Sunday, February 29, 2004

9:07 in the chair with good and evil

Today a few interesting things happened to me.... well okay maybe not that interesting, but that won't stop me from writing about it. It was payday yesterday. So, needless to say I've already managed to fritter away some of my money. I've added Oz Season 3, Matchstick Men, O Brother, Where Art Thou?, Spirited Away and the House of Cards trilogy to my (ever increasing) dvd collection. Because: Oz is one of the best TV series ever (hopefully they'll get their arses in gear and release the last three series before my death), Nicolas Cage is one of my favourite actors, the Coen Brothers are my favourite film makers, I heard Spirited Away was good and I just couldn't believe that they had the House of Cards trilogy in a US dvd shop. I only ever caught snatches of the TV shows when they were originally screened on the BBC, but from what I did see it looked very good. Lots of Machiavellian going ons and a wonderful way that the lead character talks to the camera and brings you (the viewer) into his confidence. So far I have only watched Matchstick Men (which was very good. I can't believe that Alison Lohman was a 23/24 year old playing a 14 year old. I also can't believe that she is the girl who looks so beautiful in Big Fish), and the first couple of episodes of Oz (also very good, reaching the same high standards set by the first two seasons). But enough on my frivolous expenditure.

This afternoon (the safternoon) I toddled down to the bus stop and caught the bus to the local mall. At this point I should probably point out that the local mall is one of the most pathetic shopping centre/malls that I have ever been to, but it is right next to a Barnes and Noble (more on which later). On the journey to the mall I was surrounded by a gaggle of giggling (girl) college students discussing whether or not Will Smith was cute/funny and something or other about Saved by the Bell. I'm not quite sure what it is, whether it's the pitch or the tone or what, but their voices had a similar effect on me as a power drill applied to my temple would have.... i.e. not a very good effect. Who knows maybe I'm just some kind of intolerant bastard (a very likely scenario, as all those (un)fortunate enough to have met me will attest to), but there's something about some American accents that just grates against me. Eventually the bus arrived and I got off with some small shred of my sanity intact, of course I'm not sure how much of my sanity I had when I got on the bus... but I have a feeling that it diminished over the course of the journey. And, after buying a pair of jeans that don't really fit and a couple of the aforementioned dvds (and yes I am faintly amused to have used the word aforementioned and now I am pondering whether dvds is a valid English construction as opposed to DVD's... and for that matter whether English deserves a capital letter), I made my way across the road to Barnes and Noble. By the way, the mall and the bookshop (along with a Walmart, a cinema and a few assorted shops) lie on either side of a highway. There are a couple of places on this highway which have traffic lights... but you are not allowed to cross the road at the traffic lights (or so the sign says). Instead you a meant to drive (or maybe take the bus) across the road.... needless to say I was a very naughty boy and crossed the road by foot.

The first thing that I did in B&N was to get a vat of dodgy tea (I foolishly asked for medium instead of small), the tea might have been nice enough but it was some what diluted as one teabag is not generally designed to infuse a paddling pools worth of water. As I sat there staring out the window on to the sun drenched car park I overheard the gentleman and lady on my left strike up a conversation. Or more correctly I heard him strike up a conversation with her. I sat and wondered why don't I ever strike up conversations with complete strangers in coffee shops. Occasionally they strike up conversations with me... like the crazy man in McDonald's 6-7 years ago (just before I gave up on McDonald's because the food is crappy and the smell they produce makes me want to retch) who asked me whether I could spare him some change for his tube fair. After I politely refused he asked me whether he could have a chip (a fry for you americans), so I said sure help yourself. He then proceeded to tell me that I should never take the tube because it was dangerous and that you can get anywhere the tube goes by bus (an interesting point I thought as he had initial asked me for money for his tube fair). After the tube discussion he moved on to telling me what a good complexion I had and asked me to guess his age (late 30's) and telling me his actual age (50). Finally the talk turned to women.. and his advice was (obviously paraphrasing as my recollection is not perfect) "if you can't find a nice effeminate English girl, go for an Italian or a Spanish or a Polish girl.... particularly the Polish girls". By which point I had finished my burger and I left... and he went to talk to/ get money out of another customer/victim. Not quite sure why he has stayed with all these years, isn't the mind a funny thing. I seem to have digressed. Back to the couple on my left. You see, I was very impressed by the gentleman who struck up the conversation with the girl. She was a fairly attractive Chinese girl and he was a fairly bland American guy (not that I'm really the best judge of boy looks). And he had to over come a couple of impediments... the first of which was a speech impediment. Now on occasions (several times a day) I get tongue tied and I fumble my words or get stuck mid sentence, etc. But I wouldn't go as far as to say I had a speech impediment. I'm merely clumsy with my words. At first I thought that he was speaking slowly because she was foreign. But after a couple of minutes it became apparent that he had a fairly significant stutter (or maybe I mean stammer). So I was impressed that despite his impediment he tried to start up a conversation with an attractive girl. Then as their conversation continued my admiration for him increased when he divulged that he was an entomologist. Here was this stuttering bug studier that was chatting to (the first step of chatting up) an attractive girl....... you've got to admire a guy who tries.

The main reason for my post this evening (the seevning) is John Podhoretz. One of my favourite american TV shows is the Daily Show with Jon Stewart. I think it is sometimes very funny and very accurate. Case in point the observation that MSNBC had a link from a jumping squirrel scurrying along a fence to the massacre at Columbine. And asking the asian guy off Star Trek (Salo/Sako/Sato???) about the lack of male asian porn stars, and whether he was offered a part in "Hot Wet Bitches" all asked by an attractive woman. It is very reminiscent of the stuff they used to do on The 11 O'Clock show with Daisy Donovan (so hot) , a show which helped boost the careers of Sacha Baron Cohen (Ali G) and Ricky Gervais (the Office). Anyway, one day last week Jon Stewart interviewed Mr Podhoretz who has just written a book proclaiming Bush as a great President -- "Bush Country : How Dubya Became a Great President While Driving Liberals Insane". And being that I once had pro Bush feelings (well they were more anti-Clinton/Gore feelings) but now I think he's awful.. thanks in part to the liberal media bias here in America and also due to people like Michael Moore and things like the breaking of the Kyoto agreement and the Iraq/Afghanistan wars etc, etc. So, I was interested in what would be in a pro Bush book. I flicked through a couple of chapters and some of the points that Mr Podhoretz was making were very good. All this stuff likening Bush to Hitler is obviously ridiculous... and it was interesting to read about some of his AIDs initiatives and some other stuff that has since been lost in the fog of rage. Obviously the book only portrays a very one sided argument, but their a plenty of anti Bush books out there portraying the other side of the arguments. And I guess it's true that Bush has done some good things (along with some bad things that aren't mentioned in the book). However, after garnering some degree of respect from me for some of the stuff in the book Mr Podhoretz went and lost it all and more in one fell swoop.

Being as I don't have a copy of the book in front of me there will be some paraphrasing of the words actually used in the book, hopefully I do not distort the meaning at all. At one point he is talking about how the Liberals say that the rhetoric of Bush, talking about the fight against terrorism and the war in Iraq in terms of Good (America) and Evil (Bin Laden and Saddam), is very similar to the rhetoric of Osama Bin Laden talking about Good (him) and Evil (America). And Mr Podhoretz's response is: "but they forget one important thing Bush is Good and Bin Laden is Evil".

That is not an argument! That is merely repetition of Bush's rhetoric. It distresses me so completely how seemingly intelligent people can talk about current affairs in terms of Good and Evil. I remember a while ago talking to a distinguished physics Professor (who shall remain nameless) about countries developing weapons of mass destruction. And I said to him don't you think it's hypocritical for America and Britain to tell countries like Iran and North Korea that they shouldn't develop these weapons when we ourselves have them? And his response was "Ah but we are basically a Good country?". At which point I just gave up. In every war that has ever been fought (well maybe not every war.... but certainly lots of them) all sides have thought of themselves as the Good side. Nobody thinks of themselves as Evil... and who are we to judge? I'm not a religious person. In fact I abhor almost all religion. But there is one bible story that I think should be at the forefront of everybody's mind before they start banding about words like Good and Evil. It is the one where Jesus tells a crowd of people about to stone a man "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone".

Good and Evil are not absolute concepts that apply in the real word. They are ideas that belong solely in fairy tales and the like. Sure there are people in the world who are selfless and always try to help other people but are they Good? Maybe, maybe not. And there are people in the world who do terrible things kill, main, rape, rob, etc. Are they Evil? Maybe, maybe not. Until the day that I am omniscient, it's not my place to judge who is Good and who is Evil. But it seems that Bush and Podhoretz are ready to usurp their God and deliver divine judgement in this life. It must be nice to have such `clarity' (a word used a lot in Podhoretz's book), to know that one is completely and absolutely right and just. The hypocrisy makes me sick to my stomach.

Bin Laden says that America and Bush are Evil. Bush says that Bin Laden is Evil. Podhoretz says that their rhetoric is not similar as Bush is Good and Bin Laden is evil. Not really an argument as such. Is Bin Laden evil? Maybe. He, or people associated with him were responsible for a truly heinous act on September 11th. They killed thousands of people. I would not want to defend him at all. But is he the absolute Evil incarnate the Bush and Podhoretz portray him as? I don't know. To some people who believe they are repressed he offers hope. A false hope possibly. And I disagree vehemently with his methods. But is he Evil? Again, I don't know.

What about Bush? Is he Good as Podhoretz would have you believe? Is he Evil as Bin Laden would have you believe? Over the course of the last two and half years people acting in his name (or at least in the name of the country of which he is the figurehead) have killed thousands and thousands of people in Afghanistan and Iraq. And we are not just talking about military casualties there have been a whole hell of a lot of civilian casualties. And even the military casualties were still fathers, sons, brothers, sisters, etc. The pro war campaign will tell you that these people died in the liberation of the two countries. But it doesn't make them any less dead. Now before anybody gets all excited and claims that I'm equating Bush with Bin Laden, I'm not. I am simply pointing out that depending on how you choose to interpret the evidence each man has a lot of blood on his hands. And each man claims that he is doing it in the name of Good and that he is fighting Evil.

For those who want to find them there are similarities between the two. But, there is one important distinction. And that is the distinction of accountability. Bush is accountable to be the layers of American democracy and ultimately to the American people. Whereas Bin Laden is accountable to? But that doesn't make Bush Good and Bin Laden Evil, it merely means that some of the blood on Bush's hands can get spread around amongst the rest of the Americans (and over in Britain and a few other countries too while we are in a sharing mood).

You see for me growing up in the UK in the 1980s I've had a lot of training in the concept of terrorism. Thanks to places like Guildford, Birmingham, Brighton, Warrington and Omagh. We had our own Bin Laden's in Jerry Adams and Martin McGuinness (amongst others). And lots of people used words like Evil to describe them. Sure the (largely funded but US donations) IRA (and all the other military and paramilitary organizations on both sides) never managed to kill thousands, at least not in one go. But is 100 dead twice as Evil 50 dead? I don't think so. One dead is bad, two dead is also bad, ten thousand dead is still bad.

And now these men, who's voices we weren't allowed to hear for years and years, are now politicians (and some are even MPs) who talk to the government and participate in the always almost faltering peace process. So, for me at least it's hard to use words like Good and Evil, as there are always at least two sides to each story. And living so close to Northern Ireland I've got to see how each side tries to take the moral high ground effectively claiming what it's doing is Good and what the other side is doing is Evil. Admittedly those words are rarely used, but similar words are used. And the truth? If such a concept exists, lies where it always does... somewhere in the middle.

So, I don't really have much time or respect for people banding around Good and Evil. As it always seems to be said right before something unpleasant happens to somebody. And anyone who writes in their book that A is Good and B is Evil, doesn't really deserve any serious consideration for anything they say. Sorry Mr Podhoretz, but you've got to have an argument. You can't just band around Good and Evil and use that in place of an argument. Sure Bin Laden has done terrible things. Sure Saddam has done terrible things. But isn't bombing a wedding party and killing 50 people a terrible thing? And who is it that is ultimately responsible for the actions of the American military? Could it possibly be that Good man Bush (backed up by the rest of you Americans)?

Now I've got this far I'm not sure if I should post this entry. I'm not a journalist or a orator and I feel I've not really explained myself very well... still here it is warts and all (well actually I've gone back and removed some of the warts).

Besides it's not as if anybody will ever read it..... except for me that is.