Saturday 13 April 2013

Ding dong the wicked witch is [censored]

If you're in the UK you'll certainly have heard; I don't know how far it's travelled. Margaret Thatcher died last week, which was very inconsiderate of her because now no-one will talk about anything else and an awful lot of knickers have been twisted.

Margaret Thatcher was like Marmite: loved by some and loathed by the rest. Half the country is in mourning, searching the post for invitations to her ceremonial funeral with full military honours. The other half, according to the news, is breaking out the party hats and intending to gate-crash and kick up a hornpipe on the grave.

Actually, I think there are quite a lot of people who just wish everyone would shut up. It's just that they aren't saying anything so all we hear is the rest. Sure, it's natural that her death would spark some renewed discussion of her time in power. But when it comes to tributes to a national hero/denunciations of a psychopathic monster, all this tasteless stuff about celebrating an old, sick woman's death, and the fact that we don't seem to be allowed to stop talking about her, I for one am sick of it.

I heard one person compare celebrating Thatcher's death to Lord Voldemort's, which may not be the most ludicrous comparison I've ever heard, but I can't think of any others off the top of my head. It's not the fact that the two are hardly on the same scale. It's that even if they were, the end of a murderous dictator's reign of terror is an entirely different thing to the death of a frail old woman who hasn't been in power in more than two decades. I'm sure many people celebrated the end of her government, and that's perfectly reasonable, but Thatcher's death doesn't mean anything to anyone except her friends and family.

But the biggest issue that's arisen is over this. A campaign to get Ding Dong the Witch is Dead from The Wizard of Oz to number one was fairly successful (in the end, it just missed out on the top spot), and the BBC has made an idiot of itself over playing it on their chart show. If they'd ignored it, they would have incensed not only all the people who downloaded the song, but also everyone who dislikes censorship. If they'd played it, they would probably have offended quite a lot of people. I do sympathise with the people whose decision it was, who were certainly between a rock and a hard place, but I think their decision is ridiculous.

The plan is to announce the song as, but to only play a clip of it, along with a news report about why it's in the charts. In other words, they've elected to censor it and draw more attention to it.

To add insult to injury, there are any number of people insisting that the reason it shouldn't be played is because it's not reached number one on artistic merit, it's an attempt to hijack the charts. Which is the most pathetic attempt to dodge a question I've ever heard. The charts are not, and have never been about artistic merit. They are about popularity, as measured by sales. There's no judging, no discretion, just a straight-forward recital of the most sold tunes. When Band-Aid was at number one it was because it was for charity, but did anyone suggest that it be treated any differently? Many songs are offensive to at least a proportion of people, and many songs have to do with politics in some way, but this is the only one that's being censored.

I think there's no question but that they should play it in full, as if it was any other song. But mostly I think that they should at least go one way or the other, instead of taking the middle ground fallacy and offending everyone.

Tuesday 15 January 2013


Anyone who's read the Inheritance cycle may recall that dwarves have seven fingers on each hand. At one point, one of them explains to Eragon why their God caused this to be. Apparently, five was not enough and eight was too many.

In fact, seven is no better then five and eight would be a slight improvement,though I guess it would be rather unwieldy. You might also notice that it doesn't actually explain anything at all, but that's beside the point.

Twelve is easy to divide, and ten is easy to multiply. Which gives rise to all kinds of arguments over things like metric and imperial units, and is generally very annoying.

Twelve is easy to divide because it factors a lot of different ways, which is an intrinsic property of the number. But ten is only easy to multiply because we count in base ten. If we used base twelve, we'd have a number which was good for multiplying and dividing and there wouldn't be any arguments. So why don't we? Because fingers, that's why. The curious thing about the Inheritance reference is that if five is too few and eight too many, then there's no reason why it shouldn't be six. And six actually would be better than five.