Tuesday, 30 July 2019

The Balding Brats of Brexit

Original image by diamond geezer @ Flickr

The most important point I should make at this point is that I'm not (mostly) here to give Guardian columnist Suzanne Moore a good drubbing. 

I don't know her. I have no second hand anecdotes about her. She may well be a wonderful person in the flesh, who radiates rainbows and exudes fluffy kittens from her pores.

Like Reality TV, 'named' opinion writers are a contradiction in terms. Their brand is passed off as their personality, but for that to be literally true, you'd either have to be a howling sociopath like Katie Hopkins, or very strange, very perverse and very twatty. (Charles Moore and the late Christopher Booker, take your bow.)

Sunday, 6 May 2018

Local Elections 2018: Running Fast, Standing Still

Imagine May and Corbyn as deer during the 2018 Local Elections and Oh My Goodness, have I got some strange furry fan fic brewing in my head now...

If there was any word to summarise last week's Local Elections, it is this: MEH.

Labour was stymied in some places, failing to take Westminster and Kensington & Chelsea despite all the hype and the enormous albatross that is Owen Jones staking his reputation on... His winning personality.

The Blairites are, needless to say, claiming that Labour 'should have done better'. Of course they should have done better. But the point is, people don't vote for disunited parties. Something the Blairites with their 'Centrism At All Costs' dogma and the Corbynites with their own 'Brexit At All Costs' dogma, have yet to learn.

Sunday, 29 April 2018

Incel Insanity - An Open Letter to All You Sad, Sad Men

Because Incels love nothing better than a good witch hunt
Image by ღ ♠ Aegir ♠ ღ @ Flickr

Do you know why I hate incels? And by that, I mean, utterly despise them? Because I was lonely, gawky, frustrated and isolated too, but I didn't use that as an excuse to be, frankly, an overly entitled twat.

Every Saturday night, I'd go to a pub, get drunk, hope to get chatted up, and go home disappointed. And do you know what went through my head as I flopped back home up a steep hill? It wasn't that women were all whores, or that I was somehow a neglected genius and hero of my own tale.

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Trimming the fat off the obesity debate

Sumos vs. Firemen. This happened.

We should always have doubts when the news media claims scientists have conclusive proof one way or another. In part, this is because science does not work that way. Each piece of research is a piece of a far larger puzzle. Often, what the press claim is a major discovery is in fact just a small step in a very long process.

It does not help, of course, that many reporters don't know the first thing about science and have a bad habit of appealing to authority, filing their copy and then heading off down the pub while the subs argue over commas. The problem is, the public don't read many academic journals so rely on scientifically illiterate or alliterate hacks to get their information.

A classic example of this comes in the form of today's news of a 'major study'. This claims to be proof that you cannot be fat and fit at the same time. Alarm bells should ring when the dreaded phrases 'scientists say' or 'say experts’ turn up. The news stories dwell on how 3.5 million people's records were used in the study, but don't mention any complicating factors, like how large samples can sometimes distort data, or the role of systemic bias. (Look up the Bell Curve controversy and see for yourself.)

The other problem here is that the study uses BMI. Now, much ink has been spilled on how unreliable this means of measurement is. But the problem is that doctors seem obsessed with it and do not want to let it go. In part, this is due to it being standard practice, and medics are creatures of habit. But it also coincides with an ideological bias in the medical profession, and bias is an occupational hazard for all areas of research, cutting to the very heart of epistemology.

Of course, even scepticism can go too far. Look at Andrew Wakefield and his MMR scaremongering, which continues to harm children and risk public health to this day. (Not helped by there being a total cretin in the White House who believes in this tosh.) And it is safe to say that science has proved, quite conclusively, that getting hit by a speeding bus is very bad for your health.

The point, however, is not that science isn't perfect. Who says it was? But it needs to be held up to scrutiny and for that, a well-informed, not opinionated, public is needed. Alas, the public are not equipped for this. The press, and our schools, have to share much of the blame for that. The end result is a confused public, and seedy politicians like Michael Gove claiming that we have all had enough of experts.

On the other hand, when one of the researchers says this, alarm bells should still ring loud:

I understand that argument. BMI is crude … but it is the only measure we have in the clinic to get a proxy for body fat. It is not realistic [to use anything else] in a GP setting or in the normal hospital clinic. We have to rely on BMI measurements, however crude they may be.

If you are going to undertake serious research, you need a more precise model than that. Medicine, where the subject has a bad habit of dying if you do not get it right, must be based on a far more exact approach than ‘crude BMI’.

Body fat percentage, plus family and personal health histories, blood tests and fitness are surely far more accurate than the ad hoc BMI measure. Obesity, as it happens, is far trickier and more complex than the usual 'calories in, calories out' rhetoric will allow. 'It sort of works' might pass muster if you are a plumber. But research of this kind has far reaching implications for public health and public health policy. Yet neither the news media nor the public seem to know the first thing about this. Potentially flawed and problematic research is hailed as the final word on debates that still keep on raging. This is irresponsible on the part of researchers, but also on the part of the media, whose main goal, whether they like it or not, is to titillate, not inform.

In the short term of course, what this will continue to do is help further stigmatise fat people. A cynic would say this is the whole point of the news coverage. After all, the public likes to have its prejudices affirmed, and not challenged. But neither scientists nor the press have to go along with this. At the very least, an honest discussion on the limits of data, and the perils of bias, is long overdue.

Friday, 21 October 2016

Charlie Brooker through the Black Mirror

As tonight's premier of the new Black Mirror series draws near, let's have a closer look at its author, Charlie Brooker...

(This post was originally published in 2014 by Trebuchet Magazine and is reused with permission.)

Image by Ryan McGilchrist @ Flickr
I'm talkin' to the man in the (Black) mirror...

Many of you may love Charlie Brooker. This article thinks he is a colossal arse. We are, of course, about to enter contentious waters here; Brooker has gained mainstream credibility with his excursions into comedy, current affairs, drama and that one he’s on with Jimmy Carr. He’s even moved from BBC4 to BBC2. It must only be a matter of time until he’s on BBC1 like that other colossal bollock of satire, Ian Hislop.

But here’s the thing. There are two Charlie Brookers. One ceased to be some time in 2007 and the other emerged from its skin like the chrysalis of a gigantic douche-moth. The original Charlie Brooker was the streak of brilliance behind weep-with-laughter reviews in PC Zone, as well as obscene yet inspired cartoons both within and without his comic, Superkaylo. TVGoHome was probably the point where he should have died and not ended up like Jefferson Airplane, though the early days of Screenwipe and even Newswipe remained inspired.

Those days are now gone. Say what you like about Nathan Barley (the eponymous ‘C*nt’ of TVGoHome fame) – he might have been a boho hipster twat, redundant though that may be, but there was always the sense that he was to the douchebag born. Brooker’s nosedive into Planet Shite was neither inevitable nor certain. We all get older, but we don’t have to get old.

Image by essygie @ Flickr
...I'm asking him to change his (Luddite) ways...

Perhaps the most obvious sign that things had changed, beyond his chickening out in the face of pro-Bush trolls, was the inevitable article where, following the birth of his son, Charlie Brooker turned into yet another anodyne middle brow columnist cooing over his own banalities. “You're buffeted by a range of feelings so intense, your face doesn't know how to deal with them, and keeps leaking fluid from somewhere round the eyeholes” he drools in a fashion that makes the process sound a bit like early stage ebola.

Now, having children is a joy, and being happy is no cause for concern – these are (or at least should be) truisms. But they are often used as excuses for once sharp and critical minds to turn into mush and start spewing out comatose tabloid platitudes.

It is, of course, unfair to put this down to Brooker’s marriage to former Blue Peter presenter Konnie Huq. Being married to what you take the piss out of doesn’t mean having to choose between one or the other. It is possible to remain a good satirist and a good husband, as long as you are honest and fearless in both cases. Rather, British society has a remarkable talent for co-opting once vital voices and turning them into luvvies. Look at the sell-outs, phonies and advert narrators who were once the UK alternative comedy scene for example.

Brooker’s co-option could be seen at its worst in his otherwise impressive zombie drama, Dead Set. As a satire and takedown of reality TV, it was and is superficially incisive. But peel away the layers and you find that Endemol, makers of Big Brother, are also the producers of Dead Set. (Makers Zeppotron are both Brooker’s own production company and an Endemol property.) They had, cleverly, co-opted criticism of their cash cow into another product – whether you loved the show or hated it, there was spin-off media for you, all owned by the same company.

Image by youngthousands @ Flickr
Technophobia - written on computers, filmed digitally, edited on computers, promoted on social media...

No wonder we had the otherwise hilarious spectacle of Zombie Davina and Zombie Brian: They weren’t really subverting themselves. Any satirical intent was undermined by the innate and incestuous clubbiness of the exercise.  For satire, like war, requires that you do at least hate your enemy enough to be able to stick the bayonet in. Brooker’s declining bloodlust in this regard is less down to a sudden outburst of humanity and more the cozy laziness that comes of choosing an easy life over a good one. Juvenal would shit his toga.

Underpinning it all was a deep vein of intellectual dishonesty. When called out for using ‘zoombies’ (like zombies, but faster and crapper), Brooker’s response was to write a not-at-all self-serving article for the Guardian. Here he cherry-picked an example in Romero’s Dawn of the Dead where two child ‘zombies’ didn’t do what they were told by the director and ran instead of shuffled. It says little for someone who so readily hides behind fallacies.

This has taken place alongside a clear shift towards conservatism in Brooker’s work. His 2009 one-off, Gameswipe, featured a rant about video game violence, which sounds increasingly like a Mary Whitehouse jeremiad the more you listen to it. (This was the same man, remember, who in 1995 ‘spooged’ over the ultra-violent glories of Quake and penned the hideously offensive – and indeed piss-funny – Cruelty Zoo.)

While, metaphorically speaking, Brooker has morphed into the sort of grump who jabs the ceiling with a broomstick every time upstairs puts its music on, his conservatism also correlates with a rehashing of existing material rather than anything new. 2011’s How TV Ruined Your Life was simply a re-editing and re-mixing of previous Screenwipes, dumbed down and repeated with weary resignation. There is a faintly tired ‘Greatest Hits’ quality to Brooker’s output nowadays, such as the recent Charlie Brooker’s 2013 Wipe, like he’s just tired of writing Helter Skelter and has proceeded directly to his Frog Song phase. If rehab is what kills music, then nostalgia is what utterly does for comedy.

Image by DAVID FRANZ @ Flickr
Charlie Brooker's smartwatch, yesterday

Another strain of conservatism has taken root in Brooker’s work. In his much overrated TV series Black Mirror, there is an on-going theme – technology is bad, the mob is both stupid and dangerous, modern times are awful and the future will be even worse. Naturally, being a miserable, fatalistic git is a sadly on-going tradition in sci-fi, dating back to Frankenstein itself, and perfectly skewered by the Caveman Science Fiction web comic.

For Brooker, however, the future is doomed because we simply can’t be trusted. The wonders of the internet, technology, progress – it all ends in prime ministers fucking pigs, baying crowds delighting in the never-ending torture of a child murderer and suicidal dissidents getting suckered into submission with the offer of their own TV show, which is probably the closest Brooker has ever come to a mea culpa. It’s easier, of course, than trying to change anything.

Underpinning this is an ultimate fatalism. In Brooker’s dramas, the individual always loses and is always crushed. The greatest sin is hope and the worst crime is wanting anything more. In Dead Set, everyone ends up a zombie; in Black Mirror, there is only degradation and despair.

In the most recent episode, The Waldo Moment, the message is blatantly conservative. Rejecting the system or challenging it is portrayed as a very bad thing. We mustn’t grumble, mustn’t fuss – just accept things the way they are and keep voting for the same arseholes. Otherwise, we might end up with something worse, in this case an authoritarian corporate hegemony (of the kind that produces Black Mirror, naturally). 

Image c/o Wikimedia.org
Every Black Mirror episode ever.

Perhaps fittingly, it is a Tory wannabe MP who sums up – with banality masquerading as profundity - the real message of the show. “The whole system looks absurd, which it may well be - but it built these roads," he says, no doubt clutching his pearls. There Is No Alternative, in other words, for it takes a particular kind of intellectual cowardice to see the possibilities of the future as a nightmare, and change a challenge into a threat. The status quo is a terrifying thing for millions of people in this country, though it may well be very comfortable for Brooker.  No wonder he makes apologies for it.

Indeed, all Brooker has to offer us in 2014 and beyond, ultimately, is either a homily or despair. Perhaps it’s our fault for putting him on a pedestal to begin with – perhaps inevitably, we will get pissed on. Or perhaps there is a deeper lesson. Brooker is a success, his mouth stuffed with gold – maybe the price of integrity is to always remain on the periphery and be marginalised. Or maybe, just maybe, we should never give up, never compromise and always have hope.

The alternative is being an old git who’s not even in his mid 40s,* and who beats Nathan Barley at his own game.

2016 Postscript: It's worth noting how Black Mirror immediately jumped ship from Channel 4 to Netflix the moment more money entered the equation. The ultimate in cynicism, after all, is admitting to your cynicism and then profiting from it handsomely. Regardless, Black Mirror's essential, simple minded message remains the same - a sort of Luddism that depends on the technology it condemns. Nothing new, of course. Cyberpunk was having its cake and eating it while Brooker was still doing his O-Levels. Yet it goes without saying that it takes a bloody cheek to spit out your Horlicks over your new iPad, to live in the future and yet moan about it in your slippers. O tempore! O mores!

* Charlie Brooker is now 45.

Sunday, 11 September 2016

Theresa May & Grammar Schools - learning all the wrong lessons

Image via Wikimedia Commons.
Theresa May, yesterday.

It’s all about the meritocracy, you see. The upward mobility. But Theresa May’s bold plan to bring back Grammar Schools has one major problem - they don’t in fact reward talent. The myth goes that ragged mud larks from the fringes of society could be gentrified just by passing the 11 Plus, and then make a heart-warming journey from the slums to the dreaming spires of Oxbridge… Or failing that, Huddersfield Polytechnic.

Image via Wikimedia Commons.
St. Anne's College, Oxford. Or Legoland.

The truth of the matter is a lot more blurry. Grammars certainly have produced a lot of success stories (and Theresa May), but we don’t know if all that upward mobility would have happened regardless at, say, the local armpit comprehensive. (Now the Armpit Sports & Badger Baiting Academy.) And for all their success, they are, whether we like it or not, proof of an unequal, divided society. You might say that there are winners and losers in life no matter what. But if that is true, and I’ve certainly rolled a few natural 20s in my time, the lack of honesty about what Grammars represent is the real problem.

The 11 Plus designates winners and losers from a young age. You may well have had your life decided by that exam. And if the new grammars come up with more varied ways to pick their intake, there will still be people left behind, and they will end up with second best. Could they have flourished under the right circumstances? Maybe. But if you don’t have parents who will to support you, or you have grown up in a shit-hole of a council estate, that has more bearing on your future than any hidden talents you may have at your disposal.

Image via LHOON @ Flickr.
Welcome to the arse-end of everything.

Call it the Art Class Principle - for my sins, I ended up doing art lessons at a certain comprehensive. And there were some seriously talented artists in that class. (Not me. I can’t draw for toffee.) But none of them made it past college, or even their GCSEs. They ended up in shit jobs, looking after children of their own or, if they were lucky, in an office somewhere, manning the paperclips cupboard. They didn’t pass a certain test at a certain time, you see. They didn’t get a chance.

There is an argument, of course, that this brutal Darwinian approach prepares young people for ‘real life’. Firstly, anyone who appeals to ‘real life’ is an idiot; we all experience ‘real life’ regardless, but some find it far more pleasant than others. But secondly, this smacks of that old instinct, most pronounced amongst the British, that views young people with a mixture of fear, jealousy and spite. Schools might not be able to give kids a good whacking any more, but they still brutalise them in other ways.

To understand how British schools work, consider total plonker cum head teacher* Matthew Tate and his overly stringent school uniform policy. There is nothing to be learned here. Issues of class, race and difference are not resolved. Uniforms are often pitched to the credulous as a way to create a sense of community or to erase (or rather, conceal) social inequalities. What they do in practice is keep school outfitters in business, give sad bastards with PGCEs an excuse to be anally retentive with teenagers, and demonstrate a certain contempt towards the young. Other countries don’t have school uniforms; a fair few (such as Finland) do very well.

Image via Wikimedia Commons.
'Creating A Sense of Community, Discipline & Respect', or some other such bollocks.

But uniforms aren’t about education but control, and that’s what schools in the UK really teach. To quote Frank Zappa, I got my education in the school library; all I learned at school, other than fear and loathing, was how to pass exams and follow orders from adults who secretly didn’t give a shit, unless I forgot to put on a tie. Countries with a thing for school uniforms tend to be full of perverts or fascists. Look at Japan, China and Singapore. Look at Britain for that matter. Schools are what we do to people who can’t tell us to fuck off. It’s about dividing up the winners and losers and making them all wear flammable polyester blazers in the process. You may cite a good teacher you studied under, but the truth of the matter is that for every Mr Chips, there are three-dozen Seymour Skinners.

'Look upon my works, ye kiddies, and despair!'

So of course Teresa May is going to bring back the grammar school. Like academies, free schools, comprehensives and secondary moderns, it is another vanity project that masquerades as a public good, some old fool’s utopia that no adult in their right mind would go to. Clever kids from comfortable backgrounds will do well no matter what. But if there is one thing that unites the young, it is that they all have to go through an educational system that is more about adult hobbyhorses than the best welfare of pupils.

And you thought I'd insert 'Another Brick In The Wall' at this point.

In an ideal world, of course, we would have education tailored to every child’s abilities and needs, but mass education isn’t meant for such aims. It’s about hammering squares into round holes and grown ups gone mad with power. It was done to them and now they will do it to the next generation in turn. It is always about power, not right and wrong, and certainly not education.

I should, of course, make a full disclosure. I failed the 11 Plus twice, the second time after the grammar’s headmaster had wooed my father with tales of their strict discipline policy to the point of giving him a semi. Reasoning, language and so on were perfectly easy for me. Yet I have always been crap at maths and still am. (Apart from mental arithmetic, the result of many years’ practice.) It did not stop me, as my degree, MA and PhD show. I am a raving egomaniac with a black belt in rabid obstinacy. I was going to get through regardless. But the grammar didn’t care - since I didn’t exactly meet its criteria, I was ditched into the nearest bin cum comprehensive. Some of us can leap out of the bin, others can climb out. But most stay there, and if you don’t find that obscene, you are not the sort of person who should be allowed near young people, let alone put in charge of their education.

* The two are interchangeable.

Monday, 5 September 2016

Warhammer 40,000: Heavy Vibes; New Grav Gun Rules.


Let’s be honest here. Grav Guns are crap. Not in the sense that they are useless - in fact, they’re very effective, to the point that they are spammed mercilessly by the beards. But the other problem is that they are simply repeating the function of an existing weapon - the Plasma Gun (and its little brother, the Plasma Pistol).

Apart from bringing out a slow painful tabletop extinction of the Plasma Gun, with its hilarious Overheat rule, it also reflects lazy game design. Put it this way, if you’re going to come up with a new weapon for the Space Marines, would you seriously just come with one that does what another weapon already does? Seriously? Alright, Matt Ward, we know you would, but still...

Yet let’s not look at the problem from a game design perspective, but from the point of view of a Space Marine Chapter Master. Now, restrictions on the arsenal via the Adeptus Mechanicus notwithstanding, what would that commander want for his battle brothers? Well, the Flamer is there to suppress large numbers of foes with weak armour. The Meltagun is there to waste heavily armoured foes and armour at close range, and Plasma Guns can cut just about anything down in a firefight. But what else would a Commander need?

Apart from the obvious allies, of course...

Well, let’s think about the biggest challenge Space Marine chapters face - they’re outnumbered, often heavily. There is a whole galaxy of nasty, gribbly things with violent personality disorders out there and only about a million Space Marines. Put simply, it’s not cricket for the plucky lads in Power Armour.

Now, flamers, plasma guns and Devastator squads can sort of counter this, but there is only so much firepower 1,000 men can unleash, even heavily armed, genetically altered ones. So, what is the answer? Well, Space Marines can beat up just about anyone - if they have enough time, and time is often very sparse especially when you’re being charged by hoards of angry Orks, Genestealers, or Daemon Cyber Bunnies of Chaos...

Image by starsandspirals @ Flickr
 Carrots for the Carrot God

Image by Jannes Pockele @ Flickr.
Lettuce for His Hutch of Lettuce

So, the answer would be a weapon that buys time, and slows waves of enemies down, giving the noble Adeptus Astartes time to riddle everyone with Bolter shells. Now, wouldn’t a weapon that uses gravity fit that job description?

With that in mind, let’s retcon the Grav Gun, Grav Pistol and Grav-Cannon. Give them a new job - slowing down the enemy while the battle brothers focus their fire on other targets. In any case, here are some experimental rules for you to play with. Enjoy...


Gravity Well:
If a hit is scored roll 1D6, +1 for each successive hit. If over the unit’s lowest Initiative score, it is auto-Pinned for the next turn. A roll of 1 is an automatic pass. Can’t be used on Overwatch. Immobilises a vehicle and also causes 1 point of hull damage on a 6.


Grav Gun
The most common grav-weapon used by the Adeptus Astartes, the Grav Gun is also one of the most unusual devices in its armoury. For it is, in effect, a non-lethal weapon. It works by launching a concentrated pulse of heavy gravity which expands into a wide area when it hits its target. All caught in the ‘blast’ are subjected to super-heavy gravity. While nimbler opponents can avoid this effect, most are slowed to a standstill and rooted to the spot until the gravity effect wears off. This is a surprisingly useful weapon for Space Marines; while often outnumbered, being able to slow or halt opponents allows squads to hold off overwhelming numbers until their other weaponry can cut them down. The grav gun also has some effect on vehicles, their greater mass risking malfunction as well as inertia. though it is hard to score the direct hit needed to halt and damage them fully.

Strength    Range    AP    Special
   -         24"     -     Rapid Fire, Gravity Well.


Grav Cannon
The largest grav weapon used by the Space Marines, the Grav Cannon is most commonly seen as one of the mounted weapons on Centurion Battlesuits, yet it is also deployed to Devastator and Tactical squads, where suppression takes precedence over anti-armour and anti-personnel considerations. It is able to fire volleys of pulses, each able to pin down scores of attackers and, potentially, crippling vehicles and even Knights and small Titans.

Strength    Range    AP    Special
   -         36"     -     Heavy 3, Gravity Well.


(Obviously, Gravity Well doesn't work with a pistol, so here's a suitable bodge:)


Grav Pistol
At first glance, a Grav Pistol is an unlikely weapon. It is too small to suppress vehicles or squads of troops en masse like other grav weapons. Though this effect could be used in a sidearm, it would, at most, effect a single target per shot, which does not bode well when dealing with more than one foe at a time. Instead, the Grav Pistol serves a different role, though based on the same principles as its larger cousin. It fires an unstable bubble of gravity which expands rapidly when it hits, causing a blast which rips apart the target and anyone nearby. Not the most subtle of weapons, it excels in dealing with massed opponents, and does terrible damage at point blank range.

Strength    Range    AP    Special
   4         12"     5     Pistol, Blast.

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

All Yesterday's Christmases - a trip to the consumerism graveyard

They all stared at us accusingly as we drove into the dump.

I mean the garden ornaments, of course. Faded in the sun and worn by years of exposure, they'd been lined up along the route to the main parking area. I saw any number of owls, gnomes, Rupert The Bears, deer, pigs, badgers, blue tits, lucky wishing wells, Terracotta Soldiers and licensed properties, all watching us like angry exes at a really awkward school disco. 

They'd been arranged there with care by the workers at the dump, or rather, the recycling hub. This was the new name for the place, and it was no longer just somewhere where you went to ditch your crap. It had to be carefully sorted and placed into one of 13 very long, very deep skips - one for plasterboard, one for paper and cardboard, one for plastic, one for electrics and electronics, and broken washing machines...

Needless to say, we had not gotten this memo and turned up instead with loads of ragged black bags full of junk and clutter from our cupboard (and our in-law's busted-ass vacuum cleaner). This is what happens when you come from Dagenham - there you dump it and drive off. In Southampton, they sort of want to recycle all this.

I made my apologies and tried to focus on chucking away old magazines and cardboard into the right skip. My in-law, meanwhile, just gave up straight away and gave the staff lots of black bags for them to sort through, having been overwhelmed by the magnitude of it all.

I felt a pang of sadness as I ditched our old £29 microwave. It had served us well for nigh-on 7 years, and we only finally - reluctantly - set it aside when its rotator motor failed and the insides rusted to the point that we had started to get bits of black debris in our scrambled eggs. 

At home, before I set off, I shoved in some old flowers into the microwave, making use of the extra space this would free up. My SO gasped and realised that I had - by accident or design - just added a floral tribute to the funeral of our trusty microwave. It was rather poignant. At the dump, I rested the microwave gently on an old office chair next to the electronics skip, as the council worker said he'd deal with it from that point on. I turned and left, feeling a little bereft.

The irony of it all was, of course, where the dump is. Next to the docks, you can see the vast, horrific, magnificent sight of barges playing host to vast mountains of trash and junk. And right next to the dump itself, you can see the still-amazing sight of vast cranes lifting and lowering containers into neat towering rows, all piloted by one tiny little man on top of the long, vast spider-like thing that does the work of hundreds of old school dockers. 

Here is where all our manufactured crap arrives, and here is where it ends up once we tire of it. Most of what's in these containers will end up in the dump or in places like it. Consumerism is many things, but in the end, it is about desire, and that can be surprisingly disposable when we move on to other things and other infatuations.

I tried to crack a topical joke as I ditched my in-law's vacuum cleaner by the electronics skip. "Knackered, I'm afraid..." I said to the rather bored looking council workers. "More life in a Christmas turkey!" They didn't laugh. As my in-law finished handing over ragged bags of junk to the poor souls in the general waste section, I slipped a fiver into their Christmas box by way of nervous apology.

Over my shoulder, I saw a shed where they seemed to stash the few things of value they’d managed to salvage. I saw a beautiful dolls house, cleaned up and neatly place on a shelf in the shed. I felt a little relief. Seeing a dolly house in a skip would have been heart breaking.

And why be sorry for feeling sentimental? It makes a change from just throwing things away a few days before the Great Consumerist Binge that is Christmas. I wondered about the men and women – Chinese, of course – who made our microwave at the other end of the World and the great consumerist life cycle. 

Did they know their microwave would last so long? Did they ever wonder about the long journey it had on its container ship? Did they ever imagine who might end up owning their handiwork? And could they imagine it all ending up in a council skip one drab Wednesday afternoon in December? 

That microwave was the only connection I had with those people. What were they like? Did they have pride in their work? What were their dreams? What consumer goods did they save up their Yuan for? I’d never know, and that seemed desperately sad.

We got in the car and drove off, the garden ornaments staring at us as we left. In our wake, the council workers sighed and picked up all the junk that had fallen out of our bags.

Monday, 22 July 2013

Dave Cameron's war on porn; the incoming tide; Spanish windmills etc.

  • YES -  I want rivers of filth, and I want them NOW!!!
  • NO -  I think porn should only ever be accessed under a shrub, left behind by a tramp.
  • NO -  I am an opportunistic career politician who's sucking up to the Daily Mail.
  • NO -  I am the Daily Mail and I like taking intrusive long lens shots of celebrities' children.
  • MEH - I am an 11-year-old who's worked out Dad's password anyway.
Will Cameron ban Page 3? Of course not. It's not really about protecting young people, but rather, the obscene using the obscene to hide their obscenities.

Sunday, 21 July 2013

A melancholy night at the cinema (with The World's End and Pacific Rim)

Often, going to the cinema is a laugh, and for the most part The World's End, the last instalment of Edgar Wright's ice cream trilogy, was fun. It's just that the mid-life crisis angst and oversold comic hooks were a bit worn out and desperate. If the first instalment, Shaun of the Dead, managed to strike a perfect balance between the genre homages, drama and comedy, The World's End was too sledgehammer in execution, like it was overcompensating as it staggered over the finish line.

Throw in a disjointed final act that is unsatisfying precisely because it is so perverse, and the film ends on a sombre note that's a bit too jarring. It does of course pick up all of a sudden in the last scene, but there's something disturbing about the odd belief in sci fi that you have to sweep away the world to save it.

Then there was Pacific Rim. Jesus Christ, what a load of shit. The absurd characters were cut out of cardboard (seriously, there's more life in a Toho sound stage full of scale model buildings), and were, without exception, utterly vile and unsympathetic. After nigh-on two hours, I even wanted the fucking dog to die. The dialogue was beyond parody.

The stars of the show - the big monsters and the big robots - were, meanwhile, obscured by darkness and water for the most part. It makes you wonder quite what it is you're meant to be seeing, as the murk gets in the way of multimillion dollar SFX to the point that it might as well not be there. As a final insult, the film ends with yet another Raid-on-the-Deathstar via Independence Day reset button. I say final, because the entire film spends its duration insulting your intelligence

Throw in a nasty pro-militarism and authoritarian subtext, and a heartless, banal core to the movie, and you have a veritable mountain of kaiju shit falling out of the screen in glorious 3D.

As the credits finally - mercifully - roll, you just have to wonder if directors of any renown should be put out to pasture after a few years, before they start making inadvertent comedies like Prometheus, The Dark Knight Rises and this bulbous turkey. Did the maker of Pan's Labyrinth really crap this one out?

And then there is the soundtrack - DERDERDER-DER-DER! DERDERDER-DER-DER! DERDERDER-DER-DER! It's like a really annoying ringtone, a lot like the rest of the film as it happens.

Having fucked this up, will Legendary do a better job with Godzilla? It's not looking good.

Want to hear the punchline? After watching this cinematic gem, I missed the last bus home.