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Free Speech

Posted 21 September 2006, 10.35 pm by shaggy

(This is slightly edited from article found on http://www.monsterintern.com , in "Philosopher" section)

The issue of free speech has always been a heated one. Although autonomy and freedom of expression have always been a big part of people's identity, rarely is it a topic that is discussed in depth. It is taken for granted, for instance, that there are no limitations on free speech, but this is incoherent a model for any freedom. Left to its own devices, without limitations, such a model of freedom would allow citizens to create limitations on other citizens (after all, they are free to do anything) and this would obviously not be a coherent model (what of those that have limitations imposed upon them?).

With the above in mind, the definition of free speech I am currently working with (one must always carefully define one's terms) is this: the freedom to express, through art, literature, or voice, any belief, no matter the opinions of others in society-- so long as said belief does not place limitations on the ability of any other person to express his or her belief. This definition is restrictive because it must be. In order to know what I am arguing for, I must set down what the ideal might be, and the ideal for free speech should always be a society of people unafraid to voice their opinions. This is not only conducive of change toward progress-- how can serfdoms gain power if they are never allowed to speak?-- but also conducive toward correction. This second point is integral to the growth and maturation of individuals. If no one can tell us when we can be proven wrong, we are just as ignorant as if we were never allowed to speak in the first place.

This model places restrictions on what people can and cannot do. I stress 'do' because one must recognize that free speech is not tantamount to free action. Speech itself can turn into action the minute it steps away from knowledge and moves toward roadblocking. Anyone familiar with politics has seen speech turned into this: debates that do not allow any one speaker to finish his or her speech are no longer debates of speech but of actions. Cutting off people's sentences, effectively placing limitations on a person's ability to return their opinion, or otherwise "shutting up" people is an insult to the foundations of free speech, and one that occurs at a surprising rate in our society.

With this in mind, one must ask the question, "what precisely is philosophically protected by a vow of free speech?" For instance, are hate-speeches protected philosophically-- I claim no authority for legality-- under the rights of free speech? The easy answer is "yes". If not allowed to voice an opinion, even if it is 'wrong' or 'hate-filled', people will never be called upon to be responsible for their beliefs. In other words, if I believe that 2+2=5, but am never called on it, I will continue to believe in the false mathematics much to the detriment of my understanding. However, if I am not only allowed to speak my belief (even if wrong), then I allow others to speak theirs (that 2+2=4). A dialogue ensues, and for better or worse, each side of the argument has an opportunity to express their perspectives.

However, I said this was the 'easy' answer. That is because one must also remember that speech that impairs the ability to speak in others is not considered 'free speech', and thus not protected under that flag. Hate-speech often attempts to impair the authority and voice of others; for instance, in the history of racism, an attempt at scientifically proving the "inferiority" of a race undermines any authority a race has. After all, if anyone under said race attempts to offer any evidence or opinion to the contrary, they can be 'debunked' based on their inferiority! This system does not encourage freedom, nor is it a chance for the speakers on either side to grow. This is another example of how speech can turn into action.

But can speech and action be separated? This is a more difficult question, and one which might not be possible to answer. Speech itself is a political action. "I will be heard," anyone who speaks (in any manner) announces, and this is where the model of speech as separate from action breaks down and needs to be elaborated upon.

This is where legality and philosophy cannot intersect. The reason is because the line between speech as voice and speech as action is divided by intention of the speaker. This can never be proven or known concretely, and thus can never be legislated, but a person can be said to be operating under the positive model of free speech if (s)he is said to have the intentions of her own beliefs at heart, and not the limitations of another. If someone truly believes in eugenics, they have a right to speak their mind, no matter how controversial. However, if someone believes in eugenics but wishes others to "keep quiet" about their arguments against such racism, their intentions are operating under a restrictive-speech model, which can be defined. Restrictive speech: when speech is used as a roadblock to the speech of another; when one person's voice attempts to drown out another.

The intentions people have toward each action remain implicit in their actions, and can never be upgraded to 'explicit'. Though we can have an inclination toward people's intentions-- often with more accuracy than they have for themselves-- by observing them, we can never truly know, and this places restrictions on what we can, ourselves, attack under the rubric of restrictive-speech. we cannot, for instance, attack the rights of people to speak, but we cannot allow other people to attempt to speak over others. That would be placing the rights of one person above another-- namely, the person with the loudest voice would 'win' their rights.

This can be protected only by allowing people to speak, and by giving fortification to minority-voice. While such fortification might include strengthening an opinion we believe in, it also must, in consistency, affect directly the voices and opinions we disagree with. In order for me to be able to speak against eugenics, someone must be able to speak for it. To restrict one for the sake of protecting the rights of a 'minority speaker' whose voice might be overcome is not a proper protection, but a restrictive and negative one. Rather, it would be in my best interest to support the minority voice so that it might not be lost in so much linguistic rubble.

The role of the minority voice is one which, by definition, is unpopular either by virtue of its belief or by a lack of support. A voice can be said to be in minority if it is shown little authority or support. That said, a voice can be driven into minority (through the restrictive-speech of another) or it can be placed into rightful minority (by virtue of its restrictions itself). Thus, a person who believes against eugenics, for instance, can be surrounded by eugenic supporters, and in this environment, the anti-eugenics supporter would be a minority. Or, similarly, a member of a racist organization can be surrounded by anti-racists, and in this case, the racist organizational voice would be the minority.

This is a long-winded way of saying that there are some opinions simply worth more than others. This is true of any open-source organization, and is why (at least in the computer-world) administrators and moderators are necessary. The opinion, for instance, that my butt is a planet is not very worthy. However, the opinion that I am an important and significant member of my society would happen to prove a worthy one. So how does one judge the validity (worthiness) of an opinion?

An opinion can actually be judged valid or worthy by at least some variables. One is its logical consistency. That is, an opinion that cannot remain logically consistent is at least less worthy than one that remains logically consistent. Thus, an opinion can be said to be more 'sound' than another. It is hard to say that the definition of 'planet' that our society embraces is consistent with my rump. I cannot say that there are many similarities between my backside and any other planet in general. While the definition of 'planet' has been under some crossfire because of its lack of explicitness, there still exists an aura of what it means in our society, with or without it being placed explicitly on paper. This is called 'tacit knowledge', one that we know but we do not necessarily know that we know, and thus one that we would be hard-pressed to define. We do not know exactly how to define planet, but we know roughly what serves as a planet. Only in extreme cases (for instance, distance from sun, size, etc) is this definition questioned. My ass is on the extremity of size, as it does not compare to any other 'planet', not even the recently removed Pluto. If Pluto is too small to be a planet, than certainly my rump (at least I would hope) is too small.

Another manner in which an opinion can be judged valid or worthy is by the validity of its premisses. The eugenics debate is founded under the assumption that good genes, when only mixed with good genes, produce good or better genes. The reason this can be said to be faulty is because it undermines a basic biological principle: variability produces stronger genes. Thus, though the premisses might seem true, and while someone is perfectly within their rights for saying that they believe it to be true, biological principles attack the principles of the premiss. IF it were true that good genes, when mixed only with good genes, produce good or better genes, eugenics would have an argument. However, there is no evidence toward this premiss, and much evidence to the contrary.

That said, as pointed out earlier, though an opinion can be more valid or sound than another, this does not restrict one's right to freely speaking on behalf of these beliefs. My point is not from the standpoint of legislation or censorship, but one of defending the rights of others to utilize the tools of other disciplines to speak for themselves. Science is not only based on empirical principles, but can also be used to promote or denote validity of opinions. Science enjoys this special privilege because of its testament of objectivity. In other words, science tries not necessarily to speak 'over' anyone at all, but merely attempts to judge, based on nature's examples, what one would be inclined to believe had they observed what the scientist has observed. However, this principle can also be abused, as in the next example.

As stated earlier, speech is said to be free when it allows the speech of others to be respected. A recent issue I have seen with this is on the Free Speech Coalition website ( http://www.freespeechcoalition.com ), 'free' only in their obvious political/capital bias. Without going into their defense of pornography (how they can define sexual intercourse as 'speech' is beyond me), an article on their website falls under the rubric of restrictive speech.

I am speaking about their article on the definition of 'addiction to pornography'. In the article, a 'scientist' attempts to denounce any working definition of 'pornography addiction'. Without going into too much detail, this places a limitation on the speech of those seeking pyschological help for what they define as an addiction. Any attempt to strip the patient of the right to define their actions as an addiction would be tantamount to speaking loudly so that another person cannot be heard. Not only is this an insult to free speech, it is also an insult to the autonomy of the patient. One can only imagine a person feeling abused by their own subconscious compulsions going to a psychiatrist only to be turned down for help.

"You aren't addicted, sir. I will not help you."

Many such issues arise in the area of health care ethics. Although it is outside of the scope of this essay, suffice it to say that the issue of autonomy (in effect, the right to free speech for patients) also has restrictions. Autonomy is an issue with many sides, and is a hotly debated topic in current health care ethics. However, one should never assume that any potential restrictions ethically placed on autonomy decrease the right of a patient for care, especially within the realm of psychiatry/psychology or any health care concerning pain.

Technology: Point And Purpose

Posted 3 September 2006, 10.52 pm by shaggy

Working a dead-end job, there are certain perks. Like noticing the masses in their mass-consumption state. I work at a local coffee joint as a professional coffee slosher. Not the most prestigious, but let's just say that I have actually noticed a few things about humanity... some good, some bad.

One of the bad: we have a propensity to use technology whose primal purpose is actually non-existent in our current sociological state. Take communication technology for instance. We live in an age in which we could live many miles distant from each other, in thinned-out populations, thus decreasing mass-consumption and population problems. While I realize it is impossible to magically get to that state, I am amazed at how much our technology actually would serve us better if we WERE in said state.

Think of it: case in point, the cell phone. I have watched while people in their cars, sitting right next to their friend, talk to another friend on their cell phones. One time I saw two friends, each talking to two other friends on their cell phones. I thought to myself, wouldn't it be amazing to talk to someone? Even when there HAPPENS TO BE SOMEONE SITTING RIGHT NEXT TO YOU ANYWAY!?

Okay, maybe it wasn't pointless conversation. Maybe they were each doing important business. From the looks of these people, I'd have to say the probability of this is low, but still... it might be. But even then, while businesses profit from this communication-technology greatly, what about the actual infrastructure?

(bearing in mind that when I use terms like 'infrastructure' I am not citing any sociological authority on my part, but mere deductive reasoning)

You see, it seems to me like the technology is designed for an early pioneering country... and yet we are densely populated, and in areas of even DENSER population, there is an even higher rate of these technologies per capita...

I do understand that these technologies serve more purposes than I am proposing for them. That is not my point, my point is that I see the technologies fostering a fear and avoidance of one's own neighbor. Why talk to someone who is physically there (and there are many people in most cities) when you could extend a hand to someone distant?

I see this philosophy even in terms of who a given society chooses to donate aid. Many people I know have spent their entire lives trying to help people from across the seas... what about their native neighbors? I realize each individual has a responsibility toward global affairs, but each individual also has a responsibility to LOCAL affairs!

Is this behavior a direct result of the technology? I doubt it. There IS, however, something in the current ideology that favors virtual presence over physical. Think of the times of ancient Greece, in which strangers were quickly given a place to stay... in fact, the concept of "xenophobia" actually stems from an ancient greek philosophy of 'xenos', which was that, if a person was able to provide shelter for a stranger, they were obliged. While I realize this isn't a feasible philosophy for today, I am curious...

Why has it become a 'technology-xenos' society, and a society xenophobic of those who are truly, physically present?

I am reminded of the story of a couple who met on an online-only video game. They met on the game, talked on the game, and then had their HONEYMOON on the game. I do not know the details, but the point is... virtual presence is quickly overcoming physical presence.

There are stories of people devoted to attempting to lock in one's character into a computer program, so the 'person' survives their own death by having an instantiation on the computer...

Is it a fear of the end of the world? If the world truly ends, what hope to we have of the computers remaining?!

If you see someone making eye contact with you, do you nod or promptly call someone on your cell? Do you say 'hello' or 'a/s/l?'

I am not afraid of technology... it is the use of it that I see going in strange directions.

THE BLAST APEX - New album from AKP now available!

Posted 7 July 2006, 7.29 am by Alexander

AKP's new album The Blast Apex

Most of you will already know that AKPCEP.com was devised as an online extension of the band AKP (http://www.akp.org.uk) - if you didn't, there's an interesting bit of history for you. AKP is a four-piece alternative rock/pop act from the UK, for which I'm the lead singer, guitarist and songwriter. We rock.

Well - exciting news. After almost 2 years of work the new album THE BLAST APEX is finished and ready to ship. If you want to get your hands on a copy, and directly support up and coming unsigned talent without paying a tariff to the record companies, or iTunes and their ilk, you can buy it direct from the band website HERE:

http://www.akp.org.uk/index.php?page=buy

The 10 track album is only 8GBP including shipping anywhere in the world. It will be available as a download shortly, but we're working on that, and we realise a lot of people like having a physical CD they can then rip themselves. It's worth pointing out this is a commercially duplicated CD with full colour 4-page booklet - it's the shiznit, and it sounds good too!

If you've never heard the band check out our myspace, where there's samples of songs from the album:

http://www.myspace.com/akpcep

Please support hardworking unsigned talent (that's me) and get some kickass music into the bargain!

Alexander

Excerpt from 'Better cooking for better lives'

Posted 22 June 2006, 8.30 pm by justanotherstudent

NORTH AFRICAN VEGETABLE TAGINE:

To make the Tagine, you will need:

2 Red Peppers 1 cup Chick Peas
2 Medium Carrots ½ Cup Brown Lentils
6 Baby Onions 2 Tomatoes (finely chopped)
1 Bunch of Corriander 1 Cinnamon Stick
Ginger 2 Cups Vegetable Stock
Paprika

Rice
1 pint vegetable stock

Serves 4

Tagine is a North African dish (see picture opposite). This exotic dish will go down well at an intimate dinner party! Or why not use it as a distraction, lose yourself in the technicalities of the culinary arts. Cook 150g (10oz) rice with the vegetable stock. Chop the onions and sauté them with in vegetable oil with the garlic and ginger for one minute.

Wash the Peppers and Aubergine and wash the carrots and remove the skin. Do not remove the skin from the peppers and aubergine.

Cut the aubergine into chunks, about 1 in (2.54 cm) cubed. Roast the chunks with the peppers (intact) at 220 C (Gas Mark 8) for 20 minutes.

Remove the aubergine chunks. Did you pierce them with a fork before roasting them? If not, they will be puffed and white, rather than flattened as they should be. They will look good but will be full of bitter juice. You should have pierced them with a fork and pressed them before roasting. What was distracting you? This book assumes a certain level of cooking skill.

Take the chunks out (hot). You must remove the juices. Squeeze each chunk (soft). You will be surprised: An endless amount of hot, bitter juices will spill over your hands, turning your chopping board into a sea (small).

Do not be horrified by this mess. You forgot to prick the aubergines. You clearly need to let go (badly). As you press, each chunk will collapse down, shrivelled, ugly, tasty, ready for the tagine. As each chunk explodes like a bubble / cloud, you will marvel. The vegetable is full of soft, tuberous channels. They are designed to hold the bitter juices, but also to release them when needed, like birth channels (see picture below magnified 1000 x).

Hot tears will spill down your face. Let them go, for 2 minutes (120 seconds). You don’t need a tagine. You need a rest.

Have a burger.

Fuck it, have two. (See picture overleaf).

The Echoes of an Idiot

Posted 8 June 2006, 4.00 pm by HockeyGod

It's a dead end for everyone
we all end up the same
lying underground, 6 feet down
with the gods of yesterday

It's a lonely broken hearted feeling
like yelling down a hole
you keep driving not realizing
that you're on a nowhere road

Nothing really works, yeah you broke it
not sure what to do, can you hold it?
I don't wanna do it anymore
maybe can you tell me what it's for?

tell yourself these things that feel good
tell yourself you do the things you should.
but don't tell me, I don't wanna know
Don't tell me I'll find it on my own.

Don't tell me, I don't wanna know.
Some hands you just can't fold.
There's a reason for everything
A reason that I'm better off alone.

We've come too far I'm almost at myself
can't turn back now, can't give up on me
we can take this road to nowhere
and ride it to forever; ride until we're free.

Nothing really works, it's broken.
lying, cheating, praying, working, hoping.
I don't wanna do it anymore
maybe can you tell me what it's for?

tell yourself these things that feel good
tell yourself you do the things you should.
but don't tell me, I already know
Don't tell me, I know the way it goes.

Don't waste your breath
I found out long ago
Staring in the distance
and yelling down a hole

But there's no one out there
and no one's yelling back.
the only voice to be heard
is the echo of an idiot.

The wand

Posted 29 May 2006, 6.07 pm by justanotherstudent

I won’t bore you with the story of how we got the wand, I’ll cut to the chase: My girlfriend and I sweating – well I am - nervously as we prepare to, in our own way, break the first law of long-term relationships.

In old wives speak it is: “You can marry them, but you can’t change them” or “love the one you’re with”, in modern talk it is all about “respecting the individual.”

Kulwant goes first. She takes the wand and closes her eyes. Her hands are comically arched, unknowingly theatrical, but I see that her face is calm and I realise, just before the pain hits, that she is more ready for this than me. Don’t be like this, I think: calculating, more prepared than I am. And of course it is thoughts like this that explain why we have the wand in the first place.

That is all I have time to think before –

BAM!

- the muscles around my knees, thighs and lower back explode together like a standing ovation: I am glad that she got me to bite on a tea towel. But the pain is just instantaneous and that’s it, I’m two inches taller… taller than she is now. I take a deep breath and… Shit! New lungs! I don’t know why, but it feels like the first breath of my life. Maybe, because… I’m taller… so, more oxygen demand? Sickened dizzily for a second, I imagine new capillaries racing through my flesh like questing sperm.

I’m breathing heavily, she has her eyes open now and she’s breathing heavily so neither of us can talk. Good. I want to do this before I change my mind. I hold, I point, I think – we both think, that’s how we’ve been told to do it - and it is done.

Her change is more subtle. All she wants, to begin with, is to be more toned. I can’t honestly tell myself that she looks greatly different but she is feeling her arms and going ‘oooh’ so I guess it worked. She drags herself away from her tightened skin and looks me in the eyes.
‘Sure?’ she says.
The next bit is delicate, see? We had agreed not to change faces and genitals but I have always envied her knack with languages. I nod. Now I’ll feel like less of a prick on holidays.

This is the point where it goes hazy for me. I’m on the floor… I’m naked… certain parts of my anatomy that we had talked about not changing have changed and… I’m a lawyer. God! I’m a lawyer! I don’t know how I know, but I know! I put my hands to my face. My face has changed! I thought she liked my face!

But, mainly: I’m a lawyer! Some big-shot city wanker no doubt!

‘So my job wasn’t good enough for you?’ I say and something seems to catch in my throat. To give her her due, she looks shocked.

I snatch the wand from her in anger and I then get an idea of just how much trouble that wand is.

It is wrist-bendingly alive in my hands. Everything I really want in a girlfriend jumps to the front of my mind.

Notasteinmusictooserioustoohungrysometimesnotblonde is what I remember of it.

BAM!

She is crying. She is also naked. I feel awful and want to hold her immediately, but can’t because, (and here is the main thing), she is Cameron Diaz.

She is Cameron Diaz’s face on Cameron Diaz’s body.

Obviously, all the physical elements are there: 5’11” tall, the latin-like body, the wide and open face. But apart from that I know she is Cameron Diaz, as well as still being Kulwant. She has starred in Gangs of New York. She has even recently returned from holidaying in Guadelope and has the tan to boot.

And at the same time she is also my girlfriend, who cooks muttar paneer badly, is a member of the RSPB and who secretly bites her own toenails.

Weird.

We have the mother of all rows (I christen my new face with some tears of my own), but are deadlocked as to what to do next. We are no longer ourselves. We aren’t nobodies: we are half-different people. Not that my empathy with Kulwant/Cameron’s position stops us rowing. I remember once my anger at my parents when they tricked me into drinking hated milk by adding syrup to it. Now, my girlfriend and me berate each other with the same hang-on-for-dear-life effrontery in the face of naked facts. The most naked fact being that half of each of us wants us to stay how we are.

Even as I am calling my girlfriend every name under the sun, I know it is thanks to the stamina of my new tar-free lungs (I realise now why that first breath felt so different).

Of course, the realisation eventually comes as to what we should be saving our energies for: panicking. Panicking about the details: How do I get a new passport? Will I have an inhuman urge for muttar paneer? How will she avoid being recognised everywhere she goes?

In the months that follow, I see nothing of Kulwant / Cameron. It doesn’t matter, because every attempt I make to worm my way back into my old life is doomed. I guess you could say my heart isn’t in it. I don’t want to be just the old me. The old me wanted to change people. The new me is too busy working out if all along I just wanted to change my life.

It is a milestone for me when I cave in and walk into the law firm, where apparently I have worked for several years. No one questions my ‘absence’ and my colleagues’ acceptance clothes me like a stripper’s Velcro pants in reverse. Of course, I know my trade inside-out as soon as I walk through the door: I am an ambulance chaser, a personal claims specialist, something I have always detested, but I am surprised to find that I now enjoy. There is something about sticking it to big institutions that appeals to my old sense of perverseness. At parties, when people make unconsciously negative faces at me, I say that because of people like me no bureaucrat can ever shrug their shoulders and say ‘That’s just the way it is’. Those smug gits can’t ignore the smallest complaint nowadays, and if so-called ‘undeserving’ people profit from this, well so what? We can’t have everything in life exactly as we want it, I say.

Like most converts I am evangelical and, as a result, do well. Life outside London is sweet when you have enough money, I find.

It is easy, even without trying, to track Kulwant / Cameron. As I suspected, she isn’t just a clone: she is the real thing. Like me she seems to accept her fate, so I catch inch high fragments of her life in the tabloids, especially when her new film comes out. I flatter myself that I at least picked a fairly good fit for my hybrid ex-girlfriend, because she copes well with the transition, using the actress’s well known capricious and kooky side to stay away from publicity as much as possible.

But I am surprised when she calls me: She is visiting London and wondering if I want to meet up. Not in our old stamping ground (Kenton) but in Holland Park, for a meal. My mouth is suddenly dry, before I say… ‘yes’.

Of course, it is very predictable: We are very nearly made for each other. At the end of the meal I say:
“You’ve got it all, and I’ve got it bad.”
A cheesy line, of the kind that she had never precviously owned up to liking… but obviously did.
We move in together a couple of months later, very much in love. We had metaphorically as well as physically thrown away the wand a long time ago: More than any other couple we know not to meddle with each other, and so we have an idyllic love life.

I’ll tell you what though, you wouldn’t believe how much of a slob Cameron Diaz is around the house sometimes. Toenail clippings in the bath! We’ll have to put a stop to that.

Your Website Is Not Useful

Posted 19 May 2006, 3.20 pm by HockeyGod

I want to talk about a simple truth that many webmasters and business owners can't grasp: Your Site Sucks

Well ok it doesn't suck, but it's not as good as you think it is. One of the hardest things to do in SEO is to look at your site from the perspective of a searcher. That's why it's a great idea to hire a 3rd party company, they're not attached to your site in any way. They have no feelings to hurt.

I wanted to talk about a company who fired me after I said I couldn't make their "contact us" page rank for a software related term, but I feel it'd be better if I use a fictional example.

John owns a chimney sweeping company, and he's really frustrated that he can't get on the front page of Google for "chimney sweeping".

John's done his SEO, he's traded links, got listed in all the good directories, put out press releases, wrote articles, has a blog and a newsletter, updates his content frequently, and has a good pagerank, and even an affiliate program, but he just can't crack the top page of Google.

Eventually John gives up and buys adwords, then swears it's a Google conspiracy to force him into buying adwords. He even makes a post on Matt Cutts blog accusing Google of unfailry not raking his "useful" site.

The problem here is that while John's site IS useful, it's NOT useful to somebody searching for "chimney sweeping".

Let's look at the top results, and we see this: National association of, how to, training school, job profile, and how to find a chimney sweep.

These are useful sites. Why? the term "chimney sweeping" implies that the searcher is looking for information about the topic, NOT a chimney sweeping company. If they were, they'd have searched for "chimney sweep boston" or "chimney sweeping company" etc etc. These are the terms John should focus on if he wants to show up on page 1.

Since John never did his research, and couldn't look at his site from the perspective of a searcher, he wasted months optimizing for terms that he really shouldn't be a top result for.

That's what SEO is about. It's not about tricking the search engines or writing code to make your site better than others. It's about anticipating what somebody is searching for, and then building a site that is relevant to that search - from the searcher's perspective.

To Believe, Or Not To Believe

Posted 1 May 2006, 12.21 am by Villager

Few of you, if any, will believe what you are about to read. I don't blame you; I probably wouldn't believe me either. I am conscious that what I've written doesn't really do justice to what happened, but that's my limit as a writer. I did my best. This is what happened, a few days gone...

My landlord is a nice chap. We'll call him Li. A builder by trade, he lets me do casual labour for him whenever I need some extra money. On one such occasion, after a day spent reconstructing a garden wall, he gets a call as we're driving back. He says that there is an emergency at his sister's, and asks if I mind coming with him (as it was much closer than my home). I assent. He doesn't explain the nature of the emergency beyond saying that his sister (who we'll call Sonia) has been having some health problems.

We arrive, and an elderly woman, who I presume to be his mother, tells Li that Sonia is in her bedroom. He walks towards the door, and beckons me to follow. I suggest that it might be better for me to wait outside. 'Don't be silly. She knows you.' This wasn't really true as I had only met her briefly, but reluctantly I agree, assuming the emergency to be mild. Sonia is lying in her bed, and doesn't acknowledge our presence. Their mother gives me a chair, which I sit on just away from the end of the bed; the mother sits at the edge of the room, her face gaunt. I anticipate some sort of conventional medical problem, and sit awkwardly in silence as Li leaves and re-enters, bringing a handful of items with him, water and a book among them. This strikes me as a little odd, but nothing further. He approaches the bed.

'Sonia?' he demands sternly. I begin to wonder what could be the cause of such a greeting, when I am startled by her sudden movement. She flips her body to face him, staring intently, her body tense and contorted.

'What are you doing here? I thought I told you never to come back?'

At this she smiles, a sickly smile, and her eyes gleam. I wonder what on earth I'm doing there, and glance over at her mother, face in her hands, tears in her eyes.

'Hold her legs'
'What?'
'Just do it. I don’t have time to explain'

I wanted to say no, but against my better judgement I agree, taking a limp hold of her ankles. Her skin is hot.

'What are you doing here? What do you want? I told you never to come back!'

He continues with similar demands for some minutes, the cumulative effect of which is to make her growl and stare ever more intently at him. Images from a dozen movies pass through my mind. I find the situation scary, yet am not really fearful; I never realised I was so desensitised.

I notice that her irises are become green, where I remembered them brown. They remind my of snakes' eyes – cold, intent, and filled with purpose. Her stare switches to me. An icy cold sensation passes through my body, and I suddenly feel very vulnerable, there at the end of the bed holding her legs. Li sees my discomfort, and begins to chant in a language I don't understand. This pacifies her somewhat, and she becomes still, her still green eyes falling blank, almost sad. Tortured. This continues for what seems like about half an hour, with little effect. As I come to terms with the reality of the situation, I feel angry at Li for bringing me into it. I suppose I did agree, though.

For the first time her eyes close. Li tries to wake her, and she opens her eyes. They're brown. She looks scared, like a child who's just seen something terrifying, and thinks it's coming back. Her eyes beg for help. Her lips move, but no sound comes out. Her expression rapidly becomes more pained, and in a few seconds her eyes shift to green once more. I begin to do another reality check, but am interrupted by a piercing scream unlike anything I've ever heard, so loud that my ears hurt. More like the scream of a wild creature than a human, but not quite animal either. I feel my muscles fall limp, and react by taking a firmer grip of her ankles for the first time. Her skin is so hot.

I become conscious that Li has resumed chanting, and it occurs to me that it doesn't seem like he knows what he’s doing, which was the most worrying realisation up to that point. She resumes growling, as though speaking but unable to use words. I am reminded of the way cats behave when cornered.

'You don’t like that, do you? You'd better worry, because that's nothing compared to what's waiting for you. Do you not fear God?'

The growling subsides, she is silent for a while and then begins to emit a deep groan, which turns into a weird, siren-like scream. Fucking hell. When is this going to end? She begins to thrash around, and I struggle to keep her legs pinned. Li resumes chanting, louder than before, and her movement becomes increasingly violent and wild. Distracted by the force of her movements, I hear a shriek from her mother who I had forgotten about. I don’t really begin to process this when I return my sight to the bed to witness the most terrifying thing I've ever seen.

Up until that point I had been disturbed and not a little worried, but I hadn't reached a point of uncontrollable fear. There was an unnerving sense of not really being there. Everything was real enough, but I think I had suspended belief of my senses, pending further inquiry. But at that instant reality came rushing back, a sudden and violent realisation charging through every part of my body and mind, such that I felt I might lose my grip on existence.

What I saw was her body rise unaided from the bed, anchored only by my grip on her ankles. Terrified, I tightened my grip far beyond what I could have done in any other situation. Yet it was as nothing. As her body thrashed around, her flailing legs broke all my resistance to her movement, and I realised I was having no effect. I let go, the realisation of futility overriding conscious will. I dropped to the floor, sweaty and limp. Li has been chanting all the while, and I become aware of it once more. His pace and volume increase, and so do the speed and violence of her contortions. Her movements look uncontrollable, spasmodic, yet her torso hardly seems to move from its axis, like a bird in flight.

She drops to the bed, lifeless. Immediately I think her dead, and Li seems to also, as he rushes to revive her. After some minutes where I believe it all to be over, the growling resumes, her eyes open, still green yet fiery and violent. Li says a few words and presses the book he has been holding onto her face with some violence. She screams again, louder and more desperately, so angry and so unearthly that it feels like it might tear the fabric of reality. It doesn’t. It stops. He removes the book and opens her closed eyes, her body still. They are blank, but brown. She comes around, and, as though realising what has just happened, bursts into tears. After what has happened, her wailing is blissfully soothing, reassuringly human.

'It hasn’t been that bad before. I’m glad you were here'. I wasn’t.

He dropped me off, and didn't mention the event again. I didn't ask. For all that I 'know' that it happened, I'm still not sure if I believe that it did. I didn't ask Li about it because I know what his answer would be. Believing experiences should be a simple matter, with sensory perception leading to belief. But when empirical evidence contradicts your prior beliefs about the world, what do you do? You cannot dismiss one without undermining the other, and trying to reconcile them means accepting that not a single thing that you have ever believed is beyond doubt. This may be an obvious and sensible attitude from a scientific point of view, but would science admit my experience? I do believe it happened, because I witnessed it and have no substantive reason to believe that it was an illusion. Even so, it necessarily constitutes an act of 'faith'. Do we really ever have the choice of believing or disbelieving?

In cold retrospect, it doesn't seem so strange anymore. After all, if I'm sure, what does it matter if nobody believes me?

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They were done for an exhibition a couple of years ago . They asked for something to so with the summer. They are mixed media and oil paint on metal advertising boards - for ice cream.


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Hmph

80s candy bars were pretty good

only because i traded it for a candy bar in the 80's.

lol we all know you don't have a soul ghoti

my soul for some carbs...

But of course!

Yo ! Does this work ?

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