Tuesday, June 01, 2004



I miss a lot of stuff, such as G A Ahad's (sounds a bit like a combination of Galahad and more ominously Jihad, but infinitely more writerly than Salaam Pax) 'We wanted this war so desperately' in the Guardian this April.

Suppose I've developed a stricter reading protocol which precludes scattering myself in every mental direction till I don't know what I'm reading, have read, or think would be worth reading. I like nubs where issues are concerned. I want as many concrete facts as possible and some ideas linked to these facts. In scanning selections from the web, I rapidly hone in on the what I perceive to be important sections, skimming rapidly down the page as soon as I see that we are into a series of much of a muchness comments or observations which could apply any place any time in given situations. This is not to say that personal details,opinions or problems are not interesting, per se, but some have wider applicability, others do not.

Iraq is my major topic. It doesn't take an Einstein to see where to read the best of it. Reading everything available on Iraq day by day would result in everything and nothing: its too much to untangle. Progressively, since I first started blogging in March/April 2003, it has become apparent there is little point in topping up each day with masses of detail from disparate sources. Better to get a few sources and spend the rest of the time saved in thinking. This may come to writing or it may not.

There is certainly too much in the Iraq weblogs and professional sites: too much coming out of Iraq and too much out of the fervid minds of journos, commentators and analysts across the globe. Better simpler, more clear cut; just enough to be able to see where things are going. I want the truth, of course, whether of facts or emotions or psychology or sociology or politics, but not repeated over and over till I am not sure what think.

If there is ever a place for a vicious cycle of links, it is Weblog World. How far can you go down the road of pointing out or commenting on comments on comments on comments?

It all come back to what is authoritative and how to be sure it is.

More and more I turn to human stories that tell a moral tale - or have an ethical dimension - and are preferably uplifting or at least teach us something. You know that old saw of Joseph Brodsky's "..raising the plane of regard". Live by it. A good one.

A bit of tragedy, a smidgen of hubris, a dash of nemis, I can take. What I can't take is a effluvium of every single thought imaginable coming from every mind attached to an internet-abled PC.


Minds which, before weblogs, used their thoughts and enthusiasms about this or that topic for a chat with a good friend rather than a way of projecting or hoping or believing they are projecting something or other of themselves - anything mostly - onto the world....because they can ( = because it is there"). Of course this is the result of the democratisation of information technology. No way to stop it. But not everyone has much useful to say, or the powers of judgment to decided what of what they see, hear, feel, decide, is worth attempting to broadcast worldwide.

It is true that the internet/web operates an evolutionary-type mechanism, especially clear in Weblogworld with its preponderance of amateurs and first time writers who soon give up because they realise (1) they have little to say (2) recognise no one reads them. Even amongst the "A" list folk there are sets of inhibitors and "encouragers". The most stated reason for someone stopping their posts is a feeling, or knowledge through site meters, that no one is reading their efforts. Statistics from such organisations as RIPE show something like 1 in 4 or more weblogs become inactive. I have already written similarly of sudden lack of confidence: Am I getting the facts right? Am I making sensible suggestions? All great inhibitors. That's the difference between an amateur and a professional.


When studying psychology in my first year at university in the late 70s - just post-Swinging London - I learnt about redundancy. From then till now it has mighty impressed me as a notion / technique / mechanism / metaphor / model /analogy.

By analogy, using a digital camera on digital zoom setting, the zoom is virtual while the optical zoom is real, based on a magnifying lens. The digital zoom is software's clever way of removing unwanted bits of the bit stream [in this case from a finite number of pixels or little squares which in themselves are positioned and coloured on the screen according to other programmes] so that the stored JPEG is a smaller file than it would be otherwise. The clever bit is when the removed surplus 00010100111000s are put back in as a picture on the PC screen. The software puts back all the redundancies it took out! Same trick with ZIP-ed files. All the unnecessary positioned letters or even words are removed to be put back in the text on screen. I think they take out vowels but I am not sure. It would seem possible to remove whole words, too, putting markers with shorter lengths of code for subsequent occurrences. As long as you know where they came from you can put them back in the correct places.


If only there was software that would do the same for Weblogworld! You write what you've got to write, then next day you look at it and find it has been condensed down for you to the barest essentials: it has searched the web and found elsewhere what you have written, conveniently putting a simple link to it instead of your verbosities.


See where I am leading? No? The old fashioned, oft mentioned idea of the internal censor. O.k I admit this a giant leap! Bear with it. The concept that got an honorable mention under Communism; the idea of Ketman so beautifully described by Czeslaw Milosz in The Captive Mind.

Searching for a definition, Milosz finds Gobineau's Religion and philosophies of Central Asia, thus:

"..the similarities between Ketman and the customs cultivated in the countries of the New Faith are so striking ....The people of the Mussulman East believe that:

'He who is in possession of truth must not expose his person, his relatives or his reputation to the blindness, the folly, the perversity of those whom it has pleased God to place and maintain in error.' One must, therefore, keep quiet about one's true convictions if possible.

'Nevertheless', says Gobineau, 'there are occasions when silence no longer suffices, when it may pass as an avowal. Then one must not hesitate. Not only must one deny one's true opinion, but one is commanded to resort to all ruses in order to deceive one's adversary.'"


Maybe in modern democracies, in the modern world in toto, Ketmanesque self-censorship is not meant or believed to operate. Superficially it might seem so because everyone appears to work out their emotions and psychology in public al la Woody Allan. It might even be argued that since the Enlightenment the internal censor or a version of Ketman ceased to operate because notions of democracy and increasing scientific knowledge swept it away: people felt freer because they were gradually becoming truly free in a way that would be incomprehensible to feudal society or slave societies.

I disagree. Even in verbally diarrhoeic present-day America there will be Ketmanists. For they have to earn a crust. Daring to say what they really feel about the society they live and earn their living and collect their pensions in would amount to economic suicide. They would be termed unpatriotic, i.e. against rampant, untrammelled capitalism and all its myriad ramifications including trailer parks and obesity because, they will say, The Market does not equal "freedom and democracy".

And yet on the web the contrary is true: everyone gets everything off their chests.

In down and dirty cynical Old Europe, especially the UK, there is a fine species of Ketmanism which uses humour, sarcasm, mockery and cynicism to deflect from the distasteful business of letting everyone know your business. These deception tools are not non-existent in the USA as is evidenced by the Straussian strain in politics.

But why is it now we have a means to self-publicise our drivel ad infinitum, ad nauseam, right across the world [if anyone is prepared to read it] we create unending spoutings, pontification, conceits of a grand order ?

Iraq has had billions or maybe trillions of words spilled over it, in billions upon billions, or trillions and trillions of 0s and 1s of code spread across the bit-stream that is the internet. Has it helped? Who has it helped? Have the outpourings of sympathy or suggestions helped? Has the outpouring of ill-informed invective helped? Yes, in a way.


According to Daniel M. Wegner, in an paper called The Seeds of Undoing, Psychological Science Agenda, January/February 1999, if you are asked to stop thinking about a white bear you will typically think about it repeatedly as a result.

(1) " People who are trying not to think of an emotional thought such as sex, for example, show an increase in electrodermal response-as much as they do when they are specifically trying to focus on that thought."

(2) " People trying not to think about a target thought show such hyperaccessibility-the tendency for the thought to come to mind more readily even than a thought that is the focus of intentional concentration-when they are put under an additional mental load or stress. In several studies using the Stroop color-word paradigm (conducted with Ralph Erber and Sophia Zanakos), for example, we have found that trying not to think about a target word under conditions of mental load makes people unusually slow at identifying the color in which the word is presented. The word jumps into mind before the color and interferes with naming it. By this measure, unwanted thoughts are found to be more accessible than other comparison thoughts. "

more apposite though

(3) "When people in these studies are encouraged to express their deepest thoughts and feelings in writing, they experience subsequent improvements in psychological and physical health. Expressing oneself in this way involves relinquishing the pursuit of mental control, and so eliminates a key requirement for the production of ironic effects. After all, as suggested in other studies conducted in my lab with Julie Lane and Laura Smart, the motive to keep one's thoughts and personal characteristics secret is strongly linked with mental control. Disclosing these things to others, or even in writing to oneself, is the first step toward abandoning what may be an overweening and futile quest to control one's own thoughts and emotions.

When we relax the desire for the control of our minds, the seeds of our undoing may remain uncultivated, perhaps then to dry up and blow away."
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memories of a childhood in Iraq in the 1950s * thoughts on events in the Middle East

Location: United Kingdom

expatriot in Middle East as child, retired teacher.

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