“Don’t Be a Pillock” and Other Useless Things I Can Help You With

PillockOh, there was a time when my phone would have been ringing off the hook. But not on Super Bowl Sunday. People just grab their phones and say, “Google, what is a pillock?” In a sane world, Google would spit back, “Don’t ask me! Ask your friend Frank; it’s about the only thing he’s good for!”

During the Super Bowl, Budweiser ran a “don’t drink and drive” commercial starring Helen Mirren. Now, on the one hand, I hate these kind of commercials. They remind me of a heroin dealer saying, “Now remember: don’t share syringes!” But on the other hand: Helen Mirren. Also, I’m sure that Budweiser would prefer that people take Merle Haggard’s advice and just stay home and drink.

Toward the end of this one minute long spot, Mirren says, “Don’t be a pillock!” That’s the line that should have had all my friends reaching for the phone — to call me (not to ask Google).

Now, it’s not that I have known what the word “pillock” means for a long time. In fact, although I’ve probably known it a long time, the only reason it stands out to me is because I just recently read The Truth, where William and Otto have the following conversation:

“Ah, zis is for my experiment,” said Otto proudly. “You know zat another term for an iconographer would be ‘photographer’? From the old word photus in Latation, vhich means—”

“‘To prance around like a pillock ordering everyone about as if you owned the place,’?” said William.

“Ah, you know it!”

What Does Pillock Mean?

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, “pillock” is British informal, “A stupid person.” It comes from the mid-16th century, and like most insults was originally a word for “penis.”

If Herman Melville’s short story “Bartleby” asks us to consider what we are to do with our mentally ill, I would like to raise a similar question, “What are we to do with the keepers of useless knowledge?” In other words: what are we to do with me.

Don’t get me wrong: I still get by. At work, my vast store of arcane knowledge often comes in useful to spice up otherwise boring subjects. And the writer of that commercial was probably an American who had read some Terry Pratchett or spent a summer in England or otherwise picked up the word. Although you are unlikely to come upon one of us in your everyday life we are everywhere. (We are especially congregated here at Frankly Curious where the odd bit of knowledge is still valued as an end in itself.)

But certainly the day is coming where there will be no need for someone who can respond to “I’m lactose intolerant” with, “That reminds me of Marlen Haushofer!” Soon, your phone will have a setting on it, “Know-it-all friend who sometimes amuses me.” And then we will be these sad figures who roam the streets in the early mornings muttering about Schopenhauer and how Finnegans Wake really calls into question the brilliance of Ulysses. And no one should read Portrait of the Artist past high school. And back to Schopenhauer and why I should even eat today when I’ll only have to do it again tomorrow.

So really, fine. Just use your little phones. But I still think it’ll take you a while to connect “Marlen Haushofer” and “lactose intolerant.” And no cheating by looking it up on Frankly Curious!

Why Reformocons Don’t Like Trump

Donald Trump and the ReformoconsBrian Beutler wrote a slightly rambling article this morning, Will Marco Rubio’s Fragile Appeal Be Shattered in New Hampshire? It’s worth reading in full, but I want to focus on one small part of it where he talks about the reformocons.

For those of you who don’t know, the reformocons are conservative pundits who want to reform the Republicans Party and the conservative movement generally. I usually call them “reformish” conservatives after Ryan Cooper’s article on the subject. And the moniker is good, because they aren’t actually interested in reform. They aren’t the equivalent of the Democratic Leadership Council and they would never lead to the rise of “New Republicans.”

Reformocons Are Frauds

Instead, the reformocons are, as Mike Konczal put it, “more gestural than substantive.” Or as I put it, Reform Republicans Only Sound Reasonable — It’s in the Job Description. They fiddle around the edges, but mostly they just want to teach the Republican Party to talk nice and not offend people. When it comes to actual policy, they are as committed to the Randian utopia as Paul Ryan.

But in Beutler’s article, he noted that it was strange that the reformocons have gathered around Rubio. He quoted Michael Brendan Dougherty saying, “Rubio’s candidacy is essentially based on the premise that nothing from the George W Bush era has to change for the Republican Party.” Indeed! The one area where Rubio was supposed to be a moderate was on immigration reform. And if you are out of your teens, you must remember how hard the Bush administration fought for immigration reform.

Reformocons Hate Trump

The supposed basis of the reformocons is that they want the party to be less elitist and to try to make the economy work for the middle class. Well, who in the Republican primary is pushing that message? Certainly not Rubio who “alone proposes reforms (zeroed-out investment taxes, zeroed-out inheritance taxes, significantly reduced corporate taxes) designed to minimize (and in many cases eliminate) the tax liabilities of members of the Republican donor class.” No, the person that the reformocons should be backing is Donald Trump. Yet they hate him!

Given what I’ve already written, it shouldn’t be too hard to understand why the reformocons don’t get behind Trump: because they are frauds! Their reform agenda (such as it is) is designed only to keep the Republican Party competitive. And it isn’t as though they fear Trump won’t be an actual conservative. He proposed a ridiculously regressive tax plan (pdf). But it is other areas where it seems clear that Trump would actually do what the reformocons claim to want to do: help the middle class.

Obviously, Trump cuts against the number one thing that the reformocons want: a more “presentable” Republican Party. His outspoken xenophobia isn’t “nice.” But ultimately, the reformocons don’t get behind Donald Trump for the same reason that the Republican elites don’t: they don’t think he can win the general election. Because that’s all they really care about: winning elections so that the tax cuts on the rich continue to roll in and the reproductive freedom continues to roll out.

Anniversary Post: Halley’s Comet Last Perihelion

Halley's CometOn this day in 1986, Halley’s Comet last reached perihelion — its closest approach to the Sun. This was right about the time I decided that I was not going to be a musician and that I was going to kill myself if I had to continue to be a baker. So I had started studying physics and math in my spare time and took a few courses at the local junior college. I befriended a guy who was really into astronomy. And I went out with him and his wife to view the fabled comet.

It was uninspiring, to say the least. The last visit of Halley’s Comet didn’t bring it very close to the Earth. So it looked like a smudge in the sky. But that was more or less my introduction to experimental astronomy. And by that, I mean standing out in the cold near telescopes. I had gone with the same friend a year earlier to see Carl Sagan give a talk on his book Comet. But this was rather different. And in the coming years, I would spend a lot of time at the Sonoma State University Observatory.

But that really wasn’t about astronomy. I only ever learned any astronomy when I was forced to teach it as a lowly college professor. At that time, the observatory had just gotten a CCD camera that we hooked up to a telescope (a 13″ reflector, as I recall). I had written some very small part of software for the system and I was usually the guy who controlled it for public viewings. But that just meant that I was where I am almost always when I’m awake: sitting in from of a computer.

As nerd activities go, astronomy is one of the better ones. And it takes place outside. At the same time, it is at night, which is more in keeping with nerd sensibilities.