"rectify times 3.12.83 reporting bb dayorder doubleplusungood refs unpersons rewrite fullwise upsub antefiling"
George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four
DoublePlusUnGoodI always found Winston Smith's work at the Ministry of Truth one of the most fascinating parts of Orwell's Nineteen Eighty Four (since before I worked in an office so it's not just empathy). I first read the novel at the age of thirteen; and despite what my parents might have thought, I did indeed read the whole thing in a few days, including The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism.

Since its publication the book has always been a byword for the dangers of totalitarianism, and even back when I first read it many adults were doom-saying about how it was All Coming True. On closer questioning however it turned out that all they were really bothered about was the introduction of the metric system and the 24 hour clock. Never mind a boot stamping on a human face forever; the worst thing in the world was the prospect of not being able to buy one's vegetables in pounds, ounces and drams. Orwell was right, I tell you! they used to cry at every opportunity.

And they're still banging on about it to this day.

I don't think that was Orwell's point.

However, reading the book again in the twenty-first century, many other aspects of it do now seem to be seem to be frighteningly prescient. Whilst we may have to yet to perfect the versificator, the description of its output is eerily familar to anyone who's ever watched X-Factor "...dreadful rubbish..." "...one of countless similar songs published for the benefit of the proles by a sub-section of the Music Department ... composed without any human intervention whatever..."

The tabloids seem to have been predicted with devastating accuracy too: "... rubbishy newspapers containing almost nothing except sport, crime and astrology..."

Moving beyond the Ministry of Truth's output, it's not hard to see Orwellian influence in many other aspects of life in 2010. Unlike the citizens of Airstrip One we've yet to invite CCTV into our own homes, but it is sobering to contemplate just how much footage of us is out there. At least temporarily. Whether anyone actually bothers to watch is another matter altogether although I wouldn't be surprised to discover that digital text-based communications are monitored automatically. All they'd need to do is type "dissent" into Twitterfall and it's all done for them.

Reality TV is of course the Orwellian nightmare turned on its head. What TV shows like Big Brother prove is how annoying and ultimately very boring 24 hour surveillance of the general public would be.
Last night to the flicks. All Celebrity Big Brother highlights. One very good bit of a ship full of housemates being bombed somewhere in the Mediterranean. Audience much amused by shots of that great huge fat man from that show trying to swim away with a helicopter after him then he was full of holes and the sea round him turned pink and he sank as suddenly as though the holes had let in the water, audience shouting with laughter when he sank but a woman down in the prole part of the house suddenly started kicking up a fuss and shouting they didnt oughter of showed it not in front of kids they didnt it aint right not in front of kids...
Of course just because we may be boring it doesn't mean they're not watching us.

As a thirteen year old I found Winston's job particularly interesting. The concept of editing the past was alarming, but even at that age I couldn't quite see how it would work. Even if Winston rectifies the Minitrue library copy of times 3.12.83, what about all those copies out there that were originally sold via the news stand?If they weren't careful someone might end up with their chips wrapped in refs unpersons. I also didn't think it was at all likely that this sort of thing would ever happen.

How wrong I was. Years later as an adult I was actually asked to engage in Minitrue style revisionism as part of my job. As a lowly administrator I didn't feel I could say no; OK, so they wouldn't have thrown me in Room 101, but I reckon I'd have been in trouble.

I'd like to stress at this point that these events occurred when I still lived and worked in London in the nineties and have absolutely nothing to do with my current employers. My personal online identity doesn't actually make any reference to my current employers, but if Nineteen Eighty Four has taught us anything it's that you never know who's reading. So to clarify - I'm talking about then, not now.

The place I was working in was due for an inspection. It always struck me as a bit stupid that these inspectors had to give notice anyway, as this meant that they were bound to get a false positive impression of the body they were scrutinizing, but that's the way it was. This meant we had several weeks notice, which gave my bosses (I had more than one) ample opportunity to go through their correspondence and get me to type up revised versions of the file copies of quite a few letters.

I can't remember what the differences were - usually very minor - but part of me was simply horrified by the fact that these senior academics thought there was absolutely nothing wrong in falsifying the records in this way.

Of course I should have said something, but as a mere copy typist who had only recently been hired after a period of unemployment I lacked the courage to interfere. It makes you wonder just how much of this stuff is going on all the time.

I can only hope that the rise of a public-controlled medium, namely the internet, will stop this kind of thing happening anywhere that it might actually matter. The very international nature of the internet, plus the way it has been designed, means that it's very difficult to suppress information, as Trafigura learned to their cost.

The internet is a great equaliser, the first truly punk medium, embracing the DIY "anyone can do it" ethic. It's important we don't lose access to it. Governmental control of information is as outmoded as religion.

Make sure you write to your MP.
top CCTV camera image by Barnaby Norwood

Next time...

God, it's a barren featureless wasteland out there... We reach episode ten of the Dimensionally Transcendental Confession in which there are found to be slim pickings for a Doctor Who fan in the nineteen nineties.

What about MEEEEEE?1985.

So, no more Doctor Who, at least for the time being. What was I going to do?

To be honest, it couldn't have come at a better time for me. I was about to finish my second year at university and so would probably benefit from being able to concentrate on my coursework in the third year without obsessing about some old TV show.

However, instead of knuckling down to my studies I started obsessing about sex and drugs and rock'n'roll instead. On the final day of my second year I lost my virginity; thinking about it in the context of this memoir I wonder if the universe was trying to tell me something? Was I being advised to put aside childish things in exchange for this new world of sensual experience?

Probably not. Like all human beings I am seeing patterns in things that aren't there. For good or for bad I spent the hiatus year enjoying myself, and thanks to a conveniently timed bout of glandular fever, didn't even have to sit my final examinations. I entered the second half of 1986 full of optimism about what my life could be.

The first couple of minutes of the new Doctor Who filled me with optimism as well. Yes, in September 1986 it was back. Setting aside the whiny new arrangement of the theme music, the future looked very bright indeed.

The camera swooped dramatically across the hull of an impressive looking space station which flung out some kind of tractor beam, pulling the TARDIS in. It looked expensive. It looked cinematic. The concept of a fourteen part story, the longest in the programme's history, was exciting.


what if Colin Baker had stayed?
Unfortunately, Trial of a Time Lord, whilst it had its moments, was ultimately very disappointing, and it would be all downhill from here. In retrospect Revelation of the Daleks turned out to have been the last gasp of greatness in the classic series, and even though Colin Baker had now settled comfortably into the role, the Trial was not his finest hour. They added insult to injury by kicking him out without so much as a proper regeneration scene; his last televised words being "Carrot juice, carrot juice, carrot juice."

Not even in the same league as "It's the end - but the moment has been prepared for."

I have no idea what the production team were thinking over the next three years. I realise that it's all a matter of taste, but to me it felt as if they were going out of their way to make the show look like shit.

Firstly they hired Sylvester McCoy as the Seventh Doctor. I realise that he's full of enthusiasm for the programme to this day, is an excellent ambassador for the show and probably a lovely guy, but his Seventh Doctor was awful, and was the main reason that I started drifting away.

The whole tone of the production was wrong. They lit it like a game show and gave it a new computer generated title sequence to match. There may have been some poor casting decisions made in the current incarnation of the programme, but back then it was every bloody week. Bonnie Langford. Richard Briers (his casting worked a couple of years ago in Torchwood, but back in 1987 he was still just one step away from smug, self-centred git Tom Good) . Ken Dodd. Hale and Pace. Nicholas Bloody Parsons.

I'm sorry. I know there are some people for whom 1987-89 are their Golden Years of the programme, some people for whom Sylvester McCoy is "their Doctor". I just can't work out why. I can only assume that Seventh Doctor stories are an acquired taste like that cheese with the maggots in it. Even to this day I find these episodes embarrassing to watch. So I stopped.

I reached a point that given the quality of what was being served up, I had better things to do on a Saturday evening than watch Doctor Who. This means that I missed most of the later McCoys on transmission, you know, the ones everyone thinks are great. The ones that became known as the Cartmel Masterplan.

Reading about it now and watching the episodes in subsequent years I can only be grateful that the series was cancelled (admittedly the only time I watched Ghost Light was when I was very, very drunk). All this business about "...more than just a Time Lord..." and obscure references to The Other smell to me like the worse excesses of fanwank. I'm not surprised that the BBC pulled the plug when they did.

1989.

I don't even remember hearing about Doctor Who's cancellation. It just seemed to slip quietly away during the inter-season night, and when I did hear, it was a case of "Oh, that's a shame," as if I'd heard that an elderly uncle had passed on; someone who used to entertain me during my childhood and whose visits I had always looked forward to but who had in latter years had begun pissing the bed and shouting abuse at his carers. I felt it was for the best.

I had no idea that the Doctor would be back, but shouldn't really have been surprised, give his talent for regeneration.

Next time...

He who controls the present controls the past. Are the powers that be still editing history? For how long will they be able to continue to do so?

The God DelusionIt's very rare that I read a non-fiction book and agree with virtually everything therein. Even popular science books (of the more philosophical type that I read - I'm not for a moment suggesting that I would take issue with the theory of acids and bases) sometimes express opinions or hypotheses that I'm not 100% convinced by.

The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins is different. Reading through it I couldn't find a single fact or well reasoned argument I disagreed with. That's not to say I think it's a fantastic book - it has many flaws, but thinking about them I have come to the conclusion that a lot of them are unavoidable and come about as a direct result of having to deal with the subject matter.

Firstly, the tone can come across at times as rather shrill and overemotional rather than measured and calm. But have you ever accidentally got embroiled in a so called discussion with fundamentalist godbotherers? There are only so many times you can coolheadedly state your case before their inherent refusal to listen to a single word you've been saying starts to grate. Perhaps within the pages of a popular non-fiction bestseller is not the best place to lose one's rag, but Dawkins can hardly be blamed for getting a bit hot under the collar in places.

Parts of the book can also be interpreted as the author being a somewhat full of himself and inordinately proud of his giant intellect, but if anyone's earned the right to blow their own cerebral trumpet it's him. Besides, it's only the Bible that says pride is a sin, so by his own set of rules Dawkins has every right to say fuck it, I'm brilliant. That stuff about the meek inheriting the Earth is probably a lie as well.

Seriously though, there are a couple of other major shortcomings that leapt out at me. The book seems to be both shooting fish in a barrel and (perhaps ironically) preaching to the converted. Are these further flaws that come with the territory? Perhaps they're also a side effect of the fact that it's me reading the book.

As I've said before, whilst I would not call myself an atheist in that I don't quite see the logic in defining myself by what I don't believe in, I am a materialist and do not think you need to postulate a god in order to explain the universe. It's also quite clear from the study of human history that the bulk of religious rules and regulations were invented as a method of controlling people. In the absence of an effective police force or centuries of consistent intellectual growth, the disproportionate threat of hell used to be the only way to prevent someone killing you or nicking your loaf of bread (I'm not sure what the deal was with coveting, though).

Given that the absurdities of religion are already clear to me it's not surprising that I feel that Dawkins has picked an easy target. Look at how illogical they are! he says. He doesn't need to tell me. I already know.

Of course not everyone is already a materialist or an atheist, but unfortunately I don't think The God Delusion is going to have any effect on them. Most modern monotheism rests on a get-out-of-jail-free circular argument, known as Faith, so no matter how convincing or compelling Mr Dawkins's arguments are, they're just not going to cut the mustard.

Cause you gotta have faith.

I am surprised his book hasn't caused more of a stink. Given that it quite clearly and unequivocally states that There Is No God and Religion Is Bunk, it's puzzling that it hasn't attracted the attention of the more hysterical breed of godbotherer. You know, the kind that issue fatwas. And I'm not talking about the new kind of reasonable 21st Century fatwa, I'm talking about the old blood, thunder and ayatollah variety. The kind that Salman Rushdie found himself on the receiving end of.

I haven't read The Satanic Verses myself, but understand that it's a dense intellectual novel, a work of fiction. I'll repeat that; fiction.

The central tenet of Islam is summed up nicely in the Adhan, the call to prayer that can be heard recited by the muezzin from the mosque: La ilaha illallah (There is no God but Allah). So which is more insulting to this religion, a factual book that directly refutes this by claiming There is no God or a work of fiction containing a dream sequence in which a character loosely based upon The Prophet Muhammad is portrayed in a less than favourable light? This aspect of Rushdie's work is, at most, comparable to The Life of Brian which, whilst it may have caused a bit of a controversy in Christian circles at the time, didn't result in the firebombing of any cinemas as far as I am aware.

Just to clarify - I am not discussing the pros and cons of blasphemy versus freedom of speech here. Any regular readers of this blog will know where I stand on that particular topic: Blasphemy (n): libeling the non-existent. I am just trying to get my head around the logic of this apparent disparity of reaction.

It has been suggested that perhaps the fatwa was politically motivated in an attempt to alienate Muslims from the west, so maybe Rushdie was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. Perhaps the religious powers that be now realise that in treating Dawkins the same way they would be proving his point about the destructiveness of religion.

Or maybe they just got out of the theological bed on the wrong side that morning.

This isn't the only comparison of Hysterical Reaction vs No Reaction that can be made. In 2005 the Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons controversy kicked off. At first sight this is a more clear cut case as the Danish newspaper had contained illustrations of the Prophet Muhammad, an act which is forbidden under Islamic law (again, I'm not debating the pros and cons of this conflict here). And yet only four years previously, the appearance of the Prophet Muhammad in an episode of South Park, Super Best Friends, provoked no reaction whatsoever. What gives?

The only conclusion I can draw is that if you are planning a blasphemy in the not too distant future, you had better hope that religious leaders are having a good day.

No point in praying for this, naturally.

Next time...

The Death of Doctor Who. As my Dimensionally Transcendental Confession reaches it's ninth episode I lose my virginity during the 1985 hiatus (was the universe trying to tell me something?) and in subsequent years get put off so much by Sylvester McCoy that I stop watching. Oh, and the series is cancelled.

Kernel Panic

Tomorrow morning is when I go into hospital to have a general anaesthetic for the very first time.

It's an interesting concept. Looking at the operation of the brain as analogous to that of a computer it's more like a hard reboot, actually being switched off and on again as opposed to mere sleep which is more comparable to being in stand-by or, well, sleep mode.

Will I feel any different afterwards? I'm hoping that such a restart will clear out any unwanted program loops, neuroses that have been running unchecked ever since a random combination of circumstances and input set them off. Mentally I should feel better, that is once I've stopped feeling nausea.

And, most interestingly, what will happen to my consciousness? I have heard that by all accounts it's as if no time has passed; as the inhabitants of the Dollhouse say "Did I fall asleep?"

This makes sense from a materialistic point of view. No new data is entered or data sorting takes place between going under and coming round, so it's unsurprising that the stream of consciousness carries on from the same point.

Or so the theory says. I will be reporting back here in as much detail as I can remember.

Rather disturbed to read in the booklet "You and your anaesthetic" that I was given that a possible side effect is "death". By definition, how can death be a side effect?

Have You Tried Turning It Off And On Again?

Luckily, death wasn't a side-effect, or at least not in this quantum reality. Once at the hospital, everything seemed to go quite smoothly, I got to the alarmingly named "Ansty Ward" (think anagram) before anyone else and was told I'd be done first in about an hour's time.

Other patients started to arrive. All older men. Was I in the old men ward? Come to think of it, did this mean that I was I now an old man? The nurse asked them all the standard series of questions; amusing when one of the other patients answered the question "Are you on any medication?" with "Yeah, tablets and that."

Still felt nervous so decided to change into hospital gown and get into bed; to switch roles and officially become a patient. That made me feel better; there's something about it that alters the mind set and makes you think "Well I must be safe with them because they know what they're doing. They're doctors." It probably helps if you don't watch Casualty or Holby City.

In confusion I put the gown on backwards, in other words with the opening at the front. Made more sense to me. I was lying on my back and they were going to operate on the front of my body after all.

It all got slightly alarming again when they came for me and started wheeling me through the corridors. There was also a comic element to it; probably because I'd seen it in so many TV shows and movies but never actually experienced it until now.

I arrived in some kind of holding area with other patients being wheeled in and out and was parked next to a very old lady before being interviewed by the anaesthetist's assistant a cheerful, sarcastic woman. A studied, practiced cheeriness and sarcasm, I am sure, but probably just the right bedside manner for me at that point. She asked a few questions, was disparaging about the blankets and went through my paperwork before wheeling me through into the anaesthetic room where I was prepped. Blood pressure, - check. Heart rate - check. ECG hookup - check. Inertial dampers - check.

The anaesthetist arrived, a cheerful (but not sarcastic) Egyptian man. Cannula - check (ouch) after a bit of trouble with a wobbly vein.

Now came the moment of truth. First of all something was introduced into the vein through the cannula to relax me. I felt the coldness as it went in but didn't notice anything else, although perhaps I would have panicked more when the actual anaesthetic was introduced?

A deeper coldness slid into my vein and up my arm. Concentrate, I thought, whats going on with my awareness? It felt like a mist rising from the bed and infusing my body. A mist that tasted like - no, more looked like - no, more smelt like - no more reminded me of something from my childhood. What was it? On the tip of my mind, something I was playing with, a feeling, a state of mind, something when I was around five or six. A feeling a colour, a smell? What?

***

I woke up. It felt like normal waking up. To clarify - it felt like waking up fairly quickly and naturally after a good night's sleep as opposed to the unsatisfying couple of hours' fractal semi-consciousness that normally passes for waking up in my life these days. It was refreshing.

I had an oxygen mask on, and a woman was watching me. The room was a mirror image of the holding area I'd been in before the operation and was calm and quiet. The sun appeared to be shining outside. I had a headache and a sore throat.

Yes, the last thing I remembered was the rising mist and frustratingly unreachable childhood remembrance, but it didn't feel as if I'd switched straight from then to now. I'd definitely been unconscious. The only difference I could ascertain is that normally one doesn't remember falling unconscious so clearly.

The relief that all was well was so great that I almost felt like a child in a funfair - I wanna go on it again! Eventually I was wheeled back to the ward, where I spent most of the rest of the day recovering.

So, do I feel any different? Did the downtime give me a mental enema? It's difficult to tell. I feel more cheerful and as yet have been unable to locate any of the customary depression that dogs me so much of the time. I feel more positive and mentally energetic (even if bodily I'm still tired). We'll see.

If only I could shake this bloody headache (still with me 24 hours later). Still as side effects go it could be worse as I can always pop down the street to the chemist to get something for it. Bit more difficult to do had I ended up with the side effect of death.
Next time...

Who's read The God Delusion? More or less insulting to religion than The Satanic Verses?