Archive for September, 2008

Rules for life. Number two in an occasional series

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Take care to walk through the correct door in a crematorium.

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Top 5 platitudes from Gordon Brown’s speech

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Gordon Brown’s speech to his flock at the Labour Party Conference today reminded me of the usefulness of the Hoggart Test, the yardstick often applied by Simon Hoggart to platitudinous rhetoric: you can tell whether something is worth saying by examining whether the opposite is absurd.

The following examples from GB’s speech are not taken out of context; they were soundbites that were punctuated with rounds of applause. Could any elected politician get away with the opposite of these statements, as suggested in italics?

“I know the difference between right and wrong.”
I have no sense of morality.

“On the side of hard-working families is the only place I’ve wanted to be.”
Someone has to stand up for slovenly singletons.

“In all times we will put people first.”
Flamingos first, then people.

“We will be the party of law and order.”
We aim to build a society that bears a closer resemblance to the Wild West frontier.

“We will be the party of the family.”
We wish to tear apart basic social units*.

Most long political speeches fail the Hoggart test at some point, and it should be noted that GB’s speech was by no means devoid of significant announcements, but the question still stands: why do we tolerate this kind of bunk from our leaders? It’s a conference speech, not an episode of The West Wing. The people in the auditorium may have been flag-saluting automotons (I know from personal experience that delegates at these events are not independent thinkers) but viewers outside the auditorium aren’t.

*Even Margaret Thatcher, in her famous claim that “there is no such thing as society”, acknowledged the role of families.

Getting bugged driving up and down the same old strip

Friday, September 5, 2008

Time for some more lyrics analysis, and there are few songs riper for study than I Get Around, the Beach Boys’ paean to dawdling in a car on a Saturday night and ogling girls. Specifically:

My buddies and me are getting real well known,
Yeah, the bad guys know us and they leave us alone

Lyrics, even those of the Beach Boys, don’t get much more thought provoking than this. The question is: have the boys attained the best of the four available scenarios? Obviously, it is preferable to the bad guys knowing them and not leaving them alone, and indeed the bad guys not knowing them and not leaving them alone. But is it better than the bad guys not knowing them and leaving them alone?

Does the bad guys’ knowledge of the boys suggest that they might interfere with them in future? Were they scared off in the past, and if so will their wounded pride cause them to return, better armed, to settle old scores?

Who are these bad guys, anyway? Are they generic finger-clicking punks in Letterman jackets of the type seen in West Side Story, henchmen in orange boilersuits, or literary antiheroes like Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights or Humbert Humbert from Lolita?