Thursday, September 30, 2010

If, by Stella ...

If, by Stella, you mean the evil liquid that gives courage to burglars, fuels wife-beaters and encourages rotten drivers to give it the beans, then it is a canker on society and deserves to be consigned to the darkest pit of hell, from whence it certainly originated.

However, if by Stella you mean that perfect complement to a night of chilling-out for the weary Magistrate after a hard day in court,  that thirst-quenching fruit of the Belgian brewer's art, that golden chilled draught that calms the mind and relaxes the body, then I am wholeheartedly in favour.


I'm not the first person to hold several mutually contradictory opinions on alcohol. The classic source is the 1952 speech by Noah S "Soggy" Sweat Jr. , a young Mississippi lawmaker who held forth on the subject of whether Mississippi should continue to prohibit alcoholic beverages. This is the so-called "If-By-Whiskey" agreeing-and-not-agreeing response:-
My friends, I had not intended to discuss this controversial subject at this particular time. However, I want you to know that I do not shun controversy. On the contrary, I will take a stand on any issue at any time, regardless of how fraught with controversy it might be.
You have asked me how I feel about whiskey. All right, here is how I feel about whiskey:If when you say whiskey you mean the devil's brew, the poison scourge, the bloody monster, that defiles innocence, dethrones reason, destroys the home, creates misery and poverty, yea, literally takes the bread from the mouths of little children; if you mean the evil drink that topples the Christian man and woman from the pinnacle of righteous, gracious living into the bottomless pit of degradation, and despair, and shame and helplessness, and hopelessness, then certainly I am against it.
But, if when you say whiskey you mean the oil of conversation, the philosophic wine, the ale that is consumed when good fellows get together, that puts a song in their hearts and laughter on their lips, and the warm glow of contentment in their eyes; if you mean Christmas cheer; if you mean the stimulating drink that puts the spring in the old gentleman's step on a frosty, crispy morning; if you mean the drink which enables a man to magnify his joy, and his happiness, and to forget, if only for a little while, life's great tragedies, and heartaches, and sorrows; if you mean that drink, the sale of which pours into our treasuries untold millions of dollars, which are used to provide tender care for our little crippled children, our blind, our deaf, our dumb, our pitiful aged and infirm; to build highways and hospitals and schools, then certainly I am for it.
This is my stand. I will not retreat from it. I will not compromise.

My last Magistrate session was an object lesson in the evils of alcohol. Businesswoman driving drunk, banned teenager fancied a trip down the pub, homeless alcoholic set fire to a bin that he didn't like much and a   habitual burglar decided to smash a window six days after doing eighteen months for several similar.

In all of the cases, the booze seemed to give them the illusion of superhuman powers and a cloak of invisiblity.

But it's no good blaming the alcohol. Ban it and they'd find some other way to get off their heads and all you would do is to upset the large number of responsible drinkers (including me).

Strikes me that there's a medical answer here somewhere, but that's not the business I'm in. We make our honest attempt to provide punishment, rehabilitation and protection of the public and just because we aren't perfect doesn't make it a bad system (i.e the "Nirvana Fallacy")

Anyone got any better ideas ?

(In the spirit of full disclosure, this blog posting was typed under the influence of one bottle of Stella.)

Sunday, September 26, 2010

All Souls time again

The Guardian recently challenged some of the greatest minds of our age to answer the 2009 All Souls' General Paper. OK, the greatest minds they could get for the money and who happened not to be doing anything more useful at the time. If you can read Will Self's pretentious attempt at answering the question "Is there something inherently coarsening about sport?" without vomiting and yelling then you are a better person that I.

The All Souls paper is something I've blogged about before  - basically you get three hours to write three essays on subjects that deserve about a decade of intensive study each.

The question that grabbed my attention was "Does it matter whether there is life elsewhere in the universe?"

Here, in full, is my attempt :-

Does it matter ?? Does it flipping matter ??! Are you serious ? No, really - are you so thick and unimaginative and soulless that you would even ask this question ? Really ? Because if so, you should come over here and say that, but I should warn you that even though I am a pacifist, I really will have to slap you.

As you can tell from the above paragraph, it matters to me quite a bit. Here is one of the major philosophical questions and it's possible we can answer it once and for all. We're probably never going to see our souls under an electron microsope and we probably aren't going to get God's address and phone number. But it is possible that a faint stream of zeros and ones might one day reach our radio telescopes and prove absolutely that we are not alone in the universe.

Imagine - what Art will they have ? Fantastical inventions ? Philosophical Answers ? How about Religion ? In fact, you could work your way through the Dewey Decimal System and find that there would be not one area of human thought that would remain unaffected by contact with an alien intelligence.

And if that doesn't tempt you into caring, imagine this - one of these green dudes landing their saucer in Regents Park and walking/crawling/sliding down the ramp with a picnic basket full of the best things to eat from the Andromeda galaxy. Mmmm.

Of course, it's possible that they'd find humans quite tasty. And this is probably the most compelling reason of all to care about whether there is life elsewhere in the Universe.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Complete Logical Disconnect

The Pope, he say :

 "Even in our own lifetimes we can recall how Britain and her leaders stood against a Nazi tyranny that wished to eradicate God from society and denied our common humanity to many, especially the Jews, who were thought unfit to live."
"As we reflect on the sobering lessons of atheist extremism of the 20th century, let us never forget how the exclusion of God, religion and virtue from public life leads ultimately to a truncated vision of man and of society and thus a reductive vision of a person and his destiny." 

Er ...

(a) Is he calling me and my atheists friends Nazis ?

(b) What exactly is "atheist extremism" ? People really not believing in God even harder than normal atheists?
(c) Wasn't Hitler a Catholic who believed in God and hated atheists ?
(d) Before working out he was a fruit-loop, the Cathoilic Church in Germany supported Hitler's party in their fight against atheist Communism and when he came to power, they signed a Concordant agreeing to not speak out politically as long as their rights were respected.
(e) Aren't most of our current problems caused by religious extremists and religious people being beastly to differently religious people?
(f) Does he really believe that Dawkins in a bigger threat than Bin Laden ?

Twenty Second Century Blues

I was in a pub chatting with some of my colleagues, all of whom know and consume a diverse bunch of music and plenty of it.

The question came up "What music from today will survive a hundred years?"

Drmmer Dave reckoned folk music, having already survived several centuries, was good for a few more. What else ?

Stanetta has a 73 year old song "They Can't Take That Away From Me" on her Spotify playlist. Not sure if the lesson here is that the Gershwins' songs or Sinatra's singing has lasting merit.  She also has the 45 year old "Feeling Good" by Nina Simone, so there's two songs already likely to outlive me.

Here's my guesses - if you're reading this in 2110, feel free to laugh if the only music from our age that you're still listening to is Rick Astley "Never Gonna Give You Up"and "The Macarena":-

(1) Religious music, whether gospel or that new-fangled Christian Rock. I can't abide it, but I suspect that they'll still be singing "Amazing Grace" in various styles right up to the heat-death of the Universe.

(2) Instrument-related Music - people buying guitars will always play "Stairway to Heaven" in the shop. Pianists will always play "The Entertainer". As long as these instruments survive, the copyright
on these pieces will be infringed for millenia.

(3) Karaoke Favourites- if you fancy yourself a singer, you will want to measure yourself against Ella/Nina/Frank/Tom (delete as applicable). In this category I nominate "Suspicious Minds" by Elvis Presley. Although sad, creepy, overweight, middle-aged guys in open-necked shirts will definitely still insist on singing "Delilah".

(4) Roots - Rock music is just a creole of Blues, Jazz, Gospel with a bit of Folk and Country. Modern musicians of any age have phases where they check out the origins of their style of music. I have no doubt that 22nd century musicians will look back and find Robert Johnson's "Sweet Home Chicago" and think "Oh. This Works. Why would we want to make it more complicated than this ?!"

(5) Dance music - the dances will change, but would anyone bet against "Dancing Queen" being played at weddings 100 years from now ?

And finally, whatever bands are playing in 2110, I'll bet the roadies play "So What" by Miles Davis while they're setting up.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

London !

Welcome from the capital of "a third world country " where "new and aggressive atheism is rife" (copyright 2010 Cardinal Kasper - hope the gout gets better).

I've been enjoying London's theatre scene, where it's possible to attend the bonkers "Earthquakes in London", the sublime "War Horse" and the impenetrable "A Disappearing Number" in three nights and all  for the price of a cheap seat and a pie at Stamford Bridge. I also managed to fit in some data warehouse consultancy, but that's not really worth typing about.

I've been staying at the halls of residence of the London School of Economics to keep costs down - if you're not too proud to live like a student, this is an excellent way to live cheaply in London during the summer. Not nearly as much fun as Drummer Dave's narrow boat, but on bright side you get to rub shoulders with future billionaires and world-leaders. Seeing teenagers getting up early to eat fruit for breakfast is a bit of a shock though.

I nearly typed "Long Boat" instead of "Narrow Boat" - a Viking Long Boat on the Thames ... now there's an excellent idea.

I've really tried hard to hate London over the years. As a Northerner, it goes against the grain to find anything good about it.

But the Theatre ! The Thames ! The Boris Bikes ! 24 Hour Sushi !

Don't spread it around, but I'm starting to like it. Maybe one day I'll come to love it.