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Sunday 27 December 2015

You Can Do It

It's halfway between Christmas and New Year, and I am already all holiday'd out.

I'm glad that the people that had a good time, did. I'm sad that those who didn't, didn't. I wish everyone could have had a good time. Likewise I wish those who didn't want to do this whole thing (but ended up kind of having to do it anyway) could have sidestepped it.

What is coming up is New Year's Eve, and there will be many things going on, in people's heads and on social media.

Amongst all the chat about this and that, there will probably be a significant amount of thoughts relating to new year, new person. A lot of this may be accompanied by motivational posters; and it's those particular posters that on occasion catch my eye.

See...I am a depressive. Have been for a long time. A bit of a cynic too. So whenever I see those messages of positivity, my instinct is to sneer. I don't know if they actually work for anyone - if they make people feel better, give them the drive or determination that they need - but for me, it never seems to ring true.

That said - if it WORKS for you? You do you. Unless something someone does is harmful (to them or anyone else) then I probably shouldn't have any say in it. I just don't understand the mindset that MAKES it work. It's beyond me.

Likewise, New Year's resolutions. I've made some in the past. It just....doesn't really work for me now. If I have one each year, it's to make it through to next year; and some days, that is harder than others. My health makes actually going out and having adventures fairly difficult - and besides, for me, the draw of them has faded a little. Perhaps that is cynicism, too. Perhaps I just value things differently, now.

Sure, there's things I want to do in 2016. There's things I am hopeful for. I want to be able to get more tattoos. I want to attend some gigs. I want to get some serious writing done. I want to be in a better financial place by the end of the year - and at least 80% of that is just on me, so I am hopeful.

Work looks positive. We've got a lot of good work coming up, which is gonna keep us busy as heeell. Predicting a few late finishes, which is fine. Even looking down the barrel of a shedload of work - my team is a good one, we'll be okay.

Got all sorts of fun events coming up, too. Nine Worlds convention in the late summer, which I am SERIOUSLY looking forward to. A trip up to London to catch a showing of The Room at the Prince Charles theater, which I am still sourcing plastic spoons and an American football for. Visits to friends, hopefully - both near AND far. (Assuming you wanna see me that is!)

So...why not 2016? Why not. I'm not gonna say it is going to be the super-best year ever - but I will settle for it being a good year.

Hopefully not just for me, either. I'm hoping America has a good year, by avoiding the Trump Bullet. I'm hoping folks the world over have a more acceptant time, an easier time, a time less plagued by the ignorance and greed of others.

Hell...maybe I AM looking forward to it.

Thursday 17 December 2015

Hijacking The Narrative

A story can be very different when taken from another perspective.

Take, for example, the well-known tale of the brave police officers trying to counteract the criminal activity of a well-connected crime family in the 50s and 60s. Their fortitude in the face of a crime boss of significant power and means is an inspiration to us all. The Untouchables -

...wait, is that what I am talking about? Because I'm pretty sure that is also The Godfather, from another angle.

Think about those two novels, those two movies. They are different, yes - but they could almost be two sides of the same coin, with very little shifting. The two sets of events could happen in the same storyline, but who we root for and who we sympathise for is a case of perspective.

(I'm more of a Corleone man than an Elliot Ness - but that's just me.)

That's an example of two stories that can be seen as vaguely similar. Taking a different perspective in an existing story can lead to just as different results.

Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead is a fresh take on Hamlet. It's a play that literally takes place in and around the events of Hamlet, with the two titular buffoons as main characters. Where Hamlet itself, as a play, is afflicted with the air of melancholy and paranoia that is inherent in its main character - R&GAD is absurd and comedic, with the two regularly forgetting which of them is which.

Sometimes if we want examples of this, we aren't so lucky as to have opposing viewpoints presented in canonical media. We have to think for ourselves. (Rare, right?) So there's the story about the engineer whose family were killed in an insurgency who dedicates the rest of his life to building the ultimate deterrent against future insurgency...who is unfortunately killed when the Rebels attack the second Death Star.

This happens in real life, too. I mean history is a thing of many different stories, and history is heavily reliant on perspective. Anyone who knows anything about the second world war knows how different it went to how people think it went. The story pans out in different ways depending on whose history you read. As long as we're aware of this, though, we're capable of stepping outside the box and forming a kind of aggregate narrative that is closer to the truth than any one angle.

This is how novelists do it with complex multi-character multi-arc stories, too. Usually the end result is a pastiche of multiple stories that hammer together into one single narrative, presenting a more rounded and filled-out story than one perspective could allow for.

But if a fiction can be altered by changing perspective - if an author can make the story seem like it is going one particular way, then alter how we feel about it and what we think is going on at the drop of a hat - then surely, so can a reality.

The thing with this is that an author or creator or writer has control over their product (hopefully). They can dictate perspective as they see fit - the narrative is theirs to control. Real life doesn't always work like that, as much as people would like it to.

You see politicians do it all the time. If a story is unfavourable to them, they will try and frame it in such a way that it minimizes that lack of favour. Spin doctors specialise in this - and the hope is that the perspective shift becomes what people accept as the only truth. (This happens quite often. More often than anyone would like.)

It's not a case of opposition, either. Sometimes even a slight adjustment of angle can produce a very different result. What's the difference between a zealot and a true believer? What's the difference between a militant and a soldier? The angle of how the shadows fall. Language is very important in how we think of things, and those who use language carefully can be instrumental in dictating opinion and perspective.

Where am I going with this? Didn't start off with a conclusion in mind, really; but I think I have some idea.

Once upon a time there was a baby born. He was born in poverty, due to inefficient bureaucracy and basic lack of equality; and so we aren't surprised when this young man grows up to be very conscientious, and considerate - almost to his own detriment. He shows favour to people that he's expected to shun, and he preaches that we should help each other. Like all the time. Like the only way we can make things better for US is to make things better for THEM, because THEY are US.

He sees that people are hungry and he feeds them. He sees that the poor are being taken advantage of by the wealthy, and does something about it. He sees injustice all around him, and tries to fix it...and is criminalised for it. To the point that, in the end, he is put to death alongside murderers and thieves, because he's considered an enemy of the state - a state made great (in part) by wealth division and bureaucracy, the very things he stood against.

By now I am fairly convinced that you've realised I'm putting a spin on the life of Jesus of Nazareth. It's a perspective that I buy into far more than the entire son-of-God narrative. Because isn't it actually far more worthy, far more holy, to do good things just BECAUSE they are good things? To try and make life better for people because it is not only LOGICALLY the best thing to do but also MORALLY? Isn't that a far stronger message than...well...

...than the narrative that he was the predestined Messiah, which was altered on and off over a period of centuries, mostly to suit whoever was in charge at the time, wherein he was pretty much forced to be the ultimate dude bro because of God-dad and was sent down to die for our sins? Which by the way is weak as hell - die for our sins? Why not show us how to NOT SIN? Why not show us how to not be shitty people? Nope, instead he gets to be martyred. All he does in life is overshadowed by the fact that God-dad wants him to be strapped to wood and killed by exhaustion and asphyxiation.

But that's the narrative that we use. It's the narrative that is adopted by the culture I am surrounded by. It's the easier one to get behind. That way we don't need to actually DO good things in a very pro-active and charitable way - we just need to be vaguely good, because Jesus wasn't here to show us how to live, he was here to show us that God-dad loves us so much he'd kill his own adopted son.

This is what happens when we let perspective be dictated to us - this is a literal hijacking of the narrative. I quite often like to talk about unpopular or contrary interpretations of how things are or the way things have been, if only because it shows that there is a different perspetive that may otherwise be overlooked. It's as much a reminder to those I talk to, as it is a reminder to myself. Challenge the narrative. Find a contrary viewpoint. Draw information from multiple sources. Informed decisions are cool, people! Be people that are cool.

Don't let your perspective be hijacked.

Tuesday 8 December 2015

People Live Here

I want to share a song with you.

This song is by a band called Rise Against; it's from their most recent album at time of writing, Black Markets. It's called People Live Here.

The first time I heard this song, I was in public, so I just...swallowed, and kept going. Then I got home and listened to it again, and really let it sink in, and that was a messy one. It's one of those songs - there's a few of them that really get to me.

The lyrics are below:
My god is better than yours
And the walls of my house are so thick I hear nothing at all
I followed you out in the storm, but it carried you off
And I burned every picture of yours, was that not enough?

My gun is bigger than yours
So let's arm the masses and see what the bastards do then
Walking tall once set us apart, now we're down on all fours
Do you cry my name in the dark like I do yours?

These storms are getting stronger now, the trusses all bend and sway
The lightning hits, the power goes out in the fray
As the waves crash high and the shoreline disappears
I will scream to the sky "Hey people live here"

But my dreams are not unlike yours
They long for the safety and break like a glass chandelier
But there's laughter and oh there is love, just past the edge of our fears
And there's chaos when push comes to shove, but it's music to my ears

May you be in heaven before the devil knows you're dead
And may these winds be always at your back
'Cause when we're all just ghosts and the madness overtakes us
We will look at the ashes and say "People lived here"

From the penthouse to the holy martyr, sea to shining sea
From the coffins full of kindergarteners, is this what you call free?
From the hate that drips from all your crosses, are your hands so clean?
There's a wildfire and it's spreading far, from sea to shining sea

When we're all just ghosts and the madness overtakes us
I will scream to the sky
Yeah I'll scream to the sky
Yeah I'll scream to the sky
"Hey people live here" you...get it?

Like does it needle you like it needles me? Does it tug on that nerve inside of you, that runs right to your brain, and demands that you FEEL something?

Like all pain?

Just...god. For the last few days I feel like I've been rent open. I've been ill, that much I know - I can hear it when I lay down and breathe, like popping candy in my trachea. I've had some bad news that I don't want to go into publically, though if you ask I may tell. On top of all this, I've seen more racism, hysteria, xenophobia and bastardly behaviour in the past few weeks thanI recall seeing in the past few years.

I can understand why people get so frustrated at the world. Like identifying all of the individual ways in which it is fucked up and diagnosing causality, that is difficult, and takes time, and can be agonising - it requires a lot of reading in a lot of different areas. It can be very hard to identify one's own bias and try and work around that, too. If you even recognise that you ARE biased.p

I'm biased.

I'm biased because right now I'm seeing a war being prosecuted by a right wing organisation against everyone else, and another war of a different type being prosecuted by another right wing organisation against everyone else, and yet another war of yet another different type being prosecuted by yet another right wing organisation against STILL EVERYONE ELSE. And some of those right wing organisations are fighting each other, and everyone else at the same time.

I'm biased because I can't see how any of the parties involved can't see that they are doing a huge amount of harm to people that don't deserve it. It maddens me that grinning idiots and smirking madmen and flushed pompadours and furious fanatics deliberately hurt and kill people, some directly, some indirectly. Some pull the trigger, some pull the funding, some sit in the middle and point fingers and hate, and hate, and hate.

I want to grab them all by the shoulders and scream at them, yell and bawl and cry and shout until I can't feel my throat burning. Stop it. You know you're doing it. STOP IT. We're all just PEOPLE, you fucking monsters. We're just trying to live. Our lives are so FUCKING HARD before you even decide to weigh your shit into it and you just make it worse because of whatever fucking STUPID REASON you care to use to justify your abominable behaviour, and it's WRONG, and you need to NOT FUCKING DO IT.

I swallow that down. It's all I can do to swallow that down. I try and deal with my problems as best I can, a step at a time, and not resort to yelling, because yelling won't help anyone.




Wednesday 2 December 2015

Terrorist Sympathiser

I found out very recently that I am a terrorist sympathiser.

I am a terrorist sympathiser because I don't believe that a bombing campaign, or even a full-fledged all-arms military campaign, in Syria will actually get rid of Islamic State or reduce their ability to hurt us, which leads me to think that signing off on a bombing campaign is a bad idea.

I am a terrorist sympathiser because I don't believe that the Russian bombing campaign is achieving the goals we are being told it is, because the Russian air force is busy flattening targets identified by President Assad's loyalists. It's fairly likely, therefore, the Russian bombing campaign is busy killing everyone that isn't in Assad's camp - which includes the 70,000 on-the-ground fighters that our government has quoted as being the actual troops with which IS will be defeated.

I am a terrorist sympathiser because I don't believe that any other nation's bombing of targets in the region made anyone on Earth any safer, which is in part borne out by the fact that bombing has been occurring long before the terror attacks on Paris, the Lebanon and Iraq took place. In fact, it is perhaps up for debate that the bombing campaign conducted by the French air force may have led to Paris being targeted either directly or indirectly, having the opposite of the intended effect.

I am a terrorist sympathiser because the military situation as it stands is less like World War 2, with very clearly delineated battle lines and forces, and far more like the Vietnam War. Even with close eyes on the ground, we can guarantee that there will be civilian casualties. It is inconceivable that there won't be. Several nations are basically okay with this, and several people within this nation are likewise - I am not.

I am a terrorist sympathiser because every single time we interfere with the Middle East, we cause more problems than we solve. It's like a wound that we made, that we can't help but touch and scratch and toy with. The story repeats itself, constantly, over and over again. We arm and support the rebels, or we arm and support the establishment, and people die. More and more people die. Because everyone remembers that the Russians were the antagonists of Rambo 3, but everyone forgets that the good guys became the Taliban.

I am a terrorist sympathiser because every house we blow up, every school we implode, every building we collapse produces more people fleeing for their lives from a nation already riddled with war and death. Many of those people will try and come here. Shamefully, a significant amount of British citizens have shown themselves as finding this situation intolerable; they seem to be the same people who are very much in support of an action that would create yet more of those same refugees.

I am a terrorist sympathiser because the loadout of a single strike aircraft costs enough to house and feed a significant percentage of the homeless in this country. A single Storm Shadow missile costs almost £800,000. If we fire six Storm Shadow missiles, that is the cost of a brand new hospital, fully staffed and with all modern technology and equipment. At a time when the public infrastructure is (some might say deliberately) overtaxed and under-budgeted, it is sheer madness to literally throw away such sums of money on achieving - as mentioned before - very little.

I am a terrorist sympathiser because our Prime Minister is showing himself to be an insecure schoolboy, desperately trying to show off to his head-of-state peers, and is willing to risk lives to do so. He wants to prove he's just as tough and brave as all of his chums, and will bully his opposition and cajole them until they let him go along with his multi-million-pound ego trip. He is the one that labelled me a sympathiser, in fact; it's a label he has dished out to everyone not siding with him in today's debate. He claims that inaction is not a strategy, as do many others. I can name two dozen nations that have done nothing and not suffered terrorist attacks at the hands of IS. It seems to be quite an effective strategy.

Finally, I am a terrorist sympathiser because if the powers that be insist on using this kind of rhetoric to reinforce their power and control over the citizenry, then I cannot conscientiously align myself with them. The greatest threat to our way of life today is not a group of militants in a far-away country - nor is that greatest threat a group of individuals who have lived in their target country for a significant period of time, far away from the far-away country that it is proposed that we bomb.

The greatest threat to our way of life is people like David Cameron, who truly believe that the best way to govern a nation is to drive it into austerity - for whom the health and wealth of corporate entities is of greater importance than the population of the nation. IS will never control Europe; but significant parts of Europe are already under the control of people like David Cameron. A man who marries himself to toxic media empires and desperately finger-points and blusters to protect his friends in office, regardless of their evil and incompetence. A man whose political stance is that of doing harm to his citizens, over and over again - death by a thousand cuts.

If all of these beliefs, all of these logical processes make me a terrorist sympathiser, then I will wear that label, and I will wear it with a defiant pride. I will not be intimidated by those who use fear to try and achieve their political ends - David Cameron - into forsaking my morals and my conscience.

I am a terrorist sympathiser.

Just ask the terrorists.

Saturday 28 November 2015

Lessons Learned, Pages Turned

Herein is the latest installation of my series about learning lessons from various media. If you're playing the home game, drink if you agree. This is a sequel to my previous posts on this topic - Part 1 and Part 2.

Wreck-It Ralph taught me that I need to stay in my lane. Don't try and be better or anything other than what you are - the moment you try, you've fucked it. ...that's a double-edged sword.

Say Anything taught me that music can convey just about anything better than regular old words can. Especially when delivered personally. Via nineties-era boom-box.

Dog Day Afternoon taught me that love can drive people to extraordinary lengths. And body counts.

Gremlins taught me that stairlifts are very, very dangerous.

Civilization V taught me that as long as you are charismatic enough, anyone will help you, unless you CURSE YOU GHANDIIIIIIII

Die Hard taught me a great way to deal with jet alg and various other minor discomforts and maladies. Seriously, try the grabbing-the-floor thing. It genuinely works.

Inception taught me that I should ignore all of those ridiculous motivational posters telling me to Follow Your Dreams.

Pokemon: The First Movie taught me that all it takes for people to realise that conflict is wrong is to notice the effect it has on two people.

Gone In Sixty Seconds taught me that there is literally no car on earth sexier than a 1967 Mustang with a V8 engine.

The Great Dictator taught me that it's not the people that talk a lot that really deserve listening to - it's the ones that talk so rarely that you know they have something to say.

The Star Wars Prequels taught me that you should just watch the original trilogy. Also that it's far more okay to murder Sand People babies than non-Sand People kids.

Mad Max: Fury Road taught me who killed the world. It also taught me that being witnessed can be very important.

Terminator 2 taught me that even carrying a minigun won't make a white man seem as threatening as an unarmed black man to the authorities.

Pixels taught me to never trust Adam Sandler, and also to just watch Wreck-It Ralph again.

Yet again...more will follow in the future.

Tuesday 24 November 2015


This blog directly relates to the last one.

Having thought about it, I think there is definitely a solution to the terrorist problem. Also to a lot of other problems. This is where it gets a little...esoteric.

The reason why the solution won't be applied isn't due to over-complication. It's the opposite. The solutions are too simple. They're also somewhat counter to human nature, which is not to be confused with humanity.

(If you need a definition as to why they're different: humanity the hand that helps you up, where human nature is the other hand that goes through your wallet at the same time.)

My solution is three steps, and step one is a constant one for me:


Poverty causes, and is a catalyst for, so many other issues that it is impossible to argue that a global reduction of poverty (even a small one) would be a bad thing. It isn't just about having money, or even the things that money can buy you. It's about security.

I'm not saying that the current Capitalist world-model is a good one, and it certainly isn't the best one. My problems with that would fill a couple of blogs in and of themselves. Fact of the matter is, though - if agenda continues to be set by those with plenty of money, and the infrastructure of society is fueled by such money, then people having more of it increases equality in a very lateral fashion.

Extremism breeds in environments of stress and tension. Intolerance thrives in such environments, though it is far easier to spread to more comfortable locales. If the environments that people live in are made better, if lives are improved, then there's less hostility to go around.

You'll notice I am not distinguishing between areas of the world when I talk about this. That's because extremism and intolerance can exist in any country, and feeds the extremism and intolerance of those it antagonises, creating a feedback loop of backlash. "Violence begets violence," Dr Martin Luther King Jr. told us, and he was right.

The second step in our solution is actually aided by the first one:


While a decrease of poverty should naturally lead to better education as a natural process, a concerted effort to educate people better would be invaluable.

I don't necessarily just mean book learning here. Being able to parrot long words or knowing how to say basketball in Spanish or memorising sulphuric acid's chemical make-up. All these things are good, but knowing is not understanding, and understanding is key.

I was taught a lot of very useful things as I grew up and in my early adult years, but there was a lot more I had to pick up myself, and yet more that I haven't worked out yet. I was taught something about religion, and something about history, and the tiniest amount of economics - but nothing about politics, nothing about mental health, very little about how to be okay with my own company and how to avoid being drawn into the bad crowds I was told constantly to avoid.

It's hard. I know it's hard. The fact is, though - this is 2015. I am sure there must be some way in which we can teach without brutalising, traumatising or dehumanising. There must be.

With a wider base of knowledge and understanding, not only of ourselves but others, then it is far harder for the kind of thinking that allows for terrorism and its associated backlash to take root. Not impossible, but far harder.

Again. I do not distinguish on nationality or locale here. This is universal.

As step two was helped by step one, step three benefits from both:


I've talked about this before. A while ago, but still.

To take a step away from my socially responsible language, we are shitty to each other all the time. We're shitty to each other in a lot of ways - some passive, some active. Some people's shittiness is more effective than others - they have more pull, more to gain, more to lose.

Direct shittiness is thankfully relatively rare, but still exists. Being abusive for whatever reason or over whatever perceived slight. Wishing harm and death on people, and trying to make that happen. This kind of shitty is hard to stop without changing the way people think and feel (see steps one and two), but it can be done.

It is large-scale indirect shittiness, however, that causes the real damage.

Here's some of that indirect shittiness: if a UK arms manufacturer sells something to someone and they default on the repayment, the loss is underwritten by UKEF, a government-funded export credit agency. That means, it comes out of our taxes. Effectively that means that if Gun Company A wants to sell guns to Warlords 1, 2 and 3, they don't have to care about whether or not they will actually get paid. If Warlords 2 and 3 default, then we, you and I, pay to cover their debts.

There was talk about stopping this back in 2012. But then there was talk of stopping this back in 2000 as well, so...

How is this indirect shittiness? Well think about it. Using funds provided you by the taxpayer to allow the arms industry to flog hardware around the world with little worry of being shafted? How many of those sales that have been shored up with our money have put weapons in the hands of the people we happily call terrorists? Literally not caring enough about where the guns end up, as long as we just keep selling them, even to people who can't pay.

That happened in a different market, recently. It happened with houses. In the US. In 2007. It caused the financial crisis that we are currently existing in right now. The crisis that makes it all the more bitter that what little money we have is still being used to hedge the bets of munitions firms.

More indirect shittiness: most policy decisions we have made to do with the Middle East. Starting from year zero. Hell, imperialism as a whole and the superiority complex we have as a result has done us literally NO favours, ever. Some of that I would argue is direct shittiness, but the attitude we have now is formed on centuries of action that we had little to do with but still carry with us. Again it is the powers that be that dabble with this shittiness, drawing the lines of demarcation in Palestine, handing out support here, handing down financial punishments there. Governments use other countries like sandboxes, and then wonder why the citizens of those countries get all pissed off.

That may sound like I'm sympathising with terrorists. Understand this: I hate what they did, but that doesn't mean I can't draw a line of causality from why. Do I agree with them? No. Do I agree with what our governments have done? No. They're not mutually exclusive.

Yet more indirect shittiness can be found in the media. It sells papers to be extreme, to have eye-catching headlines, to appeal to the controversial in society. Fanning the flames of intimidation and tension leads to viewers which leads to more Good Things, and because they don't care about the irresponsibility of their actions and who may suffer as a consequence, they continue to be shitty to other human beings.

And more indirect shittiness...well, that falls at the feet of normal folks like you and I.

See, the things described above - they are huge acts of dismissive callousness. But that callousness has to come from somewhere; and if we allow for small cruelties, large ones soon follow.

Society in general looks like it rewards kindness and compassion. It doesn't. That's the message that is put out, but the reality is that it rewards inversion, huddling down against the cold alone and letting everyone else cope for themselves. As small groups and families and communities we stand together, but any further than that - nothing.

If we cared more, if we reached out more, then there'd be less anger and hatred and loneliness and fear in this world. All of the soil that extremism grows in - here and abroad - would be lessened. Lessen the soil, lessen the crop; and the returns would only increase.

The thing of it all sounds so wishy-washy and hard to achieve because...well...we all know people aren't like that. Nobody believes in the things that would reduce poverty, because that means redistribution of wealth, or adjustment of current living conditions. No one wants that. Fuck those worse off than me, I don't want to be worse off. Refugees? Charity starts at home. Charity? I've got enough to worry about.

It's an austerity mindset, an enclosed and fearful mindset. It is people unwilling to help the whole because the one is more important. It's a mindset that we are born into, live in, die in. As I said earlier, it is what society wants of us.

In the end, we have made a very uncomfortable bed. We've done a lot in the past that is coming back to bite us in the present and will continue to bite us in the future; and the only way out of it is to stop making the same stupid mistakes we keep making, fix the holes in the cieling we keep ignoring, and actually do something for our fellow people.

The crying shame is that the only time the sympathy comes out is when people die. That's what it takes: the corpses of innocents.

There's our solutions. There they are. Simple concepts, achievable concepts, if only people would DO THEM.

But they won't.

Not until it's far too late.

Saturday 14 November 2015

The Question Is Why

A lot of bad shit has happened to the world in the past week.

A lot of innocent people have been killed, their only crime - being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Those places have been reasonably diverse. One occupies the majority of the media attention, of course, because...hell, in the Lebanon, people get blown up and shot all the time. It's monstrous and cruel and so very regular that nobody bats an eyelid. Like acceptance by mass numeral.

It is as tragic as it always is to see innocent people die. It's never right, for whatever reason. It's an awful injustice and it just shouldn't ever happen...but it does.

What really bothers me...what truly works my not knowing why.

Why would these people choose to do what they do? Everyone has a theory. Some of those theories are perhaps based more on personal bias than actual fact. What chain of causality led to those people pulling the triggers, flicking the switches? What decision-making process took them from step 1 to the awful final step?

What caused those decisions to be made the way they were? Not "because X said so" or "because they were angry", but what led to that? What caused all of this to happen? If these acts of atrocity are the symptoms of a sickness, what is the sickness itself?

I only phrase it like that, because it's all too easy to treat the symptom, not the sickness. A comparable situation - in theory, if not in actual tragedy - is the spread of Malaria. To constantly try and patch the holes, to rush around curing each outbreak and instance - that is burning a lot of energy hacking at branches, when the roots of the problem remain out of reach. To stop the mosquitoes that spread the Malaria, to find a way to prevent them from spreading it, to get people out of areas where it spreads from...that's a cure.

I wish I knew why. I dearly wish I knew why. That way I could make sense of it and see a solution.

I can't. That is what keeps me up at night.

I suspect that there's many theoretical root-causes. Societal reasons on the macro-scale, which can be tackled with big, difficult decisions, the kind that make people say "yeah but that wouldn't work really would it" not because they won't work but because making people believe it will work is harder than just letting it all keep happening.

I just don't know.

I wish I did.

Sunday 8 November 2015

I Love This City

I absolutely adore this place.

What is it about Brighton & Hove that draws me back? I find it hard to pin down but the draw is there all the same. Rain or shine, hot or cold. It's like this place is a second home to me.

Let us start with the obvious: it isn't home. Being somewhere else is necessary every now and then. It brings perspective, refreshes the bits of us that stifle and chafe when trapped in the same-old.

Related to that - the convenience of a city. Public transport, reasonably cheap, and well-managed too. 4G all over. All the big chains that one could ask for, within easy distance...

...and at the same time - a massive swathe of small shops. Specialist places, little pubs, music venues and eating spots. Stuff that would usually require a small town. All these things thrive and flourish

Culture and art. There's a big music scene, bigger than the surface are seems to allow for. There's galleries and art all over the place. Graf - down half of the streets you will find paint on walls. A lot of it good stuff, too. Those big green phone exchange boxes - half of those are decorated. It's refreshing to see. Like the city has tattoos.

The local populace. They are interesting people - some visibly, some below the surface. Walk down the street or sit outside a cafe and just watch. There's more life there than one would ever expect.

It just...feels good, to be here, in this place. If I ever get my shit together to the point that I can move off the Island, this is my #1 consideration. It's my kind of city.

I wonder how long it would take for the honeymoon to end.

Thursday 29 October 2015

The Way You Look Tonight

So on Tuesday a friend-and-work-colleague and I were talking about formal and professional dress.

One thing about where I work is that most of us folk that do the guts of the work can wear pretty much what we want. I mean as long as it isn't stoopid. If I turned up with nine-inch platforms and a four-foot mohawk then some questions may be asked, but probably from a safety perspective rather than a fashion one.

The thing is, we're there to work on computers for eight and a half hours a day. Very vew of us speak to clients, or even see them. We aren't sales or account management - and the folks who ARE tend to dress in a sufficiently impressive fashion when necessary.

It got me to thinking, as we were talking about it.

I don't often comment on how people look or how they dress, especially uninvited. When asked I try and be honest, but I have to open with the fact that I'm not a fashion expert, I'm not an aesthete, and I don't know how a lot of the unwritten rules work

There's a few reasons for this.  One of the main ones is that it's none of my business.

There's very few circumstances in which how someone dresses is my business. On 99% of days, 100% of people shouldn't have to care what I think of what they're wearing. They shouldn't have to dress for me, and honestly, I'd rather people wore what made them happy and comfortable than anything else. It's like I feel that maybe, passing comment is me tacitly implying that they've fulfilled (or failed to fulfill) my expectations, expectations that they were duty-bound to consider for some ridiculous reason.

I don't understand the entire business-formal thing. I don't get it, and wearing shirts and ties makes me feel distinctly uncomfortable. Like, I know that it is how people are expected to dress, it is what you are meant to do, but...why? why is that the uniform? And why would people who do, say, what I do be expected to wear button-down shirts and nice ties? Is it a mindset thing? Like school uniform? Will it make me type better? ...I just...don't understand.

Sure, a suit makes anyone look great if it is cut right - but I'm not at work to look good. I'm at work to quality control. I have work duties and none of those work duties involve being a stylish thirty-something.

I recently posted on Twitter a realisation that I came to; I am, essentially, always going to be a background character from Daria. In how I dress, how I act, how I live - it is pretty much who I am. I'm also very much okay with that, in all honesty. I like wearing faded metal band shirts and jeans and sneaks. What does that say about me? Probably that I'm not very corporate-minded. Maybe a point in my life will come where I decide to wear polo necks and slacks for the rest of my days - but I doubt it.

There's probably something wrong with that, but I can't outline it, and will probably act with a degree of incredulity if actually told the reason. Even if it makes sense. Is that meant to happen before or after the mid-life crisis? Am I IN my mid-life crisis? If I had the money would I be buying a Ferrari?

Maybe I just skipped every normal stage of my life between early teens and early forties. Maybe I'm still trying to be a teenager, except with sticking to responsibilities and having reasonable life expectations.

All I know is that if you look good, I will probably keep it to myself - unless I think you REALLY need to know.

Saturday 24 October 2015

It Is By Will Alone (On Insecurity pt4)

This is the forth, and final, part of a series of blog posts on insecurity. Each one has had a different theme.

I read a fair amount of Nietzsche., wait, come back!

Okay okay. I HAVE read a fair amount of Nietzsche, and that's led me to some interesting thoughts about us as a people and how we do things.

So I agree with his thinking in terms of the "will to power" - the constant drive to succeed, achieve, and control one's environment. To put one's self in a position of power if at all possible. That's basic human behavior. You can see it as greed, but that's a gross oversimplification.

I think the reason why we want this, at a very base level - driven instinctively by that urge to control and command - is because we're insecure.

Yep, I've been banging on about it for the past three weeks - it is time to draw a conclusion.

We, at our core, are insecure. It is part of being sentient, of having an ego, of having consciousness. Our fear of failure is tied to our drive for success. When what you want is so deeply ingrained in you that it governs you, then surely the urge to have it is paralleled by an equal and opposite fear of NOT having it.

Doesn't that make a degree of sense? The urge to survive as a constant leads us to make that survival a stable thing, a given thing rather than a continuous struggle. We want that safety net, that security - we're afraid of the alternative, because the alternative is not surviving at all. We're afraid of it, avoid it in the same way as we instinctively avoid fire, dangerous situations and awful things.

Now a great many people will probably claim that this really doesn't apply to them. "But John," you will cry, hauling yourself out of the plastic bathtub filled with Tesco own brand whipped cream. "I'm not afraid, or insecure! Everything you have said is just an attempt to validate your own anxiety!"

Perhaps, but I also call bullshit.

There is a disorder called Urbach-Wiethe disease; it is a genetic disorder, and it damages two small almond-sized bits of your brain - and when that happens, you can't feel fear any more. Unless that happens, boy howdy, you feel fear. It's what you do with it, that counts.

We've all heard the saying - feel the fear and do it anyway. It's true. There's no bravery without fear. Everyone feels it and it is something that we need to admit to and acknowledge - ignoring our weaknesses and our flaws is a really good way to lose a hundred battles. (That's a Sun Tzu joke.)

We seek to make our lives better, to make our lives more secure, because we fear that lack of security. It's what we do, what we spend most of our time doing. We need to take control of our environment because we're afraid of what would happen if it controlled us.

Some of the worst situations people can be in involve loss of control and loss of agency. The most stressful situations are those out of our control, where we have to watch the disaster happen right in front of us. Knowing you can't change it. That is the real nightmare. Life taken out of one's hands, and placed at the whim of causality.

As long as we have power - as long as we have control over our lives - we can minimise our exposure to the things we are insecure about. We can reduce contact with toxic individuals, lower the chance of mishaps, ensure that our day-to-day lives pass by with as little fear as possible. In the modern world that often comes down to money; the power-money dynamic is well-documented in this day and age. The two are often conflated.

Hate the awkwardness of public transport? You won't ever have to worry about it if you get a car. Nervous about going to the gym because you don't like how your body looks (but want to go to the gym anyway because you don't like how your body looks)? Buy your own gym equipment, or find a gym with such open hours that you can go when no-one else is there.

This is the urge Nietzsche speaks of. To achieve and excel, and thus secure one's existence. Outrun your demons by feeding your angels. I've spoken before about how one's needs in life change as one's income or standing alters, right here. It's true. The end argument is that all we really want is to have agency over our lives - which is not only something we should want and strive for, but something that we should help everyone achieve.

Which is why we're so pissed off that the Tory government wants to get rid of the Human Rights Act, and if you're not pissed off, then you haven't been paying attention...but I digress.

Insecurity, then. It's the devil we run from, the constant whip against our backs. Sometimes we control it, negate it, nullify and minimise it - and sometimes it guides us. Sometimes it's a little of both. Sometimes it is one but we think it is the other.

It is the root of a great many evils. It leads to racism and greed and who knows what else. I could probably draw a line of causality between most crimes that occur on a daily basis, and a base insecurity that led to it happening.

It haunts us, this fear, this gnawing anxiety. It hides itself in other drives and motives. It poisons otherwise noble intentions, adds inflection to sentences and stills voices that would otherwise speak out.

It costs lives.

Insecurity. The burden of sentience, of creativity, of imagination.

If it were a dragon, we'd be well-served to slay it.

Saturday 17 October 2015

Learned Behavior (On Insecurity pt3)

This is the third part of a series of blog posts on insecurity. Each one will have a different theme.

As anyone who is anyone will be able to tell you - in Bowling For Soup's opinion, High School Never Ends.

How right are they?

I'm sure everyone I know either believes, or has been told, that school is the best days of one's life. Certain parts of it are awesome, sure - not paying bills is a wonderful thing, or worrying about work. Certainly things were easier on that side of the scale.

Mentally though? Emotionally, spiritually? Well, I suppose I can only speak for myself - but high school was never an environment in which I did remarkably well. The actual learning, the academics, that was just fine. People skills, though? Not being basically completely mental? Yeah, that fell down on me pretty hard.

I was in high school between 13 and 18. That school now deals with kids that are 11-18. This period in someone's life is...well...let's just say chemically difficult. You are pretty much at the mercy of a lot of hormones, a lot of brain chemistry, and a lot of alterations in one's physiology. That in itself is a difficult environment to exist in.

Then we add the tribal mentality that seems to exist. There's us and them - lots of different thems, sometimes a couple of different uses. It's our first taste of semi-adult sociology, and we come into this environment loaded with brains like chemical bombs.

The culture of school, of education, of being the age one is and doing the things one does at that age - it becomes something of a power struggle. Everyone has authority over a schoolkid. The teachers, other parents, other adults; and at a time when self-doubt is enforced upon you by simple virtue of hormonal shift, that lack of control and agency can lead to some pretty harmful mental states. One grasps for power and control wherever they can. Sure, that teacher there has the authority to make you do things and you have to listen - so obviously, if you find a way to "get one over" on that teacher, to express some form of dominance or control, then...well, you're hard pressed not to take it.

That goes double for other kids - because if you push a teacher, or try and bully an adult, there are repercussions. Try it with your peers, though? You will almost certainly get away with it. As evidenced by the fact that bullying is still pretty much widespread to endemic proportions even today, in this enlightened age.

It's a truism oft repeated by the victims of bullying that those doing it only do it because they're insecure. That's probably right. They feel like they aren't in control of their environment, so they strive to take control over part of it - their victim. Power is a stimulant. Once you've had a little of it, you want more, and sometimes you want it more than you want to be a good person.

We've all heard that school is the best years of our lives - have we not also all heard that kids are cruel? Or witnessed that cruelty? They can be assholes - to each other even more so than outsiders. Trust me, I was one, and even though I spend most of my time keeping my head down and avoiding being targeted, I did my fair shair of asshole things.

The thing is, I look at some of the behaviour people demonstrate long after high school, and a lot of it hasn't actually changed that much.

Why would it, in fairness? Sure, we grow up - our tastes change - we pick up responsibilities and learn how to cope with them, we learn hard lessons and have life experiences both good and bad. Our mentality has already been shaped, though; and unshaping it is hard work, sometimes harder than people are willing to work toward.

Xenophobia is a high school behaviour, which develops even earlier than that - as social structures get formed they decide that some things are okay and some things aren't, and anything different or weird is a very obvious target. That can last - that can stick around, especially if unchallenged. Likewise, the power politics of the playground; alphas beating their chests, social climbers belittling others, unspoken rules being set and those who don't follow them being mocked. Now what I've just described could happen anywhere at any age after middle school. Admit it: you've been in places like that, or at least heard of them.

We were all in a state of constant insecurity once. We learned some lessons that hurt a hell of a lot, and we picked up some habits that don't help us very much in adult life. It's hard to break a habit. Trust me, I know.

If only we could recognise it in ourselves and do something constructive about it...maybe we'd all be a little happier.

Monday 12 October 2015

Choices And Repercussions (On Insecurity pt2)

This is the second part of a series of blog posts on insecurity. Each one will have a different theme.

We've all made big decisions - changed our lives in various different ways. Signed up for a gym and actually attended it, took up a hobby and seen it through, started a relationship, bought a house, bought a car.

Have we not ever justified that decision post facto? I know I have. It's natural, isn't it? Put down a significant proportion of a couple paychecks and you feel the need to salve your conscience - after all, that was a lot of money to spend on a laptop, even if it was totally worth it.

Insecurity rears its ugly head - but that isn't necessarily a bad thing. After all, if we never second-guessed ourselves, we'd be very creepy people, wouldn't we? Just imagine that. It would be...


Sometimes, though - don't we make those decisions because we're insecure?

It's an old joke - the midlife crisis, the guy in his early forties buying a new Ferrari. Of course he's insecure. Classic trope. There's a lot more associated with it, but you can see where I am coming from: insecurity leads to a big decision.

What happens when we buy the Ferrari but we're still insecure?

At the root of it, that moment of disquiet, that core doubt that comes from being a person with sentience isn't something that can easily be stoppered up. It seems to come and go as it sees fit, no matter what we do. Even after we hop into the F40 and take it for a burn down the Military Road, that hole is still there, right in our gut, and we don't quite grasp why.

We can't have made the wrong decision, could we? That's why we're IN this car. That's why we're AT this gym. That's why we BOUGHT this house. Surely, we made the right decision. That's why we vocalise about it. It was the right idea, and other people agree with us. Must have been. I'm as guilty of this as anyone else, I must hasten to add.

So when we see people who didn't make that decision, who seem to be doing just fine...wouldn't it be natural for us to try and explain away why? Why would THEY not need the Ferrari but we would? The insecurity that we tried to salve with the object becomes insecurity attached to the object and how we relate to it.

I think this is what leads to people knocking on others for their life choices - at times. We all know that bullying derives from insecurity, and - honestly - making people feel crappy or alienating them deliberately because they didn't make the same choice as you...that is actually another form of bullying. It's not always seen that way though. Here comes that socially acceptable card again.

Just another facet of how sometimes, striving to fill that void in one's life can be harmful to yourself and others. A little self-awareness can go a long way.

Friday 9 October 2015

Across The Gulf Of Imagination (On Insecurity pt1)

This is the first part of a series of blog posts on insecurity. Each one will have a different theme.

I don't care what anyone says - everyone engages in escapism sometimes.

The definition of escapism is wide, of course. It is also sometimes seen as a bad thing, which leads people to shift the goalposts - THIS escapism they engage in is just normal and fine and dandy, whereas THAT escapism that those other people engage in is weird and strange.

Hobbies in and of themselves are escapist. Nobody wants to be working all the time, and it is actually unhealthy to do so; likewise, dealing with a perhaps stressful, difficult or awkward situation at home. Engaging in that 24/7 isn't something human beings can really do - at least, not any more, not in tandem with the prospect of surviving our thirties.

I defy you to find someone that doesn't do at least one thing, regularly, probably every day, that isn't engaging in direct problem solving, employment or provision of care (self or otherwise). If you can even name that person - do they seem strictly right, to you? Are they okay?

The thing is, with hobbies - they attract all sorts, and some people are quick to dismiss other hobbies, mostly through base insecurity. Of course football fans don't necessarily recognise a dedicated WoW raid group as being similar to them. Of course someone who reads a book every couple of days will find distance between themselves and a classically-trained pianist. They're different skills, different appeals, different draws - and some are more accepted by society at large than others.

Going out for a drink on the weekend is infinitely more acceptable to most of the population than getting together around a table and pretending to be dwarves, elves and wizards. Look at incidents of each on film and TV. Guarantee - most of the appearances of a D&D group will be used for comic purposes, whereas the bloke who doesn't go to the pub is the one worthy of scrutiny.

I've always held that the pursuit and appreciation of art is worthwhile in and of itself. To watch a movie, to read a book, to listen to music; all of these things are worth doing, because art is - for the most part - good for you. I have on occasion felt guilty for spending what actually amounts to not very much money on the apparent extravagance of seeing a movie in a cinema, and not long afterward, felt kind of stupid about it. Surely the two hours of experience I just enjoyed was worth the one hour's wage I just swapped for it? In most cases - absolutely, and yet another kind of escapism.

For just a while, we as humans - the Birmingham City fan, the reader, the golfer, the writer, the beachcomber, the Gnome rogue, the other Gnome rogue, the target shooter, the photographer, the choir lead, the local Scrabble champion, the Pokemon pro, the kart driver - need time to not be who they have to be the rest of the time. As long as what we are doing isn't harmful - to ourselves and others alike - then surely it's just as valid as the next person's escape?

On that topic - what's the shame in admitting we need it anyway? Speaking for myself, I play RPGs, video games, listen to music, watch movies, all of these things to not exist in the standard headspace my brain creates for me on a daily. I've been accused of being a weirdo for the RPGs (weird is a heavily over-used word these days) and a shut-in for the video games (actually I was a shut-in for different reasons but thank you). I daresay the people throwing those terms at me like attacks would be unsure as to how to survive a working week without several pints at the end of it.

Yet another form of escapism. A frighteningly common, effective, and socially-approved one. I am genuinely surprised that there are as few alcoholics on earth as there are - though I would wager a hog's head of mead on there being far more than are actually diagnosed. FAR more. Alcohol is pretty harmful though - in many ways, and to many people.

All we want, as a race, is to be okay with ourselves. We want a place, a space, a mindset that lets us be just...okay. Some get that on the basketball court. Some get that behind the wheel. Some get that rolling a twenty-sided die. Some get that drinking or smoking or fucking or dancing or laughing or crying or anything else that lets them take the mask off for a while, even if they have to put another one on.

...and some people feel the need to chide other people for avoiding the "real world", and in doing so, engage in their own escapism. Rendering judgment is easier than self-assessing, at least. Spit bile at those around you and then you don't have to drown in it. Escape, escape - anything to not face the cracks inside, the insecurity that all of us feel, and all of us fight from the moment we know who and what we are.

The longer I'm on this little rock spinning through a vast universe, the more I come to realise that this one thing is truly what unifies us all - and what divides us in equal measure.

Who wouldn't want to escape that particular thought process?

Friday 2 October 2015

Feeling Strangely Fine

I'm sorry to disappoint anyone misled by the title, but this blog post isn't about Semisonic's second album.

The following disclaimer can probably apply to every entry I put into this blog but I feel it deserves repeating anyway: this entire thing is going to be from a very personal perspective. If I generalise, please understand that I am really only speaking for me. I wouldn't presume to speak for anyone else - but if you see yourself in what I write, then know that we understand each other, at least a little.

Everyone knows at least one hypochondriac, although they may not self-identify as such.

You know the type. They are sure they are sick most of the time. Either they go to the doctor once a week with a new complaint, or they never ever go to the doctor and self-diagnose instead. Either way, whenever you haven't seen them for a few days, the next time you speak to them - there's something new wrong with them.

I'm not going to say they aren't sick, or there isn't something wrong. That's not for me to say, and it's none of my business.

Here's the contrast, though; I have noticed that people with a chronic or ongoing condition, almost universally, respond to questions about their general health with a neutral or vague-positive answer. "How Are You" is replied to with terms like "Fine," or "Not Bad", or "Okay" - most of the time.

There's exceptions of course. Once you're past that moment in the street, sat down somewhere and talking and get onto actual conversational topics, and words like "In Yourself" and "Really" get tabbed onto the end of the original question - that is when more pointed answers come out.

If we went out the night before and drank enough liquor to stun a platoon of Royal Marines, then we'll happily talk about how we now have the hangover from Hades. Broken arm? Yep, look at this cast, yes I chose pink fuck off I like it. Fatigue? Arthritis? Anything chronic or perpetual? ...yeah, fine, not bad.

In my case at least, there's a lot of reasons for this.

One of those is that I'm hyper-aware of the depressing effect of hearing that one of your friends, colleagues or associates is suffering, especially if there's nothing you can do about it. I'm usually reluctant to lay that on someone. Another is a kind of insecurity; talk about how shit you feel but try to put a brave face on it and you come across as something of a martyr, whereas the lack of brave face can come across as being very moany. Again, two things I don't want to lay on anyone.

(All this is in my own head of course. Anyone else talking to me about things they are going through, I would never think that they were moaning excessively, or nailing themselves to a cross. I'm just bad at taking my own advice.)

Another factor that influences the answer to the How Are You - the scales are different. If in general a person is okay, and isn't in much pain, and doesn't find anything difficult, then their knee joint being particularly painful of a morning is going to warrant explanation or exclamation. I, however, have a very odd relationship with pain. It's worthy of comment when my joints DON'T hurt - or when they hurt enough to stop me doing my already-reduced average daily allotment of doing things.

It becomes the new normal. At first you rail against it, hate it, loathe it, want nothing more than for it to not be happening...but over days, weeks, months, years, it becomes life. It is something you work with and around rather than something you mindlessly defy. You get zen about it, or you go a little crazy.

That doesn't mean to say that you should try second-guessing people if you know they're ill and they say they're fine, because there's another reason why we say as such: some of us don't like a fuss made of us, or the attention that a full and frank explanation of our condition and its current effect on us might draw.

I'm the kind of guy that deals with sickness pretty much alone. If I have the flu, or a cold, or anything like that - I retreat into a little cave and stay there until I'm better. People bugging me doesn't help me, and in my experience, keeping your head straight helps you heal. Psychosomatics and all. So if one applies that to a condition that is not only life-altering but also totally ongoing, then, well...who wants a barrage of questions every time you get asked if you're doing okay?

It's a shitty thing to have to manage. If we look at it like a car, then it would feature numerous structural problems that make it awkward and ungainly to handle, but taking it to a garage sometimes makes it worse. Drive that for two years, and you'll stop bitching about the stiff gearstick real fast. Sooner or later, even the desperately uncomfortable seat becomes a background annoyance rather than a bane of one's existence, if you can't change it.

In the end, it is what it is. Keeping your head straight is the most important thing - it is easy to lose hope and become demoralised, even easier to focus on the debilitating effect of one's condition rather than...well...anything else, really. Some days it can feel a lot bigger than you, a lot bigger than the rest of the world even.

One way of preventing that - one way of looking illness in the eye and letting it know that it isn't all that big a deal after all - is saying that we're fine. Saying we're okay. A dismissal. Sure, most joints I have from the neck down feel like they're filled with broken glass, and my lungs are half-filled with scar tissue - but you know what? I'm fine. Can do. Can deal. Can cope. I am London circa 1941, and the illness is the Luftwaffe. Fuck you mate. I'm alright. Coventrate my fat ass.

So...yeah. I'm fine, I guess.

Friday 25 September 2015

I Like It, Butt...

(Disclaimer: This is all personal opinion. I realise I speak from a subjective perspective - and I invite conversation if I step out of line. I also sadly realise that, being a guy, I can get away with saying stuff like what I'm about to say online and face far less abuse than most women would. Which, when you think about it, is hugely fucked up.)

My favourite anime is Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann, and I don't like fan service.

Now, anyone who has seen TTGL knows that this is a paradoxical situation. Gainax (creators of the anime) are well known for their fondness of fan service. I'm a big fan of One Piece, too, which is also profligate with it.

The thing is, I don't think this makes me a hypocrite (though others may disagree). I love what TTGL stands for - the spirit of constant adaptation, pushing, driving, never holding back, the shouting and fighting and sheer guts of all those involved. I think that it would be a matter of wilful ignorance to disregard everything I love - the mechs, the scale of the series, the soundtrack - for the fewer things I dislike.

Dad taught me, by negative example, to always give credit where it is due and criticism where it is warranted. Something I like can deserve criticism - something I dislike can earn praise. It's part of being a fair judge of something. You weigh good versus bad and your opinion and thoughts come as a result of the comparison of the two.

I love video games, but I have to acknowledge that Jesus H Gabenclaus, the entire industry and culture is steeped in sexism.

I'm not going to touch Gamergate. That whole snarling fuckball of a mess can stay over there. What I am going to address is a very specific example of video game sexism, and I am fairly sure that almost all of you reading this are going to be familiar with it.

Quiet, from MGSV Phantom Pain.

The moment I saw her in the trailer, I groaned internally. Here it is - one of the most anticipated games of this year (and this is a BIG YEAR), and front and centre is the reason we can't have nice things.

Realism isn't necessarily a Metal Gear trait, but lets address that big fucking elephant first. Which fuckmook thought that a hardened soldier - a sniper no less - would run around a battlefield wearing combat boots, sheer stockings and a matching bikini and thong? Oh yes, and a bit of webbing and gloves, don't forget that. We can acknowledge that Quiet needs to carry things, but we can't acknowledge that she might get SHOT. Also? Using high-calibre accuracy rifles is murder on the shoulder even if you wear padding. If the only thing protecting your bare skin is the strap of a bikini then you're going to draw blood damn near every time you shoot. Skin pink is NOT camouflage, either; legendary ghost-like sniper that drops Soviet officers like other people eat cookies, and she doesn't get camo?

Which takes us onto where things get a bit surreal. There is an apparent (very flimsy) in-game reason that Quiet can't wear clothes. I won't go into the reason why - spoilers - but suffice to say, it is a trait she shares with another character from another installment of the game. Except this other character - being male - appears fully dressed at all times.

Quiet is unfortunately the most recent in a long list of Metal Gear characters that are basically there for fanboys to drool over. There's at least one in every game, sometimes more, and every time I've had the presence of mind to be distinctly embarrassed about the entire affair. Even Sniper Wolf, from the original Metal Gear Solid, had a habit of unzipping her winter camo coat down to her navel - in case we forgot that she was apparently an F-cup or similar.

All of this is such bullshit, in part, because they know they can do better; and they do better with The Boss, from Snake Eater, who is hands-down the coolest character in the entire franchise. The Boss is a certified grade-A badass. She drops people like an X Factor audition hopeful drops notes, fearlessly throws herself into everything she does, makes the ultimate sacrifice for all the right reasons, and is generally speaking everything that the main character strives to be.

She wears combat kit throughout the game, because she's a soldier. THE soldier in fact. The boss of special forces combat, which the entire series is based upon. She manages to escape the blatant sexualisation of the rest...until one scene late-game in which she shows Snake her scar, and once more the Metal Gear cleavage is on display, because we can't get through an entire game without a dash of objectification.

I digress.

In terms of Quiet, we seem to have a character of duality. On the one hand, she is amazingly talented as a buddy - a superb shot, stealthy and deadly. Her AI is coded to make combat decisions and I've found her making smart shots in the middle of a firefight, wherein any other game might see the NPC plinking uselessly at the "closest" target. She fights like a sniper - she fires until her location is untenable, then she relocates to another post, picking whichever position (from a predetermined selection) offers her the best view of the battlefield. She has saved my ass on numerous occasions, made difficult missions easy and made impossible tasks possible.

On the other hand...the way she has been coded to behave toward the player, to wriggle the way she does, to essentially put herself on show for the visual delectation of the player - it's sad. Very, very sad. We could have had another character like The Boss, a superb female soldier that is the equal or better of any of the men running around the place. Instead we got a pin-up, with a paper-thin excuse as to why she wears no clothes, whose way of demonstrating that you work well together is to present to the player like a bonobo. Well done, player. You have earned softcore pornography.

...I mean fuck, is that what we want? Is that really what the marketing guys think appeals? Hell, maybe it is - but not to me. I'm working hard at the moment in-game to earn the poor girl some clothes. She's not the only victim of this apparent disregard for the wardrobe department, either - but I can't talk about the other one without big story spoilers. Suffice to say, you'd at the very least offer the girl a jacket, or a towel, or something. Anybody decent would.

I am enjoying the game, thus far. The actual military-espionage aspect of the gameplay is entertaining, and the plot holes haven't sunk it for me yet. There's just this constant series of niggles - and one of the biggest (though not THE biggest) is Quiet, your most competent and capable ally, engineered as a desperate wank-fantasy.

It's a fucking embarrassment and we can do better. We deserve better, as people and as players. If this truly is a marketing thing - if the companies responsible believe that this is what sells the game - then we need to ask if the kind of people who demand a certain amount of sexual objectification from a game before they will buy it should be the people the game is marketed to. We should ask if that is the gaming scene we want to be a part of.

Speaking personally...I'm getting tired of it. I'm bored of every single game with multiple styalised characters invariably including at least one girl in a state of damn-near undress with proportions that would make Jessica Rabbit green with envy. If any gamer needs fap material, I'm sure the internet can provide it without forcing the content on the rest of us who are just here to play.

More Boss, please - and less butt.

Thursday 17 September 2015

Just Keeps Taking

Depression is a thief.

I've mused on this over the past week. I've had occasional hard times, mentally; now and then, average everyday bollocks has been difficult to surmount. Each time I have come to a similar conclusion.

Depression is a thief that steals a multitude of things from those that it haunts.

It steals time. Minutes, moments. Sometimes entire days. It turns them grey and samey, making them flow together until they are a single indistinguishable mass. It's not that they don't happen; they are just spam time. Void. The bits of the movie that happen off-camera.

It steals opportunities. Chances for career advancement, personal betterment or just plain fun. They can be rendered into hollow victories, hours spent waiting for the other boot to drop. They can be turned into ordeals so horrifying that one questions why one bothered in the first place, turning a positive event into a hugely negative one. That is, if it even lets you go or try at all.

It steals friends and acquaintances. Nobody wants to go and make friends when in the grip of a downswing - and it's hard to do so even if you can work up the wherewithal. It can push people away, too - makes unmissable social events harrowing and untenable, and often, other people's tolerance can be pushed to breaking point.

It steals people - those who don't survive it. Those who are trapped inside their own houses or their own minds. People that could have been our best friends, enriched us, made us better. Snatched away.

It steals dreams. When just getting by each day is hard enough, the notion of the future is a hard one to grasp. It all seems to be so unobtainable.

Depression is a thief.

What's worse is sometimes you don't even know you are being robbed.

Saturday 12 September 2015

Cause, Effect, Regret

As a child I was raised to take responsibility for my actions, something that I take quite seriously today.

No doubt every last one of you reading this blog will be aware of the refugee crisis which has only just gripped the world's media, despite being in the offing for years.

War Of The Worlds - the original 1898 story by H.G. Wells (and thus the musical), not the movies or the radio play - does a wonderful job of detailing the fear, the panic, the hopelessness and the madness of those running for their very lives. Not just running out of the house, or down the street - running without knowing an end goal, running in absolute terror away from certain doom.

Nobody does this on a whim, or by choice. It's totally against human nature to abandon everything that one has built, everything one owns that can't be carried. Also, in this day and age, one can't escape knowing that wherever they end up, they will invariably be treated poorly by at least a proportion of the local population - but even this mistreatment and malignity can't be worse than what they would face if they stayed.

In War Of The Worlds, the cause is very much an external problem - in the biggest way. Martian war machines intent on extinction. A warning from the author about war - wars of extermination, total war, war on an industrial scale. Herbert George was so devastatingly prescient, that 16 years before the First World War and over 40 years before the second, he was already speaking of the terror that would come with such mechanised destruction.

Today, though - today we can't blame invaders from outer space.

The Defence Security and Equipment International exhibition (DSEI for short) is hosted every two years at the Excel Centre in London, in September. It originated from the British Army Exhibition and the British Navy Exhibition, which (after running separately since 1976) were combined in 1993; in 1999 it was privatised.

DSEI is, essentially, one of the world's biggest arms fairs. The scale of the technology and hardware on offer is immense, and includes such articles as "suicide" drones and self-guiding bullets. Armaments of all shapes and sizes line the metaphorical shelves of the exhibition, and a significant proportion of those shopping are from established Middle Eastern governments.

Here and there, one can find indications that those who organise DSEI hope that their goods won't be used for internal repression - though at least once, a couple of companies have been thrown out for setting up stands with electric batons and metal shackles, which have an uncertain usage in a military non-internal fashion. This also seems to imply that it's perfectly okay to deploy an Accuracy International AX50 long-range anti-materiel rifle against anyone outside of your own borders, but shooting your own people with it is a big no-no.

DSEI is only one of the many arms fairs that occur the world over. A quick search reveals over a dozen more. It is reckoned by the SIPRI military expenditure database that the value of the arms trade is over $1.5 trillion a year. To put that in perspective, $1.5 trillion is:

  • More than Australia's $1.44 trillion GDP, making the arms trade the twelfth biggest economy on earth (just behind Canada at $1.77 trillion).
  • Enough to build a thousand top-of-the-line 862 bed hospitals like the Parkland Memorial hospital in Dallas TX.
  • Greater than the estimated value of the entire Premiere League, given each club's individual purchase value as a whole.
  • Enough to buy the 4 biggest cruise liners on earth (Allure Of The Seas, Oasis Of The Seas, Anthem Of The Seas and Quantum Of The Seas) 300 times over.
  • Over two million average London houses - or over five million average UK houses outside of the capital.
  • Sufficient to give every single refugee in the world (60 million approximately) an average UK lifestyle for a year, with change.

That's quite a lot of money.

Am I drawing a connection between the highly valuable nature of arms sales and the current crisis? Well, yes, actually. I genuinely am. The arms industry makes itself fat off the willingness of nations to make war, and refugees flee crisis - crisis such as their nation being attacked by an unrelenting enemy.

Am I suggesting that IS buys all its weapons from DSEI? Not at all. Assad's regime, however - I'd be very surprised to find no guns in their hands that were tendered at a global arms fair. I might also imply that various groups the world over have armed organisations like IS with weapons that they would acquire from the companies selling at events like the DSEI. Remember in Rambo 3, wherein the CIA were selling/giving weapons to the ever-so-brave Afghan mujaheddin in order to combat the evil Russians?

Of course, those US-made Stinger missiles - so crucial for bringing down the Russian HIND helicopters that dominated the Afghan battlefield - got turned on the benefactors when the mujaheddin became the bad guys... short, rich governments with access to weapons have a habit of arming people, either by selling them or through some kind of political deal. Those people, well. They go on to do what they want. Sometimes what they want is evaporating Palmyra and  killing people indiscriminately.

So when good old Ronnie Reagan was talking about trickle-down economics - which has proven to be an excuse to make rich people richer and poor people poorer - perhaps he was talking about how the consequences of our actions will trickle back down to us.

We made money. We made money buying and selling weapons. Weapons are being used to fuel a massed panic flight from the levant; and now, those refugees have turned up in the kind of countries that sell those weapons.

This is the literal trickling down of the investments made in the eighties. Much like the financial crisis of the past decade - this is the seed we have sown, the bed we have made. Or at least, the bed that was made by those making the money selling the weapons and deregulating the financial sector.

As a child I was taught to take responsibility for my actions - to give credit where it is due, and criticism where it is needed. If we as a civilised nation were to profit from the wars and military brutality that has been so endemic across the world in the past three decades, then we as a civilised nation have to shoulder the burdens of those consequences. It's the only decent thing to do.

Of course, the true victory of the profiteers is now, they have a lot of other people singing their same song. Public opinion is on their side, at least in the UK, and that's a fact that actually makes me feel slightly ashamed.

The most successful squadron in the Battle of Britain was Polish. They defended OUR homeland, when we took them in from THEIR homeland after it was invaded. They fought to the death, literally, to defend us. At the end of the war, we hung our heads in shame, and let the Soviets take their homeland away.

I like to think we're better than that, now.

(Of course it bears mention that after WW2 ended we took in record numbers of refugees, and vastly increased public spending despite being in a time of austerity, and we did alright - but that's a factoid that most are happy to ignore.)

Sunday 6 September 2015

People Writing Songs That Voices Never Shared

Call me a musical elitist but there are some songs that I think people shouldn't cover.

I've found plenty of covers that are better than the originals - "All Along The Watchtower", for example, is a superior Jimi Hendrix cover of a Bob Dylan song (and I bet I know which one you're more familiar with) - but there's plenty more songs which suffer the indignity of a truly shoddy cover.

I don't just mean one of those dance covers - like take the lyrics of the original, have them sung by a different (usually bland and usually female) vocalist, and put a pulsing eurodance beat behind it. There's plenty of those, mind. No, it's the artists that attempt to cover a song in a similar vein to the original...and it badly.

Is it a case of overstretching their limitations? Knowing they'll suck at it but doing it anyway because it's easier than writing something new? Record company manipulation? Actual villainous intent? Who knows - but it happens...and more often than you might think.

Fair warning. The links below may contain awful music.

Look at Alexandra Burke's much-maligned cover of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" - a song that she admits she never wanted to cover (which possesses an already fully acceptable brace of covers by Jeff Buckley and Rufus Wainright). Look at Leona Lewis - a trio of awful covers on one EP, "Iris" (originally by the Goo Goo Dolls), "Colorblind" (originally by Counting Crows) and "Hurt" (originally by Nine Inch Nails, and covered superbly by Johnny Cash). Look at the dire cover of "Under The Bridge" originally by the Red Hot Chilli Peppers as vomited out by All Saints, and the terrible rendition of "American Pie" by Madonna, who needs to apologise to Don McLean.

 I feel I am perhaps picking on the ladies here. So let's even the field. "Tainted Love" - originally played by Gloria Jones, lamentably covered by Soft Cell, and once more regurgitated by Marilyn Manson. Shitcoverception. The My Chemical Romance cover of "Desolation Row" does no justice to the Bob Dylan original. U2 are repeat offenders - "Satellite Of Love" (by Lou Reed) and "Fortunate Son" (by Creedence Clearwater Revival) are two notable offences. And let's not forget Paul Anka, who produced an entire album of swing covers that devastate the originals. Just listen to how he desecrates "Black Hole Sun", and then hear how Soundgarden meant for you to hear it.

I have used some pretty strong language here. Vomiting, desecration, so on. I do feel pretty strongly about the subject, it bears mention - music is very, very important to me. Enough so that hearing a bad cover, to me, produces the same reaction as watching someone smear shit on the Mona Lisa.

All this leads up to me being very cautious, very suspicious even, when it comes to artists recording covers of songs that are already wonderful. You know the songs I'm talking about. Things like "Stairway to Heaven" or "Wish You Were Here". When you find out someone's recorded a cover - you feel antsy. I know I do.

The last track on the new Disturbed album is a cover of "The Sound Of Silence".

I didn't actually know this, as I was listening to it on my break at work. Just plodding through the songs, as they streamed the album on various websites in the week leading up to its release. So I wasn't looking at a track list, when the song began.

Here's the song.

...hearing this was like a religious experience for me.

My skin went into goosebumps. The hair on the back of my neck stood up. I shivered. I could do nothing but listen, and I was glad that nobody else was paying attention to just how lost I was to this song.

It hit me in every primal centre. I bet my pupils dilated. I could do literally nothing but listen - and then I went back and listened again. Six times, I listened to that song, between 11 and 5. Six times. Then I went home and listened to it more - and I have listened to it at least once a day since.

In fairness, Disturbed have produced a significant amount of good covers in the past - "Shout" by Tears For Fears, "Land Of Confusion" by post-Gabriel Genesis, "Living After Midnight" by Judas Priest, "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" by U2, and more besides. Maybe this one shouldn't have surprised me, but it's one of those songs - one of the ones you should be very careful about covering.

I truly think they did it justice. It's always haunted me, this song - and this cover of it still touches me in the same way that the Simon and Garfunkel original does. David Draiman's voice is a huge contributor to the overall quality of this track, there's something about it, a texture to it that sinks right into your bones and makes you feel what he is saying.

In conclusion...listen to the song. Expose yourself to it. I know it may not touch some people the way it has touched me, but I would beg any of you that read this to at least give it a chance.

After all...silence like a cancer grows. We should fill that silence with music.

Sunday 30 August 2015

Running Without A Rulebook

Anyone else remember the days when video games came with a manual that you kind of had to read?

Stay with me here. This isn't just an exploration of how much of my life I've utilised playing games.

Way back when, if you wanted to know the controls and thematics behind a game - you needed to look in the manual. They'd contain tips and tricks as well as the straight-up controls. They were damn near essential, in a lot of ways.

These days in-game tutorials replace manuals almost entirely - and wiki pages cover the rest. Which is fine. I mean I don't mind, it's a lot more fun to actually be taught through play than just have an info dump.

With that as background, we're going to shift tack a little.

In terms of social interaction, and the general day-to-day life of human beings, I sometimes feel like the game came with a manual but I never read it.

Which sounds weird, I know, but - it's like...there's so many bits of life that everyone else seems to have a hang on that I find a bit puzzling. How do you know when you are at a certain level of social closeness with someone? How do you express that, make sure it is reciprocal? Does it even matter? What are the precise right things to say in any given situation? Who decided that? How much leeway is there, if any?

These things have confused me in the past, whereas everyone else seems to have read up on the topic and worked out what is going on.

This probably contributes to my introversion. I'll play logic puzzles all day and all night but when it comes to working out people and talking and other such, I'm performing mental cardio every moment I'm talking or listening.

There's probably a known medical condition related to that. How the fuck do you google it though? Can you get mental health stuff for it? It's not social anxiety - though it could probably aggravate it.

That doesn't mean to say that one can't work out how to play a game by doing, mind. You might even work out how to do things a little easier, here and there. Little ways of thinking about the "game" that haven't been informed by the manual. Exploits, console commands, that kind of thing. Still, it's not the same as actually knowing how to play the game.

I came across this particular description of how my brain works while talking to a good friend of mine. I'm very lucky that I have aforementioned good friends; because honestly, at times, I'm a fucking nightmare to deal with. I know it's taxing but they put up with me anyway. How lucky am I?

Just a thought.

Tuesday 18 August 2015

Theirs And Ours

[This blog is not available in your region.]

...the above sentence is an obvious fallacy. After all, this is posted online, where anyone with a browser or similar can access it. So it would be stupid to prevent something being seen due to redundant physical geography...


And yet I bet all my readers will have found at least one video on YouTube that they wanted to watch, that they couldn't, because of the patch of dirt their broadband is plugged into is HERE rather than THERE.

I hope I'm not the only one that is vexed by this state of affairs, too.

There's reasons, I'm sure. Copyright reasons. Political reasons. Censorship reasons. I have issues with all of them, that much should be obvious. What it means, though, is that there can be a certain amount of exclusivity - and that word, exclusive, has taken a very odd meaning in the modern era.

It is the opposite of inclusive, and inclusive is a good thing. Inclusive means that you don't get left out. Everyone can access the article in question - whatever it is, anyone on earth can experience what the creator has made.

What exclusivity says is that no, only SOME people can experience and enjoy this.

The medium of the article provides some of that exclusivity. Unless you have a specific kind of synaesthesia or someone very good at description, you can't hear a painting, or grasp an untranslated piece of Russian literature unless you can read Russian. What happens in these circumstances? Well, there are workarounds. That's expected, that's accepted. War And Peace, for example. (Yes it's cliche, yes I've read it.) Nobody bats an eyelid when a piece of literature is translated into another language, thus defeating an exclusivity barrier.

One of the most "pirated" pieces of media in history is Game Of Thrones.

There's a bunch of reasons for this, of course. A lot of them could be seen as issues of exclusivity. If one doesn't have HBO in the US, then - until the simulcast of 12th April this year - one had to wait. And wait. And wait. While all those WITH HBO and a Facebook account spoilered the entire thing for you.

Which is why they probably attempted the simulcast at all, in fairness.

Without getting into the debate as to whether or not the cost of subscribing to HBO/Sky/Whatever or buying DVDs is actually another "exclusivity wall", there's the boundary of location there, again. Any anime/manga fans reading this will probably know what I am talking about. Sometimes actually obtaining or viewing something legally is a Sisyphean task in and of itself.

Want to reduce piracy? Make things available. Bring down the exclusivity barriers. Sure, some people will buy a console or a subscription in order to enjoy that single item (or selection of items) that has been released only on Xbox One or HBO or whatever. Some other people, though? They're going to miss out - and those who create the things we love so much...well, are those creators satisfied with large percentages of the populace being unable to access their work?

As nice as it can feel to be one of the priviledged few who has access to something that others don't, I get far more of a buzz knowing that I've shared the experience with others.