Thursday 27 November 2008

Thanks for nothing

Because Americans do the whole turkey thing a month early, I get to share this little pre-Christmas appetiser with you.

First the context: in a ceremony the full grotesquerie of which will shortly become apparent, Presidents and, evidently, State Governors "pardon" one lucky fowl in the days before Thanksgiving. You can see Palin twinkle her way through this ritual, and a subsequent interview, here.

But that is just prologue. The real meat to this story lies in this film of the same interview, which follows the bold artistic technique of keeping the real story in the background, allowing the apparent central character to witter on while the unexpurgated reality of the situation is presented in all its unvarnished glory.

Vegetarians*, fervent supporters of animal rights, people with any degree of empathy or anyone whose proximate work colleagues fall into any of the foregoing groups should on no account play this video.

*Darling, this means you.

Cost of everything

Of all the PR tropes that make "churnalism" such an easy option for hacks, one above all gets my goat. The meaningless survey is almost boilerplate; the "scientific formula" that defines sexy armpits is admittedly ludicrous; nothing could be a greater insult to our collective sense of worth than the dread phrase "X costs British business £N Million every year".

The reduction of every human deed, word or thought to its tendentious and notional effect on some mythical bottom line has become so commonplace that the sheer horror of the notion seems to be overlooked. I still cling, futile and ill-founded though it be, to the notion that I have some innate value to the world above and beyond my ability to maintain an acceptable level of profit for shareholders. It may yet prove that my role on this wretched, ailing planet is neither measured nor defined by the hours I spend at work; that the span of my life has not, in fact, been allotted wholesale to the need for economic growth.

And yet it seems that no issue, from office politics to airport waiting time, can be adequately or sensibly discussed without recourse to some abstruse and flawed calculus, the assumptions of which are offensive (that my time belongs wholly to my employer); simplistic to the extreme (that every minute has equal value); and utterly unrealistic (that ceasing to do X necessarily means I will start doing Y). But even if this arithmetic actually meant anything, there is something borderline sociopathic about arguing, for example, that the reason to not keep workers in "cramped, dismal conditions" is because it costs money. (PDF). How about treating your workers like human beings simply because you're not a complete shit?

This trend has now reached what I can only hope is its nadir. Baroness Scotland has put a cost on domestic violence: £2.7 bn. Well, in that case, we should probably do something about it. Up till now, I was on the fence about domestic abuse. I mean sure, it's "bad" and so forth, but is it really economical to do anything? What exactly is my motivation here? What's the return on my hard-earned tax? I mean, yes, if we could, say, reduce wife-battering by 50% by spending a chunk of cash there'd be fewer bruised, battered women living in a permanent state of fear - but what's that worth?

Well, now we presumably know. We should spend up to £2.7bn fighting domestic abuse. Any women (or men) whom that doesn't help should understand that it's not that we don't care - it's just not economical.

(To be fair to Baroness Scotland - maybe she's right to make her case this way. Maybe the best or only way to persuade government and business that it might be worthwhile to stop domestic violence is to frame it as a profit and loss argument. In which case, it might be time to go a bit Tyler Durden.)

Friday 21 November 2008

Feynman science

Unbelievably, there appears to be some debate over the wisdom of cloning mammoths from recovered DNA. Wisdom doesn't come into it. The question to ask is not, "Is that really wise, sir?". The question is, "would this, or would it not, be totally awesome"? Less of the John Le Mesurier, more of the Bill and Ted.

I mean, dammit, the things will pay for themselves. Even assuming that I don't get to use one to commute to work (totally awesome), just imagine the money you can make from thrill-seeking big-game hunters. Never mind the mighty hippo - this is real game. More so if you rock it old school and take it down using only stone axes and spiked pits. I can imagine no finer achievement for 21st century science than to clone an extinct species, and then kill it.

Plus, has anyone run the numbers on the efficiency of farming megafauna? OK, more food and water per head, but if you can kit out a big enough abattoir your processing costs per carcass should plummet, surely. And there's a hell of a lot of meat on those things.

But of course, the practicalities are missing the point. "Physics is like sex. Sure, it may give some practical results, but that's not why we do it" We should do this because we can. We should do it to show just how much we can do. Extinct species made to live again. And people say science doesn't have all the answers? If you don't want "let's go mammoth riding" to be the answer, then you are asking the wrong question.

Tuesday 18 November 2008

Courage of your convictions

Apparently, some scofflaw has leaked a full BNP membership list. The Register links to a "patriotic" blog where there is some consternation, running the gamut from panic:

Anonymous said...
I've just had a call, I'm on it to. I want my fucking member money back, like has been mentioned here, I could lose my fucking job. I'm bloody angry. acronym-ridden paranoia:

Anonymous said...
OMG have you seen what has been written by LUAF? What if they give the list to ANTIFA? ANTIFA have just teamed up with BETA TAGAR! The Tagarines would petrol bomb us in our homes.

Anonymous said...
I can't believe you chaps are so surprised or worried! - The BNP "management" is an obvious target for infiltration by: HM Govt, Mossad/CIA French and German intelligence services and "Far left" groups - probably others.

I think this is my personal favourite:

Anonymous said...
Why the fuck are you showing comments that are clearly sent in from the great unwashed,who gives a fuck if they have a list or not. I'm proud to be a member.

But of course there is a real human cost here:

Anonymous said...

People on here who have not seen the list but "don't give a fuck" clearly have not the seen the names of 2 Scottish Premier footballers, half a dozen teachers, close to 100 serving soldiers and Prison officers, people who could be in real fucking trouble.

While some people clearly do not mind who knows about them, I don't fancy being a screw at some prison where some coon or reds can get worked up to have a go at some one.

Remember: Two wrongs don't make a right, even if sometimes it really, really, really feels like they would.

UPDATE: The full list can be found here. Searching for "police" reveals an astonishing number of ex-counter-terrorist officers. Or self-aggrandizing fantasists. It's difficult to say.

Modern studies

Good news! Or at least, a silver lining. Remember that forthcoming recession? Turns out it's going to offer one bonus - it'll stiffen up the moral fibre of the nation and divert us from the endless, meaningless consumption that rules our wretched, grubby lives. So says the head of Cheltenham Ladies College:

"Sometimes, surrounded by media reports on Botox and bingeing, it's easy to feel we lead in a moral vacuum, garden in a gale. But we must go on gardening!
Am I alone in finding the economic downturn somehow bracing? Perhaps it will spell the end of the conspicuous and ultimately unfulfilling materialism of the me, me, me society. Let's hope so."

Yes, there's nothing like a bracing round of job-loss and home-repossession to make you focus on the important things in life. Just like in the war - sure they were bombing us and we were all half-starving, but it gave us character. Apart from the looters, obviously.

Incidentally, these "media reports on Botox and bingeing" - anyone want to have a guess at which newspaper Miss Tuck reads? Three guesses, first two don't count.

Monday 17 November 2008

Beating the MSM at their own game

One of the amusing aftershocks of the US election was the post-mortem twitching of the Republican party - specifically, the immediate scapegoating of Sarah Palin. This culminated in a series of revelations about her supposed ignorance: she didn't know Africa was a continent, not a country; she couldn't name the countries of NAFTA. This was seized upon not only by right-wingers with a grudge but, naturally, by victorious liberals looking for some easy gloating. And boy did they.

Want to guess the problem with this? It didn't actually, you know, happen. As the NY Times tells us, it was all an elaborate hoax. The apparent source, Martin Eisenstadt of the Harding Insitute for Freedom and Democracy doesn't, in the mundane sense of the word, exist. As he hotly denies here.

Following Nick Davies' description of the practice of "churnalism", it should be no surprise that several major news outlets fell for this in the rush to be first with a story. But there was a theory bandied around at one stage that blogs were better than that. Less invested in being first, less tied to the professionals, more intelligent, more sceptical. It's a good theory.

Monday 10 November 2008

Taking pride in your work

Paul Dacre has graciously shared some thoughts on modern journalism with the Society of Editors. While there are no surprises, it's a bit of an eye-opener nonetheless. There are edited highlights here, and a full version in PDF here.

There are some gems in the edited highlights, right enough: not only do we learn that adulterers' wives are just as morally culpable as adulterers, and that wearing a military-style uniform is tantamount to being a Nazi, but also that Dacre really does think it's his job to tell us how we can and can't have sex*. But buried in the meandering self-aggrandizing autobiographical notes with which Dacre started the full speech, we find as pithy and honest an account of "respectable" tabloid morality as we could ever hope to:

At university, I edited the student newspaper. I’m afraid I took a product that looked like the then Times on Prozac and turned it into a raucous version of Cudlipp’s Mirror complete, I shudder to admit, with Page 3 girl students whom I dubbed “Leeds Lovelies”.

We mounted an undercover investigation, complete with photographers, into seemingly respectable pubs that were putting on strip shows. Family entertainment it wasn’t. The Yorkshire Post which engraved the blocks for our pictures – remember those Neanderthal days – refused to process the photographs on the grounds they were obscene. With preposterous pomposity, I accused the Post’s Editor of abusing freedom of the press. He wouldn’t budge so we got the blocks made elsewhere and ran a front page story about censorship by the Post and a student paper that couldn’t be gagged.

And, of course, we sold the pictures to the News of the World for a vast sum and dined out on the proceeds for months to come.

Do you think that, on reading that back to himself, he thought, "Good Lord, I've been a tawdry smut-peddling hypocrite for my entire wasted, wretched, miserable life?" I'm betting not. But at least he's come clean. (Yes, yes: probably a first.) Ben Goldacre jokes about the Mail's ongoing project to classify all known objects into causes of, or cures for, cancer. They've got a similar programme with regard to sexuality, only the categories are A: Just a bit of fun and B: Ban this filth. Don't be fooled though: you can still enjoy category B. You just have to maintain that veneer of superior disgust throughout.

*So, the bad news is that military-style orgies are out. The good news, though, is that corsets are AOK. So that's uniforms - no; whalebone - yes. Do bear that in mind, you filthy beasts.

Wednesday 5 November 2008

The real Barack Obama

Newsweek reveals campaign secrets:

The debates unnerved both candidates. When he was preparing for them during the Democratic primaries, Obama was recorded saying, "I don't consider this to be a good format for me, which makes me more cautious. I often find myself trapped by the questions and thinking to myself, 'You know, this is a stupid question, but let me … answer it.' So when Brian Williams is asking me about what's a personal thing that you've done [that's green], and I say, you know, 'Well, I planted a bunch of trees.' And he says, 'I'm talking about personal.' What I'm thinking in my head is, 'Well, the truth is, Brian, we can't solve global warming because I f---ing changed light bulbs in my house. It's because of something collective'."

Now he's President and can say this stuff, can we get John Humphries to interview him? Please?

Tuesday 4 November 2008

Politics makes people do crazy things

Obama was raised by his maternal grandmother. He's often told how she made sacrifices to give him the best chance in life. It's fair to say that particular gamble paid off. And it's heartbreaking, therefore, that she died yesterday. She won't see her grandson become America's first black President.

Most people see that as a human tragedy. There are others who see further, however, to the real truth: Obama killed her. Either for the sympathy vote, or because of some far more elaborate scheme to do with his birth-certificate.

When you find yourself speculating that a Presidential candidate flew thousands of miles in the middle of campaigning - with a Secret Service team - in order to kill his 85 year-old cancer-ridden grandmother,you may begin to wonder whether you are, in fact, the sophisticated poltical thinker you believe yourself to be.

Monday 3 November 2008

Crystal Balls

I might otherwise have felt some small urge to lay down a prescient Presidential prediction, but that need has been more or less obviated by Nate Silver at Given that he's run every single poll ever through a massive simulator to create 10,000 different electoral-vote scenarios, suggesting that I could make a better guess would be almost as ignorant as it would be egotistical. Plus, of course, the Hamilton factor.

So here's my prediction: a lot of people are going to be disappointed when Obama starts enacting the policies he has, not the policies they wish he had.

But we shouldn't underestimate the unprecedented nature of this campaign: the rich white war hero is the underdog and the born-in-poverty, mixed-race, community-organiser is the clear favourite. So much so, that he got the Nazis on his side:

Rocky Suhayda
Who: Chairman, American Nazi Party
Likes: Hitler, white people
Dislikes: Jews, immigrants, multinational corporations
Career highlights: Being widely quoted bemoaning in the fact that so few Aryan-Americans had the cojones of the 9/11 hijackers: "If we were one-tenth as serious, we might start getting somewhere."

"White people are faced with either a negro or a total nutter who happens to have a pale face. Personally I’d prefer the negro. National Socialists are not mindless haters. ... we have a black man, who loves his own kind, belongs to a Black-Nationalist religion, is married to a black women--when usually negroes who have 'made it' immediately land a white spouse as a kind of prize--that’s the kind of negro that I can respect.

Obama-Biden 08 - reaching all the way across the aisle.