Thursday, 28 January 2010

Reality used to be a friend of mine

Just before Christmas, an age ago in internet time, a man called David Thorne published an email exchange on his website, apparently between him and an entrepreneur called Simon Edhouse, who wanted some free graphic design for a new venture. The (cruel but very funny) exchange was an internet hit (particularly among graphic designers, who seemed all too familiar with the scenario), but Edhouse quickly denounced it as a vicious fabrication by a former friend.

Browsing around, I found Edhouse's own website, where he was facing concerted internet heckling from people who seemed unconvinced by his denials. But it also contained some of his own thoughts: "destiny is DIY" and "the map is not the territory". These curious pearls made me wonder whether perhaps Edhouse was actually a fictitious character, invented by Thorne for his own cruel amusement. Perhaps Thorne was fictitious too. They both seem to come from Adelaide, which may as well be Alpha Centauri for all I can do to verify the existence of either of them.

It reminded me of a university friend, studying philosophy and overwhelmed by cartesian scepticism, desperately gripping the lamp on his desk, seeking reassurance that it - perhaps alone in all the universe - was verifiably real. All that is solid melts into air.

Saturday, 23 January 2010

Kicking against the BRICs

Compared to the hubbub over Google's threats, media coverage of the banning of China's first 'gay pageant' was limited, but gave an interesting snapshot of something. I'm just not sure what.

The Guardian had reported on plans for the event on 10 January, with organiser Steve Zhang suggesting that police could yet shut it down. And so they did. But this seemed to be very polite repression: police were reported to have had friendly conversations with the participants, who were told that homosexuality was a 'sensitive issue'. Very different in tone to Russia, where 'gay pride' and similar events are regularly and violently broken up by police (and nationalist counter-demonstrations).

If the demonstration had been by a political opposition group, the situation would probably be reversed. Russia is a democracy, albeit a compromised and autocratic one, and opposition parties are at least tolerated. The harsh treatment of pro-democracy activists in China shows that ideological pluralism is still seen as a dangerous threat to stability. You can bet that Google searches for gay dating sites would be far easier to get past China's internet censors than phrases like 'Tiananmen Square protests'.

At which point one starts to wander dangerously close to sweeping generalisations about value systems and cultural heritage, confucianism and christianity. One culture is concerned about social cohesion and harmony, the other about personal behaviour and sin. Both can be repressive, but in different ways and to different people.

Friday, 8 January 2010

Maps and legends

Not exactly long-awaited, but if you want to follow the London to Brighton route set out in previous posts, It should be fairly easily navigable on OS Explorer maps (numbers 146, 135 and 122).

Or, to entertain myself primarily, I have also pooterishly plotted the route on Google Maps, here:

View London to Brighton in a larger map