Friday, January 14, 2011


If I see an attractive woman in the street or a shop and then, say, unintentionally have an idea that's far too rude for a pre-watershed audience, I sometimes take a paranoid fit and think Jesus, what if she can read minds?

This is trebly unfortunate, since any woman that could actually read minds would instantly realise that I'm not only 1) prone to impure thoughts and 2) a guilt-stricken, petrified twerp of Mark-in-Peep Show proportions, but that I'm also 3) the type of credulous idiot who worries about made-up rubbish like telepathy.  Which would be unfortunate.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

I Think What The Author Meant To Say Was

Memo to Michael Tomasky - yes, cultures change.  History doesn't and literature definitely shouldn't. 

Tomasky is talking about a recent edition of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in which the words "nigger" and "Injun" have been excised, ostensibly because the book is banned in a number of schools on account of their use.  

To which I can only say that perhaps what is needed, rather than more selective editing, are some slaps around the head and some stiff kicks judiciously delivered to teachers' backsides.  It's certainly possible that a single academic knows better what Mark Twain meant to say than the man himself did, but I have my doubts. 

I've discussed the way we in the UK teach history before - hours and hours on the vicious crimes of safely foreign monsters like Hitler and Stalin, with a curious silence on any events in, say, Ireland or India.  What I've seen of American schools doesn't inspire confidence in their history and English lit classes, given the constant political pressure to keep the curriculum stuffed with relentless progress to the modern day and the glory of American exceptionalism. 

What I will say is this - while it's bordering on miraculous that the Americans have managed to create a viable state out of millions of immigrants from more or less all corners of the Earth, slavery was and remains one of the all-time blots on that nation's record.  Hundreds of thousands of Americans, including one of the country's greatest Presidents, died so that its effects could be mitigated.  That's mitigated, and not even nearly erased, since official segregation continued for over a hundred years thereafter. 

Combine this squeamishness over the way that actual human beings were owned and described with the Republicans' hilarious omission of the three-fifths compromise in their ridiculous reading of the Constitution this week, and you're looking at signs of a country that doesn't want to look its own past in the eye, for fear of its implications.  This isn't political correctness - it's cowardice.

P.S. @Michael Tomasky - Blazing Saddles is still hilarious, you oaf.  It's supposed to make you feel uncomfortable.  If you don't like it, chuck out all your Richard Pryor DVDs right now, because almost all of the bits that upset you came from him. 

P.P.S.  If Huckleberry Finn needs to be chopped and changed, then you can kiss goodbye to Joseph Conrad, whose output was a good deal more suspect, and he's not the only one.

Friday, January 07, 2011

Welcome to 2011! And Now, The Boring, Long-Winded Bit

It's been so long since I responded to a meme that most people have stopped including me in them, but I've been getting the guilt over not doing this one from Carl Raincoat on "Good and Bad Left Wing Ideas".  Since it isn't a topic that requires elaboration, let's crack on with the Good ones.

Pragmatism - I always like to kid myself that the arbitrary and disorganised collection of biases, assumptions and received wisdom that I've cobbled into a semi-coherent worldview represents some kind of pragmatism. Certainly, I think the first question when presented with any kind of new policy should be, will this work, or will it blow up in our faces like an exploding crapinabox?  This goes for more or less everything, from employment schemes to wars, and interests me much more than the provenance of any given idea.  A bad idea is a bad idea, and good ones are just so, regardless of whose idea it was in the first place.

This ties in closely to Liberalism, which probably means a different thing when I say it than it does coming from others.  I basically mean If it ain't broke, don't fix it; If it is broke, it can probably be fixed without also adding turbo boosters, go-faster stripes and a rear spoiler.  

I think that insofar as is good for the lot of us, people should be left the hell alone.  Plans for public uplift should have identifiable aims and quantifiable results.  I know this is all vague and windy stuff, but a bedrock principle of all political action should be that you don't go fucking around with things you don't understand.  Britain has a wide variety of problems, but by and large the roads are safe to drive on, kids can get an education, bins are emptied and you can walk down the street without being cut in half by nutters with AK-47s.

Take the Tories' new wheeze for free schools, for instance.  I imagine that there's plenty of scope in those proposals for talented individuals to produce top class and relatively inexpensive educational institutions.  On the other hand, you don't have to be Nostradamus to predict that these proposals are going to brutally butt heads with the law of unintended consequences sooner rather than later.

Finally - and most hypocritically - I'm a big fan of clarity.  Most people are more than smart enough to get their heads around the basics of major political issues, but one of the problems with modern communications is that there's just too damn much of it for busy people to take in.  Most folk don't have time to wedge hours of current affairs broadcasting into their days, so brevity is essential if you want to get a message across.

Example - there's a reason why Nick Clegg will waffle about opportunity and so on in a speech where he means We've decided to massively increase the costs of sending your kids to university, and you can blow me if you don't like it.  Saying exactly what you mean in the bluntest possible terms carries serious political risks, which is why it happens so rarely.  For myself, I've been arguing for years that politicians should stop calling BNP voters "disaffected" and "alienated" and should just start calling them "tossers" and "fucking idiots" instead, since the latter is considerably closer to the truth.  You make stupid, nasty politics radioactive by constantly pointing out how stupid and nasty it is, and not by sucking up to the country's stupidest and nastiest people.  A bit of honesty in our public debates would do us good, right across the board.

In Bad ideas, there's little that drives me  up the wall faster than The Big Waggy Finger Of Tut-Tut.  There's no shortage of people telling us all what we should be laughing at, where magazines should be kept, what we should eat, drink, watch and so on.

I tell you now, nothing on this Earth winds up the electorate more than a lot of finger-waggy disapprovers lecturing them on what constitutes acceptable entertainment and behaviour.  However well-intentioned, these campaigns will always, without exception and regardless of tactical approach, come off like a load of hair-shirted mung-bean chewers telling people how to live their lives.  It's only been in the last century or so that we've finally got the priests off our backs, so to speak, and misguided attempts at a new moralism are going to be met with a) the finger and b) an electoral boot up the arse.

Even worse than the waggy finger though are people who insist on Acting As Cuntishly As Possible About Everything.  This used to be the preserve of retired army majors and such, but is now depressingly common among self-described lefties, and is closely related to the unpleasant habit of Spazzing Out About Nothing.

This is what I'd describe as a failure to pick your battles.  Time and again, whether it's the death of David Kelly, the Chilcot Inquiry or just some idiot columnist who said something homophobic, you can guarantee that a great army of bloggers and Tweeters will be chasing off on some damnfool pursuit of an uncatchable villain.  Save that energy for stuff that matters folks, because the man in the street really, really doesn't care.

(Stops, reads own post). 

Hmm, I imagine that much of this isn't going to go over very well, is it?  Oh well, what the hell.