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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.