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Tuesday 27 December 2016

Two Zero One Six Point One

I didn't set out with a definite subject for the year-end blog.

I did one last year - well, on the third of THIS year technically. In it I set out some things I wanted to do, and well...

DID - Finish the book. It was my NaNo project, mind, but it was heavily inspired by the thing I was working on at the time of writing.

DID - Game more. (Didn't play a lot of the games listed, but did play a lot of others besides.)

DIDN'T - Go and see The Room at the Prince Charles. Just couldn't make it work, and my health was frankly pretty shitty, so. Ho hum.

I also made it through. That wasn't a given. Like I know it never is a given. It just so happens that on more than one occasion it was a relatively close thing. The aforementioned health issues haven't helped that, and quite frankly my mental health has taken a heavy ding. And on top of that...

...well, I don't need to tell you about all the shit things that have happened, do I?

The marked victory of right-wing politics in the UK and the US - seemingly buoyed up by the slow uptake of more right-wing attitudes of those involved. Standing Rock. The constantly devolving situation in Turkey and Thailand, the refugees fleeing from war-torn places and being treated like shit the moment they arrive, and Syria. Just...fucking Syria. Just thinking about it makes me want to cry, or hurl, or both.

Attacks against our rights, our wellbeing and our freedoms have been constant. In the UK in particular, the continued austerity, combined with the leadership of Theresa May's sociopathic rush to enact every single anti-person law possible, has made living a pretty difficult thing.

Add to this the inescapable fact that 2016 has been a year that has seen so many of our legends and beloved personalities die. I speak from the heart here, as more than one of those who have passed on were heroes of mine. Muhammad Ali, David Bowie and Prince in particular. There's a lot of folk who will get snide about noticing the (actual statistical) uptick of celebrity death this year but it's there, and it still hurts.

Not just the famous ones, either. My dad has been dead four years, now - my aunt Renee died earlier this year, and my grandfather not so long ago.

It all adds up.

So when there's some sarcastic shit about "well 1665 was a worse year than 2016 because black death lol", I can't pretend it doesn't make me angry. I've seen that card played one too many times, primarily by the kind of people who benefit from not having people feel like they are suffering. You had it worse under X, so you'd best support Y. Who cares if it is bad now? It was worse then. Don't ever think about trying to get to Z to make it better, though.

...and I just...cannot fucking wait for it all to be over.

Get all the bank holidays and bullshit out of the way and get back into the life. Work, earn cash. Go get shit done. Disturbed, Avenged Sevenfold and In Flames in January. Nine Worlds in August. Leave this heap of shit in the rear and move the fuck on. Even a new dumpster fire is better than an old dumpster fire, and if we're really lucky - maybe we can start making some dumpsters that AREN'T on fire.

Fuck, I'd give it all just to hurt less. Let's go with that.

Saturday 24 December 2016

Christmas Quiz

So as I again fall flat on the "having the will to engage with truly shitty politics" front, I asked my nearest and dearest to provide me with questions and topics for conversation - and you did not disappoint.

So with a wide variety of choices (a lot of which came from one source to be honest, hey Ryan what's up), here's the questions and answers - with some names removed to protect the innocent.

  • Favourite covers of well known Christmas songs? - The Puppini Sisters do a very good version of my favourite Christmas song, "Step Into Christmas" by Elton John. I also love the Jackson 5 version of "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town".
  • Favourite wrapper designs of chocolate bars. - Difficult. Most of them are so samey. I think, though, I have always been a fan of the Double Decker:

  • Or even favourite contents of wrappers of chocolate bars. - ...Double Decker. Or Hundred Grand for you yankees. (This question almost started a fight between myself and Piers for some ungodly reason.)
  • More interestingly favourite designers of chocolate wrappers - Mast Brothers.
  • Tell your best and worst presents received and why. - The worst is easy. One of my aunts found it very difficult to understand I had grown up; so when I opened up a formed plastic Santa mask, sized for a ten year old, I wasn't sure quite what to do with it. Given that I was 19 at the time. The best? That is actually hard to put a finger on, but I daresay it was when a half-dozen of my besties actually clubbed together and got me an Xbox 360. I was trying not to cry the entire time. (I still talk to most of you. I love you folks.)
  • Gift you dreamed of most as a child. - So easy. THE ACTION FORCE MOBILE COMMAND CENTRE. Trailer is the G.I. Joe version. Picture is our one.

  • Lichtenstein - Incredibly low crime rates. Its last murder was back in 1997. Every year Prince Hans-Adam II invites all the residents to the local castle on their national holiday. It's the world's leading manufacturer of false teeth, and the national anthem goes to the same tune as God Save The Queen. What an incredibly odd little country. I'd quite like to visit.
  • Boobs! - Yes Glyn, they are very, very nice.
  • How the Coca Cola Company advertising board didn't think Saturnalia was catchy enough, so sponsored the Council of Nicea to think of something more hip with the young'uns? - It's a conspiracy. The Council of Nicea is actually just the board of the directors for Disney. Saturnalia was just the day they opened the Epcot Centre.
  • How despicable people who act in loan adverts with huge apr are. - The industry is despitable. From top to bottom. It is predatory and savage and chews up and spits out the most vulnerable members of society to make profits for those who will never need such a loan. The people who act in those ads? They can say they are just doing a job, and to a point they are right. But then - so were Belsen's guards and the riot cops firing on Civil Rights protesters. I think we need to end predatory finance. Doing so may be dificult. But we're better than this.
  • True history of the season, and how other faiths have influenced it - Everyone's scared of the winter. When the routine of summer ceases to be productive, and the food has all been collected and stored away, and we are hoping that it lasts until spring - we need something else. We have needed something to cling to, for the longest time. We've found it in all sorts of rituals, some of which have become religion, some of which are psychological and deeply buried. The history of the season is that we can't stand the cold and the dark, and that we need each other to get through it. Only through each other, can we see ourselves through the shadow to the light on the other side.
  • The number of turkeys consumed in one day by the uk public and the coincidence of 'gobble gobble' as the main turkey language and a human action - 10 MILLION TURKEYS. That is a LOT of fucking turkeys. Jesus christ. And yeah. Gobble is about right. Though having heard turkeys make noise I don't think "gobble" sounds really right. It's a fun little onomatopaeia though.
  • Best and worst Christmas joke. - Both presented simultaneously so you don't know which is which. What's a dog's favourite christmas carol? Bark, the herald angels sing. What's a mathematician's favourite christmas snack? Mince pi.
  • These are both. - NO TONY GOD WHY (reprinted below)

  • Religion as a form of historic political control and why modern society is failing - Romans Chapter 13 literally tells us to always submit to authority because authority cannot exist on earth without God's blessing, so just do what they say, yeah? It's written into it, right there. Very easy. Use the same caveman fear of death to keep people in line. Why modern society is failing, well...the entirety of the rest of this blog should delineate my problems with society and how it fails people.
  • Klaus vs santa claus as an expression of right and left wing politics - all seriousness, isn't Santa the only example of Socialism looking great on paper but not working in real life? He wears red, and distributes gifts to all the little children regardless of locale - at least, on paper - but what REALLY happens is the bourgeoisie kids get a shedload of stuff and the disenfranchised workers get fuck all. Boom.
  • False and true nostalgia of Christmas growing up? What do you remember clearly and what us utterly false ? - I remember now that what I really wanted was presents and food. Call me a greedy spoiled shit but that's the truth. All the bright lights and everything else came across as very fake and forced, even when I was a kid. I just played along though - I didn't want to upset my family.
  • Christmas tv traditions? Where have xmas specials gone? Eg morecambe and wise? - ALWAYS watch the Queen's Speech. I dunno where the special swent, but I think we don't have the same personalities any more. It's easier to produce a throwaway panel show than it is a variety show. That said, I love Morecambe and Wise.
  • Top 10 things that make a good if not great Xmas? - All of them are being at home in the warm.
  • The ever expanding xmas period ie when does it start when does it end & why and how does it change? - See this pisses me off. How the hell do I have to give a holiday eight weeks lassitude? Like "Sorry but I'm not going to deal with you until after halloween", that is like almost a SIXTH OF THE YEAR, like EIGHT WEEKS. And some people think that is scroogey. I think it changes because people want things to be nice and happy like it was back when they were a kid and it was christmas, without realising that spending a shit ton of money and getting stressed out doesn't make the winter wonderland exist.
  • When did you stop believing in santa claus ? Why? How did you feel? - When I was young and I asked mum why the poor kids in other countries didn't get anything but I did. I felt...relieved? Because then this mythical superbeing wasn't just being nice to some of us but not everyone.
  • Time travelling snowmen ans the conqeucnes there of ? - The problem seems to melt away as soon as they feel any heat.
  • Ahh post spam. Constant notifications. Where is the off button! - IT'S BEHIND YOU
  • Is batman actually santa claus? - No. Batman exists.
  • I'm done - Yes you are.
  • Why spend so much? I love shopping all January as most are still trying to shift the xmas food store they have (in case shops don't open for a month) - Because people feel the need to compete and be generous. I dunno why. My gift-buying is sporadic and hard to predict, and usually depends on how much cash I actually have.

...and that's all she wrote, folks. There WILL be a year-end blog - but for this one, thank you all for your questions and comments! Remember, share it with anyone you think might appreciate!

Saturday 17 December 2016

What's John Been Desperately Distracting Himself With?

So I started writing a blog about how Right-wing governments are actually pretty much just officious attacks on Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs for their "subjects", but then I got real sad, and decided I had to do something else.

Because it is very, very sad. Like, focusing on that type of thing is difficult enough when you are doing so thinking it will help. You wait for these people to make good decisions, to make things right, to stop putting people in charge of organisations that you know they will either dismemeber or devour, to stop making ridiculous decisions that are clearly just self-interest or harmful ideology, and it just...doesn't happen.

Then you turn your frustration and anger outwards. You look for other people that just saw what happened. It's like if you see something fucked up in the street and you look around, like, was I really the only one that saw that?

...and guess what. Yeah. You were. Or at least, you were part of a very small minority. In a crowd of fifteen hundred, you and those two over there are the only ones that even gave a shit that yet another nail has been put in the coffin of life potentially getting better.

Then you try and MAKE people care. You point, you shout. But there's too much other noise. It's not even like it is shouting over pop culture and other random bullshit anymore, either. There is too much shit going on that it all gets collapsed into the same packet of hard-to-deal-with unpleasantness, and people put it on the back burner and ignore it, until it goes away.

(Or until it cripples their economy, robs them and people they know of their livelihood, and turns us all into the broken and battered puppets of an abusive state. But you know jk lolz.)

It's like finding a needle in a haystack, except the stack is made of needles, and the one you are looking for is just slightly more radioactive than the ones around it - which are almost all radioactive as well. instead, I am distracting myself!

Here's some music that I am listening to a fair amount.

Rag'n'Bone Man - Human. This guy's voice is killer. I can't wait to hear more from him. Soulful. True. I love this. He's got this timbre that just hits all the right buttons.

Sublime With Rome - PCH. Oh this is feel-good to die for. So good. If you want to dance, this will make you dance. Big Sublime fan, so when I heard Eric Wilson and Rome Ramirez were collaborating, I had to track some down.

Erra - Drift. Djenty harmonic tech-metal. This song in particular crosses my playlist a lot, usually just before or after Skyharbour and Northlane. I don't like dumb music. This is far from dumb music.

White Denim - Ha Ha Ha Ha (Yeah). You'd swear this was recorded back in the heady Motown days. Toe-tapping hip-swinging. Another voice with guts behind it. It just FEELS good, on the ears. Got vibes out the wazoo.

Florence + The Machine - Stand By Me. Yes a cover. From the beginning of Final Fantasy XV. It's the best cover of this song that I've ever heard. Right in the feels, over and over again. I've listened to it twice a day since the day I first heard it. I can't help it.

On top of this I have been reading The Expanse books by James S. A. Corey, which are thoroughly good science fiction.

...and that's what has been keeping my head straight. That and my friends and coworkers. A lot of shit has gone down recently, both geopolitical macroshit and personal microshit. So I have to thank those close to me for helping keep me on a level.

So when I've got my shit together - maybe in the new year - the aforementioned blog will happen. Until then, it's just a case of staying above water.

Sunday 11 December 2016

Parking (Not) Fine

How much is a parking ticket?

Recently I have had this discussion with a fair amount of people, and it's something that I haven't really thought much about until...well, now. The past couple weeks, certainly. Just something that has never occured to me.

So if you have had this conversation with me - well, follow it through anyway, because you might find it interesting.

A swift google search reveals that the average Penalty Charge Notice (a parking ticket to you and me) is around £70 - £50 for a minor infraction, £120 in central London. I am sure there are private companies that are more shady in their issuing of such things...but finding data for them will be more difficult. They have something to hide and be embarassed about, see.

You notice how it costs more in London?

Now in part I don't doubt that it is because of the traffic situation. They want to keep the roads moving as fast and effective as possible. All sorts of measures to keep that happening - cheap and effective public transport, congestion charges, and this greater parking ticket penalty.

I bet in part, though, it is because - in London, people get paid more.

I'll come back to that.

Speeding tickets. These things are £100 and 3 points, unless you are going fast enough to be put in court - then it goes up to £1,000, £2,500 on the motorway.

Here, the deviation is based on effect. There's more cars moving in higher volume on the motorway. I can understand that. A crash on the motorway is going to have a greater knock-on effect than one off it, if we get down to brass tacks.

What is it you notice about all these charges?

Well, what you will notice is that - if I am working on minimum wage, as many folks in this country are - picking up a parking ticket will cost me an entire day's wages. However, if I was, say... MP?

If we totally ignore the fact that they get expenses, they are paid approximately £62 an hour in this day and age - almost 9 times more than you and I - which means that it might actually save an MP money to just park wherever they want and do what they have to do, rather than spend time using public transport and taking consideration to park elsewhere.

And that's just MPs. The Office for National Statistics estimates that over 1.2 million people in this country - 4% of the workforce - actually earn a million pounds or more a year. That's perhaps twelve, thirteen times more than the already-affluent Commons politicians, and so the amount of time these folks would need to work to pay off a parking ticket (even in London) is probably less than the amount of time they will be parked wherever they get the ticket.

I got interrupted halfway through doing the maths, but I am fairly sure that if Wayne Rooney were to speed down a street for four minutes, he'd have earned the money to pay that fine in those four minutes.

Some folks might not see why this could be a problem.

There are many ways in which the justice system today is - or seems to be - one rule for us, another rule for them. One of the starkest measures of this is across the line of income disparity. This can be as simple as being able to afford a more succesful lawyer. One thing that is certain, however, is that in a world wherein the penalty for several different crimes (not all traffic related) is a monetary punishment, then making that monetary punishment be the same for everyone regardless of income is as good as saying that the wealthy deserve to be punished less for it.

Austerity creates income disparity. We are living in a time of austerity. This situation was engineered and is curated by people who do not suffer from that same austerity. There are companies and individuals who are profiting from such austerity - lenders, the companies trying to get a piece of the NHS - while the rest of us are doing nothng but lose.

At this time, when the term Food Bank has become a well-known term throughout the entire country - for people to be able to ignore the law because they have sufficient money is just an added slap in the face to those of us who are just trying to do our best and get by day after day.

The solutions hould be obvious, of course. Any punitive fine should be considered as a measure of one's income or value, rather than just a flat fine. The same as tax.

The more I think about it, the more I wonder how it hasn't happened yet. And the more I consider it, the more fair and just it seems.

Saturday 3 December 2016

The Modern Neuromancer

I begin this blog with a definition of the term Cyberpunk:

"A genre of science fiction set in a lawless subculture of an oppressive society dominated by computer technology."

Interesting, no?

There was a lot of talk about how Back To The Future 2's future never happened, but then actually did happen. The only thing that hasn't shown up is the hoverboard - something I blogged about right here actually.

It's like we wished for the whimsical aspects of that future, and not the more gritty, more day-to-day, more prosaic elements. We were so looking forward to our hoverboard that we forgot to stop Biff Tannen becoming president. At least the two-tie thing never took off...

...but I digress.

It is very possible to sleepwalk into a situation, because in a world wherein information is actually very free and very quick to travel (and misinformation doubly true), people's chosen method to not be overwhelmed is to trim down what they pay attention to.

This can mean that some very big, very important things go unnoticed, because of unequal coverage.

My favourite book is Neuromancer, by William Gibson.

Highly acclaimed as being the inventor of the term and the genre, Gibson is the grandfather of cyberpunk, to the point of a supercomputer in the hokey-but-fun 1995 movie Hackers is named after him. He wasn't hugely on-point with technology and computing at the time of writing Neuromancer - 1984, when I was two years old - and so that made him free to imagine a future based on social aspects, rather than technological. Still, he framed the world in technological terms, because in his eyes, the social - the spiritual and emotional - aspects of the world would be slowly eroded away, like a crack in a tooth.

There are several tell-tale core concepts that are present in most (if not all) examples of cyberpunk. The biggest is simply summed up as High Tech, Low Life; wherein the world's capacity for technological marvels and genius is incredible, but those technologies aren't capable of elevating the majority of the populace from poverty and squalour. Sure, you may have your highly-advanced computer system, and your replacement left arm, but you still need to grind for fifty hours a week to afford food and crappy lodgings - and social and societal mobility is basically a myth, except within your own little clique.

There's more to it than that, obviously.

Privacy and information is a huge part of the world. Information is currency. More important than almost anything, information leads to rep, which gives you anything. Those who possess data guard it jealously. Rather than use it or open it up for other people's use, it is a thing to lock down. Conversely, those who do not possess other data are constantly pushing to acquire it. Contravening the basic privacy of normal people, while defending one's own. Hacker society is predicated on the notion of all information being free, and the idea of sousveillance is a very nice one (observation from below - the opposite of surveillance, observation from above). How that data is used after the fact? Well, that's up to the people harvesting it - harvesting it and dictating how much of it anyone has access to, including themselves.

Sometimes a legal framework is needed to facilitate this kind of thing. Like the Investigatory Powers Bill, let's say.

Part of cyberpunk is the attitude that is almost entirely prevalent in most of its characters. You have to do it for yourself because nobody is going to do it for you. Becoming enclosed, wrapping ourselves up in ourselves. How can we possibly give a shit about X, when we can just about eat OR pay this bill, but not both?

This applies to almost all echelons of society. Not just the most poor and downtrodden, having to threaten others for a bite to eat, but further up the ladder - the corporate and political entities, who can't care about the effect of their actions on a macro scale, because they need to keep up their rep and their bankroll. The life won't fund itself. Who has the time to help anyone else?

That ruthless, headlong drive toward ourselves. Does that sound familiar?

Another key aspect of cyberpunk is the overwhelming presence of corporation, even over politics. Businesses are simply more important. They set the agenda, they do the dance, and the bureaucrats and so-called rulers pretty much run to keep up. Taking a stand against the march of gain is almost suicidal to one's career, because the monoliths of industry are the real fixed points of the world. So the politicians have to buy in, because to do otherwise is to invite certain doom - and hey, we can probably make a tidy profit from it at the same time, right? Why bother putting so much effort into making things different and achieving nothing, when one can put less effort into making a man in a suit happy and retire before the age of sixty?

Again, does that sound familiar?

I suppose the point I am working toward is that, I don't think Nineteen Eighty-Four is the future we have been sleepwalking towards. Not yet, anyway. We're getting there but not yet. Where we are going first, is Neuromancer.

Think about it.

We all have a phone, because phones have been price-pointed to perfection. Put one in every pocket. Make luxury models for the wealthy, and make finance options available for those we can buy debt from. I speak only for "first world" societies of course, but owning a phone in this country in particular is considered the default. If you don't, it is a statement. It's not a lack of availability. Every one of us has access to a portable supercomputer, by Gibson's standards.

We even have access to these things when we are in relative poverty. Even when our social mobility is stifled, and our income goes up so much slower than the cost of living and our average productivity. Even when the cost of owning a house is becoming inescapable to those who actually need one, despite the constant societal pressure from those who already own one to "get on the ladder".

Corporate interests have far greater influence on our lives than any shade of democracy. They also tend to guide scientific development. We don't get what we want. We get what they want, and then we are brought to understand that we wanted it all along. We're also, frankly, not in touch with what they are doing. Nobody cares enough. Everyone is too busy trying to keep their shirts on their backs.

We might not be able to plug data cables into our necks to eperience a virtual world (we have regular old headsets). We might not have built-in endoskeletons that vastly increase our lifting power (we have ever-increasingly complex exoskeletal frames). But we are definitely getting there.

You know the thing about cyberpunk?

It's a dystopia.

But then, nobody cared enough to stop it, and nobody noticed enough to want to care. So I guess I had better get some cybernetic limbs and some mirrorshades.