Archive for May, 2005

Pool Reflections

Watching the thrills and spills of Liverpool’s European triumph last night, a number of things crossed my mind:

1. Milan Baros/Stacey Slater from Eastenders;
2. Jon Dahl Tomasson/Luke Skywalker;
3. How a footballer’s voice and accent, despite one’s expectations, seldom have any bearing on his footballing talents (Steven Gerrard);
4. The modesty of Rafa Benitez;
5. How Real Madrid might turn their attention to Benitez;
6. How Michael Owen must be tan enfermo como un loro, as John Toshack may have said at some point.

Speaking of Spain, I’m off there now for a couple of weeks. Back on Monday fortnight. You won’t be hearing anything from me in the meantime, although I will probably come back with quite a few items prepared. That, at least, is the intention.

Que sea leve.

H.

It Would Be So Nice…

I’m off on holidays today. Holidays for me mean considering how I can best put an end to my wage slavery, and rather than indulge in the usual activity of googling ‘Get Rich Quick’ schemes and browsing self-help books, I figure it’s time to stop procrastinating and write my own manual to assist others. Here are a few titles I’m mulling over:

Finance

The Rat Marathon
The race ain’t no sprint. You’re in this for the long run.

From Zero To Pharaoh
Harness the power of the pyramid scheme.

Throw Momma From The Gravy Train
How your elderly parents could inhibit your growth potential.

How To Fill The Empty Nest
Strategies for remortgaging your house and delighting your adult children.

Education

The Uses And Abuses Of Literacy
Why this could be the last book you ever have to read

Those Who Can’t, Teach
They were wrong about you. Dead wrong.

English: The Toughest Tongue
Screw French. Find out why when it comes to languages, you’ve already got it licked.

Sum Girls Wander By Mistake
How being a man can count against you in maths class.

Ethics and Religion

Enough About Me. What Do You Think Of Me?
How to stay happy at the centre of the universe.

Jesus Christ, Fund Manager
Why Jesus loves the free market too.

Others to follow.

Your Query Is Important To Us. Please Hold.

ID cards are a bit of a concern these days for Britishers. Many people worry about the potential for abuse of the information they hold, and the scope for intrusion into private lives.

But what is the potential for abuse? Supposing I had access to the National Identity database, and a couple of lazy afternoons to kill at work, what sort of queries would I write?

I have taken some liberties in imagining some of the other data sources that are available to the government. Here are a few, in line with my own interests:

Health

select subject_name, prescribed_medication, prescribed_dose
from nhs_patient_register npr join national_identity_database nidb on nhs.patient_name = nidb.subject_name
where nidb.profession like ‘Politics’
and nhs.prescribed_medication like ‘Viagra’
and nhs.prescription_reason like ‘%5%Times%A%Night’

Northern Ireland Politics

select subject_name, contact_details, regular_drinking_haunt
from national_identity_card_database
where profession like ‘All%Body%Masseur’
and city_of_residence like ‘Belfast’
and eyes in (‘Blue’,’Dark Brown’)
and height > ‘180’

Arts and Entertainment

select
film_name, subject_name
from digital_porn_pictures spp join
national_identity_database nidb on
dpp.buyer = nidb.subject_name
where dpp.purchasedate between ‘2005-01-01’ and ‘2005-04-30’
and nidb.profession like ‘Royal’
and dpp.category in (‘Gay’,’Animal’)

The Truth About Jacko

Just finished After Theory by Terry Eagleton, which was a bit of a tonic. I’m not too sure what it was a tonic for, but it was very refreshing anyway. Lucid and often hilarious.

He’s writing in the Guardian today about the postmodern spectacle that is the Michael Jackson trial.

On ‘Michael Jackson’:

There is a double unreality about staging the fiction of a criminal trial around a figure who has been assembled by cosmetic surgeons. Jackson’s freakish body represents the struggle of fantasy against reality, the pyrrhic victory of culture over biology. Quite a few young people are not even aware that he is black. If postmodern theory won’t acknowledge that there is any such thing as raw nature, neither will this decaying infant.

and his wishes:

It is hardly surprising that he has expressed a wish to live forever, given that death is the final victory of nature over culture. If the US sanitises death, it is because mortality is incompatible with capitalism. Capital accumulation goes on forever, in love with a dream of infinity. The myth of eternal progress is just a horizontalised form of heaven.

and the courtroom:

If courtrooms are quintessentially postmodern, it is because they lay bare the relations between truth and power, which for postmodernism come to much the same thing. Truth for them, as for the ancient Sophists, is really a question of who can practise the most persuasive rhetoric. In front of a jury, he with the smoothest tongue is likely to triumph. On this view, all truth is partisan: the judge’s summing up is simply an interpretation of interpretations. What determines what is true for you is your interests, which in turn are determined by gender, class, ethnicity and the like.

Laura Bush: Mubarak like ‘Oscar The Grouch’

Not quite. But very close to it.

I’ll get me PC Straitjacket….

Entertaining piece on PC in the Guardian today from the nicely named Marcus Brigstocke.

On the BBC:

Some gays and Asians and Muslims and disabled people pay the licence fee too, so would the straight, white, able-bodied, Christian, PC-phobic majority just shut up for a bit? (Don’t worry, another ethnically cleansed Only Fools and Horses or EastEnders will be along in moment or two.)

On the uses of PC:

Accusations of politically correct thought control have become a pathetic and transparent excuse for lazy racists, sexists and Islamophobes the land over. Challenging PC has become a game of chicken for bigots – daring each other to run out into the busy PC motorway and say something stupid before dashing back for cover. Who will dare to go the furthest without actually invading Poland? The Tories? Ukip? The Daily Mail?

On its importance:

PC exists to balance out the loudest voices, who assume that the things they are used to are somehow sacred or (God forbid) “traditional”, just because no one’s had the sense or the balls to change them.

I’m not sure if the idea of PC actually existing to fulfil such a purpose is, well, right on. There should be no need to check ones choice of words against some notional glossary of appropriateness.

What is needed, though, is a deeper understanding of the meaning of one’s words, and a greater consciousness of the fact that many of our opinions are based on received ideas and ideologised representations.

If I say, for example, the Spanish are a fiery and passionate people, who gesticulate wildly and enjoy dancing flamenco, I might not be saying anything controversial, at least according to popular and historic representations of Spanish people in Britain and Ireland. But to many Spanish people it is a misrepresentation based on gross generalisation. Its offensiveness as a misrepresentation is not for me, but for the person being represented, to decide.

To say ‘but there’s nothing wrong with saying it as I see it’ betrays a lack of awareness that ‘as I see it’ in this context is never immediate truth but an interpretation of brute reality that occurs under the influence of innumerable received ideas, that have been created by people dead and alive.

This does not mean that no-one has a valid point of view on anything; warnings that a piano is about to fall on our heads, or that we are driving on the wrong side of the road should still, of course, be heeded. What it does mean at the very least, however, is that we should think (cue Aretha Franklin) about how we have arrived at our conclusions before holding forth with our view that council house dwellers are moral degenerates, that Irish Nationalists/Palestinians/Israelis/Americans/whoever belong to a sick society, that Islam is incompatible with democracy et cetera.

I can’t look inside your head: you’re wearing a burqa

Indulge me while I persevere with the content of Marie Claire magazine. For all Marie Claire’s apparent attempts to create a global consciousness among women, albeit through the purchase of cosmetics and fashionable apparel, there was one article, by Marian Keyes, that caught my attention for its patronising smugness and parochialism.

Marian Keyes writes enormously successful novels about women and aimed at women. I would doubt if any of her books’ protagonists has ever voluntarily donned a burqa, but this is the subject of her Marie Claire column this month.

Titled ‘Burqas for Modesty? Do me a favour.’, Keyes charts how her ‘bleeding-heart liberalism’, which had indulged such conceits as liking gay marriage and disliking Augusto Pinochet, ground to a halt when she got round to considering whether or not people should be free to perform female circumcision. This led her in turn to consider whether she should consider extending her censure to other less, ah, clean-cut cultural practices.

She says:

‘Freedom for Muslims to live their lives according to the Koran = good. Freedom for Muslim women to conver their heads…. No, I’m sorry, I can’t go through with this: I have to say that I’m not comfortable that some Muslim women voluntarily cover their heads. (I’m not happy about the ones who involuntarily cover their heads either, but there’s nothin I can do about them)’

She does not say if she is comfortable with non-Muslim women, such as nuns, chemotherapy patients and camogie players voluntarily covering their heads. We can assume, then, that it’s not so much the women covering their heads that’s the problem, but the fact that they are doing so in accordance with exclusively Muslim beliefs.

She continues:

‘The reason for the head-shrouding is ‘modesty’ – a lack of it ‘inflames’ men – and I can’t help feeling that creating a culture where ‘decent’ women are expected to cover themselves is very dangerous. It’s making women responsible for men’s sexual urges and it’s setting things up for a return to the days when a woman in a short skirt was ‘asking for it’: if women don’t dress or behave modestly and they’re assaulted, it’s their fault.

In short, then, Muslim women voluntarily covering their heads will lead to the rape of women in short skirts. And rape, Keyes continues, is a very horrible thing indeed:

(It is..) a humiliating, ugly, angry crime, the only form of violation that I can think of that’s experienced almost entirely by women.

Male victims of rape in prison might beg to differ. Perhaps these people are irrelevant to the matter at hand, as their rapists are unlikely to have given very much consideration to Muslim women in burqas. In any case, the key issue here is women’s rights:

Women’s rights have advanced slowly and we’re still a long way from enjoying equality with men. If women begin behaving as if their own body is sexually incendiary unless it is covered up, they are presenting themselves as sex objects and putting the chances of equality back by not just years, but decades

The ‘modesty’ that the burqa affords them then, is anything but: paradoxically, it signifies sexual objectification and inequality. But why the burqa, worn by scientists, engineers and in some places police officers? Why not Celebrity Love Farm? Why not The Thong Song, or the fantastically glossy advertisements in Marie Claire featuring emaciated waif models?

As one of Marian Keyes’s characters might say, let’s not even go there. At least not yet.

According to her interpretation, the voluntary wearing of the burqa sends out the message that women are sexual objects. But worse than that, according to her judgement, it’s not even an authentic religious practice, but a mere conceit for British and European Muslim women, who, she speculates are probably unaware of what it really means to cover one’s head:

‘And I can’t help wondering how the British and European Muslim women who choose to cover their heads would fare in Saudi Arabia, where they’d be forced to spend their days swathed head-to-toe in stifling, heavy shrouds. Women still don’t have the vote there, for God’s sake.’

Eh? Why should covering one’s head in Rotherham or Marseille have anything to do with cultural practices in Saudi Arabia? Does wearing a ‘hoodie’ in Dalkey presuppose a direct link to members of the Crips and the Bloods in South Central LA? According to Keyes’s logic, it could do.

She continues:

Muslim women will accuse me of not understanding them and I’ve two words for them: Irish Catholic.

Cue the sound of jubilant cries as burqas all over England are tossed in the air. Ignore the fact that Irish Catholics, unlike Muslim women, do a fair amount of drinking. No. Wait. There’s more:

we were advised against wearing patent shoes in case men saw the reflection of our gussets in them

Hmm. I’m not too sure about this. In the last patent shoe craze, back when Bros were popular, I was starting secondary school. A Catholic secondary school, with some nuns in it. And the odd visiting priest. Patent shoes were permitted as part of the school uniform, for boys and girls alike. Although I don’t recall too many boys wearing them. Maybe those who did are now Marian Keyes fans, who knows?

Anyway, this is getting tiresome. It seems that anecdotes about wearing patent shoes in Catholic Ireland are adequate credentials for understanding Muslim women. All 400 million of them.

She concludes:

So I’m not just concerned about a Muslim practice, I’m slagging off aspects of Christianity, too.

Which is nice of her. No mention of nuns, though.

And any other belief system that seeks to objectify women

Apart from the belief system propagated by women’s magazines, presumably.

I realise that this has been a rather hopeless exercise. Railing against the opinions on head covering expressed in the column of a women’s magazine that makes quite a lot of money advertising shampoos and cosmetics is a bit like railing against the characters in an episode of Dynasty for a lack of moral agency.

No, I have never met the Aga Khan

It a recorded moment from the Sixties that chills like few others. Forget Piggies or Helter Skelter off The White Album, or Never Learn Not To Love, the Charles Manson-composed track off 20/20 by the Beach Boys. This track retains a rare, almost satanic capacity to repulse. If I was running Guantanamo Bay, this would be on the required listening playlist for detainees.

Where Do You Go To My Lovely’ by Peter Sarstedt is a nasty piece of work. To a wistful folk tune, Sarstedt moans and groans a set of malevolent and disturbing lyrics that would make you wonder if they got the wrong Peter when they nabbed the Yorkshire Ripper.

It ends thus:

So look into my face Marie-Claire
And remember just who you are
Then go and forget me forever
But I know you still bear the scar, deep inside, yes you do

I know where you go to my lovely
When you’re alone in your bed
I know the thoughts that surround you
‘Cause I can look inside your head

What I find particularly disturbing is the brutality of the final line ‘Cause I can look inside your head’. In the Sixties, when the language of psychoanalysis and the subconscious began to permeate popular consciousness, when Freud and Jung posters adorned student bedrooms, and figures like Timothy Leary and RD Laing became celebrities, the mind became a central subject of popular art. In the case of psychedelic offerings such as Revolver or Forever Changes, music and lyrics set out to blow the mind. In the case of Peter Sarstedt, music and lyrics gave the impression that the singer intended to crack the listener over the head with a lump hammer and have a butcher’s inside.

If Cliff Richard had sung these lines, he’d have been number one suspect in the Jill Dando murder.

Anyway. This all came to mind because I didn’t buy the Sunday papers, but needed something to read. So I lifted the copy of Marie Claire that my girlfriend had bought, and started reading. Then Peter Sarstedt began to look inside my head.

Unlike Peter Sarstedt or Mel Gibson, I have no gift for knowing What Women Want, so I can’t judge if Marie Claire is a good womens’ magazine. I can give my own view that the writing is a lot more diverting than that of, say, Now or Hello!, but as the content is targeted specifically at women, I feel reluctant to say whether it is good or not, in the same way as I might shy away from evaluating rival brands of tampon, or assessing the effectiveness of gin and tonics in alleviating period pain.

But I don’t like it.

In its favour, the glossy advertisements for cosmetics and designer labels, and the photo shoots showing what clothes you should consider buying are artfully done. It’s the filler material, i.e. the stuff you have to read, that I find hard to stomach.

So what’s wrong with it? Actually, there isn’t much wrong with the individual pieces of writing (apart from one Marian Keyes piece that I will get to tomorrow if I get the chance): they deal with worthy subjects such as Make Poverty History, Thierry Henry’s campaign to combat racism, and beauty pageants in Colombian prisons. One short piece comes up with ‘a few more ways to take your revenge on the banks and big corporations’. If there was one point of view that underpins the writing, it is that of the socially aware and confident urban woman. But the actual amount of writing is quite small, and when juxtaposed with the huge amount of pages of (admittedly fantastic) advertisements for consumer goods that rely on low paid labour for their manufacture, I did start to wonder what women really want from Marie Claire.

Maybe Peter Sarstedt would know.

I’m Offski

That time again. The non-working week has ground to a halt and I shall soon be casting off my office forg’d manacles and starting a 2 day period of debauchery and all-round loucheness.

Well, not quite. White knuckle ride up the M1 tomorrow to Belfast to buy some holiday threads for Friday week, stopping off in Armagh on the way back to watch the club formerly known as Manchester United beat Arsenal 2-0 in the FA Cup with goals from Rooney and Van Nistelrooy. Then weather permitting a spot of gardening on Sunday.

I will be placing the laptop in quarantine for all of Saturday, and may not post anything again until Sunday night, at which point I shall return, hopefully infused with insight and indignation.

Ciao, belli.

Siblings McCaul Appal

So Ireland are out.

But as erstwhile national hero Johnny Logan himself asks, what’s another year?

I can remember roaring and whooping in our house when the aforementioned Johnny won it for the second time with Hold Me Now. And I cringe.

Many people in Ireland are still anxiously fixated by it. The success of the You’re A Star TV programme shows this. I know people these days tend to watch and talk about it with one eyebrow raised, but you can only hold an ironic pose for so long before the irony starts to wear off.

The general attitude to it following Ireland’s dismal performance each year is like ‘ha ha, weren’t we awful eejits for getting so worked up about a silly song contest’, but perhaps this is just cognitive dissonance at not having won it for so long.

I suspect most people in Ireland would secretly love to win the Eurovision Song Contest again. It’d be like the good old days all over again, before double income mortgages, Ryanair and transnational corporations, when foreigners were foreigners and it seemed like everyone loved ‘the Irish’, whoever the hell they were.

If Poland have qualified for the final (and I can’t be bothered checking to see if they have) what’s the odds on the Irish phone poll (if they still do these things by poll – again I can’t be bothered checking) giving them douze points?

Or how about douze points for the Turkish entry (assuming they’ve reached the final)? We have been rather beastly to them of late….


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May 2005
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