quite true that no one can produce from speculative

principles the smallest ground for such an assertion, or do more than
presuppose its possibility, but neither can any valid dogmatical
objection be raised against it. For whoever would attempt to do so,
would know neither more nor less than I myself, or anybody else,
about the absolute and internal cause of external and material
phenomena. As he cannot pretend to know on what the reality of
external phenomena in our present state (in life) really rests,
neither can he know that the condition of all external intuition, or
the thinking subject itself, will cease after this state (in
death). (The Friedrich Max Muller translation of the first edition of
The Critique of Pure Reason. Downloaded from the Online Library of
Liberty. Quotation taken from the section Consideration on the Whole
of Pure Psychology, as Affected by these Paralogisms. Pasted from a

Peregrinations around my Armchair Page 66 of 163

text conversion of the HTML edition of the text. My underlining.) END

Progress (AM)

0022 - 22.09.04 - I was persuaded by Robert Wright's NonZero that the

history of the world displays "directionality". This chimes with my
gut-level belief in progress, However, it cannot be a purpose, or a
plan, or an intention, that drives the directionality of the world,
since these are all "mechanisms" observed in organic life. Either,
then, it is nothing at all that drives the directionality (the
tendency to the increase of the nonzero component). It is simply a
mechanistic consequence of physical process. Or, it is something
"other" than, but analogous to, a purpose, a plan, or an intention,
that drives the observed directionality. [This node was written
before my disenchantment with Robert Wright commenced.]

0079 - 17.10.04 - Belonging to a religion gives structure to a life.

Progress goes along with the growth of atheism, the erosion of
superstition. However, it is not to be denied that the life without
religion has its own problems - problems of formlessness. Islam can
get youngsters off drugs and into work. Can philosophical materialism
laced with neo-Darwinism achieve this too?

0032 - 25.09.04 - The Age of Scarcity and the Age of Prosperity. 1950
was a watershed. On one side of that gulf stretch the generations of
those who lived in the Age of Scarcity. On this side of the gulf some
live in the Age of Prosperity. Some lucky few have never had any
practical experience of scarcity.

The Age of Prosperity got going after a period in which rich nations
impoverished themselves, hugely wasting their energy, their manpower
and other resources in global warfare - freely handing one another
vast quantities of energy in the form of high explosive. However,
within a couple of short decades from the end of World War II, parts
of the planet were unrecognisable and unlike anything that had gone
before. Not just the governing elites, but entire nations were
prosperous. Technology had not only proved the feasibility of
abundance, but had supplied it to real societies.

Most of the globe still lives in the Age of Scarcity, but many of
them know it is no inevitable fate - as it used to be.

Now, look back to the Age of Scarcity before 1950. A Malthusian

world, where the food supply increased arithmetically while the
population increased exponentially. The population ran short of food.
If it was not voluntarily restrained, or reduced by war, or natural
catastrophe, then only famine would restore the balance of population
and resources.

In the Age of Scarcity there were excuses to be made for aggressive

behaviour, which will not wash in the Age of Prosperity. Unless you
live where prosperity has not yet begun to have an effect. The
massacres in Rwanda were politically orchestrated, but were made
easier by the fact that the population had outstripped the resources

Peregrinations around my Armchair Page 67 of 163

in a subsistence economy. That made it easier to kill. [This node
cannibalised from an earlier fragment called The Future of Humanity.]

0091 - 28.10.04 - NonZero. When I read that library copy of Robert

Wright's book a couple of years ago, and was convinced by him that
evolution was directional and progressive, and in a sense,
inevitable, was I hearing once again the song of a siren? Is his
thesis largely bogus?

His theory corroborated and strengthened a notion put to me in the

70s by one of my philosophy lecturers - that rationality is self-
correcting. But has Wright gone overboard on this?

0098 - 04.11.04 - Finding a definition of progress is hard. One

measure would be increased social integration and cooperation. On a
global scale the next step would have to be world government - a
United Nations with teeth. But are there not good reasons why this
would be a step too far? And if achieved, would it not be
fundamentally non-progressive?

0103 - 15.11.04 - Oh my, looks as if I have been taken in again. This

time by the journalist Robert Wright's plausible-sounding theory of
non-zero progress. He de-emphasised zero-sum gaming to make his

0120 - 23.12.04 - I have a more nuanced view of progress today, taken

out from under the spell of the journalist Robert Wright. Things go
not as well as I imagined. Russia, for example, is likely to be
governed badly for another fifty years. North Korea is strangled by
bad government. As is Burma. As is Saudi Arabia. Oh, dear. Oh, dear

0121 - 23.12.04 - Non-zero-sumness grows, as Robert Wright says. But

alongside it, zero-sumness grows too.

0135 - 17.01.04 - I change my mind. I think I was wrong. Reading

Caroline Morehead's history of the Red Cross, Dunant's Dream, it
becomes plausible that the world has been getting worse. Since the
end of World War I, since the end of World War II, since the 60s,
since the 70s, since the 80s. That the level of bestiality, of war
crimes and crimes against humanity, has been rising steadily. The
horrors of yesteryear, like Biafra, become the commonplace of today.
This does not mean the world is coming to an end, but it is an anti-
progressive tendency. Or do I mean "regressive"?

0141 - 19.01.05 - Back in the 1970s I was talking to one of my

philosophy lecturers at the Middlesex Polytechnic, about how

Peregrinations around my Armchair Page 68 of 163

pointless everything was, and he said something to the effect that
rationality reinforces itself. I suppose he meant that people would
notice that things planned rationally tended to work out, and perform
them again. This seemed to me at the time, and still does, as a
rationale for believing in progress - carefully defined.

0144 - 25.01.05 - Perspective. A Gaelic documentary on television

just recently, about DDT. The World Health Organisation reckoned that
DDT had saved about 500 million lives (i.e. postponed 500 million
deaths) in twenty years. Looked at from that perspective, and as just
one product of modern science and technology, it could well be that
all the mass-murders and wars and self-inflicted wounds of the last
three hundred years put together would just amount to a pinprick,
when put against the lives "saved", especially of children, by
science and technology. The evidence that the balance sheet is
positive is plain. It is the growth in the population of the world.

0152 - 01.02.05 - Western science and technology increased human

productivity to such an extent that in certain developed nations an
era of prosperity dawned, in which a burgeoning population could be
comfortably accounted for on a fixed geographical land-mass.

Up until then all nations or social groups had a motive for war that
was basic - survival itself. This was in addition to all the less
rational reasons for waging war. In a subsistence economy, even in an
advanced economy before the advent of productivity-driven prosperity,
population would outgrow the resources of the group. The stark
alternatives were famine or taking some other group's resources away
from it.

When prosperity arrived, some nations no longer had the motive, or

excuse, for war, that their very survival depended upon waging it.
They could survive comfortably without annexing any more land. Was
this true of Japan in the 30s? Of Germany in the 30s? Was war a
material imperative for these two nations, or were they already
technologically advanced enough to solve their problems within their
given land-mass? [See also Node 0032.]

0383 - 19.04.06 - The general world situation and the medium-term

prognosis. I cannot help being optimistic. Hope is bursting out all

Of course, this hope is local, temporal and finite. And in no way

does it negate the awful conditions of existence most people have
endured since human beings first walked the earth. Nor the man-made
disasters that await us in the future, or the persisting human
miseries that continue unabated. But on the local, temporal and
finite question of how does the future of the world look right now in
the medium term, I cannot help but say, it looks rather bright.

Just one tiny example. The wind-up radio.

0425 - 05.08.06 - I am an advocate of the weak theory of progress.

Peregrinations around my Armchair Page 69 of 163

This says, along the lines described by Steven Pinker, that natural
selection turned on a "sympathy knob" in the human species, and human
sympathies have expanded over time, reclassifying more and more out-
groups as in-groups with the consequent social blessings of more non-
zero sum activities and greater levels of cooperation.

In the weak theory of progress there is nothing inevitable about the

moral development of the human species. There is nothing certain
about future developments, except perhaps that there will be counter-
examples of acrimony between groups increasing, in our near future.
The development of free trade, the rule of law, science, liberal
institutions, parliaments and elections, tolerance and freedom of
speech, all this development is fragile, and reversible.

As far as we know, the sympathy knob has not been turned on in

another single species. And there are no implications from this weak
theory to reality in general.

In the strong theory of progress the moral development of the human

species is seen as part of an underlying process, possibly even one
guided by a supernatural intelligence. The journalist Robert Wright
takes up this position. Then human progress can be seen as only one
in a series of developments, all progressive in nature, which
includes the formation of multicellular organisms, the origin of
living things on this planet etc etc. This theory of progress is more
like a religion or an ideology than a theory, because it goes so far
beyond the facts. And if the direction has been taken at the auspices
of a supernatural intelligence, then it seems a frightfully costly
way to build up to organic life or social progress, or whatever the
next step is. The strong theory of progress plunges the believer
straight back into theodicy, the problem of evil.

0428 - 07.08.06 - What seems to make the strong theory of progress

reassuring is the notion that progress is guaranteed by the existence
of the Intelligence which is behind the scenes directing things.
According to the weak theory of progress, this amelioration is only
local, concerned with human relations, has arisen as the result of
natural causes, and could be terminated by other natural causes.

But there may not be such a huge advantage to the strong theory. We
do not know anything about the postulated Intelligence, and cannot
assume that she is benign. Or even if she is benign, is so in any
sense that is relevant to us. We cannot assume that the direction, or
the goal, or the purpose, or the meaning, underlying everything, is
valuable in a way we would appreciate. This is all pure, pure
speculation, much like positing the Intelligence in the first place,
only worse.

So "progress" may be guaranteed by the Intelligence (depending on

whether she is all-powerful or limited in power) but may be a
progress of which we do not approve, or to which we are indifferent.
There may be advantages after all to our being involved in a progress
which is purely local and human, and in which we definitely are
interested. A progress about which there is usually enough going on
in the world to justify a qualified optimism in carrying the
programme further. The circle of sympathy, in spite of everything,
continues to expand.

Peregrinations around my Armchair Page 70 of 163

0429 - 07.08.06 - Even the weak theory of progress has a blotted
copybook. It is arguable that forms of this theory were responsible
for the socialist programmes in the USSR, in China and in Cambodia,
to name but three. Good intentions based on bad science. Millions and
millions and millions of unnecessary corpses. Life, even while there
is genuine hope, is basically a grim business.

0479 - 22.03.07 - In Asia Mao Tse-Tung rose to power and conquered

China by the systematic application of terror, like Lenin before him.
In Europe Hitler rose to power by seducing the German public and by
using the democratic institutions. That is an example of progress.

0675 - 08.10.07 - The idea that Horgan is pushing throughout the

book, that the progress of science may be coming to an end, as far as
fundamental discoveries are concerned, would firm up a physicalist
concept of progress, as something, which like regress, or stasis,
does occur, but which has no inbuilt power to continue, and is
subject, like everything else, to contingency. Up till now, I have
been trying to defend a concept of progress which goes on and on
(both social as well as scientific), which might well contain its own
facilitators (like the relative rationality of the species) but which
contained no guarantee of its continued existence. I think I will be
happier with a concept of scientific progress which actually limits
it historically with a falling off in this century. It would be more
consistent with my physicalist and determinist viewpoint.

[22nd May 2008. When I say "in this century" perhaps I ought to
specify that I meant the twenty-first century. From 2000 to 2099 is
the century when major scientific discoveries dry up.]

0903 - 01.04.08 - My weak theory of progress heretofore has been a

rather pessimistic one. Since I was assuming that all forces and
processes in action were, at bottom, mechanistic and deterministic,
there was no reason to assume that progress in human affairs will
continue. It was all, in the end, down to natural causes.

But if the intelligence of which humans are capable is not, at

bottom, just a complex organisation of mechanistic processes, but is
a process of a different kind, then human progress may not be such a
hostage to contingency. What I mean is not that regressive forces
will be successfully opposed by progressive ones - might against
might. I mean that with intelligence being used in the pursuit of
progressive goals and the obstruction of regressive ones, then we do
have something going for us in our struggle to improve. Of course we
now have pitted against progress not only natural causes, but human
stupidity, and reactionary intelligence which actively tries to
disrupt progress. Nevertheless, it is a more optimistic prospect.

0906 - 02.04.08 - What sort of occurrence is more likely than

anything else to lead to a progressive outcome in the future, even
though this desirable consequence is not guaranteed. What sort of
thing can it be? Alas, I fear it is - great suffering.

Peregrinations around my Armchair Page 71 of 163

Economics (AN)

0070 - 16.10.04 - The term "capitalist" for societies like the United
Kingdom, or the USA, is a misnomer. Because they are all mixed
economies, with a public sector alongside private enterprise, they
should be referred to as "capitalist-socialist" societies, or some
such nomenclature.

[1st March 2009. This observation, before my ideas about political

economy had been thoroughly shaken up by the Austrian school of
economists, indicates that I had some awareness of the problems they
have raised.]

0082 - 19.10.04 - A Question of Numbers. A few directors giving

themselves 30% increases and pocketing 10 million pounds a year each
may have few inflationary implications, whereas giving one section of
public sector workers a 5% increase might have, because of the knock-
on effect in the rest of the public sector.

0099 - 05.11.04 - There is a theory, based on chaos studies, which

asserts that a firm that has achieved pre-eminence in its field, like
Microsoft, is likely, because of the amplification of positive
feedback, to eliminate all competition. Some anti-capitalists even
predict the end of the capitalist system because of this alleged
ineluctable trend to monopoly.

0147 - 30.01.05 - They fall out of newspapers and magazines. Adverts.

They sponsor television programmes and sports. Adverts. They assert
themselves on billboards and posters. Adverts. They invade our
personal computers and choke up our email inboxes. Adverts. Their
arrogance will be their downfall. They honestly seem to think they
are more entertaining than the film or comedy show that they
interrupt. The arrogance of business and its hard-sell methods. [You
think it’s fucking bad here? Wait till you get to Australia!]

0197 - 16.04.05 - How Credit Works. Banks pretend to have money. We

pretend to believe them. Have I finally understood how it works?
[25th November 2008. Perhaps more than I realised, now that I am
reading some of the "Austrian" economists.]

0209 - The Mystery of Capital: Why Capitalism Triumphs in the West

and Fails Everywhere Else by Hernando de Soto came out in 2000 and I
saw the little hardback in Waterstone's. At 15 quid for a couple of
hundred pages it did not get my attention enough to buy it or seek it
out. Then I found a copy in Kingston Library and brought it home. I
read a few pages and they knocked my socks off. Getting through the
whole of this slim volume was not so easy.

Peregrinations around my Armchair Page 72 of 163

Hernando de Soto is trying to save capitalism by explaining to
countries who can't get it to work what the problem is. He fears that
the wave of disillusion growing up in those countries which have
tried the Western economic remedies and failed will lead to revolts
against capitalism.

De Soto says the reason all these countries fail to develop thriving
capitalist economies is because they do not have an integrated system
of property rights which includes everybody. The legal systems that
exist were built to deal with the needs of small urban communities
living in largely agricultural countries. But the peasants have
migrated to the cities in huge numbers over a relatively short
period. They cannot acquire property legally, using the existing
structure of property rights. De Soto has charts that show it can
take years to acquire title to a house. So they acquire property
rights in their shanty town extra-legally. The result is a multitude
of tiny "economies" restricted to a neighbourhood within which people
are known and trusted. Outside the local economy the entrepreneur
cannot raise a loan on his house because he does not have secure
title. De Soto calls what he owns "dead capital".

The necessary changes in the law as it relates to property have to be

driven politically. De Soto himself helped the Peruvian government to
implement the kind of changes he promotes. He has few illusions that
it is easy to bring about in a few years by deliberate policy what
took hundreds of years of integration and rationalisation in the

I was not entirely unaware of this problem. I knew that in developing

countries, and in ex-communist countries as well, the process of
adaptation to market economics did raise the question of how viable
the property structures were. In developing countries they have
proved inadequate because of the vast migrations from the countryside
and the growth of the extra-legal economy, which can be 50% or even
80% of the whole. The legal economy operates inside what de Soto
calls the 'bell jar'. In ex-communist countries there will be the
additional problem that it has not, because it was communist,
developed an integrated system of legal property rights.

According to de Soto, we do not see this problem in the West, because

we take the existence of an integrated system of property rights for
granted. He has an example which brings this home quite well -
Microsoft. Where would Bill Gates be today without (a) patents, (b)
enforceable contracts, (c) limited liability, (d) insurance, (e)
property records, (f) fungible property representations, (g) stock
options, (h) economies of scale, and (i) hereditary succession?

Without these legal structures, it becomes hard to impossible for

people to create capital for themselves. The capital de Soto
describes in his book is a kind of phantasm. It is not a house or a
factory or a lead-mine. It is the property right to that thing. And
that right, that entitlement, can be sold. It can be used as
collateral for a loan, it can even be divided up (fungible). If the
correct type of legal structures exist, it can.

I have never been happy with these features of human existence which
have a ghostly status. Credit, that magic trick by which a bank with
assets of one million can make loans of ten millions*, has always
baffled me. But these insubstantial phenomena, which all derive
ultimately from the trust which human beings decide to put in one
another, really are the engine of productivity which has made the

Peregrinations around my Armchair Page 73 of 163

progressive division of labour possible and so driven the capitalist
miracle. And it is certainly true that putting them in place, where
they did not exist before, with the best intentions in the world,
might overtask political giants. [25th November 2008. Was, and is,
credit creation really necessary? Could we have achieved a similar
result on an international gold standard?]

The World Bank can make a loan to a developing country on condition

that it performs some structural adjustments which cause social pain,
but which balance the books, restore global confidence in its
currency, and get inflation down. But in the absence of an integrated
system of property rights, which brings into the economy the dead
capital of the extra-legal sector, the loan from the World Bank is
unlikely to achieve significant results in terms of growth. Meanwhile
the workers who were thrown out of their jobs when inefficient state
factories were closed down are understandably pissed off. Downsized
penpushers from overmanned bureaucracies likewise.

[* 27th January 2009. My understanding at present is that a bank

cannot make loans of £10m on the basis of assets of £1m. My
understanding is that a bank loans out a "fraction" of the money
deposited in checking accounts. This fractional loan, if it ends up
in another bank checking account, can also be fractionally loaned
out, with a multiplier effect, to infinity. Whether, in the past, a
bank with gold deposits of ten thousand pounds may have created
banknotes for loan purposes of one hundred thousand pounds is
something that seems possible. Whether it actually happened, I don't
know. It would also, if it happened, seem to have been a clear
instance of fraud.]

0218 - 03.07.05 - Monopoly. Node 99 refers to this problem, suggested

by a book introducing chaos theory. Google is on its way to becoming
an effective monopoly. Its search engine is so good and the services
it offers so extensive that it has raised a very high bar against the
competition and, especially, against new entrants. Microsoft earlier
achieved the same effect. And we cannot say that these are national
monopolies and that they compete in the global market. Microsoft, and
now Google, are global monopolies. Now I really must read more of
that chaos theory book and try to understand the argument.

0239 - 29.07.05 - In the capitalist economy, the workers as well as

the capitalists look for ways to escape the rigours of competition,
and build themselves a little hideaway, where they can reap wages or
profits without risk. In the world of labour this is done by
protectionism, by protecting jobs, which sounds such a worthy thing
to do. Protect them against what? Against competition.

And the capitalists? Well, they also look for ways to evade the
system. We know already of some firms that have been successful in
their endeavour to beat the system, firms like Microsoft and Google.
Who have leveraged themselves into a position in their industry where
they are unassailable, because the bar is set too high for new
entrants. It should be axiomatic that people who work in a
competitive economic system will usually try to nullify that
uncertainty. And what is good for them, whether as workers of owners,
is bad for the rest of us.

Peregrinations around my Armchair Page 74 of 163

0271 - 19.08.05 - Economics still baffles me, when the argument gets
even a little complex. I took the subject at Advanced Level and I did
a refresher course during the foundation year of my Honours Course.
But it still gets me confused, when it is more than a simple matter
of supply and demand.

If economics can be baffling, finance is like a magic art, impervious

to my intellect. It all seems to be based on trust, or perhaps
better, a confidence trick, but that is about as far as I can go. Yet
sometimes a shaft of light does illumine in my mind some particular
transaction in the financial world, and leads me to conclude that I
now understand what is going on.

Something that has always puzzled me. As Britain ran out of money to
pay for its World Wars it sold off some of its foreign investments to
amass dollars to give to the USA to pay for butter and bullets. My
problem with that was that the foreign investments were probably
holdings by private individuals or corporations, so how the blazes
did the British government get to sell them?

It looks like the foreign investors were coerced into selling their
investments. A bit like the government requisitioning a house.

The point is that the British government does not have to receive the
dollars directly. When the private individual or corporation gets the
dollar cheque for the investment they sold, the cheque goes into the
banking system where it is converted into sterling for the vendor.
And the amount of available dollars in the financial system goes up.
Or have I still not understood?

0284 - 30.08.05 - I may have mentioned before the skew, the imbalance
that exists between manufacturing and the service sector when it
comes to the technological miracle that has made prosperity a real
possibility for everybody. Technological progress increases
productivity in both manufacturing and the service sector. Witness
how the labour-saving device changed the drudgery of the housewife.
But technology increases productivity much more quickly in
manufacturing than in the service sector. You reach a ceiling where,
with all the mechanical aids in the world, a barber cannot shave any
more clients per hour. The economic consequences of this is that the
products of manufacturing processes are driven down in price, while
services stubbornly remain at much the same cost as before. The
result, further down the road, is that services seem to cost more
than they used to, because manufactured products are now so cheap in

0313 - 17.09.05 - Can socialism, in the sense of central control of

production and services, ever be efficient? Yes, it can - in the
atypical instance of total war. [3rd March 2009. War socialism is
probably inefficient. Absent the price mechanism it is impossible to

0327 - 27.11.05 - Nailed to the Bottom, a hard-hitting documentary on

Peregrinations around my Armchair Page 75 of 163

Irish TV tonight about how European agricultural subsidies and
tariffs are hurting the poor countries of the world. It really is a
scandalous story. There might be an argument for protecting European
farmers and ringfencing European agriculture from the rest of the
world. That would be bad enough. But to export subsidised goods to
poor countries, and then to have the gall to insist those countries
abide by free trade rules, to blackmail countries like Ghana into not
imposing tariffs on European food imports and not subsidising their
own farmers either ... one is speechless. And the commissioner for
agriculture's contributions to the programme revealed a complete lack
of knowledge of economic theory and a frightening complacency. But it
takes real leaders to take on the agricultural lobbies in Europe. It
takes politicians with balls. Anyone?

0332 - 02.12.05 - If China wants to become an economic super-power,

perhaps they ought to stop producing crap. A stainless steel fork
where a tine snapped off the first time it was used; saws which are
blunt after a few weeks' employment; a carbon steel fork with a
plastic handle, which handle snapped clean off; a hammer which curved
like the neck of a swan when it was used with some force; garden
shears with handles that slip off; garden shears with wooden handles
that break. [28th Jan 2009. For electronic examples of Chinese crap
see node 0357]

0344 - 18.12.05 - I think it was yesterday that the conference of

European ministers broke up, with an agreement to keep the Common
Agricultural Policy firmly in place - Blair seen off with a bloody
nose. But today agreement has been reached at the World Trade
Organisation meeting in Hong Kong to do away with EU export subsidies
for agricultural products by 2013. Peter Mandelson applauded. I'm not
sure how these two results can be reconciled, unless CAP just refers
to the domestic market.

The argument for making the agriculture sector a special case for
protection rests on the notion that a country should remain basically
self-sufficient in food. The world is a dangerous place, and your
country could be blockaded in war and starved to death. Or some sort
of global disaster, like a war, or a natural catastrophe, might so
much disrupt the lanes of commerce that food imports, on which the
country depended, collapsed. Yet, even given the possibility of these
extreme scenarios, we have to remember that the market would respond.
If the market price of agricultural products were to shoot up, then
there would be a rush of entrepreneurs into the market to increase
the food output inside the country. There would be a time-lag, but
the free market would react to the shortfall in supply.

0345 - 18.12.05 - The export of subsidised food products, like

powdered milk, to the developing world, undercutting their own
domestic market (fresh milk etc), if it truly happens as described,
is one of the few things capable of making me blood-vessel-bursting
angry right now. But the argument that free trade competition is not
in place when the standards of living and wage rates are so vastly
different in the two countries compared, bears weight. This is why I
can see the logic in keeping imports out of our economy using tariffs
or quotas, in order to protect, for a while at least, a domestic

Peregrinations around my Armchair Page 76 of 163

industry. Remembering that as the standard of living rises in the
developing country, so will the wage rate, and the need to keep
imports out will lessen. There may be a case for this, but it is
scandalous that we can dump our products at less than their cost
price, with the difference made up by the tax-payer, so cheaply that
a Ghanaian producer cannot compete!

0354- 22.01.06 - CORPORATE GREED. Must of us, if offered the chance

of a free lunch, will take it. Most of us will go out of our way to
score a free lunch - by buying lottery tickets, for example. But
there is a difference between scoring a free lunch, and making a
habit of it. There is the kind of businessman who will break the
rules for a quick buck, now and then. It's regrettable, but we can
live with it. And then there is greed that sustains itself and grows
with feeding. Sometimes it’s the greed of unionised labour. Right now
I'm talking about a modern form of corporate greed. For, not so much
a free lunch, as a free permanent place at a restaurant table, like
Tony Soprano.

A book about Australia's Free Trade Agreement with the United States
alerted me to the current state of affairs with regard to
intellectual property rights, although I had been aware of the
changes for some time. The shift against the rights of consumers and
the shift towards the owners of intellectual property, such as
copyrights, patents and their ilk.

The notion of copyright or a patent is an infringement of the rules

of the competitive market. There are good, sensible reasons for this
infringement*, just as State interference in the health market is
probably warranted. However, it must be recognised as an aberration,
a temporary monopoly granted to certain individuals and companies.
And it is a privilege which is subject to abuse. Like now. [28th Jan
2009. Maybe not. See Against Intellectual Monopoly by Michele Bodrin
and David K Levine, available as published book and also as a freely
downloadable PDF file.]

A huge industry has grown up in the United States, quite recently,

based on monopoly ownership of intellectual property. Internet
pirates have done it no end of favours by giving it rationalisations
galore for extending its legal powers. And now some American
politician wants to jail people for downloading Internet lyrics of
the songs they have purchased! Not only the lyrics and the music
sheets, for which an argument could be made, but just the fucking
lyrics! Which we wouldn't need if the fucking vocals were clear in
the first place. That is the voice of corporate greed which has
overreached itself.

By a technique known as evergreening, you can extend and re-extend a

copyright or a patent for virtually forever. Most patents and
copyrights should be much shorter than they are, and should never be
extended. Instead they get longer and longer and they get
evergreened. But with the growth of intellectual property, what this
means is that a lot of fat corporate slug-bums are sitting on their
arses, producing nothing but legal summonses, and raking in a tax
from the rest of the community, for doing (after a reasonable
copyright or patent life has expired) nothing whatever. This is not
just an infringement of the free market, this is, like a cartel, a
perversion of the free market. Productivity of the market as a whole
is reduced, a new parasite class is created. Legal redress is

Peregrinations around my Armchair Page 77 of 163

required, to swing back the pendulum towards the user of intellectual

0357 - 22.01.06 - After watching a TV documentary on Wal-Mart, three

points. The first being that the store's low-price strategy is
apparently a con. It appears that they deliberately set a low price
for one item in each department. Other items can have very large
markups. It is a bait, a trick. I do not think stores like Lidl
operate this system. Most everything there seems to be cheap.

The second point has to do with the mystery of why Philips, creators
of the cassette tape back in the 1950s, are producing such rubbish
now, and are everywhere in the Irish market. It's because they aren't
Philips anymore, they are just a brand name purchased by the Chinese
company TCL. On the back of two Philips items I possess it says,
"Designed and developed by Philips, Holland". And elsewhere it says
"Made in China". So the Chinese bought the company and keep a design
office operating in Holland. Oh, and TCL has merged with Thomson, so
that French giant has been sucked in too. And I think the programme
said that TCL had snapped up RCA too to use as a brand name - a
famous company fallen on bad times taken over primarily for its
reputation. What it actually does and makes after the purchase may be
wildly variant to what it used to do and make. The brand name is
flaunted to disguise the changes. So Raleigh now make crap bicycles.

I bought a Philips mini-hi-fi. Now it does not record from the radio
properly onto cassette tape. The circuitry that does this is fucked.
And I bought a portable Philips CD/Cassette Radio, to replace an
inferior Alba offering from Tesco's. The radio is crap and the CD lid
lifts up on a ratchet which is ill-fitting, so there is always a
scraping sound up and down. Just like the Alba.

The third point is to say that THE QUALITY IS NOT THERE. One answer
to the criticisms aimed at China as the new workshop of the world, an
answer which is not valid, while others might be, is that the low-
cost goods are produced to high quality. No, they are not. I offer my
two Philips products as examples. I don't want to get started on
gardening tools. And you cannot produce goods of high quality under
the sort of pressures exerted by Chinese manufacturers and rapacious
customers like Wal-Mart.

The point is a valid, economic point. Quality is suffering across the

board, in this drive to lower costs. We are paying less, but we are
getting less for what we pay. And the higher quality goods are being
driven out of the market by Gresham's Law (bad money drives out
good). We end up in a situation where prices will be low but all we
will be able to buy will be shit. We went through all this before,
after World War II. Cheap imports from Hong Kong and "Made in Hong
Kong" was a sure sign you were buying junk. Only then you had the
choice between buying junk and buying quality.

Oh, and an afterthought. Wal-Mart, whether it is conning us or not,

distorts the free market because it is too powerful as a single
player. Just like Microsoft has distorted the free market in software
for decades, and just as Google is beginning to distort the free
market in its field. That is what very big companies, like very big
unions, do. [27 Feb 2006. But reading Robert Kuttner’s Everything for
Sale makes me wonder whether he, and Joseph Schumpeter might be
right, and imperfect competition, including big firms, is the norm,

Peregrinations around my Armchair Page 78 of 163

and not an aberration.

0394 - 09.06.06 - There is no money to spare for innovation in a

perfect market. [1st April 2008. In the ideal type of the perfect
market there are many sellers and many buyers and perfect information
about the item on sale. As a result the invisible hand can do its
magic and produce a fair price in the market, an equilibrium between
supply and demand. Not only is this model rarely, if ever, found in
real life, it is also not the optimum kind of market for increasing
economic welfare. This is because it is a static market. Buyers and
sellers go on exchanging the same item year in year out forever.
Because there is no economic rent, in the sense of a surplus over the
equilibrium price gained by the supplier, there is nothing available
for research and innovation. It may be that the disequilibria of
imperfect competition are necessary for a market that progressively
enriches those who participate in it.]

0409 - 21.07.06 - I've probably said this before, but it bears

repeating. What is responsible for the high standards of living of
those today fortunate enough to enjoy them is not the free market
(although that is useful) but productivity gains. Technology.
Technology. Technology. Technological improvements. [28th Jan 2009.
Got that wrong. The free market is more than just "useful".]

0410 - 21.07.06 - There used to be an economic theory around which

greatly encouraged militaristic thinking in the twentieth century. It
saw the world economy as essentially static and therefore limited.
Limited markets. Therefore, if your industry was pouring out more
goods, you would suffer from over-production unless you could take
markets from some other nation. How unnecessary this theft and rapine
was was proved by the success of a devastated Germany and Japan from
1945 onwards. [28th Jan 2009. I think of this as one of my extremely
naive nodes. I would like to delete it, but I think there is a notion
to be unpacked here which might have some value. I hope I will find
the words to express that notion.]

0431 - 10.08.06 - Why are so many products advertised in a hysterical

fashion? I am genuinely puzzled by this technique. [12th Oct 2007.
Even worse in Australia - the ads can be screamers!] [28th Jan 2009.
The screaming ad has come to Ireland, with Harvey Norman.]

0482 - 22.03.07 - The Irish economy is going down the tubes. High
inflation with weekly job losses as foreign companies desert the
sinking ship. The public response and that of the politicians is
complacency. Like the response to global warming. We just don't react
to threats which occur gradually.

0498 - 12.06.07 - Drug company X agrees to supply one million boxes a

year of an AIDS drug to an African country - say Kenya - at one tenth

Peregrinations around my Armchair Page 79 of 163

of the normal cost. Accordingly one million boxes are imported in the
current financial year by the Kenyan Department of Health. One
quarter of a million boxes actually go to the hospitals and clinics
of Kenya. One quarter of a million boxes are diverted to the private
marketplace. The remaining 50% of the drugs are exported to Rumania,
where they are sold for three times the price fixed by X for its
Kenyan customer. That money goes into the public treasury and is
spent on - God knows what.

0854 - 24.01.08 - Microsoft taxed the world because of the economic

rent it earned from its monopoly position with respect to Windows.
Then, with the Gates foundation, it started giving it back.

0936 - 24.10.08 - In a free market economy where perfect competition

reigns there are a great number of sellers and a great number of
buyers for every commodity. There is no place in such an ideal
economy for a very large seller. There is no place for a Microsoft,
for a General Motors, for a British Petroleum, for an ICI, for a
Google. Yet clearly such firms exists, and have existed for a long
time. Perhaps they represent the "commanding heights" of each and all
of the developed economies. How can they play their part in a free
market economy, when, in their cases, perfect competition does not
apply? Is this just a case of imperfect competition, or something a
little more basic? Is this free market economics at all?

From some of the things Chomsky says about US industrial policy after
World War II, I wonder about the possibility of the main structure,
the spine of the economy, being composed of a symbiosis of government
and big business (at least in certain sectors). Essentially a process
by which government subsidises very large companies so that they can
continue to compete - on the international level. And subsidises them
by raising taxes on their behalf.

Governments trying to implement such a policy would face one obvious

difficulty - public resistance to a hike in taxes. What Chomsky
argues is that the US found the way round this by raising taxes for
"defence", to which there could be little objection. From the defence
department it then leaked out to the businesses that were being
subsidised. And this still goes on in 2008. Let me repeat that. A
large defence budget is, in part, a stealth tax.

And to get people to accept a large defence budget you have to

frighten them. Fortunately for Harry Truman, North Korea did that job
for him in 1950. The thesis is that the US administrations have never
looked back, pouring billions into supporting their civilian

And it must help, when you want to raise taxes by frightening people,
if that people is naturally habituated to fear and paranoia, as the
American people is and has always been.

0938 - 07-11-08 - Unlike a centrally planned economy, a market

economy is supposed to be self-correcting because it is pluralistic.
Composed of many buyers and sellers, each looking out for his own
interest, it is supposed to rectify errors as they occur. But what do

Peregrinations around my Armchair Page 80 of 163

we see in reality? Markets are motivated by greed and fear, which is
a reasonable interpretation of self-interest, but they also obey the
herd instinct. This brings about the same colossal disasters as occur
under the centrally planned economy. [28th Jan 2009. This is my naive
attempt to explain boom and bust, before I stumbled upon the Austrian
theory of the business trade cycle.]

0941 - 18.12.08 - After giving my head a severe battering and tossing

and turning in my bed worrying about it, I still do not understand
how fractional reserve banking works. More specifically, I think I
can understand what happens, but I am not sure why this is supposed
to "create" money.

I had two different notions of what fractional reserve banking was.

According to one notion (apparently the correct one, or there is even
more misleading information on the web than I realised) the banks are
allowed to lend money deposited with them, provided they retain a
fraction of those deposits handy to meet customer demands for
withdrawals. The fraction could be 10% of deposits, for example.

My other notion was that banks were allowed to "create" money by

issuing loans up to a given multiple of the entire customer deposits.
So if customer deposits were $100 million and if the ratio was ten to
one, then the bank was allowed to create loan credit of one billion
dollars. This, apparently, is wrong.

[19 Dec 2008. It may be wrong but it seems to be what Murray Rothbard
and Henry Hazlitt and other Austrians say much of the time. It may be
the case that they are simply mistaken in this matter.]

[21 Dec 2008 Or I may simply have misunderstood them. But this
alternative notion keeps popping up. Here is a brief quote from a webpage and they should know what they are talking
about: BEGIN QUOTE The bank in turn is now free to lend money - a
multiple of the cash received. END QUOTE

Let's see what this would involve. Bank 1 receives a million dollars.
It leaves the deposit where it is and loans out ten million dollars
on the strength of the deposit to customer Axel. He buys a
condominium with the money from Sluggit Estates. Sluggit deposit the
ten million dollars and their bank can now loan out one hundred
million dollars. This is the multiplier effect with a vengeance! The
one hundred million dollar loan ends up as a deposit in another bank
and generates a billion dollar loan. Etc etc. Down the line somewhere
a bank will be loaning out more money than there is in the world.]

What really happens is this. I open an account with a bank and

deposit (lend) a thousand euros in cash. In theory I can withdraw the
entire thousand at any time, but this is in fact subject to
availability. Because I am getting "free" banking services or even a
rate of interest to deposit my money, there may be a limit to the
cash available for me at the time I want it. I am depositing it on
the understanding that most of it will be lent out again - perhaps
for a mortgage or a bank loan. The fraction of total deposits kept in
the bank should take care of any demands I make, so long as I do not
make them at the same time as a lot of other customers.

Example. I deposit a thousand euros and the fractional reserve is

10%. The bank promptly makes a loan of 900 euros of my money to Mr

Peregrinations around my Armchair Page 81 of 163

Blodgett. Mr Blodgett draws the entire amount out in cash and buys a
used car from Mr Kaka. Mr Kaka takes the 900 euros and deposits it in
his account with his bank.

Mr Kaka's bank now has a new deposit of 900 euros and lends 810 euros
of that to Mr Scribble. He spends the money on a copy of the Mona
Lisa which he purchases from Miss Finque. She takes the money to her
bank and deposits it. They have a new deposit of 810 euros and they
promptly lend 729 of it. This multiplier effect continues so that my
thousand euro deposit expands towards a limit of ten thousand euros.
That is how up to nine thousand euros are created, it is said.

But what actually happens? First, my thousand euros lands up in the

bank. Then 900 euros get separated and lent to Mr Blodgett. Whatever
the account at the bank says my deposit now consists of one hundred
euros. I've got 100 euros in the bank and I have lent 900 to Blodgett
via the bank. Blodgett spends the money and Mr Kaka deposits it in
his bank.

What are my assets at that point? 100 euros left in deposit as part
of the fractional reserve held by the bank and the loan agreement
(IOU) signed by Blodgett for 900 euros. The money I lent Blodgett has
been spent and deposited in the bank by the recipient. Mr Kaka now
ends up with 90 euros actually left in the bank and a loan agreement
signed by Mr Scribble. Once again, a depositor is lending money using
the bank as an intermediary and a guarantor of the loan.

I am not sure where money or credit creation comes into this. The
book-keeping entries may well show additional monies being created.
There might still be one thousand euros credited to me, even though
900 has been loaned away. But this is an imaginary, fictive world. In
the real world, I do not see that money or credit has been created.
Loans have been made. People have assumed repayment obligations. And
money has circulated which, as a medium of exchange, is what it is
supposed to do.

[21 Dec 2008. A one thousand euro deposit, in a 10% fractional

reserve banking system, results in a maximum loan amount of ten
thousand euros, provided each successive deposit is completely loaned
up to the fractional limit (90%) and each loan is completely spent
and the recipients all deposit the entire amount in their checking
account. This is the multiplier effect, which I believe is what
Keynes relied upon with his idea of the government simply handing out
dosh to the unemployed.

A one thousand euro deposit can result in a maximum credit expansion

of 10 thousand euros. This may be what Rothbard and Hazlitt mean. But
it is still not the case that the a bank is allowed to issue loans
equal to ten times the total amount of a deposit. Bank number one can
issue a maximum loan of 900 euros. Bank number two can issue a
maximum loan of 810 euros. Etc.

And I still do not think this is money creation. The multiplier

effect applies to all money transactions because money is a medium of
exchange. One person's expenditure is another person's income. It is
true that an additional one thousand euros has a cumulative effect
over time greater than the original one thousand euros. But that is
not creating money.]

Peregrinations around my Armchair Page 82 of 163

0942 - 18.12.08 - I am not sure how a central bank, like the Bank of
England, the ECB or the Federal Reserve Bank, creates (and destroys)
money, apart from the straightforward method of printing notes.

I am told that the Fed can expand the money supply by open market
operations. It buys $100 million of securities from the Treasury or
from a commercial bank. It pays for them by writing a cheque on
itself which is deposited with the seller. The $100 million is
created out of thin air simply by writing that cheque. In the reverse
process the Fed sells securities and simply tears up the proceeds to
contract the money supply.

I still have a problem with that cheque for $100 million after it
gets to the seller (say a bank). The bank clears the cheque by
sending it to - the Fed. After clearing the bank's main account shows
an electronic increase in assets of $100 million. The Fed's accounts
must show a decrease of $100 million, but if that happens then the
money must be in some sense "real".

Although sorting out what is real money and what is Mickey Mouse or
Monopoly money is getting harder and harder.

[21 December 2008. Federal Reserve open market operations do seem to

be examples of the pure creation and destruction of money. When
buying securities the Fed writes cheques on itself and creates money
out of thin air in the process. No other bank can do this. This is
what it means to "control the money supply". When selling securities
the Fed receives real money in the form of cheques from the buyers
and promptly tears them up. Money created and destroyed has a greater
effect on the economy than its simple nominal value would indicate,
due to the multiplier effect through the bank system.

What records are kept of this process of money creation and

destruction? The Fed makes entries in one or the other column of its
balance sheet.]

0944 - 19.12.08 - I am still very puzzled about the process of money

creation. Expansion of the money supply by the creation, ex nihilo of
new money. Creation of money similar to the printing off of fresh
bank-notes, which are additional to the existing supply, and not
intended to replace old notes.

A lot of the time when money creation is talked about it refers to a

multiplier effect, as money gets used and reused. This is not
creation out of thin air. Exactly how does a central bank, or a
commercial bank, create new money? If a bank makes a new loan it is
not creating new money, it is lending old money (usually yours and

If there is talk of credit expansion and this means that banks make
more loans than they did before, this may just mean that they are
using up more of their "excess reserves" than they were before. There
is no creation involved here. It simply that less money is lying

0945 - 19.12.08 - Ever since the sixth form, when I studied the
inter-war period, I have known about Keynes. I have always believed

Peregrinations around my Armchair Page 83 of 163

and assumed that he was the brilliant economist who sussed out the
Great Depression and pretty well solved it (well, almost, with some
help from World War II). I have assumed in the decades that followed
that Keynesian policies of government pump-priming etc were the ones
to follow to avoid the evil of chronic mass unemployment. Now, in my
sixty-fifth year, under the influence of the Austrians, I begin to
suspect that he may have been an utterly malign influence, as well as
a charismatic charlatan. Like Churchill. Like Roosevelt. Like

0946 - 20.12.08 - A Federal Reserve cheque is a cheque which cannot

bounce. This account will always have sufficient funds to cover a
cheque because the account holder actually makes the stuff. Rather
than print money, nowadays the Fed writes cheques. Have I got this

0947 - 24.02.09 - The average Chinese saves 50% of his/her income.

How is that possible?

0948 - 24.01.09 - According to the Austrian economists, the current

fear of fall in aggregate demand leading to deflation and a crippled
economy is misguided. Spending has contracted but this is normal in a
recession and will pick up again when the recovery begins. Keynesian
style stimuli and printing money is counter-productive.

However, I can think of scenarios where the current fears would be

realised. Suppose the contraction in spending, the desire to hold
larger cash balances or to invest a larger part of income, persists.
The money invested would be welcome, since it could be loaned to
entrepreneurs. But if people are spending less, will there be many
business opportunities for entrepreneurs to take advantage of? People
might end up having to hold the income they don't want to spend,
because nobody wants to borrow it.

What if there is a general, and long-term, fall in confidence and

contraction in spending? Could we not reach a situation where
aggregate demand was less than the goods and services that could be
supplied under full employment?

0949 - 27.02.09 - According to the Austrian school of economists what

will get us out of the current recession is a policy of saving and
rebuilding the capital base. Thrift, not consumer spending.

But a high saving rate will not solve the problem if the government
gets hold of a significant proportion of those savings and squanders
them on unproductive projects. This seems to be the situation of
Japan since 1990. Will America become the second Japan? In the case
of the US, the savings that will be squandered will not be those of
the population, who do not save, but of the rest of the world who
lend to the US.

Peregrinations around my Armchair Page 84 of 163

0952 - 04.03.09 - Is it likely that any rational plan for society
will ever suit Darwinian homo sapiens, the jury-rigged, Heath
Robinson result of natural selection? That includes the free-market
plan of the private property anarchists. Won't any blueprint for
society fall foul of human nature, as natural selection has shaped
it? In which case, human society can never be more than second best,
and can very often be much less than that.

0957 - 15.03.09 - This node comes from a letter to my friend Mike

Reid, started 11th September 2008. This was written before my ideas
on economics were totally shaken up by the writings of the Austrian
school of economists.

BEGIN QUOTE I am a reformer, not a radical, and all socialistic,

communistic and anarchistic alternatives to a mixed economy turn me

As far as the national economy goes, it seems that the Western

European model gets it about right. There are markets which are
nearly perfect and can be lightly regulated by the state. There are
industries where regulation ought to be very tight indeed, and some
industries which should not be in private hands at all. Environmental
costs should also be included on the balance sheet of private
companies. Health insurance and unemployment insurance should be
universal, as should pensions. Certain areas of the economy should be
funded by taxes, because they would be neglected by private
enterprise - e.g. "the arts".

Western Europe has slipped to the right in the last thirty years, so
that elements of the mixed economy have been dropped or diluted, but
these countries run economies which are far better for the citizens
and much more "efficient" in an all-round sense than the example on
the other side of the Atlantic, which itself is a mixed economy, only
the mix is more 30%-70% rather than 40%-to-60%. END QUOTE

Medical Matters (AO)

0229 - 23.07.05 - When Neil Percival Young caught polio in 1951, he

was given a lumbar puncture. His mother Rassy remembers the event -
he didn't want an anaesthetic. But from what I recall from something
I read or heard, the peculiar horror of the lumbar puncture is that
an anaesthetic cannot be administered, for technical reasons. And the
pain is so intense that hulking male heroes have been known to crack
up and cry like babies under it. Having to have spinal fluid
extracted has been a particular fear of mine ever since hearing or
reading that.

0240 - 31.07.05 - I could get quite fond of hot weather. It's so nice
not being cold, for starters. No shivering and no aching joints. But
it's hard to breathe in hot weather. I am permanently stuffed up
anyway with my dust allergy or whatever it is. Hot humid weather
makes it twice as bad.

Peregrinations around my Armchair Page 85 of 163

0244 - 31.07.05 - As far as I know there is only one treatment that
is useful for people who have problems with living, whether it is an
addiction, obsessive-compulsive disorder, psychopathic behaviour or
anything else. That is cognitive therapy. All the rest is horse

0266 - 13.08.05 - I catch myself watching myself, to see if my memory

is going. There’s a CD I bought recently, I thought it was called
Big. Now I see the title is Little Ship. What’s going on here? Is it
a faint rumour of the approaching tread of Doctor Alzheimer?

0285 - 30.08.05 - A new study has established that homeopathy has a

beneficial effect just about equal to the placebo effect. Viz, it
does not work, in the sense that it has no medical effect. What it
does have is a placebo effect. But then, every treatment a patient
can be made to trust, no matter how worthless, can have a placebo

The placebo effect triggers states in the subject which ameliorate

the condition from which the subject is suffering. And placebo is
faith-generated. The subject is convinced that the coloured water he
is given really will have an effect on his system. It follows that if
the doctor owns up that it is only coloured water, it will not work,
so the doctor has to lie.

Apparently, a line of research that has been suggested is to try to

find a way to artificially, or mechanically, duplicate the placebo
effect. In other words, do something to the patient which is the
physical equivalent of convincing them that a procedure they are
about to follow will treat their condition. Then the same triggering
happens in the brain, although no faith or conviction is involved. It
would be a way of harnessing the recuperative power within the
patient which at present can only be stimulated by telling them a lot
of convincing ballocks, and putting them through a procedure of no
medical value whatsoever - like homeopathy.

And let’s not forget what you could call the “anti-placebo”. This is
any of the many mental states which trigger a destructive response in
the patient. So that worrying about a condition can sometimes
actually cause an outbreak of that condition, or if it actually
exists, can unnecessarily amplify the symptoms. Know what I mean? If
you are a man, ask yourself whether you have a venereal discharge
starting down your urethra. Then check on it a few times. An
unpleasant result is practically guaranteed.

If there are endorphins in the brain, the stimulation of which may

supply part of the placebo effect, there also seem to be anti-
endorphins in the brain, chemicals that make you feel like shit.

0311 - 15.09.05 - [Fragment from a letter to my cousin David Jago,

composed Tuesday 25th January 2005] On a more cheerful note, I was
watching an Irish documentary on DDT a few nights ago. Apparently,
the World Health Organisation calculated that DDT saved about 500
million lives, that would have been lost to malaria, over a period of

Peregrinations around my Armchair Page 86 of 163

20 years. That statistic suddenly gave me a perspective on all the
wars and natural disasters of, say, the last three hundred years.
When you compare all the death and destruction caused by man himself
and by natural disasters with the increase in population and the
increase in goods and services brought about by modern science and
technology, then all the bad stuff (including World Wars I and II) is
a mere pin-prick in comparison. The global situation is that the
human population is wonderfully well-off compared with its position
three hundred years ago. In spite of everything.

Just look at that one pesticide - DDT - and one period of 20 years.
And 500 million lives saved (or, as I prefer to put it, deaths
postponed). 500 million! Allied losses (dead, wounded and missing) in
the first day of the Battle of the Somme were 60,000. Historians and
journalists have been wailing about this ever since 1st July 1916.
Sixty thousand - a mere pin-prick. It hardly registers on the global
scale, does it?

[9th January 2008. This already exists as a node, not excerpted from
a letter. Node 0144. Needs revision or conflation.]

0326 - 26.11.05 - If my habits were regular, some of my ill health

symptoms would disappear - especially ones to do with shitting and
digesting. During my visit to Oz I spent time as a guest with various
relations and had to fit in with their regular patterns. Symptoms
cleared up and disappeared. But I value my irregular lifestyle and my
days and nights which are not routinely the same. So perhaps I have
to put up with the runs and the acid indigestion etc.

0338 -11.12.05 - If the sufferer from Asperger's Syndrome, a group

among which I class myself, is unsocialised, then what distinguishes
him from the psychopath? There is the same inability to evaluate

0339 - 11.12.05 -Do I suffer from CRO? Compulsive, Repetitive

Obsession. Well, think about it. Prodding the same tooth fifty times
a day to see if it still hurts, that is obsessive behaviour. Opening
my rucksack twelve times during a trip to Cork to make sure my
valuables are still inside, that is obsessive behaviour. Also
repetitive. As for compulsive - what happens when I try to stop
prodding the tooth, after forty times. Resistance to stopping is what
happens. So it is compulsive also.

0401 - 26.06.06 - I keep forgetting things I have just done and go

out to do them, finding them already done. Like plugging in the modem
line just now. I arrive in rooms and I have forgotten what I was
going in there for. OK, this happens normally, but it happens more
often lately.

0457 - 27.12.06 - Real life supplies us with horrors equal to any but
the most gross-out movie, even in peace time. What a joke it is to

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see the Phantom of the Opera reveal his scarred face and then compare
it with a third-degree burns victim. On Christmas Eve I accidentally
tuned into a repeat of a documentary about Jonny Kennedy (deceased),
who suffered from a rare genetic skin disease called EB (relevant
charity DEBRA). I believe the programme was called, The Boy whose
Skin Fell off. If his brother embraced him the skin would develop
blisters. And it had. All over. He wore a white cap to cover his head
which, without it, looked disgusting. His face seemed relatively
untouched, though he had no eyebrows. Speech seemed unaffected. Skin
had grown over his hands and feet for some reason and made them
useless except as clumsy stick ends. But the worst was to see his
mother changing the bandages this 36-year-old had had to wear all
over his body every day of his life. (His father, who could not take
this much horror, pulled the bandages off the boy on one occasion and
stuck him outside in the fresh air, hoping for a magical cure. This
experiment was a disaster.) Jonny groaned on camera as he was changed
and he wailed and the snot ran down from his nose. The scabs and the
scarring and the redness and the rotting skin - Christ it was worse
than nearly any horror film I can think of. Except, as I mention,
those that go out of their way to make you throw up.

But then again, there were some things at Normansfield Hospital,

lying in their beds, having to be kept alive, that would have given
even special effects merchants pause.

Jonny had developed cancer and died at 36. He was buoyed up through a
lifetime of pain by a belief in spiritualism and life as a school.
This did not stop him suspecting that it would have been better for
everyone, himself included, if he had never been born. And his mother
said that she would abort a foetus if she had one now that was
diagnosed with EB.

Like my sister Pauline, knowing that he had terminal cancer gave him
the opportunity to plan his funeral, even to order and specify his
coffin. This is a rather ghastly defence against the fear of death
and a tragic dance which he got his relatives and friends to join in
with. When he was finally dead, a derelict little monster lying on a
bed, everybody felt that it was, among other things, a great relief.

0470 - 25.02.07 - Just phoned my Aunt Margaret in Australia. She's

been on blood pressure medication since she was 31. Began when she
had to start working. That's 50 years. Then mother was on medication
for an unknown number of years, and Aunt Vera took beta-blockers too.
My father died of a massive heart attack at 66. From a family history
point of view, my blood pressure prognosis does not look good.

0828 - 15.12.07 - On a recent documentary a scientist referred to

sorting out the science from the snake oil and was talking about
"functional foods" - foods that are meant to yield health
improvements. In a few, very few, of these substances, clinical
trials have confirmed health benefits. These few include the
margarines containing plant phenols. When we turn to the healthfood
supplements currently touted, glucosamine, sworn to by thousands, has
no clinical trial backing it up. The only trial that found pain
relief was conducted on a population of arthritis sufferers with
severe pain. My own muscle pains have eased almost completely the
last few years. Had I gone on taking glucosamine, at considerable

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expense, I would have been encouraged to attribute this natural
remission to the tablets.

0865 - 14.02.08 - I woke up yesterday depressed, my physiology and my

motivation slowed down and degraded. Perhaps because I was at a point
where no particular anxieties stimulated me. Whatever the reason, the
mood passed after a couple of hours. Just think, what a waste it
would be to spend more than a tiny proportion of the few years left
to me in this state.

Music (AP)

0037 - 25.09.04 - Ray Manzarek was the silliest one of The Doors. And
still is.

0087 - 22.10.04 - For me, nothing beats the plangent beauty of the
steel guitar. But for the best type of music ever, it is hard to beat
the jazz band dance music of 1920-1940. Before bebop.

0100 - 10.11.04 - Classical music is being marketed as a sedative.

0153 - 03.02.05 - It was the kind of modern symphony that sounds like
the orchestra is tuning up for forty-five minutes.

0219 - 19.07.05 - Just listened to the track Shoot out the Lights on
the Richard and Linda Thompson album of that name. Always the fucking
drums. Who needs them? If you are worried about keeping time you got
guitars playing in the mix to handle that. I tried to imagine the
track playing without the moronic fucking drumbeats - it had to be an
obvious improvement. Some of the track plays without the drums, at

Now I can go for drum solos. There was that wonderful one by Sandy
Nelson Let There be Drums. And there was Ginger Baker's 15-minute
solo Toad on the Cream album. But the habitual use of a drummer is a
no-no. It makes the track sound so boring, so monotonous! Can't any
of these musos see that? Geddit? Leave the fucking drummer at home
occasionally. The Incredible String Band managed without a drummer.
Go thou, and do likewise.

0250 - 08.08.05 - I picked up a biography of the late John Peel

(Ravenscroft) in Virgin Megastore in Cork on 3rd August. A short book
by Mick Wall, apparently thrown together with the minimum of
research. In 229 pages of text, he manages to repeat himself on
several occasions. The last chapter is stuffed with eulogies from
prominent persons - statements which are rarely noted for their
intellectual content, as they usually consist of the same kind of

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boilerplate that issues from the mouth of Tony Blair after someone
has died.

John Peel's parents seem to have been either aloof or absent. His
experiences at a series of public schools were horrible. Difficult to
believe that a major constituent of his adult personality was not an
underlying resentment, which gave force to his rebellious quirkiness.
His enduring love for, and love received from, his wife Sheila gives
hope to all emotionally crippled adults that such a relationship is
not inevitably out of reach - just very unlikely.

For me, there was always at least one enigma about Peelie. Some of
the music he played was palpably terrible - not just discordant, but
ineptly performed on its own terms. He chose it and played it and
awarded it accolades like "wonderful". In his own droll way was he
just taking the piss? Was part of his life and career just a slow
burning taking of revenge on the community for what had been done to
him as a child? Was this the relatively harmless way his sadism
expressed itself? Imposing on us the unlistenable, and, at the same
time, raising the hopes unduly of musical idiots who sent him the

The remarkable fact about Peelie is not that he found Sheila to love
him, but that he found a capacity in himself to love her, after the
childhood and adolescence he had. But that does not mean he was
unmarked by it. Perhaps a certain detachment, a certain coldness and
a certain loathing remained. And sometimes we all had to suffer. Then
there were some who always had to suffer. It seems from the book that
he had feelings for some of his fellow DJs at Radio 1 that amounted
to hatred. And, of course, there was the music he disliked. He was an
influence on that too, for the worse.

So, what is the verdict on the irreplaceable Mr Peel?

I remember hearing, many years ago, someone arguing that Peelie had
discovered nobody except for Altered Images. Perhaps the speaker was
the major Peel critic, Tony Parsons. It half convinced me at the
time, but it looks ridiculous now, especially when I am almost
through this book. His influence by pushing bands and individuals who
would never have been noticed without him is inestimable. Of the few
people who keep the door open to new talent, he was the first and
without equal. And with his death the bureaucrats of blandness, many
of whom at Radio 1 were probably glad he had bought the farm, will be
able to do more effectively what they do already - slam doors.

There is a dark saying which is perhaps exemplified by Peelie's

playing of bad music on his programmes. This is a dark saying which I
am going to have to make up myself, to the effect that we need a
leavening of the really bad, the amateurish and the inept, mixed in
with whatever we consume, whether it be popular music, or fiction in
book form, or any other media. And before the advent of the Internet
it was not easy to get hold of examples of bad product, because the
media industry excluded them on principle. They never got beyond the
slush pile. The dark saying is that we do need to occasionally sample
bad examples of what we consume, so that we are opened up to
everything that is not contained in the professional and well-crafted
samples we absorb. Because one day something that is now bad will be

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0251 - 08.08.05 - I am listening to Joni Mitchell again, to see
whether she had emptied her thimbleful of talent by the mid-
seventies. And a lot of the evidence piling up is negative. Oh dear.
My first playing of the CD of Turbulent Indigo left me cold. The
changes she made which appeared in Wild Things Run Free seem to be
changes mainly for the worse. Currently, she has given up writing
altogether - perhaps a sensible choice. And was it really wise to
give us the Book of Job with her own improvements, and her revised
version of Paul's eulogy of love from Corinthians? There is a CD I
have bought but not yet played. I notice, with dread, that one of the
tracks consists of a reworking of a W B Yeats poem. Oh, Joni, when
did you start believing all the hype about how wonderful you were?

Another thing the ageing artist can do, when inspiration fails, and
when the thimbleful of talent, or the bucketful for that matter, is
empty, is to rework her back catalogue. Like editing your own novel
or poem, long after you composed it - something Wordsworth did with
debateable success to The Prelude. I have not purchased yet the CD
Both Sides Now but I heard the title track on the DVD of Love
Actually. And yes, something is added by the ageing of Joni and the
smoke-ruined voice, but a great deal is lost as the performer farts
around with her own composition and, perhaps partly out of boredom,
keeps popping in vocal subversions or variations that distract the
listener. As we get older, in some ways we get stupider.

0262 - 12.08.05 - Performers in the rock industry who compose their

own ditties, melodies, harmonies and arrangements, are usually
restricted by their lack of technical expertise in all those fields -
especially when they are unable to read music. Bob Dylan proves you
can go quite far without this knowledge, and has himself turned down
the opportunity to become musically literate on occasion, so perhaps
he fears that his wild talent will be spoiled by too much technical
information. But there is an advantage to this lack of proficiency,
because it throws the rock composer back onto his own meagre
resources, and these create for him a form of discipline and tunnel
vision, which can result in originality and freshness. Similar
extrusions of talent were exhibited by those blues musicians who did
not have two guitar strings to scrape together, and who manufactured
genius from the poorest of equipment and educational background. Then
there was the tea-chest of skiffle, the three chords of punk. There
are definite disadvantages to becoming professional and
knowledgeable. But, on the other hand, where do you go when you have,
with all the inventiveness at your command, emptied your thimbleful
of talent upon the world, and you are only twenty-nine? Because you
are untrained, there is nowhere else for you to go.

0263 - 13.08.05. Cynicism can sometimes seem depthless. In Cork I

recently purchased a five CD box set of Maria Callas for 10 euros. I
had had a good experience with a similar bargain from another company
featuring Tchaikovsky. But, alas, by the second CD it is already
obvious that this box set was issued in a very different spirit to
the Tchaikovsky set.

It is cynical to issue a set of recordings, many of which are so

distorted as to be practically unlistenable. Remastering involves a
little more than making a digital copy of a worn, scratched 78. But
what is remarkable about the cynicism here is track 4 on the second

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CD. This five minute track ends in more than a minute, yes, that is
more than sixty seconds, of audience applause. That is an awfully
long time to listen to people clapping. What were they thinking of,
when they laid the track down in that fashion?

0273 - 25.08.05 - Trying to listen to Mozart yesterday. I think the

reason so much classical music leaves me cold is because of the
preponderance of the string section of the orchestra. The solo violin
can weave heart-rending melodies, but when they are massed into
sections and one strums high and is answered by another section
strumming low, and there’s virtually nothing else going on except
these violins and their cousins the violas, the cellos and the
double-basses, then it sounds as boring to me as conventional rock
guitar, because there is so darned repetitious much of it. Which
makes a concerto more interesting to me than a symphony, even a
violin concerto, because at least there is something dialoguing with
the orchestra and its omnipresent string section.

0278 - 28.08.05 - Only in Ireland. The Irish radio station Lyric FM,
which is poised between Classic FM and Radio Three (ex-Third
Programme) advertises a programme on Michael Nyman at 9:30pm and a
programme on plagiarism at 10pm. Advertises this both in the official
RTE Guide and on Teletext. I line up the audio tape ready to go at
9:30 to record Michael Nyman. So what do the dozy fuckers do? They
air the programme on plagiarism first, the programme on Michael Nyman

0294 - 07.09.05 - I deliberately chose not to buy Tubular Bells II,

and selected what looked like the original Tubular Bells from the
name and the artwork. Only to find it was a CD I had never heard
before called Tubular Bells III. Only the “III” looked like a
delimiter between “Tubular” and “Bells”. I don’t blame Mike Oldfield
for flogging his old success to death. But whoever was responsible
for the look of that CD was responsible for fraud. I wonder how many
other people got caught. Try Amazon and see. [If this ever gets
published, it may be necessary to get a legal opinion on this node.]

0321 - 09.11.05 - John Lennon did talk a lot of shit.

0324 - 13.11.05 - Reading the first volume of Dylan’s Chronicles.

This reads sometimes like a book about a man who was surprised to
find himself to be Bob Dylan.

0325 - 15.11.05 - What do I believe out of what Dylan writes in the

first volume of Chronicles? I believe him when he says there was a
period when he felt inspired (in the 1960s) and that it hasn’t
happened since. The writing in the section about working with Daniel
Lanois is pretty terrible. Hyperbolic nonsense. Oh, and in spite of
name-dropping Ezra Pound in one of his lyrics, he never actually read

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anything by him. Just knew he was a Nazi sympathiser. Shouldn’t that
have been ‘Fascist sympathiser’? But some of the early stuff, with
the banal detail which may be accurate, and which he could be making
up, is much better writing. And had me laughing out loud at times, at
the naivety of the young Dylan, and the naivety of the old Dylan, who
still hasn’t realised he was naïve.

OK. Just read an Amazon customer review which satirises his

hyperbolic style mentioned above - refers to it as ‘hip-cat’. That
hits the nail on the head. It's sub-standard Kerouac. Another
reviewer, this time not unsympathetic to him, commends his flashes of
high intelligence, and this is true too. Robert Zimmerman does
demonstrate intelligence of a high order occasionally, but it is only
occasional, it is not characteristic of the man. Most of the time,
Bob is average stupid. And most of what he 'knows' about matters of
public interest is the same secondhand half-true information the rest
of us have access to.

0335 - 11.12.05 - Lucia Evans, a quadroon auditioning in Cork for the

Irish song contest You're a Star had me almost in tears. What a
voice. Will she be picked to continue to the second stage? Out of
seven acts, she came second and went through to the final phase of
the competition. {She won the contest.]

0353 - 22.01.06 - Songs are boring. Fundamentally boring. Because

they consist of a short musical structure, which is repeated.
Sometimes varied with another short musical structure, the chorus,
which is also, of course, repeated. As we proceed from verse to
verse, the only change is usually in the lyrics. The chorus may keep
invariable lyrics.

In contrast a concerto, or a symphony, or a tone poem, or a fantasia,

are complex musical structures and therefore not boring.

0356 - 22.01.06 - Why does Gary Numan matter? Because in the

beginning he used analogue synthesizers.

0375 - 03.20.06 - Listening to Dionne Warwick (proper name Warrick)

yesterday, I was thinking how surprising it is that so few songs have
been written about bereavement. The lover is missing, not because he
has gone off with another woman, but because he has died. I can't
think of any, apart from Tell Laura I Love Her.

0393 - 09.06.06 - Etta James. Now that is one ugly broad. [3rd March
2009. But what a survivor. And able to raise a squawk in her 70s
about that damned Beyonce singing her song {At Last}, not to mention
playing Etta in a biopic of her life.]

0436 - 18.08.06 - The male voice that I prefer seems to be the

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baritone. Johnny Cash, Randy Travis, Waylon Jennings, Elvis Presley.

0440 - 20.08.06 - When Orson Welles spoke so disparagingly of the

culture of Switzerland in The Third Man, there had not yet emerged
from that country the pop duo of Dieter Meier and Boris Blank, known
as Yello. For that, we had to wait until the 1980s.

0441 - 24.08.06 - For me the traditional twelve-bar blues (don't you

love 'em) does have one major flaw, which induces tedium almost any
time I hear them. Of course, what it is is the way they get to repeat
the first line:

Woke up this morning, blues all around my bed. (Mm. Got that.)
Woke up this morning, blues all around my bed. (Jesus! Not

So you are hanging on an inordinate time for some new lyrics to get
your teeth into, always supposing you can understand the black blues

My woman came walking in, dish-towel around her head.

I don't know why this is the traditional format but, at a guess,

given that this is an informal, improvised music, repeating the first
line gave the musician time to make up the second one, and then his
verse was wrapped up and he could go onto the next (and repeat the
first line again).

Some of the early blues I like the best are when the second line
varies from the first, more like a regular song. Even very early
bluesters like Bessie Smith do this, and it is a welcome relief.

0442 - 25.08.06 - CDs are too bloody long. I read or heard somewhere
years ago that only the first five or six tracks get listened to. If
true, it supports my thesis. CDs are too bloody long.

Raised on the long-playing record where a side consisted of five or

six songs and lasted about 15 to 20 minutes, the CD is overkill. My
memory is that I did not turn the platter over when the LP side was
done, not usually. One side of an artist or a group was enough for
one sitting. Now, if you want to hear the whole CD, you are in for 60
uninterrupted minutes on a regular album, up to 75 killing minutes on
a compilation, or a re-issue complete with "bonus tracks".

So why not just listen to the first few tracks and come back to the
CD later? Well, that's cool, only you have to restart the CD and
remember where you stopped last time. Me, I actually make a note of
the number of tracks played.

Just because you can get 75 minutes of audio time on a CD, does not
mean you have to. Shorter CDs please! If we can't have CDs that play
for 15-20 minutes, make it 30-40 minutes.

You can play shuffle and stop listening whenever you feel like it. I
tried that for a short while, but it was too chaotic a method of

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0501 - 11.07.07.- If I had a half-decent method of making accurate

recordings, I would record some of the winds we get here and then
either make MP3s of them in their own right, or play around with them
with Audacity and create music from the wind.

0510 - 09.08.07 - What is this Opus 1 shit? Whoever got started this
business of describing the works of classical composers by numbers
rather than names? More importantly, how did it become the general
standard of nomenclature all over Europe? How did it get imposed?

Do you know what Opus 27, number 2, by Beethoven, is? The method
seems to me to have arisen from an intellectual snobbery. Either that
or from anally retentive music scholars who had to have an arithmetic
way of documenting a composer's creations.

Opus 27, number 2 is what the common herd of music enjoyers call The
Moonlight Sonata. That, you can remember. Numbers do not remind most
people of anything.

Then there's another analytical system, which may have originated in

Germany. So that Mozart's Clarinet Concerto in A goes by the pellucid
and enlightening description of "K.622".

Recently on Lyric FM, the Irish classical music radio station, a

composer spoke about the difference between classical music concerts
and all other musical performances to which humans in the developed
world go. In all the other lights are dimmed, there are candles,
there is dry ice, there are slides and graphics, there are holographs
and laser effects. In the classical concert the lights are all left
on and all there is for the eye to feast on is the sight of the
orchestra. Music lovers as purists, not to say musical puritans.

0516 - 29.08.07 - One emotion that ones does not hear often, if at
all, in popular music, is despair. And I do not mean the sweet,
insipid melancholy of the singer-songwriter whose bird is being seen
to by his best friend. I mean something much darker, more like
clinical depression. Why can't I buy a CD of Rock Bottom Blues? Where
are the real rock nihilists? Where is the exploration of society's
underbelly, the world of drugs and child trafficking? Where is the
disgust and the carnage and the mayhem and the stench of life at its
worst? Over here and in the poor world also. Where is the
hopelessness of the underclass? There is something of this in Warren
Zevon's Play it all Night Long. There is something of this in Velvet
Underground, especially the contribution of the young addict, Lou
Reed. But where else? Punk is anger and hatred. I want to go one step
beyond. Despair. Perhaps I ought to write the songs myself.

0707 - 09.10.07 - My friend Anthony Tovar turned me on, many moons

ago, to another "end of" phenomenon, like "the end of science". This
time it was The End of Popular Music. Which happened around 1975.
While the technical possibilities of making music with computers have

Peregrinations around my Armchair Page 95 of 163

increased enormously since then, nothing, essentially, has been added
to the corpus of Popular Music which is not an imitation of something
which already exists, or a fusion of more than one pre-existing form.
All that Popular Music has ever been and all that it can ever be is
now available on CD or download. And that is the end. Innovation.
What innovation? Rap? Give me a break.

Memory (AQ)

0080 - 18.10.04 - The worst ink survives the best memory.[Thanks to

Sally Maxfield, ex-work colleague at Kingston Hospital, for handing
on this wise saying.]

0259 - 11.08.05 - Whatever Proust tapped when he inserted his

Madeleine cake into his cup of tea, it was not a bank of veridical
memories. Because memory does not work like a rank of filing cabinets
filled with snapshots of past experience. Like the rest of the human
large brain, memory developed under the pressures of natural
selection, it was never intended for any purpose, although used by
human organisms now in that way.

If, twelve months ago, I and another person observe a man alighting
from a bus, and my companion writes down in a notebook, “He wore a
pink shirt, red jeans and flip-flops”, then that record, if it
persists, and if he is not an unreliable note taker, is far more
valuable then any memory of mine, however detailed. Because some of
the contents of my memory will be taken from that incident, but some
will not. Some will be adapted arbitrarily from another incident.
Sometimes I will recall the incident as happening at a different
place - I get the bus number wrong, I locate the incident in the
wrong borough. And all these false details are seen as clearly (or as
fuzzily) as the correct ones. Whatever the neural patterns that
compose memory do, they do not preserve, as LP records and compact
disks do, a facsimile of a past event.

And if this is true, why do we pay so much attention to witness

statements in courts of law? How dumb is that?

0337 - 11.12.05 - What is one actually doing when one reads a book? I
ask this mainly because of how little gets remembered afterwards. Is
reading an act of memorising, or is it an act of forgetting?
Sometimes it almost seems as if I am reading a book rather like one
might go through a telephone directory, looking for a particular name
without knowing where to find it. Nearly everything that gets read is
read and then rejected - it's not the right name. It's as if a
process like this is going on as I read: Read it, now forget it; Read
it, now forget it; Read it, now forget it; Read it, whoah! remember
this bit; Read it, now forget it; Read it, now forget it; Read it,
now forget it etc etc.

0493 - 09.06.07 - A recent example of failing memory. I could not

remember the name of that "thingy you use with the bubble in it to
see if something is flat". What came into my mind when I pummelled my

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memory was "split level". But I knew this had something to do with
architecture, and was not the expression I was looking for. Only
later did the variation "spirit level" come to mind.

0781 - 27.10.07 - I think that McCrone's description in The Ape that

Spoke of the narrow purview of conscious attention, the flash-light
focus in the dark, if you will, which moves on and leaves what was
previously illuminated in the darkness of forgetfulness, is
absolutely central to understanding our condition. And this thought
triggers connections to the opposite of such a narrow focus - the
"oceanic" feeling or sensation reported by some as part of, or
constituting, their mystical experience or their peak experience. As
if the content of the entire world came into consciousness at the
same time, as if past and future were also present, as if one was
aware of everything at once. Now that would be transcending, with a
vengeance, the limitations of consciousness as developed by natural
selection. But is that what is actually happening? It seems unlikely
that the human brain could have an experience like the one described.
Perhaps the cost of perceiving everything at once is that nothing at
all is seen with any clarity.

I need a name for this narrow purview of conscious attentions, so

that I can fix it more firmly in my own long-term memory. So that I
am less likely to forget about it altogether until I pick up a book
like McCrone's again, or edit relevant parts of Peregrinations. The
flash-light of consciousness. Some analogy like this. Because this
underlines the fact that all of us are, to a certain extent, like
Alzheimer's sufferers. Things usually have to be dragged or
encouraged out of long-term memory. When we need to marshal
arguments, unless we have them in front of us in written form, we are
likely to be arguing from a disadvantaged position, because the vast
majority of those arguments and the facts supporting them will be
dwelling currently in the penumbra of unremembered memory, the stuff
we cannot currently access.

If something is important, we have to write it down, and write it

down in words that we will understand when we come back and read it
again. And then, having written it down, we have to come back and
read it again. And again. Or we will forget it.

The governing body of the Jehovah's Witnesses may have got their
technique right in this respect. They are willing to run the risk of
boring their people to tears by constant and wearing repetition of
their theological and moral nonsense in dull meeting after dull
meeting, in book after book after book. But even those with little
education are able, after a few years of this, to parrot enough of
this nonsense to confound an academically advanced and enlightened,
but ill-prepared, person.

And perhaps Sherlock Holmes had a point when he told Dr Watson that
he took no interest in topics of current cultural concern because
consigning one new fact to memory knocked one old fact out of it. The
limitations of long-term memory may not have been as described, but
the limitations are definitely there.

0782 - 27.10.07 - You need to keep repeating stuff to yourself. Why?

Because, otherwise you will forget it.

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0784 - 27.10.07 - That which is not regularly recalled from long-term
memory may one day be lost for ever.

0785 - 27.10.07 - I was reading a bit of Hobbes where he seems to be

saying that sense impressions can be attenuated not just by distance
in time, but also by distance in space. This is so true. When I was
in Australia for four weeks a lot of my long-term memory was tuned in
to Australian concerns. Thoughts and anxieties about home in Ireland
weakened. If I had stayed for months or even years then much of my
recent past in Ireland would probably have been erased, or weakened
to the point of erasure.

The fact that I was brought up as a Jehovah's Witness will never be

erased from my long-term memory, until that memory perishes. But the
importance of that fact can vary enormously. When I lived in East
Molesey I hardly ever recalled the Jehovah's Witnesses to mind. Now
that I am living in my mother's bungalow and next door to practising
JWs, I think about the sect and call up memories relating to it, much
more often.

0786 - 27.10.07 - If you really want to make the best of your long-
term memory bank, then you would stuff it with material to do with
subjects of the most importance to you - like your job, for instance.
But, because the memory is a neural network, and associational web,
you would be well-advised also to stuff in material to do with
subjects of lesser importance - perhaps movies, or the history of
your country, or whatever. Then, one day when you are trying to call
back something from the memory bank which relates to your job, but
cannot get it, you may stumble onto it via an association - perhaps
an item in neural networks dealing with your interest in movies
starts with the same word. Or a scene from a movie featuring a
stockbroker reminds you of something else which immediately takes you
to the memory trace you were looking for, which has become sadly
attenuated, which is why you did not find it straight away.

There are perhaps no permanent memory traces, although traumas

arguably create them.

0805 - 30.10.07 - I can't get over it. The narrow focus of

consciousness, the brief time that contents remain in short-term
memory, the difficulty of retaining and then recalling data in long-
term memory. So we have devised numerous work-rounds to balance out
this deficiency. Leaving things in the same place all the time, is an
example. So that we can find them again.

The adage has it that you never forget how to ride a bicycle and, if
true, this may be partly because this is a set of motor activities,
which can be automatised and turned into reflexes. Some facts and
memories spring out of long-term memory as if they too were
automatised, but not many. Hence the need for all those mnemonic
tricks we use to tease data from the long-term memory. Like writing
things down. Like writing things down in books called Peregrinations

Peregrinations around my Armchair Page 98 of 163

around my Armchair.

Increasing the availability of data for recall seems to depend on a

variety of factors. One is simple repetition, pounding the same data
into the memory time and time again. Hence the effectiveness of the
liturgy. You are unlikely to forget that Christianity has something
to do with Christ’s resurrection. Another factor seems to be recency.
Hitting the books the night before an exam usually produces good
results. I know all this stuff is obvious. But by writing this I am
trying to bash some of it firmly into long-term memory, so I can
recall it at some future date. Because the chances are that in a few
months’ time I will have forgotten all about this entire subject and
will come across it in Peregrinations and go, “Oh, my, how
interesting, and how true!”

0817 - 13.11.07 - Today I felt I had to replace an envelope, because

I had cut it open and sellotaped it shut again. It was an important
letter and evidence of tampering could arouse suspicion in the person
who received it. At least that was what my paranoid self told me, and
I knew I would not be able to rest if I posted it as it was.

Unfortunately, I had already stuck a 78 cent stamp to the envelope. I

decided to cut my losses and type another envelope, complete with
stamp and airmail sticker. Then I remembered something from my
childhood, when both I and my sister had stamp collections. Back then
a lot of the stamps we received still adhered to a portion of
envelope and had to be carefully separated from it before being
mounted in the album. And I remembered how to do this.

First I checked that I had a Pritt-Stick so I could re-use the stamp.

I had four. Then I cut the stamp from the envelope and laid it in a
container of warm water. When the water had soaked into the envelope
sufficiently I raised the stamp with plastic tweezers. Then I dried
it on a kitchen towel and later flattened it under a CD crystal case.

What is interesting about this is not the trip down memory lane, but
what it reveals about memory itself. This is something I probably
have not done for half a century and yet I remembered all the steps.
And the reason must be because of the countless times I went through
the process in my childhood. One way to make sure that a memory stays
in the neural network somewhere is repetition, sheer repetition. And
it also means that neural firings which are not sufficiently
reinforced will, inevitably, degrade and disappear. We all need
workarounds to retain memories. We all have Alzheimer's.

0830 - 22.12.07 - Most of the items held currently in long-term

memory cannot be accessed at will. This is because in the network of
nerve fibres those individual memories, residing on individual axons
(if that is the way it works), have too few connections to other
axons to make voluntary recall easy. And most of the contents of
long-term memory are in this position. Some of them may have had
thousands of connections at one time, they may have been called on
daily in order to perform a task at work. But your job has changed
and the connections became attenuated and diminished. Now they belong
with the largely unreachable majority. Another reason why we have to
write things down!

Peregrinations around my Armchair Page 99 of 163

0861 - 03.02.08 - A recent news story which may turn out to be
significant. The accidental result of putting two probes into a man's
brain was to stimulate a very old set of memories. As they pushed in
further the memories got richer and more detailed. The news story was
that this might have some application for Alzheimer's, if the
patient's brain could be similarly stimulated. I'm not sure there is
any relevance to Alzheimer's - they don't have problems with long-
term memory anyway. But where the story interests me is where it
connects to my notion that old memories are attenuated (as well as
misleading). What this man seems to have experienced is the
"Madeleine cake moment", only provided by brain probes. This
resurrects once more the possibility that there are many rich
clusters of old memories lying about in the brain, which could, in
principle be accessed. And they would not prove to be attenuated at
all, although they could certainly be misleading.

Television (AR)

0175 - 06.03.05 - Jonathan Dimbleby is the one with the arrogant

sneer. David Dimbleby is the one who does Question Time.

0226 - 21.07.05 - Media Sensitivity. Television has a habit I find

annoying of cancelling programmes which might remind the viewer of
some disaster in the news that day. Alternative programmes, usually
anodyne, are screened. A probable example of this was the way RTE One
over here in the Republic of Ireland failed to screen on 7th July
2005, the day four bombs went off in London, an episode of the
American Series Third Watch, which deals with the emergency services
in New York . Next Thursday Third Watch got the chop again. Bodies
were still being dug out of the rubble, so I suppose it had to go.
When I checked teletext today it appeared that Third Watch is back.
In fact they intend to screen two episodes back to back - I suppose
to make up for the fact that we have fallen two weeks behind
schedule. However, media sensitivity is coming under even greater
pressure this evening, because four more bombs went off in London
today, although, whether from intent or accident, they failed to
explode correctly and casualties were minimal. Will the double
episode, scheduled to begin at 11.50pm, just thirty-five minutes'
time, be hurriedly axed and replaced with something like Steel
Magnolias? Or, in view of the light casualties, will they maintain
the schedule? I can hardly wait to find out. Meanwhile, it is my
position that, except for rare and genuine emergencies, TV stations,
especially public service ones, should stick to their fucking
schedules, so we can rely on them.

OK, they ran it. A two-parter that starts with an explosion in a cafe
(gas, not terrorism) and includes a sub-plot about Islamic terrorism
and dirty bombs. Well, I could see, after some graphic scenes at the
explosion, why they would not want to show this. Only that did not
make sense, because with an incompetence with seems habitual with RTE
they were screening a two-parter that they had already screened a few
weeks before.

Peregrinations around my Armchair Page 100 of 163

0275 - 28.08.05 - A review of a new police procedural on ITV called
Murder Investigation Team praised it for doing what cop shows so
seldom do nowadays - concentrating on police work and the solving of
cases. Supposedly it eschewed the common practice of making “ the
job” a background against which the normal melodrama of the soap
opera unfolds. I looked forward to watching it and soon got an
opportunity, as it migrated to Irish RTE Two very quickly. I have now
seen two episodes.

The DI in charge of the team is called Vivien Friend and is certainly

depicted as someone who tries to go on doing the job no matter how
emotionally stressful the context. But this, which I imagine in real
life is the normal attitude for trained police officers (and was the
case with the police I ran into fairly frequently in my younger days)
was unfavourably remarked upon by a female uniformed officer in the
first episode I watched. Then, to redeem the DI, we saw her attending
the church service for her dead cop father at the end of the show. In
the second episode Vivien is criticised even more strongly for her
lack of emotional display by her sidekick, a Detective Constable
whose face is tantalisingly familiar, and who is called Rosie, I
believe. Their joint interview of the abusive father towards the end
of the episode is ludicrous as an example of technique.

Therefore, I regret to say that on one of two counts the show has
already buckled to the norm for the genre - police officers should
behave as normal untrained civilians would behave - presumably so
that the public can identify with them more easily. Whereas, one of
the interesting things about the police is that they are not the same
as ordinary people. They would be pretty useless if they were. And
useless is the way the actors portray the police in an attempt to
show them displaying the normal range of human emotions in stressful

On one other count, the show has not yet buckled. There does not seem
to be much emphasis at all on back story for the characters. Their
private lives are not dragged into the script, at least not yet, or
not to any extent. How long that will last, if ratings dip, is
difficult to say. How long before Vivien is betraying the ethics of
her profession by covering up the offences of a younger brother who
is also a drug dealer? How long before we spend more time with Rosie
at her AA meetings than actually on the case? (And at one of her AA
meetings - I am making this up, by the way - Rosie meets Alex and
falls in love with him. He says he is an accountant, but it turns out
that …)

The actors in Murder Investigation Team are refreshingly unglamorous.

Vivien Friend is five foot nothing and baby-faced but her cuteness is
negatived by her brusque behaviour. Everybody else, including Rosie
(who the hell is she?), is more or less a dog. The hand-held
photography and massive close-ups owes a lot to Cops, another ground-
breaking show that tried to do a police procedural on realistic
lines, and folded after one season.

[24th Sept 2005. I forgot to mention that various cues in the

episodes reveal that this is actually a spin-off from The Bill, a cop
series which is very different in style. Tonight’s episode mentioned
“Barton Street nick”, which reminded me of the Sun Hill connection.
Barton Street is the “other” police station that the Sun Hillers
frequently mention. Oh, and tonight’s episode - or this morning’s
perhaps, as it started to air at 00.50am - has the time of death
established as 9pm of a woman found drowned after four days. Surely

Peregrinations around my Armchair Page 101 of 163

this is a basic error. Exact time of death still cannot be
established, as far as I know. Perhaps between 7 and 11, but not at
9pm. That’s why you need the broken wrist watch so often in detective
stories. How come they got something that fundamental wrong?]

0314 - 21.09.05 - In an episode of The Wire a couple of the blacks

reminded me of some I saw in the States when I was there in 1995. Men
with heads and bodies that were strange shapes. Not unusual like the
native African, but really weird body and head shapes. Like square-
headed robots but built like a brick shithouse, some of them. I
suppose there are some really weirdly shaped white individuals as

0315 - 21.09.05 - I watched a TV documentary about women raped during

wars. There was a segment about imprisoned Hutus and some of the
local women raped by them. Some of the men in prison are allowed out
on day release. The rape victims are frightened. Brief interview with
some of the Hutu prisoners. And they laugh at the rape victims. They
are arrogant, apparently completely unafraid, and totally lacking in
remorse or shame. And bullheaded to a man. Quite depressing. Truth
and Reconciliation this ain’t.

0334 - 11.12.05 - When we see our criminal heroes, like Tony Soprano,
either on the large or the small screen, routinely engaging in the
violence we know they employ, we are not happy. We are disturbed by
this. We don't want this to be shown. Why?

0343 - 14.10.05 - Most the sketches from Monty Python's Flying Circus
were not very funny.

0378 - 05.04.06 - Perhaps every time we identify with a criminal or a

rogue, watching, for example, an episode of The Sopranos, what we
have here is yet one more instance of the Stockholm Syndrome.

0847 - 18.01.08 - News clips of carnage at the sites of bomb-blasts

etc seem to be getting more graphic. Perhaps in the end it will be
possible to show these, even if young children are watching. Clips
and stills of carnage achieved. What perhaps will always have to be
censored is video footage of somebody screaming in pain.

0891 - 29.03.08 - It is pretty well guaranteed when you switch on a

programme of political debate, like BBC's Question Time or RTE's
Questions and Answers that you are not going to hear anything
interesting. But why is this? I think it has a lot to do with the
docility which evolutionists claim is a feature of our behaviour.
Human conformism. The minds of the contributors to the panel, the
minds of the audience, get constricted and boxed in as soon as they

Peregrinations around my Armchair Page 102 of 163

enter the social environment of the studio. Each mind actively self-
censors in an attempt to conform to some middle-of-the-road norm. The
same thing applies to all committees.

Sex (AS)

0132 - 14.01.05 - Years ago, anal sex in which a man penetrated a

woman was pretty unheard of. It definitely qualified as pervy. Now it
is mainstream in pornography, and perhaps to some extent in real life
as well. The female pornstar who refuses to take it up the "poop
chute" is now the exception. I'm not quite certain what is going on
here. I am sure that men love doing it. But I am not convinced that
women can get sexual pleasure from being anally penetrated, since
they do not have a prostate gland to be stimulated.

And whether it is between men and women or men and men, anal sex is a
health hazard. It redistributes shit, which contains toxins. And the
anal passage is not designed for penetration by the penis. It can
only be done by training the anal sphincter to relax. But then, after
enough anal sex, your sphincter ends up permanently relaxed, and
you're dropping stuff on the carpet. Added to that the damage that
can be done to the anus and the rectum by forced penetration, and
there is considerable material for a risk assessment.

The politically correct complexion of our culture annoys me, in the

way it refuses to face the dangers of the homosexual "life-style".
Buggery may not be a perversion, but an acceptable part of the active
homosexual sex-life. However, it should be added, by these
politically correct gutless bastards, that buggery carries several
health-risks, which vaginal sex does not.

0137 - 18.01.05 - I change my mind again. The boob job is something

positive, something to be approved of. It is definitely an
improvement on nature. Breasts that are round and firm are the ideal,
whatever the reality. All praise to silicone if it can achieve this
appearance. [1st October 2007. No. Increasing consumption of internet
porn reveals that the boob job too often results in twin footballs -
most unattractive. The best breasts are those which are young and not
so large that they droop noticeably, although, of course, all breasts
except the smallest, droop.]

0178 - 09.03.05 - After viewing mega amounts of porn, I can

confidently say that the hindquarters of the female do not attract
me. The pelvis is simply too large, making the buttocks and thighs
larger in consequence, and forcing the thigh-bones further apart. It
has to be this way, or the large head of the human foetus would get
stuck. Apparently, if the pelvis was any larger, women would be
unable to walk. So, perhaps I would be more aroused by pictures of
the male form being penetrated - at least if he were slim and
hairless enough.

0295 - 07.09.05 - The way Japanese and Chinese make love - it is

certainly different. They go at each other like tigers, like people

Peregrinations around my Armchair Page 103 of 163

who haven’t eaten for days. Currently, Caucasian lovemaking is
depicted as being much more relaxed, gentle and smooth. The Westerner
strokes a tit while the Nippon grabs it and scrunches it up. The
women close their eyes, which may be a modesty thing, and they gasp
and wail. Sometimes it might be genuine discomfort, but it could also
be an equivalent to the male urgency. And this is not just a recent
thing. There’s that Japanese classic Onibaba (The Hole) and the
fellow in that grabs the woman with just the same alacrity. Surely
this is not simply that the Orientals do not understand that women
need working up, but help themselves to a quick orgasm. Surely that
cannot be the explanation. After all, the Orientals wrote the book on
lovemaking techniques. Several of them, in fact.

0236 - 24.07.05 - The ideal female breasts, unless reinforced by

silicone, are limited to the smaller sizes, because of their tendency
to droop. There comes, of course, an extreme of smallness, where
pertness and firmness is not enough - these breasts are verging
towards non-existence. But the ideal size, possessed by, among
others, the Japanese model who graces my computer at the moment as
desktop wallpaper, is not enough either. Nature has a thousand ways
to create breasts with ugly shapes - resembling tubes or bananas, for
instance. And even if the breast is an ideal shape, it may be let
down by the nipple. Perfection is rare, and may often be digitally

0360 - 27.01.06. The erect penis is often made an object of ridicule.

I cannot see it myself. The erect penis seems to me to be usually an
attractive object. The glans is particularly well-formed and
attractive. The same cannot be said for the balls, but one cannot
have everything.

The vagina, on the other hand, is rarely attractive, that much is

true. The spread vagina - the "beaver" or "money" shot. The outer
lips are often nicely formed, but the inner lips usually let the side
down. And the vaginal canal, what can be seen of it, is not very
beautiful either. It feels wonderful when you are inside it, but to
the eye it is uneven and lumpy. So that I am not often drawn to shots
of the spread vagina during my Internet crawls. With a couple of

First exception: the colour contrast of a black woman's inner lips

and vaginal canal to the outer lips and the rest of her body, is
striking. Of course, she must be really black, not one of those
mixed-race women. The other exception is a Filipino pornstar called
Lily Thai, who does seem to have a beautifully tailored pussy.

As an aside, Lily Thai is a relative newcomer to the scene and is

perhaps in her early twenties now. She seems to have held out against
full involvement in the porn industry, trying to stay softcore, with
glamour shoots and nude shoots and masturbation shoots, and girl-on-
girl. But at some point she went fully professional, and has now done
the usual gamut from deep throat to double penetration. I downloaded
a web-page which claims to be Lily in action, but where she is
unrecognisably coarsened (if it is indeed her) from the eighteen-
year-old who first got in front of the camera and took her bra off.
Some of this might simply be because she had the kind of beauty which
naturally faded very quickly. But some of it must be put down to her

Peregrinations around my Armchair Page 104 of 163

recent life experiences.

0376 - 26.03.06 - The blowjobs of Japanese pornstars suck. Let me

rephrase that.

0488 - 23.04.07 - We are not paedophiles. We do not want to fuck a

child. We want to fuck a woman who looks like a child. Christina
Ricci. Audrey Hepburn.

World War I (AT)

0119 - 18.12.04 - Ruthless Churchill's share of responsibility for

Germany's unrestricted submarine warfare in WWI.

0162 - 10.02.05 - Beginning to read Niall Ferguson again on whether

Britain should not have joined in the first world war. If his
argument makes sense, then it is a depressing thought that all those
men died and were wounded, all that wealth was expended, as the
result of a foreign policy mistake.

0297 - 08.09.05 - I am reading one volume of an absolute goldmine of

information about the Great War available from Project Gutenberg
under “Various”. Called Current History and published by The New York
Times the volume is concerned with the debate about who caused the
war. It is interesting of itself that there should have been such a
contemporary debate, and that the Public Relations departments of the
Great Powers should have waged a propaganda war of this kind. “You
started it!” “No, you started it!” Because Friedrich Von Bernhardi’s
attitude is that war is a pretty good thing to have sometimes, even
if you are not being aggressed against. But all these statesmen were
eager to shift the responsibility.

And I can’t help thinking, again, that all that squawking about
mobilisation is a smokescreen. Austria was going to attack Serbia,
for not obeying its ultimatum. Russia was going to enter the war on
the side of Serbia. But on the Western front there was no reason I
can see why the Great Powers, France and Germany, could not mobilise
and stay behind their frontiers. As we know from the advantage the
defence had at that time, security would not have been imperilled. So
Germany had the right to mobilise. However, I cannot see how it can
justify the invasion of France, Luxembourg and Belgium.

0298 - 09.09.05 - I am reminded of Paul Johnson’s characterisation of

the English in The Offshore Islanders as being distinguished for
their hypocrisy. In his account this quality, which is not
denigrated, is elevated to a part of the national character. The
awareness that there may be some truth in this makes me suspicious of
the accounts by which British policymakers acquitted themselves of
responsibility for starting the First World War.

Peregrinations around my Armchair Page 105 of 163

Is it possible, that of all the powers involved, both great and
small, the one which had the decisive influence was England, and
that, with that influence, came the primary responsibility for the
outbreak of hostilities? And that England was hypocritical in its
protestations about peace? Was war the desired outcome?

[11th September 2005] Re-reading Bernard Shaw on the Great War, he

makes mention of the English characteristic of hypocrisy. Writing in
1914. And, if we are afflicted with it, hypocrisy is a particularly
dangerous quality to possess because it includes an element of self-
delusion. Unlike statesmen from other lands, our statesmen sort of
believe in what they are saying. Far better to have someone who is
openly cynical, or realistic, and not self-deluded. For the acme of
British hypocrisy, we only have to think of Tony Blair. The self-
delusion is there too.

[17th Feb 2006. No, I think the British entry into World War I was
justified, and, to an unusual extent, principled.]

0299 - 11.09.05 - The argument about the origins of World War I that
goes, “You started it, when you X,” is inconclusive. All it needs on
the part of the one accused is to regress one or several steps. Then
allude to some circumstance in which the opponent offended him. “No,
you started it, when you Y.” It is then open to his opponent to take
a further step back. And so on.

0303 - 12.09.05 - I still can’t get the word “militarist” to mean

much to me. Perhaps a better word to use would be “expansionist”.
Which states were expansionist in 1914, and which were not?

0304 - 12.09.05 - What exactly were the terms of the Franco-Russian

alliance, an alliance which was founded upon a commercial relation
between the two countries. France loaned and Russia borrowed. But
what did France commit itself to do for Russia, and under what
circumstances? Could France have stood on its frontiers and done
nothing else in August 1914? Could the Great War have taken place
only on the Eastern Front? Russia would then presumably have had to
take on Germany and Austria on its own. At what point was France
committed, and why?

0306 - 14.09.05 - Struggling with the work of General Friedrich von

Bernhardi - Germany and the Next War (1911). I may be doing him an
injustice, but he seems to be incoherent and inconsistent. One thesis
which I believe he has developed, and which is straightforward and
coherent, is the thesis that there is no higher morality than the
interest of the state. Any talk of a higher morality involving
international institutions or humanity at large is pie in the sky. It
follows that an aggressive and expansionist war is permissible,
indeed a state may be morally obliged to pursue it, to further its
own interests. It does also follow that all other states have the
same freedom of action.

As I say, this is a tenable position, and one with which a lot of

Peregrinations around my Armchair Page 106 of 163

political realists would agree. But he does not seem to stick to this
thesis consistently. A bit later he is on about the evolutionary
development of humanity, and Germany’s role in that unfolding
process. As a realist he can argue that Germany has the right, even
the duty, to go to war in its own interests. From the other,
contradictory position, he can argue that Germany has the right, even
the duty, to go to war as a step in working out its destiny within
the evolutionary development of humanity. But he cannot argue both at

He does seem to me to be a crucial figure, and this book a crucial

text. He is not like Bernard Shaw, who is a crank, and represents few
people except himself. It can be argued that Bernhardi only
represents one strand of German opinion at that time. But it looks as
if he is representative, even if in a limited sense, in a way that
Shaw is not.

0309 - 15.09.05 - What were the terms of the Triple Alliance? What
was Germany’s obligation to Austria once Russia had declared war?
Italy managed to stay out of it, at least in August 1914.

0310 - 15.09.05 - Reading some of the journalism put out by the

German side and published in a monthly magazine called Current
History published by The New York Times (Volume one, Issue One) I am
struck with the way it compares with a book I have on British foreign
policy issued by the Soviets (British Foreign Policy during World War
II by V Trukhanovsky). Both sources are characterised by sound
critical points that clearly contain a grain of truth, combined with
a steady background of what I can only describe as systematic lying.
This is beyond polemic, in the sense that the writer knows that he is
distorting, exaggerating and lying.

Both Germans and Soviets put me in mind of that master of mendacity,

Tariq Aziz. His mouth was a lie factory.

[19th Sept 2005] Systematic lying. Reading a piece for The New York
Times in the Current History magazine (Volume One, Issue Three) by
James Beck, where he assesses the diplomatic evidence, I feel that
the picture that emerges is of a conspiracy between Germany and
Austro-Hungary to take advantage of the dual assassination of 28th
June 1914 to start a war with Russia and France, hoping that Great
Britain will stay out of it. And during and after the launching of
this plan the governments involved systematically lied to cover their
tracks, and place the blame elsewhere.]

0312 - 15.0.05 - In 1914 the official German position was that they
were fighting a defensive war. But is that actually what the people
believed who streamed off to fight? Did they think they were going to
fight a defensive war, or an expansive war, a war of annexation?

0419 - 05.08.06 - It would not be cynical to remember that when, in

the Great War, those young men went to their deaths, the vast

Peregrinations around my Armchair Page 107 of 163

majority believed they possessed immortal souls, which would survive
the trauma. Asking a young secular humanist to risk his life now is a
different proposition.

Writers (AU)

0046 - 04.10.04 - The Little Grey Men. A children's book by BB,

written in war-time. I must find a copy of this. I read it as a
child. Lo and behold, there is a copy in the children's section of
Cork Library. [BB was Denys Watkins-Pitchford.]

0062 - 13.10.04 - Who wrote The Meaning of Meaning? Was it Lancelot


0122 - 26.12.04 - The composing of fiction according to a formula is

a common, and, apparently, a successful method. Robert McKee teaches
such a method to screenwriters. I say with regret that this technique
does seem to win out against a more spontaneous or idiosyncratic
approach. Often it is successfully practised without conscious
decision. Witness Jane Austen's Emma, which could easily be broken up
into plot points, climaxes, reversals etc. But Jane Austen did not
learn to produce a technically perfect plot by attending creative
writing school.

There are fictive patterns which we prefer to all others. A formulaic

method exploits this.

0268 - 19.08.05 - English prose burst out vigorously in the sixteenth

century, achieved polish by the eighteenth, and perfection at the
hands of some of the writers of the nineteenth. Nothing written since
has been an improvement on that perfection, and nothing ever will be.
Just as the best symphonies of the nineteenth century will never be

0351 - 28.12.05 - Agatha Christie. If one takes a sustained interest

in a writer like Shakespeare or Conrad, or a musician like Dylan or
Handel, nobody bats an eyelid. However, if one takes a sustained
interest in someone of the second, or even the third rank, or, God
forbid, an entertainer, then the reason for this interest may be
contemptuously demanded. And secondly, one is asked why that
particular individual was selected.

I don't think I have to apologise for taking an interest in a writer

of the second, or even the third rank. That is just snobbery. As for
the second question, well there are so many writers of the lower
ranks, and if one is going to take an interest, it is necessary to be
extremely selective. Beyond that, the choice is probably dictated by

At the age when I was ingesting books in vast quantities, I tried one
or two of Christie's crime stories, and turned the thumb decisively

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Raymond Chandler was right to pour scorn on these kinds of plots. And
her writing was so pedestrian. And her characters were such
pasteboard, constructed to fit the structure of the narrative. And
they were middle-class and bourgeois. And she was a woman writer
telling crime stories for old pussies at home with their feet up.

And what do I think now, in 2005? That has become a vast question,
almost impossible to answer.

I have read nearly every one of her published novels and her short
stories. I have read some of the novels she wrote under a pseudonym.
I have read many of the crime stories two, three or even more times.
I have listened to some of them, unabridged, on tape. I have watched
movies made of her stories, sometimes more than once. I have read,
all the way through, I believe, her autobiography.

I have come to many provisional conclusions. It is true that much of

her work is turgid. Sometimes half a book is taken up with Hercule
Poirot visiting one after another of the suspects, asking much the
same sort of questions, in a lifeless, plodding rigmarole. But
sometimes the work sparkles with humour. In this comedy she reminds
me of Jane Austen. Something else they seem to have in common is an
interest in the banal and everyday. In other ways, they live on
separate planets.

Her last novel was published in 1972 and was called The Postern of
Fate. It was morally disgraceful of the publishers to have proceeded
with this work, since it was evidently written by someone suffering
from what, in the case of Sir Walter Scott, was referred to as
"softening of the brain", and may have been Alzheimer's, or some
other organic brain disease. Granted that it should never have been
published, or should have been completely revised by a third party
before publication, it does make fascinating reading, because it has
been produced by a diseased mind, and because other works created
when the mind was uncontaminated, also exist for the purpose of

Two more late turkeys - Passenger to Frankfurt and Elephants do


0446 - 05.09.06 - It is noticeable how often the murderer in one of

Agatha Christie's tales turns out to be an outsider. A servant, a
companion, an illegitimate son, a foreigner etc. It is as if Christie
wanted to protect her fictional families from scandal as much as she
would have wanted to protect her own family, in similar
circumstances. As Lydia Lee says in Part Five, Chapter Three of
Hercule Poirot's Christmas, "To bring that person to justice will
mean bringing shame and disgrace on us all ... "

Adopting this attitude, even unconsciously, held a cost for a writer

like Christie who tried, above all, to create surprise. She was
restricted in her range of suspects by her wish to protect direct
family members.

0447 - 01.10.06 - James Ellroy

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[Extracted and edited from a letter to Anthony Tovar started 24th
September 2006]

BEGIN EXTRACT I think one of the things which attracts me to Ellroy

is that he has an evident psychopathic streak himself. Or perhaps it
is Asperger's Syndrome again. What makes so many crime writers
tedious to me is that their heroes are well-meaning and have so many
of the correct liberal attitudes, mixed in with a leavening of
character defects to pay lip-service to current trends. I finished
the first Harry Bosch novel by Michael Connelly, and he may fall into
that category, although I found his 456 page debut a mostly
enthralling ride.

Jim Thompson is even more extreme than Ellroy. The original version
of The Getaway by Thompson features an appalling ending that the
people who made the Steve McQueen and Ali McGraw movie bilked at.
Same thing happened with the Baldwin remake. Interestingly, Quentin
Tarantino does a homage to Jim Thompson's noirest of noirs and uses
his ending in From Dusk to Dawn the crime/vampire movie. The
surviving killer George Clooney goes off to El Re with proceeds of
his crime spree. Tarantino does not specify what happens to him
there. You have to read Thompson's novel to find out.

Crime fictioneers don't have to be psychopaths to enthral me. And

Ellroy is a moralising, recovering psychopath, so hardly the real
thing, like Thompson.

Elmore Leonard, for example, is a typical big softie. Some of his

man-woman relationships are nauseating. But what makes me keep on
reading is his ear for locality and dialogue. He is only surpassed in
this by George V Higgins, the fellow who wrote books like The Friends
of Eddy Coyle. Novels almost entirely in dialogue.

I think James Ellroy has major flaws. One of them was revealed in a
little documentary about the making of the movie LA Confidential. He
is talking about how the film script had to come up with an alternate
version of his book. But it was his tone as he talked about his book.
He is so "up himself". James Ellroy is a bighead. The hype his works
have received has swayed his judgement. Or perhaps he always was a

And he shouldn't write about serial killers. He keeps on doing it

(Clandestine, The Big Nowhere, LA Confidential, Dick Contino's Blues,
the Lloyd Hopkins stories). And I found out one reason he keeps at it

One of his early books featured a serial killer. I think this was
Clandestine in 1980. Then, in the following year, out came the
ground-breaking Red Dragon by Thomas Harris. Ellroy read that and was
miffed, because it was so much better than his book. Looks to me like
he has been trying to beat the competition ever since.

He is good about people who kill professionally, or for humanly

understandable motives. So one type of serial killer he can deal with
is the hitman. One of the remaining two types he does not deal with
at all is the serial killer who is a psychopath. He concentrates on
the serial killer who is a looney (like the killer in Red Dragon).

Loonies are all different, and each one has his own delusional
system. And, unless it is really well done, unless you can be drawn
into that mad world by a genius, it is a fundamentally boring and

Peregrinations around my Armchair Page 110 of 163

tedious story. Looney kills six. So fucking what.

Ellroy's attempts to involve us in the mental worlds of his murderous

loonies is second-rate. It was second-rate the first time he did it,
and continued to be second-rate when he repeated the attempt, again
and again. And his explanations, rooted in childhood abuse (his
mother made him watch pornography, shock, horror) are horribly naive
and unbelievable. The serial killer is dropped completely from the
movie of LA Confidential and the film is the better for it. Who needs
a face-munching looney, when you have cops like Bud White and Dudley

[1st October 2006.] Just finished reading Crime Wave, the recent
pieces for QC magazine. The fiction in that book features the editor
of Hush-Hush magazine and Dick Contino and these three stories are
over-the-top. Also they made me think a lot about the libel laws in
the United States. The things he makes Frank Sinatra and Rock Hudson
and a stack of other people do must mean you can write anything about
anybody once they are dead. Perhaps it's the same in Britain. So,
there is no protection for friends or relatives? Dick Contino was
still alive when he wrote his earlier piece about him, Dick Contino's
Blues and he went and met him and got permission to fictionalise him.
May have been alive when he wrote the preposterous Dick Contino story
in Crime Wave. But is it that simple? If somebody is dead you can say
they did or said anything? [END OF EXTRACT]

0515 - 22.08.07 - The node that follows, on the writer Colin Wilson,
has been taken from a recent letter to Anthony Tovar.

[Monday 20th August 2007] I don't think it is true that I don't like
Colin Wilson. I haven't thought about him for the longest time, but a
while back I opened a folder on him on my computer and went on the
Internet to garner some web pages. More recently I have decided I
want to re-read some of his colossal output, beginning with The

I believe that his principal idea, which he bangs on about

obsessively, is wrong. He seems to jump from the notion that people
have peak experiences to some theory about "the evolution of human
consciousness". Even when I believed in much more colourful and
spiritual philosophies than the somewhat dour philosophical
materialism to which I have graduated I could not see any logical
steps which allowed him to perform this jump.

In a way he is a sort of political agitator with an idea to sell

which will change the world. And he has always exhibited a Napoleonic
arrogance in the way he set his stall out and talked up his wares.
Interestingly, I see he got involved with a group of anarchists and
ex-Nazis in the 1950s, who chucked him out because of his strange
ideas. It is perhaps as well that he has never been in a position to
wield political power. In fact, he qualifies as one of those
"idealists" with revolutionary ideas who can cause so much human
suffering, that you hate so much.

As an intellectual he has always been an outsider and a redneck.

Judged as a scholar he is contemptible and displays no self-
discipline. He has written far too much about far too many things,
and often, when I am reading him, I find him leaping from one topic
to another one which is barely connected, then onto another. For

Peregrinations around my Armchair Page 111 of 163

someone who claims to have an admiration for science he seems to have
rejected Darwin's theory of evolution (the bedrock of the biological
sciences) or never to have understood it.

And then there is the question of Wilsonian selectivity. One life,

even a long one, is not long enough to read and understand all the
people he has attempted to absorb. I don't believe for a moment that
he has penetrated the thinking of someone like Edmund Husserl, or
even Bertrand Russell. What he seems to have done is found a small,
quotable, sample from the output of these writers and thinkers, and
he uses that over and over.

All that being said, of all the people who have influenced me, he has
to be one of the most important, if not the most important. I believe
that nearly all, not just one, of his principal ideas are wrong
("Everyday consciousness is a liar." No, Colin, it isn't. That's why
it works.) But what keeps one entertained and stimulated along the
way are the sparkles of insight that light up the road of his
volumes. And his congenital optimism, like G K Chesterton's, gives a
bounce and forward momentum to everything he writes.

If your contact with me widened your reading experience, as I believe

you have said, then my contact with Colin Wilson, through his
voluminous output, and also through the limited personal contact I
had with him, widened mine in a similar way and perhaps to a greater
degree. All the writers and thinkers he introduced me to - the list
goes on and on. And, of course, includes John Cowper Powys, who he
acclaimed from the housetops. Nobody, not even Bernard Shaw, ever
qualified as a 100% Wilsonian Optimist when Colin came to make his
judgement, but Cowper Powys came damn close. Perhaps 80% or 90%.

I might have found out about a lot of these people, but I doubt
whether anyone else could have encouraged me to actually read them
the way Wilson did. He writes in an engaging and jargon-free style,
which is part of the upside of not having a university education. And
he has a good set of built-in crap-detectors, and punctures
reputations fearlessly if he senses something bogus. Yes, I really
must dip into some of his stuff again.

When I think back, I read so many of his novels, I read so many of

his philosophical and lit-crit books. I even wrote the first part of
a book about him, although the assessment of his philosophy which was
to follow in Part Two never reached the page. I wrote to him as well
as visiting him, and received back a couple of voluminous missives. I
belonged to the short-lived Colin Wilson Society (with which, I
think, Michael Reid also got involved). He has occupied a large space
in my life.

Talking about his last book, you say, "In the last chapters he talks
of an objective sense of meaning 'out there' and though I can feel
the 'meaning' of experiences like 'Nature buzzes' I would still say
it's a subjective thing. I haven't felt what he and others apparently
have." I think this is the "jump" that I was talking about. And I
believe that what he has experienced is in the same class with what
you have experienced with your 'Nature buzzes'. But you cannot
proceed logically from that sort of experience to an objective
meaning out there.

0743 - 14.10.07 - Just finished my first, and perhaps my only, Clive

Peregrinations around my Armchair Page 112 of 163

Cussler adventure story (co-written with Craig Dirgo). Sacred Stone.
He is one of my neighbour Colin Glasswell's favourite writers.

I found this surprisingly easy to read with real narrative flow.

Basically it is a 525 page chase story, and a very convoluted one.
There were things about it that I found irritating, but they were
slight. Like the frequent padding in which unimportant actions by
individuals are described in detail.

It is a curiously sanitised world, in which nobody swears, nobody has

sex, and in which the violence, when it occurs in all the high-tech
action, is never detailed. Descriptions of all the characters is
minimal, which is a relief after all those adventure stories where
the physique and appearance of the protagonists gets the full

By the end of the book I was losing interest, because it was quite
obvious from what had happened already, that the heroes would almost
painlessly overcome all the obstacles in their path, and escape
easily from whatever jeopardy they were in. And while at one point
there is a token reference to the world of Murphy's Law (page 442) in
which the rest of us, outside the covers of this book, live for the
rest of the time nearly everything goes flawlessly and the technology
works perfectly, and the baddies are outguessed and out-thought and
out-gunned with barely a bead of sweat raised.

World War II (AV)

0004 - 10.09.04 - By the time they got to Normandy the 7th Armoured
Division, the Desert Rats, had turned into wimps. Montgomery would
probably have done better with a force composed entirely of new
divisions. Nobody possesses unlimited courage. A long time in the
field, if the soldier survives, breeds caution and an increased
unwillingness to expose oneself to risk one more time.

0112 - 02.12.04 - US failure in the 1930s to defend their Open Door

to China by issuing demands to the Japanese government backed by a
credible military threat. Alternatively, they could have abandoned
their Open Door policy and backed off from the Japanese. Shit or get
off the pot. In the event, they did neither. Even economically, China
was not worth it, it ironically appears in hindsight.

0215 - 29.06.05 - Chamberlain made the strategic error of issuing the

guarantee to Poland, which allowed Beck to play hard ball with
Hitler, rather than sitting down to iron out their differences with a
territorial compromise. Britain went to war because Hitler proved his
promises could not be trusted. Does that really stand up? Promises,
even by somebody who habitually lies for his country, can be firmed
up if they are based on real national interests.

0216 - 29.06.05 - I am beginning to think Britain should not have

declared war on Germany in September 1939. There was time to fight if
and when the Nazis actually threatened British interests. Also, it is

Peregrinations around my Armchair Page 113 of 163

difficult not to wonder whether we should not have stayed out of the
First World War as well. Of course, if we had done that, there might
never have been a choice to make in 1939.

0403 - 07.07.06 - Why did the allies, France and Britain, not attack
Germany with conviction after declaring war in September 1939?

0438 - 19.08.06 - Just as David Irving, in his long tomes about

Winston, seems to leave no opportunity to denigrate Churchill
unmissed, so Andrew Roberts, in his comparison Hitler and Churchill
comments approvingly on nearly every scurrilous or mistaken course of
action taken by our former Prime Minister. A slander against the King
of Belgium in 1940, which followed him for the rest of his life, is
detailed on pages 156 and 157 as an example of Churchill's
"ruthlessness" - one of his leadership qualities. Roberts says it was
motivated by "absolute political necessity", when it looks more like
political convenience. The same argument could be used to defend the
German violation of Belgian neutrality and with greater
justification. I think one has to accept that Churchill had a dark
side, and this was not his depression. In some ways he was a "nasty
piece of work", and not in any creditable sense.

Both Hitler and Churchill were political leaders who interfered in

military matters, often with detrimental outcomes. Hitler was clearly
the worse offender, but they both possessed this flaw. Roberts notes
approvingly how Churchill interfered less and less as the war
progressed, while Hitler interfered more and more. But this does not
take account of the trajectory of the war. If Churchill's war had
been one of a brilliant series of successes for two years followed by
setback after setback until ultimate defeat, is it likely that he
would have interfered "less and less" as the war progressed?

However, I do not want to imply an equivalence between David Irving

and Andrew Roberts. Irving is an ideologue of debateable sanity and
not a scholar. Roberts may be partisan, but he is a scholar. And the
overall picture of Churchill that emerges from the historical
research is a largely positive one. So Roberts' analysis is broadly
correct and Irving's analysis is broadly incorrect.

0851 - 21.01.08 - Did Winston Churchill deliberately provoke air

raids on British cities in 1940, partly to give himself an excuse for
retaliation, but primarily to make the British public suffer from the
raids so that they would be behind him in his determination to go on
resisting, and never to negotiate a peace? So that they would hate
Hitler and the Nazi Party and Germans in general. "How can we
negotiate with someone who treats us like this?" Did Churchill
deliberately provoke Nazi air raids to get the public on his side?
Did he provoke the slaughter of British civilians to strengthen his
political case for resisting Hitler? What does seem clear is that
Adolf Hitler did need to be provoked, and was reluctant to order the
Luftwaffe to bomb London or other British cities.

0853 - 22.01.08 - If we had made peace with Hitler after the fall of

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France in 1940. One of the great counterfactuals. A negotiated peace
in which Britain kept its Empire and Nazi Germany kept its occupied
territories. How would things have turned out? There would have been
enormous short-term savings in terms of lost lives, maimed people and
destroyed and damaged buildings. But after that?

Would Hitler have attacked Russia? Probably. Would Japan have

attacked the USA and British (and Dutch) possessions in the Far East?
Not so easy to say. Britain would have been able to reinforce
Singapore and other possessions in the Far East much more effectively
than it did under war-time conditions. Would the USA have been more
conciliatory to an expansionist Japan if Hitler had won his European
war. Would they have conducted the oil embargo which pressured Japan
into striking at Pearl Harbor?

Perhaps every nation would have pulled back from war, at least for a
time. No attack on Russia. No Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor or
British (and Dutch) possessions. Germany would have had a task-and-a-
half to consolidate its new European Empire. Could a relative
stability have been achieved?

The Japanese did over-run Dutch colonies, didn't they? And Holland
was occupied by the Nazis by then. So how did that play as far as
relations between Japan and Germany went? Didn't the colonies
"belong" to Germany?

0876 - 04.03.08 - America was not neutral in World War II before

November 7, 1941. America was a non-belligerent ally of Britain in
the conflict, then of Russia and Britain. But Roosevelt did not want
to involve the US in actual fighting. So argued a recent documentary
on Irish TV. That Roosevelt was behind, not in front of, American
public opinion. Indeed, the possibility exists that, if Hitler had
not declared war on the US several days after Pearl Harbour, then
Roosevelt might only have involved his country in a war with Germany.

Middle East (AW)

0408 - 18.07.06 - The current Middle East crisis. The Israeli case
for the return of their two soldiers collapses if some of the
Lebanese prisoners held in Israel are actually themselves hostages -
snatched from Lebanese territory and held without trial. Then Israel
has only the moral right to an exchange.

0416 - 01.08.06 - The current issue of The Spectator, from which I

have downloaded some articles, corroborates my gut-feeling that over
this current fighting between Hezbollah (backed by Syria and Iran)
and Israel, Bush and Blair have been a voice of reason in a cacophony
of jihadist hate-dances and liberal fatheadedness ("immediate
ceasefire, immediate ceasefire"). And when Blair goes America may
stand alone in its willingness to confront the Sunni fanatics and the
Shia fanatics. Or Bush, or his successor, may pull back into
isolation. Then God help us all.

I'm ashamed of the British Press, I am even ashamed of the Irish

Press. And the Irish television coverage makes me puke. Cana, for the

Peregrinations around my Armchair Page 115 of 163

second time, has been the victim of a civilian massacre. But it was
not intentional. Death came for Hezbollah but the rocketeers were
hiding among the civilians. And in all this international outcry
about wicked Israel, for whom, for perhaps the first time, I feel
solidary and supportive, no mention is made of the Hezbollah rockets
raining down on Israel, with the express purpose of killing

[19th Feb 2009. I am ashamed to admit that my attitude to the

Israeli-Palestinian conflict and its offshoots has gone through a one
hundred and eighty degree change since composing the above node.
Israel is fatally hobbled by the fact that its cause is unjust.]

0417 - 02.08.06 - With all his faults. The furtive-faced Blair may
have no idea how to run a country, but in the realm of foreign policy
he has made some tough decisions over the years, and stuck to them.
Perhaps he should never have been Prime Minister. What a Foreign
Secretary he would have made.

And hey, our boyo is at it again, today, or more likely, given the
time difference, yesterday. The World Affairs Council in Los Angeles.
Warning Iran and Syria that they will be confronted unless they start
playing by the same rules as the rest of the world, and stop trying
to de-stabilise neighbouring countries and bankrolling groups like
Hezbollah and Hamas. Have the US and the UK already pencilled in
airstrikes on one or both of those countries?

[12th October 2007. It is a bit rich, Britain (or America) warning

Iran and Syria not to de-stabilise. When one of the objects of the
March 2003 invasion of Iraq was to de-stabilise the entire Middle
East region, leaving room for liberal democracy to squeeze its way

0418 - 03.08.06 - Oh, and watch this space (the present Israel-
Hezbollah conflict) for the typically disgraceful policy moves of
France. A former Great Power, which ought to know better and to
behave with some global responsibility, she seeks her own narrow
national interest, and the geopolitical consequences, as well as the
long-term consequences to France itself, can go hang. Chirac, crook
turned politician or politician turned crook, deserves a Muslim
atrocity of significant proportions on French soil. Watch France let
us all down again. "Immediate ceasefire!"

0437 - 18.08.06 - Oh the rampant hypocrisy of the nations that cried

aloud for a ceasefire in Lebanon and promised to contribute troops to
help preserve that peace! The only practical ceasefire would have
involved the disarming of Hezbollah and the handing over of a
monopoly of violence in Lebanon to the Lebanese government. But the
UN resolution fudges that issue and now the peace-loving nations who
cried so loud are finding reasons why they cannot send any troops -
it will be too dangerous for them!

Hezbollah accepted the ceasefire because it was being destroyed, and

took the opportunity, along with Robert Fisk, to declare victory. Now
it will regroup and attack Israel once again, and Israel will have

Peregrinations around my Armchair Page 116 of 163

the invasion to do all over again. Long live peace! And who lead this
band of hypocrites, far out in front with their posturing. Yes, it is
the French. And they co-authored the damn UN resolution!

0550 - 27.09.07 - I am beginning to see things from Iran's point of

view. Last week the French poodle got up on its hind legs and
snapped, threatening war with Iran over its nuclear ambitions. Oh,
yes, you and whose army? I want to know if the uranium enrichment
actually is a breach of Iran's non-proliferation obligations. I
gather that it is not.

Then there is the larger viewpoint, informed with what Bryan Magee
calls "situational logic". Supposing Iran is lying, which is common
practice for that state, and it has every intention of making a few
nuclear weapons, is this primarily being done, not to become a
regional hegemon, but out of fear of the United States? The logic
being that if you want to avoid invasion and regime change, the smart
thing to do is go nuclear.

And can the behaviour of North Korea also be largely explained as

defensive, once again out of fear of the United States and what it
might do?

The French move last week indicates that there have been diplomatic
moves between the French and American governments and that a decision
has already been taken to employ military force against Iran. The
only question is what form it is likely to take. If the only real
concern is the uranium enrichment, then tactical assaults on its
nuclear industry would be all that is required. But my gut feeling is
that the American administration has decided on regime change in
Iran, which will involve an invasion. And the casus belli will be the
alleged conspiring of the Iranians with their Shia allies in Iraq to
attack the occupation forces of the coalition.

If the US invades Iran in the way I have just described, then the
administration will finally have proved that it has Stupid tattooed
on its forehead. Also that its unilateral search for absolute
security now has an uncontrollable momentum. A kind of madness in
which each major step taken to increase US security will effectively
decrease it and multiply the threats to US welfare. What will they do
for an encore, after Iran? Occupy Pakistan? [16th January 2008. Not
as daft now as it seemed a while ago.]

Limits of Knowledge (AX)

0426 - 05.08.06 - There are those, like Richard Dawkins and myself,
who see no reason to posit the existence of anything supernatural,
from God to angels and fairies, from Karma to Fate, from demons to a
"life force". We have to contend with the rather bleak world that is

There are those who believe fervently in literal interpretations of

their ideology or religion. Theirs is a deluded, but a comprehensible
stance. They live in a world rich in meaning and significance, even
if it is largely created by human fantasy. From Christian
fundamentalists to mad mullahs to political utopists.

Peregrinations around my Armchair Page 117 of 163

And there are those who want their cake and eat it at the same time.
Like the affable TV personality and science populariser Robert
Winston (Judaism), or the biology professor Kenneth Miller (Roman
Catholicism). For them science "will never have all the answers" and
there will always be a place for religion, and for God. They believe
in a much attenuated Judaism, or Christianity or whatever. The
logical point they seem to be missing is that they have not stopped
at the boundary where human knowledge can proceed no further, they
have postulated a beyond, albeit one taken from their culture and
their childhood. But one should not postulate entities for which
there is no evidence simply because cognition has reached a limit.
Rather, be awed by the mystery that there is anything at all. "Let
the mystery be," as Iris Dement sings.

0427 - 07.08.06 - Even if one accepts, for the sake of argument, that
there is an Intelligence which has directed the course of the
Universe since Big Bang, one should not jump from that assumption to
the business of assigning characteristics other than intelligence to
this being. For one thing, all our human qualities are the result of
natural selection over evolutionary periods of time. This postulated
Intelligence is not an evolved being, may not even be a created or a
caused being. It is therefore highly likely that such a being has no
qualities whatever similar to anything human.

It is a common assumption, or logical jump, not surprising in view of

our Christian heritage, to assume that the Intelligence is benign. I
am arguing that all such assignments are invalid, but if one has to
make them, then why benign? Why not the sadistic Intelligence, a
suggestion often made in our cultural past. That would fit the facts
as we know them better than the ascription of "benign". Or why not
the joking Intelligence, who is pissing herself laughing as more
civilians get blown to pieces in the Middle East? No, someone who
wants to create a form of Deism out of the evolutionary story, should
remain satisfied with a description of the purposeful Intelligence
behind it all which is virtually free of content.

And the alternative? To say that we cannot go beyond Big Bang,

because cause and effect as well as time and space were created at
Big Bang. That beyond what we can find out there is a mysterious
unknowable about which nothing can be asserted, and that we shall try
to be happy with, or at least resigned to, that situation.

[Occam's (Ockham's) Razor - the principle that entities are not to be

multiplied beyond necessity.]

0458 - 27.12.06 - To say one is an atheist sounds dogmatic, which is

why I have begun to wonder if I should not define myself as agnostic.
After all, anyone with a scientific outlook (which I certainly
subscribe to) is, in a sense, an agnostic. But I wonder whether it
really is dogmatic to be atheistic.

You see, the ones who have added to the entities in the world are the
Theists. They are the ones who have complicated a mysterious world,
without thereby explaining it in any satisfactory manner, by dragging
in their Creator God. And why have they done this? They have done
this because this twaddle was handed down to them as children and
they believed it then, and persist in believing it now. There are no

Peregrinations around my Armchair Page 118 of 163

good evidential reasons to complicate our view of the world with a
Creator God. By being atheistical one is simply trying to get back to
a view of the world which is less densely populated by phantasms of
the human mind. Perhaps also, from an atheistic standpoint, I can
assert the remote possibility of a Creator God. But I must insist
that, along with a lot of other supernatural nonsense, like Karma and
Salvation History and all the gods of the Hindu pantheon, this remote
possibility should not clutter our view of the world to begin with.

[19th Feb 2009. I am relieved of the scruples I have about calling

myself an atheist by Andre Comte-Sponville's little book The Book of
Atheist Spirituality. He calls his position non-dogmatic atheism. Do
I know God does not exist. No. Do I believe God does not exist. Yes.]

0894 - 29.03.08 - It is impossible that all there is to the world is

restricted to what we can experience through our five senses. What is
only too possible is that all that we can ever discover about the
world is limited to what we can experience through our five senses.

Global Warming (AY)

0008 - 12.09.04 The Big Chill. Just viewed a repeat of a Horizon doom
scenario from 2003 screened on Ireland's RTE Network 2. This scenario
seems more likely than most of its ilk. The Gulf Stream, which keeps
our part of the world unnaturally warm, depends on salinity at the
northern extremity, to force the water of the current to the ocean
floor, where it begins its journey back south. This salinity is being
reduced by an increase of fresh water from (a) Greenland ice-cap,
which is melting, and from (b) increased output from the Siberian
rivers, owing to global warming. Predictions made during the
programme include a 50% chance that the "conveyor belt" of the Gulf
Stream will be turned off in the next 100 years. Britain could
experience winters like the freak winter of 1962-1963, which nobody
who lives through it forgets. I lived through it. I was working in
the City of London, and saving up to hitchhike to Israel. I don't
remember it at all. The MET Office has computer models for loss of
the Gulf Stream in 50 years, and 20 years.

If it happens, I will probably be dead by then - a consolation of

sorts. But two points about the programme. First is the oily, loving
attention of the commentary to the coming horror. The voice purrs
with ill-concealed delight at freezing (literally) our blood. Horizon
is a series that tries to do this too often. The second thing is
that, despite the catastrophic consequences of this climate change to
regions in Northern Europe warmed by the Gulf Stream, the challenge,
if it comes, will be responded to. And that response may well
accelerate the formation of the globally cooperative institutions we

0511 - 13.08.07 - Global warming. July wet and now August too. And
I've never been cold in August. I am tonight at 16 minutes past

Peregrinations around my Armchair Page 119 of 163

0551 - 27.09.07 - Watched most of a Canadian anti-global warming
documentary last night on RTE1. Doomsday Called Off. There wasn't
much stuff about it in Google, except for favourable notices. The
documentary, although not brand new, has only just been uploaded to
the web, so it should generate more interest from now on.

I was very scornful in a letter to Roscoe about The Great Global

Warming Swindle, the opus from Martin Durkin. Roscoe responded by
saying his gut feeling was that it was right. I wouldn't like to have
to depend on that.

But I do feel a little more hesitant about the matter. If it is a

fact that human activity has not resulted in global warming and,
indeed, that global warming itself is not really happening, well,
that is tremendous news. Break out the champagne. But the problem
then becomes how to explain the huge groundswell of scientific
opinion that has built up. This would have to be misjudgement on a
Gargantuan scale. It does not seem likely that such a gross booboo
has been perpetrated, but after last night's documentary I am a
little less sure of the reality of the scenario presented by the
scientific mainstream.

0811 - 03.11.07 - I believe it was the Sophists, in Ancient Greece,

who were the philosophers who specialised in polemic, in making a
case. Unlike fellows like Socrates, they were not interested in the
pursuit of truth, or objectivity. They trained themselves, and they
trained others, in the art of making a case, of convincing an
audience of the correctness of their viewpoint, whether it was true
or not, whether they believed in it or not.

Modern professional sophists include politicians, lawyers and

journalists. So it was remarkably naive of me to imagine that Al Gore
could have written an objective book and produced an objective film
on global warming. Even if he had wanted to his instincts and
training as a politician would have prevented him.

0862 - 03.02.08 - Marlo Lewis, jr. has written a repudiation of Al

Gore's An Inconvenient Truth, both in its film and book formats. It's
called Al Gore's Science Fiction and is described as a congressional
working paper.

On pages 68 and 69 of the PDF download he talks about Al Gore's

misunderstanding of the Gulf Stream. If he is right then that
documentary that I saw some time ago that scared me so much (see
relevant node) was way off-beam. Which is a weight off. [Later: Oops!
The conveyor belt thesis that was developed in that documentary is
not so much refuted by what Lewis adds but disputed. The conveyor
belt may not be responsible for the relative warmth of Europe. It may
be the prevailing winds.]

I'm trying to get a hold of what Lewis actually believes about global
warming. He agrees that the earth has got warmer. Specifically, in
the last three decades, 0.17 degrees Celcius per decade. My initial
impression was that he did not think the warming was anthropogenic.
Now I have read a bit more of his voluminous text, I think that was
wrong. I think he does attribute at least some of the global warming
to increased CO2 emissions caused by industrialisation.

Peregrinations around my Armchair Page 120 of 163

Where he differs from the doomsters is that (a) he sees the benefits
from global warming; and (b) he does not see it getting out of hand
over the next century. From this perspective money doled out to
combat global warming is probably money illspent.

Purpose of Life (AZ)

0296 - 07.09.05 - Most people do not have a purpose in life. They

have a garden.

0826 - 12.12.07 - Perhaps we do not want more truth, but we already

have more truth than we know what to do with. It really does look as
if our outlook is, broadly speaking, bleak. The mysterious causes or
reasons of the Universe will forever be incomprehensible to us, and
whatever moves it all will have no concern for us anyway. We truly
are alone, like every other species on the planet.

What can we do, of a positive nature? Well, we can explore and enjoy
the social dimension of our existence even more than we do. And we
can take advantage of those gifts which Natural Selection has
bestowed upon us, which allow us to engage in pastimes which have
absolutely nothing to do with our physical survival or rate of
procreation. Because behaviour which, in the past, gave us a better
chance in the lottery of reproduction, may also have other
applications having no relevance to survival. The entire field of
music, for example.

War (BA)

0156 - 03.02.05 - When enumerating weapons of mass destruction, we

should exempt chemical weapons. Let them be included freely in the
arsenals of the world. Nerve gas and high explosive belong together.
We can call nuclear weapons weapons of mass destructive because of
their unparalleled killing power. And we can include biological
weapons, because they can copy themselves, and their outreach is
potentially enormous. Chemical weapons do not belong in this company.

0247 - 06.08.05 - Those four bombers on 21st July, I suppose it is

possible that they deliberately set bombs which would not explode. As
if to say, "We have the capacity. Think what we could do if you
really piss us off."

0248 - 06.08.05 - Whether war should have been declared on Al-Qaeda,

or whether the affair should have been kept at the criminal level, is
one debate. The exact definition of the "war" is another.
Indefiniteness is part of the problem. You can't get much vaguer or
more inclusive than "the war on terror". A better definition might
be, "war on Islamic fundamentalists who want to replace Western
governments with Sharia states". And the particular techniques used,
horrific as they may be, are a side-issue. Al-Qaeda and its numerous

Peregrinations around my Armchair Page 121 of 163

affiliates would need to be attacked even if they behaved in the most
gentlemanly military way. The objective is what is important - the
objective of a resurgent form of traditional Islam, which wishes to
re-expand after the setbacks of recent centuries.

In a curious parallel to the Cold War, when liberals like Kennedy

defined any revolutionary activity to topple a government in the non-
communist world as "communist-inspired", thereby committing
themselves to keeping in power the nastiest regimes imaginable, the
logic of the inclusive "war on terror" means that any insurrection
anywhere can be put down to these same "terrorists", and the
sympathies and cooperation of Western governments applied for.
Colombia today is playing that same violin string over its dispute
with FARC.

0308 - 15.09.05 - What does it mean, technically, to be neutral? Can

a neutral country sell munitions to belligerents? If it can, is it
not allowed to restrict the sale of munitions to one side only? Must
it offer to sell to both sides, as evidence of its neutrality?

0413 - 23.07.06 - On Page 57 of Steven Pinker's The Blank Slate there

is a chart comparing the percentages of males who died from warfare
out of various peoples from South America and New Guinea, compared
with America and Europe in the whole of the twentieth century. Our
death rates are minuscule compared to theirs. One people, the Jivaro,
had nearly 60% of its males killed in war. Talk about the violence in
the rich world over the last century. Piffle!

0481 - 22.03.07 - When the bodies of marines were shown to the

American public as part of a war newsreel during the Pacific War,
enthusiasm for the war diminished, as did recruitment. And yet, the
media should, like Al-Jazeera, display the cost of war. They should
show us the carnage, instead of the sanitised war reports we actually
receive. Soldiers blown to bits, women and children torn apart by
shrapnel. We should almost be able to smell the stench of bodies
swollen with gas.

I am toying with the doctrine of non-violence and have downloaded a

tract on the subject published during WWII. I suspect I will find the
arguments for non-violence not to be convincing, but I am giving it a

However, if we must fight, then we should not disguise from ourselves

or from others, the cost of warfare.

Of course there are issues of taste and the question of what children
should be allowed to see. Do we want a five-year old to be greeted
with a close-up of a baby missing its head on the 6 o'clock news? I
don't know the answer to that. I only know that the universal
censorship of death, dying and physical mutilation is wrong. We need
our noses rubbed it in, to dispel the notion that war is easy and
cheap and painless. Then, from the standpoint that war is probably
the most costly activity we can engage in, we can decide when, and
if, we have to fight. And I am sure that there will be times when we
most definitely should.

Peregrinations around my Armchair Page 122 of 163

0504 - 31.07.07 - Around about the 23rd of this month I seem to have
become anti-war - after a lifetime of approving of it with
bloodthirsty relish.

0522 - 08.09.07 - This node contains a quotation from a letter to

Anthony Tovar started on 19th July 2007:-

[Monday 30th July 2007] When a war begins, the law falls silent. I
believe that is a reasonable paraphrase of the Latin tag you quoted
at me a letter or two back. I have reflected on it since.

It certainly qualifies as a prescription of how things should be, as

advocated by the "war is hell" realists like General Sherman. It is
one of the prescriptive positions taken up around the debate about
the laws of war.

It also qualifies as a description of the way some armies, some

generals, some officers, some soldiers, behave.

But as a description of what actually happens in modern wars of all

kinds, it is plain wrong. The laws of war do not fall silent when war
breaks out.

A body of international law has grown up since the Middle Ages,

developed from Just War theory. Progress was rapid from the middle of
the nineteenth century onward. The laws of war were in place and were
far from silent in 1914 and in 1939 and ever since.

Have the laws been breached during the conduct of wars? Yes,
frequently. Have perpetrators of these breaches gone unpunished? Yes,
frequently. But has a structure of legal restraint existed and has it
influenced the conduct of all these wars? Yes.

You might wish that it were otherwise and that commanders in the
field and their political masters had unleashed all manner of illegal
horrors. You might wish that every front was like the Eastern Front
in World War II. But the reality wasn't so. Moderation in warfare has
been the rule, not the exception.

I have just finished reading an excellent book about Omaha Beach by

Joseph Balkoski. That was a day in which the stakes were as high as
they ever get, and yet the Germans and the Americans fought to a set
of agreed rules.

Yes, some Americans shot their German prisoners. But not many. And
the Germans seemed to have made a conscious decision, for tactical
reasons, to direct fire at medics wearing the Geneva brassard. This
was a clear breach of the laws of war. But, apart from these
exceptions, the conflict on 6th June, on which so much depended, was
fought by the rules. [5th April 2008. I have to admit to a nagging
question every time I read this paragraph. What would not fighting by
the rules have involved in the context of the attack on Omaha Beach?
What sort of actions would the Germans, for example, have had to
perform, which they did not actually perform on the day? Hmm.]

I have been thinking about the reasons why a body of international

Peregrinations around my Armchair Page 123 of 163

law dealing with military conflict should have developed, putting
aside all the humanitarian, or religious, or ethical motivation.
Where is the self-interest in all this?

I think it comes down to the fact that wars start and finish, but
nations endure. And so, unless one party to a conflict is prepared to
exterminate every man, woman and child in the country with which it
is at war, then it needs a policy for the post-war situation. The two
nations at war need to be able to maintain reasonably good relations
with each other after the conflict. Otherwise the victor is faced
with the expense of a lengthy occupation. And you do not make it
possible to have good relations with the defeated state if you commit
the kind of acts, like the murder of non-combatants, that the laws of
war forbid.

Of course, the "war is hell" realist can retort that atrocity is a

very good way to prepare a nation for the post-war situation. You
demonstrate by your brutishness just how hard you can be, and terrify
the defeated nation out of any notion of maintaining the conflict at
that time, or re-starting it anytime in the future. This may be true,
but I think it is a position that is ethically so indefensible that
it only has to be uttered to refute itself.

[Next day. Even at the launching of Operation Barbarossa, in the

notorious Fuhrer Order which permitted, nay, commanded, the
atrocities that followed, Hitler acknowledged the force of
International Law by observing that the Soviet Union was not a
signatory to the Hague Convention, and so was not protected by it.]

[8th September 2007. I now wonder whether the way I couched my

argument in this letter was not a little offensive. I should be able
to tell from what, if any reaction, I receive from Mr Tovar. 15th
October 2007. Yes, he was pretty pissed off.]

0568 - 28.09.07 - In Bryan Magee's book,Confessions of a Philosopher

he mentions an interview Bertrand Russell had with Lenin. Apparently
the Soviet leader boasted about all the death and suffering he was
responsible for, indicating a moral lacuna in his personality. (see
page 219)

It is difficult for me to believe that types like Lenin actually

exist, but they obviously do. My imagination has been broadened to
include extremely violent types like this by the novels of Martina
Cole which I have read recently. I have become more used to the
concept of the violent man, the man who likes violence. Some men like
fighting, no, they love fighting. They love maiming and killing other
human beings in war with small arms and artillery and bombs. And some
of them love even more close contact with blunt and edged weapons. I
read today about a young man in Ireland beaten to death with iron
bars. That must have been done by men who relished the experience -
the thuds, the sound of bone breaking, the spurts of blood and
brains. Most men could kill at a distance, I imagine, but very few
could have set about that young man in the way described.

And Alexander the Great loved hacking into people. I imagine him
coming up against a mercenary during one of his battles, a mercenary
who really is only into soldiering for the money, and who sees the
bloodthirsty psycho glare on Alexander's face as he approaches and
thinks, "I really am in deep shit now. This bloke really means it. I

Peregrinations around my Armchair Page 124 of 163

am done for." And he would be. Like John Wayne's shootist, Alexander
was awfully "willing" to kill.

"I have an idea Sir Henry Curtis actually likes fighting." (Chapter
XII of King Solomon's Mines) I'm sure he did. Until recently, I
thought the sheer mess, even as a victor, of attacking someone close
up and turning them into a helpless pile of mangled flesh on the
ground, would be off-putting. But apparently not for all of us. For
some of us that prospect is a turn-on.

0744 - 15.10.07 - Non-violence is not a rational response to

conflict. Perhaps it is a way of breaking the logical circle of

0761 - 22.10.07 - Now some quotes from The Moral Equivalent of War,
an essay by William James, including in a collection called Memories
and Studies, a Project Gutenberg download. This is essay number

BEGIN QUOTE Modern war is so expensive that we feel trade to be a

better avenue to plunder; but modern man inherits all the innate
pugnacity and all the love of glory of his ancestors. Showing war's
irrationality and horror is of no effect upon him. The horrors make
the fascination. War is the strong life; it is life in extremis;
war-taxes are the only ones men never hesitate to pay, as the budgets
of all nations show us.

History is a bath of blood. The Iliad is one long recital of how

Diomedes and Ajax, Sarpedon and Hector killed. No detail of the
wounds they made is spared us, and the Greek mind fed upon the story.
Greek history is a panorama of jingoism and imperialism--war for
war's sake, all the citizens being warriors. It is horrible reading,
because of the irrationality of it all--save for the purpose of
making "history"--and the history is that of the utter ruin of a
civilization in intellectual respects perhaps the highest the earth
has ever seen.


Our ancestors have bred pugnacity into our bone and marrow, and
thousands of years of peace won't breed it out of us. [Austin's note:
The heresy of Lamarckianism rears its head here.] The popular
imagination fairly fattens on the thought of wars. Let public
opinion once reach a certain fighting pitch, and no ruler can
withstand it. In the Boer war both governments began with bluff but
could n't stay there, the military tension was too much for them. In
1898 our people had read the word "war" in letters three inches high
for three months in every newspaper. The pliant politician McKinley
was swept away by their eagerness, and our squalid war with Spain
became a necessity.


This natural sort of feeling forms, I think, the innermost soul of

army-writings. Without any exception known to me, militarist authors
take a highly mystical view of their subject, and regard war as a
biological or sociological necessity, uncontrolled by ordinary

Peregrinations around my Armchair Page 125 of 163

psychological checks and motives. When the time of development is
ripe the war must come, reason or no reason, for the justifications
pleaded are invariably fictitious. War is, in short, a permanent
human obligation. General Homer Lea, in his recent book "The Valor
of Ignorance," plants himself squarely on this ground. Readiness for
war is for him the essence of nationality, and ability in it the
supreme measure of the health of nations.

Nations, General Lea says, are never stationary--they must

necessarily expand or shrink, according to their vitality or


The military party denies neither the bestiality nor the horror, nor
the expense; it only says that these things tell but half the story.
It only says that war is worth them; that, taking human nature as a
whole, its wars are its best protection against its weaker and more
cowardly self, and that mankind cannot afford to adopt a peace-


... it has to be confessed that the only sentiment which the image of
pacific cosmopolitan industrialism is capable of arousing in
countless worthy breasts is shame at the idea of belonging to such a
collectivity. It is obvious that the United States of America as
they exist to-day impress a mind like General Lea's as so much human
blubber. Where is the sharpness and precipitousness, the contempt
for life, whether one's own, or another's? Where is the savage "yes"
and "no," the unconditional duty? Where is the conscription? Where
is the blood-tax? Where is anything that one feels honored by
belonging to?


And when whole nations are the armies, and the science of destruction
vies in intellectual refinement with the sciences of production, I
see that war becomes absurd and impossible from its own monstrosity.
Extravagant ambitions will have to be replaced by reasonable claims,
and nations must make common cause against them. I see no reason why
all this should not apply to yellow as well as to white countries,
and I look forward to a future when acts of war shall be formally
outlawed as between civilized peoples.


The war-party is assuredly right in affirming and reaffirming that

the martial virtues, although originally gained by the race through
war, are absolute and permanent human goods. Patriotic pride and
ambition in their military form are, after all, only specifications
of a more general competitive passion. They are its first form, but
that is no reason for supposing them to be its last form. Men now
are proud of belonging to a conquering nation, and without a murmur
they lay down their persons and their wealth, if by so doing they may
fend off subjection. But who can be sure that other aspects of one's
country may not, with time and education and suggestion enough, come
to be regarded with similarly effective feelings of pride and shame?
Why should men not some day feel that it is worth a blood-tax to
belong to a collectivity superior in any ideal respect? Why should
they not blush with indignant shame if the community that owns them

Peregrinations around my Armchair Page 126 of 163

is vile in any way whatsoever?


I spoke of the "moral equivalent" of war. So far, war has been the
only force that can discipline a whole community, and until an
equivalent discipline is organized, I believe that war must have its
way. But I have no serious doubt that the ordinary prides and shames
of social man, once developed to a certain intensity, are capable of
organizing such a moral equivalent as I have sketched, or some other
just as effective for preserving manliness of type. It is but a
question of time, of skilful propagandism, and of opinion-making men
seizing historic opportunities.

The martial type of character can be bred without war. Strenuous

honor and disinterestedness abound elsewhere. Priests and medical
men are in a fashion educated to it and we should all feel some
degree of it imperative if we were conscious of our work as an
obligatory service to the state. We should be owned, as soldiers are
by the army, and our pride would rise accordingly. We could be poor,
then, without humiliation, as army officers now are. The only thing
needed henceforward is to inflame the civic temper as past history
has inflamed the military temper. H. G. Wells, as usual, sees the
centre of the situation. END QUOTE phew!

Science (BB)

0012 - 12.09.04 - Multiverse. Some cosmologists tell us that quantum

theory implies that there is, not one, but an infinite number of
universes, which are non-connecting. Cosmology is one of the many
things I am naff at, but this theory of an infinite number of
universes is one at which I hold my horses. I say, "Phooey!" If
quantum theory genuinely implies this, then there is something wrong
with quantum theory. There are not infinite, non-connected universes.
Take my word for it.

0129 - 11.01.05 - Chaos theory is pretty incomprehensible to me. But

what is important about it seems to be that it shows that some
features of the world are ... not what we would expect. Clusters,
even cancer clusters, are normal. Hmmm.

0463 - 08.02.07 - I am inclined to believe that the paranoia about

genetically modified crops may be grossly misplaced, and that it can
be put down to the scientific ignorance of the public, and the
greens. And yet, is it true that invading cell walls with viruses is
just the same as traditional crossbreeding? And since the replacement
of one gene by another will not have a single effect on the organism,
but will have multiple effects, most of which are unknown, is it
possible, or even probable, that the new strains being produced may
begin to display virulent, as well as benevolent, traits? Could we
actually poison ourselves with one of our genetically modified

I simply don't know how to begin to estimate the risk. [15th October
2007. For a bit of enlightenment, see the quote from Richard Dawkins

Peregrinations around my Armchair Page 127 of 163

at Node number 0655.] As I say, I am relatively reassured by the
placating noises coming from producers and many scientists. And then,
the other day, one word gave me pause, and the word was "Monsanto".

It was a TV piece about farmers in the US who were being sued by

Monsanto for growing genetically modified crops on their soil without
paying for a license - Monsanto had the patent. And why did these
farmers have GM crops on their land? Because they were near a GM
planting and their own crops were contaminated. [29th March 2007. If
the case in the TV programme was the case of the Canadian farmer
Percy Schmeiser in 2000, he was found to be growing 95-98% GM canola
- hardly a wind pollination effect.]

Monsanto's behaviour in pursuing these farmers through the courts

reminds me of other very large businesses, like the tobacco
companies. They are huge companies, they do not make billions
overnight, but they make vast sums over the years and over the
decades. They can afford a legal fund with which they can beggar
anyone who opposes them in the courts. And they let nothing stand in
the way of their manufacturing and then selling whatever it is they
manufacture and sell. Their methods include systematic lying of which
the defunct Soviet Union might well have been proud.

It does not matter to them what they make and sell. If it has no
noxious effects, that is all to the good, but it does not matter if
it does have noxious effects. They will deny it until their faces
turn blue. Nothing is allowed to stand in the way of their divine
right to sell and sell and make their 10% return on capital, year in,
year out.

I am in favour of the free market, even in favour of very big

companies, while realising they pose distinctive problems for a
capitalist system. But I recognise that very big companies
historically have, and currently still often do, act like monarchs
and barons. Some, like Shell and BP, try to introduce a company
culture which pays more than lip-service to public welfare. Monsanto
is one of those behemoths that does not. And if Monsanto is voluble
in supporting GM crops, then that support can make even someone like
myself hesitate.

Big tobacco gave us hundreds of thousands of cancer victims. What has

Monsanto got in store for the human race, apart from vicious
persecution of small farmers? [But see 29th March 2007 comment

0664 - 07.10.07 - A quotation from my William James download of The

Varieties of Religious Experience. From the first lecture.

BEGIN QUOTE There are moments of sentimental and mystical

experience--we shall hereafter hear much of them--that carry an
enormous sense of inner authority and illumination with them when
they come. But they come seldom, and they do not come to everyone;
and the rest of life makes either no connection with them, or tends
to contradict them more than it confirms them. Some persons follow
more the voice of the moment in these cases, some prefer to be guided
by the average results. Hence the sad discordancy of so many of the
spiritual judgments of human beings; a discordancy which will be
brought home to us acutely enough before these lectures end. (my
underlining) END QUOTE

Peregrinations around my Armchair Page 128 of 163

[5th April 2009. Perhaps this is in the wrong section. Move it to

0676 - 08.10.07 - One of the beneficial spin-offs from Horgan's views

about the end of science is that I won't have to take seriously any
more many of the fantastic and fantastically difficult to understand
speculations of cosmologists and physicists. They are welcome to
their fantasies. Ironic science, as Horgan calls it.

0912 - 04.26.08 - Are time and space infinitely divisible? David Hume
in A Treatise of Human Nature goes to considerable lengths to argue
that they are not. That there are points of time and space which
cannot be further subdivided.

This conundrum leads to paradoxes and antinomies, as we know.

Specifically the paradoxes of Zeno: Achilles and the tortoise and the
other parables.

Try this. Space and time are not infinitely divisible because they
are not divisible at all. We can chop time and space up into discrete
parts by convention but the stuff itself is indivisible.

0926 - 04.08.08 - In his biography of Hume, English Men of Letters:

Hume, Thomas Henry Huxley asserts that it is necessary for anyone who
wishes to do philosophy to be "science literate", as we might now
say, deriving a term from "computer literate". One ought to be an
educated layman in contemporary science, particularly, according to
Huxley, in psychology and physiology.

I feel my lack in both those disciplines. Also I fear my grasp of

modern physics is lamentable. In some ways I am still back in the
middle of the nineteenth century, with Rutherford's planetary view of
atomic structure. The Higgs Boson could be the Higgs Bison for all I
can tell. My grasp of cosmology also is weak. I had understood until
recently that it was generally agreed that there was a Big Bang with
no time or space before that, we were living in an expanding
universe, and it would go on expanding. Now I gather from the comic
book about Stephen Hawking that he has been touting since the 1980s a
view of the universe which has the expansion coming to an end,
followed by a contraction ending in a Big Crunch. And the universe
does not cease to exist when the Big Crunch arrives - it just moves
from Real Time to Imaginary Time. Same with Big Bang - the Universe
existed before BB but in Imaginary Time.

It seems to me that if we go along with Hawking then the possibility

opens (or re-opens) of a periodic repetition of expansion and
contraction, even an approximation to one of the maddest ideas of
Friedrich Nietzche - Eternal Recurrence.

Anyway, here is the quote from Huxley.

BEGIN QUOTE But there is more than a parallel, there is a close and
intimate connexion between psychology and physiology. No one doubts
that, at any rate, some mental states are dependent for their

Peregrinations around my Armchair Page 129 of 163

existence on the performance of the functions of particular bodily
organs. There is no seeing without eyes, and no hearing without ears.
If the origin of the contents of the mind is truly a philosophical[Pg
51] problem, then the philosopher who attempts to deal with that
problem, without acquainting himself with the physiology of
sensation, has no more intelligent conception of his business than
the physiologist, who thinks he can discuss locomotion, without an
acquaintance with the principles of mechanics; or respiration,
without some tincture of chemistry.

On whatever ground we term physiology, science, psychology is

entitled to the same appellation; and the method of investigation
which elucidates the true relations of the one set of phenomena will
discover those of the other. Hence, as philosophy is, in great
measure, the exponent of the logical consequences of certain data
established by psychology; and as psychology itself differs from
physical science only in the nature of its subject-matter, and not in
its method of investigation, it would seem to be an obvious
conclusion, that philosophers are likely to be successful in their
inquiries, in proportion as they are familiar with the application of
scientific method to less abstruse subjects; just as it seems to
require no elaborate demonstration, that an astronomer, who wishes to
comprehend the solar system, would do well to acquire a preliminary
acquaintance with the elements of physics. And it is accordant with
this presumption, that the men who have made the most important
positive additions to philosophy, such as Descartes, Spinoza, and
Kant, not to mention more recent examples, have been deeply imbued
with the spirit of physical science; and, in some cases, such as
those of Descartes and Kant, have been largely acquainted with its
details. On the other hand, the founder of Positivism no less
admirably illustrates the connexion of scientific incapacity with
philosophical incompetence. In truth,[Pg 52] the laboratory is the
fore-court of the temple of philosophy; and whoso has not offered
sacrifices and undergone purification there, has little chance of
admission into the sanctuary.
Obvious as these considerations may appear to be, it would be wrong
to ignore the fact that their force is by no means universally
admitted. On the contrary, the necessity for a proper psychological
and physiological training to the student of philosophy is denied, on
the one hand, by the "pure metaphysicians," who attempt to base the
theory of knowing upon supposed necessary and universal truths, and
assert that scientific observation is impossible unless such truths
are already known or implied: which, to those who are not "pure
metaphysicians," seems very much as if one should say that the fall
of a stone cannot be observed, unless the law of gravitation is
already in the mind of the observer.
On the other hand, the Positivists, so far as they accept the
teachings of their master, roundly assert, at any rate in words, that
observation of the mind is a thing inherently impossible in itself,
and that psychology is a chimera—a phantasm generated by the
fermentation of the dregs of theology. Nevertheless, if M. Comte had
been asked what he meant by "physiologic cérebrale," except that
which other people call "psychology;" and how he knew anything about
the functions of the brain, except by that very "observation
intérieure," which he declares to be an absurdity—it seems probable
that he would have found it hard to escape the admission, that, in
vilipending psychology, he had been propounding solemn nonsense. (my
underlining - Project Gutenberg download 18819-h) END QUOTE

Peregrinations around my Armchair Page 130 of 163

0953 - 04.03.09 - What does it mean to say that space is curved? Or
should that be space-time which is curved? Space is a void. It cannot
be straight, or curved or triangular or square. I am never going to
understand this.

Computers (BC)

0165 - 18.02.05 - IT systems cope with 99% of straightforward cases

and make a complete ballsup of the remaining 1%. An automated service
is a worse service because all the anomalies which used to be caught
by humans and dealt with sensibly cause mayhem inside the IT system,

0336 - 11.12.05 - Get a bit of new software and you can learn new
creative skills - or can you? Buy editing software and you can edit
your own films made with a digital video camera. Well, sort of. What
you end up doing, is not learning how to edit a film, but getting an
idea of some of the basic skills of someone who actually does this -
an insight into how they do their job. Is it really worth the effort,
if that is all you are going to achieve?

0454 - 28.10.06 - A few hours ago I was sweating at the thought that
the computer/digital revolution might never have happened. Imagine if
we were stuck with only analogue methods of reproduction. We would
gradually have lost our film heritage and probably our music heritage
as well. If you wanted a copy of a film you would have to get hold of
exactly that - a copy. 16mm at best. Or a video. And they would
deteriorate with use. And each copy of a copy would be worst than the
previous one.

Working (BD)

0956 - 15.03.09 - This node comes from an email I sent to my

daughter, Alice Johnson, on 6th August 2005.

How does one get through a working week without crawling up the wall?
Well, some jobs are so pressurised that one is coursing on adrenaline
from Monday to Friday and collapses in a limp heap on a Saturday. But
that is abnormal, and not to be recommended. Most jobs have their
slack and their pressurised periods, and what they mostly have in
common is that the work just stretches on into the indefinite future.
A bit like a treadmill. People adapt to the working week in different
ways. Some compensate for the hardship involved in working by
developing a social network in the workplace. They are the first to
organise somebody's going away party. Some work out better ways to
perform a mundane task, and then put their new procedures into
practice. Some try to solve problems which, strictly speaking, are
not required to be solved by the parameters of the job description,
but solving them keeps the mind alert, so everybody benefits in the

Peregrinations around my Armchair Page 131 of 163

There was one time, I was working in a job I was half-happy in and
half-good at, and the thought occurred to me that what was necessary
to keep me working in the long term, was that "I had to keep myself
amused". That meant there had to be enough going on in the working
day to get me through it fairly painlessly. Even if that meant doing
some things which were less than efficient, work wise. So a member of
staff would need a new computer. Rather than simply getting
permission to order one, I would get permission to order the
components and then build it myself. What the staff member ended up
with was probably not as good as what Dell would have supplied, it
took him longer to get it, and it cost the department more. But, boy,
it did keep me amused.

Drugs (BE)

0033 - 25.09.04 - The Drug Problem. Interesting how the number of

victimless crimes on the books has dropped, compared with, say 1930.
Amazing to think people could be arrested in the US for betting on
the numbers. Now we have a national lottery in the United Kingdom and
gambling is respectable. Same in Ireland.

And just think. If you can find a sixteen-year-old youth willing to

cooperate in the United Kingdom, you can insert your penis into his
anus, with all the health problems involved, secure in the knowledge
that what you are performing is a perfectly lawful act.

Now for the next step. Legalise all drugs and concentrate on
education and the public health debate. The debate about the
consequences of choosing either to indulge or to abstain. Tobacco has
got to be treated as just another drug. No need to get censorious
because Ken Clarke is vice-chairman of BAT. But will people be able
to control drug use, if they cannot even stop themselves from
becoming obese? Public education about the dangers of drug use will
have to be supplemented with state or private intervention, or a
mixture of both.

0472 - 07.03.07 - I sit here in retirement in Ireland and one of my

pass-times is to work out solutions to the major problems of the
world. That's all.

Like the problem of recreational drugs. Governments should not be

talking about whether to legalise drugs, but how to set about it.
Drugs should be legalised and regulated and sold through licensed
outlets. Or perhaps the manufacture and distribution of recreational
drugs should be left to the free market. Discuss.

With a view to decreasing the number of people who act criminally,

nobody should be prosecuted for using a recreational drug, even if
the drug was obtained from a non-regulated, criminal source.

[13th March 2007. This last point is crucial, it is where a rational

policy on drug use must start. It should not be a criminal offence to
consume any drug, obtained in any manner. Possession for use has to
be de-criminalised, as a first step.]

Peregrinations around my Armchair Page 132 of 163

0508 - 09.08.07 - "Availability is the prime cause of addiction." I
heard this statement in the 1960s and it was attributed to William
Seward Burroughs. If true, it supplies one, but not the only,
argument in the armoury of the drug-banners. It does seem true that
when something is impossible, or difficult, to get hold of then the
number of addicts is small. As the window of availability opens the
number of addicts rises.

0940 - 12.12.08 - This is from an unsolicited email I sent to my

cousin Jim Beck in Australia earlier today.

BEGIN QUOTE I have always thought that the criminalisation of

recreational drugs like hashish and cocaine was absurd. These
substances should be left to the free market, perhaps with a degree
of state regulation. But so ingrained is the international consensus
that a war should be waged on drugs, that no plucky little nation can
afford to go it alone and decriminalise both the consumption and the
sale of recreational drugs. It would be in breach of international
agreements and would also be a target for drug tourists. So the
absurd prohibition policy continues indefinitely.

However, I was lying in bed thinking, when it occurred to me that we

might have here an example of the sociology of unintended
consequences. In one respect the criminalisation of the drugs trade
might be a very good thing. Because it keeps the criminals occupied.

One of the arguments for legalisation has always been that it would
take the criminals out of the drug business. And indeed this is true.
But do we actually want that?

Criminals no longer able to make vast profits selling drugs would

still be criminals. They would turn to other criminal activities,
less profitable, but needs must when the devil drives. In particular
they would probably increase the number of cash sources (like shops,
post offices, supermarkets, garages etc) that they attacked and
robbed. Anywhere where cash is held in a substantial amount, before
it is taken down to the bank and deposited, would become a juicy
target for a drug baron's soldier, out of a job.

There are thousands upon thousands of these targets. And the

confrontation between criminal and shop-owner or employee can get
very ugly indeed. Criminals would start casing joints again. They
would find out when the clerk goes to the bank with the day's takings
and apply a cosh to the back of the head before stealing the dosh.
Most of our money deals nowadays may be electronic, but there are
still thousands and thousands of these cash opportunities for
crminals. Which they largely ignore because they can make so much
more money so much more easily selling dope.

Perhaps we should be grateful that stupid politicians continue to

prohibit drugs. Yes, the price to the consumer is higher than it
would be in a free market. Yes, the consumer stands a minimal risk of
acquiring a criminal record, or even serving time. Yes, the drug
quality is often variable and sometimes poor. But a lot of very bad
and potentially very violent men are kept occupied running the drug
business. And the irony is that they are actually working for a
living, like any other working stiff. They are providing a service
for which there is plenty of effective demand. Perhaps a higher price
for that lump of hash is little to pay, for keeping a lot of naughty

Peregrinations around my Armchair Page 133 of 163

men out of trouble. Relatively speaking. They still kill and maim
one another, of course, but who cares? END QUOTE

0955 - 12.03.09 - An effective policy for dealing with recreational

drugs is to legalise them - all of them. The inability to see the
force of this argument, on the part of governments and many of their
citizens, is an indication of a peculiar blindness when it comes to
this subject.

That said, there are risks and problems with recreational drugs, and
these need to be well-documented and well-understood if drug use is
to increase and become decriminalised.

We have no natural defences against recreational drugs. They were not

available on the African savannah when we were hunter-gatherers, and
so we did not adapt to them. Like ice-cream, they are "too nice".
They supply good feelings which have not been earned by previous
effort. They are the next thing to direct stimulation of the pleasure
centres in the brain.

In most cases we are not talking about addiction. But we are talking
about a degree of dependency, of habituation, of taking them for
granted. Just as nowadays it is customary for people to treat
themselves to wine during a dinner party and end up every Saturday
night with mild cases of alcohol poisoning, when the alternative of
normal consciousness was always there for the taking.

Language (BF)

0261 - 11.08.05 - The worst of the current weasel words are “issues”,
as in “alcohol issues” meaning “being a drunk”, and “inappropriate”,
as in “inappropriate behaviour” to describe the gangbanging of a
thirteen-year-old virgin.

0374 - 03.14.06 - If you think about it, the British swearer uses the
noun "cunt", where his American counterpart uses "motherfucker".
Stupid cunt = stupid motherfucker. The British curser would seem to
have the advantage - not having to get his tongue round a four-
syllabled word during a moment of agitation. American reluctance to
use "cunt" may have something to do with vestiges of shame about
referring to a woman's "front bottom".

0444 - 02.09.06 - Babies apparently, when learning to talk, try out

various language templates and throw out those that are not rewarded.
End up speaking English etc. This may explain a feature of adult
learning of foreign languages that I find particularly discouraging.
This is that certain basic structures in the language being learned
never become automatised, because they are alien to the mother
tongue. We always have to think before we use them. One example is
gender in French. The idea that nouns are gendered never comes
naturally to an English speaker. Is it "le" table or "la" table? The
only way to speak French correctly is by remembering rules. All nouns
ending in "eau" are masculine. This means that we will never learn

Peregrinations around my Armchair Page 134 of 163

the language as a baby learns it, and many of our mistakes will be
basic ones, like "la bateau".

Correspondingly, my ex-wife was from Czechoslovakia. For her the

notion of a definite article is alien. Hence, "I cleared table."

0496 - 12.06.07 - Tourette's Syndrome is becoming the normal human


0653 - 06.10.07 - The phrasal verb "bored of" is, as far as I am

aware, of recent coinage and has only been around for a few years.
"I'm bored of him." "We're really bored of Justin Timberlake." It is
definitely grammatically incorrect. "bored with" is fine. "bored by"
is fine too. "bored of" is simply wrong. But it seems to be catching
on, and in view of the seeming arbitrary way in which English
prepositions get attached to verbs to form phrasal verbs, which so
frustrated some of my French Berlitz students in the late 1980s,
perhaps it is not grammatically incorrect at all, but simply the way
this kind of verb sometimes gets created.

Having learned the meaning of the English preposition "up", my

Berlitz students were understandably confused to see how it applied
in a phrasal verb like "fed up". Why not "fed down"?

I believe French prepositions may also suffer from this

indeterminacy, which means that they can be tagged onto almost any
verb to mean almost anything.

So perhaps I can be bored of Proust without feeling any grammatical


Religion (BG)

0348 - 21.12.05 - Reading a downloaded article by Mark Steyn from the

current issue of The Spectator. He's one of my favourite right-wing
extremists, with whom I often find myself agreeing. His argument is
that a society like America based on Christian monotheism is stronger
than one based on secularism, like in Western Europe. Unafraid of
punishment in the afterlife, and not expecting any rewards when they
die, people opt for short-termism, and become less willing to
struggle, or make sacrifices. It is a point I have made more than a
few times to myself. It is a reality that my own life now is an
example of. So it may be that we cannot compete without the backbone
of some religious fantasy to sustain us. That Muslim states and
Christian states will prosper, and secular states will dwindle away.
Not so much a case of the truth shall make you free, as the truth
shall make you weak, so the truth has to be dumped.

[Appended node: 0365 - 12.02.06 - I have been concerned about the

argument of Mark Steyn’s which contrasts secular Western Europe with
Christian America, to the detriment of the former. Secularism, Steyn
argues, cannot supply the motivation to survive, to struggle, to
sacrifice, that Christianity (and, of course, Islam) can. So Western
Europe decays and is taken over. America, still steeped in Christian
supernaturalism, survives and prospers.

Peregrinations around my Armchair Page 135 of 163

One anecdotal instance of this contrast he remarked on was the way
older people from secular Europe had been saying to him that things
were getting worse, but their consolation was that they would not
live to see it happen. For a while this struck home to me as a valid
example of what he was talking about. Then I began to wonder. Surely
this “consolation” of the old is near-universal? Surely old people in
Christian America, and old people in Saudi Arabia, console themselves
with one of the few advantages to accrue from ending their lives soon
- that whatever miseries lie in wait for the human race after their
deaths, they will not have to endure them.]

0722 - 10.10.07 - Will anything diminish ever public interest in the

paranormal? No, nothing will ever diminish public interest in the

0902 - 30.03.08 - How subversive are the apolitical Jehovah's

Witnesses? More significant than their rules about blood transfusions
is the fact that they put themselves outside the democratic process.
Jehovah's Witnesses are not allowed to vote in elections. This is
part of their non-involvement in Satan's wicked system of things. It
is actually very subversive. Presumably the government is aware of
their stand. But do governments in liberal democracies turn a blind
eye to subversive groups if they have compensatory social virtues?

Miscellaneous Peregrinations (ZZ)

0002 - 10.09.04 - After the European Football Championship, it became

clear that big teams were not seriously competing, the players having
their sights set on other contests, like the Champions League. This
hypothesis was widely articulated in the media, and was an
explanation for how a second-rate footballing nation like Greece
could win the contest. [And the failure of teams from the big
footballing countries to play with conviction may also explain how
South Korea managed to get to the semi-finals in the World Cup of

0005 - 10.09.04 - Things I am Naff at. Computer programming, to take

one example. I have taught myself the basics of C, C++, Assembly and
some of the Windows graphical languages, but I cannot actually get
started on creating actual programmes with the knowledge that I have
acquired. Here I am, with my data types, my loops and jumps and other
iterations, my FOR, IF and ELSE statements, and I cannot think of a
single thing I want to do with these tools, except to write another
7-line programme to clear the text screen.

0006 - 12.09.04 - A speaker on early morning radio today said that

even the demands of Islamic militants, such as those who blew up the
mothers and children of Beslan, might one day be met by political
agreement. He made a comparison with Irish terrorism. A Ray of Hope.

Peregrinations around my Armchair Page 136 of 163

0011 - 12.09.04 - Have you noticed how a minor inconvenience,
resulting first in anger and frustration, can lead you to try an
alternative you would not otherwise have embraced? And that,
sometimes, you discover the alternative to be preferable, in some
ways, to what it has replaced? Good comes out of bad. [20th Feb 2009.
Did not Chesterton say that an inconvenience is an adventure, wrongly
considered? Something along those lines. Somewhere.]

0013 - 16.09.04 - Defend against the Conspiracy Theorist When the

conspiracy theorist says, "The conventional story cannot be true,
because (a) there were no buses to Valencia that night, or (b) it had
not rained in that district for a week. Therefore my wilder
explanation is the more likely one," take a deep breath and pause.
These circumstantial objections can seem persuasive, effective,
forensic, but they may also be misleading. There may be something
wrong with the assumptions on which the conspiracy theorist is
building when he produces his circumstantial objections. Take for
example, the bullet that passed through Governor Connolly and Jack
Kennedy on 22nd November 1963. The "magic bullet". The trajectory was
impossible, said the conspiracy theorist. It turns out his objection
was based on a mistaken assumption about where they were sitting with
respect to each other when the bullet struck.

0015 - 20.09.04 - On Being Written Off. This can happen to you.

People still exchange small talk with you, or make you a cup of tea.
This leads you to believe that you still exist in that social world,
but in reality you have been excluded. They have written you off.
They are just waiting for your drug overdose, or your heavy prison
sentence, or your indefinite stay in a mental asylum. It does not
help you that they are too tactful to mention that you have been
eliminated from the social world, because it gives you a false sense
of security, a sense that you have not gone too far yet, whereas, in
reality, you have. And you have become historical. Walking around,
you are already posthumous.

0019 - 21.09.04 - Folie a Deux. During the late 1960s I experienced a

desire of a compulsive nature to murder people on a random basis. I
only became free of this compulsion after being exorcised by a
spiritualist. I would add, for the record, that nobody actually died
as a result of this obsession of mine. What is of interest here is
the attitude taken by my first wife when I explained this obsession
to her. I suggested that we make use of her limited capital to buy a
cottage in the country, a shotgun for me and a moped. Once there I
would use the moped to travel about at night with the shotgun. I
would hide behind a hedge and use random people for target practice.
My wife went along with this set of plans, as if they were the most
natural thing in the world. Truly a madness can be shared in a dyadic

0020 - 21.09.04 - Who will Answer the Call? Secular materialism may
have its problems, like the small difficulty with consciousness, but

Peregrinations around my Armchair Page 137 of 163

it does seem to be the most plausible account of the way things
really are. However, I cannot deny that it lacks something, as a
worldview, when it comes to motivating people. With cries like "Free
markets!" and "Darwinian evolution!" and "Utilitarian ethics!" and
even "Progress, after a fashion!" it is difficult to imagine many
being inspired to make great, even heroic efforts. What is on offer
to the public? Ordinary life, pleasure, pain and death. It does not
really compare with the free nookie the suicide bomber expects to
meet in the afterlife, or even the everlasting life on a perfect
earth promised to Jehovah's Witnesses. It may be that the worldview
which most accurately reflects reality is also the one that has least
effect on the real world, because those who act in significant ways
nearly all believe some other, more glamorous, story.

0021 - 21.09.04 - True or only Useful? I ought to show some

sophistication and eschew words like "true" and "false". I should
speak of propositions as being pragmatic, or useful. Refer to
statements as tools, or models. Sorry, when I go with my gut the only
words that do it for me are "true" and "false".

0041 - 29.09.04 - Fighting to protect the oil reserves of the world

for everyone is not ignoble. Perhaps we need not occupy Iraq or
Nigeria or Venezuela, but we may need to occupy the oil-fields and
patrol the pipelines. Perhaps a UN army could be raised for this
purpose alone. When oilfields come in danger of sabotage or
destruction, then a battalion, or a division, is despatched to
protect them. Ah, but pipelines are so easy to blow up!

0043 - 03.10.04 - The Situational Judgement. A situational response

is a conviction, expressed as a generalisation, arising out of a
situation. It therefore often needs qualification.

Examples: You are completely untrustworthy;

It always rains in England;
Fielding is the only great novelist;
Teresa never thinks of anybody except herself.

A situational judgement, which states a situational truth, is false

insofar as it is not modified by its co-ordinates - stated or
understood. "You've got no consideration for anybody," sounds a lot
less impressive when modified by its co-ordinates of space and time.
"You displayed in this particular instance an absence of
consideration for others." [This node originates from 1966.]

A related topic is the way people exaggerate in an automatic way,

using inappropriate words like "all". Somebody spills some wine by
accident on another party-goer's garment. "Oh look!" he wails, "Now
I've got wine all over my shirt!" And the funny thing is that we seem
compelled to make the point in this way. What flies to the tongue is
“all over“. “Oh look! I’ve got wine on my shirt!” does not cut the
mustard somehow.

0052 - 06.10.04 - How to Become a Renowned French Intellectual

Peregrinations around my Armchair Page 138 of 163

(Lacan) and Bamboozle the World. (1) Stumble upon an anomalous
experiment, which seems to refute a scientific theory; (2) Instead of
looking for reasons to explain the anomaly, reach for an alternative
explanation for the results that is wacky and far out; (3) Spend the
next twenty years unpacking the implications of your new theory,
asserting its truth against all comers.

0055 - 07.10.04 - Derrida. A virus is neither living, nor non-living.

It is an undecidable. Please tell me that Derrida has not built a
career on observations like this one about continua in the natural

0057 - 13.10.04 - Has Communism Failed? We could glibly remark that,

like Christianity, it has never been tried.

0059 - 13.10.04 - What will prevent the coming world government from
becoming a tyranny? The same thing that prevents the US government
from becoming a tyranny. Checks and balances, separation of powers.

0069 - 16.10.04 - People who have grown up in a particular type of

society think it is normal, even necessary, to live that way. So
governing classes in Western societies can keep the masses under
their control. But, this is true of people growing up in any sort of
stable society at all. One is only going to grow up with sceptical
doubts in an unstable society.

0072 - 16.10.04 - What I find annoying about many of those who

philosophise, is that they do not seem to do it out of any problem-
solving desire, but are entertained by the act of making a case, and
then making a case against that case, and then showing that there is
a logical flaw in the case they made against the case they made in
the first place. Ad infinitum. It is as if they revelled in the
practise of pure logic. Truth is not important to them - it is just
the subject for another interminable series of logical positions
crushed by logical counter-arguments. They are like lawyers who are
amused by arguing every side of a case.

0075 - 16.10.04 - If you redescribe Post-modernism as Scepticism,

then you avoid the question, "What comes after Post-modernism?"

0078 - 17.10.04 - Older people know a lot of stuff.

0089 - 27.10.04 - A pig lies strapped to a gurney in a hospital,

waiting to be taken to surgery for a heart operation. But this is an
unusual sort of operation: her heart will be removed and then given

Peregrinations around my Armchair Page 139 of 163

to a human patient. How is it, after all the bacon and sausages and
pork chops I have consumed, that this TV episode haunts me so?

0094 - 29.10.04 - 50% go to Uni. What we are contemplating is

millions of highly educated youngsters. And for their employment -
millions of lowgrade, shitty jobs. Only now you need a 2.2 to apply
for them.

0095 - 01.11.04 - I don't believe Kerry and Bush are neck-and-neck.

At 11.10pm on 1st November 2004 I predict that Bush will win

0102 - 14.11.04 - Was the welfare state a disastrous mistake?

0109 - 30.11.04 - The fine conundrums with which my mind is teased in

the twilight of my life. (a) Problems of history; (b) The Problem of
consciousness; (c) The problem of determinism and free will; (d)

0111 - 02.12.04 - Japan was the first Asian democracy, losing out to
totalitarianism in the 1930s.

0118 - 17.12.04 - Lawyers and Scholars.

0133 - 15.01.05 - I begin to understand high spirits, and horseplay.

What it must be like for people who have not been debilitated by
polio. At the end of a day in which they have not been particularly
active, they must have a positive fund of unused energy. No wonder
they let off steam!

0148 - 30.01.05 - Hitler succeeded in overcoming unemployment after

coming to power on 30th January 1933. How did he manage this? The
simple answer is that he re-armed. But this only pushes the question
back. How did he manage to re-arm? Where did the money come from?

[1st March 2009.Fresh light is thrown upon the mystery of Nazi

economics in the book by Adam Tooze called The Wages of Destruction:
The Making and Breaking of the Nazi Economy.]

0161 - 10.02.05 - David Irving helped to persuade me that Winston

Churchill was a war criminal, although the idea was not novel to me.
But surely David Irving has been cast into outer darkness, as a
heretic and an anti-Semite! What are you doing reading anything by

Peregrinations around my Armchair Page 140 of 163

this man, Austin?

I am aware of his status among historians. And recent reading of more

of Irving's work has led to his partial rehabilitation, at least as
far as I am concerned. [But see the reversal of this position below.]

Let me confess at once that he has some nasty, dotty bees in his
bonnet. He is not a Holocaust denier, but he is certainly a Holocaust
minimiser. He has a warped fondness for Hitler, excusing him wherever
he sees the possibility of doing so (at least until 1943). He does
not believe Hitler ordered the final solution. In his dreams Irving
would rule the United Kingdom according to his own authoritarian
notions. He is more than a little bit of a fruitcake.

But who else has accessed so many foreign archives, and brought to
light so many new documents? And if he has bent the occasional
telegram or minute to his own purposes, have none of the more
scholarly of his brethren ever done the same? He is not a simple
polemicist, like some of the fascist nutters he consorts with. He is
a scholar and a historian, and he has had unparalleled access to the
tattered human remains of the Third Reich. Yes, he has gone a bit
native in their company, but he is a precious resource, not one to be
ignored. The danger is that people will use his research, but not
credit it out of political correctness - thereby committing sins of
scholarship themselves.

[20th August 2006. Irving's rehabilitation in my brain has been

reversed since this node was begun. There are times when he relies on
very flimsy evidence, there are times when he quotes references which
are misleading, or do not exist, or which he has not accessed. There
are times when he tells plain lies. When he is in a corner, he
responds like an ideologue, not a scholar. So all the provisos
already made in this node back in February need reinforcing. The end
result is that if David Irving says something happened, or says this
is why something happened, it is impossible, without further
research, to know whether to believe him or not. Like his hero,
Hitler, he is not to be trusted.]

0166 - 18.02.05 - Why did Matisse paint so badly? I should read a

biography and find out what the point was of all those crude daubs.
Not just bad drawing, but those uneven colour surfaces that are so
crudely applied.

0174 - 06.03.05 - In East Asia people protected themselves against

dirty water by boiling it and adding tea to make it taste nice. In
Europe people drank their water with alcohol, which is an antiseptic.
But I think I read in Lawrence James's book that tea itself is an
antiseptic and that drinking this allowed a city like London to
outgrow what had been up until then a natural limit. Once a city got
to a certain size and density, further growth was automatically
restricted by disease. Was it boiling the water, or the tea itself,
which gave the protection against microbes? Europeans developed
genetic protection against alcohol - what does this mean? [This
started off in a computer file called Bitz. As an entry in
Peregrinations, it is in acute need of revision.]

Peregrinations around my Armchair Page 141 of 163

0176 - 06.03.05 - "Megatherium" means "big animal".

0177 - 06.03.05 - Looking for reasons for Winston Churchill's callous

disregard for the lives of enemies and neutrals (both military and
civilian), I recall a time in my late adolescence and early twenties
when I was imbued with elitism. Churchillian arrogance might be
allied to a visceral feeling of superiority - of being in the tiny
minority of the really important people.

0179 - 09.03.05 - Yesterday the IRA announced that it had offered to

kill the four men responsible for the death of Robert MacCartney.
This offer was made to the family, and turned down. They don't seem
to see quite how preposterous their statement is. To rectify a wrong,
they were proposing to commit four cold-blooded murders. Nice one,
IRA. They live in a parallel universe to the rest of the people of

0185 - 25.-03.5 - The Republican Party in the US is called the GOP.

Fuck me if I could find out what this meant. Dictionary or Internet.
Both useless. Then someone on the telly or in a DVD mentioned the
"Grand Old Party". So that is presumably what it means. Now I just
need to know the meanings of "Fine Gael" and "Fianna Fail".

0186 - 30.03.05 - Every so often in the turbulent life of nations, a

decision has to be made that has grave consequences, made often by
only one individual, or by a tiny group. Like committing the nation
to a major war. In retrospect, was the right decision made? Thinking
about the strain the decision-makers were under, about their
weaknesses and bias and limited information, it seems unlikely that
the right decision is ever made. The answer to the question Was that
the correct thing to do? seems to be self-evidently no, in all cases.

0190 - 30.03.05 - I have read Wuthering Heights, if I recall

correctly, twice. On the second reading I found myself sympathising
with the small-minded couple of normals, whose names escape me (I
think one of them was called Isabelle). And today I watched a DVD of
His Girl Friday, and found myself sympathising with the Bruce Baldwin
character, and disliking, with some intensity, the loathsome Walter
Burns played by Cary Grant, and the almost equally loathsome
Hildegard Johnson, played by Rosalind Russell. And they loved this
story, they made it thrice (didn't they?) Jack Lemmon played the
Walter Burns character in the version called, after Ben Hecht's
title, The Front Page.

0194 - 06.04.05 - Beginning to read Peter Singer's How are we to

Live?, already converted to his main thesis, that it is better to
choose the ethical, rather than the prudently hedonistic, life, I
find myself disagreeing with many of his subsidiary arguments. This

Peregrinations around my Armchair Page 142 of 163

man could be a preacher, even a Jehovah's Witness. How will his main
argument hold up as I progress through the book? Of course, although
I approve the choice of the ethical life, the one I actually live is
one of prudent hedonism.

0199 - 19.04.05 - If you want an example of the kind of thing which

will increase international cooperation and lead, in time, to global
government institutions, I give you - bird flu.

0200 - 23.04.05 - Perhaps the most satisfying life it is possible to

lead is one directed for the benefit of humanity, so that, whatever
your activity, it results in a surplus of goods for other human
beings, over and above what you would contribute if you simply took
up a place in the economic system, or in public service.

0211 - 05.06.05 - The Artist with a political or a moral message is

usually making a mistake. The artist is usually not gifted in the
exercise of political or moral reflection, not being a multi-talented
person, and comes up with the platitudes and stupidities that most of
us come up with. If the artist uses the talent he does have to tell a
story, for example, it may be that all sorts of political and moral
messages will be implicit in his narrative. But if he imports an
explicit message, he is usually making a mistake. An example is
Sergio Leone in The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. The civil war battle
over a bridge with its screaming message, "War is bad, war is
insane". Not true, Sergio, or hardly ever. Artists are generally no
better than the rest of us when it comes to thinking. They should
stick to their lath.

Of course, this is ironic in view of my own attitude to myself, as

both a writer of stories and as a thinker. Not only am I claiming to
be multi-talented, which I am asserting most artists are not, I am
also condoning a technique I have just condemned - of importing moral
and political messages into fiction. Can I claim in my defense that I
always kept the two formats separate - as fiction and non-fiction? I
don't think this defense holds water - not entirely.

0212 - 10.06.05 - When there is ample leisure, everything, even

pleasure, becomes a chore. [1st March 2009. This is an insight worth

0217 - 03.07.05 - David Irving Revisited. I guess he was always more

of a lawyer than a scholar, and now, in the twilight of his career,
he is engaged in litigation more than anything else. Reading and re-
reading the examples of text manipulation and tortuous interpretation
in which he engaged in order to substantiate his thesis that Hitler
was not approving of and responsible for the successive destruction
of European jewry, I am made aware once again of how suspect anything
he says is. And why do I persist in being interested in his opinions?
It cannot be just because he makes his books available for free

Peregrinations around my Armchair Page 143 of 163

0227 - 23.07.05 - Copycats? On 21st July, just two weeks after the
London bombs, four more devices. Three on underground trains, one on
a bus. The detonators failed to explode the main charges. But, wait a
minute. The first time around, a bomb exploded on a bus by accident,
did it not? There were supposed to be four underground explosions.
This new crew, are they copycats? And are they not aware that the bus
was a mistake? Have they copied their predecessors slavishly, even
down to the errors?

0228 - 23.07.05 - No More Mr Nice Guy. A recent development connected

to the second set of bombs planted in London on 21st July. Asian man,
pursued by police onto tube train, stumbles and falls. Two policemen
jump on him while a third pumps five rounds into his back. Wonder if
there will be any enquiry into that, and, if so, what conclusions it
will draw? [Oops. The police thought he was a suicide bomber, which
explains the vigorous response. Turns out he was an innocent
Brazilian. And it was eight bullets to the head.]

0230 - 24.07.05 - What does it mean to 'make a difference'? In the

human realm we are continually creating goods and ills for others as
well as for ourselves. The usual connotation of making a difference
is that, in the balance sheet of goods and ills, we create more
goods, for others especially.

0231 - 24.07.05 - One should not serve a group, or an entity larger

than oneself. One should serve something worthy of service -
something like a good principle.

0233 - 24.07.05 - As a thought experiment it is possible to imagine a

not-too-distant future where nearly all the major ethical concerns of
the planet have been satisfactorily dealt with. Where all nations
live at roughly the same level of welfare, where conflicts are
negotiated, and where bad men are promptly punished. In such an
equilibrium, where there is no call for ethical heroism, or even for
making an unusual ethical effort, would some people miss something,
and feel unfulfilled?

0234 - 24.07.05 - The Tit for Tat version of social ethics, as

explicated by Peter Singer in How are we to Live?, seems to reduce
down to the following apothegms:-

(a) first, Do as you would be done by - once.

(b) second, Do as you have been done by, ever after.

0237 - 26.07.05 - Most talents do not last as long as the people who
possess them. Some unenviable choices are open to a Bob Dylan, to a

Peregrinations around my Armchair Page 144 of 163

Donovan Leitch, to a Johnny Cash, to a Joni Mitchell. To retire from
the occupation. To continue to plough, with decreasing vigour, an
exhausted furrow. To adapt the talent to new fields, to give an
illusion of progress.

0245 - 01.08.05 - "Everything is going to be all right." Oh, if only.

0254 - 10.08.05 - The laser beam reads CD tracks from the inside
outward. This is the complete opposite to vinyl, where the needle
tracks from the outside in. This explains why one of my CDs is
scarred near the edge but still plays perfectly. The recorded matter
ends before the scarred portion begins. Of course, another difference
between the CD and the record is that the CD is divided up into
discrete tracks, like the clusters on a hard disk, whereas the record
is laid down in one long spiral.

P.S. Make a note not to buy any more secondhand CDs. The saving in
money is just not worth the hassle of worrying if they are faulty,
and occasionally finding out that they are. [2nd Oct 2007. So are
some new CDs. Joan Baez CD with jitter on one track.]

0267 - 15.08.05 - Perhaps I could pull my weight in the world by

proofreading and scanning for the Gutenberg Project. But is Google
about to wipe them out with its own free text proposal?

0269 - 19.08.05 - Increasingly I realise it is facile to research

historical debates (Haig - competent general or moronic butcher?
Churchill - inspired leader or war criminal?) without making some
attempt to find out how the people who actually lived through those
events thought about things. What their preconceptions were. What was
‘obvious’ to them.

0274 - 25.08.05 - Only in Ireland. A load of sliced pan bread which

starts off being one thickness and then becomes thinner halfway down.

0288 - 02.09.05 - Two Cheers for the Hangman Look on the positive
side for once. Hanging does provide closure. And the criminal banged
up for a long sentence, even a real life sentence, is not likely to
be very productive. Hanging saves a lot of money, provided the
appeals procedure is not dragged out. Then look at the way
incarcerated men can continue to act on the world outside, through
intermediaries. Bit difficult to do that when you are lying in a bed
of lime.

My visceral feeling about capital punishment is against it. Taking

everything a man has, or is ever going to have, as Clint Eastwood’s
character says in The Unforgiven. I cannot readily assent to the
notion of killing anyone. But, hey, look on the other side for a

Peregrinations around my Armchair Page 145 of 163

0302 - 12.09.05 - Ugh! The preening conceit of George Bernard Shaw.
He has the sickness so abundantly, it is almost embarrassing to watch
him express it. It is a repugnant self-love - almost childish.

0318 - 28.09.05 - Wasn’t Spike Milligan more surrealistic and funnier

than the entire Monty Python team put together?

0322 - 09.11.05 - The person with Asperger’s Syndrome may more

properly be described as “a-social” than “anti-social”. However, for
those on the receiving end, it is hard to tell the difference.

0328 - 29.11.05 - Psychoanalysis is bunk.

0331 - 02.12.05 - Did Hitler have a sense of humour? A sense of the

ridiculous? I do recall one incident which had me laughing out loud.
Adolf was describing one of the occasions (perhaps the only one) when
he had got drunk. He had just taken some academic test. Anyway, he
ended up wiping his arse with his certificate. But, thinking about
it, this wasn't actually meant to be a joke. Hitler was just
explaining why he came to give up alcohol. No, I believe Hitler did
lack that common human faculty - the sense of humour.

0340 - 11.12.05 - Those Japanese! Either formal and quiet and gentle,
or they are hysterical - especially the guys. What is going on there?

0341 - 11.12.05 - There is a grim solace in scientific materialism.

You don't torture yourself with, "Why me?" It was you, because you
were there, as the Sergeant Major tells a private in another context
in the film Zulu.

0364 - 06.02.06 - Anyone who has other people financially dependent

upon her will have a low standard of social ethics.

0371 - 17.02.06 - Unconscious Plagiarism. I thought I came up myself

with the conceptualisation (way of putting it) that America ran a de
facto apartheid society until the 1960s. Yesterday I was in the
lavatory re-reading a review of a book on Billy Holliday and there
was that exact concept. Austin - plagiarist. Oops.

[3rd March 2009. Reading one of my "Austrians" about a week ago he

was talking about a text by Ayn Rand which had made a great
impression on him years ago, and how he discovered on re-reading that

Peregrinations around my Armchair Page 146 of 163

ideas he thought were original had come from this book, been
assimilated and then popped into his mind as if new-minted.]

0384 - 19.04.06 - The only thing more useful than Blu-Tack is string.

0385 - 12.05.06 - Robert Conquest leads me to think that indeed

there were two criminal monsters of the twentieth century, whose
individual influence over the world was indeed monstrous, so that,
had either of them never lived, the world would have benefited

The first was Hitler and the second was Stalin. What is really
striking about each of them is the amount of damage for which they
were directly responsible, that they were able to bring about. The
destruction caused by Hitler was less than Stalin's, but this is
because he was stopped. Stalin never was, unfortunately.

Mao Tse-Tung, whose body count may well have been higher than either
Hitler's or Stalin's, does not qualify for the top rank of world
criminal, simply because he was the despot of the relatively
insignificant China.

0400 - 24.06.06 - All those soccer injuries! Perhaps the day is not
far off when soccer and other contact sports will be banned. Then
people will look back on them as examples of our barbarism.

0414 - 30.07.06 - By the time the war for independence started

Ireland was a very militarised country, it said on the documentary.
And Lord, were they right! Most of the adult males belonged to at
least one military or paramilitary formation. Since 1914 everyone had
become familiar with soldierly tasks and skills, things like drill
and tactics. Even the 1916 Rising, with all its glitches, was a
military insurrection, not just a jacquerie.

0415 - 30.07.06 - Weeds are good for the local ecology. Their seeds
supply food for birds and insects.

0424 - 05.08.06 - The mid-teens is an age where the external moral

voices that operated in childhood are growing fainter ("We can't do
that because Mummy says") and the module usually found operating in
the adult brain, which wants to join the moral discourse of the
society, and obey a good proportion of the injunctions resulting
therefrom, has not yet developed. Broadly speaking, the person is
psychopathic, sociopathic. The human being at its most horrible. The
age of Kids, the age of Beavis and Butthead. The age of Thirteen.

0434 - 10.08.06 - If you get through life without once being nailed

Peregrinations around my Armchair Page 147 of 163

upside down to a barn door by your testicles, you were lucky.

0439 - 20.08.06 - Gel pens are bloody messy.

0448 - 16.10.06 - I am still not sure I understand what a defence

lawyer is supposed to do, both here and in the USA. Presumably a
client can be honest with him and say, "I'm guilty as charged but I
want an acquittal.” And the defence lawyer has to proceed to
construct a case to argue his innocence, fully aware that he is
guilty - as most clients of defence lawyers are.

0455 - 28.10.06 - When technical limitations are imposed on us they

can have positive results because they make us more inventive in
finding new solutions. I am told that bonfires are illegal in
Ireland. Now I am using my garden shed to hold the garden rubbish I
used to burn.

0460 - 13.01.07 - Tony Blair yesterday - the British army must remain
a war-making force as well as a peace-keeping one.

0462 - 19.01.07 - Perfect love castest out fear, if I have the quote
right. And perfect fear castest out love. And, in fact, any strong
emotion casts out any other. If I were spending my time looking after
the interests of other people, for example, I would have no emotional
energy to spare to feel sorry for myself.

0466 - 09.02.07 - Changing things around can be good.

0476 - 14.0.307 - I am inclined to accept descriptions of Ireland as

a nanny state. It does not surprise me that the United Kingdom can be
so described as well. What is complained about is progressive
supervision and regulation. Being told what is good for us, and what
we must do, for our own benefit. I was forcefully struck during my
2006 trip to Australia by what a regulated, nay, over-regulated
society, that is.

But something nags at me when I read these condemnations of the nanny

state. What nags is the feeling that I, along with everybody else,
probably need a nanny. Seatbelts, smoking, recycling, the list is
endless. The human organism is poorly adapted to modern life by
natural selection, and continually and subversively wants what is
wrong for it, and for others, and desires what is bad for it, and for
others. And this is not something that will stop happening.

Perhaps we should not complain that a government functions like a

nanny. Perhaps we should just complain when it performs this function
badly. Perhaps we all of us need parents - for as long as we live.

Peregrinations around my Armchair Page 148 of 163

0480 - 22.03.07 - Nazism was hobbled by some lunatic notions, like
the international Jewish conspiracy, and by delusions about race.
Hitler also had some reactionary economic notions about a strong
peasantry. But, by and large, the Nazi programme took account of
reality and prospered thereby. Communism, on the other hand, wherever
it was put into effect, was hampered and crippled as an effective
polity by the fact that its Marxian economics and class warfare
theory were complete baloney. The entire worldview was wrong.

0484 - 22.03.07 - A northerly wind is a wind coming from the north. A

south-westerly wind is a wind coming from the south-west.

0491 - 08.05.07 - There is something that turns the stomach about

farming animals for food. Something that most of us are protected
from now that we do not have to kill the animals we eat. Why this

I think it was the move from hunting to farming. When hunting animals
for food there was a simple, hostile relationship. You only related
to the animal when you were trying to kill it. It's relation to you
was simply fear (usually).

That changed when animals were domesticated for killing later. That
gave time for a complex relationship to develop, which included
various nurturing functions and feelings more commonly associated
with child-rearing. In fact, nurturing was often inevitable, because
without it the animals might die. So that an animal which on one day
we are treating with genuine kindliness and responding to
emotionally, and which is responding to us in the same way, and has
learned to trust us, the next day we kill or send to the abattoir.
Killing domesticated animals is like killing your own children.

0497 - 12.06.07 - Why do some people zealously pursue high moral

standards? They do it for the buzz. Why do some people selflessly
give of themselves to help others? They do it for the buzz.

0502 - 12.07.07 - The problem with period drama is that people living
at an earlier time held different background assumptions to the ones
which are familiar today. So your hero, with whom you want your
audience to sympathise, might be a racist, quite casually so. You can
airbrush this characteristic away by imposing contemporary values on
your protagonist, or you can shock your audience into becoming less
sympathetic to your hero.

0514 - 22.08.07 - A married friend of mine enjoys with his wife a

relationship of mutual restraint, whereby certain untruths about both
parties are sustained, and various truths are never mentioned. There
are character defects in both which never get called. The

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relationship is a folie a deux. But then, every dyadic relationship
is a folie a deux.

0572 - 29.09.07 - We do not live in a world of objects, as

traditional epistemology asserts and assumes. At least there are very
few objects in our world - perhaps only the organisms, which require
a physical boundary to maintain their integrity. But beings with
skins are a tiny minority of the stuff in this world. Oh, and perhaps
a star can count as an object, being so far away from all other

0637 - 02.10.07 - If I have difficulties with philosophical questions

like the mind-body problem, or the problem of free will and
determinism, or the antinomies of time and space, then they are no
tougher than trying to understand my central heating system. The same
thing happens. I seem to make progress, I explore various avenues,
there is what appears to be a breakthrough and I go smoothly on, only
to meet up with some other anomaly that throws me completely and
makes me realise once again that I do not understand my central
heating system. Like right now it is the ominous clattering of the
circulating pump which baffles me, something which has never happened

0645 - 05.10.07 - When the therapist tells the group to use "feeling"
words rather than "thinking" words, the smart patient simply replaces
one word with the other. "I think that he's being aggressive,"
becomes, "I feel that he's being aggressive."

0652 - 06.10.07 - People experience mystical states, or so they

claim. They have experiences which seem to put them outside of the
everyday world of space and time.

It would appear that any verbal description they give of such

experiences would be misleading, because the vocabulary they would be
forced to use would be that which applied to the everyday world of
space and time. They might say, for instance, that they found
themselves 'outside' of space and time, but would being using a
spatial word to convey this, so perhaps misleadingly.

However, I am reminded at this point that we do customarily borrow

from the world of everyday space and time to talk about the inner
world of intentions and emotions and motives etc in a metaphorical or
analogical mode. In fact, there is no alternative. So I tell you that
I 'understand' what you have just told me. Perhaps it may be
permissible to describe mystical experiences in the same way.

0797 - 28.10.07 - In order to make the jobs I did easier, I would try
to bend them to my inclinations. I would spend time, which I could
more or less justify, doing things that gave me satisfaction, rather
than things which advanced any specific task I was supposed to be
performing. I had a saying for this, which indicated that this was a

Peregrinations around my Armchair Page 150 of 163

method of staying in work and keeping the crushing weight of boredom
at bay - 'It keeps me amused'. It kept me interested doing the
working day. It kept my mind alive.

I was led to this recollection by thinking about the film The French
Connection and what a lousy human being Popeye Doyle was - both in
the film and in life. He tailored his job in a major way until it
fitted in with his preoccupations and obsessions. I don't believe he
had strong feelings about drugs. I don't think he believed a whole
lot in law and order, or set much store by it. He just wanted to hunt
men for a living, with his buddy beside him. And obtained enough
collars and convictions in the process to justify keeping him on.
Which eventually they did not do.

I suppose that what presses my buttons, when food and sex and sleep
and the other basics are out of the way, is curiosity and problem-
solving. And it is true that one does not want all the problems
solved, because then one would run out of occupation. John Horgan is
very good on this, on the way so many scientists are horrified by the
idea that scientific discoveries might dry up one day. The consequent
tedium of their work does not bear thinking about - by them.

Solving major problems to one's own satisfaction can have an

ambivalent effect. There is the Eureka moment, it is true, and the
glow of achievement that follows. But there is also the hollowness
where the question used to be. So one of my reactions, if I solved
the mind/body problem to my own satisfaction, would be

And there is nothing mysterious about this. It is not that we wish

problems to carry on indefinitely, although they may do that. It is
simply that we need problems to feed our craving. We want problems.
We desire problems. If there are not any in our lives we will make
them up, or attack imaginary problems created by others, such as
crossword puzzles or detective stories.

Craving is what makes us alive. Craving or boredom does seem to be

our fate, as Schopenhauer observed. But that still does not mean
there is a noumenal "Will" somewhere driving the whole shebang. That
is going beyond the evidence in a gross sort of way.

[5th April 2009. Move this to the "Work" section?]

0809 - 31.10.07 - Nobody needs friends. On the other hand,

acquaintances are essential.

0810 - 31.10.07 - When reviewing the evidence for any of the

political issues of the time, like global warming or the Iranian
nuclear threat, remember that quoting the names of authorities who
support your case, really does nothing to support it. Only facts and
evidence can support your case. So, along with the name of your
authority, supply the evidence that he can provide. If he has none,
then drop him, rather than name-dropping him.

0812 - 08.11.07 - None of us get everything we want. Perhaps I will

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never be able to get a signal on my satellite TV kit. Perhaps I will
never own a CD by Dave Van Ronk.

0818 - 18.11.07 - According to teletext on 15th November Barry

George, at his second attempt, won his appeal against his murder
conviction. The Jill Dando case. That is cause for a minor
celebration. There was hardly any evidence against him, if I
remember. It was a disgraceful conviction. [Saturday 15th December
2007. It was not a pardon that George received, it was a retrial. His
agony, if innocent, continues.]

0827 - 15.12.07 - The rise and fall and rise and fall and rise and
fall of the lovable Jade Goody continues. After the plummeting fall
she took after calling Shilpa Shetty a poppadum, she is now reported
to be friendly with a son of the Sultan of Brunei, who has bestowed
on her, among other items, a ring worth three million euros. Hooray
for Jade, my favourite octoroon.

0829 - 16.12.07 - We could make a better job of our social relations

and our political relations if we took to heart the things we have
discovered about ourselves with the help of science. This is a
powerful reason why I must object to the persistence of religious
fantasy and superstition, as well as the sentimental humanisms which
attempt to re-enchant the world.

0833 - 03.01.08 - Why is it necessarily so bad for a country to be

occupied or colonised?

0834 - 03.01.08 - When a man and a woman cohabit, two different

styles of living have somehow to be reconciled. What usually happens
is that the man adjusts his lifestyle to meet the woman's

0835 - 04.01.08 - Adverts are for retards.

0837 - 07.01.08 - Large-scale immigration usually causes problems.

0840 - 13.01.08 - In a recent letter my friend Anthony Tovar (Roscoe)

expressed disapproval of my use of slug pellets in the garden. I took
his argument to heart and was, for a while, convinced that he was
correct. Then I evaluated my own situation carefully, and decided
that his strictures against slug pellets were not valid in my case.

He argued that slug pellets killed a lot of birds. I don't think I

have ever seen a bird pecking at one of the coloured pellets, though

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it is possible they do. But if they do it is strange that I have
never found a bird corpse in my garden. It is true that birds can be
poisoned through eating dead slugs which have been killed by the
pellets. This would be especially true of birds like thrushes.
However, I have only seen one thrush in my garden over four years.
The local population seems to be close to zero, for whatever reason,
so there is no need to protect them.

According to Anthony he has a lot of birds in his garden, attracted

by his system of bird feeders. These consume large numbers of slugs.
I also have bird feeders and they give me a lot of pleasure, but
during the months when slugs do the damage, from about May onwards,
the birds desert my feeders for more attractive meals elsewhere. In
any case, there is a limited amount of damage that tits, green
finches and sparrows can do to slugs.

Anthony writes about going out at night with a torch and stamping on
slugs. Yes, this can be very effective, and I do this too. Next door
they are not so violent. They collect slugs on wet nights and re-
locate them, sometimes as far as the municipal dump. But in vain. We
have such huge slug populations here that measures like these make
little difference. I have seen what slugs do to my neighbours'

Something Anthony does not mention is that there are non-toxic

alternatives to slug pellets. I purchased a bottle of slug defence
gel, one of these alternatives. You squeeze out a sort of slime
barrier around the area to be protected. I haven't used much of my
bottle. I have no confidence in its being effective. It seems to
disappear into the soil. And using it to protect pea drills and their
like would be prohibitively expensive.

I come to the question of why it is that in the environment of

Anthony's garden, it is possible to deal with snails and slugs
without the use of poisonous pellets, but does not seem to be
possible in mine. I have concluded that the main difference between
our gardens is that there is far more wildlife in Anthony's. The
irony of living actually in the country, in the corner of a working
field, is that the wildlife is impoverished, even though there is a
quarter-acre of uncultivated ground right next to my garden. If you
want wildlife, then live in a town!

The farmland around where I live is not heavily industrialised. The

farms are small, the fields are small. But the ground is worked
aggressively and sprayed sufficiently to discourage the insects and
seeds that the birds and other forms of wildlife need. The hedges
along the road outside my bungalow are cut back annually, which is a
convenience for us but a major deterrent to the development of any
roadside wildlife. Gardens like mine are snail and slug heaven.

In contrast, what you get in a town is a multiplicity of environments

in which wildlife can flourish. Garden after garden after garden. And
no sprayed fields growing crops.

Perhaps one day there will be a benefit from having a garden full of
slugs and snails. Supposing a technique could be developed whereby
they are tossed into an enormous blender and recycled as a crude form
of bio-fuel. They are talking about doing it with algae - why not
slugs and snails?

[26th January 2008. Confirmation of the above comes from an article

Peregrinations around my Armchair Page 153 of 163

in The Spectator for 16th July 2005. The article, by James
O'Shaughnessy, is called Let them Build Houses.

BEGIN QUOTE According to the Royal Horticultural Society, 'gardens

are England's most important nature reserve', but we are building all
over them in order to save green fields which are farmed to promote
one species at the expense of all others. (page 22) END QUOTE and end
addendum to the node.]

0841 - 16.01.08 - A robin makes a fine anti-depressant.

0844 - 16.01.08 - The recovery of the devastated countries, Germany

and Japan, after World War II would probably have proceeded at a much
slower pace, had it not been for the need the West had for their
assistance in the Cold War against Soviet Russia and Communist China.
The swift recovery of these two countries is one of the things which
masks the horrors of what we did to them. The scars would have been
visible a great deal longer, and our guilt would have been more
obvious, had it not been for the imperatives of the Cold War.

0846 - 18.01.08 - Perhaps we really are alone in the universe.

Perhaps 15 billion years after big bang life has only arisen once, so
far. Perhaps nobody and nothing will ever come from the farthest
reaches of the galaxy, to invade us, or just to talk. Perhaps we
really are alone, with just the animals and birds and insects and
bacteria and viruses on this planet for company.

0855 - 24.01.08 - It seems that half the legislation for the United
Kingdom is passed in Brussels during secret meetings of the ministers
of the twenty-seven countries (which ministers?). This does seem to
be a strange example of the abdication of sovereignty.

0874 - 03.03.08 - My late sister, Pauline, accompanied me to the

theatre to see a dance troupe perform. Afterwards she compared
unfavourably the female form to the male form, although that was not
to say the male form was perfect. How much more aesthetic the male
dancers looked. The female dancers were out of proportion, too close
to the ground, their legs forced apart at the thighs by the width of
the pelvis. The male could walk flatly without shame, but the female
form always required the prosthetic of a heel - perhaps only Cuban
rather than stiletto, but the foot needed to be tilted forward. Not
that Pauline said it all like this, I am using reckless paraphrase.
But that was the gist of it. I write it down now because I have never
been able to forget it, or get it out of my mind.

0877 - 07.03.08 - When two people have no real common interests they
will often end up discussing in animated tones and at great length
something which neither of them cares much about.

Peregrinations around my Armchair Page 154 of 163

0889 - 29.03.08 - Terrorism is a method, not a type of combatant.
Terrorism as a method has been used by governments against their
publics, it is not restricted to the guerrilla cell.

0896 - 29.03.08 - Some article about China said it would probably

fragment. It said that big countries can't hold together. The USA is
not a big country, the article claimed, it is a federation. And
successful countries all tend to be small ones - like Britain or the
Netherlands. I wish I could remember who wrote this article and where
it appeared. Was this Mark Steyn in The Spectator?

0900 - 30.03.08 - A woman's husband is her first child.

0908 - 04.23.08 - Do parents affect children in any way at all?

According to Steven Pinker parents do not affect the personality or
the intelligence of a child, which is about 50% heritable and 50%
down to the unique environment of that child. Arguments continue
about what it is in that environment that does the shaping.

But there is more to a child than personality and intelligence. One

obvious effect parents have on children has to do with life chances.
Parents will generally try to improve these, especially via
education, unless they have a working-class mind-set that says there
is a concrete ceiling over their own heads and the heads of their
children, and it makes no sense to batter your head against it.

Another influence parents may have on children is in the beliefs they

come to hold. To this day I am sceptical about Darwin's theory of
evolution, not because I don't appreciate it and understand it, but
because I was taught to deride it as a child. Perhaps there is a real
parental influence here, in the beliefs about the world with which
the child is equipped.

0911 - 04.23.08 - The outcomes of crime stories are too often

boringly normal - the villain is caught. In a minority of crime
stories they are told from the psychopathic point of view by
psychopathic writers like Patricia Highsmith and Jim Thompson. The
villain doesn't get caught. A third option is the crime story which
imitates real life. Sometimes the villain gets away with it. An
example is the extraordinary variation on Crime and Punishment by
Woody Allen - Crimes and Misdemeanours.

0918 - 28.05.08. - Here follows an edited section from a letter I

wrote to my daughter Alice Johnson, begun on 24th March 2008. This
section was composed on 26th March.

Not enough Hours in the Day.

I have read your letter through once, and would like to make some
preliminary observations before I read it again.

Peregrinations around my Armchair Page 155 of 163

What comes through strongly is this notion that you do not have
enough time to do all the things you want to do. You do not have as
much time as you would like at work to perform your tasks properly,
and when work ends, the evenings and weekends are not long enough for
all the other things you want to do.

Let us put work aside for a moment, and concentrate on the non-work
part of your life. And before going on I would like to make the
observation that, should you and Darren start a family, then, when
you look back at the period before the arrival of children, it will
probably, in retrospect, seem to be an expanse of leisure and spare
time. Which, in reality, of course, it is not.

It is ironic that one can feel oppressed with too much to do and too
little time, when it is also possible to feel the exact opposite, in
moods of depression. In a mood like that, one is time-rich, and the
hours hang on one like a suit of lead. But that is not your current

It might seem silly to say that I often suffer from a similar

anxiety, but it is actually true. I am retired from work and have
virtually no social life, and only a garden and a bungalow to be
responsible for. Surely I have oodles of minutes and hours in which
to do the things I want to do? Well, not exactly.

The problem is that things have connections. Whatever interest you

start with, it will have connections to other interests, which will
draw you towards them. Whatever duties or chores or responsibilities
you assume, they will be connected to other duties or chores or
responsibilities and you will be pulled in their direction. Over time
your interest will expand or your duty will encompass more and more
activities. This is a potentially infinite process and at some point
will be likely to feel overwhelming.

Not only does the stuff that needs doing or reading or viewing or
visiting get larger and larger and larger, but the doer, the organism
that is supposed to do all this stuff, works within cruel
limitations. The way attention moves like the beam of a torch means
we can only get on with one thing at a time at a conscious level, and
once the beam of the torch has moved on, then we are in danger of
forgetting what we have just been attending to. Long-term memory
compensates for this to some degree, but not very much. We need to
write notes to ourselves just to compensate for all the forgetting we
do, as well as maintain a library of reference books we can call on
so that we can give the memory a poke or a kick-start when we need

But to return to the main subject, we run out of time because we get
interested or involved in more things than we can possibly cope with
inside of a human lifetime. In my case it happens over and over with
different occupations, any one of which would be sufficient to fill
my time until I tumble into my grave.

I am going to the UK this year partly to supplement my reading, to

buy books which are difficult to get in Ireland or simply
unavailable. I'm going to buy more books and post them back to
myself. Britain is the country richest in its supply of new and
second-hand books in English in the entire world. So it is a good
place to visit if you need more books.

Peregrinations around my Armchair Page 156 of 163

But do I need more books? There are a considerable number of books
lying around the bungalow which I have started, but not completed.
There are others that I have not even started. Reading is a slow
process and if I started to work my way through these books
methodically, how long would it take me to finish? One year - not a
chance. Two years - perhaps. Maybe even longer.

Then I have a collection of books in two large cardboard boxes to

protect them from dust. These are books that I have read within the
last few years, and kept. Because so little is retained after a
single reading I have taken some of these out of their boxes, put a
little stamp marked "RR" for "re-read" on them and returned them to
my shelves. These are books I want to read a second time, just as one
can play a DVD twice to get things one did not get the first time

So, as well as the books I have started but not finished, and the
books I have not even started, there are books I have finished, but
have started to read for the second time. And I am only talking about
books. No mention of other reading material I have, such as
newspapers and magazines and downloaded articles from the Internet.

None of this will stop me from going to Britain to buy more books,
partly because some of those I buy will take precedence over some I
already have on my shelves. They will be more interesting, more
pertinent, more entertaining than what I already have. But the fact
remains that I have more books than I can cope with already.

Everything is connected and this was displayed recently in the case

of the "Re-Reads", which themselves began to get seriously out of
hand. I found that I was marking so many books with the "RR" sticker
that I would shortly be in a position where I would be struggling to
find time to start any new books at all - there would be just too
much stuff urgently in need of a re-read! I had to return to that
pile and abort a lot of those re-reads, tearing off the stickers and
returning the volumes to their cardboard boxes.

Then, take specific subjects of interest, like the Great War of 1914-
1918. There now exists 90 years of popular and scholarly literature
on this subject. It is a bottomless pit. Just the one debate about
whether lives were needlessly thrown away on the Western Front can
involve you in years of wading through articles, books, memoirs,
downloads etc. I have spent a few years now on World War I and there
are still whole areas of it, like the Eastern Front, that I know next
to nothing about. And everything is connected. Once an interest in
the Great War has been established, it proves difficult to avoid
getting interested in the Peace of Versailles that succeeded it, and
the consequences that followed from that Treaty.

How have I coped now and in the past with the tendency of interests
to become overwhelming?

Every so often I used to go into a manic "clean house" mood and I

would dump books, property, things en masse in an attempt to simplify
my life and quiet down the raging circuits in my head. This happened
periodically during my thirty-year attempt to become a published
writer. I would become overwhelmed with all the manuscripts and
synopses and preliminary letters and letters of rejection and
reference books and all the other stuff generated by this occupation,
and I would chuck a great deal of it away, much of it irreplaceable.
But it applied to all other areas of interest in my life as well. The

Peregrinations around my Armchair Page 157 of 163

pressure on me to simplify, simplify, simplify was exacerbated by the
fact that I lived in one room, and so had serious space constraints
anyway. At one time I gave away nearly all my hi-fi equipment. An
interest in hi-fi is something else that tends to grow and grow and
grow and throw out connections in all directions.

I learned that life can be pared down too much. It is possible to

pack a small rucksack and leave your property behind and roam the
world. You will certainly not be overwhelmed with things if you
follow that policy. But life will become very dull and constricted.
You will be unable to follow up anything that interests you as you
wander the earth, because you have allowed yourself no resources to
do so.

I think one has to rein in each interest or occupation from time to

time, as it threatens to overwhelm the brain matter, but without
going to the destructive extremes I went to in the past. I still
chuck things out and give things away, but I try to do it in
moderation nowadays.

And I am still feeling that sense of being overwhelmed over and over
again, with respect to different activities. Even something like
maintaining the facade of the bungalow. Around July or August I can
have such a wish-list in my head that it brings me to the brink of
despair. I could not do that number of repairs to the property in
five summers, let alone one. Everything has connections. Even
maintaining a property can become a bottomless preoccupation.

Supposing I want to brush up my knowledge of traditional Western

philosophy. Thanks to the Internet I can download in one short hour
major works by John Locke, Bishop Berkeley, Immanuel Kant, David
Hume, Benedict Spinoza, Plato and Aristotle. Now all I have to do is
read them. That's another year gone.

Or what about Colin Wilson? Born 1931 in Leicester. Someone I was

really interested in during the 1960s and even after that. Someone
whose work I would like to re-visit, to see what I still agree with,
and distinguish it from the reams of what I now believe to be tosh.
This is just one writer, surely it can't take too long to pay him
this "re-visit"? Well, by now he must have written more than fifty
books. That's before you start on the secondary literature, written
by other people about Colin Wilson. And before you go on the Internet
and google "Colin Wilson". For Zog's sake! How is it possible to deal
with all this stuff about just one writer!

How to cope with the feeling? I think it helps to realise that

pursuing any interest through all its ramifications is physically
impossible in one human lifetime. Only so much can be done. In most
things one will never do any more than skate on the surface. So be
it. Life is short and the world is unbounded (if finite).

0931 - 13.10.08 - When we talk about the right of self-determination

what we are often talking about, in practice, is the right of ethnic
self-determination. And yet this is not what we mean. Israel for the
Jews? Kosovo for the Albanians? When we talk about the self-
determination of a people, we are referring to an area which is
governed by an external power. The composition of the "people" is
irrelevant. There could be twenty different ethnic groupings. And
yet, in practice, it so often comes down to ethnic self-

Peregrinations around my Armchair Page 158 of 163


0933 - 14.10.08 - Robert Mugabe has brought his country to the brink
of collapse by authorising the seizure of farms run by whites by the
"war veterans". Much of his recent behaviour is inexcusable, and he
is near the top of most people's shit-list. But perhaps he has got a

I simply do not know, my ignorance of the history of Southern

Rhodesia being vast. However, if the blacks gained their victory over
the Smith regime only by agreeing to a settlement which was heavily
biased against them, then perhaps Robert Mugabe is correct in seeing
that that is something which needs to be set straight - better late
than never. Perhaps the unfairness of the colonial period was left in
place by the agreement, and now it is time to finish the job, and
achieve real independence. Even at the cost of a period of economic

0943 - 18.12.08 - My investigation of the Austrian economists has led

me to re-open the question of the viability of anarchism.

The anarchism I have considered heretofore has been an anarchism of

the left. Typically, there is no private property and everything is
shared. The anarchy of the commune. I have never proceeded very far
in examining this type of anarchism because it seems to be an utterly
implausible way of conducting our affairs.

The anarchism to which some Austrian economists tend is an anarchism

of the right. Typically, private property rights are sacrosanct;
indeed, they are the glue that holds the anarchistic society
together. I am encouraged to make a deeper examination of this
variety of anarchism than I did that of the left, because it seems
very much more plausible.

0962 -

Peregrinations around my Armchair Page 159 of 163

(If there is no difference between year of copyright and year of
publication then I have not mentioned year of copyright)

Anonymous. The Economist for September 18th 2004. Article called

Untangling Ultrawideband.

Anonymous. The Economist for Oct 22-28 2005. Article called Nuclear

Anonymous. Leader article in The Spectator for 9th July 2005.

Ernest Becker. Escape from Evil. Paperback from The Free Press.
Copyright 1975 by Marie Becker.

Bodrin, Michele and David K Levine. Against Intellectual Monopoly.

Cambridge University Press 2008. Also available as free download PDF.

Brookner, Anita. An Experiment in Old Acquaintance. Book review in

The Spectator for 2nd July 2005 of The Proust Project (edited by
Andre Aciman).

Browne, Anthony. The Left's War on Britishness. Article in The

Spectator for 23rd July 2005.

Cartledge, Paul. Alexander the Great: The Hunt for a New Past.
Macmillan 2004. Youghal Library hardback. Classification 938.07 CAR.

Chalmers, David. Moving forward on the Problem of Consciousness.

Downloaded paper.

Chancellor, Edward. Alan's Bubble. Article in Prospect magazine for

November 1999.

Churchill, Winston. The Gathering Storm: Volume One of The Second

World War.

Cohen, Martin. 101 Philosophy Problems. Routledge 1999. Youghal

library paperback. Classification 190 COH.

Dawkins, Richard. A Devil's Chaplain: Selected Essays. Phoenix

paperback 2003. Dawkins copyright 2003. First published 2003 by
Weidenfeld and Nicolson.

Dennet, Daniel C. Freedom Evolves. Allen Lane 2003. Hardback.

De Soto, Hernando. The Mystery of Capital: Why Capitalism Triumphs in

the West and Fails Everywhere Else. 2000.

Evans, Richard J. Telling Lies about Hitler: The Holocaust, History

and the David Irving Trial. Verso 2002.

Fildes, Christopher. City and Suburban page in The Spectator for the
issue dated 23rd July 2005.

Frazier, Kendrick (editor). Science Confronts the Paranormal. 1986

Prometheus Books. Secondhand paperback from Alan Prim's shop in
Youghal. Five euros.

Gellatly, Angus and Oscar Zarate. Introducing Mind & Brain. Icon
Books 1999. Copyright 1998. Non-fiction comic. Drawings by Oscar

Peregrinations around my Armchair Page 160 of 163


Girvin, Brian. The Emergency: Neutral Ireland 1939-45. Pan books

paperback 2007 in Youghal Library. Original publisher Macmillan 2006.
Copyright 2006. Classified 941.5 GIR.

Glover, Jonathan. Humanity: A Moral History of the Twentieth Century.

Copyright 1999. My copy a Yale Nota Bene book published 2001.

Goodhart, David. Article entitled Fear and Loathing on the Left in

the 24th September 2005 issue of The Spectator.

Gregg, John. Downloaded paper The Hard Problem.

Hoeg, Peter. Miss Smilla's Feeling for Snow. Translated from the
Danish by F David. Danish publication 1992. English translation
copyright 1993. UK hardback by Harvill. I have a Flamingo paperback
from Alan Prim's bookshop.

Honderich, Ted. Humanity, Terrorism, Terrorist War: Palestine, 9/11,

Iraq, 7/7 ... Continuum 2006.

Horgan, John. The End of Science: Facing the Limits of Knowledge in

the Twilight of the Scientific Age. Abacus paperback 1998. (c) John
Horgan 1996. First publication in US by Addison Wesley 1996. First
publication in UK by Little, Brown and Co 1997. Youghal Library
classification 501 HOR.

Huxley, Thomas Henry. English Men of Letters: Hume. Gutenberg Project

HTML download number 18819-h (HTML version).

Internet Movie Database, The. User Comment on An Inconvenient Truth.

Gillespie-85 on 28th June 2006.

James, William. The Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study in

Human Nature. The Gifford Lectures written up in 1902. A Gutenberg
text download varre10.txt

James, William. The Moral Equivalent of War. Being essay number

eleven in the collection published by Henry James jr. in 1911 after
the death of William James. A Project Gutenberg download number

James, William. Pragmatism: A New Name for Some Old Ways of Thinking.
1907. A Project Gutenberg download. File name prgmt10.txt.

Kant, Immanuel. The Critique of Pure Reason. Translation of first

edition by Friedrich Max Muller. Downloaded from Online Library of
Liberty. Available in various formats including HTML and PDF.

Kay, John. The Truth about Markets: Why some Nations are Rich but
most Remain Poor. First publication Allen Lane 2003. Published in
Penguin Books with new material 2004. Copyright 2003 and 2004.

Lewis, Marlo, jr. Al Gore's Science Fiction: A Skeptic's Guide to An

Inconvenient Truth. An Adobe Acrobat format download. 5820.pdf.

John Lukacs. The Last European War: September 1939-December 1941.

Routledge and Kegan Paul 1976.

Peregrinations around my Armchair Page 161 of 163

McCrone, John. The Ape that Spoke. Macmillan 1990.

McEvoy, J P and Zarate, Oscar. Introducing Stephen Hawking. First UK

publication Icon Books Ltd 1999. Text copyright 1995 McEvoy.
Illustrations copyright 1995 Zarate.

Magee, Bryan. Confessions of a Philosopher. Weidenfeld and Nicolson

1997. Hardback copy from Youghal Library, County Cork. Dewey 190 MAG.

O'Shaughnessy, James. Let them Build Houses. Article in The Spectator

for 16th July 2005.

Overy, Richard. 'Are We Beasts?' Review of books by Jorg Friedrich

and Keith Lowe in March 2007 edition of Literary Review.

Pinker, Steven. The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature.
BCA 2002.

Prestowitz, Clyde. Rogue Nation: American Unilateralism and the

Failure of Good Intentions. Basic Books 2003. Hardback copy from
Youghal Library, County Cork. Dewey 327.73 PRE.

Prunier, Gerard. The Rwanda Crisis: History of a Genocide. Hurst and

Company. Fourth impression 2002. (c) 1995 Gerard Prunier. Chapter 10
(c) 1997 Gerard Prunier.

Ruse, Michael. Taking Darwin Seriously: A Naturalistic Approach to

Philosophy. 2nd edition. Prometheus Books 1998

Russell, Bertrand. The Analysis of Mind. Download from Gutenberg


Schopenhauer, Arthur. The Essays of Arthur Schopenhauer: Studies in

Pessimism. Translated and adapted from Schopenhauer's 1851 Parerga
and Paralipomena. A Project Gutenberg text file download number

Seitz, Ramond. Over Here. Ambassador to the United Kingdom.

Weidenfeld and Nicholson 1998. Youghal Library hardback. Classified
327.73041 SEI.

Soros, George. The Bubble of American Supremacy: Correcting the

Misuse of American Power. Public Affairs 2004. Hardback in Youghal
Library. Classified 327-73 SOR.

Taylor, A J P. English History 1914 - 1945. Volume in The Oxford

History of England. First published 1965 and copyright ditto. My
battered hardback copy seems to be the 1966 reprint (with

Teimourian, Hazhir. Review of The End of Iraq: How American

Incompetence Created a War without End by Peter W Galbraith. In the
Literary Review, December 2006/January 2007.

Thorne, Kip S. Black Holes and Time Warps: Einstein's Outrageous

Legacy. Papermac 1994. Paperback copy from Youghal Library. Dewey
530.11 THO.

Tooze, Adam. The Wages of Destruction: The Making and Breaking of the
Nazi Economy.

Peregrinations around my Armchair Page 162 of 163

Truss, Lynne. Talk to the Hand: The Utter Bloody Rudeness of Everyday
Life (or six good reasons to stay home and bolt the door). Profile
Books 2005. Youghal Library classification 395 TRU.

Tuchman, Barbara. The March of Folly. Basically a silly book, because

of the reification of "folly". There is no Folly that goes on a march
in history.

van der Zee, Bibi. from the Ethical Living section of g2 for The
Guardian newspaper for 17th January 2008. Quoting the paragraphs on
Human Excrement.

Woods, Sara. Naked Villainy. This was a hardback Guild Publishing

edition. Copyright Probandi Books Limited 1987. An edition published
by Book Club Associates by arrangement with Macmillan. So date of
original publication not known. The case around which the story
revolves takes place in 1976-1977. It was Sara Woods' last crime
story and as a sort of appendix had a "biography" of Anthony

Peregrinations around my Armchair Page 163 of 163