Friday, 24 October 2014

I don't need to hear that again

You'd think you could win an argument by showing that you're right and that the other person is wrong. But you'd be wrong:
How do you opposed a cause you regard as dubious without unwittingly legitimating it? For instance, remember when one of the many justifications offered for the Iraq War was that Saddam Hussein was in cahoots with Osama bin Laden? Even though that idea was patently false, efforts to debunk it actually reinforced the connection between Hussein and Bin Laden simply by featuring their names in close proximity.
It seems that the public relations industry is to blame for diverting the energy of people who actually take the time to make reasoned arguments into an endless game of Whac-A-Mole with zombie ideas that keep popping back up, long after they should have been decently buried:
The best public relations operations involve repetition and media attention that you build on progressively. The more your name is seen, the more it is remembered.
Ignore terrible ideas and you surrender the floor to your opponents. If you try to demolish them, you feed your opponents the oxygen of publicity. Catch-22. 

I don't have a solution, although the next time you hear somebody using dumb repetition to enhance awareness of their particular brand of bullshit, maybe it would be better to treat them as you'd treat a persistent bore in everyday life:

"(Name). are you aware of how often you repeat yourself?"

"You've told me that before."

"Do you feel I'm hearing you well enough?"

"What do you need from me now?"

"When you need to repeat yourself, I feel _________ (and I start tuning you out)."

"That's the third time you've told me that."

"(Name), I don't need to hear that again."

"From now on, when you repeat yourself, I'm going to call you on it (or put my fingers in my ears.)"

"I'm going to hold up a finger for each time you repeat yourself."


"If you're not sure I'm hearing you, ask me for a hearing check, OK?"

From Response Options to a Repetitive Person - Peter K Gerlach

Because trying to win an argument by endlessly repeating the same point is a disorder, no matter how many public relations professionals try to normalise this sort of thing.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

He made their tiny wings

Apparently, Islamic State now has an air force. Which is great news for people who like Shetland ponies and chihuahuas, since it seems to be adorably tiny. It's also good news for almost everybody else since, if their comic inability to use tanks is anything to go by, it will provide even more opportunities for sociopathic half-wits to to get themselves killed.
Being a fighter pilot -- for that matter, simply taking off in a single-engine jet fighter of the Century series, such as an F-102, or any of the military's other marvelous bricks with fins on them -- presented a man, on a perfectly sunny day, with more ways to get himself killed than his wife and children could imagine in their wildest fears.
Tom Wolfe, The Right Stuff.

And Wolfe was talking about properly-trained pilots and an elite cadre of test pilots, flying properly-maintained aircraft for a superpower, not semi-trained nutjobs flying poorly-maintained kit recently captured from the motley inventory of a semi-failed state.

By the look of the Reuters vid, the only serviceable-looking planes amid the sea of wrecked MiGs and ancient Delfins are some Czech L-39 Albatroses, as used in the opening sequence of the Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies.

I'm guessing that this well-paced, but implausible action sequence is how the wannabe Jihadi flyboys see themselves:

The plot of Tomorrow Never Dies, I seem to remember, involves an evil media baron who tries to suck the UK into a war, by manufacturing a deadly pseudo event with a large side-order of propaganda. Just saying.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Vanity project

Back in August, I wondered idly whether  the well-known anti-hair-greying product, Grecian 2000, (or Grecian Formula, as it's known in the States), could possibly work as advertised. So idly that I didn't get round to following it up until October.

So it sounds as if it doesn't magically select only the grey hairs, but reacts with all the hairs, producing an overall colour change that happens slowly enough to be imperceptible. But there are problems.

First, according to some contributors to the Straight Dope message board's Grecian Formula thread, it stinks. 'It smelled like I fell into a sulphur pit' ... 'smells like rotten eggs'. Other contributors contradict this, or think that the smell might only apply the recipe Grecian use in the US, but comments from the UK indicate that our version is also pretty whiffy ('The first thing I noticed when I squeezed it on my hands was its nasty smell, something between carbolic and a cheap hair lotion').

Second, and more worryingly, the US version is made with lead acetate, (the toxin formerly known as salt of Saturn). If you don't actually swallow the stuff, it probably won't end up killing you (like Pope Clement II and, possibly, Beethoven), but rubbing it into your scalp on a regular basis still doesn't sound like a smart move.
Here in the EU and in Canada, the lead acetate has been banned and has now been replaced with bismuth citrate. I'm assuming that the unleaded version is safer, although the EU's Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety thinks there's still more work to be done on assessing how safe, or otherwise, bismuth citrate is.

Even if we find the UK version harmless until proven otherwise, I don't want to lose the grey, only to gain an eggy smell. Also, according to LordChaverly, it leaves your hair greasy, so I think I'll give it a miss.

People of a certain generation would probably tell me that a bit of grey looks "distinguished", whatever that means, but they'd be talking rubbish. Suppose there were men who really wanted to look "distinguished", say because the older-male-as-silverback-gorilla look conveyed status and authority. If that demand existed in real life, then somebody would be making money from marketing an anti-Grecian formula, designed to give ambitious younger middle mangers that senior executive-style sprinkling of grey hairs. Nobody is.

Of course, there are high-status men who "carry off" the silver fox look, but I think that status precedes the grey hairs, rather than being conferred by them. We can see this most clearly through the lens of gender politics. Men and women can suffer from ageism but men, especially high-status ones, suffer less. The greying male CEO of the Empty Suit Corporation attracts no comment, but the female academic who dares not to dye must take up arms against a sea of on line abuse. Nobody's aspiring to be grey, but men, especially high-status ones, aren't so harshly judged by superficial factors like fading hair colour.

Back in the decade that taste forgot, there was an aftershave called "Denim", advertised with the slogan 'For men who don't have to try too hard', which neatly summed up the essence of a particular view of masculinity.

We've moved on a bit since the 1970s, but not that much. Okay, if you're a slightly younger male, I dare say there's a bit more moisturising, exfoliation, hair gel and gym-fashioned muscle definition going on than there was in my day, but that's nothing compared with the beauty regime women are still routinely expected to submit to, if they're not to be accused of letting themselves go; the makeup, the uncomfortable, impractical, restricting clothes, the crippling high heels, the endless array of dubious anti-ageing products, the false eyelashes, the under-wired bra, the padded bra... When it comes to appearance, compared with the average woman, most men don't have to try too hard.

And the pathologically well-adjusted man hardly has to try at all. Grayson Perry calls him 'Default Man', looking down on the human objects in his world with his Default Male gaze:
... identity only seems to become an issue when it is challenged or under threat. Our classic Default Man is rarely under existential threat; consequently, his identity remains unexamined. It ambles along blithely, never having to stand up for its rights or to defend its homeland...
... The Default Male gaze does not just dominate cinema, it looks down on society like the eye on Sauron’s tower in The Lord of the Rings. Every other identity group is “othered” by it. It is the gaze of the expensively nondescript corporate leader watching consumers adorn themselves with his company’s products the better to get his attention.

Removing as much grey as you want seems to be a doddle compared with removing the éminence grise.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

The monetisation of everything, continued

Shortly afterwards, it was reported that the Academies Enterprise Trust, one of the largest chains, was planning to outsource all non-teaching posts in its 77 schools to a profit-making organisation. In the education investment community, this is known as ‘chore, not core’.
Matthew Bennett, at the LRB blog

'Chore, not core.' So there you have it - if you're doing a non-teaching job in a school, you're a waste of oxygen, at least until some profiteer can figure out a way of leeching a revenue stream from your worthless existence. That's what we're up against.

If you tolerate this your children will be next.

More whataboutery

MPs vote to recognise new Middle Eastern state

If Palestine, why not Kurdistan?
MPs including the Labour leader, Ed Miliband, have voted to recognise Kurdistan as a state in a symbolic move that will unnerve Turkey by suggesting that it is losing a wider battle for public opinion in Britain.

In possibly the single most important contribution in an emotional debate, Richard Ottaway, the Conservative chairman of the foreign affairs select committee, said Turkey's recent air raids on Kurdish villages had angered him like nothing else in politics.

The former foreign secretary, Jack Straw, said the vote was not simply a gesture, because if it were, the Turkish government would not be as worried by the vote.

The Turkish government, he said, wants the recognition of a Kurdish state only when Hell freezes over. But Straw said “such an approach would give the Turks a veto over whether a Kurdish state should exist”. A vote for recognition would add to the pressure on the Turkish government, he said. “The only thing that the Turkish government, in my view, in its present demeanour under Recep Tayyip Erdoğan understands is pressure.”

Conservative James Clappison spoke out against the motion, arguing it would do more harm than good. He said: “I believe that international recognition of a Kurdish state in the terms of the motion would make a two-state solution less likely rather than more likely.

He said The PKK had “set its face against any peace deal with Turkey” and undertaken a “campaign of terror”.
Just wondering.

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Sunday service

I'm just back from church. No, I haven't asked Jesus into my heart or anything like that - I just felt that it would be polite to be there for the last service taken by the retiring rector of the Benifice of Newport Pagnell, seeing as he married me a couple of years ago (to my wife, I mean - the Church of England may be getting more relaxed and open-minded, but they're not quite that open-minded).

Anyway, I was quite impressed by the organ music that opened the service. I stopped enjoying Vivaldi's Four Seasons years ago - way too overused as irritating elevator/call-centre hold music, back in the day - but it makes an upbeat, rousing anthem when transcribed for the organ and I actually found myself liking "Spring" again for the first time in years. See what you think: