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Not A PhD Thesis Review of 2011 – Part 1

It’s that time of year when the media is full of reviews of the year, looking back at what made the news in 2011. It certainly cannot be disputed that 2011 was definitely a very interesting year. So, in the current zeitgeist, I have decided to offer my own review, the first part of which is a run down of my ten most popular blog posts.

The Arab Spring makes an appearance at number 10, with Revolting Arabs good for the environment, commenting on government ministerial suggestions that the protests in the Middle East could help to tackle climate change.

One of the things I have enjoyed about this year is procrastinating on YouTube. Bizarrely, at number 9, is a post on my favourite and most inspirational YouTube video, of a Coca Cola ad to the theme tune of “Whatever” by Oasis showing how for all the bad in the world, there is much to be hopeful for.

At number 8, ‘Just because it’s traditional, doesn’t mean you have to follow it‘, a post on irrationality of ritual, with specific reference to the Tamil coming of age ceremony for girls. In essence I argued that maybe some of the traditional ideas about women and sex in Asian culture was a factor in a large number of Asian men being arrested and prosecuted for grooming and abusing white girls.

At number 7 is a compilation post featuring a number of sites of interest to single people on Valentine’s Day.

I have been influenced quite a bit by conversations with people on Twitter and the post at number 6, From Tweet to Thesis, was, if you like, a crowdsourcing for feedback on a conference that brought together academia and Twitter. While the feedback was positive, I have gone down a different route by starting a blog for own personal research project into the origins of phd topics from a tweet in the imagination.

At number 5, my redefinition of ‘ecoterrorism’, based on a summary of my reading of German philosopher Peter Sloterdijk and in particular his essay ‘Airquakes’ on how an attack against the environment hurts us.

And so, what were my top four most popular blog posts?

One of the most popular keyword searches was ‘real life incest’, which perhaps gives an indication as to the sort of people who visit my blog. As a result, at number four, is ‘From adoption to incest‘, triggered by a chat show episode on real life incest, which made wonder about the legitimacy of adoption as a child protection measure.

At number 3, I was surprised to see a lot of people interested in Chinese Walls.  It was not about China but about the fear of a conflict of interests resulting from proposed NHS reforms.

At number 2, Bin Laden proved to be very popular this year, with a lot of people interested in my blog post on his death at the hands of US special forces. I question whether it was such a good idea to kill him instead of putting him on trial.

Which brings me to my most popular blog post? Maybe it was the ‘Royal Wedding’ effect but I found that a link to the Royal Family is always a good way to drive traffic to your site. At number 1, I wrote about the title of the Duchy of Cambridge and why this might not have been the best wedding present for the Queen to give to William and Kate.

The second part of my Review of 2011, focusing on what I saw as the most important moments of the year, will be posted tomorrow.

Bin Laden, the Royal Family and Chinese walls

You know when someone is running low on ideas when they decide to write about the hits to their blog. A bit like when TV shows decide to do a ‘clips’ episode, where the storyline is basically about the cast remembering what they did in earlier episodes.

I have been ‘seriously’ blogging since November. In that time, there have been 919 views of the home page. Obviously, the Royal Family and Bin Laden scored quite highly, taking first and third place respectively. But what I find really strange is that the second most popular post was on the issue of NHS reforms and conflicts of interest. ll my other posts received less than 100 views.

In terms of what people were actually looking for when they came across this blog, by far the most popular keywords were “duchy of cambridge” and “does bin laden exist”.

Most of the visits to this site came from tini.cc, which appears to a URL shortener site. I assume therefore that people are using it to send links to my site to others. After that, people are coming from the WordPress tags and Twitter. Obviously, blogs that I have commented on and whose posts I have reblogged are another key source too.


Are we fighting ourselves?

So it turns out that Osama Bin Laden’s final video was to the people of the Middle East, encouraging them to rise up against their corrupt leaders and take control. It is not clear when this video was shot but he is reported to have said:

I think that the winds of change will blow over the entire Muslim world, with permission from Allah…So, what are you waiting for? Save yourselves and your children, because the opportunity is here.”

There is of course the important question as to whether Bin Laden went, was killed, at the right time, having served his purpose in God’s grand design. But, as most people will no doubt recognise, it seems that both Al quaeda and the West that they are fighting have a similar value – that of the self-determination of the Muslim people. The conflict would appear to  be over how that value is best implemented.

It just so happens that I am reading Kwame Anthony Appiah’s “Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers”. By a complete coincidence – or is it – I have got to the bit where Appiah argues that this precise point:

The fact that both Palestians and Israelis – in particular, that both observant Muslims and observant Jews – have a special relation of Jerusalem, to the Temple Mount, has been a reliable source of trouble. The problem isn’t that they disagree about the importance of Jerusalem: the problem is exactly that they both care for it deeply and, in part, for the same reason. Mohammed, in the first years of Islam, urged his followers to turn toward Jerusalem in prayer because he had learned the story of Jerusalem from the Jews among whom he lived in Mecca. Nor…it is an accident that the West’s fiercest adversaries amoung other societies tend to come from among the most Westernised of the group…We all know now the foot soldiers of Al Quaeda who committed  the mass murders of the Twin Towers and the Pentagon were not bedouins from the desert; nor unlettered fellahin.”

Appiah goes to describe the wider pattern of independence movements – how it was the Western-educated bourgeoise who built the independence movement in his own Ghana, how India’s independence was led by an Indian-born South African, British trained lawyer (Ghandi), an Indian who wore Savile Row suits and sent his daughter to an English boarding school (Nehru) and another ‘Indian’ who joined Lincoln’s Inn and became a barrister at the age of 19 (Jinna). Even Colonol Gaddafi’s own sons and President Al-Assad of Syria are Western-educated.

Appiah cites Caliban, the original inhabitant of the island commandeered by Prospero in Shakespeare’s Tempest:

You taught me language and my profit on’t

Is, I know how to curse.

Osama Bin Laden, therefore, is arguably in the mould of every other ‘freedom fighter’ in that he shares some common values (not all of them) with his enemy. Though he was raised a devout Wahhabi Muslim, he attended a top secular school, he studied economics and business administration and he possible gained a degree in civil engineering or public administration. He also had an interest in reading, in particular Field Marshal Montgomery and Charles De Gaulle, and football, in which his favourite position was centre forward and he supported Arsenal FC.

The irony is that the more we in the West is interested in spreading our values, whether it be democracy, freedom or McDonalds, the more likely that they will sow the seeds for more conflict against us. So perhaps we should see Al Quaeda has a compliment, rather than a threat, to our own way of life.


Appiah, Kwame Anthony (2006). Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers. Penguin Books, London. pp78-80

War on Terror or War on Porn?

Shock horror! Osama Bin Laden is just like the rest of us. Clearly the Americans want to denigrate him as much as possible, with the latest revelation that he  had a secret porn stash. But, according to statistics on internet porn, 40 million Americans visit internet porn sites. That’s about 14% of the US population.

In fact, I have seen statistics on the internet that value the global internet porn industry at over $90 billion. That’s not a niche product as far as the market is concerned.

Now of course, no one knows whether the ‘porn stash’ actually belonged to Bin Laden or one of his sons or bodyguards. Indeed, it could just be propaganda. But, assuming it is true, I certainly do not think that it is something with which to beat anyone down with, given the dominance of the industry. And let’s be honest, men are men, wherever we are in the world.

The truth is that porn addiction – online or offline – is a serious problem. According to the US Society for the Treatment of Sexual Health, 3-5% of the US population suffer from compulsive sexual disorders, but this is just those who realise they have a problem and seek treatment. According to Nielsen Online, 25% of people with internet access at work looks at internet porn at work.

In an article for Hitched on Online Porn Addiction, psychologist Dr James Dobson said that pornography addiction causes a person to “become desensitised to the material, no longer getting a thrill from what was once exciting”. They fantasise about acting out pornographic scenarios, demonstrate callousness towards those with whom they have a sexual relationship, become reclusive and secretive, objectify the opposite sex and see sex solely as a source of self-pleasure or self-love. As I write this post, I am listening to the news about the arrest of Dominique Strauss-Kahn for violent sexual assault. And this is subject close to my heart, so to speak, as I am a recovering porn addict.

But here’s the thing. One doesn’t need to go online to find pornography. Our whole society is pornographic. Magazine covers, women’s fashion, even advertising for the most unsexy products, seems to have the sole purpose of arousing men’s erotic desires. As we approach the summer, I often wonder, what’s the point of looking at porn – I can see more flesh on offer for free in any London high street on park.

One of the arguments against the extremist Islam that drives Al Quaeda’s terrorism is the way it denies women’s rights. And one of the perpetrators’ arguments for it is the hope of dying as a martyr and being blessed with virgins in paradise. What’s the difference between that and Virgin Teen Movies?

On Bin Laden: I agree with Ken (kind of)

Just when I thought I couldn’t feel any dirtier, by agreeing with David Cameron, I find that I couldn’t have been more wrong. As much as I find Ken Livingstone really annoying, particularly when he likens an American president to a mobster, I am glad that someone has questioned the ethics of assassination over prosecution in relation to the death of Bin Laden.

What I am finding particularly disturbing is the news reports today that Bin Laden wasn’t just killed unarmed. According to his 12 year old daughter, US special forces has actually captured him alive and he was subsequently killed in cold blood with a bullet to the back of the head. On the other hand, the head of the CIA says that he wasn’t even given the chance to surrender before he was killed. Whoever is telling the truth, it doesn’t exactly paint the US in a good light.

Furthermore, if US special forces did kill Bin Laden this May Day weekend, were reports of his death in 2001/2002 by a wide range of media outlets greatly exaggerated?


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