05 November 2008

Barack Obama Wins!

Barack Hussein Obama is the 44th President of the United States of America.


19 September 2008

Town vs Country: Someone has to Kill

My life has been roughly divided between town and country. I am equally confortable in either. Well, that's not entirely true. There's less chance of you being eaten in the country, which makes it a much more relaxing place to be.

Twas not always thus. It took us a while, but we managed to eradicate being eaten by dangerous animals from our "Don't Do" list. We removed the apex predators, because they were eating all our food. So we killed them. Fair enough.

This means, then, that the responsibility for the food chain falls to us. I won't explain how the food chain operates because it would be a fabric woven from assumptions and ignorance. It's simple economics; supply and demand. Animal A eats Animal B which eats Plant C. If there are too few of Animal A, there will be more of Animal B, which means less of Plant C, which means lots of Animal B die from starvation or are eaten by Animal A. Animal Bs numbers decline and it all starts over.

We kill Animal A because Animal A confuses People with Animal B; besides, Animal B is delicious. Therefore, we need to control Animal B and Plant C to ensure that there are enough Animals B to go around.

Sometimes "control" means "kill". Over time, some of these activities have aquired the title of "sport", or "bloodsport". This is where the problem lies. People think of sport as some people running very fast in a circle and whoever doesn't get dizzy and fall over wins. What goes on in the country is not "sport". It is Life and Death. Things are born, they fulfill their purpose, they die or are killed.

The vast majority of people in the First World have never been confronted with Death. It is alien to them. Death is something that happens to other people in far away places. It is not part of their Life, when in fact is an inescapable part. They do not believe that people have any active part to play in the cycle of Life and Death.

They do not think about the process of how food arrives in their mouth. At some point along the line, someone had to kill the cow, or pig, or chicken. Nothing that ends up in the supermarket died of natural causes. So everyone is complicit in Death. You create the demand, you sign the death warrant.

The people who work in the country understand their place. They understand that Death is an integral part of Life. What they do not understand is the reaction and attitude of people who live in cities who cannot understand the countryside.

City dwellers need country dwellers. They need them to give Life and to take it away. What they do not need to do is to question the methods. You can't make an omlete with breaking a few eggs.

Behind Every Important Man

I've commented on the reversal of gender roles before; Women vs Men: The Worm that Turned, Men vs Women 1. It's one of those subjects that polarises opinion, because you're generally either one or the other2. And it's a subject that will never die, because no side can understand the other's point of view.

As I've said before, I think that women have always been in control, just in a different way to men. In ye olden days, men had committees and wrote bills and acts and went to war and had moustaches and let the women bring up their kids, in between doing tapestry and having dinner parties and stuff.

But I've always held great stock in the phrase "the hand that rocks the cradle is the hand that rules the world"; that those who raise the next generation have the greatest influence on the future. From that point of view, then, it has traditionally been women who have held the only power truly worth having.

From my male perspective, I imagine that women - in some cases - are probably quite happy to let the men get all worked up about Clause 4b, subpara 13, and quite how they're going to get the Leicester bypass built, what with all the tree-huggers and the negative press they've been getting, and get on with doing something contructive like teaching little Jimmy his Ps and Qs and about how he should hold the door open for people. As Mr Carey says in Bruce Almighty: "Behind every important man is a woman rolling her eyes".

These days, however, we are all endlessly bombarded from all quarters with messages telling us how we should be, enforcing outdated stereotypes and sowing the seeds of new ones. The worst culprits are adverts for products that fall into the domestic field traditionally peopled by women.

Adverts for cleaning products invariably have some smart, modern - for which read sneaky and devious - women who tricks her barely cogent neanderthal husband - who she has inexplicably married - into using said product. He then proceeds to make a ham-fisted attempt at cleaning something, only to get covered in food / mud / water, at which point the woman - all pristine and twinkly - crosses her arms and rolls her eyes at the camera while neanderthal looks fat, hairy and clueless in the background.

I guess the hidden plus side for the man - and you've got to want to see it - is that he's managed to get - and stay - married to a smart, modern, pristine and twinkly woman who will, after he's made a horse's arse of the housework, pat him condescendingly on the head and do it herself, leaving him free to escape to the shed and do whatever advertising people think men do in sheds.

But I guess that there is no chance of ever reaching equilibrium. Society functions on change. If society wanted equilibrium, if it was in someones interest, we would get it. But we don't. So, oddly, society tends to oppose the ideals that individuals would cite as the necessities of a civilisation.

And, yes, I got all that from an advert for Toilet Duck.

1 I spy a constant. Evidently, my psyche is aware that there is a war on - and if there is, it's a cold one - even if outwardly I would like the sexes to be equal.
2 Excepting those that are both, or neither.

18 September 2008

Blogger's Guilt

I do not post as often as I used to, that much is painfully clear. I have commented on this sad fact before on these very virtual pages. Mainly this is because I feel that, in order for a post to have any worth, there is a critical mass that needs be reached for the results to be useful; a sort of quantitative quality.

This editorial decision, and the aging out of the habit, means that while many posts are started, few are completed.

As I stumbled upon the somewhat dusty environs of the Palace during a rare foray into the deeper levels of my extended Bookmark hierarchy, I was hit by a pang1, the briefest stab of guilt. I felt guilty that I had not posted for so long.

But why? Why did I feel guilty? Do I owe teh internets anything? Are blogs some sort of nourishment? Am I depriving a router somewhere of the packets it requires to keep its routing tables updated? If I had a loyal readership, I would happily ascribe this guilt to the anguished pleas for mental sustenance falling upon the locked metal gates of The Palace.

I can only assume that the guilt comes from some part of me that is unfulfilled as a result, some mental spleen that has spent too long between vents.

Regardless, here I sit, typing this rambling discourse, in the hope that this imagined and undernourished organ is sated. And if it saves a router somewhere from certain death and makes it quicker for me eradicate injustice, all the better.

1Not a Pang, you understand; Pangs where eradicated from teh pipes back in the heady days of CSS 1. Many web designers met their digital end while adding marquee and blink tags, unaware that these tags were included, along with the Pangs, to eradicate these people from the pool of potential HTML authors.

01 September 2008

Scratching that itch

One of the ways in which I help my duly protected citizenry (you) in the pursuit of awesome is the ruthless, cut-throat manner in which I manage their language skills - I correct them.

Basic communication is an important skill in surviving even the simplest first contact encounters with the local gentry, and so I do my best to equip you all as best I can and to right that which is wrong.

As such, the following are to be adhered to and absorbed post-haste:

  • Words that end "-ing" (the present participle action noun of a verb) have a "g" at the end of them. Use it. It's a letter, the seventh in our Roman alphabet, and deserves to be pronounced along with the other 25.

  • Yes, there are 25 other letters in the alphabet. Among them are "y" and "o". They go in front of "u" to form the word "you".

  • With reference to the first point, you are no longer permitted to say things like "I itched it" for two reasons:
    1. Replacing verbs with their past-participle (or otherwise) gerund action noun isn't big or clever.
    2. You didn't itch it. You scratched it.

  • Here is the definition of gerund. Learn it. It is both big and clever to know such things.

  • When someone asks "How are you?" it is no longer permitted for you to reply "Good". The question is not a query of your quality, reliability or general well-behavedness. You must replace "Good" with "I am well" or a similar derivative suited to the options open to you in your own colloquial lexicon*.

I go now to meditate further on the lexicographical misgivings of my charges (you) and will return to dispense further mandates when I find that I can no longer resist scratching that itch.


*Where "Good" is not among them

02 June 2008

Life As We Know It

Scientists have a difficult time of it. They are expected to come up with radical new methodologies and theories on a regular basis while operating within the budgetary constraints enjoyed by teenagers mowing lawns. If they fail to spend their £5 wisely, they are forced to make it up, so that the next £5 may be forthcoming.

Having been given at least £10 to come up with a fleet of interplanetary survey robots, NASA have succeeded in landing another electrical beastie on the Red Planet, with the intention of finding the pre-requisites for life.

I stand and applaud the brains of those involved in getting Phoenix all the way to Mars and getting the Global Surveyor orbiter to take a photo of it's descent. It makes you proud of what we can achieve, and twice as sad about what we continue to ignore.

What does worry me slightly is how we judge mission success. We - humans - have spent literally tens of your local currency units in developing a spacecraft to search for life "as we know it". We have then sent that spacecraft to a planet that it quite dissimilar to ours. Logically, any Life that exists on this planet will be different to Life on our planet. How then do we propose to recognise Martian Life when we see it?

Life "as we know it" is a broad church, from penthouse-dwelling carbon-based bipedal simian-derivatives at one end1 to primordial, single-cell spheres at the other. So, let's suppose for a minute that Life as we know it does exist on Mars. It can't be at the penthouse-dwelling end of the spectrum, as the cameras on the orbiting spacecraft can spot the specific shade of blue of an outdoor pool from a long way away, and we would have heard about it by now.

Therefore, any Life that exists must be at the primordial soup level of being. Even if Phoenix can detect Life at that scale, how excited can we really be expected to get? Space tigers and Martian bear analogs are one thing, but microbes with three eyes instead of two? Sorry, but I'm watching Eastenders and I can't take my two eyes off it...

Clearly, we have no idea what Martian Life looks like, so how can this mission ever succeed? And if the scientists believe they can, how do they propose to convince the rest of us? I can understand the Carbon-centric definition of Life - humans have been assuming that they are the centre of everything for centuries. But if the scientific output of my lifetime is anything to go by, it is abundantly clear that we are but an infinitesimal speck on the universe and that any definitive statements we make about the universe is found to be wrong a few years later.

So, we have spent billions of cash creating the industry and specific technologies required to send a robot to another planet to look for Life whose signature we have no clue about. Lots of cash wasted, no chance of success? Now that is Life as we know it.

1 I know I put us at one end, but there are no Polar Bears around here to say "Actually, mate..."

25 May 2008

Negative News

I have touched on the topic of News before - in the context of the heretofore unknown concept of "the Olds" - but the Righteous Glare was reflected from the mirror-like sheen of the News' carapace, preventing me from performing my sworn duty. I'm here to tell you: this omission will be put right.

When I asked the Internet to define "news", I was told it is: 1: a report of recent events, 2: previously unknown information, 3: something having a specified influence or effect.

Clearly, with in excess of over 6.6 billion people all generating events at a constant, if pedestrian, rate - ignoring for the moment geology, flora and fauna - not everything is going to make News at 10. At some point, someone has to decide what we get told.

Those people, the people who wield this rather terrible power over us, are called Editors. Now, I'm sure some of them are lovely people who would rather kiss a baby than eat one, but, being people and thus cursed with the same cultural yoke as the rest of us, they seem to focus on all the bad news.

It was the late, great Douglas Adams who stated that "Nothing travels faster than the speed of light with the possible exception of bad news, which follows its own laws." Assuming for a moment that Bad News propgates in a vacuum1, this theory explains the lack of communication with intelligences beyond our solar system. Would you want to meet a species who happily transmit their misery willy-nilly into the cosmos?

The main question here is why is bad news more newsworthy than good news? What does it say about us and the culture we have allowed to form around us? What internal fire does bad news stoke that good news extinguishes? No, I'm actually asking here. I've no idea.

It is probably the same reason why soap operas - primarily British ones - focus on the daily miseries of the occupants of some regionally stereotypical urban ghetto or lonely rural idyll. What is it about misery that we feel the need to report it, to simulate it, to elevate it above all else?

Why is good news relegated to the "And finally..." finale, where the anchorpeople let their voices rise half an octave and their heads leave the 5 degree envelope that it must inhabit for more weighty matters? Why is the good news deemed less important, less vital, of less worth, than bad news?

Why is someone dying more newsworthy than someone being born? After all, both events happen thousands of times every day in every part of the world. And why is someone dying peacefully of old age less newsworthy than someone dying violently at the hands of another?

Is tens of thousands of people dying from a natural disaster more newsworthy than tens of thousands of people dying from civil war? Why is the death of a thousand more newsworthy than the death of one?

The events that are reported as news aren't really new. They are merely fresh occurrences of well-worn themes, most of them "bad": violence, intolerance, you name it. Someone, somewhere, today, is giving life to their own unique version of it.

For those of us here at The Palace, the news is our worst nightmare; endless repeats of our failures delivered in BBC English on the hour, every hour, for the rest of Time. A highlight reel of our ineptitude, our inability to change the world.

A thought occurs. Perhaps the news is meant to act as a cultural to-do list, things that society must address in order to progress. It's a daily health check. I can imagine Peter Snow and the infamous Swingometer, swung way the hell over into the red, giving us one of his wry looks that says "We're in the shit, people, no two ways about it."

I think what the talking heads are actually saying to us is "What are you going to do about it?" The problem is that what the people watching the news hear is "Today, fourteen people were killed by suicide bomber" and what they are thinking, if indeed they think anything at all, is "That's terrible. Someone should do something about that."


A. Schmaltzy straight-to-movie ending:

I got news for you. You are someone. I am someone. We are everyone. The world can be changed. But, to paraphrase many people more learned than I, it can only be changed one step at a time.

Come on, we'll hold hands, pack a lunch, sing a song. It'll be fun.

B. Original, literate, thought-provoking ending:

I didn't actually write one of these. I spent all my time constructing the mechanism to enable multiple endings and ran out of time. Sorry.

1 We'll postulate that Bad News is electromagnetic radiation, somewhere in the spectrum above Gamma Rays - high energy and highly destructive.

26 April 2008

Drink Zero

Here at the Palace, we rejoice in the wondrous variety of products that centuries of innovation and development have bestowed upon us. We drool over exquisite design and salivate at perfectly realised creations. To quote Morgan Freeman - in character - "Allah loves wonderous variety". And who are we to argue with Allah? Or Morgan Freeman for that matter, a man who was been God more than once.

We are also fans of minimalism; specifically, a crafted, thoughtful, designed minimalism, not I've-got-no-money-or-things accidental minimalism.

I am recently of the opinion that mixing the two is not necessarily a winner. Sure, we have iPods, but for every iPod, we have a Coke Zero.

Now, I have no problem with Coke Zero as a product. What I am struggling with is the point of it. For many years, those not wishing to rot their teeth out at quite such a ferocious rate have had the rather wonderful Diet Coke with which to slake their thirst.

Going by their current ad campaings, Diet Coke is aimed at professional women who, despite their pleas to be taken seriously, are not beyond acts of sabotage in their attempts to ogle some chiseled adonis who, while perfectly acceptable to look at, wields only the requisite IQ required to clean windows, abseil down lift shafts, or drink Diet Coke topless without falling over.

Coke Zero, on the other hand, appears aimed at Noughties metrosexual twenty-something males for whom life hasn't quite gone to plan, and who thinks that a drink based around unknown vegetable extracts will enable him to turn the the world into a Carlsberg-run, bloke-centered nirvana.

Given these two quite separate, specific demographics and mission statements, one would be forgiven for assuming that the ingredients would differ. No sugar, some spice for the ladies. Snails and tails for the fellas. But no. Both beverages appear chemically identical.

They both make use of Caramel E150d, Phosphoric Acid (H3PO4), Aspartame (C14H18N2O5) and Acesulfame K (C4H4KNO4S), Acidity Regulator E331 (in case the Phosphoric Acid goes on one of it's legendary benders?) and a source of Phenylalanine (C9H11NO2).

And so to the nutritional information. How much Protein? Zero? Correct. Carbohydrate? Zero again. How much of that sugars, do you think? Hah, trick maths question there. Zero again. And so with Fat, Of Which Saturates and Fibre. The boffins at the Coca Cola Company have managed to take half an hour out of their no doubt hectic Californian porn-based lives to throw a trace of Sodium in there, along with some Energy.

I have given the low-fat Cokes a little lambastation here, but they at least retain their Caffeine content which, for me, is all that gives these beverages a purpose. I don't drink hot drinks, so a can of something fizzy can be the only way to wake me up, short of slapping my old chap in a vat of liquid something-that-should-be-a-gas.

There are beverages out there that dispense even with the caffeine, the last vestige of pointfulness in the whole product.

There must be some people out in the world who have decided that all they want from a beverage is that it be liquid. In which case, I would suggest a wonderful product that falls from the sky and upon whose simple structure you rely for a large proportion of your own structure.

Evidently, the Coca Cola Company are concerned that the world no longer wants to drink two cans a day each and are slowly introducing products that become closer and closer to The Perfect Drink. So we can expect Coke Still (or Coke Flat), Coke Clear (which I think we've already had), Coke Tasteless, Coke Neutral before the give up and release Coke H2O.

My point? Come on, if you're reading this then you know better than to expect a conclusion.

11 April 2008

An idiot's life, part I of IV

What is sacred in this life?

I profess to be agnostic, so no religion holds any degree of influence over my life choices. I've been told by more than one person that I'm morally bankrupt, and while I disagree, I feel that I should probably check my balance at the moral hole-in-wall more often.

I'll make fun of almost any situation to get a laugh, no matter how cheap - I'm a firm believer in making my life as entertaining as possible, and that includes Madeleine McCann jokes and mocking other people's failures.

I can be a brutal and nasty piece of work sometimes, and I relish in it all for the love of taking the advantage of a situation or person.

People who will pay £50 to drink cat dung I find hilarious. I will allow these people their existence to ensure that I can find humour in my day to day life. If I actually committed to my plans of cleansing the world of idiots - call it a holocaust against the mentally challenged - I might prevent myself access to said cat-shit-drinking lunatics and, in the process of disposing of their corpse, realise that I have missed an opportunity for comedy by not excoriating them while they could still hear my exquisitely constructed vituperations.

The world is full of idiots. My current rank as Lieutenant Commander Boosterboy notwithstanding, I am included in that demographic. I just like to think that there are discrete levels of idiocy - those that are above me and therefore out of reach, and those beneath me that I accept to allow myself the chance of comedy.

These people provide me with a service - entirely ignorant of their noble charge and therefore for the princely sum of gratis. People at once amuse and amaze me. (An interesting side-effect of this of course is that I can only ever win by increasing my own level of idiocy - it will provide more people beneath to amuse and delight me).

The same people who might drink feline faeces are also those people who continually surprise me and redeem the Human race in my eyes continually, every day in fact. It is these people, people who can afford to literally spend 50 notes on shit, that are sacred in this life.

Every day idiots going about their every day idiocy.

29 February 2008

Top Ten Tips for Unsuccessful Blogging

It seems de rigeur for bloggers these days to, at some point, post about their Top Ten Tips on how to create "the ultimate blog", thereby causing everyone on the planet to visit thrice daily, subscribe to your feed and post themselves naked to you.

Typically, these posts are penned by the authors of blogs that people read. This is where this one is different. This blog never gets read. We are the self-styled World's Least Popular Blog. With that in mind, if anyone were to do the exact opposite of everything we have done, then all of the above will come true, with the possible exception of people mailing themselves naked to you.

So, to the list.

1. Have A Good Old Rant
Get your grievances off your chest. Ignore social niceties. You're not ranting at a person, you're addressing the Universe. People like being shouted at. Being showered with phlegm is refreshing.

2. Ignore What Everyone Else Cares About
Your blog is for you to introduce yourself to the world. It's the electronic equivalent of hijacking every major TV station in the world and shouting "Everyone listen to me!" instead the Nine O'clock News. This is what you care about. You don't care what everyone else cares about.

3. Use Impenetrable Language.
The English language is a wonderful thing. The sad fact is that only a small percentage of the thousands of available words are in general circulation. Try to employ some of the wonderful but unloved words in the 90% of the dictionary that no-one ever visits. People like to be reminded of their ignorance.

4. Ignore Transient Trends
You don't care about the reams of bytes documenting the nocturnal manoeuvrings of people who are famous for no reason, or about the results of some pointless new survey. You have no time for the miscellany of existence. You care about the big words; Society, Justice, Responsibility, Truth. Write about that. Britney Spears can shave her head clean off as far as you're concerned.

5. Write the first thing that comes into your head
As with the answers to stupid quiz questions, the first thing that pops into your head is most likely correct, so go with it. With blogging, just start typing and don't stop. Sure, you can spell check it after, but don't you dare edit out all that invective you just typed. It's out now, it can stay out.

6. Ignore Comments and Feedback
If you write what you want, albeit without intending to insult, and people comment on your invectives, ignore them. You're writing for you, not for them. You didn't ask for their opinion. You're telling them what you think.

7. Whine to your friends about your lack of traffic.
If you have the good fortune to work in a tech-savvy office place, complain to your coworkers about how little traffic you get. They really, really like that. Plus, it makes them much more willing to help you with your work.

8. Trash Religion
Religion is so last millenium. If people would only wake up and realise that there is no such thing, we'd be on to a winner. You have no time for people whose eyes are fixed on paradise in the future at the expense of the reality of now.

9. Don't write about News
The internets are full of webpages all discussing the same piece of news. Try writing about something that no-one knows about, like what you had for breakfast, or how close the girl next door came to being caught with her boyfriend last night. People don't want News, they really don't.

10. Don't offer any solutions
When you've finished ranting and have sorted your thoughts, don't write them down, or write them down and tell the reader that's the rest is up to them. You've told them the facts; let them decide what they ought to do. You're not giving out free lunches here.

Remember, you need to do the opposite of the above tips, OK? Just want to make that clear. If you screw it up and end up creating a blog that's as unpopular as this one, you can link to this one, even call your blog the World's Second Least Popular blog. Just don't blame me.

22 February 2008

Aye, Rabbie, ye'll dae fer me yet!

I was going to offer some thoughts on how I became such a cynical old grump so early in my life, but I actually know perfectly well why. I am faced with the daily spectacle of the sculptured lines of the thoroughbred racecar that is "the Utopian ideal" being dashed to a crumpled, fiery mess on the Armco of reality.

Most people seem to deal quiet happily with this, but, as a Champion of Freedom of Justice and wielding, as I do, the Twin Swords of Truth and Beauty (yes, I do have a permit), I cannot let this stuff slide.

The disturbing thing about today's car crash is that it concerns my homeland. While it is, largely, a place of spectacular beauty, bursting at the tartan seams with tim'rous beasties and sonsie-faced chieftains, I, as something of a returning ex-pat, see bits of it with an outsiders eye. These are the bits that trouble me.

The thing that triggered this post nearly made me crash the Righteous Chariot. Not really, but it sounds better, plus it continues the car-crash plot device used so deftly above. As I piloted said Chariot along the jeweled highways of this bonnie land, I met a bus coming the other way. So far, so good. The bus, however, was not in service. OK, so? Aye, reader, here comes the rub.

Instead of simply reading "Not in Service", the high heid-yins of First Bus (Scotland) have decided that the natives would feel less aggrieved at the lack of service if the message read "Ah'm no' in service".

I'm no doubt in somewhat of a minority among my fellow countrypersons (save The 'Boy, who has already voiced his displeasure) but this use of "Scottish", instead of the more widely relevant English, jars with me. I come from what I consider to be a well-spoken home and have been well educated at my parent's expense. I therefore opt to converse in correct English, that having been what I was taught.

It is then, perhaps, no surprise that on hearing a broad Scots accent, I immediately assume that person to be educationally inferior, an assumption that has no basis in fact whatsoever. As with all accents, those that sport them range from the wealthiest tycoons and university fellows to the Burberry tracksuit-clad dropouts in the dole queue.2.

I have not been able to reconcile this at least partially correct position, that's what bothers me. Being a man of words, it grates when those words are butchered. But the purpose of words is to communicate, so there is little point being all precious about the ways when the means are achieved.

And so to the opiate of the Central Belt masses: football3. The problem here really has very little to do with football, the game, and rather more to do with religion, the universal excuse. If your family indoctrinated you in the ways of the Vatican, you have to support the Green Team. If you don't, you have to support the Blue Team (or the Dark Red Team).

Either way, you now have a socially-accepted reason for singing bigoted songs at each other, marching down the street and glassing people in pubs because they're wearing the wrong colour jacket. Having been given the choice of imaginary friend, I chose a small dog called Gerald who never, in any circumstances, caused me to glass anyone in a pub and never complained when I left him on the train.

This nation has been ruled from afar for a great deal of its history, which has been a cause for complaint over the years. The fact that, when left to govern ourselves, we have traditionally fallen back to the tried and trusted political technique of glassing each other in pubs for wearing the wrong tartan is conveniently ignored.

Having been allowed a modicum of self reliance, I can understand that the nation feels the need to flex its historical muscles and shed its imperial skin in order to move forward. I would like to think that the country that invented pretty much everything4 could learn from its own divided history and move forward into the shortbread-tin sunset, without having to glass someone on the way.

I'm sure that all countries are the same, its just that this country is mine5.

! Oh, Robert [Burns], you'll do for me yet! I'm referring to the poet's use of Scots in his work, and how its use by Modern Scots people, for me at least, somewhat soils his work.
2 Wow, all the stereotypes are coming out today.
3 Other than actual opiates and drink. Oh, and claiming benefits.
4 Well, every good thing!
5 Which hopefully goes some way to explaining the tortured meanderings of this post.

08 February 2008

Can Islamic and Christian law coexist? Should they?

Image from BBC News
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams - who has to have been a Unix Sysadmin at some point - says the adoption of certain aspects of Sharia law in the UK "seems unavoidable". His comments have attracted a great deal of criticism and hostility from all faiths and political leanings.

Britain used to have the largest Empire in the world. While those days are long gone, the Commonwealth of nations that used to comprise the Empire retain strong links with Britain. Additionally, Great Britain is an EU member state. This means that, since we're one of the richest members of either of those two groupings, we get more than our share of immigrants.

To make my stance clear, I have no problem with the concept of immigration - to a point. I am all for people coming to this country, obeying our laws and paying their way. Society benefits from change. A society that deals with change in a positive way is a rare and wonderful thing.

I'm generally against people who come here to enjoy the benefits of our welfare state without making any effort to earn those benefits. This goes equally, if not more so, for British people who fall into this welfare-sponging category.

This rather unilateral stance doesn't help those people who are maimed, or irretrievably stupid, or who face death if they go back to their own country. Society generates these people, so it is the responsibility of Society to look after them.

Britain is predominantly Christian country and our rules are based, in part, in the statements made in the Bible; thou shalt not kill, thou shalt not steal and so on. It is also an immensely traditional country, traditions that have acquired the weight of law over the centuries.

We now have a good proportion of people who do not recognise the British Rule of Law first and foremost. In the case of Muslims, their Sharia law is derived from the Koran and the life of the prophet Mohammed. Since the system of belief seems to be synonymous with their system of law, their obeyance of Sharia law will inevitably find them in violation of the law of the land; Britain in this case.

I am kinda on the Dr Williams' side when he says that certain elements of Sharia law may need to find themselves into British law. However, this is Britain and the addition of Sharia law should not weaken British law. Where the two are in conflict, I think that British law should prevail. If someone has come to a country, they should accept that sacrifices have to be made.

Having written that, I can understand that Muslims view Sharia law as inviolable. If the situations were reversed and there were a Christian enclave in a Muslim country, I doubt that that country would alter their system of law to accommodate other beliefs.

Image from Wikipedia
I think this stems from the fact that Islam is a more rigorous religion. Christianity is much more relaxed in it approach. Muslims are required to pray daily, observed certain restrictions in diet and attend the Hajj at least once in their life. Christians have no such requirements.

In conclusion, I think that elements of Sharia law would doubtless strengthen British law, due to its roots in the strict Islamic faith, but this should not be to the detriment of the British system of law and the absolutes that it's citizens understand. Likewise, we should welcome those elements of immigrants' society that enrich our own, but reject those that do not.

And if you don't like it, you know where you can go.

13 January 2008

Health and Safety

If you were asked to come up with bywords for a Happy Life, then Safety and Health have got to be up near the top. Life isn't nearly so much fun without your health, or when living in fear.

But when you put the words together and form a government quango1, the effect is ruined. Health and Safety. Two words that, while outwardly laudable and fluffy, are the antithesis of everything that got humans where we are today.

Let's deal with Health first. It is clear from my many posts that I do not rank or value human beings, or human life, higher than other forms of life just because we are replete with raincoats, railways and rubber wellies. Let's face it; we got lucky. The mutations were in our favour. I believe - sorry, wrong word in this context, I know - that Evolution has resulted in our present form. Survival of the Fittest, only the strong survive, all that jazz.

Put simply, if you weren't healthy, you died. So, if everyone was healthy, evolution would not have caused us to become the fine, upstanding sentient carbon-based bipedal lifeforms we are today. So Health, in the context of the species, is not helpful. Health, as I have argued it, is contrary to the progression of the species from a genetic standpoint.

So to Safety. Taking risks is one of the things that makes life worth living. They have discovered that certain people are more predisposed to taking risks than others. These days the adrenalin junkies jump out of planes and off tall buildings; the closer you are to death, the more you feel alive. It is the adrenalin junkies of old - or yore, if you will - who progressed the species.

Where would we be if Greatn Uncle Tharg hadn't gone out of the cave to kill mammoths because it wasn't safe, or if people hadn't travelled the world, wanting to see what was beyond that horizon? For one thing, I wouldn't be here writing this. These people did not perform a risk assessment to consider the safety implications of setting out across an ocean of unknown size. They just went ahead and did it. A disregard for safety is one of the things that has led humans to our place in the world.

As a case in point, there was a story in yesterday's Times about a volunteer member of the UK Maritime and Coastguard Agency2 who felt compelled to resign because he had rescued a teenage girl from a cliff without stopping to perform a risk assessment and don the approved protective equipment and got in trouble as a result. A spokesman for the MCA stated that they were "not looking for dead heroes". But they're the best kind!!!

Society has given us many great things, things that could not be imagined without the comforts of health and personal safety. It could be argued that, for the vast majority of us, Health and Safety, enshrined in standard and law, are key to delivering the society we want. But do we really want to have to jump through quite so many hoops?

On the outskirts of society, where the ages old battle of Life against Death finds you hanging off a cliff by a tuft of grass, the rules of society are instantly rendered mute, impotent, meaningless by the overriding imperative of preservation of Life.

So, I salute Paul Waugh, 44, of Cleveland, England3, for being a Great Human Being and reminding me what being Human should be about.

1 The Health and Safety Executive. You may as well call them the Department for the Prevention of Humanity.
2 about the use of the word "Agency" next to a British organisation smacks of an attempt to get some of the cool to rub off from "The Agency". I'm embarrassed that they even tried...
3 So as not to confuse the Americans.

08 January 2008

Of real and frightening things

Let's just get something straight here.

"You" is a word. "U" is a letter. It is a component letter of the word "You", but does not actually take the place of the word "You". This is because, if you remember from earlier in this paragraph, that "U" is a letter and not infact a word.

These are established facts.

I accept that language evolves and changes. I just maintain that such change should be brought about by a survival imperative or need, not laziness - a point I have laboured over before.

Now that the UK education authorities are happy to accept letters in place of words, and even alphanumeric sequences that grind my brain to a halt in an attempt to parse, I fear.

I fear for the younger generations and how stunted their minds must be, or at least becoming. English is no longer mandatory. The merest glimpse of understanding from their text-speak programmed fingers is enough to gain them an education that will see some of them one day gain places of real and frightening power.

By extension then, I also fear for the generations that follow, because it is today's maleducated kids who, having installed themselves in the upper echelons, will one day steer these future progeny on their educational course to a similar level as their own.

And when I write a letter to complain, they won't understand.

06 January 2008

New year, old tricks

I like recycling. I think it's a great idea and I'm into it. What I like better than recycling is the reduction of my own personal carbon footprint - don't leave monitors on, switch lights off when not using them and don't leave the television on standby. One particular favourite of mine is either the reuse or non-use of stores' plastic bags.

I shop with a rucksack so that I might pack my groceries in it rather than suffer my hands slowly being sliced into by cheaply made and omnipresent plastic bags (like hanging from tree branch or blowing past your feet in the street). As a species, the imperative is to lug heavy loads on our backs as our ancestors demonstrated and not to voluntarily sign up to a supermarket-sponsored portable rack. I like having my bones and tendons lengthened by the traditional methods of calcium or iron infused from a healthy diet, not through these bastard means of torture.

I also like the idea of helping yourself. Not self-help, but being able to do things on my own without someone either having to do it for me or even just scrutinising each miniscule task as I seek for their approval so that I may move on with my jolly day.

To that end, I therefore applaud these new self service lanes in supermarkets. Scan your own items, pay your way and even bag it up yourself - or not.

I had the good fortune to use such a self-service lane this weekend and packed my items into my aforementioned rucksack. After three items had not been placed in the supermarket's own bags, I was told to wait for a "supervisor" who would grant me "permission" to continue scanning and packing my own God damn groceries in my own God damn bag. And even when I was allowed to continue my insanity, it was met with puzzlement as to why I wouldn't want to join them in their plastic revelry.

What confounds me about this system is that it's items I'd already scanned and (one could quite innocently assume now that they were 'in the system') I intend to pay for. Had I secreted away three bottles of Dom Perignon and two lobster that I did not scan into a branded plastic bag and was infact stealing them for a banquet here at the Palace later tonight, I imagine there would no fucking problem.

Three things then:

  1. There is nothing 'self' about self-service systems.
  2. They were actively preventing me from purchasing food until I was given permission to continue.
  3. They don't care about the planet.
There are two outcomes my mind, in it enraged state, can form from these facts: they are either trying to rule the world (badly and at a really low level) or they want to destroy it.

04 January 2008

Caucuses and The Non-Caucasian

I have just watched some speeches made by the Democrat and Republican candidates after Iowa voted for their preferred Presidential runners. In time I will no doubt find that it is just me, but I think it is worth noting that the man likely to come out of the caucuses in the lead is not Caucausian. History will be my judge.

The Republicans struck me as wet fishes, even though Mike
Huckabee had CHUCK NORRIS1 behind him. No surprise that he won the Republican vote - "Vote for me, or it's The Norris for you!". Hillary had Philandering Bill standing behind her, and where did she come for the Democrats? Third. I'm sure there's a lesson in there somewhere. On a related note; Is there nothing CHUCK NORRIS cannot do?. Why isn't he running for President? He could sort out the Middle East single handed.

Listening to Barack Obama's speech, I get the impression that he's a sound bloke and I was swayed by his words and his oration. Given Dubya Bush's mass destruction of the English language, in all her beauty, Obama gets my vote purely on the grounds of being able to form a cogent sentence and deliver it with gravitas and conviction. The last eight years of mumbling, smirking and embarrassed silences will no doubt have convinced many that the ability to communicate clearly is a core skill no statesman should be without.

But it also struck me that this is a speech designed precisely to engender these feelings. How am I to know if this is what he really stands for, or is he just saying what it takes to get elected?

Like examinations for kids, elections, and the campaign trail in particular, seem a colossally flawed method for choosing a government. From a purely theoretical standpoint, it seems perfectly logical to pick your best candidates and then let the people decide which one they want.

The problem is that the vast majority of people are deciding based on what they see on TV and what they read in the papers. They have no idea what a particular politician actually holds dear or what they will do once elected to office. They are forced to choose based on information that is skewed from reality. The magnitude of the skewing is the unknown factor; really, it is this single unknown that stops the theoretical ideal from working in practice.

Unfortunately, while the problem appears to be simple, it a flaw which is in all of us. Humans are selfish and trusting animals. We generally accept that which is presented to us, even if, on inspection, it is flawed, baseless or not in our own self-interest.

That said, and to take the place of a human for the merest instant, I though Barack said all the right things and, more importantly, he said it in the right way. "Change" must be the Democratic message for this campaign, but I didn't believe it when Hillary was saying it, due, no doubt, to her smiling doofus of a husband perched over her left shoulder (see, you got to get The Norris).

At this point, I am unaware of any sleaze that has been levelled at Barack Obama. Every other candidate (OK, maybe not every candidate, but the main ones), to quote General Taylor in Good Morning, Vietnam, "
lugs a trainload of shit behind him (or her) that would fertilize the Sinai." Now, maybe Barack's people bought one of those ex-Soviet stealth missile trains to haul his shit about in, because, although I haven't given it my complete attention, I can't say I've detected any spin from his camp.

And that's the point. Despite only watching four videos and no seeing Barack Obama's name colocated with the word "Liar" on reddit, digg or elsewhere, I am confident to declare him the next POTUS.
It will be interesting to see how they all get on in New Hampshire in a couple of days.

Now the comedians can get on with the business of coming up with Black First Lady jokes and mildy-racist Secret Service codenames.

1 I didn't type this in caps, but Blogger wouldn't let me correct it. Damn, Chuck Norris is all powerful...