Search This Blog

Sunday, 24 September 2017

The Shapeshifter

I've described depression as a thief.

It's not just a thief, though. I mean, yes, it will rob you of a significant amount, don't get me wrong. The actual action of theft occurs - but to call it a thief binds it to just one archetype, gives it just one shape.

That just isn't the case.

Some days it is just a cloud. It sits up in the sky and on occasion overcasts the sun, but it is a distant thing - inescapable but not terribly pressing. The cloud might even make everything look a little more picturesque, when it moves its ass out of the way and lets the sunshine through.

Some days it is a weight. A singular weight, that sits atop a subject or topic or thought, and pins it down, makes it hard to move. It means that shifting it from inbox to outbox, mentally speaking, difficult. You spend that much longer just hauling at it or struggling with it, even something that you frustratingly realise should be simple. It can create an aversion, quite easily.

Some days it is the black dog, that Churchill and others have famously described it as. This, too, can take different forms. Sometimes the dog just follows you, all day, hoping for your attention and slightly getting in your way. Anyone who has had a slightly elderly Labrador probably knows how this works. 

Some days, however, it is a different kind of canine. It's a wolf. A predator. It stalks you. It doesn't generate gentle frustration - it causes fear, and it's a fear that doesn't come good until later. It makes the shadows longer, and even if the thing you are engaging in is brightly-lit and pleasant, you just know it is out there - waiting for the moment your guard is down.

Some days it takes the form of blinkers. You need to do X, Y and Z, and you quietly thank your depression for not getting in the way of that - but it blanks out the rest of the world. Pausing to look around isn't an option, because the only task that exists is directly in front of you, and there's no other people in this world; only the one you have to talk to at that moment.

Some days, it is the ocean. It is either a massive inescapably looming presence, an infinite icy depth that is always there at the end of the land - or it is something you are under, an immense pressure on every point of your being, just pushing down, down, below the thermal layer and away from light and warmth.

As of right now, I have witnessed a whole new shape; and that shape is barbed wire.

It's like a knot of barbed wire, tangled around everything. It is perhaps informed in shape by my chronic pain issues, but either way - it's like every motion, every twist, every turn, just gets more and more tangled up in the ripping, tearing wire. The more one struggles - the worse it gets.

It also makes it hard to see. At a distance, barbed wire is difficult to spot - it defies examination, and even up close, even when one can understand that it is indeed barbed wire, actually untangling or unwrapping it seems like a Herculean task. Where would you even start?

It's a trick.

In Pacific Rim, Raleigh Becket advises Mako Mori to not chase the rabbit. Depression is its own rabbit. It wants you to chase, to delve, to study - but not with an eye to fix, to solve, to make better or understand. Depression is a self-replicating Von Neumann probe of a sensation, that seeks to break through into every aspect of what you are doing, and the barbed wire Gordian Knot is just one example of how.

You can't do what Alexander famously did and just cut it. That isn't an option. The best way to deal with the barbed wire is to just try and do what you normally would. Get things done. Not ignore it - it's impossible to ignore - but to look at it, and grunt, and shrug, and get your shit done anyway. It's not going away if you pay it attention, nor if you ignore it; but if you can get into the groove of how you do things, of how life works for you when you aren't entangled, you weaken its hold on you.

It's not a demon you can slay with a sword. This is a demon that requires diplomacy, and tenacity, and fortitude.

I wish anyone fighting this demon all the diplomacy, tenacity and fortitude they need.

Sunday, 17 September 2017

Readers Request - Prophecies, Boys In Skirts, Philosophy

It's time again, folks. The Q&A has been rebranded as Readers Request, and you all as presumable readers have requested my take on various things.

Without further ado, and with names removed to protect the innocent...

Favourite version of a Unicorn you've ever come across - Dresden Files. Because you know what They are very much not the pure, white, wonderful creatures we would wish them to be. They look kind of like this...

Favourite prophecy - The Prophecy II. Christopher Walken is stellar as always.

Favourite accompaniment to a rice dish - Butter chicken curry.

Favourite fighters: real, fictional, semi-fictional (like wrestling)... fighting can be metaphorical. - Real? Muhammad Ali. Fictional? Butch from Pulp Fiction. Semi-Fictional? Bruce Lee (the guy is so mythical that it's sometimes hard to separate fact FROM fiction). Real metaphorical? Sun Tzu, I think...

Food that most surprised you - Sushi - insofar as I tried it a couple of times and really disliked it, and then one day woke up absolutely craving it. I've loved it ever since.

Wtf is Disney feeding kids today? Watch Gravity Falls and see if you can understand - I have watched it, and...honestly I found it very entertaining. I can see why some people wouldn't. But's nice that Disney is producing stuff that isn't just their standard of kiddy-level? Like I appreciate that it has expanded its range a little bit. I mean that does mean that we won't always like what they put out, where usually just the name alone would be enough reassurance that what we are watching is within certain parameters.

Bill and Ted - MOST TRIUMPHANT. Seriously these guys are the reason why I use the word Dude so much. I don't think I ever really left the early nineties in a lot of ways.

Boys in skirts - I care far less about what a kid wears (as long as it is within reasonable uniform standards, and I disagree with uniforms being gender-locked too) than I do about some people's backward thought processes and hiding their bigotry behind religion. And worse, using that to fiscally punish a SCHOOL. Yeah, because THEY have a lot of money, don't they? Fuck.

Men in Tights! - MANLY men! TIGHT tights! We travel round the forest looking for fights!

Why the idea that tax breaks for the rich will stimulate economic growth (it doesn't) still exists. Why people allow the 1% to control darn near every facet of their lives via political policy, and haven't put systems in place to prevent career politicians.  Also, how we're rapidly rushing heading into a dystopian hellscape bit nobody seems to give a damn about stopping it. - ...honestly, there's a few reasons. But a combination of apathy, lack of unbiased political and economic education, and half the world believing that they aren't poor but are temporarily embarrassed millionaires pretty much does it.

And that's...kind of a depressing set of topics... - ...yeah it is...

What game you are currently big on, and why. (I felt like there was a need to include a bit lighter of suggestions...) - Right now, a lot of modded Minecraft, and channelling my natural attention problems to also play a bunch of other games on a casual basis. Sonic Mania rules, looking forward to the Stellaris expansion, Warhammer Total War II and the Mini-SNES.

Killjoys tv show 🤔 - Wait what?

You never saw it :O? Something to add to your watchlist, John! - Shit yeah, I'll look it up!

Trivialized cultural aspects. ex. People wearing clothes they don't know origin of as a fashion statement, from the mild of gamer shirts to particular wearing this type of clothes means this. (The Homer Simpson with reggae hat springs to mind) - I'm not going to do as good a job as dozens of better people than I have already done, in terms of talking about cultural appropriation. Here's an article for ThoughtCo on the topic. But in short - the culture of gaming isn't hurt by someone wearing a Halo shirt if they're not really into video games, while the culture of the Lakȟóta is hurt quite a lot by their entire culture being compacted into rubbish Halloween costumes for mass consumers.

If an alien race evolved without sight, what is the most likely way the'd record their history once sentient. - Depends on their other senses. They might be a story-based culture, mind you. It's a really hard thing to imagine, given how reliant we are on our sight.

What Rick and Morty character are you? - ...I have...honestly gone off Rick & Morty quite a lot. If forced to pick? I am probably Morty - constantly in a state of shock and vague surprise at the mad extremes that this boozy twat is taking us to.

Obligatory boobs. - SOMEONE SAID IT WE CAN GO HOME

Who in human history would you choose to handle first contact with an alien race? - ...that's..a really difficult choice. Um. Maybe the Dalai Lama? Martin Luther King Jr?

What 3 things need to happen In the next five years to steer humanity away from its current trajectory? - ONE: Total switch-over to renewable power sources, electric vehicles and regulation of polluting/destructive industries. TWO: Redistribution of wealth and taxation, complete with closing of tax loopholes and a significant minimum wage or universal income payment. THREE: Political reform, actual representative democracy complete with alternative vote and solid options for recalling failed representatives.

Can religion ever be eradicated successfully (not including extinction) - I don't necessarily think it needs to be, it just needs to be unable to ruin lives of those that don't want to participate. That said, the human condition is one of insecurity, and insecurity begs that every worry or uncertainty be filled with something. As long as people doubt or fear, there will be religion, or something like it.

What philosophy holds back human development the most? - I'm not sure if I'd call ignorance and greed a philosophy.

Mogg - man or multi-celluar malevolence? - If we refer to Jacob Rees-Mogg, then I would suggest that the chinless spineless dickless brainless Edwardian needs to go back to his own time. I don't care if he's a man, a mouse or a mastodon. He can fuck off.

What are you looking forward to? - ...well...I dunno. There's a lot of stuff coming along that I'm quite looking forward to seeing or hearing or playing. Some video games are listed above. Looking forward to Thor, and...outside of that, I'm not sure. ...which isn't a good sign, but...

What do you make to the cable announcements? - He's my favourite Marvel character. I am doing my best to just...accept that everything is going to be good. Josh Brolin is a good choice. A very good choice. It all comes down to writing. And as much as I liked Deadpool I hope they up their game. But then I would. He's my favourite.

Will vs reality. - ...oh this one. ...see I have problems with this stuff. Because I am often told that I can do anything I set my mind to, which is a lovely thought, but then I set my mind to being able to breathe normally and you know what, it just doesn't happen. But still I value my willpower, or my weaponised stubbornness as I call it. It helps me out when life is a drag.

That awful prick on the crystal maze this evening. - I didn't see it or catch it on catch-up...but then...I find that a lot of TV these days seems specifically designed to show us unpleasant things. A lot of sitcoms are based around mutual hatred or people being shitty to each other. It's ugly. Ugly, ugly stuff. Kind of shit that rots your soul. So I don't mind that we don't have access to TV at the house. All I miss is old gameshows, the cooking and music channels, and the occasional documentary.

I would like a blog discussing why on earth Stevie Wonder wears a watch. - It was pointed out that it might be a braille watch? But...mostly cos he wants to? And dammit it's Stevie Wonder, he can do what he wants.

Hope - I'm not sure how good I am at it. As mentioned before - it's a stubbornness thing. The odd thing that happens makes me hopeful, though. I mean that's how it works, right? You have something to have hope in, rather than just...generalised hope.

New Hellboy yay? or nay? - Doesn't look unlike Hellboy. The attitude is more important. The writing will be important too. The director...I mean...Dog Soldiers was really good?

So there we have it. Another selection of Readers Requests, for your delectation.

Do stick around, won't you? And feel free to share with your friends if this tickled you.

Thursday, 7 September 2017

McJobs & McStrikes

Last Tuesday the 5th, McDonald's workers went on strike in the UK. Their demands included a £10 an hour wage, decent working conditions, and an end to zero-hour contracts.

This resulted in a lot of this sort of thing:

So there's several things wrong with this.

I have a very real issue with precisely how we decide who deserves this and that paycheck. It is clear that Suzy here has come to the decision that McDonald's workers do not deserve £10 an hour, it is implicit in the tone of the tweet. Some folks reading this blog may even think the same thing.

Let's begin with that key point:


Why do we have an idea of what someone should be paid? What informs that particular figure in our head? The National Minimum Wage may contribute, but then, so does how much we are each paid individually and how much we know other people are paid. We form this hierarchy in our heads, and in that hierarchy, we try and place where someone who works at McDonald's should be.

As if there is some kind of invisible scale of objective worth to employment. As if there is a master table of every profession on earth and a notation of who should be paid more, less, or the same.

What people often mean is, "That is more than people who work at X are paid, and that doesn't seem right".

Well, I have never worked at McDonald's, but I know people who have, and plenty of other people who work in the service industry. On my island, that's where like half of the jobs are. (Or were. That's another blog.) The work is hard - you are treated something like indentured servants, assumed to have little to no rights, treated like garbage by your superiors AND the public, and then paradoxically are demanded to give flawless service by the same.

Now, I don't know about you, but that doesn't sound like it deserves to be paid less than some other jobs.

I've talked about this before, in a somewhat tongue-in-cheek parable utilising cakes. What I talked about was that our assumptions about how much people should earn isn't seemingly based on how hard they actually work, which they maybe should be.

Also: how is the response to a statement like "They don't deserve to be paid more than ambulance drivers" or "But that's more than a qualified machinist in Business X" not immediately: "Maybe they are ALL being underpaid"?

Because they are.

Let's talk about how much people earn in terms of minimum wage, in comparison to the average house prices per year.

Prior to the National Minimum Wage Act of 1998, it was down to the unions to ensure that people weren't basically used as slave labour. (Remember that, next time you complain about a strike.) Then it gets signed, and the minimum wage is first set in 1999, and increases each year. House prices, of course, increase every year - aside from a couple of blips and one huge Sub-Prime Crisis-shaped blot.

When the first minimum wage is brought in, 1999, it is £3.60. Average house price at this time is £74,638 - that comes from Nationwide Building Society, who by nature of their business keep tabs on this kind of thing. That means that, in 1999, if I wanted to buy a house outright I would need to work 20,733 hours to afford it. Assuming you work 24-7 and never sleep or take bank holidays, that is two years, four months, one week, six days and seven hours. Or so.

I know that mortgages exist. Bear with me.

Come 2002, with the minimum wage set at £4.20 and the average house price reaching £115,940, we have to work a full 27,605 hours to afford it - almost 7,000 hours more, just over a third.

Just before the Sub-Prime, in 2007, we see the minimum wage at £5.52, average house prices at £183,959. An unprecedented high of how many hours one has to work to afford one - 33,326 hours. That's a 40% increase on 1999.  If you want somewhere to live, which everyone does, you need to work a week and a half extra per month that you had to put in previously.

Then the recession bit. In 2012, minimum wages were £6.19 (assuming you are older than 24), and house prices had dipped to £162,924 on average - keep in mind that that is still more than twice that of 1999. At this low point, those on minimum wage only had to work a mere 26,321 hours to afford a house. Weren't we lucky?

The housing market has rallied since. Now it is steadily on the rise, has been since 2013. Today in 2017 our minimum wage is £7.50, house average price is £209,971. We work 27,997 hours to afford that house.

If the minimum wage was £10, here and now, we'd have to work 20,998 hours - which is only slightly more than we'd have had to back in 1999, when the National Minimum Wage was introduced.

So putting aside the elitist attitude that McDonald's workers (or service staff in general) don't deserve £10 an hour. The minimum wage ran ahead of inflation for a while, and then in 2008, that stopped. So even if we make the strict baseline argument that the minimum wage should afford now what it did back then, it needs to be higher. Slightly higher if we talk about a food basket, at least £10 if we talk about a home.

But we're not going to make that argument.

What we're going to do is argue that, if we increase the minimum wage, then people can afford to spend more. They spend more, pay more taxes, the economy benefits after the short-term cost of actually paying people more - but then, why do we immediately assume that employers have the right to pay human beings as little as possible to do a job? Because that is what we have been raised to believe, of course. The notion of the market above all things, of never questioning management decisions, of accepting what you get gratefully. It's a lie we all believe, because we have all been told since time immemorial that we can ALL be the manager - if we work hard enough.

I'm not going to spend an age going through how increasing minimum wage will improve lives - there's a lot of studies that do that for me - here's an article from the New York Times, and there's a balanced study here from Economics Online.

Instead I'm now going to set my sights on the actual attitude of the tweet at the beginning.

Suzy, I assume, believes that McDonald's workers have a shit role, and should get a better job if they want to be paid more. Suzy, I assume, doesn't believe that people's jobs shouldn't be arbitrarily shit. That an effort should be made to make a job not shit. Almost every single work benefit you have ever heard of comes from industrial or civil action - remember what I said about wages being handled by union efforts before 1998?

So instead of assuming that McDonald's workers should either deal with their job being shit or get a new one, why doesn't Suzy support the strike action that might lead to them actually HAVING a better job?

Because Suzy sees herself as better than them. And thus she doesn't care what they earn, as long as her life isn't affected at all - and the moment there is a change that she might not get her McCafe in the morning from some poor bastard on about £4.50 an hour, she lashes out at the workers with implications of self-entitled greed.

You know that most of the downsides of an increased minimum wage are mostly what employers will choose to do in response? Because, obviously, businesses will then hire less people or increase their prices, and that will be bad for everyone. Because that is what happens when you tell a business owner that they can't pay someone the bare minimum any more - or that the bare minimum is high enough that the employee can actually afford to live without working sixty hours a week.

But that's another example of Suzy's attitude being formed by the society we grow up in, now. We don't even ask what a worker deserves - the moment they imply they deserve more, we treat them like they are greedy and selfish, because they want to do what the owners of their business do every day. That's some kind of fucked up irony, seeing as we act like this because we all want to believe that we'll BE that manager one day.

It's time to face facts. This whole attitude is one that was invented to make fifty people work harder and only reward one of them. If we support those at the bottom end of the pay spectrum, the short-term costs incurred on those at the middle end will balance out in the long term. There's a significant number of ways this could be offset via legislation, too.

Just so happens that trickle-up economics is more feasible than trickle-down. But then if the current system wasn't built in such a convenient way to channel resources from bottom to top, it wouldn't be necessary, would it?

...oh and by the way Suzy IF YOU WORK FOR A LIVING IT ISN'T A HANDOUT stupid fucking grr

Sunday, 3 September 2017

Thou Shalt Fill Out An Exemption Form

Churches don't pay taxes, and there's allegedly a good reason.

So the argument behind this is that if churches paid taxes, then they would be forced into making political statements and supporting the individuals that would offer to lower their taxes. Which means that church and state would no longer be divided.

Which is...patently absurd.

For one thing, the stance of tax exemption creates its own political support. Why would a church ever afford any kind of support to change that? It's a law that is in dire need of re-evaluation, surely.

Or maybe the argument is that they shouldn't have to pay taxes because they shouldn't pay for the fiscal needs of their community because they attend to the spiritual needs of their community. Which means that their priests and clergy and other assorted staff should do it for the sake of the community too, right? SO they shouldn't benefit or be able to claim any money from...oh.

I like the idea of people paying proportionate taxes. Like, it is a proven successful model. Even the most incompetent and buffoonish of governments in most democracies seems to do a slightly better job than individuals would if they paid no taxes but had to provide everything themselves.

It's already reasonably easy for those with means to just...avoid paying taxes if they want to. It's hard to ignore that fact. That's not cool. I suppose that it would be naive of me to think that people who push trickle-down economics would actually willingly let some of their wealth trickle down. Stupid of me.

But if you're fabulously wealthy, AND vaguely religious? ...well you just...sidestep it all.

I can't imagine that there's an army of revenue service people chasing down every rich preacher who claims that their private jet is for congregational or spiritual purposes. Probably too busy writing angry letters when someone misses £10 from their council tax payment.

The thing about taxes is that...when something needs doing for the benefit of everybody, it is easier to draw from a pool that has already been assembled - and spend in a way that (in theory) people qualified to make the decisions have prescribed as best - than it is to just let everyone keep their taxes and hope that they all do the right thing. Most drivers don't know how to resurface a road (though I live on the Isle of Wight so I have doubts about some of the professionals too), most mortals don't know how to spend their money efficiently on shares of medical hardware, and most homeowners don't know how to put in individual flood protection.

We take it for granted. We grumble about the taxes we spend, as we walk on a pavement, over a sewage system, under streetlights, on streets not under several gallons of water.

And then something happens like Harvey.

Not just Harvey obviously. It's the example I am drawing from as it bears relevance to my initial point. Storms, floods, awful shit like it happens all over the world with terrible regularity, and is only getting worse due to man-induced climate change (YES IT IS SCIENCE NO IT IS NOT UP FOR DEBATE). But what you need, when something like that happens, is a large amount of centralised resources with which you can help those locally.

Those who have, panic. They want to shore up their investment, their stuff, their things, their resources. They want to make sure the house stays locked so, while they wait it out in their aunt's house in Missouri, they won't have to worry about the silverware being snatched away. Because, you know. When I am drowning, I always go for the silverware.

So it's common for the wealthy to hoist up the ladders and leave everyone else to fend for themselves, and thus worthy of comment and compliment when they don't.

Joel Osteen.

This Tim Allen looking motherfucker.

So not only does this guy run a faith-based scam - as I call all "prosperity churches" and the like, who seem to make those in charge of them very wealthy and not a whole lot of prosperity goes anywhere else. Not only is he made rich essentially through playing shell games with people's beliefs, but he doesn't pay any damn taxes.

Houston gets dumped under enough water to swallow the Alien Mothership from Independence Day - and this guy's massive church just...sits there with the doors locked and bolted, while the city's mosques and other religious institutions immediately offer sanctuary and aid to anyone who can get to them.

Takes this guy three days to help, at all. In that time, even Dumpy Trumpy has managed to put a hand in his pocket, though seemingly unaware that perhaps his cuts on flood protections and other federal investments might make him doing so seem to be two-faced in the extreme.

And Osteen's excuse? Tax-dodging conman Osteen? That preacher who looks a lot like the dude from Home Improvement? He says he didn't open up the church...

...because the city didn't ask him to.

Which is of course why the Good Samaritan was like: fuck this guy by the side of the road, the Pharisees haven't told me to help him.

Which is of course why Jesus didn't feed the five thousand, because he didn't have any official requests from the local government.

Which is why Oscar Schindler didn't save anyone, because there's no way the Moravian protectorate's administrator would have given him permission.

So not only has he taken away people's money, which they may have been taxed on, which could have been allocated to FEMA and other localised measures - nor has he paid any taxes of his own on that money, which again could have gone into protective measures - but this fucking great ugly-ass building that he built with his effectively stolen money didn't even open its doors until the waters had started to subside.

They are shitweasels, people. Shitweasels who don't deserve what they have.

And that's why they should fucking pay tax.