Any type at all. All that’s needed is that there enough of them. It doesn’t matter how lame or ridiculous or mad they seem. Get a critical mass of that type of person and before you know it they’re in charge, and you’re behind bars.
Sainsburys are not doing as well as their supermarket rivals:
Sainsbury’s lagged rivals as the worst performer of the UK’s Big Four supermarkets …
In the 12 weeks to August 12, Sainsbury’s sales grew just 1.2pc, compared with a 3.5pc average across all the grocers.
Why are Sainsburys underperforming? Well, this doesn’t help:
A WHOLE 10P OFF RYVITA RYE CRISPBREAD! TO USE WITHIN TWO WEEKS. Forget the other supermarkets, I’m going to drive five miles out of my way next time to use Sainsburys just so I can get 10p off Ryvita rye crispbread. I might even leave work early to make sure I get there before the rush.
Admittedly it’s not a product I ever buy, it’s not a product I even like much, but who can argue with 10p? Not to mention the offer of 20p off unsalted butter. Sure I don’t use unsalted butter, but that’s twice as much off as the crispbread offer.
For me the moment when Sainsburys went downhill was when they stopped stocking classier products and started doing more of their own mediocre home brand stuff. (I can’t remember when this was, though. Five years ago? Eight?) At that point a lot of middle-class people switched to Waitrose because they had more snob appeal, but Sainsburys couldn’t compete with Tesco or Asda on the cheap front either.
(I used to like Sainsburys’ petrol offers, 4p a litre off, they were good value, but with the markup on petrol so slim to start with there was no way they could ever sustain that.)
Update: I may go back just to see what other ludicrous offers they can come up with. 5p off gluten-free spinach-flavoured haggis? 8p off fat-free porridge? 50p off lichen-and-masala shampoo?
A bit of good news to cheer us all up:
Oliver’s bid to extend his publishing phenomenon into a global restaurant empire has so far failed and instead cost him millions in cash and reams of bad headlines around the world, especially in his native Britain as well as in Australia.
Last time I said anything negative about Jamie Oliver (on Twitter) hundreds of restaurant people went berserk at myself and Christopher Snowdon (who had also made fun of him). So let me say here that I don’t wish to see anyone lose their jobs, but I would like to see all these people employed by a better restauranter than Oliver.
I’ve never had a good meal in a Jamie Oliver restaurant. And I’ve never met anyone else who has. And the fact is that there are too many middle-of-the-road restaurants chains like his for the market. They can’t all survive. But I like the fact that Jamie Oliver is paying for a lot of people out of his own pocket. It’s part-payback for Turkey Twizzlers.
‘Ren? Are you listening?’ says Tanja.
Oh yes. Tanja’s question. Ignoring it hasn’t made it go away like he hoped it would.
‘Can you ever know yourself?’ says Ren to remind himself of the question. ‘Do you mean fully? No. Do you mean at all? Yes.’
The blunt answers are an attempt to put Tanja off, although he knows that won’t work.
‘I mean at all. I mean, how can you know yourself at all?’
‘Well, firstly there’s introspection, which even if it isn’t perfect, does produce some knowledge of yourself, unless you’re just going for all out global scepticism, in which case we’re hardly going to be restricting our attention to ourselves.’
One of the things to do with philosopher manques who incline towards scepticism is to make them aware of how their type of scepticism won’t just be restricted to the sphere they are determined to be sceptical about. Not that they ever really get this, but it can get them off your back with a clean conscience.
‘And secondly,’ says Ren, ‘there’s the observation of your own behaviour. If you can know other people, to some degree, by observing their behaviour, then you’re no different.’
‘But how is that knowing yourself? I mean, truly knowing yourself?’ says Tanja.
‘What does the word “truly” add here? How is knowing yourself different to knowing yourself truly? Do you mean knowing every aspect of yourself? As I said, you can’t know yourself to that extent. You can’t know anything to that extent.’
‘I mean, knowing what you’re really like?’
‘Are you assuming that what you’re really like is completely different to what you seem to be like? What justifies that assumption? It’s possible, but you can’t build it into your view that it’s probable, seeing as you’re so sceptical about having any knowledge of what we’re like to start with.’
One of the things that really annoys philosopher manques about Ren, and most other analytic philosophers, is that they don’t talk like the manque wants them to talk. This can get the manque off your back after a while, unless the manque is drinking. Which they usually are when such conversations start up.
‘But we can’t know ourselves. Can we? I mean, how?’
‘I just went through that.’
‘But our vantage point on ourselves means that we’re hidden from ourselves. We are in our own blind spot. There’s no mirror we can hold up to see ourselves.’
Ren suspects that Tanja is, as usual, getting this stuff from some art catalogue she’s recently been looking at.
‘So you say. What reason is there to think this is true?’
‘Well…’ Tanja is somewhat stumped at this point. Lily gets out her little makeup mirror and starts looking in it, adjusting nothing in particular. Is this sarcasm by deed? Heresy by deed? Even if it isn’t, Ren is impressed. But worried. He doesn’t need Lily doing clever things that will make him fall for her even more. And right now he has to listen to Tanja for a few more minutes, just for the sake of his friendship with Miles.
‘We’re always presenting a mask,’ Tanja finally says, as though she has dragged something up from memory. ‘Aren’t we? Even to ourselves.’
‘Maybe, depending on how we unpack that claim.’
Ren kicks himself for using ‘unpack that claim’, a horrible modern cliche.
‘But isn’t that an issue with our knowledge of everyone else too?’ he continues. ‘I thought you were saying this was something peculiar to our knowledge of our own self? If this is a bar to knowledge, isn’t it a bar to knowledge of every person, not just us? Isn’t it in fact worse with other people, because you don’t even have access to their conscious thoughts, like you do with your own own?’
‘You’re not listening to what I’m saying. I’m saying that the reality of who we are is always blocked by, er, by the reality of what goes on. And, er, how we see things, right? And that prevents us seeing clearly, doesn’t it? Prevents us seeing at all. In this case. With ourselves. We can’t see the back of our heads. So how can we see our minds? Why don’t you take that into consideration? You philosophers just can’t see the bigger things we can’t see because you’re always looking at your navels.’
Miles, Douglas and Jay are having their own, much more interesting conversation. Lily, because of her table position, is having a harder time screening out Ren and Tanja’s discussion. She yawns. It doesn’t look a very real yawn. It’s possibly done for Ren’s sake.
‘Well, I want to get the parameters of what we’re discussing settled first,’ says Ren. Manques hate this sort of thing. They want instant profundity. ‘Is this a problem that only applies to our knowledge of ourself, or does it apply to our knowledge of everyone else too? By the way, I presume we’re talking about minds here. Normally philosophers say there’s problem with knowledge of other minds, minds other than our own, not that there’s some unique difficulty with your own mind. Because if you can know other minds better than your own, then why can’t you just use whatever methods you use to achieve that, such as external observation, on yourself?’
When Tanja looks at him blankly, he says, ‘Put it this way, such a view would imply that others know your mind better than you do, so why don’t you just improve your knowledge of your own mind by asking them about yourself? I presume you don’t have anything like this view in mind, though.’
Ren’s tactic is to be just harsh enough to force Tanja to leave the conversation voluntarily, and to think twice about engaging him in philosophical conversation again, but not so harsh that she complains to Miles about what a bastard Ren is.
‘I don’t,’ says Tanja uncertainly. ‘Why can’t you just talk about what I do have in mind?’
Because what you have in mind is brumous pile of shite, thinks Ren, and even my first years would think you are hung up on apparent profundity. They’d also think that you lack the required application to think through anything. Anything, apart from the material on the Michel Mouse Art History degree you did, but that’s not setting the bar very high.
‘Because I don’t know what you have in mind. I’m trying to eliminate some possible views so I can get closer to what you’re saying. Is this just general scepticism about knowledge of the mental, which is a scepticism I don’t share, or is there some argument here concerning your own mind in particular? If the latter, I’m not getting what the argument is. Talk about not being able to see the back of your own head in the mirror is suggestive, but hardly a fleshed-out argument, or even a fleshed-out description of a problem.’
‘Arguments are the problem. There’s no argument, just the impossibility of seeing this,’ says Tanja.
She’s starting to talk loudly because the pub has filled up a little more, and the others are talking loudly, and the pub has a lot of hard surfaces which bounce noise around the room, making intelligible conversation harder.
‘You academic philosophers miss everything, you think everything has to be an argument. Or a description,’ she says. ‘Why must it be a description? Always arguing, never listening.’
Or perhaps she’s getting louder because the drink is making her more annoyed with Ren. Or perhaps she’s remembering a conversation with some wonderful empathetic visiting artist, and that memory is making her realise more vividly what a blinkered reactionary Ren is. He’s such a disappointment. She wants a philosopher friend, but not this sort.
‘But I just don’t know what it is that you are putting forward,’ says Ren.
‘I’m explaining it to you now,’ she says slowly, in order to be helpful. ‘The problem is, you can’t see what’s in front of your face because of your training, right? You’re bigoted, you need to, um, open your mind to alternative points of view. Art would help you, you see, if you stopped using language all the time, it’s a barrier to understanding, right? You need to let your visual mind influence your thoughts, and stop being so left-brained.’
Comedian and actor Helen Lederer is angry because she’s not famous:
“There’s a lot of anger,” says Helen Lederer, blue eyes blinking beneath her trademark blonde fringe. “I’m sat on a lot of bitterness.” …
“I had a genuine belief that, because I had a passion for stand-up, writing and performing, that I’d just write my own sitcom and be in it.
Somehow I didn’t get my own sitcom either, and I bet the scripts I wrote were were funnier than hers. But she seems to think it’s somehow her due, and the writer of the article tries to make out that it’s the fault of men that she didn’t make it big. Yet tens of thousands of male writers, comedians and actors have the same experience. Unfortunately they just have to accept it, and make do the best they can.
That’s actually the case for men in general. For thousands of years most men have been nobodies, failures, unacknowledged geniuses, journeymen, teamplayers, underpromoted, underappreciated, etc. And they just had to put up with that. They had to learn to live with failure, or at least with disappointment, and put up with the taste of sour dreams in their head every night. That’s just part of life for most men.
Then women decided that they wanted careers too. They too wanted to chase success in the workforce. But that meant most of them having to put up with disappointment, just like men had to. And most women were fine at this. Until, that is, modern feminism came along and told them that they were all entitled to be CEOs and Presidents and heads of departments and best-selling authors and movie stars and Professors and generally be fawned over all the time, which was bad enough, but what was worse was that it told them that if they didn’t get those things then instead of having to accept it, like men did, they should shout and bang drums and whine endlessly about how it’s all the fault of the patriarchy.
And Lederer can’t really complain anyway:
this month Lederer has been performing a one-woman routine every day at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe for the first time in 14 years, hosting a chat show, and making endless radio appearances on channels from LBC to the BBC.
The woman has been positively locked in chains in a dungeon.
There’s also this feminist bilge in the article:
“Popular women’s books are written off as Chick Lit, but no novel by a man has ever been dismissed as Dick Lit,” Allison Pearson wrote in these pages two months ago.
Ah yes, I remember when I sent my novel to agents — 95% of whom were women, with a large majority of women on their list — and how they all told me that my book was good because I was a man, and that I would be published forthwith, as long as I really was a man, and not a woman in disguise.
(Amazing how Alison Pearson manages to ignore all those male authors who entertain the public but who are sneeringly dismissed by the literary establishment as writers of potboilers and penny dreadfuls.) And here’s Marion Keyes, quoted in the same article:
“Male voices are automatically given extra weight… Anything that’s been said or done by a woman just matters less,” lamented Keyes.
Keyes seems to have somehow missed the whole of last forty years.
Anyway, your fears about male power in the comedy fiction world, which I know keep you awake at night, are at an end, because Lederer has created the Comedy Women in Print award:
And so, Lederer is seeking to redress the balance with CWIP, through which the winner will receive a place on the University of Hertfordshire’s Creative Writing course and £1,000 if they are as yet unpublished, or £2,000 if their work has previously been in print.
“This is a passion project, it’s not a money earner for me,” explains Lederer
It’s not about me, says Lederer. Yet somehow she gets a whole newspaper article about her out of it that could have been written by her agent, and her name is prominently displayed on the front page of the award webpage. And her contribution is, at most, £2000, and probably nothing in reality, because The Telegraph and Pegasus Life are listed as sponsors. Yes, that same Telegraph that is running this story. And the University of Hertfordshire is also listed as a sponsor, so I assume they’re waiving the fees, rather than Lederer paying them out of her own pocket.
£2000 is less than you’d pay a publicist to get you in the papers these days. £0 certainly is. Well played Helen, well played.
Update: Perhaps I’ll start up my own award: The Right-Wing Men in Comedy Fiction Award. Sponsored by… possibly The Spectator, but in reality it’ll probably turn out to be the kebab shop up the road. Winner gets a free lunch with Toby Young who’ll talk about himself for an hour. Runner-up gets… to listen to me talk about comedy after I’ve had a few pints?
In the comments to yesterday’s post about Ian Hislop’s article Sam Duncan says:
“It was HL Mencken, the great American satirist, who said we should afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted.”
No it wasn’t. It was Finley Peter Dunne, and it wasn’t an instruction or recommendation; he was mocking the self-importance of newspapers and the journalists who wrote for them.
Mencken did say that “What men value in this world is not rights but privileges,” though. Which seems somehow appropriate.
Further research indicates that Sam is right. It wasn’t Mencken. It always seemed to me odd that Mencken had (supposedly) said this, because I’ve read a lot of Mencken, and it didn’t sound right.
I also like this quote from David Baddiel that I came across (not that I trust him entirely either):
To those quoting satire should comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable I say: satirists shouldn’t have to be high-minded to live.
Regarding my post from last week about Lenin’s Red Terror (which he made no effort to hide, and every effort to publicize to the public at large), you may be wondering whether any of Lenin’s colleagues opposed the Red Terror? The answer is no.
It is difficult to convey the vehemence with which Communist leaders at this time called for the spilling of blood. It was as if they vied to prove themselves less “soft”, less “bourgeois” than the next man … Not one of the leaders of the Bolshevik Party and Government, including those later eulogized as the “conscience of the Revolution”, objected publicly to these atrocities, let alone resigned in protest. Indeed, they gave them support: thus, on the Friday following the shooting of Lenin, the top Bolshevik leaders fanned out over Moscow to defend the government’s policies. (Richard Pipes, The Russian Revolution 1899-1919, Fontana, 1990, p. 820-1.)
This wasn’t because the Bolshevik top brass were frightened of Lenin. They had rebelled against him quite a few times over various issues, especially his signing of the Brest-Litsov peace treaty with Germany. At this stage of Communist rule the other top Communists didn’t have much to fear, even if lower-down Communists didn’t dare go against Lenin. No, they didn’t go against him on this because they all had the same desire: to erase the lives of anyone they saw as not fitting into their new Utopia.
But what about Trotsky? Wasn’t he a good guy? Don’t make me laugh. He was one of the most ruthless of all the revolutionaries:
Lenin’s associates now vied with each other in using language of explicit brutality to incite the population to murder and to make murder committed for the cause of the Revolution appear noble and uplifting. Trotsky, for instance, on one occasion warned that if any of the ex-Tsarist officers whom he drafted into the Red Army behaved treasonably, “nothing will remain of them but a wet spot” (Pipes, 817)
Private Eye editor Ian Hislop pens a rare article of defence of offensive jokes in The Telegraph, but if this is the best that can be said in favour free speech in comedy, then we’re in trouble.
There is a wave of earnestness about at the moment … people saying jokes about certain topics aren’t acceptable, saying humour isn’t helpful, saying “I am offended by this, and therefore you should shut up.” It’s all rather puritan.
I’m inclined to disagree. No topic should be out of bounds, so long as you can justify the point behind it. I have spent most of my life joking about serious things, and I believe humour can be helpful, especially when important issues are at stake.
Okay, but what about when humour isn’t helpful?
It might not bring a government down, but mockery can crystallise an opinion. Daniel Defoe said the end of satire is reform. He didn’t say it’s revolution, or armed protest. Rather, he thought you could make people behave better by laughing them into it, and that’s still an aspiration.
This is starting to sound like “offensive humour is acceptable, so long as it has a moral purpose”.
I don’t defend all jokes. There was a phase when it was popular for stand-up comics to have a go at disabled people. As an audience member, I thought, “I don’t understand that. Why is that funny?” You’re meant to be punching up, not punching down. It’s that universal desire to punch up – to blow a raspberry at the powerful – that unites everything from the defaced Babylonian brick to the fake British banknote.
It was HL Mencken, the great American satirist, who said we should afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted. So long as you try and do that, you have a licence to joke about almost anything.
Now, I don’t like jokes about disabled people myself, at least not if they’re cruel. I’m not saying that we should give TV shows to comedians (bearded Scots or otherwise) who do this. But this defence worries me. (It also worries me that Hislop can’t think of any more original way to finish his article than to make the same tired reference to that same old quote of Mencken that a million other writers have made — the whole thing reads like a reheated version of one of Hislop’s school newspaper article from the 70s — but that’s an issue for another day.)
The reason Hislop’s defence worries me is that it’s very close to saying that jokes are okay as long as they’re the right sort of jokes, directed at the right sort of people, for the right sort of purpose. Which is pretty much what a lot of powerful people are currently saying about Boris’s Johnson’s mild little jibe against current female towelhead fashion. And who decides what the right sort of target is? At the moment it’s the progressive Establishment and their sidekicks, the SJW Twitter mob, who are busy trying to assert their right to decide that. So what we end up with is a justification for mob bullying, and an excuse to suppress jokes.
What’s missing from Hislop’s moralistic justification of humour, which is fine as far as it goes, is that it lacks any notion of freedom. Let’s change “So long as you try and do that, you have a licence to joke about almost anything” to “As a free citizen you have a licence to joke about almost anything”. That doesn’t mean other people have to like your jokes, or that they can’t criticize them. But it does mean that other people shouldn’t try to ruin your life for a little mild bit of religious humour.
Hislop also remains silent about the fact that Have I Got News For You made the same jokes as Boris Johnson did. (Well, the real purpose of Hislop’s piece is that he’s shilling for a museum exhibition he’s curating; he’s not really interested in mounting any great defence of humorous speech.) Are those jokes no longer acceptable? Or are some jokes only allowed to be made by the right sort of people? What we’re seeing now isn’t so much as a clampdown on free speech, but clampdown of speech by people on the wrong side of the political fence. The recent attack on Johnson, for instance, is a naked partisan political attack, and nothing more.
Meanwhile Hislop’s self-aggrandizing defence of humour, the sort of defence you’d expect from a man lionised for decades for running an over-praised satirical magazine that’s now very much a part of the Establishment, helps the powerful, and does nothing to afflict it.
‘Ren,’ says Tanja, who clearly wants to change the subject to something more deserving of her attention, ‘what do you think of the idea that you can never know yourself?’
Ren sighs. Why did Miles have to bring Tanja along? Is it because he thinks it’s nice that Tanja can talk about her pet interest, philosophy, with Ren, even though if Miles paid more attention to their discussions he’d see that what Ren says to Tanja deeply frustrates her?
Miles met Tanja, a serious blonde who is older than him, a couple of weeks ago at a function at The Tantamount, which is the main art gallery in Grayvington, where Tanja works as a curator. She’s quite artistic, but not in a good way. Miles is somewhat artistic himself, but he’s more of a traditionalist, whereas Tanja is someone who, as befits her job, always has an eye out for the latest trends. Before she arrived Ren was humming the tune to ‘Dedicated Follower of Fashion’, wondering if Miles would get the dig, but he showed no sign of it.
Ren is not keen on Tanja, partly because she doesn’t seem right for Miles, but also because she’s another philosopher manque, and Ren has had his fill of them. Whenever he goes to parties, there’s always someone there who fancies themselves as a philosopher, and as soon as they hear Ren is a professional one, they spend all night trying to talk to him about it. Which is okay for a while if they’re someone charming and clever, who really does know a bit about philosophy, but usually they’re a bore who drones on and on with a lot of half-digested Continental crud. Ren finds it difficult to get away from such people. They buttonhole him in an intense fashion, and provide no opportunity for him to exfiltrate. One of their tricks is to say, when his glass is getting empty, ‘Let me get some more drinks for us,’ to prevent him using the excuse of needing a refill as his chance to get away.
Ren is reluctant to be rude to manques, lest he confirm the Continental view that analytic philosophers are all rude and arrogant. If it’s early in the evening he’s usually willing to spend some time with them, gently sorting them out (they rarely have any worthwhile ideas of their own), but this is usually a mistake, as it gives the manque the impression that the two of them have an intellectual bond, and the whole evening must be given over to their fascinating conversation, the distorted recount of which the manque will be boring their friends with for years to come. (The friends don’t like listening to the manque’s views on philosophy, which is why manques are so keen to talk to real philosophers.) The longer it goes on, the harder and harder it becomes to get away without causing offence, as the manque’s delusion that they’re proving their philosophical worth tonight becomes more entrenched. Sometimes offence is eventually caused when Ren starts to lose patience with his interlocutor’s ‘arguments’ – which usually boil down to one or two dubious claims which the manque is totally convinced of – which are repeated over and over as though Ren just hasn’t heard them properly yet.
It’s not just the manques who Ren doesn’t want to listen to. He’s not really that keen on discussing philosophy after work with anyone, even his distinguished colleagues (and when he does feel like it, he’d rather it be with someone good, like Compton). When you spend all day, every working day, doing the same topic, then you want to talk about something else when you go out. Especially seeing as you usually have to do some more philosophy when you get home, before you can go to bed.
It seems to Ren entirely reasonable that one would want to talk about things other than philosophy when you’ve just spent all day doing it, but as it happens almost every other philosopher is not like this. At the end of the day they can’t wait to talk some more about… philosophy. Kripke, Brandom, Unger, van Fraassen, Dummett, Peacocke… they’re interesting, but not that interesting. Too many philosophers take all this stuff way too seriously, Ren thinks. It’s not mentally healthy to be that way. They probably even dream about it. Most of it’s nonsense anyway. Why devote your whole life’s mindpower to nonsense? When you look through an old philosophy journal from a hundred years ago to see what the average paper was like back then, it’s just embarrassing. The pages of today’s philosophy journals are just next century’s recycled toilet paper.
But the ones who do philosophy 24/7 are the ones who get ahead in modern academia. The ones who network incessantly, who write articles on the latest hot topics, who go to all the conferences, who live and die by their publication counts, they’re the ones who are starting to dominate the profession now. The gentlemen, who had time to think, who had some perspective on life, are dying out. Not that they were that much better, really. They were just bad in a different way to the way the young philosophers are bad. But the young philosophers, his generation, are definitely duller. Their lameness and piousness is just too embarrassing to bear. It’s awful being in their presence for more than a few minutes. Ren avoids them socially whenever possible.
But he can see why the supernerds, as he calls them, like talking philosophy all the time. Doing analytic philosophy at the top level is like undergoing a bruising workout at the best mental gymnasium in town. Nothing else comes close, really, at least in the Humanities and Social Sciences. In History, admittedly, you need to understand a lot about how the world works, and human beings, and know an awful lot about shit that’s happened. And to do top-level Economics you need to be brainy and knowledgeable, and know maths. So maybe he’s over-egging it a little. Still, as someone once said (Will Self?), analytic Philosophy requires an extreme mental dexterity, a God-like power to understand difficult, alien concepts and views, and an ability to hold fiddly, complex, Rube Goldberg arguments in your head, like nothing else does. (Or something along those lines, although it wasn’t meant in an entirely complimentary way.)
But it also requires taking seriously, for your whole life, obviously absurd views, like scepticism about induction, or scepticism about the external world, or ludicrous attempts to deal with these ‘problems’ – philosophy has no end of ‘problems’ – like direct realism, disjunctivism, and Popper’s response to Hume. Someone who spends their whole life on absurdities is, Ren thinks, the modern equivalent of a medieval theologian.
(It’s a good thing he didn’t say, as you might have expected, ‘As those medieval theologians who spent their whole life arguing about how many angels can dance upon the head of a pin’, because no-one ever actually debated this. That was a joke. A calumny even. It never happened. In fact, medieval theologians, and medieval thinkers in general, were much more knowledgeable and sophisticated than contemporary society thinks. They didn’t believe in a flat Earth, for one thing. That the Earth is round has been known since the Ancient Greeks, and Aristotle, who worked it out himself. The ‘Renaissance’ that you learnt about at school is, apart from the great painting, mostly an exaggerated cartoon. A lot of what is attributed to the Renaissance actually comes from the medievals. So really, Ren shouldn’t have even thought ‘the equivalent of a medieval theologian’.)
Anyway, Philosophy may be a first-rate mental gym, but who, except a supernerd, wants to spend their whole life in a gym, especially one that makes you do annoying and silly exercises for forty years to build muscles that are entirely useless, and your only company is other supernerds? At least historians put their brains to use studying real events. But then he could have ended up writing about ‘Shipbuilding practices in northeastern Norway, 1485-1510’, so perhaps it’s for the best that he didn’t do History. But he’s got to get out of Philosophy. Five years, he tells himself. Five years.
Literally (in 1918):
Here is Zinoviev addressing a gathering of Communists two weeks after the launching of the Red Terror: “We must carry along with us 90 million out of the 100 million of Soviet Russia’s inhabitants. As for the rest, we have nothing to say to them. They must be annihilated.” These words, by one of the highest Soviet officials, was a sentence of death on 10 million human beings.
And here is the organ of the Red Army inciting the populace to pogroms:
Without mercy, without sparing, we will kill our enemies by the scores of hundreds, let them be thousands, let them drown themselves in their own blood. For the blood of Lenin and Uritskii… let there be floods of blood of the bourgeoisie – more blood, as much as possible.
(Richard Pipes, The Russian Revolution 1899-1919, Fontana, 1990, p. 820.)
This was not how things operated under Stalin, or Hitler:
The Stalinist and Nazi holocausts were carried out with much greater decorum. Stalin’s “kulaks” and political undesirables, sentenced to die from hunger and exhaustion, would be sent to “correction camps”, while Hitler’s Jews, en route to gas chambers, would be “evacuated” or “relocated”. The early Bolshevik terror, by contrast, was carried out in the open. Here there was no flinching, no resort to euphemisms, for this nationwide Grand Guignol was meant to serve educational purposes by having everyone — rulers as well as ruled — bear responsibility and hence develop an equal interest in the regime’s survival. (Pipes, 820)
It was probably also due to the Leninists’ belief that the worldwide Communist revolution was nigh, so they didn’t have to worry that much about how they were coming across to the rest of the world. In fact
the Communist press published a running account from the provinces on the progress of the Red Terror, column after column of reports of executions … [The Cheka Weekly] regularly carried summaries of executions, neatly arranged by provinces, as if they were the results of regional football matches. (Pipes, 820)
I’ve never been one to spend a fortune on new tech when I know that within a year or two the price will drop dramatically. (I know someone who spent hundreds of pounds on a Bluray player when they first came out, and within a year the price had dropped enormously.) And I’m not much of a movie buff any more. So it wasn’t until last year that I finally got around to getting a Bluray player. Bought a Bluray movie at Christmas for the kids, and it wasn’t until this Easter that we decided to sit down and watch it.
But could we have a nice time watching the movie? No, of course not. Suffering must be involved. The Bluray, a Sony, did all sorts of funny things. Hours of internet research were involved to see if we could fix the problem. Eventually we discovered that you have to try a software upgrade, that’s the only possible solution, but that will either fix the problem, or brick the unit, and the latter is more likely. An hour later we were left with a bricked unit and all our hair pulled out in clumps on the floor.
Fast forward to this summer. A death in the family had left us in possession of another Bluray player. Another Sony, but a bigger and better-looking unit. Will this work? Put the Bluray in, and we’re told that this unit cannot play this Bluray movie because this movie is too new and is incompatible with this unit’s OS. (It does say on a little sticker in the movie case that you need the latest software to play the movie, but of course you don’t see that when you’re buying it.)
So after much faffing about we connect it to the internet and try updating it, which by a miracle does work, although I noticed that the latest OS was from a couple of years ago. My overly-optimistic wife says, ‘Finally the problem is fixed and we can watch this movie’. But my fears were borne out: this movie is still to new for the OS.
But at least we can play other, older, movies on it, right? No, because a week later it the word ‘WAIT’ started flashing on it non-stop, and it no longer works. I could spend a few more hours on the internet trying to track down the issue, and maybe fix it, or maybe not, and I’m normally good at that sort of thing, but I just thought, why bother? And why bother buying another Bluray player if we can’t get it working?
They’re not expensive any more, but they’re still at least £60. Most movies aren’t worth watching. I don’t have many Bluray discs. I don’t even have that many DVDs. We have more movies on the computer that we have downloaded from Amazon than we have on disc. Why not just take the opportunity to dump all that, like a lot of people have dumped music CDs for downloads? It’s not like I enjoy having the physical movie, like I enjoy having a physical record or CD. I usually throw away the cases because they take up so much room, and put the discs in one of those multi-disc wallets. Also, why would I want to spend £60 just to play one £10 movie?
The other thing that has always annoyed me about DVDs and Blurays is the amount of time is takes to get them going. Blurays are often glacial in starting up. Ads and piracy warnings and menus all drive me nuts. If I pay for a movie I want the movie, not ads for other movies. I don’t pay money to be lectured. Downloads don’t have any of that rubbish. And they don’t get scratched. And they don’t fill up all the space in your your loungeroom or spare room or loft (I knew someone whose whole loungeroom was filled with videocassettes, about 1% of which he ever watched again).
So it’s goodbye to the disc from me.
Update: I would add that I’ll never buy Sony ever again, but I’ve said that about products from just about every other major electronics company, and if I stuck to that I’d never be able to buy any electronic unit ever again. But I do think the heydey of Sony is long gone. The Trinitron, after all, was a long time ago.
Update 2: After a few days unplugged it’s no longer flashing ‘WAIT’ any more, so possibly it’s working agan now. But it’s too late. I’m no longer going to buy any discs for it.
Of course computers have their own problems, but I have to keep a few up-and-running in the house anyway.
The Lorenzos, plus Miles’ new girlfriend Tanja, and Jay, a scientist friend of Douglas’s from some other science department which Ren didn’t quite catch, are at The Head of Steam, a railway-themed pub in the city centre. Railway-themed pubs are quite common in Grayvington, due to Grayvington’s important railway heritage, or Important Railway Heritage, to give it its proper name, although as far as Ren can see, the history of rail in Grayvington is no different to a dozen other towns. It just seems to be, he thinks, something for the town and University to latch onto to make themselves seem more important, as there isn’t much else to boast about. The University even has a graphic of a steam engine as its logo, despite the fact that the University itself has never had any involvement in railways, either in practice or research, for the whole of its existence, until five years ago when it decided to start pouring money into research on solar-powered railways. The University now has now a Solar Railway Institute, headquartered away from Greenwood Glade and Baron Heights, in one of the old toy factories in Tinfields.
Toymaking is the only other claim to fame that Grayvington has. It started in the 1880s, with Rollinsons, highly successful makers of toy soldiers, doll’s houses, rocking horses, jigsaw puzzles, Noah’s Arks and sailing boats. Then in the 1920s Gambols was formed by three ex-employees of Rollinson’s. They made, inter alia, model railways, toy cars and children’s bikes, initially of high quality, and then of diminishing quality, until eventually all the manufacturing was moved to Taiwan in the 1960s, before the firm eventually went bust in the 1970s. Rollinson’s itself never survived the loss of three of its best employees, and it was sold off in 1935, and incorporated into a Sheffield toy firm who moved all its employees and useful machines up north.
Grayvington’s third great, if great is the word, toy company was Bonkers Toys, established in the late 1940s, makers of all sorts of poor quality novelties, magic sets, X-ray specs, itching powders, as well as their own comic, Sausage Gravy. The best that can be said for Sausage Gravy is that it has its fans, including Ren.
The town and the University are less keen on proclaiming this other heritage, if heritage is the word, for their own, perhaps because they don’t like being called Toytown, the nickname that is sometimes given to the city and the University by their rivals. Tinfields, the fashionable inner-city suburb that contains all the old toy factories and offices, now converted into trendy apartments, offices and restaurants, is better known to the locals as The Toy District, while the large, desirable houses in the posh suburb of Cownmouth, which were built by the toy barons at the height of their profit (and usually just before their downhill slide began), are known as the Toy Mansions.
The Lorenzos are socialising on a Sunday night because Lily was away on Friday and Saturday night in London visiting her boyfriend Jason, the soon-to-be-Professor. Ren reminds himself not to make any, or too many, digs at Jason, as he has been doing in the last few weeks. Sarcastic remarks won’t break them up, but they could make it obvious that Ren is carrying a torch for Lily, and he doesn’t want to seem sad, or put Lily off him.
He has, of course, looked Jason up on the internet, and while Jason’s intellectual performance is credible, at least as credible as a man who writes about phony garbage like the economics of climate change can be, he seems somewhat lacking, if his picture is anything to go by, in the ‘Cor blimey’ sphere. He can’t imagine Lily staring at Jason’s tight jeans and feeling a little shaky. He can’t imagine Jason roistering ‘til the early hours, then carrying Lily off to bed over his shoulder and giving her a good seeing-to. It’s easier to imagine Lily carrying him off to bed over her shoulder. And him being unconscious when he’s thrown onto the bed. And whimpering when Lily tries to wake him up.
The conversation has turned to the TITE. This is a topic that Tanja does not enjoy, while Jay, Douglas’s friend, who has an annoyingly loud voice, relishes the fact that he joined the University the year before TITE was brought in.
‘Speaking of TITE,’ says Douglas, ‘our group project is not getting far. We need to have a proper meet up and do some work on it, and not just go off to the bar instead like we have the last few weeks.’
‘Look, about that,’ says Ren.
‘What?’ says Douglas.
‘I might as well tell you now. I’m going to pull out of TITE. It’s just a bunch of cock. I’m not wasting my time on any more of it.’
‘Will they even let you pull out?’
‘I don’t see how they can stop me. And I’ve had a closer look at my contract. It doesn’t say that I have to complete TITE within the probationary period. It doesn’t say I have to pass it. It just says that I have to undertake it. Now, the word “undertake” is a bit vague. If you look at dictionary definitions it’s not at all clear that it means the same as “complete”. One definite meaning it has is to begin something, as opposed to completing it. So legally I don’t think the University can insist that I must complete TITE to get probation, as long as I’ve started it. Which I have. I’m just going to suspend my enrolment for a while. You should all do the same too. Don’t waste any more of your time listening to Balderstone’s drivel.’
The other academics look uneasily at one another.
‘I don’t know if it’s wise to piss the University off,’ says Jay in a voice that Ren wishes was about a hundred decibels quieter. ‘There are other ways they could make trouble for you.’
‘I think I’ll stay on the course, says Douglas. ‘Just want to get it over and done with.’
‘Me too,’ says Lily.
‘Modern academics are such cowards,’ says Ren, shaking his head. ‘Well, I hope you all enjoy the company of that nice Mr Balderstone for the rest of the academic year, as he puts his cock into your ear every week. And the Panopticon fascists. Not to mention the grisly Wetlands. You’ll learn a lot from all of them. Perhaps you should have them all around for tea sometime, and they can tell you off some more, and point out more things wrong with you.’
‘But the group project is going so well,’ says Miles with a smile.
‘Yeah, sorry I won’t be able to contribute to that, but in fact you’ll be better off without me, as I can’t write the sort of shit that’s required. I just can’t do it.’
‘Neither can we,’ says Lily.
‘Maybe Jay could join you instead.’
‘No fucking fear,’ says Jay, in a booming voice that echoes across the half-empty pub, which is full of metallic railway paraphernalia, as though he’s trying to bring it all to life so it can transport his voice to Scotland in order that the people there can hear him say ‘No fucking fear’ as well.
‘Well,’ says Ren, who swears he can hear tiny ‘fucking fear’ flutter echoes still bouncing around, ‘all the Head of Department complaints are due to be made to University management, so maybe the course will be better next year, or the year after.’
‘I’ve got to give it to you, you are a hard-core bastard,’ says Miles. ‘Leaving the course will go down like a cup of cold sick with Balderstone, especially on top of the complaints you’ve organised.’
‘Hope he doesn’t take it out on us,’ says Douglas.
‘He wouldn’t dare now that he’s under the microscope,’ says Ren. ‘He’ll be in the doo-doo if he tries that. Kapshar and the other Heads are pissed off with his course, partly for being a load of shite, and partly because it takes so much time away from their new lecturers, without teaching them anything useful. Even your big shithead Sadler is on side.’
‘Is this what academic life is really like?’ asks Tanja. ‘It seems like a war zone. I thought artists were bad.’
‘A war?’ says Ren. ‘By academic standards this is a small skirmish.’
Ren isn’t that happy about discussing these matters in front of Tanja, but he can hardly ask her to leave, as this is a social, not a work, get-together. He goes off to the bar and gets a round of drinks for everyone, and comes back with some proper pork scratchings.
‘Hey look, they have real scratchings here. Great pub,’ he says.
‘You and your blinking pork scratchings,’ says Miles. ‘Is that your main criteria for a pub? Whether it has proper pork scratchings? What about the lack of good ale here?’
‘Do I have a beard? I couldn’t give a flying Scotsman about ale. I’ve told you, to me it all tastes like it’s been soaking with some old socks for three years in a tub in the basement, and sometimes the landlord pisses in it. You look at some of those landlords of the real ale pubs you go to, and you tell me that they don’t look exactly like the sort of person who would do that. Or maybe they bathe in it. Once a year, mind. Most of them look like that’s about as often as they wash.’
‘I think they toss in all the old cigarette butts every night as well,’ says Douglas.
‘There you go,’ says Ren. ‘He’s a physicist. He knows all about this science stuff.’
‘Just because you drink like a girl,’ says Miles, indicating Ren’s lager.
‘Hey,’ says Lily, who is drinking ale.
‘All right, you drink like a poof,’ says Miles.
‘Hey,’ says Jay, who is also drinking ale.
‘There you go Miles, you’re the one drinking like a girl and a poof. Hoist by your own petard. You’ll have clean Jay’s steam whistle later on tonight.’
‘Hey,’ says Tanja, half-heartedly, after a little pause. This sort of banter isn’t really her thing, but she feels obliged to join in.
‘Don’t worry, I’m sure Jay will let you watch,’ says Ren.
I’ve been saying for a while that it looks like the old political lines in Britain are changing. Many others have said this too, of course. One of the best recent statements of this sort of thinking, one that I find very cogent, comes from Michael St George at his blog A Libertarian Rebel (shorter version published here at The Conservative Woman).
The UK appears on the cusp of a major political re-alignment, which will render prior labels redundant. The old labels and allegiances have broken down: we need fresh labels reflecting the new allegiances which are forming, coalescing around commonalities of interest hitherto unimagined.
Alliances involve compromises. All political parties involve compromises, because all political parties are collections of factions who have temporarily come together and put aside their differences in order to achieve some common aim. That commonality is fast disappearing in the case of the Labour Party, as the hard left drives out the moderates.
The Tory party is also being split apart, not just over Brexit, but also over political correctectness, because the current Tory leadership is siding with the modern PC Establishment. What used to unite the likes of Jacob Rees Mogg and Anna Soubry and keep them on the same side no longer exists.
Personally I would rather go into alliance with the old working class. I have little in common politically any more with the Tory high priests who want a European elite to run the UK, and run it along New Labour lines. Politically speaking I get on better with patriotic, non-PC, Brexit-voting working class.
Of course, I don’t like their desire to soak the rich. I don’t like their desire to nationalise many industries. But I have to compromise, because there is no majority support for the sort of conservative/libertarian party I’d like. And those are the compromises I’d prefer to make at the moment. I’ll put up with the semi-socialism, for the time being, in order to keep the country away from the Eurocrats, to help wrest back control of our culture back from the PC, anti-free speech zealots (you get plenty of socialism with them anyway, so it’s not like we can easily avoid that), and get back control of immigration.
Later on there will have to be a fight about redistribution. But now is not the time. Now is the time to get rid of the soft fascism speading across the land. Now is the time to get rid of Theresa May as Tory leader, and drain the Establishment swamp.
That bitter Remainer being everyone’s favourite example of a loony professor, A. C. Grayling, who routinely defames Brexiteers. And the Brexiteer who mocked him by giving him a taste of his own medicine is Pete North.
‘It’s like you’re asking for trouble,’ says Lily.
‘Moi?’ says Ren. ‘I’m such a shy and retiring type. Why are you hanging back?’
‘I’ll think I’ll let you go in first.’
‘And you’ll come two minutes later and pretend to be taken aback. It’s all right. I’ve always said that you find out who your true friends are when you put on a false beard. False beard, false friend detector.’
As Ren prepares to walk into the class a feeling of apprehension come over him. Has he gone too far? He’s wearing a mini-skirt, suspender stockings, boob tube, native American headdress, false ginger beard and a goose necklace. Too late to back out now, though. He’s already been seen in the corridor by some of his classmates. He walks in breezily. As he sits down there is laughter, and some angry murmuring. Balderstone is glaring at him.
Miles, who’s in on it, grins. Even Adrian Vespula laughs. Douglas is blinking a lot. The other Panopticons look angry.
‘I’m just a working girl,’ Ren sings softly, in a pretend absent-minded fashion, just loud enough for others to hear.
Lily comes in and tries not to smile. She sits well away from Ren.
Balderstone starts up, reading from his notes.
‘Today, er, we’re going to talk about the importance of, um, power-sharing within the traditional lecture construct, with reference to Gramsci. We’re going talk about…’
He pauses, as though he is wishing that this is not today’s topic.
‘Talk about tearing down barriers between lecturers and students, and tapping into the store of wisdom that students possess.’
The Lorenzos sense that Balderstone is trying to think of alternate words, but he doesn’t have the wit to do anything else than stick to his written script.
‘This might be uncomfortable for some of you,’ he reads, in a reluctant, mechanical tone, the tone of a man who knows that what he is saying is about to be turned around and fired back at him, ‘who have come up through the University system expecting that lecturers talk and students receive.’
‘But aren’t you going to ask Dr Christopher what he’s playing at, dressed like that?’ demands Lenora.
‘Last week you said we what we wear to class isn’t a subject for discussion,’ says Ren.
‘If it concerns someone’s private sexual inclinations. But if you walk in wearing a Hitler T-shirt, that’s a different matter.’
‘Hitler, Hitler. Where would you lot be without Hitler? Anyway, I’m hardly wearing a Hitler T-shirt. I’m following Dr Balderstone’s orders. I’m wearing these clothes not only to draw attention to the right of cross-dressers to wear what they want, wherever they want, but also in honour of those poor unfortunates who walk the streets, forced to make a degrading living from prostitution. Or is it those feisty feminists who empower themselves by choosing prostitution as a positive career choice? I can’t remember which week it is. The headdress I wear in solidarity with Native American tribes in honour of their neglected wisdom concerning the health benefits of eating a diet mainly consisting of meat, guts and fat. Did you know that they were really keen on beavers’ tails, which were especially fatty? Nutritional acumen that has long been ignored.’
‘Do we have to listen to any more of this?’ Lenora asks Balderstone.
‘What was the good doctor just explaining to you now? Power-sharing. Tapping into the wisdom of the students. Dr Balderstone isn’t going to shout me down. He’s not trapped in the twentieth century. You need to listen more closely to his words. The lecturer isn’t a martinet any more. And I have taken on board his sage words from last week. The ginger beard I wear to express my sympathy with my burnt sienna brethren, such as Dr Balderstone himself, who suffer silently under the yoke of intolerance. As Creighton has so passionately urged, we should all should be wearing outfits like this to our lectures to raise the consciousness of our students.’
‘What’s the goose for?’ asks Adrian, unable to help himself.
‘That is the Sankofa, a Ghanian symbol. It means that mistakes can be rectified, and one should look to the past for solutions. Literally, “return and get it”. That’s why the goose looks backwards. Jnana that is under-appreciated these days. And I thought a goose looking at its own arse would make a fine symbol for this class.’
‘You wouldn’t get away with wearing all that to one of my classes,’ says Lenora.
‘Really? You’re really claiming that you can tell students what not to wear after what Dr Balderstone said to you last week? You’re sounding a bit like an old-fashioned disciplinarian. Do you set a curfew for them as well?’
‘But you’re not wearing any of that to make a sincere and valid point, you’re wearing it to be a smart-arse.’
‘So students aren’t allowed to be smart-arses any more? Might hit enrolments. You’d better speak to the Admissions Department.’
‘That’s enough,’ says Balderstone. ‘Dr Helminth, I would expect that you do not tell students what they can wear, unless they come in with a Hitler T-shirt?’
‘What about a Che T-shirt?’ says Miles.
‘He wasn’t a mass-murderer like Hitler,’ says Millicent.
‘Oh, but Mr Guevara was indeed a mass-murderer, and an enthusiastic one at that,’ says Ren.
‘You’re a liar,’ says Millicent.
‘Ask Malcom. I bet he knows,’ says Ren. Malcom refuses to look at Ren, and stays shtum.
‘Stop it now and listen to me,’ yells Balderstone, banging his fist on the table.
‘Sounding a bit authoritarian, Creighton,’ says Ren. ‘Haven’t you heard about the new ways? Lecturers aren’t the bosses any more.’
‘Dr Christopher, you have come to this class wearing an outfit that demonstrates your bad faith.’
‘You’re quite right. The beard doesn’t go with the top, I know. My feminine intuition tried to tell me that when I looked in the mirror, but I wasn’t in touch enough with my feminine side to get the message. I appreciate your candour.’
‘Shut up. Your sarcastic attitude indicates that you are continuing to refuse to take on-board the lessons of these classes, and that will count against you at the end of the course.’
‘Is the goose included in your condemnation? He’ll take that hard, sir, he will.’
‘Take that ridiculous beard off.’
‘I’ve longed for you to say that. It can’t come off quick enough. Begone, Itchy and Scratchy. That’s what I call him, by the way.’