17 September 2010

Lessons From The Guardian Letters Page Module #2 - nothing is so bad that Israel isn't worse - homophobia's OK as long as it's about celebrities - and (in the interests of fairness) one great piece of TV trivia.

One thing that certain elements of WWUTCTL excels at is taking any controversial issue/person/organisation/nation and making some tortuous link to Israel in order to supposedly demonstrate that however bad that issue/person/organisation/nation is, it is not as bad as Israel because Israel is the worst thing ever:
I share the criticism of the Catholic church and Pope Ratzinger made by Stephen Fry (Letters, 15 September). But I wonder if they would extend their stance to rejection of state visits by other heads of theocratic states guilty of gross human rights abuses (Iran, Israel)?
Anybody familiar with the history of the Middle East would struggle to deny a religious aspect to some (but only some) of what Israel does. As is the case with countries in Europe. And America. And Africa. Oh, and Asia, too. To deduce from this a nasty theocracy in action is absurd. To give it equivalence with totalitarian Iran is the sort of unabated willful stupidity that you only see exercised by really, really clever people.

The sort of people who would sneer at others for making jokes about gay men being defined by their preference for a certain style of sexual intercourse, and the counter-productive state of our prisons.

Unless, the subject of the joke is a celebrity, in which case, apparently, it's perfectly OK for a woman to write:
Loads of men around 24/7 and cannabis supplied on demand (Wham! Michael jailed for eight weeks, 15 September). George Michael must think he's died and gone to heaven!
Don't get me wrong. Jokes about the unique - how you English say? - culture to be found in prison can be amusing. But to be amusing, jokes have to be funny, strictly speaking. And original. The unabridged version of that letter probably implored him to drop the soap in the showers.

More than that, though, would it have been published had it referred to a normal punter convicted of an offence who happened to be gay? Or if it had been written by a male correspondent about a lesbian celebrity off to Holloway nick?

Your report on Harley-Davidson's woes (Unions vote for deal that stops Harley motorbikes moving out of Milwaukee, 15 September) named the Fonz as a Harley-riding icon. Despite being a native Milwaukeean, he was more commonly seen on British bikes, including the Triumph 500 Trophy seen in Happy Days' opening credits. Perhaps he anticipated the company's future woes.
I might even have to respond, working in references to the five (yes, count 'em) Happy Days spin-offs.

16 September 2010

Can we ever really trust internet polling?

Apparently not, if the results of a new study published in Computers In Human Behaviour are to be believed.

Two academics from the Universities of Vienna and de Deutso (Bilbao) have found that we simply do not pay enough attention when filling out surveys on line.

Their UserActionTracer (UAT) may have been developed to check the seriousness with which participants took psychological data collection. But the behaviours they identified (such as 46% clicking through at a suspiciously fast rate) point towards weaknesses in all web-based surveys.

A neat summary of their findings is here.

14 September 2010

Neanderthal author captures geist of the ice zeit.

Working alone in his office in the Neander Valley, the greatest author of our and any other time, Jonathan Paintstone has finally completed his new cave drawing, entitled "Why Hunting Is All You Need And How The Choice To Gather Means We'll Never Progress Beyond The Altay Mountains".

The long-awaited follow-up to "Is It Getting Warmer Or Is It Just Me?" (which anticipated by a few weeks the beginning of the inter-glacial period) has been hailed as the Scrawl of the Pliocene-Quartenary.

The story revolves around an upwardly mobile Cro-Magnon couple, Sue and Jake, who move into a rundown area of Lascaux in anticipation of it gentrifying as it attracts ever more reasoning sub-species of Homo sapiens.

On the surface, Sue and Jake are happy, but there is a strong undercurrent of misery and dissatisfaction in their lives thanks to the onset of the Modern Stone Age. 

Unable to cope with their new found freedom - to bury their dead intentionally, worship fertility, appreciate art for aesthetic sake, and apply basic principles of nursing to the sick and wounded - they forget to keep breathing and disappear up their own backsides (surely "sometime around the mesolithic age" - Ed.).

Barney and Betty Rubble said:

"We, too, used to be happy, simply breaking down mammoth hides with flat-backed tools. But since they opened the Bedrock Bowling Alley and we had that pigosaurus waste disposal installed, our lives have been hell. And you should have seen what buying a woodpecker that plays gramophone records off its beak did for Fred and Wilma's marriage."

10 September 2010

Lessons From The Guardian Letters Page Module #1 - how the real problem with the world is that there just aren't enough anti-bourgeois, anarchistic, surrealist, cultural anti-war movements anymore.

The Guardian letters page, etymologists of the future will conclude, was what the phrase "beyond parody" was invented to describe.

On 8 September, it published this

I'm horrified that Martin Kelner (Screen Break, Sport, 6 September), in quoting the theme song from Bonanza, omitted "da da" before the final "dum". He should leave this kind of thing to us music lovers.

A little arch, perhaps, but amusing and admirably brief. This isn't what I'm talking about.

But this, today's response to it, is:

We shouldn't lose sleep over a dropped "da da" from Bonanza (Letters, 8 September), but focus instead on the absence of Dada in our modern world. This creative movement was founded in 1915 to highlight the horrors and pointlessness of the first world war. Sadly, the movement lost its way during the 1920s. Would "A Journey" have chosen a different path, and how many thousands of lives would have been saved, had Dada still been alive in 2003?

At least it, too, is brief.

Or am I missing the point? Perhaps it is parody. And I'm the one being a po-faced, joyless, obsessive, pretentious, tortuous, tedious, ahistorical, esoteric waste of pixels.

Wouldn't be the first time.

08 September 2010

"Where they burn books...

While the Ground Zero Mosque is not a mosque and isn't at Ground Zero, the controversy has now thrown up another poorly named building in the form of the Dove World Outreach Center.

If the title is supposed to suggest peace and understanding throughout our sceptred globe then I think they might have lost sight of their mission a little, with plans for an international Burn The Koran Day. 

As someone who can both breathe and think at the same time I don't really like seeing any books burned, banned or censored in any way. 

I've never read the Koran in its entirety. Though this is pretty much as I understand it: religious text claiming to be the word of God through direct revelation or via the representations of agents, containing some ethical and moral guidance that transcends time and remains pertinent, and some other stuff that fails to take account of contemporary values and expectations. 

Not unlike the Old and New Testaments which have also, at various times, found themselves interpreted to inspire and justify extremist acts.

However, such acts are not in and of themselves religious and are certainly not so in their consequences. Rather, they are political.

The motivations of those who carried out 9/11 had far more in common with communism and fascism than with any theological insight.

Unless I'm missing something. So rest assured, Pastor Terry Jones! Fear not, good congregants of the DWOC! Your planned actions have inspired me. 

On 9/11 this year, I will, as always remember those who died on that day and in the conflicts which followed. Anyone who knows me will know the sincerity of this and that nothing I would do could ever be intended to disrespect them. And with that in mind, I'm also going to buy, rather than burn, a Koran, and read it, and learn a little more.

Buy A Koran Day. Can anyone suggest the best English translation?

Is this the worst political metaphor ever?

Political wit is a tricky business and one of that discipline's subsets is especially difficult: the employment of a memorable metaphor or similie to illustrate a particular controversy.

In 1992, Dennis Skinner sought biblical inspiration for his assertion that sterling rejoining the ERM would be akin to 

"a dog returning to its vomit".

I seem to remember the leader of the then-MSF union, Roger Lyons, describe Michael Portillo's 1994 promotion to Secretary of State for Employment as 

"like putting Dracula in charge of a blood bank".

Simple points, well made. But cliches, even then. Which is perhaps why politicians attempt new comparisons in the search of that sharp piece of argument-closing rhetoric.

Do think it through first, though. Otherwise you end up, like Lib Dem Treasury Spokesman Lord Oakeshott, saying this sort of thing (of the appointment of Bob Diamond as Barclay's new Chief Executive):

"you don't put the chief croupier in charge of the casino".

Err. Yes, you do. A chief croupier's job is, amongst other things, to make sure that all the gambling is being carried out within the rules. He or she will understand risk, probabilities and financial irregularity better than most.

If anything, we should be encouraging career-changes from The Strip to the Square Mile.