Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Ice Cream, Mandrake! Children's Ice Cream!

How attractive is the prospect of deliberately pissing on one of the electrified rails of modern left wing thought?

Not very at all, since the best case scenario is a series of angry rebukes.  Still, this is one of those days where I feel like I have to post something, just to get it off my chest.  Such days don't usually end well, for me at least.

So, here goes - I'm not convinced that an upsurge in genderised toys for kids is a major problem or even a minor one and even if it is, I'm pretty much dead against the people who have identified it being involved in attempts to fix it.

Now, straight off, I've already been asked whether I hold this opinion on gender and toys because I have a dick, and am thus blind to the problem.  I think this is probably true to a large extent, and if anything it doesn't take into account the raging egomania it takes to write screeds like this in the first place.

Nonetheless, let's start with Culture war isn't much fun when it's the right wing Christians doing it

The idea that cultural artifacts including movies, TV shows and, yes, kids toys amount to a form of malign indoctrination is rife in the US and certain parts of UK politics.  This belief is completely impervious to countervailing facts, such as - all of these things are money-making enterprises, intentionally targetted at the widest-possible section of the populace to make the largest-possible profit, rather than the dastardly tools of Machiavellian political puppet-masters.

The same applies to kids' toys here and, while I'm hardly blind to the effects of marketing and advertising - an industry that wouldn't exist if it weren't effective - I'm going to suggest that the demand for little pink bicycles pretty much bubbles up from the cash-possessing populace i.e. parents.  As I say, I'm unconvinced of the supposedly vast harm this corporate horror is wreaking upon the nation, but let's grant it for argument.

There are people in the UK who are well capable of explaining why e.g. thrusting pinkness on little girls from birth is a bad idea.  These people seem to be badly outnumbered by hyperbolic howlers of the gender apartheid genus, and I have to tell you - most of the people I know really, really hate the Waggy Finger of Tut-Tut [1].

Parenting is as personal an issue as it gets and if political activists want to expend a lot of energy pushing the ungendered toys argument, they can feel free and good luck to them.  I think it's going to be very, very difficult to do without sounding patrician, condescending and highly judgemental, but knock yourselves out.

Because we should also note that there's a substantial Class issue here.  There's a reason why this kind of thing is a hot topic at the Guardian and invisible in the red-tops, and it's not just because the red-tops are reactionary and idiotic - if there was an appetite for this kind of thing, the Sun would be pumping ungendered playtime like a jackhammer.

Issues like ungendered toys are mainly a middle-class, metropolitan issue for people from a particular and very small political milieu.  The Mums outside the schoolyards in the areas where the broadsheets don't sell so well are going to be at best indifferent, and at worst openly hostile [2]

As evidence, let me offer a similar toy-related campaign against Hamleys, once regarded as a smashing success.  I have no problem with well-to-do Londoners crusading against their own toystores so that little Jemima doesn't have to climb a flight of stairs to buy a chemistry set, but I suggest that this incident didn't have much effect on the 99% of the UK population who will never walk through the door.

Bluntly, I've wasted an embarrassing amount of time telling people that left wing politics isn't the sole preserve of a bunch of middle class Londoners with grand ideas about personal behaviour to impose on the plebs; I've wasted more hours than I care to say explaining that the PC Brigade is largely a figment of the tabloid imagination and frankly, a Guardian jihad on Argos isn't exactly my idea of a helpful contribution.

Elsewhere, I'm very much in favour of the government redistributing the public's cash to the general good but strongly opposed to it rooting through the population's cupboards for saturated fats or launching pant-sniffing moral crusades into its bedrooms...  And if there's one thing that you can guarantee, it's that the same people who are annoyed by girly toys are very, very fond of wielding The Ban-Hammer of No-No to knock some sense into the nation for our own good.

Let's not quibble over the relative merits of our various public health initiatives or proscribed magazines or internet filters, or any of that.  If, like me, you think that it's not the government's business to tell the people what they should and shouldn't do, outside of crimes, then campaigns like this should raise your suspicions.

And you might object and say well, there's no suggestion of public education campaigns or cudgelling toystores.  To which the answer is, not yet, but there always is sooner or later, usually at about the time somebody invents a terrifying phenomenon like Seagulling to panic about. 

What else?  Well, this is the one that's really going to get me zapped, quite possibly justifiably, because as best I can tell much of the nation's "discourse on gender" appears to hail directly from The World of Woocraft.

(Some disclosure, first - much of my cynicism on this score hails from a course I once took on gender in literary theory, the only one in which I was ever actively encouraged to wholly forget what an author was actually trying to say and to instead dash off up my own anus in pursuit of whatever daftness I thought was more important and politically relevant.  This is quite obviously a daft prejudice on my part, but it's one that I can't shake off and it's been strongly reinforced by further life experience, rather than diminished).

I confess to vast, depthless ignorance here, but it's very noticeable to me that current UK thinking on gender issues seem to hail not from scientific study, or even the kind-of-a-science realm of psychology, but from the utterly Woo-riddled world of political philosophy and literary theory.  Most of the (perfunctory) research I've done on this leads not to the tried-and-tested graft of biology or psychoanalysis, but straight up into the soaring formless ether of ethics and politics.

And to go one further, casual observation suggests that at present, the entire analysis exists less to describe existing phenomena, so much as to facilitate really horrible people being very horrible indeed to each other.  Almost every time I encounter arguments based on concepts of gender, it's deployed in service of a screaming match between gangs of people who hate each others' guts for political reasons and are largely employing the issue to flay strips off each other. 

Now, maybe this is irrelevant, and the humanities are the perfect place for such considerations.  Nonetheless, the Woo-factor and the internet combat just reinforce my belief that this is going to be a hard, hard sell to the populace at large.

And you know, maybe it's not important whether the public like the message.  The public rarely like new or unusual ideas and as has been pointed out to me already, the public were once perfectly fine with, for example, slavery.

Whether we want to rhetorically escalate a spat over My Little Pony to the level of Rosa Lee Parks being forced to the back of the bus is your call, not mine.  Like I say, these are your kids and your opinions; these are your choices.  If you're keen on the idea and want to pursue it, well, Go tell it on the mountain, Sister or Brother!  

I think that what we have here is a category error, replacing former mild anxieties about children and adult sexuality that have fallen away over time with more up-to-date concerns about gender identity, leavened with a depressingly common belief that the modern world is out to snatch our children from us.

I think it's all fine for you and yours, but pretty unappealing to everyone else.  I find it finger-waggy, off-putting; I think that a serious time-investment in it is counterproductive and I think it's manna from Heaven for the right-wing press, but it's your business.   

After all, I have an English degree, so I'd know.  But then, I also have a dick, so I probably wouldn't.


[1]  Ask a hundred religious parents how they responded to Dawkins telling them they were child abusers, and I'll be stunned if you got two who said Well, it really made me fundamentally reconsider the issue rather than I thought Dawkins was a twat.

[2] Anyone who's ever laid eyes on a nice school in a middle class area after experiencing even a mildly rough-around-the-edges educational establishment themselves would identify, here. It shouldn't be necessary to remind middle-class people that, if they had to send their kids to some of the country's rougher schools, they'd be better keeping them at home and flushing their heads down the toilet with kindness themselves, but plainly it often is.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Oh, Jesus

Right, let me settle this daft debate for youse by saying that, not only is Britain a Christian country, but it's the best kind of Christian country.

I saw various wags guffawing up their sleeves yesterday, yukking loudly at the irony of folk denying Britain's Christianity on a religious holiday.  And you know, they did have a point, but not in the way they'd think.

Almost everyone I've known over the years takes full advantage of e.g. Easter as a break from their decidedly ungodly status as slaves of Mammon to immediately hit the bar and indulge in a shocking array of joyfully sinful behaviour.  Drunkenness, fornication, drug abuse, homosexuality and blasphemy are such integral parts of modern British life that a holiday would seem pretty dull without them.

Hell, Christmas these days is just a sappy gift-giving festival where the kids get fun presents, the adults get torn into the sherry, hardly anybody has to go to work and almost everyone gets a lie-in, and ultimately nobody gives a damn about the imperilment of their immortal souls.

And really, you don't even have to be disgusting slob like myself to agree here, whether you spend your spare time hiking up mountains or on the back of a motorbike or just bumming about with the kids, because there ain't nobody up in the church on Sunday except the Poles.  The rest of us are free to get on with it however we choose without getting a lot of condemnatory grief, a relatively recent state of affairs.

This is an excellent and possibly unlikely outcome.  We get all the holidays and the basic, touchy-feely be-nice-to-each-other-dudes moral philosophy, and none of the Hellfire.  I can get right on board with a Christianity that doesn't require sobriety, abstinence, obedience, church attendance or even the faintest trace of actual belief.   

And let's be blunt - we owe Christianity a lot for this situation.  We owe Jesus Christ personally a huge debt for reworking his own wrathful, vengeance-crazed desert deity into a vague instruction to be nice to each other and to treat our fellow man with a minimum of respect.

We're due Catholicism a huge debt, for creating a massive, tottering edifice of corruption and hypocrisy so astoundingly hilarious that popular revolution against its venality was inevitable.  We owe Protestantism even more, for stripping the gospels of every last trace of mystery and uplift, leaving only a glowering, work-based voluntary programme with all the human warmth of a 1960s council car park during an especially cruel November.

The point being, very few of us can possibly take this shit seriously any more, barring perhaps the worst type of scolds and moral flagellants*, and the occasional living saint among us. 

Contrary to what most believers would tell you these days, religious belief in the UK is either indulged as a quaint eccentricity, or nervously petted like an adorable but occasionally snappy Shi-Tzu.   That's fine by me and if the price of it is occasionally indulging a minority hallucination that a nation of shagging, bevvying, preening, cursing infidels represents the triumph of Christian values I say, Hallelujah brother! 

Chuck me a crucifix and crack me open a cold one, so long as I don't have to haul my arse up off the couch.   


*Ironically, since it's David Cameron who sparked this round of poll-humping religiousity, I'd say it's likely that most of the scolds and moral flagellants are going to be Tories.  Even more ironically, the Tory leadership are the worst bunch of Mammon-worshipping, hypocritical, Temple-money-changing floggers of the poor in the country.  Most of the rest of us may be self-indulgent, prideful and slothful, but if Jesus ever comes back waving that flaming sword of vengeance, I'm willing to bet CCHQ will be the first address on his arse-kicking list.

Monday, April 14, 2014

The Bat Ye'Or It's Compulsory To Like

Isn't this odd - if a public figure were to publicly state that, for example

- Muslims are inherently incapable of negotiating in good faith because of their religion, or that

- We should have a war on Islam generally and specifically not a war on Islamists or extremists and terrorists, or that

- Repressive, religiously-targeted laws intentionally aimed at one faith only are highly desirable

...Then I don't think many of us would have trouble working out what type of politics we were dealing with.  Even the wackiest Torygraph commenter would probably suss that this is deep far-right nastiness territory. 

Sadly however, we're talking about Ayaan Hirsi Ali, so it's apparently compulsory for us all to pretend that this wackiness isn't dodgy in the slightest, and is in fact some form of admirable liberalism.  This, on pain of a bit of name-calling - back when her book came out, Timothy Garton-Ash and Ian Buruma got a terrific monstering for uttering very mild criticisms of her, objections that today look very meek and mild.

Now, I can't say I'm that much arsed about much of the stuff AHA comes out with.  Astounding as it sounds, I have other things that I could be getting on with than typing up posts about her rammy with Brandeis and, but for the wails and screams of horror that are intermittently cropping up on my Twitter timeline, I'd probably have ignored this latest round of melodramatic panicking.

Given AHA's awful background* and the very credible death-threats made against her, I think some fairly extreme views are the least we could expect and, to pick a daft analogy, I can see the difference between Iain Paisley's criticisms of the Catholic Church and e.g. Sinead O'Connor's, even if neither is exactly a reliable source on the matter.

Nonetheless, the pretense that you can be a liberal and e.g. support religiously-targetted restrictions on one particular group is getting pretty damn tiresome.  If you make a big noise about how you escaped oppression by coming to the west and then choose to hang out with a lot of people who campaign to crack down on immigration for whiffy reasons, that looks a lot like pulling up the ladder behind you on other women in your former position.  Which is a somewhat bizarre thing for a self-proclaimed feminist to do, never mind an alleged liberal**.

Other mild annoyances - people kidding on that having an offered bauble withdrawn is "censorship" or "silencing".  She's sure getting a lot of column inches at the moment to tell everyone how horribly she's been silenced and censored, which is perfectly reasonable and fine, but not exactly a gagging order. 

I'm also pretty tired of the argument that goes - AHA should be promoted in the interests of a rationalist debate.  If my rational debating point is that I damn well hate your religion, think you're an idiot for following it and want it entirely destroyed, then we're not going to have much of a debate.  We're going to have a screaming-match. 

And I really don't have any time for commands to "support" her in some non-specific way which plainly means "accept what she says uncritically".  I thought the whole point of rational inquiry is that there are no sacred cows.

So you can make a case that Hirsi Ali is a valuable voice on her area of expertise, but it's kind of central to the debate to acknowledge that her political views are about as reasonable and well-considered as those of Tommy Robinson or Avigdor Lieberman***.

If you instead wave your arms, rend your garments and call down the hammer of condemnation on everyone who disagrees with you, then you're not promoting debate.  You're polluting the issue with nonsense, and that helps nobody, except folk who want to further the cause of nonsense.

--

*Doubts cast on the authenticity of said background here, but since I've no idea how reliable the source documentary is and the person pushing it seems a bit Mr Angry, I'm going to dismiss it for now.  Included in case anyone else can vouch.

**As is running off with another woman's husband, by the way.  I imagine Niall Ferguson's ex-wife raises an eyebrow every time AHA is described as a "feminist campaigner", and has some interesting thoughts upon the nature of sisterhood.

***Also worth noting that AHA is pretty much the only Muslim that the counter-jihad mentals like.  Which is ironic, since she's pretty forthright about being an atheist.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

How Privileged Is Your House?




You may have lived to see your House brought crashing down in ruin and death, but before you enact bloody revenge, good Ser, you need to Check Your Privilege.

You may have been castrated by the bastard son of a sworn enemy, but have you ever considered that perhaps you are privileged even to have possessed testicles in the first place?

To find out exactly how privileged you are, check off the statements that apply to you:

- I am an Andal.

- I was taught to fight by men-at-arms using castle-forged steel swords. 

- I have never been enslaved and brainwashed into fighting in a castrato army.

- I have never been forcefully penetrated by a Dothraki horselord.

- I have never been mocked for having a bastard's name. 

- I have never been discriminated against for being a dwarf.

- I became an oathbound Kingsguard because my father is the richest man in Westeros.

- I have never been murdered by being drenched in molten gold.

- Nobody has ever called me a "renowned pillow-biter". 

- I have never been told that I am attractive "for a Braavosi". 

- I have never been mocked for the way I pronounce the word "Snow".

- I have never been raped and split in two with a greatsword by the Mountain, Gregor Clegaine.

- I have two hands.

- I don't know what "nipple-torture" is.

- Gratuitous fanny-shot. 

- I have never had to pretend to be "just related to" my brother.

- No stranger has ever asked to touch my hideous facial burns and asked "if they are real".

- My father has always been a cunt.

- I have never been mauled by a bear because I am a woman.

- I have never had to pretend to be low-born.

- I have never been sniggered at because I keep the Old Gods.

- I feel comfortable in the plate armour I am wearing.

- My family has never bent the knee to another House.

- I have never had to kill my daughter's direwolf to appease the Queen's wrath.

- I acquire new manky furs at least once a month.

- I have never worked as a whore, an armourer or a sell-sword.

- Hodor!

- I cannot be killed by fire, for fire cannot kill a dragon.

- I have never been told that my prostitute-murdering is "just a phase".

- I have never been called a spiteful little creature full of lust, envy and low cunning. 

- Most of my family has not been horrifically massacred, yet.

- I have never been addicted to milk of the poppy.

- I have never lied about submitting to the will of the Lord of Light as a form of self-defence.

- I have never been criticised for burning my enemies alive in my throne room.

- I am the god of tits and wine.


Click below to Check Your Privilege.


Sunday, April 06, 2014

Ba-Doom, Tish!


Experts are trying to establish why a large expanse of foam has appeared on the River Clyde in Glasgow.  The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa) said it had received a number of calls. - BBC Scotland

I mentioned this incident to a Glaswegian work colleague the other day.  I was like, "I reckon all that foam in the River Clyde is probably soap". 

"What's that?" He asked, conveniently.

"It's a cleaning product that you apply to your body for hygiene reasons", I said.

The doctor says the swelling might go down in three or four days. 

Friday, April 04, 2014

UKIP - An Addendum

But while I'm kicking off about Nigel Farage and his loopy cohort of dribblers and ragers, it's worth keeping it all in proportion.

While Nutty Nige's comments this week about his admiration for Bad Vlad Putin have prompted great swooning fits and paroxysms among the commenting classes - ack, the fascism! Oh noes, left-right convergence Putinism in a Barber jacket and welly-boots etc. etc. - we should recall that ultimately, saying stupid things isn't really that much of a problem, by comparison with the humdrum of everyday politics.

For example, Nige might harbour a huge throb-on for Vlad's strapping pecs, but he hasn't yet fronted a UK mission to sell spiked bollock-shockers to the Saudi royal family - that was David Cameron, Prime Minister of the nation.

He does front ludicrous scaremongering campaigns full of oogah-boogah about Romanian immigrants, but he doesn't often blow up Afghan wedding parties with Hellfire missiles.  John Reid or Geoff Hoon might fit the bill better.

He might bash on about foreign criminals, but he doesn't collude in a black prison network and so on and on - you want that nice David Miliband for that.

Which isn't to say that Nige is a nice person - plainly, he's a hateful twat wearing an unconvincing amiable-Tory-dunce outfit.  But you know, he's yet to kill or jail or deport anyone, or to half-destroy an entire nation's infrastructure.  It's the nice, PR-conscious mainstream politicians who do that type of thing - the Camerons and Milibands and Blairs that this week's Farage-fainters do all the lipsticking-of-pigs and euphemising for. 

So you know, you can take all the Aaargh UKIP nazi nutters save yourselves stuff with a pinch of salt, when it's coming from folk who are currently thinking up their best excuses for why occupying Afghanistan for fourteen years was a capital idea.

I've no doubt that if UKIP miraculously came to power, they'd have the country looking like a cheap remake of Children of Men within six weeks but, since this outcome is only slightly more likely than the prospect of the next government being formed by a herd of super-intelligent Brontosauruses, I think I can contain my outrage for the time being.

Thursday, April 03, 2014

Insult To Injury

A lot of question marks over heads this week as people spot the Clegg vs Farage EU spankathon and ask each other, Why exactly is this yawping, no-talent ignoranus blarting all over my television?  

They usually mean Farage, and though the question would be just as appropriate if applied to Clegg, you could at least point to the fact that the Lib Dems have fifty-six seats in Parliament, while Farage's grandest achievement is sending a gaggle of wizened, sexually-retired eccentrics to Brussels to badger the Continentals.

Don't get me wrong - it's possible that somewhere in the UK, there exists a constituency in which a majority of voters aren't content with hating their countrymen, and aim great rivers of bile at Belgium also.  That would make UKIP their number one choice come election day, and would give Farage a chance at snagging a seat and sending an actual MP to Parliament.  Barring that, seems unlikely that we'll see legions of half-hysterical geriatrics storming the Palace any time soon.

For now though, UKIP is easily outmuscled at Westminster by the Democratic Unionists, the SNP, Plaid Cymru, the Greens and even bloody Respect...  And I don't see the nation's media stampeding to bombard, say, Jonathan Edwards or George Galloway with breathless questions about their opinions on gay marriage or the price of fishcakes in Hong Kong, or what have you.  Hell, Caroline Lucas could fart the 1812 Overture into a microphone in Piccadilly Circus during rush hour, and it might make a four-inch column on page 18.  Maybe.

Now, perhaps the nation is just red-hot with rage over the European Union, and desperate to be slathered with lackwitted propaganda about it by a half-bright, rubber-faced twit.  I doubt that's true, since it seems to be an issue that only really animates a small but determined bunch of raging throbbers who live mercifully far to the south of me, but who knows?  Maybe the manias of a tiny band of aged Hobbits out in the arse-end of wherever have miraculously overthrown the nation, and I missed the headlines.

Nonetheless, a simpler, nastier explanation springs to mind - one in which the Farage clownshow serves only to force the Tories rightwards toward ever-loopier policies and pronouncements, while also acting as a big, scary sheepdog keeping core Labour voters corralled.

The situation isn't without precedent, given that the BNP spent most of the last decade performing exactly this function.  Their mere and meagre existence was enough to produce a rainforest's-worth of tedious, identical articles about the Very Real Concerns Of The White English Whomever, resulting in precisely the same poll-chasing intolerant guff that led us to where we are right now.  Nasty Nick had no more political clout than No-Nuts Nigel does, but he served a Very Real purpose in our national conversation, alright.

So the current bout of cretinous Faragephilia keeps people who own newspapers cheery, but it just represents yet another collossal affront to the populace - a new and supposedly radical political force, which wholly owes its flimsy position to the owners of the nation's newspapers, for no other purpose than creating an even bullshittier form of the status quo.  An entirely confected insurgency, useful only as a second layer of soft control.  It's a pretty insulting state of affairs, you have to admit.

You do have to wonder what the next right-wing fucknut uprising of exactly the same people is going to look like.  Frankly, if Godzilla rose roaring from the Channel and started laying waste to the south coast on Saturday, I wouldn't be surprised if the fucker was on the front of the Telegraph by Thursday taking a great radioactive dump on Tower Bridge, surrounded by a bunch of leathery ex-UKIP lunatics blathering about straight bananas and fishing quotas.