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Sunday, March 29, 2009

History lessons

Unusually (weekends are not a terribly relaxing time for me at the moment) I had nothing to do for a while last Sunday. After doing the football run, the play rehearsal run, the shopping run etc, I sat down with a cup of tea and the rest of yesterday's paper. Feeling tired, I decided to put my feet and watch TV for a while. I flipped on the History Channel, thinking that I might relax and learn something interesting. Guess what was on: something about the French revolution maybe, or perhaps an old episode of Time Team, maybe a David Starkey programme? No. It was a "documentary" about Nostradamus. When I check in later on, there was something about Roswell. Now, the only reason that I can see for having these programmes on would be to remove the name of anyone viewing them from the electoral roll, but since it's not against the law to show patent rubbish to a credulous populace I suppose I should simply shut up.

But it bothers me. It's distressing enough to live in a society that shows programmes purporting to communicate with the dead, photograph ghosts and contact UFOs, but it's even more distressing to see this claptrap presented as factual rather than as mindless entertainment (even though they are not in the least entertaining). Note that I'm not being grumpy about people paying for demonstrably false services. Since I'm of a broadly libertarian bent, I go along with Brian Dunning from Skeptoid:

Most of the time, people who buy paranormal products or services — be it goddess worshipping seminars, homeopathy, acupuncture, or psychic readings — are buying completely harmless services that P.T. Barnum would have been happy to sell... The customer is happy, the peddler is happy, nobody is hurt, everybody involved is enriched by the transaction. This is their choice. They don't have a problem with it, why should you? It's none of your business.

[From Ethics of Peddling the Paranormal]

Yet I'm not completely comfortable with this laissez-faire attitude. As society becomes stupider, the populace more gullible and our scientific base crumbles, that will affect all of us negatively, not just the goddess worshippers. It's a bit like leaving the Taliban alone and then, when they ban vaccinations as being un-Islamic (as they in fact have done), saying "oh well, it's their culture, it's racist to interfere" but accepting the fact that you are now more likely to get polio.

I wonder just what it would take to get the History Channel to show some actual history? Oh wait, I apologise. Right now they are showing "Eat like a King", a show about Henry VIII's diet, so fair enough. But I am a tad concerned about the forthcoming Nostradamus 2012, which is being trailed. Here's the blurb...

Could we be facing a massive cosmic collision, a global environmental disaster, or an Armageddon on December 21st 2012? Throughout history, prophets including Nostradamus have independently produced these doomsday predictions pointing to the year 2012. Could they be right?

[From March Season | Nostradamus: 2012]

No, of course not. It's total bollocks, and a pretty poor advertisement for their "Award-winning history site combining professional articles on historical events people and places, as well as study aids for GCSE and A-Level students." Is it any wonder that the lack of historical knowledge in Britain is so shocking?

The survey found that 47 percent thought the 12th century English king Richard the Lionheart was a myth. And 23 percent thought World War II prime minister Churchill was made up. The same percentage thought Crimean War nurse Florence Nightingale did not actually exist... Meanwhile, 58 percent thought Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s fictional detective Holmes actually existed; 33 percent thought the same of W. E. Johns’ fictional pilot and adventurer Biggles.

[From Winston Churchill a Myth, Sherlock Holmes Real]

There's a toxic cloud of stupidity steadily spreading out across our once-great nation.

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Comrade Katz

Specially for GSE, but for everyone else as well, it's time for Eastern European Lolcats:

Kapitan, there was an accident in the research facility! It’s imperative we reach the acid baths…

[From Яolcats]

Another few years of Brownonomics and we'll all be living on potatoes and cheap alcohol, so might as well practice the Internet humour while we still have electricity.

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Thursday, March 19, 2009

The race to the bottom

For reasons to dull to expand on here, a young friend is visiting from the continent. For further reasons to dull to expand on here, a similarly-aged (early 20s) acquaintance was off to a night club in a nice Surrey town and offered to take her along. She had a good time, but when I asked her how the night had been she explained that the was shocked by what a bunch of drunken fat slags English women were (I'm paraphrasing: she speaks much more politely). I explained that it was the result of widespread state education and left it at that. But she quizzed me further, and asked why, in particular, the English women wore such short skirts because (and I'm not making this up) when they were drunk in the nightclub they were climbing on tables and chairs to dance and because they were wearing only thongs they were (as my continental friend said, in a slightly embarrassed way) "showing everything". I was at a loss to explain this particular phenomenon, having not been in a nightclub for some years. In fact (and I'm not making this up either) the last one I attempted to go to was in Bracknell and I fled after only a few minutes inside. The pounding music, unfamiliar and disorienting surroundings, the flashing flights and blank faces caused temporary madness and I became convinced that I was in a North Vietnamese prisoner of war camp.

Anyway, scratching my head for a satisfactory explanation, and working from first principles, I told my friend that because there are some few eligible men in Britain (ie, men who can provide a better standard of living than the welfare state) there is intense competition to attract them. But since the men are not interested in the women's personalities, skills, potential or other attributes (since they will not be sticking around even if they father children) they are only concerned with mating signals indicating the women's availability for sex, and this is the function of the short skirts. Once again, evolution by natural selection is inescapable: the competition means the skirts get shorter, just as it makes peacocks' tails bigger.

My friend also wondered why everyone got do drunk that there were almost insensible. Here I was able to offer more informed opinion. It's in our nature, unfortunately, going back to Anglo-Saxon times.

Tea and coffee did not exist in Anglo-Saxon Britian and water was not always very clean so most Anglo-Saxons drunk beer. Even children would drink beer.

[From Ashmolean Museum: Anglo-Saxon Discovery - Eating and Drinking]

I have a memory of once reading that the Pope's first emissary to England, back in the Dark Ages, said that the English couldn't be converted to Christianity because they were too drunk all the time. Perhaps there is a new Dark Age dawning.

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Friday, March 13, 2009

Is it concrete all around, or in my head

I've been having some profound thoughts about how brains work, partly because of something I read in Prospect about MRI psychology and partly because I was listening to music earlier on. I was on a fairly long flight and I started working on the plane as soon as the seat belt light went off -- I like the BA business class seats and they have just the right working position for me so I like to get the laptop out as soon as possible -- and fired up my iPhone for background music. I chose my "Mott" playlist, which comprises a few different Ian Hunter and Mott the Hoople albums. It starts off with one of my all time favourites, the Ian Hunter Band's live double, Welcome to the Club, and includes both live and studio albums. Anyway, when "All the young dudes" came on, I felt the tears welling up again. How can music, especially such familiar music, make you cry? In the case of "All the young dudes" I sort of understand why, because it's about my feelings for my sons, but in other cases I have no idea why some tracks elicit emotion and others just don't. Another of their tracks -- "Saturday gigs" also makes me feel very emotional, but doesn't make me cry. On the other hand, Ian Hunter's "Sons and daughters" makes me feel like I want to cry, but I don't. Very puzzling. It's not just Mott the Hoople, of course. We were listening to a Tim Minchin album the other day and one of the tracks -- about your kids growing up -- had me blubbing like a schoolperson. You have to be pretty talented to write something like that.

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.

[posted with ecto]

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Back in the SSR

A correspondent (well, ok, GSE) writes mentioning the antics of the commissariat in the Socialist Scottish Republic (otherwise known as the SSR). I read in the newspapers of another tidal wave of lunacy about to break on the shores of that once proud nation. The commissars are to decide retail prices, just as they do in North Korea and Venezuela. In the case, rather than basic foodstuffs being the subject of the economically illiterate targets, it is alcohol. Actually, come to think of it, that probably is a basic foodstuff in Scotland. Anyway, the retail price is to be fixed, which means that virtually no alcohol will be bought in shops or pubs anymore and all trade will go through the black market, exactly has happens anywhere else that you try to fix retail prices under a socialist regime (eg, Zimbabwe). (By the way, price controls never work: it doesn' make any difference whether the regime is socialist or not, it's just that only socialist regimes would think or trying them any more.)

I notice that El Presidente Comrade Chavez' attempts to fix the price of rice have been so successful that he has had to send the army in to rice processing plants to restore the supply (this won't work -- you can't detain the laws of economics without trial) and I imagine the same will happen in Scotland sooner rather later. I wouldn't be at all surprised to hear that the Scottish Parliament is drafting new Sumptuary Laws as well. Incidentally, El Presidente has also threatened to expropriate part of the industry and pay for it by printing money, a tactic being successfully employed in other countries run by Marxists such as Zimbabwe and Britain.

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Quiet riot

The newspapers have been reporting that the police are concerned that this summer will see England hit by a tide of middle class rioting brought on by resentment about the banks and the government. I'm not entirely sure what a middle class riot will look like ("what do we want" / "a reasonable pension" / "when do we want it" / "as soon as is prudent and affordable") but in a naughty schoolboy kind of way I'm sort of looking forward to it. Working class rioting is pretty hopeless -- they usually smash up each others houses -- and I'll be expecting something better from the privately-educated on career breaks.

J.G. Ballard predicted all of this some time ago. And I bet he's right that the thing that will finally bring the middle class to the barricades -- instead of dispatching working class footsoldiers -- will be parking, I think because that's where the private / public interface is most acute and visible. It almost happened it Brighton :) so it's only a matter of time.

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Monday, March 02, 2009

A better class of rubbish

Now that I've become a cyclist, I have a much more accurate picture of the rubbish that is strewn along the highways and byways of our great nation. When you're zooming past at 50mph, it just looks like undifferentiated garbage, but when you are pottering along and seeing it close-up, you'd be surprised at the variety. Yesterday I noticed, for example, a whole pile of old tyres dumped in a lay-by alongside a couple of bags of general household rubbish and the usual piles of empty lager tins and bottles. Now, I can see that care for the environment has dropped some way down the chav list of priorities here in the Zimbabwe of the North but I still wonder why it is that the typical British street is so much more disgusting than the typical street in, say, Germany or Spain. I don't have any particular hypothesis to test, other than the general degradation of the population, but I'm sure there must some more accurate sociological explanation. I would call the council to complain -- goodness knows why -- and ask, but I'm pretty sure they'll tell me it is Mrs. Thatcher's fault and ask for more council tax.

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]