Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Poor old Johann Hari it seems to me. Guido Fawkes has really got stuck in - as is his wont*. He's not the only one. British journalism does not seem to be replete with the milk of human kindness...**

I suppose we look back with rose-tinted spectacles at the greatness of George Orwell. Maybe when our descendants look back at this era with the telescopic view of 100 years in the future, another figure will seem equally great to them. Nevertheless, I doubt any of the recipients of the prize named after him will be that figure (Polly Toynbee is one who comes to mind, how did she get the prize? She and Laurie Penny came to Hari's defence yesterday. Not a roll-call of my favourite journalists, I'm afraid)

There's a good quote here, from Splintered Sunrise, on the whole business:
Which is not to say (and I’m trying to be scrupulously fair here) that Toni Negri or Malalai Joya might not have said something to Hari similar to what he quoted – he’d simply lifted his quotes from elsewhere because they evidently read better than what he had on tape. Which, as it happens, is the explanation given by Hari himself in his remarkably pompous blog post (“intellectual portraiture”, forsooth) owning up to this sharp practice
It's a decent, and I think balanced, post to read about the whole business

*though I do look at Guido's blog fairly regularly to er..keep an eye on things

**I'm not sure about the quality of writing there :S

Monday, 13 June 2011

Thoughts for the day

Themed blogs are not conducive to rational discussion. Exactly the opposite is the case: they seem to allow people free rein to their prejudices. Over and over I see a voice that slightly deviates from the line taken in a blog construed as "trollish". I myself have just been accused of "wanting to start a fight" because I sounded a note of mild context-giving to a particular debate on a BBC-bias blog.

It was the same behaviour I've seen before, and it is anti-debate, anti-rational. People will simply become yet more entrenched in their lopsided views as a result. There's no doubt a blog or site for every misguided world-view around, so you can agree with like-minded people instead of having your views challenged and in the realest sense possible 'rationalised'

Tuesday, 7 June 2011


I am not alone! Why did it take me so long to find these people....

So I've been going on about the BBC left-wing bias for a while now, feeling as though
a)  I was micturating into the wind, and
b) no one else thought the same way.

Well I was wrong, and my web-searches were inadequate. There is Biased BBC, and also see the comments in David Thompson's blog post here.

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Thoughts on Frank Abagnale, pt 2

Perhaps this post should more properly be entitled "Thoughts on self-improvement, inspired by Frank Abagnale's story"

In my previous post, written after reading "Catch me if you can", I started to think aloud about how to try and develop the skills that made Abagnale so effective as a con-artist and (what I think of as a) social engineer. He displayed an extraordiary chameleon-like ability, also an ease of conversation and using it to get information he needed without arousing suspicion. He also was very observant, and something of a fantasist (or liar, you might call it)

One of the reasons he was so good at being a con-man, at an age when I wouldn't have been able to do anything of the sort, is because of the way he lived his life. He was hugely social, became good at interacting wittily (but on a shallow level) with almost anyone. He turned the problem-solving part of his brain to how he could employ his people skills and intellect to the problem of making enough money for the lifestyle (read respect, trust, and women) he wanted.

When I was in my teens, I had plenty of problem solving ability - I just confined it to Mathematical problems and study, and reading too much philosophy. I thought about everything in a different way, was a hell of a lot more cautious, and less worldly-wise. The way you approach problems, and the attitude with which you face them, are often rather unique to you. A people person will be good at thinking of people-solutions to everything, a logician will try and work everything out from solid principles. An artist will try to imagine the solution.

We all have our own style of thinking, and when we try to approach, for example, a people problem with mathematical formulae, or a legal problem with emotional thinking, then we're at our weakest. Another reason why it is good to learn different approaches to life, and get inside the head of someone who thinks at a tangent to the way we do. So yes, I'm now trying to think with the same initiative and imagination as the young Mr Abagnale, if for more legal ends and means!

 *              *                  *

I'd like to write a lot more on how Abagnale became the man he did. It is well worth looking into, inasmuch as a teenager making fools of airlines and banks worldwide, hospitals and universities is quite simply amazing

How did he do it? You can't explain his 'achievements' by saying it was his remarkable mix of social skills, intellect, and cheek. You have to look at his story. He lived with his father when his parents divorced, and came into contact with perhaps a rather seedy, bar-room society. This made him cagey, streetwise, and perhaps rather unscrupulous too. He discovered girls - and by the sounds of it went almost temporarily insane in his pursuit of them.

It didn't occur to him that a few dollars cleverly stolen from a big company constituted much of a moral wrongdoing, and with the thrill of success, and more women, his schemes became more daring. He conceived the crazy scheme of pretending to be a pilot - he could cash bad cheques all over America/the world that way and not be caught (so he reasoned) - and began to plan a deception of such cheek that people didn't see it for what it was.

"He's my boyfriend, I can hit him if I want to"

The quote in the title is from this story, in the Guardian of all places.

No one working for that newspaper is going to question where the attitudes of this girl come from (prevalent attitudes towards men, differences in perception of violence towards men and women), though many lines of print are written there on which attitudes towards women lead to violence.

I'd like to ask anyone reading this to think about why this was said - why the girl thought it was ok to say this. Here are some guesses:

a) the knowledge that she will probably escape a prison sentence (now where oh where did I read that someone wanted to empty women's prisons because they are too nasty? Do let me know)

b) common representations of men as more expendable in the media.How many times have we heard on the news that "women and children" were amongst those hurt" in some disaster, natural or otherwise. Hurting a man is represented as more or less ok, and frequently justified, if you watch BBC dramas.

The fact that we are (probably) hard-wired to have a little more sympathy for women and children doesn't mean we can pretend violence towards men is morally any different. Or we can, only if you are ready to disregard everything that is said about gender equality being for the greater good. You will also have to ignore anyone who claims that attitudes of 'men' towards 'women' are the cause of rape/violence. Some examples of this from our favourite rag:

I wonder at how easy it was for me to come up with those examples...

Yet if you say this to feminists, they look mystified. They simply cannot see how, if "attitudes towards women" cause violence, there can be any such phenomenon involving blatantly obvious attitudes towards men, and the fact that it is men who are sent off to die for their country, commit suicide more often than women, are treated unequally by the law etcetc.

It's slightly annoying :(

Friday, 3 June 2011


There are suggestions that the word 'chav' is an attack on the working class. I'm delighted to say that Polly Toynbee is one of those who have said this, and that once again I totally disagree with everything she said.

The simple fact is that being a "chav" is nothing to do with how much money you have, or were born into. It does, however, have everything to do with attitudes and behaviour that many working-class people would be ashamed of.

Perhaps this is where Toynbee loses the plot. What she calls "poisonous bile" could actually be described as social forces that help regulate behaviour. We condemn thuggish actions and threatening behaviour. We condemn the videos of kids showing off their knives on YouTube. It's part of what holds society together. Yet according to Polly Toynbee we can't say anything nasty about chavs because, she says, they are working class. 

Think about the logic of that for a second. We don't want to do down the working class, so we can't say anything nasty about a criminal if s(he) happens to be working class.

Toynbee has dragged the word 'class' into it for a reason - to obfuscate the argument and delude people into thinking we need to read Marx again to understand the issue. Shall we substitute the word "poor" for working-class? (it seems fair enough)  We are now saying: We don't want to do down the poor people for being poor, so we can't say anything nasty about a particular criminal if s(he) happens to be poor.

Happy with that? Because that is what I think she is saying.

The obvious problem is that some of us have started to use the term "chav" fairly derisively. Perhaps Toynbee doesn't like this aspect of things? It's perhaps an ugly part of the social forces I alluded to above, but I wonder whether she has ever said "men" in the same tone of voice we use to talk about chavs? Not even once or twice?

I could argue with every sentence she spills forth. For example:

"Aspiration and social mobility are the useful mirage, laying blame squarely with individuals who should try harder to escape their families and friends, instead of seeking great fairness for all."

No. People should try harder to not stab other people, not give someone a kicking because they are bored. It's not hard, you don't need a rich Mummy and Daddy to make that decision.

There seems to be an assumption in there that if only governments eliminated inequalities tomorrow then all this crime would disappear overnight. It's an old, tired argument, and it's not going to happen any time soon, so we won't get to find out whether it's true or not. One of the problems with "social mobility" is not one Toynbee will be happy with - the fact is we only need so many Doctors, CEOs, and Lawyers. So I'm fascinated to know what sort of world she thinks we will live in when inequality is finally defeated. 

As usual with Marxists, they are not at all concerned with the details of a crime, and looking at what might actually have caused it. They start off with the explanation. They are sure it is right - though they don't have the evidence - and over and over again they deny the concept of responsibility for ones actions (apart from rich white men, who are held personally responsible for what other people do). It's the intoxicating, addictive quality that some people seem to find in Marxist ideas - suddenly they have the answer to everything! If only people would listen...

It reminds me of religious sects or cults where "missionaries" are trained in how to answer every question or rebuttal they might encounter. In fact, I think we'd be a lot safer and more rational if we lumped Guardian readers with the Moonies and Waco cult members and just got on with trying to understand difficult problems of the causes of crime without the hysterical know-alls in that paper.

Here endeth the lesson

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Thoughts on Frank Abagnale, pt 1

So I read "Catch me if you can" recently and was totally hooked. Usually after reading a book of this kind I find my thinking very affected by the book and the personality of the writer (though this book is actually ghost written so it's my interepretation of the ghost writer's interpretation of Abagnale's thought processes)

He was such a sharp observer of people around him, seeing what people might be impressed by, and like any confidence trickster probably telling a lot about people very quickly from their gait/body language/voice etc. He also clearly had quite an imagination - if only to dream up these schemes and ways of getting information from people.

I imagine him formulating a new plan quickly, and thinking "I must start talking to that girl/an airline official/or whoever". Almost immediately, a scenario would come to his mind where someone had a quite legitimate query or occasion to start a conversation - and he would become that role, like an improvising actor. Such adrenaline-rush-fuelled skills may also explain his apparent success-rate with women - I'm sure Neil Strauss and the other pick-up artists would be interested in his approach if the haven't studied that sort of thing already. (He is what they would call a "natural", I believe)

He must also be good at approaching a conversation indirectly, mentioning a topic so the other person starts talking about it, and all of a sudden they are discussing exactly the kind of thing he wants to know about. Sometimes he will tease someone ("no way have you got an A-grade average...I need to see proof!") and that's a pretty well known technique I guess.

These are not skills I've been displaying in abundance in the last year or two of my life ;) Neither is the initiative that all that (in his case misdirected) industry takes. So now I'm setting myself exercises using time on the bus as body-language reading time (there is plenty of raw material, plenty of bodys, all speaking loudly!). It's also worth working on the improvisation-like skills I've mentioned. Anything you could be better at...

This is part of a self-improvement streak that I have to own up to. I've mentioned Neil Strauss above - one thing he has said is to do with working on "inner-game" ( perhaps another word for a kind of confidence), posture, and appearance. He said something in a seminar, along the lines of:

"You guys have no idea how hard I worked on this stuff, drilling it into myself every day"

And I do wonder what the best study/improvement method is, given that time is limited. Really I want to learn new ways of thinking, and 10 minutes of practice every day is really not good enough. And knowing me I'm in danger of my enthusiasm waning after a short while.