Jonny Nexus

Writing, life, politics

Month: November 2010

An Open Letter To The “Intelligent Designer”

Dear God,

I should perhaps being this letter by admitting that I am myself an atheist who believes the process of evolution as explained by Darwin et al to be the the cause of life on Earth. However, I do accept that there are many people who believe that the human body is the result not of random chance, but of a careful and considered design process led by a omnipotent supreme being.

If this explanation were to be true, then I – as the current sufferer of the syndrome popularly known as a “bad back” – have just one thing to say.

What the hell were you thinking when you turned the human backbone through ninety degrees? After all, by doing so, you so totally changed the way in which it operated that you were taking it way, way, way beyond the original scope of the design. Are we expected to believe that you were unaware of this? Does the concept of structures being designed to be in either compression or tension* mean nothing to you? Did you figure, oh what the heck, just take what we’ve got and flip it to the vertical, it’ll be fine, no one will notice?

I’ve noticed. Trust me.

I think my current degree of disgust in best described in pictures.

I think it’s probably obvious how the backbone is supposed to work, even before you find your two minute lunchtime walk to the shop turned into an epic journey worthy of a David Lean biopic!

In the 1970s, people used to talk of certain, mechanically unreliable cars being a “Friday afternoon special”, indicating that they’d been knocked out at the very end of a week by a workforce who only wanted to get the job finished and sod off for the weekend.

I’m beginning to think that the human body was a Saturday evening special.

Yours, a very dissatisfied customer,

Jonny Nexus

* And yes, I do know that strictly speaking a dog’s backbone can’t be compared with a suspension bridge, and it isn’t under tension in the way that a suspension bridge’s cable is. But you only have to look at a dog to know instantly that that’s how a backbone is supposed to be oriented.

My Thoughts On The Cllr Compton / Alibhai-Brown Twitter Joke Controversy

A Tory councillor has been arrested over claims he suggested on Twitter that Yasmin Alibai-Brown, a female newspaper columnist, should be stoned to death.

You’ve probably read this in the news. If not, you can read about it on the above link, or here, here, or here.

But basically, a Conservative councillor, Gareth Compton, was listening to a radio discussion programme featuring the journalist Yasmin Alibhai-Brown when she (allegedly) said something that provoked him into making the following “joke” on twitter.

“Can someone please stone Yasmin Alibhai-Brown to death? I shan’t tell Amnesty if you don’t. It would be a blessing, really.”

She complained, along with many others. He has been arrested under the Communications Act 2003 and suspended from the Conservative party.

Where do I stand on this? Well at the moment, I’m thinking that this was a highly offensive joke for which he probably should be expelled from the Conservative party, but that it was clearly a joke, and not therefore something he should be prosecuted for. But I do think we need to judge what he said in the context of the statement of hers to which she was replying. Which is where it gets murky, because there doesn’t seem to be a definitive account of exactly what it was she said.

He claims that she stated the following:

The councillor claimed she had said, with reference to David Cameron’s trip to China, that no politician was morally qualified to speak out about human rights abuses, including the stoning of women, bar the likes of Nelson Mandela. [link]

But I can’t seem to find any authoritative, neutral account of what she actually said. The most I can find is Alibai-Brown now stating:

If I, as a citizen of this country, cannot even express an opinion about human rights and the moral authority of our politicians, what does that say about how equal we are? [link]

…which doesn’t confirm his account, but equally, doesn’t contradict it either. Why does it matter? Well firstly, because if he was responding to a statement which itself could be considered offensive (which we can only fully judge if we know exactly what she said and the way in which she said it), then his statement is perhaps less of a unprovoked and gratuitous attack, and perhaps more of an admittedly harsh, but perhaps satirical comment.

But I think it’s most important because of this:

She added that she regarded Compton’s remarks as racially motivated because he mentioned stoning. “If I as a Muslim woman had tweeted that it would be a blessing if Gareth Compton was stoned to death I’d be arrested immediately.” [link]

The implication here being, as the Telegraph puts it:

She told The Guardian they amounted to “incitement to murder” and as a Muslim of Indian descent, his remarks could be seen to be “racially motivated”. [link]

The question here is: who first mentioned “stoning”, him or her?

If she never mentioned stoning, then yes, there is a racial aspect to what she said, much as if a white American were to joke about wanting someone (who “happened” to be black) killed, but specified that it should be by lynching (ignoring far more obvious methods such as by gun, knife, car, lethal injection, gas chamber, electric chair etc.) .

But if she specifically mentioned stoning, and especially if it was in the context of a specific discussion about the current high profile stoning cases in Iran (Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani in particular), then I think there’s no real justification for assuming that the joke was racially motivated. (It might well have been, but I don’t think you can accuse people of racism on the grounds that racism could theoretically be a motivating factor in their actions).

Finally, I think when she says:

“If I as a Muslim woman had tweeted that it would be a blessing if Gareth Compton was stoned to death I’d be arrested immediately.”

…she’s guilty of a certain amount of hyperbole. Given the response to the Channel 4 Dispatches programme Undercover Mosque (no charges were eventually bought against those saying that gay men should be thrown off cliffs, or that Indian businesses should be bombed and Jews killed, but the police did request that the CPS bring charges against Channel 4 for broadcasting a programme including material likely to stir up racial hatred), I think her implication that being a Muslim makes her more likely to be arrested, were she to say something like this is not borne out by prior events.

Testing, Testing, One Two Three

Have updated WordPress iPhone app to latest version, and the question is, can it handle apostophes, in words like can’t, don’t, won’t and isn’t? I’m writing this piece with them.

So if they’re not there it’s because it’s stripped them out.

Here goes…

What’s This We, Kemosabe?

There’s a lot of talk now about the coalition government move to raise the cap on university tuition fees. For what’s it’s worth, I don’t know what the solution to university funding is, although I do feel that the emphasis on getting 50% of the population to go to a university simply to do a degree, any degree, is seriously missing the point1.

Anyhow, yesterday I read a piece in the London Evening Standard by their City Editor Chris Blackhurst (who’s perhaps a little older than me, but probably a fellow Generation Xer), in which he strongly opposed the raising of the tuition fees cap. It’s a good, fairly written, and passionate piece, but he managed to completely rub me up the wrong way with one particular angle that he was taking. Here’s the relevant bits (emphasis mine):

In our days, as I recall, we never had this double-whammy worry. We got a grant from the local council and we spent it. If we wanted more, we got casual work, we asked the bank manager or our parents, or both.

We weren’t bothered about being saddled with heavy debts when we graduated: what jobs we would end up doing and, more to the point, how much they paid, never dominated our thinking. When we did get jobs, we were able to join the property ladder and to take out mortgages — we did not have a sizeable loan already hanging over us.

How can we do this? We, the people that enjoyed free education, that basked in the lengthy post-war prosperity of our parents’ generation and the expansion of the university system? How dare we turn round now and tell our children to pay so much?

And that dilemma is not one they should face. It’s not one that we had to confront and neither should our successors. Our hypocrisy in this regard is appalling. Shame on us.

Of course, upon reading that, my deep, gut reactions was: what’s with this “we” shit? You might have gone to university Chris, but I didn’t, and neither did hardly anyone I knew2. I just didn’t come from the sort of background3 where people went to university, and as a result I was frankly too scared to go.

People seem to be harking back to a “golden age” where everyone got to go to university for free, but there never was such a golden age. Some people (ten percent maybe, with a disproportionate number of them coming from good middle-class backgrounds) were given free university educations, paid for by the taxes of a whole bunch of people whose own children weren’t going to go to university.

Taxing the poor to educate the rich seems to me neither fair nor progressive, and now that the poor have decided that they’d quite like to go to university too, it’s become horribly apparent that it’s going to need more money.

Like I said, I don’t know the solution. But let’s not kid ourselves about how great it was in the past, because it wasn’t.

1People say this will enable those people getting degrees to earn more money. But how? And why? The way to help everyone in the country earn more money is to train them to provide goods and services the the rest of the world wishes to purchase. But historically, the reason why people with generic liberal-arts degrees earned more money was because in an era when only 10% of people got a degree, possession of a degree would take you straight into the top 10% of management jobs, where you would be a highly paid “chief” bossing around nine lowly paid “indians”. Those liberal-arts degrees made their possessor’s richer, but they didn’t make the country any richer. If we succeeded in getting 50% of people to have some sort of generic degree that won’t mean 50% of all jobs will now be highly-paid managerial positions. It will simply mean that if you want a top 10% highly-paid managerial position, you’ll need at least a masters degree, if not a Phd. So I fear we risk spending huge amounts of money and saddling kids with massive debts, only for them to end up doing the same 20-30k generic white collar jobs that they would have ended up doing thirty years ago, except that then they’d have started them at 16 instead of 21.

2There were 250 people in my year at school. Of those, 16 (6%) stayed on to do A Levels. Most of them failed those A Levels. I know of at least one person who went to a university or polytechnic to do a degree level course (Lawrence, who went to the University of Lancaster to do maths). I think one, perhaps two max, of the girls went to a university as well. And my friend Stuart who left school after O Levels and got a job in a bank later went back to College to get a BTEC National Diploma in computing, and then, on the strength of that, went to Bristol Polytechnic (now the University of the West of England). So that’s somewhere between 0.4% and 1.6% going to university or polytechnic.

3At the time I got to 18, I knew of only one person in my family, ever, who’d gone to university, and that was a great-grandfather (my mother’s, father’s father, who was quite well off, but then did for his family by dying young of TB). Other than that, of my mother, my father, my brother, my two older cousins, my two uncles and my three aunts, my three great-aunts, and my four grand-parents, not one had been to university. That’s not to say that they were stupid, or even ill-educated. Both my mother and my uncle Alan were teachers (two-year and three-year teaching certificates respectively), my father was a surveyor (part-time Higher National Certificate in Mining Surveying), my uncle Gerry was a policeman, my auntie Ruth was a nurse, and my auntie Jean got very high up in the civil service. Since then, my two younger cousins have both got degrees and my uncle Alan got an Open University degree. But at the time, university seemed a scary place full of better educated kids from posh schools – so I went to a local college and got a BTEC (in cartography and surveying).

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