Friday 6 April 2012


“His hard, throbbing manhood slipped easily into her warm, enfolding wetness, his eager yearning matching her ecstatic sighs. They moaned and arched together, their pleasure coming in waves, like the rhythm of the universe.”

All right, that was me. Now, again, this is me:

“His fuck pole pounded in and out of her love hole.”

I have this thing about erotic writing. Most of the time I can’t read it without getting intensely irritated.

The problem is that most erotic writing, actually, isn’t. There are some rare and precious exceptions, but those are precious because they are, damn it, so rare.

As for the rest:

At one end is the self-conscious coyness of the genre known as bodice-rippers, whose authors speak of a love which dare not, apparently, write its name. What the hell is wrong with these people? It’s like, they decide that they have to take the plunge and write about sex; then they stick a toe in the water, shiver, keep the toe in the water, and write from that level. Classic example: Jean M Auel’s Earth Children series, all but the first (and only readable) volume, The Clan Of The Cave Bear. That was a good book. From volume two, The Valley Of Horses, she seems to have run out of ideas and padded it out with “sex”. Not sex, mind you; I don’t have anything against sex. Just “sex.”

And on the other hand there’s porn. Which is porn.


Journey to the Centre of the Earth

I haff here,” said Doktor Professor von Schtinkerfussen, pulling open the shed’s door, “der machine I told you about. Like this, the vorlt has nefer seen.”

Rupert and Eugenia stared at the strange object that took up the centre of the shed’s dirt floor. It was a sphere with thick round windows studding the walls, and an armoured hatch set in the curved side. Though rather higher than a large man, it still seemed small for the awe-inspiring mission for which it was destined.

“Is” Eugenia whispered.

“That is so, mein friends,” the good Doktor Professor said, the light overhead gleaming on his bald pate. “Vorking days and nights for these last two years, I haff, with mein own two hands, this made. I wanted to keep it a secret, understand you, from reporters und other troublesome people.”

“I must congratulate you, Doktor Professor.” Walking across the floor to the wonderful machine, Rupert bent slightly to peer through the nearest of the round windows. It was set in the metal somewhat below the equator of the sphere, so that it pointed downwards. “It does look cosy inside.”

“Ja, I haff it padded inside, so it will from too much cold und heat insulated be.” With simple pride, the little scientist patted the side of the machine. The dull silvery metal shivered slightly at his touch. “Also,” he added, “if it happens something hard to strike, the padding the occupants from injury will save, nicht wahr?”

“You think of everything, Professor,” Eugenia exclaimed, clasping her hands under her chin. Her ethereal and beautiful features were pink with excitement. “You’re wonderful!”

“Really, Ginny,” Rupert said, “the Professor isn’t looking for you to gush all over him.” Twisting the end of his moustache between his fingers, he began walking slowly round the machine, peering up at it. “Are you sure it will work?”

“It has in der tests,” the Professor responded, cleaning his thick spectacles on his coat. “Der models also vorked. Aber one must der final step self take, is das not so?”

“I suppose,” Rupert said, not sounding altogether convinced. “And you want to go now?”

“Aber I will not leave alone.” The Doktor Professor’s eyes twinkled. “You will with me come, mein young friends, will you not?”

“Us?” Rupert exclaimed. “But, Professor, I mean to say, it’s not that I’m scared, but don’t you think that the honour of the first trip should be yours alone? You’re the inventor of this wonderful contraption, and so it will be invidious of us to detract from your glory by sharing in the first manned trip. It’s only right that you should have all the honour.”

“Oh, Rupert,” Eugenia snapped, “don’t be such a ninny.” Smiling, she turned to the Professor. “Of course we’d love to come,” she said. “Do we start right away?”

“Of course,” Doktor Professor von Schtinkerfussen said, and, lifting a panel in the side of the spherical hull, pressed down on a lever. With a hiss and a soft thud, the armoured hatch swung open. “After you, mein friends. Perhaps you first, dear young lady?” With a hand below her elbow, he helped Eugenia inside. Rupert, who had gone a slight greenish colour, followed without a word. The Professor clambered in last, and pressed a button. With another hiss and thud, the hatch swung shut.

Inside, the machine was surprisingly roomy, so that even with the three of them it did not feel particularly crowded. The padded walls were studded with boxes and dials, with strange levers and knobs set here and there, and amber lights set in the roof overhead glowed down warmly on them.

“Please sit you yourself down, und yourself comfortable make.” The Professor swung down three seats from recesses in the wall, beaming. “As you see, mein friends, I arrangements for der three of us already haff made. Food und drink for us there is, also.”

“This is so exciting,” Eugenia said. “What an adventure!”

Rupert, still silent, wiped his face with a handkerchief. His greenish colour had deepened, and Eugenia fought down the urge to poke him with her parasol. She retied the string of her bonnet, loosening it slightly, and wished she could have removed her tall buttoned-down boots. The inside of the machine was really rather warm.

“Also!” The Doktor Professor turned a lever. “Here goes.” An eerie moan sounded from below the floor, climbing slowly in pitch. Motors began to grind and clatter, and the entire machine started to vibrate.

“When do we start?” Rupert asked after the vibration and clatter had gone on for a while. He seemed to have recovered a little of his colour. “It seems to be taking rather a long time. Maybe it isn’t working properly?”

“But we already haff started, mein young friend.” Doktor Professor von Schtinkerfussen peered at him, and pointed to a dial on which a hand was crawling slowly across the arc of numbers. “Already we are far beneath der ground.”

Startled, for she had felt no descent, Eugenia turned to the window at her shoulder. Through the thick round pane of glass, the world outside was completely dark. The shed and its lights had vanished.

“Soon,” said the Professor, “we shall at der depth of der deepest mines be.” He rubbed his hands together. “Und dann we will of all the people of the vorlt be the ones, who deepest under der ground haff been.”

“But there’s nothing to see outside,” Eugenia objected. “I can’t see a thing.”

“There will be, when we haff gone deep enough,” the Professor said. He fiddled with a knob here, and pressed a lever there, and the moan grew to a whine, and the whine to an eldritch scream. “There,” he said, “now we faster descending are.”

“You mean,” Eugenia said, “we’re drilling through the ground?” It brought to her mind an image of the machine spinning round and round, and that made her feel suddenly queasy. “Is that what we’re doing?”

“No, no, mein dear young Fraülein.” The Professor shook his head indulgently. “Atomic rays I discovered have, und made generators for, under der machine which fitted are. They melt der way through rocks und soil, like a hot knife through butter.”

“The wonders of modern science,” Eugenia murmured. “I shouldn’t really be surprised, since it is almost the end of the nineteenth century, but still, I am.”

“Tell us again, Professor, about your theories.” Rupert had recovered his normal complexion and only a slight sheen of sweat now lay across his handsome features. His immense shoulders flexed as he adjusted his coat. “What were you saying about the cities at the core?”

“Ja,” Doktor Professor von Schtinkerfussen said. “I was saying, das all people wrong are, who say the earth is only a solid ball of rock und iron, floating on top of a molten core. It is not true, und I, Ludwig von Schtinkerfussen, shall prove it once und for all.” He took off and polished his spectacles. “Der Earth,” he said, “more than only one intelligent species has. Man is not alone. We haff equals, und they live far below us, in cities at der core.”

“But how is that possible?” Rupert asked. “The pressure of the rock above –“

“They adapted to it are, of course.” The Doktor Professor opened a box and took out a paper. “See here, mein young friends. This is a picture I haff taken by der new X Rays, of der world far down at der core.”

Rupert and Eugenia leaned together over the paper. It was as though they were looking down from a mountaintop at a distant plain, Eugenia thought, or from a balloon; and those concentric rings and radial lines were the streets of some town far, far below.

She must have said something of this aloud, because the Professor nodded approvingly. “But precisely, my dear young lady. Those are der avenues of some gigantic city, so great that we cannot even begin to it imagine. You may understand how big if I say das that city bigger than Switzerland, perhaps, is.”

Rupert snorted. “You’re imagining things, Professor. It’s just some kind of mineral formation, perhaps.”

“Minerals? In those lines so straight? I never haff about such mineral deposits in all my life heard.”

“Well, then,” Rupert argued, “maybe it’s like one of those buried cities the archaeologists keep digging up. Maybe it’s Atlantis or one of the other cities of the ancients, which got buried with the passage of time.”

“Maybe,” the Professor said equably. “Perhaps you are right, mein young friend, though I cannot see how it so deep could be. We shall for ourselves find out, shall we not?” He smiled at Eugenia. “Und what do you think, Fraülein?”

“What must they be like?” Eugenia wondered. “Do you think they’ll be like us? Just think,” she added, “another race of humans, with their own languages and customs. Perhaps, Rupert, there will be a girl like me, and someone like you, among them, and perhaps someone like the Professor here too.”

“Really, Ginny,” Rupert said, “you’re being ridiculous. These so-called creatures don’t even exist. It’s all a story.”

“They vill not like us be, dear lady,” the Professor said, ignoring Rupert. “Under the pressure und temperature they tolerate must, they must very different be.” He put the photograph away and took out bottles of lemonade. “You are thirsty, mein friends?”

Realising that she was actually rather thirsty, Eugenia sipped at the lemonade. The inside of the machine was perceptibly warmer, and, ignoring Rupert’s disapproving glare, she undid her bonnet and took it off. “If they aren’t like us,” she asked, “what are they like?”

“Gott knows,” Doktor Professor von Schtinkerfussen said. “But living as they do, they must be able to withstand high pressure und great heat. Living without lights, blind they must be, but some way of building they must have, like hands, or claws.”

“That’s ridiculous!” Rupert exploded. “The whole thing is impossible.” He paused suspiciously. “How is it that we haven’t ourselves been crushed flat by the pressure by now?” he demanded. “We must be a fair long way down.”

“Further than you imagine,” the Professor said, and indicated the gauge. “Soon, ve into der mantle of der earth shall be. But der atomic rays we generate, they melt der rock around us, so we sink through them like water. Das ist why we have not by the pressure flattened been.”

“And how do we get up again?” Rupert demanded.

“Nothing simpler,” the Professor chuckled. “You need not fear have. We just have to reverse the direction of the atomic beams, und up we again vill go.”

Rupert was still not satisfied. “Just suppose,” he said, “that your fantastic theory is correct, and that these creatures and their cities below us actually exist. What do they eat and drink?”

“Perhaps they on der energies of der earth’s core subsist,” the Professor said. “Perhaps they farms below haff, of which we can nothing now know. But we shall.”

It had grown torrid in the machine, and finally Eugenia, unable to tolerate the heat any longer, took off her boots and stockings and hitched her skirts to her knees. Rupert, of course, frowned angrily, but it looked more as though he wished he could remove his tie and waistcoat, and was envious because he dared not. The Doktor Professor, who had no such inhibitions, was already in his shirt sleeves.

“We are in der mantle now,” the Professor said, checking his gauges, and pressed more levers and buttons. The eldritch scream of the machine rose to a demonic wail. “Now faster still we go.”

Eugenia leaned back and stared out of the window, fighting down a shudder at the thought of the immensity of rock above and on all sides. She had a mental image of them, like an infinitesimal dot travelling through the great stony ball of the planet. How tiny they must be, in relation to the gigantic globe of the world!

“And yet,” she thought, “tiny as we are, we humans have conquered the planet. And, if writers like Monsieur Verne and Mr Wells are correct, someday we shall reach the moon, and perhaps even the stars.”

Then she looked across at her companions; at Rupert, alternatively fretfully pulling at his collar and twisting the ends of his moustache. He was big, strong and handsome, the very image of a hero, and she wondered if it were disloyal of her to suddenly think of him as a relic of a bygone age, when brute strength mattered and not simple common sense. Certainly, he looked ridiculous now, sweating in his waistcoat and high collar, and that simply because he could not bring himself to remove them. She shook her head and wiggled her bare toes appreciatively. If he chose to suffer, she thought, that was his problem. Maybe he would learn a lesson from it, though she doubted that.

Then she looked at the Professor, small, middle-aged and pudgy, his bald head shining in the amber light as he bent over a cluster of instruments adjusting one and then another. “Perhaps,” she thought, “it is the people like him who will inherit the future; ugly little men with big brains, who spend their time thinking and inventing, while the Ruperts of the world go on hunting trips in the colonies and spend their evenings in their clubs, drinking and telling tall stories. But must it be one or the other? If you really look at it, aren’t they both men – human beings, perhaps not so very dissimilar as all that? And are they really that different from some black Zulu or yellow Chinaman, or other of the savage races?”

That led her to wondering about the creatures which inhabited the city the Professor said lay under them. Perhaps, of course, there was no such city; perhaps Rupert was right and it was only some sort of mineral formation. But she found herself believing that there was such a city; the Professor was certain enough of it. Perhaps there would be a whole network of cities, spread across the globe, under oceans and continents; there would be entire civilisations under the crust of the planet, huddled around the core.

“And in that case,” she murmured aloud, “we are a race which has dominion over only the surface of the world – and there is another which owns the planet beneath us.”

“What’s that?” Rupert stared at her. “What are you babbling about, Ginny?”

“Nothing,” Eugenia told him. “Forget it.” She began to feel tired and sleepy. The machine was now very hot and stuffy, and she could not in any decency take off any more clothing. The trip seemed to have gone on a very long time. Leaning back against the padding, she closed her eyes.

Something brought her out of her doze. For a moment she couldn’t identify what it was, and then she realised that the demented shriek of the machine had changed pitch and slowed to a throaty moan once more. “What’s happened?” she asked through dry lips. “Is something wrong?”

“Nein, nein,” the Doktor Professor said. He seemed quite as full of energy as ever, darting around the chamber like a cheery, tubby little sparrow. “We are now almost to the level of der city arrived. We must now slow down.”

“All right, Professor,” Rupert said. “Suppose these fantastic creatures of yours exist and have constructed this city you speak of. Since there’s no light down there, how do we even see them?”

“All taken care of has been, Junge.” The Professor indicated a switch. “We haff, set into der hull, powerful searchlights. When it required is, I shall turn them on.”

Barely listening to them, Eugenia rubbed her eyes and looked again through the window. Something seemed different, somehow, she could not say what it was. Then she saw that the pitch darkness outside the window was not quite as deep and homogeneous as it had been.

“Professor,” she said, “there’s something down there, below us. I can see something.”

Frowning, the Professor peered down through another window, and then, with an abrupt movement, turned off the light. The machine was plunged into darkness, but it wasn’t as complete as it might have been. And, looking down through her window, Eugenia realised why.

It spread as far as the eye could see, a great tangled net, glowing faintly blue, lines and arcs and whorls. It grew perceptibly as they watched, the lines broadening as they rose, turning from barely visible hair-thin traces to broad avenues, running between huge dark masses like buildings. The Professor’s fingers moved again on the controls, and the machine slowed still further, the moan dropping to a scarcely audible murmur.

“Mein Gott,” the Professor said. “So I was right, und more than right. Here we haff not just a city – we haff a living city, with lights und buildings, avenues und intersections. Wunderschön! Am morgen, in die Uni...” He trailed off into muttered German as the machine slowed almost to a crawl.

“Professor,” Rupert said, “all right, I admit you were correct. But what do we do now?”

“We get closer,” said the little scientist, “und dann I shall take photographs, with der photographic apparatus I haff in the bottom of der hull. It is wonderful, is it not?”

“Yes,” Eugenia whispered. She felt torn between wonder and a vague dread. She wished, obscurely, that they were already rising away from the strange city beneath. “Be careful, Professor.”

By now they were so close to one of the glowing avenues that they could see clearly that the black masses on either side were buildings, great windowless blocks of stone, carved into such grotesque shapes that the eye could not fully follow their curves and lines, their margins bent and flowed together under the heat and pressure of the thousands of millions of tons of rock above. And along the avenue there was movement, too; a slow humped movement, as though the very surface of the way heaved and rippled and twitched. Eugenia looked at that movement and her mouth grew even drier; she tried to swallow and could not.

“We shall der searchlight turn on now,” the Doktor Professor announced. “Und then we shall photographs take.” Unerringly, in the darkness of the chamber, his fingers found the correct switch, and turned the light on.

A few moments later the machine was rising up through the rock, the murmur given way to an insane screeching, the entire sphere trembling from the force of its ascent. Eugenia held on frantically to the edge of her seat, convinced that if she let go, she would be bodily thrown across the chamber. And yet she would not for a moment want that insane speed reduced; she wanted it to travel faster still.

“Did you see them?” Rupert was shouting. “Did you see those things?”   

Eugenia did not reply. Her eyes were shut tight, her heart hammering. Try as she might, she could not remove the image in her mind’s eye, of what she had seen in the moments that the searchlight had illuminated the avenue, before it had burned out. She could see them, as if they lay now, before her; the great crusted crablike bodies, flattened from the pressure and repulsive, set around with claws; the tiny, questing eyes, set as in the turrets of a battleship, turning upwards. She remembered the weapon they had raised towards the sphere, and the spitting red arc that had cut towards them and destroyed the searchlight.

“They knew we were coming,” she said factually, when at last the sphere had risen far enough that the Professor had slowed its ascent to some extent. “They were waiting for us.”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Rupert snapped. “How could those...beasts...have known?”

“How should I know? What makes you think they’re beasts, Rupert? Could beasts build a city like that? Could beasts have struck at us with a weapon like that?”

“What weapons?” Rupert twirled his moustache furiously. “It was just a malfunction of this machine.”

“Oh, yes, you know everything.” Eugenia turned to the other man. “What do you think, Professor?”

“I think,” the Professor said, “that we better electric shielding must have.” He clicked at the switch several times, but the light in the chamber failed to turn on. “Und I think that we must more careful be, next time we down there go.”

“What?” Rupert yelled. “Are you thinking about going down there again? Well, leave me out of it, and Ginny too.”

“Don’t you think Ginny should be allowed to make up her own mind?” Eugenia asked. “Really, Rupert, I don’t know what you think of me sometimes. It’s as if you think I’m your property or something.”

“I have a moral responsibility towards you,” Rupert began. “If you’re going to behave like a shameless hussy, it’s bad enough, but I will not allow you to endanger yourself. What will everyone say?”

Eugenia sighed. She turned away from Rupert, who was still ranting, and looked down again through her window. The great network of lines had almost vanished in the darkness below, and she was about to give way to relief when she stiffened suddenly.

“Rupert,” she said very quietly. “Shut up and look down there.”

A bright blue dot was swimming up at them from the city. It was obviously larger and faster than their own sphere, and as obviously following in their tracks.

“Another machine, it is,” the Professor said. He sounded shaken for the first time. “These creatures, they are coming after us.”

“They’re climbing faster than we are,” Eugenia said matter-of-factly. “They’ll catch us long before we reach the surface.” She laughed suddenly. “Rupert,” she said, “you didn’t think these creatures existed. Now, you’re going to be introduced to one. Are you planning to tell it that it doesn’t exist? Will you refuse to shake its hand?”

Rupert did not answer.

“Whatever are we going to do, Rupert?” Eugenia whispered.

There was still no answer.

They watched the brilliant point of light climb up through the rock towards them.

Copyright B Purkayastha 2012

Thursday 5 April 2012

The Fallacy of Fence-Sitting

It’s a popular idea, and on the face of it a reasonable one: one has to see an argument from both sides, because no dispute, no quarrel, has one side only. It’s even the kind of idea a reasonably intelligent and liberal person should be able to get behind.

Unfortunately, it’s also a fallacy.

The fallacy is implicit in the very idea behind asking one to see an issue from both sides; it’s the assumption that any success in that effort will lead to neutrality. But of course, it doesn't, and it shouldn’t.

While any dispute does have two sides, one side is invariably more in the right than the other; I can’t think of a single issue where both sides can truly be taken to be evenly balanced. Even if on the surface of things, one might say both sides have an equal right to be considered evenly, a little research invariably shows up one side to be more in the right than the other.

Let’s take a theoretical case.

Suppose we have two nations, X and Y, for example, contending over an island, Z. On the surface of it, they have an equal claim to Z. It lies close, geographically, to X and was originally owned by and inhabited by people from that country; on the other hand, Y has colonised it for, let’s say, over a hundred and eighty years, and all the people now resident on Z are citizens of Y and wish to remain citizens of Y. Something of an equivalence of argument, don’t you think?

Now let’s take a look at the two (entirely theoretical!) contending powers, and we discover interesting things.

X, we find, is a nation which has never gone to aggressive war, except over Z, once, decades ago, when it was under a military junta, and was not a democracy as it is now. Y, on the other hand, is a rapacious ex-colonial power which still openly promotes 'enlightened double standards', has been known to 'sex up' documents to lie its way into wars of choice, and is an enthusiastic part of a murderous imperialistic coalition which is intent on yet more wars against innocent and virtually defenceless nations halfway across the planet.

Once we see these facts, the equivalence disappears. Whatever the situation on the ground in Z, all morality and justice demands that we support X. There is simply no room for fence-sitting here.

Still, let's assume for the sake of argument that Y says the, let's say, three thousand, inhabitants of Z wish to remain its citizens. Fair enough, we say, let’s take their feelings into consideration. They have rights too, don’t they? We can’t trample over their wishes, can we?

But do a little more research, and we find that there is still no moral fence to sit here. On the other side of the planet, the same Y which says these three thousand peoples’ wishes are paramount has expelled more than three thousand people from another island, shall we call it W, so that the leader of the aforementioned imperialistic alliance can use it as a military base, and to this day prevents their return.

We don’t even have to consider the possibility that the recent discovery of oil around Z has anything to do with Y’s hanging on to the island; a little research has already shown that no equivalence is possible. The reasonable and right-thinking person with a moral sense has no way out but to support X.

[Obviously, and let me repeat, all these nations and islands are imaginary and theoretical. Please do not for a moment imagine that by X I mean Argentina, by Y Britain, by Z the Islas Malvinas, or by W Diego Garcia. Not at all.]

This is just a coincidence. I promise.

Note that my main thrust in this hypothetical dispute is the acquisition of knowledge about the two antagonists and the history of the dispute. In other words, one has to do a little bit of research; but in the age of the Internet research is not that onerous an undertaking. Seeing an issue from both sides only makes sense if one then goes on to research both those sides, not otherwise. If there's not enough data, one shouldn't make a decision; but once the data, all that is available, is in, one can't possibly avoid making one.

Now, there's the question of different data sets - one side's data may completely contradict the other side's. On the face of it, again, this may be an insurmountable problem, but, really, it isn't. One merely has to check on the credibility of both sides on other topics. If one side, say, has a history of claiming that it is "45 minutes from destruction" by completely mythical weapons of mass destruction in order to justify an invasion it has already decided on in advance, and has been known to frame a manifestly innocent man for bombing an airliner, then its claims on any other topic can also be dismissed as ipso facto suspect.

There’s a quote I came across a long time ago. I don’t at this moment recall the source, but I think it was possibly from a book by John Wyndham: it may be a capital mistake to theorise without adequate data, but it’s mental suicide to funk the data one has. If, after doing the research, one refuses to take sides, all it means is that one has shut off one’s critical faculties and reasoning ability.In that sense, neutrality is immoral.

This is why, incidentally, I’m an atheist, and why I find myself more in accord with theists than with agnostics. I’ve done my personal soul-searching over the question of the existence of a god or gods, and have decided that there is none. A theist who has done the same and decided that there is one or more gods (note that I’m talking about people who have thought about the subject, not those brainwashed into blind belief from childhood) has taken the same journey as mine, even if he or she has come to the opposite conclusion. The agnostic, on the other hand, by deliberately avoiding a conclusion either way, is avoiding making deductions from data; he or she is refusing to think to the point of making a decision.

In the same light, I’d find more respect for people from Y who say, like then-US Vice President George H W Bush once did, “I don’t care what the facts are”, than with those who delicately avoid the facts in order to tiptoe round the subject and come up with a fake moral equivalence. At least they have the courage of their chauvinism enough to declare it, and claim that truth doesn’t matter to them; it’s simply a matter of their country, right or wrong.

Meanwhile, it’s rather pointless for fence-sitters on contentious issues to claim they are being attacked by both sides. Yes, people sitting on fences make good targets, but that’s not the point. They shouldn’t be on the fence in the first place. Either they should avoid the issue altogether, or they owe it to themselves to inform themselves enough to come to a decision.

Confucius, he say, man who walks down the middle of the street gets run over.  

Wednesday 4 April 2012

The Mighty Mite

Once upon a time, there was a colony of mites which lived under the skin, in a city of tunnels they had dug out with the labour of their jaws. They lived their mundane lives, sucking blood, excreting, having sex, laying eggs, and all the other activities of mundane mite society, as their forefathers and foremothers had done since the beginning of mite history.

One day, amongst the mites there suddenly arose a Leader, whose eyes, had he had any, would have gleamed with the holy light of revelation. He went out among the other mites, crawling vainly on their daily routine of eating and screwing, and, climbing on a heap of detritus, he waved his forelegs to get the general attention.

“Brothers and sisters,” he shouted, “we spend our lives in these dark tunnels, ignorant of all that is possible to us. There is so much to achieve, such wonders that we the mites are capable of, that it is criminal to waste our abilities as we are doing. It is an affront to our very existence if we don’t make of it better use than we are doing now.”

Soon, a curious crowd of mites had gathered, wagging puzzled antennae.

“In what way do you mean?” one asked. “How should we use our lives, as you say, in a more meaningful way?”

“There’s a world to explore,” the Leader said. “A world for the mite race to take and use as it sees fit, for its own benefit, and for its spiritual betterment. The spirit dies if confined to gloomy caves like ours, with nothing to occupy us but feeding and fornication. Follow me out into the world, where we can achieve great things.”

“But, Great Leader,” said one of the other mites, “what of the dangers of the world outside, dangers we are wholly unfamiliar with and which we are completely unable to counter?”

Then the Leader smiled and raised his antennae solemnly, blessing the gathered crowd. “Come with me,” he said. “Follow me out of these dank caverns, and whatever we find outside, we shall grow and fulfil our potential, which the Mighty Mite has imbued us with, and free us from the blind crawling we are condemned to endure from the moment we hatch to the time we die.”

And many of the mites acclaimed the Leader, and said that he was filled with the spirit of the Mighty Mite Himself; but others, older and more reactionary, grumbled.

“You are a visionary,” they said, “and visionaries are fools. If you go outside, the light will burn your skin, the cold will chill you to the core, and you will surely starve.”

“The Mighty Mite will save us,” the Leader countered. “He tells me what to do, and will make sure we come to no harm.”

“You commit heresy,” the old reactionaries said. “If the Mighty Mite had wanted us to leave our warm dark burrows, where we have all we could ever need, He would have put us where He wanted us. Obviously, it is His plan that we remain where we are, and that this city of ours is the best of all possible worlds, and the way we mites have always lived, the best possible of all lives.”

In response, the Leader merely shook his august head. "The Mighty Mite has sent me,” he said, “to help all the mites to fulfil their destiny. Therefore, anything I do cannot be heresy.”

But the conservative old mites muttered and threatened, and warned the others not to listen to the Leader, for they said he would surely bring disaster down on them all. Besides, they said he was equating himself with the Mighty Mite, than which there could be no greater blasphemy.

“The next thing you know, he’s going to say he is the Mighty Mite Himself,” the old mites proclaimed. “And that will provoke the Great One’s wrath, than which there can be no greater fury in all of the Universe.”

And so the Leader saw plainly that it would be of no use to attempt to persuade them further.

“Come with me,” he said to his followers, “and pay no heed to the mutterings of those of weak will and fearful heart, and of those who are sunk in their slothful ways. The future belongs to those who are brave and bold, and to them alone.” So saying, he crawled out of the caverns under the skin and into the great world outside, and his disciples trooped out after him.

And the bright light burned their skin, and the cold chilled them to the core, until they could scarcely move, and there was no blood to drink. There were only hairs to cling on to, and they clung on tight.

“Great Leader,” the mites cried out, holding on tight to the hair, “we are cold and starving, and the light makes our skin shrivel. Great Leader, tell us what to do.”

Then the Leader said, in his wisdom, “Let go of your grip on the hair, and trust in me, for the spirit of the Mighty Mite fills me, and I know what to do.” So they let go of their grip on the hair, and fell to the ground, and were trampled down and crushed until none were left. Except, that is, for the Leader, who crawled into a crevice and cursed them all, those who had followed as well as those who had not, for having failed him.

And, lo, the portals through which the Leader and his band had emerged from their city under the skin lay open, for they had scorned to close them; and they who remained with knew their fate, and congratulated themselves for having escaped, and for remaining in their dark warm burrows where there was nothing to do but what mites had done since the beginning of time; and, gathering all together, they thanked the Mighty Mite for having saved them.

While they were thus joined in prayer together, a flood of permethrin ointment came down the burrows and killed them all.   
And then, of all the denizens of the great mite city, only the Leader was left. At the end of a long search, crawling over dead and living things without number, he found skin, and eventually, he came down a burrow till he reached another city of mites. Climbing on to a pile of tissue debris, he waved his forelimbs about to get everyone’s attention.

“I am come in the name of the Mighty Mite,” he called out, and watched with satisfaction as heads turned and antennae trembled. “I am come," he said, "to lead the mite race towards the fruition of our manifest destiny.”

Already, a crowd had begun gathering.

Copyright B Purkayastha 2012

Tuesday 3 April 2012

Turmoil in Timbuktu

Once upon a time, in the depths of Africa, there was an ancient empire called Mali. Situated at the crossroads of caravan trails across the Sahara, Mali grew rich from commerce in gold, ivory and slaves. The centre of the ancient empire was the city of Timbuktu, of which you may have heard. 

As time went on, the trade declined, the desert advanced, and the great city of Timbuktu shrank to a poverty-afflicted town of fifty thousand. The empire itself faded and died away, to be replaced by a French colony and then, in the fullness of time, one of those nations of Francophone Africa that are nominally independent but still under close control by the puppet-masters in Paris. And this nation, the Republic of Mali, was itself ethnically divided between the Tuareg people of the north, along with others, and the West African population to the south. The Tuaregs, who are spread over several nations, have rebelled several times over the last decades, seeking a homeland called Azawad; and each time they were crushed.

During these years, Mali went through the usual African stages of being a military dictatorship, before one of the officers to stage a coup, for whatever reason, decided to hand over power to an elected civilian government. This officer, Amadou Toumani Touré, later returned as civilian president, and was due to remit office in an election to be held a month from now. Under him, Mali was one of those “bastions of democracy” so beloved of the Empire, and Malian troops were trained by Imperial stormtroopers in “anti-terrorist operations”. As I’ve said more than once before, regimes which receive the approbation of the Empire tend to be less than wholesome when seen up close and personal, so I’ll not exactly fall over myself endorsing Mr Touré.

If you’re reading this article at all, you’ll be aware of the civil war in Libya, and the NATO/Al Qaeda Alliance’s destruction of that nation. You'll know of the overthrow and murder of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. You’ll also be aware that the civil war in Libya continues, and that there have been arguably genocidal measures, including ethnic cleansing, taken by the “victorious” Al Qaeda affiliated militia against black Libyans, who are called “mercenaries”. Many of these “mercenaries” were ethnic Berbers and Tuaregs, who had fought for Gaddafi because they had been well aware that under him their rights had been protected.

Now, at the time of the collapse of Gaddafi’s government, Libya was awash in arms, a lot of which were left over from the government’s own stocks, and a lot of others supplied to the “brave freedom fighters” of the Al Qaeda-affiliated NATO-backed militia; everything from heavy armaments to “thousands” of shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles. And while Libya (as I’d predicted a year ago) disintegrated into a patchwork of militia-controlled statelets, the Tuareg “mercenaries” took these weapons and moved down into northern Mali.

Remember what I’d said about the Tuareg rebellions the Malians had suppressed? Well, guess what happened next.

In January, Tuareg rebel factions united under the flag of a new separatist movement, the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA). With the help of the weapons flooding south from Libya, in battle after battle they’ve routed the (Empire-trained) Malian army, who are by and large fleeing the battlefield without a fight.

If that sounds interesting – apparently the Empire’s training doesn’t count for much when it comes to fighting a determined and well-armed enemy – there’s more to come. Remember that the Tuaregs are routinely called “Gaddafi mercenaries” by the same shining sources of Western truth as those who called Gaddafi the embodiment of all evil. Also, remember that Gaddafi had cracked down hard on Al Qaeda and on Islamic fundamentalism in general, and that the “brave rebels” fighting him were Al Qaeda affiliated militia, the same people who are now on the ground in Syria, fighting with NATO backing against the anti-Al Qaeda government of President Assad. Well, the MNLA in Mali, the alleged “mercenaries in the pay of Gaddafi”, are affiliated with...guess who.

In a situation which will surprise absolutely nobody who's been paying attention, the MNLA’s allies are Al Qaeda In Maghreb (AQIM), the franchise of the base Al Qaeda which is active in North-Central Africa. AQIM has been active in recent years in the desert regions of northern Mali, and has – by means of attacks on and kidnappings of tourists – virtually ended foreign tourism in Timbuktu. So, the NATO liberators destroyed Libya, handed it over to Al Qaeda, and left widening ripples of consequences all over North Africa.

Some liberation, I must say!

As the MNLA (and its AQIM allies-of-convenience) routed the army of Mali, the aforesaid government of Amadou Toumani Touré was due to cede power after elections at the end of the month. That didn’t happen, because the Malian army (the same Malian army which is getting its ass soundly whipped by the Tuaregs) turned on its own president and on 22 March overthrew him in a military coup. They blamed Touré for their defeat, which is pretty interesting since he was supposed to be one of the “good guys”, a “democratic ruler” who “cooperated in the War on Terror.” Even more interesting, the coup leader, one Captain Amadou Haya Sanogo, was trained by the Empire and can be assumed to be in their pockets.

Wheels within wheels within wheels, did someone say?

As Sanogo suspended the constitution and the West African union, ECOWAS, turned its heat on his new junta, the MNLA continued to blaze its way across the territory the Tuareg claim as their homeland of Azawad. In just three months - their rebellion began on 17 January - they have captured almost all of the territory. The latest city to fall is Timbuktu – yes, the Timbuktu. The Malian army fled without a fight.

Since this map was prepared, most of those red dots have turned yellow

Let’s just try and take a moment to make sense of the line-up in Mali:

On one side, there’s, first, the various factions of Tuareg rebels under the MNLA. They, of course, have very legitimate grievances. Like so many other peoples of post-colonial Africa, they are the victims of colonial borders, which have taken no account of their own traditional home territories. Meanwhile the Malians have refused them their rights, neglected their desert home, bombed their refugee camps, and kept them out of the power structure. As the desert has swallowed their settlements and pastures, they have little economic opportunities except gun- and drug-running.

Yes, the MNLA is full of ex-combatants from Libya. Some of them fought for Gaddafi; some of them probably fought against him. One can only speculate how long their internal contradictions will stay buried. Since January, their victory march has looked unstoppable. But if and when they are fought to a standstill, or even more if they win their independent state of Azawad, how long will it be before they are at each other’s throats?

MNLA soldiers

Going by the history of similar rebellions, not too long.

Then there are the Al Qaeda In Maghreb. If it is true that the bulk of the Tuaregs fought for Gaddafi, they are unlikely to have much sympathy for AQIM. As I’ve said elsewhere, I don’t place too much reliance on Western media claims on anything, so I won’t automatically believe that they are allied with the MNLA. But, for the sake of argument, let’s assume they are. At the moment, they are likely to benefit from the chaos and confusion of war, with its attendant breakdown of law and order.  But once an independent Tuareg Azawad is established, the first point on the new rulers’ agenda will be to establish control and the rule of law (their law). Guess just who will suddenly metamorphose into their biggest enemies then? 

It's unlikely that the alliance will even last that long, if certain reports are to be taken seriously, though it's just as likely that they are an attempt at KONY2012-style interventionist propaganda. As the reader will probably be aware, the "Radical Islamist Threat" is today's Red Under The Bed; a standard excuse for meddling, war and endless occupation.

Now, on the other side, there’s the Malian government, or, rather, governments. There’s Touré, who’s still the legitimate president of the country, and whose whereabouts seem to be unknown; at least he doesn’t seem to be in the junta’s custody. There’s Sanogo’s weeks-old dictatorship, which is opposed to Touré, of course, but which is supposed to share with him the agenda of defeating the Tuareg rebellion. Sanogo is himself opposed, meanwhile, by ECOWAS, which has imposed sanctions on Mali. And in the background is the glowering presence of the Empire, which is largely responsible for creating this mess in the first place; the Empire, which trained Sanogo, which allegedly favours democracy, and which gave Al Qaeda a free hand in Libya.

Does that sound complicated enough? No?

I haven’t even mentioned the other minority populations of Azawad, the Songhai and others who have their own quarrels, buried in history, with the Tuaregs. In an independent Azawad, they will have their own grievances, their own resentments. It’s certain they will feel discriminated against by the Tuareg power structure, and there will be enough other players to fish in troubled waters to make sure they are given the opportunity to act on those grievances.

So, this is what an independent Azawad is likely to look like – deeply impoverished, with absolutely no development or source of income (nobody has discovered oil there yet!), with competing factions jockeying for power, and a slow-burning civil war going on with multiple players and shifting alliances. Meanwhile, Mali, unwilling to reconcile to the loss of the majority of its territory, will continue to provoke border clashes. Overall, it will be very much like the situation in South Sudan, but because there’s no oil involved, nobody will really care very much apart from the people who live there.

Also, the Tuaregs, as I said, don’t all live in Mali – substantial populations inhabit contiguous areas in neighbouring nations. How long after an independent Azawad is established before they begin fighting to secede from those nations and join their ethnic brethren in the new country? And what happens when those other nations react violently, as they inevitably will? Why do you think that none of the four countries in which Kurds live, Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey, are willing to consider for a moment the possibility of an independent Kurdish state?

Or maybe, though at the moment it looks highly unlikely, the Tuaregs won’t win. Maybe the Malian army, with or without Imperial or other help, will beat back the MNLA, and reassert control over Azawad. That’s hardly likely to be a better situation, because the Tuareg people have, as Mao Zedong said, “stood up” and will not easily lie down again. Battle hardened and well-equipped, they will fight back hard against what they will undoubtedly see as Malian colonial occupation. And in a world where much less deserving secessionist movements have received the Empire’s blessings and aid, it’s difficult to justify leaving them under Malian occupation when they clearly do not want to be.

Ultimately, the fact is that the Mess in Mali is the fault of the Empire and its ceaseless meddling. Actions have consequences, and these consequences have further consequences. The anti-Soviet jihad in Afghanistan spawned Al Qaeda and eventually the Taliban, for example, and you’d have thought even the Empire would have learnt a lesson or two from that.

But as anyone standing in the sandy streets of Timbuktu will confirm, it’s obvious that it has not.

 Copyright B Purkayastha 2012

Update India: The Army Goes Under

Hey, people, remember some time ago when I talked about the Indian army’s chief and his two dates of birth, and how he went to the Supreme Court to try and make the Defence Ministry accept that his version of his own date of birth was the correct one? Well, you might have thought that with the government finally deciding he was born in 1950, and that he should retire at the end of this month, the whole thing was over and done with.

You’d think so, but you would be wrong.

Even his medals have medals

As the time for his retirement came closer, General VK Singh came out in public with allegations that he’d been offered the equivalent of $2.7 million in bribes by a former subordinate, Lt Gen (Retired) Tejinder Singh, now an agent for an armament company (a very large number of ex-generals and admirals end up as armament company agents in this country; those with political favour end up as governors – that’s a different post from the “governor” of states in the US – or ambassadors, or enter politics themselves; more on that in a moment). This Tejinder Singh had allegedly offered the bribe in return for the army placing orders for 600 “substandard” (VK Singh’s word) Tatra trucks. That the manufacturers claim that the trucks aren’t substandard is hardly germane; they would, wouldn’t they?

The much more interesting thing is the claim by VK Singh that he’d brought the bribe offer to the attention of the Defence Minister, the “honest” AK Anthony, a long time ago, but Anthony had refused to act on it. Anthony countered by saying that VK Singh had refused to put anything down in writing, thus making it impossible for him to act. And while this buck-passing was going on, yet another can of squirming worms popped open.

Apparently, VK Singh had written a letter to the Defence Ministry in which he’d said that the state of the Indian armed forces was, to say the least, parlous, with “97%” of India’s air defences being obsolete (that isn’t a surprise to me; during my time working for the air force I discovered that the 1960s-era SAM-3 missile was still considered “modern” by Indian standards) and, among other things, that there’s such a shortage of ammunition that the troops allegedly don’t have enough for target practice. This letter was then leaked to the media by someone; who, it’s not known. The government accused the army chief himself of leaking it; the general countered by blaming it on “treasonable elements”. I wonder what kind of “treason” that is, since Indian security is like a sieve; with the single exception of the nuclear tests of 1998 (assuming they even took place as described), just about nothing in the Indian military is secret to anybody except the Indian people.

There was, then, shouting and hollering in Parliament, where politicians competed to demand the general’s immediate sacking on the one hand and condemning the government on the other. At the moment, the stand-off, though simmering, continues; it won’t remain quiescent for long.

One of the principal casualties of this brouhaha is the alleged “honesty” of the Indian military, a carefully constructed myth that has endured for far longer than its sell-by date. Any military reflects the society from which it is drawn, and these men are from the same hyper-corrupt Indian society as the rest of us. As I’ve said elsewhere, one of the top qualifications for promotion to flag rank in the Indian armed forces is political reliability, and has been since at least the 1950s when the government grew anxious about the possibility of a military coup.

Also, in the today’s bandit-capitalist Indian system, money power is all that matters. It’s unrealistic to expect the armed forces to draw the best of candidates; only those who have few to no other career options choose a life in uniform (I’m talking about the officers here; there are enough poverty draftees to fill the rank and file). As even they are well aware, honesty may be the best policy, but it’s hardly the most lucrative one. And, with a million-man army, there’s more than enough money to be made on the side with a little creativity. (In fact, the logistics branches are now more prized as postings for officers than the combat arms, for obvious reasons.)

As for General VK Singh, he may well be on the level where these two controversies are concerned, but forgive me if I feel it’s suspicious that he waited till his birth “controversy” was laid to rest and his retirement date finalised before coming out about the bribe offer and the lack of modernisation. Would he have spoken out about either if he’d been given another year at the top? Why on earth hadn’t he spoken out before? If it isn’t because he wants to enter politics on an “anti-corruption” platform after retiring, I can’t think of his reason. The right-wing parties will welcome him with open arms; they’re already full of retired generals.

Meanwhile, there is the Defence Minister, one of the Congress Party members who owe their positions to their sucking up to the dynasty that rules this country by proxy. AK Anthony might be “honest”; everyone keeps repeating he’s “honest”. Well, maybe he’s honest in the way the so-called, unelected, “prime minister” is honest; that is, he turns a Nelson’s eye to corruption under his watch. That is not called honesty; it’s incompetence at best and collusion at worst.

I’d like to believe that the “investigations” we’ve been promised would lead to a cleaning of at least a few of the Augean stables, but given my well-developed cynicism, I’d be inclined to doubt we’ll ever hear anything of their conclusions. After all, cynicism in these things is usually more than justified.

Some superpower-in-waiting, we are!