Monday, February 22, 2010

Suffer the little children

A brief addendum to Ophelia's exasperated comment over at Butterflies and Wheels on the Catholic Church's habitual proclivity to conflate sinfulness and homosexuality - which, as was to be expected, is being wielded as the killer argument in the current debate around sexual abuse committed by representatives/employees of the Catholic Church.

Here's a snippet from a statement to the press by Archbishop Robert Zollitsch, chairman of the German episcopal conference, in which he craftily uses his public apology to the victims as a vehicle to expound the Vatican's views. "Twisted and impervious" indeed, as Ophelia notes. What makes the whole performance even more daunting is the sanctimonious delivery. The guttural lilt, the self-righteous rhoticity - this is what all Catholic priests in Germany sound like.

As Zollitsch asserts smilingly at the end of the video, sexual abuse is not a systemic problem in the Catholic Church, but rather an accumulation of instances of individual deviance. Read (I guess, considering Ophelia's comment) homosexuality.

Which makes you wonder what the heck it is about the Catholic Church that apparently makes it so attractive to deviants all over the world.

Sting achieves absolute tantric position, sticks head up own arse

Alternative title (courtesy of The Wife): "I know the Uzbeks love their children, too."

I've never liked the smarmy lute-strumming bastard (even before he began massacring Dowland). He was only ever bearable with The Police. At least they had a beat.

Tabloid kicking

I'm still defrosting after our return yesterday from lovely (but cold) Finland and am a bit bogged down with preparations for our next journey tomorrow.

Hence the general silence around these parts.

But to reward your stopping by, here are a few choice words from the ever-reliable Charlie Brooker on the topic of the British press:

A child who idolised the tabloids would grow up to be a ­sanctimonious, flip-flopping, phone-tapping Peeping Tom who thinks puns are hilarious and spends half its life desperately ­rooting through bins for a ­living. If I had a child like that, I'd divorce it. Or kill it. Whichever proved cheapest.

The rest is, as nearly always, equally worth your time.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Totally Fucking Gaga

I've been thinking about designing a graph illustrating the British Medienlandschaft for one of my classes next semester. I have a nice research exercise mapped out and I need a way to give students an idea of the basics. You know, with the x-axis indicating the political allegiances of different dailies and the y-axis reflecting their level of intellectual sophistication?

But right now I'm really no longer so sure that this is even feasible. I mean: what do you do when you open the website of one the dailies that, at least nominally, used to be among the more liberal and enlightened of the bunch, only to see the following screaming headline:
Revealed: eerie UFO sightings recorded in MoD files
You read on and stumble upon the following passage:
Aircraft of all shapes and sizes have been witnessed flying over a wide range of locations - including Chelsea Football Club and the former Home Secretary Michael Howard's home in Kent.
The paper doesn't say (as would be accurate): "People claimed/believed that they have witnessed aircraft of all shapes and sizes." No, the formulation here firmly asserts that visitations of extraterrestrial tourists have actually taken place.

Then you read further, only to learn that
Experts believe the records highlight how shapes of reported UFOs have changed over the last half-century.

Yeah, right - if "experts" believe it .... At least this time its "reported UFOs." But still.

And then it turns out that one of the experts the only expert consulted is yet again The Independent's favourite crystal ball gazer, David Clarke from Sheffield Hallam University (who has been previously mocked chez nous), making some banal statements about how UFO sightings are conditioned by advances in aircraft design.

This is the front page of The Independent online, people, and its most popular story today.

It think I'll just redo my y-axis: it now starts at "gaga" and ends at "totally gaga."

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Scapegoating Wednesday

Recent events have led me to think about causality. This kind of thing happens more often than you might think in this household.

First, today's Times features a silly little article about how "green issues are causing more family rows than ever" in the already distraught and traumatised British middle class.

Second, over here in Germany, Bishop "Deep Thought" Mixa once again does justice to his aptly onomatopoeic surname by claiming that the sex scandal at an elite Jesuit college in Berlin - where, it has recently been discovered, scores of students have been sexually molested over decades - is an aftershock of the 1960s "Sexual Revolution".

Yeah, right. Because fundamentally fucked up institutions (the family, the Church) really need (at least potentially) progressive political ideologies to go off the rails.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Cops and coppers

As I've noted, one of the nice things about early twentieth-century advertising was the use of hand-drawn artwork.

The charm of which is apparent, I think, in these two adverts for 'Gallaher's Park Drive Cigarettes' from 1927.

(They also demonstrate a rather relentless -- though perhaps typically British -- fondness for punning.)

(Daily Herald, 7 April 1927, p. 8)

(Daily Herald, 16 June 1927, p. 8)

Monday, February 15, 2010

Fashion victims: 'Suicide Hat' edition

I realised that it has been a while since I've updated my historical bycatch series, so I thought a quick trip back to the fashion world of 1930 was called for.

It was an exciting, even dangerous world for the good women of Albion, as this front-page article from the Sunday Express makes clear.




The Suicide Hat—a wide-brimmed monstrosity which screens the eyes and imperils the life of its wearer in traffic—is the latest insane fashion which Paris designers are attempting to foist on the women of this country. And this follows swiftly on the heels of the plot, exposed in last week’s “Sunday Express,” to bring back the full-length skirt for day wear.

That plot is failing. Lady Duff Gordon killed it when she announced to a protest meeting of women in London that they would rather go forward to wearing trousers than back to long skirts.

What will be the fate of the Suicide Hat? It has already been responsible for many street accidents.

It is impossible for the wearer of such a hat to see either to right or left without effort. She can see nothing that is not directly in front of her.

Another form of the Suicide Hat is made with blinkers like a spaniel’s ears, and this type is all the more dangers because motorists do not realise that the wearer cannot see.


A “Sunday Express” representative spent an hour yesterday watching women crossing the road to Hyde Park Corner, one of the most dangerous spots in London.

Women in skull caps crossed safely and without incident, and then there stood on the edge of the pavement, a woman in a wide black felt-and-straw hat of the new type.

The hat looked charming and its wearer looked happy. At the kerb her expression changed to one of anxiety. She hovered for a moment and dashed across to an island. A taxi-cab on her right that she had not seen pulled up with a scream of brakes, and its driver had “a few words” to say.

The Woman in the Hat was far too agitated to hear them. She had to reach another island, before making a final plunge for the opposite pavement. During the last lap a box-tricycle missed her by an inch. She arrived, safe but thoroughly unnerved, with the hat on one side.

Sunday Express, 11 May 1930, p. 1


Though the notion that women might be capable of turning their heads to look doesn't appear to have occurred to either the Woman in the Hat or the Sunday Express representative.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Antoine Doinel lives!

Don't you think so?

I mean, sort of?

Self-promotion Thursday

I recently received the confirmation that an article of mine has seen the light of day in the Journal of Social History.

Since the goal of seeing a work of mine published in the JSH has been one of my goals ever since, oh, the late stages of my undergraduate days (so we're talking about the time that Nevermind was released), this has meant a little bit more to me than my other publications.

(I've done a lot of reviews for them, but a peer-reviewed article is something special.)

In any case, for those of you who are interested, the article is '“Those Who Have Had Trouble Can Sympathise with You”: Press Writing, Reader Responses and a Murder Trial in Interwar Britain', and the abstract reads like this:

This article considers reader responses to newspaper coverage of a British murder case in 1928. Accused of the arsenic murder of her husband, Beatrice Pace became a fixture on the front pages of the British press. More than two hundred letters sent to her after her acquittal have survived in papers kept by her solicitor. Although far from a perfect source for gauging public opinion, the letters provide a rare and valuable glimpse into the range of reactions that media stories inspired in the past. Although it is clear that press coverage crucially influenced public attitudes, reactions to Pace were also highly individual and affected by readers’ personalities and previous experiences. On the other hand, there are obvious patterns in the responses, most notably related to gender. From their letters, it is apparent that many female readers identified with Pace, whether as women, as mothers or as fellow victims of domestic violence. Men’s reactions were motivated by respect, desire (sometimes in the form of marriage proposals) or business opportunities. Other themes apparent in the letters were shared across gender lines: most notably religion (including an emphasis on divine vengeance), spiritualism and the desire to make contact with a famous figure.

Those of you without access to a university library that subscribes to the journal may nevertheless read an earlier draft (which contains a few more typos, among other issues) here, along with some draft versions of my other humble scribblings.

Or, alternatively, get in touch, if you want to read anything.

Enjoy, and thanks to the people (well, mainly one person) at JSH for always being good to work with.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010


I think I've been tired of the Anglican Church - this strategically manufactured sanctuary of silly crypto-Catholics with their Church-fatherly fear of all things femininine - since 1534.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Thursday, February 04, 2010

I don't mind losing self-respect

Just because (I know a few people who seem to love losing their self-respect. On a regular basis, like):

Maximo Park, "The Kids Are Sick Again"

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Applied science: Make my day edition

According to a report in the Guardian, new research published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society (the original article is freely available) considers the relative speeds of proactive and reactive movement.

In the context of a quickdraw gun duel.

The conclusion:

"You move faster if you draw second, but you're still going to die," Dr Welchman said. "You'll die satisfied that you were quicker, but that's not much use to you."

So, along with that other scientifically sound gun-related admonition ('Always aim for the head when confronted by zombie hordes') we can add something else: 'always draw first'.

We have also learned something else: it seems that Niels Bohr was handy with a pistol.

Niels Bohr, who worked on the structure of the atom at the beginning of the 20th century, tested his theory by staging his own mock duels with toy guns at his institute in Copenhagen. His gunslinging partner, the Russian-born George Gamow, drew first and lost every time.

"[Bohr] can't have won because he was quicker in reacting," Welchman said. "It must be that he was a really good shot as well as a really good physicist."

I wonder how rare that particular combination is.

Incidentally, the PRS website is full of fascinating stuff: the currently most-read article is apparently Brennan, Clark and Prum, 'Explosive eversion and functional morphology of the duck penis supports sexual conflict in waterfowl genitalia'; full text is also available for free.

The methodology in a nutshell:

We used high-speed video of phallus eversion and histology to describe for the first time the functional morphology of the avian penis.

This does not sound like quite as much fun as staging mock duels with toy guns in the lab: but it sounds pretty damned interesting.

Science is so cool.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

"Wot, racist - me?"

I think J. G. Ballard would have shared my enjoyment of this insightful snapshot of provincial Britain ("From Shanghai to Southampton" wouldn't be an entirely bizarre trajectory) and the accompanying stream of ill-spelt and incoherent demotic ire in the comments section. It's always nice to have your Weltanschauung confirmed - even if that entails fostering your misanthropic despair.

Not only delicious but also quietly soothing

Apparently, there is, in reality, no such thing as an 'ambient' sausage roll...

A Co-op spokeswoman said: "The use of the word 'ambient' on the label of this product was an administrative error - labels for in-store bakery items are printed in store and the word 'ambient' was incorrectly printed on the label.

...which is, somehow, rather a shame.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Raising more questions than answers. Not that that's a bad thing at all.

There have been a couple of interesting (and brief) posts in recent days at Crooked Timber.

On America:

But there are clear senses in which it is not right that the U.S. is a center-right nation. For example, it’s at least odd to have a center-right nation that lacks a center-right. There aren’t that many Olympia Snowes around – not even Olympia Snowe herself, during this whole health care business. It’s not as though America is the country where, when you elect a guy like Obama, you have to beat the center-right off with a stick, compromise-wise, when the center-left is plainly crying out to meet somewhere in the middle.

On Europe:

Almost every state of any significance in history has aspired to dominate its known world. In the last century, Britain, Germany, Russia and even France aspired to this role, and right now Russia and China are keen to try. Religiosity, militarism, inequality, and governments that do little for their subjects are the norm rather than the exception. Long hours of hard work have been the lot of humankind at least since the arrival of agriculture.

The real exception to all of this is Europe. The largest economic aggregate in world history, it has enough military power to repel any invader, but is deeply uninterested in using this power to any more glorious end. It grows by a process of reluctant accretion, controlled by ever more onerous admission requirements. In all of history, it would be hard to find anything comparable in terms of pacifism, godlessness, equality, leisure for the masses or public provision of services.

... It’s for these reasons that American views of Europe resemble de Tocqueville in reverse. Something so unprecedented, and against the laws of nature, they think, cannot possibly survive, let alone prosper. And yet it does.

[Footnote references removed.]

I find both of these comments to be on target.

But a comprehensive explanation for either phenomenon eludes me.

But they're both worth thinking about.

If you don't hug your son, some other man will

You want to know why I believe in an evolved human nature? Because of the "low-flying behaviourist" (Stuart Hall) nonsense spluttered by people like gay conversion God Dr. Joseph Nicolosi, co-author of The Parent's Guide to Preventing Homosexuality:

"Homosexual behaviour is always prompted by loneliness [....] It's a pathology, a struggle to connect with the male identity [....] We advise fathers, "If you don't hug your sons, some other man will." We train the mothers to back off.
I'm in despair, as so often these days, not only because of the head-banging painfulness of statements like this, but also because even sane people will continue to harp on about the totalitarian dangers of biology and genetics, while quietly ignoring the irrational nether worlds of social/psychological constructionism as illustrated by the above. Because biology is deterministic and cultural determinism is good, right?