A vaguely festively oriented smorgasbord of disparate thoughts, observations and stuff
This year's traditional cringe Christmas post
"I have yearned for this moment" she murmured, nestling contentedly into Don's neck, "thank you for so thoughtfully installing the glass ceiling to make me feel so at home. It means so much to know that you were always listening."
"Honey, I knew we had to have one the moment you spoke that time of the generations of women who struggled before you. Terrific rally.
“And then Rudy showed me that paper deconstructing your use of figurative speech, in the Journal of English Teaching, Literature and Applied Linguistics. I think things like that are really classy, due to my high IQ."
"I love my hands," he added, watching one of them luxuriating in the touch of Merino wool.
"Very good hands."
"Doctors say I have the best hands."
"I like your heart," she replied.
"And how much you win all the time."
"It's true. I have a fantastic heart."
"Doctors say it's the best heart."
"I'm a winner!"
Be careful out there in visual informationland, especially on the socials.
Occasionally I look at Instagram and everyone is fawning over a picture of impossible ice formations on a tree in China, or an unfeasible tinyhouse sticking out of a cliff face somewhere. Most of them aren't realising.
Some of those AI pics are pretty good. I'd share the one my friend MikeyBarn did of Trump and Obama locked in an aggressive clinch. But the weird hand thing manifests in it, whereby either Barack has a spare one, or maybe two right hands. IDK. Mike tells me it's because hands are portrayed less frequently in photos and paintings, so it's an AI training data issue. This seems to check out. Also, it's not a fun image for Christmas.
I don’t always agree with what I admire
I wish Substack had a more sophisticated way of lazily reacting to posts than just clicking on a heart.
Part of trying to be less stupidly values-obsessed and practice more intellectual curiosity involves reading quite a few perspectives that are not to my taste. Sometimes they're well articulated and deserve respect, whether or not they persuaded me to update a view.
Liking them with a red heart feels clunky and infantilising. It feels like I’m saying I agree with everything when I don’t.
It's fine on other platforms, but Substack isn't other platforms.
Plus, I hate binary thinking, so being forced to either signal that I like something or don't is annoying. I'd like a button that signals 'good piece, regardless of what I think on the subject'.
Yes, I know that’s what making comments is for.
No, we can't always be bothered making a comment, you pedant.
I propose this for those times.
It’ll never catch on.
A controversial claim that shouldn’t be controversial really
Donald Trump is a master storyteller.
One of the ways he jacks the brains of the supposed intelligentsia is that they cannot separate this quality from the content he provides.
This leads to the ineffably dull claim that the only reason you can like his way of speaking, or think he’s sometimes genuinely quite funny, is because you're stupid, wrong, deluded etc.
I literally posted this as an observation recently and someone literally replied that only stupid people can possibly like how he speaks because he's so wrong.
Nothing seems to have been learned in some quarters since 2016.
Part of the way I see DT is the embodiment of the medium as message. I hear him and understand why so many people love it.
A striking example is the way he recounts the aftermath of the assassination of Qasem Soleimani.
This is brilliant storytelling. Especially when you watch it. But even when you don’t.
"Iran this is Iran, the same Iran that's wiping Biden's face in the mud, they called us up and the first time I told this story was a week ago, they called us up and they said listen ... we have no choice, we have to hit you.
Because we have our own self respect and I understood that.
We hit them, they've got to do something.
We're going to launch 18 missiles at a certain military base that you have and you remember that night. Interesting night. I was the only one that wasn't nervous because I knew what was going to happen.
They told us that don't be concerned we're going to launch 18 missiles at your military base, but none of them will hit the base. These are very accurate missiles. These are missiles that essentially never miss, they're very reliable, very accurate.
Five of them blew up in the air, didn't make it, and the others hit outside the base area."
It's often said that Trump's style doesn't work on paper. That it is too littered with parentheticals, rewinding to part of a previous sentence, prosody (poetic qualities like rhythm) and sometimes just trailing off as he realises that the audience is already finishing the story in their head anyway. But I find it just as hypnotic in print as I do in audio.
Someone gave me a book for Christmas a few years ago, as a joke. The Beautiful Poetry of Donald Trump.
It’s obviously a piss-take and it's very well done, taking snippets from interviews and speeches, to form things like Haikus or stanzas that work perfectly. It's gobbledygook but it works.
I'm not really going anywhere in particular with this. It just strikes me as funny that more people don't appreciate that you can admire something without liking or trusting it, as such.
Meanwhile, there really is a paper on Hillary's use of figurative speech. Here it is. I'm struck by how uninteresting her style was, by comparison. I guess she’s always aiming for the midwits. Trump is mostly aiming to connect with more ‘down home’ types. People I guess I identify more with.
I'm equally struck by how the academic literature I found on Trump speech misses the point by constantly relating it to the content.
In passing, it's hard to type with a dog on your hand.
Less current thingism here in 2024 seems like a good idea.
The current thing is always arousing. This is partly because everyone talks about it and you think that somehow everything that needs to be isn't being said. So you join in. That's the charitable interpretation of what is probably really more often about bandwagon jumping for attention.
By me, not just everyone else.
But being less aroused and more dispassionate tends to work best for my subjective wellbeing. Getting agitated about news used to seem a lot more fun than it does now.
But still the current thing contributions regularly appear here and I hadn't really scrutinised that until a message arrived in response to an off-site enquiry I made of. I was wondering why their Substack appearances were now so sporadic. Turns out that part of the answer is that they've consciously become less 'reactive'.
It was a lightbulb moment.
I keep thinking oh I'll write that essay about 'factism' and everything you miss about complex things when you're exclusively rational and data-led. Or the thing about trees that's been fermenting for several months. And then the world goes insane about something else and I'm caught up talking about that instead.
You can bet that early in the New Year a new war will break out, or a large number of ideologues (probably on American campuses) will make their literally insane worldview impossible to miss, now that I'm resolved not to react. You can blame Flat Caps and Fatalism when this happens.
This post needs more Christmas
My house looks cute and it's the first time me, P and Youna will have the whole of Christmas in it.
I put those lights up at the beginning of December, rejecting a lifelong snobbish belief that it's kind of unclassy or childish to have your decorations blaring out sooner than a couple of days before the 24th. The interior deccos only went up yesterday and this morning, but the outside twinkling was for the benefit of everyone who passes as much as for me. It just seems nice to offer some sparkle when all anyone is ever hearing about are problems and crises.
I'm now officially common. And cheerful.
On wasting time
I just unfollowed a guy on LinkedIn who’s responsible for most of the ‘progressive’ cause posturing that appears in my feed.
Someone he obviously follows was advising employers not to advertise for ‘native English speakers’ because this implies white.
(IDK. I’ve known many non-white-skinned native English speakers, but, whatevs).
And that a ‘work hard, play hard culture’ excludes women. Never describing potential candidates as he/she (excludes non-binary identifiers), or requiring any level of higher education because not everyone has had a chance to become qualified in an academic field.
Of course the post includes a smiling selfie of the author.
The final straw was seeing that C***** K***** (who is always posting selfies of himself being kind and nice about things) ‘supports this’. And his comment; ‘wow, we’re back in the 80s’.
For a long time I accepted connections from people like this, so that I could keep a watching brief on the tics of leftishist ideology. C***** is very into diversity and inclusion and he has been a rich source of intelligence. I know all the ‘correct’ thinking at this point.
The problem I have with people like C***** and those he amplifies is that they make it harder, not easier, to prevent myself from becoming the living embodiment of a Daily Mail headline.
I don’t want to feel constantly irritated by people who are trying to make the world of work ‘nicer’, ‘kinder’, more ‘diverse’ and therefore (as they often pitch this objective) more productive.
After all, they might be right. There might be something I’m just not connecting with on an emotional level because I’m wired wrong for leftishist goodness. Too ‘Blue Labour’ or something.
But it might also be that I enjoy being annoyed by this stuff.
I wasted several minutes last week commenting on one of the most stupid things that came into my feed because C***** ‘supports’ it.
It was a post about a stupid Daily Mail headline over a story that says British builders are more cultured and sensitive than their stereotypical depictions. The headline described them as going ‘WOKE’. Although the story didn’t refer to any leanings in the British construction labour force toward social justice.
So, yes, a stupid headline, over an amusing story about how many builders like classical music, practice mindfulness and read good literature.
The story was shared by someone who was outraged. Their post was about how many men die by suicide each week, many of whom are in the construction industry. And how the Daily Mail’s ‘appalling attitude’ of ‘stigmatising’ vulnerable men (I’m not making this up, I swear) is costing lives.
I shared screenshots of this insanity with various people on WhatsApp as well as reacting with a comment. What the fucking cunting fuck is wrong with these people, I was saying to people I know who get it. Spreading a bit of festive cheer.
Then I realised.
Those minutes have gone. I will never get them back.
Remonstrating with myself for wasting time on things that don’t matter and not spending it on things that do has been a theme of late.
The approaching end of 2023 and the mysteriously affective quality of another impending Christmas imbued an unusual sense of urgency to connecting with some people from another life, in another country, in another time.
This resulted in learning that one had died, way too young, about 12 months ago.
I wonder how many minutes I spent reacting to stupid internet things in the final months of her life, instead of tracking her down before she bit the big one.
There’s a Rarely Certain rule around not telling readers what they should think or do. But, rules being made to be occasionally broken, here’s what I’ll urge you to think and do now.
Don’t be like me. Think of someone you’d like to catch up with and then actually do it.
Before it’s too late.
Two years ago I messaged an old friend’s work address to get his home email and used it to say I’d be in touch properly soon. Then I fucked around wasting goodness knows how many minutes reacting to internet nonsense when I could have been using that screen time to ‘be in touch properly’.
So after two years I did. I was in touch properly.
An unreleased song he recorded, when we worked and sometimes played music together, has reverberated in my head for nearly 30 years. It came to me again recently, in connection with some of these thoughts about time and wasting it. Part of the song goes like this:
You thought you were dreaming
Waiting for the right sign
But tonight I can tell you
This is your lifetime
And, you know, it’s true.
We go through life thinking that we’re just around the corner from fulfilment or completion. Just short of the actual life we think we’ll end up enjoying. The one we’re aiming for.
It’s nonsense. I’ll bet you’re doing it though. We all seem to.
But this is your lifetime. You’re in it now. Like I’m in mine. This is it. Bits might change, some of them substantially (and for the better, I hope) but also maybe not.
This bout of sentimentality is prompted by hearing back from that friend I neglected for too long.
Part of my reaching out to him was a plea to hear that song again.
And it turns out that it’s now on an album, released while I was being a typically bad friend.
It’s on a Fiat Lux album, because that’s David’s band.
It’s not the acoustic demo that’s haunted me all those years. Not the one he sang lead on when performing it with ‘This’, his band when we were hanging out. Not the version he closed a show with at The Duchess of York in Leeds and I couldn’t believe what I was seeing and hearing after the absolute day he’d just had (a story you wouldn’t believe anyway).
But it’s still the song This Is Your Lifetime. And it still means more to me than most songs. Partly because it’s him but mostly because it’s real and beautiful.
David’s doing well. I wasn’t too late getting in touch this time. I’m trying to persuade him to organise a Fiat Lux gig in Cherbourg, my main local town. He says their European fans are mostly in Germany and Holland, but the idea is ‘tantalising’.
You can listen to it on Spotify here. Or you can listen to it on YouTube.
As long as you listen to it somewhere, I’ll be happy.
The wishing readers and their loved ones a Merry Christmas or a nice break or whatever works for you bit
I’d write Rarely Certain even if no one read it. My brain would explode under some kind of pressure if I didn’t.
But more than 750 people do (based on sign-ups and page views) and some even support it with money.
Wherever you slot in, I’m grateful and thinking warm thoughts.
Now, please think of someone you haven’t been in touch with for too long and do something about that.
New reader? Consider signing up for more. Established reader? Consider upgrading. Lots coming up - subject to liberal use of the paywall. Short on cash? Just ask and I’ll upgrade you anyway. We’re all in this life together.