Hooray for the royal wedding

I’ve decided to be enthusiastic about the royal wedding. This is mainly because so many people are being dickish about it.

I’m as much a republican as most lefties. But it’s not his fault he was born into the family. He seems perfectly nice, and does a lot of charity work, and doesn’t abuse his position. Yes, he’s more privileged than the rest of us, but I don’t see him crowing about it.

And it’s certainly not her fault. Can’t help who you fall in love with. And you wouldn’t wish that kind of press attention on anybody, poor woman. Not to mention the sneering over her background – over the summer some arse on The One Show said she wasn’t of appropriate breeding. I hope he actually exploded when the marriage was announced.

Ok, sure, it shouldn’t cost the taxpayer. But it seems the benefits to the economy will make up for it. So yes, there’s a principle, but in practice there are more important things to get het up about.

If you are apoplectic about having to see newspaper articles on the topic, or hear about it on television, get it together. You are a fully autonomous human being. You can ignore things you are not interested in. This does, however, mean you don’t get to shout in public about how uninterested you are. But this is a good thing. Because shouting about how uninterested you are, with no further point to be made, makes you very very boring. I used to be like this about I’m a Celebrity until I realised I was being a dick.

And don’t be snide about people who are interested, either. How pathetic, to take pleasure in other people’s happiness. How common, to want to know the details of a grand wedding. The I’m-better-than-you pomposity of many comments suggests a badly thought-out world-view.

Prince Charles uses his position to influence political decisions, yet people remain calm, but his son falls in love and people shout how much they hate them? For god’s sake.

Finally: it’s nice! Why not just be happy for people?

So, I’m going to be enthusiastic. Ra.

Act-of-union Day

Today marks the 300th anniversary of the act of union between England and Scotland. The Telegraph is appalled that schools are doing nothing to celebrate this. It is disgusting, it is ludicrous, it is outrageous. Give the letters page time to get going and I’m sure it’ll be some kind of violation. Obviously, I am not one to argue with the Telegraph. The act of union is being forgotten? As a tribute I’m going to take just a couple of minutes out of my day and try to care.

Nope, didn’t work. Let me try again.

Nnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn.

Just isn’t happening. There must be reasons it’s worth spending any time thinking about, right? And worth boring schoolkids to tears over?

I had a great history teacher at GCSE. He could probably make the act of union seem interesting. I’m sure it is, when you investigate it enough and put it into context. Most things are. But, what’s the point? I’m probably more interested in history than the average person, and I’ve had a quick look at the relevant wikipedia entry. I learnt that Daniel Defoe was involved as a spy for the English, that on the day itself Edinburgh castle bells played the tune of ‘why should I be so sad on my wedding day?’, and that plenty of money changed hands. It has some virtue as fodder for general knowledge quizzes, but, quite frankly, wasn’t worth more than a few minutes. I can see that there’s a certain symbolism, but relative to hundreds of other events in ‘British’ history it seems of minor importance. There’s only so much time in a schoolday, and there are many exciting and relevant historical events to study. ‘Why is more being spent to mark the abolition of slavery?’, asks the Telegraph. Presumably because that’s an important lesson, an inherently interesting thing and something that dramatically improved the lives of millions of people. When the best you can do is:

[h]istorians consider [the union] one of the most important events in the nation’s history, laying the foundations for imperial expansion a century later

It sounds like you’re reaching. Chest-swelling “it’s a part of our heritage” patriotic sentiment is fine for people who are into in that kind of thing, but why force it onto schoolkids who find history dull to begin with?

I think this irritated me because of the obvious pretence. Maybe there are people who feel a patriotic swelling when they think of the act of union, but I doubt it. Do the people writing articles demand ‘we’ mark the anniversary of William the Conqueror’s arrival too? Surely that’s a far more important date in British history? It seems unlikely. So what’s it really all about? Here’s where I have no evidence and start making things up. Is it to remind people that Scotland and England were once separate countries? Is it, like Neil says, that what they really want is an independent Scotland and a larger, more powerful and thoroughly Tory England? Or is it just to snipe at education?

I guess some people would say ‘it’s interesting if you’re Scottish’. Really? The only way it gets relevant is if you think that Scotland is actively harmed by the union to this day. I don’t know about that, but there’s such fuss it seems possible there could be legitimate grievances. But they’re drowned out by the ‘Scotland should become independent’ brigade. The fact that this seems completely stupid is probably because I’m a southerner and haven’t had to suffer the indignity of an ‘English’ parliament setting rules for Scotland. Or whatever. Maybe there are valid complaints in this regard, but surely there are better solutions than declaring independence? Like regional assemblies, or something? It’s not like the UK is really one big, arbitrarily-divided island, with people who are, on average, the same, with minds that if wiped of all memory of three-hundred year old slights against people long dead would have no reason to resent each other. I find it hard to believe that the ‘English’ parliament is actually blind, nationalistic and uninterested in the issues that arise in Scotland, but I can see that devolution would be beneficial, up to a point. I’m sure I’m naive, comfortable in my little isolated existence etc. but isn’t it always the case that creating artificial boundaries between people causes more problems than it solves?

On Critics

Speaking of wanky critics, here’s a piece from yesterday’s Guardian on Snakes on a Plane:

The most keenly anticipated film of 2006 is almost certainly going to be one of its worst. No possible cinematic good can come of a plot which revolves around an attempt to assassinate a mafia suspect, travelling under FBI protection, by smuggling several hundred deadly vipers, adders and constrictors aboard the aircraft transporting the miscreant to trial. This film – and nobody is pretending otherwise – will suck.

Excuse me while I gag. No possible cinematic good? Is there some magic scale of goodness of which I’m unaware? What is it about cinema that inspires people to take it so goddamn seriously?

The Snakes On A Plane hype, originated entirely by people with no financial stake in the film, and who know it will be atrocious, may well mark the point at which the internet age’s demented love of irony has mutated into active collaboration in the cretinisation of our culture.

I just can’t stand this kind of elitist preaching. The cretinisation of our culture? In the past I’d have lapped this up. It made me feel superior, that I understood things beyond the reach of the average person. I was full of crap, and so is this.

The point of any film is to entertain, and that’s it. Some may aim to inform, but this has to be done by entertainment. I personally like it when movies make me think, or create clever allegories to real-world problems, or have dialogue that sends shivers down my spine, but plenty of people aren’t interested in these things. I also like to be able to relax for a couple of hours and watch people saving the world. I’m damn well not going to be ashamed of this, but there are plenty of critics who appear to think I should be. The only reason to claim that one kind of film is objectively better than another is to make yourself feel superior. Cinema has the power to educate and to inspire, but no obligation to do so. It’s meant to be fun, for crying out loud!

Of course it’s fun to argue about the rights and wrongs of films, but the above goes beyond enjoyable banter into creating a superior clique that truly understands what is good and bad in cinema, and laughs at those who disagree. If the aim were to enhance people’s enjoyment, I wouldn’t have a problem, but it’s not. The idea here is to make people feel ashamed. “You liked Mission: Impossible: 2? What a prole!” And that’s appalling. There is nothing more virtuous in creating The Godfather than there is in creating Snakes on a Plane. The purpose of both is entertainment. It should be obvious that there is no right/wrong when it comes to art, and pretending otherwise serves only to drive wedges where society needs bridges. If you want to set your baseline so that anything made purely to entertain is worthy of your derision then go ahead, but please don’t presume to tell everybody else that they’re wrong.

I feel better now 🙂

Fair weather driving

I can’t stand driving. It’s an evil necessity, and I hate it. I particularly despise driving on hot, blue-sky days, because the sheer level of wank on the roads increases by orders of magnitude. There seem to be large numbers of people who think hot days mean they can drive any way they like, because they’re feeling good.

Driving from Stratford to Solihull is a half-hour trip, and today’s journeys were just awful. I’d look in the mirror, see a car in the distance, and within seconds it’d be on my back bumper. Most of the time they hover, swerve around a bit just so I know they’re there, then roar past at the first opportunity. I wish this didn’t piss me off, but I can’t help thinking that if anybody pulled out of nearby driveways or junctions, I’d be killed because somebody’s too stupid to understand road safety. Maybe they’re all rushing heavily bleeding passengers to hospital, or maybe they’re just thick. It’s not just this, though. Some people decide to teach me a lesson by tailgating, or backing off then zooming up real close. I decided to get out of the way of one van who did this repeatedly, and pulled into a layby as he roared past, horn blaring. There are also plenty of people who go too fast for corners, so cut across onto my side of the road. I’m a nervous wreck by the time I finish the trip.

The odd part is that the drive back, at 2300, was just as bad as driving there at 1800. In fact it was slightly worse, as sheer volume of traffic didn’t help slow things down. People must still be on a high from the day’s weather, I guess.

I’ve had people explain ‘the unofficial laws of the road’ to me (apparently 90’s the limit on the motorway, 60 everywhere else) and I guess this has a “sunny days = fun!” clause, but I can’t do it. I’m not going to break the law, even if 99% of people do. Maybe that makes me pathetic, naive, and deserving of ridicule, but I refuse to allow the possibility of killing somebody just because I was too weak to stand up for what I think’s right.

If anything’s going to make me move to London at some point, it’ll be the Tube. Getting around without a car would be so very nice.

Sorry. Some days it just gets the better of me. Bring on the clouds.

Screwing with Wonder

Just back from the walk and my fingers aren’t keen on bending. It’s cold out there! Not too windy, happily.

Earlier today I was reading a BBC article about a new Channel 4 show, and as the day’s gone on it’s annoyed me more and more. The first I heard of the show were the brief adverts during last night’s Lost, which showed a starry backdrop and the words ‘Space Cadets: Coming Soon’. Being into space and astronomy generally, I made a mental note to find out more about it. Then, unfortunately, I did.

It doesn’t start off well. The first image I saw was Johnny Vaughn in a spacesuit. If you lined up all the television presenters I don’t like in a long row and asked me to wipe any three of them from existence, I’d zap Johnny Vaughn three times, just to be sure. Even if Eamonn Holmes was there. I often place people onto the Johnny Vaughn Scale of Annoying, for only he could be the namesake1. So that’s not good.

Then, though, I discovered the concept of the programme:

Space Cadets, which will air next month, will tell nine people they are to visit space thanks to a Russian tourism agency.

They will be told they are being taken to a Russian training base – but it will, in fact, be a secret UK location

So they’re going to be launched from the UK? That’s a little strange, I didn’t know the UK had manned launch capability. Unless, of course…

Channel 4 executives have admitted the joke could be on them if the participants cotton on to the stunt.

Their shuttle will be a Hollywood creation, made originally for the Clint Eastwood film Space Cowboys, with sounds created by a special effects specialist.

A custom-built screen just outside the shuttle will attempt to provide the illusion of a view of Earth.

It’s all a big lie. Four people will be told they’re going into space, but it won’t be real. That’s just bloody appalling. Firstly, I think it’s a horrible thing to do. If Channel 4 told me I was going into space I’d be (pardon the pun) over the moon! I have no idea how realistic the simulation would be, but I’d be crushed if I discovered that the whole point was to make people laugh at me. Secondly, you’d have to be pretty sadistic to find this entertaining, imho. Let’s look at the selection criteria:

They were selected because they showed a trait of “suggestibility” during psychological testing, said Channel 4.

as well as…

But producers will not have to recreate weightlessness because the contestants are to be told their orbit will take them to Near Space, not Deep Space, where they could experience the sensation.

…and…

About one fifth of what they learn in preparation will be fiction but the remainder will be based on genuine training techniques.

So the premise is: let’s laugh at people who don’t know any better.

What’s the point? To take some people who dream of going into space, tell lies and watch them make a spectacle of themselves while people poke fun? Pop Idol shatters people’s dreams, but at least they know what they’re letting themselves in for. If you go to the website, the tagline is ‘Boldly Going Nowhere’. That’s not funny, it’s just pathetic.

The crazy thing is that a programme about training people for spaceflight would probably be quite interesting! For people like me, anyway. I’d happily watch people train in the ‘vomit comet’ – the plane that flies in a parabola for over a minute, mimicking freefall so that those inside experience ‘weightlessness’2 – or in the underwater tanks, or the centrifuge…I’m sure that with the right format it could be fascinating.

I accept the possibility that this may be a stunt of some kind. C4 did this once before, didn’t they? I forget what it was exactly, but the basic idea was ‘volunteers wanted to ogle strippers for a month!’ and then the interviews were broadcast. This isn’t quite the same, but maybe we don’t know the full story. Maybe I’m playing right into their hands here – I hope so. If not, though…

This is a terrible thing to do. It’s crass, sadistic and appeals to the very worst in human nature. Screwing around with people’s wonder is like taking toys from a child for no good reason – should we put that on television? Shame on you, Channel 4.

  1. admittedly, it’s been on the cusp of changing to the Johnny Vegas scale from time to time, but JV has held on []
  2. this is how Apollo 13 was filmed – it took hundreds of flights! []

How To Waste 30 Minutes of Your Life

How to find out the date of A-Level results using the edexcel website in 50 easy steps:

  1. Load up website. Find it doesn’t like Opera very much. Open in IE instead.
  2. Click ‘Calendar’
  3. Click ‘Key Dates’
  4. Read: “Key dates can be viewed by Qualification or by Audience Group (Examination Officers, Students or Teachers). Select from the 2 dropdown menus below to browse. A complete list of the key dates by qualifications is available in PDF document format from the Information Manual.”
  5. Click ‘Information Manual’
  6. Browse list of PDFs, which begin at ‘Autumn Term 2005’. Hmmm, not what you want.At the bottom of the page there’s a PDF link that says ‘Key Dates’ with a ‘new’ logo next to it. Despite the fact that there is no hint as to what this could be…Click it.
  7. Look through pdf. This isn’t the correct thing. Close it.
  8. On the ‘Information Manual’ page there’s a new menu on the left. One of the options is GCE, which is exam-board speak for ‘a-levels’. Clock this.
  9. Aha! Another PDF link. It apparently has ‘Results dates’. W00t. Click this link and open the PDF.
  10. Nope, this only has the results dates for exams in 2006. Close this.
  11. On the main menu, go back to ‘Services for Centres’. Look around. Any use? No.
  12. How about ‘Studying’. Ah, ‘Private candidates’ says “how to make an entry, costs…key dates”. Click this.
  13. There’s a PDF link for ‘Information for Private Candidates’. Open this.
  14. Look at index, scroll down to ‘GCE’. Look for ‘GCE Key Dates’
  15. Aha! Some dates, finally. 21/10/04 – closing date for receipt of entries; 17/03/05 – exam results for Jan exams; 21/03/05 – closing date for receipt of May/June entries. That’s all.
  16. Swear. Close pdf.
  17. Go back to home page. Have you missed anything? Try ‘Sitemap’
  18. What are possibilities here…Click ‘Results Services’
  19. “The deadline for submission of all Post Results Service requests for the June 2004 examinations is September 20, 2004.” This page is apparently out of date. Click ‘FAQs for candidates’ anyway.
  20. Nope, this just has some questions regarding what to do in the event of various problems. Go back to sitemap.
  21. Aha! ‘Timetables’. Click this.
  22. “Exam timetables for GCE, GCSE, GCSE (vocational subjects), GNVQ, Key skills and GCE qualifications area available here in pdf format.You can also search for timetable dates using the Calendar.” The table, however, is empty under the GCE option. Maybe you missed something on the calendar…
  23. Hmm, ‘Exam Timetables’. Go to ‘Find by Exam Series’ and select “GCE May/June 2005” then click ‘Go’
  24. “Download the PDF document for the entire series.” it says. Under the “Exam Timetables by Subject” heading are ‘Mathematics’ and ‘Social Policy’. That’s all. There’s a “Find by Subject” option. Click ‘P’ for physics.
  25. From the list, select ‘Physics’
  26. Observe the wonder of the ‘Select Qualification Family’ selection box, which has nothing to select.
  27. Break something.
  28. The text has a link to “leave this website and access the Interboard Searchable Timetable”. With joy in your heart, click this link.
  29. Accept the terms and conditions of the site before entering.
  30. Select “Summer 2005”, “GCE” and “All” from the search options.
  31. Click ‘P’ for physics.
  32. Click ‘Physics’
  33. Observe the exam timetable, that shows the dates of the exams only. Close this window, and ponder on the things you could have been doing instead of looking around the edexcel website.
  34. Back on Edexcel, go back to the home page. Observe the ‘Search box’. Enter ‘results’ and click ‘Go’
  35. Look down the list of 300 matches. Halfway down is ‘Qualifications: Noticeboard”, which says “receipt of examination results”. Click this.
  36. Observe the dates for Jan ’05 exams. Click the ‘Noticeboard for Edexcel’ link in hope.
  37. There is nothing of use. Enter “results dates” into search box and click ‘Go’.
  38. There is a ‘Services for Centres: Key Dates’ PDF link. Open this.
  39. Again, only dates from autumn ’05.
  40. Enter ‘2005 results dates’ into search box. Observe nothing useful.
  41. Enter ‘GCE 2005 results dates’
  42. The first result is ‘Services for Centres: EDI & Basedata : Centre Support : EDI Calendar – Updated 22/10/04’. Click this in desperation.
  43. Some dates! Click the ‘GCE’ anchor link…
  44. Results Date (EDI): 17/08/2005!!!!
  45. Rejoice. Do a merry jig.
  46. Open your calendar to enter this momentous date. Discover it is a Wednesday.
  47. Reflect on how results day is always a Thursday.
  48. Check the website again. Aha – Results Date (Paper): 18/08/05.
  49. Become confused. What is EDI? When can you collect the results?
  50. Give up.

How to find out the date of A-Level results using the AQA website in one easy step:

  1. Load up website. Observe the first entry in ‘Happening this Month’ (the only real text on the front page): 18th – Receive GCE/AEA/VCE/FSMQ/Basic and Key Skills Summer 2005 results.

Grounding the Fleet

I wonder whether it’s NASA or the media who like the phrase ‘grounding the fleet’. It’s like when the pope was dying, and everybody was falling over themselves to say ‘last rites’. It sounds all dramatic and isn’t something that comes up very often, so I can understand the enthusiasm. Still, it’s not like NASA have more than one shuttle launched at a time, and they’re not actually bringing the existing shuttle back early. So ‘grounding the fleet’ isn’t really very accurate. But I’m just a pedant, and shall shut up now.