Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Why Pope Benedict XVI is like Steve Jobs

Is it heretical to compare Pope Benedict XVI to Steve Jobs?

If I may, I'll leave you theologians to ponder that and dive right on into the pirana-infested waters of religio-technological commentary.

The current affairs bit

Yesterday, it seems, the Pope issued a decree to the effect that Anglicans wishing to join the Catholic Church will henceforth be provided with a 'legal framework' to assist their defection – whilst 'preserving distinctive elements of their Anglican identity, such as liturgy.' (quoted from The Times)

(What a blow for Dr Rowan Williams, the Archbish of Cant. Springing this announcement on him was like dropping a breeze-block on a gently snoozing barn owl.)


Anyhow. Onward to my thesis: Pope Benedict XVI has been taking a leaf out of Steve Jobs' book.

A Tale Of Two OSes

First, some background, in which I establish my credentials. I used to be a PC man, y'see. One who was given suck (you might say, were you drawn inexorably towards unnecessarily gratuitous figurative language) at the twin teats of MS DOS and Windows 2.0.

Solitaire and Minesweeper were my toddler playthings and, later, the MS Word paperclip was, to me, a kind of benevolent (yet embarrassingly senile) uncle. Oh the awkward silence around the Christmas table, when Daddy would propose a toast, only for Uncle Clip to jolt to his feet and exclaim: 'It looks like you're trying to write a letter!' Another Christmas ruined.

But I digress.

The Windows XP search dog was my first pet. I sent him off to find some MP3s a couple of years ago, and (sadly) he still hasn't come back. I think he might've been run over, crossing the road while reading that book of his. BUT I BET HE'S STILL SMILIN', BLESS 'IM.


So you may well believe that the notion of defecting to the Apple Mac – when first it was suggested to me – left in my mouth a taste more or less akin to the cud of vile incurable sores on innocent tongues.

But now I realise: Apple = Catholic; PC = Protestant.

Apple has always run a closed system. You want to buy Apple's music? You buy Apple's music player. You want to spruce up your desk with a shiny iMac? You'll be running Apple's operating system on it, then.

Now – PCs, by contrast (like Protestantism) are the DIYers' haven. The Frankenstein-friendly laboratory in which Anything Goes – so long as (to pursue the metaphor until it drops to its knees, panting and groaning for mercy, on the hard concrete floor) you're prepared to face the possibility that you'll create a vengeful entity whom you will ultimately battle to the death amidst the frozen Arctic wastes.

Catholicism is definitely in the Apple camp on this one. Because it's pretty much an all-or-nothing kind of deal. You Do It Our Way. Less of this 'personal relationship with God' stuff. Founded on the principle (surely correct) that most people don't actually want to engage with the workings of stuff, they just want it to work and look damn impressive.

... which it does. Because Catholicism – like Apple – has got the style, has got the rockstar glamour. The Mass in fucking Latin. The big, swinging incense things. The fabulously ornate iconography.

Protestants? Well, um, they do a mean pew.

Bootcamp for Prods

Now – back to me, and my technological volte-face: my defection to the ranks of Apple.

I can tell you exactly what was the turning point – the hairline crack in my resolutely anti-Macintosh facade. It was when I heard about Bootcamp.

Bootcamp, in case you don't know, is the facility (available on all Apple computers) whereby you may choose to start up your computer in Windows mode as an alternative to the Mac operating system.

… And, once you're in Windows mode, it's just as if you were on a PC. So you can do all those crazy things that PC kids do. Fire up Clock. Get in some Spider Solitaire action. Defrag your hard drive. YES, MY BABY. YES, MY SWEET, SWEET BABY.

Supplying Bootcamp – first as a free Beta, then automatically bundled with every Mac sold –was a Steve Jobsian work of genius.

It was the reassuring 'Your satisfaction or your money back in full' postscript coming at the end of the seductive sales letter. Because Bootcamp gave me the idea that I could somehow switch without switching.

… and that, my friends, that is what Pope Benedict XVI has just done.

He's invented Bootcamp for Prods.


Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Curry (from the Chinese) and other Ulster Faves

Regional TV, the Intellectual Hooligan loves you. May your light never fail.

Have a watch of this video, which was supplied to me by a notoriously well-connected sometime-mover, sometime-shaker of the Belfast media circuit. It is Ultimate Ulster's nailbiting rundown of Ulster's top 10 meals.

Don't fret if you think it starts off slow: the pace soon picks up.

Any list of top 10 dishes that features 'Chicken' as an item on its own is surely worth a watch. (As if we didn't all know towards what nefarious ends the noble chicken may find itself used.)

If you're impatient for the comic highlight, however, I recommend you skip to 14.20 or so – number 3:

'A dish that crosses international boundaries with a cultural clash that you find irresistible.'

Irresistible indeed.

Stick around, won't you, for the Chinese Curry advocate who subsequently appears at around 15:40 (after some unfortunate Chinese chef has submitted to the indignity of describing the creation of 'Chinese Curry' as if it were some proud, ancient tradition).

'I voted for curry because it's a bit of an event in our house on a Friday evening. Most nights my wife will cook something, but on a Friday night it's a takeaway, and Chinese curry is for us.'

Right. I bet your wife is gratified to provide the culinary backdrop for so eagerly anticipated an event. She plays her John-the-Baptist-esque 'I am not the Christ, but that I am sent before him' role with humble reverence, preparing the ground for that which follows.

By the time you reach number 2 or so, you'll probably be half dead with the suspense of it all. What's going to be number 1? To what dish (what dish that could triumph over such renowned feats of gastronomy as 'Chicken'?) will be awarded that most prized of accolades: Ulster's favourite dish?

I'm not going to spoil that surprise for you. But I recommend that you jump in at 18.40 or thereabouts for a masterful example of the tension-building reprise, TOTP-style.

Saturday, 10 October 2009

David Cameron; Peter Mandelson: your verdict?

I was talking to my dear friend Rebecca (yes, portrait artist Rebecca; fellow Cogwheel Dog Rebecca. Rebecca the adopter) today, and our Skype conversation turned to – of all things – politics.

I gave voice, y'see, to a sense of frustration with the Left. My sense of frustration was (as it happens) specific rather than generic – but that's immaterial. Whatever I said caused Rebecca to type the following message in response:

'You don't like David Cameron do you?'

It was a question that took me utterly by surprise. Because – as I said to Rebecca – it was a little like asking: 'You don't like algae, do you?'

In other words: a game-changer of a question. A question that, in and of itself, throws open the doorway (or uncovers the rabbithole) to a troubling Alice in Wonderland-esque realm of possibilities hitherto unconceived.

Like remarking to a distinguished old sea bass: 'So – you've never wondered about spending a few weeks' holiday on dry land, then? A shame: I think you'd really appreciate the Pyramids.'

The Notion of Liking David Cameron

The notion of Liking David Cameron, you see, is not in the universe I inhabit. It's like the notion of breathing ivory or criticising water. (Yeh. Bloody water. Always so goddamn fluid, aren't you?)

It's not that I hate the man, either, I might add. I wish him nothing but … um … nothing, I guess.

So, anyhow. I wondered what the fine readers of the Intellectual Hooligan think of Mr Cameron.

It's a nuanced political issue, I realise. So I decided that the best way to canvas would be via a multiple choice poll.

Vote, my pretties! Vote! Let's show MORI how it's done.

Oh, and while we're at it: Peter Mandelson

Old Petey comes in for a fair bit of popular hatred, it seems to me. I've never really understood why. I don't mind the chap. And, anyway, how can you hate someone who likes dogs so much?

But, once again – over to you, Hooliganettes. Deliver, if you please, your verdict on Mandy:

I'd also like to point out that online polls are very easily abused, and multiple voting is quite possible. So I'd like to make a request: please abuse the above polls as much as you like. Bring on the multiple voting. Game the system ...

… and make it look as though I have LOADS of subscribers.

(C'mon. I agonise about this stuff.)

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Freshers' week is shit

At about this time of year, the Intellectual Hooligan's heart goes out to all those naive youngsters embarking upon their first term of university. Those poor freshers.

For the Intellectual Hooligan remembers all too clearly his own Freshers' Week. It was absolutely shit.

I'm not sure what's with the nationwide conspiracy to pretend that this isn't the case. Or perhaps it's just that people other than me all enjoy stomach-churning rollercoaster oscillations between gruellingly awkward silences, hideously banal exchanges, hateful 'ice-breaking' exercises and cheap alcohol.

So, yes. Freshers' Week is shit for many reasons. But it's also dangerous.

You're in a new environment. An unfamiliar, intimidating environment. One in which everyone is doing his or her best to appeal nonchalant and cool (oh, what a change from school, eh?)

So the danger is this.

You meet some people who are not acting nonchalant and cool. They're smiley and happy and welcoming.

'Oh, how nice!' cries your Fresher brain, 'Aren't these people lovely?'

Yes, they are indeed lovely. They invite you to sit with them at dinner. They ask you questions and listen attentively to your answers. Heck, maybe they are just a little bit intense. But they all seem so NICE.

'Hey!' exclaims one of them. 'A few of us were thinking of heading along to a gig this evening! You want to come along?' (Yes. These are nice people who talk with unnecessary exclamation marks. Gee. THEY'RE SO NICE!)

So, nodding your fresh little head in eager acquiescence, you accept the invitation.

Spool forward: we're at the venue. People are queueing. You have a vague sense that something's not quite right. Hard to put your finger on it. Then you realise: they're all queuing VERY NICELY. All smiling. Not much posing, not many fag-clouds. Everyone's SMILING. It's Freshers' Week; they're in a queue. But they're SMILILNG.

Heck, these people are just SO NICE.

So you and your nice group join the back of the nice queue. At this point, perhaps, you're beginning to think: 'Wait a minute … I don't actually think I'm all that nice, though … In fact, the more I think about it, the more I suspect I'm actually quite a bastard. Hmmm.'

But you dismiss the thought. 'Heck!' you tell yourself, 'Why am I worrying about people being nice? This is great!'

But – you're also beginning to think, 'Okay. Yes. It's great. And, sure, they're real NICE. But a couple of the people in this group I'm hanging out with are FUCKING ANNOYING. There's this 'larger than life' guy, for instance. He keeps hugging people, dancing and capering around and presumptuously characterising himself as 'The Quirky One Of The Group'. The Funny Guy.

And he's actually really not funny. He's just a prat.'

But, hey. Even so. He's a NICE prat.

Then, before you know it, you're inside the venue.

There are tables.

People are chatting. (It's actually quiet enough to chat, not shout, y'see.)

And … hmmm … there aren't actually that many people here, really, are there? Well. Er … maybe it's quite … underground? Ah! Here's the band … Two guys with – what's that? – acoustic guitars?


Well, they're quite tight … Not what you'd call musically innovative … Quite simple … Melodic … Hardly edgy … To be honest, not my thing. But it's inoffensive enough. Could've been a lot worse, I guess.

So, what are they singing then?

Reader, you know as well as I do: it's not always easy to make out lyrics in pop songs. Especially live. Things are blurred, consonants are smeared, sound booms and echoes and resonates.

But there's one word that really cuts through the muddiest mix.

One word that will sure as hell catch my attention when it's belting out of a PA.

One word that has the power to make my head whip around and my attention snap into focus.

That word, dear reader, is 'Jesus'.

Nooooooooooooooo …

Finally, see, it all makes sense. The niceness. The openness. The welcoming vibe. The politeness. THE FACT THAT EVERYONE IS PUTTING UP WITH THAT FUCKING ANNOYING FAT TOSSER WHO KEEPS HUGGING PEOPLE.

The horrible truth crystallises like, um, a horrible crystal:


(And, yes, this Really Happened.)

So, Freshers: beware. It sucks, but it's a grim reality: if someone is nice to you during Freshers' Week – scram.

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