Thursday, February 24, 2005

Gulags, Calumnies and Freedom

Brian Sedgemore, British Labour MP for Hackney South, made his final speech in the House of Commons, lambasting his own government for it's approach and policies. This speech was delivered in the course of a debate on the "Prevention of Terrorism Bill"(ref boingboing, too).
How on earth did a Labour Government get to the point of creating what was described in the House of Lords hearing as a "gulag" at Belmarsh? I remind my hon. Friends that a gulag is a black hole into which people are forcibly directed without hope of ever getting out. Despite savage criticisms by nine Law Lords in 250 paragraphs, all of which I have read and understood, about the creation of the gulag, I have heard not one word of apology from the Prime Minister or the Home Secretary. Worse, I have heard no word of apology from those Back Benchers who voted to establish the gulag.

Have we all, individually and collectively, no shame? I suppose that once one has shown contempt for liberty by voting against it in the Lobby, it becomes easier to do it a second time and after that, a third time. Thus even Members of Parliament who claim to believe in human rights vote to destroy them.

Many Members have gone nap on the matter. They voted: first, to abolish trial by jury in less serious cases; secondly, to abolish trial by jury in more serious cases; thirdly, to approve an unlawful war; fourthly, to create a gulag at Belmarsh; and fifthly, to lock up innocent people in their homes. It is truly terrifying to imagine what those Members of Parliament will vote for next.I can describe all that only as new Labour's descent into hell, which is not a place where I want to be.

I hope that—but doubt whether—ethical principles and liberal thought will triumph tonight over the lazy minds and disengaged consciences that make Labour's Whips Office look so ridiculous and our Parliament so unprincipled.

It is a foul calumny that we do today. Not since the Act of Settlement 1701 has Parliament usurped the powers of the judiciary and allowed the Executive to lock up people without trial in times of peace. May the Government be damned for it.
(Video recording of speech)

Mr Sedgewick's voting record

Some quotes by and about him:

Brian Sedgemore says:
On Ken Livingstone: "I don't see why London has to suffer because he hasn't fulfilled his ambition to be party leader."
On women Labour MPs: "Stepford Wives"

Others say:
The late Lord Onslow of Woking, Conservative peer: "A boil on the bottom of the Labour party - painful to live with, better not mentioned and best kept out of sight".

Previous Occupation: Civil servant
Career History:
1962-66: Principal, Ministry of Housing and Local Government
1966-74: Barrister
1970s: Freelancer for Private Eye
1979-83: TV journalist, Granada

Apropos of nothing, on this day in 1981, Prince Charles and Lady Diana announced their engagement

Note: Following Mr Sedgemore's speech, the following remarks were made by Mark Oaten, MP, Liberal Dem
I wish the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Sedgemore) well in his retirement if that was indeed his last speech. Although I do not agree with all the points that he made, I admire his passion and commitment.

We are dealing with extraordinarily complex circumstances. It is easy for us to make the sort of speech that the hon. Gentleman delivered, draw on historical values and discuss the strong principles of justice that are changing. I do not intend to make such a speech. I shall leave that to others who are more eloquent and have a stronger sense of history than me. In the next 20 minutes or so, I shall treat the subject as a practical issue, ascertain whether we can find a way forward and bluntly analyse where there is agreement and disagreement.

Let me begin with agreement. There is probably cross-party agreement that none of us underestimates the issues that we are tackling in this post-9/11 era. None of us underestimates the serious terrorist problems. The Home Secretary's analysis of how matters have changed was spot on. The global implications that he outlined are especially important. They have made the world in which we live different—not only the type of terrorists but their ability to operate globally, with all the communications systems that exist, have changed enormously.

I think there is also agreement—cross-party agreement—on the fact that we have due respect for the intelligence services, and owe them a great debt of gratitude for what they have done over the past three or four years. We want, on a cross-party basis, to give them all the tools that they need in order to do their work. There is also agreement, I believe, that we must do something about the current situation. I am uneasy about what may happen in four or five weeks. If we have no legislation we will create a vacuum, and I do not think we want that. Something must be done to deal with the difficult circumstances.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Gonzo Obits

Writers' obituaries by other writers are normally very well-written. Besides chronicling/reminiscing about the deceased, they afford us a chance to appreciate the eulogizer's own writing and life. Occasionally, as illustrated by Jan Herman, obits afford one final chance to drive the knife in, and twist it deeply.

Various excellent obituaries have already been published about Hunter S Thompson's death. The weeklies will have additional, measured pieces once they hit the stands. And we haven't seen a Doonesbury reference yet.

Some fine pieces:

Tom Wolfe in the Opinion Journal
Hunter's life, like his work, was one long barbaric yawp, to use Whitman's term, of the drug-fueled freedom from and mockery of all conventional proprieties that began in the 1960s. In that enterprise Hunter was something entirely new, something unique in our literary history. When I included an excerpt from "The Hell's Angels" in a 1973 anthology called "The New Journalism," he said he wasn't part of anybody's group. He wrote "gonzo." He was sui generis. And that he was.
Yet he was also part of a century-old tradition in American letters, the tradition of Mark Twain, Artemus Ward and Petroleum V. Nasby, comic writers who mined the human comedy of a new chapter in the history of the West, namely, the American story, and wrote in a form that was part journalism and part personal memoir admixed with powers of wild invention, and wilder rhetoric inspired by the bizarre exuberance of a young civilization. No one categorization covers this new form unless it is Hunter Thompson's own word, gonzo. If so, in the 19th century Mark Twain was king of all the gonzo-writers. In the 20th century it was Hunter Thompson, whom I would nominate as the century's greatest comic writer in the English language.

Christopher Hitchens in Slate
He's fine when hanging out with Warren Zevon, but he appears a bit lost when he's discharging fire extinguishers, or hurling blown-up fuck-dolls around the scenery, as if this sort of thing was expected of him. "He was never one to hang around when it was time to go," a mutual friend e-mailed me on Monday. The realization that this might have occurred to him before it occurred to us is a very melancholy one.

hst cartoon anderson

John Nichols in the Nation
Thompson also taught me how to do politics. Thompson was a journalist in the traditional sense of the craft and, as such, he was entirely unwilling to merely observe the wrongdoings of the political class. He wanted to create a newer, better politics -- or, at the very least, to so screw up the current machinery that it would no longer work for the people who he referred to as "these cheap, greedy little killers who speak for America today."

The Times of London
As the 1970s went on a certain exhaustion was detectable in the powers of invention, and in the purity of the perceptions. Unlike other exponents of New Journalism, notable among them Norman Mailer and Tom Wolfe, Thompson undoubtedly ran out of steam, becoming an object of parody, as he was in Gary Trudeau’s balding Doonesbury cartoon character “Uncle Duke”. But in liberating the journalist from the canons of “objectivity” in the first place, Thompson was able to bring to his reporting all the individual’s sense of bewilderment in a hideous and complex world.

Henry Rollins for the Washington Post(in
We’re left wondering what happened. He once said: “I hate to advocate weird chemicals, alcohol, violence or insanity to anyone . . . but they’ve always worked for me.” Until maybe he got wondering about the ultimate high being a 1,500-feet-per-second implantation in the neurological system.

Or the paranoia got to him — in paranoia you are your own worst enemy, and that’s a tightening circle that nobody can escape, except, say, by suicide. Or it was pain and depression brought on by reported back surgery, a broken leg and a hip replacement. Or he was playing out the last moves of the Hemingway game — the paranoid, shock-treated Hemingway who ended up with his doctor one day, crying because he said that he couldn’t write anymore, he just couldn’t write. Or America has finally become what he said it was, with lie-awake fears of suitcase nukes, jails full of secret uncharged prisoners with no legal recourse, and quiet applause for the recreational torture of Arabs in Iraq. Or people have stopped reading, and there are no more literary heroes. Or maybe he just killed himself, like a number of other people on any given day. He lived on his terms, he died on his own terms.

Al Jazeera
He was quoted as saying 9/11 had caused a "nationwide nervous breakdown" and "let the Bush crowd loot the country and savage American democracy", according to an interview published by in February 2003.

Thompson, who regarded himself as a patriot, said civil liberties had been compromised for what he called "the illusion of security".

That, he said was "a disaster of unthinkable proportions" and "part of the downward spiral of dumbness" he believed was plaguing the country.

A roundup from Hell's Angels, Jerry Walker and Rosalyn Carter

William Pitt of, from
My hero died tonight. He was a flawed man, a maniac, in so many ways the antithesis of what a journalist is supposed to be. Worst of all, he told the truth. There is now one less warrior on this planet filled with Guckert clones, drones who get fed shit and regurgitate it wholesale for the masses because that is what we are trained to eat
with this poignant handwritten note
hunter note

The blogcritics roundup - reflecting many points of view on Hunter S Thompson

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Anthem To Beauty: Truckin' On

One evening in August 1995, while I was in Bangalore, India, we received some news that saddened us immeasurably. At the time, I was quaffing a pint at a little pub called Pecos - famed across decades as THE place to go for fine conversation, rock, soggy popcorn and good beer. Jerry Garcia, music icon had passed. Without much discussion, we, the regulars, and the management, downed the shutters mid-afternoon, opened the taps, and put on one jam after another. The night was long indeed.

The Grateful Dead have been a seminal influence in my musical tastes, as well as providing me a "blesh" perspective to counter-culture. The creative elements of this band were brought home to me by the re-released(today, Feb 22,2005 - appropriately enough soon after the demise of HST) DVD "Anthem To Beauty", part of the Classic Albums series. This DVD is a documentary about the two early albums, "Anthem Of The Sun" and "American Beauty", and the zeitgeist of the period 1967-1970, source of much fecundity and creative expression.

The video is oddly tinted at times, and the audio is Dolby Digital 2.0, with a weak timbre, but the rare clips, and detailed voice-overs, emotive experential dialogues, make this well worth it for a Deadhead, or most anyone interested in the growth of a phenomenon.

The following are some disjointed notes I took while viewing the film - it would be in keeping with the psychedelic nature of the music to present them as is, rather than in a formalized manner.

Channels growth of supergroup, counter-culture revolution, among and within us, business transformed
a romance about being on the road, about being a young American, creative material sources, life on the road, Dallas with a soft blue sheen, smoking craters in Holiday Inns, fields of wonder, dropped verses, experimental, evolving songs, once written down, psychotomimetic, letting go of the music, additional verses for songs, "Once in a while the music gets into the street/Fifty old ladies bug every cop on the beat' Phil Lesh - the absence of a bubble, unlike today, creative consonance, congruence with peers, audience came not for the music, or the band, the body politic transformed."Jerry loved a sad song",death as a creative impetus,fathers, mothers, "If I had a shotgun/I'd blow you straight to hell", springboard to wierdness,American Beauty - perfect tape for a desert island, the red rose, Stanley Mouse and Altion Kelly, look at the cover upside down in a mirror,consciousness-expanding, crazy, freaky, hallucinatory, hallucinogenic, mind-bending, mind-blowing, , multi-colored, psychoactive, psychotropic, trippy,1965 - 40 years - the world changed, the beat generation gone, AM to FM to XM,a fustion of blues with bluegrass,doing grass,balmy Bangalore night, the world changing, all night free rock concerts, 4 hour jams, unlimited studio time, peace, meaning, jazz, rock, classical, cheap rent, the Haight-Ashbury scene,"Open season on anything","the acid test",the audience gave the band carte blanche, allowing them to find 'the form that follows chaos'.kaleidoscopic,chemical implosion in the heart of the soul,mind-changing,"The bus came by/I got in/It was Cowboy Neal/at the wheel of the magic bus",slashdot,mind-expanding, lost lovers, the talented ones, people in a different realm, sounds from another world,Neil Labute, a 'man in another dimension', being 'in the right place at the right time', Kerouac's Howl, "blesh", Sturgeon's "More than Heaven", musical cohesion, "a finger on a hand", a single finger plucking a single string,"Living in a fantasy world",combining the sound of "30 minutes of heavy smoggy LA air" with "30 minutes of clean desert air" into a percussion track, sounds that were impossible, a thousand petalled lotus opening up into an anthem of the sun.

Zudfunck's New Look

Zudfunck - A Sampler of the World Wide Maze - has a neat new look, that blends visual and textual commentary wonderfully.

I especially like the idea of using a visual tag for recent posts in the left sidebar.

The font-size is a bit small,though. Interesting articles, as always. Recent articles on Media analysis of Hunter S Thompson and Netflix are worthy of note.


Blog Action

The fine and ancient land of Iran/Persia, like most ancient lands, is prone to being carried away by upstart movements. It is currently under the yoke of the Mullahs, and suffering from years of civil war, war with Iraq, under-employment, puppet governments, and the overall oil curse.

All totalitarian governments seek to control by stifling dissent and free expression. The Internet is remarkably able at subverting such efforts, except when the voiceless are themselves imprisoned. Iran has done just such a thing by imprisoning two or more bloggers for the act of blogging. This requires a show of solidarity, a call to arms for those with a voice to speak out in the name of reason.

Free Mojtaba And Arash

A worthy meme to spread - Free Mojtaba and Arash before the people of Iran free them. (Ref Billy's World) A good roundup at blogcritics with these suggestions

If you are in the United States, contact either the Representative at the Iranian Interest Section of the Pakistani Embassy or the Ambassador to Iran’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations. (Iran has no embassy in the United States.) Here is the contact information.

Dr. Mohammad Javad Zarif

Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the Permanent Mission of the Islamic Republic of Iran

622 Third Ave. New York, NY 10017

Tel: (212) 687-2020 / Fax: (212) 867-7086

E-mail: Email the ambassador

Iranian Representative

Embassy of Pakistan

Interests Section of the Islamic Republic of Iran

2209 Wisconsin Avenue, N.W.Washington, D.C. 20007

Email the Interests Section

If you are outside the U.S., as many of you will be, you can contact either the Permanent Representative to the United Nations or the Iranian ambassador in your own country.


One can tell much about a person by the books he/she reads, the films and the languages, the places visited, the loves lost, the memories found.

A meme circulating asks the question "Which authors have you read more than ten books by? " - one source for the meme is the purple pen, although it is probably more distant in origin.

Here's my initial list:

Terry Pratchett
Stephen King
Enid Blyton
Isaac Asimov
Salman Rusdhie
R K Narayan
Robert Jordan (finish the series, dammit!)
John Le Carre
Philip K Dick
Arthur C Clarke
Larry Niven (and collab.)
Arthur Conan Doyle
Alan Moore
Anne Rice
Harry Turtledove
Edgar Rice Burroughs
John Macdonald
Michael Moorcock
Kahlil Gibran
Anonymous (That prolific author)

Monday, February 21, 2005

American Idol and my DVR

My DVR is setup to record a bunch of programs, most complete seasons, first-run only.

I was pleasantly surprised to receive an email from the DVR manufacturer, Scientific-Atlanta today - a few minutes before the start ot American Idol
Dear DVR Subscriber,

It has just been brought to our attention that the providers of the program information in your interactive program guide have labeled tonight's and tomorrow's episodes of "American Idol" as re-runs when, in fact, they are first run episodes. So, if you've set up your DVR to record first-run only episodes of American Idol, it will not be recorded tonight or tomorrow night.

To ensure that these episodes are recorded, you will need to manually schedule each of them again by time or by program name for tonight and tomorrow night.

If you have any friends or neighbors who are not members of the Explorer eClub, you might want to let them know about this.

We apologize for any inconvenience.



So, heads up for all of you season-pass type watchers - don't miss the show just 'cause you thought the DVR would take care of it for you. Now that I've got my DVR reconfigured, excuse me while I get back to watching "Johnson Family Vacation" - then it's back to American Idol and 24

Rather nice customer service, especially in this day and age.

Nascar 3D: Soundtrack

The Nascar IMAX film is an impressive, immersive look at the stock car racing phenomenon, with much factual coverage, and a script by Sports Illustrated correspondent Mark Bechtel.

The soundtrack CD is a nice fit to the film - if only it were SACD for the true 3D experience. It sounds mighty fine, however, in Dolby ProLogic II.

The selection of songs ranges from the hard-firing "Boom" by P.O.D. to a clear-pitched "Star Spangled Banner" by LeAnn Rimes.

The first song, "Boom" is a true-blue, Southern Rock number, dealing with the challenges, and opportunities in the Nascar experience, although nominally about 'rock(ing) the masses, from madrid to calabasas'.

"Firing Line" comes from the 2003 Allman Brothers Band album, "Hitting The Note" with hard riffs from guitarist W.arren Haynes and smooth slides from Derek Trucks. "Changing your life's direction/getting off the firing line"

A great version of Lynryd Skynryd's "Sweet Home Alabama", another southern classic, almost made for the Nascar mood, although somewhat contrary in sentiment. The song is played at NASCAR races at Talladega Speedway, Alabama, and is a fine rejoinder to racist perceptions of the fans. "I hope Neil Young will remember a southern man don't need him around anyhow." Much subtext here.

Sheryl Crow's "Steve McQueen" is a song about "all American rebels" and "fast machines" - key themes of NASCAR

LeAnn Rimes provides "I Got It Bad" from her new album "This Woman" - an apt theme song for NASCAR, with lyrics like "I'm addicted to the fast life/I cut my teeth on concrete dreams/The rush of no control gets me high/You know what I think/too much of a bad thing/
Is exactly what I need". Frenetic, intelligent chords underlay LeAnn's awesome voice to create a great song.

One of the nice things about soundtracks and compilations is the introduction to one of new singers. Sounding like a Chris Rea number, then taking off into fast-paced rock, this is a neat song by Filipino (via Dallas) songwriter Wes Cunningham. Originally a ZZ Top number, Wes blends multiple styles 'bout 'that shack outside la grange'.

Robert Belfour's instrumental "Hill Stomp" is a String Cheese Incident-style jam reminiscent of classic Hill Country blues

Eric Colvin is the composer for the film, and provides a gentle piece titled "Earnhardt Remembered/...". The film never shows the actual, tragic crash, but images surrounding it, transcending the event itself.

Collective Soul contributes "Counting The Days" as a bonus track to the CD. It captures the inner tensions of a Nascar driver's heart, perhaps, "batten the hatches down", and asking if you 'dig it what you are searching for'?

Smash Mouth lead singer Steve Harwell provides "You'll Never Catch Me". He's a race fanatic, and has done concerts at places like the Indy Motor Speedway. An extremely fast-paced song, capturing the danger and passion of the races. The Nascar interview with Steve captures some of his motivations behind the song, which also appears on the "Cursed" soundtrack.

"Hot Wired" is by The Shams Brothers, an Ohio 60's garage-rock style band. It is a hard rock number, with a powerful bass.

LeAnn Rimes' rendition of The Star Spangled Banner is voice only, very fine indeed.

Dave Robideaux's easily recognizable Thunder scene was the official NASCAR theme for the 2004 season. Combining majestic notes with a fast guitar theme, it effectively brings home NASCAR pomp and circumstance.

In all, an uneven composition, as most soundtracks are, but good listening to set the mood.

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Time traveler, world traveler, book reader