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Wednesday, 17 December 2014

This week a moment of sanity that could begin to unpick the web of PC stupidity that councillors, bureaucrats, and secularists in general weave (and sadly, a group which includes far too many teachers and Guardian viewers) came from a very unexpected source – the Muslim Council of Britain. PC advocates and practitioners have the sheer arrogance to assume and act on ‘offence’ vicariously, without actually bothering to check with the people they consider to be ‘victims’. So the word ‘brainstorming’, for intensive and non-critical think-ins designed to generate ideas, was banned (by a government department, no less) in case it offended people with epilepsy. Did they bother to check with the Epilepsy Society to see if anybody with epilepsy was likely to be offended? No. But the Society very sensibly carried out its own survey in 2005 to see what people with epilepsy thought, and 93% weren’t offended in the least. One response read -

"I have no objection whatsoever to the term brainstorming. I am sure the public do not, in any way, associate this with epilepsy, so why should we?"

It didn’t do any good, though. Political Correctness is still with us, corroding our language and denying us access to our own past, as though we were not capable of making up our own minds, given the benefit of hindsight. PC is informed by nothing more than petit-mindedness and a woeful failing of education, and it puts too much power in the hands of people not intellectually equipped to wield it.

I’ve fulminated at length about PC in modern hymn books, where not even the poetry of Robert Bridges is safe from the hands of  vandals (most of whom can’t even grasp the difference between the archaic –est and –eth verb suffixes, though their schoolboy howlers provide much mirth in many a vestry and choirstall.)

What the Muslim Council of Britain did this week was to challenge,  very politely and  wittily, people who take offence on somebody else’s behalf. It is a response from wise Muslims to stupidities like ‘Winter Festival’ in Birmingham (Christmas renamed so as not to offend Muslims.) That bit of nonsense offended me, and I'm a Christian.

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Holiday insurance - for suckers

My wife and I tend to to take our holidays together, When you've been married to the same person for a few years, such as and eg nearly 48 of them, it's what you do. You plan the holiday, you pay for the holiday, and you look forward to the holiday during the dismal winter months. 

But ah! there's a catch that you only find out about if you have to cancel at the last minute because one of you is suddenly taken ill. That holiday insurance, which cost you a big chunk of the holiday itself, is per person, not per couple. While your nearest and dearest is mopping your fevered brow as you're convulsing and hallucinating with a temperature of 105F, your insurance company is drafting the letter which says: 'so only one of you is dead, then?' And you've cancelled very late (says your travel company) so there are penalties. 

You'll be lucky to get back 40% of the cost of your joint holiday.

Spouses do not desert each other, however great the disappointment at losing a holiday. What do insurance companies expect? That husband will hook up with a temporary surrogate wife, and wife with temporary surrogate husband, for the duration of the holiday? And what do they sign in at the hotel as - Mr and Mrs Smith? Some hotels still look a bit askance at such goings-on.

When a couple take out insurance for a holiday, the insurance should cover both in the event of cancellation by either.

But it's not going to happen. Insurance works by virtue (if that's the right word) of the small print, with all those exclusion clauses that mean they don't have to pay out if you've ever had an ingrowing toenail or an aunt with dandruff.

We're wiser now. Next holiday my wife has invited Hugh Quarshie to step in if I am unavoidably dead, and I am torn between Carol Vordeman and Tuppence Middleton. Oops, sorry. Hugh Smith. Carol Smith. Tuppence Smith.

But we won't be travelling with the same coach company and their insurers again. Ever.

Friday, 20 June 2014

Some thoughts over sloppy reportage

We used to keep a foam-rubber brick for hurling at at the telly, but it disappeared in a house move. I miss it (the brick, not the telly - I was a very good shot). I've given up waiting for the hypothetical, though perfectly possible 'US troops evacuated over Iraq' because there's now a more insidious assault on the English language than the all-purpose preposition 'over' - and that is the prevalence of the dramatic present (aka historic present) in news reports, usually at tea-time when innocent children might be watching. Newspaper headlines use the historic present for two good reasons - it has impact and immediacy, and it takes less space, 's' being shorter than 'ed'. But once the headline is out of the way, newspaper reporting reverts to a more conventional linguistic treatment of past, present and future.

Not telly reporting, though. Tense abuse is widespread, often with ludicrous consequences when desperate newsreaders try to cope with the tripe the work-experience kids who write the reports churn out, lacking any familiarity with the pluperfect or anything else much, innit. Tense shifting simply doesn't work in TV reportage. "Police are now searching the area. Later, a spokesperson said..." It's nonsense.. It's Doctor Who territory. 

Just two quotes:

"If you introduce things which are past as present and now taking place, you will make your story no longer a narration but an actuality."
(Longinus, On the Sublime. Out of print, publisher unknown, authorship uncertain, but probably 1st or 3rdC AD)

"Avoid the use of the historical present unless the narrative is sufficiently vivid to make the use spontaneous. The historical present is one of the boldest of figures and, as is the case with all figures, its overuse makes a style cheap and ridiculous."
(James Finch Royster and Stith Thompson, Guide to Composition. Scott, Foresman, 1919)

Rant over (oh bugrit, I've used that word)

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Really really interesting blogs

Very rarely an interesting and literate blog turns up while surfing. Cathy Thinks and Mary Jackson are today joined as a favourite by

(blog pseudonym Leander).

Browse, read, possibly enjoy. It's centred on history and historical fiction, true, but that's just the start.

Sunday, 25 May 2014

Them and Us - a parable for our times

During Christian Aid week a friend who is also a Canon of the church, who spent her working life among street children and AIDS orphans in Kenya and was awarded the MBE for it, went freelance with a collecting tin to two village venues where people foregather on a Saturday - the golf club, where the great and the good hang out, and the workmen's club, where they tend not to lest they be seen as class traitors. Guess where every single half-pint present made a contribution, and where not a single Pimms No 1 could find even a brass halfpenny that they could spare. 

Saturday, 22 February 2014

Creationism, and Elvis is alive and living on Mars

“Children should be taught about creationism in science lessons to avoid alienating those of strong faith, according to new research.
A study by academics at the University of York claims creationism should be tackled by science teachers in order to engage their religious pupils.”

Oh dear, here we go again. That’s from today’s Times

I wholly agree that young people studying the sciences should learn about Creationism, but it has nothing do with ‘faith’. Scientists of any age need to be able to distinguish between good science and science-hocum, into which latter category the cult of Creationism falls neatly and wholly.

Creationism, New Creationism, or Intelligent Design, is the second attempt by a group of Christian fundamentalists in the US to argue for the existence of a Creator God by denouncing Darwinian evolutionary theory and pointing to apparent scientific ‘truths’ in their garish, populist literature – the absence of a fossil record in Pre-Cambrian rocks, or the impossibility that evolution alone could account for the existence of the flagellar motor. The problem with the quasi-science of Creationists is simply that it’s bad science, and it needs good science, and good scientists, to knock this non-science on the head once and for all and stop it polluting young minds.

So by all means put this stuff on the science syllabus in schools and universities, but don’t pretend that it has anything to do with faith. 

Oh, and make sure that the reading list includes this:

Young, Mark, and Edis, Taner (eds). Why intelligent design fails: a scientific critique of the new creationism. Rutgers University Press, 2004.

It’s a collection of essays by leading scientists in their fields, but the editors’ introduction alone is worth the cost of the book. It’s 10 years old now, but the Discovery Institute, home of Intelligent Design, is still turning out its garish propaganda

When I checked a couple of months ago it was £68, so I borrowed a copy, but it now has to go back to the issuing library. I’ve just ordered a second-hand copy from the US via Amazon - £12, incl p&p.

There should be a copy in every science classroom in the country. Scrap that other cultish non-science, Brain Gym, and put the money to better use.

And as for Faith – why should anybody think that there is a conflict between knowledge, understanding, and faith?

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Knott End bus services - pt 2

Lancashire County Council has relented in the matter of closure of evening and weekend bus services in some of the most remote villages and townships along the Fylde Coast. Faced with such a huge tide of opposition from local residents, including a petition organised by a very competent and forceful young woman (still in her late teens, I believe) who is currently Garstang’s Youth Mayor, the council has done a good job of spin so that voters will feel reassured and not protest through the ballot box, something that always terrifies party leaders.

Yes, the county council has to make colossal savings in services and jobs, but it’s not all to do with the state of the economy or where the money is coming from for HS2. It is, of course, because of national, not local politicking. When government policies go badly skew-whiff it's much easier to blame local councils and cut their budgets as punishment. If there is a finger to point at all in the miry world of politics it should point at just one man – Eric Pickles, the minister for communities who, in a paraphrase of his own words (apparently), just loves bashing local government. Mr Pickles is, you might think, an intravenous Tory, but his biography on Wikipedia tells a slightly different story –

“...He was born into a Labour supporting family – his great grandfather was one of the founders of the Independent Labour Party, and described himself as "massively inclined" towards communism as a boy – but he [ie Mr Eric Pickles MP, basher of local government – ed.] joined the Conservative Party in 1968 after the Soviet Union invaded Czechoslovakia ...”

Eric Pickles achieved  prominence by becoming the Leader of the Conservative Group on Bradford City Council in 1988 – his first significant leg-up on the political ladder, and afforded by a local authority, you will note, that organ of government he affects most to despise. But on the (Tory) Mayor’s casting vote in September 1988 Pickles’s Conservative group took control, and one of Pickles’s first triumphant acts was to axe the small Equal Opportunities section, SERIS, set up by the previous Labour administration in the city library. It was a political act of almost supreme hypocrisy, because Pickles was at the same time chair of the Joint Committee Against Racism, now leader of the council of a very large and multicultural city, and this section of the library had been set up specifically to help to counter racial and gender prejudice.

But ‘Equal Opportunities’ was a no-no for Tories in the Thatcherite 1980s – and hardly surprisingly, because social equality and tolerance have never figured high on the agenda of the party of the privileged classes. And while the Iron Lady’s closest chum, Dame Shirley Porter, was flogging off homes in exchange for Tory votes in Westminster, for which she was later personally fined £12,300,000 by the District Auditor under Tory legislation originally designed to punish illegal spending by Labour councils, social inequalities were increasing and the race riots of 1995 and 2001 were imminent, though not foreseen.

Now Mr Pickles is in government and engaging in his favourite sport, and, to wrest the latest Tory no-brain cliché from them, ‘hardworking families’ (ie us plebs) are suffering, (and by the way, 'hard-working' is a compound adjective which still needs a hyphen.)

One of the reasons they are suffering is that the coalition government thinks that Eric Pickles is a suitable person to be local government minister. A distinguished CofE cleric this week wrote of the paucity of (male) candidate parsons for the episcopacy thus: 'this shallow pool [of suitable people] has been overfished', and the metaphor is also apt when applied to the Coalition government.

The Conservative Party has lost something like half of its supporters since the last election, most of them disenchanted women, and in the words of Tim Yeo, deselected this week by his local party:

“We have a shrinking membership which means you tend to get predominantly among those remaining activists people with probably more extreme views than the average Conservative voter, and that applies to issues like the EU, on issues like gay marriage..." reported in the Daily Telegraph, here

So don’t blame our county councillors for a funding crisis which led them to look for savings in rural bus services. Stop blaming Lancashire CC and pin the blame where it belongs. On Mr Eric Pickles, MP, Communities Minister, and now, heaven help anybody who doesn't live on top of a mountain, Minister for Floods. Or perhaps he should be given a new title – Minister for Local Government Bashing.

And don’t for a moment think that I’m rabidly anti-Tory, because I’m not. We have some very able Tories serving on our parish, district and county councils, and several of them are good friends. It’s when politicians of any hue lose the idea of service to those who didn’t elect them, as well as to those who did, and start to act in self-interest or party self-interest, that the trouble starts. And there's an awful lot of trouble about.

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