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?

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*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.
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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.
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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...