The Right To Kill

There’s a campaign on here to put cigarettes into featureless generic cartons, just as was recently done in Australia. Rather than the maker’s livery and logo they will be an unglamorous colour, uniform across all brands, and be covered in prominent and graphic health warnings.

I’m against this. It’s quite ridiculous, banning all the traditional iconography of smoking, celebrated in film and glossy magazine for over a century. No; cigarettes packets should be smeared in canine excrement and fired at the purchaser from a powerful air cannon while the vendor screams “Children can see you doing this, you pig-rimming imbecile!” Once the excrement has been wiped off, the packaging must clearly state the health warning “Why not just kill yourself now you bag of pus? In the long run it’ll be easiest for all of us.”

Giving up smoking is hard, and one of the things that makes it so is the easy availability of failure. You can walk into a shop on nearly every street and get failure handed to you, no questions asked. It wouldn’t work to ban cigarettes outright, but we could make it harder to fail.

It’s not always failure, because not all smokers are trying to give up? Wrong; not trying to give up is also failure. The only conceivable success when it comes to tobacco is to be as far away from it as possible; anything else makes you sicken and age and lose money.

Giving up is difficult because of the insidious nature of the drug, and up-givers need all the help they can get. The tobacco industry however is determined to give them every hindrance, and one way they can do that is by flashing images associated with the addiction at their victims as often as possible, igniting their reflexive cravings. Their branding, their logos, are weapons in their war against those trying to kick the habit. It’s cruel, and it kills. But it makes them money.

Representatives of the industry argue that banning their logos and liveries “effectively extinguished their intellectual property rights“. Why is it that bastards always cry infringement of intellectual property? Perhaps because it’s a sufficiently vague concept to be abused every which way. Whatever was intended by IP though, it was surely not the right to advertise no matter what is being advertised.

A branch of the UK industry lobby meanwhile, operating here under the unconvincing title “Forest Éireann“, says that there’s no evidence this packaging will discourage children from taking up smoking. Maybe so, it’s early days, but clearly it’s stopping someone smoking. Otherwise why would they be against it?

Repackaging cigarettes to better represent just how nasty they really are is a good idea. It may not have a huge impact, no. But even a small discouragement to smoke could save thousands of lives, and improve thousands of others.

By the same token, I think “Forest Éireann” should also be repackaged – under the name “We Want You To Die”.

Soccer Is Over. Finished. Done

And I’m doing that thing where I upload a completely unrelated picture again. This is a secluded inlet of Lough Corrib.

Is that enough for you now?

It’s time we admitted this; Ireland is not a soccer-playing country. We’re a top nation at rugby, we’re way ahead at boxing, we’re number one in the world at hurling – and second only to Australia at Gaelic football. But at soccer, we are best at losing. Hell, we do better at cricket, a game most Irish people freely admit they neither like nor understand. We like soccer, we’re just – and there is no kind way to put this – really, really very bad at it. We got lucky once in 1990, scraping through to the quarter finals on draws and penalties. That was the best we ever did. It is the best we’ll ever do. We are complete and utter cock at soccer. If I haven’t yet made this clear enough, we are not good at playing the association football. OK?

So we should stop. Nobody makes us enter these international competitions, and we only embarrass ourselves when we do. Like Costa Rica with their army, we should be the first nation on Earth to disband their international team. The world will thank us.

But what about the fans? We are at least a great soccer supporting nation. Though only, and this is weird, on the international level. At the club level we’re hopeless. Top league teams in Ireland find themselves playing matches in front of a man, a dog and a boy. The average Irish fan spends far more on the merchandise of one of the giant English corporate teams than they do on actual, you know, soccer. (And perhaps this is the root of our malaise as a soccer-playing nation but you know what? I don’t care.) Yet when it comes to international games, apparently seasoned fans turn out in hordes. And they can really sing. OK, they only ever seem to sing the bleeding awful faux-traditional Fields Of Athenry, but they do it with gusto.

They could take up following a sport we’re actually decent at of course, but soccer is the great game, when it comes to the game supporting game. If you follow. They will still want to compete at that level.

So I say, why not freelance? Ireland’s greatest export has always been people, but they haven’t always been labourers, or construction workers, or nurses, or bankrupts. Ireland was once famous for her mercenaries. During times of economic downturn when we didn’t have enough war at home, people made a good living in foreign armies. I see the soccer fans fulfilling a similar role, for countries in dire need of some pizazz in their fanbase. Ones with more money than people – Luxembourg, for example. Liechtenstein. Monaco. It could be both lucrative and fun.

And at least they’d have a chance of bloody winning occasionally.

Copyright Law Used To Harm Artist. Again

Laughing Kookaburra (Dacelo novaeguineae) perc...
Laughing Kookaburra (Dacelo novaeguineae) perched on a Silver Wattle (Acacia dealbata), Waterworks Reserve, Hobart, Tasmania, Australia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There’s an advert on TV from Colman’s the English mustard people for their instant beef gravy. It features a dancing bull. Made out of gravy. Dancing. All over the table. To I Like The Way (You Move). Semi-translucent. Gelatinous. Gravy.

It makes me want to vomit. And not want to vomit, for fear that what came out would dance.

By a weird series of associations I’m reminded of Land Down Under, the other other Australian national anthem. Remember the flute solo on that? The guy who played it was found dead yesterday. Greg Ham.

Did you hear he was sued for that solo? By the holders of the copyright to the famous Australian campfire song Kookaburra. It was a great source of sadness to him apparently, and coming so soon before his death – an appeal was dismissed just a year ago – you wonder if there wasn’t a connection.

I’m terribly disappointed that that’s the way I’m going to be remembered – for copying something.

Of course, it’s not copying. If you know both tunes – and you probably do – you can certainly hear a similarity. But not an imitation, something a lot more subtle than that. It’s a musical allusion, a vital part of how composition works. One tune has its associations. Another alludes to it, subtly weaving those associations into its melody. Poetry often does something similar. It is not theft, but art.

The composer of Kookaburra doesn’t appear to have thought she was being ripped off. But after her death, and thirty years after Land Down Under was a hit, her publishing company realised there was some free money to be made. In doing so it was they who committed theft. Their license to cheerfully exploit other people’s creativity enabled them to rob a talented musician of five per cent of the proceeds of his most successful recording. But far worse, they stole his reputation.

Emergency At 2 a.m.

Well that upset my plans. There I was just polishing my rant about the Vatican (coming later now) when I heard a bang. Of course, you hear bangs in the country. But two in the morning is a little unusual. Also, it wasn’t a bang I recognised. Curious, I turned down the TV.

Another bang. That was definitely strange. I got up and went out of the house. It’s a fairly dark night, but I could hear a strange noise. Again, not something I could put a finger on. Sort of fire-like. Out on the boreen (lane), I saw a light coming from just where it bent behind my aunt’s tractor shed. A… fire-like light. Also the smoke was kind of fire-like too. I was beginning to suspect this was definitely something fire-like. Like a fire. It was just that it was coming from a place where fire didn’t belong. The middle of a little country back-road?

Yet I wasn’t quite prepared for what I saw as I rounded the corner. A fire, with a car in it. A car. On fire. There was a car on fire in our boreen.

It looked like a neighbour’s one, a little Peugeot in an ugly shade of bluey-green. It didn’t look like he was in it though. If he was, it was too late – the car was engulfed.

I called these guys.

The only thing that could make this job better would be if you got to *start* the fires

More of the story later this evening. It’s 5 a.m. now.

Pause For Thought

So it is no more. From today forth, the editors of the Oxford University Press will no longer insist that you should put a comma before the conjunction when you’re listing things, for example: First, second, and third. We say a fond farewell to this venerable institution, a noble oddity now consigned to history’s scrapheap. Except in the US of course, where they will amused to find that the rule they use every day has been declared incorrect by some committee in England.

Alas, the story was apocryphal; the OUP has not changed its editorial rule. The misunderstanding arose because they have chosen not to use their own ‘Oxford comma’ in press releases. These conform instead to the usual rule in the UK, which is to use no comma there. They’ll keep using it in their books.

So no panic. Not that there should have been one anyway, but bad teaching can leave people stressed and anxious when they’re not sure if they’re being ‘correct’ or not.

What is correct? It’s simple. Use a comma when it feels right.

Yes that is a clear, disciplined rule. Note that I say “feels right”, not “at random”. Punctuation is used to convey the pacing of speech, the delivery, the emphasis. Punctuate just as you would pause in spoken language – to express feeling and to clarify meaning. Put in a comma when it helps avoid confusion. There is a notable difference between “I’d like you to meet my wife, my lover and my best friend” and “I’d like you to meet my wife, my lover, and my best friend”.

It must be admitted that the ‘Oxford’ comma is a tricky case – simply because some readers expect one there while others don’t. In Ireland, the UK, Australia, Canada, or just about anywhere else they speak English, putting one in seems like pausing before the last item for emphasis. Readers in America however expect it so its presence conveys nothing special and leaving it out just makes the list read oddly. So bear your audience in mind – as always.

With online media of course you have no idea where your audience is, so you might as well relax. If you really want a loose general rule, using a comma here is probably confusing less often than not using one. But whatever you do, don’t follow any rule to the point where it becomes madness – like this example which, I am assured, is actually from the Canadian Press Stylebook:

“Put commas between elements of a series but not before the final and, or or nor unless that avoids confusion.”

Seriously, someone did that for a bet.