The Conspiracy

Did you read about Big Oil? And Big Coal? And Big Gas? And Big Cheesecake?

How about Vested Interests? They were the favoured bogeymen of my old uncle Jude, the Montana cattle farmer. They apparently explained anything that he did not like. When it was pointed out that he had a vested interest in his farm, he went all morose.

” They ” of course, are prime suspects in the downfall of everything. The ” They ” varies according to who is doing the complaining. Men, Russians, the CIA, mysterious swarthy immigrants…all guilty of being ” They “. ” They ” are a pretty active and resourceful set of villains, and can be called upon to take the blame in many circumstances. Hard to actually pin thunderstorms or badly fitting sink gaskets on them, but useful for nearly everything else…

Whether it is spraying innocent populations with mind-altering substances like oil from leaking jet engines or poo from the airliner tanks, or smuggling hordes of tiny assassins in Post Paks, the forces of evil can always be counted on for a good topic at a party or public bar. They get more active after the third pint. A nod is as good as a wink to a blind man and tinfoil helmets are proof against most known germs…or is that Tea-Tree oil?  Wear both just to be safe.

PS: Don’t forget the Rumenati – the secret organisation of cows that controls the world…

Do It Yourself Blasphemy Kit

I have often wondered if you could make a decent income selling a do-it-yourself blasphemy kit by mail order. I’m not entirely sure what would be included in the box – because let’s face it – there so many different gods that seem to be able to take offence – but I am sure there will be people in various religious organisations who can advise me.

I am prepared to accept the fact that it will be a difficult product to sell in certain markets. Saudi Arabia for one…Arkansas for another. Ireland seems to have laws against it, though I suspect that they are only concerned that it may affect the quality of the Guinness. If that is actually the case I would be loathe to risk it there.

I am uncertain about another aspect of the business; why an omniscient and omnipotent being should need protection from something as frail as a human voice or pen. Indeed, why does the Divinity ( of whatever stripe ) not strike the blasphemer dead with lightning, or volcanos, or goldfish…instead of relying upon priests, mullahs, rabbis, and Irish courts to do the punishment? A good public lightninging would do more for public relations than a cartload of writs.

Of course it has been pointed put that anti-blasphemy laws are really there to prevent distress to humans who don’t want their invisible friend in the sky sneered at. In that they are kind, but I am wondering if they would be as kind to believers of different religions – protecting their invisible friends as well. I suspect not, given that the adherents of one friend generally try to slaughter the adherents of another friend, and frequently succeed. The invisible friends never seem to step in to prevent it…one wonders whether or not they actually enjoy seeing it take place. Is there a rather cruel reality show taking place on Divine Television Network and the contestants are winning coffins…?

I must investigate the business of blasphemy kits further – selling them may be a simple as mailing out religious texts…

The Alehouse Blues

I visited a pub recently for an hour and looked about me. It was a mistake – I should have kept my nose in the pint glass and read the beer mat.

It was a cheerful pub – well-appointed and clean. There were any number of beers on tap and I daresay I could have called for anything I wanted. The Kölsch was fine. Had I stayed to dinner it would probably have been good food.

But as I was alone on the occasion I doubt whether I could have faced it. You see there   was nothing to fix the mind in the place save beer and piped-in television sports. There is only so much footage of horse racing, rugby, and cricket that you can take before you start to get palpitations…and not of the heart…

It would be foolish to expect art or intellect in a taphouse…except where the patrons are artists themselves and want to make sure you know it. Politics of the lowest sort might be a relief from the tedium, but I suspect that the political pub is only open to true believers. And literature is only going to be available in University food halls – you trade access to pilsner for declamations on Proust.

But let us have something that will amuse the eye as the food and drink amuse the tongue. Leave books of short stories about. Even foreign-language magazines would do. Picture books. Things that do not shout…there is enough of that going on as it is.

Don’t Ask The Question If You Don’t Want To Hear The Answer

Which is probably a good place to stop this column because it just about covers it all. But I have a page to fill and with a bit of luck your computer will freeze just about now and you’ll be forced to read it anyway.

The title is one of those things that you eventually find out for yourself by doing it and living through the consequences. I liken the business of asking questions to the practice of pushing buttons set in the wall. Some lead to good answers and some lead to answers.

My initiation into this was a visit to a Swedish Glass Museum in the town of Orrefors. We had been to see the glass-blowers make wonderful jugs and plates, had looked at the prices that they wanted for their products in the shops…and kept moving. The Glass Museum was free and had more colourful stuff in it so we ducked in there. I pressed a button on the wall.

Now this was in 1973 and the digital age of holograms and multichannel presentations was sometime in the future. But when I hit that button a panel clapped open in the side of the room and a television slid out on a track, the lights went down, and it started to play a movie on the story of glass. Loudly. In Swedish. Everyone else in the place, barring the guard, looked at me in horror and vacated the room, but I stayed there and braved the dialog, music, cheesy story, and intense scrutiny of the guard. Twenty minutes later the lights came on, the TV went off, and then rolled back into the wall. I have never pressed a button in a wall since.

It also applies when someone asks a question wanting a particular answer to be favourable, but forgetting that there can be negatives as well as positives. Or when they try to get something by asking for another thing…and are disconcerted when the other thing is supplied.

The best of them all are the questions that are couched in hypothetical terms; you can deal with them in lots of ways. The conversation can be steered from coy to awkward to appalling with a great deal of ease. When they ask:

 

a. “I wonder what you would say, if I asked you ( to do something or to give them something or to buy something )? ”

Here the answer is simple. Smile. Look attentive. Tilt your head encouragingly. They have told you that are wondering. Wait to see what their reverie brings. Eventually they will start to sweat.

b. ” What would you say if I asked you ( the same question as before )? ”

Here you must become serious. Not threatening or stern, but with a sort of courteous academic mien. Reply ” I would give you a careful answer, bearing in mid all the factors of the case “. Then say no more. You have answered the question well.

c. ” Has anyone ever told you that ( you are good, bad, indifferent, sexy, obnoxious, conceited, homely, etc, etc ) ? ”

The answer here would be either yes or no, depending upon whether someone really ever has. You can give a one-word answer politely and need say no more. Try to do it in the most neutral way possible. Do tell the truth, as it is a position from which you never need resile.

d. ” I’ll bet you ( have never, or always, done, had, or saw something ) like this. ”

Here no answer is needed unless they finish the sentence with ” Eh ? ” and then you look quizzically at them  – engaging full eye contact – and say ” Really ? How much did you bet? ” Don’t break that eye contact…Keep looking…

e. ” Do you know what you’re doing? ” is not a question – it is a snide assertion that you do not and that the questioner does. Pretend it is a question…and answer it pleasantly by saying ” Yes ” or ” No ” just as you please, but keep right on doing whatever it was that was brought into question. If you can manage to do it without the slightest pause or change in position it is the mark of a true professional.

f. ” What do you think you are doing? ” is another variant of the hectoring question. Here you do pause. If you are doing some manual task put it down and if you are working on machinery shut it down. The longer it takes to wind down until it stops the better. Put up one finger in a ‘wait a minute’ gesture while it does so. When it is stopped, and silent, you say politely ” Answering your question. ”

Then you instantly switch on the machinery or turn back to the task in hand.

g. ” What are you supposed to be doing? ” is the third of the big three. Here you treat the situation exactly as you did for [f.] above. When the machinery is still you say that you are supposed to be changing the crown plugs on a Belpaire boiler or calculating the fiscal return on a thyroid, or anything that comes readily to mind – no matter what task you were actually engaged upon. Then start the machinery again and carry on but answer no more questions.

With a bit of luck, the questioner will be in no fit state to ask them.

 

” Why Blog? ” I Was Asked

And it was not just a snotty question – the person I spoke with was genuinely puzzled about why I sit here tapping away at a keyboard. I could tell from their questioning that I was not going to get away with an answer like ” ” ‘Coz I Can…”.

I temporized, searching for time to give a good answer. To distract the questioner I hit  him in the head with a turnip and then wandered away thinking about the question. Here is the answer as best I can figure it out:

a. Weblog writing is a way of releasing tension. Admittedly retirement doesn’t build a lot of stress but there are always in-laws lurking somewhere in the week and you can feel your back muscles tightening just thinking about them.

b. Weblog writing brings you into contact with people who you would otherwise never meet. So does attendance at religious meetings and bar-rooms but writing involves less passing of the hat or passing out.

c. As you get older, fewer people are willing to listen to you. Weblog writing restores the chance to address an attentive crowd. You find out just how attentive when you put in lunatic messages or smutty typo errors. THEN you get listened to.

d. Weblog writing is a way to fame and fortune. And allows you to fly by tucking a kitten under each arm and making magical sounds. It said so in an article I read at the side of Facebook. As soon as I can gather the tuition fee to the Wabash Institute Of Liberal Arts I should be set for life.

e. All the time you spend writing on the web is time that you do not have to spend reading click bait on Facebook.

f. You can make lists with the sure and certain knowledge that people will read them. People ALWAYS read lists, possibly in the hope that they will get better eventually. Sadly…

g. No-one can say you nay. They may say a great many other things that bums used to write on the side of boxcars, but if they do they have to use the reply section of your blog page and that boosts your figures. You can always dump them in the spam if they are too bad or too good.

h. Weblog writing is largely free – the simple WordPress themes let you launch forth at no cost other than your time. If you are the CEO of a major oil company your time is worth a lot more than anything you can write, so this keeps you from getting on WP and ranting away. We all benefit.

i. Keyboard warriors who pop up and pop off on shorter pieces like Twitter or Facebook are forced to come up with more complete posts here in a regular column. It may still be noxious garbage but at least it is more developed. If they are going to make asses of themselves, we all get to see the beast in full view.

j. You can settle many things in your own mind if you write them out in an essay form. You can settle things in other parts of yourself with Gaviscon and Lomotil.

k. Weblog columns provide your enemies with ammunition to use against you in the future. Think how many presidential or prime ministerial candidates may already have been rejected for pre-selection based upon their web writings. There are probably auto-bot programs that seek this sort of thing out all the time. We may have lousy politicians now but think how much lousier they might have been.

l. On the other side of the coin, weblog columns also flush out the unreasonable amongst the readership. If you can get someone to explode into incandescent rage over a meme or cartoon, you can be pretty certain that the explodee is going to be unsuitable for marriage, monetary dealings, or minding the nuclear codes.

m. You can do it in bed – all rugged up and propped on a pillow. It is less effort than sex and unlike eating soda crackers, does not scatter itchy crumbs. If you itch after sex, you are sleeping in the wrong bed.

 

No More Mr. Nice Guy

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There’s no point beating about the bushy bits – Facebook censors pictures anyway. And two wrongs don’t make a right, but three can actually do it. Or to put it another way…

The rise of social media parallels the rise of social disease, but without the initial squelchy fun bit. It just leaps straight to the bit with the swelling and discharge. And I should not be surprised if it drops off in the end…the interest in social media, I mean. What did you think I meant? I put it down to an unhealthy diet made up chiefly of quizzes designed to see if I am gullible enough to buy time-share apartments in Caiguna or porcelain copies of Lassie. It is a waste of time on the part of the Facebook to ask – of course I will.

The strongest shock one gets from social media, apart from a leakage in the electrical power supply, is the crass folly that is presented on it and the ready acceptance with which one’s companions of the screen embrace it. We have been presented with virtual versions of cesspools, and asked to swim backstroke. Better, asked to swim for Australia. One can only wonder what the medals will be made of…

Had we been presented with this stuff in 1960 we would have laughed and thrown it away. The 70’s would have had no place for it. But now – 50 years onwards – we eagerly send sums of money to unknown destinations for the chance to move phosphor dots around a screen. The sums are not large. but they are not virtual – someone is getting real money for the privilege of playing with cartoons on a telephone screen. To a person who paid 10¢ max for comic books in 1957 and traded them for years for nothing, the idea of paying today’s prices is absurd.

We are told that this is the information age and there is an information economy in which games and social media form a large part of the earning power. The only information that seems to be new is that the pressure of population has increased the number of suckers born every minute and also the number born to take them. Mr. Barnum would enjoy the sight, but I fear the pace might leave him frantic.

Still, there is no wind so ill that it does not blow comfort somewhere. My own chosen medium is printed words and illustrations. As this has fallen by the wayside in favour of phosphor dots there is less competition for reading matter. I can sometimes find and afford books that would have been beyond me – when they were desired by more people, they commanded a higher price. I do not think I can ever read out the library, let alone the world, and so I can leave hoi polloi to the screen and the app. Do not be offended if I speak of hoi polloi – no-one can be commoner than I when I choose.

Heading Image: The cultural spirit of the New York Banner made manifest upon a Facebook page. Ellsworth Toohey would have been proud.

Whats-a Matter You? Hey!

Gotta no respec’?

This theme song for the over 60’s was-a sung by Joe Dolce in the early 80’s. He’s-a now the same age as-a me and I salute his wisdom in penning those lyrics all-a that time ago in preparation for our retirement.

What-a you t’ink you do?

I work all-a time. But I no work-a for the boss. I work-a for me anna family. We live in-a de clean house. We eat-a de good food. We gotta all-a we need.

Why you look-a so sad?

Because all-a the time people no respect-a me. I’m-a want big handshake and slap-a the back an’ tell-a me how great I am. And it don’t-a happen.

It’s-a not so bad.

Okay, well maybe they dont-a slap-a my back but then again…but Hey, they don’t-a slap-a my face. An’ they can’t slap-a me in jail.

It’s-a nice-a place.

Yeah, Australia is a nice-a place. No so nice if-a you in Sydney but den again dat’s-a Sydney…An’ we got-a de whole Nullarbor between us-a and dem.

I’m gonna shut up-a my face.