CONFIDENCE TRICKSTERS

Been doing a lot of reading lately and a lot of re-reading too.

One that was in the pile was The Fall of Kelvin Walker by Alasdair Gray.

This little passage caught the eye…

“Don’t you understand, Kelvin? Haven’t you got the point? All these chairmen and directors and governors and politicians, they’re all confidence tricksters. Nobody but a fool thinks they they’re more virtuous than the rest of us, and you’ve pointed out yourself that they don’t even know more. Then why do they get up there? Because most people are so afraid of running their own lives that they feel frightened when there’s no-one to bully them. So we get a gang of bullies and tricksters ordering us about and getting very well paid for it.

INTERNATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS DAY & INTERNATIONAL ANIMAL RIGHTS DAY

Today is the day of International Human Rights and the day of International Animal Rights.

You could be forgiven for thinking that is some kind of sick joke to even host such a thing when, as Mickey Z says,

Every two seconds, a human being starves to death. Every 46 seconds, a woman is raped in America[don't know what the world figure would be]. Every day, 29,158 children under the age of five die from preventable causes – every single day.

And…

Ninety percent of the large fish in the ocean and 80 percent of the world’s forests are gone. Each day, 200,000 acres of rainforest are destroyed, over 100 plant and animal species go extinct, and 13 million tons of toxic chemicals released across the globe.

However limited the effect of having the day of this and the day of that might be I suppose it must be better to have them than not have them.

That said, I get the feeling most of the media today will be concentrating on attack on the royals and other such fundamentally unimportant events. What gives me that impression? Well the first two stories on the front page of the BBC are the royals and the China nobel thing.

RADICAL THERAPIES by Philip Challinor

Philip Challinor blogs under the name The Curmudgeon. If you have visited that site you will know that a quick wit, combined with his great mix of sometimes arcane and sometimes garbled newpoliticmanagementspeak result in some sublime moments.

Radical Therapies is one of his several advances into longer format writing and while it doesn’t really use the funny jargonese it combines insight with a dark imagination to make 3 memorable stories.

The first story, The Little Doctor, is the story of a war criminal told from the point of view of the war criminal. You might think this is somewhat unusual but if you do I would remind that Bush and Blair have recently published memoirs and talked (or in the case of one of them, tried to talk) about their roles in the imperial ventures of our time.

At first it seems like the war in question could be current or marginally in the future. As it progresses, the character’s names serve to give the story the parallel world feel that the story needs to make its point; they could all be from anywhere or from nowhere. Similarly, not putting the story in any place we can put our finger on gives the impression that it could be everywhere. The winners or losers could be any state.

Without any kind of anchor for the reader (where is it? when is it?), in the opening pages it takes a little careful reading at the start but very quickly it becomes a page-turner.

The war criminal is in prison and awaiting his execution and recounts events leading up to his current situation. This is interspersed with his dealings with the prison guards and various functionaries representing the victorious powers in the war.

“Why should you be [put on trial] ?” said the Warden. “As I told you, the position is quite clear. Everyone knows what went on in that place, the … the researches you carried out; it was all thoroughly documented, and most of the documentation has survived. There is no doubt as to your actions or the actions of your colleagues – the Anthill business, for instance, and Project Fiat. It only remains to pronounce judgement.”

“I see,” I said.

“I suppose,” he said with a slight, ironical smile, “I suppose to you that sounds like nothing more than victor’s justice.”

“I wasn’t aware that there was any other kind.”

The researches in question were various cloning and DNA experiments carried out at a facility originally designed to solve a food crisis. Originally well-intentioned (if ethically dubious) scientific work is subsumed by the events going on around it and radically altered in its scope. The scientists themselves are more perturbed by the interruption to them doing the work they want to than moral concerns about the work they must now do.

There is also a historical element in the conclusion of The Little Doctor but I will leave that for you to find out.

The second and third stories (Needles, Pins and Doctor Proth and The House of Stairs) make a good job of actually making hospital drama interesting. That said, they are unlike any other hospital dramas you are likely to read.

Both Needles, Pins and Doctor Proth and The House of Stairs are like the worst imaginings between wake and sleep. The former features a man shackled in a bizarre fashion, always unsure of whether he is being cured or tortured. The doctor that he doesn’t know whether to trust or hate flits in and out along with the “nurse-thing”. A surprising beginning finishes with a surprising end. All through it the question “should I be laughing at this?” is swimming in the background.

The final story, The House of Stairs isn’t quite so much like a horror scene as Needles, Pins and Doctor Proth but again, it is eerie and atmospheric and takes place in a fantastic imagined world. It vaguely reminded me of Lanark by Alasdair Gray and also of THX-1138 and I hope he won’t hate me for saying that. The surreality of the setting is dragged back to more corporeal concerns by the action.

An escape from a maze (or in this case a labyrinthine institution) is made much more terrifying if you don’t know how you got in there, or if an exit even exists.

You can buy it here.

THAT NATURE V NURTURE THING

In the Nature V Nurture debate, something that it is surprising to think about as learned behaviour and not a natural reaction is whatever you shout when you feel pain.

You might think it would be natural for everyone in the world to shout the same thing however this is patently not the case.

In some places it is “owww” or “ouch”. In others it is “aeee” or “ai” or “aaaa”.

QUICK QUIZ – One

Just a quick quiz question.

If there are no responses I will take it that either I stumped you or that there was a thundering lack of interest.

Here we go then.

Q. What do the fact that the Cuban Missile Crisis didn’t end in mass slaughter and these photos of Uranus have in common?

Answers in the comments.