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Miscellany Jun. 26th, 2009 @ 05:44 pm
Housemate.Dave is playing Persona 4. Category: Games I Should Never, Ever Play, by the looks of things.

In addition to it being creepy in ways that might be problematic for me, he was playing for over an hour and his interaction with the game had amounted to occasionally making dialogue choices, and later one of the characters was at risk of wetting his pants. It took over two hours to get to the first fight scene.

Also, the English-language voice acting is hideously bad, especially since the characters' names are still Japanese and some of the voice actors have trouble pronouncing them...

I, today, am watching Jeeves and Wooster (note for people as likely to find this fact as nifty as I do: the Pirate Bay version has it with subtitles for the hearing impaired), practicing some music (I learned to play tonic triad scales in C on the piano, from Chas, and am working on guitar scales as well), and in general staying calm.

Michael Jackson has died. This makes me a little sad, but in some ways a little relieved, I think, because at least people will leave him alone now, and he will be beyond his problems.

I've always felt sorry for him. I've never really believed he did the bad things he was accused of, to be honest; I don't think it was in him. He was obsessed with children, yes, but not in that way - it seemed more like he'd been deprived of any kind of real childhood himself, and was forever trying to recapture it. Hence Neverland. Hell, hence Moonwalker.

The surgery, the obsessions, the general bizarre behaviour - he was a man in desperate need of therapy and possibly psychiatric help, and it broke my heart that no-one ever seemed willing to make that intervention. He was rich and famous and somehow that meant that people just let things slide no matter what. Until his talent was largely wasted and his reputation destroyed. If he did do the things he was accused of doing... he still needed help, too, because I don't at all believe he could have done that and known better. He was an incredibly damaged person.

It's a bit like Elvis, in some ways. That boy needed an intervention, too, but nobody was willing to step in and up.

So, that's that. Not least because I got distracted. I went and looked for Jeeves and Wooster fic, and came across one of my pettest of pet hates: people not understanding old money. Even people who've otherwise tried hard on their Britishisms, even people who are British, get this stuff wrong, and it drives me mildly nuts.

In this instance, the author's error was referring to "two ten-bob notes" as being equal to "twenty pounds". Which, no. A bob is a shilling. A ten-bob note is ten shillings. Two ten-bob notes is twenty shillings, or one pound. The slang term for a pound is a quid, but that's largely a lower-class term. (And, to cover another error I've seen on many occasions: a guinea is one pound one shilling, or twenty-one shillings.) A crown is five shillings, a half-crown is two shillings sixpence, or two-and-six. Tuppence is two pence, I've even seen someone get that wrong. There are twelve pence to the shilling.

Other than that, I liked it, mind you.

I shall have to read some of the books. I've long meant to, and Project Gutenberg has at least some of them.

Two noughts add up to a nought... May. 14th, 2009 @ 01:08 pm
Huh. Based on this sample alone, I would have voted for this guy: Humphrey-Muskie, 1968. Humphrey came into the race late, having won no primaries, and won the candidacy at a disordered Democratic convention following the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy.

Transcript (by me):
Voice of young man in audience: Mr Vice-President, how do you expect to gain the respect of the American people in the event you're elected?

Then-Vice-President Hubert Humphrey: "Well, I think, by my record of public service... When a man says that he thinks that the most important thing is to double the rate of convictions, that he doesn't believe in and he condemns the Vice-President, myself, for wanting to double the war on poverty - I think that man has lost his sense of values. You're not going to make this a better America just because you build more jails. What this country needs are more decent neighbourhoods. More educated people. Better homes. Uh, if we need more jails we can build them but that ought not to be the highest objective of the, a Presidency of the United States. I do not believe that repression, alone, builds a better society. Now if Mr Nixon can close his eyes to that, then he doesn't have enough vision to be President of this country. And that's why I've said what I've said.

Applause.

Voiceover: Humphrey, Muskie. There is no alternative.
If only at some point in the last forty years, or the last four hundred, the idea that repression alone doesn't build a better society, had really caught on.

I mention the centuries with a reason, because the history I'm studying right now includes the era when the modern police force was invented, and almost immediately turned into an instrument of social control, to keep the lower classes in their place. And, too, the era in which the notion of criminal justice went from deliberate savagery (the idea being that, though many crimes were left unpunished, those who were punished should be punished harshly and very much in public, to serve as an example to others), to the form we follow now - the surety, not the severity, of prosecution. Neither seems to work all that well.

Though the Bloody Code was cheaper, because imprisonment just wasn't how it was done. You were flogged, you were pilloried, you were executed, you were publically humiliated - but you weren't locked up. And they were making no pretense of trying to prosecute every crime. And charging someone with a crime could be expensive to the plaintiff, and in any case, people wouldn't prosecute if they didn't think the criminal who had wronged them would be deserving of the punishment they would receive.

Of course, sometimes this became "community justice" anyway. One man who wrote against the King was pilloried, and pelted with flowers instead of rotten produce or stones by an approving populace. Just about anyone who was convicted of deviant sexual crimes (either interfering with children, or, sadly, homosexuality) had a near-certainty of being stoned to death in their time in the pillory.

An interesting digression on this, actually, is the death sentence: Many crimes were capital crimes, at the time, but only a minority of those convicted of a capital crime were generally executed. Why this was is a matter of some historical debate (isn't everything?), but (my view, fairly well supported by evidence and historiography) was that the following things were major factors in this:

1) Past a certain point, too many executions would shift public opinion from "that bastard deserves to hang for what he done!" to "just about every day someone else swings at Tyburn - do they all deserve it? What if it's me or someone I love next?" Balancing public opinion on this stuff was quite important.

2) By granting clemency and reducing death sentences to transportation, the judges (who were of and represented the upper classes) could seem merciful and kind - despite the fact that the sentence they were giving was to send people, chained in ships which could be more-or-less just like the slave ships (including the women, children, and high death rates), to servitude in distant, harsh conditions, frequently for very minor crimes. In doing so, they reinforced a paternalistic class-power structure to their own benefit.

3) While, at the same time, more-or-less retaining the legal right to kill off anyone who was too much trouble. Which they did. At certain points in this period, habeas corpus was suspended. (This is never, ever a good thing.) There was, in place, a fairly thorough system of oppression.

I think one of the most interesting things about English history is the frequency with which there weren't revolutions. Negotiating the path from absolute monarchy to parliamentary democracy by a process of gradual adaptation, overall, is kind of impressive. Especially when you factor in religious upheaval and the other countries of the British Isles.

(Of course, reading the history of Britain in the 18th and 19th centuries kind of makes you hate the English a lot, but I'm a sensitive woman of the 21st century and have only occasionally mocked my English classmate for her nationality - which, since she gives as good as she gets, including to the Glaswegian lecturer, is All Good Fun.)

It's that interesting thing about context, and power relations. It's easy to make light of casual racism when it's taking place in another country altogether, where participants are in fact on equal terms now - and when each target is represented equally as well. My lecturer can make snarky jokes about the Scots because he is Scottish; I can make snarky jokes about the English-in-history because the English were the dominant power group, I'm part-English, and so on. Whereas no-one has made a single Irish joke, because in the period we're dealing with, the Irish were the victims of some serious, comprehensive wrongness that just doesn't allow for humour.

It reminds me of a section from Mock the Week's first episode. Relevant: Dara, the host is Irish. John is English. The show is English.
Dara O'Briain, on an EU referendum: There is photographic evidence, of course, that vote-rigging took place in the referendum in France. [A picture comes up on screen of two women with their arms raised, revealing hairless armpits.] With armpits like these, there's no way these two are French.

Audience laughter.

John Oliver: Is that not - I'll go out on a limb here - a little bit racist?

Dara: It's a tiny bit racist, but not as much as the next one is racist.

John, laughing: Oh, okay, I'll look forward to that.

Dara: The next one is actually painfully, hideously racist on many many levels. It hits them repeatedly with a shovel and a pike at the same time, the next line. Do you want to hear it?

John: I love casual national hate. Come on.

Dara: It's fantastic. And it's not even my national hate. I quite like the French! The Irish get on very well with the French! It's your national hate. Anyway, I'm here, I'll play your game. All right! I'm willing to try and mix. Okay! A recent survey revealed that all of Europe sees the French as rude, smelly, and obsessed with sex and food. One Frenchman replied: "Piss off! I'm busy eating garlic off my girlfriend's nipples."

Audience laughter and applause.

John: No!

Audience response dies down.

John, pointing at the audience: Shame on you!
On the bright side, it's been years since any of these countries went to war with each other, when it used to be a near-constant; frankly I'll take making catty jokes about other European Union countries while still actually maintaining the EU as greatly preferable. (Besides, even if the racist jokes aren't funny, the snark about the racism itself often is. For instance, in this section, the jokes Dara is reading off the autocue aren't funny, but John Oliver's reactions are.) But that's the thing - the history behind this hate is of war between approximate equals, not one of oppression of one group over another.

It's interesting to look at the way this more-or-less represents progress: First violent, bloody warfare, for centuries on end, culminating in two World Wars that touched every continent except Antarctica; then, peace, uneasy at first, then more calmly, but tinged with vicious national stereotyping and hatefulness that gradually becomes jokes almost nobody really takes that seriously - then jokes that also get called out as racist. I wonder if this evolution will continue till the jokes become entirely harmless, the kind that acknowledge difference without implying either side is superior. That would be good.

But even if that takes centuries - and it might, because the grievances and hatreds have had centuries to build - I can live with that, because European countries only tend to invade each other by accident these days.

Heh, I'd forgotten that the next section of this episode of Mock the Week includes the serious discussion of who would win in a fight between an owl and a tiger. The argument: the owl would win. Every time. John Oliver explains to Linda Smith how the owl would adopt Ali's rope-a-dope strategy, letting the tiger swing itself out then flying down to peck it, while Dara simulates the fight with his hands. It is hilarious.

... No, I don't quite understand how I get from one point to another either.

Current Music: Moldovia - National Anthem


Baby's first auto-crosspost Apr. 22nd, 2009 @ 05:28 pm
Overheard: McDonald's manager talking to a counter staff woman, chiding her for her customer service attitude. In specific response to her calling the next customer with "Next!" instead of "How can I help you?" or "May I take your order?", he says:

"It's the kind of thing you hear at Chicken Treat or Red Rooster. We're better than that."

Now she's querying the method he's recommending to get their service times down. "Isn't that cheating?"

Heh. And yet, also, as we left I observed to Chas that she may not last long at her job, because there's fundamental elements of high-turnover customer service she's missing. That it doesn't matter if one customer gets delayed so long as throughput stays good. That the little differences matter, and where, for example, it costs you nothing to say, "May I take your order?" instead of, "Next!" it nonetheless makes a difference to how the customer feels.

As well as the special customer service doublethink, where what they say is the standard you're supposed to meet is not quite accurate, but it's set as the target because that way, when you fall short, you're still hitting "acceptable". The instructions are the ideal. Everyone expects corners to be cut; the corner-cutting is built into the rules, that's why the rules are a little unreasonable.

They don't expect you to be perfect, but they want to make sure your imperfection isn't too bad, and that your rebellion is still fine. I'm not defending McDonald's or anyone else as employers, exactly, so much as thinking that the unspoken rule - the one you're not allowed to speak, because no-one's allowed to admit this is true - is that so long as you pretend it's all Terribly Serious Business, you can get away with the fact that it's really not.

(This is why Working To Rule is an effective form of industrial protest. Because working exactly according to the rules is completely unworkable and everything falls apart, in most fields.)

The woman I was overhearing was also objecting, as far as I could tell, to the treatment of workers in being told this at all, which... is a problem, since the manager was actually trying to be nice and non-confrontational about it, and telling her her attitude is coming across as a little rude and her customer throughput is slow is kind of his job.

Upcoming: I'm attending a lecture on, as I recall, international relations in the Age of Obama (although I suspect that In The Age Of Not Bush is more relevant). Seriously, a lot of the yay Obama! stuff, especially in terms of relations with foreign leaders, is mostly about "well hey he's not Bush" combined with an appreciable delight in Obama's overt statements that America is not in fact a Christian theocracy. Will probably liveblog it, though I will be writing the post in Semagic for saving/formatting convenience. And if Semagic works with DreamyBlog yet, it's news to me.

Current Music: aircon, paper shuffling, birdsong
Current Location: Reid Library


Baby's first auto-crosspost Apr. 22nd, 2009 @ 05:28 pm
Overheard: McDonald's manager talking to a counter staff woman, chiding her for her customer service attitude. In specific response to her calling the next customer with "Next!" instead of "How can I help you?" or "May I take your order?", he says:

"It's the kind of thing you hear at Chicken Treat or Red Rooster. We're better than that."

Now she's querying the method he's recommending to get their service times down. "Isn't that cheating?"

Heh. And yet, also, as we left I observed to Chas that she may not last long at her job, because there's fundamental elements of high-turnover customer service she's missing. That it doesn't matter if one customer gets delayed so long as throughput stays good. That the little differences matter, and where, for example, it costs you nothing to say, "May I take your order?" instead of, "Next!" it nonetheless makes a difference to how the customer feels.

As well as the special customer service doublethink, where what they say is the standard you're supposed to meet is not quite accurate, but it's set as the target because that way, when you fall short, you're still hitting "acceptable". The instructions are the ideal. Everyone expects corners to be cut; the corner-cutting is built into the rules, that's why the rules are a little unreasonable.

They don't expect you to be perfect, but they want to make sure your imperfection isn't too bad, and that your rebellion is still fine. I'm not defending McDonald's or anyone else as employers, exactly, so much as thinking that the unspoken rule - the one you're not allowed to speak, because no-one's allowed to admit this is true - is that so long as you pretend it's all Terribly Serious Business, you can get away with the fact that it's really not.

(This is why Working To Rule is an effective form of industrial protest. Because working exactly according to the rules is completely unworkable and everything falls apart, in most fields.)

The woman I was overhearing was also objecting, as far as I could tell, to the treatment of workers in being told this at all, which... is a problem, since the manager was actually trying to be nice and non-confrontational about it, and telling her her attitude is coming across as a little rude and her customer throughput is slow is kind of his job.

Upcoming: I'm attending a lecture on, as I recall, international relations in the Age of Obama (although I suspect that In The Age Of Not Bush is more relevant). Seriously, a lot of the yay Obama! stuff, especially in terms of relations with foreign leaders, is mostly about "well hey he's not Bush" combined with an appreciable delight in Obama's overt statements that America is not in fact a Christian theocracy. Will probably liveblog it, though I will be writing the post in Semagic for saving/formatting convenience. And if Semagic works with DreamyBlog yet, it's news to me.

Current Location: Reid Library
Current Music: aircon, paper shuffling, birdsong

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