Saturday, December 16, 2006


Simon Norfolk is a photographer of war zones. Here are some of his recent images from Afghanistan, which reminded me vividly of my trip there in March 2002.

The Kabul Hilton

Mortar tailfins

Destroyed river crossing point

Friday, December 15, 2006

All my senses vibrated

April 19th, 1943, is known as Bicycle Day, the day on which Dr. Albert Hofman first experimented with LSD:

Slowly I came back from a weird, unfamiliar world to reassuring everyday reality. The horror softened and gave way to a feeling of good fortune and gratitude, the more normal perceptions and thoughts returned, and I became more confident that the danger of insanity was conclusively past.

Now, little by little I could begin to enjoy the unprecedented colors and plays of shapes that persisted behind my closed eyes. Kaleidoscopic, fantastic images surged in on me, alternating, variegated, opening and then closing themselves in circles and spirals, exploding in colored fountains, rearranging and hybridizing themselves in constant flux.

It was particularly remarkable how every acoustic perception, such as the sound of a door handle or a passing automobile, became transformed into optical perceptions. Every sound generated a vividly changing image, with its own consistent form and color ... Exhausted, I then slept, to awake next morning refreshed, with a clear head, though still somewhat tired physically. A sensation of well-being and renewed life flowed through me. Breakfast tasted delicious and gave me extraordinary pleasure.

When I later walked out into the garden, in which the sun shone now after a spring rain, everything glistened and sparkled in a fresh light. The world was as if newly created. All my senses vibrated in a condition of highest sensitivity, which persisted for the entire day. This self-experiment showed that LSD-25 behaved as a psychoactive substance with extraordinary properties and potency.

There was to my knowledge no other known substance that evoked such profound psychic effects in such extremely low doses, that caused such dramatic changes in human consciousness and our experience of the inner and outer world.

Just beautiful!

From March 18, 2003.

What is the American Army doing in Iraq?

The Iraq Study Group or Baker Commission reported its conclusions over a week ago, telling anyone who is interested that the U.S. policy towards Iraq has been a failure on a massive scale, adding that short of a massive new commitment of troops, the war has been lost.

Already, there is speculation that the horror that was once a shiny dossier called variously neoconservatism, pre-emptive strikes, project for a new century, whatever, must now come to an end, at least, for most Americans, with a rapid withdrawal of the U.S. Military and a high-sounding speech by Bush that in translation will read "to hell with Iraq," though for many Iraqis, they already exist in a sort of American-made hell.

There's been a mini-civil war within the Republican Party too, with one side praising James Baker, who served as Secretary of State to the former President George Bush, for steering the report in the direction of a realistic sense of "how do we get out of this mess as quickly as possible?"

The other side of course, threw the usual insults, that Baker was a "surrender monkey," (New York Post), and tantamount to a side-kick of Osama, because he is advocating something short of "total! victory!" Here is what President Bush has done to Iraq, quoting from Mark Danner, a writer who has covered Mess O'Potamia from the start:

'As Iraqis do their shopping or say their prayers they are blown to pieces by suicide bombers. As they drive through the cities in broad daylight they are pulled from their cars by armed men at roadblocks who behead them or shoot them in the back of the neck. As they sit at home at night they are kidnapped by men in police or army uniforms who load them in the trunks of their cars and carry them off to secret places to be tortured and executed, their bound and headless bodies to be found during the following days in fields or dumps or by the roadside. These bodies, examined by United Nations officials in the Baghdad morgue,

often bear signs of severe torture including acid-induced injuries and burns caused by chemical substances, missing skin, broken bones (back, hands and legs), missing eyes, missing teeth and wounds caused by power drills or nails.'

Everything that President Bush said would or could be achieved by the Iraq invasion, has in fact had its opposite come true. For example, Iraqis have danced in the streets alright, but they danced most memorably a couple of years ago when a mob tore some American contractors to pieces and then stuck their heads and body parts on sticks. Second example: overthrowing Saddam Hussein was supposed to increase stability in the Middle East and increase U.S. prestige everywhere. Now the entire region is volatile with unleashed fury, and the U.S. military is seen helplessly bogged down.

I can't think of anything else to say, as "told you so" is wearing thin. But in fact, "told you so" is about the only thing worth saying, aside perhaps from "get out now."

Thursday, December 14, 2006


Down stucco sidestreets,
Where light is pewter
And afternoon mist
Brings lights on in shops
Above race-guides and rosaries,
A funeral passes.

The hearse is ahead,
But after there follows
A troop of streetwalkers
In wide flowered hats,
Leg-of-mutton sleeves,
And ankle-length dresses.

There is an air of great friendliness,
As if they were honouring
One they were fond of;
Some caper a few steps,
Skirts held skilfully
(Someone claps time),

And of great sadness also.
As they wend away
A voice is heard singing
Of Kitty, or Katy,
As if the name meant once
All love, all beauty.

Monday, December 11, 2006

A measure of a man

My friend Alfred, whose crazy photo collection threatens to crash Flickr's servers.

Tiresome, pointless, unnecessary, stupid -- do I have to go on?

From the New York Times: "Last July, Kelly White and her boyfriend became engaged. They had a cozy picnic of wine and cheese on a hill before he presented her with a watermelon-flavor Ring Pop and asked her to marry him. “I’d rather not say if he got down on one knee or not,” she said. “It’s embarrassing.”

But they won’t end up at the altar anytime soon: they said they would not marry until gay and lesbian couples are also allowed to.

“I usually explain that I wouldn’t go to a lunch counter that wouldn’t allow people of color to eat there, so why would I support an institution that won’t allow everyone to take part,” said Ms. White, 24, a law student at the University of California, Davis. “Sometimes people don’t buy that analogy.”

Whether it makes sense or not, some heterosexual couples…

Wake me up when they've stopped being annoying. Leo Abse, a Labour Member of Parliament for Cardiff North and notable British eccentric (his books written in retirement include: Fellatio, Masochism, Politics and Love, and Tony Blair: The Man who lost his Smile) fought to decriminalize homosexual acts in Britain, understood the need to present homosexuals as unfortunate misfits deserving of pity, not evil perverts, to Parliament, in order for MPs to support the reforming bill into law (it was not uncommon for MPs who publicly leaned in favor of decriminalizing homosexual acts to be targeted by blackmailers). But of course Abse didn't really think of homosexuals as pitiful misfits lurking perpetually in shadowy public toilets. In this story from the New York Times, I can't help but feel that some straight people are motivated by a concern that even though it is genuine, smacks of pity, and there's a universe of rage generated by someone coming up to you and saying "I feel so sorry for you... let me make a gesture that resembles a condescending pat on the head. There, there... feeling better?"

A debate about 'gay marriage' in the USA might have, in a more perfect world, been opened up to discuss marriage in general, and what an almighty failure it often has been everywhere. Across the country, lemming-like hoards of gay couples have surged through states where some form of legally-permissible gay intertwining is on offer, waving placards and wearing ridiculous costumes, anything to clamber aboard the marital omnibus that for centuries has been a half-assed arrangement at very best. No thanks.

Soon it will be the Loooooong Island Rail Road

The Long Island Rail Road takes commuters out of Manhattan from Penn Station to all points on Long Island. It is one of the oldest and busiest railway systems in the world -- and you can drink on board, yes, there is a bar car on most trains, so that harrassed and angry Long Islanders can relax and simmer or defuse with a beer as they slide out to the island.

But the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) wants to ban the bar car, fearful of drunk commuters falling on to the tracks (they are only fearful of this now, in the L.I.R.R.'s third century of service?) or otherwise doing what drunk people do best.

MTA Spokesperson: "They can have as many beers as they want as soon as they get home. I would prefer we don't let anyone drink alcohol on the train. If we're not ready to go that far … the least we can do is not make it easy for people to do it, which is, don't sell it."

Anonymous L.I.R.R. bar man: "The way I see it, I keep families together. A guy has a drink on the train ride home, and his wife picks him up at the station. Otherwise, he'd be driving around Long Island from bar to bar."

Sunday, December 10, 2006

I am an invisible man

''I am an invisible man. No, I am not a spook like those who haunted Edgar Allan Poe; nor am I one of your Hollywood-movie ectoplasms. I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids - and I might even be said to possess a mind. I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me." (from Invisible Man, by Ralph Ellison)