Sunday, 30 May 2010

Drinks Under Fire

Sometimes someone will say to you something that you will think is very, very crazy. Sometimes you will say "What the hell?" and that will be that. But sometimes one of these very crazy sayings will pass you by, like a leaf on the wind, and you will be completely enthralled. This process of not noticing craziness usually happens with one person to another, and maybe a subsequent third person. But on a rare occasion, when the planets align and the sun grows a deep black, and the sky blood red that craziness will spread from person to person until around ten people are involved. This is how the sport of paintball was invented.

Today, I had the absolute joy of going paint-balling with my friends. This is not sarcasm. I really enjoyed it. It sounds surprising, and considering that I had paid to go and pretty much get shot for a day, you would be forgiven for thinking that I have had one too many 200mph speeding capsules to the head.

At first glance, paint-balling is a horrible, horrible experience. You are dressed in embarrassing clothes, given uncomfortable masks, awkward and ineffective gas-powered guns, are told that all of this protection will be useless against the blinding pain that will follow after you are hit, and the you just go. You are sent out into a wood to have the shit shot out of you. And its terrifying. I felt fear that I have only felt twice before, and both of those times I was also paint-balling.

It was more the sounds than anything else. Everywhere you go, the short popping blast of a paintball gun can be heard, the sound ricocheting round the forest like a wayward paintball. And then there's the fear when you are pressed against a tree. Part of you is thinking "I'm safe behind this tree" whilst the rational part of your brain knows that the very next thing thats going to happen is you're going to be shot in the dick almost instantly.

I fear for my unborn children, who will no doubt grow up with an intrinsic fear of being shot in their delicate areas.
On the first game, I was stoked. The adrenaline kicked in straight away, meaning I felt like I could do anything. Paintballs would bounce off me. I would be invincible. Then I got shot in the second game. In the thigh. It was right on the inner thigh, in the soft pink flesh. I'm sure if I had been riding horses all my life I would be fine, but I didn't, so I wasn't. After a small while contemplating my mortality and my place in the Earth, I got on with it and vowed to shoot them back. And I did. And it was fantastic.

The joy you get from pulling a trigger and seeing a small orange capsule explode on the chest of a person shooting at you makes you feel awesome. It's like a combination of finding a £20 note in your pocket and perfectly throwing something in a bin, and ten times as satisfying. Then the person you hit does something awful. He rubs the paint off, and carries on, and no doubt shoots your face in the process. The despicable sod, The unmitigated audacity! I bet that sick bastard gets off on seeing your face, a combination of horror and sadness, and he loves it. He can't get enough of it. God you hate him.

Then there's the bastard who shouts surrender when you have your back to him, and then ignores your surrendering and pelts the crap out of you anyway.

They are all assholes.

I was told one thing by my friend James (Whose birthday event it was) before we all left for the paint-balling place in the morning; "The person beside you in a trench or a barricade is your best friend, whether you know him or not." Truer words have never been said, as half of our team, a ramshackle operation of different stag parties, birthdays and other people headed to our final battle. The other team outnumbered us, and we were charged with storming their little fort thing and diffusing a thingy, which seemed like an impossible task considering we strongly suspected they were cheating. Well, less suspected and knew for a certain fact, but anyway.

As we walked toward the start area, we were laughing nervously, joking, having fun, and trusting our well being with complete strangers. It was weird. We ended up winning that last game, more out of an unbridled anger and rage for the other team than anything else, and it was great.

If the person next to you was your best friend, then the person shooting at you, regardless of who he was, was your mortal enemy who had wronged you in some way. He was probably a single father of two letting off some steam, but that doesn't matter. He is wearing red, and he must be destroyed, because blue is way better.

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Logical Positivism, The Vienna Circle, and Saucermen

I use roads almost every day, in one way or the other. So does almost everybody else in the world, except for farmers, but even they use so-called "tracks" for driving tractors, corralling cattle, and being generally pretty strange and antisocial. Its a simple and brilliant life, but people live it. Roads define where we go pretty much, define what we see, which would be cool, if the only sights were not just fields and a one off statue of a T-Rex. Seriously. Take the M5 to Bristol. T-Rex.

Back during the 1920's there was a group. Bear with me. There was a group of people who established a way of thinking that influenced almost everything in life, from their views on religion, to politics, economics, and yes, even roads. Logical Positivism came from The Vienna Circle, a group of philosophers that gathered at Vienna University, around Moritz Schlick. It was sort of like the Algonquin Round Table, except in Vienna, and not as vicious in such a horrible, horrible way.

In the same way as any great philosopher, the group, chaired by Schlick had a massive impact on the world, in the same way that Hegel, Marx, Neitzsche and Kant did, with one important rule; that knowledge was defined by experience and proof. Of course, this meant that there was a strong interest in science, empiricism and reason, and skepticism of theology and metaphysics, but by far the biggest staple among logical positivists was verificationism, the theory that the idea that a statement or question only has meaning if there is some way to determine if the statement is true, or what the answer to the question is.

This verification principle was basically a way of splitting every question or statement into three convenient and accessible bite-sized chunks;

1. Is it true?
2. Is it false?
3. Is it verifiable?

Even now, this concept is used by Journalists in a very similar way, the most common being the way of avoiding libel;

"Is it true, and can we prove it?"

This principle can be used in many incidences of proving whether something is true or false, up to, and including things like the Roswell UFO Incident that happened in New Mexico in July of 1947, and even though that turned out to be nothing, nothing at all, it was strange how people believed it. Logical Positivists would be skeptical of something like this, unless there was hard evidence, or they had met a space alien themselves, despite theories that the aliens might be very far away, perhaps even, on other planets. But instead, what was indeed a downed weather balloon, and nothing else, would not have convinced anyone who followed procedures of the Vienna Circle, because it simply cannot be verified.

Logical Positivists also made Religion, and the existence of any Deity seem completely false. How could we prove that there is a God? What is there, right in front of us to show that there is something of a higher power than our own. Sure, there may be evidence, but much of it is subject to disproving, and almost all of it circumstantial. But its not just God that they had a bone to pick with. Even Freud was a target. His Psychology was based around the idea of a subconscious, something inside of our brains that dealt with our innermost emotions and primal instincts, but what use are these theories when there is nothing to prove any of this? There is no tangible evidence, nothing that can be experienced or explained beyond theories, you might as well be trying to prove the existence of Unicorns.

It seemed that the logic was airtight. The Verification Principle would be the standard on which any scientific theories would be either proven or falsified. Except something else turned up. Something dark and sinister. Something, named Karl Popper.

Popper was critical of Verificationism, arguing that the principle itself cannot be verified, instead touting his principle of Falsifiability, which is, instead of proving whether something is right because of evidence supporting it, it proves statements, questions and theories by falsifying evidence to the contrary. An example of this is;

Statement: All toilets are white.

Falsification: If we can find one toilet that is another color, we can conclude that the statement of "all toilets are white" is false, thereby proving that all toilets are at the least, white and one other color, a statement that can be proved by the existence of another color and so on. The original statement can also be construed as racist, but we will not get into that.

Roads are important, in the ways that one cannot think of, but when we look at designs of certain roads, we can see the influence of Logical Positivism. Take Milton Keynes, a place named after John Maynard Keynes, creator of Keynesian Economics. This place has logical roads. Logical roads! Unheard of by most people, but you can be sure that it is incredibly simple to get round to anywhere, unlike a place like Winchester, where the roads were most likely formed around pubs, and how easy it would be to get back home after said pubs. Its not science. Its not Logical. Would you rather live in a world with ease of public transport, or a world with a greater ease of getting smashed every night?

Okay, tricky question, but heres another one. Would you rather live in a world with art, and music, and trees and birds everywhere for no reason, or a place where you don't have a name, because its not logical?

Choose your poison, they're both bittersweet.

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

HCJ4 Gonzo Project: More Information Than You Require

I was just passing Stonehenge when I was just about ready to stop driving; in that shady part of the mind where you are just between falling asleep and wide awake, where your eyes could droop at any second resulting in a fiery crash, but you would be completely aware of the terror, and even more aware that you would have no one to blame but yourself. But this was not the only thing contributing to the high chance of death in a horrible, horrible accident. I was traveling in my Seat Arosa, a small roller skate of a car, a hand-me-down that had dodgy back tires and a fault in almost every component in one way or another. It is the sort of car that keeps a person honest, humble, and completely observant of their surroundings, simply because these surroundings might well be the last, so you’d better make the best of it. What I imagined I was driving to was a broken, twisted, rusty and grinding engine of a meeting, stuttering along and jarring like a plane caught in an ash cloud, so hopefully the fear would make it seem better.

I was traveling to meet, talk to and campaign with a man named Niall Warry, pronounced “Neil”, a name that was condemned a member of the public as “pretentious” in a place named Frome. Having never been to Frome, I did not really know what to expect, but considering the location (just in Somerset) I could be sure it was a sleepy country town just big enough for a Mark’s and Spencer’s and just small enough to still have village fetes. I was entirely right. I had been told to meet Mr. Warry in a car park just outside of a budding auction house, and to look for a large green land rover with a box strapped to its roof labeled “Niall Warry: Leave the EU Alliance.” This beast of a car, like most of the things about Niall Warry, was instantly recognizable as garish and unnecessary. I do not know much about advertising, but I’m fairly sure that many members of the public would be unlikely to pick up and run with a political movement plastered onto the side of a wooden box, and held to the roof by ropes and string.

I waited for half an hour in this dreaded car park, waiting in a suit that was too big, in a car that was too small, and hoping that the man I was meeting would not be too racist all the time. After a while I felt a little cheated, and so rang the number that Mr. Warry had given me during out e-mail correspondence, and a woman answered. My first reaction was frightened confusion, and then fear. The person on the other end sounded so unassuming and innocent, and as it turned out, it was Warry’s wife, who told me that she would ring a man named Tim, who was with Warry at the time. I was filled with panic. I had banked on meeting Niall Warry alone, in order to spar head to head with a man who I assumed would be nasty and another person added to the mix would probably make this a lot harder. Warry headed to the car park, and greeted me by shouting “Luke? Luke Garratt?” across the car park. “That’s me.” I answered, and walked towards him, offering my handshake as a way of putting myself under the banner of “Professional Journalist” rather than “Student”. Warry was a tall man. His nose was slightly crooked, and he had a halo of grey hair covering his head, with a sort of tuft at the front, almost akin to a certain type of professional entertainer found in circuses. “My colleague Tim and I are having coffee in a shop down the road. You haven’t been waiting long have you?” He asked, grasping my shoulder as we walked, “No.” I lied.

We got to the cafe where I was introduced to Tim. Tim refused to give his first name as he “Didn’t know what I would use it for” but in terms of his features, Tim was a watery eyed mouse of a man, who seemed to stutter and cower at the fact I was even talking to him, which is a mean feat, because I’m very unimposing. “You want a tea, or a coffee, or a bun?” Warry asked me, gesturing towards the Barista behind the counter. I declined, and sat down beside him, occasionally glancing at Tim, who was sipping a latte with both hands, perched on the edge of a stool like a bird. Warry then decided it was time for me to ask him some questions. I duly agreed.

He had been involved in politics since 1997, and before that, corporate management, and before that, the TA and the Green Jackets. He had left UKIP in February, letting his membership run out. Of UKIP, he seemingly had nothing but bad things to say, calling them ineffective and corrupt, and claiming that the leader of the party seemed to “have it out for him” since he spoke out against him. He had subsequently thought about organizing his own party if it gathered enough political and public steam, publishing and distributing 5000 leaflets advertising change, and a meeting. This massive amount of leaflets led to the attendance of 10/15 people which subsequently led to the formation of the “Leave the EU Alliance”. The emergence of Tim was a completely different story entirely. Tim was a journalist, or so he said. He had been involved in several different business ventures that reflected his different views on life, but right now he was a journalist, currently self publishing the magazine entitled RANT!, a magazine that focused on the “key issues” and “annoying things” in Britain today. “You can find that on the Internet.” He said happily. I could not.

Niall Warry seemed to be an unassuming man. In what I hoped would be a battle of some sort, whittling out the true nature of the man through subtle poking, he denied me at every turn with almost good answers. His stance on immigration was standard, the usual point-system and Australia comparisons. I pressed him with the more controversial things like prostitution, drugs, and gay marriage. He seemed to agree to all of them, with theories on how prostitution should be legalized, regulated and taxed, and the same for drugs, and as for gay marriage is stance was that “Gay people should be able to inflict the same grief as straight people”. But despite the very diplomatic answers he seemed to be giving, there was something not quite right about Warry. He seemed to dodge every question in a very weird way, in a way that he was answering diplomatically for the sake of diplomacy.

The overall impression was that of a sense of delusion. Warry would say he was forced out of UKIP, and then say he left of his own accord. He would say he is “aware of the current political climate” and how he “does not expect many votes” but then would go on to speak about how everybody thinks like him, deep down, and how he shares the views of the nation. How an independent candidate is better because then a supporter doesn’t have to sacrifice their views for the views of the party, how he rates on a diplomatic scale, but then talking about unity and the importance of following movements and influence.

Despite his insistence that he was a “normal bloke”, Warry and Tim did leave me with one gem. Out of the blue, Warry was explaining his thoughts on global warming, and how he did not believe in it. Not just that, but he actively denied it. Now, this would usually be put down to a difference of opinion, but the following things could simply not be ignored. I pressed him on the issues behind global warming, to which he replied “polar bears have never been more numerous,” but it was Tim who had the real gold; when I said “But what about flooding? Even if you don’t believe in it surely scientific predictions are something to worry about? These things have been studied.” Tim chimed in with his comment almost immediately after, as though waiting for the perfect time. “People can just live in houses on hills!” Tim leaned back in his chair, content.

Warry decided that there was no point me campaigning with him, despite our previous agreement; he simply had to get Tim back home. But before he left, he handed me a book, saying that it reflected his views incredibly. The book, entitled Bloodless Revolution: How we can change the world in one day, was a strangely topical diatribe, every part of which seemed to be set up to terrify its readers, scaring them with the fear of a terrible life that WILL DEFINITELY BEFALL YOU SHOULD YOU NOT DO EVERYTHING THE BOOK SAYS.

Fear is a powerful motivator. I was scared to drive a long distance. Because my car is a deathtrap, so I drove faster. Could it be that the reason Niall Warry started his party because he was afraid of not having an outlet? Afraid of people not hearing his voice after years of being a figure of public standing? I could be neither of these things, and it could be both, but one thing is for sure; Tim was definitely terrified throughout the entire thing.