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Sunday 24 February 2019

The Poverty Narrative

I am going to open with the dictionary definition of the word Poverty.

We all on the same page? Right.

Now, for all my folks who have chronic illnesses, mental health problems, and whatever else wrong that other people find it hard to talk about - how many of you have found "healthy" people (or people who don't suffer from the same thing as you) trying to find some treatment or cure that you haven't considered? How many have suggested a vast number of potential fixes that you know full well won't work, maybe because you've tried them already?

I've talked about this before. About how people want to believe that there is always something you can do - that there is a reason why this thing has happened to whoever it has happened to, and that as long as they avoid those circumstances, they will be safe from the condition. It's a fallacy of course. Anyone can be suffer from specific mental health ailments. Yet still there is a culture that prevails, that when it eventually happens to us, we fall into a hole of wondering how it could possibly happen to us.

Unfortunately, it is this manifestation of anxiety avoidance that the general public indulges in, that means that cuts to - and lack of provision of - mental health treatment is met with very little protest.

You may start to see where this is going.

Extreme poverty is measured as individuals having to subsist on $1.25 or less. In the past forty years or so - between 1981 and 2008 - the percentage of the world living in those circumstances has reduced significantly, from around 52% to around 22% according to the World Bank. Which is good news, frankly - though a standard "statistical skepticism" should apply here. If the 30% of the world lifted out of that bracket are now all living on $1.30 a day, perhaps we haven't actually made as remarkable progress as we thought. (Especially given that, calculating for average inflation, that bracket should now incorporate people living on $3.04 a day.)

Relative poverty is a different animal. The European Union measures relative poverty as earning 60% or less of the median earnings of the nation you live in. For the UK, median household earnings were £28,400 a year in 2018 - which meant that you were considered to be living in relative poverty if your household income was around £17,000. Just over 20% of households in the UK were considered to be in relative poverty in 2017.

Whose fault is that?

Weird question, I know, but - what is your first instinctive answer to that?

Herein I would like to introduce you to something called secondary poverty - a term coined by sociologist Seebohm Rowntree during his studies of the poor in York in 1899. Secondary poverty is, basically, the idea that people can push themselves into poverty by spending their income on something they don't strictly need to survive. Temperance movements (not The Temperance Movement, they're a band, a good one too, check this out) made a lot of headway on the notion that poor people were often poor because they smoked, drank and gambled their way into poverty.

Which gets to be a great scapegoat.

Herein is a series of tweets made by Claire Lehmann, founding editor of Quillette magazine and apparent member of the "Intellectual Dark Web".


Claire's argument against a person who earns over $10,000,000 a year having 70 cents taxed off their ten million and first that poor people are poor not because they don't have money, but because they go out drinking.

She is not alone in projecting this particular viewpoint. It is a perspective often voiced. It's an echo of the puritans, of the Methodist temperance movement, of the US National Anti-Gambling League, of those who happen to have a lot of money themselves, of those who are against any help being given to those who have to go without.

Do they truly believe what they say? I'm not sure. To do so would indicate a significant level of economic ignorance. I'd say it is more likely that they engage in knowing intellectual dishonesty, in order to fit in with the ongoing deception of meritocracy.

People like Claire Lehmann want you to believe that they clearly deserve the wealth they possess, that they have worked for. They have had no unfair disadvantage to acquire it, just as there has been no unfair disadvantage levied against those who lack aforementioned money. Literally anyone can be as successful as she is, as long as they work hard enough. It is important that you believe all this, because then, you will be willing to accept any and all injustice - because clearly, those at the bottom of the pile deserve it, through some kind of personal or moral failing.

(Quillette, so you are aware of their general angle and attitude, has recently published articles about how there's a lot more hoax hate crimes than most people believe, that the most vocal progressives are probably mentally ill, and that socialism is basically evil. It's that kind of "intellectual magazine".)


Poverty is literally a lack of resources. That is its definition. We measure poverty by how little resource individuals and households have. If we accept that solving poverty is a necessary thing - and we should - then the only way TO fix it is to move those resources, to increase the amount of resources available to those without.

Those who argue the loudest that such measures won't help, quite often seem to be those who have an abundance of those resources. A pre-emptive defence of the treasury. And everyone who repeats their angle, everyone that takes up their narrative, reinforces their sense of security. That even the tiniest sliver of reduction of their already-considerable fortune and earnings would be the most grievous wound, regardless of who it helps, of the good it does.

Maybe because they suspect that, if we take that 70 cents from the ten million and first dollar, that we might take the rest of the ten million dollars.

Greed is an easy motivator to project. Something I covered in a blog I wrote a long-ass time ago.

Don't buy into it. Do your research. The wealthy can't be expected to speak for the poor - not while feeding from them.

If you'd care to share my blog with your friends, I'd appreciate that! If you'd like to thank me in a fiscal form for entertaining you a little bit, I do have a Patreon right here, but please - no pressure. Thank you for reading, and check my social media to the right to keep in touch.

Sunday 17 February 2019

Dark Mirrors On Shining Futures

Let's play word association.

What is the thing you think of first when you read the word, Luddite?

I would place a sum of money (not a large sum, I'm poor) on the fact that you would imagine a group of people scared of machines, scared of progress, scared of the future. Wanting things to be the way they always were before.

Certainly, in this day and age, that is the semantic connotation it holds.

Except, that isn't actually the true definition, which I will provide below.

Labourers whose livelihood revolved around manual work were right to be afraid of the machines that were being made in the early nineteenth century, if only because of the people who could afford the machines.

Automation was marketed to the worker as a way to make their job easier, a way to free up the hours of the day. It was then used by their employer as a way to cut costs, which did lead to reduced prices, but also to significantly increased profits. 

Could the workers of the period really trust that their employers, that the class of business owners that they had to work for, would have their best interests in mind? Keep in mind that, at this period of time, less than 5% of the population were even allowed to vote.

So when they saw the way the wind was blowing - when they saw that they, as a group, would start to lose their livelihood to the machines that could to the work of a dozen of them individually, and that the factory owners wouldn't hesitate to replace them - they took their tools to the machines, and beat shit out of them.

Which, when you think about it, is just the next step after a labour strike.

Is it a coincidence that, two hundred years later, our linguistic shift has made this movement - which was brutally suppressed by the government and factory owners alike - sound like weird technophobes? Cavemen scared of thunder?

(It bears mention, as an interesting aside, that Lord Byron was one of the most outspoken critics of the government's treatment of the Luddite movement. In a pleasing turn of events, his daughter became the world's first actual computer programmer - you would know her as Ada Lovelace. If you don't know her? Go fix that.)

So how is that particular situation related to our lives today?

Whenever a new technology comes about - whenever some interesting or inventive thing comes into the public eye - my immediate reaction ("Wow, that's kind of cool") is almost immediately undermined with a moment of critical thought, which is almost always followed by a measure of sadness and cynicism.

If Black Mirror - yes, the Charlie Brooker show - has taught us anything, it is that any new technical advance or life-enhancing gadget can be made menacing or detrimental with little effort.

Imagine how much simpler life could be if you could have, with a relatively painless implant, a universal ID system. Like, you just hold your hand over a thing, and your ID pops up. It can store your bank details, your driver's license, your passport, all those store cards you can't find any more, bus pass, the works. All in this one implant, that you can't lose. It's always on you.

I bet, halfway through that paragraph, you had immediately thought of several ways in which that could be used to undermine your civil liberties - and you can guarantee that is exactly what would happen. That we could be tracked, with relative ease. That companies would want us to BE tracked. That we'd be told that if we haven't done anything wrong we should have nothing to hide. So it goes.

The first person to come up with automated cashiers probably didn't immediately realise that they were paving the way for shops the world over to do away with a proportion of their staff and overwork the remainder - and probably not reduce their prices much.

This is the shit the Luddites took arms against. Literally.

Three facts that are connected:
  • Jeff Bezos has a net worth of $165,000,000,000 - the approximate sum of the lifetime earnings of 137,500 US citizens, which is the population of Olathe, the fourth-largest city in Kansas.
  • Amazon, his company, paid zero federal tax this year on their record profits in excess of $10,000,000,000. That is greater than the GDP of Haiti, and 48 other countries.
  • When Amazon workers were given a pay rise, they had benefits taken away from them to cover the increased cost.
Got to be honest, I'd start smashing the machines as well.

If you'd care to share my blog with your friends, I'd appreciate that! If you'd like to thank me in a fiscal form for entertaining you a little bit, I do have a Patreon right here, but please - no pressure. Thank you for reading, and check my social media to the right to keep in touch.

Sunday 10 February 2019

Reader's Request - Favourite Songs, Early Memories, Beautiful Trains

That's right, party people - it's Reader's Request again. The blog wherein you tell me what to write about, and I write about it. I love doing these. I love getting into the guts of a topic I hadn't previously considered writing about.

Without further ado.

A favourite song title for each letter of the alphabet - Oh christ, this isn't much of an ask. But luckily enough, I do definitely have one. Or twenty-six, specifically.

A - Alive (Pearl Jam)
B - Black Hole Sun (Soundgarden)
C - Chloe Dancer/Crown Of Thorns (Mother Love Bone)
D - Digital Love (Daft Punk)
E - Everything's Ruined (Faith No More)
F - Fire And Rain (James Taylor)
G - Goodnight Elisabeth (Counting Crows)
H - Hurt (Nine Inch Nails)
I - Innuendo (Queen)
J - Jessica (The Allman Brothers Band)
K - Kashmir (Led Zeppelin)
L - Learn To Fly (Foo Fighters)
M - Motown Never Sounded So Good (Less Than Jake)
N - No Rain (Blind Melon)
O - One Day Remains (Alter Bridge)
P - Purple Rain (Prince)
Q - Quality Control (Jurassic 5)
R - Recovering The Satellites (Counting Crows)
S - Shadow On The Sun (Audioslave)
T - The Touch (Stan Bush)
U - Under The Bridge (Red Hot Chilli Peppers)
V - Vincent (Don McLean)
W - Wish You Were Here (Pink Floyd)
X - Xmas Day (Sevendust)
Y - You're The Voice (John Farnham)
Z - Zero Sum (Nine Inch Nails)

HAH. Here's a playlist for all of them.

How would you imagine a shrine to an old school deity look like in a far flung futuristic world? - Depends on the deity and the far-flung future I suppose. And also the old-school deity. Let's nail it down a little bit.

Assume a Star Trek style world, very utopian, very nice, very stuff. No scarcity any more. No currency. People don't really get sick unless they are fucking about on a science vessel. So what kind of deity - old-school - gets worshipped here? That's the problem. Deities existed to explain holes in people's understanding or as methods to control people from doing specific things.

So instead we look at a future more like Star Wars - where you still have weird religious and mystical shit going on. People flying around with dark and light wizard powers. Stuff that science can't explain. Economic disparity, somehow. Mostly because of empire and people being shit I suppose. This place seems a lot more likely to worship an old deity. I have a great candidate, but the Jedi won't like it.

A Star Wars temple to Dionysus, I daresay, would be stuck out in the middle of a desert somewhere. The Empire wouldn't like it, the First Order would hate it, the Republic wouldn't approve - but people are down for it. And because Star Wars is a universe in which different species mingle a lot, even if humans get to be the stars because you know movies and such, I daresay a temple of Dionysus would have a lot of different representations of the winey one. Lots of different versions of the same entity, scattered about this big cave, in statues carved out of the rock, surrounded by cushions and empty amphora and bottles.

Sounds like fun.

If not too late: Most iconic Simpsons quotes and why? - Not too late. A selection follow.

"Hello there, my name is Mister Burns. I believe you have a letter for me!"
"Certainly, sir, what's your first name?"
"I don't know."

"I don't even like Japan."
"You like Rashamon."
"That's not how I remember it."

"It's just a little airborne! It's still good! It's still good!"
"It's gone, dad."
"I know."

"I ordered you, I begged you, and god help me, I even tried reasoning with you."

"Max Power! He's the man, the man that you'd love to touch - but you mustn't TOUCH!"

Changing entertainment media's, which do you think is the toughest to adapt. Ex. Anime/ manga to film. - ...see, that is difficult, because I am super biased. I think, though - one of the toughest things to adapt well, is a movie into a TV series.

There's a TV series of Das Boot. I mean. What? Das Boot. One of the most tense, most well-paced movies I have seen in my life. It's a self-contained story about a U-boat crew, that is defined by the literal confines of the vessel they exist within. It's a singularity of place, which means that each individual room matters so much because there just aren't that many. It's why Crimson Tide and bits of The Hunt For Red October are so tight.

And then... and then there's a TV series. About the circumstances surrounding the sailing of U-96, and the Old Man, and some side-plot stuff that TV series always seems to crowbar in around the actual plot because, heaven forfend, the main plot might have enough meat on it to fill up an entire season.

That said I think Anime-To-Film fails because, frankly, the people that want films to be made don't like or watch Anime.

Earliest memory you have :) - Walking or crawling across a room in one of the houses we lived in when I was (obviously) super young. I remember the carpet was this light beige. There was a raised step between the room and the hallway beyond. I was heading toward that step. I don't remember context or anything else.

I think I know which house it was based on process of elimination, but I can't be sure.

Binge watching - ...see, I personally find it difficult.

Once I have seen two episodes of something, I start getting pissed off with the formula. I start seeing patterns that irk me. Any small thing that bugs me about a single episode gets multiplied if I watch more than, say, two in a row. I find it hard to pay attention and stay invested. Another thing I start noticing is the lack of consistency in terms of the writing - like, if you watch four episodes of Star Trek in a row, half the characters change personalities to fit the plot. Which annoys me, enough that I check out.

I don't know how healthy it is as a hobby, or if it's a good thing for people to do in their daily life - but more and more shows are adapting to the fact that people do this. Mystery Science Theater 3000 actually putting together its most recent six-episode series with the actual intent for it to be binge-watched, for example.

I just dunno, really. I'm a weird one for this.

Also, originality in science fiction - Huh. Well.

See, originality is difficult, because - and I know I have talked about this before - while people want original things, people are also scared by original things. It's why most cars on the road look very similar. They all look like a not-quite-4x4 or a Ford Focus. People want a new thing, with a sat nav and electronic lane assist and the ability to stream music wirelessly and painlessly from your phone to your speaker system, but not if it looks slightly weird.

So... Star Trek Discovery is serving up some delicious plot right now, and I hope people are enjoying it - I sure am. The plotlines remind me of old Trek but done properly with modern, capable writing and characters that I actually enjoy. Several bits of it break ground that I haven't really seen broken on TV before. Except... for the really groundbreaking science fiction stuff, you need to go back a few decades... and these days, it is a bit dated.

Originality doesn't always necessarily get rewarded. New stuff gets left in the weeds, and then people come back and look at it in ten years and wonder - why didn't this get a better run? Why wasn't this better supported? And the reason is because people often want the thing they know, the thing they are familiar with. Which isn't necessarily a sin. It just creates a stagnation market, rather than a driving one, and I would like science fiction to be the driving point rather than a trailing edge.

Remasters yay or nay? - Depends, frankly. On several factors.

Are you taking a thing that was originally kind of broken and dusty and a bit rubbish, and polishing it, up-rezzing it, making it look like it deserves to be on our brand new 4K TVs and gorgeous sparkling laptops? Are you making Blade Runner look like it deserves a BluRay? Then you should get a remaster.

Are you polishing a thing slightly that has a large fan following, adding in a couple of scenes that maybe don't need to be added in, cramming in some special effects which will be dated before the box reaches the shelves, and then charging us double the original price for this article? Then you should fucking not.

Try buying Evangelion on DVD and see what I mean.

The most beautiful train you've ever seen - The image speaks for itself.

Arguments will be destroyed.

Favourite natural weather phenomenon and why - A very, very slight breeze, on a scorchingly hot day. Oh yes. Oh yes indeed.

If I won the lottery is always a fun one. - Oh shit.

So it depends how much. Definitely depends how much. But I know that if you win over a certain amount, you get two options - either they manage you, and they help you with the press, or they keep you private and just give you the money. I'd definitely go with the second one.

I would split the money in half immediately, half of it goes into savings, like straight away.

As for the rest...

Well, suffice to say, everyone I know with a Kofi account is going to get a big bump, everyone with a GoFundMe or Kickstarter or Patreon, and everyone I know that needs a little extra who has an email address that I can send PayPal to.

Also I'd pay my rent for as many whole years as I can afford (or buy a house if I get enough money).

But then I am more likely to win a small amount so I would probably just use it to buy a couple nice things, and get takeout for my buddies.

And that, dear people, is another Readers Request in the bag. Not many asks this week. Which is no big thing. After all if I only did this blog for the attention, I'd go crazy and delete it immediately.

I'll catch you next week for something more curated.

If you'd care to share my blog with your friends, I'd appreciate that! If you'd like to thank me in a fiscal form for entertaining you a little bit, I do have a Patreon right here, but please - no pressure. Thank you for reading, and check my social media to the right to keep in touch.

Sunday 3 February 2019

On Which It Is Impossible To Be Silent

Sometimes I butt heads with my mother about inconsequential things.

We're quite similar in a lot of ways, different in others. It's the differences that really adjust how we see the world, our willingness to call something out as being bullshit, our tolerances for things being bullshit in various areas but not in others.

Part of it comes from having grown up in different eras, under different styles of parenting. We both faced very different challenges during our lives. I have no doubt in my mind that she had to work harder than I did to get anywhere in life - she's always been a driven professional, which gets made that much more difficult given that she is also a woman. Having to put in extra just to be seen to be doing as much as everyone else, et cetera. It's real.

She grew up with rationing. Her older family members had all seen out the second world war. It puts things into perspective, and unfortunately, sometimes that perspective isn't useful in the modern world. She's rarely one to throw around the phrase "It Never Did Me Any Harm" but it is often implied in her tone - and she doesn't like it much if I imply that, just maybe, the harm it did is brushed under the carpet. Made to be part of who we are rather than something that is wrong with us.

After a few hours around each other, we start fraying each other's temper. I am more to blame for this than her, probably, but it's hard to judge objectively; after all, we're just going off our own lived experiences and things we have learned.

So the things that we see eye-to-eye over are pretty important - and one of those things is music.

I think I've probably talked about this before.

I am fairly empathetic at times but I can't understand people that don't like music.

Like... I just... don't understand how that can be the case. Which - if you don't like music - probably makes me absolutely unbearable, for which I can only apologise. I just don't get it. It's been built into me from a very early age, by - well, surprise surprise, my own mother.

Her musical taste and mine overlap significantly. We don't like either the Beatles OR Elvis. We're both more Stones / Hendrix fans. We like Queen, we like Led Zep, we like Crosby Stills Nash & Young a lot more than we like Neil Young by himself, and of course...

...we like Pink Floyd.
So there I was, with my fork buried in a small mountain of chicken chow mein, when - after having deflected some statements I made about how exams aren't necessarily the best way to determine someone's academic talent - my mum declares that there's a Pink Floyd gig on Sky Arts.

Sure enough, it's the video recording of A Delicate Sound Of Thunder. So we settle in to watch.

And for precisely two hours, we don't have a single argument or dispute. We bat around some waffle about the band, about how gigs and such are different these days (but understanding that there's a reason why). We talk about how it must have felt, to be in the early 70s, and to hear The Great Gig In The Sky for the first time.

I confessed to her that, the first time I ever heard Dark Side Of The Moon, I was stoned "out of my mind". She just laughed as I related to her the story about me waking up that next morning, totally unable to remember what I had listened to, but knowing that I needed to own it, and messaging the individuals that had provided the (ahem) party favours to demand to know what was in their CD player.

It consistently amazes me that, regardless of how at odds we may be about something - whatever that something is - it will be music that we reconnect over.

Perhaps that is part of why music means so much to me. Because nothing else I have ever experienced has had the ability to bridge gaps like music does. Nothing else quite heals you or puts you back together the same way. Paradoxically the four Pink Floyd albums that I feel are their best work, the four that I listen to time and again, are all about division and conflict and mental illness - they have helped bring me back together with people I have been divided from, and helped bring me back to myself.

With my dad, it was The Living Years, by Mike + The Mechanics. A song about how a father and a son can't help but be in conflict with each other, and how that relationship passes itself down when a son becomes a father. There's certain people in my life I can't uncouple from songs. I hear the song and I see their face, I hear their voice. It's like smell - forming the binding part of the neurons, the bridge to the trove of memory and experience beyond.

It's a gift. To us, as a race, as people. To be able to have this sound which we just listen to, all we have to do is listen to it - though in some cases, that is harder than others - and it takes us elsewhere. It makes things different. It changes contexts, relationships, outlooks. It can help you see the cracks in yourself by holding up the cracks of the writer and the performer and saying - hey, see? Look. It's here. You aren't alone.

More importantly, perhaps, it can hold those cracks up to others without. It can show them, tell them, what it is like to be in this position. To be stood in those shoes, to have walked that mile. The struggle of a troubled genius to make the world see the things he could see - Don McLean gives us that. The utter adoration of loving someone more than you can encapsulate in simple words - Coheed & Cambria give us that.

To feel disjointed from those around you - people that you knew and loved, that you just aren't quite walking in step with any more, and not knowing quite how to get back to level...

Pink Floyd give us that.

Victor Hugo said that:

"Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent."

And frankly, he is right.

If you'd care to share my blog with your friends, I'd appreciate that! If you'd like to thank me in a fiscal form for entertaining you a little bit, I do have a Patreon right here, but please - no pressure. Thank you for reading, and check my social media to the right to keep in touch.