Monday, 29 September 2008

Abysmal Moron

Why am I such an idiot? Why can't I do what I'm told? Why do I always have to bloody believe I'm different?

I stopped taking my pills on the 12th. I couldn't believe I'd ever been ill. I was feeling fine.

I've just started taking them again, because today I feel like hell. I was feeling great. Then the great feeling started to get unpleasant. Now I can remember too damn well how not great the great feeling can get. Stupid, stupid, stupid. I hope I've caught it in time - the room is twisting a bit - this too too solid desk sometimes 'gives' - and my head feels well and truly on fire again.

"I told you so!"

There. I've said it before anyone else chips in with it.

R E C A P I T U L A T I O N:


Impending Doom

Just a feeling the sky's going to fall in. Anxious, irritable, paranoid. Keep having an urge to lie on the floor out of the way. Grit teeth. Deep breaths. The world is a giant mobius band being wrapped around my head. And now Shostakovich is blaring on the radio.


Scene: man walks outside into the dark, breaks wind, notices another person outside, inclines head in courteous apology: "We are infernal gas machines. We hold it in, due to the strictures of our social conventions, and make our excuses, walk outside, and find a place to let it out. Then we find that we still, even then, have an audience, and our efforts have been nullified, so divert ourselves with an exquisite disquisition on the act of flatulence. We can look at the stars and comprehend their meaninglessness, and yet be compelled by the concrete reality of a fart."

Saturday, 27 September 2008


Hmm. Been thinking since reading Seaneen's post yesterday about disability and proving it to them wot don't want to know, etc.

The photo (taken by my six year old) is my lame and half-hearted response.

The trotters were very good by the way. Cooked in a stock for 2 and 1/2 hours, then deboned, and crisped up in the oven. Eaten with green lentils and watercress and spring onion. Almost palatable.

The butcher, bless him, who has always been interested in my occupation in an appalled sort of way, was apparently very sad the other day when my wife told him I was ill. He let us have the trotters for free. Usually they're 25p each. I'm not slagging him btw - the opposite. He's a lovely chap. Somedays he's on top of the world, others he's got the whole weight of it on his shoulders. I have a lot of time for him, but haven't been in for months, because I haven't wanted to burst into tears etc. Isn't it so silly? All this 'ill' stuff? I've been crippled for the best part of a year, and my every fibre now is in denial. Ho hum. Ramble on.

Trotters. The way forward. The drug of choice. Um....

This is the third time in my life I've dared cook them. I have come to the conclusion that no matter what you do, they still taste like pigs' feet.

Thursday, 25 September 2008

The Climb to Your Desk

Just begin. Beneath the soaring display case of the medieval saints, kings and prophets, the stone arch leads into a plate-glass atrium. The old walls still stand to your left and right as you turn and exit the ancient cloister with its gloss of modernity and push through the automated door into the hushed forest of Chilmark and Purbeck, the pale-buff-green and the polished, unforgiving black. The sussuration of lowered voices ripples the air, and occasionally the organ blurts a note as its faithful technicians adjust its tuning. The cathedral guides in their violent turquoise tabards start, as always, as if you had no right to walk past them with the purposefulness that springs from a sense of absolute right, but the speed of the transition of their thought into action is too slow, as with a friendly yet firm nod, such as a lord might bestow upon a favoured functionary, you pass them and open the door emblazoned with the meaningless legend "No Admittance" and walk through to the enclosed stone porch whose light pops automatically on, revealing the branching ribs of the vault above, and you turn again, slipping the key into the oak door, and push it slowly open with just too much force than is necessary, for its appearance belies its balance, and closing it behind you, and turning on the lights with a clockwise twist for one switch, anticlockwise for the other, you pass the rack of hard hats and the glowing panels of the fire alarm systems, and begin the ascent of the first spiral stair.

It is broad enough for two to pass, ascending clockwise as per tradition: we climb to the right-hand towards heaven, descend to the sinister, hellwards. This is in defense of our souls, not a matter of swords clashing in defense of the tower, indeed, it comes to mind that the dextrous arm is as well-employed hauling on the handrope circling downwards from the darkness above than lashing and clashing at the assailant beloved of the writers of our fantasies of heritage. Here though, there is no handrope to the right, but a metal handrail curls up on the left, a half-strand of ferrous dna threading through this soulless stone corkscrew in negative. Your steps clump, a muffled tick-tock, counting time and space, as you ascend further into loneliness.

They say there are more dimensions than we perceive. There are at least another two half-palpable here: a certain twisting progress into the past that denies all futures; and a winding up of a fateful spring that curtails potential. The choices and the fields of action are becoming petrified, stiffening, becoming more fraught, less fluid - soon there will be no exit, no choice left to make. You continue upwards, past the graffiti of eight centuries: the old masons' marks still appearing falsely fresh cut, the initials of a thousand sightseers together with their dates scratched in the soft stone with their elegant letters and numerals 1647 1703 1894 2003; the pencilled portraits of previous, more recent workers, one is recognised, a man in a hat with pipe and beard, you have worked with him previously, but long after his likeness was scrawled there on the wall. Your own initials are scratched, hidden in half-a-dozen places, neat-serifs delineating the extent of your mark.

Doors have been appearing at intervals to your left. You have passed these possible exits: the triforium holds no attraction, the clerestory door is locked. Eventually, after some hundred steps have been climbed, a passage appears, slot-sectioned, a small corbell softening its upper corners. If your shoulders were broader it would be a slight squeeze to pass. It leads upwards for a dozen steps then runs briskly along and you find yourself standing above the nave vaults, a dry and dusty desert of pale mammaries, over-arched by the successive oak frames that recede into the distance, delta within delta, inverted and upright, a tunnel of serried diamonds, a birth passage of beams that have all been dendrochronologically traced to their vanished forests that were young in the dark ages. It smells musty, musky, of centuries of sweat and dust and toil, and the air is so thick with an exhalation of tannin that it almost transforms your skin to leather as you progress along the dark avenue, accompanied only by the dull echo of your feet and the creaking of the oak walkways. It is hot and stifling from the sun on the lead-roof above, but at the eventual end of the nave, when you push open the door into the base of the tower, it is cold again.

The first level of the tower, solid stone at first, then more window than wall, rises eighty feet to a floor far above, and the light that filters through the old boards of that distant floor shows the tower continues its vertical rush beyond. There is evidence here of centuries of paranoia and distrust: the walls are braced, and braced, and braced again and again. Medieval iron ties, elegant, the cream ribbons of a lady's favour at the tourney; Victorian cast iron, heavy, massive, rails, girders, the fruits of industry tie corner to corner in successive diagonal crosses above. A sour smell of dust is in the air. A clock in a case, wires reaching far above, is ticking monotonously, counting down to the last trump. Doors lead away on all four sides to transepts and chancel. A staircase of oak ascends, once again clockwise, to a balcony that rings the halfway point of this level. You unlock the door at the base and ascend to the balcony, glance over the rail at the braces that now hang below you and pass through an aperture into a wall, and yet another stone stair, ascending against the clock this time, as if you have to climb towards hell in the air for a space of time as the oppression of the thinning stone makes itself felt, and the ticking from below is now inaudible, but an occasional ratchet causes one of the wire filaments to twitch and jump with a clack like a dog's jaws snapping shut. You emerge on another level, beams springing inwards in a chaotic yet symmetrical structure to form an internal scaffold tower of oak that supports the bells and the yet more considerable portion of the tower and spire that still rises above. There is a board in the floor that is eaten away at one edge, forming a shape like the negative impression of some random piece of driftwood, smoothed by time, and peering through you are afforded a glimpse down through the hushed air below. Another oak spiral to climb, again switching back to please the deity of right-handedness, up through a flurry of beams and braces, some formed from stainless steel now, emerging up into the base of the spire. Two hundred and twenty feet have been climbed. One hundred and eighty-four remain.

Above is a forest, a tree, a tall ship, a bundle of sticks fit for a giant's game. Tier upon tier of octagon-braces and diagonal braces, like the skeletons of ice-cream cornets stacked one above the other, reducing in size, rising beyond sight and comprehension, interpenetrated by ancient ladders, all tied or transfixed by a single mast that rockets upwards to the invisible apex. This level is octagonal and square at one and the same time, the transition beginning below the floor and completing above. The four elements combine, mate, breed compounds that depend on your chance attribution of neighbour to neighbouring element, choose any four of steam, smoke, ash, mud, lava, mist: for you are entering the zone of chaos, where gravity works upwards and sideways as well as down, where the converging planes of the spire soar and meet at a point in space, then extend upwards in abstract, fanning out and receding to funnel an infinity of space above.

Each ladder is taller than a house. They rise to crazy platforms, darting upwards in this direction, then doubling back randomly, continually seeking a way up through the tangled thickets of oak. There are more ladders than you can keep count of, and the time it takes to climb each one is much longer than you believe possible. You are climbing the equivalent of an eighteen storey building, inside a stone cone, that is jagged and fractured by a chaos of wooden ties and braces. The walls, at first unpleasantly distant, now close in, constricting space, and you have to sometimes swing around the underside of a ladder to pass an obstruction. Eventually, the internal cone is only a few feet across, and you are face to face with a small hatch in the stonework. Above your head, the hollow cone becomes solid stonework, with the top of the spire still some forty feet above. Opening the hatch, named the Weather Door, that could just as aptly been named the Whether Door for procrastination, or even the Wether Door for sorting the ballsy from the meek, the ghastly sight of the town below swims before your eyes. The feeling that you are in a small aeroplane is overwhelming. The stone needle you are peering from feels completely detached from the ground. Reaching through, your hand finds a wrought iron rung, sheathed in lead with the texture of wrinkled hide. Sitting astride the sill, you duck your head through, and are suddenly a fly, clinging, staring up at the line of rungs rising to the looming finial above. The wind fights with the pound of blood in your head as you climb, rung by rung, as if your body was three times its normal weight.

At last, the top. It swells out above, forcing you to lean backwards, your shoulder-blades supported on the void below, reaching up for the rungs, your feet invisible, heaving over, and clasping the cross that gives no solace, tangled among the aircraft warning lights and the sky. It is not a good place to be. The stone spike sways and gyrates in a corkscrew motion, and breathes in and out, the respiration of a sleeping beast. The cathedral roofs, three hundred feet down, appear like a painting, something disassociated from the place you stand. People far below are tiny, meaningless insects. There is a feeling of nausea, of disgust for this extremity, this tentacle suckered with ornament. There is the temptation to escape it. However, the working day has just begun. This has been your 'desk' for the last seven years: you can survive another day.

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

4th post in a row

Just so my dear readers are clued up. Three new ones below. Keep safe everyone. Perhaps we'll have another semi-sunny day tomorrow.

Postscript to the Last Post

How do you define 'acute'?

I mean in 'reality'. Every person I have ever known has suffered from delusions. Every person I have ever known has had overly sensitive experiences... Ok, I heard voices in the night, here and there, but drink may have been taken; I saw a lion in the daytime, but I may have been stressed. I was a wolf once, many years ago, and also a vast spectral sea was swashing through the streets of Cheltenham... etc... I enjoyed all these experiences, and came out the other side... why are they suddenly Symptoms?

They have always been temporary... lasting no longer than a day or two in how they affected me... pretty mild really. (And no drugs were involved apart from alcohol in my 30s).

Am I a risk to myself? Sometimes, I suppose. No more, I would dearly hope, than anyone in this ghastly western world with a conscience.

Am I a risk to others? See above.

My final analysis is I am Me, and I am basically someone who sees through the shit that our society is predicated on. We starve and murder the rest of the world for our comforts, and try to enjoy the fruit of our hypocrisy. If this is a mad statement, then I am proud to be mad.


p.s. (hmmm a p.s. to a postscript...): Do I miss the voices or experiences now that I'm feeling 'better'? Of course I do. Because they were just giant manifestations of me. And now they are silent.

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

And on the Mental Health Front...

Saw the shrink and the CPN today (well, the CPN offered me a lift - because they wanted to make sure I didn't miss the appointment? hmmm).

Anyway, have formulated an 'action plan' for discharge. Bye bye CPN in a couple of weeks (though we fully intend to stay in touch socially, as we've become good friends over the last 8 months). Hopefully bye bye psychiatrist in 6 months, all being well. Hopefully bye bye drugs in 12-24 months... all being well...

Well, listen! It's always good to look on the bright side!!!

It was funny to be positive and see the alarm bells clamouring in their heads. I told them not to instill Kafkaesque delusions in my head by finding my being well a cause for concern. Much jollity and reassurance ensued... hmmmmm...

My attitude to my condition is that my acute episode over the last 16 months was caused by a combination of unique stressors combining. Normally I would describe myself as an unmedicated functioning manic-depressive type - i.e. I form my life to accomodate the illness and preserve my personality. I've been lucky enough to be able to think on my feet well enough over the years to do this, through self-employment, outré occupations, a smile, and an unnerving ability to actually pull stuff off. Last year was all a bit too much, but at my time of life, it is unlikely (as far as I can tell from the literature) that the severity has ramped up all of a sudden... (and yes, I have heard of the kindling effect - and if that's true, I'd have been nabbed in my late teens).

What am I saying? I intend to be me, hopefully with grace and charm, as soon as I can possibly manage it.

Or am I just being a selfish bastard?

Discussion invited.

Today in the Guardian, I note...

That the risk of sea eagles nabbing lambs is a higher byline than new evidence on methane hydrates gassing into the atmosphere. This says it all about our idiot culture. Here follows an essay I did in 2002 for my MA that covers many of the basic points on the risks and feedback mechanisms that make global warming rather more scary than people often think. Apologies to Al Gore if he covered the same ground. I got there first, and couldn't be arsed to watch the bandwagon follow suit!


The Interlocking Nature of Sustainability. 2002.

Many, if not most, educated people now accept that climate change is the most serious problem of our age. Despite this awareness, the mechanisms of climate change are poorly understood, and few people are aware of the full implications. Discuss why this general awareness is not translating into direct personal action to prevent climate change.

‘We need an energy bill that encourages consumption.’ - George Bush, Trenton, New Jersey, 23/09/02.

The problem with the phrase ‘educated people’ is in its definition. If it is taken to mean ‘the top 1% academically’, then climate change has at least a chance of being recognised as a problem, if not necessarily the ‘most serious of our age.’ But if it hopes to include more than that, say the top 30%, then it is evidently erroneous. The over-riding impression I have gleaned from talking to people is that many do not consider climate change to be a serious problem that affects them personally; and others believe it to have been brought more or less under control by measures taken over the last decade. The doomsayers are nowhere to be seen. These attitudes do not, however, imply a resistance to education or lack of interest in the issues when brought to their attention. The crux of this state of mind perhaps lies in humankind’s tendency to be of necessity optimistic in its gambling habits.

‘In the light of new evidence and taking into account the remaining uncertainties, most of the observed warming over the last 50 years is likely to have been due to the increase in [anthropogenic] greenhouse gas concentrations.’ (IPCC 2001, p.10).

This statement from the IPCC, though hedged about somewhat by provisos, still manages to state the case fairly plainly. However, it is my opinion that the traditional scientific presentation of probabilities and likelihoods can fail miserably to convince policy makers of the possibly fatal consequences of global warming. In an industrialised society such as the UK, where international markets influence both government and media, and where the entire social structure is now geared to consumer growth at the expense of little else, the economic contraction that global warming demands is necessarily bound to be unwelcome.

‘Formulating a policy response to global warming is, at heart, an exercise in risk assessment. Perhaps the world’s policy-makers have not been able to agree on a plan of action partly because we scientists have not fully explained the nature of the threat – particularly the possibility that a worst-case scenario might develop.’ (Leggett 1992).

This essay attempts to set out the case for the reality and dangers of climate change in terms of the complications that bedevil attempts to convince policy-makers and citizens to act effectively to counter it. These complications can be roughly divided into difficulties of science (how accurate are the forecasts and models), difficulties of scale/time (how can we tell whether the variation is important when viewed within the geological timescale), difficulties of implementation (how can we ethically rein in our energy greed), and difficulties of acceptance (how can we make ourselves believe in something so huge and horrendous as a possible extinction event).

Global warming, being just one measurement of the behaviour of many interlinked and interdependent systems is by its nature impossible to remove from its context. In fact, to talk about systems in the plural is erroneous in that all physical processes depend on each other to a degree.

‘The Earth’s climate is an extremely complex system with wind, cloud, temperature, ocean current, vegetation, terrain, and the polar ice caps all interacting to determine the weather. Higher temperatures alter air and ocean circulation, the location and frequency of clouds, the distribution and vitality of terrestrial and marine ecosystems, and the area of glaciers and sea ice cover.’ (Jardine 1994).

By attempting to see global warming as a single process, such as anthropogenic greenhouse gases, we tend to diminish its significance, and more importantly, we ignore the amplification of its effect through positive feedback with the climate. By making the process easy to understand, we also make it seem smaller.

The action of greenhouse gases (i.e., gases that easily allow the passage of visible and ultra-violet radiation but inhibit infra-red radiation) in themselves is understood by some of the educated populace. The idea of a ‘blanket’ around the earth, trapping heat in, is easily taken on board. However: explanations of this sort tend to degrade the seriousness of the problem to the level of ‘blankets’ or ‘greenhouses’ etc. Firstly, they imply blanket-sized solutions. They also, by utilizing metaphor, take some of the reality of the problem away. We know that ‘the blanket’ is a convenient fiction: unfortunately, that knowledge compromises our belief in the existence of the underlying reality.

The IPCC 2001 Report for Policy Makers forecasts a temperature rise between 1.4 to 5.8 degrees C. This is 0.6 degrees higher on average than the range forecast by the IPCC in 1990. An important aspect not accounted for in the IPCC forecasts is the possibility of a worst-case, runaway warming scenario, driven by positive feedback loops. Leggett describes how in 1990, the worst-case scenario was played down ostensibly for fear of inculcating defeatism in government and media. (Leggett 1999, ch.1). The outcome of this is that our best forecasts make little or no allowance for the worst case. In industry or finance, this attitude would be deemed reckless. In accountancy (following the concept of conservatism) it would be deemed dishonest.

Feedback is an activation of a component of a system by another component. (Leggert 1992). Feedbacks can be positive, where the subsequent effect amplifies the original effect, or negative where the subsequent effect decreases the original effect: this can give a ‘flip-flop’ effect as the subsequent effect tails off, allowing the original effect to re-establish itself, and so on. (Calvin 1998). Positive feedback bears upon global warming in the following ways:

i) Albedo. Ice and snow, being pale, reflect warmth from the sun away from the earth. As warming increases, so ice melts, and the underlying land or sea, being less reflective, absorbs heat more readily. Similarly, cloud cover also reflects the sun’s rays. As the temperature increases, more high altitude clouds form. These contain ice crystals that help trap heat in the atmosphere (see below under water vapour), but they may help stop some heat from penetrating in the first place. (Leggett 1992).

ii) ‘Water vapour is a more important greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, and as its atmospheric concentration can vary rapidly, it could have been a major trigger or amplifier in many sudden climate changes. For example, a change in sea-ice extent or in carbon dioxide would be expected to affect the flux of water into the atmosphere from the oceans, possibly amplifying climate changes. Large, rapid changes in vegetation cover might also have added to these changes in water vapour flux to the atmosphere. […] W. S. Broecker suggested that water vapour may act as a global ‘messenger’, co-ordinating rapid climate changes, many of which seem to have occurred all around the world fairly simultaneously, or in close succession.’ (Adams, et al. 1999).

iii) Forests. Carbon fertilization is the stimulation of plant growth by excess carbon dioxide. This extra growth is estimated to take up 290 billion tons of carbon. However, there comes a point when the rising temperature causes the plant to respirate more. This process breaks down photosynthesized sugars and releases carbon dioxide. Another theory is that it is nitrogen from acid rain that is stimulating the tree growth, and leading to increased carbon take-up. Eventually, with the rising temperature, the trees begin to die back; also, the forests become more prone to fire and insect attack (such as the spruce bark beetle, or the spruce budworm): either through fire or decomposition, they could release hundreds of billions of tons of additional carbon. (Leggett 1992). The spruce budworm is quite capable of devastating large areas of forest. The most recent (as of date of citation) budworm outbreak defoliated 55,000,000 hectares of northern boreal forest. (Jardine 1994).

iv) Oceans. As they warm, their ability to absorb carbon dioxide is decreased. Also, they may be losing fixed nitrogen. This allows phytoplankton growth. Phytoplankton absorb and fix carbon dioxide, and then sink to the bottom of the ocean. If oceanic nitrogen decreases, then the phytoplankton will decrease, and their important role in taking up carbon dioxide will be lessened. (Leggett 1992). An additional problem is that the ozone holes over high latitudes will allow more ultraviolet-B radiation through the atmosphere during the spring, when phytoplankton are most productive.’ A hypothetical loss of 10 percent of the marine phytoplankton would reduce the oceanic annual uptake of carbon dioxide by about 5 billion tons – an amount equal to the annual emissions of carbon dioxide from fossil fuel consumption.’ (Leggett 1992, quoting unspecified UN Environment Program Report).

v) Thermohaline Conveyor. Cold, dense, salty water in the Norwegian Sea sinks, pushing deep water south, and dragging warm water north from the Gulf of Mexico. Warming of the Greenland ice cap and Arctic pack ice would bring a greater amount of freshwater into the North Atlantic. This fresh water is less dense than salty water, and as such, slows the rate of sinking. (Calvin 1998). This slows the ocean current system, which will also decrease the oceans ability to absorb carbon dioxide. (A side effect of the slowing or stopping of the North Atlantic Conveyor is that Europe could experience a mini ice age. It is estimated that Dublin could have the climate of Spitsbergen within 10 years of breakdown of the current.) (Leggett 1992).

vi) Methane Hydrate. As the Arctic icecap melts, and the sea temperature warms, reservoirs of methane hydrate on the seabed may become unstable, and release huge quantities of methane. Methane is a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, and massive-scale release of it could cause a run-away greenhouse warming effect. Some opinions suggest that the increase of water in the oceans will counteract the warming by dint of the increased pressure on the hydrate. However, the density of the oceans will also be decreased by the addition of freshwater, thereby partly counteracting the full effect of that increase. (Leggett 1992). Furthermore, a localised methane event would heat the atmosphere by a certain degree. A time lag would then take place as the oceans warmed up, which could then trigger further massive-scale methane destabilizations. This is the explanation for the staggered nature of the upward hike in temperature 55 million years ago.

Methane outgassing has been studied in recent geological history. Kennet et al have shown that during the last 60,000 years

‘gas hydrate stability was modulated by intermediate-water temperature changes induced by switches in thermohaline circulation. These oscillations were likely widespread [sic] along the California margin and elsewhere, affecting gas hydrate instability, and contributing to millennial-scale atmospheric methane oscillations.’ (Kennet et al. 2000).

vii) Peatlands and tundra. Rising temperatures are melting permafrost in the tundra regions; this leads to the release of significant quantities of methane. Drying out of peatlands could increase the risk of peatland fires, releasing carbon dioxide.

It is clear that when anthropogenic global warming is put in context that the influence of positive feedback loops could have drastic consequences that could severely compromise the survival prospects of homo sapiens. However, the number, variety and interconnectedness of different processes, although simple enough to grasp, limits the ease and effectiveness of getting the message across to policy-makers.

When we look at global warming in the context of the Quaternary, the timescale and the wide and recurrent variations and swings in climate mask the possible implication of the recent upwards spike in the temperature charts. It is this long-term choppiness of the graph that makes it easy for sceptics to point to recent warming as a natural feature of our climate. However, the scale of carbon concentrations in the atmosphere today (and those expected to be added in the near future) is totally unprecedented: there is nothing over the last few million years to compare it to. Also, ascribing recent warming to natural causes does not invalidate calls for emissions control: indeed, if one concedes a natural problem, then there is an even greater need not to add to it through man-made processes.

An interesting aspect of paleoclimatologists’ work has been the discovery that the transitions between glacials and interglacials rather than being slow and gradual, could have occurred over a matter of decades:

‘[…] these shifts, with their temperature changes of up to 7 degrees C, have occurred within three to four decades – a virtual nanosecond in geological time. Over the last 70,000 years, the earth’s climate has snapped into radically different temperature regimes.’ (Gelbspan 1995).

‘It appears that the climate system is more delicately balanced than had previously been thought, linked by a cascade of powerful mechanisms that can amplify a small initial change into a much larger qualitative shift in temperature and aridity.’ (Adams and Foote ca.1999).

‘[…] sudden shutdowns or intensification of the Gulf Stream circulation might occur under full interglacial conditions, and be brought on by the disturbance caused by rising greenhouse gas levels. To paraphrase W. S. Broecker; “Climate is an ill-tempered beast, and we are poking it with sticks”.’ (Adams et al. 1999).

As discussed earlier, these types of events could lead to Europe experiencing much colder conditions. If Europe’s climate were to match Canada’s, Europe would only be able to feed only one in twenty-three of its population. (Calvin 1998).

These reports of possible localised cooling as a result of global warming have led to a plethora of stories in the media supporting the ‘business as usual’ argument, and portraying climate research as a field that changes its mind every year or so. Sceptics such as Fred Hoyle have claimed that anthropogenic global warming is essential to avert another ice age. (Anon, RisingTide 2002). The fallacious nature of this view may be highlighted by the real possibility that global warming may be the trigger that speeds the next stadial or glacial period on its way. Adams, et al, argue that unchecked greenhouse gas emissions could trigger the climate to enter an oscillating phase in marked contrast to the stable climatic conditions of the last few thousand years. They go on:

‘Such observations suggest that even without anthropogenic climate modification there is always an axe hanging over our head, in the form of random very large-scale changes in the natural climate system; a possibility that policy makers should perhaps bear in mind with contingency plans and international treaties designed to cope with sudden famines on a greater scale than any experienced in written history. By starting to disturb the system, humans may simply be increasing the likelihood of sudden events which could always occur.’ (Adams et al. 1999).

It should be pointed out, however, that a return to ice age conditions is not the worst-case scenario; by dint that mankind has survived those conditions in the past. Mankind has never been faced with runaway warming before. However, desertification in the Sudan and Ethiopia and flooding in Bangladesh and Mozambique may give a likely indication of the widespread initial conditions to be experienced under that climate model.

So far we have seen that firstly, global warming depends on a whole host of climatic factors, and secondly, that its effects may not be straightforward. Rather than human influence slowly tipping the scales one way or another, the degree of ‘tip’ may cause the rest of the weights to slide catastrophically, increasing the ‘lever’ action on the scales. At risk of straining the metaphor: the weights may even slide right off the end of the lever into another set of scales that causes a completely different and unexpected effect. The ‘chaotic’ nature of these processes makes them difficult to translate into recommendations: we do not know enough to confidently predict the nature of the catastrophe, only warn of the likelihood of it if we continue to add these unprecedented quantities of CO2 to the atmosphere.

However, there are many contrary voices, such as Stott, Lindzen, etc. The main thrusts of the sceptics’ arguments is that firstly the science is not clear enough; secondly that the human cost in cutting carbon emissions outweighs the risk (in other words, that the impact of downsizing human behaviour will be as catastrophic as extreme climate change); thirdly that we are playing Canute in trying to change the climate, rather than adapting our behaviour to a changing climate; fourthly, that global warming is the environmentalists perfect stick to drive society towards sustainability.

‘CO2 for different people has different attractions. After all, what is it? - it’s not a pollutant, it’s a product of every living creature’s breathing, it’s the product of all plant respiration, it is essential for plant life and photosynthesis, it’s a product of all industrial burning, it’s a product of driving – I mean, if you ever wanted a leverage point to control everything from exhalation to driving, this would be a dream. So it has a kind of fundamental attractiveness to bureaucratic mentality.’ (Lindzen, no date).

However, it makes sound economic sense to take a conservative approach, and draw our horns in a little.

‘When the state of our planet is at stake, the risks can be so high, and the costs of corretive action so great, that prevention is better and cheaper than cure.’ (Cairncross 1991, p.55-56)

At present, we may have enough evidence to make global warming an issue worth taking a bet on. It would seem sensible to take a cautious line of action (following the precautionary principle), and curb emissions whether or not they are the most important factor involved. If they were, then we would have perhaps halted a possible extinction threat; if they were not, then no matter – we would have journeyed towards sustainability in the process. However, it is obvious at present that policy makers are not likely to take that course of action in any meaningful or effective way. Why is there this resistance to sensible action?

‘[…] resistance is understandable, given the immensity of the stakes. The energy industries now constitute the largest single enterprise known to mankind. Moreover, they are indivisible from automobile, farming, shipping, air freight and banking interests, as well as the governments dependent on oil revenues for their very existence. With annual sales in excess of one trillion dollars and daily sales of more than two billion dollars, the oil industry alone supports the economies of the Middle East and large segments of the economies of Russia, Mexico, Venezuela, Nigeria, Indonesia, Norway, and Great Britain. [Not forgetting the U.S.A.] Begin to enforce restriction on the consumption of oil and coal, and the effects on the global economy – unemployment, depression, social breakdown, and war – might lay waste to what we have come to call civilization. It is no wonder that for the last five or six years many of the world’s politicians and most of the world’s news media have been promoting the perception that worries about the weather are overwrought.’ (Gelbspan 1995).

Politicians are all too ready to set the cost of a best-case analysis for global warming against a worst-case analysis for the world economy. Environmentalists, perhaps understandably, tend to reverse the best/worst cases. Sceptics such as Lomberg have calculated the costs to the world economy purely as a cessation of energy production, rather than a transition to sustainable energy sources. (Lomberg 2001). This tends to over-emphasise the cost of change.

A major hindrance to the adoption of emission controls is the dependence of world agriculture (especially, but not exclusively in the developed nations) on fossil fuels, particularly oil. About 2% of the working U.S. population make all of its food (both internally consumed and exported). A century ago, that figure was about 80%. (Youngquist 1999). Giampietro and Pimentel (1994) make the point that the amount of corn produced in one hour of labour in the modern U.S. is 350 times more than the indigenous Cherokee population could grow. Any radical cutting in exosomatic input (fuel use) would inevitably impact upon food cultivation. However, these are problems that will have to be faced within a generation or so as oil production declines.

A major reason for the inaction of governments, corporations, and people, is psychological. A study of social responses to human rights abuses shows that the ways in which people deny things are subtle and various. (Stanley, no date, cited by Marshall 2001). In an article for RisingTide, George Marshall (2001) attempts to apply some of these mechanisms to the human reaction to the fact of climate change.

‘Firstly, we can expect widespread denial when the enormity and nature of the problem are so unprecedented that people have no cultural mechanisms for accepting them. […] Indeed, the most powerful evidence of our denial is the failure to even recognise that there is a moral dimension with identifiable perpetrators and victims. The language of “climate change”, “global warming”, “human impacts”, and “adaptation” are themselves a form of denial familiar from other human rights abuse; they are scientific euphemisms that suggest climate change originates in immutable natural forces rather than in a direct causal relationship with moral implications for the perpetrator. […] Secondly, we diffuse our responsibility.’ (Marshall 2001).

Discussing the ‘passive bystander effect’, Marshall notes that the larger the number of people involved the less likely an individual will feel empowered to act alone. He also notes the standard ways that people try to resolve internal conflicts: psychotic denial; seeking scapegoats; being deliberately wasteful; displacing their anxiety onto an unrelated yet achievable problem; trying to shut out information. He concludes:

‘[…] denial cannot simply be countered with information. Indeed, there is plentiful historical evidence that increased information may even intensify the denial. The significance of this cannot be overemphasised. Environmental campaign organisations are living relics of Enlightenment faith in the power of knowledge. “If only people knew, they would act.” […] People will never take action themselves unless they receive social support and the validation of others. Governments in turn will continue to procrastinate until sufficient people demand a response. To avert further climate change will require a degree of social consensus and collective determination normally only seen in war time, and that will require mobilization across all classes and sectors of society.’ (Marshall 2001).

The lesson to be learned here is that the informed individual should act to the best of their ability, on an individual level, and a political level, and should act as visibly as they can. People will only believe in the seriousness of the situation when they see others making sacrifices (and/or provision) for the future. But personal action will only make a difference (both through emissions and through pressure on government) when numbers of individuals take action together.

Despite arguments about the ultimate demise of fossil fuels, and how soon they might run out (Campbell 1999), a reasonable assessment would conclude that there is far more potential carbon dioxide remaining in fuel form than we can afford to burn (if not just for climate change considerations, then also as a valuable resource in itself). A logical society would not give itself the luxury of depleting the resource and waiting to see what happens: it would make provision against the worst case.


Adams, Jonathan, and Randy Foote, ca.99. Sudden Climate Change Through Human History. No date, but post 99.

Adams, Jonathan, Mark Maslin, and Ellen Thomas. 1999. Sudden Climate Transitions during the Quaternary. Article in press in Progress in Physical Geography. v.23 p.1-36.

Cairncross, Frances. 1991. Costing the Earth. Harvard Business School Press.

Calvin, William H. January 1998. The Great Climate Flip-flop. The Atlantic Monthly 281 (1):47-64.

Campbell, C.J. 1999. The Imminent Peak of World Oil Production. Presentation to a House of Commons All-Party Committee.

Cohen, Stanley. States of Denial, Knowing About Atrocities and Suffering, cited without detail by George Marshall.

EcoBridge. Climate Roulette: Positive Feedback Loops of Global Warming.

Gelbspan, Ross, December 1995. The Heat Is On: The warming of the world’s climate sparks a blaze of denial. Harper’s Magazine.

Giampietro, Mario, and David Pimentel, 1994. The Tightening Conflict: Population, Energy Use, and the Ecology of Agriculture. No original source given. or

IPCC. 2001. Summary for Policy Makers. A report of Working group 1 of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Jardine, Kevin. 1994. Edited by Lyn Goldsworthy, Abbie Thomas, Michael Szarbo for Greenpeace International. The Climate Bomb: Climate Change and the Fate of the Northern Boreal Forests.

Kennet, James P, Kevin G. Cannariato, Ingril L. Hendy, Richard J. Behl. 2000. Carbon Isotopic Evidence for Methane Hydrate Instability During Quaternary Interstadials. Science.

Leggett, Jeremy. 1992. Global Warming: The Worst Case. The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 85: 28-32.

Leggett, Jeremy. 1999. The Carbon War. Allan Lane, The Penguin Press, Chapter 1.

Lindzen, Richard.

Lomberg, Bjorn. 2001. The Skeptical Environmentalist. Note: Lomberg has been found guilty of scientific dishonesty by the Danish Commitees on Scientific Dishonesty. (Source, Guardian, 9/01/03).

Marshall, George. 22/9/2001. The Psychology of Denial – Our Failure to Act Against Climate Change.

RisingTide. 13/3/2002. Hall of Shame.

Youngquist, Walter. 1999. The Post-Petroleum Paradigm – and Population. Population and Environment: A Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies vol 20, no4, Human Sciences Press.


POSTSCRIPT: WE'RE FUCKED! (Ladies and Gentlemen!!!)*

* Homage to Bruce.

Sunday, 21 September 2008

Interesting Weekend

Hmmmmmm. I'm feeling better. Really better. Hmmmmm. Went down to Devon on the spur of the moment on Friday to stay with my mother. Saturday, we had a great walk on Dartmoor, and then later had a nice family meal - my own sourdough bread with bits and pieces of deli stuff (oh ok, if you must know: buffalo mozzarella, really goood tomatoes, fantastic olives, etc, etc, lashings of olive oil, mmm mmm mmm - damn now I feel hungry); got dragged out by my brother to the pub for a couple of games of pool and a catch-up moment (think heart to heart without the gravity) - score btw 1 all; then back to have a vicious argument with his girlfriend - the subject being that she DIDN'T CARE if people are shot in Afghanistan or Iraq or anywhere else so long as her STANDARD OF LIVING is maintained - I retorted I'd rather slit my throat than have your opinions, to which she rightly remonstrated: "Slit your throat then! I'm sick to death of being told what to think," to which I countered: "I'm not telling YOU what to think - I'm telling you what I think," etc... oh well - cleared the air - won't have to talk to her again thank god.

Then what happened? Oh yes, the cafe over the road was playing Diana Ross at full volume at 1.30. So I went and sorted them out. Very stupid really, in retrospect. Bar full of burly blokes and their burly wives and their burly dogs at home in their burly kennels. But I launched myself from my taut-strung bow of righteous anger, and was down the stairs, over the road, through the drinkers on the pavement, through the smooching idiots in the bar, around behind the counter, seizing the barman and telling him to ******** turn his ******** music down. Then smiled, turned on the charm, then left in a whirlwind through the still gobsmacked clientele, moved the cast iron weight propping the door open, slammed it shut, through the stunned pavement crowd, over the road and up the stairs, and suddenly the arrow hit the target. Boing. Thrummm.

The music was turned off immediately, btw, and all the burly people went meekly home.

Today, had a gorgeous day in the sun, went and saw my favorite landlady of a pub in this particular city, and she must be 90 now, give or take a year. Met up with my sis and my ex stepdad, then later went over to my surrogate family who looked after me in my 16-18 year old period, and we had a fantastically lovely meal in the garden. So many people out there that I love and love me. Easy to forget. Humbling to remember.

So, a fairly intense weekend, I suppose.

Perhaps I'll have a cocoa. Night all.

Friday, 19 September 2008

Piss Ups in Breweries

Dear xxxxxxx

ref: xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

I've just received a letter from Dr xxxxxxxxxx CC'd to my doctor and CPN asking why I didn't attend an appointment on the Xth Sep.

This is the first I have heard of an appointment on that date. No letter nor telephone call was received by us. In fact I remarked to xxx xxxxx [cpn] last week that I thought it peculiar that no appointment had been set.

Please could you make a note of this on my records, and CC it to the relevant misinformed parties (Dr xxxxxxxxx [gp]; and xxx xxxxx [cpn]).


Yours sincerely,

Abysmal Musings





I had a reply!!!!!:

On leave Mon 22 September, back Tuesday 23 - covering xxx a.m., xxxxxxxxxx p.m.

The information in this email and in any attachment(s) is commercial in confidence.

If you are not the named addressee(s) or if you receive this email in error then any distribution, copying or use of this communication or the information in it is strictly prohibited.

Please return it to the sender and delete all copies. Thank you.

Whilst e-mail and attachments are virus checked xxxxxxxxxxxxxx xxxxxxxxxx xxxxxxxx does not accept any liability in respect of any virus which is not detected.

Please note that any views or opinions presented in this email are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of their respective organisation.




edit: it was tacked onto the bottom of a letter about something else, so I have been unfair. Strangely, my CPN wangled me into accepting a lift to the next appointment.

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

The Problem with Feeling Better

Following on from my last, the problem with feeling better is that it has much in common with waking from a bad dream: all the ghastliness, strangeness, and deluded rapture too, they all feel insubstantial, hard to recall, as if they never happened. I feel as if I have spent the last year reading a novel about someone else. At the moment, I feel very uncertain in fact that any of it happened to me. This difficulty in accepting recent events, this bizarre pushing-away of experiences, this shake of the head and feeling of incredulity... all this too feels like yet another form of delusion.

I wouldn't say I'm in denial (after all, I'm dry and can't see any crocodiles nor pyramids, boom-boom) but the sense that reality over the last year has evaporated feels very real and concrete at the moment.

Could this mean perhaps that our sense of normality when 'well' is a delusion just as much as our sense of reality when 'ill'?

How well am I? Inspect thyself, sirrah!

I'm sitting here, typing. My hands are trembling - I have the palsy - I don't know why. If I look inwards and outwards there is the old sense that reality is curving and wandering around behind me. There is a determination to be well that has taken possession of me. Physically I am fairly ok: I haven't been drinking apart from when it becomes socially 'impossible' not to. I've been eating well, and sleeping a reasonable amount. I have a toothache, and a broken knuckle that no matter how much physio I apply to it seems destined to remain forever deformed. My leg is twitching like a sewing machine needle. But I feel calm and strong, despite these small physical indicators. My brain is not racing: it isn't hugely focused; there is some degree of distractibility. My mood is neither high nor low. My face is ambivalent: the mouth is set and slightly grim; the brow smooth and the eyes a little too focused.

In summary, I would say mood: level; flight-of-ideas: level; psychomotor-activation: somewhat up; anxiety: none; irritability: none; strange thoughts: none.

Enough analysis: tomorrow is another day. As for now, I feel reasonably good. I'll enjoy it and hope it lasts.

Monday, 15 September 2008


I can't get used to this. The last couple of weeks I have felt relatively "normal". What is wrong? There must be something wrong if I feel normal? Feeling normal must surely be the precursor to something very bad happening? For goodness sake, I haven't felt miserable for a fortnight? I've been a little up, but not mixed at all. What on earth is going on?

Joking aside, it is quite disconcerting. My first continual fortnight of stability for a year. What am I supposed to do now? I feel raring to go, raring to do, raring to be again. Ok, here goes!

Bloody Hell

Someone called me a 'good writer' the other day. I'd better put my thinking cap on.

To be going on with, apparently, 40% of the main cereal harvest in this country is written off. Does that give a flicker of concern for any of you. It didn't for me. Of course we'll be fed. But at whose expense? To whom do we defer our little famine? I mean, of course I thought of buying up a stack of flour while it's still 50p per 3kg... but who will take the rap to feed us over-privileged western bastards?

Another point, entirely unrelated... a list of modern themes or preoccupations. I apologise if they are completely out of date - I don't own a telly. But here's my stab: house prices, tv, drink.... my god we have dumbed down haven't we just. Cars, wealth, food, sport, drink, sex, sex, drink, and sex again for good measure. We are addicted to whatever does not make us think.

Take food. All these "chefs", and libraries of instruction (read glossy cookery manuals, lifestyle shite etc).... It is all about aspiring to some myth of wealth and pseudo-sophistication ~ whereas the only real myth is like everything else - learn how to cook, learn what tastes good, learn how to discern the difference between praise and flattery, and learn to spot culinary conservatism and prejudice too. Experiment, and trust your skill and judgement: trust your independent opinion. There is no magic wand.

We do our aspirations so badly in England because we spend too much time aspiring, and not enough perspiring (to mangle GBS). This is why we never get better.

Third unrelated rant:

Laughter is the insane innate insensible life force. (cf Derrida, Bataille, Artaud, ad nauseum). Your family is dead? Go and make a new one. So your life is ruined? Laugh, sing a song, dance, live, find ecstasy in the moment, etc, etc, dull dull dull. Probably meaningless for those who never crossed that bridge. No innocence ever again once you've learned to smile during the worst, the personal worst, not others' worst, your own. To laugh in the flames at the stake.

As I said at the beginning.... I shall put my thinking cap on. Thanks Suzy for the compliment. You're good yourself too. Diolch! (I know you're not Welsh :-))

Friday, 12 September 2008


The 'sites', the assemblages of impulses we call 'people', 'things', 'causes', are all akin to jellyfish made of water in water - no boundary with their element except the symbolic sketch we interpret for the sake of practical life.

Imagine a person, and imagine viewing them over a period of time. Imagine we can trace all the elements they inhale and ingest, and all they exhale and excrete and procreate, all the motes of skin and hair, nails, the saliva exchanged in a kiss; the bread, the wheat in the fields, the rain circulating from sea to cloud to river to sea, the oil for the tractor, the photons from the nuclear reactions in the sun, the elements of the whole caboodle that make up that person... We would see them as a wandering epicentre of concentration of matter and energy, and dissipation of matter and energy. Add to that all the electrical and chemical thought impulses, the ideas transmitted as thought-artefacts (even speech is a brief lived artefact for the transmission of ideas)...

And when we've seen we're just eddies in the cosmic flux, what then? How do we live?

With a smile on our face.

Wednesday, 3 September 2008


Technically dead. Well, that's what we are before we're born. And we're definitely technically dead after we die. Ditto with our perception of being ill. I've always been like this. I've been technically defined as being ill at the beginning of this year. But now I feel better, am I going to tell myself I'm technically ill? No. Of course I'm not. (Swearwords deleted). But why is it 4:18 and I'm not in bed? Do I need a higher dose? Do I need a sleeping pill (hate them), do I need to run around the lanes and the woods in a futile attempt to get tired? I feel FINE. The only problem is that I remember too well getting one hour of sleep before the next working day. I hate the solution so much I still resist. I take my hat off to all of you who do it because you must. I'm bloody lucky at the moment. Having the pressure off isn't helpful in some ways.

Apologies - this is rambling crap.

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Sorry, been away for the last of the "summer"

Rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain

Anyway, feeling good, and if I wasn't on the Dope* then I'd be feeling rather too good, know what I mean?

More tomorrow, boys and girls