Notepad on Life

May 29, 2016

Life-on-a-plate mindset hard to swallow

Filed under: Education — - @ 11:50 pm
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One thought always reins me in whenever I feel a rant at the young coming on.

I was young once.

Just as these supposed ‘end times’ will one day be ‘the good old days’ for our children, so I am now the rantee turned ranter, an ex-young fool now despairing of young fools, who in turn will one day despair of those who follow them.

Humbling as this reflection may be, I suspect it has an equally recurrent flipside. As the wheel turns, each generation it flings into middle age will, I fancy, think its situation to be unique, insisting that “We were never this bad at their age…”

If so, then it’s now my turn, but no matter how timeless a trap I may be falling into, it is impossible to remained silent in the face of goings-on at America’s Oberlin College. (Which I comment upon here because, if it starts in America, chances are it’s headed Britain’s way.)

Hell, we might have grumbled about homework, exams, job interviews and the other steps up life’s ladder 40 years ago, but we could grudgingly see the point to them. Those who actively sought to dismantle the ladder were isolated oddballs. Today, they have become mainstream.

Today, if they have Oberlin College as part of their address, they want it to be social activism first, education second. Abolish all grades below C and replace examinations with chats with a professor, they demand, to take account of how this whole ‘learning’ thing is really beginning to mess with their change-the-world objectives.

“The students say that between their activism work and their heavy course load, finding success within the usual grading parameters is increasingly difficult. ‘A lot of us worked alongside community members in Cleveland who were protesting,’ Megan Bautista, a co-liaison in Oberlin’s student government, said, referring to the protests surrounding the shooting death of 12-year-old Tamir Rice by a police officer in 2014. ‘But we needed to organize on campus as well — it wasn’t sustainable to keep driving 40 minutes away. A lot of us started suffering academically.'”

Certain truisms to which even their radical predecessors would at least nod, now seem to completely pass people by. The idea that you’re at college first and foremost to learn, for example (and see how America holds you to that, kids, should Bernie Sanders’ dream of free education for all ever come to pass). Or that part of that learning process involves focus and prioritising, waking up to the fact that our actions have consequences and that no-one can have or do it all.

If you’re not meeting the demands of your college, it calls for re-appraisal by you, not for some convenient sleight of hand in the college’s grading process. And if you don’t know it well enough to write it down, don’t kid yourself that you’ll express it any better with the eyes of some professor unamused by such indulgence burning holes in your forehead.

The world will still need saving when you graduate. You may be surprised how much more you can achieve in that regard when you’re based in an office or laboratory instead of behind a fast-food counter.

Of course, if that generational cycle continues to do its thing, the snowflakes of Oberlin College will one day seem paragons of diligence and realism compared to those who follow them. But they must excuse me if I’m finding that a little hard to visualise right now.

May 26, 2016

Where’s a burqa when you really need one?

Filed under: foreign,Religion,Women — - @ 11:10 pm
Tags: , , ,

I mentioned the film Eye in the Sky in my last post. There is a scene in it where a woman in the market place of a Muslim neighbourhood is chivvied in no uncertain terms by the apparel police for having her wrists uncovered.

From the burqa to the niqab, we are left in no doubt these days that preserving the modesty of women is a big deal in Islamic circles. Now, however, it seems that this may depend on what type of woman you are.

When you’re a Christian woman in Egypt, for example, suddenly modesty isn’t quite at such a premium, not when you’re stripped naked and made to walk through the streets by a mob of 300  Muslim men, as described in this report from The Independent.

No doubt this horrific tale (although the poor woman was 70, so at least there’s no suggestion of ageism) may trigger a familiar debate.

“That’s not real Islam.”

“Yes it is.”

“No it isn’t.”

And so on.

I’m not an authority on what is definitive Islam, so I’ll make do with this. Whatever label is most appropriately attached to the ghastly events of last Friday, be it ‘authentic Islam’ or a ‘rogue strain’, whoever aligns himself with it needs to know that an ideology capable of such a glaring double standard, is holed well and truly below the credibility waterline.

Shame on all involved. Whatever they are.

‘Eye in the Sky’ shows why war on terror is pie in the sky

Filed under: Cinema,politics,War — - @ 8:06 am
Tags: ,

How much you enjoy Eye in the Sky – the latest film on drone warfare – depends on what you’re looking for.

The plot is fascinating, the cast excellent (good to see Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul back in the spotlight) and for those of us who’ve always had a thing for the older woman, Helen Mirren in combat fatigues is a fantasy we never dared imagine might one day be externalised.

Yet it is also irritating to the point where my wife nudged me sharply for ‘chuntering’; expressing my increasing dissatisfaction with what was unfolding before me, in periodic sighs and audible groans that could no longer be contained, public place or not.

Thankfully, she didn’t use her normal ploy in these circumstances – “It’s only make-believe…” – because sadly, I have the awful feeling that Eye in the Sky is all too true to life.

No spoilers here: let’s just say that a drone strike on a house in which there is visible evidence of a suicide bomb attack being prepared, is delayed by a turn of events that gives rise to the moral dilemna around which the movie revolves and which is played out at both the US air base from which the drone is operated and a Whitehall meeting room.

With only so much time left before the suicide bomber and his accomplices leave the house, politicians six thousand miles away perform a masterpiece of buck-passing and dithering, the life of an innocent mere proxy for their own political lives. Like a blocker in an American football game, political correctness positions itself obdurately in the way of a blindingly-obvious military imperative.

Does that sound like make-believe to you? If not, then you will understand why I chuntered. It is probably a consequence of being a nation 70 years removed from its last all-consuming conflict that there exist in its citizenry people who naively imagine that the execution of war can be neatly trammelled within the Queensberry Rules. That a politician criticises a general (the swansong role of the late Alan Rickman) for plotting the execution of an enemy from the safety of central London, having herself played the game of drawing-room warfare to the point where Winston Churchill would have spat in her face, is the film’s crowning hypocrisy.

Yet just as I have ceased laughing out loud at the sitcom Veep, because of a nagging fear that its ghastly, shallow characters are all too reflective of real life in Washington DC, so I couldn’t really enjoy Eye in the Sky, because of the dismaying suspicion that this is just how it is in reality. People doomed to lose a war because they insist on treating it like a fencing match.

And, oh, the optics of the film’s crux, where a black guy gets leant on because a bunch of feckless Caucasians can’t make their minds up. In an era where race predominates, did no-one think to put his hand up during filming and suggest that this might not look terribly edifying in the final cut?

As I say, it depends what you’re looking for when you enter the cinema. The drama never flags, the cinematography is excellent, and how gratifying it is that Alan Rickman’s last major line in cinema is not only the film’s best but maybe one of the best he has ever uttered: “Never tell a soldier that he does not know the cost of war”.

If only our politicians enjoyed such clarity.

As a counterpoint, here’s a left-wing view of Eye in the Sky, after which you may feel a measure of sympathy for scriptwriter Guy Hibbert. He produces a fine piece of work and somehow manages to raise everyone’s hackles.

May 20, 2016

Pat Glass and a transparent geography lesson

Filed under: politics — - @ 5:44 pm
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It isn’t the first part of Pat Glass’s Gordon Brown impersonation that should bother us.

Maybe Labour’s Minister for Europe was wide of the mark when she dismissed the grumblings of a Derbyshire resident about a local Polish family on welfare, as those of “a horrible racist”.

And maybe she wasn’t.

I would want to hear the conversation on which she was overheard reflecting before I formed an opinion.

Not even the unfortunate echo of Gordon Brown’s private comment that wasn’t, while Prime Minister in 2010, however, trumps the second half of Glass’s faux pas, in which she revealed that her indignation was such that, “I’m never coming back to wherever this is.”

“This”, it turns out, was the village of Sawley, in south-east Derbyshire; the birthplace (unless Wikipedia is seriously losing the plot) of Halle Berry’s maternal grandmother. If its current residents lament Ms Glass’s dismissive tone, they can be assured that anyone else learning of this episode will share their exasperation, whether it’s Totnes or Tadcaster that he calls home.

For all their professed concern for us, we are just voting fodder in the eyes of our elected representatives, particularly those who have begun to set sail up the Westminster career ladder. Just numbers in a poll, segments on a chart.

If their presence on our doorstep only at election time, or Gordon Brown’s pathetic hypocrisy six years ago, hasn’t made this penny drop for you so far, the blasé Pat Glass will surely help the process along.

May 18, 2016

Etiquette of death rises scarily from the ashes

Filed under: death,Family — - @ 9:54 am
Tags: , , , ,

While it would be wrong to call it a good-news story, it is at least comforting to hear from my sister that, as and when the time comes, our mother’s funeral is all but paid for.

Turns out that there’s some sort of advance payment scheme – mortality’s version of the Christmas club – whereby the undertaker trades off the benefit of money up front against the risk of prices rising unforeseeably sharply between now and the dreaded day. It felt unseemly to press for the full details.

Had only the phone line itself gone dead at that point, but no, I then learn that the interment of Dad’s ashes at the local cemetery brought with it the right for family members’ ashes to join him there at a later date, so he and Mam will lie together. “And I’m going there too,” my sister adds.

So that will be the three of them together forever, while my ashes (if I can’t retire to Ireland, my remains will) frolic in the breeze along the Cliffs of Moher, a mere 500 miles away. My sister would probably regard this as symbolic.

I am desolate at the odd-one-out scenario, which has arrived out of the blue like an express train from the fog. It is a mixture of guilt and sadness, tinged with anger that I am only just addressing the issue now. Yet who thinks of this stuff when they are 20, 30 or 40? Who amongst men, at any rate? Just as we begin Christmas shopping on December 24th, so it is consistent that death’s niceties fall to be considered only when we find ourselves at the gateway to life’s final decade or so.

Burial of any kind would be out of the question, as it happens, my claustrophobia having been childishly invested with the same immortality as my yearning for Ireland, but the spectre of permanent separation still hovers, even if non-believers and believers alike would chide me for it. You’re dead, nothing matters, or you have moved onto a place where 500 miles is what’s known as a footstep. And how many miles separate some of those white crosses in French fields and the graves of those who loved what lies beneath? Does that distance diminish what they had?

As I often do, I try putting myself on the receiving end. Were my children to intimate that their final resting place of choice would be on the other side of the world from Co. Clare’s famous cliffs, would I be heartbroken? No, because it would take nothing away from what went before and I would also consider there to be a certain glamour to our global reach in death.

I will probably stick with the plan, but it’s not resting in as much peace as it has been. 

May 17, 2016

Movie genres can leave you short on credibility

Filed under: business,Cinema — - @ 10:50 am
Tags: , , , ,

All right, so sub-prime mortgages may not be prime cinematic material, and some people may regard the trigger for even a global depression as being about as interesting as the reproductive cycle of anteaters.

Nevertheless, I was crestfallen. Having just watched The Big Short – the film of Michael Lewis’ book on those very topics – marvelled at the ease with which Steve Carell switches from comedy to a serious role and come away thinking that not even Wall Street was this good, I messaged a friend in LA to ask if he’d seen it.

He’s a lawyer, an MBA, and has run numerous businesses in his time. Surely he too will have been buzzing at this tour de force of financial intrigue?

“We started to watch it but it started off so slowly we got bored with it to be honest,” came the reply. “I might give it another go…”

I suddenly felt a little pathetic.

On the positive side, it was a lesson learnt, I suppose, on the need to be selective when going public with your enthusiasm. There might be a certain free-spirited cachet to being the only guy in the room who likes a movie about war or the Mob but when it’s about credit default swaps and the housing market, you look more like the bloke who drinks on his own a lot.

Oh well; make of me what you will…



January 11, 2016

Universities and now sport the symptoms of a society gone soft

There may be something in the theory that the opponent most demonised by his critics is the one they’re most afraid of.

I’d heard a lot about Rush Limbaugh before I started listening to him, all of it from those whose politics are at variance to his, and whose withering dismissal of the American radio talk show host had me braced for some ranting demagogue who would display only the most fleeting relationship with Planet Earth.

And then I listened to the man himself, courtesy of his weekly highlight show broadcast via TuneIn. The reality was one of the more evenly spoken of all the conservative radio voices, which for the great majority of his airtime seemed to articulate little other than eminent common sense. Presumably, we are both insane together.

See what you think, once you read this transcript of a segment in which he considers how the Pollyanna mindset of so many millennials, to whom happiness is an entitlement that must not be tarnished in the slightest degree for even one second, is now seeping into both supposed seats of learning and professional sport.

The opening five paragraphs are largely preamble. It’s when Limbaugh turns his attention to ex-New York Giants coach Tom Coughlin that he really starts warming to his task.

The money quotes…

“I shouldn’t have to be upset, which seems to be the rallying cry of Millennials. Don’t upset me! I don’t have to be upset. I don’t want to be upset. Don’t microaggress me.”

“It’s what all this college campus rot is all about. They don’t want to hear things that upset them, be it anything they disagree with or anything that might slightly offend. They don’t want to hear it. They shut people up…It’s childish, spoiled rotten childish. But it’s not just the kids…we have adults now who have been raised with that culture, who have now assumed positions of responsibility and authority where you would expect some wisdom and the ability to offer guidance to some of these people and push them to man up, advance their maturity or whatever.

But…there are fewer and fewer people capable of this.”

January 8, 2016

We build ’em up and we knock ’em down…

Filed under: Consumer,Finance,Health,TV — - @ 9:44 pm

Ah, those dark alleyways of human nature. Watching the accomplished star of The Martin Lewis Money Show this evening, a man who might have found a silver lining to the Great Depression, had only he been born a century earlier, I realise that I won’t be able to help myself should the day ever come.

Martin Lewis filing for bankruptcy would trigger my guiltiest ironic chuckle since I learnt that Jim Fixx had died while jogging.

It will probably never happen. As I’m sure the Fixx family assured themselves more than once.


January 7, 2016

Whom did Live Aid aid, exactly? Beware the pontificating celebrity

Filed under: Charity,History — - @ 4:48 am
Tags: , , , , , ,
Loudmouth – The Best of Bob Geldof & The Boomt...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Maybe you fell for it.

You were denounced as “racist” by Emma Thompson, or harangued by Benedict Cumberbatch and you walked straight into the trap. You assumed that people who breathe such life into scripts written by others are just as authentic when speaking for themselves.

Or you’ve never watched Steve Coogan on Question Time, so still cling to the notion that entertainers make natural social commentators.

If so, you need to read this chilling account of where the money raised from Live Aid may have ended up. For those of you born after the most famous fundraiser of all time, the whole event was driven substantially by the passion and resolve of Boomtown Rats bandleader Bob Geldof, who relentlessly badgered all and sundry, great and small, to get their hands into their pockets.

His efforts made him far more famous than his music would have done and there is no suggestion that his intentions regarding the Ethiopian famine that prompted Live Aid were anything other than admirable. If Spin‘s reporting is accurate, however, he may have been monumentally misguided. Something at least to bear in mind next time Hollywood grandees are damning your reservations over mass migration, particularly from Islamic nations.

Just because they can wipe the floor with us when it comes to acting, it doesn’t follow that their grasp of what’s what in this complex world is any firmer than our own.


Live Aid: Bob Geldof’s Original Response to SPIN’s 1986 Exposé 

Geldof, Guccione square off over money

January 4, 2016

Back to work after Christmas

Filed under: Uncategorized — - @ 10:45 am
Tags: , ,

Emphasised by living in a country town, maybe, the difference is unmistakable.

Three days ago, the dawn of a new year, waking up was like one of those sci-fi dramas where a man finds that he’s the last living soul on the planet. Take away the gently swaying tree-tops, visible through the gap in my bedroom curtains, and the occasional passing fleck of a bird on the wing, and nothing stirred. Just a leaden, comforting stillness; silent but for the breeze.

Opening my eyes this morning, on the other hand, and the difference assailed me before I’d even come fully to my senses. That low, relentless distant drone, hovering stubbornly in the air like morning mist.


The party’s over; it’s time to call it a day.

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