Fatal(ist) Distraction Concluded

Oh shit it’s late I’m busy and a little bit drunk so I’ll just copy and paste the rest in here and leave it with you unchecked for now, thanks, good night…

The question whether objective truth can be attributed to human thinking is not a question of theory but is a practical question. Man must prove the truth, i.e., the reality and power, the ‘this-sidedness’ of his thinking, in practice. The dispute over the reality or non-reality of thinking which is isolated from practice is a purely scholastic question.
[op cit, 2]

And another thing (or two). It was recently shown that our ability to do simple maths, to understand the implications of ‘three million extra voters’ or ‘48% of the electorate’, not to mention the results of a degree rise in global temperature, is severely hampered when to do so risks challenging our cherished beliefs (especially when that is part of a deep investment in something ridiculous). Does knowing this mean we should give up?

Neoliberals assert that folks in free markets always get ‘better’ results than we can in controlled economies (and, hey, those who suffer in the process are just ‘losers’, right?). Do they have a point or are they swayed by a simple acceptance of Gradgrindian views? Can’t it be argued that we can use what we know and theories from both sides to arrive at the ground rules for a system less harsh and even more productive?

You can’t be a rationalist in an irrational world: it isn’t rational!
[Joe Orton: What the Butler Saw]

Your blogger knows people online and in the ‘real’ world who who will decry with good examples and logic the irrationalisms of climate change or vaccination deniers, while asserting that evolution is a nonsense theory because it contradicts the Bibble. Others of his acquaintance will be scathing about any number of ‘fruitcake’ beliefs and superstitions, while being unshakeable in their faith in homeopathy or astrology. Studies that seem to uphold the merest glimmer of what the stars say are leapt upon with triumphant glee while any that show the opposite (as the more rigorous ones always do) are decried with ‘science doesn’t know everything’: the very science they were calling as a witness when it seemed to uphold their view! But where does it say we’re supposed to be a consistent species? To be honest I prefer us this way, except when it threatens the lives and well-being of those I love — and I love everybody, me.

At this time, and aided by the very science that should be seeking answers to it, we have an assault on the very idea of truth (philosophically valid as a question), a desire to abandon it and see conspiracy behind everything we’re taught. An increasing number of people and celebrities now claim to believe the Earth is flat, and that the weird idea that it’s a spheroid is just part of the lies that ‘they’ tell us to keep us under control. Seems a pointless bit of control to me; as Sherlock Holmes said, what difference would it make whether the Sun went round the Earth or vice versa? But this encourages them to see their educators and governors and seats of learning as some thought-controlling enemy — rather than realising that it’s the very people feeding them this crap that stand to gain most from control their lives and draining their pockets.

Surely we need to realise the fundamental fact that in an argument the true winner is not the one who ‘proves’ their point or bludgeons the other party into giving up, but the person who has their opinion corrected. And when the issues involved are things like the economy or climate change or policies that could lead to all-out war, it’s even more crucial. The daft thing there is, whoever’s right  — and there is no point debating if our philosophical arbiter is not prepared to ‘consider it possible that they be mistaken’ — both sides stand to gain from reasoning it out. Because, if the implications of climate science, say, are correct, no amount of redefining ‘truth’ will save the deniers’ kids and grandkids from the consequences of even the not-very-nice-case scenarios. So working it out rationally is in their interests as much as mine — more than mine in fact, as I have no offspring to worry about anyway.

So who is going to use the tools, which have always been available, to stand up to the tide of nonsense, pay the Pascalian compliments and ask the Socratic questions? Who will dig behind the assumptions to find the telos, locate the premises, and identify the common ground? Cometh the hour, cometh the man, they say. Even ignoring the old-school sexism and allowing for a woman to cometh too, one is left asking where the bastard has got to. Perhaps we could get Mike Sandell to step up. He seems a nice guy with a razor sharp mind.

And no, just in case you’re wondering, not this writer. Not fast enough on my feet and not rigorous enough anyway — in a recent facebook exchange I was pulled up for saying I thought people taking an ‘anyone but Hillary’ stance were conned idiots and later saying I would never call the electorate idiots. Fair point, sloppy wording — my feeble defence would be that I think we are all capable of being conned into stupid acts, but we are not, at least unconned, inherently stupid. So maybe I need a more careful vocabulary, even more subtle than distinguishing between idiots and acts of idiocy. Not And more to the point, as mentioned in earlier blogs, I also have negative charisma, so no one would listen anyway (even if I spent many hours turning this ramble into a coherent and concise argument, effort I should really be spending on my trivial little novel). So if it’s all the same to you, I’ll just lie on this couch, while the veneer of civilisation crumbles all around me, swearing and throwing shoes at the telly whenever Question Time comes on.

Fatal(ist) Distraction Continued (from 2 weeks ago)

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The materialist doctrine that men are products of circumstances and upbringing, and that, therefore, changed men are products of changed circumstances and changed upbringing, forgets that it is men who change circumstances and that the educator must himself be educated. Hence this doctrine is bound to divide society into two parts, one of which is superior to society.

[op cit, 2]

Where was I … oh yes …

…changes of outlook and opinion at various times, if not by the force of arguments, then due to some epiphany or other. Famous people have spent weeks ‘seeing how the other 99% live’ for tv shows or the like, and at least modified their stance towards the undeserving poor, say. Surely our increased appreciation of the mechanisms and functions of the brane (stumbling around it in the dark though we still are), and of these very issues like confirmation bias, cognitive dissonance, illusion of depth and all that shit, can help us to develop tools to counter them, in others and, crucially, in ourselves?

As a counter to this, it’s worth noting that there are also articles going round about the suggestion of Blaise Pascal (1623-62) that, as people are generally better persuaded by the reasons which they have themselves discovered than by those which have come into the mind of others, a better way of arguing with them is to start by buttering them up with praise on any points they may have got right. This gives a platform for making them consider the other bits that are total bollocks. Your correspondent usually throws in a reference to good ol’ Socrates (the philosopher, d.399BCE, rather than the footballer, d.2011CE) and his method of asking questions until the victim sees contradictions inherent in their own position (Yrs Trly does add an admission that said Greek gentleman probably did get twatted a lot, probably the odd Glasgow kiss, let alone hemlocked eventually, as no one likes being proved wrong, especially by a smug beardy smartarse).

One thing that depresses this writer is the prevalence of unchallenged vox-poppery in the media. Even in shows which purport to be debates, there is never a philosophical linesman to yell, Fault! False attribution, or wave a yellow card for ad hominem. Instead the two (or more) sides are left free to trade woolly logic, emotive arguments and general snide insults, while rabidly reactionary audience members chip in with their own ill-considered or underinformed opinions. Rhetorical blows are traded but no attempt is made to convert or persuade, only to do down.

And, when the man or woman asked to comment in the street can only parrot unquestioned general ignorance (or, more likely, are chosen by the editor because they do so), like the couple during the EU campaigns who actually claimed that all immigrants and refugees are handed a huge wodge of cash, a council house and a car the minute they arrive, while his cousin had been on the council list for years, or repeat misinformation (from either side — the right have no monopoly here), the need for balance is surely no justification for letting this bullshit go unchallenged and uncommented?

Perhaps we need a program or newspaper column in which a latter-day CEM Joad (look him up) can say, It all depends what you mean by … and subject all these ideas and facts (false or otherwise) to a strong critique.

But who would be prepared to go on such a show?  Can you imagine K-A Conway or any of those blustering ranty types accepting an invite, if the conditions were that they were to submit to reasoned discussion, especially if the ‘referees’ could turn their mics off or administer a Chinese burn for every infringement against the debaters’ code? More to the point, who but your tedious correspondent would watch the show?

I have oft opined that the notorious ‘Brexit Bus’, claiming that the UK sent £350m a week to the EU and hinting that it could be spent on the NHS instead, should have been followed round by another bus saying that we get £240m of that back in rebates, loads more in subsidies to struggling areas, and that the value in terms of business and other economic terms makes it well worth the fee, and, by the way, many of those sponsoring this bus and the purple one have expressed a desire to see the NHS dismantled and privatised. In an adversarial system the onus is on the opposition to counter the bullshit, after all. But not only would that have meant an unfeasibly long bus (or unreadably tiny text), but all the anti-EU media (owned by those billionaires and their friends) would have cut it out of their coverage anyway.

Brochure for the novel

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xxx
Welcome to the Peigne’s Arms Tavern and Coaching Inn.

A hostelry has stood on this site since Medieval times, taking its name and ‘weasels rampant’ shield from the local landowners, as mentioned in the Doomsday Book.

xxx
In the late 18th Century, a series of fires destroyed the original buildings and a few others nearby. This presented the owners with an opportunity to rebuild and extend the property as a ‘post house’, servicing the mail coaches from London. Not being on an actual route to anywhere else however, it went through a number of overoptimistic owners, before falling into a state of neglect in the early 20th Century, after which it struggled on as a ‘charming’ local watering hole, well-placed to slake the thirst of worshippers leaving the picturesque Norman church of St Rantipole.

The decline of religious worship in British life paralleled the decline of the ‘Arms’, until it was acquired by the Shreckley Blabe hotel and health spa chain, who embarked on a major restoration, with the aid of an EU grant, which many believed was meant for a country with a similar name. The duck pond was dredged and cleared of its rustic detritus of supermarket trolleys and white goods, making it once again an ideal spot for humans and waterfowl alike. Today the pond, village green and church present an idyllic prospect for diners drawn to the al fresco facilities on our forecourt.

The old coaching accommodation was extended and tastefully modernised in Sixties style. Three large rooms, the Alhambra Ballroom, Peigne’s Vault, and the Weasel Lounge, were adapted as ideal venues for conferences, receptions and entertainments. Today the Peigne’s Arms is the area’s premier venue for hens & stags, weddings, christenings and even divorce celebrations ☺.

Our 39 bedrooms, many with four-poster beds, all with en suite, tv, wi-fi, minibar and tea-making facilities, are ideal for your guests and relations, or for that intimate, relaxing weekend break. Whatever your desires (well, almost!), our fully equipped health spa, cordon bleu restaurant and well-stocked bars will make your stay at the Peigne’s an unforgettable experience!


(From Knights in the Gardens of Spayne, Part III

That thing I was scribbling last week will be concluded next week)

Fatal(ist) Distraction (I)

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The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways. The point, however, is to change it.
[Karl Marx: Theses On Feuerbach, 11]

Scientists, like philosophers attempt to interpret the world (but with the emphasis on the ‘how?’ rather than the ‘why?’). But though the whole discipline stems from a desire to alter and control that world, some branches, particularly those concerned with our branes, now seem more concerned with giving us reasons to give up trying.

The old cliché about wanting the serenity to accept the things we cannot change, courage to change the things we can, and the wisdom to know the difference is all well and good. Even though major advances are often made by folks who refused to accept that ‘wisdom’, it is also worth bearing in mind the classic verse:

They said it couldn’t be done.
He smiled and said he knew it.
But he tried that thing that ‘couldn’t be done’ …
… and he couldn’t do it.

Siggy Freud and the other fathers of psychology hoped that by discovering and understanding the roots of a neurosis or even a psychosis somewhere in the patient’s youth or childhood, its current manifestations could be alleviated or even ‘cured’. This may now look overoptimistic, but it’s unlikely they’d be impressed with an industry in which the discovery of a traumatic juvenile encounter with a flock of skittish Herdwicks at the root of an adult terror of men in chunky-knit jumpers justifies suing one’s parents for negligence and a compensation claim against the Wool Marketing Board, not to mention insisting on trigger warnings for films like Babe.

And now neuroscience is getting in on the act. At a time when the nature of truth and belief is being questioned from all sides, and manipulated by the EVL-right, there seems to be a constant drip of articles like this one from the New Yorker (Why Facts Don’t Change Our Minds). We are informed that people’s politics and opinions are all but set in genetic stone, if not at birth, then very soon after. Concepts like ‘confirmation bias’ are bandied about and exaggerated stories of how ‘big data’ is being used to target voters by their prejudices (even helping to dissuade the irredeemably humane — sorry, ‘snowflakes’ — from voting). In fact it’s tempting to think that the very prevalence of this fatalistic message is itself being encouraged by the alt-meanies to dispirit liberal-leaning folk.

Ever since the 1980s, the art of politics has shifted away from any attempt to sell a vision, right, left or otherwise, to the general populace. Instead the agenda now is driven by focus groups and an attempt to give the people what — no, to make the people think you’re giving them what they want. Yes, it’s true that all the effective methods of campaigning, particularly in so-called ‘representative’ democracies (see Democratic Blisters in this blog series) will concentrate on floating voters and marginal constituencies (like ‘swing states’), so there has always been a pragmatic concentration on lines of least resistance, but now it seems to be simply about identifying and mobilising your army and attacking the other’s.

In a recent discussion on antisocial media, your friendly blogger commented to a Canadian fan of Objectionalism that Ayn Rand was a nasty, fucked up piece of work with an even nastier Weltanschauung. His response was that this is a nasty world, so I should ‘suck it up’ and get with the only sensible programme (despite the fact that Rand herself couldn’t even live by her ‘principles’).

The tragedy of all this is that one ends up with a totally defeatist world view, societies doomed to repeat and endless Viconian cycle of exploitation (as propounded by S Bannon Esq in his fillums), revolution, chaos and repression, punctuated, if we’re lucky, by brief spells of some form of peaceful social democracy, prosperous for some and with a safety net for the rest (any state, even the USA, with some form of welfare  provision fits somewhere on this wide spectrum). After all, no attempts to establish a thousand year Reich or a socialist workers’ paradise have yet come to much, certainly not to Orwell’s eternal boot in the face nor Karl’s withering away of the state. Whereas in the continuation of reasoned debate there is at least some hope that a longer term solution can be arrived at. No Utopias, but at least meaningful reform, a chance to stop the treadmill now we know how it runs.

No doubt there will always be the charismatic psychopaths, getting off on power for its own sake, and those who will follow them blindly but other studies show that such people are effective mainly in fucking things up, so society should really be taking steps to learn to overcome the ovine tendency to follow and finding ways to neutralise such people — while making use, if possible, of the positive sides of such determination and self-belief. We should surely not be encouraging a mindset which leads to Trumpo stating, quite rightly, that he could shoot someone in broad daylight in Times Square in front of news cameras, and not lose a single vote, whereas that statement alone ought to be enough to lose him all of them.

Despite all the negativity, we’ve all experienced people, even ourselves, undergoing radical

 

Bloody hell it’s late! I’ll finish this next week.

Head on the (Writer’s) Block

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First of all, may I say Dydd Gŵyl Dewi Sant hapus to all my reader. Normally I’d be cooking something Welsh for my supper, but I’m popping to my Club for an exhibition launch (free wine, that’s why we do art!) and who knows if snacks, restaurants or chippie on the way home will ensue?

Of course this year it’s also Ash Wednesday, so last night pancakes were the thing. I do like a bit of tradition, not least because it makes it easier to decide what to eat for one meal at least. Having said that I decided to go a bit elaborate, by reviving the old classic, crêpes Suzette. And then discovered I had no orangey liqueurs, nor could I find miniatures of the stuff in any of the plethora of booze outlets near the Abode of Stones.

Wee Susie's Pancakes

So I invented Wee Susie’s Pancakes, by switching the Grand Marnier for a drop of Drambuie and flaming whisky in place of brandy. And verra nice they were, too!

carnaval de cádiz 2017

But the tradition I most miss on this day is one I only experienced once. Carnaval de Cádiz. You can read about my life in Cai here and even see my snaps of the 2001 event here.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again — in Spain they have Carnaval, in Brazil too, in Italy Carnevale, in France and New Orleans, Mardi Gras: celebrating the approach of Lent by saying ‘Goodbye, Meat’ or eating drinking and making merry on ‘Fat Tuesday’. Riotous fun, dressing up, parties … and what do we Brits do? We make pancakes. And squeeze a lemon on them. Thrillsville.

Today in 2001 someone rang me from Germany for a chat. Saying aufwiederhören, I added that I was about to go out and resume carnaval drinking.

——No, she said: it’s Ash Wednesday, carnaval is over now. This is Lent.
——Not here, I replied. It goes on to the weekend at least.
——But are they not Catholics?
——Of course, I answered: but they are also Andalusians!

And people wonder why I miss Spain (or why I don’t go back).

—-

I’m waffling here, because I don’t feel like concentrating on producing anything in particular. My family (siblings and nephew) visited at the weekend to be disappointed at the rugby (I became a Scot sometime in the second half — I’m so fickle!). I have some (minor, I hope) health worries and my sleep patterns are more than usually random, leaving me tired and discomforted.

And I’m a bit stook on the book. I went to the library in toon on Monday, spread the paperwork out … and went blind. Well, not blind as such, but I got one of my occasional migraine auras, meaning that a loop of glittering lights appeared to be between me and the paper. As usual it refused to go away before I had a lie down in a dark room, so I came home.

And yesterday I had a look and a jot and found I wasn’t sure what was going to happen next. These things happen. I’m sure thought processes are going on in the darker recesses of what passes for my brane, which will throw something up one day soon. I have a dénouement worked out and I need to get divers characters to a certain place by a certain time, so I think I should write down what they will be doing there and work backwards from that.

Meanwhile I should just scribble any old rubbish into a weekly blog to force myself to write something and keep the verbal juices oozing, if not exactly flowing. After all hardly anybody reads it, and they aren’t the most discerning lot anyway.

Only kidding. Have a great St David’s, Lent, Purim, Holi and whatever else you might observe in the coming month. Maybe I’ll have written something by next week.

Distortion: Final Portion

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We bring you the gruesome conclusion to the gory story we started last week … will they catch the portrait killer?

Distortion,
by Zelda McLeich
part 2

xxAs I expected, computer searches just multiplied the haystacks without throwing up any East Midland needles. Not that the art classes were promising at first, either. Same litany everywhere: “We get shedloads of students through here; I can’t remember ’em all. Most beginners are rubbish, and most in similar ways, like this in fact. Some persevere, some don’t, some improve, some don’t. If they do, you start to spot personal styles and quirks, but …” and so on and so forth.
xxThe smaller, local groups in church halls and community centres were where we set most of our  hopes, them being the sort of venue chosen for the killings and apparently places our killer had access. But at first they were no better and we got the same sort of analysis, albeit delivered in a less superior tone. In fact it was only as were leaving retired art teacher Derek Turton’s studio, the base of Long Eaton Life Drawing Circle, that we were called back with our first hint of a lead.
xx“Hold on a sec,” called Turton. “Let’s take another look at that last one. Yes, come to think of it, it does ring a bell. It’s Betsy, isn’t it?”
xx“No, sir,” said Mike; “that one’s Marzena — Polish lass, from Warsaw.”
xx“No, no, I mean the artist, the style. Betsy … let me think … Harding — that’s it. It’s the overdrawn lips, the wedge shaped nose, the weight of the lines. Like I said, most students start out a bit like that but they soon improve. It’s only when they’re good they can do it on purpose and then it looks accomplished. You know Picasso said it took him a lifetime to learn to draw like a child, but that’s why his stuff sells and this just looks crude. However many times you told Betsy to look carefully, compare the actual view to the picture as you go, get the proportions and positions sketched in first, loosen up, cut down the heaviness — especially that there are no lines in nature, just what our brains construct from boundaries and shadows … well, she never seemed to take it on board. But then she’d get so frustrated when everything looked wrong, still basically doing triangles for noses, ovals for eyes. Breasts aren’t just circles unless you’re Fernand Léger — which she definitely was not. Like I say, it still could be one of umpteen beginners, but the person this most brings to mind is no male, but Betsy Harding.”
xx“Would she be of the lesbian persuasion by any chance?” asked Mike.
xx“I couldn’t say either way — why on earth would you ask?”
xx“Yeah, Mike, why on earth?”
xx“Just if we’re thinking our killer has a sexual motivation … or maybe she’s a munter, psychotically jealous of better looking women?”
xx“I think you need to go on some sort of awareness course, Mike,” I said, “or at least one in the proper framing of questions.”
xx“Well, if it helps,” said Turton, “she was a well-built woman in her late twenties, early thirties, but not huge or ungainly.  Not glamorous, but I wouldn’t say the sort they used to call ‘plain’, nor did I see any sign of self-image problems — not that folks can’t hide them well. It was more anger management she had trouble with, so in fact I can’t say she was here long enough for intimate acquaintance: I had to ask her to leave, or lose most of my regulars. I wouldn’t go quite so far as to say ‘fruitloop’, but a person suffering from issues, which surfaced far too often for comfort — though I can’t imagine her as a murderer at all. But then we have any number of quirks at art sessions, from blokes who, if not obviously pervy, will turn on their heels and leave if they see it’s a male model or an older woman, to people who mutter weird things to themselves while they’re drawing — and Betsy never seemed odd in those ways, just annoyed with her own inability to capture on paper what she saw before her eyes.”
xx“In fact,” he added, “having seen those rather unpleasant photographs of the victims, I’d say that Betsy can’t be your killer.”
xx“On what basis?” I asked.
xx“On the basis that these pictures look something like the mutilated faces. Unless she’s come on in leaps and bounds, if Betsy Harding was drawing them, her sketches would probably look like normal faces!”
xxI suddenly felt the ghost of a sinking feeling pass over my soul (or some crap like that), but I just asked Mr Turton if he had any clue as to where we might find Miss Harding.
xx“I doubt it’s her, from what you say,” I said, as he checked contacts on his laptop, “but maybe she knows someone or something. Or maybe the idea they’d been to classes at all’s a dead end, if they’re still that bad.”

* * *

xxBetsy Harding wasn’t hard to trace. She’d lived much of her life with her widowed mother in Spondon. Mrs Harding told us she’d not long moved out to the village of Trelborne, where she’d found a small flat with a room big enough for a studio, so she could pursue her artistic ambitions. She supported herself by doing agency work at care homes and hospices around the Derby and Chesterfield areas. Her nursing training came in handy, even though it ‘hadn’t suited her much’ as a career, ‘for some reason’.
xxNo, she hadn’t had many boyfriends, ‘not long-term, anyroad’, but she had mates from work and ‘socialised a bit wi’ her arty pals’. Mrs H couldn’t name any of these, not having met them. Betsy was, of course, a lovely girl and still visited her owd Mam often; though, oddly enough, she hadn’t heard from her in a few days now.
I was still thinking this was all a dead end. At best Betsy might lead us to the killer — might even be in danger herself, on the off chance it was one of her friends. Perhaps someone like her would be the front that lures the victims to their doom: xx“Oh sorry, Betsy couldn’t make it so it’s just us — do sit down …”
xxThen Debbie, who had helped Mrs H clear the tea things away, beckoned to me excitedly to come and join her in the kitchen.
xxStuck to the fridge with an assortment of souvenir magnets, was a collection of drawings, of the kind only a mother could love. Landscapes, portraits and life studies, in the same lumpy style as our killer (excuse me if I don’t know the proper art-crit terminology), though, to be fair, not quite so distorted. Just uneven ears and eyes, noses a bit off-centre …
xx“These are ‘er better efforts, poor love,” said Betsy’s Mam. “‘Er Dad, God rest ‘is soul, were allus tellin’ ‘er she were wastin’ ‘er time ‘cos she were rubbish. I don’t know nowt about art, meself, but she were always sure she’d get the ‘ang of it one day. She said these ones looked a bit more like the models — not that I’d know — and stuck ’em up to encourage her. She allus took her failures to heart so.”

* * *

xxMeanwhile, Mike and Eric had been out and about, revisiting the art schools, classes and groups. And indeed, Betsy or someone answering her description was indeed known — not to say notorious — in all the murder locations and a few more besides. She’d attended the group but got disruptive and freaked people out when her pictures didn’t go right and either been asked to stop coming or kept away in what they assumed was embarrassment. But no, of course she wun’t alone in being a bit rubbish or ‘a hopeless case’ as an artist. We got a couple of names for guys she seemed to know, who also only came a few times, and were only a bit more competent; and one, Jack Riley, stood out. A moody character, by all accounts, didn’t say much, but ‘a bit scary’, made people feel uneasy. We got an address for him in Morbury Wodehouse, the stop before Trelborne on the Chesterfield line. And we found he had a bit of previous too, in the antisocial behaviour bracket.
xx“Right, let’s check ’em both out,” I said. “Morbury first, on account of it’s closest. Let’s go see Mr Riley’s artistic efforts.”

* * *

xxThe Riley residence was one of those typical eyesores that seem to be allocated to every Victorian terrace, usually at one end or the other. Old furniture and extracts of motorbike on what was once a front lawn, a driveway down the side, cluttered with stuff
xx“I think ‘e’s away, the snotty git,” grunted his neighbour. “Not been here for a few days, but that weird bird he hangs round with sometimes has been  over. Think she uses ‘is garrij — or ‘studio’, as ‘e calls it.”
xx“Thanks,” I called back. “Yer not goin’ far, are yer? We might need to ask a question or two.”
xx“Miserable owd bugger,” said Mike, when we got out of earshot. “Can’t see any sign of anyone indoors.”
xx“Well, we should check this ‘studio’, then,” I said, just as Debbie came running round the corner.
xx“In the garage ma’am ,” she panted: “I think we’ve got another one. Hanged this time!”
xxWe rushed round the corner and to the garage. Sure enough, peering through the gap in the door, we could just make out the form of a woman’s body hanging by a chair. The door was locked but Mike found a length of iron and prised it open.
xx“Too late — much too late,” I said as we walked in to be hit by the scent of death.
xxThe garage contained a work bench strewn with assorted artist’s equipment and a large mirror, an easel and a couple of chairs, one of which was in the middle of the floor. The girl’s feet brushed against it as she swung in the breeze from the open door.
xx“The fucked-up bastard!” exclaimed Mike. “Look; he’s turned the easel so the poor lass can see this shitty picture while she’s dying.”
xx“It’s weird, though,” said Debbie. “This pic’s as distorted as the others, but the face hasn’t been cut up at all.”
xxThat was when I remembered what Mr Turton had said.
xx“Shit! We’ve got it the wrong way round, guys. If Betsy Harding was drawing the mutilated faces, her sketches would probably look like normal ones. Those pictures weren’t drawn to look like the cut-up faces. The faces were cut up to look like the badly-drawn pics!”
xx“Shit, yes,” added Debbie, cottoning on. “So the easel hasn’t been turned to face the model. It were already that way round, so the artist could look in the mirror!”
xx“You’re kidding!” gasped Mike.
xx“Think so?” I said. “Look what it says on the pic.”
xxMike stepped round to see. He swore as he bumped into the swinging body of Betsy Harding — and as he read the inscription at the bottom of the crude effort …
xxSELF PORTRAIT.

Distortion by Zelda McLeich

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Once again we present a gory story by our guest weirdo … and this time it’s a detective story in more than one part (two or three, I’m told) … so without further ado, here’s …

Distortion
by
Zelda McLeich

xxJoanne Public has a twisted view of police work. Serial killers, for instance, are extremely rare, even in Scandinavia. Even more so in Derbyshire, which seems odd, given there’s not much else to do here. Most cop work, even in CID, is bloody routine. More form-filling that felon-fingering. Things might be edgier in the big cities, but if a tv series told it like it is in the sticks, viewers would be so bored they’d even switch over to X Factor.
xxMidsomer Murders, my arse. Midsomer Broken Windows more like.
xxThe rookie might start out dreaming of excitement, the thrill of the chase, putting life on the line to outsmart the villain, the noble act of making the world a safer place, but that soon gets knocked out of you, and you welcome the safe routine of collaring the known villains for another botched robbery, and filling in forms is a relief from subduing another batch of drunken youngsters.

xxSo it isn’t the first thing a DI wants to hear on a Monday morning: “there’s been another one, ma’am.”
xx“Shit! Number four? Only a month after the last.”
xx“Getting more frequent then. Bastard!”
xxThat’s another thing. The thrill of the chase is more than offset by the sickening nature of a lot of crimes, even the sordid domestic violence that inadequates visit on their nearest and weakest. DC Mike Strong was even more affected by our artistic killer than the rest of us, maybe because he had a daughter the same age as the victim. OK she was away at uni, but even so …
xx“Same m.o.?” I asked Sgt Morgan.
xx“Aye. Strangled, mutilated, sketched,” she replied.
xx“Hung, quartered and drawn, in fact”, DC Chapman said, unhelpfully.
xx“Thank you Eric: tasteful as ever. Any i.d. on the victim yet?”
xx“Not yet, boss. Nothing from forensics yet; scene secured and ready for inspection. Victim found in Blebbington, a room in the community centre used for art classes and stuff, no sign of forced entry …”
xx“Same pattern, different village. OK, let’s get over there, someone check on who might have had keys, not that these buggers ever keep proper records, but we must find a common name before long, unless our killer’s a locksmith too. No obvious pattern to the jigsaw, but let’s hope we catch him before we get any more pieces. Let’s get on the road, team.”

* * *

xxIn the car I ran through it all again.
xx“What sort of nutter is he? Not an obvious one, I’ll bet. Girls accompany him to secluded huts away from the city at quiet times, obviously thinking he’s a pukka artist. He can’t come across as a total weirdo. Not ruling anything out, but I’m still betting it’s a he, some guy with issues, to say the bloody least. No signs of sexual assault, though. Could be we’re looking for an ugly fucker, taking out his lookist frustration on attractive women. So he invites them, presumably to sit for a portrait …”
xx“Well, he ain’t lying,” chipped in Eric; “catch is, he strangles ’em and cuts ’em first.”
xx“Exactly. And defo in that order, according to forensics; a few stitches, just enough to hold the shape. But then why screw the sketch up and chuck it on the floor? Serial killers always keep a memento of their victims.”
xx“No, that’s the movies, Mike,” I reminded him. “Jodie Foster is an actor, not a criminologist. But the pics we find, and I quote, ‘don’t show the hand of a skilled draughtsperson’. Seems he’s proud enough of his handiwork to want to record it, immortalise it, even if he’s not proud enough of his sketches to keep them.”
xx“Maybe the one he leaves is just a rough sketch, to get his eye in, fix the form” suggested Sgt Morgan; “then he does a fair one for keeps?”
xx“That’s a sick idea of ‘fair’!” said Mike; “But why does he scrunch them up — the pics I mean?”
xx“Or the girls, in fact,” added Eric, unnecessarily. “Hey, we’re dealing with a nut job here; perhaps trying to reason it out is a waste of time.”

* * *

xxThe crime scene was the same, depressing sight. Two chairs in the middle of the floor, a few feet apart, the body, now identified as Susan Smith, on the floor beside one, face cut and stitched, and an overworked but identifiable charcoal drawing on an A3 sheet of cartridge paper, screwed up on the chair.
xx“Not much of a stitcher either,” commented Chalmers, the forensics boffin. “Defo not competent enough to suggest a surgeon, any more than an artist.”
xx“Maybe just a Picasso fan,” suggested Eric.
xx“Why do you say that?”
xx“You know, Picasso,” repeated Eric, hinting at a hitherto unrevealed cultural side. “Eyes both on the same side of the face, noses like wedgey things, and all that kinda shit,” he exclaimed, dispelling the illusion. “But he ain’t got the skill or the visual imagination and has to rearrange the faces first, so he can do a modern art version from life — or death, in this case.”
xx“That’s just fuckin’ daft,” snorted Mike.
xx“True,” I said, “but whatever we’re dealing with is fucking daft, so I wouldn’t rule it out. What about this Smith lass then? Another out-of-towner?”
xx“Yes ma’am,” said the Sergeant who was at the scene when we arrived. “Sgt Tinsley, ma’am, from Belper Field Lane.  From what I understand this one’s from a bit closer to home than the previous three. ”
xx“Yeah, two from Poland, one from Kilmarnock,” said Mike. “How much closer this time?”
xx“Very, sir. Nottingham. Doing a course on materials science in Derby. Staying in shared rooms out in Little Eaton, about half way here from the uni itself. We’re waiting for the nod to inform the family — and the housemates.”
xx“I’d have thought local people’d be too wary now the press has hold of it,” said Debbie Morgan. “Maybe Nottingham folk don’t think of themselves as local here, but if some bloke round here asked to draw my portrait I’d be shittin’ meself now.”
xx“True, Sarge,” I said, “but not all young folk take that much notice of local news anyroad. Any prints or DNA, Doc?”
xx“I think there’s some old friends among the dabs on the door and the chair,” said Chalmers. “Not being a sex attack, it’s unlikely we’ll  isolate any DNA but it looks like the same perp, and if it is, we know it’s no one we have on file.”
xx“Fuck. I’m as liberal as the next copper, but I’d like the civil liberties mob to go tell this poor kid’s family that we shouldn’t have a national database.”
xx“You say that, boss,” said Eric, surprisingly earnest for a change, “but then a bastard smart and twisted enough to do this sort of thing would just take more precautions from the get-go. Gloves and stuff.”
xx“Assuming all this was premeditated of course,” said Mike.
xx“Meaning?”
xx“Well, I dunno if this is the movies again, but could it be that a serial killer’s first murder is a spur-of-the-moment kind of thing, fit of temper, argument … then he develops a taste for it, the power, the mutilation …? So there’d probably have been no gloves or stuff for the Koslowski murder.”
xx“No preparation — except for a bloody great sketch pad and charcoal and shit — not to mention a scalpel and some sewing equipment.”
xx“Not that sophisticated, luv.” Chalmers was suitably withered by my disapproving stare.
xx“I don’t tolerate being called ‘miduck’ either, Mr Chalmers, not at work. But do elucidate.”
xx“Sorry, Ma’am, but it’s just that the knife used was no scalpel; more likely a well-sharpened penknife, like you’d use to sharpen a pencil or put a point on charcoal — traces of which were found deep in the wounds.  And the stiching’s not done with bog-standard cotton, but it ain’t medical suture neither.”
xx“Fine, but still came prepared.”
xx“Prepared to draw — and maybe a well-stocked artist’s goody bag includes all sorts of items. A chainsaw if you’re Damien Hirst!”
xx“Good point. Well, let’s not assume anything then. Someone can get the bad news to the Smiths of sunny Nottingham, and warn them and the housemates we’ll need to ask questions. Being more local, it’s more likely she’ll have told folks of any plans involving doolally artists, than our previous victims. Why would he ask ’em to keep it a secret if he wasn’t planning nasties — and why would they agree anyway?”
xx“Tells ’em it’d be a good surprise for their loved ones?”
xx“Possibly, Sarge; possibly. Anyhow, let’s go get ourselves some lunch and we’ll reconvene in God’s good air-conditioning at the station. Say, two thirty?”

* * *

to be continued (probably next week) …

A Modest Proposal: My Object, All Sublime

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My object, all sublime,
I shall achieve in time:
To make the punishment ludicrously disproportionate to the crime
xxxxLudicrously disproportionate to the crime …

xxI often think that spot executions would solve a lot of society’s ills.
A friend recently shared a meme asking if it was a good idea to have schoolkids put their smartphones in boxes at the front of class during lessons. So I said that they should learn to control their own use of them, encouraged by spot executions of anyone whose phone rings. I don’t think they took me seriously.

xxOne of the things societies do wrong, imao, is to grade punishments to fit crimes. But this has the constant effect of making it possible to weigh up committing the crime against the risk of being caught. A small fine might not be enough to deter littering, but any larger sanction may seem draconian, whereas a few years away might be worth risking when temptation to steal presents itself. I know many people have considered even a life sentence a small price to pay for bumping me off, though none has yet succeeded (obvs!).

xxNow, your correspondent being an anarchist, he of course is not keen on the idea of state-imposed punishments at all. As Godwin pointed out in Political Justice (BkVII Ch1), to punish cannot undo the crime, but to punish to put someone off doing it again or as a deterrent for the rest of society is to punish for something that hasn’t even been done.

The difficulty here arises only from the consideration of the general nature of punishment, which is abhorrent to the true principles of mind, and ought to be restrained within as narrow limits as possible, if not instantly abolished.

xxBut let’s accept the vengeful nature of society, that puts people into need and temptation and then likes to scourge them for giving in to such horrors.
xxThe idea proposed here is that we start with the draconian punishments for the minor offences. And it can be argued that the ‘nastier’ ones do not need their punishments ramping up, because no one undertakes such complex or harsh actions as burglary or murder lightly anyway. And those that might be tempted so to do will be victims of a well-established laxity of morals — a laxity that begins with a lackadaisical attitude to minor offences.

xxYour blogger recalls reading a story a minnellium ago (probably For All the Rude People by Jack Ritchie), in which a guy starts murdering people for being rude to their fellow folk. Quite soon, the whole community begins to be more polite, at first out of fear of this vigilante, but later because they actually find it more rewarding, and a general conviviality breaks out.
xxNow, it seems unlikely that anyone would drop litter if they knew that a licensed executioner could gun them down from an unseen sniper’s nest, nor would many folks text while driving if they thought a bazooka shell might suddenly wipe them and their car from the face of the earth. So, extreme though many might find the punishment, the number of people that would actually be shredded in a hail of bullets for spitting would probably be negligible.
xxThere is a sort of proviso here, in the effects of a prevailing culture. Apologists for the laws in Islamic theocracies argue that fear of being parted from their hands deters many a thief from using them inappropriately. But it must be considered that the vast majority in these societies also accept the fundamental moral teaching of their religion, that tells them the act is wrong and even puts them in danger of a far longer-lasting punishment to come. Perhaps sadly, some in less religious communities, which have not found a way to inculcate similar but humanistic values, do also have a stronger tendency to believe that, in the words of Yul Brynner, “Wrong is when you get caught.*”
xxAnd indeed, some would say that assigning a punishment to any act implies and therefore condones its desirability, if not its performance.

xxSo if we are going to punish at all, let’s say to people that it is tempting of course to drop that sweet wrapper, to add a few quid to your insurance claim, or to put the green bottle in the white recycling bin, but let us also educate and explain patiently why it is wrong and deleterious to the whole of society, even the perpetrator, to do those things — and let’s shoot the tiresome bastards who still don’t get the fucking message.
xxAnd all this without wasting time and money on trials and so-called ‘due process’. Clean streets, polite and considerate citizens, dosh saved to spend on much-needed services and, in the longer run, far less crime of the more serious kinds.

And still the government shows no interest in hiring me as a special adviser!

xxxx

*Surprise Package (1960)

Climate of Fear of Climate

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The environmental movement is the greatest threat to freedom and prosperity in the modern world, according to Myron Ebell, an adviser to the US president Donald Trump’s administration and leading professional climate change denier.

xxHis institute does not disclose its funders but has in the past received money from the oil giant Exxon Mobil. Our special interest is, I would say, freedom, he claims. And he lambasts the ‘expertariat’, which he says the people of America have rejected and I think with good reason because I think the expertariat have been wrong about one thing after another, including climate policy.

[Source: The.Grauniad,
https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/jan/30/green-movement-greatest-threat-freedom-says-trump-adviser-myron-ebell]

OK, so let’s take this one thing at a time…

A hoax, funded by interest groups?
xx
As opposed to the super-rich fossil fuel interest groups funding him?! And a hoax played along with by every major apparently independent university and private science and data gathering institution? It is stunning that a man patently fronting for oil-rich billionaires can make claims about special interest groups trying to close down freedoms.  Ignorance is strength, indeed.

The ‘expertariat’ (see also Gove, M.)
xxSure, science  isn’t perfect and 100% right all the time. It doesn’t claim to be, but it does say, ‘given the data we have available and the best theories we’ve come up with so far, this is our best explanation of what was and what may happen — and we’re still gonna question the results and refine the techniques.’ And increasingly as models and data are refined, and computing power increases,  it’s pretty accurate.
xxOf course, as with the goalie not getting to the ball, the mistakes are glaring and memorable, but put it this way: if you’re not listening to experts, on what do you base your decisions?
xxScience and experts land tiny spacecraft on whizzing comets squillions of miles away, flinging things into space in the direction your instincts tell you will probably waste a lot of expensive shit. Experts have a pretty good record at telling you when it’s gonna rain, even with the chaotic nature of weather patterns and those pesky butterflies..
xxScientific predictions and analyses may be wrong even 20% of the time (it’s probably far less often, but I have no idea how to check that); but tossing a coin will be wrong 50% of the time, and believing something just because it’s what you want to believe has lit many men the way to dusty (and rather premature) death.

…wrong about … climate policy?
xxEven if we ignore all the glaring reasons to wonder (at least) about the way the climate is going (and anyone over thirty will be aware of changes) — retreating ice caps and the desperately swimming polar bears, frequent extreme and anomalous weather events the world over, let alone the statistical data — even then it is simple reason that we can only know a policy like this is wrong by totally ignoring it (à la Trump), followed by the simple expedient of ‘wait and see’. And if it turns out that you are wrong, Mr Ebell, you can say ‘oh shit, sorry!’ and we can all have a good laugh about it. And say, at least we had increased freedom. If we can still breathe, of course.

… the people of America have rejected?
xxOh I am so pissed off with this ‘will of the people’ crap. I understand, as I’ve said before, the principles of collective responsibility, the practical reasons for taking a majority, even a narrow one, as representative of the whole, but this is synecdoche gone mad!

xxAnarchists have often argued that the mechanisms of governance, be they authoritarian, populist or democratic, militate against the application of reason. We now seem to be in a spiral of increasingly adversarial discourse (ie we argue too bloody much), where digging in to a position, dismissing those on the other side as dumbass or venal, prevents all attempts to convince, destroys all trust in real, verifiable data (even allowing for and benefiting from an awareness that pure fact will always be affected by social and personal baggage). But to me, in all these points, I hold that it is as much in the interests of Ebell, Trump, Farage, Nutall, Putin and May, not to mention everyone who supports them, to rethink their position — or even try convince me and other nice people to rethink ours.

xxThe biggest point that keeps nagging at me is this. If he is wrong, what then? According to Wikipedia he has a wife and four children, relatives whose futures one might suppose matter to him. Does he never entertain any doubt? Does he (and bear in mind I use him purely as one example of a wider malaise) never wonder on what basis he might actually make this judgement? Does he, like a lot of people, cherry pick from among the self-styled ‘scientific’ deniers, choosing to believe the distortions surrounding misreported nonsense like the UEA email of 2009, because they reinforce what he wants to believe? Does he actually believe all the demonstrably wrong horseshit on alt-right sites, even though he must be more aware than most of what they are and why they contain what they do?

xxAs an aside, it has often seemed to Yrs Trly that the salesperson, trained in the ways of opinion and desire manipulation, is also one of the most susceptible to the very tools of which he or she should be most aware, and thus to which most immune. They say a good salesperson has to believe in what they’re selling; maybe this form of doublethink is the essential protector of (emotional) investment. No doubt a man who gets rich promoting ideas to shore up oil billionaires has a lot to lose by thinking clearly. Not as much as his offspring stand to lose if he’s wrong.

xxBut he, not much less than Trump and all the people the Donald has gathered round him, is now in a far better position to call on all the greatest minds in some of the most highly-respected scientific establishments on the planet (and I don’t doubt a few volunteers could be found from Oxbridge and Paris and even the hoaxers of Beijing to lend their weight). And, of course, all the leading deniers too. They could be gathered in a room, make their cases, present the data, even verify sources and readings …

* * *

xxI’m lucky, he said sardonically: I don’t have any kids and I probably don’t have all that many years to go.  But if I was a Trump or a Pence or a Bannon, let alone an Ebell, I sure as hell wouldn’t be missing this opportunity to free the world by putting this hoax to bed once and for all — or to save it and my descendants by accepting at least the slight possibility that I may be mistaken.

Klimawechsel macht Frei?

Burns Night Reverie

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In Scotland once a year
The folk a’ tak’ their turns
Tae sit aroond the fireplace
And see how Rabbie Burns

[Dai Lowe, January 1972]

Aye, I’ve been churning out this shite for mony a decade the noo.  That was a companion piece to:

In Wales, upon St David’s Day
The women hardly speak,
But the men all run round shouting,
“I’ve got to have a leek!”

My uni landlords had a couple of very Weegie (Glaswegian) friends.  They were visiting, so I ran the Burns pome past them and the wife said, “I don’t understand.  Should it no be who Rabbie Burns?”

But tonight is indeed Burns night, the time we celebrate the life of a guid-living, deep thinking and hard-drinking bard. Many English folk (and probably a fair few Scots) don’t seem to get him, putting him well behind the Bard of Avon in the literary or intellectual steeplechase, but I rate him verra high indeed. ‘Tis a great skill to be a maker of deceptively simple verse, a clever rhymer — and a perfect scanner (see what I did there, Burns fans?). And his comments on the human condition, from the need for the ‘giftie’ o’ seein’ ‘oorsels as ithers see us’ (To a Louse) to the acceptance that the best schemed lays of Micean men ‘gang aft agley’ (To A Mouse), are as wise and well put as anything in Shakespeare.

And he’s easy to pastiche.  As long as you can find four words that rhyme and couple more to slip between them, you can run up a Burnsy versey like this …

To a Beverage

Fair fa’ your foamin’, sprinkled heid!
All ither drinks ye far exceed;
A pick-me-up in time o’ need;
Fresh-brewed an’ frothy!
When owerhung Jock wak’s up, haff-deid,
Gie him a coffee!

Indeed, as I was getting the last of my provisions for this evening’s lonely feast, I had to sit me doon in the supermarket to scribble this …

To a Swede

I bought masel’ a haggis wee,
A tattie, sized just richt tae be
Thumpit for ma Burns’ nicht tea,
Yet still I sit an’ weep:
Och, wad some pow’r mak’, just for me,
A Wullie-nae-mates neep!

But I feel, given the rising niggles of (some of) the Scots people over Westminster’s refusal to let this keenly pro Brexit nation, it’s time to trot out the old pome written for the 2013 first running of the Scottish Independence Neverendum, Salmond Chanted Evening.  Maybe I can tweak it for the next one, on the off-chance the Scots remember, from their Arbroathian Declaration, that freedom is no just a cry by a blue-faced antisemitic American Aussie, but that which no honest man gives up but with life itself.

According to the Scottish Mail,
Yer jobs’re doomed, yer crops’ll fail,
Yer bairns will all end up in jail,
If youse vote ‘Aye’;
Yer teeth’ll rot, yer pies turn stale —
And then ye’ll die.

The ‘Salmond’ will replace the pound
(Wan hunnerd ‘Sturgeons’, I’ll be bound);
Its value, mair dire than its sound,
Will plunge in stages,
Till just tae buy yer pals a round
Tak’s three month’s wages.

If Darling’s pleas are a’ rejected,
Mandat’ry kilts will be inspected,
And men wi’ pants will be ejected
Frae this fair land.
If wily Alex gets elected,
Sex will be banned.

Och, swallow a’ this propaganda,
A’ this pathetic trumped-up slander,
Ye’d think this place the next Ruanda,
Wi’out a doot;
And even Embra’s baby panda
Wad get kicked oot!

But don’t assume the ither lot
Are ony better, ‘cos they’re not;
Wi’ their rose-tinted tommy-rot
An’ tartan shite.
What chance has puir wee Scotty got
Tae choose aright?

So I’m no saying ‘Aye’ or ‘Nae’,
Or tryin’ tae tell ye which damn way,
On thon braw, bricht September day,
Ye ought tae go;
It’s no fer Sassenachs tae say,
Based here or no.

But, Ah’m a man o’ Northern bent,
Whose folk them London pow’rs resent,
And offer no encouragement;
So please tek ‘eed:
Let yer new border be the Trent —
Not just the Tweed!

19/9/13

Och, enough o’ these wabbit parodies. This is how it should be done…

O my Luve’s like a red, red rose,
That’s newly sprung in June:
O my Luve’s like the melodie,
That’s sweetly play’d in tune.

As fair art thou, my bonie lass,
So deep in luve am I;
And I will luve thee still, my dear,
Till a’ the seas gang dry.

Till a’ the seas gang dry, my dear,
And the rocks melt wi’ the sun;
And I will luve thee still, my dear,
While the sands o’ life shall run.

And fare-thee-weel, my only Luve!
And fare-thee-weel, a while!
And I will come again, my Luve,
Tho’ ’twere ten thousand mile!

… and so damn true (sob, sob)!
Happy Burn’s Night everyone.