Monthly Archives: May 2010

So you think that’s funny, Mr Clarkson?

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Middle class thuggery in print, an advert for Clarkson’s latest drivel

I guess it’s only cyclists that understand just how idiotic and dangerous most drivers are. The reason I’m not dead yet after years of cycling in London is only because I assume that everyone in a car is applying make-up, looking the other way when they turn into a main road, texting, phoning, getting something off the back seat, drunk or drugged, racing to get their kids to school, or racing to get to work after the school run. That’s just the normal ones.

But then there’s a class of driver who actually hate cyclists. They don’t think they deserve to have space on the road. Rather like the person who  said travelling by bus was a sign of failure, cyclist-haters are usually those who are inexplicably proud of owning an expensive car, as if that changed anything about them as a person. They beep at you, overtake you with no room to spare, and act like bullies. They endanger you for no other reason than they don’t think you should be there in the first place.

Cyclist haters are largely made, cultivated by the media. You can almost tell when some drive-time radio talkshow host is having a go at cyclists, because you seem to meet more unforgiving, reckless and aggressive drivers on your way to work. I wish I had complained about the presenter I heard inciting hatred of cyclists. If cyclists were an ethnic group, he would have been jailed.

On that occasion, I didn’t do anything about it. But this advert for Clarkson’s latest book infuriates me. There is absolutely nothing funny about developing a dislike of any group of people, particularly when this dislike might lead them to be treated even more recklessly than they are now. I am going to complain to Penguin about this advert, and if you’re a cyclist, I urge you to do the same.  It’s only because Clarkson is middle class that he gets away with it – listen to what he says as if he had an Estuary accent, and he’s just another thug.

Update: I’ve just complained to Penguin, Boris Johnson & the Advertising Standards Authority about it. I mentioned to Boris that it’s a bit odd that TfL should be advertising a dislike of cyclists below the ground, while the mayor is trying to develop cycle routes above it.

Update on May 21st 2013: My local MP Sadiq Khan was the only person who took my complaint as seriously as I did back in 2010 and referred it immediately to the Mayor of London. Responses from the others could be summarized as ‘lighten up, it was only a joke’. Now a driver has admitted on Twitter to knocking over a cyclist, adding #bloodycyclists as a hashtag. Not so funny now, eh? 

More on musical policing

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I thought I might have been alone in applauding the actions of a NI police officer who played music through the tannoy of their vehicle to defuse an attack by 15 kids throwing bottles (see earlier post, Phronesis and musical policing). But I’m delighted to report that Basil McCrea from the NI Policing Board (the independent scrutiny body for the PSNI) praised the approach much in the same way as I did:

If police are to engage with the community they need to find appropriate ways to do it and need to be creative, thoughtful and resourceful,” said the Ulster Unionist Stormont Assembly representative. This officer I think demonstrated those qualities with considerable aplomb. While this isn’t likely to become standard practice, this officer showed initiative and should be commended. [source]

Interesting that in nearly every report I’ve seen of this incident, McCrea’s more considered response is left til last – the ‘story’, as the media tells it, appears to be ‘stupid police officer, embarrassment to force, told off by bosses’.  I think this story and the telling of it reveals that we have not yet shaken free of the idea that music is silly, weak, feminine and feminizing, and an unsuitable activity for a man, or a woman in a ‘masculine’ profession like policing. The fact that it was effective in this case is exactly why it must be ridiculed and eradicated, for one day, the same music might soften the rocks in the heart of the harshest authoritarian, and such loss of control would be, for them, unconscionable.

The Urwärme of Ohrwürme

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Via Metafilter, the top 25 ‘earworms’ in France, with audio examples.   ‘Earworm’ is a direct translation of the German word Ohrwurm, meaning a tune that you can’t get out of your head. The more euphonic French term musique obsédante is perhaps the reason why Paris is better known as the city of romance than Berlin or Gelsenkirchen.

Phronesis and musical policing

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An extraordinary story from the BBC: Police ‘cool’ Belfast trouble with ice-cream van music. Fifteen  youths start throwing bottles at a police Land Rover in Lisburn. One of the officers  inside has an idea: to play ‘ice-cream van music’ through the vehicle’s tannoy system to try and defuse the situation with a bit of humour. Guess what – “The youths stopped throwing the bottles.”

“However,” continues the spokesperson, “police accept that this was not an appropriate action.”

Now, call me stupid, but in what way is this not appropriate action? You’re surrounded by 15 kids throwing bottles at your car, and you use whatever resources you can to defuse and end the situation. You do that without even raising your voice, let alone using any physical aggression. Surely to achieve that peacefully shows imagination, resourcefulness, calmness under pressure and intelligence.

So what would the Belfast Police Service consider appropriate action’? To get out of the car and start acting like they’re in The Bill? Would have been better if the officer had used music as an instrument of torture instead? Perhaps there’s a whole bit of this story missing, but on the surface, it looks to me as if the officer’s only ‘inappropriate’ action was undermine the macho aura of traditional policing by showing that music – ice cream van music no less  – does indeed have ‘charms to sooth the savage breast‘.

That’s how it seems when you listen to Sinn Fein councillor Angela Nelson, who told a local newspaper that she thought the officer’s actions “beggared belief…The PSNI are put on the streets to do a serious job and that is to keep order on the streets and face down anti-social elements. This is like a sick joke.” Don’t look to Angela for the traditionally feminine approach: she wants her policing the good old bad old way: serious, authoritarian, combative, punitive, humorless – oh, and unmusical.

In Aristotelian terms, the officer’s action was surely an example of phronesis, and if anyone in this life should be capable of phronesis, of acting appropriately according to your knowledge and experience but guided by ethical considerations, it’s a police officer. And if in the 21st century, your average police officer has evolved far enough to understand that music has a role to play, as it always has done, in reducing tensions and defusing difficult situations, and can apply that understanding effectively under threat, then surely that is a matter for celebration?

Glazunov, Raymonda and Hullàmzò Balaton

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NB: the ‘Raymonda’ bit starts at 1.59″ – I’ve coded it to start there automatically, but if it doesn’t, use the scroll bar to skip to that bit.

On a trawl through Hungarian music on IMSLP this morning, I saw a little phrase leap out at me from a page of Hullàmzò Balaton Op. 33 by Jenő Hubay, that looked identical to a bit of the coda from the Grand pas Hongrois from Glazunov’s Raymonda. Double-checked and double-checked, and sure enough, it is. Hullàmzò Balaton (The Waves of the Balaton) is apparently a folk song/csárdás that pre-dates both Hubay and Glazunov. Any more comments from Hungarian speakers would be most appreciated.
There’s an even more spectacular recording on this Youtube video (‘Raymonda’ starts at c. 2’42”)