Sunday, March 21, 2010

'Barrel', 'fish' and 'shooting' come to mind...

When one reads this sanctimonious tosh from Neil Robertson on the Liberal Navel-Gazing site:
"I cannot, in good conscience, exercise my legally-guaranteed right to participate in the democratic process when tens of thousands of Britons are illegally deprived of theirs. For that reason, I will be staying at home come election day. Not out of apathy, nor out of a lack of available alternatives, but as a small protest against a big injustice."
As for myself, I'm not going to brush my teeth for a week in a protest against world poverty. Of course there's the problem that no-one will notice - and even those who do are unlikely to ask why. Most likely I'll be lumped together with those lazy bastards who can't be arsed with dental hygiene. There's the same problem with Mr Roberston's 'protest' - only more so.

Galloway vs Toube

George Galloway is a very sensitive man. I hope it isn't libellous to suggest perhaps a tad too sensitive? It's just that it is difficult to know what other conclusion one could draw from his apparent belief that a comment left on some stupid blog is so damaging to his reputation that it is worth £50k?

The whole thing is so ridiculous that one wonders if the whole thing isn't an elaborate spoof. But assuming it isn't, there is no alternative to backing David T on this one. For as Voltaire said: "You really can be something of an asshole at times - but I defend unto the death your right to be an asshole".

By pure co-incidence, around the same time, the carrier of the offending comment - the apparently unironically named 'Socialist Unity' blog - posted a video of Toube indulging in what they describe as an 'Islamophobic Rant'. Well, it was certainly a rant. But Islamophobic? Given that it is not only described thus without much in the way of evidence and that he is also accused of fuelling the 'growth in xenophobic hatred' in the text above the clip, I was wondering if Mr Toube might consider this libellous enough to take some action of his own?

If you're going to leave a comment, please check your bank balance before you do.

Actually, on second thoughts - no need to bother: I have comments moderation and a delete button that will take care of anything untoward. But take more care over at Socialist Unity. It seems they have no such facility.

Galloway has always claimed he was addressing the Iraqi public rather than the leader, and that it was most infelicitous to use "you" instead of "youse"
- Guardian, 2002.

'Youse' is the Scots' second person plural.

That would render it, "Sir, I salute youse courage, youse strength, and youse indefatigability".

Which doesn't make any goddamn sense because 'youse' isn't used as the second person plural possessive.

In fact there isn't a specifically Scottish second person plural possessive.

I'm so confident on this point, I feel a Zen-like calm.

Although obviously it would be outrageous to suggest that Mr Galloway was lying. Given he has repeated this more than once, one can only conclude that he is genuinely linguistically-confused.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The joys of research

Not so much from the Department of the Bleeding Obvious - more the Quite Well-Known:
"Do Green Products Make Us Better People is published in the latest edition of the journal Psychological Science. Its authors, Canadian psychologists Nina Mazar and Chen-Bo Zhong, argue that people who wear what they call the "halo of green consumerism" are less likely to be kind to others, and more likely to cheat and steal. "Virtuous acts can license subsequent asocial and unethical behaviours," they write."
You can observe this on a daily basis. Cyclists, not content with having lanes painted everywhere to accommodate their perversion, routinely feel free to jump lights or board the pavement whenever tedious interventions like the Highway Code interfere with their path of righteousness. My own view is that the lycra-wearing freaks should either pay road tax or face being hosed off the streets.

But the all-too-human feeling that do-goodism in one area of a person's life more than compensates for being something of an asshole the rest of the time has been noted before. I once read a particularly interesting, albeit unverifiable, argument from Neal Ascherson suggesting that it was Albert Schweitzer that provided the modern pattern for people like Bob Geldof: not only did good works excuse obnoxious behaviour - the latter came to be seen as somehow intrinsic to the former.

In other news, apparently the average Briton thinks 'middle age' begins at 35 and ends at 58. It seems people at the end of this inexplicably long scale get a bit defensive about this - but unless they think they're going to live to be 116, I can't see any good reason for this. My own response to anyone accusing me of having a mid-life crisis is that I have absolutely no intention, or indeed likelihood, of living beyond 88.

Finally, from the Department of Way Too Much Time on Their Hands. Scientists: working on a cure for cancer? There are more pressing concerns:
"As pubs stocked up with extra supplies of the black stuff in preparation for Ireland's national celebrations on Wednesday, scientists offered an explanation for why the famous Irish brew behaves so oddly.

Pour just about any other pint of beer, and the bubbles can be seen to obey the normal laws of physics. Filled with buoyant gas, they rise to the surface and form a frothy head.

But Guinness, in the best Irish tradition, does things differently. The bubbles in a freshly poured pint appear to be cascading down the side of the glass - yet the creamy top which is the drink's trademark remains.

Members of the Royal Society of Chemistry set out to investigate the puzzle over the course of one lunchtime."
They did this over lunch? That's one long lunch. But it was in preparation for St Paddy's Day after all. Are you Irish? I wish you happy St Patrick's Day. And if you're one of the fake Irish we have so many of in sunny Glasgow, happy mawkish Celtic sentimentality day to you too. Enjoy. I'm staying in.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Pedant queries

I was brought up to think you should kill yourself - or at least indulge in a prolonged period of self-flagellation if you described something as being nearly or almost unique. Because the state of uniqueness is absolute; something is either unique or it isn't.

But you could say the same about perfection - yet no-one gets worked up about it if someone uses the expression, "near perfection", or something similar.

Can anyone shed any light on this sematic puzzle - or are grammar pedants merely insane?

Pre-empting the usual "you're racist, or at the very least prejudiced, if you don't want England to win" bullshit prior to World Cup

Kevin McKenna goes for this in Comment is Pants:
"Nor can we justify our anti-Englishness by citing historical grievance. We willingly entered a union with them which, economically, has been extremely advantageous to us and England provides the biggest jobs market for us outside Scotland. Our tourist economy is built on the Bank of England pound. We even run their government and many of their biggest institutions. More distressing still is that most English people will support Scotland in every endeavour we undertake."
Listen fuckface - I'm an economic historian - I know all this. I've just realised I've been blogging for so long, I had to make this point the last time round: I'm not anti-English. My mother is English. So is my brother-in-law and my nieces. So are just about all of my living relatives, come to that. I feel relatively well disposed towards the English. Goddamnit all, I'm the only living human being I know who actually likes London.

But I still don't want you to win and here's why: the English win something, they don't half go on about it. Take the 1966 World Cup, for example. This was the year I was fucking born, ok? But you're still going on about it. David Baddiel sung, "I remember that tackle by Moore...". No you don't, you fucking prick - you're the same age as me! So if you were to win it again, this would mean that my entire stay on this ball of dirt would be dominated by the English going on about how you won the goddamn World Cup. This would never do. So I hope you lose - to Germans.

P.S. It's only a game. A fairly stupid one at that. I realise this is a minority view amongst the male of the species, particularly in this part of the world, but I think I have a fair amount of evidence on my side...

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Environmentalism: make it a non-prophet organisation please

Bit slow with this one. Peter Preston asks, where are the Elijahs of the environment?
"And the plain fact is that we surely need a prophet, not yet another committee. We need one passionate, persuasive scientist who can connect and convince – not because he preaches apocalypse in gory detail, but in simple, overwhelming terms. We need to be taught to believe by a true believer in a world where belief is the fatal, missing ingredient."
As someone who knows very little about this subject but a fair bit about religion, I would have thought this is the last thing environmentalism needs - forming as it does part of the problem rather than the solution.

I assume global warming is a reality and would like to be told in a rational manner what is likely to happen and what our option are. Instead I am confronted with behaviour that is beyond question religious in character - and if environmentalism is to overcome scepticism, it has to become less religious. By this I mean it has to drop the assumption of moral superiority, cognitive infallibility and hypocrisy - the features of religion everywhere.

It might help, for example, if when confronted with dissenters, they could actually engage with the arguments - rather than simply branding them as heretics. The phrase that has gained currency here is 'deniers'. I appreciate it is probably too late to do anything about this but I really wish they wouldn't do this because it is stupid and offensive. It is derivative from the expression 'Holocoust deniers'. Howard Jacobson once remarked that those who deny it happened are the very ones who are glad it happened. Say what you like about 'global warming deniers', you can't draw an equivalence here, and not only because what they are denying lies in the likely future, rather than the past.

The assumption of moral superiority can also be seen in the manner in which interests are imputed to the 'denialists'. Why do they make the arguments they do? Because they are simply evil, seems to be the answer. I really don't get this. A self-employed 'libertarian' with a blog may or may not be a 'wingnut', whatever that means, but it isn't obvious to me that they have any more or less interests at stake than scientists who have careers and research budgets to defend.

Peter Preston wants a prophet who doesn't preach the apocalypse in 'gory detail'. But this is intrinsic to the role of the prophet. The purpose of foretelling catastrophe is to provide vindication to the faithful and prompt repentance amongst the back-sliders. The greater the catastrophe, the greater the need for moral reformation there is. A recognition that this is the tradition that the 'eco-prophets' we already have stand in might be helpful - because all the available evidence we have is that they are not helping matters.

Finally, there is the question of hypocrisy - and it's the one part of Preston's piece that might make sense when he says that environmentalism needs an advocate that believes. Because as an outside observer, it isn't obvious to me that the present crew actually do. Certainly some of their behaviour would suggest otherwise. Take George Monbiot, for example.

According to George, the ecologically destructive behaviour of a country with around 33 million inhabitants is such that it requires a nothing less than a visit from himself to halt their delinquent behaviour. This mission, he informs us, necessitated nothing less than a relinquishing of his 'self-imposed ban on flying'. It's worth reading why George banned himself from flying: here he argues that every time you board a plane, you are killing people. So what should we conclude from his decision to fly to Toronto: that he thinks while he may kill some people now, he will be saving more in the future? It's certainly possible that he is that arrogant - but I would have thought the more likely explanation for his behaviour is that he doesn't really believe that every time you board a plane, you are killing people. Over to George:
"When I challenge my friends about their planned weekend in Rome or their holiday in Florida, they respond with a strange, distant smile and avert their eyes. They just want to enjoy themselves. Who am I to spoil their fun? The moral dissonance is deafening."

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Mobile phones and classroom discipline

The proliferation of the former doesn't make the latter any easier, as any teacher will tell you.

Phones do too many things, is the problem. Never mind them going off in class - the little scrotes are never done texting each other, trying to plug themselves incognito into 'tunes' that sound like malfunctioning washing machines, distributing pictures of themselves doing unmentionable things and the like. Apparently one of our DHTs took a flaky at some senior pupils and found herself on YouTube for her troubles.

Yet go to take the offending device away from them and they carry on like you're going to confiscate one of their testicles or something.

That's the boys, obviously. I don't even attempt it with the girls in case I get pepper-sprayed...

Frustrating, although perhaps the Saudis appear to have swung too much the other way?
"A 13-year-old Saudi schoolgirl is to be given 90 lashes in front of her classmates after she was caught with a mobile camera phone.

The girl, who has not been named, was also sentenced to two months in jail by a court in the eastern city of Jubail.

She had assaulted her headmistress after being caught with the gadget which is banned in girl schools, said Al-Watan, a Saudi newspaper."
I'm torn on this one.

Not really. Read down and you'll see this forms part of a system of jurisprudence that facilitates crucifixion, for goodness sake.

The price of liberty is not eternal vigilance but suffering fuckwits with mobile phones. This is what Isaiah Berlin meant by 'negative liberty'.


The chemical generation comes to power

What do George W Bush, Barack Obama, David Cameron and Steven Purcell have in common?

Other than being politicians of wildly-differing status, not a lot - except all have been, allegedly, users of cocaine.

With regards to Purcell, Calum Cashley - graciously for a political opponent - makes a plea for privacy, which on a parochial level forms part of a new convention: if someone has now or in the past some acquaintance with, or even problems with, the use of narcotics, this is a matter for them.

It's not that this is entirely unwelcome - it's just that this courtesy is not extended to the rest of us. For in our case, drug use is not a private matter but something that is legally the concern of law enforcement agencies and our employers. It left me wondering: is hypocrisy an essential element of inequality?

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Engaging with the yoof

Can't say I often feel particularly sorry when things go wrong for the average politician - but there are exceptions and they usually have to do with watching someone having to spout a line that they can't possibly believe when they're put on the spot while the cameras are rolling.

For instance, felt for Blair that time when some demented harpie started haranguing him about the state of the NHS as experienced by her husband:

"Can you tell me why my husband has been kept waiting six hundred hours on a trolley while he's been waiting for his gonad operation?", she screeched - or something along those lines.

Blair must have been dying to say, "Of course I fucking don't, you daft bint - I'm not the manager of the goddamn hospital" - or something along those lines.

Another occasion was when a panel on Question Time were asked why the yoof were less inclined to vote than people whose hormones aren't giving them grief. They had to say, of course, that "we politicians aren't doing enough to relate to the concerns of young people". The usual guff...

I'd need to add this sort of thing to the long list of reason why I could never be a politician. For when I was I child, I thought as a child and I spake as a child. But when I became fully-grown, I put childish ways behind me and became exceeding grumpy, which brings me to this pile of narcissistic shite from Comment is Pants. The teenager* in question reckons politician could engage the 18-24 year olds through 'youth culture' - an oxymoron, if ever I heard one:
"Other organisations have tried a non-conformist approach and proved it works. In my role as street team coordinator and music editor of Ctrl.Alt.Shift, a global and social justice movement for 18- to 25-year-olds that uses popular culture to bring about engagement, I've seen first-hand how to empower a typically apathetic group of young people. A recent rave thrown to raise money for Haiti raised more than £10,000, with 3,000 clubbers signing up to the website to find out what else they could do to tackle poverty. And all because the likes of Ms Dynamite and Sway took to the mic and asked them to get involved.

That gets my vote."
One of the symptoms of our decline in civil engagement is the decline in all forms of collective participation going hand in hand with an increased participation in 'single-issue' campaigns. The situation described above chimes with my own experience with 'young people'. In our school the Haiti collection was actually a fucking disgrace. Why? Because unlike other fund-raising drives we've had, there was no fun activity the young people could associate bodies buried under rubble with. Charity begins with entertainment, y'see.

With the process being protracted these days, most 18-24 year olds are still going through adolescence - and adolescents are, for the most part, even more self-absorbed and ego-centric than the rest of us. They're also usually very tired - and so come out with things like, "Politicians - they're all the same". Because they're too fatigued to find out the differences.

Also, 18-24 year olds have not yet, for the most part, accumulated the concerns that the rest of us have as we've stumbled trough life - so rates of tax, the state of the school system, what interest rates are - don't concern as many of them.

If I were a politician, I'd respond to the suggestion that politicians should engage with 'youth culture' with withering contempt. You can't 'change things' by voting, or make 'your voice heard'. It's just something that forms a small and infrequent part of your civic duty. If you can't even be bothered to vote if only to show that you prefer flawed representative democracy to brutal dictatorship then I for one am not interested in making the least effort to 'engage with your culture'. Instead I would like to cordially invite you to take your vote and shove it up your arse, you imploding bag of poisonous self-pity - I actually don't really give a fuck if you vote or not. Yoof - why all this concern about a group of people who are only, by definition, in a passing condition? This is why I could never go into politics...

*Scoiologically speaking. Regardless of chronological age, the author of that piece is a teenager.

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