considering complaining about choirs about complaining

I should, of course, be meeting a deadline. Actually, I should be chasing two deadlines that whooshed by thanks to a nifty infection that put me on the loo or flat on my back exhausted from walking to the loo and explosively emptying my guts for half-a-week.

Which means the following quick e-mail from a friend was the perfect distraction:

This is not just any belly-aching, whining, moaning and/or griping.

No. This is public belly-aching, whining, moaning and/or griping sung in harmony to a musical accompaniment with a rap solo!

The Complaints Choir of Birmingham.

But that’s only 10 minutes or so of non-productive time. So let’s get serious.

It turns out the whole idea of a Complaints Choir comes to us thanks to Tellervo Kalleinen and Oliver Kochta-Kalleinen. They’ve done interesting things apart. And they’ve done interesting things together.

And, walking together one winter’s day in Helsinki, the pair ended up discussing

the possibility of transforming the huge energy people put into complaining into something else.

As it happens, there is a Finnish expression: “Valituskuoro”.

It means “Complaints Choir” and it is used to describe situations where a lot of people are complaining simultaneously. Kalleinen and Kochta-Kalleinen thought: “Wouldn’t it be fantastic to take this expression literally and organise a real Complaints Choir!”

The Springhill Institute in Birmingham, England, took the idea and ran with it. Happily, others have followed their example.

So we’ve now got the Helsinki Complaints Choir; the Hamburg Complaints Choir; the St Petersburg Complaints Choir and several others, all dutifully noted on the Complaints Choir web-site.

FWIW, I’m torn between the Helsinki and St Petersburg choirs as my personal favourite.

Even better, so far as Gilles Roy is concerned, all this apparently pointless effort is more than cranky kvetching:

in the context of a group song, complaining appears to be many things, not just the whining wheedle of the quietly desperate, living their misery out in isolation. Rather we find here a chockfull of insight, small-mindedness, fatigue, expressions of injustice, powerlessness, etc. from the individual voices heard through the multitude, both in solo and unison.

Maybe we should get a few Complaints Choirs going here in Oz? If nothing else, it might make the Federal Election coming before the end of 2007 more interesting (or interesting at all, given the way elections are played out these days).

After all, if it doesn’t get us anywhere, we can always complain to Tellervo Kalleinen and Oliver Kochta-Kalleinen about the whole exercise being a waste of our valuable time.


distractions, distractions everywhere and not a moment to think

The famous Nick Douglas (who isn’t this famous Nick Douglas, nor that famous Nick Douglas (and while I’m laying on distraction upon distraction, I’ll just note that Tom O’Neil has a different view of that Nick Douglas’s death and any culpability the Hollywood Foreign Press Association might have)) is producing a daily online video show called Look Shiny.

Much of the reporting on the show has noted the influence of the show with zefrank by Ze Frank.

This isn’t a bad thing, per se, of course. It’s not as if the stand up or piece to camera is a new technique. Anyway originality is over-rated. If I was only going to be distracted by originality, I’d probably never get distracted at all. I’d be getting real work done all the time, and then where would I be?

Oh, and speaking of distraction and not getting work done: another in the ‘acerbic commentary from some guy alone in front of a camera without professional lighting’ genre worth missing a few deadlines for is Nate Burr aka Blunty3000.

Blunty isn’t Australian is as good a place as any to start but the one that set me off on a multi-hour meander away from useful effort was his MeatSpace Pilot. It isn’t in the one-guy-with-a-camera genre. It’s rather nifty stop-motion animation with lego. It’s got the required amount of ascerbic commentary, nonetheless.

Getting back to the point (or the thing vaguely resembling a point). Look Shiny is worth letting at least one important deadline passing you by. And it’s worth missing that life-changing deadline because of his 2007/03/02 show: Not Getting Things Done.

This episode not only outlines a programme for ensuring distraction rules your life but goes one step further than Ze Frank on the same subject. Where Ze Frank offers only practical tips, Douglas has a full-blown system, almost guaranteed to ensure you have both a full time sense of impending doom and an overwhelming sense of having too much else to care about to face said doom effectively.

So much more interesting and distracting than actual attempts to explain procrastination.

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dentists, taxes and death by toothache

John Scalzi posted a short note about a 12-year-old-boy dying, in effect, from toothache.

Much discussion ensued. I even piped in with a tiny comment: a link to a LiveScience report that suggests The Rich See What They Believe.

A particular comment, from Papapete, however, got me to thinking:

Add the government and see what happens. The giver has no connection to the recipient and receives no emotional or moral “payoff”. The recipient doesn’t feel gratitude for the “gift” or the “giver”, but instead feels entitled to the largesse. Instead of being grateful to the person who actually supplied the welfare, his/her gratitude is reserved for the government, and frequently resents the person(s) that the money is actually coming from. So, from a win-win situation to a lose-lose situation in one easy step.

It’s not lose-lose, it’s just not as good as it could be. And, as for ‘[the recipient] being grateful’ that shouldn’t be a goal of mitzvot anyway.

Of course, I’m not thinking of ‘Christian charity’ at all here. Then again, I’ve never had much time for that notion. I’ve always preferred the RamBam’s Eight Degrees of Tzedakah.

The RamBam’s highest degree of Tzedakah is reserved for enabling someone to become free of the need for charity or help. Not exactly the paradigm example of fuzzy, feel-good ‘liberal’ thinking there.

Next on the list: giving in such a fashion the giver and the recipient do not and cannot know each other. Gratitude — or the perception that gratitude is deserved — is to be avoided if possible since it does neither the giver nor the recipient any good.

In fact, it does both harm. The giver ends up feeling better about themselves than they should. Being able to give isn’t a sign of your moral fitness, it’s a sign of your relative wealth.

Meanwhile, the recipient feels the burden of gratitude, a feeling more likely to engender the resentment Papapete decries above. Better they get help from an un-named or un-knowable source (like, say, a government department, acting as a proxy for the whole society).

Back on down the Tzedakah line, the least worthy form of giving is giving only because you feel obliged to (because of social pressure) or are required to.

But even that’s still a mitzvot, because good comes of it (or bad is averted, like, say, the death of a child for want of US$80.00 for dental care).

Wandering back across the religious traditions, Maimonides’ very practical ethic has always felt — to me at least — like a good fit to John Donne’s Mediation XVII:

No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were. Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee

Single-payer, taxation-funded health care isn’t perfect, and I’m happy to rant about Medicare’s shortcomings here in Oz.

But the underlying basis of a taxation-funded health care system is the acknowledgement of Donne’s point followed by a decision to use the RamBam’s practical ethic as the basis of a public policy that makes state funds the basis of the health care system, rather than a supplement to it.

OK, it’s likely not either of these things at all. At least it’s not what you’ll find if you go looking at the ALP’s 1970s policy documents regarding MediBank. But similar ethical and moral notions are commonly a part of the practical public policy position generally known as a universal health scheme.

Which sounds like the rough beginnings of an argument for working to make universal health care work better, rather than tearing it down or suggesting it’s such a bad idea we shouldn’t be implementing it in the first place.

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