The Needle Returns To The Start Of The Song And We All Sing Along Like Before

The same cycle of news, analysis and meta-analysis, and nothing changes

Hideous news from Las Vegas. It’s the deadliest mass shooting in the history of the United States.

Reading the coverage and the commentary, I’m reminded of the song ‘Nothing Ever Happens‘ by the Scottish band Del Amitri.

The song is 28 years old now.  Some of the lyrics I find too simplistic, like a sixth former berating the world (“Ignorant people sleep in their beds, like the doped white mice in the college lab”). But in other ways it feels contemporary:

Nothing ever happens / Nothing happens at all / The needle returns to the start of the song and we all sing along like before

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Fashionista Philip: The Sartorial Choices of Mr May

Our constant call-outs of sexism in the media are slowly having an effect

Societal progress moves at a glacial pace. Sexism didn’t go away when Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister and it’s still with us even though Teresa May now occupies Number 10 Downing Street.

Still, it’s interesting (to me, at least) to watch our societal attitudes change, even at the quantum level.  In fact, I think it is particularly worthwhile to note the most granular changes in our discourse: in this case, how we talk about women and men.

Many people have shared this article by Nicole Morely in the Metro: ‘Theresa May’s husband steals the show in sexy navy suit as he starts new life as First Man‘.

Continue reading “Fashionista Philip: The Sartorial Choices of Mr May”

How Gay Marriage Persuaded Me To Get A Straight Marriage*

A decade ago, I was pretty down on the whole idea of marriage.

Hooray for five ninths of the Supreme Court of the United States of America!  Today the Court ruled that bans on same sex marriage are unconstitutional.  Same-sex marriage, which was already legal in many states, is now legal throughout the USA.

Blogger and gay marriage advocate Andrew Sullivan has returned to blogging to welcome the news.  He’s been agitating for this since 1989.

Opponents of same sex marriage often claim that it will somehow undermine straight marriage.  That’s nonsense.  In fact, I think the opposite is true.  Here’s why. Continue reading “How Gay Marriage Persuaded Me To Get A Straight Marriage*”

These jihadi brides are fully culpable victims

Three schoolgirls from East London have left the UK to join ISIS, and everyone has an opinion. Some people say they are no better than Jihadi John, and that joining the fighters for Islamic state is tantamount to participating in the beheading of aid workers. they should be considered enemy combatants and we should not care one joy for their safety.

Other people say that these girls are victims: of brainwashing, of a culture that doesn’t value them, or of a society that offers the youth no aspirations. They’re essentially kidnap victims and we should mobilise to secure their safe return.

Here’s an idea: perhaps they’re both? Fully culpable genocide-enablers; and victims.
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The ontology of London house prices

The questions that preoccupy Philosophy students often cause them to be teased by their peers. In my case, ontology was the big hilarity, as we studied the history of philosophers asking, “how do we know that this chair actually exists?“. My science-studying friends ribbed me for examining something that was (in their eyes) completely futile. I do not have the wit to explain to them that the same thought processes should lead us to examine whether other things could also be trusted to exist—scientific data, for example.

Discussion around house prices has flared again. Right Move have published data showing that house prices in London and its orbit have risen 2% in the past quarter, and 10% in the past month alone. (These figures seem so extraordinary I wonder if we need a freshman philosophy student to ask whether they actually exist!  Meanwhile, Right Move calls them ‘unsustainable‘)

We know that house prices do not really exist in the same way that our chairs exist. They are constructs of human interaction, a rough guess at the point of intersection on a supply-and-demand graph that no-one actually gets to see. Continue reading “The ontology of London house prices”

The soundbite stats we need to win the argument on welfare

I enjoyed these tweets from Laurie Penny, tweeting as @BBCExtraGuest during Question Tim tonight.

The tabloids regularly publish their deceptive anecdata, building over time the impression of welfare abuse.

The result is that the public’s understanding of welfare is warped beyond what is democratically healthy:

The British public believe benefit fraud is a big problem. A recent poll by the TUC showed people believe 27% of the welfare budget is fraudulently claimed.

The reality is very different. Last year, 0.7% of total benefit expenditure was overpaid due to fraud, according to the DWP’s official estimates.

I think that simple, tweetable statistics that put the extent of the welfare ‘problem’ into perspective are the essential weapon the Left needs in its quest to protect the welfare state. Every labour activist needs to be prepped to reel off the facts when they knock on doors and make calls. Every left-leaner should have these figures on the tip of their tongue, ready to rebut the casual myths that their friends, family and colleagues might casually drop into the conversation. (Of course the professional politicians can already do this, but it is rare that Liam Byrne MP is available to stand in the petrol station forecourt, personally explaining to those filling up their tanks that the big stacks of Mail and Express over there are peddling propaganda).

What might the statistics be? In addition to the figures above about welfare fraud vs tax evasion, we need to know the figures for JSA and disability benefits as a proportion of the total welfare bill. Comparisons should be made with defence spending and corporate tax breaks.

One might say that the reason that the myths and misinformation persists is that human interest stories work better than figures. But I think that is a received wisdom that may not be quite true. Figures like those above are easy to remember and repeat.

Moreover, it is not a given that the human interest angle will always be persuasive. ‘Benefit Scroungers’ stories work because You The Taxpayer are the victim of the piece. On the other side of the debate, when we hear the horror stories of welfare cuts or denial, someone else is the victim. There is a world of difference between these different types of stories, and it gives those seeking to divide and obfuscate the upper hand. Perhaps succinct figures, soundbite stats, could give us an edge?

Is alcohol a placebo?

So perhaps alcohol is actually a sort of placebo. We think it causes us to become gregarious, rude, aggressive or transgressive. And so we become those things.

Alcohol makes people do very strange things, doesn’t it?  From ‘On Being The Sober Guy At The Party’ from The Shapes and Disfigurements of Raymond Atrobus:

I’ve seen people at parties strip
deep into the naked night.
I know their names,
I’ve seen them crawl on the floor
WOOF WOOF! I’M A DOG!

And yet, perhaps alcohol affects people from different cultures in different ways.  Here’s ‘Satoru’, one of the narrators in David Mitchell’s Ghostwritten:

I’ve seen foreigners get drunk in bars out in Sibuya and place, and they turn into animals. Japanese people never do that. The men might get friskier, but never violent.  Alcohol just lets off steam for Japanese. For foreigners, alcohole just seems to build steam up. And they kiss in public, too! I’ve seen them stick their tongues in a grope the girl’s breasts. In bars, where everyone can see!

These passages remind me of this article by Kate Fox of the Social Issues Research Centre, which suggest that the effect of alcohol is more in the excuse it gives us to break social barriers and revert to base behaviours.

In high doses, alcohol impairs our reaction times, muscle control, co-ordination, short-term memory, perceptual field, cognitive abilities and ability to speak clearly. But it does not cause us selectively to break specific social rules. It does not cause us to say, “Oi, what you lookin’ at?” and start punching each other. Nor does it cause us to say, “Hey babe, fancy a shag?” and start groping each other.

The effects of alcohol on behaviour are determined by cultural rules and norms, not by the chemical actions of ethanol.

So perhaps alcohol is actually a sort of placebo.  We think it causes us to become gregarious, rude, aggressive or transgressive.  And so we become those things.

(Photo from CollegeHumour.com)