Archive for October, 2006

My word

Friday, October 27, 2006

It probably happens to you about once a month. I first noticed it after I fixed my oven. I had it again when I pulled a redundant network card out of my computer. The most recent example was when I filled in my tax return.

It is technishererfolgangabemangelsfrust. Or, if you translate it from the German: the frustration caused by having a sense of achievement for completing a technical task but being unable to boast about it because it is too boring.

It’s the sort of emotion that ought to have a word in English, but doesn’t. It doesn’t really have a word in German either, but the beauty of the language is that you can coin new words by lumping shorter ones together. (Schadenfreude [harm-joy] being the most obvious example.)

It comes as a huge comfort to me after the annoyance of that bloody oven. It died in the middle of a lunch party and remained broken for six months while I made half-hearted attempts to get an electrician to come round and fix it. It seemed fairly obvious what was wrong: the element was broken. No one wanted to turn up on an evening or weekend, so I took days off to wait for workmen to arrive. They didn’t. Eventually I found the part on the internet and pulled the oven out from the wall. Simple enough, I thought, but hang on, what are these screws with indentations in the shape of six-pointed stars?

The bastards at Bosch had tried to prevent anyone but their own technicians from opening the back of the oven by using Torx screws, which have a deliberately obscure indentation to deter the layman. Hah. I bought a Torx screwdriver and finished the job. I was so overjoyed that I baked my first and, to date, only Victoria sponge.

I wanted to crow about this gargantuan effort, but the faces of anyone I told would glaze over faster than sand at a nuclear test site. Technishererfolgangabemangelsfrust at its purest.

Stanley rubric

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

All exam questions are sweeping generalisations that contain a kernel of truth. Discuss.

Size matters

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

The National Trust and English Heritage have come up with a jolly wheeze that shows they’re down with the kids and up with technology. They’ve announced a plan to create the “biggest blog in history“. Marvellous. But hang on, what is the point? A blog is one of those things that does not improve with size. It’s like manufactuing the world’s biggest steam iron. A feat of engineering, certainly, but not much use for ironing shirts. What are the top five things that, while not intrinsically bad, are not better when bigger?

1. Noses. Rare is the rhinoplast who has beenĀ asked to give a patient the “largest nose you’ve got”.

2. Horses. Horses are wonderful creatures. They gallop, they whinny, they look good in nosebags. But Frankie Detorri never won the Gold Cup on a Suffolk punch.

3. Germany.

4. Post-It Notes. I’m not just looking round my desk. Well, I am, but it’s true. The world’s biggest Post-It Note would be rubbish. Even as a novelty door it would be a dreadful fire hazard.

5. Icebergs. Beautiful to look at and ideal for polar bears, but when Frederick Fleet, lookout on RMS Titanic, shouted “Iceberg right ahead!” he did not add: “Mind you, it’s a bit on the small side.”

Rationed thought

Monday, October 16, 2006

Martin Newland, until recently the editor of The Daily Telegraph, writes in The Guardian that “it is possible to be religious and rational”. True enough, but it’s a weasly statment. Just because religion and rationality co-exist does not mean that religion and rationality work in harmony.

An analogy: it is possible to be a soldier and compassionate. Soldiers can look after their comrades, orphaned birds, enemy wounded, but put them in a battle and they’ll shoot another man in the back. This is not because they are not compassionate, but because being a soldier requires that compassion be suspended to get the job done.

The same thing happens to rationality when religion calls for it. Newland helpfully supplies us with a list of what religion – in his case Roman Catholicism – means to him in practical terms. Here it is, unedited: going to mass on Sundays; bringing up his children in the faith; wearing a crucifix as a symbol of faith and protection against harm; crossing his children’s foreheads every night to protect them while they sleep.

The last two of those are self-evidently irrational. They are superstitious. Does it matter? On their own, no. But these are just the aspects of Catholicism that Newland consciously acknowledges. They are the slogans behind which lurks a manifesto of irrational dogma that he and other people indoctrinated in the faith unquestioningly follow. It is a manifesto containing such gems as a ban on wearing condoms even in countries infested with HIV, or the condemnation of homosexuals as “immoral, unnatural and harmful”, in the words of the present Pope.

Newland’s point is that secularism has started to tyrannise religion. He argues that the debate over the social impact of Muslim women wearing niqab is driven by secular intolerance of religious thought. Oh, really? Strange how so few Catholics complained when the boot was on the other foot.

I cannot weep for a Church that wielded power for centuries through patronage and accumulated its vast wealth through a tax on the God-fearing poor. A Church that burned people who disagreed with it and placed under house arrest a scientist who dared to suggest that the Earth revolved around the Sun. A Church that still has the power to harbour sexual abusers whom it put into positions of responsibility.

Newland, to quote his own saviour, is looking at the speck in secular society’s eye.

The debate about wearing niqab was not prompted by secular intolerance, but by questioning secular deference to religion. If Newland thinks that deference to religion is inelastic then God help him.