Monday, 27 August 2012

Oops, I think I want to hit you.

I was raised a fundamentalist Christian and I have religious scar tissue. And a fair whack of residual anger as well. I keep it under control most of the time, but occasionally, especially if I’m pre-menstrual I can get quite snarly and rude, as some unfortunate Jehovah Witnesses discovered last week. They had no way of knowing that on that particular day I was snarly enough to head butt puppies and stomp on cute little bunnies without a second thought. So when they came knocking at my door, I tried to be polite but couldn’t stop myself from blurting out something along these lines, ‘Don’t waste your time my friends, I’m really not interested. I was raised a Mormon and nowadays I don’t want anything to do with that violent nut-bag Yahweh or any of his minions.’ They were a little taken aback. I don’t think they’d ever heard their god described as a nut-bag before.

Sadly, this is not the weirdest thing I’ve said to religious types who’ve come knocking at my door. Many years ago I was living in Brunswick. It was the anniversary of the Granville train crash and I was thinking about my father, who died in that crash. I’d always blamed his death on the fact that that day, of all bloody days, he’d decided to give up smoking. Instead of sitting in the smoking carriage at the back of the train, he’d sat in a non-smoking carriage in the middle of the train: the carriage that took the full impact of the bridge collapse. If he’d been sitting in the smoking carriage as he usually did, there was a good chance that he would have survived. The reason he had given up smoking was because he had become a Mormon shortly before his death, but for some reason I hadn’t really linked those two things before. I’d blamed the non-smoking for being in the wrong carriage but not the Mormons for making him give up smoking. That day however, I suddenly made the connection and felt a surge of anger towards the Church. In an example of gob-smacking synchronicity, just as I had this realisation there was a knock at the door and there were two Mormon missionaries. I spluttered incoherently for a while and then managed to spit out, ‘YOU GUYS KILLED MY FATHER!’, before slamming the door in their face. I’m not proud of it, but hey these things happen. If either of those guys ever read this, I’m sorry. You were just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

There have been many other times and occasions when I’ve got very angry about religion and its effects, but in all that time I’ve never once been tempted to smack someone in the gob. For that level of outrage, it took a New Age person. I loathe the New Age movement. I see it as a pointless, smug, middle-class, secretly self-loathing, self obsessed, navel-gazing adventure that usually ends with people disappearing up their own fundament and thinking they’ve found God, instead of their own crap. I particularly hate the idea that there are no bad things in the world, just ‘valuable lessons’. The most vivid example of this pathetic sort of thinking happened to me after a gig. I’d been talking about being a survivor of childhood sexual assault. I hasten to point out that it was my step-father who abused me, not my real father. After the gig a New Age wanker came up to me said, ‘Wow, your step-father must have really loved you to give you that beautiful lesson. He’s probably your soul mate, because only someone who really, really loved you would choose to incarnate as your abuser so you could benefit from such a difficult, wonderful lesson.’ I am rarely speechless, but that day I was without speech. I was too busy trying to figure out whether to punch her in the nose so hard that it would end up in her brain or whether I should try and rip her ears off. She didn’t seem to have a single clue as to how insulting and horrible her misguided thoughts were. It is the closest I have ever come to doing physical damage to another person.

Since then I’ve thought a lot about this ridiculous magical thinking of the New Age. For starters where is the head office or the clearing room where all this careful allocation of necessary lessons is being organised? Who is behind it all? ‘Cause if there is some organising committee, they’ve failed dismally. If all this crap is being carefully meted out for the personal growth and development of every single person on the planet, then no one would ever commit suicide. Someone must have got the dose wrong. Taken to its logical extent, this sort of thinking is a recipe for apathy and non-action in the real world. Because if every single person in the world has ‘chosen’ all these things, if there really is a good reason for all the horrible things that happen in this world, well then, we don’t need to change a single thing. The world is perfect exactly as it is and we don’t need to worry about stuff like poverty, hunger and disease any more. It’s all meant to happen. And if you believe that, then a) better check and see if your brain has accidentally fallen out of your skull and b) I’ve got a bridge AND an Opera House I’d like to sell you.

Sunday, 25 March 2012

You Wouldn't Bloody Read About It

Over time you get used to the cultural imperialism and arrogance of America. You get so used to history being re-written in World War II films that you no longer react when you see only American soldiers depicted in D-Day films. You merely sigh when a different film shows the American military capturing an Enigma machine instead of the British. After a while you even stop noticing that although our TV screens are awash with American product not one of our shows, not one, will ever appear on the mainstream channels in America. If they like one of our shows, they’ll remake it with an American cast, but you’ll never see the original. These are all old insults and like I said, we’ve all got used to it.

However annoying these things are, they’re all in the realm of fiction where artistic licence (and cultural arrogance) are pretty much expected. But when it comes to the reporting of history, you expect better. If you consult a book that purports to be an encyclopaedia and find breath-takingly inaccurate information, you’re allowed to get a little grumpy.

So here’s the thing. I’m working on a new introduction for the book I’m writing. I wanted to have a line about how the sky is no longer the limit and hasn’t been since the 1950s when Sputnik was launched. I thought I’d better check that Sputnik was actually launched in the 1950s and not the 60s. I could have Googled it, but the computer wasn’t on, the Microsoft start up takes so bloody long and besides, I can’t fricking stand that Google always seems to send me to bloody stupid, bloody annoying, bloody poxy Wikipedia first.  I find it simpler and easier to consult the reference section on my book shelf. Call me an insane old Ludditte but I trust books more than the Internet.

Sadly, the book I picked up let me down badly. So badly I even briefly considered throwing it in the bin. It’s a little one volume encyclopaedia put out by Columbia University Press and ok, it was published in 1983 but it’s still useful in terms of history and Sputnik should have been in it. The cover assured me that it was not just ‘..comprehensive and authoritative,’ but ‘was prepared under the guidance of  a distinguished panel of scholars.’ A distinguished panel of incredibly biased American scholars would have been more truthful. I’d known for some time that this particular encyclopaedia was really good for facts about America, but not so much for other countries and their histories. I’d encountered omissions before, but not outright fraud.

So I tried to look up Sputnik. No listing. Rude but not unusual I thought. It’s probably in the section a few pages back, under the heading of Space Exploration, I thought. But no, by a clever sleight of hand and the drawing up of biased categories, there was not a single mention of Sputnik in the entire section. The two categories listed were Manned Space Flight Programs and Space Probe Programs and because Sputnik was not technically a probe, they managed to ignore it completely, the rude bloody bastards! The first human made device to ever leave the Earth’s atmosphere, the first ever artificial satellite to orbit our globe and 26 years later the Americans who wrote this book couldn’t even bring themselves to mention it. I mean, I knew the Americans were touchy about losing the early stages of the Space Race, but to hold a grudge for almost 30 years, that’s just nuts. (In case you’re interested I did manage to find the launch date of the first Sputnik -1957- in another of my books, a dictionary. An English dictionary.  From England.)

The rudeness didn’t end there. By another sleight of hand in the listing of the various space programs, they managed to disguise the true Russian contribution to the exploration of space. By listing the programs alphabetically instead of chronologically they managed to give the top six entries to America instead of Russia. It starts with all the Apollo launches and you don’t get to anything Russian till half way through. It’s only when you carefully check the column headed Year of Launch that you realise that you’ve been conned. Especially when you notice that Yuri Gargarin and his first manned flight comes last on the list. Damn the Russians for using words like Vostok and Zond for their missions! If only they’d named them all Aardvark or Aasvogel (a South African vulture) they could have beaten the Americans linguistically as well as in the real world!

Wait. Strike that. The American authors would have figured out some other scheme instead to keep them at the top. Those thin-skinned, delusional, arrogant, petty-minded, bloody purveyors of American propaganda. I could go on, I know lots of other rude words, but I might end it here. Can’t be too rude about America these days. Not since Obama signed an Executive Order that allows the American military to grab anyone they want, from any country in the world and then take them back to America to stand trial for the crime of terrorism. Or being Un-American. They’re the same thing aren’t they? Either way, better zip my lip.