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|Sunday, January 9th, 2005|
This piece is so white anglo saxon protestant
Critical tools of the would-be intellectual in a fix #452
: The phrase "Very white, anglo-saxon protestant".
Edward W. Said may be dead, but desperately grasping for some post-colonial chic certainly isn't! Pretend you're a man of the world, or woman of the world, or even man-reading-as-a-woman of the world if you really fancy! You have nothing to lose by it - if you're tempted to use this phrase in all seriousness, the likelyhood is that everyone already knows that you're a complete and utter prick.
To use "White anglo-saxon protestant" as a piece of criticism is to say that you have very little to say on the matter, and indeed are too inarticulate to even express those meagre thoughts that lay buried deep beneath the jumbled mass of stock-responses that clutter your otherwise empty head. What characterises literature that is criticised in this way, and is this a typical attribute of white anglo-saxon protestant literature? Is it bad? Presumably so, since the phrase seems to be typically used as a particularly versatile synonym for pedestrian, supercilious, 'middle class', banal, or something that is concerned with the trivialities of a stiflingly homogeneous culture. But does this then mean that the achievements of a white anglo-saxon protestant in overcoming his or her natural inclination towards the mundane and pedestrian is more impressive than that of a writer from another culture? Indeed, is the adoption of this phrase in critical currency to say that other cultures are more or less incapable of writing tedious, superficial nonsense? Of course not, the prevalance of this horribly vacuous piece of verbal posturing implies less about what is being read, and more about the reader. In most cases, the popularity of the phrase is little more than a consequence of familiarity breeding contempt. Those who use it will typically be the product of an education overwhealmingly founded on the model established in the white, anglo-saxon, protestant world. They will have spent at least three years exposed to the culture of the white anglo-saxon protestant, and, whatever they were before, they will now be firmly middle class, and riddled with all the usual insecurities, resentments, and tendency to take things for granted (such as the more impressive works of that culture to which they have been so exposed) that plagues that poor class of people. The very same qualities that some of them will dismiss as "white anglo-saxon protestant" when expressed in the Arts.
A typical example is Tom Paulin on Newsnight Review describing John Updike as Very White Anglo-Saxon Protestant. Now, I'm not bigging up the Updike, he am shit, but one would hope that a lecturer from Oxford University would be able to tell me why, rather than just hurl a vague description in the form of a stock response as if this frees him from the obligation of backing up his opinion - or at least tell us why Updike is a bad W.A.S.P. and Thomas Hardy (whom he has deemed worthy of a book) a good one who transcends his apparently natural limitations. Now it might be said that to say something is White Anglo-Saxon Protestant in a derogatory sense is not to denigrate the work of all White Anglo-Saxon Protestants, but that's only one cowardly step to the side from calling all gingers a bunch of arse bar the ones you fancy. Poor old Tom, he plays up the grand image of a member of an oppressed culture, but ultimately finds it difficult, being the Leeds born son of a Doctor and the headmaster of a grammer school, and a person who has spent his entire adult life studying or working in english universities (Hull, Nottingham, and Oxford not being terribly renowned for their trailblazing and mould breaking presence at the cutting edge of the Avant Guarde).
Sadly, such a questionable term is little about serious study, and all about aspiring to a fashionable disassociation from those who are seen through a very selective lens as the main perpetrators of the crime of imperialism and anti-intellectualism.
|Sunday, December 19th, 2004|
101 Things to do before you die, the running out of steam edition.
26. Make a will.
27. Appease the gods with generous sacrifices, fruity dances, and dull observance of their mad rules. Also, get a working knowledge of zoology and biology, just so you're on the inside track should reincarnation turn out, against all likelyhood, to be the way these things pan out.
28. Arrange for your body to be stuffed with snakes that have been put under a short term sedative, as well as for your body to be displayed at your funeral in a glass case. What better an image for your grieving relatives to remember you by than that of dozens of snakes drowsily writhing and undulating beneath your skin, forcing their way out through your dead mouth, eyes, and other assorted orifices? Complete the effect by having Tom Jones' 'What's New, Pussycat?' blaring through the church speakers as your serpent ravaged corpse bursts into flames thanks to plenty of petrol and a small flare set to go off at the appropriate time.
29. Get sacked for doing nothing at work other than flamboyantly trying to conquer the mighty Rubik's cube and grumpily insisting that you'll work on that report when you're done with the more pressing issue of the tricky amusement that blights your dreams at night. Try to have your affected obsession classified as a mental illness with a view to becoming the darling of the 'and finally' section of the news.
30. Spend an entire day talking in nothing but clichés and platitudes. Be disappointed upon realising that this really isn't as dramatic a change from your usual conversational habits as you might have hoped.
31. Why not forget the burdens of adulthood for a day or two by reliving your childhood years? You could go to a funfair, have a 'School Disco' style party, rediscover the wonderment of nature, or revisit your favourite childhood haunts. Or you could be honest and waste your day drawing thousands of cocks all over a work colleague's folder and writing something along the lines of "Smelly Fucker nobcheese" and "I wank dogs off for pennies" on it in big letters the very instant he or she looks away.
32. Pick a country at random, fall silent and look into the distance for a moment whenever that country is mentioned in conversation. Visibly bristle at anyone who asks if anything is the matter and spend the rest of the conversation in complete silence but for the occassional word associated with that country, murmured with a heavy heart. For instance, should you choose Wales you can stare at the floor and sorrowfully murmer "Leeks" with a deep, pensive sigh before walking off.
33. You could go to Africa and marvel at the beauty of nature in all its raw magnificence, salute the novel cultures and traditions of the proud people who have thus far resisted the relentless crushing fist of globalisation, and "find yourself" on the untamed plains of the serengeti. Alternatively, you could try to not blithely patronise an entire continent and romanticise its populace with the sole aim of fortifying your conception of yourself as a sensitive human being and citizen of the world. Undoubtably, the latter is a much more difficult task, and with fewer rewards, but therein lies the achievement. Also, you don't want to be worse than Bono, at least his messianic posturing keeps him in the limelight, inhabiting that space being his profession after all, what does your idiocy achieve?
34. You could finally snap.
35. Trace your family tree, declare yourself 19th generation Macedonian-English on your mother's side, 15th generation scandinavian-scottish, and enjoy the feeling of being exotic whenever someone says something along the lines of "ah! That must be where you get your wrists from!" or "Yes, you do look like a Macedonian Viking Celt". Or you could just draw up your horoscope, cast the runes or whatever for all that this will reveal about you, it's all the same pointless crap.
|Saturday, December 18th, 2004|
Yet again, 101 Things to do before you die: (16-25)
16. Subdue Gaul, Cross the Rubicon, be deified by your fellow citizens.
17. Crack the human Genome.
18. Develop the mathematical tools required to place the Calculus on a rigorous basis.
19. Found a major religion.
20. Invent the printing press.
21. Design and build a national cathedral.
22. Broker a peace between warring nations.
23. Be the first to demonstrate the uses and benefits of antiseptic when performing surgical operations.
24. Successfully negotiate a happy outcome to a hostage situation.
25. Sighing, take stock of your meagre posessions and achievements, noticably wincing at the all too obvious limitations in your life that you have allowed to become insurmountable obstacles to a grand and lasting expression and fulfillment of your being, ambitions, and dearest hopes for the future. Make a rough estimate of how many years after your death it will take for you to be forgotten, and for the gentle ripples your existence had cast in the pool of human society to finally subside, leaving behind only tranquil waters that, to some future observer, betray not even the merest hint of your having been a part of creation.
After that, the choice is yours. You can puzzle over whether this knowledge is a consolation or an excruciating burden, you can have a child and wish for it to have the best of lives so that you may be dimly remembered through its future achievements, you can even abandon yourself to an oblivious maelstrom of souless debauchery, it doesn't matter which.
|Thursday, December 16th, 2004|
101 Things to do Before You Die (11-15): Special Arts and Culture Edition
1. Read 'War and Peace'. Quietly contemplate how many more enjoyable books and television programmes you could have experienced, and how much better a time you could have enjoyed doing so, but remember to do it quietly.
Say: "Tolstoy is a master, and his work a gift to all humanity"
Think: "Tolstoy is the thief of time, his work a crowbar with which he prises precious seconds from my life."
If there's one thing worse than chasing some elusive phantom of potential cultural cachet, it's being castigated as a philistine for recognising the emptiness of the gesture.
2. Compile a list of the books, pictures, television programmes, etc. from which you have learnt the most in your life. Compare with the following examples:
A. 1. Mathematics for Physicists and Engineers
2. Deliah cooks some massive pie or something
3. Figure 4.2, A History of Rome. Page 75
4. What the Edwardians did for us
5. An Introduction to Wittgenstein
B. 1. The Trial
4. Some impenetrable installation utilising "Multimedia"
5. Wittgenstein's Tractatus, or Philosophical Investigations
If your list is more B than A, realise that either you've learnt very little in your life, or you're just a massive liar. Take solace in the undemanding routine of your job, which reminds you in its banal operation that it simply doesn't matter one way or the other now. Maybe once it did, but those days are long gone.
3. Try to determine why it is so desperately important that your favouritest band, artist, or author is recognised by others to be the bestest, most importantest there is in the whole wide world.
Contemplate what, if anything, separates you from a teenager bawling "No! X sucks, Y totally rule" for hours on end in some unspeakable internet chat room.
4. Rewrite the Illiad, carefully omitting every superfluous repetition of detail, and every tiresome description that is habitually appended to each major character's name, such as in the case of 'God like Achilles'. Whilst then lamenting the loss of rhythm, power of the oratic atmosphere of the text, possibly even going as far to bemoan the fact that you no longer "hear" Homer speaking to you directly, secretly embrace the happy realisation that it works so much better as a book this way, that it isn't even nearly as tedious as the original, and you can now find out what the damn thing is about just by reading it (instead of attempting to read it, then consulting the introduction for a summary before hurling it accross the room in distress and frustration).
5. Read some Elizabethan drama, being sure to imagine every female role being played by 'Lilly Savage', or 'Dame Edna Everage'. See how wrong-headed he have, for so very long, been in our treatment and appreciation of these texts.
Should this pose some difficulty, I offer the following possible extract from The Merchant of Venice, where Portia is played by Paul O'Grady:
"(Brash scouse accent) 'eh Dad, you want a pound of my fella's flesh? Chance would be a fine thing, I'd have settled for a couple of ounces every now and again!"
|Friday, December 10th, 2004|
101 Things to do Before You Die (1-5)
And now what is intended as an occassional piece, but will, in all likelyhood fall into a state of neglect and disrepair before the end of the month.
1. Anyone can say they've swam with dolphins, even the mentally disabled, lonely divorcees, and the terminally ill! Who, on the other hand, can say that they've challenged the mighty dolphin to unarmed combat in his own domain? Go on, make a name for yourself and give that grinning fucker a good slap!
2. Everyone loves bungee jumping, until they think about it for a bit. Then they realise that they're merely dead eyed desk slaves who've found themselves anaesthetised to their own humanity by years of predictable, unceasing drudgery, and, moreover, that nothing short of a massive adrenaline rush will briefly shake them out of their death-like emotional stupor.
Why not stand out from the crowd by getting your kicks from goading skinheads into chasing you through deserted streets at night? It's the same thrill for less, and less danger you'll be taken for the kind of tedious prick who also likes snowboarding.
3. Join the Foreign legion, keep the hat in a glass case next to the television. Refuse to talk about it.
4. Chase someone, on horseback. Naked. For days at a time.
5. Get a tattoo specifically so you can have it lasered away a week later and prepare to enjoy the mystique and cachet of the bad apple turned respectable!
6. The seven wonders of the ancient world are great! You read about them, you go see the Pyramids, you rattle of some dubious "fact" about them to your disinterested spouse. They humour you with a weak smile that radiates little human feeling other than repressed loathing for you, you sigh, ignoring the imminent collapse of yet another dilapidated and humiliating relationship, and instead stand there, quietly wondering about these magnificent wonders.
The only trouble is that you can only really wonder one thing, and one thing only: "How did they build that?", and, let's be honest, you don't even care much about that. Instead, why not wonder about seven different things that you do care about? Using "monuments" in your own life to act as a focal point, and to construct the seven wonders of you? You could look at your place of work and wonder at what precise point your childhood dreams became impossible to fulfill; into your child's face, wondering at what age they will mature into the bitter, empty husk that you have set a glorious example for, at what age their love for you will be replaced with cold obligation that has long settled upon a frozen tundra of resentment towards you; at your home, wondering why walking through the front door is as emotionally barren an experience as your weekly trip to Asda; and at the clock, wondering when it will all end.
7. Shave your head in order to sport a festive toupeé for the rest of the coming month.
8. Ingratiate yourself with the social circles of the educated and cultured using this easy to remember advice: whenever you meet a politics graduate, ask "Have you ever heard of Hobbes?"; ask a sociology graduate if they've ever heard of Durkheim; introduce an English graduate to the pleasures of Milton; amd so on, before cheerfully affirming that they're "really good!" in your opinion, and sauntering off to make more friends amongst the literati.
9. A cruise around the world is a special experience, and everything about it is unquestionably great. Everything, apart from the cost, and the fact that it ends too soon and never leaves you with enough time in one place. The rooms and limited entertainment facilities begin to get tiresome pretty soon as well, never mind the standard of the company that's available! Still, you can always go up on deck and enjoy staring at a vast, unending seascape that is as bleak and featureless as the expression on your face, as shapeless as the cold fog settling in your heart, and as tepid as the blood in your veins.
Come to think of it, cruises around the world are shit! Instead of cruising around the globe, why not cruise through life on the exhilerating and unpredictable tide of the gutter? Give up that demanding job in favour of claiming benefits, do the occassional cash in hand odd job, and spend your days coasting from one dank tenement block to the next. Let's set sail for adventure, and don't forget to send a postcard or two!
10. Spend the rest of your life talking in a menacing yet camp south London accent. And remember! You no longer have friends, you have "ass-o-ci-ates"
|Saturday, November 13th, 2004|
National Jesus Day
Christmas time is drawing ever closer, and it's never to soon to start thinking about how you're going to prepare for the merciless onslaught of festivities, or enjoy the unceasing barrage of obligation to enjoy yourself. As demonstrated on other online journals, I am a publically spirited individual, and so I offer you this, a brief list of my top suggestions for the Yuletide season.
1. What is Christmas without the Christ child? Atheists know! It's a public holiday! Good will to all men? Celebrations of friendship? Fuck that, friendship lasts all year round, a chance to get continuously smashed and embarrass yourself for a couple of days comes infrequently and fleetingly for most. Many people fail to realise that in rejecting Jesus, they allow themselves the opportunity to reject the tiresome sentimentality that goes along with his birthday. Get up on Christmas day around lunchtime, have a fry up for lunch, and invite all your similarly minded friends around for the loudest, most explosive party you can imagine. Order chinese, mong out on contraband substances, get into a fight. Hell, knock yourself out, waking up the next day in a ditch in Nottinghamshire wearing nothing but a cowboy hat. It's not like you're going to be doing much on Boxing day anyway.
Of course, the relatives might not take kindly to what they perceive as your negligence of the seasonal obligation to visit, or phone, or think of them even briefly, but what right have they to impose their views upon you? What is this, some kind of grim holiday celebrating the unyielding shackles of others' expectations of you? No. It is a public holiday. It's Your holiday. Go on, do it. Live up to your creed you espouse, book the strippers now. No? you don't think it's worth the long term hassle? You lilly-livered trevor.
2. Oh so tired of the commercialism of Christmas? Personally insulted by the crass and gaudy celebrations of the coming weeks? Feel that the original values of the season have been diluted by the almighty dollar? Prefer to spend the time celebrating something that actually Means Something, rather than the birth of a man you possibly don't even believe existed? You intolerably smug po-faced bastard. You fucking love it, Christmas to you is one long sordid, masochistic thrill. An impregnable sense of cultural superiority, an opportunity to self-righteously lecture your friends and relatives on having been taken in by the poisonous temptations of capitalism, and an excuse to not wear yourself out making any effort whatsoever are your gifts, piety whore, and you don't even have to get anything in return!
You already know how you're going to be celebrating Christmas: pissing on your relatives' yuletide onions by forcing them to watch the news instead of Eric and Ernie, clasping your head in your hands and wailing an anguished "How can I be expected to be happy when there is so much misery in the world?". Yeah? well you seemed fine last weekend, and I don't see you hurrying to help distribute aid in Sudanese refugee camps, you sanctimonious prick. Why not spend the rest of the holiday period preparing some vitriolic thesis on how Christmas is essentially an expression of misogynistic westerncentric imperialism, celebrated only by passive accomplices of the capitalistic international death industry, and performing its main points to your younger relatives using colourful sock puppets? Then, when they burst into tears, you can go off and have a cold, stone-faced wank in celebration, enjoying the self-congatulatory feeling of having Made A Difference made physical as a clammy trickle of satisfaction drips viscously down your corpse like skin.
3. Instead of buying presents, why not write each of your friends and relatives a poem, dedicated to them? Or make a mix tape of songs that make you think of the person you're giving it to, with a detailed synopsis of why each track reminds you of them? Or give them a load of old shit that you don't want any more? Or compile a list of memories and arrange them in a creative fashion? Or take up any of the many suggestions available on http://www.buynothingchristmas.org/alternatives/index.html
Or... why not be a total hippy and just give them a bag of fucking carrots, stating cheerfully that the bounty of mother earth is the most precious gift of all, something that we cannot improve upon, and one that we can all share in? If you have the money, spend it. If you don't, fine, just say so! If in this case your friends express indignation that you haven't starved yourself in order to buy them pretty baubles, they don't deserve presents anyway. If you really must make them upsetting portraits of themselves out of nothing but dried pasta, don't be surprised if the recipients spend all year unsentimentally dismantling and rearranging it in order to both get rid of the damn thing and save money on your present.
4. Grin and bear it, it'll all be over soon.
|Tuesday, November 2nd, 2004|
|Tuesday, October 19th, 2004|
A letter to America
A template for this campaign.
You are stupid, and possibly evil. Let me make your voting decision for you. As I have no right to participate in your democratic process, something about it not being my government or something, I would like to hector you about policies that you had no say in designing and may erroneously believe in. First let me tell you off about your record on human rights. Capital punishment, eh? Tut tut. Now let me inform you about your support for tyrannical despots across the world. Now allow me to attack your (yes *you*, you did it) removal of Saddam Hussein. You liked him once! You stupid arrogant Americans! You can't just go back on it now! Also, you're not keen on Castro. Don't you know that people like Cuba? There's rum, and music and the fact that they stand up to Big Yankee. And you should like that too. For some reason. Now I know better. If you really need "reasons", then please consider the following: I am not an American. Actually, I'm a European, which is even better. I also read the Guardian, so I'm a clear-thinking lover of democracy and freedom of speech. In fact, I believe in my right to these so much, that anyone who disagrees with my opinions must be wrong. Stands to reason.
I dare say I've taken too much of your time, you must have found it difficult to concentrate for this long. Remember though, you American idiot, I know best.
|Saturday, October 16th, 2004|
Fact times importance equals... well, you all know the rest.
A round up of some of the weekend's stories, or, if you prefer, "I'm tired, here's some bubblewrap to amuse yourself with for a while":
Prince Harry may or may not have cheated on his Art A-Level coursework. Having Art classified as an A-Level is a big enough cheat in itself.
Boris Johnson hints at Liverpool being shit. Liverpool is angered, the rest of the nation is mystified as to why he bothered to state something so obvious. Yes, Liverpool is rubbish, but it's the div kid of the British Isles - ignore its mischief and try to shut it up with an occassional pat on the head for being 'Special' every now and again (i.e. award it European capital of culture status for nothing more than having a Coffee Republic AND a Starbucks)*.
'Anarchists' storm the European Social Forum. The people of Britain ask each other in vain what the European Social Forum is, before resolutely go about the business of not caring, once again demonstrating that apathy is the most powerful weapon against dull ideologues and their periodic tantrums.
In short, fuck all news lately. Which probably means there is actually a vast amount going on in the world, but the newspapers can't be bothered hacking, splicing, and half-heartedly stamping their own voice upon the news wire reports that is a substitute for first hand journalism in places journalists don't fancy visiting. Either that or there just weren't any pretty pictures available to accompany those stories.
* Anyone who points to The Beatles can just fuck right off now. The main gifts The Beatles have given us is music for other generations to mindlessly imitate when nationwide creativity is at a low ebb, and setting the gold standard for smug, dim witted celebrities lecturing the world from their Manhattan penthouses or Beverly Hills mansions in a distasteful bid to light their own lives with an illusiory flame of compassion. Without the Beatles we may not have had the Stone Roses - boo hoo, I think I can live without Fool's Gold, thanks. More importantly, without Lennon, we would not have the Messiah formerly known as Bono insisting that he knows what's best for Africa.
|Thursday, October 14th, 2004|
Iraq: The Last Word
There are those who question the morality of the occupation of Iraq, and those who question the value of it. To the latter, I point out that our provincial towns have been a little quieter with so many of our brave boys bravely fighting the nefarious enemy with their characteristic bravery, instead of loitering around here, bravely getting pissed up in The Garrison or the King's Arms, and bravely getting into fights with any nefarious non-squaddy they bravely think they can beat up without too much hassle.
I think that states the case for war without end.
|Monday, October 11th, 2004|
The Best Of is All You Need, Mind.
I could name the songs he’s given the world – Daydream Believer (yes, *that* one), Girl You’ll Be a Woman Soon, Solitary Man, You Don’t Bring Me Flowers – but that would miss the point. I’m not trying to argue that there are some classics there that prejudice prevents one from enjoying; it all comes down to what is actually “good”.
A song is good because it is *good*. Innovation without substance dates like nothing else. If it can be reduced to a concept or a description then it vanishes. Take, if you will, “Venus in Furs”. It’s a song about sadomasochism with a viola accompaniment. And that’s it. You don’t need to hear the song, the description does the job for you and you’re really no poorer. “Right, yeah. Cool. Sadomasochism, right? I’m guessing that it’ll challenge all my expectations, yeah? Unsettling? Discordant? I can just picture it. Ummm… Do you have ‘Where’s the Love’ by Hanson?” Sweet Caroline on the other hand… You can say that it’s a paean to love and how he digs the eponymous Caroline, but that goes nowhere to explain the irresistible urge to “woah, woah, woah,” with the descending brass each time the title is sung.
We’re hung up on what is acceptable at the expense of a pure enjoyment. Not allowing ourselves an emotional response, we care about “originality”, “challenge” and “concept”. But as we all know, the true test of a great song is whether or not you’d welcome an ersatz version at a karaoke night, and with that rule as our guide, Diamond scores highly.
We have the glorious ebb and flow of, “LOVE ON the ROCKS! Ain’t no surprise…” The guilty pleasure, “America”, the I-know-I-shouldn’t-like-it-so-sue-me, “Forever in Blue Jeans.” He’s an ageing, balding man and he sings like I do when I’m in the shower. And for those reasons, if for nothing else, I must ask the ladies and gentlemen of the jury, “What’s not to love?”
But I don’t really care, of course, this post is more about clearing my throat. Ah huh huh huh. I’m just running my fingers over the keyboard: “The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog”. Warming up. That’s better, now back to changing the world.
NB But one more thing: Thank the Lord for the Night time is crying out for a cover by a Nuggets-style garage band.
|Sunday, October 10th, 2004|
I have put up with the smug mediocrity of his ghastly books, tolerated the self-satisfied, cinematic glorification of his own banal 'insights', over time I even learned to quietly ignore the jabbering dilettante's playground that was his game show, but now that Fat, Fraudulent Jester Stepehen Fry has his own fucking club where he and other rat-like abominations of pseudo-intellectualism may offer still-born ideas up as sacrifices to their repulsively bloated and disease riddled egos. That dog wont hunt, monsigneur.
John Lloyd, one of the founders of the club and the QI "empire" (which consists primarily of the piss poor quiz show of the same name), describes in The Observer the concept of QI as 'a way of looking at things', and the club itself as 'a place where you can have a decent conversation'. He bemoans the fact that 'The capital is now a place where you are not allowed to say that Mozart is a better composer than Oasis', and defends QI against accusations of being smug and elitist as being about 'wondering about things'. To be fair, QI isn't elitist, but nor is it about 'wondering about things' - any truly inquiring mind that found itself surrounded by the likes of Alan Davies and John Sessions would immediately wonder "what the fuck am I doing hanging around with these pricks" and beat a hasty retreat to the pub in order to try to wash away the lingering feelings of disgust with a tsunami of the cheapest, strongest booze available.
That the entire QI venture is nothing more than a grotesque sham perpetrated by charlatans so dead of mind that they have long fallen for their own chicanery, one need only look at the honourary guest list of its associated club, which includes John Sessions, Jo Brand, Bill Bailey, and Alan Davies. What is the connection between these people? It certainly isn't a phenomenal intellect, nor is it the fact that they're all a bunch of near has-beens whose recent careers have been akin to one last desperate struggle against the pull of the lead weights slowly dragging them deep beneath the waters of obscurity where they belong. The most important, with regards to their membership, shared quality of this group is that they have a superficial regard for knowledge, but a genuine compulsion to appear, against all likelyhood, intelligent. Take, as an example, a few of the gems of wisdom unearthed by some of those involved in QI:
Stephen Fry asserted that an atom is actually made mostly of nothing. For something to be made of 'nothing' is clearly nonsense, even to someone with only a GCSE level knowledge of physics or chemistry. It is true that in the standard model of the atom, the distances between the electrons and the nucleus are vast compared with the size of those particles themselves, but that does not mean that the atom is MADE of this emptiness. A tyre is not made mainly of air simply because the volume of air contained within its structure is greater than that of the materials the structure itself is composed of.
Jo Brand offered a laughable interpretation of Schrodinger's Cat as a "pseudo-philosophical" question about the existence of cats when they are contained in boxes, rather than an illustration of the problems of measurement on the quantum level. Needless to say, this interpretation went uncorrected by any of the other luminaries on the show.
Bill Bailey revealed in a recent live performance that if, as has been hypothesised, the Universe eventually collapses in on itself, it will be down to "thermodynamical processes" coming to an end. Not actually due to gravity, the thing that usually causes things in the Universe to move closer to one another. He delivered this in his patented style that screams both "Ah, you thought I was a brainless hippy, but, aha! Look! Look! I know stuff!" and "I have no idea what I'm talking about, and am praying that you don't either" at the same time.
In short, they are the kind of people who desperately snatch at ideas, without even bothering to understand them first, in order to impress and disguise their own crippling intellectual deficiencies (or in the case of Alan Davies, disguise them as 'absurdism' and shriek like a mong until everyone's too distracted to notice you're an utter prick). It's a kind of 'cleverness' that thrives entirely on those around them having a similar level of ignorance, a trait that is all too prevalent and not restricted to this group of hucksters. That is what this club stands for.
My one hope is that those protesting against the proposed animal research laboratory in Oxford* witness the suffering of the big dumb animals in a the QI club, prompting the more extreme members of their movement to take immediate and drastic action.
*The Observer unthinkingly reports the club's founding in Oxford under the sub-heading 'Elite meet among the dreaming spires'. Yes, yes they do, and have done for quite some time, but not at the subject of your article.
|Saturday, October 9th, 2004|
Our tragic loss: A Tribute.
Ken, we hardly knew you. We knew you were special though, because we didn't give a toss about the two Americans who were captured with you, whereas we loved you like a brother. Their deaths were sad, because, as everyone knows, all deaths are sad, so we had to feel a little bit sorry for them, but we moved on within the blink of an eye. Your death, however, hit us like a thunderbolt. We remember you with one more minute of silence than all the victimes of 11th September, and want to get to know you like we never could whilst you were with us - hence the biographical piece kindly offered by The Independent.
You were loved all across the world, with the heads of governments and organisations calling for your release with an enthusiasm and promptness not seen for any of the other victims of kidnapping in Iraq. We feel for your family, and make a conscious effort to admire their great strength, without even pausing for a moment to realise that we do not even know the names of other families who have to endure a similar grief as yours. That's how special you were. Having said that, I can't take part in the two minutes silence, because it's only in Liverpool, so maybe it's more complex than that. But how many people in Merseyside or some other district knew you better than inhabitants of Exeter or Hull? I hope the governments of the world will one day finally get together and produce a guide to the levels of grief acceptable given geographical proximity and circumstance of death - perhaps a wall chart featuring concentric circles representing distance, each inscribed with a numerical estimate of the level of grief expected for a particular circumstance and subject. It could be called the Bigley chart, in your honour, with a picture of your face in the centre... perhaps on a spring so that you could shake your head in disbelief at the senselessness of the World as we do the same.
You taught us many things, Ken, but we mainly learnt that some deaths are better than others. Had you been hit by a car, been stricken with terminal cancer, or been beaten to death whilst being mugged on the streets of Liverpool, we would not have shed a tear for you, and your family's grief would merely have made us feel awkward and want to be somewhere else.
We all feel a great loss in your passing, one that wont be filled until, say, a kid goes missing, or a celebrity dies in a car crash. You know, something unexpected but with plenty of details to occupy ourselves with. Maybe a plane crash would do, but it would have to go down in Britain, then we could enjoy speculating on whether terrorism was to blame, or something else, and we could see wreathes being laid down and wish we could get a day off so we could do similar. Maybe a plane full of kids, because that's better than adults... or maybe disabled kids, because it's simply common sense that their deaths would be sadder than those of kids who might have been able to enjoy playing football or something. I suppose that doesn't really matter right now, I'm sure something like that will happen eventually.
|Monday, October 4th, 2004|
|Tuesday, September 28th, 2004|
It is common practice in irreligious circles to characterise religion as a form of mental tyranny, as the antithesis of enlightenment values such as reason. This view may be correct, but it all too often ignores that religion is merely a single instance or manifestation of a more general and widespread phenomenon that is evident in the thinking of many people, including those who themselves criticise religion on the basis that it suppresses reason and ideas.
Any idea, founded upon reason and careful analysis or not, when overwhealmingly accepted by others on principle or faith in its source is no less a dangerous form of superstition than religion has the potential to be - in this sense, religion is simply one of the more obvious threats to reason. That it can be perceived as so obvious a threat undoubtably accounts for much of its popularity as the adversary of choice for those whose minds are "liberated"; it is after all easier to identify, demonstrable resistance to its influence is easier to celebrate, and a definitive victory over such unreason is more easily envisioned than is the case for more subtle dangers. The risk run by placing such emphasis upon religion in this context is that it encourages the mistaken identification of it as the problem itself, rather than as a symptom of that problem, and diverts attention that would be better focused on a more global ailment.
If we are honest, many of us will confess to finding an argument for a conclusion that we have already decided is true on a less than rigorous basis of analysis. It is all too common an experience that we find ourselves compelled by our senses and emotions to accept a view of the world based upon our experiences and then search for a justification of this view. We find this justification in the arguments of those who agree with us, recycle the evidence they presented as a validation of our personal beliefs, and use it to dismiss those who come to a conclusion that opposes our own. During this process we happily forget that our conclusion was based upon an extremely limited amount of experience of the world, and are negligent of the fact that it has in all likelyhood biased our interpretation of all subsequent evidence and argument we expose ourselves to. It is indeed rare for an individual to consciously and enthusiastically attempt to disprove such "justified beliefs" with the sincere intention of discarding them entirely should the attempt succeed, yet this is what is demanded of us if we are genuine in our desire to live up to the ideal of reason. Assumptions based upon experience which are then vigorously defended, conclusions about the world which are endlessly justified rather than carefully scrutinised form no less oppressive and dangerous a "mental tyranny" than religion, no matter how 'modern' or 'enlightened' we deem those assumptions or conclusions to be. As an example of the danger posed, when the importance of the 'nation' or some other social grouping over the individual is taken as an article of faith, it is easy to then justify ruthless oppression of an entire society as a collection of individuals for the good of the abstract concept of society as an entity itself, much as the atomistic conception of society as individuals can then result in the wholesale exploitation of many by a few when treated as an axiom that exists only to be justified.
Yet such an approach to understanding and describing the world is not denounced in nearly such emphatic terms as religion, perhaps because most of us have at some point in time been guilty of endorsing it ourselves, or perhaps because we're simply blind to the similarities and potential consequences. Indeed, it is often the case that those whose belief is strongest and most forthrightly defended are celebrated for having "passion", without those doing the celebrating asking precisely why passion for a certain point of view is to be seen as a valuable attribute to have in the art of formulating a stance to take on a particular issue. I can see why compassion may be valued when the issue in question involves people, but passion is surely best left to priests and demagogues.
|Monday, September 27th, 2004|
Title for Hugh Hefner post goes here...
Pop archeologists will be able to date the precise point of Justin Timberlake’s decline, the moment when it all turned and from being a promising young gun he slumped back into tired mediocrity: the Work It video with Nelly and Hugh Hefner. Nelly is alright, that Adam Ant sticking plaster on the face thing is quite funny (pedestrian stand-up observation: he may have all that money, but he still hasn’t worked out how to shave properly! Heh heh.) and Hot in Herre is a tune, no matter how much I wish it wasn’t, but Hefner? Why does he carry any credibility?
I’m going to concentrate on the principle here, there’s no need to go into the tawdry goings on chez Hef.* Thanks to the fawning approbation of some moronic sexual midgets there is an assumption that to be alpha male at the Playboy mansion is every man’s fantasy. It is not. This is no libertine’s paradise of sexual freedom away from petty bourgeois sexual mores; it is the realization of a fourteen year old boy’s wet dream. A castle built on the foundations of a terror of women - a misogynist’s paradise.
The saddest thing might be the impression of glamour and modernity that the Playboy Empire struggles to project through this fug of swinging and desperation. It’s all so sad, so forlorn. People persuaded that this is the cutting edge somehow, the shackles of convention cast off in a Bacchanalian orgy of excess when actually it all just seems a bit dated. A bit seedy. A bit of a golf-playing businessman’s idea of La Dolce Vita.** To see Hef - the wrinkled lizard: dead of eye, leather of face, with darting tongue - casting a Viagra-fuelled glance over another batch of eager girl-next-doors thinking that this could be their chance for life long fame (it isn’t) is to despair at the emptiness of it all.
“But I love women…”
“No, ‘Hef’, you love women rubbing their breasts in front of you. It’s not the same thing.”
Like that other priapic pensioner, Picasso, what shines through most clearly is the distaste and fear of female sexuality. Above all else it must be controlled. Seeing himself as a smoking-jacketed bull seal, the man is clearly incapable of relating to women as anything other than objects for his amusement. They may fuck each other - as long as he is there to watch, rendering sex a performance for his benefit - but they must fuck him, and perhaps any visiting meatheads. They need to giggle, leave their mouths open in vacant seductiveness and do his bidding. Admitting that women may have a sexuality unrelated to a man’s wishes is too petrifying to allow. By reducing them to a collection of primary and secondary sexual characteristics, he may lie easy in his velvet bedding.
This attitude appeals to sportsmen and musicians, playground braggarts just past the “girls smell” stage. For JT and Nelly I will look the other way, for now, they’re like, five years old, but this is an old man. A pathetic, decrepit old egotist who should have been quietly ignored once we all got over his crazy clubs with their crazy bunny waitresses. Make no mistake about it, this supposed sexual oasis is based on a loathing and distaste for female sexuality, and the need to control it is felt as keenly here as in the mind of any cleric: G-strings and silicone are the Playboy burkha.***
* Oh, very well… From Jo Anne’s memoirs, via Popbitch,
- All girls who "go upstairs" have to agree to
have unprotected sex with Hugh and to have sex
with the other girls whenever he wants.
- Hef likes to have sex with his harem on
Wednesdays and Fridays. Each girl gets two minutes
on him. After each girl Hef gets his penis wiped
clean with Johnson's baby oil
- He likes to watch porn - usually gay porn - on
two huge plasma screens over the shoulders
of the girls he's having sex with.
Then again, another insider has disputed her
claims, saying Hef gets the girls to just stand
there while he jerks himself off.
So that’s lovely.
** I would have written “The Good Life” here but anticipated the jokes. “I don’t remember *that* episode, etc.”
***And there’s the money shot!
|Sunday, September 26th, 2004|
No, I'm not trying to justify events in the Abu Gharib prison.
Whilst it is entirely valid, and important to point out the faliures and deficiencies in the plans to stabilise Iraq, there seems to be little serious consideration of what should and could be done to ensure stability and pacify the country. After all, how can a violent insurgency be quashed without running the risk of being accused of heavy handedness? The implementation of curfews, exclusion zones, and spot searches of individuals and property could be used as evidence of ordinary Iraqis being treated like criminals by the occupying forces. Indeed, a number of months back it was deemed culturally insensitive of troops to insist that Muslim women be searched for arms when passing through checkpoints. There is little alternative to this other than hoping that the insurgents are above getting a woman to smuggle in explosives to them, and wait to be blamed for a lax attitude towards security when the next bomb goes off in the streets of Baghdad.
Of course, it has been suggested that British and American troops could have used greater tact in maintaining security, and mounted an effective "hearts and minds" campaign. This mistakenly identifies, whether consciously or not, those involved in violent insurrection, as ordinary Iraqis whose acts can be attributed to their conditions and the way they are treated. The actions of these individuals, however, dispell this myth. We have thus far seen, amongst other examples, attacks on the UN (including the assassination of the UN's chief envoy to Iraq), a demand that France alter its domestic social policies to be more in line with the view of Islamicists thousands of miles away, a demand that female prisoners in Iraq be released by coalition troops (a demand which finds its context when it is realised that it includes Saddam Hussein's chemical weapons expert). Most telling of all is that there have been a number of attacks upon those very people sent to help address the grievances of ordinary Iraqis: aid workers, civil engineers, Iraqi police recruits, and anyone accused of collaborating with the occupying force. The people who mount these attacks are not ordinary Iraqis, they are directly working against any attempts at a hearts and minds campaign, or to ease the miserable conditions of many Iraqis because they do not want such attempts to succeed. Rather, they want the chaos to intensify until such a time where they want to drive the foreigners (including the UN), and weaken Iraqi society until such a point where they can safely impose their own regime upon the Iraqi people. These largely Islamicist groups saw the fall of Saddam as their opportunity to sieze power and impose the kind of theocratic rule found in Iran
It is all very well to demand such acts as the creation of an Iraqi Army and police force, but such demands neglect problems such as that of new recruits being killed by groups who know that such a force would be seen by many Iraqis as a legitimate form of opposition to their actions, or the dillemma of whether or not to include former elements from the old regime who both the Iraqis and the West may object to. If any attempt to improve security and conditions in Iraq is to be successful, it must require an element of force, and must run the risk of being seen as insensitive on occassion, in order to enable such an attempt to go ahead unhindered by those who seek to use misery to their own political ends.
|Tuesday, September 21st, 2004|
Party Political Broadcast on behalf of the Workshy Party
Voter apathy seems to be a periodic concern of our politicians, and talk of how to encourage people to vote a common topic of conversation on slow news days when an election is approching. This tends to imply that it is the voter who is at fault, that he or she is simply content to lazily sit back and enjoy complacency. Ocassionally there are murmurings of engaging a 'disillusioned' populace, although this attitude seems to be laced with a suspicion that we are all either simple, ignorant, or mistakenly cynical. Of course, the real explanation is that the vast majority of politicians are simply a bit rubbish.
This is not to be confused with the idea that the populace are under the impression that all politicans are corrupt, and that differences between political parties are minor to the point of being negligible. Although this is a perception that is sometimes held, my sentiment is that politicians are reminiscent of the needy, slightly odd kids at school who were best gently ignored - you know they're there, you may even acknowledge them, but you know that, generally, it's best not to indulge them. This idea has been building up for a while, but it has finally matured thanks to having the opportunity to read the local election promotional literature of both the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives. Both have a pseudo-tabloid layout, and a sub-tabloid attitude to integrity and respect for its reader, and both tend to concentrate more on what their rivals aren't doing, rather than what they themselves propose be done. They both read like the kind of thing the tit who took Young Enterprise seriously and viewed it as a perfect opportunity to make friends would come out with, and have a resemblence in spirit to the 'hilarious' caricatures of teachers drawn by a lonely child seeking to demonstrate his or her comradeship to an uncaring student body by targeting the "common enemy".
It is a characteristic evident in the behaviour of individual politicians as it is in their collective works:
Tony Blair - The slightly nervous kid whose token acceptance into the "gang" because his dad can get tickets to see Oasis occassionally causes him to go overboard, unnatractively braying and gloating whenever he's being indulged, resorting to ineffectual pouting and recrimination whenever the fragile relationship with his peers seems to hang in the balance.
Michael Howard - Similar to the Prime Minister, only more snotty and resentful. The one who wanted to be friends with the teachers in the hope that *if only* he could demonstrate his maturity and all round superiority, everyone would then be begging to be his friend. Bitterness set in when it was realised that:
a) No one cared, they were too busy getting pissed up on Strongbow and enjoying adolescence, and
b) He was the only one who deemed his talents superior to those of his peers, including in the opinion of the teachers. Probably the most likely child to have a silent, even more creepy and unpopular friend to make him feel better in comparison and think of as a 'protogé'.
Charles Kennedy - The kid who strove, against all the obstacles nature had placed in his way at birth, to look dismissive and severe in the hope that people would think he was hard and a bit of a loner, despite being ginger and looking like he has gigantism of the face. Were he a child, he would be the most likely to turn up to school wearing a fonzie jacket and a Rambo t-shirt in the mistaken belief that people would think him a dangerous but intriguing subversive, rather than a spack who deserved little more than having the piss relentlessly taken.
Now this isn't intended as some cheap layman's psychoanalysis of the leaders of this country's main political parties, nor is it simply a permutation on the well worn theme that politics is simply a popularity contest. Indeed, politics as performed in Britain seems more of a 'closed affair' than a popularity contest. It seems to be treated almost as a private game between politicians in which we are simply unwitting but necessary participants. Debates in the commons, publicity drives, and the propaganda of the parties involved seem so personally driven, and invested with such a sense of the personal element being over and above the public implications, purposes and consequences, that it is hard not to feel like you've just turned up at school to find the flid kids are the only people in the common room and are playing some mysterious but lame game, probably Dungeons and Dragons. The spectacle is made all the more uncomfortable when they raise their voices and start flamboyantly gesticulating to one another for your benefit. In such instances, as anyone knows, it's best just to ignore them and let them get on with it whilst you wait for the first opportunity to escape down the pub.
If the public view politics as a closed affair for the enjoyment of those few drawn to life as a politician, it is because those people have made it seem this way, by regarding the running of the country as an extension of the debating society or some other petty contest of third rate wits. Attempts to engage the public through childish gestures that insult the intelligence such as tabloid style newsletters or overly-extravagant demonstration of defiance towards the government serve only to make the process seem like it's been subverted by a bunch of class goons determined to make everything seem like a game. If our politicians wish us to take politics seriously, then they should do the same, and not just try to affect an illusion of sobriety and seriousness when it is appropriate.
Of course, it need not be this way forever, but it probably will be; after all, what kind of benny would want to grow up to be a politician?
|Friday, September 17th, 2004|
I'm writing about maths, feel free to ignore.
So the government is appointing what has been dubbed by those with a bankrupt imagination a "math's tsar" to confront the now well known declining interest in the subject amongst students. At the risk of sounding pessimistic, this will, of course, fail. It will fail because you cannot change the perception of a subject without "repackaging" it in a form which appeals to the general public, and you cannot do this without obscuring or diluting the less generally appealing aspects of the subject in the version you present to the public. This is particularly true of mathematics since "repackaging" can only really be done by focusing upon certain applications of maths that are deemed "exciting", thereby neglecting the already weakened pure component of courses below A-Level. All mathematics is, to some extent or another, 'Pure', remove or obscure this element of the course and you're left with little more than something that more closely resembles engineering or, god forbid, statistics. In short, mathematics *is* what most people dislike about the subject: abstract, overwhealmingly based on logic and reason (even when intuition acts as a guide to a solution), and requires a mastery of the "fine details" in order to progress through the subject, and there are no shortcuts - there is little room for "opinion" or subjective interpretation of a proof or a theorem.
Discussing the nature of the subject is, however, besides the point since, strictly speaking, few people who have not taken an A-Level in it have been taught or have any real experience of mathematics or of what mathematics actually is. There is certainly a similarity between what is taught and maths itself, but only a passing one. If a child is taught about roman legionaries in isolation from their context in the past, we do not say that this child has been taught History as we know the subject. Depending on the form of the teaching, it is possible that the child is aware that the legionary is a type of soldier, and wore a certain type of armour, but is oblivious to the legionary set in the context of Ancient Rome. This child has simply been taught a fact: that there is or was a type of soldier of this kind. That the legionary is an 'element' of History does not then imply that History is what is being taught. This analogy demonstrates the way what is called "Mathematics" is taught, and hints at why a child is not being taught Mathematics simply because they are being taught about simultaneous linear equations or Pthagoras' Theorem.
That this is the case is not because Mathematics can only be taught in such a way that children and teenagers find difficult to grasp - elementary proofs such as that stating that the square root of two is irrational gives a small insight into mathematical reasoning and places no greater strain on the imagination than being asked to accept that a woman named Mary gave girth to the son of God and remained a virgin to boot - it is instead because mathematics of this kind is deemed irrelevant for the vast majority of people. This might be true, but no truer of Mathematics than it is of, say, Chemistry, Music, or History. Few people have cause to understand covalent bonding, or use the knowledge that Britain was home to the Industrial Revolution, or recognise the opening to Beethoven's 'Eroica' in their lives, so why bother teaching any of these? Of course it can be claimed that these subjects have the potential to enrich the lives of those they are taught to, but I would maintain that so does Mathematics, albeit in a subtler way (such as encouraging and developing a pupil's capacity for abstract reasoning in a way that no other subject can - with the possible, but by no means certain, exception of philosophy).
Now, at this point, I don't want to seem like a disgruntled maths type who wishes that eleven year olds were taught calculus as opposed to Drama (although I would more approve of eleven year olds being encouraged to hack at each other with rusty hooks for an hour over them being "taught" drama). In fact, I would be happy to see "mathematics" being taken off the list of compulsary subjects at GCSE entirely, compared to any plan to dilute or despoil it any further. Well, not quite. What I propose is that, instead of mathematics, children and young teenagers are instead taught something along the lines of basic numeracy, incorporating some of the more useful elements of mathematics and, in the last year, forming an introduction to the subject proper. Students would then have the choice to continue on this course or switch to an optional GCSE mathematics course that is truer to the spirit and reality of maths. It is true that student numbers wouldn't improve considerably, and, in all likelyhood, it may become even less popular as a subject, but so what? The present strategy to improve student numbers actually succeeds in little but to teach them even less of it. What it would mean is that those students who do decide to follow this route and continue down it into a Science or Mathematics itself would be better equipped and able to do so, whilst those who couldn't care less are free to choose to do something that will serve them better in their lives. We may have fewer mathematicians as a result, but there is a chance we will have better ones by this method.
It is not the government's fault that they mistakenly embark down on this path so frequently (as they have previously with Physics); they are dimly aware of the importance of both Mathematics and the Sciences, but, due to the deficiencies in their own education, few understand the nature of the subjects they are trying to protect. However, because of this, it is likely that this situation is one that is self perpetuating, and can only lead to further crisis in scientific education.
|Wednesday, September 15th, 2004|
Down with "Harvest".... Hooray for "Sleeps with Angels"!
As all pop music is completely unremarkable and worthless (apart from the stuff you can dance to), the only acceptable favourite albums are those that you liked as a callow youth. Sentimentality and extreme subjectivity are the sole bedrocks of genuine preference. No one actually enjoys the Velvet Underground, they just like pretending to hang with bygone cool kids. So give up on Can, put the Clash away - you can stop persuading yourself that you like them - slip Nick Drake back under the bed and stop straining fondness for Strangeways Here We Come. You can leave them to the people who were sixteen when those records came out - no one else has ever had a real, unforced emotional response to them. And as for bothering to keep up with the same stripe of new music that I liked at seventeen... Why? I may flick through an old Beano annual every now and again for old time's sake, but I'm not going to buy new Beanos from the newsagent. I'm 26, you know!
For people of around my age, favourite albums should be drawn from the following list (subject to revision):
The Black Album - Metallica
Parklife - Blur
Urban Hymns - The Verve
Pyromania - Def Leppard
Achtung Baby - U2
Blood Sugar Sex Magik - The Red Hot Chilli Peppers
The It Girl - Sleeper
It's a Shame About Ray - The Lemonheads
Out Of Time - REM
Made in England - Elton John
Free Peace Sweet - Dodgy
Definitely Maybe - Oasis
10 - Pearl Jam
Use Your Illusion Vol 1 & 2 - Guns and Roses
Wake Up! - The Boo Radleys
The Downward Spiral - NIN
Enter the Wu - Wu Tang Clan
Pump - Aerosmith.
Anything else will indicate a lie, a choice made to create an image. And besides, all music has gone downhill since The Breeders - Cannonball. Everyone knows that.