Dead cat

You either love him or you hate him: the current marmite of UK politics is PM-contender Boris Johnson. But this isn’t supposed to be the preamble to a post which will divide my readership, it’s merely a means to share this quote he made in 2013, and which is back in the news:

When you are in trouble, diversionary tactics can be a useful way of escaping immediate censure. In politics is almost routine, because all you need is a suitably foolish audience (and god knows that the voting public are pretty much that).

Recent (just before the general election) local case in point:

JOHANNESBURG – The South African National Editors’ Forum (Sanef) has weighed in on Tuesday afternoon’s altercation between eNCA journalist Samkele Maseko and African National Congress (ANC) deputy secretary-general Jessie Duarte.

The ANC’s integrity committee is set to look at the processes around candidate lists.

Duarte revealed this in a post-NEC meeting briefing earlier on Tuesday.

The move follows reports that the ANC’s candidate lists have been tampered with.

Serious stuff. This is basically who gets to sit in Parliament for the next 5 years if the ANC get enough votes (which they were obviously always going to). And it seems like the process may have been interfered with?

Not good.

Remember this line?

Let us suppose you are losing an argument. The facts are overwhelmingly against you, and the more people focus on the reality, the worse it is for you and your case.

Jessie remembered.

What happened next was that poison dwarf Duarte flung a dead cat onto the table – and the eager reporters present were… well… perfectly outraged, alarmed, disgusted.

But the rest of the briefing on what the ANC’s top decision-making body had discussed was overshadowed by Duarte’s public altercation with a journalist.

During a briefing with reporters at Luthuli House, Duarte described Maseko as arrogant, saying he thought of himself as “lord of the media” instead of the mere journalist that he is.

And the newspapers were full of that instead of whether or not the candidate lists of the ruling party had been compromised.

Thing is, anyone with half a brain will see directly through your flimsy tactic and completely ignore it, so Duarte was clever with her perceived “attack” on Maseko: playing for a defensive, emotional response from his colleagues present. And getting it. Because was the ANC candidate list unduly influenced from within the party? Well, we’ll never know, because the rest of the briefing (and consequently the rest of the reports about the briefing) was only about what Jessie said to Samkele.

Canny woman. Clever move. Brilliant politics.

Boris would be very proud.

BoJo on Taylor

Boris Johnson’s Telegraph column on the so-called “#shirtstorm” episode is spot on. It’s also full of those fantastic soundbites we’ve come to know and love from BoJo :

I watched that clip of Dr Taylor’s apology – at the moment of his supreme professional triumph – and I felt the red mist come down. It was like something from the show trials of Stalin, or from the sobbing testimony of the enemies of Kim Il-sung, before they were taken away and shot. It was like a scene from Mao’s cultural revolution when weeping intellectuals were forced to confess their crimes against the people.

Why was he forced into this humiliation? Because he was subjected to an unrelenting tweetstorm of abuse. He was bombarded across the internet with a hurtling dustcloud of hate, orchestrated by lobby groups and politically correct media organisations.

I’m quite willing to accept that all too often in everyday life, we see examples of misogyny. I’m also quite willing to accept that the scientific workplace is male-dominated. But neither of these things are the fault of Dr Taylor. Or his shirt. He was just a guy who landed a spacecraft on a comet half a billion kilometres away. Anyone thinking that he has time for anything else – especially attempting to make wimmin angry – simply doesn’t understand. And this tweet, from a person who works in “communications”, summed it all up:

I have no idea how Dr Taylor dresses usually, but that was a very strange choice when he knew he’d be seen around the world.

Yes. That might seem a bit of a no-brainer to you as a communications strategist, but I can assure you, it was something which Dr Taylor gave absolutely no thought to whatsoever. His thoughts were 300 million miles away, they weren’t worrying about the design of his shirt. If he was in any way concerned with daily trivia like that, he wouldn’t just have landed a probe on a comet.

This is one of the greatest scientific achievements of man… er… “personkind”… and people are more bothered about the guy’s shirt.
Something is wrong here.

It seems that we have come to the point in society – fuelled by the ‘speak now, think later’ culture of social media – where people are actively looking for things to be offended by. If you’re going to do that, you’re surely going to find them: but the outrage over Dr Taylor’s shirt is a good example of taking offence for offence’s sake.
Not only does that irritate people like Boris and me, it also devalues the genuine disgust at the truly unacceptable actions or words that deserve to be called out. But stick your (privileged, cis, white, hetero, male) head above the parapet and you’re going to get it shot off.

This is the 21st century, for goodness’ sake. And if you ask yourself why so few have come to the defence of the scientist, the answer is that no one dares.

No one wants to take on the rage of the web – by which people use social media to externalise their own resentments and anxieties, often anonymously and with far more vehemence than they really intend. No one wants to dissent – and no wonder our politics sometimes feels so sterilised and homogenised.

Like I said: spot on.

justboristhings

I love Boris.

Boris Johnson is the incumbent mayor of London and he’s a polarising figure. I think he’s great, and I’m not alone in that – he was recently revealed as (easily) Britain’s most popular politician, albeit that the competition wasn’t up to much, consisting, as it did, exclusively of British politicians.

Boris is undoubtedly a star attraction in British politics and the Conservative Party will be pleased to have him onside in 2015. A Tory that can win in London is a rare thing and what makes Boris so attractive within the Party.

Some of the stuff he does and some of the soundbites he comes out with make me cringe, others make me wish that Cape Town’s mayor, Patricia de Lille, had a bit more personality and a bit more gees about her. But her attitude is more to toe the party line. Boris’ attitude is not to give a flying toss about the party line. He’s a law unto himself, but if you believe that there’s nothing behind the apparent buffoonery of his outward image, I think you’re mistaken. You don’t get where Boris is by being a buffoon. Acting one, perhaps – being one, no.

Here’s his latest offering, regarding the recent defections from the Conservatives to UKIP:

Speaking to Conservative Party members, he suggested UKIP should throw its weight behind the Tories in order to defeat Labour and secure an in/out referendum on Britain’s EU membership in next year’s general election.

He told the rally: “The EU commission wants to ban vacuum cleaners on the grounds that they are too powerful. If you do not handle your vacuum cleaner correctly, you may end up inhaling the hamster – the budgerigar through the bars of the cage.
And I have read that there are some people – probably the type who are thinking of defecting to UKIP – who present themselves at A&E with barely credible injuries sustained through vacuum cleaner abuse.”

Yes. He’s basically saying that his political opponents have intimate relations with electric cleaning equipment.

Next. Level. Stuff.

Spectacular. It’s weirdly similar to (a classier version of) Julius Malema’s immaturity (and without the charges of racketeering and 52 other allegations, including fraud). Whether it will work any better than the EFF’s very vocal, but wholly ineffective shouty parliamentary behaviour remains to be seen.

Either way, I love Boris.

 

P.S. Incidentally, for the record, I don’t think you get where Julius Malema is without being fairly clever, either.

Glued to their blooming PlayStations

Look, there’s a serious point in all of this, namely that the “nanny-state”, a lack of decent funding and the constant threat of petty litigation have forced local councils to prevent Britain’s children from… well… “being children” anymore.

But fewer, smaller, safer, more expensive playgrounds mean more obese kids and a sorry decline in “those fascinating crusty objects” – scabs – as Boris Johnson laments, brilliantly describing the consequences of growing up in a scabophobic society.

First the outer edges would harden, leaving a raw red patch still faintly weeping in the middle. Then the whole thing dries into a miraculous integument, as firm and knobbly as the edges of a bit of cheese on toast.

You could tap it. You could stealthily probe its edges, with the connoisseurship of the man from Del Monte, to see if it was ready. Then one day it would all be gone, and we saw the skin underneath, pink and new and whole.

The scab experience was a brilliant lesson in biology, and it is in some ways sad that our children these days seem so scab-free. Please don’t get me wrong. I am not calling for more of them to have accidents.

I am not positively advocating that we encourage our children to fall out of trees or get whanged off roundabouts moving at 200 rpm. But the scabophobic measures we have taken to protect our children have had consequences we could not have intended.

While Boris is trying to score political points (and why not? – after all, that is his job) he’s certainly correct that we (we being parents, society) mollycoddle our children far too much these days – and the fact that that behaviour is having disastrous effects on them and therefore, by inference, on us.

I’m right behind him on this one.

And while political upheaval is upheaving all around me here in South Africa, it’s so refreshing to read his very entertaining (yet actually quite serious) analysis which somehow accurately ties the lack of damaged kneecaps in young children with the decline in basic common sense and the decay in the moral fibre of society my homeland.