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Sunday 31 January 2016

It Was Better When...

We've all seen those posts on Facebook about how much better it was back in the 90s/80s/70s/dark ages.

Does that annoy anyone else?

I mean, there's the airbrushing, for a start. It's pure confirmation bias - the tendency to overlook evidence or arguments that counter the point one makes.

Take for example this whole fad of "Like this if you (did things that kids in the eighties tended to do) AND YOU TURNED OUT OKAY!".

1) Are we implying that people aren't turning out okay today? Like, specifically because they didn't watch Thundercats or whatever? Can we seriously make that claim without producing evidence?

2) There's some folks who did all the little things, played football with jumpers for goalposts, didn't have mobile phones, et cetera, that DIDN'T turn out okay. They just didn't. Coming home when the streetlights go out and riding a three-speed bike with clickers on the spokes doesn't mystically protect you from the traumas of life.

Yes, there are stresses in modern life, and there are things that we can claim to be signs of moral degenration or collapse of the fabric of society. Spoilers: these things have existed for a long time in different stages.

Has anyone else seen the photographs of people on the bus today with their phones, and the contrasting picture of folks in the 50s all staring at newspapers?

People are people are people. People have always BEEN people. We have different means of communicating and exhanging ideas, of partaking in media and sharing things with each other. We're still people. Some of us are assholes. Some of us do things that others think of as rude which aren't, on reflection, all that bad. Such has been true since the stone age.

"People these days" has been a sentence uttered in every decade. People feel less safe year on year, despite the fact that crime has generally been on the descent for decades. The insecurities are continuous. Our generation were better than this new one, of course. The last one were too old, but our one is fine. Et cetera, ad nauseum.

I ignore the posts about how good the past was, usually. I just put them behind me. It's not worth the fight; besides, we have bigger things to worry about.

Just think though. Each time one of those posts come up, it's not a genuine study of how good things used to be. It's a despair at how things are now; and it's easier to look back through rose glasses and sigh, than actually change things.

Thursday 21 January 2016

Drowning In It

The UK government's projected deficit for the 2015/2016 budget is £69 billion.

Projected revenue is £673b - that is, the income the government takes. Meanwhile, the government's spending is projected to be £742b. The debt is owed toward a wide variety of individual funds, 35% of which are overseas; debt is an asset, and so it gets passed around and sold just like any other financial instrument.

Let's be real. These kind of numbers are big. They're not global-fiscal big but they are big nonetheless.

Government finances don't work the same as personal finances - something that a lot of people who advocate austerity and cuts don't realise.

You see, in your personal life, if your expenditure outweighs your income - then something has got to give, because no person has access to a near-limitless source of fiscal stimulus to buy themselves out of trouble. You reduce your expenditure, and you increase your income, and just like that - your deficit goes away. Therein is the acumen of austerity. Cut costs and increase income as best as possible.

Of course this is sometimes easier said than done. There's a certain amount of minimum spending that any human being has to do - guy's gotta eat. Just acquiring more income isn't that easy, either. As of right now the job market is still suffering, especially in my corner of these sceptered isles, and businesses (who are also still suffering) are trying to cut their costs as much as possible, so pay raises and extra hours aren't ten-a-penny.

If one could lay hands on a certain amount of resources, mind, then this would become easier - and not just in a sense of paying for bills that the income isn't covering. Many people have debts that can be paid off (and thus reduce monthly costs) - many people could make investments in business, especially those that are self employed (and thus increase monthly income). People just can't, very often, count on that cash injection.

As previously mentioned, however...government finances don't work the same as personal finances.

So perhaps I can forgive those that might think that austerity cuts are truly the best way to repair an economy. Perhaps. Up to a point. There are those that should know better - if they don't, they shouldn't be working where they are, or governing us.

This country's debt has been increasing steadily (as a percentage of our GDP) since 2001 - slowly and steadily until 2007, then rapidly and vastly increased by the global financial crisis. It is still increasing now, despite the savagery of the cuts that have already been doled out.

The fact of the matter is - just decreasing cost to make the deficit go away won't actually solve problems. A country's economy is an elastic thing, and it is a thing that can be nurtured as well as atrophied. We can emerge from this crisis with no deficit and an economy that is shot to hell, or we can look at our recovery as more long-term - and actually recover.

But that's just me.

Saturday 16 January 2016

Wide And Prejudiced

It is my belief and experience that every single person on this earth holds at least one prejudice.

More than one, usually - and that does not mean to say that everyone is a little bit racist (regardless of what the song tells you) or anything to that extent. More I am stating, with a degree of certainty, that everyone has at least one belief that is prejudicial, that is not borne out by evidence, but that is part of them and hard to even recognisea s a prejudice - let alone combat.

I am just as guilty of this as anyone else. I have several prejudices. The one I am going to be looking at, though, is my prejudice against the wealthy.

I think this is part of my raising as much as anything else. I was brought up during the time when Margaret Thatcher had her way with the economy, and when the divide between the rich and the poor just kept growing. My parents were both hard-working people, and both needed jobs. I saw very little of them; my dad in my early childhood, my mother in my tween-teen years.

I was always told by the wider world that being rich was the cure to all ills, and that everyone should shoot for that goal. Sure, there was the odd object lesson about money not buying you happiness; but each example of that was outshone by other examples, of how one needed to shoot for that new promotion, get that job, earn the respect of your peers. That was the prevailing culture.

At school, being poor was a thing to be looked down upon. It earned the derision of your peers. Despite the fact that we were children and couldn't earn our own money, we couldn't admit that we couldn't afford something. To do so was unthinkable. Rather than just say that our parents couldn't (or wouldn't) buy us the new trainers or the new game or whatever, we used to make up excuses as to why we didn't want them.

I once stood up for a friend of mine who was called some pretty fucked up names because they got school dinners paid for by the school.

It's very easy to have an unhealthy relationship with money. You may be looked down upon for it on a personal level, but hey - in business, you work for an organisation that has signed a contract stating it must try to make as much money as possible. That's corporate charter. Money, and the lust and reliance for it, is an immense evil that causes untold problems worldwide every day - and yet holds the world's economy together, in the optimistic hope that everyone's greed will somehow create a balance in which the market fixes everything.

We're told that what is good for the very rich is good for everyone. Usually we're told this by people who are fairly wealthy themselves, and this isn't an accident. We were told that trickle-down economics would benefit everyone, which it simply doesn't - the only thing that tends to trickle down is the burden of debt.

All this probably contributes to the way I feel about the wealthy. It's not a healthy thing to feel, but I feel it. I try not to let it effect how I live my life, but boy that is hard sometimes.

I feel that if one does have prejudice, it doesn't make you a bad person unless you act on it. If you try and fix it, or put it behind you and try and treat people decently regardless of your gut instinct, then it makes you a better person. If I help up someone who is my friend, isn't it more worthy of respect if I help up someone who is my enemy? We're all in possession of instinct - we defeat it every day with logic. That's what makes us better.

I have to acknowledge that how I feel is irrational. There are wealthy people who are good, both objectively and subjectively - and likewise, those who are poor can be bad. Income and resource does not dictate morality.

Still. I know it is there - but I'd rather know it is there so I can do something about it, rather than be unaware that I'm viewing the world through a flawed lens.

Thursday 7 January 2016

There Has Been An Awakening

So. I saw Star Wars Episode 7: The Force Awakens.

This blog is about aforementioned movie. It will involve spoilers. By this time I am not sure very many people care but in the spirit of the community that has been SO GOOD at keeping the movie's secrets for the joy of those slower to see it, I feel the need to state this plainly.

Right? Right. So.

It's no secret that I think the prequels are dire. It's not that they aren't watchable - even Episode 2 has that cool 2-minute sequence where you see the Clone Troopers actually get stuck in - but by god, they are actually terrible films. OBJECTIVELY terrible from a cinematic point of view, let alone from a "liking star wars" perspective.

So imagine my joy when I sat down to watch TFA and found it to be a million miles away from the fumbling dirge that was the previous offerings. In fact - as I remarked to the group of folks I'd been to the cinema with, it was almost as if this latest work was a deliberate, measured attempt to put right what the prequels had done wrong.

I've given that some thought, and as I am often wont to do, hammered that thought into words; so here's a list of things the prequels did wrong, that TFA did right - as if Abrams himself made a list and set out to fix it.
  • Characters. Who's the main character of the prequels? Anakin? Obi-Wan? Who should we be rooting for, or following? Ultimately, a lack of a solid lead means the movies are something that happens to us, rather than something we watch and engage with. Too many characters, most of them handled really poorly. TFA provides solid characters with memorable and clever dialogue, that resonate with us almost immediately, and leave us wanting more. They are believable, they are relatable, and they each have their moments.
  • Relationships. In the prequels, we had to basically be told how people felt about each other - actually showing it in the film was apparently too much. Anakin and Obi-Wan's friendship, for example - there's precisely zero warmth or camaraderie between them, despite exposition insisting that there's friendship there. On the flipside - Rey and Finn develop a mutual respect and admiration for each other, Finn and Poe are instantly super-bros, how each character reacts to the next is something that evolves and is genuinely felt through the script and the actions of the character alike.
  • Plot. The schemes of the dark side are interesting and in-depth but honestly, they felt like they were hanging around the prequels to tie together a bunch of other scenes. Ep2 in particular feels like an exercise in mashing together unrelated footage with a thin veneer of plot. TFA, however, follows a very similar plot arc to Ep4 - which means it has a plot arc. Each scene flows into the next in natural progression, and the overall story, when viewed as a whole, is contigious and fulfilling.
  • Pointlessness. So much of the screen time of the prequels is occupied with, frankly, faff. Spam. Visual nothingness. Shit that is happening for no reason other than it happening - Jar-Jar Binks, the gungan/droid and space battles during the end of Ep1, the entirety of the middle of Ep2, all of it could be cut from the whole and not detract. In comparison, even clocking in at 2h15m, TFA is lean. It conveys the plot, without a bunch of nonsense distractions happening to fill the time between General Greivous and Order 66. The stylistic touches are applied effectively, quality over quantity.
  • Antagonists. The prequels had a serious case of monster of the week (anyone who has watched Buffy and Doctor Who understands what I mean). A different bad guy with next to zero development in each movie. Who else was crying out for more of Darth Maul, or General Greivous, or for Count Dooku to even have a point? In TFA we are given FOUR antagonists - each of them different, each of them developed, each of them with their own interests and character. Kylo Ren's pure rage, General Hux' fanaticism, Captain Phasma's cold militarism and Supreme Leader Snoke's dark and brooding malevolence - what foes we face. In Kylo Ren we have something new and interesting, too; a force still growing, a character in development that gives us the perfect reason to hate him and want him to fall.
  • Cinematography. I'm not even going to talk about the prequels. In terms of TFA? It's just beautiful. It's shot so well, with such artistry, with so many calls back to the original series that you can't help but absorb almost subconsciously. Everyone has a favourite shot. Who goes to a sci fi action movie and comes away with admiration for the set-up of a single shot? (My personal favourite was Han and Kylo Ren facing each other on the bridge, the long shot with the diagonal shaft of light coming down from Rey and Finn's doorway.)
There's more, probably...but that's my initial thoughts. I am very happy to discuss the film with just about anyone, really. It's been a wonderful couple of trips to the cinema at the very least, and I really can't wait to see it again.

Only two years until the sequel.

I can wait that long.


Sunday 3 January 2016

Two Zero One Six

So what specifically will this year hold?

Well, at the very least I want to finish writing a book. ANY BOOK. Though one of the current projects (either the serious scifi or the rather silly fantasy) would be nice. Just having one done by the end of 2016 would be wonderful.

My major writing project is a scifi - the main character used to be an intelligence agent, who was signed off the job after losing three of her four limbs to a MYSTERIOUS INCIDENT. Due to an odd medical condition, the cybernetic replacements she wears cause her constant pain. She's pissed off with this whole thing - until she's offered a place on a program to develop new power armour, which may be able to use her medical condition as an asset...

It bounces back and forth between the present (the research program, the military side of power armour development, recovery) and the past (military intelligence, tracking a terrorist). That is going to be a challenge - and a whole heap of fun.

What else, what else...?

Gaming. Far more gaming. We deserve games, don't we? Things to make us think more, play more, do more? Yes. Gaming. This will happen.

I have a few games I haven't yet tested. Card games like Aye, Dark Overlord and Boss Monster. RPGs like Microscope, Tom's Shadowrun and James' Star Wars. I think all of these need a good run at the table. In terms of video games, too - well, we'll see.

You know one of the things I am looking forward to the MOST?

One day this year - early this year, before the end of March - myself and a bunch of like-minded psychopaths will be paying a visit to the Prince Charles cinema in Leicester Square, to catch their monthly crowd-participation showing of...

The Room.


...and sure I'd like to be healthier and stuff but there's fuck all I can do about that really. That's up to my body.

So what about you? What are your plans, your hopes, your dreams?