Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Column for 17 06 10

IT’S that magical time again, when the pubs pack full of football fans and English people forget how many syllables are in the word “England”. Yes, the World Cup is here again. As I said last week, I am an honorary Argentinean for the next month, due to my picking that side in our legally dubious office sweepstake. I sincerely hope that they win, because that will net me £33. However, I have a confession to make. Beyond my selfish desire to win cash money, I have no interest in the World Cup at all. Indeed, I have no interest in football at all.
I am an otherwise normal man with many other manly interests, such as videogames, kebabs, and beautiful ladies, though not necessarily in that order. Yet I don’t understand what my manly brethren find so interesting about football. The way I see it, every game is essentially the same. A lot of running and kicking, the occasional swear, ball goes in one goal or the other. The end.
Think about it. If you had a choice between watching football or the movie ‘Die Hard’ which would you choose? I would choose ‘Die Hard’. Does this make me less of a man?
I can’t understand how something as trivial as a game where 22 guys kick a ball around a field for 90 and a bit minutes can reduce a grown man sitting in his own living room to tears. It’s not you’re kicking the ball, if your team lose you haven’t personally been defeated, so who cares? Likewise, if they win, what exactly did you contribute to the victory? Why should the result of a game played by 22 other people have an effect on your own feelings of self worth? It’s only a game, and after all, surely there are more important things in the world to get worked up about.
There. I’ve said it. I don’t like football. Now why is it that every time I say that to another bloke they look at me with like I’m some kind of tragic lunatic suffered to live by a hateful God, then slowly turn away and start talking to someone else...
I must say, having no interest in the sport has been a huge disadvantage for as long as I can remember. In any situation in which you find yourself meeting guys you’ve never met before, the talk inevitably turns to football. It’s as if it’s one of the “safe” topics that men in such uncomfortable situations can fall back on, and if you kill the conversation before it starts, we don’t know where to go. It’s a huge social faux pas and it makes everybody really uneasy.
It got to the stage that I was actually genuinely ashamed of not liking football, like it was some kind of deficiency that I myself possessed, as opposed to football’s fault for being basically boring. I attempted to muster a cursory interest when people talked to me, and even attempted to learn some facts. This didn’t help though, as I became convinced people would be able to see through my ploy and condemn me as the faker I was.
Nowadays, of course, I don’t really care. I have a big bushy beard with which to assert my manly credentials, and I will quite freely admit to not liking football. If you can’t hold a conversation with another man about anything except football then that’s your problem, not mine.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Column for 22/07/10

WHEN radio presenter Jon Gaunt called an interviewee a Nazi for suggesting couples who smoked shouldn’t be allowed to be foster carers, he was immediately accused of trivialising Nazi atrocities and sacked. But in many corners of the world it was seen as a confirmation of a little known law, known as Godwin’s Law, which states that if any discussion or argument goes on sufficiently long, one party will compare the other to Hitler or the Nazis. The law was first termed 20 years ago by US lawyer Mike Godwin, after observing participants in early internet chat forums. That got me thinking: what other laws govern our lives? Obviously the laws of motion, gravity, thermodynamics, and other brain-boxy science stuff that I don’t completely understand, but there are a whole bunch more.
We all know about Murphy’s Law, the old adage that anything that can go wrong, will go wrong, which is attributed to the American aerospace engineer Edward A. Murphy, Jr. You might even be aware of Finagle’s Law of Dynamic Negatives, which further states that anything that can go wrong, will go wrong, and at the worst possible time.
In fact there are a whole slew of laws for various things that actually have practical relevance in our lives. For instance, there’s the Peter Principle, a law formulated by Dr Laurence J. Peter and Raymond Hull that states that in a hierarchy, people are promoted until they reach their ‘level of incompetence’ i.e. where they are no longer competent at doing their jobs and therefore unable to gain another promotion. This is countered by the cartoonist Scott Adams’ Dilbert Principle which states that the most ineffective workers are systematically moved to the place they can do least damage: management. Then there’s Gall’s Law, from the author John Gall, which tells us that a complex system that works is invariably found to have evolved from a simple system that works, and states the inverse that a complex system designed from scratch never works and cannot be made to work; you have to start over again, using a simple, working system. Now if that isn’t a pertinent statement that many people would do well remembering in modern society, I’m not sure what is.
There are specific laws for any number of areas, including politics. For instance, the US democrat politician Pat Moynihan coined Moynihan’s Law, which states that the amount of violations of human rights in a country is always an inverse function of the number of complaints about human rights violations heard from there, i.e. The greater the number of complaints being aired, the better protected are human rights in that country.
There are also laws for journalism. My particular favourite law is the one set out by the Australian editor John Bagsund which says that if you write anything criticizing editing or proofreading, there will be an error of some kind in what you have written. This law is referred to, in tongue in cheek fashion, as Muphry’s Law.
While I doubt the idea that these celestial laws in some way govern our lives, they are worth sticking to. Many old laws and adages offer sage advice that can help us in our everyday existences. However, with all this clever advice flying around, it can be easy to get confused. After all, to paraphrase Clarke’s fourth law: “For each and every law, there is an equal and opposite law.”