Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Bob Crow Dies

Not the news I was expecting this morning, I can think of a number of other people that I should think were clearly on borrowed time, but not the Crow.  The man seemed full of life and vigour, fire in the belly and plenty to do.
A number of people won’t feel entirely unhappy about the news. He was an animal in terms of how he fought for the salaries and rights of his union members, controversial, definitely. His look and his manner was that of an EDL, BNP member – if I was muslin, black, gay or a feeble privately schooled politician, this would be the kind of man I would fear – big, bald white man who said ‘at the end of the day’ a great deal in the true fashion of your typical, Sun reading, menacing white van driving political philosopher.
Apparently the people of London all hated him because he was forever interfering with the operation of one of the city’s major public transport networks, actually I don’t think this is true, the people that hated him would be the bosses of those companies who made some sort of loss on the days their workforce couldn’t get in or were late; the politicians, mayors and millionaires who were either confounded by his lack of compromise or simply hated his Shadwell working class roots.
 It seems to me that there has been a media driven campaign to direct a lot of hatred at Bob, a character that it is easy to dislike with a little help, yet I think Londoners on some level recognise what he was doing, and had if not complete admiration, a begrudging respect.
He was one of those types whom you felt massively annoying and self-righteous to be around, permanently in an argumentative mood with a giant chip on his shoulder and hatred of all wealthy people. Hopefully the good London folk were able to see through this negative campaigning, all Bob really represented was one of the last genuinely powerful unions that could lock horns with the imposing and suffocating capitalist bullies and force them to debate and concede.
If when asked why it was a tube driver should be earning £40,000 a year while a nurse earns significantly less, his response was that he wished that the nurses, the firemen, the police, ambulance drivers and any public worker generally had a stronger union to represent them. When asked why it was that a man of his wealth should still be living in a council property when he could afford a more salubrious home, he said he liked where he lived, that it was his home. He refused to be shamed on such matters.
 His role, was always to do the best job he could for his union, other unions should have followed his lead.
In terms of if a tube driver was over paid – I don’t believe so myself and Bob clearly did not. Hard working people, in positions of great responsibility, do not get the recognition or salaries they deserve. The Underground employees only stand out because they actually have some degree of competitiveness in an environment that pays all its other public sector workers a phenomenally crap salary.
Bob Crow and his union have kept alive the hope that the working man deserves a good standard of living and if that means a few less bonuses for the Hedge Fund managers, then all the better. He has been a complete thorn in the side for those capitalists and conservatives who believe the future is Union-less, it does not take a genius to figure out why and what they would do if they could eliminate the stranglehold London Underground can exercise over the city’s economy.
The idea that such power could belong to one so coarse, truly bothers our political classes, it would seem that in their opinion only they should be allowed to wedge their foot against our necks and rinse us dry.
It has therefore been encouraged that Bob be seen as an enemy of the people, a man of self interest with lack of compassion for his brothers and sisters in other lines of public service, this deflects the real truth which is that of how the largest economical crises since the start of the 20th century came about via the greed and unlimited arseholeness of the financial sectors. This is the crime of our century and one that entirely highlighted the relationship between tax payers and those classes that flex power and influence policy. We learned that day that financial industries do not take any real risk, that it is the British taxpayer who guarantors all those mortgages and we learn that when the shit hits the fan, bankers get to retire on un-believably comfortable redundancy packages.
The abuse in this sector lead to people losing their jobs, becoming homeless and hopeless while the rich evacuated the UK for tax havens in Malta, or else looked to exploit the emerging Asian or South American economies.
Bob Crow regularly pointed this out and commented that it was not up to the working class to suffer austerity when the richest of its population hoarded so much wealth they could single handedly eliminate our debt.
I don’t think Bob was calling for that, I think he was really suggesting that if the theater of capitalism is to be played out, then let it be played on a level field, he may have been a shrewd leader who had to disregard the inconvenience he caused, but he was doing no more damage than his opposite numbers, actually he was just a fly in the ointment, or perhaps an annoying wasp causing havoc whenever the wealthy wanted to sit down and gorge themselves. He crawled across their jam scones and swam in their champagne, always the threat of an unpleasant sting hanging in the air.
For that I thank him.



Monday, 24 February 2014

DATA


The DATA command on my ZX Spectrum was an ominous concept. At the time I was happy in my attempts to get my name to print infinitely with a simple GOTO or the astonishingly powerful GOSUB routine, I even managed to do some graphic design, create a character and animate it, draw game levels, add sounds and some form of control. What I did was of course total crap, but that was probably because I never quite got the grasp of that DATA command. The difference between the commands I had been using and this one, was that DATA felt like it had more in common with maths than the raw English of ‘PRINT’, ‘DRAW’, ‘PLOT’, ‘IF’, ‘THEN’ and ‘BEEP’. The DATA command was a storage device and as such its power lay in accumulating nonsense that then could be elegantly manipulated to create the illusion of intelligence.
Apparently, DATA is about to transform all of mankind – for on the horizon is the rather tedious future of ‘LifeLogging’ – at its least consuming this will mean that your intelligent wristbands or communication devices will track your steps and give you a report of how many calories you burned that day, synching with your bathroom scales or website forum where you can either gloat or envy others.  The far more tedious prospect, one that has techies or gadget whores peeing themselves with excitement, is the new DATA gold rush that will be TOTAL Life Logging.
This it seems means recording your every movement and every waking second via a camera device with a memory card the size of Wales, which suggests we’re about to embark on some of the dullest holiday show and tells ever in the history of human beings. The beauty in such vast amounts of DATA they say, is when it is combined with a new kind of image search engine that will enable us to instantly recall the name of that lovely bottle of wine we had back in 1986 (or the equivalent of whatever the future 1986 will be) and I guess an endlessly useful bank of presets such as ‘Where did I leave my car keys’ or ‘How on Earth did I get home last night.’ will follow.
Whenever ‘lovely bottle of wine’ is mentioned, my bullshit detector springs into life, for this is the common aspirational pass phrase used to flog either very expensive things or else something particularly invasive, either way, I tend to think if someone actually uses this life log technology then chillin’ and drinking wine is probably not going to be the main experience you remember most.  
I rather regard this new development and the lustful manner in which it is being received as the main reason why I will one day be happy to die, for I have no place in such a world nor does the prospect of recording everything I say and do fill me with hope. I rather like the ambiguity of an analogue existence where one can alter the course of the future by manipulating the past to suit the present – if my every word can be cross referenced with actual film footage of me saying something that contradicts a view I’ve since developed, I’m destined to spend my life in agonising torture and having to replace the joyous freedom of spontaneity with  a hypercritical, high maintenance form of paranoia, where truth can only be verified after a Life Log image search. Gone will be the traditional method of relying on myself, I can predict a time where I’m just not as dependable as the search application. I’ve already lost the ability to store any general knowledge which I blame on Google and Wikipedia, once I used to attempt to use my brain to remember things; dates, spellings of words, names of my family and so forth, but I don’t tread that path enough these days and that part of my grey matter has become an overgrown dystopia with vaguely familiar buildings decaying under a setting sun. Google has become my memory and my ability to recount historical events.
The potential for abuse should life logging become a real thing is all too clear – the least offensive being that we will be entirely under the control of manufacturers who will have such a specific understanding of our needs and wants, they will literally be given digital levers that can be used to manipulate us to their every desire, in effect they will have digitised our souls and in turn can meddle with that information just as we do presently with genetics, only rather than fixing allergies or cancer tendency’s, it will be about drifting us towards McDonalds or guzzling fizzy drinks, buying shit music or taking out insurance policies for our house plants.
Quite honestly I regard even the mere idea of knowing that every second of my life has been captured as an anxiety filled head fuck, one that is fraught with complex existential issues and profound fears surrounding DATA loss or capture by someone who can cruise through my life watching my criminal activities or monitoring my preferences in pornography. It will raise questions about who the real me might be, for it won’t end at mere photographic snapshots and it is entirely predictable that in time these snap shots will take on a life of their own, eventually inhabiting the computer in a cyber real dimension, having a job, earning money and playing silly computer games on its virtual ipad in the evenings once its virtual kids are asleep.
We can regard this recording of life as the seed of a serious attempt for immortality, it won’t take long before various websites spring up offering virtual cryogenic chambers where by the recording of your life may one day be re-animated into a realistic cyborg version of your long dead self.
But what would you want to live for exactly? Especially if the future is as bleak and as self-obsessed as I can completely imagine it will be. If LifeLogging is as orgasmically successful as it appears the geeks expect it will be we are in for the most unimaginably isolated experience, a world in which there is no longer a need to connect or depend upon anyone else. Won’t our own lives and the constant reviewing of them become so completely time consuming that we won’t have time for anyone else, nor could anyone else be as interesting if all they are doing is reviewing their life logs?
Provided we can somehow tie this technology into porn sites, automated take away establishments, playstation gaming and various alternate realities and Facebook, there should never again be any real reason to deal with another human being ever.
We could instead simply inhabit DATA husks inside of which is a bed, an intravenous drip feed from various life supporting corporations and some fleshy looking interfaces we can attach to our genitals.
DATA should not be an attractive thing, I’d like us to stop fetishizing it with designer digital spectacles or a misguided allure for greater efficiency. In terms of my ZX Spectrum the DATA command was just a holding pen for babble, streams of unconnected words, that would make it seem that the computer might actually be talking to you, but it never was and it never will talk to you. Just because when you’re playing the hobbit and when prompted for an action you typed ‘Fuck Gandalf’ it replied ‘I can’t Fuck Gandalf’ doesn’t mean it was pondering the question, it was just assembling words from its DATA bank and creating the most likely effective response based on the nomenclature of your entry.

Computers are humourless, calculators – why must we degrade ourselves by so clearly desiring to want to assimilate with them so readily, exactly what is this Utopia we think they have to offer?

Friday, 7 February 2014

Poverty Porn Street


If the economy is booming, if the job market is richer in new job opportunities, if GDP is up and inflation is down, then why is there so much anger around when it comes to the discussion of money?
Channel 5 has just finished airing one of the most aggressive and bitter live chat shows I’ve ever seen where members of the cast of ‘Benefits Street’  Channel 4’s controversial documentary  about a road with some unemployed people living on it - have come near to blows while discussing the rights and wrongs of the benefits system.
Obviously scenes of overweight people enjoying a cup of tea or of a man clearly troubled and wracked by alcoholism is flaunting the lifestyle in the faces of good hard working folk and therefore must surely deserve the outrage that has followed since.
Kicking things off with an appallingly obnoxious ignorant and poisonous spew is the vile Katie Hopkins – she who was booted off of ‘The Apprentice’ and who has since made a career by being a total asshole. I’m not just being mean here for the sake of it, asshole is exactly what she is since her points were not just about favouring or arguing rationally for a dissolution of the benefits system – which she seems to believe, but much more a cynical act to promote her image as the world’s giantist tit – Katie has discovered that while she will never carve a living by being charming and coquettish, she can make a load of money by being a massive shit stirrer, therefore, regardless of whether she knows the statistics about benefits claimants, she holds firm to this most ugliest of stances – that basically anyone who might lean on the benefits system is a scrounger. Like a pantomime dame she has no sophisticated perspective, only a kind of ugly talent for winding people up. What I think is even worse is I think she sees no harm in it, it’s just her having her career – the kind of person that goes on the Apprentice has no sense of the world outside of business and his or her own tedious ideals of aspiration, to them karma or social conscience is hippy, left wing nonsense and no match for the really good shit everyone secretly wants if they just worked as ruthlessly as she does. Obviously Katie is immune to misfortune in much the same way as she is immune to compassion.
Edwina Currie makes an appearance, a disappointing one – I kind of liked her once, sort of understood what John Major might have seen in her, always thought she had a twinkle in her eye and she’s probably right mucky in the bedroom, a quality which I generally equate with worldly people. Yet here she was looking quite insane, the eye’s a bit more dotty and bonkers as if prolonged valium abuse had finally caught up with her. Rather than demonstrate any respect for members of the panel – particularly the young single mum who she attempted to portray as a wealthy, middle class grammer school attending charlatan parading as a champion for the poor, when in truth her background seemed to consist only of firemen, nurses, foster carers and dead grandparents  - Edwina obstinately reigned thoughtless, unprovoked blows on her, even inspite of the fact this young woman was deeply offended and seemed to be on the verge of tears, Edwina continued to lay into her in the manner she did,  like a typical cantankerous burned out, stroke afflicted tory, she spoke over everyone and kept repeating unhelpful things like ‘get a job, get a job, get a job.’ to people who kept trying to tell her that there are no jobs. This backed up by the statistic that there are over 2 million un-employed with about half that available in job vacancies.
She retorts that she cannot understand how it is that 1000 immigrants will come to the UK and find jobs in the first week they arrive – conclusive it is then. Except that this whole immigrant argument, the one used to define all unemployed British people as lazy, fussy sociopaths with a bloated sense of entitlement is out of whack. When immigrants come here to clean toilets for £6.50 an hour you have to bear in mind that this is 6 x their hourly rate back in Romania. If there was another country reachable by a fairly inexpensive flight away that offered un-employed British people 6 x UK minimum wage to go and pick strawberries for 3 months, I’m pretty confident they’d leave in their droves and happily clean the toilet block for the overtime too, I would.

It is not fair I think to question people’s desire to work if they turn down the opportunity to clean up shit, as if somehow this is the litmus test of all tests that determines a person’s sense of moral duty. We live in a country that flaunts its wealth, that fetishises  money and the perks it brings; the nice cars, the homes with the large farmhouse style kitchens, the covert bragging rights and the many ‘perfect’ domestic relationships that are oiled by it, we don’t live in a war zone or in Ethiopia where we are likely to starve if we do things more liberally.
If you’re a Brit growing up in this environment, of course you’re going to steer clear of the kinds of jobs that define you as an unsexy, shit smelling nobody, destined to get lost in an underground maze of ceramic tiled, urine soaked gloom. People coming from Romania don’t mind so much, but then life being what it is in Romania cleaning toilets is only as bad as say... being a filing clerk in a lawyers office, so let’s boot that aged old argument in to touch. This idea that you should do anything just to be working is dated – it has a better resonance in the 1940s when there was no choice for anyone and certain death hid around every corner and in every pot of reheated chicken stews. That time has gone, we’ve created a society of choices, a commercially very successful one and so a consequence of that is that people in such a system will tend to get a bit choosey. Removing choice now to suit the desires of a few miffed social climbers - is like seizing a heroin addicts baggie and forcing him into cold turkey knowing that such a shock to the system will likely kill him.
Besides, a growing number of people who cannot bring themselves to pick up a mop and a bag of lemon sanitizers are holding degrees or perhaps are trained to apply lime wash mortar to mediaeval buildings, they might have ambition for a particular line of work or be dedicated to their vocation.  It’s all very well for the old guard, old school values to bang on about how they struggled to get where they were in life by working as an intern and doing endless temp jobs before they got their break as a journalist, but there is a great world of difference between doing a job, knowing it will be a stepping stone to a better life and doing a miserable job that you know you’ll be stuck in forever if you take it.
 Good for you if you’re so charming, tenacious and assertive that no such thing will happen to you, sadly many people have only a large TV and an endless supply of fat and sugar to dream of because their low self esteem and meagre finances won’t allow them to achieve anything more.

Meanwhile, people like Edwina, Katie Hopkins, Julia Hartley-Brewer smugly yap on about their own great work ethic, the kind that has awarded them the pleasures in life we are all surely jealous of, and believe that we can and should do the same. To these people I say – you have no idea – you have grown up in at least an upper working class family, you don’t know and do not have the right to comment on the deeply complex ailments of what it is like to be generationally poor. They do not have any idea of the psychology involved, how the motivation can so easily leave you or how you have an innate ability to destroy your own good fortune. Being poor is a sophisticated set of problems, one that literally drains energy and self-respect from you. Those of you who enjoy your life of buying nice things and paying your way out of danger, this is a luxury the authentic poor never have, don’t feel so pleased with yourself that you manage to be so up beat all the time, it’s your money not the depth of your personality that gets you through.   

Besides when you consider the Benefits system, here are a few annoying facts to pour water on that otherwise self satisfied individual who simmers delightfully when perusing the front pages of the Daily Mail.
More than half of the benefits bill is made up of pensioners, incidentally with the greatest proportion of wealth we are likely to ever see for the next 100 years. These pensioners have enjoyed the very best that Britain had to offer them, mainly a free education, free health service and cheap housing. They have enjoyed the best financial market for saving, building businesses and in turn investing in the properties that they now rent out and use to line their retirement with.
Pensioners own the vast majority of wealth in the UK and unlike previous generations, have failed to pay it back into the country, choosing to hoard it rather than invest in the incoming younger generations.
This demographic has prospered and been central to the inflation of house prices, rents and the salaries of CEO’s, when you next complain about claimants receiving hundreds of pounds in housing benefit, you can thank many pensioners for much of that bill. Margaret Thatcher enabled them to buy up the council house stock that once provided less wealthy families with a home and a rent that was not vulnerable to the same scale of increases as the private housing market, now in the commercial vein, there is no limit to what they can charge, council houses have all but disappeared and the future are the private landlords Margaret Thatcher created.

Most claimed benefits are claimed by those in full time work already who need help with the bloated costs of childcare (now that all the communities and family networks have been fragmented) and the steep cost of rented accommodation and eye watering energy bills. Such people have a proud work ethic yet on paper they are either only marginally better off working that shit pit job for £6.50 an hour or actually worse off. This actually bodes quite nicely for the big businesses that have taken hold these last 30 years, for companies that annually turn billions of profit, they can maintain and increase their margins by being able to hire people as required for the least possible pay out and know that the government – tax payers such as you and I will subsidise it.

Benefit fraud costs Britain 1.5 billion a year which is a lot, but it forms just 1% of the overall cost of the benefits system, 99% of claimants are entitled to do so without reprieve . In contrast tax avoidance by the richest people in Britain costs us 30 billion, a figure which dwarfs the former.
While the least wealthy members of the UK have seen their benefits cut, who are now expected to jump through hoops for their £50.00 a week, move out of their home because it has a spare bedroom or else prove that they are a genuine paraplegic, at the other end of the scale this Conservative/Liberal government has given the wealthiest a tax break and any number of initiatives for them to push forward and make more money, including – I would argue, crippling the mobility of the population so the only jobs they can get are stacking shelves in Tesco whilst simultaneously flooding the market with cheap foreign labour.

More people than ever are using food banks to survive. Edwina Currie seemed to think that such establishments were far too accessible to people who would use it as an opportunity to get something for free – she was concerned that it would impact on businesses such as shops and supermarkets. In truth if you want to go to a food bank you have to achieve such a poor level of status before you’ll get authorisation that your children are going to school probably in the throes of malnutrition. When you do visit a food bank you are restricted to a small number of necessities and essentials, this was the most appalling of attitudes, here in the UK – supposedly one of the world’s wealthiest economies and we have some sanctimonious blue stocking opposing the policy on giving starving people free food.
Edwina has inadvertently given the game away and will be reprimanded for it by which ever cloaked grand wizard she must answer to.

You see the dice is very much loaded in favour of the already wealthy and well educated. Immigration, far from a topic about racial discrimination would be a more interesting and valid conversation were we to recognise that it benefits the richest members of society and not at all any indigenous population that traditionally handles the unskilled labour market.
Were it not for immigration we might find that the supply and demand of the labour force was equalised, that actually the lower classes of Britain would have greater power when it came to negotiating hourly rates. I said earlier how it was understandable that a number of Brits didn’t get out of bed for £6.50 an hour, this is because really in today’s economic climate it is not enough, it is so not enough. Off the top of my head I think that a figure of £12.00 an hour is more suitable – then you’ll be getting somewhere – then you’ll actually see a change in the attitudes of people and you’ll find that the hospital wards will be full of reasonably content British cleaners and support workers.
Meanwhile we are distracted by a debate that casts anyone who questions immigration as a filthy racist, the exploitation of cheap labour continues and is enjoyed mostly by...the well of.
Given the option of paying British white van man the standard hourly rate to get the boiler fixed in one of a portfolio of houses, or else hiring a Croatian who’ll do the same job for a third of the cost it is easy to predict the result.
The government loves immigration, secretly they do, the public face is one that is fraught but the effect on the British economy and the benefits they bring, keeping the wages low and the competition high is incredibly profitable.
In terms of who they are most profitable too, well that would be the pensioners once again, or perhaps a better description would be people of a certain age who have reaped the rewards of the economy when resources and a certain entrepreneurial buoyancy was widely available. These same people are the voters – politics today being what it is; little more than an exercise in winning the votes of the pensioners, is not likely to bring about the change that younger people want. In short, the issues of the young, the un-employed, the less well off and the plight of struggling young families will not be as much a priority as ensuring the long term comfort of old people who reliably trundle down to the polling stations to make an X in a box.

Our environment as it stands in 2014 – where the News fanfares terrific developments in terms of the economy – more jobs! Less imports! Inflation down! Etc, seems not to reflect the impression of the landscape I have, nor many people like me – those who generally do not fit into the idealistic Conservative model; the traditional family unit, the conscientious saver, the home owner and the stoical, science driven members of society.
The divide is becoming quite huge, almost to the point where H.G. Well’s Time Machine that climaxes in an allegory of how classes will ultimately be divided by the privileged, beautiful people living in paradise, and the ugly inhuman Morlocks who live in caves deep underground suddenly seems worth considering.
For it is happening. Those who have not managed to become wealthy since the dissolution of the Feudal system are regarded with suspicion; in fact they are derided and openly attacked like a new kind of media fuelled sport. A rise in the licensed proliferation of ‘poverty porn’ a term to describe the  lustful demonising of certain people- for people with a desire to point and drool with hate, finding no other reason for the unhappy emptiness in their lives – concluding that a source for this depression or fearfulness must be to do with all those benefits cheats, those scroungers and layabouts, petty criminals, fat people, coarse non-erudite individuals who might where sportswear too often or who smoke cigarettes and watch a lot of T.V.

An incredibly handy distraction while the rich and the present influential, milk and exploit further, extracting more, more and more from an exhausted populous, flapping them away with found evidence of xenophobia or threatening them that if they don’t stop complaining they risk having a documentary made about them.

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Shitty Dads

It’s easy to feel guilty these days when it comes to parenting.
I’d like to assure you that if you feel you are a shitty father then you’re not alone.
Today my partner is seeing our daughters Nativity without me, I feel guilty, but not because I've not already seen it.
For some reason our school puts on three separate performances, I don’t remember this when I was a kid, just the one fumbling plot-less car crash where I played a crow…that’s right a crow. Now I’m pretty sure that there are no crows in the Nativity but all the same I was one and I got a few lines, but I was way down the list as far as playing any important characters, any more tenuous connection with the play than this and I’d be 4th ambient child passing outside the assembly hall window.
The reason I believe, for the trio of performances is to accommodate all the narcissistic parents who will have to see their child or risk going to hell out of shame since in the modern era this is a complete no, no. Not to show these days would be the equivalent of stubbing your cigarettes out on their ankles. After 20 years of various American movies featuring absent fathers or overworked scatty parents in general it’s become clear that this will result one day in the inevitable indulgent dialog with some boyfriend set on a dramatic sea front – or else turn them into crack whores; you have been warned.
I would suggest that non-appearance at the nativity has long been thought of as a bit un-supportive but back in my days of creeping the boards it seemed common enough, well, at least for me. I don’t especially remember caring too much or being offended – that’s the thing about kids, they’re not as sensitive and as needy as you might think. Likewise I have the same excitable childhood memories of Christmas day as my friends do I’m sure, despite the fact that in retrospect they must have been a bit grim, recently its occurred to me that I cannot recall any Christmas mornings where my dad was there – the year I got my first bike – around 1975 was unbelievably brilliant but I have only a dim memory of my comatose drunk possibly drugged father upstairs who I didn’t see I think until deep into January. I didn’t give a shite though, it was still Christmas and it still felt cuddly and mysterious.
Credit to my mother obviously, she made a big effort to make up for things, but the concept of Christmas was very simple to me – you get mountains of crap to open.
The reason my partner is at the Nativity play this morning is to show support, but I’m utterly confused. Had we not done this already? Just last week we sat with a 1 year old child dressed as an elf that stank of shit because he filled his pants just as we sat down. Did I not make the required amount of eye contact and bopped along with surprising enthusiasm to the various tunes that I recognised from her practice sessions at home? Did I not encourage her enough with my dopey smiles and jolly raising of eyebrows and mouthing the words at her via the portal that we created through the 8 deep crowd of first years who, it became clear early on, would be doing nothing but sitting and watching the older kids do all the interesting stuff?
I think I had.
My father would be battered shamelessly were he alive to witness my clearly superior selfless act of parenting, he’d be literally sifting about in his ashes somewhere off the cliffs in Bristol where I tossed him pine box and all, heaving him as one might a knackered washing machine into next doors garden – and I’ll be up on Christmas day too, not only this but I helped find the tree, decorated it with my daughter and she and I will go Christmas shopping together this coming weekend.
Pretty good… pretty, pretty good.
I refuse to see that Nativity play a second time, my partner was actually hoping to have a representative there for all three occasions – but I stuck my foot down in an outrageous act of disloyalty suggesting that we’d done our bit, besides the idea of the 3 performances was so other parents could get to see their kids, not so we could compare notes as to the various improvements our daughter 14th shepherd to the left made in subsequent shows.
Please try not to confuse me into believing the nativity should be anymore than just the single 30 minute sit-down, as traditionally this is the format in all the aforementioned US movies – you don’t have the sequence where the father, who after battling his way back from a business meeting in L.A. following a moment of clarity, then fends off transport failure and sleeps in bus shelters, finally to arrive in a New York suburb, dressed in rags and one shoe, only to learn that while he missed the opening show there were two more he could catch early next week do you?
What concerns me is that we fail to embrace the achievements this new generation of potentially shitty dads have worked for and instead impose ridiculous new demands that seem to include, not just the single nativity, but a seasons’ worth. Apparently while I consider this madness my other half informs me that she is not insane at all because (rattles off list of other more upstanding clans) have said they are going too – this is compounding evidence then that it is I who is being weird about it.
Where will this end? How confident and self-assured must our children be in order that they don’t end up living out of a storage locker and giving blow jobs for a vial of crack?
The sensation that I feel as a man of 40 shit years old is one of growing bewilderment that looking after children is fast becoming like inviting a tornado into your living room, the pace at which I like to move, the speed at which I can function and digest life is getting away from me. I want to be engaged with my kids and improve on my own fathers track record, but it’s a pretty thankless task and only seems to increase the rate at which various parties come around or the number of advent calendars that need opening of a morning.
I think we need to take command of the situation, we are not helping ourselves and not especially helping these kids or the planet, I mean do we really need children to be so confident anyway?
I think what we should actually work towards are less confident children, ones who don’t believe the world is especially interested in what they do, who might not be able to stand up in an auditorium and deliver a rousing speech, who perhaps do not believe that the world will magically continue to spin on its axis, showering them with opportunity and gifts without consequence.
I want more shy children, more troubled, retiring types who are sensitive and complex, who might develop the much needed, fast disappearing quality of empathy – I want children who read books and can't sing and dance especially well - children whose ambition might be to man the phones for the Samaritans because they want to help another human being and don’t think the only form of happiness is a giant house with open plan living / dining area opening up into a garden ‘room’.
The evidence should be clear enough of what happens if you binge buy for your kids or attempt not just to recreate your Christmas childhood memories but trump them exponentially year on year with evermore expensive and elaborate gifts, this can only lead to tantrums as tedium replaces surprise and massive guilt for yourself that the Lamborghini you bought them was in the wrong shade of pink.
So stop it, stand back from the child and instead just calm down – remember, they don’t really give a flying fuck if you occasionally miss that thing they were in or if their presents sit under the tree wrapped in  Amazon emblazoned cardboard packaging. It’s just your insecurity, we want to be loved so by these creatures we adore.   




Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Nelson Mandela and Other Deities

It takes a lot to impress me, I’m difficult I know – but the thing is Nelson Mandela was just a bloke see – maybe a decent bloke, maybe a little more unusual than the chap who fixes our gas boiler but still a human being made of the same stuff. Ultimately the amount of affection we choose to shower on one person more than another is what bothers me, because I think we are prone to become hyped and lose the real perspective.
As soon as someone who has been in the public eye or has been associated with some tremendous deed passes, the mourning process begins in a melodramatic fashion, everyone is sombre and sincere, respectful and humbled by the void of greatness left behind.
I guess a lot of what I find tedious is the subservient rhetoric, the unworthiness and then of course the outrageous amount of money and everyone else’s time it costs to bury the soulless husk this person has left behind.
In my time alive I have never met a single person who was any more than 50% decent and 50% massively flawed it is human is to be conflicted in this way. We are so fond of transforming our politicians, states people and humanitarians into mythical experiences and I don’t buy it. If Nelson Mandela was such a sound human being then I don’t understand how he came to be divorced from his great love Winnie. If he was permanently such a great human person then you couldn’t not want to be with him – however I suggest that once the political curtains were closed for the evening and it was just the two of them that arguments about chicken nuggets for dinner or whose turn it was to clean the shower reduced all greatness to the kind of drudgery we all have to endure.
I can quite imagine that effective as NM’s prose was for stirring the hearts of a divided nation – his poetic command of language that would inspire a rainbow nation - nothing can be said to alleviate the shame of leaving a smelly poo in the bathroom or defend against the jibes of your partner wafting a hand in front of her face and cracking open the windows before guests come round.
The other thing about how global fame commands this disproportionate level of grief is that all these people ever do… is what pleases them.
Hard to believe but we all have our own skill sets and gifts, there is someone out there who is born to lead people but there is also someone who is utterly committed to sweeping the streets or punching holes in pig iron. Often we shower those who appear to make great sacrifice with a disproportionate amount of respect when the truth is – we don’t know the real truth of why the person is doing it or what strange pleasures they get from it.
I guess that it might sound extremely odd to suggest that Nelson got a kick out of being incarcerated for most of his life and probably beaten and mistreated daily – I’m not saying that was not a bind but we do not fully know the mind of the man who put himself in that position.
I can imagine that hard as it is, for the right kind of person real strength and sense of purpose can be drawn knowing that the world thinks of you moment to moment, that much hope rides on your survival and that for every day you make it through you become more powerful than the last. That’s a hell of an ego ride and given that most of us live in seemingly total insignificance, hammering out a dull existence where most people couldn’t honestly give a shit if you contracted bowel cancer and died, I can see the benefits of a more extraordinary if distressing life for at least you get to run your fingers against the veil of immortality, and comfort yourself that you will be remembered for all time, that the entire world will discuss your passing and endlessly wax lyrically about your best bits. I find it extremely hard to imagine that such people are not kept awake at night marveling at their incredible charm and broad public approval.
I can also quite believe that given the heady quality of such experiences, ordinary life – the getting up, dressing the kids, vacuuming the carpets and filling the car with petrol is utterly stark and when such time our deities are called upon to do this, I can only imagine that the aura of impenetrable goodness is laid quite bare and all their laziness, misogyny, insecurity and arrogance is on show.
I've an idea I cannot shake from my mind – Jesus – to most of us I am sure would be a man of extreme dignity, of beautiful phrases and endless morality, but in some ways that’s the easiest way to be  - if you are afforded that level of fame and notoriety and can bask in the respect of your followers it’s a privilege and one that could be profoundly self-satisfying –for example we can appreciate the scene of him with his hand on the head of a young child and proclaiming to us all that these innocents contain within them all that is God, before mysteriously floating off-wards.
Who wouldn't want to be that guy sometimes?
I can even imagine the child being entirely in awe and full of love for this complete stranger which would seem to compound the evidence that he was in fact the son of God, or at least someone a bit special we’d quite like to sleep with.
But such a vocation is relatively easy – a brief encounter with the beauty of an infant with a few rousing words about love, before being escorted to your next appointment is romantically effecting, an unresolved, unexplored and unchallenged relationship - but what then if that same child followed him everywhere and rather than being in constant and complete compliance, got bored of paddling in this lake of divine positivity and got a bit whiny and demanding instead.
‘I’m hungry’
‘But child there is nothing to eat here in the dessert.’
‘But I’m hungry, what can I eat?’
‘Have not the fish and the loaves fed you once?’
‘I don’t like fish’
‘But you didn't even try them, how do you know you wouldn't like them until you tried them?’
‘Are there any Skips?’
‘No, you can’t live off Skips alone, you’ll get ill if you just eat crisps all the time’
‘I’m h-u-n-g-a-r-y!’ Whining more now…
‘You’ll just have to wait, I’m in the middle of something important.’
‘Can you put the T.V. on?’
‘In a minute…’
‘Can you put Gnomeo and Juliet in the DVD player for me?’
‘Honestly child, patience is a virtue.’
‘Can I have some Cheese Dunkers then…’
‘Look for Christs sake!!!’
Where upon Mrs Christ might berate Jesus for raising his voice to the child…
‘Oh let her have a Cheese Dunker.’
‘But those things are full of additives and I’m putting some Jacket Potatoes on in a minute.’
‘She’s four years old, kids are like this sometimes.’
‘It just doesn't seem right to me.’
‘Well…’
‘I mean it’s not just cheese dunkers and skips it’s all the other things like the Ballet and trumpet lessons, oh and the after school clubs – I mean I had nothing when I was a boy, apart from the occasional judo lesson or a visit to the cinema with my cousins, back when it was 25p for a matinee.’
‘Well that was then and this is now, I want to make sure she has a good start in life.’

At which point we leave the scene and learn that Christianity is mostly bollocks and while Mrs Christ may once have been his most devout follower and ridden him regularly as if urging a Grand National winner over the finishing line, he is gradually evolving into a pedantic old man who seeks refuge with those silly buggers who don’t have to live with him and hang on his every word. Yes, he seems to come alive then doesn’t he? She has rather grown to loathe that little twinkle he gets in his eye when some fallen soul comes for counselling and guidance, afterall – this is where the real work is done – in the laundry basket, with the iron, in the washing up bowl or over a cooker, not by touching the heads of prostitutes or by alleviating their sciatica with back rubs.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Taking a Leak

Conspiracy theories never resonate with me, plots maybe hatched and may have profoundly altered the course of history or present day, but that doesn’t seem surprising or especially un-natural.
Take any industry be it politics, banking or French polishing and I’m sure you’ll find an interesting spread of villains and saints, some out to manipulate and drain the system for all its worth and some who actually believe they are making the world a better place. The mistake is to believe that any group of human beings is capable of executing a genuinely, especially complex conspiracy the kind that suggests the US government is gathering information on us all from our emails or that the Jews are the overlords of the new world order or that the royal family could hide their reptilian genealogy. I think they are popular in the imaginations of what we term as very ‘bright’ people – the qualification of which seems to be an ability to interfere with computers illegally, to digitally break into private property and re-arrange the furniture before leaving, this or a tedious fixation with un-important issues such as the best Star Wars figures to collect and an obsession with learning Klingon.
Overall though the reality of conspiracy is actually pretty dull when its exposed and analysed.
I got to see ‘We Steal Secrets: The Story…’ a documentary by Alex Gibney about WikiLeaks (the ultimate geek/conspiracies website), Julian Assange and Bradley Manning, the unfortunate US solider who is now set to serve a 35 year sentence for whistle blowing government secrets. The doc seems to have been praised- personally I found it dull, meandering and lacking in anything of genuine interest, confused and unable to pull focus on whatever its central narrative was, not so long ago there was a BBC documentary of the exact same subject which was a) far more spunky to watch and b) contained all the meat that was available in ‘We Steal Secrets.’
Overall though the impression I took away from it was just how boring the Wikileaks soap opera is and how surprisingly ineffectual it has been to do or change anything significantly. The footage of the helicopter gunships slaughtering innocent people is horrible, but is it surprising? Is it something that we didn’t know was happening in war? Are there still people living in the Western world who actually believe that Politicians don’t gossip about other world leaders or that US marines torture Taliban POW’s?
Those days are gone baby – we’ve been living with the harsh reality of real human beings for over 70 years now, beyond the times when there was some sort of Godly or imperialist protective shroud around people in authority, back when we might have believed the Royal family was a direct descendent of Jesus Christ or that Policemen never use the ‘blues and two’s’ to blaze through traffic jams just to get home early.
WikiLeaks, far from actually contributing anything further in terms of getting the truth out, seems to have arrived after the fact, it has so far done little to make any long lasting impression – apart from the Gunship footage and a few bitchy comments about President Mugabe, I can’t even remember any of its other scoops.
WikiLeaks has not for example been useful in terms of predicting the banking crises or of unveiling the corruption of British MPs abusing their right to claim expenses, it’s made no tangible impact on anyone’s lives other than to embarrass a few and to give us affirmation that – yep – some US Marines are little more than shaved chimpanzee’s with guns, what a surprise – for the sake of fairness I should like to add that you can replace US Marines with your military force of choice, basically you’re going to find your fair share of morons when your business is running around shooting bullets into people – I’d find it more surprising and shocking if they had leaked evidence to the contrary.
The documentary goes on to suggest that WikiLeaks was responsible for the Arab Spring uprisings, which sounds entirely wrong to me – it popped up as part of a closing scene and it had all the feeling of a bit of an afterthought, a last minute attempt to jack up its importance and profundity. It may have been a bit player in a groundswell of revolution, but the uprisings were ultimately powered by Twitter and mobile phone communications and by the people who literally were so un-happy they were prepared to die for change. WikiLeaks cannot even (again as they suggest) claim to have inspired the ‘Reclaim’ protests that featured anarchists dressed in ‘V for Vendetta’ masks.
Far more powerful were the aforementioned Social networking apps that enabled such swift, organised action and the micro technology that goes into camera phones, these will be the memorable catalysts in future generations. WikiLeaks may have influenced or provided the wash for the canvass, but its perception of being more responsible for the engine of revolution does not add up. It seems little more anarchistic or revolutionary than the tacky ‘reveals’ of celebrity skin flaws, bingo wings or varicose veins that appear in Heat or Now type magazines. The big difference was how prepared it was to put the lives of people in danger by not redacting the names of certain people in particularly dangerous or undercover job roles,  otherwise its main impact has really only  meant uncomfortable silences at G8 summits.
Meanwhile Julian Assange the organisations visionary is something of an enigma – to me, a disturbing one. A first generation hacker full of ideology and with an intensity that is unforgiving and shrewd; merciless in fact. While the Telegraph wished to redact the names of players in particularly sensitive areas of the secret documents, for genuine concern that once broadcast their lives could be put in danger, Julian was noted to say that he didn’t care – that they deserved to die.
He may have developed a public profile approaching the scale of John Lennon, with a growing fan base of people who have come to regard him as some sort of millennial rock star, but John Lennon was a pacifist, Julian Assanges  attitude suggests he may have a deeply sadistic streak. In fact taken on face value his nomadic existence, lack of domestic stability and megalomaniacal speeches and attitude generally, is not one of warmth, he seems not to be speaking passionately from an especially positive place, but instead from one of a complicated anger.
In my experience, such people are unable to change the world for the better; more moderate characters fair better because their ideology does not tend to exclude or dismiss the views of significant segments of society, the wiser statesman recognises that discerning who is with or without sin, is a complex concept, one that ultimately yields no clear answer – if you want to make an important change, you cannot slaughter those who do not agree with you without in turn becoming a problem yourself.
Julian’s role in this world will not be as a techno Messiah, although I suspect I am in the minority here, since his public profile beautifully harmonises with the desired aesthetic of our time; here we have a brooding, imposing and articulate modern person, able to exude a certain sexual charisma and a compelling prejudice that will speak to many of us; particularly those who do believe there is a conspiracy to enslave us all and can never allow themselves to agree with an established institution.
Really though, his skill is not so dissimilar to the one man performance acts from the Victorian era, where in the past he might have pulled up a wagon and waxed lyrical about the miraculously curing powers of his potions or hair restorer.

WikiLeaks is in effect, nothing more than an encrypted dropbox where supposedly anonymous contributors can post damning evidence that might (but probably not) change the world, Julians real talent is in convincing us that it is far more important than it is and placing himself in the centre of those juicy tip offs. In the meantime, it is Julian, rather than Earth that seems to have benefited most, otherwise it’s been an interesting if not dramatic anomaly on the historical event line.

Sunday, 27 October 2013

Tedious Technology

I'm no Luddite; I work with the stuff all the time but technology needs to do something different than regurgitate itself in an ever decreasing circle of imagine-less, ineffectual, purposeless garbage. Technology, gadgets were once conceived of and built with an optimistic ideology to improve our lives or remove the drudgery of task repetition, yet more and more it is the cause of giant swells of tedium instead. I used to think that downloading updates, checking in with the manufacturers for developments or scanning the media for the next great thing was advantageous, if this ever was then I don’t think it is now. The great age of the gadget feels like it is becoming a bygone era.
When the iphone came along that was it, the pinnacle as far as I'm concerned, I'm no lover of apple products generally and I personally regard the organisation as the scientologists of the data communications world, but in the iphone; was forged the ultimate of products.
Upon getting my first iphone I experienced something that I had never had before; a near magical experience as my device painlessly installed all my contacts, organised my life perfectly within its shiny onyx brain and even seemed to do things for me I didn’t think I needed until it presented them in an incredibly handy and elegant fashion. The touch screen, the recall of useful data and the ingenuity of its apps was profound and completely immersed itself in my life in an entirely useful way; everything from tracking my calorie intake to helping me find good restaurants, making sure I didn’t get lost (or lose anything), accessing any kind of music or media I could possibly want and even as a portable communication device I could use to call and speak to people with.
There is no point in being a snob or a dick about it, HTC, LG, Sony Erricsons, Nokias etc can never hope to have that degree of succinct impact that the iphone has had. I don’t care if what they're offering has a talking OS, a holographic interface or hovers a foot above my lap while farting the national anthem, they cannot improve upon a perfect thing. The iphone is so minimal, you cannot minimize any further, yet it contains within it immense power – it is technologies living embodiment of the Bhudda. Any attempt to improve on it, can only mean adding complexity and completely misunderstanding its inert message for the human race. 

I am no more of an apple fan than this,even my iphone love is restricted to the 3G, pre the hopeless Siri feature and the death of Steve Jobs, in fact other than its iphone I steer clear of the company and its peculiar demented 'fans'; those people who sleep outside of a new store about to open, just to be the first to get inside and start giving them money.  I am wary of their happy clappy staff, the pretentious shop fronts and immense ability to seduce those with a modicum of wealth...but they sure did design an incredible phone and I'm ready to applaud them for that.
The iPad however, different story, for while I recognize that it's convenient (course its convenient, its a light, portable, instant boot device for googling pictures of actors you've not heard from in a decade and want to see how badly they've aged) it is surplus to requirement if you already have an iphone, laptop or even a tower. In the ipad and the eager beaver alternatives that keep splatting themselves across advertising hoardings, TV screens or in the indents just before a YouTube segment you are viewing, is a progressive decline. We don’t need an ipad, nor do we need google glasses, or 3D televisions or a surround sound audio experience in fact we need the opposite.
Where the iphone enabled its owners, ipads, googleglass and evermore configurable slabs streaming content with every conceivable file extension is disabling us and reducing us to couch glued, consumerist morons. Devices that only have a negative effect on the interaction between couples who are choosing, rather than to talk, to immerse themselves in a land of digital, virtual opportunity, scanning images of Billy Crystal or attempting to locate the holy grail sock and pant combo.
Computers, which in case you have forgotten, are all these things are and they peaked in their usefulness back in 2006.
That was the year that that the power to handiness ratio divided by bullshit was of most benefit to society - they became sufficiently powerful enough and stable to do all the things we wanted them to do and until such a time as we break a further level of human evolution, the only reason for wanting more power than a 2006 well spec’d machine today is either if it bursts into flames or you hanker for the additional bloatwear that is remarkable in its inconvenience. We have passed from a time of harnessing computers to do a job, to a time of doing the same job but accommodating our lethargy, where the act of bouncing down a plugin to free up processing power or archiving unused / irrelevant computer files to CDs/DVDs for more hard disc space is replaced by an undisciplined sense of entitlement, where getting off our arses to flick the switch of a laptop stored under the sofa, considered a bone grinding task. Today we want to run a million routines simultaneously with all its windows open and lights on just because it might be convenient for us, or it alleviates that nagging ache of decision making.
I have also some lack of patience or interest for those who make technology the centre of their lives, in particular I’m irritated by those that seem to find some joy in it, like that freakish bloke on Channel 4s gadget show who refers to these things as 'tech' or the more saucy 'gadge'in a knowingly casual manner, secretly hoping that such slang will be adopted by us all and he'll be able to masturbate himself to a frenzy in a secret fantasy where he is actually cool and not merely a boring, annoying twat. When they rattle off the big prize giveaway, the one that they deliver a high speed monologue of a never ending stream of gadgets and 'tech' that always includes at least 3 helicopters you can fly in your bathroom, every games console and variant and the latest carbon fibre, fire proof digital camera stroke 3D wristwatch, I feel physically sick. It’s like watching a boxset edition of all 15 seasons of prize giveaway from the conveyor belt of the generation game; in one sitting.
For to me they don't represent anything that I ever liked about technology at all, rather a hell on earth; draws and cupboards stuffed with tangles of adapters, chargers, earbuds and either foam or leatherette protective wallets. After drip feeding the recycling bin with packaging for a decade or so life will be nothing more than subservience to battery buying and of leaving my laptop in a permanent state of update downloading and installation.
Soon, without the ability to use my computer for actual work, emails or pornography I will just cease to exist and become an organic machine that exists only to facilitate the transference of data, none of which benefits me or society at all. The real prize for any gadget show winner who does not immediately start up a small business or at least give it all away is to become a living actor in a real life enactment of Fritz Lang’s prophetic Metropolis.
I blame this incurable sobriety I have for the sole reason why I cannot enjoy movies such as Batman (or Iron Man) and his cave full of ridiculously tuned, highly specified technology and  gadget laden vehicles. Even his garage has far too many down-lighters for a single pensioner and a man who likes to wear capes to stay on top of.
His entire life, far from being dedicated to fighting injustice would be spent updating USB mounted software licences, changing printer cartridges and rebooting his BT home hub in an effort to get his internet back on.