Playpen

Welcome to the Playpen, our space for ferrety banter and whimsical snippets of things that aren't quite long enough for articles (although they might be) but that caught your eye anyway.

at 12:20 on 25-02-2013, Shimmin
The Churchill thing, I dunno, but it's extremely credible from what I do know about British history and attitudes at the time (and the Kenyan and Iranian info matches what I remember). The nobility of causes got played up for the general population. Agree with the points about the writer's view of left-leaning politics, too.

Re: class... it's complicated and changes over time.
Very broadly, "working class" tended to be people doing physical labour, whereas "middle class" mostly meant office jobs, owning a business, or the professions. There's a whole swathe of gradations, so people doing routine clerical work would be lower middle class, doctors upper middle class, skilled labourers and artisans might well be upper working class...prosperous farmers might be upper middle class too. The police float about mysteriously. If you did actual work with your hands, though, you were probably either working class or an upper-class amateur.

With shifts in technology and society, it's a bit mysterious now. I don't know where people would tend to put minimum-wage call centre work, for example, which is in an office but doesn't require many qualifications. On the other hand, nursing, farming and construction require ever-increasing qualifications.
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at 12:15 on 25-02-2013, Arthur B
My impression: Churchill gets lauded a lot because he led us during WWII despite the fact that said leadership tended to involve allowing the military to do their thing and making speeches to boost morale. His contribution wasn't worthless - in particular he played a direct role in the diplomacy needed to keep the US sending us supplies until Pearl Harbor happened and the US hopped on the war bandwagon - but at the same time he was also responsible for madness like Operation Unthinkable, which didn't besmirch his reputation until fairly recently because it had been kept secret (and I don't think many peopl know about it even now).

Churchill also gets an easy ride to a certain extent because he was one of a select number of Tories who were never keen on the whole Appeasement thing and loudly objected to it. This is a position which of course looks fine in retrospect because it turns out the Nazis weren't exactly negotiating in good faith at the time but given Churchill's other positions it seems like a "stopped clock is right twice a day" situation. (If you say "Germania delenda est" often enough sooner or later you'll happen to say it right at the point in history when Germany needs slapping down.)

As for stuff which doesn't involve World War II, I've never heard much nice about him. It will be remembered that adults who actually lived through the war voted Churchill out once democracy resumed.

Churchill is still fondly remembered as a symbol of the War, but I've noticed that war nostalgia is slooooooowly shifting towards more generalised fuzzy feelings about a wider range of participants, possibly because the further away we get from the War and the more comfortable we get being objective about it the less appealing Churchill seems. (Bletchley Park gets a lot of hype, partly because it's a British Technological Triumph and partly because it was a nice, clean sector of the war - Alan Turing didn't carpet-bomb Dresden.)
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at 12:10 on 25-02-2013, Andy G
I think for Marx, basic class analysis is into class of workers, and class of owners of means of production. Middle class isn't part of that very basic level but crops up as part of the apparatus used to maintain the power of the ruling class (through bureaucracy and managers). But I'm no political theorist either.
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at 12:04 on 25-02-2013, Janne Kirjasniemi
Sounds about right to my ears too, though the ideological slant is clearly evident. Christopher Hitchens was always critical of Churchill, so here's a piece on Churchill as he appeared in King's Speech. But I find myself agreeing on a lot, although while the effect of British and (western) participation in The Russian Civil War was significant, he seems to have an overtly soft spot for bolshevism and leninism. As I understand it, Lenin's idea of vanguardism was a dangerous way to go and the mensheviks and social democrats were the first to go after the october revolution.

Still, seems like an interesting blog.
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at 12:02 on 25-02-2013, Cheriola
Another one, especially for Dan: Harry Potter and the Labour Theory of Value

His main point seems to be that Rowling sees the world from a middle class perspective and didn't properly think through her worldbuilding. Which... duh.
(Though I was also a bit weired out that he seems to think the middle class is inherently separate from production? Is that a British thing? Where I come from, "working class" means getting wages for doing a job that doesn't require a college education. "Middle class" people can be working for public services, but the majority are self-employed - which can involve providing services, commerce or making things. All craftspeople and artisans are considered middle class nowadays... basically every profession that goes back to a guild. In the GDR, the point of the "rule of the proletariat" was that you weren't allowed to control your own enterprise, not that there no doctors or shopkeepers.)
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at 11:54 on 25-02-2013, Andy G
Sounds about right from what I do know of Churchill, but I'm no historian.
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at 11:00 on 25-02-2013, Cheriola
Sorry I disappeared. Was sick/busy.

While you are discussing essayists who like to hear themselves talk a little too much... Can one of you British ferrets and history-buffs tell me whether this is mostly true or mostly inventive propaganda? It's not that I disagree with most of what this guy is writing elsewhere, but he seems like an armchair revolutionary with an axe to grind against capitalism and some rather naive ideas about communism. And probably also minority warrioring against oppressions he never experienced himself. (At least in my experience people born working class don't write this verbose and needlessly highbrow. Not because they can't, but because they know how elitist and excluding it is to use words like "punctilious" and "opprobrium" in a text supposedly aimed at the general public.) So he's written this with an agenda, and I don't completely trust people with political agendas. ("Never trust a politician, a teacher or a priest!" as my father was fond of saying.) Especially when they show weird blinders about similar issues on particular fanish topics.

Though he does have some interesting things to say. Like this analysis of the recent Batman- and Bond-movies as Randian tales about capitalism in a crisis. In the last part, he goes on about some Shakespeare productions as well, which is why I thought it might be of interest to you.
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at 06:44 on 25-02-2013, James D
I actually sort of liked the opening metaphor he set up about giants and windmills, and in the hands of someone not so insufferably in love with the sound of his own voice I think it could have been quite good. But my absolute favorite part is when he wraps up the metaphor and says "[t]his language is figurative." Thanks for spelling that out for me, it would have gone totally over my head.

Though perhaps I'm being unfair; the sort of person who reads that guy's "essais" regularly might actually need that spelled out. The commenter who mentions "the left-wing attack on enjoyable fiction," for instance.
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at 02:47 on 25-02-2013, Adrienne
Fishing in the Mud -- you too? Gah, that irritated the hell out of me and i more or less stopped reading.
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at 02:45 on 25-02-2013, Fishing in the Mud
I've developed a severe allergy to the writing of dudes who make offhand comments about how women are always lying about their age, so I was unfortunately not able to do more than skim the article before my right eye started swelling up.
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at 02:27 on 25-02-2013, Arthur B
Ok, stopped laughing now.

Nice bit of doublethink towards the end there, where the essai-ist is able to acknowledge that Tolkien became really big amongst the hippies (despite having almost no values in common with them) but at the same time maintaining the claim that disliking fantasy is the realm of Utopian Socialists.
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at 02:22 on 25-02-2013, Adrienne
Whoops, I should have made that a link, sorry. http://www.diggercomic.com/?p=3 is the first page.
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at 02:22 on 25-02-2013, Adrienne
I just reread Digger, by Ursula Vernon, for about the fifth time. If you (plural you) haven't read it, you should; it's phenomenal. The fact that it won a Hugo last year startled me, because it's way better than most of what wins Hugos these days, and I didn't think that the mass of SFF fans who vote on them had that much taste.

http://www.diggercomic.com/?p=3 is the first page of the story; there's some 700+ pages between there and the end.
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at 00:57 on 25-02-2013, Arthur B
oh god

oh god

i hit the second paragraph and started giggling

i can't stop
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at 00:33 on 25-02-2013, Michal
Not quite sure what to make of this article.

Of course, I'm not sure how seriously I should take someone who calls an essay an essai, complete with italics, but I am at last convinced that the term "literati" is best left to its original Latin meaning.
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at 16:34 on 23-02-2013, Fishing in the Mud
I do sometimes find it uncomfortably easy to slip into "yeah, X totally sucks" just to agree with the group when in fact X isn't that bad and I'm hardly in a position to throw shit around myself. It's not usually a good environment to judge other people fairly, so I try to avoid it. If X really is a thief or a genuine snake or a rapist, I do want to know about that, so it's not a blanket rule.
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at 15:56 on 22-02-2013, Arthur B
Speaking of talking shit about people behind their back, wooooow the number of internet forum cliches that crop up on the XKCD forum thread about the latest strip is incredible.

I particularly like the way the conversation assumes the comic is about unfounded gossip, when in fact there's plenty of ways of saying bad things about people outside of their presence which doesn't involve unverifiable hearsay. A lot of the more memorable "isn't X awful?" conversations I've had have involved a group of people who all know X sharing their experiences of X and noting common trends; that isn't unverifiable gossip, that's people comparing notes and realising that yes, actually X is kind of horrible to most people.
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at 10:50 on 22-02-2013, Arthur B
Randy seems to spend an inordinate amount of time imagining put-downs he would have liked to have used on other people when he was, like, twelve. See also this one.

Also the putdowns in question show a fundamental misunderstanding of how that sort of exchange goes because in real life he'd have got about two sentences into that monologue at most before one of the bullies grabbed his hat off his head and ran away with it (or just punched him in the gut and stole his lunch money).

FITM's point about Randy only writing strawmen and self-inserts really sums XKCD up perfectly.
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at 10:08 on 22-02-2013, Dan H
I kind of see both sides of the "jumped-off-a-bridge" strip. On the one hand, I find the "if everybody did BLAH" line infuriating (mostly because you tend to hear it from wanker nerdboys explaining why the fact that their hobbies are unpopular makes them smarter than everybody else) but on the other hand the specific implementation here pissed me the hell off.

Randy seems to spend an inordinate amount of time imagining put-downs he would have liked to have used on other people when he was, like, twelve. See also this one.
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at 21:50 on 21-02-2013, Arthur B
Really though the whole situation is stupid, Randall just set up a cliche parent-child interaction for himself to cleverly snark at in a thoroughly adult manner, without actually providing any relevant details. And really, of all of the criticisms in the world to level at a parent, I think "overuse of cliches" isn't exactly near the top of most people's lists.

Exactly. As the parody points out, there might actually be legitimately good reasons for a parent not to let their child go to a party (it's a school night).

"All of my friends will be there" is a reason why you want to go to a party, but it's not a reason why you should be allowed to go to a party - such a reason would require sussing out why the parent is objecting to you going and giving them reassurances. "All of my friends will be there" doesn't do that and if anything probably makes your parent less confident because when you are in high school a proportion of your friends are most likely dipshits you haven't realised are dipshits yet.
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at 20:32 on 21-02-2013, Fishing in the Mud
Plus, Munroe is being completely disingenuous in the options he's decided to consider. Either his friends all went crazy at exactly the same time or they're all making the best possible decision? Those are the only two possibilities? It's not possible that one person could have "gone crazy" and made a bad decision and everyone else decided to follow suit, because that's what large crowds of people sometimes do, especially notorious followers like teenagers?

Maybe this is just an unreliable character talking and not Munroe himself, but from what I know about it xkcd doesn't appear to have characters that aren't strawmen or author stand-ins, so I don't know how likely that is.
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at 20:21 on 21-02-2013, James D
Which would be fine if that's what the comic actually said, but the rebuttal in the comic is implying that the activity in question can't possibly be bad because the kid's friends are all smart people - which is really beside the point, considering it's immaturity and inexperience that pose the most danger to kids in those social situations, not necessarily stupidity. A group of high school kids got drunk, drove, crashed their car, and froze to death not far from here, despite all being good students. I don't care how "levelheaded" some kid thinks his friends are, kids make bad decisions all the time, that's one of the main reasons they need parents.

Really though the whole situation is stupid, Randall just set up a cliche parent-child interaction for himself to cleverly snark at in a thoroughly adult manner, without actually providing any relevant details. And really, of all of the criticisms in the world to level at a parent, I think "overuse of cliches" isn't exactly near the top of most people's lists.
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at 20:01 on 21-02-2013, Melanie
Probably, but in that case, their friends being there is probably the actual, literal reason they want to go. Parties are inherently social activities that only have value because other people are there, so it's not odd, unreasonable, or specific to teenagers, to want to go to one because your friends will be there.

So, despite being a cliche, it can survive nitpicking because it's an honest reason. Whereas "if all your friends jumped off a bridge etc." is basically just an extra-patronizing way of saying "your friends are stupid and you are stupid for wanting to do things with them" while pretending to offer some kind of insight (and also while pretending that "because other people are doing it" is never a valid reason to do something--which I guess is fine if you're a hermit).
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at 18:45 on 21-02-2013, Arthur B
I would argue the protagonist of that comic started deploying cliches with "all of my friends will be there"...
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