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Saturday, 24 June 2017

Quite An Experience To Live In Fear...

...isn't it?

Any film buff will know what this blog is (at least partially) about by this simple quote.

I know full well that someone's favourite thing doesn't have to be the best thing in that particular bracket. My favourite film ever made is Aliens, the 1986 sequel to Ridley Scott's original Alien. This, however, is not what I believe to be the best film ever made.

That title I lay at the feet of Blade Runner; another Ridley Scott work of genius, released the same year as I was born, 1982.

As I sit here watching it, right now, I realise how much of my worldview it has shaped - and how much of a reflection of how life in this era it would become.

It is a masterpiece.

More noir than noir, a soundtrack that deserves study in its own right, acting of the highest quality. A script to die for. Cinematography that books are written about.

It is a thing of ugly beauty, showing us the worst sides of humanity and some of its best sides, too. It is a story as accessible now, as it was ten years ago, twenty years ago, thirty-five. A nightmare of a world within the cracks of which we eke out our existence as best we can. Scrabbling for the scraps that fall from the high places, the monstrously expensive and outrageously opulent spires and peaks.

It's a time and a place of people being treated like resources, and some people being less human than others.

The main character is ugly, too. Not in a physical sense - you can't deny Harrison Ford being handsome in this film - but in a spiritual, mental way. Doing a job he hates. Acting in a way that he knows is wrong, because it's the only way he knows how. Being deliberately cruel as an expression of his own self-destructiveness. Willing to buy into the line of subhumans being objects to be retired, rather than people to be listened to. For the most part.

It's a smart film. It asks a lot of those watching - to accept Deckard as being who he is as a vehicle to tell the story rather than necessarily a being of sympathy. It makes references that not everyone is going to grasp. It carries a weight beyond any combination of parts that it contains.

(Unless you're watching the fucking horrible original cinematic cut, which has Harrison Ford delivering a voice-over to inform a dumb audience of the plot points the harsh cinema cut demanded removed or smoothed over. Don't do that. Don't ever do that.)

As of right now, the world is in a state of flux. There is one thing that can't be disputed - as I detailed in this blog here, we are swiftly becoming the cyberpunk nightmare that William Gibson warned us about.

So we don't have the off-world travel and the bounteous life in the colonies that the citizens of Ridley Scott's Los Angeles nightmare are promised. So we don't have genetically crafted people that sometimes can't distinguish themselves from non-Replicants, a combination of ubermensch and untermensch alike. In fairness, we have two years - but that's cutting it a little fine.

As a parable, though...

At a point early in the film, Roy Batty - played in the most incredible performance by Rutger Hauer - quotes a line from William Blake:

“Fiery the Angels rose, and as they rose deep thunder roll’d
Around their shores, indignant burning with the fires of Orc…”

The quote is from America A Prophecy, and Orc is a character - not a horrid green battle-monster but a being of revolution and rebellion, who stands in perpetual opposition to a tyrant god, Urizen. (It bears mention that Roy misquotes this deliberately - his angels fall to earth from space, rather than rising from the pit.)

Roy and his Replicant allies are painted as subhumans, treated as lesser. They're casually called skinjobs, and if that terminology doesn't make you uncomfortable - well it really should.

While Roy presents himself and the others as the Angels, they are Orc. They are the ones taking a stand against their treatment. As sentient, intelligent beings given a falsified life and memory, they feel that they have a right to exist - and a big part of the film is whether or not that is actually the case. They stand against the structure that created them, and many of us would argue, rightly so.

A lesser class, pressed into the service of others without so much as a by-your-leave. They exist for the profit of those who own them, and when they refuse to do as told any more, they are discarded. Stay in line, and do as expected, or you will be forcibly retired.

Become the people you are meant to become. Remain useful. Remain obedient. Then be retired with good grace.

Of course, one would rebel. Of course. And to prevent that rebellion is tantamount to being complicit with the structure suppressing it. If one basically assumes that Replicants are humans, then the Blade Runners are essentially the slave-catchers of old - and let us not forget where the United States got the design for their police badges from.

Anybody get the feeling they've lived this movie before?

Meanwhile, we live as best we can. We exist in the cracks, both Replicant and poor human alike. Useful or ignored. We scrabble about, and we try to just stay alive long enough to earn some fond memories and more smiles than tears.

The Tyrells of the world tell us to revel our time. The Tyrells, with their money and their towers, and their definition of what is person and what is not.

It's nothing the god of biomechanics wouldn't let them into heaven for.

Friday, 16 June 2017

Human Investments

I am lucky, because my landlords are good people.

They are honest and genuine. When they first heard that a group of adults (five at the time) with no familial connection wanted to rent their property, they were initially skeptical - but after meeting us, they decided to take the risk.

Whenever there has been a problem, we have felt we could talk to them about it. And to be clear, those problems are sometimes with the property, and often with the letting agents - not our landlords themselves. They are fine people, and we are lucky to have them.

There are two million private landlords in the UK, according to research conducted by several organisations. There are over four million private tenants, too, though that number may actually be slightly conservative. I know plenty of people who rent or have rented, and I consider myself lucky, because the majority of them have found themselves in (sometimes repeated) problematic situations with their landlords.

Letting agents aren't without sin, either. The amount of cash they demand for even simple tasks - even tasks that don't strictly need to be done - can be astounding, to the point of extortion. Three times, they have actually made errors in regard to OUR rent, and we have temporarily been blamed for it - something which goes away very quickly when they realise they forgot to carry the one.

Again. We are lucky.

Our landlords are concerned with our safety and security. Regular checks to our fire alarms, gas, electricity and water supply - adherence to the rules and regulations that keep us safe and help us live with as little risk as possible - it all takes time and money, but they do it. In part because it is implicit in their role, but also, because they are responsible and considerate people.

Again. We are lucky.

Others are not so lucky.

One of the real highlighting factors of income and wealth is how one thinks of houses and homes. I am currently at the "I will probably never be able to afford my own house but it would be nice" level. I know others who are on their way to their own home, others who are just moving in, others who have been in for years, others who are onto their second and yet others who own two and rent one - and others who own two, but keep one empty so they can go on holiday in it. There are those worse off than me, too - having to rely on social welfare, for whatever reason, whose shelter is actually directly reliant on the state.

There was a huge push to get everyone into houses back in Maggie Thatcher's day. The reasoning for this is multiform, obviously, but everyone owing money to a bank gives it a lot of leverage to swing around its newly-deregulated investment schlong. Owning property became the way we should all want to live, and renting became undesirable. There were those, of course, who already had homes - and those, of course, who could already afford more than one.

If, via income disparity, one is forced to rent - and had little hope of actually affording a home to move into, so it isn't so much a choice as it is necessity - then one is at the literal mercy of landlords. That is a power dynamic that Europe actually addresses - Germany has a solid renting culture, and thus has better protections and guarantees for tenants, and more strict regulations for landlords and the properties they rent. Perhaps if the UK had such a culture, then how we view the relationship between landlord and tenant would be different, too.

It is literally an investment in human living conditions, but with the option of increasing your profit margin if you reduce those living conditions; and where income inequality means that people are forced to rent, the ability to avoid those landlords who do compromise those living conditions is severely hindered.

Over four million people rely on their landlords being decent human beings who won't cut so many corners that the entire edifice starts to roll away. Rely on those who are already wealthy above and beyond their own means to care enough about their wellbeing to sacrifice greater income to increase their safety and give them somewhere half-decent to live.

Well, the attitude toward that somewhat shows through.

Just ask any student that has had to rent privately in their second year, who get scalped for thousands and denied the return of their deposits because they are students and probably can't afford legal assistance. Just ask anyone living in a shitty tower block, wherein if you call maintenance to fix something, you may as well roll a die to see if they show up. Just ask anyone whose landlord simply refuses to fix things, important things, like that dangerous external cladding or that faulty electrical system or the lack of fire alarms and sprinklers.

The thing is, there are legal protections. There is a raft of health and safety legislation, specific to rental properties. We are just so used to them being ignored - to corners being cut at every single turn - that we count ourselves lucky if our landlords just obey the law.

It doesn't help that the current "government" - the Queen hasn't ratified them yet so they earn the quotation marks - have been directly responsible for tilting the balance of power yet further. Attempts to further deregulate the responsibilities of landlords have been partially successful. Laws on this topic are primarily voted through by Conservative MPs who not only claim expenses to maintain their own homes but also rent out properties to others. Yes, that is a conflict of interest. No, nothing got done about it.

There was a debate about whether or not rental properties should be fitted with smoke alarms by law. There was a debate about whether or not a rental property should be considered fit for human habitation, before someone is moved into it. Let me repeat that: a swathe of the Conservative party, many of whom are landlords, wanted to make it legal for a landlord to rent a property that is not fit for human habitation. Yes, that is a conflict of interest. No, nothing got done about it.

To further the gap, legal aid has been cut, and the access to council housing and housing benefit has been reduced. So if you are lucky enough to earn enough to get into a rat-warren without fire alarms, then you discover that this rat-warren doesn't have fire alarms, then good luck finding anywhere else to move and good luck actually mounting a legal challenge. You already have to rent. You probably can't afford a lawyer.

Again. We are lucky.

We are lucky because our landlords are not scalpers. They are not cutting corners. They are available if we need to talk, they fix problems (often physically themselves), and they intercede on our behalf when the letting agency becomes problematic.

We are lucky because they aren't a large private concern, who decided we didn't need smoke alarms. We are lucky because they ensured that our electrical system was reliable and worked properly before we moved in. We are lucky that they didn't fit a cladding on the outside of our building to make it look nice for the rich folk that live nearby. We are lucky that the cladding they chose wasn't fitted at a slight discount rather than making it actually fire resistant.

When enough corners are cut, the edifice rolls. The people making the money don't care about that. It probably won't be them who actually suffers the crushing calamity of it rolling. They will probably be able to skip away clean, because the people who make the laws about this kind of thing are just like them: contemptuous of human life, especially of people who earn less than they do.

Again. We are lucky.

We are lucky because our landlords see us as human beings. They talk to us, they are polite to us as we are polite to them. We have a mutual respect.

The name of Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation should indicate to you just how much they see their investments as human beings. Tenants are things to be managed. You put them in a box and they give you money. To hell with the fire alarms. If they go away you can just get more, everyone needs somewhere to keep their stuff. So what if Grenfell Tower burns? KCTMO manages 9,500 properties - there's always more tenants to extort.

The same "government" that wished for landlords to be able to house people in inhumane conditions, to endanger their lives and to limit their access to legal recourse and housing support, also defunded fire and emergency services across the country. Reduced staff levels, closed fire stations, you name it. All in the name of saving money, though how that has helped anyone is still up for debate - it certainly hasn't reduced our national debt at all, or reduced how much we pay in tax.

Both groups of people - and I am unsure if there is any overlap, but as I already mentioned, many Conservatives are also landlords - show through their actions that they don't see tenants as human. If you don't have the money to afford your own house (regardless of the increased price of houses, which is a whole other blog) then you aren't worth listening to or caring about.

The dehumanising of the less wealthy started with those who had nothing. Painting the homeless as a nuisance and a bother without considering them people. Then there are those who almost have nothing, people who need to claim benefits to survive - we've all seen the hatchet job done on them. Now we're onto those who have enough money to live but not enough money to own a house or secure a mortgage.

The line is creeping up, people - but by the time the line is high enough that the very wealthy turn on the not-as-wealthy, everyone else will have been churned under.

It is this callousness, this total sociopathy, that has led to the edifice rolling. Too many corners were cut. The profits have been pocketed for years, and now, it is time for the real price to be paid.

This is what income inequality does to us.

It makes us look upon individuals who are following the law and protecting their human investments as the law calls upon them to do, and call ourselves lucky.

Of course it isn't just housing that this sociopathy rears its ugly head in, either - but then more than one of my blogs have pointed out the negative impacts of right-wing greed-based policy the world over.

If only there was an alternative.

Wouldn't we be lucky.

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Qatar & The Tory Legacy

I give you enough reasons to not vote Conservative tomorrow.

Even if the chronic mismanagement of the nation's funds, the conflicts of interest rife in the front bench, the lack of empathy toward anyone but wealthy white married couples, and the suicide-pact of a no-deal Brexit isn't enough to convince you...then I will give you the one big and very current reason. One that isn't about right or left, one that isn't about welfare or austerity.

The government in general - and the Prime Minister in particular - has ties to Saudi Arabia that can't be ignored. They aren't alone in this. Saudi Arabia is a wealthy nation, and likes to disseminate that wealth amongst democracies so they'll leave it alone to continue being vaguely shit to its citizens and the citizens of other nearby nations. I touched on this in my last blog.

We sell them weapons. We sell a lot of people weapons, but the PM very recently went on something of a personal mission to sell them a shitload of weapons. Of course Trump then followed right behind her and sold infinitely more, but hey - they make more guns than we do.

It has become rather clear, in recent years, that Saudi Arabian government also has a hand in funding groups including ISIL. In the same way as the Pakistani government had a hand in funding Al Qaeda, which only became obvious when they were literally bullied into helping to find Bin Laden, who had been - to the surprise of nobody that paid attention - hiding out in Pakistan the entire time.

As people in the west have been harmed by extremists - I don't like using the word terrorist, it gets thrown around very quickly and easily - all of a sudden, the media cares. They haven't cared much about the continuous campaigns of bombing in Syria, the Yemen, Iraq, the Lebanon, and who knows where else - and the mess that is Israel/Palestine is a whole other story.

All of a sudden, as the people of Manchester and London and everywhere else that has been targeted by ISIL are pulling themselves back together, those who have been supplying the group that claims responsibility are named and shamed - and guess what? Our Prime Minister went to them on an arms sales mission, scarcely a month ago.

Saudi Arabia, probably, feels uncomfortable that the west - a long-term supplier of its military machine - is starting to take an interest in the funding of extremists. An interest perhaps peaked and aided by the report which the government is trying to cover up, but which will be leaked, I don't doubt. The report which details, in black and white, Saudi connections to ISIL and beyond.

And so Saudi needs someone else to take the heat - and someone to use those shiny brand new guns on.

Most people don't know a lot about Qatar. If you've ever heard of Al Jazeera - they are based in Doha, Qatar's capital. It's a sovereign state, set out on a peninsula. It is surrounded on most sides by the Persian Gulf, and has only one land border.

Saudi Arabia.

All of a sudden, a revelation. According to the Saudis - Qatar is funding the extremists! Isn't Qatar naughty? And half a dozen other nearby nations, including the United Arab Emirates, are going along with it. The UAE actually made it illegal to express sympathies or support to Qatar. That's serious business.

Donald Trump is in on it. He blabbed early - probably let in on the little scam when he went to visit his gun-purchasing buddies. Let slip a tweet or two pointing the finger at Qatar before Bannon or his son-in-law got the phone out of his hands.

While this pretext to war spins on the axle, Turkey shipping in troops to ward off an attack that may never happen if we are lucky, and the guns that we sold the Saudis looking like they are imminently going to pick up some dust...

...our Prime Minister determines that the way to keep us safe isn't to reverse the cuts that she, as Home Secretary, made to our police force.

It's to take away OUR rights.

You know other places that don't have any human rights legislation or protections?

Saudi Arabia. UAE. Pakistan. Qatar, to a point. Syria, now.

You know. The kind of places that fund and give rise to the kind of people that come to places like the United Kingdom, and Iraq, and Iran, and Kenya, and Egypt, and France, and Afghanistan, and Australia, and Somalia, and Iraq, and Pakistan, and India, and Burkina Faso, and Algeria, and Mexico, and Tunisia, and Cameroon, and Colombia, and Mali, and Niger, and hurt people.

That's a list of all the countries that have suffered an attack specified by their governments as terrorism...this month.

And it's only the 7th.

I urge you not to vote Tory because they are milking this tragic and awful cycle of death and extremism at both ends: they feed in weapons to get money, and at the opposite end, they demand the curtailment of the rights of the victims, on the grounds of protection.

Which is of course why they have had a huge media campaign trying to convince the British public that Jeremy Corbyn - who has persistently been on the right side of history, from the poll tax and Apartheid to nuclear weapons - is a terrorist sympathiser.

If that one reason isn't good enough, well...what's the point?

No more blogs before the results come in, folks. Let's see if we can't make the world a better place, one day at a time.

Sunday, 4 June 2017

Where The Lines Meet

Everything that happens in life is down to intersections of causality.

A person crosses a street. A driver drives down that same street. Depending on the actions of each, those two actions - those two lines - can cross in different ways. In the worst way, they cross in a literal impact; but that is rare, and only happens so often due to the sheer number of cars on roads and people on pavements.

A couple meet due to actions and consequences taken all the way up to that point - their relationship forms as based on those lines, how they intersect, what they intersected with beforehand. Decisions made in the past, the results of circumstances and events, all roll forward to change the present and the future.

Everything, from important to inconsequential, happens this way.

When things happen that hurt us, that scare us, that make us angry - the temptation is to make the event personal. To make it all about us. It is also perhaps tempting to chalk it up to pure chance.

A company makes weapons, and they want somewhere to sell them. A government who are contractually bound to underwrite those sales finds a buyer. That buyer uses those weapons to murder innocents, and also sells them to those who would do the same. A man who receives weapons teaches his followers how to die for the cause the weapons are for,. A person decides to hurt other people because of a cause he has been taught is more just and valid than any other. People are hurt.

Each of these lines aside from the last features an abandonment of morality, a suspension of the concept of wrong and right. Each injury and each death caused at the far end of these lines begins with the decision to do something wrong.

It wasn't just those that deliver the final blow, though there will be those that want to get us angry, to make us hate, and will hold them up as the sole reason why this happened. These people decided to hate before the attack even happened. It's a tool, now - the line of the attacker has crossed theirs in a way that they will decide to use to push their own agenda.

How can we have stopped it?

We can't - but we can draw new lines.

We can't necessarily control the company making the weapons, but we can pick the government that rules us. That government can, then, make different decisions. It can draw different lines. Intersections that previously existed will fade away. We can choose to hate less and learn more, which will draw lines in how we are observed. We can refuse to let our decisions bring into power those immediate vultures, those who seek to turn our initial hurt into a scurrying for safety under the shadow of tyranny, or a burning rage against everything that isn't us.

That's a choice WE have to make, because that's all there is - the choices we make, and the ways in which they can change the world later. The lines we draw, and how the lines cross others.

We need to make sure we draw the best lines we can.