Sunday, October 28, 2012


I wouldn't blame you for stopping to read, for having stopped reading, to be more precise, before the first sentence in this post. Does it still count as a blog if it isn't updated? Are my serialized pontifications a thing of the past that you think about fondly when you've already thought about everything else? I wouldn't blame you. Even to me it feels as if this blog has been abandoned. This post, which isn't really one as you will quickly realized, is only the second one this month. Nothing has happened in these pages though in life a lot has.

I would have liked to write about Lance Armstrong, for example, who was stripped of his unprecedented seven Tour de France titles last week for concocting an epic doping scheme. I was tempted, in a moment of confusion, to heap first scorn and then ridicule over him and flaunt my "Cheat to Win" wristband, which should now for sure replace the identically shaped and colored "Livestrong" strap on everyone who likes to wear yellow.

But when I stopped to think I realized that besides a lot of talk nothing has changed. Lance is still and will always be the symbol of an era. He won the Tour seven times because he was the best. He was the fastest up the mountains and the best-organized when it came to "supplements and recovery". He didn't do anything the others didn't do. He just did it better.

I have no time to go on about this because I have no time. With visits and visitors and work that's going well and a job search that's going on, the hours in each day fly by and then the days do the same, at almost the same speed. Only days ago I was walking by the beach, burning the soles of my feet in the hot sand, and now it's almost Christmas.

Thus I have no time to rave and rant about Hammersmith & Fulham council, my local authority and author of unrequested emails that pollute my inbox every week. Each purported newsletter (to all residents) manages to alienate and aggravate readers not in complete agreement with the council's policies with their aggressive and tendentious language. One glaring example warned that "Stink-pipe to force World War II style evacuation" where the war is something you don't use for rhetoric effect unless you've suffered through it and the stink-pipe a proposed upgrade to London's sewer systems that's designed to decrease the amount of stinking untreated sewage in the Thames. This is a subject that's dear to my heart and that I've mentioned in passing before. I'd love to get something eloquent on a page and into the hands of my elected representative, but I'm afraid this isn't going to happen to soon.

Work is going so well at the moment that I stay longer, think harder and do more. When I'm done at night, there's no brain left and hardly a breath for frivolous activities like keeping a blog up to date. It's sad because even when my brain stops working, the thoughts keep coming. They're just too incoherent and fragmented to add up to anything. Twitter would be the perfect medium, but this blog lies fallow. The only thing I can say in the hope of keeping you tuned is that I've plenty of notes that wait to grow into something. This blog here is definitely still the place. Keep the faith!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

books and T-shirts

A few days ago, a man was sentenced to eight months in prison for wearing a T-shirt.

If you make a list of the countries you think are likely to play host to this scenario – Iran, Turkmenistan, North Korea, no, scratch that, they're too dismal for T-shirts there, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Cuba, Pakistan – you'd be going on for a long time until you reach the place where the story really unfolded. It was here in the UK.

The T-shirt celebrated the cold-blooded murder of two police officers in Manchester with the ill-chosen words "One Less PiG Perfect Justice". Even without the poor grammar (fewer, not less!), that's a stupid thing to say – and highly offensive to grieving relatives and good taste. Despicable and reprehensible, no doubt, but criminal? And eight months of jail? What happened to free speech?

Talking about free speech, last night I got to see the BBC documentary on Salman Rushdie's time in hiding after the call for his head by Iran's chief criminal demagogue. Much like the other events surrounding the book launch, the show can be considered an extended commercial for Salman Rushdie's recently published memoir, but it was also rather insightful, more so than any interview I've heard or comment I've read.

I realized for the first time the depth of darkness the author found himself in when the world as he knew it collapsed. From one the day to the next, he was forced from his home and family, and then it got worse. He lived as a prisoner of his protection officers and couldn't make a single free step in years. I can now understand the relief when the ordeal was over and the endless parties that followed. It was the celebration of a second life.

Just a few weeks ago I started reading The Satanic Verses, the book that triggered the violence, confinement and death, but I'll have to withhold my judgment until I finish it. So far, I'm not much impressed – and actually getting more confused with each chapter, full of allusions and hidden significance. Maybe you'll have to be religious or even Muslim to fully appreciate the book and to be moved by it on a raw level.

I'm not religious, and while I grew up in a vaguely religious environment I've always felt that for my family, religion served primarily as a counterbalance to the madness of the "real existing socialism" that stifled and demeaned us. But even oppression has its good sides. Living under communism firmly impressed upon me the value of free speech.

I am convinced that the freedom to offend always surpasses the freedom from offense. I don't accept that offense is something that happens to you. You have to actively take it. With this in mind it was that I got all worked up about the business of the T-shirt and the jail sentence, which should have never been imposed. But maybe I reacted too rashly.

Yesterday on Any Questions, one of the panelists said that it wasn't about the T-shirt, and he wasn't dodging the question. It isn't about the T-shirt, he said, it's about the context. If you say it's good someone died, that's free speech. If you call his mom and say the same thing to her, it's harassment. By that reasoning, if the fool in the T-shirt paraded around town, it should be his choice, but if he got into people's faces, he deserves punishment.

I don't know the details of that story, but I know that Salman Rushdie never got into anyone's face. Whatever offense is in The Satanic Verses, it's hidden between two covers and behind the doors of a bookshop. If you think you won't like it, don't read it. There's nothing more to say.