Numbers of the beasts

Quite fascinated to find that every post that I read on on Rapture Forms had 225 recommendations. Strange – nay, almost uncanny – coincidence, maybe? Nothing orchestrated about that, clearly,

More numbers: There are 500 “religious organisations” on Facebook. For the first few pages, these religious organisations don’t even have names, just combinations of dots and dashes. (Must be some esoteric form of morse code that only gods understand).

But blow me down with a celestial feather. They all have lots of Friends.

Even if the group name is a dot-dash combo, the picture is a question mark and their entire content is a spam-for-christ by something called st andrews bookshop* (which is a precise description of a few dozen) they still attract Friends numbered in into double or triple figures. It’s hard to find a named group has less than 150.

For example, a site that announces its name as //, has a description that’s just a cuss word repeated and a couple of posts about mobile phone tariffs being shite has 348 members. (Ok, that one possibly isn’t really a religious organisation.)

I am forced to concede that the one about voting for Motorhead to be Pope isn’t really a religious group either. Though I might have got the “Lemmy for Pope” idea slightly wrong. (Yes, I’ve found out that “popolo” does mean “people”…) A babelfish translation of its intro produced this, which appears to make as much sense as most normal religious announcements:

It tires of the political usual? It tires of politics of moralisti feints and who sermon and marazzola well badly? L’ only alternative is the popo of the Motorhead. you have been always not class? You have always had March or Die? You have always dreammed of aprirti a whorehouse blues?

176 people joined this. Maybe it makes perfect sense in Italian.

Downhearted by the uselessness of babelfish and fearing a door-bursting visit by the security services, I didn’t look at any of the islamic groups. Nor any of the many Indonesian or Eastern European ones. If babelfish makes a worse dog’s breakfast of translating Italian than I could do by guesswork, I don’t want to let it loose on a non-European language.

So I stick mostly to reading the groups written in English, which sort of biases the sample. But it seems that any religious group on Facebook – real or spoof – gets close to 200 friends. I start to feel relatively very unpopular.

I see a group called “All Christians take back America” (You might assume that’s the lead in to “….and demand a refund”) 189 Facefriends. This turns out not to to be full of plans to take over America, so much as requests for prayers for various unfortunates. So it’s depressing rather than funny/frightening.

Momentary diversion in the form of a post link (from the not-at-all-stereotypically-named Lula May something-or-other**) to but that turns out not to exist.

Find this on another post there, made by Cathy J some-surname**:

Satin is really working hard to bring me down. He knows I have God in my heart and he is trying so hard to break me down. …….Please pray that Satin does not win

I am personally praying for Silk to sweep the board. But Cotton is very durable. So, I guess that I also hope that Satin doesn’t win.

It seems that the demonic fabric is making headway in Italy, (but in Italian they misspell it, using an A where the word clearly has an I) so that the 181-member group FACCIAMO CHIUDERE IL GRUPPO “SATANISMO RAZIONALE” has been set up to counter it (Bloody babelfish translation again:)

we make to close this orribile group that idolatra the evil, therefore is against every religion… participated numerous, makes to close it

Satin may be so unpopular that it only attracts a hate group but several other everyday items have their own worship groups, each with nearly 200 members: Alcohol; Kinder eggs; White milk (Yes, there is such a thing and, no, I don’t know how it differs from regular milk, which was indeed white when I last looked.. Well I do know, now, it’s the colour of the cap. And 189 people joined this group.)

I haven’t found any Atheist “religious organisations” yet. Oh yes, contradiction in terms. D’oh. Face palm even.

*Standrewsbookshop seems to have cornered the market in Face-spamming-for-jesus. The only other spams that appear often enough to be noticeable are for an airline that I’ve never heard of.
** See how I am scrupulously half-protecting their identities. Even though they’ve blithely put their full names and photos on Facebook…..

US Plans to Ban Irish Coffee….

Echoing the prohibition that hung round the great depression, the current global economic crisis seems to be encouraging people to ban things, almost at random.

From New Scientist:

THE US Food and Drug Administration is unimpressed by the fad for drinks that contain a double hit – alcohol and caffeine. Unless makers supply the FDA with scientific evidence that the drinks are safe they could be banned within months.

Another wonderful, yet unthinking, bit of legislation is sure to follow. Gone are the days when people can enjoy a cup of coffee with a shot of whisky after their meal. [Please feel free to twitter away on this!]

Poor people cause all problems

Once again, the UK government shows the contempt with which poor people are viewed.

From today’s BBC news, the home affairs select committee have reported:

Pub happy hours should be banned and supermarkets stopped from selling alcohol at a loss in order to combat drink-fuelled disorder, MPs have said.

This has been on the news all day, with various organisations coming out in support of the idea that alcohol should cost more. Even the British Beer & Pub Association are in favour of the idea (but this is because the cheap beer promotions are costing them money, not because of any sense of civic duty).

Now, there is no doubt that drunken behaviour is a problem. I am not saying it doesn’t cause trouble within communities and within families. I am sceptical of the scale of the problem – I don’t think it is in any way worse now than it was when I was a teenager, when we had the same claims being made. However, given that large amounts of police resources are being thrown at the problem, you’d think it would have had some effect. Personally, despite what the tabloids claim, I have encountered a lot less drunken violence on a night out now, than I did 15 years ago, but this may be an deviation from the norm.

What does confuse me though, is how in Hel’s Kingdom making it more expensive is a solution?

People who get drunk in pubs and fight are the problem. People who have become alcoholics and steal to fund their addiction are the problem. How does making supermarket alcohol more expensive solve either one?

In reality, all it does is impact those less able to afford the drinks – arguably making theft increase – and like all stealth-taxation, it disproportionally impacts the poor. Even moderately wealthy people are going to be immune to an increase in the price of supermarket alcohol (I am biased, I rarely if ever drink so never buy it in a supermarket). Most people I know will buy a bottle of wine or two when they do their weekly shop. They are not causing the problems but will be most affected by the changed price and, in lots of cases will simply have to do without something they enjoy

The people who are causing problems – largely irrational youngsters – will remain unaffected. They will still have a disproportionate disposable income and still be willing to spend it all on a night out. They will still be immature and the most affected by the alcohol. They will still fight and cause public disorder.

The only people who will suffer are those who are already poor. Are they the only ones who cause trouble?

Sometimes I feel like we live in an odd parody of a medieval fiefdom. We have a wealthy class “Lording” it over the poor who are legislated like chattel. Poor people have the least say in how society treats them and are, generally, the ones blamed for the failings of society.

Rather than treat alcoholics, provide better outlets for the energy of youth and better health education, we regularly fall into the “make it cost” more trap. Rich people can pollute the planet, strain the health service, fight in the streets (etc), but Odin Forbid that the serf’s consider it.

I cant wait until we get the renaissance.

Nothing new

“Binge drinking” is the fashionable moral panic topic for the UK media. The drunken excesses of youth in UK city centres are presented as evidence of social decline, the evils of youth culture, the dark side of feminism, even.

Agreed, drinking alcohol has some repellent effects. If legality really bore any relationship to social harm and if banning recreational substances didn’t lead to much worse problems than the substance ever caused, there would be a fair case for banning it completely.

As a predictable result of the current coverage of the evils of strong drink, Alistair Darling, the ironically-surnamed UK Chancellor of the Exchequer, greatly increased the taxes on alcohol today.

But experts said it was still not enough to make a “real difference”..(snipped)…
It comes at a time when more and more pressure is being placed on the government to use the lever of price to tackle binge-drinking Britain. (from the BBC)

Well, the media pressure might be recent but the increase in consumption and increase in collateral damage seem a mite illusory. The raising-price-to-deter issue remains unproven (and anyone can travel to mainland Europe and provision their neighbourhood with cheap booze.)

How new is this “issue” anyway? Think of Hogarth’s Gin Lane. Now that was an era with an alcohol problem.

A fantastic (and temporarily free) resource has lots of 19th century newspapers from the British Library, in a fully searchable online version. (The fact that some pages look as if they’ve been eaten by rats just adds to their charm.)

And, wow. Their news was much more action-packed and interesting than the stuff we get to read now. The political news tells you about things like the House of Commons reaction to Bradlaugh’s atheism. You can see the details of major historical events in a sort of reading-based real time. For instance, you can identify the start of the Irish Potato Famine. Even the shipping listings have whole columns devoted to casual lists of pirate attacks.

I mean, that’s what you call serious news. Which I will promptly ignore, of course, and go for the sensationalist stuff, being a true 21st century media consumer.

The biggest shock – for anyone seduced by a vision of the past as some sort of public order Utopia – is the nature and viciousness of the crimes reported in the local papers. Not to mention the often merciful nature of sentences, at a time when we assume that all “justice” was more than harsh.

Almost randomly mixed in with records of innocent Rose Grower’s Association fetes, you find some really bloodthirsty reports. I won’t retell a selection of 200-year-old crime stories, on the grounds that they would be as interesting as other people’s holiday snaps. Find your own stories by searching the database, if you’re interested.

Scores of knifings, battering, poisonings, drowning babies, muggings and gang robberies – one of which included an 86-year old woman, on the gang side. In one story, a remanded prisoner – whose imprisonment involved living as a guest in a detective’s house, ffs – managed to get a gun and shoot the two accomplices in the murder he was being charged with. (The detective’s wife gave evidence that he was very well behaved in their house and that the shooting was out of character…..)

The theme of alcoholic excess runs through many of these stories. 19th century binge-drinkers could drink today’s urban revellers under the table. For example, the London Examiner (July 7, 1817) reported the story of a soldier who was too drunk to remember having murdered his drinking companion.

The Caledonian Mercury (Edinburgh, Scotland), Saturday, March 22, 1800 described the loss of a 64-gun royal navy ship, the Repulse, which had just recaptured a boat that had been taken by French privateers. Among the crew who died in the course of the shipwreck, there were two sailors who drowned “due to drunkenness” and four sailors who were so drunk that they couldn’t even leave the sinking ship.

Drinking to the point at which you become a serious danger to yourself and others is no new invention. It seems to be a centuries-old British tradition. I hope we don’t have to swear allegiance to that.

Rose-tinted rearview mirror

From the BBC’s new department of rose tinted glasses:

At 6.30pm, when in times gone by most kids would be sitting round the dinner table, it is not difficult to find a group of teenage drinkers gulping vodka in a quiet corner of Leeds.
At the side of an old cricket pavilion, I found seven young girls and two older boys sharing cigarettes and alcohol. It is hard to imagine stumbling across such a scene 40 years ago.

Well, no it isn’t hard to imagine it at all. In fact, anyone who has been alive for more than about ten years would probably recognise that as a pretty normal scene to stumble across at any time. Or even, to have partaken in.

“Times gone by” when “most kids would be sitting round the dinner table?”

The natural reaction to this sort of bilge is to mention a bit of history. I am trying to rein this in and not go back to the Viking berserkers. I’ll just say, hmm, 40 years ago? Wasn’t that the approximate time of massive “mods” and “rockers” battles every Bank Holiday? They would never have smoked or drank while they were setting about each other with hammers and axes and bike chains, then….

Are we a nation of amnesiacs?

I can’t claim to have read this – too scholarly for light reading and way too costly to buy, but this book that I spotted on Amazon could put the subject in perspective
Becoming Delinquent: British and European Youth, 1650-1950 (Advances in Criminology) Pamela Cox, Dartmouth.

Note that its time span RUNS OUT in 1950. The blurb says it shows

“.. how certain themes have dominated European discourses of delinquency across this period, not least panics about urban culture, poor parenting, dangerous pleasures, family breakdown, national fitness and future social stability.”

Where are we now? Oh yes, 2007. So when was this golden age when all young people were playing Cluedo with their chums, camping with the Scouts or Guides, going to bell-ringing practice and volunteering to visit the housebound elderly?

Oh, that must have been in an Enid Blyton book, sorry. So, maybe we should all move to live in 1950s children’s literature.

There are indeed some places in England where the lucky teenage offspring of the rural middle class live like this. But even they are likely to be smoking and drinking when they get together. It goes with the territory of being a teenager.

I am not denying there are some seriously dangerous kids. Three men have been killed in a matter of weeks, just for doing the sane adult thing of speaking up when kids are acting badly.
But that doesn’t mean that every kid with a bottle of cider and a ten-pack of Benson and Hedges is a murderous moron.

Most of them are just normal teenagers, who will learn wisdom partly through doing some moderately stupid things, as we all do. And then forget it all again, of course, when they airbrush their own life history to conform to the Enid Blyton world image that even the BBC feels it has to present to the next generation.

More Bad Science?

It seems this is the week for nonsense “science” being thrown about by people who really should know better. This latest instalment may not be bad science, there are lots of fallacies which may well apply, but I will leave that up to you to judge.

Here in the sunny green and pleasant land of the UK, the TV and Radio were carrying a news bulletin, which has been picked up in the print press today, which explained that a Charity (Alcohol Concern) was calling for the Government to ban children under the age of 15 drinking alcohol at home. Seriously. Alcohol Concern are concerned [puns always intended] that a Government report shows the number of 11 – 13 year olds who “binge drink” has increased dramatically (I do not know what the figures for this are, sorry).

Depending on which news / radio station you caught this on, the feedback was mixed. In some of the “older listener” channels, there was applause at such good suggestions and heartfelt condemnation of “today’s youth” who are all alcoholic rebels, unlike any other time in the past… On the “younger listener” stations this was met with outrage and shock anyone would be daft enough to suggest it.
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