Monthly Archives: December 2006

Hate your next door neighbour, but don’t forget to say grace

Happy Christmas to everyone reading this, and I hope you all got what you asked for. (For anyone who asked for world peace like I did, yeah, I know. Bummer, eh?)

So I was in the pub last night, looking back over the year with some mates. For some reason, the conversation got onto politics (what were we thinking?) and I was launching into a triade of abuse about Jack Straw’s kicking off the whole manufactured veil controversy back in October. The fact that people around me were willing to stand up for him I found unbelievable. As I wrote at the time, Straw’s original piece was a thoughtful and considered reflection on where one’s person’s tolerance meets another’s beliefs. For the record, I’ve always believed that you have the right in your house or workplace to make requests of people, as long as you’re prepared to offer a decent explanation.

However, that wasn’t really the point of it all. The point was to raise fear and resentment of British Muslims in an attempt by New Labour at raising some cheap populism. The tenor and management of it seemed very well thought out, so much so that I’m inclined to think the statements from various ministers had been got ready in advance. Straw’s article was the kickoff point. He either knew what his masters expected of him and jumped, or had that end in mind all along.

The most dispiriting thing this year for me (apart from the meaning of the term “wag” degenerating from a witty and irreverent person into something I wouldn’t want to be associated with in a million years) is the way the government and the right-wing press has again and again fallen back on the politics of fear, of hatred and division. They’re incapable of admitting they’re wrong, so they want us to be scared of our neighbours, scared of immigrants, scared of terrorist attacks. Every bullshit manufactured controversy, from the veil scare to the aircraft bomb plot (that wasn’t) to the fake war on Christmas, fractures the country and plays into the hands of the far-right, who are more than happy to have matters of race and culture put on the political agenda. That’s why Straw, and everyone like him who trades on hatred for political capital, will never be worthy of my respect. A happy new year to you all.

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Big words in newspaper shock

Today I did something I’ve never done before. I found a word in a newspaper I had to look up in the dictionary. (From this, you can obviously tell blogging has hit a low patch.)

David Marquand uses “tergiversations” in a splendid demolition of Anthony Seldon’s shameless grovelling to Blair. Turns out it means “use ambiguous or evasive language” or “change one’s loyalties” – Marquand handily includes the link in his piece. I like to think that he didn’t just randomly pluck it from the thesaurus, but was saving the word for something special, and slipped it in close to Christmas when nobody really reads the papers anyway.

To yet more verbosity, in a piece about blogs from the Wall Street Journal opinion page. While the place is usually a haven for barkingly extreme right-wingers, this article is remarkably even-handed. I did like his assertion that instant response, as a condition of blogging, “is also a coagulant for orthodoxies”. What a splendid put-down. I almost feel like using it here. Which would you prefer: “Moore Than This: A coagulent for orthodoxies” or a line from an Elvis Costello song?

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Some people bring SexyBack…

So apparently my spur-of-the-moment decision to grow a beard about a month ago has coincided with facial hair suddenly becoming fashionable again. Glad to see that the mysterious arbiters of style in this country keep tabs on what I’m doing. And if you think this is strange, just you wait till next spring, when I single-handedly bring Elizabethan doublet and hose back in style.

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On the merits (or otherwise) of the arse-kicking approach to education

So, as a final goodwill gesture before term finishes, I agreed to be interviewed by some first-year students in class. The deal was to talk in Japanese about our years abroad. I made a pretty good fist of it, although since I got back from Japan my speaking ability has gone way downhill from simple lack of practice. Also present was Ilkka, from the infamous year abroad briefing (which has now assumed legendary proportions among people who were there), and a few others.

The session concluded with some advice from us to the new generation about the year abroad and the semester leading up to it. Among some questions from the floor (about how to recognise Yakuza, as well as more quotidian concerns), one student asked me how many students made it from our first year to the year abroad. I answered truthfully: “About half the class.” Then I wondered why he looked so shocked. In fact, all of us advised the first-years to work harder, in no uncertain terms.

Tough love? Sure, but I felt good doing it. For one, it was funny as hell to watch their expressions when Ilkka told them “You can’t just expect the Japanese language to magically pour into your head. Do the work, or you’ll fail.” But also, I think this kind of “motivation” (read: arse-kicking) was what is missing from the staff this year. In my first year, our year abroad director was a sarcastic, cynical Australian academic named Dr. Weste, who left at the end of last year. His sardonic asides during lessons and frequent threats of dire consequences if we didn’t do the work did a lot to help shake me out of a rut and do better.

I’m of the opinion that everyone secretly likes the Dr. Cox-type character – someone who will mock, belittle and scare you into working harder, but genuinely does it in your own best interests. Not only will it motivate you, it shows someone cares far more than a diffident, impersonal response.

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Badly thought-out headline of the week


Umm, I think the word “myth” might well give you a clue on that one…

I know, I know, I’m pedantic and sarky. But if a I was a sub-editor/layout designer, even for a publication that’s given away free on trains, I’d have a bit more pride in my work.

[N.B. The picture next to the headline is of Jordan, which concerns a (debunked) urban myth about silicone implants exploding at high altidues. Just as well - I didn't know if I'd be able to fly again with these spectualar new breasts of mine.]

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