23 Nov

A Quick Letter to John W. Henry

Dear John,

Liverpool have lost again, this time to bottom of the table Queens Park Rangers. I hate to say that I’m glad but I hope it might hasten Brendan Rodger’s departure from the club.

As you might know, I’ve never liked Rodgers. I never wanted you to appoint him. Not because he didn’t play great football last year but simply because I don’t like the man. I don’t like his teeth, his tan, his way with words. I don’t like the way he treats his players, isolating those that fall out his favour. I don’t like the way he left his wife for a slimmer life with a flash car and flasher girlfriend, paid for with the generous salary you gave a man who simply impressed you with a powerpoint presentation.

I don’t like his ego, the fact that he doesn’t seem to recognise his mistakes. Any Liverpool fan could tell you where our mistakes lie. Balotelli oozes class but is clearly ineffective playing as a lone striker. Our midfield is weak with Gerrard, sadly, showing his age yet, I suspect, having far too much power in the changing room. Yet your man keeps substituting younger players with plenty of energy. Our defence is leaking goals but he refuses to bring in a specialist defending coach.

Not that I should care. We ditched Sky months ago and I know friends who have this week ditched Sky as well. It’s partly a money thing but it’s also because we’ve lost faith in Liverpool. I don’t want to watch Brendan Rodgers, who doesn’t represent the things I’ve always cherished about Liverpool. I’d rather watch us lose with a manager I trust than win with a man like Rodgers in charge. Perverse, I know, but the truth.

Yet, above my complaints, I still trust the owners. You’re doing a fantastic job at the club and I trust you to make the right decisions. I also hope you’ll recognise when you’ve made a wrong decision.

Get rid of Rodgers. Bring Rafa back. Give the man the chance under owners that won’t stand in his way. And if that means getting rid of people at the club who were hostile to Rafa, then get rid of them as well. It might have been another bad week for Liverpool  but this is your chance to put things right.

 

23 Nov

The Dave Whelan Generation

WiganBecause I’m so busy, I find very little time to read. It means I look for alternative ways to keep my brain fed with material and ideas. I’ve recently been scouring the web for material by the late Christopher Hitchens, which I’ve discovered is usually satisfyingly long and pretty deep. It’s how I’ve come to find myself thinking more about my own atheism, which has always been present in my life in a strong and conscious way but never to the extent that I actually gave the broader subject of atheism much notice. To me, atheism is just the most natural way to be. I never understood religion as a child and I believe I’ve been a firm atheist from the cradle. Nothing in my life has ever challenged that view. I’ve never seen a ghost or a UFO or had anything that strikes me as a moment of otherworldly magic. I would love there to be Gods and an afterlife and heaven and the ability to shoot firebolts from the ends of my fingertips or levitate through the power of my mind. I find religion interesting, have studied and enjoyed religious poetry, and I’d probably class ‘The Last Temptation of Christ’ as one of my favourite books. Yet my experience of the world has led me to believe that we’re chemical organisms in a world dominated by unyielding and generally inert physics. If our dreams and myths were reality, then the world would be so inherently unstable that it would have collapsed millennia ago. The fact that we have something that (just about) resembles a civilisation means that the world is probably without magic.

One of the cornerstones of atheism, for me at least, is the belief in tolerance in most things. I have a fairly rational view of the world and believe that people should be allowed to get on with their lives, making the kinds of mistakes that all people make. Rather than having a misguided faith in religious dogma, I believe in free speech to the extent that I’d rather hear things that offend people than live in a society where bad thoughts remain hidden until they fester into bad actions. People have the right to offend as much as they have the right to be offended but, until bad words promote bad actions, I’m very hesitant about doing much about them.

This, of course, has limits but my limits are probably more about my ‘gut’ instincts and the general practicalities of life, instead of any well reasoned argument. It’s more of a practical point that the hate sermons of radical religions deserve to be silenced. If we were to be entirely rational about them, we’d let them spew their bile. However, it seems sensible to cut off the generators of hate before they become something more serious.

Discounting the extreme cases, bad words should be allowed to exist and challenged with argument. People who incur our displeasure should be treated with sympathy, a degree of understanding, and then with a calm challenge by which we should hope to change their point of view. We are children of the enlightenment and, as such, we should be loyal to our rationalist ancestry. Of course, this rarely happens. A person says something which deviates by the smallest quantity from the views of the hegemony and they are immediately treated as a pariah, usually by the salivating prigs on social media. When Judy Finnigan made an intelligent point about rape a few months ago, she was widely attacked because she dared to think differently about an issue. We might say that Twitter has democratised speech but I prefer to think of it as democratising stupidly. Never have we lived in a society so dominated by the dumbest among us.

All of which leads me to the problems now faced by Dave Whelan.

Racism is one of those topics which seems to demand well rehearsed words. Newspapers such as The Guardian almost have a rulebook by which we’re all meant to abide. The thought police are particularly strong around the subject of race and very few of us do very well if we avoid running afoul of their ever changing guidelines. We live in an age when the good guys have to wear black and white is the new colour of evil.

It is naive, of course, to think that we can change centuries of thinking in a generation. Even more naive to think that it actually makes a difference and that our attitudes to night time and dark places might alter if we try to disassociate the colour black from negative connotations. However worthy their reasons, you cannot simply change the neural connections in our minds that easily and this especially true when those minds are older than others,

I live close enough to Wigan to know a little about Dave Whelan’s reputation. My parents knew him during the time of his life when he ran a market stall. He’s apparently one of life’s good guys and, as far as you can tell without knowing a person’s soul, without a hurtful bone in his body. No businessman in the local area has a better reputation, not only for the way he does business but for what he’s done for everybody in the local community. Dave Whelan is of that generation of northerners who are old fashioned and open to the point of being naively blunt. He’s honest, sometimes speaks too quickly and at too great a length, and clearly lacks the sophistication of Guardianistas in that he doesn’t keep up to date with the current politically correct vocabulary.

When I created the now-defunct ‘Whelan Speaks’ website which produced endless meaningless quotes, it was done in the spirit of fun. And there is an element of the comic about Dave Whelan. He talks too much and talks too readily to be taken seriously. He enjoys talking and clearly enjoys the attention of the press who indulge him because he’s always good for a quote.

Unfortunately, the following were some of his recent quotes:

If any Englishman said he has never called a Chinaman a chink he is lying. There is nothing bad about doing that. It is like calling the British Brits, or the Irish paddies.

The Jews don’t like losing money. Nobody likes losing money.

Do you think Jewish people chase money a little bit more than we do? I think they are very shrewd people.

I think Jewish people do chase money more than everybody else. I don’t think that’s offensive at all.

It’s telling the truth. Jewish people love money, English people love money; we all love money.

The first thing to say about the quotes is that it’s pretty obvious why Dave Whelan is now in trouble with the FA. The second thing to say is: is anybody genuinely surprised to hear these words from a man of Dave Whelan’s generation? I submit that the sensible way of looking at these quotes is to say that they’re very much those of an older generation and just perhaps you have to have an ear for these things to recognise a very common trope you often hear in these parts among that older generation.

This sound like an appeal to something that cannot be explained rationally but it is really more than that. Despite the older generation’s reputation for overt racism, I believe they were a far more tolerant generation. They were the ‘take people as I find them’ generation, quite different to today’s youth who make cheap value judgements based on anything from model of a person’s phone to the brand of shoe. Less materialistic than people of today, their generation had experienced the hardships of post-War England. They can often be blunt to the point of hurting a person but, at the same time, there is a genuine kindness behind the hard words. They don’t that the glib sentimentality of today, nor the equally glib expressions of outrage. My own mother can still make me wince with the things she says but in no way would I ever call her a cruel or callous, and certainly not a racist. She simply struggles to be modern. She doesn’t understand that the things she said in her youth are less acceptable these days, even when they’re said in a way that’s meant to be kind.

Perhaps it’s knowing Wigan people that makes me want to give Dave Whelan the benefit of the doubt. There is no place in the north west of England where you can find kinder people than Wigan. It’s a peculiar kindness, which you might attribute to being slow witted but is really a open approach to life.

It’s why I look at Whelan’s words and feel a stab of sympathy. He has fallen foul of his open character and his poor vocabulary but he is also trying to say, in the first case, that language changes, which is true. Northern men of Dave Whelan’s generation would have certainly said those words. The fact that he actually uses the offending words makes the point sound controversial but, bless the poor old bugger, he’s trying to sound non-discriminatory. His heart is in the right place, even if his mouth leads him astray.

It is more difficult to be sympathetic to his second point but only because he uses the offensive term ‘Jews’ and expresses his belief in a stereotype in ‘I think Jewish people do chase money more than everybody else’. However, to be more generous, I think the words around that show that he’s attempting to offer a slightly more elevated argument in favour of money.

Whelan’s greater crime, in my eyes, is offering a job to Malky Mackay, about whom you could not offer any form of defence. Why did Whelan make the appointment? Maybe it takes a truly kind person to make truly dumb mistakes. As far as his words are to be judged, they might be a little too outdated for our modern ears but we should be mature enough as a society to allow them to pass with only a mild tut of disapproval. To do otherwise is to show ourselves up as immature, hysterical, and without heart. If Dave Whelan really is one of the bad guys, then the world is in a very sorry state indeed.

22 Nov

Men Like Joe

joeLife’s rarely fair. Take the case of Mr. Daniel Ware: picked out of nowhere because a passerby shared a picture of his chez res on social media and before the ink is dry on his contract with The Sun he’s standing in front of the media as the representative of an entire class. He hadn’t asked to be judged and it would be wrong of anybody to try to understand his soul simply by looking at him.  So, let’s not make this about Mr. Daniel Ware who, according to his neighbours, is simply a ‘gentle giant’. I really don’t want to talk about Mr. Ware. I really don’t care about Mr. Ware.

Instead, let’s talk about people who look like Mr. Ware. I’m sure you won’t have to look very far.

In the early hours of yesterday, Emily Thornberry resigned from the shadow cabinet (or, according to some reports, she was sacked) because she had been resorting to stereotypes about the working classes. How dare she judge a man by the flag he waves… Or so the argument begins. There’s nothing wrong with people who are proud of their country and, if a man (not Mr. Ware, just a man who looks like Mr. Ware) just happens to drive a white van, then he’s one of many tens of thousands who take to our roads every day in vans painted white. Maybe they represent the national average in some obscure but meaningful way. Maybe, if you wanted to take a snapshot of Britain on the 21st November, 2014, you would come away with a portrait of a man who looks very much like Mr. Ware but, obviously, isn’t Mr. Ware. Let’s call this lookalike Joe Anybody. Joe looks just like Mr Ware and, lucky for us, has a very similar biography.

Fvlcsnap-2014-11-22-13h35m07s141or example, Joe just happens to sport a skinhead and have that fold of flesh at the back of his head that always makes me think of Grossberger in Stir Crazy. It makes me think of violence and warehouses late at night. Unlike Grossberger, Joe also sports a few tattoos. But there are probably thousands of men who are like Joe: heavily tattooed and also supporters of West Ham United. And just because Joe supports West Ham and has a skin head, it would be wrong to mention that English football hooliganism began with West Ham’s ‘Bovver Boys’ of the 1960s or that they were sympathisers of the National Front and characterised by their tattoos and skin heads.

Joe also reads The Sun but so do lots of men. They enjoy looking at the women with the big tits but lots of men enjoy looking at women with big tits. He deals in cars which is a legitimate business and great for the economy. The nation thrives because of wheeler dealers. And if he happens to enjoy climbing into a cage and beating other men up, he’s not breaking any laws. He simply needs to relax after a head day’s wheeling and dealing.

Critics of Emily Thornberry would say that none of this matters. And they’re right because clearly, none of this has anything to do with the real person Mr. Daniel Ware. Her tweet about him was reductive and crude.

However, had Emily Thornberry tweeted a picture of the house belonging to our entirely imaginary friend Joe, would we think that her stereotype was at all inaccurate?

Maybe the very worst thing you can say about Joe is that if you were casting a role for a brutish modern thug with far right sympathies, he would land the role on £120 quid a day and everything he can eat from catering. Perhaps if you were interested in modern British culture, you might also say that Joe is an example of a current and deeply troubling phenomenon. Men like Joe are the epitome of the new moronic Britain. They are the stuff of our most moronic TV, usually hosted by our favourite Joe lookalike, Ross Kemp, and with titles involving the words ‘hardest’, ‘meanest’, and ‘most dangerous’. They are familiar because they’re loutish and loud, muscle bound and steroid thick. They are the cretins who smash bottles on our high streets on a Friday night. You want to indulge in cheap stereotypes, then how about muscle vests, medallions, sovereign rings, ethnic tattoos, names of their numerous kids trailing up their vein-thick necks. How about pitbulls and rottweilers, broken noses, gold teeth, four by fours, road rage, gang culture, drug wars, English nationalism, football terraces, racism, hatred, violence, lad culture, pornography, rape…

Or perhaps there’s another story here. Perhaps we should be more worried at the way the media rushes to appoint a skin-head tattooed West Ham supporter who happens to be a cage fighter as the sole representative of the working classes.

Is this what we’ve come to as a nation?

The media are cowardly stepping around the story. We live in an age when it’s so easy to cause offence. Yet nobody asks if it’s right to cause offence. Maybe we need to go on the offensive against men like Joe because, if you met a man like Joe in the flesh, what would you really think?

And yet in asking this, I know I could be accused of being elitist and sneering towards the working classes. Perhaps I am but I think I have the right because I am pure bred working class. Men like Joe and Mr Ware are standing as proxy for me.

But let me be clear. I don’t mean that I’m working class in some kind of exotic way. I don’t ‘identify’ with the working classes because that’s a cool thing to do. I’m pretty well educated but I don’t have a middle class upbringing. I’m not suddenly finding a kitsch appeal in the working classes. I see myself as working class because I am working class. I am born of working class parents. My grandparents were all working class and one of them was a Lithuanian (or possibly Russian, there remains some confusion) immigrant whose parents fled the Bolshevik revolution. I live in a working class town, surrounded by working class people and everybody I meet each and every day is working class. And what might sound strange is that not all of them are inarticulate or lazy or socialist or angry or loud or violent or tasteless or dumb or any of the stereotypes that are routinely thrown our way. Not all of us keep the brown sauce on the dining room table or wear slippers to the corner shop or eat fish and chips every night before taking our teeth out in order to suck on a bottle of Newkie Brown. Not all of us have tattoos or skinheads or gold chains or enjoy cage fighting. Of course, there are some that do a few of these things and there are people I see every day who obviously do a great many of these things. However, the majority of the people I know would simply look at Joe and give the sniff we all give to men of that type. They’re the type we know only so well because the rarely whispered secret is that nobody hates the working classes more than the working classes. We know our ranks. We know our archetypes. We know the bad types.

They’re found in every neighbourhood and in every neighbourhood they express the same thoughts and feelings and communicate in the very same loud boorish ways. You don’t need a degree in sociology to identify them and you don’t need extensive research to reach the conclusion that the type is neither typical nor average. I live next door to a fine example of the breed. I hear the anger, the shouting, the arguments that spill out into the street. I see the money they have, the success they find in a world that rewards their type. There’s another up the road who looks the same, walks the same, and has exactly the same political outlook, the same hugely expensive 4×4. I could walk you to the homes of a dozen of their type and never lose sight of my own doorstep. In fact, from where I write this, I look out over a gym that is a second home to dozens upon dozens of men who all look like Joe. The town is filled with men who look like that. But are they typical? Can they represent us in any meaningful way?

This is what ultimately galls me about the coverage this story has been given this morning in the media. The most insulting part of this story isn’t the shadow minister’s tweet. It’s the Labour leadership and, in turn, the newspapers who would defend men like Joe and hold him up as something good and noble. The insult to the working classes is to say that we’re all somehow like that. And how bloody dare anybody equate me to a bald tattooed West Ham supporting white van driving cage fighter who drapes himself in the flag of St George.

Maybe — just maybe — Emily Thornberry’s tweet was succinct and meaningful. Maybe stereotypes exist not because they’re a lazy way of thinking about the world but because they’re a handy way to spot the modern archetypes that exist in the real world. Maybe Emily Thornberry’s tweet said something profound about England on the 21st November, 2014, a nation that abandoned boxing because it was simply too tame and took up cage fighting which is as repellent as it is bloody and brutal. The ultimate insult to the working classes is that we’re not having a debate about tattoos, and muscles, and the culture of macho violence and, ultimately, the kind of men who wave the flag. What does it say about British politics when a political party is happy to damage itself and disown its own over a slightly misguided tweet, simply in order to reach out to that kind of man?

21 Nov

Andrew Neil: The Best Thing On TV

Even Andrew Neil and my drawing what I thought was a good cartoon couldn’t prevent my falling asleep around 3AM. The by-election result should have been in by then but when Neil said ‘we’re now hearing 4AM’, I knew I couldn’t last. I knew Private Eye would reject my cartoon like they reject every other so five downbeat minutes later, I was in bed and sound asleep.

I love watching by-elections, though they always leave me with the familiar conclusion that politics is ruined by the politicians. Last night was no different. Everything was set up for a good four or five hours of political cuts and thrusts and knees to the groin. I’m always searching for TV to which there’s no obvious structure. I love to watch the free exchange of ideas presided over by a host who understands the nature of debate and allows it to breathe. In that sense, I also happen to think that Andrew Neil is the best thing on the TV at the moment. Where most top presenters have a calm ease about them, they are also generally without character and rarely stray from the autocue. The best examples of that are to be found on BBC News 24. Around 5pm each weekday night, they invite some interesting individual into the studio for an interview. Things are usually reaching the point where they’ve moved past the bland introductions and into some fascinating material. Just when you’re thinking it’s getting good enough to record and watch again, the blithering suit will cut off their guest mid anecdote and hand over to the weather or sport. And you sit there thinking: why, Christ, why? Why interrupt a fascinating interview for some pre-packaged news which you’ll hear five times in the next hour?

It’s to Andrew Neil’s credit that he rarely does that. Neil retains the rough edges of a true journalist. His jokes aren’t always slickly delivered. He might not always know which camera is on but, damn it, he owns his mistakes. It means that he’s best when he’s working solo, adlibbing with his guests, and ignoring the protestations of the studio manager to follow a line of argument. To watch Neil is to enjoy the unexpected or, in a sense, a debate that grows organically from the subject at hand. It’s just a shame that, last night, he was let down by his guests.

The coverage came in two parts. The first was the usual The Daily Politics, ruined by an appearance by the always irritating and precious Ekow Eshun. At one time, my favourite show on TV was the ‘Late Review’. It was sometimes hard gnarly TV that could annoy me as much as I loved it. Then Eschun became a regular and I’d start to turn it off before the introduction. I’d not seen Eschun on TV in a long time so I was prepared to give him a chance but I was making grim mutterings by the time Eshun had finished making a point about the misrepresentation of Africa in the Band Aid single. As an argument it was stretched and predictable and, thankfully, after a few uncertain words of support from Alan Johnson, Portillo and Neil tore into it leaving Eshun sounding like he almost doubted it too. There then followed a brief but fun mike failure, nicely ad libbed by Neil and Omid Djalili, before The Daily Politics moved into election coverage and it was here that the guests proved the point I keep making about Farage.

RecklessFarage is the political equivalent of Andrew Neil. He’s another who wouldn’t work well with autocue. He laughs and sometimes makes bad jokes. He doesn’t always have a good answer or a slick line of prepared patter to deflect difficult questions. In an age when politicians seem to be at the Mark Reckless end of the bland scale, Farage is the anti-politician who appeals to people who normally switch off when they hear the same old policy statements coming from the mouths of our professional politicians. In a sense, Farage’s greatest weapon is his sheer amateurish and we British love our amateurs. We’re a nation of amateur astronomers and amateur musicians, amateur engineers and amateur artists. Yet amateur doesn’t mean unskilled or lacking polish. If America has the American Dream, Britain has the British Amateur, those backyard enthusiasts who teach the world a lesson or two. Farage is the Trevor Baylis of Westminster like Andrew Neil is the James Dyson of BBC2.

Between Neil and Farage, I was hoping for an evening of edgy politics and occasional bad tempers. I didn’t stay awake to see if Andrew managed to interview Nige or managed to get under his skin. Instead, I stayed awake until 3AM listening to the likes of Iain Duncan Smith (still that annoying cough) trot out the usual glassy eyed arguments that appear at every by-election. Bad night for the government but a worse night for the opposition. The general election will be different. Protest votes. Yaddah. Yaddah. Yah…

Neil did his best but the show only really came alive when he was chatting with the correspondent at the count, Chris Mason, who displayed  his own brand of unscripted banter. Mason was the surprise of the evening. I could have watched five hours of just Mason and Neil but unfortunately there were studio guests and I fell asleep over my cartoon to the sound of a Tory spokesman attacking Labour on a trivial point of policy. I always say that I love politics but hate politicians. Perhaps I should amend that. I hate politicians but I love political journalists. You can keep your Strictly Come X Factors and Downton and Dec. Andrew Neil is the best thing on TV. I just wish we had a better calibre of politician to make his blood run hot.

 

20 Nov

Too Many Morons In The World

MoronIs it libellous to call somebody a moron? How about a tosser of the highest order? A ball wart on the tick bit scrotum of humanity? A dung-fed louse squashed on the shit-smeared heel of a dribbling eunuch too mentally slow to even zip up his own fly? The gnawing offspring of brain mites hatched in warped cranium of a scabietic circus freak known as Walter the Bat-Faced Boy?

The advantage of Google web traffic dropping off this week is the certainty that I can post this picture and make these comments without the moron who drives this car actually seeing this post. Not that I feel too bad about posting the picture or for my pointing out that the driver clearly shares a few too many genes with their current partner. I don’t even know why I’ve bothered to pixelate the number plate except I have some old fashioned notions or right and wrong. And who knows what forms of retribution a person might display when they have this level of cretinism?

Am I being unfair? I hope I am. Unfairness and words seem to be the only powers I have when not a single policeman, traffic warden or council official would be inclined to do anything about the arseholes who casually block our streets. Because, I can assure you that although this was the worst example of the kind I saw today, this photo is just one of a dozen I could have taken. I also know what response I’d receive if I made a complaint. The police say they ‘try to be sympathetic to drivers’ and it’s ‘really a council matter’. The council also try to be try to be ‘sympathetic to drivers’ and say it’s ‘a police matter’. In other words, both the police and council are full of pavement parkers and there but for the grace of a wide driveway go they.

I also know that I write from the ‘privileged’ position of not being a driver. I don’t drive and I’ve never wanted to drive. I always tell people ‘too expensive’ or ‘never had the chance’ but the truth is harder to explain. It’s hard to describe how I have enough trouble dealing with the world without finding my myself flying down a motorway and suddenly becoming hyper aware of my existence and experiencing some mode of existential panic. And when I’m miles away thinking of some of my usual nonsense, I am prone such moments. More prone, I would say, than your average meth drinker or weed junkie. I think it’s probably better if I’m not in control of a couple of tonne of steel and airbags when I suddenly begin to doubt reality.

Yet even though I don’t drive, I can honestly say with my hand on my heart that if I did have a car, I would never ever park it across the pavement. It’s that old fashioned morality, you see, along with the belief that you’d really have to be one of evolution’s greater regressions to lack the basic understand of how pavements work. Of course, these dimwits might argue that the road was too narrow to have cars parked on both sides of the street (true). They might argue that they have a right to park outside their own home (wrong). They might even say that somebody could just squeeze through (wrong), walk on the other side of the road (true), or even walk in the road (true). They might even say that this kind of parking doesn’t really affect people like me (almost true). But what special permission do they have that allows them to force the old and infirm into the road? What right do they have to make mothers with prams and infants stray into busy roads just so these lazy bastards don’t have to walk more than three feet to their car?

Anybody who walks any distance in the day knows the feeling of having to squeeze past cars, often pushing through overhanging bushes, of trying to dodge traffic should you have to venture out into the road… It’s even worse when there are (often) muddy grass verges to navigate before you even get to the road because some moron has parked their nose of their car in their drive, blocking the entire pavement and kerb.

I’m not so unfair as to say that I’d shoot every pavement parker on sight. I think they should face a judge of last appeal before they ever reach that stage. Let them have one, two, or even three warnings before we demonstrate how fast moving steel tipped objects can injure mere flesh and bone. But if these pavement parkers continue to act like the selfish arsehole they are, then their contributions to the greater good would not be missed. Perhaps we could just stand them in the middle of fast moving traffic and let them experience the fear that pedestrians feel when faced down by cars and trucks. Perhaps then we can cram just one crumb of understanding into their dense Neolithic skulls.

20 Nov

The Amazon Void

Buying from Amazon is beginning to feel like hard work. Not that I’m in the habit of buying things that often. I’m a rare online buyer and I’m also pretty conflicted about Amazon’s success.

Amazon is the elephant in the room of modern culture. It’s often discussed in relatively insignificant ways, a trunk here and a voluminous grey buttock there. Rarely is it discussed as the single most important arbiter of taste in the early twenty first century. Their influence is all encompassing in books, music, film and even TV. They change the ways that companies operate and even how we live our lives. I fear that ebooks will destroy quality book publishing. I despise their long tail business economics that encourage writers to sell their books for a penny.  I worry about the monopoly they have. I miss having local bookshops. I really miss the enormous Borders Books that used to be in Warrington and which I’d visit every couple of weeks for a long coffee and a mooch. I dislike the working conditions exposed by Panorama and by this morning’s Guardian. I dislike the way they now deliver on a Sunday and are helping to reshape our notions of the working week. With their new online TV service, they’re slowly moving into an area where they might even start to challenge Sky or even the BBC. Next they’ll be trying out drones, which might be the future but are a worrying development if the bloody things are going to start buzzing over our homes.

Really, there’s no end to how far Amazon will affect our lives and I think it’s only right to view them with some degree of cynicism.

Yet at the same time, like most people, I overlook all of that because they’re cheap and quick to deliver. It was also recently my birthday and I found myself the owner of an Amazon gift voucher. Despite my reservations about Amazon, I’d normally spend a couple of days browsing the site to find the best use of a voucher but I’d also been having problems with a USB hub I’d previously bought from Maplin, which was periodically disconnecting and doing all manner of crazy things that were annoying me on a daily basis. Having USB problems and an Amazon voucher came together in one of those moments when I didn’t think twice. I went straight to Amazon UK and bought myself an EasyAcc® USB 3.0 7 Port Charging and Data Hub. It arrived two days later and I haven’t looked back. If it’s possibly to have sexual feelings towards a USB hub then you might say that me and the hub have been more intimate than is good for a man who isn’t built to USB 3.0 standards. Not only is it built like a Russian tank but it charges my tablet quicker than Samsung’s official charger, at the same time as running half a dozen USB devices plugged into my PC.

The only problem is that Amazon now won’t stop emailing me asking me about the hub. They want me to review the hub. They want feedback on their delivery of the hub. They want feedback on their feedback.

I understand why they’re pestering me but I don’t understand what possible benefit they think I could get from writing a review. I know other people like to write reviews (to some it seems almost as sad a hobby as blogging) and I accept that I sometimes find their reviews helpful. In the spirit of the community, I suppose I should write a review. However, where’s the incentive? These companies won’t sneeze without charging us the honour of witnessing it but they’re happy to ask us to provide them with free content for their sites without even the smallest percentage discount off our next purchase.

It’s not just Amazon who do this. Banks charge us for the slightest mistake yet we can never charge them when they make a cock up. Train companies regularly hit us with charges which cannot be challenged. Catch a peak time train with a cheap day ticket and you’re lucky to get away with the skin on your back. However, when their service breaks down and you’re stuck waiting two hours on a cold station, we can’t do a damn thing. You can’t get one bit of extra data from a mobile phone operator without them charging you for it yet we’re supposed to sit down, devote time and energy to writing content for a website which earns the company billions?

Writing free content for one of the world’s richest companies seems like a stupendously dumb thing to do. Yet so many people do it and there, I suppose, is the Amazon genius. It’s the perfect business model.  They make the space that others fill. It’s the very opposite of being creative. Filling in blank spaces  is the hardest thing in the world to do with any degree of competence. I have enough trouble filling this blog each day. I’m not about to start filling the Amazon void.

18 Nov

A Nigel Farage Cartoon Containing Some 17th Century Vulgarity

Another cartoon rejected by Private Eye. The verse is from ‘A Satyr on Charles II’ by John Wilmot, the Earl of Rochester. And, yes, they did use language like that back in the 1600s. Following it is a video of the drawing process along with my usual stream of consciousness waffling.

Rochester

17 Nov

Free Christmas Card For Anybody That Wants One

Polar

Superglued polar bears

Deflated

Labrador pelt

Seal

Baby seal (unclubbed)

If you’re anything like me (and, if you are, then I feel sorry for you) then you won’t be receiving many Christmas cards this year. I don’t have a large circle of friends and those few friends I do have know that I’m an old fashioned God fearing atheist. Yet that doesn’t mean that I don’t enjoy sending cards. I’m one of those poor sods who actually makes his own cards which I send out and suspect people then think: bloody cheapskate, sending me this hand drawn cartoon when I wanted a mass produced Santa…

Noel

The Edmonds Sphincter

Immigrant

Immigrant labour

In previous years, I’ve adopted my Stan Madeley moustache and novelty sombrero to send cards to random celebrities. This year, however, I’m not sure what I’ll do, and that’s a special shame because a pile of cards have just landed on my doormat courtesy of the International Fund for Animal Welfare.

I’m not sure why the International Fund for Animal Welfare thought  I might want some Christmas cards. I suspect it’s their way of mocking my mild autism and low quota of friends. I’m even less sure why they think I might feel obliged to send them some money. It seems a rather presumptuous thing to do: send a person a product they’ve not asked for and then expect prompt payment for that product.

Robin

Plastic robin

I mentioned this to somebody this morning they thought it would only be right to stick the cards back into the prepaid envelope and return them to the International Fund for Animal Welfare. However, that seems like a lot of effort on my behalf when I didn’t actually want the bloody things in the first place. It’s like those bastards at Cleaneazy or those bigger bastards at Avon who stick catalogues through your letterbox and get shirty when you rip them up. ‘But that was my property!’ they protest. To which I reply: ‘the moment you stuck it through my letterbox, it became my property. Now bugger off and don’t do it again’.

Fancy

Elk hunter’s sweater

Have I mentioned that I find it hard to make friends?

So, sending the cards back would involve effort and the charity mob would surely just repackage the cards and then send them to another poor victim. I don’t want to feed this cycle of unwanted Christmas card sending.

So I have a dilemma.

Or I had a dilemma until I came up with a solution.

Dogs playing with their balls

Dog sniffing its balls

If you suspect that you’re going to be depressing light on Christmas cards this year or if you’d just like another Christmas card to the hundreds you’re bound to receive, then drop me an email. All I need is your name and address and you can leave the rest to me (stamp). I’ll personally sign each card with a name that might not be my own and then, time and inspiration permitting, I might even scribble some kind of cartoon onto the front cover. Failing that, I’ll simply deface the card in some darkly humorous way that amuses me but will ensure no Christian lingers long by your fireplace.

Cat

Stuffed cat

I only have ten cards so you might want to be quick if you want one of the more tasteful cards. If you want a particular card from the lousy selection on offer and displayed throughout this blog post, please indicate. The cards will be with you shortly or whenever I can get access to a post office or use a friend’s franking machine when they’re not looking.

16 Nov

Zero Choice in a Multichannel Age: Sky TV and the Decline of Culture

I watch very little TV and yet I find it strange to admit that given how much TV I watch in a week.

When I say I watch very little TV, I mean rarely do I tune into a TV channel and watch whatever they’re showing. Instead, I watch things I recorded a long time ago (and stored digitally) or I watch things I’ve nabbed from the internet, such as my current interest in the work of  the late Christopher Hitchens whose interviews and debates are readily available on Youtube and I highly recommend.

billcunninghamLast night, I had a chance to look over Netflix and found myself still awake at 4am after watching a double bill of excellent documentary films. The first was a sheer left-of-centre fluke that I would never have found myself watching had I not been randomly browsing through the Netflix catalogue. ‘ Bill Cunningham New York’ is about one of those people that makes life seem better simply because they exist. Cunningham is a street photographer working for the New York Times. His interest is fashion but not the rarefied fashion of the catwalks but the fashions of the street. Yet, if that sounds precious, then I should say that fashion usually ranks up alongside with New Age goat yoga in the list of subjects that interest me the least but I was pretty quickly captivated by Cunningham’s energy, his upbeat but edgy manner, and the sheer enthusiasm of the film which is about intelligent outsiders living in modern New York as much as it’s about glitz, ditz, and high heels. It’s a documentary I can’t recommend more highly. Cunningham is just a great human being and the kind of person that should be affixed to space probes as an example of the high watermark of our kind.

rintThe second film is only available via Netflix, it being a Netflix Original. It’s called ‘Print the Legend’ and documents the rise of the 3D printing business, particularly the rise of MakerBot. If, like me, you enjoy cutting edge technology and long films filled with great yet occasionally flawed characters, then you should give it a try. It’s also, sadly, going to be the closest I get to 3D printing technology in the next decade.

If you’ve not tried the month’s free trial over at Netflix, these two documentaries make it a compelling opportunity. And, no, I’m not getting paid to promote Netflix. This is a rare thing on the internet these days: an honest recommendation.

Perhaps it’s because mainstream cinema has become so juvenile (I find myself feeling weary with anything that comes from Stan Lee’s imagination) but, in the last few years, I’ve found myself increasingly drawn to the form of the long documentary. They seem to fill a gap in my life that normal TV no longer satisfies. Back when I had access to Sky, I’d often watch channels such as Discovery. At the beginning, they were great places to go and find long programmes about difficult or unusual things. You could watch a two hour documentary about something bone dry but interesting. They were the early days of satellite and cable and they were showing anything to fill the hours. Then things began to change. Channels that were previously happy to fill their schedule began to chase viewers. The documentary channels, previously dedicated to factual programming, perverted their terms and began to run programmes which weren’t at all factual. They were shows about hillbillies talking about alien abductions and effete men scaring housewives with tales of hauntings. They were shows about three toed ancient civilisations and space creatures helping the Egyptians to build the pyramids. They were shows that would make me throw the remote control across the room and mutter darkly about crystal banging idiots intruding where they weren’t wanted.

Once these abortions of programming were allowed, the factual channels also found they could run reality shows. They soon became crowded with scuff knuckled series about renovating hotrods. I look today (Sunday) and I see that the History Channel has devoted 12 solid hours of ‘Pawn Stars’ followed by ‘Storage Wars’. National Geographic is showing ‘Hitler’s Jurassic Monsters’ and then endless ‘Yukon Gold’. Animal Planet HD is showing a solid run of ‘America’s Cutest Pets’. Discovery itself is showing ‘Auction Hunters’, followed by ‘Yukon Men’, ‘Gold Divers’, two episodes of ‘How It’s Made’ (not a bad show but endlessly repeated), but then variously, ‘Trawler Wars’ (an endlessly repetitive show about fishing) and ‘Mystery Investigator: Olly Steeds’ who is today searching for Atlantis. Atlantis! F.F.S.

Like so many people I know, we recently ditched Sky after many years. When Sky started out in the UK, you might have paid anywhere between £10 and £30 per month for its channel line up of a few dozen channels. They now boast about 700 channels. Their most basic line up of channels is £21.50 a month but once you start down the Sky path, you quickly discover the only limit is your bank account. You need Sport channels? That’s an extra £24.50 a month. Movies? Just another £16.50. Want to watch any of those in HD? Just another £5. You want more than the basic line up of channels? Well, that’s £33 a month instead of the £21 but if you want one of the football club’s official channels, that’ s another £7. Before you know it, you’re blowing through £100 a month and because you’re blinded by all the choices they’re offering, you forget to ask yourself once simple question:

Are you actually going to watch any of this crap?

‘Choice’ is one of the great scams of our age. It was Thatcher and her cronies who told us that we should always have choice because choice produces healthy competition. In the long term, there might be a case for that argument in a few limited situations. However, the evidence of the last two decades makes me question the logic. When they opened up our local bus service to competition, about five or six companies fought for the business. We endured a decade when the local bus service was provided by some very questionable companies driving buses that were apparently built by ‘Death Trip Motors Inc’. We travelled around in anything from old holiday coaches to converted vans that rattled and fell apart at every pothole. That was the result of choice and competition. Yet soon the bigger companies began to buy out these smaller companies to the point where we now have two bus companies who effectively run a monopoly and charge upwards of £2.50 just to travel one stop. Unless you’re travelling across the county (also £2.50), you don’t use the buses  and the term local service begins to have a hollow ring when you can no longer afford to pay for local journeys. In other words: choice destroyed the local bus service which now caters to none but the few workers who have to pay the toll or pass holders who get free travel  funded by local government.

I do not doubt in the slightest that if it were not for the license fee, the very same would have happened to our TV. We’re promised choice but there is really very little real choice available on Sky. Often the choices are mutually exclusive. If you’re watching Nigerian TV  then you’re probably not going to be watching the Irish Channel. Is Fashion One going to appeal to the same people who enjoy Forces TV or Flava TV. Now we’re heading towards the rump end of the year, we’ve got Blissmas (Channel 376) showing nothing but Christmas rot, which is probably not going to appeal to audiences watching any one of the countless Muslim channels.  If you subscribe to LFCTV, you won’t be subscribing to MUTV. If you enjoy the Gay Dating channel, you probably don’t watch Babestation or any one of the endless pornographic channels where women flash their cleavage throughout the day.

The point I’m making is that unless you’re a Christian Irish-Nigerian homosexual hetrosexual who is currently serving in the armed forces and looking forward to Christmas when you’re hoping to get a Liverpool FC shirt to compliment your official Chelsea sex toy shaped like John Terry,  then you’re unlikely to look at your TV guide and be overwhelmed with choice.

Yet not only are the real world choices fewer than advertised, so much of the remaining programming is of such a lamentable quality that you’d be hard pressed to say it’s actually worth the money you spend. Those that complain that the license fee is actually a form of taxation are the same people who would happily turn our libraries into private enterprises and shrug their shoulders when the non-fiction section is ripped out in favour of a karaoke bar. They oppose the license fee on ideological grounds and not because they could deny that the BBC actually do produce (some) quality programmes that represents the best of our nation. Most of the few channels on Sky that provide quality programming are simply replaying much of the BBC back catalogue. Gold is a perfect example of that (though as if to disprove my point, today showing ‘Only Fools and Horses’ and ‘Allo Allo’). Dave is another, though when I now look, I see it’s also showing ‘Storage Hunters’ from 11.30am to 6pm.

To sum it up: 99% of the programming for which you are paying Sky exorbitant amounts of money is indistinguishable from bullock muck. And the very small fraction of programming which you enjoy in a month would not look as attractive if you were consciously aware that you were paying £2 – £10 an hour to enjoy it. I assume that most people who pay for the Sports package are really paying for the football, in which case, it’s probably cheaper to buy tickets and attend the games yourself than pay £25 a month to watch your team who, if you’re lucky to follow one of the bigger teams, might be televised once a month. Often, you’ll pay £25 a month and never actually turn over to the sports channels because you’re not interested in volleyball or American Football or yachting or any other of the lamentable sports they cover. Add in the cost of paying for sports channels during international breaks and the summer and the real price of following your team begins to look ridiculous.

Finally, if you do enjoy football, you also now face the competition of BT Sports. Choice might be a fascinating point of political theory but the reality is that poor football fans now have to pay two subscriptions to watch the matches which were, until recently, confined to one channel.

It’s blackmail yet so many of us succumb to it. Hell, even I succumbed for a long time. Now I watch very little live TV and I collect and treasure the things I know I’ll enjoy. I’m even slowly weaning myself off football, which just rots the soul as you see the excesses of these tattooed louts paraded in front of our eyes. Above all, I just try to avoid the marketing spin and the scream of the loud but banal. There’s some great TV out there if only you’re willing to look. Just look beyond the places where Sky precede everything with a pound sign.

15 Nov

Ed Miliband and the Kim Kardashian Factor

Ed Kardashian

And here’s my Not Safe For Work video and my spontaneous rant about Kim Kardashian’s arse, Dr Matt Taylor’s so called ‘sexist’ shirt, Ed Miliband’s leadership, culture, populism, art, and the lack of real debate around the Ched Evans story. Partway through the video, I repeat a section of video, so you’ not going mad if you think you’ve seen that before. In the final part of the video, I make comments about the Ched Evans story which I wouldn’t wish to be seen as a defense of Ched Evans. I merely ask why celebrity should have any bearing in our forming a decision in any kind of moral debate.

14 Nov

A Topical Ed Miliband Cartoon

New optimism this morning. Yesterday I installed a new plugin to this blog and it claims to track my RSS feed. I thought literally nobody picked up my feeds but now I see it’s even more popular that reading the site through a browser. Oh, I know many of the hits are bots working for news aggregators. I also know that simply because my stuff appears in people’s feed readers doesn’t mean they actually read my words. But it feels oddly better being unread by thousands of people that being visited by just a few hundred.

***

This morning I faced a mild dilemma. What do you do when SPAM isn’t SPAM? The Chinese are clearly a clever people and are adapting their tactics. I’ve been hit by their SPAM for months and I’ve been able to delete it all without hesitation. This morning, however, I found this comment waiting for me:

Love your full scenery shot~!
Welcome visit me back http://ecinfant.blogspot.hk/

The problem is that it’s not entirely SPAM. Whoever left it, looked at my post long enough to spot that I’d included a panorama shot of Sherdley Park in St Helens and, clearly, the people of Hong Kong trawl the web looking for panorama shot of Sherdley Park in St Helens… I’m not sure what I can do if the spammers start to read my blog. It’s my nightmare scenario.

***

As you can see, I don’t have much time to write so I’ve quickly narrated last night’s cartoon. It’s eight minutes of my usual nasal waffle (I always sound like I have a cold, which is probably to be expected because I do always seem to have a cold). Today’s brief rant is about UK politics and Nigel Farage and my difficulties with drawing Ed Miliband’s face.

Comet3