Friday, 10 December 2010

Soft subjects R4 the bin?

   So they did it. They actually did it.
   The British Government has voted to extend the cap on tuition fees (in England only – Wales and Scotland found the money elsewhere) to £9,000 per year. F#(kers. Almost all of them.
   Here is my biggest problem with the vote, the coverage in the media and the generally projected “mood of the nation”...
   Whenever a “man in the street” or a “didn’t he used to be-“celebrity on some panel show is asked about the situation, desperate to appear middle-of-the-road they decry the violent minority, applauding the intellectual students who kept their heads. They suggest paring away soft subjects like “David Beckham Studies” and subsidising “useful” degrees. They suggest that maybe this government isn’t legitimate, yeah? Right on. Then they shut up and look for the next story about a cat in a bin.
   To all these blethering dickwads spewing such arse from their facecracks I have to suggest that they shut the frog up and possibly ... go frog themselves.
   HOW DARE ANYBODY* suggest what types of education consist useful or beneficial use of time? Scientific research can't only go after "useful" subjects. You don't know if it is useful until you've done it. That's what research is.
   Subjects such as History, Philosophy, Sociology and Journalism are all seen as soft options but ALL of them have a vital part in ensuring that the country as a whole is not lied to. At least not successfully lied to. These four subjects all involve teaching a skill-set of analysing data provided and dismissing unwarranted conclusions (obviously not all students will necessarily gain these skills).
   Fully qualified doctors can fall prey to dreadful data analysis that can lead them to piss away their careers on alternative medicine. A single semester on the Philosophy of science would have steered them clear of such fallacies.
   News channels keep reporting about the surprising amount of non students on the marches lately. Any attention paid by a worthwhile graduate of Journalism or Sociology (insert joke here) would be able to point out that current students will be largely unaffected by the changes. It is the students of the future – children – who should be protesting, but obviously and thankfully others have taken on that burden.
   These “utterly useless” degrees like David Beckham Studies are usually tabloid fables. If anything, they are only poorly titled modules on a course with a little more weight.
   Students of all four of the above disciplines (but particularly History) will be able to tell you that once such a cull of apparently “useless” subjects has happened it will be next to impossible to bring them back. If these subjects are left underfunded they will be the province of the idiot rich (who, historically, would enter the priesthood and, currently, take English degrees**) and the rigour they currently enjoy would dissipate, leaving them the kind of cartoon subjects the tabloids imagine them to be.
   Any numpty on the street can see through Nick Clegg’s pitiful Clegging*** that “we promised to do this if we got into power but we didn’t so we’re not.” The LibDems were never going to get into outright power, nor did we expect it – we expected pledges to be a statement of behaviour to be followed in parliament and we were not wrong to do so. The excuse “we didn’t know how bad it was” makes Clegg either a liar or inept. They might as well have promised us flying cars and sex robots.
   Before politicians, with their economics and politics degrees, decide to flail about through the wreckage of this country’s education system they should look at their own qualifications. Both those degrees are essentially fiscal or political History, but seen through a single filter – the leading theory (or possibly theories) of the day. Intellectually empty exercises. If an Economic or Political theory were viable it would be able to predict events. It can’t.
   Actually the only politician I can think of who foresaw the current state of affairs – where promises made could be horse traded with the Tories until the Liberals get their voting referendum – was Nick Clegg. The clever, devious bastard. “Have some sex robots. Oh, actually now that I’m here they look dangerous. I’m not sticking my cock in that thing. No sex robots – and it’s for your own good.”
   And he studied Social Anthropology.

*Oops. Shouting. Sorry about that.
**Sorry. Couldn’t resist. It seems that the Human Resources departments of large companies are run by typical English graduate types - “I got a degree, therefore, I am clever. What is your degree? ... Shit, it actually sounds intellectual. Can’t have you sniffing around my desk.”
***to Clegg; to excuse the indefensible. “Sorry I had to piss in your mouth but in these tough economic times one has to seize opportunities – your mouth was open and my bladder was full.” (Thanks to Charlie Brooker)

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Festivals r4 Everyone (or “Hannukah and her Sisters”)

Anyone who knows me might expect a righteous rant this time of year about how Christmas is much older than Christianity and Santa is nothing more than an advert for Coke, but I’m not such a cynic. Christmas is lush. I cannot recommend heartily enough Tim Minchin’s white wine in the sun, a beautiful secular carol and I think the Muppet’s Christmas Carol is one of the finest works of cinema of the last twenty years. I’m a sucker for Christmas.
Yes, it does kind of annoy me when the religious bang on about the “true” meaning of Christmas and talk about the nativity as fact but they know as well an anybody (in the UK at least) that it was an ancient winter feast of indulgence long before the Christians made it here. Then, of course, you have the mentals who will bang on about the druids and the pagans and ancient rituals (little realising that most of the gubbins surrounding ancient mysticism was invented in the 18th or 19th Century by posh blokes with too much time on their hands). Sigh.
You know what, though? They’re welcome to whatever they want to believe in. Much the same as I believe in every field of thought – follow your own opinion as long as it doesn’t hurt anybody else. Have your festival and dress up, decorate, do what you fancy. Follow traditions or invent your own. Hooray. Everybody part – whoops. Nearly used the word “party” as a verb – have fun.
Oh wait. Hang on.
I can’t let this one slide. I investigated Hannukah. I shouldn’t, I know. There’s no way I’m going to be agreeing with it, so why torture myself? Well, here’s why.
I’ve been watching the excellent “Walking Dead” on FX, and it’s been surrounded by ads for “Joop: Homme” or – as the bloke says – “Jew Pom”. I’ve been so perplexed with a combination of chuckles and shame that it’s been making me think of the plight of the British Jewish Male. Which leads me on to Olly Mann on the brilliant “answer me this”. He (and Helen and Martin-the-sound-man) constantly invite listeners to question everything. And send their questions to him. And for him to answer them. And they’re, like, funny. And that.
But all I can think of in December (since I looked it up) is “Hannukah? Is that it? Seriously?” and I don’t want to so blatantly challenge anybody’s precious beliefs about any holidays.
But come on. Have you heard it?
A tribe called the Maccabees frees their temple from an occupying force. They rededicate their temple by relighting an “eternal flame” but then realise they don’t have enough oil. It will take eight days to make more oil. The oil lasts until more oil is made. MIRACLE!
Let’s pretend for a second that nobody called the leader an idiot for relighting an “eternal flame” without the goods to back it up. Let’s further pretend that the amount of oil originally available was correctly assessed to be only a day’s worth. Let’s add to that pretence the idea that nobody in this new Jewish state would secretly add any oil they found to keep it going. Let us, in fact, go so far as to say that all laws of the natural world insisted that the flame would go out at the end of day one but a deity stepped in and kept the flame burning.
Is that it? Is that seriously the miracle on which you’re going to base an entire holiday? God barely turned up. He could have made an actual appearance. He could have spoken with a voice of thunder, sent pillars of smoke or flame, burned bushes, parted rivers, he could have sent them a “thanks for retaking my temple” card from a newsagent.
But no. The light didn’t go out. That’s it.
God barely even got out of bed for that one. This was the snooze button of miracles.
I’m sure there are pompous, pious explanations full of “aah”s and “my poor fool”s and such but truly – I don’t want to throw any kind of challenge to anybody. I support your right to believe if you do. It’s just ... it’s no wonder that when Christianity (itself only a breakaway sect of Judaism after all) came along it did things a bit louder. None of these new ideas were an iota more plausible than the old ones but at least they don’t provoke a reaction of “really? Is that it?”
Still, the great news for modern day Judaism is that Christmas is so decidedly torn from its religious trappings that everybody can fling presents at each other in as ostentatious a manner as they can afford. Just avoid adverts around “The Walking Dead”. You may find them offensive.
Christians should be fine with it; and the show is about creatures risen from the dead – it should be just like Sunday school.*
*it definitely isn’t.