The Null Device


The release date of the next Harry Potter book has been announced, and the publisher has kindly released two excerpts, including the first sentence. Over at plastic, this has been turned into the start of a collaborative literature exercise.

Petunia ran out of the house. "Thank God you arrived, officer," she said. "They've got no right to take him! They've got no right!" The policemen looked up at the flying car hovering over the house. "Call in air support," said one of them. A few miles away, two helicopters sprung into action. "The car's license belongs to one Arthur Weasley," said one officer. "Arrested four times for posession of illegal and unlicensed substances - claimed they were 'magic potions'". Arthur Weasley saw the patrol cars down below, but did not worry. "Those Muggles and their laws," he said, shaking his head and laughing.

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According to Beat, there's a new New Buffalo gig coming up at the Empress soon. Unfortunately, it's on the same night as Kraftwerk, so I'll miss it.

The piece goes on to say something about her new album. EMI did fly her over to LA to work on it, and did put her in a studio with a producer who worked with Madonna and William Orbit (though he also worked with Björk, so it may not be too bad). More encouragingly, the album will have contributions from Jim White (of Dirty Three) and Laura Macfarlane, which suggests it won't be too MOR, formulaic or manufactured. Though time will tell.

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Things I found in my PO box today:

  • Two CD-Rs containing demo tracks from The Charm Offensive (a very promising new indie-pop band I saw in London some months back). Interesting; their material sounds somewhere between Birdie or Blueboy or someone and Black Box Recorder without the sarcasm (though with the conspicuous Englishness left wholly intact). I'll probably play some Charm Offensive in one of my DJ sets.
  • The photocopy edition of Cat and Girl #3, along with some stickers and button badges, and an amusingly useless leaflet showing bar/pie charts about the planets and their search engine statistics.
  • A mobile phone bill

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A number of young idealists are on their way to Baghdad to act as "human shields", lending their moral authority to defend the peaceful Iraqi state against US imperialist aggression. As one guitar-wielding peacenik says, "Baghdad is probably the most peaceful, mellow place I've ever been in my life. Everybody is so laid-back it's unbelievable." Though this neglects the fact that Saddam Hussein's regime is monstrously brutal, with a shocking record of torture and murder.

According to Amnesty International the regime was busily torturing and executing various enemies, real and imagined. Eyes were being gouged, tongues ripped out and heads cut off. The torture of political detainees, said Amnesty, "generally takes place in the headquarters of the General Security Directorate in Baghdad or in its branches in Baghdad".

Now it could well be that Amnesty International has been infiltrated by Dubya's disinformation operatives (perhaps via Phony Blair's "Nu Labour" government) and turned into a pro-US propaganda engine, with their strident denunciations of US capital punishment and racism merely acting to lull bleeding-hearted Guardian readers into a false sense of trust and get them to swallow the bigger lie; it could be, but I doubt it.

This Iraq war is a sordid affair. On one hand, Saddam Hussein is a monster. (Not even the most delusional Marxist could argue that he's the leader of a liberation movement... well, maybe the Spartacists could, but everybody knows they're barking mad.) I doubt that there's much support given to him by the Iraqi people that's not the result of blind fear of what happens if they don't. On the other hand, the Saudis are just as bad, by all accounts, but they're Our Allies so it's OK. And pretending that the US invasion of Iraq will be all about giving a helping hand to the poor downtrodden Iraqi people (who happen to be sitting on one of the biggest, and most strategically important, oil fields in the world) stinks of hypocrisy. Given that the US is reportedly considering pocketing Iraqi oil to pay for its occupation (how fortunate that those poor Iraqis have this means of repaying their benefactors!) adds to suspicions that it's all about oil.

OTOH, the "peace activists" who plan to go to Baghdad to act as human shields for a murderous regime just because it opposes the US don't seem to be the sharpest knives in the drawer. In fact, they make student-newspaper pro-Cuban apologists (whose ability to excuse away the apparatus of totalitarianism as a higher form of freedom never fails to amaze) look like mature and well-reasoned political commentators.

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Thomas Frank on the corporatisation of cool, on how ersatz "rebellion" (and ersatz "authenticity") is the engine of consumerism, and the false hip-square dichotomy created by advertising:

So it offers not just soap that gets your whites whiter, but soap that liberates, radios of resistance, carnivalesque cars and counter-hegemonic hamburgers.... If our fragmented society has anything approaching a master narrative, it is more of a master conflict. We are in constant struggle - not against communism, but against the spirit-crushing, fakeness-pushing power of consumer society. And we resist by watching Madonna videos or by consorting with more authentic people in our four-wheel-drives, or by celebrating consumers who do these things.
People worked harder and longer in the '90s than in previous decades; they saw more ads on more surfaces than before; they ran up greater household debts; they had less power than at any time in the past 50 years over the conditions in which they lived and worked. In such an environment our anger mounted. And from the eternally outraged populist right to the liberation marketers of Madison Avenue, those who prevailed in the past decade have been those who learnt to harness this anger most effectively.

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A good interview with Philip Pullman, author of the His Dark Materials books, in a Christian magazine named Third Way, going into Pullman's views on religion, atheism and morality in a secular belief system.

The kingdom of heaven promised us certain things: it promised us happiness and a sense of purpose and a sense of having a place in the universe, of having a role and a destiny that were noble and splendid; and so we were connected to things. We were not alienated. But now that, for me anyway, the King is dead, I find that I still need these things that heaven promised, and I'm not willing to live without them. I dont think I will continue to live after I'm dead, so if I am to achieve these things I must try to bring them about and encourage other people to bring them about on earth, in a republic in which we are all free and equal and responsible citizens.
I'm amazed by the gall of Christians. You think that nobody can possibly be decent unless they've got the idea from God or something. Absolute bloody rubbish! Isn't it your experience that there are plenty of people in the world who don't believe who are very good, decent people?

(via Stumblings in the Dark)

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