Saturday 23 July 2011

Amy Winehouse finally finished her hara-kiri

One can only ask why talented people are so eager to throw their lives and success away, while the rest of us struggle unsuccessfully for a moment in the sun. Do they really think nothing can happen to them? Are they in some way expiating guilt for their success, which they believe, rightly or wrongly, to be undeserved?

Winehouse's slow and irreversible meltdown has been news for so long that I won't bother repeating it, and I'm not the slightest bit surprised that she's finally been found dead. However, the pity is that she had genuine talent - unlike some "famous" people I could name, people who have to keep getting in the news by any means possible in order to stay famous.

So, what will her legacy be like, after the initial publicity blitz? Will she be called a skank, or a troubled genius? Will her albums now earn more than they ever did while she was alive? And will anyone care?

The irony is, of course, that in future people might say that she would've achieved great things if only she'd lived, like they do about Janis Joplin or Jimi Hendrix. The truth is that she'd probably have been more like Elvis Presley; a caricature of her former self.

In that sense, she might have done herself a favour by drinking/drugging herself to death.

Questions on the Oslo massacre

Before I begin this article, let me say something: I don’t have enough information to form any definite views on the why of the massacre in Oslo. However, as information comes in, I may be able to give a more coherent analysis. Or not.

But, as far as things stand, let’s go over what happened and see where it gets us:

First, a bomb explodes near the Prime Minster’s office, killing seven people and leaving the centre of the city “devastated”.

Then someone goes to an island some kilometres away where a youth camp organised by the same party which leads the government in power (the Labour Party) is being held, and opens fire, killing an incredible 84 (at last count, which is allegedly likely to rise) people.

Right away, the New York Times declares that the “jihadis” had claimed responsibility for the attack, and there’s a lot of expression of support for Norway, a “loyal member” of NATO and an “enthusiastic participant” in the (murderous) occupation of Afghanistan and the (no less murderous) bombing of Libya. It seems another bit of blowback, like the Madrid or London bombings – payback for taking part in the Empire’s imperial colonisation freedom project.

But then it is that the set story begin to fall apart.

For starters, so it is now claimed, the entire attack was the handiwork of just one man – a wealthy 32-year-old businessman, Anders Behring Breivik, who happens to be a right-wing fundamentalist Christian (and possibly a Freemason) who had access to two guns, and was a former soldier, and who's been arrested rather than killed by the SWAT-type team that arrived at the island.

So, mystery solved, more or less; the shooting was the work of one lone lunatic.

I beg your pardon for asking these questions then:

  1. With all the best will in the world, I find it difficult to believe one man shot dead more than eighty, and possibly over a hundred people, in addition to manufacturing and planting more than one explosive device (read bomb). Imagine the volume of firepower he had to deploy to achieve that amount of killing. Since the victims weren’t waiting in line to be shot – some were apparently gunned down while trying to swim away – he must have been either the best goddamn shot ever, or he must have laid down a terrific amount of automatic fire – and that in multiple directions. How much ammunition was he carrying on him? Was he dressed up like Rambo with cartridge belts draped all over? Did he stack it up on the island in advance? Why didn't anyone find it then? Why the hell didn’t someone notice him before he started shooting? I read that he “dressed up as a police officer”. Do policemen in Norway go around weighed down with assault rifles and thousands of rounds of ammunition, in addition to bombs?  

  1. Now that we’ve been told that Muslim jihadists were not responsible for the attacks, suddenly it becomes the handiwork of “a lone madman”. If it was a Muslim, however, you can bet your life he wouldn’t have been a “madman”, but a terrorist. These days a Muslim has only to put a foot out of line to be called a “terrorist”, as we all know. Isn’t this racist? Of course it is. But who in the circles of power cares about a little thing like racism (“Anti-Semitism” excepted, of course)?

  1. Now that it’s been declared that Breivik was acting “alone”, do we have to assume there is no active Christian fundamentalist terrorist organisation active in Norway?

  1. The massacre in Norway was a terrible tragedy, true, and will be treated as one; but how is it worse than the violence the same NATO, of which Norway is such an “enthusiastic and loyal participant”, is dishing out against civilians on a daily basis in Afghanistan and Libya? Without diminishing the losses of the Norwegians’ families, how is the suffering of Afghan or Libyan families less? But will those non-white, Muslim families get a miniscule fraction of the time and attention? Of course not.

  1. It’s being mentioned repeatedly that Breivik was anti-globalist, apart from being a right-wing Christian fundamentalist. Since we all know that anti-globalisation is one of the few things on which the left and the far right can agree, is it an attempt to tar the anti-capitalist peoples’ movement with the massacre/neo-Nazi/fundamentalist Christian brush?

  1. Apparently, a jihadist group claimed responsibility for the attack, but it was obviously not responsible. Let’s remember that to this day nobody has proved that Al Qaeda carried out the 11/9 attacks on the World Trade Centres, though the argument goes that Osama bin Laden claimed responsibility post facto, proving that he indeed did do it. While I wouldn’t believe a word the Empire says, on any topic, if one jihadist claim of responsibility can be proved demonstrably false, how is bin Laden’s alleged claim sacrosanct? Do we believe jihadist claims only when it’s convenient for us to do so?

That said, I’m profoundly glad that the perpetrator of this massacre is not a Muslim. If he was, it’s absolutely, a hundred percent certain that this would be seized on by the Empire-controlled media to call for a land invasion of Libya and/or a bombing campaign against Iran, not to speak of further support for the Zionazi pseudostate’s oppression of the Palestinian people.

In the coming days, we’ll have a lot of stuff on the media about this. Talking heads will bloviate on this and that, and the gun lobbies will (as usual) agitate for arming each and every person to render them able to "fight back" against gunmen. What we won’t have, of course, is a logical discussion of Christian fundamentalism, knee-jerk Islamophobia and blowback from murderous and immoral wars abroad.

That would upset too many applecarts.

Edit: This article shows how everything is now the fault of Al Qaeda, even when it isn't. As I said, everything is now the fault of Muslims, even when it isn't.

Friday 22 July 2011

Crown of Thorns

 Note: This is an Alternate History story where the Mughal Empire endured to the present time, and the British Raj never existed. I wrote it a couple of years ago and I'm posting it here at a friend's request. Here you go.


All that is easy to say.”

The Emperor Shah Alam III turned back to the window. Across the sea of trees and rooftops he could see the Jama Masjid, where he could no longer go because of the threat to his life. It had been many months since he had last ventured outside the sandstone walls of the Red Fort.

“It’s very easy to make such demands, Your Excellency,” he repeated. He kept his eyes on the three domes of the mosque. It seemed like a symbol of unattainable freedom, although he wasn’t religious and never offered prayer anyway except as a formality. “But it’s not possible for me to fulfil them.”

The American Ambassador coughed slightly, so that the Emperor of Hindustan had to turn around and look at him. “Your Majesty,” he said, “I understand your difficulties, but you must do something to open up your markets and stop these attacks on the assets of US owned companies.”

“There is nothing I can do,” said the Emperor. “I have no authority. I’m a prisoner of my nominal vassals – as you know perfectly well.”

The American Ambassador had a shiny red face that was sweating even under the whirling ceiling fan. He took out a large white handkerchief and energetically rubbed the sweat away. “Your Majesty,” he said, “you are still the Emperor of Hindustan.” Was there possibly just the slightest trace of emphasis on still? “When you say something, you have authority behind you. Anyone opposing you opposes the will of the Emperor of Hindustan.”

“Yes?” The Emperor turned back to the window. “Which Emperor? You know that my authority is only as a rubber stamp, and lately not even that.” He pointed. “Over there,” he said, “are the Sikhs, who are supposed to be my vassals and owe allegiance to me; yet they have a treaty with the Afghans that can only be against me; a treaty which gives away my territories to the King of Kabul. My son Farrukh-ud-din is in Lahore, sitting in the court of Maharaja Inderjeet Singh, and the Sikhs have already recognised him as the Emperor Akbar V.

“Over there,” he said, and pointed again, “just across the river, are the Marathas. The only reason I’m still on the throne is because I’m playing off the Peshwa of the Marathas against the Sikhs. They’re both supposed to be my vassals, yet I can guarantee you that at this moment there are artillery guns zoned on this fort from both sides. Also, to the east is the Sultan of Avadh, who no longer even bothers to pay the annual tribute due from him. And of course while the jihad warriors grow more vocal by the day, there is Suresh Chandra Bose’s nationalist rebellion in the countryside and the alleys of this very city.” He smiled ironically. “I don’t even know why I’m telling you all this. You probably know it better than I do.”

“If you would request military assistance,” said the Ambassador, “the US wouldn’t hesitate to send the Marine Corps to your aid.”

“And if it did,” said Shah Alam, looking back over his shoulder, “What sort of war would they start? How long would they stay? And what would it do to my authority, as you put it, to be seen as the puppet of a foreign occupier?”

“We could work that all out beforehand, Your Majesty. It wouldn’t be a permanent stay.” Behind his rimless spectacles the American Ambassador’s eyes were gleaming. “But if you choose to let things drift, you may no longer have a choice.”

Shah Alam stared at him for a long moment, and then nodded to himself. “All right,” he said. “I’ll see what I can do.” He walked over to the large white man and shook his hand. “So good of you to come,” he said. “I’ll keep what you said in mind.”

After the American had gone he walked across the room and out on the balcony. From here the Yamuna was a strip of dark blue across the city, and on the other side he could see the huge new construction projects. He had issued permits for none of them.

“What are you going to do?” the voice sounded at his shoulder, and he started. Usually he knew when she was around, but not this time; he was preoccupied and she moved very silently.

Jahan Ara Begum was one of those women who grow better looking with age. She knew it and never tried to hide the wrinkles and the sagging skin at her throat. Her greying hair was pulled back to the base of her skull and her head was held high.

“You heard him?”

“Of course I heard him. His threat was rather clear. What do you intend to do, issue an Imperial Proclamation?”

“They’ll laugh at it, of course.” Shah Alam glanced at his First Consort. “I’m sixty-seven years old,” he said. “I’ve been Emperor for two years. I became Emperor at an age when most people are retiring from their jobs. I’m too old for this.”

“There’s no such thing as too old,” said Jahan Ara Begum. “And you can’t duck the responsibility by saying you’re too old.”

 “What do you advise me to do?”

 “I think you should meet Bose,” she said. “I can arrange a meeting if you want.”

“Bose?” The Emperor of Hindustan wrinkled his nose delicately. “Bose is a terrorist. Bose wants the crown gone. How can I meet Bose?”

“Perhaps you don’t want to meet him. But if you want the Americans and the Chinese and the other foreigners to stay out, that’s what you will need to do.”

“I can’t be seen to be meeting him,” said the Emperor. “There are spies everywhere. I don’t know how to go about meeting him anyway. ”

“You won’t have to worry about that,” said his First Consort. “Leave it to me. I have my contacts. ”

I heard you had a visit from the American Ambassador,” said Bose.

He was sitting with the Emperor in a room far underground, a room accessed by a narrow twisting flight of steps from within the fort, and also through certain passageways leading from one of the old houses in the vicinity. There were several such rooms. Many of them had been long forgotten.

The two men were alone. That had been one of the conditions for the meeting, as well as the stipulation that neither man would carry either arms or any form of recording equipment. Jahan Ara Begum had herself arranged somewhat elaborate safeguards to ensure that.  

“News gets around, does it?” The Emperor Shah Alam looked curiously at the man across the table. He had never seen him in the flesh before, and found it difficult to believe that this round-faced bespectacled man, bald already at forty, could be considered a dangerous demagogue by anyone, let alone the insurgent leader he knew him to be. “What did you hear he talked about?”

“What do they all talk about? Opening up the economy so their companies can exploit it, isn’t that so?” Bose leaned forward across the desk, his eyes large and moist like glistening black stones. “Are you going to give in to their demands?”

“I can’t please them all,” said Shah Alam. “The Chinese and the Europeans and the Americans all want the best terms for their own companies and businesses, and I know they have the money to buy influence, even in this court.”

Especially in this court.”

The Emperor inclined his head slightly. “I won’t pretend you aren’t right about the court. It’s rotten to the core.”

“But the Americans are the richest and most persistent,” said Bose. “If you had to give in to any one of them, you’d give in to the Americans. Isn’t that so?”

“The religious brotherhood hates the Americans. If I gave too much away, I’d be faced with a jihad right in this city. And once that sort of thing gets started, it never ends.” Shah Alam smiled slightly. “It’s an awkward position,” he said. “I have no authority and yet everything is done in my name, or in the name of the crown. So I’m responsible for everything.”

 “So what are you going to do?” asked Bose.

“I don’t know. I don’t even have an army, not even a ceremonial one. Probably that’s just as well. If I had had one I’d probably be afraid of a coup d’etat.”

“In a way,” mused Bose, “the American was right. “You have the moral authority as the monarch of Hindustan. If you would issue a statement to the people – they might obey, or at least they wouldn’t actively oppose it too much.”

“I can’t issue anything without clearing it first with the vassals,” said Shah Alam. “Once my forefathers ruled all this land, and now I can’t even read a Proclamation without having it cleared by people of whom I am supposed to be the suzerain.” He hesitated. “I don’t suppose you’re advocating my giving in to the Americans, are you?”

“Of course not. We are as opposed to the Americans as the jihadis are, though we’re opposed to the jihadis as well. But if you don’t give the Americans all they want, Washington will have you overthrown. And if you give the Americans all they want at their expense, the Europeans will have you overthrown. Everyone wants control of the markets and the resources of Hindustan. And of course your ministers are in their pay.”

“Of course they are,” the Emperor agreed. “So, if I give in to one side, I’ll get it from the others? I actually thought of that. But then, what good will a proclamation by me do? None whatever.”

“You’re getting there. A proclamation would do no good. So you must do something more.”

“What else can I do? I’ve thought of abdicating, but they won’t let me do that either. I’m too useful as a puppet. Emperor of Hindustan!”

“There is something you can do,” said Bose, the insurgent leader. “And only you can decide if you want to do it.”

The Begum Jahan Ara, First Consort of the Emperor of Hindustan, Shah Alam III of the line of Timur-i-Leng, came out of her chambers and looked for her favourite lady-in-waiting. “Madhavi,” she called.

“Yes, lady.” Over the years the Hindu woman had become Jahan Ara’s closest friend and confidant, but nothing on earth would persuade her to call the older woman anything less formal than “lady”.

“Please inform the Emperor that I would like to meet him.” Normally, Jahan Ara dispensed with such formalities, but this was a special code; it implied that Shah Alam should make himself available where they could not be overheard. “And please tell him that his humble slave would be grateful if he could manage that expeditiously.” His humble slave was another piece of the code; it meant the business was urgent and could not wait.

“Yes, lady.” Throwing a puzzled glance at her mistress, Madhavi departed. Her mistress was showing signs of disquiet, something completely in contrast to her usual glacial calm. She herself felt uneasy at the thought that there was something that could discompose Jahan Ara.

Left to herself, Jahan Ara went back into her chambers. She lived away from the other wives, in chambers of her own, high up in the fort. As far as she could, she kept herself aloof from what would once have been called a harem. She had no children, and not for the first time in her life she was happy about that. Her childlessness meant she had no personal ambitions; if she gave him advice, the Emperor could trust her without worrying about whether she was advancing her son’s interests at the expense of his half-siblings. Childlessness also offered a measure of protection from the jealousy of the other consorts, and for that she was grateful. 

Jahan Ara stood in front of her ornate mirror and arranged her hair and clothing. Deftly, she daubed a tiny touch of rouge on her cheekbones, and stepped back for a final check.

She was sixty-two years old and had never looked better. As she aged, the flesh melted off her bones and revealed their fine structure, hinting at a devastating past beauty not quite faded, beauty she had in fact never possessed. While she had no compunction using her appearance to get her way, she was not particularly impressed by beauty. Brains had always ranked higher than beauty in her estimation, and brains she had, she knew, in abundance.

By the time the lady-in-waiting had returned with the Emperor’s reply to her message she had composed herself. Her usual glacial calm had asserted itself and she felt confident again, her thoughts running smoothly, trying to find a way out of the situation. She wondered how much the emperor knew. Not much, she was sure, if anything: those around him ensured real news was kept from his ears.

From the passage outside her room she could see down to the courtyard of the palace. A dark green military truck stood there, with uniformed Sikh soldiers descending from it. For a moment she felt sheer horror, thinking it had begun already and that she was too late. Then she realised that it was merely the changing of the honour guard, the Sikhs taking over from the Marathas, since the Emperor of Hindustan had not a single soldier of his own.

She found the Emperor standing at a corner of the courtyard, watching the tall Sikh soldiers with their smart camouflage fatigues and their automatic rifles as they deployed from their trucks. Some of the soldiers glanced his way, but none showed any move to salute. Their allegiance was to the Maharaja Inderjeet Singh, not to the Emperor of Hindustan.

Jahan Ara ignored the soldiers and waited for a moment, studying her husband. He had clearly aged in the last years, she saw; his eyes had sunken, his beard looked grey and sparse. Instead of the smart business suits his sons all wore, he still preferred the old-style robes, and they hung loosely from his gaunt body. She felt a sudden rush of affection for him, affection she had not felt for years. He was a weak man, she knew, but he was not a bad man. That counted for something.

The Emperor saw her and gave a tiny nod of his turbaned head. They walked casually together around the courtyard, in full view of the soldiers and courtiers and palace staff. It was the best form of secrecy; no one would imagine that such a public meeting could ever be anything but innocent.

“I have information.” Jahan Ara smiled at her husband, brightly. “You don’t need to know the source, just that he’s always been reliable. The Sikhs are planning to take over within the next couple of days.”

“They are?” Shah Alam seemed beyond surprise. “And they intend to put Farrukh-ud-din on the throne, of course?”

“Of course.” Aware that one of the Sikh soldiers was watching them keenly, and wary of lip-readers, Jahan Ara put her hand to her mouth as if to cover up a cough. “They have the charge of the guard, so they don’t even have to send in soldiers. They’ll arrest you, they’ll put him on the throne and declare him Emperor of Hindustan and present the Peshwa and Avadh with a fait accompli.”

“Sometimes,” said Shah Alam, “I feel I should abdicate in his favour. But even that would do no good.”

“No, it wouldn’t. He’ll be only a tool of Maharaja Inderjeet Singh and the Afghans, and he’s going to do their bidding, and then there will be civil war.” 

“Maybe – no, that wouldn’t be any good, would it? Asking for help from the Americans?”

“D’you really imagine,” the Emperor’s First Consort asked him, pointing up at the red sandstone battlements, “that the Americans don’t know about it already? Of course,” she added, “it might be the Europeans, or the Chinese; but it’s most likely the Americans who are behind it. Not that it makes all that much of a difference in the long run.”

“Suppose I were to send a message to the Peshwa warning him of what was going on?”

“Sadashiv Rao,” Jahan Ara said, “has no particular interest in seeing you on the throne. He’s more likely to attack the Sikhs and start a war to try and put one of your other sons, Muzaffar for instance, on the throne to be his puppet instead. Don’t pin any hopes on the Marathas.”

“Then,” said Shah Alam, “what choice do I have? There’s nothing I can do.”

“There is. Remember you are the Emperor of Hindustan, still the Emperor of Hindustan as the white man said. As long as you are free and able to act as the Emperor, nobody can call Farrukh or Muzaffar anything but a usurper. But you must be free.”

“You mean...leave the Fort?”

“Of course I do. You talked to Bose. Did you think of what he said?”

“He’s dangerous...a terrorist. He wants me to join him!”

“Well, what alternative do you have?” Jahan Ara suppressed an urge to shake her husband by the shoulder. “If you leave the Fort, you can issue declarations without being stopped; and to the world you’ll still be the legitimate Emperor. Bose sees that too. He sees that if you’re on his side he gains legitimacy and so do you, because whatever else he is, Bose is not a puppet for anyone.”
“And suppose I did this,” said Shah Alam, watching the tall Sikh soldiers at their positions, “supposing I went over to Bose, then just what happens here in the Fort? I can’t abandon you either, you know.”

“If you leave the Fort and join Bose,” Jahan Ara said, “then there won’t even be a point putting Farrukh-ud-din on the throne. Even Inderjeet Singh will see that would be a counterproductive act, and he’ll back off. So you don’t need to worry about me. And someone needs to run things here.” She snorted. “If you’ll pardon the pun, someone needs to hold the Fort.”

“Just look at them,” Shah Alam said, inclining his head at a group of Inderjeet Singh’s troops, who stood by the tailgate of a truck, talking animatedly. “They can’t even be bothered to acknowledge that I exist.”

“As far as they’re concerned,” she said, “you don’t. Not really.”

“Do you really think Bose can win? They will all be against him you know. The Peshwa, the Maharaja, even the Sultan of Avadh. They’ll bury their differences to make sure he won’t win.”

“Does it really matter,” said Jahan Ara Begum, speaking more to herself than to her husband, “whether he wins? What is a life without a purpose, when you come right down to it?  What purpose is a life where you have a crown you cannot wear, and have authority you can’t wield? At least you could be a real king outside. If only I had that chance!”     

“All right,” said Shah Alam, “I’ll do it. But how can I get out of here? I’m a prisoner, no matter what they call it.”

Jahan Ara gave a great sigh. “I’m glad you will,” she said simply. “As for how, leave it to me. I’ll arrange things, never fear.” She held his hand suddenly. “Can you come up to my rooms? I don’t know if we’ll ever meet again.”

He came.

In the earliest morning, in this season, the fog off the Yamuna lies heavy on the streets of Delhi, and sometimes it does not clear until eight or nine in the morning. On the banks of the river, just after dawn, the fog is especially heavy, and the wall of white is blinding.

In this fog, then, a watcher would have seen a small group of shadows waiting on the river bank near the vague outline of an inflatable rubber boat. They started at the sudden scuff of leather and stone, and there was a murmur of voices. A single silhouette emerged from the mist and approached the group, and everyone climbed into the boat, which thrust itself away from the shore and vanished with a small splash of oars.

The Emperor of Hindustan, Shah Alam III, descendant of Mughal Emperors past, had joined the insurgents in rebellion against his own titular crown.

For many people, kings and commoners, things would never be the same again.

Copyright B Purkayastha 2009

Photo Essay; Apicoectomy of Right Maxillary Incisors

Notice the facial swelling

I've outlined the extent of the bony defect

The abscess is clearly visible as a swelling

Initial incision with a No 15 Bard Parker blade

Notice the thick stream of blood and pus

I've indicated the reflected flap

The arrow shows the defect in the bone over the root tips

Drilling away the bone over the defect

The arrows show the tips of the affected tooth roots

Drilling cavities in the root tips for retrograde restorations

Curretting away granulation tissue

Placing the retrograde restorations at the root tips
Retrograde restorations in place

After carving the restorations: you can see one as a white spot

Placing the bone graft analogue

Defect filled by bone graft analogue


Surgery site closed by suture

Post operative X ray with retrograde restorations marked
This young woman had had root canal treatment done on her upper front teeth and crowns placed a year or so ago. Unfortunately the root canal treatment wasn't done especially well, and speedily failed with pain and swelling over the gum, and a fairly large pus-filled cavity in the bone at the root tips, which extended internally up to the palate. Removal of the crowns risked fracturing the teeth, and I decided that the circumstances warranted a surgical approach through the gum and bone instead.

The idea was to remove diseased bone and tissue, expose the root tips, place fillings at the root tips to prevent the passage of bacteria to or from the canals, and then packing of the defect with a bone graft analogue. Once completed, the flap I'd raised at the outset would be closed with black silk sutures.

The surgery was completely successful, recovery uneventful, and there has been no recurrence of the problem.

Homophobia and all that

How,” queried the lady, eyes open wide in real or pretended shock, “can you not hate gays? How?

This was about fifteen or sixteen years ago, and the lady in question was a cousin of mine, who was otherwise – I used to think – a relatively sane and well-adjusted individual, progressive enough to be living in with her boyfriend, still a rare thing back in the nineties. My own response to her was something along these lines, if I recall: “How would you like it, then, if gays hate you? After all, what’s sauce for the goose...”

It didn’t faze her. “But,” she proclaimed triumphantly, “I’m normal. Gays aren’t!

That was far from the first time I’d come across reflexive homophobia, and it’s far from the last, but I thought it worthy of mention because it’s typical of what I like to call “thoughtless homophobia.” Even a casual look back at the conversation will show you that my cousin didn’t bother to think about her own attitudes before proclaiming triumphantly, “I’m normal. They aren’t.”

This is an easy attitude to get into, because, of course, every one of us loves to think we’re “normal”. So if we are normal, the “other” must be abnormal, and, for purely evolutionary reasons, everyone is hard-wired to discriminate against the “abnormal”. Sigmund Freud (yes, that Sigmund Freud) chose to regard homosexuality as a “treatable condition” [1], which is one of many reasons I regard that allegedly great man as being fairly full of faeces...though, as I shall shortly discuss, not quite completely.

But, of course, homosexuality isn’t abnormal; if it were, it would have disappeared long ago, by being weeded out by natural selection. After all, it’s fairly well established that homosexuality (despite what many people choose to believe) is a genetically passed on trait; which means you can’t choose to be homosexual or heterosexual any more than you can choose to be born with blond hair or slanted eyes. Now, if homosexuality is a genetically transmitted trait, shouldn’t it be a very ephemeral one? By and large, homosexual people don’t breed (unless, of course, they come to realise their own sexuality fairly late in life, or unless they are trapped in societies where they have no control over their own sexuality). In addition, homosexual non-human animals (and homosexuality is very common throughout the animal kingdom) shouldn’t, by and large, breed. Therefore, homosexuality should have been weeded out long ago by natural selection.


Well, the facts are all around us, and the facts show that plenty of our friends, relatives and colleagues are homosexuals; more, in fact, than we probably could have imagined (please excuse me for saying “we”; as a heterosexual, I’m writing this article from the heterosexual viewpoint). Therefore, far from being extinct, homosexuality is (at least in the private domain) thriving. How does one explain this?

I said above that Freud wasn’t completely full of faeces. True. He also thought that all people were born, inherently, bisexual, though he thought that it was possible to “cure” homosexuality by letting the heterosexual part assert itself through psychotherapy. Freud had a nineteenth-century mind, after all.

However, if we are all bisexual to some extent, it explains a lot of things. It explains why the homosexual gene refuses to die out; it’s there in all of us, and it expresses itself to various extents, so that some of us are mostly hetero, some mostly homo, and a fair number roughly half and half, so they’re bi.

And it also explains a large part of the homophobia. When does one hate something? When one feels threatened by it, am I right? Suppose I put myself in the position of your average homophobe. He knows perfectly well he’s part of the overwhelming majority, sexually speaking; and that the weedy gay youth he and his friends are beating up can never threaten one of them directly, by anal rape, let’s say (for the time being I’ll set aside male homophobic dislike for lesbians; that can be explained in terms of having fewer available females to breed with). So why does he do it? How does he feel threatened?

I believe, consciously or otherwise, he feels threatened by the knowledge of his own bisexuality; he’s afraid that he may give in. And that also pretty much guarantees that a homophobe is not, cannot be, comfortable with his own sexuality. As they say, you can only insult someone by calling him a bastard if he’s not sure of his mother’s fidelity.

Which brings me to the question I’m building up to; why should we be inherently bisexual? What possible evolutionary benefit could it have? And, unless it has some evolutionary benefit, why are we hanging on to bisexuality?

I can think of two distinct reasons.

Firstly, as biologists know, we all start off as female [2]. Femininity is the default sex, as a little thinking will show, because those organisms which still reproduce parthenogenically are female. The Y chromosome, which makes males male, really doesn’t do anything much except shut off the expression of female genes. Therefore, each of us men has a little bit of femininity in us, and it responds to other males. And all women have the possibility of partial suppression of female genes, for male traits to show through; enough, at any rate, to allow for attraction to other women.

Then, I am convinced that bisexuality isn’t just an accident; that, in social animals like humans, bisexuality was an important evolutionary tool. Let me run through my reasoning and tell me if you see any flaws.

Early humans lived in hunter-gatherer societies, where the men went out together for varying periods of time leaving the women to care for the children and the home caves. Humans aren’t, by and large, very effective predators; without firearms, they need a large amount of co-operation to bring down large game, or even smaller burrowing animals, let alone bringing back injured members to the home place, and the like. Each man was, to an almost unimaginable extent today, dependent on the rest of his tribe; he would have found it virtually impossible to survive alone (and on a side note, this may be the reason why banishment from the tribe was the ultimate punishment, because it meant almost certain death apart from being incredibly psychologically traumatic). He would have needed to be absolutely certain of the loyalty and reliability of at least some of his fellow tribesmen.

The women, on the other hand, would have depended on each other to help out with the more domestic work; taking care of the children (there would have been a lot of them, and they would have been just as slow to develop as today’s babies) and the sick and old, low-level foraging, helping each other out in late pregnancy and childbirth and the like. Again, co-operation would have been crucial, and each woman would have to be sure of the support and help of at least one other woman. Familial ties were, in all probability, not of much importance in a hunter-gatherer society which lacked the idea of heritable property; so blood ties wouldn’t be of much importance in forming a bond with one’s peers. What would, then, form a dependable bond?

One answer is rather interesting: sex.

Quite apart from its reproductive purpose, sex has a whole lot of other functions; and among them the physical and emotional intimacy that comes from swapping body fluids and orgasms ranks very, very high. If you have a regular and reliable sex partner, wouldn’t you go out of your way to ensure that he or she remains your sex partner? In the modern world, it might involve giving gifts of cars or jewels. In the hardscrabble time when just about all of our modern social behaviour actually originated, the gifts would be much greater: the absolute support and reliability you needed to stay alive.

And, of course, there’s the point that intercourse does have health benefits galore [3], and having regular sex even when there’s no access to the opposite gender would significantly boost your own health and therefore your chances of successfully passing your genes on to a future generation when said access to the opposite gender actually materialised.

Can we now agree that bisexuality had a distinct evolutionary role, and helped in the survival of the species? Am I making sense here?

Assuming I am, therefore, people ought not to be called by such absolutist terms as “heterosexual” or “homosexual”, but (except for the few who genuinely fall in the middle and might be called bisexual) but by something more descriptive of what they really are; “homosexual-oriented” and “heterosexual-oriented”, perhaps. Certainly, since words have power, they would also aid in making people more comfortable with what they are. I’m all in favour of throwing out terms like “straight”, “gay”, or “lesbian”, because they’re far too amenable to abuse. I’ll admit though that this is highly unlikely to happen.

Today, in India at least, there’s a kind of backhanded recognition of bisexuality. In certain circles – specifically, among the fashion designers, advertising agency whiz kids, and the other “creative” lot – being gay is suddenly cool. It seems to me that at least some of these people pretend to be gay to gain cred. It’s ridiculous, pathetic and touching all at once. I remember a transvestite in Bombay who declaimed loudly to an admiring circle of friends that “no Indian male is heterosexual” while staring at me...

Of course, among the hoi polloi, it’s different, but there’s hope in that at last there are now even Gay Pride parades in India, and homosexuality has finally been decriminalised by order of the Supreme Court. Yeah, if you are a man, you can’t get locked up any more for having consensual sex with another member of the same gender. (The ladies were never at risk, because Indian women were supposed to be too pure to have sexual desire, so couldn’t possibly wish to have sex with each other.)

That’s...kind of progress. Relatively.

But to get back to the point.

Once we do realise the fact of innate human bisexuality, we can probably understand why most religions hate and condemn homosexuality, can’t we? Homosexual people are less likely to be tied down to families than heterosexual people, and therefore are less amenable to religious overview and control. Besides, religions are all about numbers, and thence about income. More followers equal more income, in the form of tithes, donations, tax exemptions or whatever; therefore it’s self-destructive of religions to be permissive of anything that can reduce those numbers. A perfect family, seen from the organised religion point of view, would be large, ignorant, and willing to believe anything the church/temple/mullah tells it. That’s why religions – sometimes explicitly, and sometimes implicitly – discourage birth control, encourage breeding (often as a “religious duty”) and almost universally condemn homosexuality. Just look at the Vatican as the prime exemplar.

They hate it because they fear it. And they’re losing.

They’re losing because the “enemy”, from their viewpoint, hides where they can never reach it, inside our genes. I suppose they could make some kind of misguided and doomed attempt, by means of genetic engineering, to stamp it out; but not only would it fail spectacularly, but they’d be acknowledging what they dare not: that homosexuality isn’t a sin.

Yes, they have met the enemy; and they are us.





Wednesday 20 July 2011

Don't you just hate it when...’re reading a book, or watching a movie, or listening to a piece of music you’ve begun to like, which is clearly headed in a direction you approve of – and then the author/director/composer screws it up?

I’m not talking about minor losing of the way or straying from the path. I’m talking about cases of screwing up so badly that one can't even begin to forgive the chance they missed.

Recently, I was watching an Australian film called Fragment

You’d have to understand that I didn’t read any reviews of it before watching it. I rarely do that, in order not to spoil things for myself. But to go on.

The opening shots captured my attention completely.

Iraq, 1991. Burning oil wells fill the sky over the desert with smoke. In the foreground, a shattered T-55 tank, and in front of it, several partially disintegrated and charred corpses. 
Enter an American soldier in full combat gear. Diving headfirst into the sand, he focuses the camera in his hands on the tank, the corpses, and the desert, taking what are obviously trophy pictures, going by the gum-chewing complacency on his visage.

Something like this

After a while, he gets up, “liberates” a partly burned teddy bear, chews gum some more, and looks around smugly. Then he clambers on to the tank and takes photographs of the interior, cremated crew and all, through the open hatch (those of us who remember 1991 will have memories of the triumphalism which made this kind of photography possible). Just as he is doing this, a USAF A-10 Thunderbolt comes diving down, plastering the area with armour piercing cannon fire, and a fragment of one of the depleted uranium shells it’s firing smacks through the soldier’s helmet and into his brain.

Cut to twenty or so years later. The former soldier still has the fragment of depleted uranium in his brain, and a tumour has formed around it; a tumour that’s inoperable. He talks to his doctor about the headaches and nosebleeds he’s been having, about his refusal to become a “zombie” by taking drugs that might, or might not, help ease the pain but will have severe side effects, and watches TV documentaries about the effects of depleted uranium and the military-industrial complex which uses it for weaponry.

Now, wouldn’t you think that this would be a great premise for a movie? Wouldn’t this be the jumping-off point for a man’s search for meaning in his own life, juxtaposed against his fight against the cynical use of radioactive poison by profit-driven corporations? Can’t you just imagine the discussion of what depleted uranium has meant to the people of the former Yugoslavia, or Iraq – or Libya today?

Wouldn’t you think that even a halfway decent filmmaker could take this concept and run with it, to make a truly good (if not commercially successful, at least in the Empire) film?

You would.

Instead, what happens? What happens is that the tumour then causes the hero to bring dead things back to life by photographing them. You got that right. With his camera, he turns dead things into fucking zombies. Even when said dead things aren’t even literally there with him, but are a psycho and his victim, photographed from an inexplicably-found DVD.

Zombies. By photograph. At second hand.

I quit at the point where the revived victim wandered – bloody and naked – through the hero’s house sticking knives through her own hand. Normally I like naked women as much as anyone, but in this case I literally couldn’t stomach any more.

I’m still waiting for a film that honestly examines Desert Storm, let alone Operation Iraq Loot.

Or depleted uranium, of course.

Further reading: (On the effects of depleted uranium weaponry)