Thursday, October 30, 2014

Private school education

I haven't posted in a little while due to a lack of inspiration, however I recently had the following article pointed out to me:

I went to independent schools for my education and have always been grateful to my parents for what was undoubtedly a better education than I could possibly have expected otherwise. In my mind there is no doubt that it has ensured I have had the opportunities and successes that I have.

I'd overlooked this article initially as a biased lambasting of independent schools and sadly that is the case. The first half of the article does little but highlight that if you pay for education, you end up with more money. However the second half of the article starts to highlight some more interesting factors that are obscured or left unanswered:
  • Why is there still a gender pay gap?
  • Whilst they factor in similar universities, they don't track against similar grades. What would this show?
I think the study this article is based on is close to highlighting that private education provides valuable 'x factors' in contacts and behaviours that would make a real difference to schooling... But once again it is lost in the cry of 'life's not fair'.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Ghostbusting Tunes

While I'm sat plugging away at work, I'll typically listen to a podcast of one description or another (This American Life, Podcastle, Escape Pod and The Dice Tower are some of my favorites). But there are times when even I, slacker that I am, has to concentrate and whilst this will usually cause me to switch on Elmnts for some background noise that I can use to tune out by surroundings, recently I have been exploring the offerings of my Play Music subscription which (like Spotify) allows me to trawl the universe of music for a wide array of options of mind bogglingly bad music. You don't even have to venture far from the beaten track!

For instance, do you like Nirvana? do you also like a number of female vocalists? in that case Grrl Rock Radio is clearly going to be a winning playlist for you!... Now not all of these are terrible... just 99% and in their defence there are a plethora of fascinating and mostly man-hating band, album and song names in the mix to provide some light relief from yet another debugging session and the accompanying bleeding ears. Some of my personal favorites include Phallus Über Alles, Frumpie One Piece and not least Babes in Toyland. Listening to this station just left me thinking of 10 Things I Hate About You and in particular this line from Patrick:

                    Alright.  Okay -- Likes:  Thai food, feminist 
                    prose, and "angry, girl music of 
                    the indie-rock persuasion".  Here’s a list of
                    CDs that she has in her room.
                    So I'm supposed to buy her some noodles and a 
                    book and sit around listening to chicks 
                    who can't play their instruments, right?

Next up was 'Eat My Shorts' Radio - hoping for something that would evoke a bit of early Simpsons nostalgia... what I neglected to realise is that Eat My Shorts is in fact a term that was used by more rebellious kids of the 80s as way of saying Eat my shit without getting into trouble I guess and this music is meant to represent what these kids would have listened to... all I can say is that 80s Shorts kids had terrible taste. This is a lot of American post-Sex Pistols, pre-Nirvana angry rock. It exemplifies bad recording quality, bad playing and a general lack of talent.

Finally I went for a music to code to playlist that seemed to largely feature electronic music, never a genre I was a fan of but some of the tunes were decent, and then I started listening to Justice which intrigued me and I followed up checking out a music video of one of the angrier tracks on YouTube... I am not really sure what this was aiming for except possibly just notoriety to increase their brand.

So in the end I went back to my preferred method of listening to Play Music... take a song / album / artist I know I like and start a 'Radio Station' based off of that... It always works. This time one based off of Ok Go's new album - Hungry Ghosts which is fantastic.

A rather mixed musical experience but it kept the week interesting!

On a totally unrelated note, as those who follow me on G+ will already know: I spent the weekend building this:

Oh yeah! That's right, I built my very own Ecto-1! I had wanted to film the whole build but sadly I only have my phone with me here and apparently it only films for a limited time... but for those of you that have too much time on your hands, here is the first 15 minutes of the build - mostly the crew and their plinth.

Let me know what you think!

Friday, October 10, 2014

A darker side of Lovecraft

I had originally intended to write a lighter post with a collection of witty and delightful anecdotes for my reader's amusement. Since arriving, I have taken note of many things that have interested me, highlights and the occasional lowlight (healthcare I'm looking at you) of living in the US however as I was finishing up last week's post, an old friend and former boss of mine highlighted an interesting article though his own G+ feed. The Wikihole that I followed in trying to verify the contents of that blog is what led me to write the addendum to my last post and this revelation (to me at least) of the depth and malice of Lovecraft's racism is what has lead me to this post.

I was not a huge reader as a young child, TV was a lot easier and I have always been lazy. Being a little too old to be among the generation that discovered Harry Potter as the gateway drug to literacy, and finding Tolkien hard to read at that age, it was actually Poe and Lovecraft that gave me the entrance to this paper world. I had plenty of imagination as a youngster and whilst TV and Films attempted to scare in rubber suits, loud noises and rapid camera changes that left me more frustrated and occasionally deafened than actually scared. These techniques have been refined since but they still have noting on the suggestions and fears that are born of the darker corners of ones own mind and this is what Poe and Lovecraft (and to a lesser extent Stephenson, Shelley & Wilde) shone. Their writing contained just enough detail to let your brain take over and fill in the gaps with tailor-made fear inducing thoughts that no celluloid craft can do.

The revelation that Lovecraft was a racist was not a revelation to me, in fact I had taken it for granted that both Poe and Lovecraft were racist and this in part allowed them to form these visions of horror that are so visceral but my further reading, inspired by this article really changed the light in which I see these stories and made me question how I should judge these things and to what extent it should influence my opinion of the author's output. This is a really difficult thing to answer and speculations as well as facts have plagued many notable creator's reputations - Walt Disney is another example. However in the case of both Poe and Disney, it seems that these speculations really were largely unfounded and biased more around the culture of the time than any actual underlying sentiment of religious or racial hatred. Poe is known to have freed a slave under his ownership and Disney has been widely exonerated by the numerous peers and employees that knew him. Lovecraft however is far from a 'victim of the era' or misunderstood. The Horror at Red Hook is the most widely know example of this racial hatred in writing but the poem that Nnedi cites in her article is far beyond even this in the depth and malice of Lovecraft's hatred. This writing is much more akin to something you would see from a white supremacist or Neo-Nazi than an intelligent man that shaped an entire genre of fiction.

So where does this leave me and my opinion of Lovecraft's work? Well I didn't feel ready to come to any definitive answer so trawled the web for some more articles that explore this topic in more depth and with differing perspectives. In particular I found this article by David Nickle and this article by Bruce Lord which look at the realities of Lovecraft's world and opinions, how his poverty and experiences had some part in shaping his views but also that there are no small number of examples of his excessive racism directed not just at black people but anyone not conforming to a Eugenically clean heritage. My own background as a 'mongrel' seems particularly bilious to him.

All of this has definitely darkened my view of Lovecraft as a role model, as a figure of respect however in someways it is clear to me that this deepset hatred is a primal former of the writings and ideas that he generated and for that I am glad of everything that Lovecraft was, for all my childhood, my love of books and the wider mythos that his writings have inspired. Lovecraft is a dick, but it hasn't stopped him writing great works.

Please subscribe and let me know your thoughts on Lovecraft, his beliefs and his writing.

Coming next week... something with a lighter tone, I promise.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Erring to Republican

'To err is human; to forgive, divine"
- Alexander Pope
I'll be honest, this quote has very little to do with anything else in this blog entry aside from the fact that it also contains the rather under utilised (in my opinion at least) word: err. It was however interesting looking up the quote as I had originally marked it down as something from Wilde which would at least have allowed me to tie in some of the rest of this post... but Alexander Pope is a man I know little about and rather sent me down the Wiki-hole as I got sucked into an impromptu education on Jacobite/Hanoverian clashes - a subject I never really covered in History class at school and will not resurrect here however if Catholic/Protestant fighting in England in the 1700s is of interest to you then there is plenty to be found out there. Pope was born in London to a Catholic family became a famous poet of the age and happened to write the quotation above. That is really all I feel qualified to say about him. I have read a few of his other writings and translations (he was a talented polyglot as well) and am not particularly enamoured with any of it...

But as I already indicated, none of this really has anything to do with what I meant to write about this time. The actual subject is likely to appear about as dry and mundane to the majority of you... the DMV. For those of you not familiar with this formidable institution: The Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) is the governmental organization that is charged with every aspect of an American citizen's use of a car from licensing to registration to revoking all of these when they are caught driving under the influence of what ever narcotic may be in vogue at the time. To those of you more familiar with the DMV you will probably be more familiar with is as one of Satan's residences on earth.

Before I go full swing into my rant about the ineptitude about the various US Governmental organizations, the DMV in general and their specific influence on my political leanings... a brief disclaimer:

1. I am not (yet) entitled to vote in the United States of America and whilst this post may be deemed a ringing endorsement of everything (or at least one small part of) what the Republican party stands for... it is mostly satire... if you are a Republican... firstly, I'm sorry and secondly, you can find the meaning of satire here.

2. America is a big place... it has five times to population of the UK and that is without accounting for the illegal residents that make up a significant portion of many areas of the US, and more than 37 times the size of the UK... This makes any kind of logistics/bureaucracy/organization a complete nightmare (for reference see: Pretty Much the Entire History of Imperial China). That America has over come these challenges to become the world's most powerful nation is a testament to either a lot of tolerance or sheer bloody mindedness (I have yet to figure out which).

Ok disclaimers dealt with, on to offending pretty much everybody:

I am one of life's pedestrians... I like walking, I like public transport (although experience of buses here have convinced me that Sheldon had a point about bus pants) and I get positively excited about the prospect of a long train journey! (Total non sequitur this is awesome). Sadly being willing to walk for an hour to get some place is not sufficient in this country (see population size vs area above) and frankly there are a lot of places where there is no bus/light rail/train. The net result is that no matter how much I like walking, I have to bow to the inevitable and get a car (and a driving license).

So what does all this have to do with turning me into a gun toting, red necked republican? Well one of the less objectionable things that the Republican party stands for is an end to 'Big Government' an ideal that largely seems to endorse independence of the states to run themselves without the interference of an overriding national government. The underlying premise is that when bureaucracy gets 'too' big ('too' being a variable dependant on whatever currently most helps the speaker), things become unwieldy, inefficient and worst of all - expensive.

The DMV is really the best possible example of the evils of Big Government. It operates across the country, causes huge amounts of misery and unhappiness has staff who seemingly have no motivation to work fast or efficiently, internal structures and processes that are not only archaic but totally ineffectual. I am not convinced anything in the process have changed from the 70s... nor has the capacity seemingly coping for 50% more people than it was designed for.

For my own experience... I arrive early and spend an hour queuing lining up outside before the place even opens (and I was by no means the first to arrive with the queue already half way around the building by my arrival and fully wrapping it prior to opening). Once inside I wait another hour before finally making it to a window where I am told in a blunt and obnoxious manner that they won't accept an electronic version of the I-94 (catch form names abound in this country). This came as something of a revelation to me after I had been explained explicitly and in no uncertain terms that this form was never to be printed out, a printed version is not required by any government agency and that a print out would not be sufficient evidence of my immigration status... I got about two words into asking about this before I summarily cut off as the teller called "NEXT" and the woman behind me shunted me to one side. So back to the office, print out something I was pretty sure was a worthless piece of paper to now wait 3 hours to go through the process again... to wait another hour to sit the written (sit is metaphorical here as you are not in fact able to sit down while taking the test)... then another thirty minute wait to return the form... so the vaguely socialist 'everyone is equal' tech worker that woke up that morning with the intention of getting a provisional driving permit left the office some eight hours later looking to sign up to the RNC in the hopes of getting this red tape machine reduced to something that might work without costing the country what must add up to millions of wasted man hours every year and the corresponding economic impact.

Of course next time I could offset that cost using the other great American principle: Buying your way out of inconvenience

Weird information: I am currently living in the town where H.P. Lovecraft's wife spent her final years, passing away in 1972 at the age of 89. More on Lovecraft in a future blog post.