14 December 2007

I'd rather not Blog in Hindi

I do not speak Hindi, or read it, nor can I pick it out of a lineup of non-Roman-character languages. So why am I forced, by default, to disable "blog in Hindi" when I write a new post, hmmm? I have nothing against Hindi, or Hindus, or any word that begins with 'hind'. Indeed, I have great warmth in my heart for the word "hindquarters".

Please, oh mighty denizens of the Googleplex, can you make this a configurable option? I'm sure this would not have been implemented like this if Larry wasn't preoccupied with place settings and seating arrangements.

Fix it. It's terribly broken. Or, as FireBug would have it, "RichEdit.frameDoc.body has no properties [Break on this error] tmpBody.innerHTML = RichEdit.frameDoc.body.innerHTML;". Wise words indeed.

24 October 2007

And another thing

There are some days in a social crusader's life where it seems like the good fight is just never going to end. No matter how much energy I put into trying to educate you all on what's wrong with the world today in my very worldly manner, there's just something or someone else who's going to come along and fuck it all up again.

But that's where the negativity ends. In light of the somewhat melancholy, lights-down-low, soft-piano-music-on-the-jukebox kind of mood I've got the Palace swaying to tonight I'm not going to bitch about it. Too easy is it to slip into cynism and despair and cry havoc at those around us who claim to lead us. Too inviting is the obvious ageist/racist/homophobic rant or anti-rant (I'll let you work that one out - I just can't be bothered with proper sentence structure this evening).

No, what I'm going to do is something a little more difficult so bear with me for a moment.

You know when you've done something that, to you, is so cool that you can't stop beaming about it and you have a big stupid grin on your face and you feel warm and content inside? Like, physically warmer on the inside? I like that.

You know when your mate is heading to the local shop (store if you're in the US I guess) and when he comes back, he's bought you a chocolate bar for no reason other than buying you a chocolate bar might please you? I like that.

You know those mornings when you wake up and you're on the way to work and, all of a sudden, things start to feel Just Right™ - your thoughts coalesce into this single stream of conciousness and nothing at all matters because right now, this very second, everything is right with the world? I like that. I like that one a lot.

You ever had a sneeze that's made your whole body tingle? I like that.

I like a well formed sentence (more than I demonstrated earlier in this post anyway), a well put together query or a good solid use of a compound term. I like the proper and structured use of language and I like it when it is used subtly, moreso than I ever can.

You ever just hung out with yourself? Like, just you and maybe you've made yourself a nice dinner or you've gone for a walk or you're just listening to some music and, without really becoming aware of becoming aware, you realise your smiling and you're having a really good time and that's just cool? I like that.

I like it when people let me skip ahead of them in the queue at the supermarket because I only have a couple of things.

I like it when complete stangers smile back at me when I'm walking in the park. I like seeing couples out holding hands, walking slowly and generally soaking up each other's existence. I like the idea that to them I don't exist. I like the fact that to others, I do.

I like it when the news has that one story about the guy who did the thing and wasn't it crazy when it all happened, because, yeah - yeah it was totally crazy and I thankyou for telling me. I like it when I get a stupid answer to a serious question and a serious answer to a stupid question. I like the colour blue and the number 7. I don't know why I like them as much as I do and I like that fact.

I like being proven wrong; I like to learn new things. You know when someone admits they're wrong? I like that. But I also like it when people who think they might be wrong but just go with the gut feeling anyway because something inside says "do it".

I like being told I'm doing a good job. I like being told I'm doing a bad job, but I like it better when I'm told I'm doing a good job.

I like the idea that right now you're maybe thinking: "What the fuck is this all about?" (I like the fact I can say "fuck"). I like the fact that, even if I knew you, I wouldn't have to explain myself, but I also like that I'm gonna anyway.

It's too easy to forget that we like liking things a lot more than we like hating things. One is harder to admit than the other, and the other all to easily becomes default and [Forgive the sentence that didn't end. It's my fault. Had to give BoosterBoy some electroshock to keep him on topic and it always screws with his short term memory. Ed.].

Not liking things is as easy as pretending it's not even there. Ignoring it is almost the same thing as not liking it and takes nearly no effort. Liking things and making sure others know you like them takes effort and can be hard work, offers no guarantee of reciprocation and can lead to exposure and embarassment.

And I like that.

What do you like?

17 October 2007

Politicians vs Humans

It's been a while since I've done a 'Vs' post (the last one was back in February of last year, the provocatively named Women Vs Men) but the arrival of BoosterBoy to the Palace's ranks - well, rank - has caused an element of competition, so here we are.

A common thread through some of my posts is about social responsibility and how the government is creating an ever more nannying state due to the hordes of people who haven't got the common sense1 to look after themselves. I'm talking about obesity, education, that sort of thing: important social "stuff".

As I've mentioned before, it seems clear to me that the nanny state exists because the Government feels that it has to help out the barely cogent hordes out there who fuck up their lives just a little bit more every day. So, rather than let them fuck it up and deal with the social and political fallout, they get a bit proactive and remove the responsibility which they've proven incabable of shouldering.

The point is that it is the few that force the changes, which means minority rules. Now, I've got a piece of paper round here somewhere that says we live in a democracy (from the Greek demos people + kratos strength) where the people decide what goes down. What we have is more like a fuckoffracy (from the Palace of Righteous Justice fuckoff people can fuck off + racy politicians can do what they like), where the politicians bend us over.

Elections are pointless anyway, because the politicians do what they want. Elections exist to give the electorate the illusion of control, that somehow we decide how the country is run. And they wonder why electoral turn-out is so low. I haven't voted ever - not true; I voted once, for the Green Party, back when I though it mattered - because, as the years roll on and governments come and go, nothing changes. Labour got in a while back; can't say that I noticed the difference.

So, we elect a new government because they tell us lots of good stuff about lower taxes and more cops and nurses; all good, progressive stuff. However, they then spend the next four years doing the following;
a) shoring up the mess left by the last lot (or at least blaming them for it),
b) spending all the cash looking after;
1) the people who can't look after themselves,
2) the people who could look after themselves if they could be bothered.
c) try to sort some foreign dispute,
d) while failing to address pressing domestic issues.

Not forgetting the big omission which is to fail, spectacularly and conspicuously, to deliver on any of the promises they made during the election campaign. Now, we know all this. If you were to collar Joe Public in the street and ask him whether he believed that the government will lower taxes, he'll scoff and walk on. So why do we even bother going through the whole rigmarole?

It is the job of the Opposition party to keep the pressure on the ruling party, which boils down to them standing up in the Commons and saying "Does the Honourable Gentleman really expect us to believe...", to which the Rt Hon. Mr P. Minister replies, with utter conviction, "Yes, I bloody well do!", to which the Opposition laughs, makes loud scoffing noises and mutters "Well, we don't" under it's breath.

None of the above advances society a jot. It doesn't change peoples lives for the better. In fact, I'm struggling to see what governments actually do for us.


1 Is there anthing less common than Common Sense?

Obesity: A growing social problem

It's pretty clear that obesity is a growing issue in modern society. Studies show - meaning they threw some numbers at the wall and wrote down the ones that stuck - that over half of the UK will be obese by 2050 and that treatment of obesity cost the NHS £7bn in 2002, a number that is only going to increase. That's a lot of new schools, hospitals and policepersons.

Now, I accept that many people are obese through no fault of their own, but the sad fact is that there will be a significant proportion of obese people who could get thinner but are hiding behind the excuse that the genuinely, genetically obese people provide.

The other twist is that there will be some obese people who don't give a damn about the 'ideal' body image projected by society, who are quite happy with their weight and who, if given the chance, would eat burgers for their rest of their days in complete contentment. Are we telling these people that they're not allowed, in a free society, to do what makes them happy?

The truth is that society is not free. Society is a trade, economics at it's simplest. a democracy gives you various wonderful freedoms to enjoy but, in return, these freedoms need to be policed and you have a responsibility not to impinge on the freedoms of others. Do not threaten another man's freedoms, lest he threaten yours.

The problem I have with the linked article is that they make the blanket statement that obesity 'is not individual's fault'. In some cases, that will probably be true, but in a lot of cases it will be complete rubbish. It's yet another case of the powers that be removing responsibility from people.

I can understand that They think that evidence shows that people can't control themselves so They have to take responsibility. But what this does is remove the onus from the individual. Gradually, our dominion over our self is being removed. More and more we are told what to do, where to go, what to eat, what to think: soon there will be no part of us that does not fall under the aegis of some faceless government agency and the notion of 'individuals' will be no more.

I was going to go into some extremist rant there about how we should abandon people to their fate and provide only basic support, thereby forcing people to look after themselves. But then the little bloke in white on the other shoulder piped up with "what about the people who can't look after themselves?".

Which means that since - and while - society is beholden to those less fortunate, those who are only pretending to be less fortunate will have a free ride and consume resources better spent on those that really need it. It means that the few - the freeloaders - are ruining it for everyone. In other words, minority rules.

Once again, those who take responsbility for themselves are going to suffer because of those who do not.

15 October 2007

The View from My Window 15/10/07

I've exhorted and lampooned the exploits of the workies round the office before: either the construction site next door or the spidermen cleaning the roof and trying not to fall off. Today it's the turn of Shug1 and Wullie2.

Shug is larger, younger, clearly the boss and is wearing a bobble hat without the bobble. He looks like one of the guys from the office but with a bobble hat on. Wullie is older, balding, fluorescent and has the look of a man whose mental faculties require multi-million pound, lottery-funded refurbishment.

Shug and Wullie are cutting the grass round the office. In their defence, being Scotland - and Autumn - the grass is wet and the ground is pretty mushy. So it's no surprise the Wullie has managed to bog his tractor.

By the time I joined the pantomime, Wullie had already committed the schoolboy error and had buried it to the axles. Judging by the length of the ruts, he was in trouble for a good few meters but, with laudible application, kept his foot in it until the last minute. Plan B was then to hitch up the other lawnmower - this one not a wee tractor but the kind you walk behind, albeit on an industrial scale - and pull out the tractor.

This was a goodish plan with only a few flaws: 1) The puller weighs half as much as the pullee, 2) the puller has only two wheels on the same wet ground as the puller, 3) Shug has tied to the tow rope to the deck of the tractor. The upshot is that, when they give it beans - after failing to tie a knot worthy of the name for over five minutes - what little power the mower generates goes directly into ripping the deck off the tractor.

While evidently not gifted with mental furniture by Chippendale, Shug does stop short of actually ripping the tractor into tiny bits. Plan B is abandoned.

At this point, half the company is offering support from the first floor window. I say support - mostly it's along the lines of "that won't work, you idiot". Plan B having failed, Shug gives Plan A another go, which produces predictable results. Unbowed, Shug gives Plan A another good five minutes, while the tractor merrily spins its wheels, rapidly going nowhere.

Wullie is hiding at this point; probably crying in the back of the van, or on his council-mandated break. Shug, having spent five minutes on the grown up equivalent of a kiddies fun ride - and not swearing (audibly, anyway) - gives way to reason and lays Plan B to rest. Plan C ensues.

Having no doubt been forced to watch some nature programme by his wife, Wullie resorts to the tried-and-tested "put lots of shit under the wheels" approach. Which, annoyingly, seems to have worked. Admittedly, the grass now looks like the Somme (1918, not 1914), but he's out.

I had hoped that this would have turned into one of those "four hundred firemen take six weeks to rescue small dog from well"-type stories, but, disappointingly, Shug and Wullie, with resourcefulness belied by their apparel and noms du guerre, have managed to un-fuck themselves without having to resort to heavy lifting equipment and appeals to local businesses for bottled water.

Hey ho. A good 15 minutes entertainment nonetheless.

1 Glasgow version of 'Charles'.
2 Names have been guessed at to protect the incompetent and enforce the stereotypes.

02 October 2007

You're toeing yer bag rite oot

That title should probably also have "by the way" at the end of it, but you wouldn't appreciate it.

I don't mean to insult - I know for a fact that the full readership of this mighty tome are of a highly educated sort with bleach blonde hair and are at least 6 feet 2 inches tall. I know this because I know myself rather well.

That said, there is no way, even here with the full potential of the Palace at my fingertips, that I could ever impart over the Web to you, dear reader, how this "by the way" is meant to sound. Meant to sound such that you can precisely appreciate my point and, to get to the point, my fear.

I'm a word guy. I like words. I like learning new words so that I might expand my ability to express myself in new and ever more subtle ways. The subtlety of the spoken word is the thing that has defined our nation over generations, and allowed subsequent generations to keep alive those anecdotes, stories and memories. The English language in particular has a certain high status on Earth not just as the international language of commerce, but also from the air that surrounds those who are naturally educated in British English. That air is the air of sophistication and grace that comes from being the language that conquered and ruled the world for hundreds of years and merely uttering British English invites that response from others who have heard of it, but have never actually sampled its delights.

Imagine then my delight, my sheer joy at hearing a new form of communication. A new language even. Sure it used English words, but not in any fashion I had previously encountered. We have Queen's English and King's English for when she's not in. We have Scots English and Irish English. Over the ponds are American English, Canadian English and Australian English. All different and yet all the same. But this was something else, and an example of which I have provided for you already in the title of this here rant.

For don't be fooled by my gay manner and flippant statements. "You're toeing yer bag rite oot, bai th weye" (I'm trying my best with phonetics here) conveys no meaning. It is not a statement of intent nor of immediate want or concern. It achieves nothing other than allowing me the displeasure of becoming aware of the speaker's existence and their ability to offend mine ear!

Glasgow English is becoming a great irritant to me. As much as it sometimes scares me, I like change - things evolve. But that implies that there is some genetic prerogative for that thing to advance in some way: to take what it has learned and apply that knowledge in new and interesting and, goddamnit, useful ways.

The English I know and love is one which long ago broke free from its embryonic torpor and produced what amounts to the lexicographical equivalent of stereo vision, opposable thumbs and a sense of decency.

This English is something that has regrown its erstwhile vestigial tail, covets its appendix as a new and wonderous organ and digs ants out of the sand with twigs.

All of my keenly honed sense of snobbery aside, ultimately I'm afraid.

I fear for my next generation, my progency. I fear this is an English that, if I have them, my kids will one day speak.


20 September 2007

The IKEA is Not a Shop

We're all aware of The IKEA. Some of you won't know it's a shop. Some of you won't know why you even know the word, but you do. It's one of those things that is in the world, but which defies description.

Now, you're all now saying to yourselves: "the exertion of spring cleaning the Palace has warped the fragile little mind of The Kid! The IKEA is just a shop: they are merely purveyors of flatpacked Swedish plywood and/or chipboard joy!". I fear not. The IKEA is the First World equivalent of what native peoples call a vision quest.

The IKEA exerts its influence from a distance. You will be sitting at home on a Saturday morning and, apropos of nothing, somebody will say "What time does The IKEA open on a Saturday?". Now, this person may not necessarily be someone who can normally speak; a toddler say. Not even a person; a family pet, a treasured porcelain figurine, a wilting Ficus. It doesn't matter. The seed is sown.

The urge to go cannot be fought. But the manner in which the quest is undertaken is of vital importance. You must, I repeat, MUST, make at least one firm purchasing decision before you leave the safety of the house. Either use the internet, or browse one of the many catalogues which inexplicably infest each and every corner of the building. But make a choice. Keep that choice uppermost in your mind.

You are prepared. The journey to The IKEA is mercifully brief, despite the high average mileage from your house to the nearest The IKEA. There may have been several near fatal road traffic incidents in your wake, but these do not concern you. Your choice of product, uppermost in your mind, shields you from harm during your quest.

You reach The IKEA. You park the twisted remnants of your vehicle in the car park. No one parks between the lines at The IKEA. Your choice of product, uppermost in your mind, inevitably inhibits your ability to reverse park.

You enter The IKEA through The Revolving Portal. The vision quest begins, for the very doors themselves contain The IKEA products. You proceed to the first floor, from where your quest truly begins.

There is One True Path through The IKEA. It is well labelled and signposted, but these markers are false and are there to tempt the unwary from the Quest. Your choice of product, uppermost in your mind, keeps you on the One True Path.

Many have left The IKEA, having let their choice of product fall from the uppermost position in their mind, bearing only The Energy Saving LightBulbs and The Ten Pack Of Wooden Hangers. Many people have entire lofts, garages, full of unused, unwanted lightbulbs and coathangers. Some even have to buy new houses to store the reminders of their numerous failed quests.

If you keep your choice of product uppermost in your mind, you may divine the location of your product in the mystic Norse runes of the IKEA and find yourself in the abyss that is The Warehouse. It is here that the faithful may decode the runes, locate their choice of product and pass out of The IKEA to the carpark, where they have to locate and dispose of the wreckage of their personal transport.

This is the price The IKEA makes you pay for your weakness.

19 September 2007

Boot up sequence inititated

System coming online.
RAM check... ok.
Level 2 virus definitions loaded.

Enter the location you want to viruscan: Palace of Righteous Justice


It's not been long since my investiture at the Palace and the ticker tape and balloons haven't even been cleaned up. And yet I find that I am already uncomfortable in my new home due to the invasion of the very enemy we seek to destroy. And by destroy I mean comment upon with great and skillful prose and intelligent rhetoric with which to invite discussion among the Internets.

Today I'm going to speak of marketing. Marketing can be clever, and I like clever. This does not mean that I like clever marketing. Nor does it mean that I like marketing of any sort. My point is that I don't like marketing. Specifically, I don't like marketing when it's so blatantly clear that this highly polished visage I see before me is in fact a highly polished company line.

Those of you who know me best (and right now that demographic is limited to RocketBootKid) will understand when I harp on about the correctness of a given statement. This is not limited to just the apparent (or blinding absence of) truth in the message, as I've already suggested, but also in the concise, clear, grammatically and lexicographically accurate language used to convey that message.

As exhibit A, I submit "proactive". As much as I'd like to argue the case for this word infact not being a word, I cannot. The Oxford English Dictionary lists it and it is therefore in common usage. However, it is this very fact that gets my boosters boiling.

Proactive is a marketing term. A term invented by marketing managers (marketeers?) to make them sound somehow more active in a world where being active isn't enough. It isn't sufficient to just actively pursure their next mediocre management goal; they must be seen to be proactively pursuing it.

The reason it gets my boosters boiling then (I may start to use that as a standard actually) is that "pro" (yeah, I am going to get this down and dirty about it) in this context means 'before'. It's a nonsense term to describe how actively they are dealing with a situation they themselves created in the first place!

Binding pro to other words - in essence, trapping it there against its will - does not make you eloquent. It does not provide you with a concise manner of explaining yourself. It does not somehow instill your immediate audience with great confidence in your oratorical prowess.

It makes you sound like a cock.

And I'm somewhat saddened that there appears to be no other adjective I can think of that I feel accurately conveys my thoughts on the matter and on those people who employ it as part of their everday life. But being as concise and truthful as possible is what prevents me from becoming the very thing I am tasked with destroying. And by destroy I mean...

Oh, you get the point.

The Palace has a new champion!

I'm finally caught up processing the backlog of unrighteousness that had built up, so while I've got some spare time waiting for some more to come in, I needed a project.

So I've been spring cleaning the Palace: getting rid of all the empty bags of mess and stuff that were lying around and I found the Boy Wonder kit I bought like months ago and never got around to putting together. I got it in a sale. I think it had been returned as it turns out some of the bits are missing. Seems to work fine though.

Anyway, I now have some company in the Palace. Someone to help handle the load, so that we can be proactive in our Righteousness, rather than reactive which, I think we can all agree, is not the situation to be in.

Some of the missing pieces were to do with guidance and cognitive functions, so his input might be a bit erratic to start with, but I'm a great believer in the powers of electroshock therapy, stroboscopic lighting and duct tape1.

So, without any ado, and no applause please, here's BoosterBoy. Take a bow, 'Boy.

1The plus side to the War on Terror is that people are much more forgiving towards ones approach to cultural education and information control.

23 April 2007

Blogging Destroys Civilisation, apparently.

The attached article jerked me out of my self-important, self-aggrandizing daze and jerked its columns at the patches of dead grass and rabid rabbits that lurk in the leafy nirvana that is Web 2.0. The Palace is a nice place to be. Here I am safe. From here I can rain down Righteous Justice on the dictators, the lawbreakers, the wrongdoers and the ne'erdowells. Your God is in his/her/their celestial house and all is right in the Web.

Or not. Enough metaphor.

The author cites quotes from people of whom I have never heard (but who are promoted as experts and sages) who encourage me to believe their assertion that blogging is "all about digital narcissism, shameless self-promotion", or that blogs "do not add to the available stock of commentary; they are purely parasitic on the stories and opinions that traditional media provide.

Of these two quotes, I can agree with the first in the case of the virtual bike sheds that are the social networking sites, but the second strikes me as the pot calling the kettle a negro. We are all parasitic on society. Papers, TV and the internet are merely transmission mechanisms for stories and opinions created by people. Traditional news outlets only create stories when the world fails to generate its share. This differs from net-based content only in the medium and manner in which it is delivered and that it has been around a bit longer.

Which brings me to the next bone of contention; presentation. I agree that the social networking sites are primarily the domain of the teenager; indeed, the parallels bring back such memories as to make me avoid them completely. The quote;"We are creating a world in which everybody can talk - or , more commonly, shout - about themselves to everybody else."

Put like that, it sounds like a bad thing. But while the newspapers and evening news are geared towards adults, social networking sites are not. Therefore, one cannot compare one by the standards of the other. In this connected world where every individual has the crushing fact of its insignificance thrust down its throat every day, these sites provide a beacon of hope, the chance to have your say without fear of let or hinderance.

The very word "individual" is losing its meaning. Those choices that make us individuals are no longer ours to make. This "round hole" society we have created generates row upon row of uniformly square pegs. Given that fact, are we so surprised that people feel the need to shout "I AM NOT A NUMBER!" to anyone who will listen?

The article also suggests that blogs are generally1 "claustrophobic environment(s), appealing chiefly2 to a certain kind of agressive, point-scoring male and utterly off-putting to everyone else". The author of this comment believes signing your real name to your online contributions is the only way to ensure that people are more civil to each other. I can kinda see the point, but it's no magic bullet and even if it were, you can't make someone use their real name. And those who do will wind up getting death threats from those who do not.

Abusive content cannot be blamed on blogs, nor is abusive online content a new thing. People have been flaming each other in forums and on bulletin boards even before Sir Tim added the FORM tag to HTML 2.0 back in 1995. And it's no good the newspapers getting all superior; the papers are never short of vitriol. The only difference is that the words generally have more syllables, the better to confuse the target and reduce the possibility of litigation.

It's a case of "It's my ball and I'm taking it home". The internet has given those of us who scrawl our words upon it the power to commit our thoughts to immortality, a power which, until recently, was the plaything of the MSM. Now we all have to share the ball, the MSM are throwing their toys out of the pram. We all have to learn to play nice and share.

The Web is in its infancy, its ability to inform opinion and shape policy still very much underdeveloped. Like all kids, it needs to have its boundaries set, its transgressions punished and its good deeds rewarded. I don't feel that the MSM is the body to do that, in the same way that I wouldn't want a sullen older brother, jealous of the shift of attention to its pudgy, drooling little brother, to decide what's best for it.

Do we need regulating? Sooner or later the web will grow, lose the puppy fat, grow some teeth and learn how to articulate itself properly. Until that time, if the Web 2.0 decides to poo itself and throw up on the rug once in a while, we should let it.

Blogging does not destroy civilization. If something as basic as freedom of speech can destroy civilization, then it deserves to die. Asking us to gag ourselves to save civilization is destined for failure. If you want us to save the world, you have to be sure we like it the way it is.

1 Always a dangerous word; you will always piss off the few to placate the many.
2 "generally" with fewer medals.

15 April 2007

Don't stare, you racist!

There's an article in today's 'The Sunday Times' entitled "Staring at Muslims ' is a racist act'". It goes on to state that "pupils and teachers in Scottish schools have been banned from staring at Muslims in case it causes offence" and "Staring or looking is a form of discrimination as it makes the other person feel uncomfortable or as though they are not normal".

Being a Scot, I'm dismayed that the authorities have taken this approach. It appears that the Muslim Association of Britain agrees, saying that the officials have "gone too far".

Firstly, it's evident that "the Authorities" (who obviously are only an authority on 'Sticking Red Tape up Their Own Arse') didn't bother to consult with the people whom this ban is intended to protect. And guess what? The Muslims think it's a piss idea, and here's why.

The human eye is attracted to movement. It's one of those things we have retained from our past, unlike a tail or picking our nose and eating it (well, most of us). Therefore, if your eye detects movement, you automatically look at the thing that is moving. Unfortunately for you, if that 'thing' is a Muslim person, you are now a racist. You have caused offence (so they say). You may as well have cornered them and pointed and laughed.

Now, the authorities at this point will go "Ah well, now, you see, you're missing the point. What this ban will do is...." and we'll interrupt (we racists have no time for social niceties) and go "ABSOLUTELY NOTHING, YOU PC TOSSER!".

Now, there is obviously a difference between a glance and a stare. But where do you draw the line? How long do you have to be focussed on someone before it becomes a stare? Am I allowed to blink? The article doesn't state how much bird you'll do for letting your heathen eyes pass over a Muslim, but I can't imagine the police are going to be nicking people for Looking with Intent to Stare, or Possession of a Racist Eyeball, or Grevious Ocular Damage.

If the authorities have a sense of humour failure about this, logically it could mean that no-one in Scotland will ever look at a Muslim again. Not sure how preventing basic human interaction fosters better understanding between races, but I'm sure they know what they're doing.

This is another case of politically correct over-reaction making a bad situation worse. This is just another glitch on the road towards the complete integration of the races. Racial integration is a recent invention; well, the 'term' is new. Back in the Good Old Days, "racial integration" meant joining the army or navy, sailing off somewhere hot, killing all the darkies, stealing their country and getting home in time for tea and medals.

We haven't been 'cross-pollinating' for that long, geologically speaking, but it won't be long before we're all 'brown'. The lines between races are growing less distinct, which is great. The problem this stupid ban is failing to address is based on religion and our collective inability that not everyone subscribes to our person view of the universe.

There are already perfectly good laws to cover this sort of thing. I saw a very good address given by Bono at some high-faluting breakfast thingy in which he talks about there being the laws of Man and then higher laws, talking of course about God (he also said that Religion gets in the way of God, which was a good way to put it).

Basically, this is old ground for me, but it still gets my goat. Poor goat. Never gets any peace.

29 March 2007

The Last Night of The Gods

I do try, I really do try, to be neutral about religious matters, but everything I see in the world that has religion as a basis just doesn't hold up to scrutiny. In response to modern societys tack away from Religion, the Pope has fired a religious thunderbolt across the bows of the unbelievers in his assertion that the "Fires of Hell are real and eternal".

On a more sombre note, Heaven, apparently, is not a real place. It's not some ethereal nirvana in the sky, "but that fullness of communion with God which is the goal of human life". So, if Heaven doesn't exist, where does God live? In the hearts of the true believers? In which case it must be getting pretty cramped for the old fella in there. Expect to see some extremely white furniture going cheap on Ebay any time soon.

So, where is the upside for the Christians? Transgress, and it's the fiery pit for the rest of time. Think good thoughts and.....what? A lifetime of towing the party line with the promise of "receiving your reward in Heaven" down the drain.

The Pontif's attempts to inject some good old-fashioned God-fearing back into us are naiive. Pope: "Hell really exists!", Us: "We don't believe you.", Pope: "No, it really exists!", as if he expects us to go "Shit, it really exists? Oh well then...". Those are the kind of playground arguments which didn't even work back then.

This did give me this insight, which I think is a good one.

God is merely the frontman, the deification or beatification of an ideal, the logical progression of generations of mothers saying "Behave, or the bogeyman will get you!" to their errant progeny. In order for this to work, you need to believe that the bogeyman exists. Similarly, for adults, they have to believe that God exists and punishes the transgressors, for whom eternity in the fires of Hell awaits.

God is real. People believe in him. That makes him real. If people believe that a piece of paper is worth £10, then it is. Religion is merely a mechanism to keep people on the straight and narrow. Jesus was invented to show people what the straight and narrow looked like. God is there to pick you up if you stray but a little and to smite you down if you stray quite a lot.

That is why God is portrayed as Jesus' father, instead of the other way around. For centuries, "holy" men were dealing out divine retribution for transgressions, when people had no idea what the rules were. So, Jesus is invented to provide this guidance because, to be quite honest, the holy men were getting quite tired dealing out retribution. Jesus, or the concept that Jesus embodies, should have been around first. Show them the way; if you build it, they will come.

However, God is a "goody", and any good story needs a good baddy. Enter Satan. His role in this is unclear. If God is Ye Mighty Smiter, what does the Devil do? Well, he entices the people into wickedness, tempts them from the straight and narrow path onto the wide and windy road to Hell. But Lucifer really represents human nature, those leanings within us towards the animal that still lurks within us.

So, there we go. Religion reduced to its roots. The world is a stage, and even God, Lucifer and Jesus are revealed to be merely players. But The Ideal holds true, even if the play has lost its way, even if the players have lost their voices.

Religion is the bureaucracy that renders the ideal powerless. Embrace the ideal, the giant upon whose shoulders Religion stands.

What is the ideal? Honour. Live your life with honour. But do it because you want to, because it is the right thing to do, not because the Pope threatens you with the bogeyman.

28 March 2007

Nothing Ever Happens: Why Blogs Die

There is a song by Del Amitri that goes "Nothing ever happens. Nothing happens at all. The needle returns to the start of the song and we all sing along like before." And it's true. What you're doing right now is probably pretty much what you did yesterday and most likely what you'll be doing tomorrow.

The blogosphere is thinning. The bubble is bursting. Blogs are falling dormant in their thousands, HTML gravestones marking the points where people ran out of things to say.

But that isn't actually the problem. The problem is that people get bored of writing the same shit, day in, day out. It reminds them how repetitive their lives are, so they either stop blogging and a) do something about it, or b) ignore the problem.

Now, this blog has evolved over the eighteen or so months I've been doing it and the rate of new entries has plummeted. This is not because my life is repetitive (which of course it is) but because my suject matter is repetitive. My posts are generally rants about the same old things; intolerance, politics, society, evolution, communication, information. Name a -tion, there's a rant around here somewhere.

After a while, you find yourself, mid autorant, thinking that you've seen what you're typing somewhere else, and then you realise it was in the post you typed last week. At this point, your spam filter kicks in and for every five posts you start, one might get published. My list of posts is littered with entries where I've started ranting and then run out of steam.

No doubt some blogs die because the authors' spleens are fully vented. I have reached this point a number of times. I'm lucky, if you can call it that, to be a bit of a grumpy old man, so my spleen fills up faster than most. But still, there's not enough new unrighteousnesses in the world that I need to squash. The Palace is gathering dust, the Twin Swords of Truth and Beauty rusting in a corner.

And we get to what this blog is about; finding, through the medium of Rant, the answers to life's questions. In this case, why the papers and media are so full of conjecture, fabrication and meaningless drivel. The answer is that they are struggling to fill five pages with news, let alone fifty. So, just like sausages, out comes the cereal and the gristle to add a bit of bulk to the mix.

The ratio of signal to noise in the world is dropping. I will tweak my filters and try to tease some meaning from the good information that makes it through. There may be answers and there will be new questions. That's fine. What is Life without really good questions?

16 March 2007

No Mirrors in the Corridors of Power

It's a fact: there are no mirrors in The Whitehouse or Downing Street. You know how I know? Because if George Bush or Tony Blair looked at themselves in a mirror even once, they'd be out of Iraq and all over Zimbabwe like those cheap suits they seem to like so much.

Mugabe's actions are not those of a well man. Inflation is at 1700% and rising, life expectancy has fallen year on year to a World Record low of 37 years, emigration is at 20%, Industry is operating at 28% of capacity. AIDS infection hovers around 80%, with ~180K deaths leaving ~1.1M AIDS orphans, of whom ~160K are infected as well. (Figures from The Times)

His response to democratic reform is.....unilateral, to put if mildly. From destroying the homes of those who oppose him (Operation Murambatsvina) to beating his direct competition close to death (Morgan Tsvangirai), he has no regard for the consequences of his actions. The reasons for this are threefold; 1. He's a great big loony, 2. He cares little for the opinions of the outside world, 3. He knows that the outside world lack the gumption to do something about him.

So if there are crimes against humanity "allegedly" going on in Zimbabwe at the moment, where are the Leaders of The Free World? Where are the UN peacekeepers? When are we going to descend on Mugabe and remove him from power, like we did with Saddam in Iraq?

I'll tell you when. Never. And I'll tell you why. Because he hasn't got any Oil. And even if he did, the First World have a mental block about Africa. Africa is the land of brutal civil war, of famine, or disease, all the things that we in the First World want to avoid. The furthest we are prepared to go is to send aid and the occasional comedian to try and ease the suffering.

As Blair and Bush's premierships near and end, you might think they'd want to go out with a bang; do something worthwhile, memorable, something the people could get behind. A quick evisceration of Mugabe and his cronies and be home in time for tea and medals. The problem is that One Man and His Dog went to Iraq and got / are getting their fingers burned, so they are less likely to want to burn them somewhere hotter.

But Zimbabwe doesn't require Shock and Awe. Food and Medicine would do fine. All you need are some SAS / SEALS to blow him up, make it look like rebels and deny all knowledge. There are other ways to achieve change. I'd prefer the European "scalpel" approach to the American "M1 Abrams-up-the-ass! Woo! Get some!" approach. Hell, the CIA been pulling that shit for years. Wild Bill
invented the OSS (and thus, indirectly, the CIA) to pull precisely that sort of shit. They can do it.

You could compare Mugabe to Hitler and Saddam Hussein. Go on, compare. The man even has a Hitler moustache, for Pity's sake! You remember Hitler? He was big in the Thirties and, unlike Mugabe, he had a War and everyone was invited. He has probably caused as many people pain and suffering as Saddam ever did. Just because he is starving them, not gassing them, doesn't make him a better person.

Mugabe's uppence will come. It's just a matter of time. The only questions is; how many people will be left in Zimbabwe to celebrate? Sadly, it will be typical that his time will be one of the last to run out. But all it takes is one bullet. Surely Team America can afford one measly 5.56 FMJ?

06 March 2007

How to Stop America Invading You

Got Oil? English not your first language? Looking to expand your countrys technology base? Then the USA wants you! Dead.

So how do you stop the Redneck Army invading, short of waving Jesus flags? Simple. The solution is clear. Contaminate your Oil. With silicon. The advanced internal combustion engines of the infidels cannot process poor-quality gasoline. It's no use to 'em, can't use it.

So, if you've no usable natural resources, the only reason they've got to invade you is if you intend to get within one hundred years of them, technologically. And, between you and me, that's not really such a big deal to them. They just want your Oil.

Make their satellites work for YOU. Construct a huge oil contamination plant. Ship in huge quantities of silicon in yellow wagons with "Silicon" written on the roof. Be really blatant about pouring it into your oil. Smile for the cameras.

You are now free to abuse your womenfolk and develop dirty bombs in peace.

Contaminated unleaded petrol blamed for causing thousands of cars to break down has been traced to a depot in Essex, a supplier has said.

07 February 2007

Brave New World

I found the linked video on BoingBoing. It was created by Michael Wesch, an assistant Cultural Anthropology Professor at KSU. It goes into the way that Web 2.0, the advent of social networking sites, wikis, communication tools, and folksonomies, will affect how we live from here on out. It's a great piece of work.

However, there are cautionary elements in there, elements which the fatalist movie lover in me picked up straightaway. Every time we tag something, or add a link, or mail something to someone, a computer somewhere is taking notes. As the video says, we are teaching the machine and the machine is learning to think.

Now, where have we heard that before, children? Armed robot gunships, memetic polyalloy assassins, self-aware machines; naked Austrians? How long before Google responds to your search request with "I need your clothes, your boots and your motorcycle?" Suddenly, terms like "search bot" and "web spider" have a jackboot soundtrack.

Leaving aside the possibility of a self-aware, self-replicating web of killing machines, I like the way the shiny side of the web is going. I like that I can write this drivel and ignore the fact that no-one bar me will ever read it. It gives me a sense of empowerment, that somehow my writing this will add to the pool of human knowledge. But if Google, Yahoo, YouTube, Blogger, etc are really listening to everything I commit to the Ether, then I'm actually contributing to the eventual pool of human blood.

So, could the internet morph into a sentient entity? "Sentience is a by-product of the complexity required for the ability to self-evolve.", said the internet when I asked it1. Now, the router tables that know how to get from every server in the world to every other server in the world do precisely this. When a broken connection is detected, the router re-routes data through alternate connections. When you buy things online, the site suggests other things you might like to buy.

From the Web 2.0 sites, a computer could determine the characteristics of the human race. Yes, based on what books we buy on Amazon. From there, it's not too far a leap to the point where it starts to alter the user experience. If you wanted to buy a book on World War II, the site might say, "Many customers decided not to buy this and bought a book about existentialism instead." or "You have been added to the Nazi sympathisers list".

We have some time. We have years of shared web nirvana in our future. But we would do well to consider that our utopia, our brave new world, may be but a veneer of fantasy over the grimy, pixellated reality of a machine world that is coldly and dispassionately shaping our lives through a web page2.

Thank you for reading this post. Blogger is adding your name to the list.

1 If the internet was self-aware, it would not have told me that the possibility exists. So, we're safe, for the time being.
2 If you're getting Matrix overtones, that's fine. So was I.

28 January 2007

Will everyone with Class please stand up?

Class. Pretty much every culture in history has had a notion of class; the standing of people in society in relation to others. Britain historically has (had?) three classes; working (or lower), middle and upper. These days, the lines, in socio-political1 terms, are not so well defined.

So, what makes you upper class, middle class or working class? Is it your job, where you live, who you associate with, all of the above? Or, like "cool", is it a quality that anyone can have? To my mind, cool and class are merely two public faces of the same inner quality. But, where cool can have many interpretations, class is defined more clearly2.

We all know class when we see it. Someone with class stands out in the crowd, head and shoulders above everyone else; their inestimable quality written in every gesture, every word.
I just watched the final of Celebrity Big Brother 4, which was won by Shilpa Shetty, who was the subject of some pretty nasty treatment during her stay in the house.

She and Germain Jackson were not the last two people in the house by accident. Out of the whole cadre, those two had more class than the rest of them put together. Indeed, it was for this reason that the rift between the - OK, I'll say it - lower class elements (reality TV mutant creation Jade Goody, ex-pop star Jo O'Meara and disgraced ex-Miss UK Danielle Lloyd) and Shilpa existed. The knew class when they saw it and they realised they had none. Germaine, legend and sage, summed it up thus; "You can't mix class and no class".

Now, Shilpa and Germaine are legends in their respective countries; Shilpa as a Bollywood superstar and Germaine as part of the Jackson Five. They are used to the finer things in life; they are therefore classifiable as upper class. Is it by accident that these two were the two classiest people in the house?

Not to boil it down to a word; well, precisely to boil it down to a word, its about filters. It's the difference between what you could do or say, and what you do do or say. From the debatable "wealth" of reality TV to which we have been subjected over the years, those of higher class have more filters in place than those of lower classes.

This is precisely why, when classes collide (as they did in Big Brother), those higher class individuals are charged with being "fake", for not saying what they think. But, where lower class people see this as a fault, a betrayal of their own values, higher class people do not understand, as it is this reserve, this non-verbalisation that makes them higher class.

The arguments that occur between people from different classes always center about the different sets of filters each employ. Lower class people will say what is on their mind, despite the net effect of the words, whereas higher class people are more mindful of the impact their words could have. The actions of lower class people tend to the unstable, the disruptive (public affray and drunkenness), where higher class people seek to stabilise, to soothe, to return to a state of order3.

I would call myself middle class and, as such, I know most about middle class. Also, I have had occasion to spend time with working class guys on a building site and I have spent time with Lords and Earls in castles. As with any demographics, within their boundaries, in their comfort zones, any human being, regardless of class, is a pleasant and reasonable thing.

When the two extremes are forced to mix, that's when it gets messy. And that is when class shows itself. People with class don't have to respond. Class says it all for them.

1 Like I have the first clue about what that means...
2 I am in no way equating Upper class with having class. Some working class people have class in the same way that some upper class people have no class. Look at Paris Hilton, for goodness sake...
3 There's something deeper here, but I haven't got time or space at this point.

24 January 2007

Too much information?

Is there such a thing as too much information? If knowledge is power, then surely more information is a good thing. At this juncture, I look ominously at The Media and subject them to a patented, copyright Glare of Righteous Justice©™.

The Media. The Number One Threat to Global Security. The legal Class A drug. The True Masters of The Universe.

The Media understand all too well that knowledge is power. They make their money by pedalling as much information as possible. But therein lies the rub. Like scientists facing a funding review, the media is constantly on the search for new information. And, like scientists, if they can't find any, what do they do?

Of course they do. If your currency is information, there's always the temptation to resort to counterfeiting if you're a little short. And this is how the rot starts. Slow news days are no longer. The world the media have created is a self-sustaining news generation machine.

In this world, then, how can anyone make an informed, personal decision, when their views are distorted from all sides by conflicting "truths" and their decisions are handed to them in a sealed envelope stamped "Property of HMG".

Many people accept the information presented to them at face value, feeding the beast in so doing. I also, in moments where my cynicism collapses from the strain, gravitate towards news sources that tell me what I want to hear, and then believe whatever lies they choose to propagate. It requires conscious effort to step back and think "Is that actually true?".

It's an addiction. Once you've tasted mass-media output, you crave more, you become a mirror of the system, a self-sustaining information-consuming machine, addicted to knowledge, any knowledge, no matter how close to the "truth" it may be. Your personal truths are gradually eroded until you can no longer tell the difference. Your gear of choice is now carefully processed, filtered, Grade A information.

Unlike substance abuse, there is no Priory for information junkies, nor are there lengthy jail terms for those who deal and supply. Unfortunately, we are all as guilty as we are cursed.

DISCLAIMER: The views expressed in this post, and all previous posts, are entirely those of the author and should be rejected. Nothing written here is true. Reject my reality and replace it with your own.

17 January 2007

Why do we Celebrate Stupidity?

We all have our moments where we shake our heads at ourselves. But you wouldn't want to put me on TV, and I certainly wouldn't want to go.

But what is it about blatant ignorance that we find so appealing? Why do we pay money so that we can watch people displaying their ignorance of everything? Is it so we can point and laugh? Is it so that we can feel better about ourselves; so we can go "Well, at least I'm not as thick as Jade Goody1".

When we export this drivel, do they get the joke, or do they just take it as symptomatic of the nation? Judging by the reaction to moronic sledging of Shilpa Shetty in CBB4, they think we're all mindless, bigoted cretins. And who can blame them? We're making them pay to watch programmes where we endorse their opinions.

Is the prevalence of the ignorant celebrity the result of failing education? The ignorance displayed by a lot of celebs, younger, more naiive ones primarily, can only be down to poor education, at school and/or at home. It is strange that it has taken Celebrity Big Brother to show up this racist undertone, where normal Big Brother has never had this issue. It would be a pleasing and convenient truth if celebrities were more ignorant as a rule.

Behind every celebrity is an agent who takes a percentage. I'm sure the main reason we have to put up with these dolts are agents saying "Go on, do Celebrity Big Wife Swap Dance Idol, it'll do wonders for your career!". Being bears of little brain who find big words scary, they display their ignorance in private one last time and agree, before having it broadcast to the world in a prime-time display of conspicuous stupidty.

Beyond the car-crash element, I've never really seen the point of Big Brother. But one could argue that it holds a mirror to society, allowing us to see ourselves as others see us. I bet that is what the producers keep telling themselves; you know, in between counting the cash from the millions of drivelling fools (of which I am occasionally one) who pay to press their noses against the glass of the Endemol Stationary Freak Show.

I'm with the old, dead guys when it comes to knowledge, or its lack. "The only good is knowledge and the only evil is ignorance" - Socrates; "Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I'm not sure about the former." --Albert Einstein.

Even for those of us for whom knowledge is something to be persued, rather than evaded, it is an effort to avoid ignorance. As the breadth of human knowledge expands, individual grasp of that knowledge cannot keep up, or it lags behind at some percentage of the whole. Older, less applicable knowledge is "aged" out, while it is replaced by newer knowledge. Logically, the breadth of knowledge at an individual level is reasonably constant, generation on generation, but the breadth of all knowledge continues to rise.

So, sadly, we're probably all more ignorant than our parents. But please, in the name of all those who crave wisdom over celebrity, don't go on telly and prove me right.

1Poster Child for Stupid. On the Wikipedia Page for Ignorant Cretinous Moron, she ranks above Dubya . I would make her the Queen of stupid people, only she would think it was a good thing. And she would bestow her wisdom upon them and, lo,they would lap that shit right up and ask for more. Hell, that's where we are right now...

We Need a Hero...

This is how legends begin.

The linked article tells of how a mystery vigilante with a samurai sword turned up during an attempt by police in South Shields to disrupt a burglary, only to be met with a greater number of well armed crooks. After three criminals were apprehended and the plain clothes officers protected from serious injury, the mystery ronin1 then vanished into the night.

I, for one, am excited. Here at The Palace we applaud those who fight injustice with a sword2. We live in a world not too distant from the dystopian metropoleis3 where comic book superheroes ply their nocturnal trade. The injustices of Metropolis© and Gotham© are just those of any major city, writ large. The world is in dire need of a hero or two.

This is merely underscored by the proliferation of comic book characters who have made it to the big screen recently. Even those elder statemen - Superman, Spiderman and Batman - have all had their oevres reinvigorated. People recognise the parallels; how art imitates life. We are receptive to the idea of a hero who operates outside the law; above it, beyond it. We applaud the notion that there are people prepared to sacrifice their freedom to address the injustices of society, people over whom societys barriers have no hold.

In todays nanny states, we barely have the freedom to determine how to live our lives. It takes all our energy to scratch together an existence in a culture where all possible means of advancement have been culled to the point where our only option is to choose the padded, sanitised, government-approved Middle Road.

Our only secret door out of this reality is through the synthetic realities whose more proactive denizens take the James Kirk approach to the Kobayashi Maru4 test that is modern society; that is, to ignore its rules entirely and forge their own path.

The one element of this story about which I'm concerned is the reaction of "the authorities" to our nascent local superhero. There is of course the possibility that this is the act of a random, sword-wielding psycho, who may in future turn their attention to the ever-present busload of nuns / children; precisely the possibility that the Police are hoping to prevent. But I really hope that isn't the case.

I hope that this person is called Dave, lives in a flat somewhere in Newcastle, works for a bank, has a burning hatred of injustice and, due to an fantastic and coincidental accounting problem at NatWest, has several billion pounds under his mattress and some spare time on his hands.

Keep it up, Samurai Dave! Britain Needs You!

1 One assumes there is no master. It does rather dilute a myth if the superhero is having their strings pulled.
2 Hang on, let me just check....Bugger! The Sword of Truth is missing! Mum!? Have you seen my Sword of Truth? No, it's not under my bed...
3 Opinions vary on the correct plural, so I plumped for this one.
4 No-win situation.

10 January 2007

Potential Energy

Looking in the mirror this morning whilst shaving my aged face (not a common occurrence), an errant thought entered my brain. But, unlike a cosmic ray, it didn't leave and consequently didn't take a small proportion of my cognitive abilities with it, thereby leaving me capable of pressing keys in something approaching the right order.

I thought that, by my age and younger, famous people have made millions. And by famous, I mean famous for a reason; actors, sportspeople, entrepreneurs and the like, famous for making the best use of their talents.

Take Michael Schumacher, who retired from Formula 1 after fifteen years, 68 pole positions, 91 race wins and seven World Drivers titles and pretty much every conceivable F1 record, all in just 250 race starts1.

The sad thing about Life is that most people either never find out what it is that they can do well or don't have the freedom or courage to follow their dreams. There must be millions, nay, billions of people out there who either have no idea what they are good at, or know perfectly well what it is but are unable or unwilling to go for it.

It's another sad triumph of Reality visiting another crushing defeat on Possibility; another 20-0 humping of the Sunday League pub side by the Premiership professionals. For out of those millions who do know what floats their boat, only a few thousand are probably in a situation where they can afford to take the plunge and go a new direction without starving to death and having your house, family and pets repossessed. Those who don't are just plain lazy, so I'm glad we don't get to hear about them.

All in all, it's a depressing thought, so don't have it. Maybe that's why we like soaps so much. British soaps, which I don't watch but which are pervasive to the point of being classed as an airborne contagen, cover the bleak, strife-ridden lives of the downtrodden, something which the Learning and Skills Council have been complaining about.

If TV tells us that everyone else out there is stuck in dead-end jobs, its hardly likely that anyone else will go "I could do that!", unless they're the people who really want to run a stall in Walford market.

So, soaps and post-imperial malaise can explain the Britsh lack of gumption. We need a cliff; some event or advance that will enable us to convert all this potential into kinetic, into action. Please, please don't go jump off a cliff. It was a metaphor. So please, please do jump off it metaphorically. I'll hold your hand. We'll jump together.

I watched Batman Begins last night (which is excellent) where the question "Why do we fall?" is asked, the answer being "So we can learn how to pick ourselves up." In Britain, at least, we're collectively still hugging our skinned knees and sobbing. We just need someone or something to say "Stop being a such a baby".

So, people of the world, stop crying, get up and make2 Life give you what you want.

1 I'll let you decide whether he was a legend or a cheating Kraut.
2 "make" as in "work hard, get rewarded", not "complain until they pay you to STFU".