Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Inventory of Normality

in “The Winner Stands Alone”, by Paulo Coelho

1] Anything that makes us forget our true identity and our dreams and makes us only work to produce and reproduce.

2] Making rules for a war (the Geneva Convention).

3] Spending years at university and then not being able to find a job.

4] Working from nine in the morning to five in the afternoon at something that does not give us the least pleasure, so that we can retire after 30 years.

5] Retiring only to discover that we have no more energy to enjoy life, and then dying of boredom after a few years.

6] Using Botox.

7] Trying to be financially successful instead of seeking happiness.

8] Ridiculing those who seek happiness instead of money by calling them “people with no ambition”.

9] Comparing objects like cars, houses and clothes, and defining life according to these comparisons instead of really trying to find out the true reason for being alive.

10] Not talking to strangers. Saying nasty things about our neighbors.

11] Thinking that parents are always right.

12] Getting married, having children and staying together even though the love has gone, claiming that it’s for the sake of the children (who do not seem to be listening to the constant arguments).

12ยช] Criticizing everybody who tries to be different.

14] Waking up with a hysterical alarm-clock at the bedside.

15] Believing absolutely everything that is printed.

16] Wearing a piece of colored cloth wrapped around the neck for no apparent reason and known by the pompous name “necktie”.

17] Never asking direct questions, even though the other person understands what you want to know.

18] Keeping a smile on your face when you really want to cry. And feeling sorry for those who show their own feelings.

19] Thinking that art is worth a fortune, or else that it is worth absolutely nothing.

20] Always despising what was easily gained, because the “necessary sacrifice” – and therefore also the required qualities – are missing.

21] Following fashion, even though it all looks ridiculous and uncomfortable.

22] Being convinced that all the famous people have tons of money saved up.

23] Investing a lot in exterior beauty and paying little attention to interior beauty.

24] Using all possible means to show that even though you are a normal person, you are infinitely superior to other human beings.

25] In any kind of public transport, never looking straight into the eyes of the other passengers, as this may be taken for attempting to seduce them.

26] When you enter an elevator, looking straight at the door and pretending you are the only person inside, however crowded it may be.

27] Never laughing out loud in a restaurant, no matter how funny the story is.

28] In the Northern hemisphere, always wearing the clothes that match the season of the year: short sleeves in springtime (however cold it may be) and a woolen jacket in the fall (no matter how warm it is).

29] In the Southern hemisphere, decorating the Christmas tree with cotton wool, even though winter has nothing to do with the birth of Christ.

30] As you grow older, thinking you are the wisest man in the world, even though not always do you have enough life experience to know what is wrong.

31] Going to a charity event and thinking that in this way you have collaborated enough to put an end to all the social inequalities in the world.

32] Eating three times a day, even if you’re not hungry.

33] Believing that the others are always better at everything: they are better-looking, more resourceful, richer and more intelligent. Since it’s very risky to venture beyond your own limits, it’s better to do nothing.

34] Using the car as a way to feel powerful and in control of the world.

35] Using foul language in traffic.

36] Thinking that everything your child does wrong is the fault of the company he or she is keeping.

37] Marrying the first person who offers you a position in society. Love can wait.

38] Always saying “I tried”, even though you haven’t tried at all.

39] Putting off doing the most interesting things in life until you no longer have the strength to do them.

40] Avoiding depression with massive daily doses of television programs.

41] Believing that it is possible to be sure of everything you have won.

42] Thinking that women don’t like football and that men don’t like interior decoration.

43] Blaming the government for everything bad that happens.

44] Being convinced that being a good, decent and respectful person means that the others will find you weak, vulnerable and easy to manipulate.

45] Being convinced that aggressiveness and discourtesy in treating others are signs of a powerful personality.

46] Being afraid of fibroscopy (men) and childbirth (women).

47] And finally, thinking that your religion is the sole proprietor of the absolute truth, the most important, the best, and that the other human beings in this immense planet who believe in any other manifestation of God are condemned to the fires of hell.

---------------------------------

I do like the way Paulo Coelho writes.

There's a whole module in A-Level psychology I've taught, all about Abnormal Psychology. One of the acknowledged problems psychologists have is the very act of defining normality. How does science create a benchmark for what is considered 'normal' behaviour?

I had a t-shirt that posed the question: Are you normal?

As some of us used to say when I was younger - 'normal is boring'.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Fuck You I Won't Do What You Tell Me!



A triumph.

Fuck all the naysayers.

And I don't mean those people who love X-Factor.

I mean those people I spoke to who were too cynical to join in.

Those who were unwilling to give it a go.

Those were thinking that their contribution wouldn't make a difference.

Those people who said it would be pointless.

Well.

Yes We Can!

Now read my in-depth thoughts behind it.

Raging.

I have been raging this week.

In the sense of joining the Facebook campaign to get Rage Against the Machine's 'Killing in the Name' to Christmas Number 1.

I mean - I'm actually old enough to remember when the race for Christmas No. 1 was a race, a novelty and exciting in the media. (Actually, fuck that - I'm old enough to remember when there was a race for any No. 1. It was exciting seeing a song climb the singles' chart).

Nowadays of course, it's very different. I suppose music always was product mixed with entertainment and it was always designed to sell, but artistry is somewhere in there. Even more scary is the level of control the mass-media and money actually has. This is why I really do think there's a whole lot more to this. This particular battle for the top spot (and it really is a battle) is a metaphor on many levels. Here's my take on it, which includes my reason for going on about it to everyone this week.

---------------------------------------------
1) Music industry vs. Musicianship
Simon Cowell may be a cunt but he understands what sells and how to sell it. He understands the music industry. But to say he's talent-spotting and giving people a chance to 'make it' is being naive. He's only interested in making money for himself - from phone-ins, from his production company and from record sales.

And the people who go on the show are more interested in the Cult of Celebrity rather than genuine musicianship.

Last time I checked, music wasn't only about singing! It was also about instrumentation and songwriting. Rage Against the Machine represent true musicianship and what it means to be in a band. There's something magical about creating music with other people in a room, and then going on to perform it. The whole is so much greater than the sum of its parts.

I talk about the reporting in the media below, but the some of the shit spouted by the mass-media is shocking. Rage play their instruments with skill and express an emotion very clearly. That's all music is - an expression of emotion. But to call Rage 'decrepit heavy metal' is lazy journalism - in fact it's probably a deliberate attempt to discredit the campaign. It's fucking ridiculous!

The all-to-common argument against Rage being no. 1 is that they're signed to Sony. And Simon Cowell's label SyCo is an imprint of Sony. Therefore buying the Rage single as a protest against the music industry and Simon Cowell is pointless because it benefits Cowell and Sony anyway.*

Point of fact: Rage signed with Epic Records which was then bought by Sony. Additionally the band saw now ideological conflict with their politics because they maintained complete creative control.

Besides, this particular campaign is about so much more than just Simon Cowell (that's of course the whole scope of this post!)

Will Joe McElderry maintain complete creative control? Do any of the X-Factor winners have the musicianship to actually have any creative control over their music?

Of course they fucking don't!

In the (now infamous) Radio 5 Live interview with Rage, Tom Morello explains how the song Killing in the Name was "written in a small industrial slum in Los Angeles. The X Factor song is written by a cabal of overpaid songwriters to shove the schmaltzy business down your throats. So there is two very different choices." One is exciting and exhilarating. One is bland and boring.

Instead the winner of X-Factor sings a song that is not theirs and seems to think that a number 1 single in the charts is their right. Nope that's the music industry manipulating you. The singer is just a puppet. I mean it's not like Girls Aloud profit of any of their music - no the true pop-genius behind them is the production team Xenomania - the girls are just a front! Which is why Cheryl has to whore herself around all the time (and to cover up what a racist bitch she is).

The thing is, Cheryl Cole and Joe McElderry are just victims or puppets of the music industry. It's not their fault (directly) that they chose to sell their souls.

Even more interesting, the founders of the Facebook campaign set up a link to donate to charity - specifically Shelter. Last time I checked over £60,000 had been donated. Not bad for a grassroots campaign. In keeping with this, and their principles, the windfall profits from the single that Rage stand to gain are being donated to charity. Rage are a band, of course, that regularly practise the politics they preach with charity work and donations. Tom Morello (Rage's guitarist) will be donating his personal profits to a charity that does music out-reach with the youth in the UK.

Will Simon Cowell be giving any of his personal gains to charity?

Now what kind of person calls this Facebook campaign cynical and mean?

So getting Rage to Christmas No. 1 would be a victory for musicianship.

2) Old Media vs. New Media
The internet is a new medium. OK so it's maturing really quickly (some might say it already has) but I can remember a time without the internet and mobile phones (let alone the mobile internet!) Access to such vast quantities of information was never as easy as it is today.

Equally, social networking is new phenomenon.

In contrast, X-Factor is old media: the Television! It is the biggest programme on TV in the UK. Something like 20 million viewers tuned in for the final last week. That's a lot - and harking back to an age when that many people would regularly tune in for programmes as families.

As the different types of media have splintered, it's made it more and more difficult for television. The proliferation of choice for how we consume our media has made it easier for us to avoid watching something like X-Factor.

Which is why it's become even more of a circus. The Cult of Celebrity has become more extreme and the 'traditional' media have pulled together to hammer even harder from the top down. Television, newspapers, radio and magazines seem to spout the same drivel. It's impossible to avoid X-Factor (or someone talking about it).

And not only the programme itself, but also related programes (X-tra Factor?) and the news devote space and time to it until is seeps into everything around us.

We are force-fed the minutiae of the lives of X-Factor contestants, judges and even presenters.

It tastes fucking horrible and makes me want to puke my guts up.

So, I just settle for screaming at the TV, anyone I talk to, the people I teach and ranting on my blog.

This campaign has been driven by social-networking. This battle signifies the importance of social networking. Instead of the top-down traditional media force-feeding us, this is a bottom-up, people working together and expressing how they feel.

It's fighting fire with fire. In the mass-media fuelled environment we live in, it's so difficult to get exposure and fight back. Bloggers are useless unless they get read. Instead, Facebook has mobilised hundreds of thousands of people. It's delivered a giant middle-finger to traditional media.

New media and social networking has come of age.

I joined the Facebook group when there were 60,000 members on a Friday night. A week later there were 600,000 members. Now there are something like 950,000. The group was generating so much traffic on Facebook that it kept crashing. So, the original founders set up a back-up group. That second group has something like 100,000 plus members!

What Facebook has enabled is mass-mobilisation of people. People can start a revolution from their computer. As someone posted - the Facebook group is HQ - the real action happens everywhere else.

What's really interesting was the response from the traditional media. At first it was almost a complete black-out. Zane Lowe played the censored version on his radio show after he received a huge number of texts and emails (but he didn't plug the group!) Then when Rage came in at no. 1 on the mid-week chart things started to pop-up. An item was shown on BBC News 24, various internet articles appeared. Later on, Simon Cowell waded in, and so did Cheryl Cole with disparaging comments about the campaign - perhaps in recognition that the X-Factor single might be beaten as a result of a social-networking-based campaign? Then the X-Factor winner himself got to comment - by throwing darts as Zack de la Rocha's picture!

This is fighting fire with fire. It's what Rage have been doing for nearly 20 years - using the mass-media against itself. With the publication of that article, it generated the media-circus that the Facebook campaign truly needed. The battle for Christmas no. 1 has become a battle again.

Additionally, the mass-media were truly terrible at getting facts correct. It really seemed like deliberate misrepresentation to discredit it. For example, the Facebook campaign was not started by the band as some Guardian writer seems to think...or that the money made from Rage going to number one would be going to Simon Cowell's record label as a Mirror writer thinks.

The point that really fucked me off was that the £60,000 donated to Shelter as a direct result of this Facebook campaign GOT NO MEDIA MENTIONS AT ALL in the write-ups of the campaign - except by the band in their articles and interviews! Simon Cowell has branded this campaign 'cynical'. Cheryl Cole called it 'mean'.

Oh dear, oh dear.

To me this highlights the state of journalism today. Forget the facts, just push a particular viewpoint to influence people. That's why the internet, new media and social networking are so important nowadays. They level the playing field from traditional information-asymmetry** to a much more aware and informed citizen.

The problem is, ignorance is bliss - and it's much easier to stay blissfully uninformed than to take the time to find out and take action...

And it all started with a member of Facebook.

Even if Rage doesn't make it to Christmas No. 1, the rules of the game have been changed forever. Social networking has proved its worth. There's a reason why advertisers are paying to be on Facebook. Now it's even more compelling - can the big companies afford not to?

The problem of course will be that campaigns like this come along only rarely. I can now expect social-networking sites to be re-appropriated by 'the machine' to push out their message. I can quite easily imagine marketing budgets to include a section for social-networking spending, and marketing plans to include a Facebook and Twitter strategy.

Either way, we're still fucked.

Still, getting Rage to Christmas No. 1 would be a victory for new-media.

3) Capitalist Profits vs. Grassroots Cooperation
Of course related to this idea of Old Media vs. New Media is the old Capitalist vs. Communist debate. Except I hesitate to use the word Communist because of all the negative connotations.

I prefer to think about it in terms of the profit motive - which is essentially what the music industry, and old-media are driven by. But on a deeper level, X-Factor and the music industry as a whole is indicative of the whole system rotting from the inside.

And the reason for it is the profit motive.

Simon Cowell is an entrepreneur. He is an effective businessman. He understands his target audience. He understands his product. He understands what will sell. He knows how to manipulate the mass-media. He puts it all together to make himself a pretty penny. He is (in effect) creating a monopoly on the charts. (Where's the competition commission?)

But he has no interest in (real) music.

He's only interested in product. ITV is an ad-revenue driven channel. It doesn't have the security of the licence fee the way the BBC has. Therefore, it has to go mass-market to the lowest-common-denominator. Without Simon Cowell, ITV would be struggling to maintain it's revenues. Companies were paying significant amounts to advertise during the X-Factor final's ad break.

Cowell is driven by the profit-motive.

So when he goes on record saying the campaign to get Rage Against the Machine as 'stupid' and 'cynical', what he really means is that he's worried about his revenues and profits.

I would have much less of a problem with him if he was open about his motives the way Sir Alan Sugar is. He not being something he's not. Zack de la Rocha (on the now infamous Radio 5 Live performance***) described Simon Cowell as "an interesting character who has profited greatly off humiliating people on live television and has a unique position of someone who can not only capture the attention of some people on television but also on the airwaves."****

The thing is - Simon Cowell is really just the poster-boy for profit-driven industries. He's a victim to the system of incentives that values profit before people. Just like the bankers getting ludicrous bonuses.

On a bigger level, the entire system of risk and reward doesn't value cooperation and working together. It's more about destroying the competition. This is because it's all founded on the idea of scarcity. In fact there are enough resources and technology to feed, clothe and shelter everyone on the planet.

It's just humanity can't share.

Instead we have a situation where one part of the planet is dying because it has too much, and the other part of the planet is dying because it doesn't have enough. Everyone else is scrambling for everything else in the middle.

What a fucking mess.

So, for me - this Facebook campaign is a metaphor for capitalist profits vs. grassroots cooperation. Especially when all that's required to sort out the planet is a bit of agreement, cooperation and sharing.

Therefore, Rage at Christmas No. 1 would be a victory for grassroots cooperation.

4) Dictatorship vs. Democracy
Some people say that the charts indicate what the people want. These same people often say that if it's in the charts it must be good because it's popular.

Scratch the surface and the idea that the charts represent what the people want seems a bit ludicrous. Historically, as people began to make enough money to be able to choose what to buy rather than having to buy from necessity, the idea of advertising appeared. Competition forced producers to think about how to make their offering different from everyone else's.

The thing is - even if a product is not different from any others, advertising is designed to make the consumers think that there is a difference.

Controlling the mind of the consumer becomes the biggest priority for most companies now.

Theoretically, the consumer is king because consumers will choose what they want to buy, and that influences what gets produced. In other words, if people don't buy, it doesn't get made. If there's no demand for a something, no company will produce it.

Unfortunately, this ideal of a democratic market doesn't quite work. Companies pump millions into advertising to influence consumer thinking.

And most people lap it up.

X-Factor is nothing more than a long advert.

Digging deeper, the idea of consumer sovereignty is intimately linked with the expression of democracy. A free market capitalistic system (related to my previous point) tends to be associated with a democratic political system. Freedom of choice is what politicians and economists talk about all the time.

Except it's not really like that. Control the media, you control the way people think.

The way X-Factor works in the music industry is a metaphor for the way politics works. As my old economics teacher used to say - the one who pays the piper calls the tune. Simon Cowell is now talking about doing X-Factor style political debates. No I'm not joking! That's no fucking coincidence.

The way this campaign has grown, using Facebook, has been in a very grassroots organic way. The people who joined the group didn't have to join - they chose to. The people who downloaded the song didn't have to - they chose to. (The fact is that out of all the people who joined the group only about a third actually bothered to download the song - such is the apathy of humanity).

As Tom Morello said (you gotta love this guy's ability to express himself) this whole campaign has been a 'wonderful dose of anarchy.' He goes on to say that until now, people haven't been able to vote against the show - it was only about voting for contestants on the show.

I completely agree. I (have always) felt as if I was being dictated to by the mass-media (I've already commented about old-media force-feeding me shit).

Where was my freedom of choice? Choosing not to watch? Oh yeah ok. Then what about the radio adverts, the internet links, the news stories, the books, the magazine front covers, (which in turn generates workplace conversation) etc. etc. How could I avoid it? Oh yeah - it's impossible to.

To my mind, this is exactly how a dictatorship (oops I mean democracy slip of the keyboard there) wins elections...

At the end of it all, Rage at Christmas No. 1 would be a victory for democracy.

5) Boring Christmas No. 1. vs. Hilariously Interesting Christmas No. 1
Regardless of everything, when it comes down to it, I think it would be fucking hilarious to have Rage at No. 1. Making the chart race fun again! Yay!

---------------------------------------------

All of these points overlap, intermingle and can get entangled. We live in an interdependent world. I like to think I've separated out some of the main arguments - but it's really difficult to do so because of the inter-relationship.

Many people have joined the Facebook campaign for many different reasons. The discussion board on the group is full of differing opinions, ideas, thinking and expressions. I haven't been around a more interesting, enlightening, self-aware, entertaining and deep-thinking group of people in a long time.

But what works in the world we live in are the big expressions. The only way to effect some kind of change is a big gesture. A big communication. Something that is going to capture a LOT of people's attention. The vast majority are quite happy to go about their lives without devoting a lot of time to think about anything. Keep people fed on a diet of TV and junk food, and they're no trouble to govern. If they're thinking, that's when the problems start.

It might seem like I'm reading too much into this whole campaign. But to me, it's a palpable expression of what can be achieved when people work together.

I can't think of a more incendiary, rabble-rousing, visceral, passionate, rallying-cry call-to-arms type song than Killing in the Name. It's the perfect song to capture people's imagination, get their attention and achieve maximum awareness at a time when it's most needed.

Christmas is meant to be a time for family, reflection and happiness. Instead it's been re-appropriated by the profit motive and has become a time of over-indulgence, over-spending and over-consumption - at least in our culture (never mind acknowledging the existence of any other culture!)

For me, a song like this being no. 1 at Christmas will make people think.

That's what I'm most proud to be part of.


Footnotes:
* My fellow (and much more prolific and wiser on these matters) blogger The Sloppy Dog puts it more eloquently by saying:
The "ooh, Sony are the real winners" debate carries no weight whatsoever. About 95% of modern music is owned by the big three labels, and you'd be hard pushed to find a song that wasn't in some way linked to one of them (be it in distribution, publishing, etc).

** This term is used in Freakonomics. Go read it.

***The link to the video on the BBC website is only going to be up for another 4 days. There's a version on YouTube but it has no video...

**** I absolutely love the way Tom Morello and Zack de la Rocha handle the media - they refuse to get drawn into slagging of Simon Cowell or X-Factor!

Friday, November 13, 2009

...And Justice For Them!

Our Glorious Ally in The War Against Terrorism has struck a mighty blow for good. The Heinous People who committed a crime against the one-true ideal: Democracy are being held to account!

Let the trial of key suspects for the 9/11 Atrocities show the world: We Do Not Tolerate Terrorism.


Let the trial be a symbol of justice.

Let the trial be our foundation for action.

We Will Stand Up.

We Will Fight For What Is Right.

We must Be Prepared. The signals are all around us.

The Time Is Coming to Take Appropriate Action.

Watch This Space.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Be Prepared!

The Menace from the East is coming.

Be on your guard - They can turn up anywhere and in any form. They have infiltrated our peaceful society to spread their Message of Hate from the Axis of Evil. We must Drive Them Out.

How can we even have let Them into our Great Allied Forces? It was only a matter of time before one of Them went on a Killing Spree. The double standards he must have been living! An Army Psychiatrist? Hah! How could we have been so blind as to let Them in? How long will it be before some of our own in the Great British Army suffer the same fate from an Infiltrator?

All the programmes on the television recently are showing us how the Lefty-Liberal is failing. Only the Great British Institution the BBC is showing us the Democratic Way. Freedom of Speech! Freedom of Thought! We must think carefully and prepare ourselves. That's the message the BBC is really sending us.

We must read between the lines.

The Menace from the East is coming.

That nonsense of Lefty-Liberalism on Channel Four is showing us the perils of Multi-Culturalism. That series of programmes a couple of weeks ago must be taken seriously. There were respected scientists saying how Differently Coloured Peoples have different levels of intelligence. FACT!

Those Peoples who complain about 'racism' are unwilling to understand the True Nature of Culture. They must educate themselves about the Great Country that has nurtured and supported them. It's time for them to make sure they recognise that and contribute appropriately.

Give an Inch to the Menace and They Take a Mile. We must not let them erode our Great and Free Country.

We must Be Prepared. The signals are all around us.

The Time Is Coming to Take Appropriate Action.

Watch This Space.

Please Leave Your Mind At The Door

Misdirection,
misinformation,
miscommunication,
misquotation,
disinformation,
disinterest.

Apathy.

Turn on,
tune in,
drop dead.

Please leave your mind at the door.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

In the Beginning was the Word...

...but the Word didn't mean shit because no-one was listening.

If a tree falls in a forest and no-one is around to hear it does it make a sound?

I've read/ heard/ experienced that our word is the most precious thing we own. The only thing we can be truly responsible for are the things we say - so it goes. It would seem as if talk is cheap - everywhere we seem to be surrounded by examples of lots of hot air. I think politicians are the best example of hot air. Watching the (now infamous) episode of Question Time on iPlayer was an example of cheap talk.

But maybe their talk is only cheap because of how we listen to it?

Surely without listening, the words people speak mean nothing? That idea seems pretty simple.

But I think there's a more complicated situation: when someone says something, people hear it, think something - but say nothing back.

It ends up being the 'elephant in the room.'

I've outlined my reasons for writing a blog in a previous post. I have all sorts of opinions about everything (as anyone who knows me knows). Whether people are reading it or not is irrelevant. If no-one was reading my blog or whatever I was writing...it really wouldn't mean much. The more people read it, the greater the effect. Of course what's wonderful about the internet is the unfettered freedom. I have my own little place on the internet!

What's even more wonderful is that if people don't like it - they don't have to read it.*

That's not to say I don't like to know that people are reading the things I write. That's part of the reason for encouraging commenting etc. as I would do on a regular basis in earlier posts. (Even being deliberately offensive - perish the thought - check out my Surfacing post for further evidence) The integration with MyFace is an easy way to encourage commenting - and as evidenced by the last few posts - quite effective.

Or perhaps the stuff I was writing provoked a response?

Most of what I write is designed to provoke a response and get people thinking. Actually most of what I do and say is designed to get some sort of reaction. Hence my profession of choice.

But it's so hard to predict what strikes a chord with people and what doesn't. I can rant and scream at the top of my voice. It's mostly what I do on this blog. The seven words crop up regularly!

But it doesn't mean shit if no-one's listening.

Which is what makes the whole political/ mass-media thing even more interesting.

I mean Nick Griffin was being listened to (regardless of how he came across and what people thought). His words were being allowed to breathe in the oxygen of listening. That's what we have in a democracy right? Freedom of speech? And the BBC was doing its bit for this democracy by allowing him to appear on Question Time.

Right on!

But is that how the mass media works? Some guy called Noam Chomksy co-authored a book called Manufacturing Consent. He outlines how the mass media is used to actually intentionally create consent in a so-called democratic society.

The stuff that's spoken into being by the mass media is given life by the oxygen of our listening.

Never mind the shit that's actually being spoken!

I've always wondered what percentage of the electorate vote in X-Factor or Big Brother versus the General Election? And even if there were much more during a General Election, you can bet that the age profile of voters would be different on both.

So it's not actually what's being said that's important. It's whether it's being listened to. And if the media is controlled does that mean you control the people? I'm not sure if people are that easily influenced...all that money spend on advertising can't be that effective? Surely the amount of money someone has couldn't influence something major? Could it?

I mean is it a coincidence that the Presidential Candidate with the most money during the last election in the US won it?

I don't know what to think about what people say. I don't personally know these people I see on TV or read about in newspapers. Is what I'm seeing or reading about what they're really like? Is Nick Griffin really like that in real life? What does he really think? Can I judge that from seeing him on television for an hour?

Going even further, can I listen to what I hear/ see from the mass media like it's the truth?** Is consent being manufactured like a mass-produced product? Do I take it as gospel or do I question it?

I know which option to choose for an easy life.

I've noticed from my own experience that when I do what I say I'll do, life tends to work pretty well. I've also noticed that when people think what I'm saying is a bunch of rubbish or can't take me seriously (even if they don't tell me directly) life tends to suck.

My word is precious. And so is my listening.

If a tree falls in a forest and no-one is around to hear it does it make a sound?

----------------------------------
* They can fuck off. I mean go forth and multiply.

** Were there planes that crashed into the Twin Towers on September 11 2001?

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Iran 2


Facilities have been discovered in Iran for enriching uranium and plutonium.

Iran: that undemocratic country; that economically protectionist country; that shelter for terrorists - it must be brought to heel.

What's the West going to do to deal with this potential threat to global stability?

Is there going to be a Pre-emptive Interventionist Strategic Strike (PISS) leading to an end to The War Against Terror (TWAT) by Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) with the United States (US) leading the way?

The top four global oil producers are: Saudi-Arabia (tick), Iraq (in-progress, but basically, tick), Kuwait (tick), and Iran (hmm...needs work).

Starting a war increases a country's Gross Domestic Product. Manufacturing and selling weapons contributes to the economy of a country. We have a way out of the recession! Joy!

What are we being prepared for by the mass-media?

I had some similar musings earlier in the year in a related post: Iran.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

I'm not sure I have that many real friends.

I mean I have people I've got to know over the years.

I was thinking about all the groups as I grew up. First there was St. Joe's. Couldn’t really give a shit about this lot much - except maybe John Smith. Then there was Warrington Grammar. This group I do like – they know me. They saw me change and mature – we all did it together…but we’ve all spread out all over the place and it’s stopped. Apart from Wittering and Zigo…there’s no-one that local I’d like to see (except maybe John Smith but he’s properly disappeared). People like John Ebony went all religious and did their own thing so went off. Peter Webb and Alex Max are still in touch living in the Cheshire area – but I don’t see them much. Jim Bobbis is being religious down South. And they don’t really get it – they’re a bunch of (lazy? white) middle-class intellectuals.

They don’t get headbanging to 'Master of Puppets' in TJ's.

Then there’s university. These people are cool. They saw a whole other side of me emerge – and me of them. Joanne said at Bonnie’s wedding that she didn’t know she could be friends with a bloke until she met me! Mark, Nick, Larry and me…we know each other well – but just don’t get to see each other. Maybe that’s our own fault because we’re shit – but we all seem to be doing our own thing quite happily. When we do see each other it’s as if no time has passed…apart from people looking like they have less hair and they’ve put on weight…it’s not that different. I miss these guys not only because we shared good times, but they know me.

The people in TJ's know the whole metal thing. From chatting about music and the virtues of rap and metal and should the Prodigy be on the cover of Kerrang they know me from the dancefloor. But do they even think beyond beer and leather? Could they listen to Bjork or DJ Shadow the way I do?

There were all the other extra randoms at home…Nick Forrester, the whole Stockton Crew (Peter, Olly, Mani). Round Ronnie. And all those people: Geoff, Marky, DC etc. Nick Forrester understood and understands. But he’s got his own issues to deal with. Marky’s a nice guy, but he’s always been less my friend and more other people's. Seeing Des and everyone was really cool…but there’s a whole chunk of evolving I’ve done that they haven’t necessarily…

Of course Pioneering was in there somewhere. Without whom all of this would have been possible. Well who knows. I met a lot of cool people and lot of not-so-cool people. Eli is the only person I met there who I’m in regular touch with. That’s it. Having said that – people there understood people in general. They were interested in the kind of stuff I read about – about stuff they talk about in the Matrix and Fight Club. About things being made up. About not being so cynical. About making something useful happen.

After that…well working…Tarc…hmm only few people worth keeping in touch with – and even then only really over Facebook. They got to know me, but not really a sense of me outside work. Colleagues, professional associates rather than friends.

Then of course it’s the infamous Ingsoc. Now all these people don’t really know me. I mean, I know they would not have even given me a second glance when I was a teenager at the working men's club. Suddenly they want to speak to me. Suddenly the older ones want to speak to me…I’m Damien’s grandson. I’m the future.

Truth is – as much as I love Carrie, Samantha, Gene, Ravi, Tom – all those people. They don’t REALLY know me. I mean they know my opinions, they understand how I feel about things and the community and all its bullshit. But they don’t really know how I get goose-bumps in a hot sweaty club when I hear ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls’ or 'Raining Blood'. They don’t know how I spent six hours trying to work out ‘Under the Bridge’. They don’t know how I bleached my hair and dyed it blue…then red...They don’t get the significance of playing Jimi Hendrix’s guitar. They might understand it intellectually, but they don’t feel it (except maybe Ravi…but even then he’s young…)

You understand without words.

Others took the time to listen and learn. They love me too.

But there’s a whole world of being a bloke that'll never, ever be understood.

So there I am on Saturday; with a headache; noticing my spots; thinking about the dumb fact it’s my birthday and I’m 33. And I’m unable to shake this niggling fact that there’s maybe only one other bloke, one other friend who understands: who gets the energy of Pantera in a club, understands Pioneering, likes to read and engage with the world, and who’d be equally comfortable chatting to a bunch of Eurasians as he would a bunch of teachers. And he’s miles away...

Nice.

That’s all I want really. I know I’ve changed: I’m older or whatever-the-fuck. But I miss having a mate who gets it: who’d be equally at home listening to metal and pop; who’d debate the importance of Monty Python in influencing 21st century comedy; who’d remember what a good teacher Mr. Farthingale was.

Perhaps I’ve isolated myself and lost touch with people because I do too much and don’t keep up with friends and don’t make the effort and all that. But sometimes I can’t help feeling it’s other people too. It’s about them making the effort.

So sometimes I say: fuck everyone.

If they can’t be bothered, then neither can I. If they can’t be arsed to get to know and find out how I feel or what I think, then fuck them.

But you know what the biggest and scariest realisation is? That I’ve become like my father. I lose my temper and get angry far more frequently than I used to (that’s linked to spots btw). I lose my friends. I’m getting more controlling. I smile less. I’m more uptight. I get upset quicker etc. etc.

Or maybe I'm just getting older.

I don’t know what’s going to happen in the future, but this is what I’m thinking and feeling. It was all going to come out - but my birthday has made me think about myself a lot. I’ll work it out. It just could get a bit messy.

Is it a downward spiral then?

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

And For What?

Attempt. For a second.
Try. For a while.
Go on. Give it a go.
Give yourself.

And For What?

Spend. The Time.
With Important People.
Make. The Time.
Phone A Friend. Serve All.

And For What?

Create Romance.
Take. A Chance.
Feel. The Dance.
Intimate.

And For What?

Do Something for Someone Else.
Altruistic.
Contribute. A little.
Make A Difference. Yeah!

And For What?

Listen for a Small Greatness.
Hear the Other Human.
Acknowledge their Spirit.
Be the Bigger Person.

And For What?

Be The Change You Want To See.
Think of Others - Not Yourself.
Show How Much You Love.
The World.

And For What?

Do the things you said you'd do.
Keep your promises - know the truth.
Honour. Love. Obey.
God.

And For What?

And For What?
A Place In The Fire.
Burning.
Forever.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Ageing, the Passage of Time and Mortality

"...but in the world nothing can be said to be certain except death and taxes."
Benjamin Franklin


I don't think/ feel/ see/ judge that thinking about death is morbid. I read/ heard/ saw somewhere that it's our attitude to death that shapes our attitude to life. I've had three things happen to me recently that have brought this on...

First, I went out for dinner with an old university friend
She's lived out of the country pretty much since we graduated...TEN years ago. It's kinda hard to believe it's been that long...but it has. Whenever she's in the country it's usually a time when a lot of us will get together. I think the last time we saw her was around the time we got married.

Anyway, dinner was with two of her old friends. But seeing her was a chance for old memories to come back of university and being young and innocent. One of her old friends remembered me talking animatedly (and at length) about my first girlfriend. She also said that I looked the same...despite the passage of time, I had not aged.

Or perhaps I've just aged gracefully.

As well as getting all nostalgic, I realised the topics of conversation moved on. Putting the world to rights as a teen-aged student was one thing. Putting it to rights as someone in their thirties is a different thing. The differences in the conversation struck me as an indication of just how much we had 'grown up'. Here we were talking about the price of houses and weddings not alcohol and relationships.

It made me reflective - have I done everything I expected to do by the time I was this age? Is this how I wanted/ planned/ hoped my life would be? Old friends, friends we meet during formative periods or friends we don't see very often, seem to have this kind of effect on me. I do comparisons in my head. I see the past and look into the future.

I notice my ageing and the passage of time.

Second, I helped my Grandad
He's ninety years old now. He lives on his own and takes care of himself (mostly). The thing is, I've helped him out when I can (taking my cue from more senior members of my family) but it's in getting things done that I've witnessed how much he's aged. I mean there's no avoiding the fact of his age but I've seen him change through my life. When he turned eighty (when I was 22) most people who met him for the first time thought he was twenty years younger.

Helping him at the doctor's, get his glasses fitted, and then taking him to lunch made me wonder what it's like for him. What goes through his head? What's it like being that old? Is it just memories and feelings? What brought it home for me were the memories I have from when I was young: he treated us to a lunch at Wimpey's (whatever we wanted); he joked with the waiters about wanting a G+T and he drove us there (in a car without seat belts in the back seats - not required by law in those days!)

Now it was our turn: we drove him around, and we treated him to lunch. It made me think: what will I be like with my grandchildren? What will I be like when (if) I'm that old?

He still joked with people about wanting a G+T though...

Seeing how much he has changed over the past decade; how much he is not the man he was - it's a sobering thought. It reminded me of my own mortality.

We are on this earth for a limited time.

Third, I went out to an alternative/ metal night at a club last Thursday
It's Monday today right? Well only today do I feel that my neck and shoulders have recovered sufficiently...

I went out to a club night I'd heard about a while ago, but never to got to experience. The last time we turned up, it was a special one of 'fetish' night...so we never got in. Not this time! I checked the website and found it's a 'members only' club. We'd need photo id on the night to join. So we dutifully turned up with id...and had our photos taken, id scanned and fingerprints electronically recorded! Wow...what's happening to clubs nowadays?

My neck taking ages to recover used to be a sign of me having a good night. Anyone who knows me understands my love of music and of dancing. But only a limited number of people have seen me really enjoy myself to music that I really love. Dancing to heavier music is a skill and art form all its own - as well as a brilliant workout. Knee, ankle supports and sweat band are all necessary!

I wasn't disappointed by the musical selection...and spent almost every minute dancing. Metallica, System of a Down, Pantera, Machine Head, Slipknot, Faith No More, Korn, Prodigy, Pendulum, Slayer, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Fear Factory, NIN, Marilyn Manson, Audioslave, Rage Against the Machine, Guns'n'Roses...and so it went on...

Despite the fact we were amongst the older people in the club, I was complimented a few times on my dancing. I like to think I was showing the younger people how it SHOULD be done. Yeah I was showing off, but I know I have the moves and I can pull it off...but it really is an expression of the exuberance I feel when I hear the music. Even in a hot sweaty club, I get goose-pimples when I hear particular songs (e.g. For Whom The Bell Tolls by Metallica).

It felt so good to let loose.

As I've got older and my social circles have changed, so my social life has changed. So the places I've been the music I hear changes. But I don't always feel it completely in my heart. I don't think I've ever been to a place that plays the eclectic mix I want to hear. I want to hear metal and disco and hip-hop and pop and hardcore and dance and soul and industrial all on one night.

Perhaps that's asking too much.

The night reminded me of being young, but I knew I was older. I carried myself completely differently to most of the people around me.

And they thought we were probably around their age...

By the time I woke up the next day, I knew what to expect. My ears rang, my lower back was aching slightly, and found it hard to turn my head. As I said - that's how I measured a good night when I was younger.

But - it's now thirteen years on. Like I said, it's Monday now, and I've only really just recovered. When I was nineteen I would be up the next day with the aching neck and back...but be pretty much ready to go again 48 hours later.

This time it's different. The first thought I'm left with is: I don't remember it taking this long for me to recover from a night out.

Then the next thought: I'm getting old. I'm ageing. Time is passing.

I can't be having nights like that regularly, but when I do I'm going to fucking enjoy them.

The nicest thing to realise is that I'm probably in better health and in better shape now than I was when I was nineteen. It's just that at thirty-two it takes a lot more maintenance...and longer to recover...

I suppose all this has made me feel just that little bit closer to death. Not that mine or anyone's death is going to be predictable - it could happen at any time - but I like to think that it will be of natural causes, and when I'm really old, having led a fulfilling life.

I'm not ready to go just yet...

...but if my number's up...

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Time Off In Contemplation


Sometimes the appropriate response to reality is to go insane. Philip K. Dick

It was July. I was barely two weeks into my Summer Holidays and I was doing the Sainsbury's shop when I saw three words in the shop. 'Back to School'. WHAT? How can this be? Is this real? I'm supposed to be on my summer holidays. WTF is this 'Back to School' already-shit?

I'm not sure why this happened - perhaps some effect of the credit-crunching-recessionary-depression we're living through where we're being told to spend. Don't you just love the summer holidays?

I guess for teachers it's a time of recovery, rest and to get those things done that just can't get done during school time (like dentist check-ups, eye-tests, taking the car for its MOT, all that mundane stuff).

I think that any summer holiday is a chance to spend time off in contemplation. Away from the routine it's a lot easier to take a step back and smell the roses. It's a time when the future can be talked about. Minds can wander without rhyme or reason in complete freedom to put the world to rights, and create lofty philosophical spaces and resolutions for making things happen.

Of course the change of pace and routine also makes it easier for the things that I (un)intentionally avoid thinking about to surface. The stuff I haven't done. The plans I made but didn't do anything about. The talk that was just all hot air. It's a time of laziness and sloth. Of staying in bed until the afternoon and eating ice-cream at the 'wrong' time.

Maybe that's just me.

What do we want as human beings? Spontaneity or routine? Constant or change? Creativity or predictability? Dreams or reality? The world around me seems to be in a whirl of it all at once being crammed down throats, shoved in faces, blasted into ears, and squashed up against bodies 24-7-365.

Philip K. Dick
might have been on to something.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Shaolin - A Year On

So I started this Shaolin Workout book last July sometime. It's been about a year now. Took me the best part of three months to work my way through the book and perfect the moves. The book encourages you to commit yourself to doing it every day, and I've managed to do it almost every day this year - I've missed only 20 days since January 1st.

Apart from the physical benefits, each exercise or group of exercise has a meditation that goes with it as you progress. I summarised them and put them in a document as a little reminder, but they make interesting reading.

Enjoy.

Shaolin Workout Meditations

1) More chi! Train harder!
Tackle things head on. Relax your body and your mind, extend your body and your mind and train harder.

2) As I go through my day today, I ill remind myself to relax. Stay loose. Be flexible in my body and mind.
Your mind your heard and your body are inseparable. Kung fu is action meditation.

3) If I want to do it, nothing is difficult. If I don't want to do it, nothing is easy.
Nothing is easy or difficult in itself. You make it difficult or easy on yourself. The master opens the door; then the student must go through it on his or her own.

4) My heart is in harmony with my mind. My mind is in harmony with my chi. My chi is in harmony with my power.
You can't separate your heart from your mind, or your mind from your body. A relaxed mind in a relaxed body allows the chi to flow and releases your power.

5) Everyone is handsome. Everyone is beautiful.
Live positively, seriously, honestly, understanding and expressing 100 percent of your true beauty, every moment.

6) Dripping water bores a hole in the rock.
Your improvement may be so gradual you don't even notice, but don't give up. Be as patient as the rain.

7) Merry Christmas! Happy New Year!
Why limit your happiness to just those few special days of the year? Be that happy every day, every hour, every minute. Celebrate your beautiful life every day, whatever it brings.

8) Flatten your heart.
To flatten your heart means to not let those external forces yank you around and distract you from your goal of polishing an perfecting your life. Keep it simple.

9) My body is a gift from my parents and from Buddha. I was given it to use. I will not waste this precious gift.
Get up! Life is for living. Life is action. Life is exercise. We express ourselves through our actions.

10) Everyone has Buddha inside him or her.
There are as many paths to enlightenment as there are living beings. Love and respect each and every person, just as you love and respect yourself.
11) If I run away from my problems, they will only follow me and defeat me.
Stand and face your problems and challenges, whatever they are. Don't turn away from it. Don't think about it - just do it.

12) My life is a work of art, and I am the artist.
Living is an art form. You're polishing your body, polishing your mind, and polishing your life. What kind of artwork do you want to be? Create it!

13) Paradise is inside me.
Each of us has the power to create our own paradise. You make your own destiny. You create your own life. When you open your heart and mind to the world, the whole world opens up to you. You're living in harmony and balance, wherever you are. That's paradise.

14) Confidence is the key to success.
Believe in yourself. Trust yourself. Face your day with the confidence that you can handle any task, solve any problem, and overcome any obstacle.

15) Life is sometimes bitter, sometimes spicy, sometimes sour, sometimes sweet. But it is always beautiful.
The beauty of life, that it is always changing, always moving. Learn to appreciate the change and richness that is life, in all its moods, all its flavours, all kinds of weather.

16) I can't love others if I don't love myself. I can't expect others to respect me if I don't respect myself.
In mastering your body and your mind, you will master your life. In respecting your body, you learn to respect yourself.

17) Beautiful birds always land on the top of the tree. Brilliant people always express their journeys up higher.
In your life you should be reaching for the top as well. Express yourself through your body. Express your beauty, inside and out. Live your whole day with the same level of dedication, focus, and energy you're putting into your Shaolin Workout.

18) You can't break bricks with just your mind or just your hand.
Physical, mental, and spiritual powers are one and inseparable, like the body and the head. You can break the bricks only when your body, mind, and spirit are in complete harmony.

19) Tiger head, snake tail.
We often start out with lots of energy, but we lose enthusiasm as we progress. Whatever task or project you're engaged in, don't make excuses for giving up along the way. What the going gets tough, train harder.
20) The person who has a little wants a lot. The person who has a lot wants even more.
True happiness comes from a life that is fulfilled, not just filled up with things. Happiness comes from spreading peace and love to the people around you. That's the warrior's way.
21) Every action can be a form of action meditation.
There are unlimited ways to meditate. You simply bring to each action the same focus and discipline you bring to your kung fu kicks and strikes. No moment in your life is trivial. Every moment is a gift.

22) Chi can be used positively or negatively.
Chi flows through the entire universe. Chi is an extremely powerful force, but it is neither positive nor negative in itself. We can put it to positive or negative use. Let positive chi flow and connect you to those around you, spreading peace and love, not anger or hurt.

23) Action becomes no-action. No-action becomes action.
Whatever helps you cleanse your mind and your heart is your way of meditating. The action is the philosophy and the philosophy is the action. Keep it simple. The simple way is the beautiful way. Create your own destiny, and your own way to express your beautiful life.

24) The true warrior uses the martial arts to spread peace and love.
The true value of learning kung fu is the calm, confidence, and respect you develop from being the master of your own body, mind and life. The real goal is to achieve harmony and balance in your life, and help others by your example to seek the same qualities.

Monday, July 27, 2009

One Hundred Push Ups-Update 6

So - I'm now repeating Week 5, level 1.

I complete Week 5, and start the first day of Week 6 but can't complete it.

Progress has been made though, I'm topping 40 press-ups and pushing 50.

Week 6, level 1 will need more practise.

I'm keeping going!

J.

PS The Hundred Push Ups site has got so popular, the guy has put together a book on Amazon!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Chip, Shoulder and Afghanistan

Do I have a chip on my shoulder?

Am I bitter?

In the last ten days or so, a couple of people around me have commented on my 'playing the race card'. Apparently, I over-analyse a particular situation and attribute the way someone acts as racist.

This has given rise to the opinion that I'm bitter and have a chip on my shoulder.

I don't think I'm like that.

In fact, I know I'm not like that because I'm usually responding to others around me to make a point. I think my particular workplace brings out the worst in the whole issue of racism.

There are so many people who say that racism is an issue while tacitly doing nothing about it. Not because they don't want to, but purely because they're not sure how to deal with it. What do you say when the culture around us has middle-class white-boys listening to black-African-Americans calling each other niggers?

Then there are other people who think they're not racist, but consistently demonstrate their own ignorance. I call this 'transparent racism' - purely because to the casual whitey they're being very aware and forward-thinking. From my perspective all they're doing is making things worse. I might be brown-skinned, but does that automatically mean:
1) I'm Muslim/ Hindu/ Sikh?*
2) I don't eat pork or beef?
3) I don't drink alcohol?
4) I'm immediately going to understand the situation in Afghanistan?
5) I'm a terrorist?

Umm...not necessarily. Don't we all know to 'never judge a book by its cover?' I guess it's much harder in practice than in theory.

I think that number four above got me going a bit recently. I was in a monologue (where someone was talking at me rather than having a conversation) about events in Afghanistan, what the war was about and how people (i.e. young white British men) were dying unnecessarily.

I'm always a bit surprised that intelligent people seem to focus on the one side of the argument presented to them in the media around them. There's been a lot of coverage recently about the British military casualties in T.W.A.T.** in Afghanistan, but nothing about what it's like for the average Afghani (attempting) living in a country destabilised by war.

I'm not condoning terrorist behaviour or saying the situation is easy. I'd much rather see issues presented from all sides to show truly how complicated it is, instead of things being simplified and people being told what to think.

The point being mentioned by the press is an under-equipped British military force in Afghanistan. Not enough helicopters is the most frequent phrase. But who supplies the British military with its weapons? I don't actually know. And what about the Taliban - what are they fighting with? Obviously not sticks and stones. Where do they get their weapons from?

The five biggest arms suppliers in the world are: U.S., U.K., France, Russia and China.

The five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council are: U.S., U.K., France, Russia and China.

Understanding economics and Capitalism and after watching Lord of War, I think in a war or recession or both, somebody somewhere is making lots of cash.

Apart from the wonderful reporting, what really irritates me is when people make blanket statements (during their monologue) about a particular issue or group of people. I am then obliged to shock them out of their stupor by saying things like 'the easiest solution is to drop a nuclear bomb on all the brown people with beards and the problem will be solved. No more terrorists.'*** This phrase is made all the wonderful by me saying it. Nothing like being a living breathing contradiction to wake people up. Especially as quite a few people are not sure how deal with this thorny issue of race...

I just can't help feeling that the people who have lost family members in the Afghanistan are not going to extend a hand of friendship to brown-skinned bearded people.

Or is that the chip on my shoulder again?

----------------------------------------
*delete as appropriate according to beard length/ facial hair style/ last pictures appearing on the BBC or in UK Newspaper.

**The War Against Terrorism

***Of course I don't really think that - what about all the terrorists in the governments of the west? ;-) Seriously though, people who know me understand I'm saying things to make a point, but the average whitey really doesn't have a fucking clue.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

To Blog or Not to Blog? Five Reasons why I do.

I was playfully told by someone in the last week amongst a group of us, that I have "too much time on my hands".

This was after they read a bit of my blog.

A discussion then ensued about what a blog actually was, and I explained how I post regularly.

The next (perhaps logical) question was "what's the point?" or "why bother?"

Regularly posting on a blog seems like a very personal thing to do. It could even be considered an arrogant thing to do because I'm assuming that people are interested in what I have to say! So this has made me think why do I have a blog?

Here are five answers.
-------------------------------------------
1) I actually have something to say

Anyone who has had an interaction with me knows that I enjoy talking. Some might say I enjoy the sound of my own voice and that's why I became a teacher.

But I meet so many people who have nothing to say. Oh they make lots of noise - moving the air around them to form sound waves that are picked up by my ears and interpreted by my brain as language and communication - but they're actually saying fuck all.

They would better serve the planet by shutting their mouths.

I'm not saying that everything everyone ever says has to be deep and meaningful and hugely significant, but something that moves the conversation forward would be nice.

The amount of fucking repetition that happens is truly mind-numbing.

I GOT IT THE FIRST TIME!

Sigh...but I suppose if it's being said to me again I didn't.

But anyway - I blog because I have something to say. An unquenchable urge to question. To state my point. To object. To provoke. I can't help it. It seems to be a genetic inevitability, and innate tendency of mine.

My purpose seems to be to argue about everything with everyone.

2) I think there's more than this
It's all very well having something to say, but it really will turn into a load of hot air if there's no point to it.

As much as I love to question and argue, having a blog allows me to express something more. It enables me to channel my argumentative nature into something coherent. Putting my opinions out in public holds them up to scrutiny...along with all the flaws in my discussions.

Hopefully this will then get other people thinking and allow me to evolve.

A more conventional, cheesy way of saying this is that having a blog allows "me to make a difference" (however small) to people (however few) reading what I write.

Guiding my idea of making a difference is that I think/ feel/ believe/ know that "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy." This is something that is so difficult to express and capture in words...

...but it's another reason for my blogging.

3) Practising my writing
I suppose this is the most logical and tangible. Committing to regular blogging improves my writing and expression. Especially as I'm writing a book.

4) It's cathartic
Having a blog allows me to let go of all that negativity I carry around and keeps me on an even keel. There's no censorship on a blog. I have free rein to express whatever I want. Even using The Seven Dirty Words* with aplomb. That's why I'm so wonderfully pleasant and easy-going in real life, but bitter and twisted whilst writing.

5) Pure opinion is pure creation
The very act of expressing an opinion forces me to take a stand on something. Challenging someone else on their opinion pushes them to evaluate their own ideas and ideals. It can put into question the core of their being and send them mental.**

I think this is why most people prefer to be told what to think - it stops them going mental. It makes life so much easier and saves so much energy. Churches, talk-shows, news programmes and so-called experts tell us what to think - so we don't have to. Recreational drugs also provide nice easy relief from having to think.

Blogging allows me to create something. Create my opinions, ideas - even my sense of self - it all gets explored through having a blog.
-------------------------------------------

So there you go - five reasons I blog.

The real beauty of it all is - if you don't like what I have to say, you don't have to read it!

* These are taken from the George Carlin sketch 'Seven Dirty Words You Can Never Say on Television'. The words are: Shit, Piss, Fuck, Cunt, Cocksucker, Motherfucker and Tits. I'm working my way through using them all...I just don't seem to use Cocksucker, Motherfucker and Tits. All the others seem to make their way into my posts fairly regularly.


** Mental illness can be defined as when someone's ability to make sense of the world around them falls apart - usually due to some kind of trauma - physical or emotional.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Memories of Michael Jackson

Given the events of the past ten days or so, I feel obliged to write some of my thoughts and memories about Michael Jackson.

His music makes me happy. It makes me want to dance. It evokes my childhood. It's just simply great.

I'm not sure that I noticed what he looked like when I was young. I think it was just how he moved, the rhythms and melodies. The effect of the videos came later. 'Billie Jean' was the first real video (and song actually) that sticks in my head...he's walking along and everything lights up...he gets in the bed...and it lights up...to a six year-old that's the coolest thing ever (of course at the time I didn't have a clue what the song was about...)

I think his music was just a constant when I was growing up...my mum had the radio on, and being as popular as he was - all his music was on a lot of the time. 'Beat It' was my other big favourite...I guess the guitar (courtesy of Eddie Van Halen) was having an effect on me...years before I started playing!

But it was the 'Bad' album that really did it...and the 'Moonwalker' film (I remember going to see it in the cinema)...his artistry was just all over the place...

The strangest thing about this is that I never actually owned any Michael Jackson albums...I don't think I consciously listened to whole albums...I had songs here and there...it was my sister who played the 'Bad' album constantly ('Speed Demon', 'Leave Me Alone', 'Bad' and 'Smooth Criminal' were particular favourites...) I think I just had copies of his stuff.

Somehow though, I absorbed the words to loads of his songs...I don't know how I know the words to 'Bad' and 'The Way You Make Me Feel' and 'Dirty Diana'...but my uncle had a vinyl copy of the 'Thriller' album which has all the lyrics printed on it, and lots of little cartoons depicting the various songs...

When the 'Black or White' video was released, that was a major event...everything stopped for us to watch the premier! What song too! I think it's strong message had an effect on me too...especially as there was so much controversy about his skin colour and stuff. I remember watching the video and noticing all the references to different cultures. Was he Black or White? As far as I was concerned he was definitely not White! No way!

As I got older, so his music became more 'classic'. There was no question about his ability, talent...his music was just 'there'. At uni the older music was featured more strongly...'I Want You Back' and 'Blame it on the Boogie' were just two...the very thought of questioning how good his music was seemed (and still seems) utterly ridiculous.

Even in my darkest heavy metal days there was always a place for Michael Jackson...Eddie Van Halen and Slash gave his music a certain credibility amongst my peers. Even now, the day after he died, I was on the Tube coming back to Waterloo. AC/DC had just played at the O2 I think. Inevitably I got into a discussion about music. 'Back in Black' is the second best selling album of all time...with sales of around 45m. Thriller has sold around 105m. That's comfortably more than double. These two sweaty, long-haired metal fans (with me also a metal fan - just not long-haired) could not discount the importance and influence of Michael Jackson.*

Aside from all his music, since he died I've been reading stuff about him there are things I never knew...like how MTV as a fledgling channel initially refused to play 'Billie Jean' because it was by a Black artist. How can that be? He practically invented the music video as the medium it is! What utter nonsense it seems like now! He really did break new ground...

I think he broke barriers for pretty much every single black artist since Elvis. IMO Elvis is the only other valid comparison. No-one else comes close in terms of influence or global recognition. EVERYONE around the planet knew who Michael Jackson (and Elvis) was…the convict tribute in the Philippines of ‘Thriller’, through to the inevitable over-the-top outpourings from the US (I just can't bring myself to put in a hyperlink).

Of course Elvis was a Black artist too who broke new ground and died in difficult circumstances.

A couple of things bug me though...firstly the fact he's died has increased his record and download sales and he's got number one singles and all that. WTF? Didn't people already own a copy of 'Man in the Mirror'? Are they suddenly downloading the song they never had? Are all these people newly discovering Michael Jackson? Where have they been hiding? Perhaps they're just fair-weather fans...

The second thing is that I can't help but wonder about the Dark Side of Michael Jackson. I mean, did he really do all that stuff he was accused of? When he got married, it seemed a little too convenient in terms of timing. I remember the interviews with Oprah and with Martin Bashir...I felt as if he was just hugely misunderstood, and didn't really know how to behave appropriately. A Little Boy in a Man's Body. He was obviously most at home creating music rather than responding to the tabloids. His song 'Leave Me Alone' perhaps best sums up the whole situation...back in 1989!

I can't help but speculate though. When Wacko Jacko was created by the tabloids in the late 80s and maintained through the 90s, it just seemed as if there was a witch-hunt against him. And that was before all the stuff about children. Then all the reports about debt and stuff...well it made it impossible to take him seriously.

Someone I know thinks of it that way: he was intentionally demonised by the media. Purely because he was Black.

But more than that, he was a Black man who people listened to...never mind his music...imagine what might have happened if he came out and supported a particular action or movement? If he'd maintained a clear image Michael Jackson supporting Barack Obama (the way Oprah openly did) would have a massive effect across the US.

Imagine if he'd taken a stand on any issue...

Instead we perceive him as 'Wacko Jacko' the 'Was-He-Wasn't-He-Paedophile'.

Not a man who had any serious opinions on any serious issues...he was only there to entertain us. Is that all Black people are? Entertainers and Sportsmen? Perhaps Chuck D has a point in his book 'Fight the Power'.

At the end of it all - he was a man and his music. Never mind all the other nonsense.

And that's how I'd like to remember him: a singer, a dancer, a performer on stage. An indelible mark on my experience of music.

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*Although it seems some idiotic people can. I was recently talking with a couple of people about music and I said I thought Hendrix was the greatest guitarist ever...they quickly interjected by saying 'arguably the greatest' and on questioning their 'greatest' mentioned Eddie Van Halen and Joe Satriani...umm...great as Van Halen is...he's not Hendrix. The discussion then moved on to the influence of Michael Jackson. They both demonstrated their fuck-witted nature by saying he wasn't that good and his music was dated and not timeless! What utter shit! I responded by saying Van Halen sounds dated! I was more than a little shocked at this...and had to wonder if the fact they were South African had anything to do with it...

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Iran

Sometimes the news just seems to ram a particular story down one's throat.

Perhaps I only see what I want to see...

...or 'they' want me to see what 'they' see...

The situation in Iran provides a contrast to the recent operation of democracy during the European Elections here.

I just thought I'd pose some questions/ ideas/ issues I'd been thinking about...

Over there, they had two major candidates. One had huge popular support, and was the challenger. The incumbent was being openly disagreed with. There were rallies in football stadia. Peaceful protests everywhere. Democracy was working. Something like 85% of the electorate voted. Even Iranian citizens in the US cast their vote. (More than double the percentage in our (so-called) democratic country).

Iran: a beacon for democracy. A shining example of how a country can be liberated from the shackles of Sharia law. Right?

So guess who won?

The people taking to the streets to express their disgust at the result is different from what might happen here. The media present us an image of Iran as a country of violence and fear.

Iran: a beacon for potential terrorists. A shining example of how a country can rally others against the United States. A country ripe for destabilisation by Economic Hitmen.

A country that is becoming so destabilised it requires some kind of intervention from the world.

Right?

Let's see how the media presents Iran in the coming weeks/ months...

Let's also see if someone sets up a Facebook group calling for democracy in Iran...oops Twitter got there first...with a 'Show Support for Iran Election' link.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Voting in a (so-called) Democracy (Part Two)

This post is part two of two (or three depending on how much sleep the author feels like getting) of the author's experiences and opinions of voting during the European Elections of June 2009.

The first part of this post was actually written at the same time as part one - it was just getting a bit too long so I chose to split it into parts. There's just been a bit of time since I updated it...busy with school and stuff...but since part one, the election's results have been published, the BNP got two seats, and Iran has expressed another version of democracy...
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2) When the people fear their government, there is tyranny; when the government fears the people, there is liberty. (continued from Part One)
When I entered the polling station with my mask on the room went quiet. I heard a few people mumbling. I presented my polling card to the person at the relevant area and they asked who I was going to entertain. By way of response I remained silent. This had the desired effect of unnerving the people behind the desk. I stated my name and took my ballot paper.

As I began to draw on my paper, I noticed someone walking to my left. Clearly one of the unnerved officers was 'checking' on me. Alright - I concede that I was taking my time because I was taking photos of my ballot paper - but by law the voting process is meant to be private. When it happened again to my right, perhaps I was right to hurry up.


I wrote a Rage Against the Machine lyric on my paper across the voting boxes: "No escape/ from the mass mind rape". I also drew the symbol 'V' uses in the graphic novel.

I then proceeded to cast my vote.

After that I started to read the regulations on voting that are posted at every polling station. I took a picture of it, and was then approached by one of the officers. She then asked me what I was doing. I told her I was reading the regulations and that I wanted to take a picture of them. She responded by saying she would have to check if I was allowed to do this.


I waited (of course not mentioning I already had a picture). I heard her on the phone with phrases like "a man wearing a mask" and "he wants to take a picture".

After she finished, she spoke to me in a more formal and serious voice saying that if I wanted a copy of the regulations to call the number on a slip of paper she handed me. It was a number for the local electoral services.

She then said that if I tried to take a picture, she would call the police...

At that point - after the look of surprise showed on my face behind my mask. I calmly put my phone away, thanked her, and walked outside. That was completely unexpected!

I then realised, I didn't have any pictures outside. The two people I'd come to vote with had left me behind long ago (understandably embarrassed at my shenanigans) so I thought I'd wait outside and ask someone to take a picture of me on my phone.

A rather unassuming man appearing to be in his late forties left the building and I stepped forward requesting a picture on my phone. He did a terrible job of hiding his shock/ surprise/ wariness/ fear. (I wondered at the time if he thought I was some kind of terrorist...well I did have brown hands - so I was obviously some kind of foreigner...) I had a slight concern that the photo wouldn't come out clearly if his hands were shaking...but it was fine.


It was only after I saw this picture, that I noticed how strange it is talking with someone who's face doesn't change. I realised it has the unsettling effect of making them faceless. Perhaps that's all we are - just a faceless group of people being governed by a bunch of criminals.

People are scared: of each other, of their government.

After he took the picture he went on his way. People were walking in and out of the polling station. A lady came up to me and asked, "which political party are you from?" I was actually completely thrown by this! I replied, "I'm not from any political party." She then went on to ask who I was supposed to be. I told her I was from a film 'V for Vendetta', which she'd actually seen...although I was skeptical.

More people were entering the polling station, and staring at me, and then looking away trying to pretend I wasn't there. My overwhelming sense was that people were confused. Many of them sought to hide their confusion by laughing or dismissing me as a 'nutter'.

The unknown scares us all.

One lady of a pensionable age said I was going to scare people away. As she entered the polling station I recited the rhyme "Remember, remember the fifth of November. Gunpowder, treason and plot".

It was only afterwards I wished I'd said: "People are already scared - so few people actually bother to vote".

3) An educated, healthy and confident nation is harder to govern.
So, surely then the government should fear us? Surely we should get on with each other? Why can't we all just get along? I always love the two laws from Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure:
Be Excellent To Each Other and
Party On Dudes...

What a cool way to live life! (I always knew there was more to Bill and Ted...maybe that's why George Carlin agreed to star as Rufus).

I hadn't actually planned on staying very long at the polling station, but after the old lady went in, one of the officers came outside - ostensibly for a cigarette - but when he started chatting to me, I knew the real reason.

He knew what I was doing, and what I was making a reference to. He asked me why I was doing it. I just explained how I felt the political system only provides us with the illusion of choice. The rich get richer, the poor get poorer and those in the middle are hamsters on a wheel. Expenses scandals anyone? No accountability anyone? An uneducated electorate anyone?

He completely agreed with me, but also asked what difference I hoped to make - could one person actually make anything happen? Well surely if we exist in a democracy, then one person can make the difference. I told him it actually came down to walking the talk. If I was going to go on about democracy, politics and spout my opinions to everyone, how could I do that with any authenticity if I wasn't actually honouring what I was talking about?

That's why I took a reduction in pay to change careers and become a teacher. I wanted to do something vaguely useful with my life before I move on to the next world.

To quote George Carlin: "People are fucking dumb". That makes them easier to govern. (Most of) The young people I teach don't care about anything much other than themselves. Or they take on the prejudices they're fed: brown person with beard = terrorist; terrible 'country' full of starving people = Africa; immigrants = bad people; etc. etc. etc.

Turns out a few people around me didn't know about spoiling ballot papers...and would have done if they knew about it...

I think of it like this. Currently, only 35% of the people who could vote actually fucking bothered. Imagine if 95% of the people who could vote, actually did bother.

But then - what if - from that percentage, 60% of them spoiled their ballot papers? It makes a fucking joke of democracy.
(Oops is that repetition, deja vu or a glitch in The Matrix?)

4) The day is dark/ There's only one solution/ I'm a one-man revolution

Well after the response to the pictures on Facebook I'm seriously considering setting up a group to do something at the (impending) General Election. What would ten of us dressed as the character V turning up at the local polling station do? All spoiling ballot papers?

Actually, there's something to be said about Facebook groups. There's a group called '1,000,000 United Against the BNP' that has recently passed over half-a-million members...not that it's going to make that much of a difference...

I pose the question: how many members of that group...bothered to actually vote in the European elections...even registered to vote...have been to a polling station...have ever voted...understand the point of a democratic system...etc.?

The very reason the BNP got seats was because people didn't bother to vote or even register to vote. If only 35% of the electorate actually vote, guess which kinds of political party are going to do their damndest to ensure their ENTIRE membership registers and votes? Guess which kinds of party are going to have no trouble actually achieving this?

It's not hard to work out...

But seriously...the BNP getting seats from the European Elections...that's just child's play. Who's REALLY in power? Who REALLY controls things? I don't think 'they' consider the BNP a serious threat to their hegemony. In fact, there are some political/ media analytic theories (Chomsky anyone?) that would say the whole BNP episode is just 'flak'. Just distraction. Misdirection. A media furore designed to keep our eye one thing, whilst something else is happening.

I don't know if that's true or not, but perhaps the question to ask would be: who would benefit?

So what effect is joining a Facebook group going to have if you can't be bothered to register your right to vote in the media-controlled, flak-driven democracy we live in? How does Facebook contribute to the political process?

Perhaps it will make something happen if people actually take action.

Action produces results, not thinking about it, not talking about it, not joining a Facebook group to show all your Facebook friends that you are 'enlightened'. (All that last one shows is that you're pretending to care).*

Facebook might be quite good at mobilising people, getting awareness up...but it's much harder to translate that to grass-roots action at a particular time.

So maybe my idea of setting up a 'V for Vendetta' Facebook group would fail. But should I talk myself out of it before I've even done anything?

One person has said to me they would join the group - but not dress up.

But they will go and spoil their ballot paper...

That's something...but in this media-driven, news-as-it-happens, internet-linked-up world we live in, something with some drama behind is more likely to capture people's imaginations.

And even if I'm the only one, I know I'm walking the talk.

Films like Inside Man (and of course V for Vendetta) make interesting watching about what one man could do to an establishment (especially as that's a Spike Lee film!)

Tom Morello - as a Political Science graduate from Harvard; as nephew to Jomo Kenyatta; as a son of a member of the Mau-Mau; as guitarist in Rage Against the Machine; as someone with a well-thought out political philosophy - uses music to communicate his viewpoint.

He's a one-man revolution.

So now what? Anyone got ideas?

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*Of course there are some people who join the '1,000,000 Against the BNP' Facebook group who actually did register to vote, and actually did vote, and do give a shit. I don't want to offend everyone in one go.