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Monday, 29 May 2017

The (Bank Holi)Day Today

Today, 29th May, is a bank holiday in the United Kingdom.

In the US I'm aware that it is Memorial Day, a day of memory for those veterans who died during their military service - distinct and separate from Veteran's Day (11th November), which is for all veterans. Over here, though, the holiday is a little less obvious. It doesn't have a snappy name. Just Spring Bank Holiday.

It began as a holiday on trial in 1965, and was made statutory - signed off by the crown - in 1971. It was brought in to replace Whit Monday, celebrated the day after Pentecost, which is in turn celebrated fifty days after Easter Sunday. Which is variable, every year. Yes, calendar and diary makers hate it.

It's not a public holiday - it's a bank holiday. The two are quite different. Specifically a public holiday can also be a bank holiday, insofar as they are culturally long-observed holiday periods, whereas a bank holiday can be discretionary and arbitrary. The government can literally decide they want a day to be a bank holiday, put it by the crown, and then - boom, July 14th is a bank holiday. (Bastille Day, see?)

While banks and financial institutions are closed on bank holidays, no other business has a legal obligation to be closed - though many are, especially if they have daily financial dealings. Doctor's surgeries are closed, as are many public buildings.


Well, today there's eight bank holidays in England - New Year's Day, Good Friday, Easter Monday, May Day, today, August Bank Holiday, Christmas Day and Boxing Day. There's more in other areas of the United Kingdom - Scotland gets St Andrew's Day, Ireland gets St Patrick's Day.

There used to be more. Thirty-three to be specific - and they were all saint's days. There's a full calendar of saints that covers just about every single day of the year. To make the holidays more tied to business dealings (and reduce them) and remove the emphasis on religious idolatry was perhaps a smart move, as even in 1834 England was becoming rather secular. Given that a significant proportion of the population of the country isn't saint-worshipping, that's just fine.

Where am I going with this?

I didn't have a plan, really. The whole notion is just interesting. I suppose, though - the new tradition, the new way of doing things, is just an improvement on what we had before. Because "That's The Way It's Always Been" is a pretty terrible reason to do...anything. Sooner or later, our traditions will have become the things that used to be our traditions. History marches on, and the world we are moving into becomes the world we are moving out of given sufficient years.

Very soon, there may be a tectonic shift in the path this country has taken since Margaret Thatcher. Or there may be more of the same.

I really hope that there will be a change. That we will move into a new world.

Sunday, 28 May 2017

Acceptable Delays

Is it okay to delay my blog from its usual weekly pace due to it being a bank holiday?

I think so.

My housemate tells me that banking has no effect on my blogging.

I, however, disagree. Approximately one in four of my blogs heavily involve economics, and approximately one in four of my conversations with aforementioned housemate heavily involve disagreeing with him.

Check back tomorrow.

Sunday, 21 May 2017

You Postulate, I Prognosticate

Having run out of ways to express my current opinion at the political state of the world, I have turned to you, my readers and friends, to entertain and delight.

Standard Q&A format. Names removed to protect the innocent.

Firefly: Where do I even begin? One of the best shows on television. The scrappiest little show that should have lost the moment it began...but it didn't. It'll always hold a very special place in my heart.

Tropical beaches: Oh that sounds pretty wonderful.

New nicknames for Mopeyface McDumpster: I guess we mean the Commander In Cheeto, the Curtseying Clown, the White Russian?

Examine a selection of different Sci Fi futures and decide which is the most likely... : Okay so wow there's a lot that, right now, AREN'T very likely. All the ones in which we have a sudden expansion out into the stars under a single unified peaceful banner, for one thing. Some are more relevant - Fahrenheit 451, Handmaid's Tale, V For Vendetta. You know the one I think is the most likely? The Alien franchise. Space isn't inhabited by bold trailblazers. It's bored blue-collar workers moving big things back and forth under a corporate charter. And Earth is a shithole that nobody wants to go to. If you have to ask why, well...

Why Vin Diesel is the perfect human being: I don't believe in perfection. He's pretty high up on that scale though. Just listen to him talk when he plays Richard B Riddick.

Why we should all vote labour...? (ducks and runs for cover): Are you applying for the job of party whip or something? In all seriousness, I know I said no politics, but - vote whoever you have to, to get the Tories out.

Obedience in different countries: There are very interesting differences in how cultures view the expectation of obedience, and the corresponding expectation of rebellion AGAINST that obedience. Sometimes the two of these things aren't necessarily connected. Like how the Amish have their year of going wild and doing whatever the fuck they want, then they come back to an otherwise pretty stratified life? Whereas in the UK we have a similar thing with University but there's less expectation afterwards to just do as your told - though there's a big social pressure to just fit in and do what you are meant to do...which is another issue altogether.

The Alien franchise in relation to the new movie: Still my favourite franchise. Though tying Prometheus more closely into the mainline franchise - the highly mutable and frankly very strange Engineer bio-weapon adopting a structurally very stable though slightly morphic shape in the form of the xenomorph itself - is a welcome thing. There's still questions which need answering but there's sequels, and I look forward to those. And it keeps up the tradition of Alien. Space belongs to the roughnecks and the yahoos, not the pristine geniuses and lantern-jawed heroes of the pulp era.

Dibdabs. Stop motion animation in the modern world. Ice cream: Nice. Kubo and the Two Strings is fantastic and I am looking forward to the new Aardman project. I'm not a huge fan of ice cream.

Whether failure to implement the EMF directive will have significant long term health consequences: Probably not significant, but what do I know, that sounds more like your job than mine dude...

Turnips, Barbie Dolls: Both of them exist and I don't own either of them.

Cheese: Oh my god I fucking love cheese.

Your favourite misheard lyrics/song titles: So I have a few of these. Stuck In The Middle With You features a "Friendly Uncle Colin," Stupify by Disturbed is apparently about an angry chicken, and I can't tell you how many times I have sung the intro to Fuel by Metallica as being "GIMME FUEL GIMME FIRE GIMME DABIJADESAH OOOH!" In terms of song titles I usually nail those...

Prolapses: Oh you nasty.

Anal leakages: OH YOU NASTY.

Losing a fake nail in a dog's bumhole: OH YOU FUCKIN NASTY TOO

The lack of roof terraced pubs in Ryde: This is actually a serious problem. I mean come on. I'd drink there. But then so many pubs and such are on a halfway hibernation until people have money again...

The possibility of hope in a post Trump post Brexit world: There always has to be hope. Has to be. As Charlie Chaplin said in The Great Dictator - as long as men die, tyranny can end.

Arsenal missing out on the UEFA CL next season: Who?

Favourite bits of the Isle of Wight: I'm quite fond of Ryde's beaches, Fort Victoria, the Downs, and most of Ryde when the sun is out...the views on my morning commute are pretty wonderful in the summer.

The Blame! Netflix original and the quality of anime on Netflix and whether or not they should just leave stuff like that to Crunchyroll, etc: I am all for every means of distribution that anime gets, even if that means of distribution also funds or produces more anime. When I first started getting into it, we were looking at having to import VHS tapes at massive markup, for the stuff that Manga didn't want to distribute itself - one of my buddies collected the entire Guyver series on VHS and that cost a BOMB as there were only three episodes per tape. Exclusivity pisses me off, though. So I am okay with Netflix AND Crunchyroll distributing stuff...but I will always look for better and more universal ways for such media to be accessed. Make it accessible, make it affordable, and you will make money.

Life of a pencil: How weird it must be to solely exist to turn ideas into physical representations of those ideas? And to get shorter every day of your life? Weird.

How the explosion in mainstream fantasy (game of thrones etc) Marvel and sci fi is an indicator of social dissatisfaction: You know what, I daresay it is. I also think it is an indicator that the "acceptable media" that people are expected and encouraged to consume has expanded somewhat in scope. Like can you imagine pitching Rick And Morty thirty years ago, or even Game of Thrones as a big glossy TV series? Television, movies and such have all changed a lot since the 90s, and are the better for it. But while there's always been the realism and the drama, like the holdouts of the world of grit that we live in, there's a lot more of the escapism that indicates people dream of far more. Given how shit we are capable of being to each other, I don't blame them.

Alien Covenant: Read up there somewhere. I loved it, as it stands. It wasn't Alien, it wasn't Prometheus, and it wasn't ever going to BE Alien. It was thoroughly acceptable.

The baywatch remake (remakes in general?): Ugh remakes. This kind of stuff generally pisses me off. Rarely you'll get a remake that is worth its salt, but usually it's a cynical cash-in on a name that people recognise that follows the standard currently-popular format. It's so rare that the people making the remake even reference the older material they are basically stealing from. Baywatch as a series was meant to be a drama as I recall, kind of like a soap opera. This remake is a parody. I don't know which I dislike more. Not even my beloved Dwayne can save it for me.

How are you going to take over the world?: Why would I want to? Shit is broken as hell. Besides, I wouldn't want the whole world. A nation would do. Just one. Just for me.

Boobs: Yes, lovely. (YAY! SOMEONE SAID BOOBS!)

Kittens: Also, very very lovely.

The English tradition of tea drinking: Not a big fan of tea myself - but I'm glad that some people enjoy it, and that we can bond over something.

Tattoos: Fucking hell yes. I love me some tattoos. Love seeing them, seeing people get them, getting them, love the idea of them. LOVE THEM. I'm planning my next one already.

The English tradition of tea drinking in terms of boobs and kittens: I have no fucking idea what you are talking about but whatever stops you from voting Tory on 8th June I suppose...

That's it folks. Thank you for your contributions. Next week there may be something a little more serious. Who can say?

Monday, 15 May 2017

Community & Society

So my last blog post was read over 1,200 times, which has left me absolutely gobsmacked - but if any single one of those reads has helped someone, or has encouraged someone to vote that wouldn't before, then you know what? It did its job. So my thanks to any of you who shared it, and a greeting to any new readers I have because of it.

I can't promise to always be so succesful, I'm afraid...

I'm going to begin with the definition of two words.

Community: The condition of sharing or having certain attitudes and interests in common.

Society: The aggregate of people living together in a more or less ordered community.

We're social animals, and we always have been.

Ever since our earliest days as recognisable and distinct creatures, we have formed social groups, and social evolution is a codified study of that very notion. The idea is simple: we did better because we worked together, a prehistoric example of division of labour that's as old as wolves.

Was everything equal, back then? Hard to say. Probably not. We weren't very complex creatures, comparitively. The idea of equinamity was probably beyond us. Nevertheless, we did manage to live long enough to even invent the concept of equinamity. We must have done something right.

I'm sure most people who read this blog have undergone team-building exercises. I'm pretty sure you've worked with people to achieve something, too - for your own edification. Anyone ever had to do a group project and located the one person that has neat, fast handwriting to do all the scribbling? Or the rapid typist? Or the one with the gift of the gab?

We all have different skills and abilities, and it is in the utilisation of those for the good of others - in the reasonable expectation that they will do the same for us - that our strengths really lie, as a species.

That is what a community is. A collection of individuals all linked by commonalities, all working with each other to achieve a given goal - that goal, usually, being to get to the end of the week with food in our bellies and four walls around us, with as little upsetting data in our brains as possible.

And we can surely do that. Right? as people, we can do that. ...most of the time.

And what is a society, but the sum of everyone in a community? In fact, what is OUR society, except for the sum total of ALL our communities? Society is all of us. The mass of people that make up...everything.

As a plurality, as a significant amount of people working together, we have a lot of power. We can do a lot of things that several smaller groups would find more difficult, or that we as individuals would find it impossible to achieve for ourselves. We have roads, maintained (mostly - I am from the Isle of Wight) throughout the entire nation. We have sewage systems, electrical networks. We have a health service. time of writing, anyway.

So how did it all get so badly screwed up?

Well, there's money. I've done a LOT of blogs on this topic, in particular on greed and austerity. (Money Talks, Drowning In It, The Two Great Evils, That Which Is Owed, Cause, Effect, Regret, and Kraft Und Macht, Wille Und Geld are a selection.) We found money, and it made life easier; and then it made life a lot easier for a small amount of people, the same small amount of people as seemed to be in charge in the first place. It's a system that can be gamed, and it has been, to the hilt. The mighty money is what dictates success in many echelons in society, and when the point of the game is to gain the paper tokens, those that write the rules have a lot of ways of getting those tokens.

Of course, where we are part of a community - and thus a society - there comes a point that one can actually gain those tokens at the same time as other people gaining them.

A pack of wolves can bring down far bigger prey than one wolf. A pack can even bring down bigger prey, in terms of mass per wolf, than a bunch of individual wolves could manage even if they added their stacks together. So if there's one particularly businesswolf that instead demands all the other wolves go and hunt and it takes a proportion of their kill, there's not much to go around at all. If only they had all worked together - yes, including the businesswolf - then perhaps there'd be a bigger prey takedown, and thus, more for everyone, even if the businesswolf demands a bigger share.

Every time someone rejects an increase of the minimum wage, or spending on the poor, I can't for the life of me imagine that they've thought about an actual extrapolation on what that would achieve.

The British people are - or used to be - one of the most highly taxed on earth. Even if we don't earn enough to pay income tax on our wages, we still pay in a lot of other ways. Many of the products we consume every day are taxed with VAT. If we use public transport, the ticket prices incorporate the taxes the company pays on fuel and its own running - as we have to pay tax on the fuel we purchase and the vehicles we drive. We pay council tax to our local government. Every pound we spend, more than a few pennies go back to the government.

So if we get more pennies, then so do they. Right?

But why should companies bear the brunt of this, with - say - an increase of minimum wage, or in paying for a universal basic income out of their taxes? Why should the wealthy subsidise those that aren't wealthy?

If we want to take a really basic view on this, it's because it's the right thing to do. It's the GOOD thing to do. We help each other so we can all make it out in one piece. We pay it forward, because we'd hope that if the situations were reversed, someone else would. That's what empathy would have us do. Sympathy would have us feel that reducing the suffering of others is just inherently a good thing to do - because it is.

What if empathy and sympathy are devoid from your decision-making process? (I'm looking at you, Ian Duncan Smith.)

Well - let's say we have four companies who have all been told that the minimum wage is going up. Companies A and B put their ages up immediately. Company C does so later, but before the deadline; Company D does so on the day of the deadline.

A and B will take an initial hit as they pay their workers more. But in general, every company that those workers utilise in their daily lives will benefit - extra money in pocket means more spending. Now, Company A may be the kind of company that doesn't deal with your average consumer - like those that work for it - but Company B may be, say a retail store or similar. The same can be said for Company D. Everyone needs food, and everyone needs stuff, and so B and D will see an uptick in income simply because the people that shop there are earning more.

So by the time C and D both put up their wages, their incomes should have increased - perhaps by a small amount, but enough nonetheless to slightly offset their workers being paid better.

In the end, we all benefit from those who have the least benefiting, because it pays forward and upward. Trickle-up economics - wherein those below are allowed to increase their income and thus their expenditure, swelling the economy by sheer numbers of small increases rather than large increases in a few paychecks - would perhaps even see to it that people have slightly easier lives, an unexpected benefit of taking a long view at earning as much money as possible.

So when the establishment as it stands demands that we turn on each other - puts pressure on us until looking out for number one is the only real option - it turns out that they're not just punishing us, and preventing us from organising or helping others or thinking for ourselves. They're hurting themselves, without ever wanting to admit it. So ideologically opposed that they won't even consider the alternative.

I quite often talk about how much I hate right-wing thinking, Tory thinking, austerity thinking. I do, it's true. Now and then, though - intermingled with that hatred is just...pity. Pity and sadness, that the people who are clutching the purse strings are so hypnotised by the gold in the purse that they can't work out how to get more (and in doing so accidentally helping out, you know, the rest of the world).

After all, the word Commonwealth exists, doesn't it?

Saturday, 6 May 2017

Democracy Matters

So I am hoping that this blog might be informative to folks in light of the upcoming General Election on 8th June - and for that purpose I am going to write it as if you don't know me, because I am hoping that some of you won't. I am probably going to come across as a little condescending, and for that I apologise. I'm trying to pitch this to a wide range of political inclination - from lots to none.

Hello, folks. My name is John. I live on the Isle of Wight in England, and I have a marked interest in making sure that people vote.

Voter apathy - particularly regarding local elections, but also applying to the general elections that dictate who runs the country - is a bad thing, and if you are an apathetic voter, I am hoping that I can change your mind.

I am not totally unbiased. I will state this plainly and at the beginning of this blog. Those who follow it regularly will be aware that I am a very left-leaning individual, with a taste for Keynesian economics and a focus on the greatest good for the greatest number. If any of the terms I just used throw you off - no judgement, that's just part of what this blog is hoping to achieve.

So, let's have some sample statements, and my response to them.

Why should I vote?

Well, that's a good question. Why don't you?

I don't understand politics.

It's never a bad thing to learn. It can be difficult to get into the subject, but it is important to at least have a basic grasp of the principles upon which the world is run, because then it helps you avoid the next statement.

It doesn't affect me.

This is a fallacy, but it is a very widely-held one. Almost every aspect of life is altered or adjusted by the decisions made by our leaders, more in terms of central government, but also in local government such as our local council. In large part, how much our money is worth and how much of it we get for a day's work is influenced by their attitudes and the laws they create - and so few aspects of our lives are entirely divorced from money.

Politics affects the schools that our children attend, and how well-prepared they are for the future. It affects our jobs, what legal protections we are entitled to while working them, and the kind of healthcare we can receive if we ever fall sick. If, somehow, one can live without ever spending money and never attending a school or a doctor's surgery - then politics can still affect you, as you are still beholden by the laws the politicians create. These laws can vary, from freedom of speech, to banning certain sexualities or religions. This is how politics can have an effect on your life, no matter how far you remove yourself from modern society.

They're all the same anyway / You can't trust any of them / They're just as bad as each other / They'll say one thing and do another.

False. Every Member of Parliament has a voting record, which you can view here. All of their votes are recorded as an article of law. No matter what an MP says, no matter what others say about them - when it comes down to the vote in Parliament, this is where their colours shine, because this is what creates the laws and changes in society. They can lie outside of parliament all they want. When they are casting votes, if they lie, their lie becomes truth. So, find out who your local MP is - a google search will do it - and use this super-useful website to ascertain what votes they have partaken in, and more importantly, HOW they voted.

There's certain large swathes of the world's population that would imply that their leaders are perhaps worse than the alternatives - the democratically-elected regimes of Robert Mugabe and Daniel Francois Malan, for example. It's not all bad. The arguably very positive leadership of Clement Attlee after the second world war pulled the country out of a terrible situation.

I'm exercising my right not to vote. I'm not voting in protest.

That is an interesting choice, and nobody can force you to vote. However, it is a basically invisible protest. Nobody will assume that someone that doesn't turn up to the ballot box is protesting. Apathy is far more likely. Perhaps consider voting for a third party, or for whoever most represents your views rather than against a specific issue.

But I'm just one person. One vote can't make a difference, surely.

The way that our current system of government is arranged means that it is possible for local government and for Members of Parliament from various constituencies don't actually need a very large majority to win. This is very deliberate. What it also means is that individual voters, in some situations, wield a lot of power. In the past 70 years, over two dozen MPs have won their seats with a majority of thirty or less.

On the scale of a local election, such as the most recent one here - three of the districts had a majority of less than ten. One local area was won by the Tories by two votes. Literally, two votes. So the difference that can be made by just three people deciding to vote are actually considerable. The actual number of people who voted for the Conservative party to be in local government came out to 12% of the population of this island, and yet, they took a vast swathe of seats.

That means our voting system isn't fair or representative. Why should I take part in it?

There's a great amount of pressure and political campaigning around voting reform. It is perfectly possible to support and push for reform, while also using the current system to try and secure favourable government - perhaps someone who has, in the past, supported or spoken positively about electoral reform? No reason to not use the current flawed system while at the same time trying to bring in a better one. We can do that.

Why are you cracking down on the apathetic people? What's the problem with voter apathy?

In a democracy that is meant to be representative of the people it governs, people not showing up to vote means that they aren't being represented. It's the first hurdle - before the actual mechanism of voting gets in the way. Certain governments and politicians profit from this low turnout - for example, in the local election of yesterday, only 30% of the island's population (41% of the valid electorate) actually voted. Given that 12% of them were sufficient to incite such a convincing win for the Conservative party, that is a troublingly small number of voters. In one district, only three people out of the 1,187 population didn't vote - in another, barely a quarter showed up. These numbers could swing the election very rapidly in another direction.

The people that will always show up - the people that will vote day or night, rain or snow, regardless of how hopeless it seems - often contain the radicals and extremists of each side of the political divide. The opinions of the average member of society are under-represented at the ballot box when turnout is so low - but then people are surprised when the average member of society is effectively punished by new laws or changes of funding or welfare. If a politician is as selfish and self-serving as one would be led to believe, then it is only in their interest to reward those who actually show up to vote. That in itself should be a good reason to make the trip to the poll.

I heard in the news that...

Always, always, always look for a different source. Especially in England, especially in regard to the press. I've written another blog just here about why they can be unreliable. Never believe the first thing you are told. Check up on the facts. In fact I urge you to check up on everything I have just told you - because being aware of more than one side of an argument is key in politics. Let us not forget that we should be voting for those that reflect our needs and values. The owners of media outlets are the same - but they can reach millions every day to try and convince them to do the same.

How do I even decide who to vote for? This whole thing is a huge mess when you look at it objectively.

I hear you, me from the past. Here's the thing. Decide, first, who you are and what you want the world to be like. Decide what you think is right and fair. Then, find politicians and parties that SAY they match what you want, and have voted to ACTUALLY match what you want. Talk to your friends and family - but don't buy the first horse you are offered. Talk to people you know that know about politics. Hear their opinions. Check out other people's opinions. Absorb information on the topic. Take an hour out of one day to researching the political parties and what they stand for.

Here's a good starting point; it defines the terms Left and Right. (Edit - I have also been introduced to which may help out a lot too - removing the cults of personality and image manipulation, and leaving behind only policies. Thankyou Sarah!)

So there it is. My attempt to claw some sense out of the local elections led me to see how few people voted, and I can't ignore the fact that it is a problem. So this is what I can start to do about it.

If this is at all useful, if there is any merit to be found in this, please share it - share it with your friends that aren't sure, or even the ones that are. Spread this around and we will do what we can to ease voter apathy.

Thank you for your time.