Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Drumpf

I sat down at my computer and sighed. I debated with myself whether to write this thing at all. We’ve all heard so much of it already and are sick to the back teeth, and things don’t look like they’re going to change in at least four years, despite optimistic predictions of impeachment, or trial, or the ‘second amendment people’ doing their thing. If this started as a joke, it’s ended as a coughing fit that’s bringing up blood.
I’m tired of it, you see. Tired of having to explain to people how, yes, associating with a racist doesn’t necessarily make you a racist, but it makes you something. Of how blindingly obvious it seems to me that a man who mocks disabled people is not a man who deserves any position of power. I’m tired of pointing out horrors and having them explained away, of misogyny being downplayed or overlooked, of idiocy and the language of fear triumphing.
I can understand it, of course. The failure of successive governments to address economic and societal woes, the ease with which the media are permitted to promote biased and blatantly untrue stories, the fear of the different which is at the core of so much of human action. But still, how a woman votes for a man whose tag line is ‘grab them by the pussy’ is beyond me. How a minority votes for a man who openly categorises them as criminal, or who is supported by the KKK and refuses to renounce such support, is beyond me. How a working class man votes for a man whose entire empire is built on the trampling of the working class is beyond me.
Perhaps I’m tired of democracy, of populations who’d rather believe in magical ways out than search for real solutions, tired of the easy targets of race and immigration being used as political hot buttons time and again. Maybe we should make it mandatory for factual information on key issues to be presented before any vote; maybe we should improve our education before the lack of it kills us.
But it isn’t going to end any time soon. Like I said, four more years, and also the slow drag of Uncertainty in the UK, our new banner. The rise of the far right in Europe. It’s draining, it’s terrifying.
And if that weren’t enough, we have a man who refuses to accept climate change, in a position where he is able to make important decisions about the future of our planet. Without exaggeration, humans face a problem beyond anything we have ever faced, and sound policy and technological advancement are the only ways to effectively address it. If we get it wrong, we’re doomed. As in, literally facing extinction. And it seems we may be about to get it very wrong. But as long as the economy is fine, who cares, right? As long as I don’t have to worry about foreigners coming to my country and taking all my jobs and women.
(An amusing aside is the way the historical parallels are conveniently ignored. Sure, the US was once invaded by people with far more nefarious intentions than any refugee fleeing shells and starvation, but that was all two hundred years ago. Now, the land belongs to the people who stole it fair and square.)
But it’s at times like these that it’s worth thinking of what we can do. President Obama, perhaps my all-time favourite politician, is a man of great eloquence and optimism. Emerging from his tenure into what must follow is like the journey from summer to winter. Even in the face of what we’ve seen throughout 2016, I know he urges us not to give up. Because if we give up, then we are truly doomed. There are fights to be fought, and there are millions of good people still willing to do the right thing.
Of course, flowery rhetoric means nothing. And all the blogs in the world won’t change much, especially not from this side of the Atlantic. I honestly don’t know what the point this blog is, except to say that I need to regroup, remind myself that not everyone is an idiot and that not everything is shit. Not all countries are ruled by demagogues shouting slogans and waving talismans. And really just keep hope alive. All is not lost. At least, not yet.

The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity

Monday, 26 September 2016

My Life Extra

A meditation on my current situation, and the difference attitude can make.

My life sucks: I have no job, no real income, and I am unable to make any solid plans for doing anything. I am always stressed about money and can’t do a lot of the things I’d like to do. I have no ability to get new things.
My life rules: I don’t have to pay rent, and so am able to subsist on my current savings, without depleting them too far. I get money from the taxpayer just for looking for work, and I am able to do things now and again, using my ‘let me not go crazy’ stash of money. I won’t starve, and I won’t freeze. I have everything I need.
My life sucks: My career has been tainted by a previous role, even though I was trying my hardest to do the right thing, and I am struggling to move forward. On top of that I have to appear as a witness at trials, and it’s never clear when that will be, but it is stressful and takes up my time.
My life rules: My CV is good, I have had a security-cleared job since the aforementioned one, and when I do find work the pay will likely be good. I have helped the police bring people to justice and behaved honourably.
My life sucks: I live in an isolated area, far from my friends, many of whom have left the UK anyway. It takes hours to get to and from the city, where all the action is. The area where I live is quiet and boring, and I have the same conversations over and over.
My life rules: I still have a lot of good friends here, who take the time to make plans with me. I am still able to get into town for drinks, writing group, and other events. I was able to get a bike, which makes travel a lot easier. The area where I live is safe, and I am able to spend time with my Nan.
My life sucks: I have no girl, and there seems little chance of that changing any time soon. The girls where I live are all either in college or married, and the social scene is non-existent, unless you count nights down the pub. Opportunities to meet someone are few, and it’s not impressive to say I’m unemployed and live with my grandmother.
My life rules: Opportunities sometimes have to be made. I am able to go to events and go out with friends from time to time. Despite my living situation, things won’t be this way forever. The city is filled with talented, beautiful, intelligent women, and some of them even think I’m cute.
My life sucks: I’m stuck in a rut. I have achieved very little, and compared to people I know, my life is pretty much a failure. I am not married, nor do I have a house or a stable career. I seem to be caught in a cycle of progress and stagnation.
My life rules: I must examine my life on my own terms, instead of those used by others. I have been the victim of circumstance, but how I respond to it is entirely my choice. I have the means to make things better for myself, and every day I am working hard to do so. I must maintain a belief in the future.
My life sucks: my day-to-day life is boring. I have a routine, which involves exercise, job searching, writing, housework and maintenance. I struggle to find glamour in the ordinary.
My life rules: I am disciplined enough to work every day, exercise every day, write or edit every day. I have been able to complete stories. If I were working, I’d still be stung by the grind of routine, but it can bring stability and purpose. I have access to the internet and free entertainment.
My life sucks: Consistent rejection has the power to diminish my sense of self-worth, in the areas of job applications (~300 applied for), online dating, stories and books submitted to agents and publishers.
My life rules: Consistent striving builds character. Nothing in life worth having comes easy. I am putting in the effort, so I will not die wondering. Odds are, sooner or later, something’s got to give.
My life sucks: I am frustrated, restless, my mood is often agitated or unhappy. I feel as if I am in a situation I do not deserve. I struggle to avoid feelings of isolation, loneliness, and despair.
My life rules: I am (pretty much) healthy. I have the intellectual and emotional intelligence to understand that the situation will change, and to understand that the world doesn’t owe me anything. I have a good network of friends and family who I can turn to for assistance.

‘Better than a dog anyhow.’

Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Suicide Squad

Of course, Spoilers follow

So I’ve seen Suicide Squad, the latest DC offering, and I was thinking about just what I enjoyed and what I didn’t. I thought there was a fair bit to like about Suicide Squad; not to damn it with faint praise, but I didn’t come out of the film with my mind blown. Having said that, neither did I regret the cost of admission. I have to say that this is the default state with me at the moment, I’m much more picky or demanding than I used to be about films, and it takes a lot more for me to be wowed. I guess that’s what happens, the more films you see, and it isn’t necessarily a reflection on the film itself.
One thing which deserves mentioning: DC are under a lot of pressure right now, and it’s having the effect that, if their movies aren’t instant classics, they’re immediately trashed by many fans and critics alike. To me, this is unfair, but I understand that they feel the need to ‘catch up’ to Marvel, and the resonance this has with many when watching the films; still, I’d say that if DC could forget this need and just focus purely on film-making, they’d probably do a better job.
In any case, here are a few thoughts I had. I’ve tried to but the dislikes first, generally speaking, and the likes after that, but sometimes these things get mixed up.
The Rating: Suicide Squad is about some nasty characters, so why not go all out and make it an 18 film? The answer, as it is for so many things, is probably money, i.e. more people can see it if it’s PG-13, but for me, if we’d had a Joker carving people up, a Killer Croc who we see actually killing someone (not just dragging them into the water), or some of the more crazy things Harley has done, it’d feel truer to the characters. Not gore for the sake of gore, but if you’re going dark Joker, then don’t go in half-assed.
Trailer Fatigue: I actively avoided watching too many trailers for the film, and still felt like I’d seen too much before I went in. Again, it’s probably a money thing (trailers must get bums in seats; once the bums are there, the money has already been spent), and it’s not a problem unique to this movie, but it is annoying.
Similarly, but distinctly, I hate it when things appear in the trailer which aren’t in the film. There was a fair bit of that for Suicide Squad, especially Joker moments.
The Villain: Having a villain who’s intertwined with a human is a nice idea, and Cara Delevingne does a good job with the script she’s given, but the whole ‘I’m going to kill all the humans’ idea is a little done. I’m also not a fan of magic in comic book films, because it doesn’t feel like it fits, and too often is just lazy writing. In a movie where villains are the good guys, their enemy needs to be some kind of evil that you really hate, and I just didn’t feel much either way about the Enchantress. Not a compelling character.
I did like the idea that Waller’s attempt to control the Enchantress bites her in the ass (a theme also seen with the first Harley Quinn escape). Side note: I’d have had Doctor Moon stay dead, too, but it’s not a big issue.
Too Much Sugar: Having the Squad bond and all become like family by the end of one mission seemed a little too sickly sweet for me. I understand these people are supposed to be anti-heroes, bad but likeable, united by their common bond of a shared shitty situation, but in the end it’s all a bit too sweet. Diablo’s noble sacrifice also felt tacky to me.
Ensemble Cast: the large cast worked for some, and for others it just didn’t feel like we got much of them at all. It’s hard to pull off balance in a movie like this, but less Flag would have been good, in favour of more for Katana, Croc, Diablo, and even Boomerang. I don’t feel like I know them all that well, so it’s hard to care about them. Oh, and it was obvious when Slipknot was brought in that his purpose would be to die to show the bombs are real. He didn’t even get a backstory.
Bats! I loved seeing Batman in this film, and the cameo for The Flash was cool too. It looks like Batman has moved on from his murdering phase in BvS, and is back to being the non-killing hero we know and love. This is great, and I think a nice development for him. The movie isn’t about him, but you know me: the more Batman, the better.
The Action: I found the action to be solid enough. Having former-human-now-weird-slave-things for the Squad to kill removed a bit of the moral trouble that having them kill ‘real’ people would have (although the movie never even addresses whether the former people could be saved, in favour of smashing them to pieces), and the action in fighting them is solid. Not amazing, but there are some good parts. I did like the weird black mess left by Enchantress’ brother and his go-go-gadget arms.
Deadshot: I was a bit surprised when they cast Will Smith, mostly because he doesn’t usually play stone-cold killers, but I thought he did well with the character. He gets a lot of screen time, and despite not being a favourite DC character of mine, I found his actions throughout the movie made sense and worked within the story. The Deadshot from the Arrow TV show is a lot harder to like, and I can see why they didn’t go that way with him.
Harley Quinn: Really very pleased with Robbie’s performance as Harley Quinn. She captured the playfulness of the character well, as well as, of course, the unhinged-ness. Harley is funny, and brings levity to otherwise heavy situations. The jokes went down well, but you also saw that she hides intelligence beneath the crazy exterior, and people will often underestimate her. A really good first live-action performance.
The Joker: Well, following Ledger was always going to be difficult, and Leto certainly put his own mark on the character, which is exactly what was needed. I read that a lot of his scenes were cut, which disappointed me; even though it’s not a Joker film, he was a big selling point. So, I’d be very interested to see more of him. I liked what he did, getting that unpredictable, freaky, ruthless Joker down pat. Different again to Ledger, and I wouldn’t say better, but a really good job.
The Plot: Having the Squad rescue Waller from a problem of her own making, as I touched on above, was good. I think that the team just needed a common enemy, a way to get them started. It’ll be interesting to see what happens next, if they do another film, but I thought the plot was ok, fairly standard. In a film with so many characters, too much complication in the plot would not have helped.
So, overall I thought it wasn’t bad. Not up there with the Dark Knight, but then what is? For the sake of Harley and the Joker alone, it’s worth rewatching, and I’d like to see an extended version with the missing footage. It’s clear that Suicide Squad will not go down as a classic, due to the issues I’ve mentioned, but it was nice to see new characters and a new style of hero, and I was impressed by many of the performances I saw.
Final rating: 6.5 out of 10

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

True Bible Stories

I
And Jesus spake unto them, saying: ‘yea, the Kingdom of Heaven is like a mustard seed.’
And Peter was like: ‘really? Cool. How so?’
And Jesus said: ‘… oh, ah… you guys normally just accept things like this without question. It’s kind of why I like keeping you around.’
And Peter looked at his watch.
And Jesus said: ‘uh… well, it’s small… but a whole lot bigger on the inside.’
And verily someone cried: ‘that’s from Doctor Who.’
And Jesus went: ‘um… I mean, it’s good in casseroles…’ and he pulled out his wand and said ZAP! (for he liked to do his own sound effects), and all the people gathered present were transformed unto pigs, but not in a cool way like in Transformers. And verily, all the pigs that had been gathered there were transformed unto men, and Jesus frowned at his wand and spake unto it, saying ‘huh. Well that wasn’t supposed to happen. Better get this thing checked out.’

II
And Jesus spake unto the crowd, saying: ‘do unto others, as you would have done unto you.’
And a voice from the back cried: ‘what about if I am a total masochist?’
And Jesus saith unto the voice: ‘God dammit Larry, why do you always gotta interrupt my big speeches. All the gravitas has been lost now.’
To this Larry replied: ‘then how come we’re not all floating off into space?’
And thus Jesus was miffed, and he pointed a finger at Larry. ‘One more crack outta you, and I’ll boop you straight to hell.’
So Larry held up his hands in that way Neil DeGrasse Tyson does when he encounters a badass. But when Jesus turned away to resume his pontification, Larry didst whisper to the guy next to him, ‘you know, I was the guy who came up with that whole Jeebus thing.’
And the guy saith: ‘No. Way.’
And Larry saith back: ‘Way. But I don’t get no credit for it at all.’
And Jeebus Jesus, who, being a superhero, had super hearing, was all ‘I knew it’, and booped Larry to hell, accompanied by one of those flashes that Q made on Star Trek: The Next Generation, which made for an odd audio-visual combination. It also made Larry wonder if Q could beat Jesus in a fight.
Before he had time to articulate this thought, Larry appeared in hell and was all: Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?’, in a brilliant piece of dramatic foreshadowing.
And Jesus didst Q-flash/boop into hell and turned his brow heavy upon Larry, and spake, saying: ‘what the hell, man? First you mess with my name, which is blasphemous bee-tee-dubya, and then you steal my lines?’
And Larry replied unto the Lord: ‘Dude, what’s up with this whole hell thing? Seems a bit excessive, no? Eternal suffering for a few wise cracks?’
And Jesus said: ‘Hey, I didn’t build this place.’ And he drew a breath and cried, ‘Daaaaaaaddd!’
And God, who also utilised the flashboop method of transportation, appeared unto them in the very midst of hell. And he spake: ‘What? I’m right in the middle of dinner.’
And thus Larry came to wonder why God would need to make dinner, but he decided to stick with one major theological question for the time being. And when Jesus shrugged and pointed at Larry, saying, my friend has a question about hell, Larry didst flash Jesus the stink eye, and then he began, thus: ‘I mean, I was just wondering, sir… that is… doesn’t the whole concept of hell seem a bit excessive to you?’
And God was like, ‘what do you mean?’
And Larry says: ‘well, for starters all I did was crack a few jokes, and now I have a demon ready to insert a hot poker into various parts of me for all eternity. At worst I deserve a good talking to, maybe a night in jail. But let’s say I’d done something really bad, the worst person ever, and I’d enslaved the entire human race in perpetuity, condemning it to generations of suffering and torment until our sun explodes and kills us all. Suppose all that was done, even then, all the pain I created will fade; All sin is finite, since human life is finite. Thus, an eternal punishment lacks all proportion, even for the most grievous of crimes.’
And God saith: ‘sins are also sins against the creator, unmoved and eternal.’
And Larry said: ‘would it help if I told you to chillax? There’s no need to be angry all the time.’
And Jesus looked at Larry nervously, and shook his head. So Larry changed tack: ‘Look, this place clearly violates the Eighth Amendment.’
And God boomed: ‘YOU DARE TO QUESTION ME AND MY CREATION?’
And Larry quavered; but then, realising he was already in hell, decided to press on, saying: ‘Yes, that’s about the size of it.’
And God said: ‘Ok, good. Just wanted to be sure. Sometimes I’m a little hard of hearing.’
And Larry replied thus: ‘Oh…’
And Jesus said: ‘Dad, he’s the one who came up with that whole Jeebus thing.’
And God was all: ‘Hahahahahahaha! That was hilario! Here is your reward, my child.’ And he booped Larry out of hell and sent him to Detroit instead. Then, turning to his son/self, he spake once more, saying: ‘Dude, you can’t just send people to hell like that, even if they do really annoy you.’
And Jesus gazed upon the glory of his father/self, and said: ‘Whaaaaat? Isn’t that the total point of this place? You do it all the time.’
And God replied: ‘Do as I say, not as I do.’
And Jesus, remembering that he was due to be crucified in about two weeks’ time, said: ‘I guess you’ll want to ground me for a couple weeks.’
And God saith unto Jesus: ‘Nice try, wise guy… let’s try a month.’
Thus Jesus was all: ‘Oh, no…’ and promptly flashbooped off to his room to play Arkham Asylum for a month, and develop a serious case of gamer’s thumb. And, seeing the future, he realised two things: the first was that he had just prevented Christianity (and the other religion that everyone’s too scared to make jokes about) from ever occurring, thus saving the world (and himself) more pain and suffering than it could imagine - and so the prophecy was fulfilled. And the second thing was that by thus avoiding the Dark Ages, he’d sped up the invention of cool things like Playstation and the iPod by at least 500 years.

III
And Moses said unto Pharaoh: ‘Let my people goooooooo!’
And Pharaoh was like: ‘Nah. I need them to build all my cool shit. Otherwise I’ll have to pay Polish guys to do it, and while they’re cheap, they aint cheaper than free.’
As Moses was all: ‘Ah, come oooooooooonnn. I’ll let you have my stick that turns into a snake.’
And Pharaoh spake thus: ‘What happened to your beautiful sing-song voice? This one’s all whiny and annoying.’
And Moses replied unto Pharaoh, shrugging: ‘I’ve been hanging out with Gilbert Gottfried a lot.’
And Pharaoh spake: ‘Well, quit hassling me, or I’ll have you crucified. And that really hurts.’
To which Moses replieth: ‘Wait, what? They don’t do that in Egypt. Do they?’
And Pharaoh was like: ‘I’m Pharaoh, bitch, I do what I want.’
And Moses didst mumble: ‘More like Pharaoh Fawcett.’ But fortunately for him Pharaoh had lost interest, and was busy playing an early version of Tetris with real bricks, and slaves to move them around.
And so Moses left the palace and his people remained where they were. But the people had really good lawyers, and so they unionised and negotiated much better rates (better being anything more than zero per hour), i.e. two carrots and a small bag of wheat per day (which doesn’t sound like much, but in those days it was enough to buy your whole weekly shop, and have money left over for a day at the races and a bag of penny sweets). And they also claused it thus: that in any movies made about the time, all the main characters must be played by popular white actors rather than ‘ethnics’, as this increases ‘audience engagement’ and is good for the brand.
And thus, due to spiralling labour costs, Pharaoh was forced to reduce to scope of his building plans and lay off several thousand local workers, causing much damage to the economy and the local tourism industry, not to mention a lot of resentment between the Jews and Gentiles ever since. And indeed many Jews have since moved that the word Gentile be changed, since the way they have been treated has been far from gentile, on many occasions.

IV
Verily God didst flashboop Larry back into hell, saying unto him: ‘were you serious when you said all that stuff about hell?’
And Larry looked around him and thought unto himself, well, at least I aint in Detroit any more. And he replied unto God: ‘Totes.’
And God was like: ‘Ok, well, what do you think I should do?’
And Larry spake unto the Lord, saying: ‘man, how the fuck I know? Aint you s’posed to be omnipotent and stuff?’
And God saith: ‘It goes in and out. Besides, I don’t pay as much attention to you humans as people seem to think. I have other things going on in my life, you know.’
And, sensing that what God really wanted was a little rant, Larry said: ‘Tell me about it.’
And God was all: ‘I know right. You know I didn’t even create most of you myself? That’s right, I outsourced it. That turned out to be a mistake. Why do you think there’s so much substandard work?’
And Larry wondered if he himself was one of the substandard ones, but said nothing.
Thus God continued: ‘Honestly, you little bastards are so demanding. So much of what you ask for is the most petty crap.’ And verily God spake in a whiny voice. ‘”Save my cat, Lord. Help me win this football game.” Jesus. You wonder why I tune it out most of the time.’
And Larry was like: ‘I hear ya. But still, you want my opinion about hell, it’s still a bit much, no? A bit OTT? Why don’t you maybe have like a room, boring and dark, where all people get to do is sit and listen to Enya for a thousand years.’
And God saith unto Larry: ‘We already have that in heaven. It’s where I go when I’m super wired. Man, I fucking love a bit of Enya from time to time. Really glad I created her myself.’
And Larry spake, saying: ‘Oh…’
And God went on, as was his wont and his privilege: ‘I will consider some changes. Thanks for listening, Larry. Now I will send you home to Detroit.’
And Larry said: ‘I’m not actually from Detroit.’
And God said: ‘Oh, sorry… like I said, not always paying attention.’
Thus Larry thought, and he replieth unto the Lord: ‘I’m from an island that was destroyed in the Great Flood, known as Katrina. It was beautiful, tropical, full of booze and weed and beautiful women who wanted nothing more than to satisfy my every whim.’ And he sighed. ‘Alas alack. My home is no more.’
And God took pity unto Larry, saying: ‘My bad.’ And he snapped his fingers dramatically, saying: ‘It is remade.’
And Larry was all: ‘Really? Sweet! Thanks dude, you’re the best.’
And God was like: ‘I know.’
And Larry replied unto God: ‘Stop by any time for a chat,’ even though he meant it not.
And God said: ‘I might just do that.’
And verily he flashbooped Larry away to his new home.

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Alternatives to Penalties

Having watched a few penalty shootouts at the recent Euro tournament, and having heard the same arguments for and against such a method of deciding who goes through to the next round, I have a few suggestions for alternatives which could be employed for that purpose, while still retaining a sense of the drama and spirit of football which we all know and love.
  1. Ball slap: The first item on my list might be one of the most controversial (that is, if I had enough of a following to be able to generate controversy). The idea is, after full time, you place the ball in the centre circle, and the players take their positions. The referee then slaps each player in the balls with force, moving from the goalkeeper, through defenders, midfielders, and then strikers. Once each player has been slapped, play begins. If, after ten minutes, the scores are still level, the procedure is repeated. If at any time, more than two players from the same team refuse to participate, that team automatically loses the game.
  2. Regular remove: This idea is more sensible than the first, but maybe less fun to watch. Extra time starts, and after five minutes a player from each team is nominated by the manager of the opposite team, to be removed from the field. This continues every five minutes until someone scores.
  3. Coin flip remove: similar to the idea in number two, this involves removing players from the field. The difference is that the referee would flip a coin every five minutes, with heads corresponding to one team and tails to the other. Whichever way the coin lands, the manager of that team nominates one player to be removed from the field. This continues until someone scores.
  4. Keepy-upy: Each manager chooses five players to play keepy-upy. The winning team is the one whose team member has the most touches. In the event of a tie, the two players who are tied face off until one wins.
  5. Call it a draw (final only): If neither team has insufficient motivation or skill to win a final, the trophy is cut in half, and they each get half a winner’s medal. The record books will forever record their efforts as ‘pretty good, I guess.’
  6. Soccer AM crossbar challenge: If you haven’t seen it, the crossbar challenge from the TV show Soccer AM is exactly what it sounds like. The ball is placed in the centre circle, and each player attempts to kick the ball so that it hits the bar. The first five players make an attempt, and if the scores are tied after this, the rest of the team go, with first player to succeed winning the game for their team.
  7. Fans join in: In this scenario, fans are drawn at random from the crowd, and replace the players on the pitch, in a manner similar to that of the regular remove. This continues until all the players have been replaced with fans, or until someone scores.
  8. Manager challenge: The managers of the teams take the field, one on each goal line. The referee places the ball in the centre circle and blows the whistle. The first manager to score, wins the game for their team.
  9. Yo mamma fight: Zinedine Zidane is brought on to the field. The players line up and each get to insult his mother or sister once. The winning team is the first one whose player gets Zidane to head butt them.


Ok, so these are some of my ideas for alternatives to penalties. Feel free to let me know what you think, or suggest your own. Kia kaha.

Sunday, 26 June 2016

Notes on a Shambles

Since absolutely no one is fed up of hearing what every man and his canine thinks about the recent referendum, I have decided to drop in my 2p worth. (It was about £1 worth, but the currency has since devalued.)

Firstly, to my European friends: sorry about this shit. We’re not all racist twats. My own feelings on this run to bitterness and disappointment. I feel ashamed of the place I have called home for so long, but optimistic at much of what I have heard from Londoners and others since the result was announced.

Secondly, to my friends and family who voted leave: sorry for implying you’re a racist twat. I’m sure some of you aren’t, and are doing what you think is best. But to those of you who are embracing the Xenophobia Warrior Princess vibe, well, fuck you. Not only is your position illogical, it’s breaking up the band, Yoko.

I was at a lecture at the LSE a few months ago, which was focused on the consequences of immigration, based on data from long-term studies in the UK and elsewhere. Interestingly enough, the conclusion was that immigration overall has but a tiny (positive or negative) effect on the economy of the country concerned; that is, results are negligible. That is, nothing to be worried about.

The lecturer pointed out that the main reason people from the EU want to come to the UK (or indeed, other places) is because the economy is doing well. Therefore, he added, if you want to stop immigration, all you have to do is destroy the economy. It was a joke at the time, but now it seems like some kind of cruel prediction.

See, in the days since the vote, the pound dropped to a thirty-one year low, the country’s credit outlook has been downgraded from ‘stable’ to ‘negative’, the UK’s economy dropped below France’s in the world rankings, and the value of a UK passport decreased significantly. And this isn’t including the billions of pounds which were pulled out of the country before the vote even happened.

While all this was happening, figures from the Leave campaign, like Farage and Johnson, all came out to tell us that (surprise) the things they’d promised probably weren’t viable after all. I am used to politicians breaking promises, but the efficiency with which it occurred this time must break some kind of record.

Funnily enough, the £350 million figure splashed across the side of that big red bus has always been untrue. The number was something closer to £120 million, and of course doesn’t take into account all the benefits we got for being a member, as well as the fact that it will cost approximately that much to access the single market. As well as requiring concessions (notably on free movement of peoples) over which we will no longer have any say.

Also occurring was a renewed push for a united Ireland (in and of itself, not necessarily a bad thing) and another push for a referendum on Scottish independence. Since all the areas in Scotland voted to remain, they must feel particularly shafted right now, and I can’t see any way another referendum there wouldn’t spell the end of the UK as we know it. It seems like taking the country back means taking it all the way back to 1707. And I cannot blame our northern cousins in the slightest.

Boris Johnson is our version of Donald Trump. Besides the obvious similarities of ugly mugs with bad hair, they’re both looking to enact disastrous policy based on xenophobia and outright lies. ‘Take back control’, should probably just have been worded ‘make Britain Great again’.

Figures have also been quoted around the difference in the way people voted, given their age. Put simply, the younger you were, the more likely you were to vote remain. It’s hard not to feel like this vote has been a betrayal of the youngest by their parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, people pining for a past which will never come again (and which, to be honest, probably wasn’t all that great anyway). The future of the nation have been denied the future they so clearly wanted. Other interesting parallels include the fact that areas with high immigration voted to remain, perhaps seeing the benefits it can bring, and that the more highly-educated someone was, the more likely they were to vote remain. Draw your own conclusions.

There are already movements in place: the idea that London could secede from the rest of England (though this seems like a pipe dream, it’s not the worst idea I’ve heard), the petition calling for a second referendum, which is nearing three million signatures (based on the idea, not enshrined in EU law, that the majority should have to be at least 60% and turnout 75% for the result to count), and calls from David Lammy MP and others to simply ignore the result, given that the result is not legally-binding. The Lib-Dems, in a genius piece of promotion, have promised to keep the UK in the EU if the Brexit triggers a general election.

While I do think that such a momentous decision should require more than 51.9% of the vote in order to be enacted, I wish the rules for such would have been stated when the referendum was announced. In terms of actually dismissing the result, while I am not normally in favour of ignoring the will of the people, in this case that there would indeed be valid reasons to do so.

  1. The monstrous amount of misinformation provided (and subsequently admitted) to the public during campaigning. Decisions founded in ignorance should not shape the future of the nation.
  2. The aforementioned slim majority.
  3. The fact that if sixteen- and seventeen-year-olds would have been allowed to vote, the result would have been different. The future of the country belongs to the young, and it’s fair that we give them a say in it.
  4. The disastrous consequences already occurring, as well as those to come, both for the economy and stability of the country, and for the future of the UK (not to mention the EU) as a whole.

Sometimes the people are wrong. I hate to say it but, sometimes democracy fails.

Now, a lot of this may sound like sore-loser talk, and I can understand that accusation. ‘We won,’ they say, ‘so let’s get over it and move on’. Funnily enough, this from a group of people who still moan about the ‘hand of god’. I think though, that to concede defeat and move on would be a mistake. There’s too much at stake, for people inside the UK and out, for Britons who voted and those who were too young to be allowed to, or able to. If the Brexit happens, it hurts us all. Maybe we can prevent that, and if there’s a chance we can, then we damn well need to give it a try.

Thursday, 16 June 2016

Glorified G

Here’s the topic on everyone’s lips of late: gun control. Having had the good fortune to live in two countries where gun laws are relatively strong and sensible (that is, New Zealand and the United Kingdom), it might seem at first that I have nothing useful to say about gun control. However, I can dodge this argument by stating that anyone who has an interest in avoiding seeing their fellow humans murdered by legally-obtained weapons ought to have something useful to add to the argument.

I am talking, of course, about the most recent mass shooting in the US, in Orlando, FL. At this time it may be useful to throw around some statistics. The BBC has an interesting article stating that there were ‘372 mass shootings in the US in 2015, killing 475 people and wounding 1,870, according to the Mass Shooting Tracker, which catalogues such incidents’. It provides comparisons with the UK, Canada and Australia for relatively recent gun homicide rates, and quotes another source, which says that ‘So many people die annually from gunfire in the US that the death toll between 1968 and 2011 eclipses all wars ever fought by the country. According to research by Politifact, there were about 1.4 million firearm deaths in that period, compared with 1.2 million US deaths in every conflict from the War of Independence to Iraq.’

Thing is, though, even though Pulse was the latest (and bloodiest) in a string of mass shootings going back for years, other websites can be found holding data which seem to suggest that per capita rates are higher in parts of Europe than in the US. Whether or not this is true, to me is in some sense immaterial. After all, police forces don’t respond to victims of burglary by saying, ‘well, look at that other city, they have much worse rates of theft’, and if they did, the victims would probably reply, ‘who cares? I need you to solve the problems we have in this city, right now.’ So, the following thoughts can be applied to many countries equally.

Having said that, the US still stands out as having much worse gun crime than comparable Western nations, and I don’t think that the stats can really mask this fact for long. Also, the US has some of the more, shall I say, interesting arguments against gun control that I have heard. Then there is the fact that, when even the most modest proposals for reform are put forward, they are twisted, misquoted, and torn down with such vigour that no change is possible. Even though there seems to be public support for ideas like a gun sale database, or preventing people with mental illness from buying guns, any reforms are blocked in Congress. A cynical man might suspect that for the will of the people to be so openly defied, for the people to be so rashly endangered, either the relevant politicians are stubborn, stupid, or have another motivation altogether for the way they behave.

Omar Mateen, the man who pledged allegiance to Isis (or, as I like to call them, Daeshbags), before the attack, was very possibly a closeted homosexual whose religious beliefs caused him to hate himself and those who lived the life he secretly desired but could not bring himself to embrace. It seems that those at the club were deliberately targeted because of their sexuality, and the club was a place Mateen had visited previously. His homophobia is framed within the larger narrative of intolerance promoted by the religious ideology the attacker pledged allegiance to before the attack.

Certainly Mateen was known to the FBI, although he was not deemed a threat. It might be logical, though, to prevent such persons from having access to automatic weaponry.

Add to this the sickening behaviour of religious persons in the US who have praised the shooters’ actions, and you see why the issue of gun control is even more urgent in such a country. The man who may be President also took the chance to say a nonsensical ‘I told you so,’ exploiting the horrors of the moment. (Fortunately most Americans seem to disapprove of his response.)

There is information suggesting that most gun deaths in the US are accidental, and many involve children. This is another place where you would think people might pause to think it may not, in fact, be worth having guns in the home after all, no matter how well-secured they are.

I also dislike the argument that people are generally safer with more guns around. This follows no logic that I can find, except maybe in the event of alien invasion or zombie apocalypse (though if either of these happen, the NRA will be too busy fighting to yell ‘I told you so!’). To take the most extreme situation, if no one in a country has a gun, then no one in that country can be killed by a gun.
If guns are limited to law enforcement officials and the army, then, again, it means citizens are much less likely to be shot illegally (discounting for a moment the issue of skin colour). Of course, the US is a country flooded with guns, and many argue that in such a situation, where criminals will not follow gun laws anyway, they are safer and more protected from said criminals if they themselves are armed. I can see their line of thinking, but if someone breaks into your house in the middle of the night while you’re sleeping, are you really going to have time to get to your well-secured gun? And if you are, are you then able to engage in a Lethal Weapon style shootout with armed robbers without some collateral damage, or with your children in the house?

Another issue is the sheer type of weaponry available. There is an argument for allowing responsible gun owners to have hand guns, hunting rifles, and shot guns for clay pigeon shooting, but why on earth would they ever need an AK-47 or Sig Sauer assault rifle? What kind of deer are they hunting?

One of the biggest obstacles to change is the Second Amendment, which states ‘A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.’ To me, the phrase ‘well regulated Militia’ denotes both the need for good regulation, and the need for guns to be held by a body or organisation for a particular purpose (such as civil defence) rather than simply held by whoever wants one at the time. Still, much ink and many hours have been devoted to this argument, and I am not going to solve it here.

Finally, I have been told that the people need guns should they ever need to stand up to the government. In response to that, I would simply say, the government of the US has machines that can kill you from a hundred miles away, at the press of a button. They have (arguably) the most well-equipped and well-trained army in the world. If they want to get you, your small arms stash will not stop them.

Now, it is not, and probably never will be my place to decide on US law, or even to vote on who should run the country. Thing is, as I mentioned, these shootings are a human problem as well as an American problem, and therefore I find it helpful (if not necessarily effective) to think about what could be done to solve it. The power, though, is with the people with the votes, the people in the position to make changes. The question for them is, what if it’s your child’s school next? Or your sibling’s workplace that suffers a mass shooting? And sadly, at the moment, the real question is: how long until the next one?