October 2, 2012 § Leave a comment

“Cameron did not identify the collapse of industry as having any role in [many] social problems. ‘Why is our society broken?’ he asked rhetorically. His own answer to this would have surprised the people of Ashington and Longbridge: ‘Because government got too big, did too much and undermined responsibility.’ That the economies of communities like Ashington and Longbridge, right across the country, have been obliterated is apparently irrelevant. The chilly winds of the free market are ignored; it is the overbearing state that has taken away people’s sense of responsibility. And now, they are told, people in these communities must start to take individual responsibility for what has happened to them”

from Chavs: The Demonisation of the Working Class (2011), by Owen Jones


August 4, 2012 § Leave a comment

“…the opening ceremony may have been too British for some tastes, but who cares? We paid for it.
I’ve accustomed myself to loathing so many things about this rain-soaked dime of a country – its meanness, racism, imperial shame, Eton mess of a government and mediocre royals. Boyle reminded me of a Britain with a prouder history (public health services, killer music, birthplace of the industrial revolution, etc.) and a more hopeful future – and that vision moved me to tears.”

– Stuart Jeffries, The Guardian, 4/8/12

April 16, 2012 § Leave a comment

“I am very proud, revengeful, ambitious, with more offences at my beck than I have thoughts to put them in, imagination to give them shape, or time to act them in. What should such fellows as I do crawling between earth and heaven? We are arrant knaves, all; believe none of us. Go thy ways to a nunnery”

Hamlet III.i

The strangest, most chilling comment I’ve ever seen on the internet

March 28, 2012 § Leave a comment

I’m just going to post this comment without any additional info up front. Read it, and then I’ll reveal where I found it.

I want to post a warning about crime and hospitals in Hong Kong. I have been to Hong Kong many times with no problems, but on a recent visit I was hit hard on my head, robbed, and I stayed in a hospital in Hong Kong for one month in August. My bag, money belt, ID, passport, shorts, phone cards, clothes, toothpaste, toothbrush, soap, socks, shampoo, shirt, photos, coins, deodorant, bank book, US $400, ATM card, brush, three notebooks, and wallet were all stolen. I was hit so hard that the right side of my head was broken in six places and the doctors removed part of my right side of my skull and a blood clot. They said my brain was bruised, but not damaged. In about six months I need to have a plate put in my head to protect my brain. I am lucky that I wasn’t killed, paralyzed, or put in coma. I don’t remember what happened, but only remember waking up in the hospital. I couldn’t speak after the injury or remember words but now I am much better. I still drool a little and am dizzy if I get I up too fast. I should get better, though.

Staying in the Hong Kong hospitals was terrible because I am healthy and I haven’t spent a lot of time in hospitals. I also don’t understand the Hong Kong system, either. They tied my arms and legs to the bed for some reason, injected me with liquid for weeks, didn’t give food or water for six days, didn’t allow me to shower, wash my face, brush my teeth, exercise, told me go to the bathroom in my bed for three weeks, and didn’t allow me to make phone calls or use the Internet. I had communication problems with some workers because I don’t speak Cantonese. The nurses and doctors told me I could leave in a few days or in a week, but they were usually wrong. Almost everyday for three weeks I was given oatmeal to eat three times a day although I hate it. I finally refused to eat it and they gave me better food like rice and chicken. The hospital also didn’t seem very well supplied due a seeming shortage of sleeping pills and painkillers. The hospital was public, very crowded, and had many very old sick men who snored loudly and seemed near death. I saw things I never saw before and didn’t sleep well because of the noise and was often interrupted for blood pressure checks and exams. The doctors and nurses said I caught pneumonia and slept a lot the first week, but I don’t remember that. Buildings in Hong Kong use too much air conditioning, too. I was quite bored because they were only TV shows in Cantonese to watch that I couldn’t understand. After three weeks, I transferred to a rehabilitation hospital. I had no clothes, money, identification, soap, passport, friends, or family in Hong Kong. Some nice people from church groups visited me later and brought things I needed like fruit and toothpaste and my consulate brought me English
books, helped me find my passport, contacted my family in America, and told them how to send money to me.

I admit some of my big problems were my fault because I went to Hong Kong to get a new Chinese visa at a visa agency and didn’t pay first because I didn’t think I would lose my money, I also took my bank book to Hong Kong although it doesn’t work there, and I don’t remember being attacked since I may have fallen asleep outside on a bench at night
because I didn’t want to pay for hotel. I also didn’t have a Hong Kong ID card since I am not a resident and didn’t have medical insurance because I am healthy and never thought something like this would happen to me. I thought Hong Kong was safe.

The doctors wanted me to stay longer in the hospital, but I felt better, wanted to return home, and couldn’t afford the hospital stay. The hospital said it cost HKD 3000 per day to stay and I was there for a month. If I was a Hong Kong resident, the fee is only HKD 100 per day. The hospital wanted their money, but since I don’t have it, they can’t get it. I don’t know how I can repay them. I also may need to pay for replacement plate surgery in six months.

I hope my misfortune will convince people to be aware about crime and bad hospitals in Hong Kong, be careful with their valuables and passports while traveling, and be sure to have medical travel insurance. I personally wouldn’t recommend anyone visit Hong Kong. It was truly a nightmare.

Ok, so clearly we should all avoid ending up in a Hong Kong hospital, I guess. I’ve read travelling horror stories like this plenty of times, usually in the Guardian magazine when they do features on Gap Yah nightmares. So, in context.

Where was the above comment posted?


Yes. It’s an article about Spielberg being passed over for Best Director in 1975. This is important because my first reaction was that there had to be some sort of context for the comment. Maybe not in the article itself or the other two comments, but the hosting website in general? Maybe it attracts nutters?

Well, no. The website in question is not one I’m familiar with but appears to be a cultural roundup blog with a particular penchant for the cinema. It doesn’t have a very active community, and the comments which are made are invariably relevant a particular post.

My second thought was – must be spam. But then I re-read the comment. It’s very carefully composed, obviously by a native English speaker. It doesn’t make any special or unusual demands, like visiting websites or signing petitions, or giving money, etc etc. It just tells, very carefully, a strange and haunting story about a horrible experience in another country.

So… why? Why post it there? If we assume this was written beforehand to spread awareness, it must have been posted here deliberately out of context on the assumption there would be high traffic and thus a solid chance of it being read by large numbers of people. Except… I’ve never heard of that website. It’s no Huffington Post, or even YouTube (which as we know is the place for sensible people to get heard). I only visited it because I was referred there by a creative director I follow on twitter. And he only has a few thousand followers, so he’s not going to make anything go viral on his own.

Which means I’m left with the disturbing thought that the comment’s author is out there in the world somewhere, recovering from a severe head injury (which nevertheless hasn’t affected their ability to write articulate prose), and posting their story anywhere they can in the vague hope people will read it and learn about his or her experience.

Or… it could be a fabricated story. But really, why on earth would anyone fabricate such a thing? What possible satisfaction could they gain from doing so and then posting it at random on minor cultural websites?

The thing is, there’s one explanation I keep coming back to which I find the most disturbing of all, precisely because it’s so believable. It comes down to this: sad people just want someone to listen to them.

Nowadays we hear a lot of garbage about how technology is driving us apart, we don’t meet face-to-face as much, yada yada, and I’m not buying it. What I do buy is that, in the past, lonely misfits had no obvious recourse available to them vis-a-vis getting someone to notice them. So they got lots of cats to keep them company, or became a kleptomaniac, or murdered someone famous, or committed suicide, or did whatever desperate thing made them feel that maybe, just maybe, they WERE alive after all and they COULD have a place in the world.

Today we all have the internet. And, for lonely people, the internet is a tragic and dangerous illusion. It’s a big, loud, chaotic party where you can always find someone to ‘talk’ to and no-one can stop you from getting involved. An open house party, if you like, but one you can go to without having to have social skills or underwear. The illusion, though, is that it’s self-contained.

Yes, you can live your life, or large parts of it, online. But your life is still what it is, even if you have a thousand facebook friends or a million twitter followers. You need a real life to underpin it. Otherwise it’s just… empty. Pictures of food you can’t eat. Digitised sculptures. Plastic sex. Anonymous racism.

Ultimately what chills me about this comment is that I detect a yawning chasm of sadness behind it. A need to reach people who seem to be close by but who vanish as soon as you touch the screen in front of you. A person who I’ll never meet but who desperately wants to meet me, to meet anyone who feels what he feels and could tell him they feel it too. He or she has written this careful account but and then realised they don’t have the tools, offline or online, to reach anyone with it. So they’ve done the only thing they could think of.

Scream into cyberspace.

And I want to tell them: “You are loved” – but I can’t. Not in a way they’d understand. The only person who could, if they read his writing, would be this guy:

We all have our little solipsistic delusions, ghastly intuitions of utter singularity: that we are the only one in the house who ever fills the ice-cube tray, who unloads the clean dishwasher, who occasionally pees in the shower, whose eyelid twitches on first dates; that only we take casualness terribly seriously; that only we fashion supplication into courtesy; that only we hear the whiny pathos in a dog’s yawn, the timeless sigh in the opening of the hermetically-sealed jar, the splattered laugh in the frying egg, the minor-D lament in the vacuum’s scream; that only we feel the panic at sunset the rookie kindergartner feels at his mother’s retreat. That only we love the only-we. That only we need the only-we. Solipsism binds us together, J.D. knows. That we feel lonely in a crowd; stop not to dwell on what’s brought the crowd into being. That we are, always, faces in a crowd

from ‘Westward the Course of Empire Takes its Way’ (1989), by David Foster Wallace

February 15, 2012 § Leave a comment

“Teachers, let me tell you, are born deceivers of the lowest sort, since what they want from life is impossible – time-freed, existential youth forever. It commits them to terrible deceptions and departures from the truth. And literature, being lasting, is their ticket”

from The Sportswriter (1986) by Richard Ford

October 19, 2011 § Leave a comment

“People were drawn to Fischer’s energy and generosity, his absence of guile, his almost childlike enthusiasm. Raw and emotional, disinclined toward introspection, he has the kind of gregarious, magnetic personality that instantly won him friends for life; hundreds of individuals – including some he’d met just once or twice – considered him a bosom buddy. He was also strikingly handsome with a body builder’s physique and the chiseled features of a movie star. Among those attracted to him were not a few members of the opposite sex, and he wasn’t immune to the attention.
A man of rampant appetites, Fischer smoked a lot of cannabis (although not while working) and drank more than was healthy. A back room at the Mountain Madness office functioned as a sort of secret clubhouse for Scott: after putting his kids to bed he liked to retire there with his pals to pass around a pipe and look at slides of their brave deeds on the heights”

– from Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Everest Disaster (1997) by Jon Krakauer

September 9, 2011 § Leave a comment

“…I was tired of looking at both of these young people. Life is very short and ugly women are very long and sitting there at the table I decided that even though I was a writer and supposed to have an insatiable curiosity about all sorts of people, I did not really care to know whether these two were married, or what they saw in each other, or what their politics were, or whether he had a little money, or she had a little money, or anything about them.”

from ‘The Butterfly and the Tank’ (1938) by Ernest Hemingway

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