Tuesday, October 04, 2005


More Multi-Posting

The first thing to comment on today, obviously, is the sad passing of Ronnie Barker, the comedy legend. I use that word advisedly, for I genuinely feel that Barker was one of the funniest men to grace British television screens in the last century.

His comedy has a particular resonance for me personally because at certain points in my life pretty much the only thing that has kept me in touch with a certain female relative is a shared love of cricket, and of 'Porridge' and 'Open All Hours.' Certainly, those shows are creatures of their time, but the writing on them is wickedly funny and Barker could always get the very best out of it.

Barker also offered a link to a previous time - 'The Two Ronnies' used to regularly pull in audiences of between thirteen and fifteen million, and was one of the last genuinely shared cultural experiences in Britain, bar sporting events. Nowadays, no single comedy programme could hope to hold a candle to those viewing figures. Partly this is down to wider choice, and partly down to changed cultural habits, but in large part it's down to how funny the programme was.

I was immensely saddened to hear of his departure. May he rest in peace.

There's a rather touching obituary here.

Gotta love the jacket! Comedy legend Ronnie Barker.


On a rather more cheerful note, I'd like to praise comedian Rob Brydon for his set on the Jack Dee thing at the Hammersmith Apollo, which was on BBC1 last night. It was absolutely fantastic, one of the funniest stand-up sets I've seen on telly for quite some time.

I usually hate character comedy when it's done on stage, because it's so difficult, and people often screw it up. Brydon, playing Keith Barret, the divorced relationship councillor role that he's reprised from the television, proved that when it's done well, it really can be excellent.

Highly amusing.


It seems to me that the real news in this story about Jade Goody being arrested for shoplifting is not so much that she was doing a Winona (although naturally she denies any wrongdoing, and far be it from me to suggest otherwise), but that she was buying a £16 denim jacket from Asda in the first place. I take it you've squandered all those appearance fees away then Jade?

Yet another celebrity who's never actually done anything to celebrate.


In yet another 'celebrity' arrest, the world's most boring man, Pete Doherty, has been left protesting his innocence after being arrested on Sunday for posession of hard drugs. Apparently, however, he has had to be let go as there is basically no evidence he'd got any. He claimed that he's had some species of implant in his stomach to stop him taking any more, which sounds pretty unlikley to me, but then two of my friends saw his band Babyshambles in concert on Friday night, and pronounced him to be 'drunk, but not fucked.' Well, that's a relief then.

Choirboy George offered up a prayer before his trial for nicking Frank's scooter.


According to this, corroborated here, the Conservative-controlled Dudley Council have banned pictures and knick-knacks containing or consisting of depictions of pigs, because of a complaint by a Muslim employee. Unfortunately, this surpasses even the 'Allahcone' case in terms of preposterous offence. In that post, i described Rashad Akhtar as 'possibly the most ludicrously easily offended man in Britain', but it appears I spoke too soon. The complainant, who sensibly remained anonymous, has been backed up by Councillor Mahbubur Rahman, who said:

'If it is a request made by an individual and other officers can reason a compromise it is a good thing, it is a tolerance and acceptance of their beliefs and understanding.'

On the contrary, it can't be a tolerance or acceptance of 'understanding', because I don't believe this complainant is being understanding at all. Similarly, it is not a 'compromise' - the objects in question have been banned. How is that a compromise?

Apparently, even a tissue box with a depiction of Winnie the Pooh's friend Piglet has been outlawed. In the hope that it will thoroughly piss off Councillor Mahbabur Rahman, allow me:

Don't be deceived. They're sinful. Sinful, I tell you!

I'd like to finish with a quote from the Gay & Lesbian Humanists, who say:

'It is this sort of action that trivialises real oppression and real offence. Few would dispute that a pigs head left on the steps of a Mosque or a Synagogue is a vicious and offensive act, but to ban cartoon pigs on a box of tissues from the workplace on similar grounds? Doesn’t that just make a mockery of tolerance?'

In a word, yes.


Blogger Scott Burgess has returned, and started his comeback with an excellent skewering of Saturday's Independent cover. Among the many elementary mistakes in that edition of the Independentius Narcoleptus were the assertions that the Ottoman Empire (founded 1299) 'with . . . ships and caravans, achieved domination of the silk road and taught the west everything it knew about trade before the advent of ocean growing ships.' As Scott points out, it's really rather embarassing that they managed to forget a group of very important people in that statement. They then carried on to assert that the Ottomans were 'the pioneers of a disciplined bureaucracy and inventors of a standing army.'

Remember, this is a national newspaper. Oops.


Stupidity ties neatly in to the last part of this rather mammoth (you have my apologies) post.

I'm not a student - I'm unemployed - but I do have to attend that convergence of The Great Moronic Unwashed for a few hours a week, and today was such an occasion. What I have to attend is a course about American politics. I was somewhat nervous before I went, but I can't for the life of my remember why. I anticipated the Bush-bashing, and I was ready for the pop psychology, but what I wasn't ready for was the astounding level of ignorance amongst a group of people who, you would imagine, having reached further education, are supposedly well educated.

It really defied belief. First, someone mentioned 'the state New England' and wasn't corrected. Then came two mistakes so terrible I'm embarrassed to relate them:

*Answering a question about how and why American people are proud of their Constitution, a student answered that Americans have to recite the start of the Constitution every morning before school.

Well, actually, it's the Pledge Of Allegiance, but never mind, it's all the same, right? Not only that, but in fact it isn't even a legal requirement. Astoundingly, she wasn't corrected. That's just wrong, in every sense of the word.

*Even worse than these two mistakes, however, was a statement by one student that made my blood boil. It was so stupid that I actually emitted an audible snort. What he said, and in a very arrogant, I'm-a-genius-who-knows-exactly-what-he's-talking-about kind of way too, was this:

'In schools they teach the Great Design [sic] that God created everything, because of the neoconservatives and that.'

What he was trying to say was that Design Theory is taught because the neoconservatives want it to be, not that God created the world because of the neoconservatives, but frankly syntax is the last of this young man's concerns.

He starts of by completely failing to understand what a neoconservative is, and for that matter what neoconservatism is.

Per the wikipedia link, 'domestic policy does not define neoconservatism.' Neoconservatives are, in the correct usage of the term, former New Deal liberals who have converted to conservatism (hence 'neo') because of shifting perspectives on foreign policy, free trade, and support for states like Taiwan. What it does not describe are the sort of God-bothering religious conservative zealots this student is prejudiced against - those would better be described as paleoconservatives.

The second mistake is a profound misunderstanding of education policy in the USA. While the federal government, who he is of course referring to, take overall legislative responsibility for education, the administrative matters and, more importantly the curriculum, are decided by local districts and state boards of education. This is the reason for the controversy over 'Intelligent Design' being located in certain states in the Deep South, not all over America.

None of this should really bother me that much. After all, cross-cultural misunderstanding is not one way. In his 'Notes From A Big Country', Bill Bryson, of whom the more observant amongst you will have noticed I'm something of a devotee, points out that various American guidebooks on Britain in the mid 90s claimed, amongst other things, that 'Cardiff is the only urban centre in Wales', that Glasgow rhymes with cow (which isn't strictly untrue if you say it in a very, very exaggerated Dudley accent) and that one's Christian name is one's second name, and one's surname is the first name. Hmmm.

So why am I so hot under the collar about this? It isn't declining standards in British (oh, alright, English) universities. It isn't the fact that such singularly culturally moronic young people will surely end up working in the Foreign Office. No. What annoys me is that I have to sit an exam - I know, I know, tell me about it - on this lot in January, and I'm genuinely worried that correct answers will count against me, since it appears that the only endeavours worthy of praise in this field are ill-founded prejudices and factual inaccuracy.

American schoolkids recite the Pledge Of Allegiance, or the Constitution, or the No Child Left Behind Act, or the Oath, or the instructions for making a great chocolate cornflake cake, or something.


Two important updates - firstly, Tony has written a far better tribute to Ronnie Barker than mine. Read it here. Secondly, and probably more importantly, I have to correct a mistake. According to the Melonfarmers, the only pig-related item banned from Dudley Council is a pig-shaped stress reliever. As they point out, the rest of the story was the product of a slow news day.

You're dead right about Rob Brydon's set, and it benefitted even more from being bookended by Jack Dee's pitiful material.
Too true. It was absoluely pitiful. Jack Dee used to be a very funny man, but he really seems to have hit the ropes these days. His set didn't make me laugh once.
"banned pictures and knick-knacks"
As in, the sale of such items to the public is banned, turning Porky the Pig and Piglet into contraband? Nation-wide?

On Christian vs. Surname: What has such basic identity concepts to do with a guidebook anyway? Such a stupid reversal is ignorance of more than just foreign culture, but represents ignorance of one's own native tongue.

On the "Pledge":I had to say the PoA in school myself, and doubled it up with a Pledge of Allegiance to the Lutheran Church(!) on account of it being a parochial school. (U.S. style Missouri Synod Lutherans make Catholics look alarmingly liberal) It all turned out alright, though. I'm gnostic, now. Which, according to my old pastor, is a certain indication of my eternal damnation on account of not subscribing to his checklist of obligatory beliefs.
Would I, as a Yank, know Jack Dee? What sort of things might I have seen him in/on/around/about?
He's Chuck D's brother. No, he's an English comedian, famous for being thuggish-looking and miserable, and he looks like . He only seems to have done TV work though, so he might not have crossed the pond.
I hate it when that happens.
No, you can still purchase Piglet et al, but you just can't take them into the offices of Dudley Council. Since that's the council I grew up in, it bothers me rather more than I think it would bother most other people. Dudley hadn't, up to this point, done too badly at avoiding the ridiculous wave of political correctness sweeping the nation, partly I suspect, because of the high ethnic membership of the council, buit folks like Rahman are a disgrace.

Regarding the surname thing, yes, I suppose you're right. I hadn't really thought about it that way, but it seems a fair summation.

My dirty, shameful secret is that I used to be a Christian too - not just an apathetic, don't really care one, but a convinced one who spent his time trying to convert other people. I'm very ashamed of that part of my life.

Mind you, I suppose I'm as loud about my atheism now as I was about my beliefs then.

As for Jack Dee, he's a famous miserabilist, famous for having a rather deadpan delivery, somewhat like Steven Wright or Mtich Hedberg, but nowhere near as good. I don't think he's transatlantic.
Gadzooks! I'm impressed that you've "seen the light", as it were. I don't suppose it happens that way round very much. And if I wasn't already a fervent atheist I'm sure you'd be able to convert me. Good work, fella.
Cheers! Much appreciated. It was quite hard to admit that. It's a chapter in my life that I think I'll probably always regret. You never know what damage I did.
Aw Steve. You shouldn't feel too bad about your former life. Such a radical change shows you're thinking. Most people just adopt a position and cling to it for dear life regardless of the evidence.
That's very kind. I suppose you're right.
I should point out that the post on Ronnie Barker was a collaboration between me and the guy who does film posts at AGB (Nabakov). Not the done thing to hog the credit. Nabs is a gun writer who does lots of good stuff.
Send him my apologies! I love those film reviews.
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