Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Rectaspection

Oh no!   Kids these day's don't know they're born!  Why, the shiftless little swines can't even hold down a job!

So it goes and always has, when it comes to The Youth Of Today.  We might well note that youth unemployment far outstrips demand for youths in the actual workplace, and that the geniuses responsible for that scenario didn't fritter away their adolescences guzzling Sunny Delight and melting their brains with The Only Way Is Essex.

Hell, the whip-smart intellectuals that brought us The Only Way Is Essex and Sunny D itself didn't grow up on that.

Out in the real world of work, the situation looks rather less black and white.  So broad a population can't be soundbitten, and the education system doesn't always produce the expected results, not even when it functions precisely as it's intended to.

Imagine you're four years old and on your way to school for the first time.  You're not a particularly bright kid, but you're quick on the uptake and you've been blessed with loving parents who take a keen interest in your education.  There's been academic success in the family, but it's mainly builders, mechanics and so on - practical people, good with useful, practical skills.

When you develop an aptitude for reading, Mum and Dad are delighted to shower you with books.  See Spot Run!   Stick in, behave, play nice.  Fantastic Mr Fox makes a daring getaway from mean Mr Bean's cider cellar.  Always believe in yourself.

Teachers are quick to notice.  You're a feather in their caps!  Even at that age, you know you're not that clever, but you've struck it lucky - the grown-ups love your little hobby.  They give you presents and gold stars and gush to each other - Such a bright little boy, so advanced. So... intense.

This isn't a sob story, by the way.  This is a tale of qualified success and moderate achievement.  The sad part is about the kids who banged their heads against Mr & Mrs Twit in silent frustration, trying fruitlessly to make sense of the jumble of letters, but this isn't about them.

School is fine.  You play football and collect conkers like everyone else.  Fingerpainting through rainy lunchtimes, milk at half-past ten.

Then something strange starts to happen - when you hit about nine or ten, your friends stop responding to your jokes and stories with laughs and daft insults.  They start saying things like That's weird and What does that mean? and eventually, the dreaded You think you're pretty fuckin clever, don't you? 

You wrack your brains trying to work out what changed, little knowing that every time you open your mouth, you might as well be speaking fluent Homosexualese.  Put down the Tolkien and eat a Pop Tart, Socrates.

High school.  Teachers hand you punishment exercises with weary regularity - I will not talk back in class, a hundred times, please.  Beloved aunties and uncles are warier - they think you're taking the piss.  Sometimes you are!  Most of the time, you don't have a clue what everyone's so damn touchy about.  People don't act like this in Grange Hill.

Caesar marches across Gaul and beseiges Alesia.  Decide for yourself, kid - don't let anyone tell you how to think.   The Culture destroys an Orbital to prevent it falling into Idiran hands.  Napoleon drives Snowball off the farm and has Boxer sent to the glue factory.  Be all you can be.

Later, in pubs and cafes, people are more receptive - they know what you're talking about, some of the time.  Those that don't are more polite - playful punch, You've got the strangest sense of humour. 

Yes, we're all individuals!  Marlowe's cigarette breaks the long darkness, for a moment.  Tell it like it is, call a spade a spade.  Saleem's grandfather busts his nose on his prayer mat.  You only get what you give.

You spend a few years away from home with various oddballs from all over the world and return to find that the people you knew are even harder to understand now than they were when you left.  You wonder if you've changed so much when really, you've just forgotten how to make small talk.  Films, football, girls - you know your stuff like the back of your hand, but it feels forced, and sounds it.

This isn't a tale of woe, you know.  The real crying shame is for all those kids who left school years before.  The lucky ones are still in the first job they managed to get - the unlucky ones aren't in any job at all.  In quite a few cases, they're in the ground.

Work - hard, menial work at that.  Lugging kegs and tables, keeping customers fed and watered.  You excel, because all that's required is basic savvy and enthusiasm, and you've got plenty of both.  Your paycheque gets a little thicker, year on year. 

Finally, the big pay-off comes - the career, the big one where you make your fortune.  Suddenly,  you find yourself surrounded by people who know exactly what you're talking about - hell, they've been talking the talk for years.  They've been raised in it, taken it for granted, middle-class kids from fee-paying schools.

All that crap that you thought was so damn special, that made you stand out and be different and kept you from running with the pack - that's the bedrock of these people's education.  That's the stuff they did for fun, before they started on their real studies.  They speak all the languages you do, dead and extant, from MeTooButBetterese to YeahAndWhoCaresish. 

But now, your problem is a lack of eloquence.  Where once you came off like Little Lord Fauntleroy, now you're more reminiscent of Rab C.  Ug, thwack, Mary Doll! 

Your witty, working class bluntness hits their cultured ears like the fat end of a baseball bat.  You've got the moves Kohai, but you still keep poking yourself in the eyeball, and I don't see no Sensei around here to iron out your errors.

And sure, there are plenty of folk from similar backgrounds to you - people who stuck in too, especially at the basics like staying focused, fitting in and shutting the hell up every now and then.  People who heard all that stuff about Being all you can be and Not letting anyone tell you how to think and realised it was a sales job, rather than a vocation.

And so there you are, after all that sticking in and working hard - too old to learn different, stranded without a fucking clue.  Too much of a posh, polysyllabic prick to go back, too thuggish and ill-disciplined to advance.  No direction home. 

Nobody wants a middle manager who can't talk through the personnel assessment plan without telegraphing his contempt for it.  Nobody wants to risk an important client on the wiseass kid who dresses like a dick and might go all tourettes any second.

This isn't a sob story.  This is a tale of striving and modest achievement, remember.  The national average wage is a feast of plenty, by world historical standards.  It's a feast of plenty by three-streets-over standards, if we're thinking of it like that.  We should be glad. 

Was there a point here?  Oh yes, education - Kids these days, and how The System Is Failing To Provide Business With Talent.  My. Heart. Bleeds.

I guess what I'm trying to say is, you can train a pony all you like.  You can put ribbons in its hair and teach it to prance and even to carry a rider, and it'll do its damnedest to please...   But it isn't going to turn into a horse.  If it started out as a pony, it'll probably stay a pony, no matter how many Equine exams it sits.

You know what I'm saying?

The Worst Type of Government, Except etc. etc.

And so it looks like the Egyptians, in their first-ever election, are going to install a parliament full of hard-faced, illiberal, judgemental reactionaries who have made it their mission to legislate public morality and to crack down upon non-conformity.

Men and women - though mostly men - given a mandate to stand athwart reality, yelling This far, and no further! 

To which I can only say - congratulations, Egyptians!  Welcome to the democratic club. 

From Plymouth Rock to the tank-shelled White House in Moscow and from the Long Parliament to the arse-end of south-eastern Australia, it's taken the democratic world thousands of years to reach the settlement that the Egyptians have plumped for in the space of only a year.

Now, that's what I call progress.

Monday, May 14, 2012

We're Here Because We're Here Because We're Here Because We're Here

"The Taleban hope that each new killing of a Nato soldier will be the straw that breaks the back of the resolve of America, Britain and their Isaf partners to linger in Afghanistan a minute longer than the 2014 deadline they have already set.  Who knows? - the Taleban wonder - it may even spur them to pick up their skirts and run away even sooner if pressed to do so by restive electorates at home". 

Thus begins a jaw-dropping editorial in the Times today*, with the spectre of democratic accountability looming over our Afghanistan mission, whatever that vaguely-defined entity may have evolved into since last we looked.  It's a stunning piece, one that could've been churned out at any point in the last hundred years. 

Imagine, restive electorates, possibly pressing their governments over an eleven-year long war!  Why, the nerve of people in these democracies, I ask you.

So Britain, our Timesman continues, finds itself balancing grief with a deep gratitude for the sacrifice of two of its servicemen.  That's an interesting take, since I myself have noticed neither grief nor gratitude for some time now.  Whether any individual incident in the war in Afghanistan intrudes into the lives of the general public seems to depend upon whether it can be wedged sideways onto The X-Factor, or whether the story involves a cute springer spaniel.

Anyway, today's editorial is a rather stark tonal shift in the paper's sales job for the war.  Recall, the chronology of justification for our invasion and occuption of Afghanistan is as follows...

2001:  To smoke out those evildoing Al Qaeda scum that attacked America, especially that Osama Bin Laden, and show them that they cannot hide from American justice etc.

2002:  To mop up Taleban remnants.  And, to train the Afghan army.

2003:  Painting some schools, educating some little girls, training the Afghan army and encouraging an entirely organic liberal democracy to flourish spontaneously in a barren land run by heavily-armed warlords and clans, that kind of thing.  Oh, and mopping up Taleban remnants.

2006:  Mopping up the suddenly-resurgent Taleban, who may or may not be infested with Al Qaeda.  And painting schools.  And training the Afghan army.  And, bombing Pakistan, for some reason.  And also, liberal democracy, all that jazz.

2010:  Surging troop levels way past Soviet occupation numbers to really get that mopping-up job done once and for all.  Also, preventing the atrocities that are continuing to happen even now, while troop levels have surged way past Soviet occupation numbers.  Here, look at these pictures of atrocities, while we get busy training the Afghan army.

Well, here we are in 2012.  Osama is toast, his evil crew long since captured or incinerated and the US has been running high-profile victory laps around Al Qaeda's smoking corpse for about two years. 

So, why do we still have thousands of soldiers in Afghanistan?  Here's the Times, today - our grief is laced with a resolve...

"...To make clear to Afghanistan's militants that the withdrawal of British troops from the country will be dictated by a timetable set in Downing Street and the White House, not by murderers in Afghanistan". 

I'm unsure whether the Taleban only have to realise that we will dictate our withdrawal, or whether they have to agree that this is the case in a lawyer's letter.  After all, we can't leave now because of "the unreadiness of the Afghan forces to secure Kabul". 

Now, here's a lesson from American military history - if you've been training an army to defend its capital city for eleven years and it still isn't up to the task, it's probably not that interested in defending its capital city.

Bonus points too for the sunk-costs fallacy: "A premature exit that abandons the ambitions and achievements of the past decade would be a betrayal of those who have given their lives to make Afghanistan more stable". 

Translation: We must continue to get our soldiers killed in an effort to achieve the impossible, because doing otherwise would be disrespectful to all the soldiers that we have already got killed by trying to do the impossible.

As Kipling almost said - If they question why we died/Tell them because our fathers lied wanted to make clear to the enemy that the withdrawal of troops from the country will be dictated by a timetable set in Downing Street and the White House.

Additionally, Barack Obama hopes that his recent agreement with the Afghan government will "persuade the Taleban that negotiating now will pay greater dividends than waiting for American soldiers to leave".  Diplomacy, after all, is the art of saying "Nice Doggie" while groping for a rock that doesn't exist, in a room full of ravenous timber wolves.

And that's it.  That's the sum total of their best case, their most convincing justification for British troops staying for the next two years. 

I've been saying since, oh, 2002? that if we want to show our gratitude for our soldiers, we could always repay them by bringing them back to Britain and buying them a round of drinks, rather than by forcing them to act as target practice for any passing Pashtun with a grudge.

After all, as an American politician once famously asked - How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?

The answer comes back firmly and confidently from the Times editorial board - On pain of court-martial. 

*As ever, it's paywalled.  I'll post the full thing in comments when I get a minute, so you can judge for yourselves.

Or The Kitten Gets It

My, my.  So, the official position of many administrators and supporters of the NHS is that, since the public's bad lifestyle choices are overburdening the system, we need to introduce a never-ending avalanche of tax penalties, incentives, bans and so forth in order to encourage them to put down the fags, the booze and the pies. 

I understand the motivation, politically - in an age lacking grand ideas, look to minor but concrete improvements for salvation.  We're so wonderful, we reduced the incidence of heart disease by two percent!  Hooray for us!

And yet.  To invoke a strained comparison, I recall the kerfuffle when the cops wanted to buy a load of pepper spray, and then more vociferously when they demanded tazers.  Don't let the cops have this stuff, those silly civil liberties types warned in their annoying, finger-waggy way.  They'll find excuses to use it on petty criminals and members of the public, all the time.  And what will they want next?  Military hardware? 

Now, we're celebrating the London Olympics by deploying missiles, warships and cutting-edge sonic crowd-control weaponry.  It's going to be one hell of a party!

When I hear about stuff like this enthusiastic game of Space Marines, I'm inclined to think that the nation's security services have maybe got a teensy-weensy bit gung-ho Modern Warfare 3 out of control mad as a box of frogs, and that maybe we need to think about reining them in a little.  Or alternatively, think about defunding their departments and firing as many of them as we possibly can, as quickly as is practicable.

I guess what I'm trying to say is this.  If you use the NHS's creaking resources as an excuse to create a complex system of pedantic, interfering, nagging, nudging horseshit to poke and prod the public into obeying your every whim...  Well yes, you may very well achieve better health outcomes and relieve the strain on public services. 

On the other hand, congratulations!  You've just given the man and woman in the street a whole series of very good, very personal reasons to vote for junking the entire NHS and getting themselves some health insurance that isn't basically an excuse to tell them how to live their damn lives. 

That's a hard trick to pull off, in a nation which regularly votes the health service as one of our greatest achievements.  Good work, ladies and gents.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

No Shit, Socrates (Contains SPOILERS)

"...The idea that a US Marine from small-town America might convert to Islam, even under such conditions: has this ever happened? Stockholm syndrome, if that’s what it is, is exceptionally unusual for men in uniform (at least volunteers), because their mindset upon capture is different to that of a civilian or reporter". - Ed West, Telegraph

What we have here is the perfect end product of the long backlash against liberalism, however we choose to define that much-maligned concept - a man explaining to his readers that popular entertainment does not always accurately reflect measurable reality, in tones that suggest he fully believes that he is imparting some essential, transcendent revelation.

Coming up next: Special Ed explains that Peppa Pig is cool for kids and all but that the common domestic swine, lacking opposable thumbs, cannot actually manipulate objects with such a high level of dexterity.  This, he will contend, is some kind of anthropomorphic, elitist plot to put us all off eating bacon.

Cashin' In

Why the media focus on race in the “child grooming” trial?, the Liberal Conspirators want to know.

Well, indeed. You didn’t see a lot of focus on race in this case from 2009, nor in this one from 2010, neither of which is any less horrifying than the one that ended in Bradford today. 

Evidence as presented by Ceops suggests that this kind of crime is more prevalent among Asian men, but you seldom hear angry demands that, say, alcohol-related violence be referred to as a white man's pastime.  After all, I live in Scotland - up here, I'd be surprised if ethnic minorities account for even one percent of violent and/or sexual offences.  That's one headline you never see in the Record.

I’ve written about this before and I'm going to have to repeat myself a bit here.  The long and short of it is this - race is presented so centrally in the Bradford trial because it has an attribute that the others lacked, i.e. an opportunity to pin the blame on an unpopular bugbear and then indulge in a bit of moral grandstanding.

From the get-go, every time this case has appeared in court, it’s been accompanied by a rash of articles and reports decrying an all-pervading political correctness that somehow prevents their authors talking about race and sexual abuse – even while their authors are explicitly talking about race and sexual abuse.  Linking race and sexual abuse is taboo, an unmentionable truth, a no-no, a sacred cow, the gorilla in the pantry or whatever, the hacks tell their readers and viewers, and then they…

...explicitly link race and sexual abuse.

In fact, there have been numerous reports about apparent links between crime and race, specifically relating to this case, in the Mail, the Times and the Guardian; on Channel Four news and its accompanying website; in the Telegraph and on vast array of other news websites.

There have been announcements made on child grooming as a specifically Asian problem by the Minister for Children; by the previous Home Secretary; by various Members of Parliament; by the police Child Protection Centre, all of whom laid out their opinions in the starkest possible fashion.

Elsewhere, it’s the hot topic on blogs, newspaper websites and nutter hangouts, with every crackpot in the land free to express his or her opinion as bluntly as he or she likes.  A five-minute Google search proves this beyond doubt.

So, whither the PC Brigade, when it can't even suppress such a sensational story?  Well, maybe that question contains its own logical answer.

I'd contend that the target of these pieces isn’t Asian men, as has been darkly hinted today.  Nor is it Muslims or any specific minority, and it isn't even child abusers as such. The target is the British public, and more specifically its perpetually offended reflex of victimhood, injustice and persecution, which is the vein you absolutely must hit if you want to sell newspapers.

In this, it’s no different at all to stories about women having a billion kids so they can claim council houses or Britain’s Got Talent contestants claiming disability allowance, both with the assistance of our overweening culture of soft-touch blah blah whatever. 

Both give the reader 1) indefensible villains to villify; 2) a context of your-money-funded villain-coddling to rail against and 3) a very personal sense of wounded outrage and resentment to nurse and stroke… thus bringing the reader back to buy the paper again the next day, to find out what else they are not allowed to hear about.  It's the Great British media business strategy, all on one page!

All-white child abuse rings can’t really be sold to this market and indeed, haven't been. They don’t trip the right switches or spark the same emotional response, although their crimes are equally heinous.

If a bunch of white men abuse a group of children, nobody can pretend that the abusers are somehow protected by a nebulous political correctness; nobody can credibly feign concern that they themselves could face a recriminations simply for raising the perpetrators' ethnicity as a negative. It’s just a depressing reminder that there are large numbers of evil fucks out there, and it’s hard to make money by depressing your readers and making them feel helpless.

Asian men abusing kids, though – that can easily be reconciled into a pre-existing freakout about PC Gone Mad/Overindulgence of criminals/Reluctance to criticise ethnic minorities/Discrimination against white people or any number of similarly retarded, tabloid-fodder stories. It stokes anger and indignation. Indignation sells bucketloads!

Summary: The targets here aren’t Asians, or criminal-coddling libruls or even sex offenders and really, you'd think it'd be the sex offenders part that is of primary importance.

The targets here are sales targets.  If that means making race a critical factor where its relevance is debatable and pretending to be terrified of some non-existent, never-occurring Vengeance Of Tha PC Brigade… Well then, that’s what it takes.  Ker-Ching!

Don’t imagine that everything you see and hear is about politics, folks. It isn’t.  Newspapers and politicians have motivations that supercede the need to push particular party lines.

Even the Express is first and foremost a business, and even the Mail would gladly tell its readers tomorrow that labour unions are awesome or that knife-wielding hoodies are lovely, if those stories sold better than fostering resentment does.

And hey, with the Sun and the Mail as the nation's most popular newspapers, I think we're past the point where we can doubt which business model shifts more units. 

As to whether cashing in on the public's perfectly justified outrage over organised sexual abuse of vulnerable children is a morally reprehensible behaviour or not... Well, I suppose that if they didn't do it, somebody else would, but let's leave that question for another day.