Monday, February 27, 2006

A non-critique of Kenneth Goldsmith's uncreativity

I noticed at the weekend that Ron Silliman had finally managed to capture this blog in his massive Poetry Blogroll - something I've been patiently waiting to happen for over 8 months (I never informed him of the existence of my blog as I was interested to see how quickly information seeps through the blogosphere - to date I believe this blog is listed in less than 10 other blogrolls, and may have been mentioned or cited in fewer than 20).

Anyways, being well raised by my mother I wrote Ron a quick thank you email, mentioning how much I appreciated his easy-to-read introductions and views on avant/post-avant poetry. He responded with a you're welcome, I think email the next day - which I wasn't expecting: he must get reams of email from strangers and nutters.

So where does Kenny Goldsmith come into this? Well, this is exactly the sort of thing I was thanking Ron for in my email. Before I read his post on Kenny Goldsmith's uncreative writing project I'd heard of neither: uncreative writing - as a project, a statement, a function of art - had never knocked on my front door or bothered my evenings with a phone call.

To quote Ron directly: "One of the major social functions of art is to reveal the world to us, its inhabitants. At this, Goldsmith is certainly an unqualified success" and "Goldsmith is not only revealing to us the world as it is, but by doing so in the most extreme ways possible, reveals the presumptions that lie behind our art categories as well". Yet Ron is critical of the endeavour: "It’s because his projects, by design, never stand on their own, that his commentators invariably turn back to the cult of Kenny". You do need to read the whole of Ron's post to appreciate these quotes in context.

Now my initial reaction on meeting the concept of Kenny Goldsmith and uncreativity was to, well, laugh. I like it when people undertake meaningless activities which can only have meaning for themselves. I don't know why Mr Goldsmith feels it's important to type out - word by word - a single issue of the New York Times from front page to back in a specific manner. It's not important for me to understand his motives to get pleasure from thinking about his activity.

(Though he does say: "But in capitalism, labor equals value. So certainly my project must have value, for if my time is worth an hourly wage, then I might be paid handsomely for this work. But the truth is that I've subverted this equation by OCR'ing as much of the newspaper as I can. And it works pretty well since The New York Times is typeset by computer; hence the OCR program doesn't have too much trouble recognizing the body text. However, when it comes to the fine print, particularly in the ads, I've got to input the text by hand." - which makes me wonder about the self-honesty of his endeavour).

Even so, I see the actions of someone spending the best part of 3 months retyping the entire content of a single newspaper as entirely equivalent to that of someone spending months building a model of a ship from matchsticks, or someone spending 24 hours watching sequential episodes of Desparate Housewives, or someone who toils for months on end to produce a lawn that nobody else can walk on, or someone who writes poetry and refuses to have it published by someone else ...

Aha! A connection. And just as most posts to this blog eventually gravitate to the extremely important subject of Rik Roots, so does this one.

I can appreciate the concept of Kenneth Goldsmith's uncreativity because I can see echoes of his project (as I choose to interpret it, eg a preference for private rather than public creativity) in my own work. The poetry I write, I write primarily for the pleasure I get from writing it, rewriting it, formatting and displaying it. Deleting it as and when I see fit. It is my endeavour, and the pleasure that others may gain from my work is, to me, incidental. The only pleasure I get from other's pleasure (or ire) in my poetry is the public face they put on that pleasure - as measured in the comments I get on the poems, the mentions I get in other people's blog posts. I can imagine that Kenny Goldsmith gets similar pleasures from people's attention to his work - though that's mere conjecture on my part, and I've no plans to email him and ask such a question.

A final thought: I get more comments on my conlanging activities than I do on my poetry. Sometimes I find myself thinking this is probably a reflection on my abilities as a poet. But most of the time I find myself thinking that it's a reflection of people's views on the Art of Contemporary Poetry. This is, I think, a good thought to keep safe as I continue my endless patroll of blogs and bulletin boards keeping tabs on my namecheck tally.

Friday, February 24, 2006

A very dog-rough draft

... but it does make for a round dozen poems to work on:

Love Poem #12

We started in our cluttered hall
with a cuddle and a kiss
and soon enough we found ourselves
naked to the waist.

We buffed our skins with baby oil
and tweaked each other's nips
then got right down to monkey stuff
playing with our bits.

You said: "let's try a different game:
I'll fuck you on a tray
as we slide down our entrance stairs
abandoning our shame"

"Or how about some hooks and ropes",
I countered with élan:
"we can leap about like gibbons do,
perform our shag mid-air"

"We could", you said, "go commando
and dress up squaddie style
I'll chase you across the roofs
before you suck me dry"

We stopped in thought, our neurons fixed
on pleasures not yet caught -
and then you kissed me, hugged me tight:
"we'll have some tea to start".

Mad ideas

Every now and then I get mad ideas. For instance, I enjoy browsing the poetry newsgroups (yes, I am that sick) but one day I thought it would be a really good idea if someone just made a list of posts containing original poetry every week, with links to the relevant posts on google, and posted that to the group. Thus was born the Long Ladle Review, which lasted a good 3 months before the wheels fell off that horse.

Then there was my idea about poetry magazine submissions. I had this stupid idea one day (it was on a longhaul flight to Australia, which probably explains a lot) that poetry magazines are doing themselves no service by requiring people to jump through so many hoops to get poems accepted for publication. I thought it would be better for everyone involved if it could all be done online, with the poets submitting their work via a website into a database, which could then be accessed, considered and judged by editors, subeditors, slushpile miners, etc, which would in turn allow the poet to check up on the progress of their submissions.

That idea got coded up and everything, but luckily I came to my senses before any lasting harm was done. Instead, I decided that there were too many lists of poetry magazines that didn't really collect all the information a person needed. That an online compendium of information on poetry journals would be, well, useful. This mad idea resulted in Clot [edit: now removed], which hasn't been updated for a couple of years but continues to be visited regularly. So obviously a good idea which led to mad amounts of work for one idiot.

I learnt from that idea, so that when I had the idea to do something similar to Clot - but this time for individual poetry websites and blogs - I coded it so that maintaining the information on the database remained the entire responsibility of the person submitting the information; the only check I needed to do was making sure the link worked. The Periscope [edit: now removed] has been running for a few months now, and recently saw its 25th entry on the database. I'm not planning to dismantle this site for many years yet so it can only grow. Maybe one day it will become the first place to visit for people wanting to search for poetry outside the establishment of journals, publishers, etc - proving that mad ideas are perfectly capable of mutating into even madder ideas.

But why is it always me that acts on these mad ideas? Lots of people have mad ideas about getting poetry to the masses, but very few people actually do anything about it. Many prefer to copy an idea, changing it in little ways. For example, the people who came up with the idea of the free-to-view online poetry journal must have been jumping out of trolleys and falling out of trees from an early age, and yet the idea is stunning, superb. And it works! I reckon most people access their finished, polished modern poetry through such venues. But there's so many of them nowadays: the idea is so good that everyone wants to do it. Everyone with a smidge of coding ability and a talent for design can come up with a winning online poetry journal.

And how do these journals differ? Most seem to have the same format - closely modelled on print journals with poems, some book reviews, an occasional thought piece on what poetry is currently dying of, perhaps some interesting artwork. A few (a very few) may dabble with more complex coding to present a more interactive experience - sound files, for instance, or animation. But nothing much else really. Almost all of them declaim that they only publish the best poetry, yet are there really that many "best" poems being written every day of the year? Almost none of them pay copyright fees on the poems they publish. And almost all of them refuse to publish previously published material - this is a seriously severe one-shot game.

Anyways, I had this mad idea. What if - I warn you, this is a bit on the mad side of mad - what if someone paid poets a fee for hosting their very best poems on the web. Say, pay $100 for exclusive electronic - and print - copyright to host the poem on the website for one year, with options to renew the contract (say for a lesser fee - $50 a year) thereafter. Of course, the mad person paying the money would have the right to claim a share of royalties for any use of the poem beyond the website during the contract period - for instance a cut of the royalties accruing from any anthology sales during that time. Or maybe the right to negotiate a cut of any payments offered for using the poem in promotional or advertising work. I mean, getting one couplet featured in a Nike ad would surely rake in enough money to cover the running costs of the rest of the operation for years!

Somehow I don't think I'll be taking this idea forward myself. Unless I win the lottery, in which case watch this space.

But I think we need some more people willing to risk pursuing mad ideas. Because the current online poetry scene is stagnating. Online journal: been there. Online workshop: done that. Online listing services: wrote the code.

And where you find stagnation, you find leeches. Leeches like hardcopy and online poetry journals who can't be bothered to pay poets for the right to feature their poems between the journal's covers (or pixels). What sort of market is this? What sort of shite economy have poets managed to get themselves into?

"It's the Art that counts".

"It's the exposure that matters".

"It's the kudos and honour of having my work selected".

"How dare you taint poetry with the scum of commerce!"

I think sheep manage to herd themselves into the slaughterhouse because they think there's safety in numbers, that breaking away from the controlling bleat is dangerous, fearful, demeaning, heretical.

I also think that some of the best poetry being written today - not mine - is being flushed into the sewers for nothing more than a publication credit. Wasted.

I think poets need to turn around and say: "pay me for my work. Pay me cash for my words".

I think it's time people turned this whole farce into a sellers game.

Now there's a raging mad idea!

Thursday, February 23, 2006

This ones a little more ...

... overtly Brokeback (just in case people were forgetting where I'm coming from):

Love Poem #11

It's strange how our fingers weave
so neatly when we cross the road,
or traipse through shops for carrots,
newspapers, cartons of milk. Sometimes

I'll fold my palm around your knuckles
to keep them warm when we flag down
the bus, or stamp up the hill to town
- once when we skipped there. Sometimes

you knuckle my hand away, remind me
that decisions are shared in this space,
that both must agree to risk the spits
that water the men who hold hands.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Just a couple more ... poems. Sorry. I expect most people have already abandoned any pretence of visiting or reading this website. The stench of poorly executed love poetry must be nauseating. Well tough! This is becoming an obsessional thing with me: I am going to write a good love poem even if I have to pretend I'm an infinite number of monkeys. Life is, indeed, a bitch.

Love Poem #9

Look how quiet the room is: the cats
are playing their games up the curtains
and over my table, knocking plates
and cups across the carpet; the radio
advertises insurance and cars, vacuums
to suck the dried rice from the floor.

I sit and watch the fish, each shadow
a life behind the green scum collected
on the glass. Current no longer skips
the water into waves; I sip my coffee,
wipe the cold libation from my chin.

When the phone rings you switch me on:
orchestrate a tango of muscles behind lips
and tongue; redeem my personality from hock
and get me to stretch its seams as we chat
on the phone about nothing much at all.

Love Poem #10

It was a dopamine rush at first sight.
You stood there in tight jeans and boots,
a phenylethylamine scowl menacing the room
to dance to your demands. I worshipped
you there and then in chemicals of lust
and took you down without a thought
for consequences: the future was fucked
in any case and licking pheremones
from your shoulder pots was good.

I didn't ask for the oxytocin to leak
from my skull, to infest my vesicles
with a desire to cuddle your body tight.
Nor did I beg my nerves to flood my cells
with vasopressin, blocking all my plans
to seek new flesh to scrape. But I'll thank
the gods of chemistry for endorphins - sweet,
taut molecules that keep me close to you.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Not quite ekphrastic

... though definitely inspired by an exhibition I went to a number of years ago. This one is nowhere near finished, but I have a feeling it has legs and could possibly be the one that ends up becoming my fully developed Love Poem:

Love Poem #8

She was skipping over the rope, her body
a basket and her face an embrace of garbage.
We laughed like the monkey laughed, his snout
two model lorries axle to axle, though his laugh
was silent while ours staccatoed across
the boxed up exhibition space, disturbing
frowncast students and mumbly afficianados.
"Why can't these idiots see how funny he was?"
you wondered. But then Picasso sold his bits
and pieces so idiots could mount them
in ice bright halls while he mounted whores
in Paris. I'd have mounted you there and then
but the gallery staff had our number and our hour
in the company of genius was almost done.

Monday, February 20, 2006

An idea of a poem

... that's not there yet. Definitely needs more work. I'm going to post it up here to preserve the spark ...

Love Poem #7

Such a stupid hat:
not you at all, falling
across your eyes, a brim
full of dust mites
to choke our kiss.
Some form of orange
without feathers
- felt, maybe,
or shoddy cloth.

So many garments
rolled tight to fit
in this cupboard.

We've stopped dressing up
for each other:
our entertainments
are surer; ingrained
within our bones
but not yet

Is this rose cliche?

The trouble with love poems is that everyone's done them already. I mean, how much more cliche can a poem about love be when it includes a rose as its central motif?

So I know it's cliche, but still I want to write a love poem with a rose in it. It's like a test for poets, innit.

Love Poem #6

You bought a rose to mark our anniversary:
stout, black thorns erupting through the stalk
in whorls of defiance; two sawtoothed leaves
nestling a tight bud - sheets of peach and cream
rolled within their shrinking, green folder.
The rose was fresh - greenfly still syphoned
sap from the flower's veins - but we both knew
as you handed me the gift that soon the petals
would bronze and rot, the scent in its well
would run dry. I will not give you a rose
in return, but rather the bush - a root
of love extending deep into our manure.

Friday, February 17, 2006

I'm practicing

... for NaPoWriMo, the torture also known as April, where the inflicted have to write a poem a day throughout the whole month.

Oh, and in case people were wondering, I'm not planning on turning these poems into a series. In fact I'll be happy if just one or two of these drafts transmute into good poems. Anyways, I've given this one the snappy - but provisional - title of ...

Love Poem #5

"Tonight, instead of meeting you
inside that smoky bar I'll greet
you at my door, you have the address?
And then in place of shouting words
of lust above the thumpy noise
we'll sit and chat as I prepare
a meal for us, with wine - you do
eat meat? I have some chicken flesh
still fresh from lunch a few days back.
I thought I'd marinade them through
in brosia juice - it tastes like piss
when fresh and needs to cook for hours
to mellow down. No need to dress
up posh for me - just bring yourself
and that dirty smile of yours."


I've just received my very first royalty payment from - US$25. So can I just say a very quick thank you to those people who went out and bought the book. You'll all be happy to hear that (hopefully) I'll have gathered together enough material for a sequel by 2016.

In the meantime, don't forget you can order the Rik Calendar 2007 right now via - the perfect present for people you have to buy a Christmas present for even though you don't want to buy them a present: bosses; secretaries; former in-laws; constituents; congregations; etc, etc, etc.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Fresh Love

Or, to be accurate, the first draft of another love poem:

Love Poem #4
My friends asked me: how much does that special smile
of yours cost? I'll warn you now it isn't cheap:

a trinket stacked in piles on shelves in giftshops
trading holiday junk. You cannot wipe my palms

with cash and watch it strut its muscly tricks
across my face, nor will goods-in-kind bag you

that smile. For a drink you'll get a grin, and dinner
will pack a smirk into your greycoil memory. But

my smile - my honest sweat-on-face with blushing grace
stretch of lips and crowfeet lines towards my ears -

deserves a price that only you can pay, my love, when
you look at me with lids half-drawn across your eyes.

Love Poem rewrites (again)

Another late night, another redrafted love poem. I think I'm beginning to see a glimmer of hope for these poems ...

Love Poem No. 3

Now I am here to map
you, my first elevation
must be the mounds
of your lips, the care
with which they cradle
teeth; your tongue flicks
in friendly gusts.

I mark my parchments
with your real dimensions,
disregarding the flow
and ebb of adipose.

Your hands challenge
cartography - they fly
to investigate the world:
I have to vector them,
mark each finger with a symbol -
here be steeples, castles,
urban sprawls.

I could finish my map,
but I think I prefer
to be folded by you tight
inside your elbows.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

The Page

First off, I like The Page. It's a webpage-come-blog whose only purpose is to list links to interesting articles about poems, poets and poetry found online, and also to list links to recently published poems online that the owner of the site has taken a shine to. Andrew Johnson - that's the name listed as Editor at the bottom of the webpage - offers no opinions, except for the opinion made explicit through his choice of article and poem to link to. This is uncommented linkage, just the way I like it.

The range of sources (magazines, newspapers, periodicals, websites, etc) scoured for these links is impressive, restricting itself only to English language sources from North America, Europe and wherever else such goldmines may crop up. No source - and no poet - dominates so you can get a good, wideranging browse from a single visit to the site.

Even so, some poets, and some sources, crop up more than once. By doing a little bit of number crunching, we can determine the poets and sources that Editor Johnson feels people interested in poetry should be reading:

For poems:
The poets
Louise Glück (listed 4 times in recent months)
Seamus Heaney (3)
John Burnside (2)
Stephen Burt (2)
Arielle Greenberg (2)
Jane Hirshfield (2)
Ange Mlinko (2)
- from a total of 134 poets

Where the poems were published
The New Republic (10)
The Guardian (8)
Slate (7)
Poetry (6)
Poetry International (6)
Jacket (4)
Poetry Review (4)
- from 77 different sources

For articles:
The Guardian (25)
The New York Times (10)
The Nation (5)
The Observer (5)
The Boston Globe (4)
London Review of Books (4)
Poetry (4)
Times Literary Supplement (4)
- from a total of 49 sources

Interestingly, Silliman's Blog is listed 3 times for articles - which goes to show that you don't have to have hardcopy to feature on The Page. Nice.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Love poem rewrites

As promised yesterday ...

Love Poem #1

As the hovercraft puffed its skirts
against the concrete apron, so I flew -
Dover harbour a spray of images
beyond my screaming eyes as my brother
swung me beyond the rabbit-chewed lawns,
the edge of the cliff, a handgrasp away
from learning the dangers of trust.

Now the last hovercraft has been scrapped
for spares I can discover new dangers
beyond the crumbled castle's keep. Seduction
in moonlight is a walk through stiff grasses
to watch the sea bolster Dover below;
to feel the wind wipe the rain
across my naked back as I dance with you
on the edge of the cliff, eyes forward
not down, each step an experiment
in my trust of flinty contact.

Love Poem #2

You're drowning me: floodwaters
blister over the river's dirt bed -
a borewall of branches, snakes. Garbage
from the town's dark alleyways grabs
my legs, wraps my legs in carrier bags
and jostles me through storm drains.

"Change must come", grumbles
the corpse of a dog flushed
from its grave of dust and tyres.

Now the flood sings, percussion streams
harmonised with outlet gargles. Nerves
in my skin feel pressure like the hands
of a giant luging alongside me, holding me
safe in his great grasp; he pushes my form
beneath bridges, hustles me towards
saltier storms where liquids elope with kelps.

My bouyant lung fights the tug
of gravity; my bladder empties
a stash of chemicals. "Breed",
demand the dog-corpse maggots -
"Breed like the moon has crashed!"

Monday, February 13, 2006

Love Poem #3

Why is it that something as trivially stupid as earache - otitis externa - can effectively disable a person for almost a whole week? If the Designer is indeed Intelligent, then what fucking purpose did he have in mind for pain after the first 200 hours?

A poem, then. Love Poems #1 and #2 have got some good feedback on the newsgroups and are gearing up for a redraft. Here's a new one. The title is, I think you'll agree, revolutionary:

If I was to map you, my first elevation
would be the mounds of your mouth,
the care with which they cradle
your teeth, that tongue of yours
that flaps in streams of friendly winds.

I would mark the parchment
with your real dimensions,
disregarding the flow
and ebb of adipose.

Your hands would be a challenge - they fly
so fast to investigate the world: can
birds be mapped from the tundras
of the north to the shores of Gabon?
I'd have to vector them, perhaps mark
each finger with a symbol: here be
steeples, dense urbanisation, paradors.

I could map you with a card
for Valentine's day, but I think
I prefer to be folded
inside your elbows, close
like lips, tongues still.

Monday, February 06, 2006

The Love Thing

That last excuse of a draft poem that I posted was an attempt at a love poem. I generally don't "do" love poems - I squirm when I'm forced to read other people's attempts and feel that in general it's best not to inflict my cringy drafts on others.

Nevertheless, love poetry is pretty much what poetry is all about, and if a poet can't do the love poem thing then they're not much of a poet. Or so says my mother. Mind you, she says poems aren't poems unless they rhyme so I'm failing in all departments there.

So I've redrafted the draft love (or more accurately, seduction) poem, which is now inching its way towards something that could be interesting. I think I'm going to have to title it something like "Love Poem #1" so that people are aware its a love poem. And then there's the line length thingy. Does it work better with short lines, long lines or even longer lines?

Love Poem #1 (short lines)
Just as the hovercraft
could puff its skirts
against the certainty
of concrete so could I
swing from the verge
of rabbit-chewed grass,
screaming defiance
as I cleared the edge
of the cliffs. Thus
is poetry learned -
swung from the hands
of an older brother.

But it's much more fun
to be seduced by a stranger,
teasing me through lawns
to the windy cliff-tops
bolstering Dover
in moonlight, whispering
stories in assonance -
and then to dance:
eyes locked on his images
as we swirl to the music,
each step an experiment
in flinty contact

Love Poem #1 (long lines)
Just as the hovercraft could puff its skirts
against the certainty of concrete so could I
swing from the verge of rabbit-chewed grass,
screaming defiance as I cleared the edge
of the cliffs. Thus is poetry learned -
swung from the hands of an older brother.

But it's much more fun to be seduced by a stranger,
teasing me through lawns to the windy cliff-tops
bolstering Dover in moonlight, whispering
stories in assonance - and then to dance:
eyes locked on his images as we swirl to the music,
each step an experiment in flinty contact

Love Poem #1 (even longer lines, with some shorter lines too)
Just as the hovercraft could puff its skirts against
the certainty of concrete so could I swing from the verge
of rabbit-chewed grass, screaming defiance as I cleared
the edge of the cliffs. Thus is poetry learned - swung
from the hands of an older brother.

But it's much more fun to be seduced by a stranger, teasing me
through lawns to the windy cliff-tops bolstering Dover
in moonlight, whispering stories in assonance - and then
to dance: eyes locked on his images as we swirl to the music,
each step an experiment in chalk-flint contact

Titling poems to signpost meaning is allowed, but is it clever? I mean, if I titled that other manky draft I recently posted "Love Poem #2" would it make it a real love poem? Let's try:

Love Poem #2
I'm drowning: floodwaters
blistering over a river's dirt bed -
a borewall of branches, snakes; leaves
lifted from mountains wraping limbs.

Change must come: the flood
gurgles, pushes my form beneath
bridges, hustles towards salty storms
where liquids will rage unconfined.

My bouyant lung fights the tug
of gravity; my bladder empties
a stash of chemicals. Breed!
Breed like the moon has crashed.

Perhaps it'll work better if the title was Love Poem: Crabs. Or perhaps it won't. I'm not sure a poem can be a love poem if it doesn't include a minimum of 2 personalities.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Rik's Rikical responses

Mainly for Julie (who's having a particularly bad newsday), some responses from me to the questions I posed a couple of days ago.

None of the questions I asked were trick questions. But I did ask four of the questions twice. The reason I did that is to try and show how ethics is not hard-and-fast - there can never be right/wrong answers to any of these questions, just better/worse answers for you and the people around you. Changing the context of the question can - and in my case occasionally does - change the answer.

But then, I have no shame.

First question (Qs 1 and 6): the deadly plague carrier. On the surface, the answer to this question is simply one of public safety: the person must be turned in to the authorities to prevent further deaths. When Typhoid Mary was released after her first incarceration she chose not to keep to her side of the release bargain and eventually went back to preparing food for others - resulting in further deaths and a second incarceration for poor Mary.

But then, should we be allowed to lock people away just because they are a potential risk to society? Should prison be used as a form of prevention alongside its more traditional uses as punishment and rehabilitation?

My answer to both questions would be no. But I would urge the person to seek medical treatment - which could end up in their isolation. But that would be their ethical dilema, not mine.

This question became very real for many people in the mid 1980s with the spread of HIV/AIDS. In those early days there was huge pressure in the UK for people diagnosed with AIDS to be removed from the general population, isolated in holiday camps or islands. Margaret Thatcher - in one of the few acts of hers for which I have deep respect - decided against such a policy and instead instigated a massive publicity campaign to raise awareness of the disease and support responsibility by everyone through the use of safer sex. We live in a much better, more adult and responsible society because Maggie chose to give people the information rather than remove the danger from our midst. Other countries - for instance Cuba - chose the opposite route. I have no idea what the consequences of that decision were on Cuban society, though their HIV rate remains low.

Now, what happens if we re-run the questions, but this time replace the words "deadly plague carrier" with "intolerant Muslim extremist". Would my answer be the same? Yes, and I find it shameful that my government believes differently, that my government believes that it is acting in my interests to remove the danger of "Islamic" extremists by incarcerating them rather than teaching us all about why they are a threat and how we can take action to keep ourselves safe against their poisonous, un-Islamic ideas.

Second question (Qs 2 and 7): untold riches discovered in a suitcase. This is a question about civic responsibility. I tried to frame the question to make it clear that the money is the result of illegal - and harmful - activity. Do I take the money and keep quiet? Or should I report the find to the authorities so they can conduct an investigation and (hopefully) catch the people involved in organised crime.

My answer is no. I would not take the money. Rather I'd go shoplifting for the food I needed.

Why? Well, my reasoning is twofold, and both reasons are about danger and safety. In the first instance, organised crime is a cancer within the body of society. The victims of organised crime are usually the poorer, more disadvantaged communities. Old people in East London still say that whatever else you could say about Ronnie and Reggie Kray, the streets were safer when they ruled the roost. Well, they might have felt safer, but that safety came at a price: compliance with the wishes of the gangsters, who felt they could do whatever they liked to whoever they liked. Rule by the bully.

I don't like bullies. Shop 'em to the Plods.

The other reason is very personal. I would not like to be hunted down by gangsters because I stole their suitcase. I would not like to put people I love in such danger simply because of my greed. An anonymous tipoff to the police solves that problem, for me at least.

Third question (Qs 3 and 8): abandoned on the rubbish tip. This question, for me at least, uncovers how cowardly I could be. Here we are presented with either an abandoned, damaged kitten or an abandoned, damaged child. What should I do?

My father would have had no problem. The child would have been dragged to the authorities, while the kitten would have been put out of its misery by breaking its neck. I would probably rely on the authorities to handle both discoveries.

Yet this is clearly an issue of dodged responsibility. What if there are no "authorities" to turn to? Could I kill a kitten? Could I leave a child to its own fate? Could I be bothered to intervene?

This is going to sound horrible, but I don't think at this moment in time I could bring myself to intervene in the life of the kitten or the child. I don't know how to intervene. Nobody has ever taught me the most humane way to kill a kitten. Nobody has taught me how to reach out to an abandoned child, how to offer care and support to that child rather than just kidnapping him or her and supplying "help" whether they want it from me or not. I've been protected from the harsh realities of life by the society I live in, because that society has chosen to specialise the dirty, nasty jobs to certain categories of workers - policemen, vets, care workers. It works for me now, this division of responsibilities, this specialisation of work within the ant nest. But what happens when society collapses? Will I be able to survive?

Well, we're not living in a nest of ants yet. I can still learn how to reach out to lost children. I can still learn how to kill kittens efficiently with minimal pain. I could learn how to survive. But I'm not there yet.

Fourth question (Q4 and 9): valuing the environment. Or alternatively, how green is my commitment?

When it comes to the environment, I'm pragmatic rather than romantic or economic. Environmentalism is, I feel, a Good Thing which raises very clear and honest questions about how we fit in with the rest of the planet. On the other hand, environmentalists (and I'm being deliberately stereotypical here) can be utterly irrational about things, can get their order of priorities deeply wrong, can miss the point of the argument completely while they are busy worshipping at the green alter of Mother Gaia.

My own personal beliefs are very strong in this area. Humanity is part of nature. We have not separated ourselves from nature. Villages, towns and cities are no more an abomination against nature than the giant anthills across the African savannah or the beaver dams in the American forests. We build and adapt our environment to meet our needs, just as every other living creature on this planet builds and adapts their local environment to meet their particular needs.

Humanity also pollutes. So does every other organism that has ever created protein from DNA on this planet. If you want the example of pollution par excellence, then look no further than the humble anaerobic bacteria. These are the bastards who managed to massively pollute our atmosphere with oxygen billions of years ago. A gas so highly reactive and dangerous that it managed to wipe out almost all life from the planet, leaving just a few poor, weak organisms capable of eking out an existence in the fumes. From which decended most of the life we see around us today.

So as you can see, when it comes to the environmental stuff, I'm pretty laid back. Yes, there's too many people living on the planet. But the planet can solve this problem for us: more individuals, less food. More individuals, more hosts for parasites and diseases (AIDS, SARS, 'flu, haemorrhagic fevers, etc, etc, etc). Climate change? Well, apart from the recent ice ages the planet has never been this cold before. And species incapable of changing and adapting to evolving climatic conditions don't really deserve any sympathy, in my view. We're not living in a museum, for fucks sake.

Even so, I don't see the need to destroy the environment gratuitously. I recycle my waste as much as I can. I do not drive a car and always use public transport where possible. When I was younger I'd walk to most places I'd have to be - I can walk over 5 miles in an hour. I don't go out of my way to buy organic food, but I do go out of my way to buy Fair Trade food. And I am starting to check where the goods I buy originate from - the carbon footprint stuff. See, you don't need to be evangelical to care about the environment.

So, back to the questions in hand. Should the newts die to build a new factory? No. The quid-pro-quo offered by the developers in my question seems poorly thought out. Why does the road need to go through the newt's pond? What alternative routes are there for the road? Are there alternatives to the road - canals, or railways, or donkeys? And why are they explicitly tying the promise of jobs to the destruction of the pond? How genuine and long-lasting is this offer of jobs? You haven't even interviewed me yet, nor my family - all you're supplying is a promise of work. Sorry, boys and girls, but this is one poorly concieved and developed plan. Go back. Do some proper work. Come back with better plans. Until then, the newt lives.

But should the newt die to cure my cancerous friend? Yes, it should. Sorry, but in the scheme of things the life of a loved one ranks, for me, higher than the life of a newt - or a puppy. My brother is diabetic. He survives through daily injections of insulin. Discovering the connection between insulin and diabetes required some rather unpleasant experiments on dogs and puppies. Puppies died to find a way for my brother to live.

It would be nice - preferable even - if the newtskin could be examined, if a way could be found to synthesise the cancer-busting chemicals. This is one of the triumphs of the pharmaceutical industry (and one of the reasons I prefer not to demonise them for refusing to sell drugs cheaply to the third world as soon as campaigners demand such action). But such things take time and if time is not on my friend's side? Goodbye, Mr Newt, and thank you for playing.

Two more questions to go. These two are a lot easier for me to answer.

Question 5: the christmas present. Sometimes it may seem that you're doing a child a kindness, when really you're setting yourself up for unintended consequences. My grandmother most probably thought she was doing my mother a kindness when she hired the doll for a day. Yet the effect on my mother of losing that doll on Boxing Day, seeing it returned to the shop as if she was being punished, was profound. When my partner and I bought her a doll like that original doll - some 65 years after the event - she wept. The anger she felt against her mother for doing such a cruel thing to her was immediate, strong and fresh even after so many years.

So, no. I'd go out and buy a cheaper present for the kid - one they can keep. One that belonged to them.

And lastly, question 10: the deadly analgesic. I should have cast this question in terms of the deeply loved one dying. But my answer would be the same: give me the drug.

I can understand the need for a vigorous debate on the ethics of euthanasia. I can see the arguments both for and against assisted suicide. But they don't really concern me because I settled the question in my mind a long time ago in favour of passive euthanasia. This is the withdrawing of treatment for a disease or condition, but continuing the treatment of pain. Hospices are increasingly good at treating pain, so that people can get themselves a dignified death. I like hospices, and fully intend to die in one when my time comes.

Active euthanasia? Well, that's basically asking someone to help you kill yourself. I don't think I have the right to demand such a service from anyone - especially not from people who love me. And anti-euthanasia? I'm sorry, but what right has the state got to meddle in my death? The government can have my fucking taxes, but my death will be my own!

Rik's worldview today

Another day, another online test. This time thanks to RJ McCaffery - who has finally decided to stuff his blogland anonymity where it belongs.

You scored as Postmodernist. Postmodernism is the belief in complete open interpretation. You see the universe as a collection of information with varying ways of putting it together. There is no absolute truth for you; even the most hardened facts are open to interpretation. Meaning relies on context and even the language you use to describe things should be subject to analysis.

Postmodernist: 88%
Cultural Creative: 75%
Existentialist: 63%
Materialist: 63%
Romanticist: 50%
Modernist: 44%
Idealist: 38%

What is Your World View? (updated)
created with

One of the really annoying things about some of these tests is the html code they offer for copying and pasting into your blog. This one was not too bad - they used a table to create a barchart (which was okay, though I've excised it from the code I've pasted into my blog - I mean, what's wrong with numbers?). But some of the code I've seen is not only inelegant but also dangerous. Moral: check the code before you add it to your blog.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Ethical or Rikical?

Julie's been busy answering not as ethical as they could be ethical questions. I, too, found the questions a bit boring, so here's a list of 10 Rikical questions for consideration:

  1. You suspect that someone you know has become a carrier for a deadly plague - a bit like Typhoid Mary. Mentioning this to the authorities is likely to lead to their permanent incarceration. Staying quiet could lead to many more people dying of plague. What do you do?

  2. You find an abandoned suitcase. In the suitcase is a stash of white powder and a significant amount of money - say $100,000. There's also a loaded gun, and patches of a liquid that might be blood on the case. What do you do?

  3. You find a kitten abandoned in a plastic bag in a rubbish dump. The kitten is weak and has a broken leg. It can be no more than 4 weeks old. You have no money spare for vetinary bills and food is scarce. What do you do?

  4. There is a pond near where you live that is home to a very rare species of newt. Developers have guaranteed you and your family well paying jobs, but providing these jobs would require building a road through the pond. It would be nice to have the opportunity to work. What do you do?

  5. Christmas has come, finding you very short of money. A young child you love (son or daughter, nephew or niece, etc) and who looks to you as their main provider has set their heart on a particular toy for christmas - a doll or a teddy bear. The toy is beyond your price range, but the shopkeeper offers to hire the toy out to you just for christmas day. What do you do?

  6. You suspect that someone you love deeply (mother or father, husband, wife or partner, son or daughter, etc) has become a carrier for a deadly plague - a bit like Typhoid Mary. Mentioning this to the authorities is likely to lead to their permanent incarceration where you will never be able to hold or hug them again. Staying quiet could lead to many more people dying of plague. What do you do?

  7. Your family has not eaten for the past 4 days and you have no money and nothing to sell for money to buy food. You find an abandoned suitcase. In the suitcase is a stash of white powder and a significant amount of money - say $100,000. There's also a loaded gun, and patches of a liquid that might be blood on the case. What do you do?

  8. You find a 9 year old kid wandering in a rubbish dump. The child has a vacant look his/her eyes and will not communicate with you. S/He looks malnourished. You have no money spare for doctor's bills and food is scarce. What do you do?

  9. There is a pond near where you live that is home to a very rare species of newt. Doctors have discovered that an enzyme produced by the newt's skin is a powerful anti-cancer drug. Someone you love desparately is dying of cancer and would be cured by this new treatment. But each treatment requires the sacrifice of a newt, which for its part will only breed in that one specific pond. Why should the newt live?

  10. You are in great pain. A drug is available to lessen the pain, but taking it will shorten your life. What do you choose to do?

I'll offer up my answers to both readers of this blog tomorrow.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

The Seducing Words

Just as the hovercraft
could puff its skirts
and roar its turbines
against the certainties
of gravity so could I
swing from the end
of my brother's arms,
screaming defiance
at the end of edges.
Thus is poetry learned -
danger and fear,
safety and fun.

But it is so much more
reckless fun to be seduced
by a stranger, who takes
my hand and leads me
to the top of the cliffs
that bolster Dover,
in moonlight, whispering
stories in assonance;
to dance there - do not
look down - will his poem
push me beyond this verge
of rabbit-chewed grass?