Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Ann Widdecombe calls herself a bigot

Oh dear. It appears the Widdecopter has flown herself into another power line, this time in attempting to defend her bigoted views on gay marriage. Bigoted? Surely that's the very word she set out to distance herself from? After all, Ann has made her views clear on both issues - on gay marriage itself, and on what qualifies someone - in her eyes - as a bigot:
"The real bigots, those who really deserve to be described as such, the real extremists, the real nasties, are those who believe that those who dissent from their views have no right to do so and that the state itself should silence them."
Fair enough. Except Ann's view is that "the complementarity of a man and a woman in a union open to procreation is unique and cannot be replicated by other unions." That straight marriage represents some kind of ideal. And she does have some semblance of a point - in her eyes, straight couples can have children, gay ones can't - that's what makes them 'unique.' Admittedly that's because her own party is doing everything they can to stop gay couples adopting or getting custody, but that's not important to Ann right now. What's important to Ann is that good old straight, heterosexual marriage is 'special.' Well she has the right to that opinion, as long as it remains just an opinion. The wonderful thing about opinions is that everyone can have a few. And as she rightly stated, the real bigotry comes when someone tries to silence the opinion of another just because they don't like it. Like say, by supporting the continued ban on one type of marriage because you think another is special. That's right Ann. You said that believing others have no right to their opinions is bigotry, and then continued on to state why gay people have no right to their opinion. After all, if the opinion that gay people should be allowed to marry was a valid one, then they would have the right to do so. If they have the right to an opinion, they have the right to marry - it's only the dissent of people who disagree with them that stops them from doing so. Then you said believing "that the state itself should silence" those opinions is bigotry, and then made your case for the continuation of a statute-enforced ban on gay marriage by the state. If they have a right to marry, and you want the state to ban them from doing so just because you / your religion don't agree with it, your own argument at the conference kicks in. Seems fairly clear cut to me. You just called yourself a bigot on public record. Nobody else did; you did it all by yourself.
sauce: Tory conference: Activist anger over gay marriage

Friday, 8 June 2012

One- Line Reviews

Apologies for the recent blackout. The list of drafts that greets me on my dashboard has let me diagnose the problem - I had become fixated on newsblogging, and launching into diatribes supported by links, evidence and bibliographies. In other words, all the things that made me hate writing back at university. Even now, I'm looking at the cursor blinking in front of me waiting for a naturally flowing subject to pop out of my subconscious, complete with references, point, structure and summary. Unfortunately my brain has to be wrestled into that shape. I have the organisation skills of a piss-up in a brewery, after the piss up. On the other hand, having seen what structure and references can do to the likeability of a piece, I am loath to become just another mouthpiece screaming into the void. With that in mind, here are some one-line reviews of things I have recently encountered: Minecraft: It's like OCD Porn. Help me. (9.5/10) The Social Network: Business people screw each other over, who knew. Also Justin Timberlake is perfectly cast as a massive douche. No 'splosions. (8/10) Double Entry Book-keeping: Functionality 9/10 - Fun -ohgodkillmenow/10 Co-Op Marinated Chinese Elmwood Chicken Skewers: Dry, but delicious. Good with a nice thick sauce, like gravy with sweet chilli added. (7.5/10) Game of Thrones: I CANNOT WAIT TO FIND OUT WHICH ONE SEAN BEAN PLAYS. IT'S TONY STARK, ISN'T IT. WAIT, NED STARK. WHO CALLS A FANTASY CHARACTER NED. OH MY GOD WOLVES (10/10) The Leveson Inquiry: Hoping they're at the mid-season lull, preparing for an explosive finale next week when David Cameron accidentally lets slip mid-question exactly how much Murdoch semen he ingested on the way to number 10. (5/10 with the potential to hit 9 next week). With that in mind I excuse myself, and slip back into the void. Incidentally, do feel free to leave a comment. The plugins are getting lonely.

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Work / Life Balance

It's been more than a week since my last post, and I struggle (thanks to the real world) to find time to update. This is not a situation I wanted to find myself in, nor did I think it was a situation I would find myself in, after the last three years of solid dossing about. But there we go. Work / life balance is tough enough at the best of times, but when you try and add a third 'dreams' option, it all sort of goes a bit wrong, like Prince Philip welcoming a visiting dignitary - you can struggle as long as you want, but eventually something horrible is going to happen. But I am, oddly, more determined than ever to keep hacking away at it, because it's the only way to retain some semblance of balance. Speaking of which: http://www.itv.com/news/2012-05-02/an-electricians-view-on-what-sparked-a-tory-backlash/
"At that time, he’d concluded Labour was failing to get to grips with the benefits system which was rewarding too many people who, in his view, did not deserve it and were not, like him, getting up at the crack of dawn each morning to bring money home for his family."
What's funny is that the electrician's initial reasoning for voting Tory was out of spite at those who he saw as 'sponging' from his taxes. But now that the government has branded his handouts as sponging, he's getting upset. Turns out it's easy to judge other people based on assumptions, but when you're on the recieving end of it, it's not so funny. The grammar is a bit odd as well, making it seem like he wants everyone in the country to bring home money for his family. But I digress. What really nags at me is the wording - people who don't get up 'at the crack of dawn each morning.' I - for reference - don't get up at the crack of dawn. I don't work late in the evenings, and I don't take work home. And you know what? That's healthy. That's sane. It's absolutely correct that I should have the right to spend my spare time relaxing and winding down. Taking life at a slower pace leads to less hasty decisions, a longer lifespan through avoiding stress, and a greater ability to look at the world without jealousy or spite toward those who avoid your pitfalls. If everyone was more in control of their own priorities, I can't help feeling there'd be less anger, less stress, and less people on the Jeremy Kyle show. But it almost seems as though people are determined to poison the lives of others, dragging everyone else down to their level to make things equal. But 'fair' does not have to mean everyone else's lives suck as much as yours. It's like the furore over public sector pensions. A lot of the red-tops got upset and asked why government workers should be getting something 'special.' The thing is, they're not. They're getting a good entitlement to a pension that everyone used to have before the Maxwells of the world decided pensions were an optional extra they could cull to net themselves another yacht full of prostitutes (an expense I believe you can still write off as taxable under the heading 'yachtstitutes'). We are not slaves, and the best proof of this is that we do have choices over how to spend what little time God gave us on this earth. Some choose to throw that time into a career. That's their choice. It's not mine, nor should it have to be. Getting up at the crack of dawn and working through 'til sunset is not something people should be expected to do, and yet it seems to be on the rise. Unpaid overtime, travelling to work, the great '37.5 hours a week' trick... To employers it seems fine to ask to you to put in the extra work, because they do too. Of course they do. That's why they're paid more. To compensate them for the extra work they're taking on. But it almost seems that the idea of money as compensation for effort or goods has been forgotten; it's just a thing that we all want more of, and expect more of as we 'rise' through the corporate pyramid. Now, it's gotten to the point that the people at the top are making millions, and for what? To sit in comfortable offices with secretaries filling out their paperwork, attending lunches and shirking responsibility down the chain when it all goes tits up. Getting up at the crack of dawn makes sense at the top of the pyramid, it doesn't at the bottom. If the economic truism 'time is money' really applies, then when companies cut into your time, you're getting a stealth pay-cut. But more and more, it seems that we're pushing backwards into an age where people are the property of their employers, and it's thanks largely to this creeping re-balancing of misery from people who want to see things 'fair.' You know, 'Redistributed evenly.' 'Shared.' Wait, no, that's Socialism. The tabloids hate socialism, so it can't be that. I'll leave you with this from Michael Crichton:
"Thirty thousand years ago, when when men were doing cave paintings at Lascaux, they worked twenty hours a week to provide themselves with food and shelter and clothing. The rest of the time, they could play, or sleep or do whatever they wanted... Twenty hours a week, thirty thousand years ago... I want people to wake up!"

- Michael Crichton, 'Jurassic Park'
Just imagine what you could get done in your spare time if you only worked twenty hours a week.

Friday, 20 April 2012

Jeremy Clarkson and the Striking Workers of Doom

Jeremy Clarkson worries me. And I don't mean in the usual sense that he writes for the Sun, or that his hair is a frightening reminder of the worst excesses of 1980s hairdressing; I mean more what the furore in the linked article represents. You see, on the one hand, he is an idiot. He's a big, petrol-loving, masculinist pile of 1970; a walking mid-life crisis. Yes he cheated on his wife. Yes he ignores climate change because he happens to like driving the biggest cause of it. And yes, he has on occasion said one or two genuinely offensive things. But the point is, that is the image that - I suspect - he very carefully cultivates as part of his media persona. But where he really concerns me is his propensity to land himself in vast amounts of trouble with humourless people who seem wilfully determined to misinterpret everything he says. The most recent example (that I just got round to posting) was the furore in the red-tops over striking public sector workers:
OUTSPOKEN Jeremy Clarkson is under investigation by TV watchdog Ofcom after saying striking workers "should be shot". The TV host was forced to apologise after he said all striking public sector workers should be executed in front of their families. He later told furious union bosses that his outburst had been taken out of context — and was simply a joke. Sun columnist Jeremy, 51, sparked more than 21,000 complaints to the BBC and almost 800 to Ofcom. The exchange came with show hosts Matt Baker and Alex Jones amid the walk-out over pension reform. Jeremy said: "I'd have them all shot. I would take them outside and execute them in front of their families.
And that's from the newspaper which hosts his column. Taken out of context, it is a horrible thing to say, made more convincing by the curmudgeonly image he projects. It works in terms of horrifying the readers - they get to believe that Clarkson was so angered by the minor inconvenience to him that he would actually want to see people executed. And if that's the soundbite that was disseminated, it's hardly surprising. But look at the whole quote from the article initially linked at the top:
"I think they have been fantastic. Absolutely. London today has just been empty. Everybody stayed at home, you can whizz about, restaurants are empty." However, he added: "We have to balance this though, because this is the BBC. Frankly, I'd have them all shot. I would take them outside and execute them in front of their families."
So Clarkson ridicules the BBC's rules about balance with a form of reductio ad absurdum (no, it's not a Harry Potter spell), and it gets picked up as a straight desire to see the striking workers massacred. Everything is wrong with this analysis, and the people making this analysis. If anything they should be complaining about the BBC, who at the time were attacking people trying to defend fair working conditions in the name of 'balance.' And it was these attacks that Clarkson was lampooning. But the people complaining didn't see the irony, or the obvious overstatement for comic effect. Either that, or they took the papers at their literal word, which - in the current Murdoch-controlled environment - is equally dangerous. And on the part of the journalists and the public both, it's just lazy - there are enough good stories to be written out there that making up new ones almost seems like journalists not doing their research. Not (as I, and anyone familiar with Clarkson did) looking up the original, full quote in it's desired context. After all, as I've said to friends before, the bible is just as open to wilful misinterpretation if you exclude the context. A lot of the old testament is 'backstory' showing the older, wrong attitudes Christians are trying to work on. Not every quote from a biblical character is intended to be taken as advice. Returning to Harry Potter for a second, if someone quoted a line by Voldemort or Malfoy, it's doubtful Rowling would consider them words to live by. A better example would be Harry's dialogue, depending whether he was making mistakes and panicking at the start of the book, or if he had realised what was going on. Or Snape, depending on whether he was at the time trying to lie to Harry, keep his double-double cross secret, or dying. Context is everything. Which is why the more paranoid among you may have noticed the disclaimer along the bottom of the page: "No part of this page may be paraphrased or reproduced out of context in any media without the prior permission of the author." It's a largely futile gesture I realise, but the idea behind the wording is that if someone wants to quote me they have to approve it with me first. Until they do, I'll be over here cowering under the bedsheets in case I advance far enough in writing for my rampant sarcasm to net me as many problems as the Kevin Keegan headed motormouth this rant addresses.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Regardless, the Government Will Win

I don't know what's worse; the fact that the government keeps allowing things like gas fracking and hoping that the public will just forget about it in a few weeks, or the fact that we do keep forgetting about it in a few weeks. Maybe it's because of the entertainment that's available - people are too distracted by the bright shiny lights to notice the people crawling in the gutter. Maybe it's because on an individual scale, life is pretty comfortable for a large enough majority of us; and after all it's hardly likely to be us who gets hit by the earthquakes, or the welfare cuts, or the healthcare problems. Maybe it's because we've been shoved through so much, we've reached a kind of emotional burn out, and we're all sitting disinterestedly waiting to see what the government fuck up next. And it's not just the British government. SOPA, ACTA, PIPA... I know two of those are American regulations, but they affect the internet, and like it or not the majority of the net's control points reside in US territory. They're just going to keep pushing it through because they know that eventually the papers will get sick of reporting it, the majority will get sick of protesting and signing petitions, and it will go through in some form. Maybe not in it's current drafted form, but in stealth additions and redrafts, over time they'll get there, and there'll be nothing we can do about it because nobody's listening. We live in a country that went to war for democracy, and we accept that our government is just doing whatever it wants. We didn't give a public mandate for these actions. The idea behind the voting system is that the parties set out what they'll do if they get in power, we vote for them, and then they do those things. Whereas we've seen both parties go back on their election promises and core values: The Lib dems on tuition fees, the Tories on the NHS, and that's not to mention the idea of a liberal government allowing the demolition of the welfare state. We did not vote for this. The saddening thing though is that the Coalition pretty much do have a green light to do what they like, because they have the perfect excuse. They will always be able to look back on this last budget and the austerity drive as a resounding success for one simple reason. The Olympics. We are about to get a massive influx of cash into the coffers, and in terms of pure statistics, it means that the government will be able to say they were right. In it's simplest terms (which let's face it is all the red-tops can understand), the government say we need to save money, they enact measures to save money, and we get a lot of money just after they enact them. They'll have the statistics that - if spun right - will mean that the austerity drive, the fire-sale on the NHS, the plunder of the welfare state: everything will be justified. So here's to the future. Comfortable enough, as long as we relinquish control. Control over the right to free information, control over our own safety and control over our money. It'd be enough to make me sick if I could afford the treatment.

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Insidious Review

I can't help but think that with Insidious, if the trailer had been honest it might have been better received. Going back to the John Carter rant, it used to be that studios could just lie and refuse to give refunds. That way the advertising would trick people into going, which inflated sales. Under the old system it didn't matter if the film sucked harder than Debbie Does Dallas (in all the wrong ways) - studios just say that 'The numbers speak for themselves.' A cinema full of disappointed people is still a full cinema, once the money is in the bank. Now however, those pissed off people are walking out and spreading the word about how bad films are, or in the case of Insidious, how unlike Paranormal Activity they are - but more on Insidious in a second. There seems to be a heartening move away from the old success of mis-advertising, so it looks like the studios need a 'new trick.' I'd like to suggest maybe stop tricking people - just advertise the film honestly? Regardless, I can't help but feel that this was the problem with Insidious. The trailer does make it seem like it's rolling off the success of Paranormal Activity, and it kind of is, at least in the first half. But once the mediums appear in the middle of the film, it's like a different story; like the writer died halfway through and they had to patch the rest of the story up with bits of The Exorcist, Ghostbusters and Poltergeist. In a way, I wish they'd just skipped straight to that weird switch point. Normally the reason you sit through the boring first part is to establish the character's belief in an unbelievable situation - you're sharing the growing sense of unease as it builds up to 'OK, now they have to do something.' With Insidious however, the real moment of realisation doesn't come until the main character's mother calls in the medium. Note that it's not the couple that makes this choice, it's the mother - a decision she could have reached at any point during the film, or the missing three months near the start. It takes a moment of fridge logic to realise it, but she would have had to have spent that entire three months watching her grandson in a coma without once linking it to her son (his father)'s astral projection. In other words, there's little reason for the first half of the film to be there. They could have skipped straight to the switch point and had a completely different film. It's nice, and the scare moments are built up quite well, but it could have done with a lot more editing down. Not to say the second half is perfect of course. It creeps along nicely and pulls up some genuinely interesting frights, although the two investigators do feel slightly out of place in an otherwise straight-faced horror. The demon itself is a disappointing example of Nothing is Scarier and Monster Delay though. When the creepy dancing child is seen bursting from a cupboard, it takes a little freeze frame or attentiveness, but you can see if you look closely that something is wrong with it's face, almost as if it had Progeria, the premature ageing condition. It puts you off balance subtly, just as it does with the victorian dress. As Hitchcock was reputed to have said, "something something will never be able to show an audience anything scarier than their own imagination." (No I can't be bothered to look the real quote up). But in contrast, the demon itself that forms the focus of the film is shown near the end completely clear and out in the open, and it ruins the suspense almost as much as the credits listing it as 'Lipstick Face Demon.' Everyone watching with me laughed when it started to stomp across the room on hooves, because by that point most of us were thinking of Tenacious D. Contrast that with the first time you see it's face, half-seen hissing behind Josh's head, and it's a pretty good scare. Admittedly though, by that point there's so much happening you kind of forgive it, since it's far from their biggest problem. It just seems as though Insidious could have been a great film if it had stuck to it's guns and held thematically with the second half, instead of trying to make another Paranormal Activity. It's worth watching though. Gave me the willies something rotten.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Reorganisation & Phone Wars

As you may have noticed, I have finally caved and given in to the evils of using a premade theme, because sadly the internet has evolved to the point where design and content production are two different specialisations. I will admit, I do miss being able to tweak every last aspect of the layout, margins and colours. When I first got Quake II all those many moons ago it took me a month of playing every evening to get past the second level, because I spent all my time fiddling with the 3D settings. Mostly because it coincided with us getting our first 3D card, but I digress. The point is, I find myself fannying about less and less these days. It's not my focus any more. If I want this to be a site that people actually read, I have to concentrate on the content, not the looks. Not to say I won't be heavily editing the theme mind you - I will, as it currently looks lazy as hell, and the list of categories beneath the header has gone missing for reasons I have yet to adequately explain. Wait, no, it's just white against a white background. Ass. But this always happens to me when editing by hand. For years I've been banging on to people about the benefits of clean code, and why programs like Dreamweaver overburden your site with a mound of shite, and why Blogger was so overautomated it was nearly impossible to use. Premade never caters to your precise needs, and it's always ever so slightly wrong in a way that sits there nagging at you, like a child actor in a Steven Sommers film. Which brings up a worrying post I read yesterday, and more worryingly agreed with. An error with my phone led me to a blog post by Joel McLauglin, who has made me realise there may be something in the armies of people who get iPhones because they 'just work.' And I realised how much I do forgive my little droid. I forgive it the fact that it takes twice as long for the Facebook app to load my feed as the mobile feed takes. I forgive it the fact that it is hopeless at white balancing photos and everything ends up magenta tinted (yes it's an HTC). I even forgive using a bizarre hybrid of Android 2.1 and 2.2, which I only discovered the other day when I had to do a factory reset. The phone crashed halfway through downloading 2.2 and some of the features didn't update. But I forgive all this because it's the first touchscreen I ever had. And looking at the things that matter - battery life, paying less and freedom of usage - the Legend still outshines the more modern iterations of the iPhone. To me, anyway. I don't care if the phone talks to you now, I've always said: with the iPhone, you pay extra for fewer features. And yet... the user experience on Android is getting really shabby. Google effectively don't even bother patching a lot of Android issues - they'll work correctly in the next release, but if your phone won't support that release, you're stuck. And with UK users forced into 24 month contracts, you can guarantee by the end of the first year Google will have written your handset out of the list of droids compatible with their newest version, so you never get the promised bug fix. There are too many different phones with too many different hardware and software versions, and apps simply can't remain compatible with all of them. Apps drop out or freeze up all the time. All of your friends will be using an app your phone doesn't support. The battery life is only better if you turn everything off, and then you're not getting the extra features you're boasting about over the iPhone. So it occurs to me that sometimes you get what you pay for. And if you're willing to accept all these glitches, then that's the tradeoff. I used to be able to, but I'll admit it is starting to grate on my nerves. But some people aren't willing - they'd rather pay to have someone professional sort things out, i.e. someone they can sue or shout at if it goes wrong. So yeah. I finally understand why people buy iPhones. I'm not sure if I'm happy about that or not.

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Good Men Doing Nothing

Sometimes I get the impression that nothing we say or do is ever going to get through to our dear government.
The report, by the Riots Communities and Victims Panel, concludes that the riots were fuelled by a range of factors including a lack of opportunities for young people, poor parenting, a failure of the justice system to rehabilitate offenders, materialism and suspicion of the police.
Well, I could have told you that. In fact I did, and I'm an idiot. Anyone who has lived in or near a poor area can tell you that they feel the government has turned their backs on them, a feeling worsened by constant bombardment with images of London parties and the excesses of the top 10%. The Tories are taking away the welfare, arts council grants, career guidance and now education that would have enabled the poor to get a foothold in society. Faced with that, why should they listen to a legal system they soon won't be able to access? Why respect someone that doesn't respect you? All the evidence is pointing to the conclusion that the lack of opportunity and connection with society is what's causing the problem. Even if you look at it from a right-wing perspective and simplify the rioters as 'scum,' why have they become that bad? What kind of society would section off people like that and leave them to rot, instead of finding a solution to deal with them? Chase the trail of 'why' to the logical conclusion, and you find that it's gotten this bad because successive governments have wanted to push these people to one side and forget about them. Now they're demonstrating that they're sick of being forgotten, sick of being conveniently 'othered' - someone for David Cameron to hug when he's on the election trail, and demonize when he riles them up. They're not others. They're not another species, another social class. They're human beings who are sick of being pushed, and the government's only response is to push harder. The austerity drive is asset-stripping the country starting at the bottom, taking from a social group that has nothing left to give. The amazing thing is the sense of sheer helplessness we're left with afterwards. The voting system didn't stop this, because we have a coalition government. Peaceful protest methods haven't stopped it, because the government would prefer to listen to self-appointed committees, to which none of the dissenters are invited. And even violent protests like the riots haven't worked, they've just been spun to make the rioters the enemy. There is pretty much nothing connecting the government's actions to the wishes of the people. Is this really a democracy?
"All that is required for evil to prevail is for good men to do nothing."
Edmund Burke
Or maybe all it takes is for us to let ourselves get to the point where our actions account for nothing.

Monday, 26 March 2012

John Carter of Mars Flop

As much of a horrendous misanthrope as I can be, I am prone to brief bouts of hope that the public express the sentiments of the Who (via the CSI Miami soundtrack); namely, that they won't get fooled again. John Carter of Mars has elicited one such reaction. I am giggling with delight at the idea of people tiring of the visual spectacle, of moviegoers switching off from shit and only attending movies by word of mouth. I know this was the sentiment in our house about the film - we had the opportunity to see it, but everyone was just tired of brainless action, and frankly nobody trusted Disney to truly deliver on the advertised promise. But the obvious failure of John Carter this weekend must set Hollywood into a flurry of panic, since as William Goldman put it, "The single most important fact, perhaps of the entire movie industry, is that nobody knows anything". To continue from yesterday's rant, money men have been running the show for too long; and while they're undoubtedly good with money, they have no idea what makes a good film. So they do statistical analysis on films that have been successful, and hash together a list of rules governing blockbusters. There are now so many tiny rules to scriptwriting - there must be one joke/point of tension per page, there must be an action sequence on page 60... Reading the list of requirements, you imagine a room full of coked-up executives excitedly trying to out-do each other's pitches for how many explosions / sky battles the finale will include. The industry is being run by excitable children, and John Carter represents the absolute apex of their idiocy. Look at any of the classic films like The Graduate, Casablanca, The Godfather - these films would all have been turned down under modern scriptwriting rules. Films that don't meet the criteria are cast out, so the potential successes that could prove the formula wrong never make it. And now all we're left with is executives scratching their heads at why formulaic pap like John Carter - films designed by committee to fulfil a checklist of cliches - are bombing. Bizarrely though, Hollywood now stands on the brink of becoming the good guys for once. Since it's been proven that the suits don't know anything about what audiences want, it falls to the studios actually looking to the public for what they want. And this doesn't mean distilling a list of cliches from films that already sold well; if they actually start using social media to contact their demographics rather than thinking of it as a demographic in itself, they could get the feedback they need. It's all out there Hollywood. You just need to know where to look.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Of Berries, Brothers and Bad TV

This post is based on a draft that has been lying around for a while. In fact it's been more than a year. It's not very often I get to start a blog with "I was talking to a celebrity, last night..." and unfortunately I've missed that opportunity spectacularly. However, the fact remains I did speak to a celebrity, so I'm going to milk it for all it's worth. The anecdote that is, not the celebrity. Oh god, this is all going wrong already... I was talking a number of months (more like two years) ago with the most excellent Mr Matt Berry (he of Garth Marenghi's Darkplace, Snuff Box and the IT Crowd) about... well, whatever you fill the time with when talking to someone who's been professionally able to fire a Glock at an army of floating stationery. Part of the Winchester Film Festival and at the time I was lucky enough to be part of the backstage entourage, so headed off to the local to keep him entertained. And the conversation came round to the youth of today, and the lack of rebellion and originality in young TV writers. Does he have a point? Of course he does, he's famous. And TV is generally terrible. Even when something new and ground-breaking (or at least breaking old ground everyone else had forgotten) comes along, it's generally a month or so before every other network is scrambling to release their own rehash of it. For every Lost, there's a Flash Forward; for every Heroes there's an Alphas. And with these rehashes comes the armies of content control people, milking down any of the originality that might have dared poke it's head out. Applying stock characters on top of overdone plots in locations we're sick of seeing, they manage to amplify the mysteries at the core of the show's pitch only in so far as to make it look like nobody on the show has any idea what they're doing. Look at Big Brother. Endemol's original Channel 4 pitch was interesting mostly because it was an experiment. Stick these unknown people in a house, set them challenges and watch the little humans scurry around their little ant farm. Look, that one just done a poo, delightful. It was exactly as promising as a date with George Osbourne. And yet the utterly unexpected happened with it. We got riveting, Machiavellian evil at the hands of 'Nasty' Nick Bateman, voyeuristically revelling in every backstab and whispered accusation; right up to his surprisingly panto-free exit to genuine hatred. We had the "won't they / won't they" drama of Tom (looking like a sad version of Jack from Lost) and Anna (looking like everyone wishes all Lesbians looked). We got Craig sleeping his way through half the competition, emerging to a surprise win and donating it to a secret disabled relative who needed lifesaving surgery - that miraculously he hadn't even been milking in the press. And it all came through Endemol releasing the reigns and taking a chance. Seeing what happens. Now, Big Brother has descended into a kind of day-release program in which the real world is spared the presence of it's worst inhabitants so we can safely gawk at them from behind a TV screen. The same characters go in and have the same arguments over the same things because the content control people have stepped in and driven it into the pit of ADHD, where only ideas that have previously been proven to work are safe for the audience of ravenous plebs that await it. I'm sick of it and I wish the show would just die, except being on Channel 5 is a much worse punishment. Now, Reality TV has become one of those dirty but inexplicably common phrases, like 'Back Sack and Crack' or 'The Conservatives.' It's gone too far to take it back - Real people wouldn't trust Reality TV any more because they know there's not going to be anything new or interesting, just the same ideas rehashed to death. Maybe this is what's holding back the next generation of writers: there are no more Monty Pythons or Young Ones to inspire them to anarchy. Or as Matt Berry put it, "Stop ranting and get me another drink."

Thursday, 23 February 2012

David Cameron and the Ford Pinto of Shame

Comedy lizard and spoof prime-minister (well I'm hoping so - for god's sake he'd better not be serious or we're all fucked) David Cameron shuffled further away from the reality that should be etching the word 'shame' into his forehead on a daily basis, by declaring in a robotic monotone that "Business is not just about making money, as vital as that is. It's also the most powerful force for social progress the world has ever known." Shortly after, every cat within a 7 mile radius was found dead, it's face frozen in a rictus grin. But I digress. In and of itself, this statement is true - business isn't just about money, it's also about avoiding hostile takeovers and unethical competitors pushing you out of your target market, usually by resorting to even more underhand and unethical behaviour. It's about offsetting the cost of repairs against the cost of a human life. It's about work, and getting as much of it out of your employees before they break down, quit, die or retire. No no. Business isn't just about making money. It's merely the single most important aspect of it. And yes, business is a force for social change. Just look at how Monsanto has 'changed' life for the few farmers Africa was able to support, or how Nestle has 'changed' the life expectancy of infants in developing countries, or lack of proper adherence to health and safety codes is 'changing' live workers into dead ones. The thing is, to me this just shows how far removed from reality David Cameron has become (sidenote - I'll have to refer to him as DavCam from this point on, since if you say his name three times he appears behind you with his sexual organs exposed. All nine of them). Anyone who can look at the NHS wholesale and say that the same business thinking that went into the Ford Pinto is a good thing to have in an organisation concerning healthcare, is, I suspect, an automaton placed in position by DavCam for when his people invade. I worked for the NHS. I saw how the one thing that was crippling it was the fact that it was being run like a business. Hospitals competing against each other just means hospitals (and even departments) don't work together. Incorrect diagnoses are made, because (for example) the MRI department doesn't want someone's tests coming out of their budget, so they refer them to a less expensive test, or another department. Everyone assumes areas where there is the slightest overlap is 'someone else's problem' without ever checking it's being done. And the structure of the NHS should lend it to some of the most creative problem solving ever, and yet it is almost entirely staffed at a management level by business school graduates, who apply competitive thinking strategies because they don't know how to do anything else. And at the end of the day, that's fine to NHS management, because it's just numbers. The red bar on their statistics sheet isn't a pile of bodies, it's just a red bar. When they save money, the red bar goes up, and so does public outrage, but the trick for them is to keep cutting costs while keeping the outrage below an 'acceptable' amount. And maybe this is the thing. We're all taking too much. In terms of cost-benefit analysis, either our threshold as a nation is too high or the government has decided to just stop listening. Either way, it can't be a good sign.

Monday, 6 February 2012

Politeness Costs Nothing

Good old Beeb, I knew I could rely on you for my daily splurge: The bent of the article isn't (as the title suggests) the loss of the written word, but of patience and of self-censorship. Hastily written words don't impart the meaning they should, as the frenetic pace of social media discourages people from drafting, editing and clarifying. I've personally lost count of how many arguments I've been involved in over something as simple as a misplaced comma. Of course in that case, it was because I was drawing a comma on someone's forehead with a Sharpie while screeching "USE PUNCTUATION YOU COMPLETE BASTARD!"

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Nothing Kills a Muse Like Happiness.

So as you can see, the site is now in a more-or-less in working order. And I SWEAR I had an idea just now when I was doing the washing up, a self-deprecating train of thought stringing fascinating ideas together into a halfway cogent ramble. Unfortunately that was then, and now that my laptop is up and running I'm unable or unwilling to retrieve the idea from the great compost heap manned by hunchbacked goblins that is my imagination. Oh wait, here it is: Happiness is counterproductive to the great creative splurgings I need to get myself on the way as a writer. It's a weird feedback loop because for years I was miserable and unable to motivate myself to pour out the tale of woe building in my system on a daily basis. But there was a story there. Granted, most of the protagonists underwent Kafka-levels of emotional torture just to get through their miserable existences, but nevertheless there were beginning, middles, ends and even inciting incidents. Now, I stare into the hollow core of my being where the stories used to be, and I find a smile there. It's enough to make me want to sick up a fridge. So where do I go from here, now I'm done tweaking the layout (apart from the single post pages, and a few bits on the sidebar that are still nagging at me)? I suppose write. Have ideas and write them down, so other people can read them. The usual. I've categorised them into Rants, Daily, Free-Writing and stuff I want to Share, which might help. Or not. Still, tomorrow is a brand new day. Oh god that's even more positivity, how the hell am I supposed to get anything done round here? I'm off to get a hammer. See you later.