Thursday, 4 December 2008

Crispian's Room 101

It doesn’t really matter that this blog is hardly ever read. I use it as a useful outlet in venting my frustrations and annoyances, as I have reached that age where I can now officially be classed as a grumpy old man. George Orwell’s convenient Room 101 is a suitable abyss in which to cast my current top 10 offenders. I think the format allows us to assume that war, cancer, child abuse and the like are already safely locked away in room 101, leaving me to concentrate on the aggravations peculiar to me. And as this is my blog, and not a TV show, there’s no one to stand in the way of the exit for the following items:

Dumb Down TV
Rather than whinge about how facile soap operas and tedious Saturday night singing or dancing popularity contests are, I choose to simply ignore them, my TV has a wholly serviceable “off” button. I’m perfectly happy to remain in ignorance while others discuss B-Z list celebrities I’ve never heard of, or the unfortunate love affairs of fictional soap characters I don’t recognise. What is annoying however is still treating me as an idiot when I try and watch something a bit more educational. I do not need a recap after every commercial break to bring me back up to speed with what they told me 3 minutes ago. My attention span is not so short that I need to be shown snippets of what’s coming up later in the programme. I accept that different levels of programming are required to cater for all requirements, but try and make some documentaries that assume we’re not complete idiots. On the subject of documentaries, it doesn’t count by making a so called documentary such as “Come and look at this weird/overweight/disabled person”. There called “Freak Shows” not documentaries.

Pseudoscience & Superstition
Many people say, “What’s the harm in x” where x can be various forms of Alternative Medicine, Paranormal /Supernatural beliefs, Pseudoscience, Superstitions or pseudo-religions. Well there’s shed loads of documented cases where irrational beliefs in such nonsense has caused immense misery, suffering and death not to mention the untold deaths, war and terror sponsored by major religions. The following website is a catalogue of specific examples of “What the harm is”. I wont attempt to list particular examples here, but please check out the following link:. Where my beef really lies with Pseudoscience and superstition (In addition to the physical harm listed on the above link), is the deluded worldview and fantasies it cultures in those it takes in. I’ve got nothing against fantasy, in fact I love a bit of Tolkien, but when ones fantasies cross over to the real world, delusions paranoia and irrational behaviour will follow. I despair when I hear of someone who has read some twaddle like the “DaVinci Code” and as a result has become disillusioned in mainstream religion only to turn to new age nonsense or paganism because the culture we propagate promotes supernatural explanations over science, reason and modern enlightenment. I suppose ultimately what I want to send into room 101 are the unscrupulous charlatans, conmen and TV producers who prey on the gullible people seeking love, health, lost ones and wealth by unnatural means. But I also feel frustration with those who are so eager to accept a supernatural or pseudoscientific explanation when a perfectly natural explanation can inevitably be sought once we have equipped ourselves with the knowledge to do so. Please don’t go to an astrologer or psychic to determine you future, make your own future. Don’t pray that you children don’t get polio or measles, inoculate them. Don’t go to a homeopath or faith healer to cure your cancer, get chemotherapy. There was a time when we all had no alternative to religion and superstition to answer our questions and give us solace; it was called the Dark Ages. Why are so many hell bent on returning to these pre-enlightened times? If I could recommend just one book to put pseudoscience and superstition in its place, I would choose “The Demon Haunted World: Science As a Candle in the Dark by Carl Sagan”.

"Thought for the Day"
Shame on the BBC for allowing irrational faith based communities to hijack their flagship news programme with their archaic, inane and irrelevant ranting. Why is bigotry, hypocrisy and self delusion given such a prominent soap box in a secular and enlightened country at the start of the 21st century. I don’t have to scan past episodes for a particularly nauseating example of such piffle, I’ll just use today’s hot air as a typical illustration. Today’s miscreant was a Muslim, but my annoyance is not directed at this particular delusion any more than any of the others given the platform of Thought for the Day to preach their drivel. The speaker today complained about the dangers of being drawn into virtual computer worlds such as “Second Life” and the escapism sought by sad individuals who are detached from reality. A religious person was complaining about the dangers of rejecting reality and truth in favour of being drawn into an imagined false reality. Hello?

Bad Grammar
I can tolerate regional accents, but there’s no excuse for not being able to construct a sentence with the correct syntax and semantics even if you come from Yorkshire. I went to see my wife’s bank account manager last week, (They wanted to see if they had any additional services they could sell us), and I spent the whole time biting my lip in attempt not to correct her grammar. She managed to get in several double negatives such as “I ain’t done nuffink” to which I have to resist the temptation of saying “Then if you haven’t done nothing, logically you must have done something”. Her most frequent annoyance however was her complete lack of understanding of tenses, when she used sentences such as. “I done him a favour” or “She come in her last week”. Arghhh. I accept that my grammar may be less than perfect, but I think I get the basics right. (I suspect that’s an invitation to receive comments on all of my grammatical errors in my blog). I am left with the inescapable conclusion that my Bank want me to think our accounts are being managed by retards?

Faith Schools
Of course I think the world would be a much nicer place without vast swathes of the population being indoctrinated into unchallengeable and incompatible beliefs systems based on pre enlightened wisdom and comparably barbaric morality. Such beliefs will inevitably lead to hatred, prejudice, injustice and war. But I can’t just vanquish religion as a whole to room 101, it forms part of our cultural heritage and has inspired great art, music, architecture and in its more benign forms provide comfort and solace to its followers. Banning religion to room 101 would obviously be no more effective than trying to ban alcohol or drugs, if a desire for it persists, its existence will flourish regardless. I’m also not terribly keen on loosing many of our traditions, holidays, ceremonies and buildings, but I do think these things can be maintained, but kept detached and impotent of their original intent. I very much enjoy visiting ancient Egyptian and Greek temples despite the fact that the deity’s they where constructed in honour of have now fully passed into mythology. I’d be happy to visit great Cathedrals and Churches, Mosques, Temples and Synagogues with a similar perspective to their relevance today whilst appreciating their architecture and cultural heritage. The key to a more enlightened populace, free from such dangerous superstition and faith is surely education and discovery rather than mandated dictation of any particular viewpoint. Such incredulous beliefs embedded in all religions could surely only take root in the furtive minds of the young. So instead of blindly indoctrinating children with the random beliefs of their parents, can we not equip them with empirical knowledge and the tools of critical thinking and the scientific method to allow them to form their own conclusions based on a critical review of the facts and evidence. One of the biggest hurdles I see to this philosophy in the UK, is the spread of faith schools who are free to preach their particularly dogmas and delusions. I don’t want my children to have Intelligent Design or Creationism presented to them as an alternative theory to evolution any more than I want them to have Alchemy taught as an alternative to Chemistry, Astrology and an alternative to Astronomy or Magic as an alternative to Physics. The UK has a great tradition of Catholic and Church of England schools with fine academic achievements. In a multi cultural society such us ours we should not be creating more faith schools for alternative belief systems, but converting existing faith schools to secular schools whilst maintaining and improving high academic standards and following an approved national curriculum based on established reason rather than historical myths.

TV Dinners

One of the most detestable excuses I frequently hear is “I work all day and don’t have time to prepare a proper meal with fresh ingredients”. I see no valid excuse for constantly troughing on individual salty microwavable mush whilst sat in the lounge glazed over by Eastenders. You may argue that my wife is fortunate enough to not have to work and therefore has the time to prepare a meal that can be enjoyed around the family dinner table when I get home from work. But when we we’re both working we still found time to do it. It’s simply a matter of priorities. Why do so many of us Brits place such a low importance on the family dinner table, it almost makes me want to be French. Well not quite.

Chav Suits
I’m sure that those that choose to wear pink velour track suits would view my rather nice Harris Tweed Jacket with equal contempt. But why do you need to wear a track suit when the only exercise you’re doing is sitting on the sofa, watching Tricia and eating crisps.

Cheap Chicken
When I was younger, I seem to recall that Chicken was more expensive and a bit of treat you wouldn’t expect more than once a week at best. We now live in a culture where chicken is so cheap it can be an everyday meal or snack. The consequences are of course born by the multitude of unfortunate and poorly treated animals cramped into vast barns for their short insignificant lives. I’m not an animal rights activist and I fully support the use of animal research to further scientific understanding and provide huge advantages in medical research and I’m perfectly happy to eat meat in many of its delicious forms, but I’m not prepared to unnecessarily abuse the animal before I eat it. I get immensely frustrated by people who will happily eat a chicken nuggets made from the beaks and arseholes of ill treated birds, but then balk at the prospect of eating a freshly shot rabbit that has lead a wild and natural life. (up until the point it was shot). If you can’t stomach the fluffy bunny whose guts you’ve seen spilled, then don’t eat the processed meat in the nice clean packaging just because the reality has been hidden. The consequence of “happy meat” will of course be increased cost, but if this means we can’t afford it everyday, then so be it.

Crap Music
This is one of my favourite topics to bleat on about, and I’ve whinged at length on the topic on the music page of my web site ( If you’ve read my music page, you will be familiar with my despair in the popularisation of superficial music based on commercial formulas manipulated by business people catering for preferences in image and dance moves over musicianship and originality. I suspect I’m passionate about the subject because I’m passionate about good music, to me it has the power to provoke emotions unreachable in me by other forms of art. People often counter my arguments by saying that it’s simply a matter of taste, “Led Zeppelin are not better than Boyzone, that’s just your personal preference.” I say hogwash to that hypothesis. I dislike particular music not because of its genre or my personal taste, but because it’s simply poor music. Consider a two dimensional matrix containing the full set of artists, groups, composers and all contributors to the collective of music. Imagine the matrix has a number of columns representing all genres and subtypes of music. There are columns for Rock, Pop, Country, Blues, R&B, Dance, Techno, Opera, Classical, Ballet, Jazz, Hip Hop, Rap etc etc. Each column will inevitably contain good and bad music, original, intelligent, genre defining music and palpable dirge. The varying quality in music in each column is represented by the rows, with the top rows reserved for the quality music, gradually moving down the rows with reducing musical quality, being careful not to confuse current popularity with quality. For Example if you looked at the Pop column, you may see the Beatles somewhere near the top and Bros much lower down. I chose Bros as a semi random example of something lower down in the Pop column, because enough time has elapsed for the sedimentation process to allow the dregs to settle into their rightful place. The clouded perception of many contemporary eyes may need time to reach a valid evaluation of new arrivals. My sedimentation analogy also applies to this missed cream that gradually rises to the top. Nick Drake would be a good example of an artist whose merit and reputation have gradually only come to the fore over time. In order to rebuke the argument of what I perceive as crap music simply not fitting in with my particular tastes, I like to think that I make an effort to cast my musical net horizontally across the top of the imaginary matrix. As opposed to selecting individual columns based on personal preference of styles, as I believe many do. Hence the celebrity status wannabes of Saturday Night TV talent shows rarely, if ever, make it into my net for the simple reason that they’re crap.

How many times have you been eating in a restaurant on Holiday in Europe or America only to hear a loud and whinging Yorkshire accent complaining about the foreign food or outrageous prices. Being a cricket fan, I follow the fortunes of my adopted county (Hampshire), but the cricket team I really support is whichever one is playing Yorkshire. Fortunately there’s a suitable icon that deftly represents the self opinionated and boorish Yorkshire mentality and their cricket team. I would therefore like to surrender him into room 101. In you go Geoffrey.
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