Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Free Nelson Mandela (From Police Harassment)

So, I was watching the news the other day, when I saw the story about Nelson Mandela being released from hospital. Well, I have to tell you that I was outraged by what I saw - things clearly haven't moved on much in South Africa despite the end of apartheid. I mean, there was the poor guy being driven away from the hospital, when his car is surrounded by no less than four police cars! They were clearly out to intimidate him, they had their lights flashing and continued to pursue him until they went out of sight of the TV cameras. I daresay that after that they pulled him over, searched his car, possibly cited him for a bogus traffic violation - a broken rear light that the bastards smashed themselves is an old favourite - and, in a worse case scenario, might even have roughed him up.

I think you'll agree that this sort of thing is pretty disturbing. I really thought we'd seen the end of this sort of thing: police harassment of a black man with radical political views. What makes it worse was the number of policemen they had to deploy to try and intimidate a single 93 year old man! It was like the Rodney King business all over again! At least the Rampart Division of the LAPD cleaned up its act after that - they only ever used a maximum of two cops to beat up black suspects, and one of them had to be from an ethnic minority. As I haven't seen any follow up stories, showing Mandela's wrecked car, or even the former ANC leader himself showing the press his injuries, I can only assume another establishment cover up. Of course, there are those of you out there who will undoubtedly think that, once again, I've completely misinterpreted another news report. But I beg to differ.

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Monday, February 27, 2012

Terror Without Planning Permission

So now we know - it was all about planning permission. The demolition of Osama bin Laden's compound in Pakistan by local authorities surely confirms this beyond any doubt - the al Qeada leader had put the building up without proper planning permission. For which he paid a heavy price. Apparently he had ignored numerous written warning from the local council and had threatened to set his dogs on officials who had called in person with a court summons. According to sources within Abbottabad District Council, the terror chief had only been given permission to erect a single-storey non-residential structure on the site. "The actual building clearly contravened this," an anonymous official has told the press. "It wasn't just the fact that the upper storeys blocked neighbours' views, but the wall and gate went against local ordinances stating that nothing larger than a waist high hedge should be used to demarcate property boundaries."

Following Bin Laden's threats of violence, the council felt that they had no choice but to call upon US Special Forces for assistance. "The US is totally committed to the enforcement of planning regulations globally," a spokesperson for the US Department of Defense confirmed. "If we don't crack down hard on the anti-social bastards who flout local planning laws then there'll be worldwide chaos. If we let some fundamentalist crackpot build a house in a Pakistani green zone, then next thing you know someone will be building shoddy apartment blocks on the White House lawn." For their part, Abbotabad District Council have been at pains to point out that the plan hadn't been for the US Special Forces to kill Bin Laden. "Obviously, it would be a bit harsh to have people executed just for putting up an illegal conservatory or such like," the official said. "We only asked the soldiers to serve the court summons on him. Unfortunately, Mr Bin Laden persisted to trying to avoid service, becoming very aggressive in the process. Consequently, they felt they had no choice but to shoot him in the head." With Bin Laden subsequently failing to appear at the hearing, the court found against him in absentia and ordered the demolition of his illegal dwelling.


Friday, February 24, 2012

Cleaning Up My Act

Well, my week of cleaning is drawing to a close and parts of my house, particularly the kitchen and bathroom, look a lot better. To be fair, in the bathroom it wasn't so much cleaning involved, as the completion of numerous half-finished jobs in there. Now, I know that many people might think spending the better part of a week off of work cleaning is a pretty strange thing to do. Which I suppose it would be for most people. However, as I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, I recently found myself emerging from a long trough of low level depression and, when that happens, it is akin to waking up to find yourself living in a pig sty. Whilst depression is different for everyone, for me it means not having the energy or inclination to do any household chores beyond the bare minimum of washing up, or occasionally vacuuming the living room carpet. Things lie where they fall, dust accumulates on every flat surface and the kitchen becomes unhygienic, (even by my standards). Whilst not as debilitating as a bout of full blown depression, a spell of low level depression can be highly disruptive to my normal life.

Basically, I find that I just can't handle any complexities in my life: my focus narrows to a tiny range of activities which I can deal with relatively easily. During this most recent bout, for instance, I found myself focusing on my online activities to almost obsessional levels. Probably because it is something I have a greater degree of control over than any other aspect of my life. Consequently, everything else has suffered - I've come out of my depression to find that my house is filthy and chaotic, and I've been seriously neglecting friends and relationships, failing to keep in touch, or to be available when needed. So, the house cleaning is a necessary, and cathartic, first stage to putting my life back on track. Not that I've finished with the cleaning. For one thing, whilst much healthier looking, my kitchen is still falling far short of the standards of cleanliness that my friend Little Miss Strange, for instance, would demand. (Many years ago she started cleaning it up in the early hours of the morning, she was so appalled at its then state. But that's another story entirely). Also, my living room has taken a couple of steps backwards - thanks to moving stuff from other rooms during my clear up, the floor is now covered with stacks of books and DVDs, making vacuuming difficult. Clearly, my next priority will have to be putting up more shelves...


Thursday, February 23, 2012

Pagan Values

Let's get back to this business of Christianity allegedly being under attack from 'militant secularists'. During the whole 'debate', (more of a campaign of screeching alarmism on the part of theists, really), one oft-repeated 'fact' in particular kept bothering me. It was the claim - uttered by religious nutters and secularists alike - that the UK was essentially a 'Christian' society, in that most of its moral and social values are derived from Christianity. You know, when you actually stop to think about it, that's a pretty dubious premise. The reality is that what we have here in the UK is actually a thin veneer of 'Christianity' covering something far different. Indeed, beneath that veneer lurks something far darker and more potent. Historically speaking, in order to try and gain acceptance from the heathen inhabitants of these isles, Christianity had to co-opt many of the existing pagan rituals, festivals and even deities.

Christmas is really the pagan midwinter festival of Yule and jolly Father Christmas is actually some ancient wild man of the woods rather than St Nicholas. Likewise, Easter is actually a fertility festival (and even takes its name from the pagan Goddess concerned. Many other pagan figures suddenly found themselves 'Christianised' and equated with good, clean-living Catholic saints. But whilst Christian trappings can be hung all over the UK's true belief system, the nation's real pagan nature will always break through. I mean, what are the two modern 'scourges' that pious politicians are always decrying? Excessive alcohol consumption and obesity. Now, bearing in mind that what those Christianised festivals like Christmas are really about are eating, drinking and making merry, it can be seen that binge drinking and our addiction to unhealthy fast food are merely expressions of our true pagan selves. In fact, most of the things that religious types condemn as sinful are actually the things that all good pagans should be doing - especially fornicating. I'd venture that the unwelcome imposition of 'Christian values' upon our native paganism lies at the root of this country's confused and furtive attitudes to sex and pornography - it's evil, but we enjoy it, so we have to punish ourselves by paying women in high heels to chain us up and whip us. So, screw 'militant secularism', just embrace your inner pagan and tell those bloody Christians to get their hands off our pagan pleasures!

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Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Happy Returns

I wasn't going to post anything today, it being my birthday and everything. The 'everything' being having been up to the early hours last night, following my post-pub decision to install that new TV, after I came home to find that everyone on the old TV were no longer green, but lilac. Having got it more or less sorted, with my twin-tuned HD freeview recorder plugged in and the TV's own freeview tuner up and running, I then decided to try and start recording a new pod cast, before finally going to bed and listening to someone else's podcast. Having listened back to the stuff I recorded, I've decided to scrap it and start again. It just didn't sound like what I want to do podcast-wise these days. Lately, I've been listening to Bug Out, a podcast by PQ Ribber, which you can find over at Onsug,com, and I've been left feeling that my own efforts are decidedly inadequate by comparison. (I'd urge you all to give Bug Out a listen. Whilst it certainly won't be to everyone's taste, I find PQ Ribber's mix of various off-beat pop culture elements, taking in soundscapes, old radio serials, film reviews and chat about esoteric postcards and old editions of Life magazine, fascinating. I've also chatted with PQ a couple of times on the - now defunct - Nightstation site and can confirm that he's one of the good guys).

Consequently, I'm rethinking the Sleazecast, both in terms of content and format, and hope to start again on number seven later this week. But getting back to that new TV, I have to say that, picture-wise, it doesn't seem to be much of an improvement over the old one. OK, I know that I haven't been watching anything in HD on it, but nonetheless, I've heard so much hype about how superior the picture quality of LCD screens are compared to the old tubes, that I was expecting better. As for the sound quality, I actually think that it is somewhat inferior to the old one. Like just about every flat screen TV I've watched, it sounds distinctly tinny. Gripes aside, I finally managed to get the DVD player connected up this afternoon, (unlike its predecessor, the TV has only one scart socket - used by the twin tuner/recorder - so I had to connect it up through a set of AV cables), so I've been able to indulge in an Italian zombie movie marathon, (I'm between films right now). That, together with a steady stream of toasted sandwiches and mugs of tea, interspersed with a typically off centre text conversation with my best friend, have made this a pretty enjoyable birthday, so far. Anyway, I'm going to have a bath now, before cracking open the beers for the last leg of the zombie marathon...


Monday, February 20, 2012

Not Expecting the Unexpected (Even When It's Half Expected)

Being off work is supposed to be less stressful than being at work. In theory. In practice, today, the first day of a week off work, has been far more hectic than I would have liked. I had it all planned out - the continued deep-cleaning of my kitchen, (a response to the mouse invasion I mentioned last week), followed by a bit of shopping, watching Australian soaps and going to the pub. But, as always, the unexpected happened. Well, to be honest, it was half-expected, but I was banking on putting it off for a few more weeks. I'm talking about my TV going kaput. Well, not quite kaput, but when I switched it on when I got back from shopping at half past five, everything had a green tinge (it had been perfectly OK when I'd watched Doctors at lunchtime, but the TV is seven years old and a couple of weeks ago it played up when I switched it on).

At first, I thought I could live with this until tomorrow, but after trying to watch Home and Away, and finding myself repulsed by the sight of all those bronzed bathing beauties looking bilious, I decided that I had to do something. Not being a TV fetishist, (they're all the same to me - they just sit in the corner while I watch them, and they watch me, I suspect), I did a quick search of the Argos web site, found my local Argos Extra store was open until eight and had a TV at a price I was prepared to pay in stock. Then more complications set in - the car's fuel tank was nearly empty, so I had to make a diversion to put some petrol in it, just as I was leaving the house, someone rang, the obstacles just multiplied. However, I finally got there and bought my new TV. When I got home, I switched on the old one, and found that the picture was nearly back to normal. Just a bit green around the edges. Nevertheless, it is clear that the tube is on the way out and, as they don't make TVs with tubes any more, it will have to be replaced. But not tonight. I'll leave installing the new TV until tomorrow, when I feel less harassed.

Getting back to the original point, the reason I'm off work this week is, in part, because its my birthday tomorrow and, whilst it isn't a big deal to me, I'd just rather not be dealing with the usual work crap. As I've got various other things to do this week - dental appointments, the car being serviced etc - I decided to take the whole week off. Getting back to the birthday, I can't say I've ever been big on celebrating them. Last year was low key and this year is likely to be even lower key. I don't see the point in organising anything special - I'm likely to see most of the people I'd end up inviting anyway. The reality is that the people I'd really like to celebrate with just aren't around, so I just don't see the point. All of which sounds terribly downbeat, but trust me it isn't! I intend spending tomorrow enjoying my new TV, drinking beer, eating chocolate and watching some favourite films on DVD. Which sounds good to me!


Friday, February 17, 2012

A Swift Half

Don't worry, Dave's going to save us all again, this time from binge drinking. Of course, our multi-untalented Prime Minister is well placed to deal with this modern scourge, having been a member of the Bullingdon Club in his student days. One assumes he must have done his share of binge drinking back then, as it was effectively the Bullingdon Club's raison d'etre, along with murdering prostitutes and wrecking restaurants (allegedly). Mind you, it probably doesn't count as 'binge drinking' if it takes place in upmarket wine bars and restaurants and the alcohol being imbibed is in the form of fine wine or champagne. Binge drinking is another of those things that only the lower classes do, involving pints of lager, shots of cheap spirits and the like, and takes place in shabby pubs or garish clubs with blaring music, and results in violence and destruction of property. Posh people getting drunk and trashing restaurants is merely 'high spirits'.

Which is why Dave's only remedy seems to be that hoary old stand-by of imposing a minimum alcohol price on supermarkets, in order to restrict sales of cheap booze to the masses. In other words, make it unaffordable for the proles - you can only get completely wrecked if you've got money, in other words. Which is all very well if you believe that the availability of affordable alcohol is what fuels so called binge drinking. In reality, drinking cultures are a function of the society they exist in. The fact is that in the UK we've developed a drinking culture in which alcohol consumption is all too often seen as an index of 'macho-ness' for men, in which it becomes tied up with aggressive behaviour and loudness. More recently, this same culture has been adopted by many female drinker - so called 'ladettes'. Make no mistake - alcohol doesn't make people violent, it is merely used as an excuse for behaviour that would ordinarily be considered anti-social and, to be honest, most so called binge drinker aren't violent. They may be loud and sometimes obnoxious, but generally speaking they are merely enjoying themselves. It might not be my idea of enjoyment, but it is actually pretty harmless.

But can we blame these young people, (because according to the media and politicians, binge drinkers are always young), for wanting to get blind drunk on a regular basis, bearing in mind their uncertain employment prospects these days? Even those in work are likely to be doing soul-destroying minimum wage drudgery in call centres and the like, where no initiative, free thinking or job satisfaction is allowed - deviation from a rigidly set job card will result in instant dismissal. Being 'helpful' to customers is seen as time-wasting. Add to that the constant erosion of their civil liberties and social services, and alcoholic oblivion suddenly seems a tempting option. If Dave is serious about doing something to combat binge drinking, then these are the issues he needs to address. But will he? Of course not. He and his party represent the very vested economic interests which have created and benefit from this culture. Oh, and let's not forget the amount of tax revenue alcohol sales generates for the exchequer. A bit of a conflict of interest there, eh?

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Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Evil That Mice Do

Mice are something that people over sentimentalise, always characterising them as cute, harmless little things, always being victimised by heartless cats. Clearly, they've never had to suffer having the bloody things invading their homes. The reality is that they are horrible filthy vermin that shit and piss all over your house, leaving you at risk from all kinds of disgusting illnesses. As you've undoubtedly guessed by now, I've recently been suffering from mouse problems. Actually, over the years I've experienced several rodent invasions - they come up under the house, emerging under the disused gas fire in the living room. From there, they used to get access to the kitchen via a narrow gap between door and frame at the bottom of the kitchen door. Once I got wise to what was going on, I temporarily plugged the gap. However, over the years, the fix fell into disrepair but, with no further mouse incursions, I never got around to repairing it. Then this persistent little bastard turned up, spreading his excrement all over my kitchen.

Having once more blocked his run to the kitchen, I thought he'd bugger off. But no, in dead of night he comes out from under the gas fire and attempts to dig his way under the door, damaging my carpet in the process. Now, having been reasonable, simply cutting off his route rather than poisoning him, I feel pretty aggrieved at the bastard's continued destruction of my property. I'm now seriously considering putting down poison. Of course, as soon as I mention that, people start accusing me of being cruel and heartless, of being a potential mouse murderer. I despair at this attitude. Personally, I blame the pernicious influence of cartoons like Tom and Jerry and Pixie and Dixie, which always showed the mice as victims. I always felt sorry for the cats in those cartoons - always depicted as evil, stupid and cruel, when they were just trying to do their jobs of keeping vermin down. Hell, I like cats better than mice. Not least because cats catch mice. That said, some years ago I had a cat that used to bring live mice into the house, resulting in many a heated (and one-sided) argument between me and her. Anyway, the bottom line is that, like Mr Jinks (the cat in Pixie and Dixie), "I hate meeces to pieces".


Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Come All Ye Hypocrites

Apparently Christianity is under attack. No, wait - it's all religion that's under attack. Across Europe. From militant secularists. At least, that's according to resident Tory rent-a-quote Baroness Warsi. And our old 'friend' former Archbishop of Canterbury Carey. So it must be true. I always start getting worried when reactionaries from across the religious spectrum start singing from the same hymn sheet to try and claim that they are the oppressed. It really is utter bollocks. Islam and Christianity represent two of the largest organised religions in the world, both of them counting vast numbers of worshippers who they happily exploit on a daily basis for funding. Little better than glorified superstitions, they have the continued audacity to try and claim that they have some kind of moral superiority over the rest of us. I only wish that these mythical 'militant secularists' really did have them on the run.

This latest whingeing and hand wringing has been sparked by a legal ruling that it isn't legal for councils to start meetings with religious prayers. The result of a case brought by an agnostic former councillor. The ruling is, of course, quite right. Why should those of us with no faith be forced to participate in what, to us, is an offensive farrago if we want to be local elected representatives? Especially as there is no legal basis for it. It is a clear infringement of our right not to believe. Which is what really offends me about the likes of Warsi and Carey - they are so busy shouting about their right to worship, that they seem to forget that non-believers have exactly the same right not to worship. That, I'm afraid my religious friends, is the flipside of the fundamental right you have to pursue your faith - that people have exactly the same fundamental right to have no faith and to not be oppressed and brainwashed by you religious bastards. But whereas most of us who have no faith are prepared to defend your right to worship, you hypocritical bastards most certainly aren't prepared to fight for our right not to believe, let alone respect it.


Monday, February 13, 2012

I Read the News Today...

Another one of those weekends when the news stories all seemed to merge into one. Which wasn't surprising as Sunday, in particular, seemed a fast moving day news-wise, with breaking stories coming thick and fast. As far as I could make out, Luis Suarez was apologising for drowning Whitney Houston in the bath in Beverly Hills, (his alibi of refusing to shake hands with Patrice Evra having apparently unravelled), which seemed to result in large numbers of her fans in Greece rioting, before Sir Alex Ferguson and Evra accepted his apology, (they're both huge Whitney fans - Sir Alex has seen The Bodyguard over two hundred times and still cries at the bit where Kevin Costner carries her to safety). For its part, the FA has said it plans no further action against Suarez over Houston's death. I suppose that I really should pay more attention during the news. That said, on the whole, I preferred my version. (I should emphasise here that Luis Suarez had nothing at all to do with Whitney Houston's demise and that there is no evidence of foul play in her death).

The other big news story was the arrest of several Sun journalists on suspicion of making illegal payments to police officers. Indeed, this one is so big that it is still rumbling along today, (and shows no sign of going away any time soon). Actually, today's developments have caused me much hilarity. The now bailed deputy editor's outrage over the treatment of him and his colleagues by the police was a priceless example of pot calling kettle black. He claimed to be appalled that decent family men like them could be hauled out of bed in dawn raids and have their houses searched, with nothing being considered too personal to be probed by the searchers. Bearing in mind that The Sun and its fellow tabloids have, for decades, specialised in invading people's privacy, harassing them and generally turning their lives upside down, all in the name of the 'public interest', this seems like poetic justice. I really have no sympathy with these tabloid hacks. AS they say, what goes around, comes around. Still, if I wanted to bring this post full circle, I should speculate that Whitney Houston was, in fact, assassinated by News Corps in order to divert attention from the arrests, (just like they did with Amy Winehouse when the phone hacking scandal really hit the fan), but that would just be tasteless, wouldn't it?

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Friday, February 10, 2012

Highs and Lows

There was snow on the ground this morning. It shouldn't have been a surprise as it had been snowing last night: I walked to and from the pub in a blizzard. Nonetheless, the sight of it first thing today filled me full of dread. For me, it is a cue for depression. When it is falling it's OK, but when it is lying it signifies another day of struggling futilely against the elements. Which in itself is symbolic of the futility of life itself - inevitably we all die, all life will eventually become extinct and the universe run down. So what's the point? If, like me, you have ever suffered from clinical depression, no matter how mildly, you will probably recognise such thought patterns. The trigger might be different, but the outcome is the same - a spiralling descent into depression. Luckily, once I got outside, I found that the roads and pavements were clear of snow and the lying snow was rapidly melting, so a mental downturn was avoided.

I was especially glad to avoid such an outcome as I've only recently emerged from a long trough of low level depression. It was nothing compared to some of the really bad bouts I've suffered in the past, (but not for nearly a decade now, thankfully), but seemed never ending. Such low level depression is characterised by a lack of drive and energy. It becomes impossible to work up any real enthusiasm for anything and projects go half-finished. My libido also goes completely AWOL during these periods. At the end of the day, it isn't debilitating, just irritating. However, over the last week or so my energy levels seem to be up and I've found a new enthusiasm for several long-term projects. Suddenly I'm actively seeking new challenges and feel fully focused. Which is bad news for anyone obstructing me - such people had an easy ride while I was down: I just couldn't be bothered to deal with them. But that's changed now - I have a new determination to sweep aside obstacles.

The funny thing about depression is that, traumatic though the downs can be, I'm not sure I'd change it if given the chance. Even in my darkest moments, I can't help but feel that I've gained valuable insights into both my own psyche and the nature of the universe itself. Then there are the highs. Whilst I'm not a manic depressive, (or bipolar sufferer as they're now called, although the older term is a more accurate description of the condition), indeed, my depression is pretty mild, like all depressives, I find the downs are usually followed by ups. These periods of euphoria can be even scarier than the downs, but I've also found them incredibly productive in terms of creativity. I've had some of my wildest and best ideas for stories in these periods. Ultimately, the key thing is to learn to manage depression, accept that it is part of you and live with it. Which I do these days, and is why that lying snow bothered me so much this morning, as it threatened to derail this management. Thankfully, it didn't.


Thursday, February 09, 2012

"To the Batmobile, Robin!"

So here's the new plan: I'm going to change my last name to Gordon and put myself up for the job of Crapchester's new elected police commissioner. That's right - Commissioner Gordon. The first thing I'll do is install a huge searchlight on the roof of the local police station and, every time a crime is committed, I'll send up some kind of signal to alert our local super heroes. I'm still not sure what sort of symbol I'll use - a huge silhouette of a penis, maybe. Or perhaps a raised finger. Who knows. Obviously, you are all asking exactly what kind of super heroes would hang out in Crapchester? Well, at least one work colleague has admitted to owning a Batman suit and has indicated a willingness to respond to the proposed 'Bat signal'. (A quick aside here - said colleague actually looks more like Shaggy from Scooby Doo than Bruce Wayne and, whilst I've never actually seen him trying to eat a huge sandwich or driving around in a van with a talking dog, looking for haunted houses to investigate, I suspect he has form when it comes to bizarre crime fighting. Certainly, if Crapchester finds itself being menaced by spectral deep sea divers, he'll be the first superhero I'd call on for assistance).

Anyway, I'm sure there are plenty of other potential masker crimefighters out there, ready to keep the streets of Crapchester safe for decent citizens to walk down. Of course, if we can get enough, then it would be possible to eliminate most of the police force, thereby achieving impressive budgetary savings. That's the great thing about costumed vigilantes - they're incredibly cost effective. They do the job for the sheer love of it - they just hate crime and the people who perpetrate it, so you don't have to pay them! Plus, they provide all their own equipment! Brilliant! Who needs police cars when you've got a Batmobile spewing flames out of its exhaust? Moreover, thanks to their penchant for handing out instant justice in the form of a bloody good kicking, we could probably cut down on court costs, not to mention prison cells. It's hard to see any negatives really. OK, you'd need to keep some police officers for some specialist duties. Working undercover, for instance. I mean, a bloke wearing his underpants over a skin tight spandex suit and sporting a mask is going to stand out like a sore thumb if he tries infiltrating the local drug scene. Traffic is another area where you might want to retain some traditional coppers. After all, I don't think drop-kicking someone through their own windscreen would really be an appropriate response to doing 40 mph in a 30 mph zone, (even if the offender is Jeremy Clarkson). So, there you have it, my platform for my bid to become Police Commissioner for Crapchester. Vote for me!


Tuesday, February 07, 2012

What the Dickens

It's Charles Dickens' two hundredth birthday, hurrah! Cue lots of bollocks about literature and popular culture being spouted in the media by self-styled 'experts'. If you've ever written a book about Dickens, it apparently qualifies you to comment on the state of contemporary culture, apparently. Only the other day we had one of Dickens' more recent biographers telling us that modern children wouldn't possibly be able to read and understand Dickens because their attention spans had been destroyed by watching too many trashy TV programmes. Based on the works of Dickens, probably. This kind of ill-informed idiocy highlights the terrible cultural snobbery we still suffer from in this country, predicated on the notion that the work of a long dead author must always be superior to its modern equivalents, and that standards of education and literacy fall over time. Both assumptions are, of course, wrong. Standards of literacy and education have demonstrably improved since Dickens time and I'd even venture to say that much contemporary popular culture is at least the equal of his works. It's certainly more relevant to young readers than Dickens. The reality is that popular culture (which is what Dickens was producing in Victorian times) provides an excellent insight into the age in which it was created, but quickly dates. Whilst proponents of Dickens keep telling us how relevant his work still is, I'd beg to differ. It does provide an excellent portrait of its own era, though.

Another load of Dickens-related bollocks which has irritated me has been the media focus on 'research' which supposedly shows how virtually his every work was 'inspired' by places he lived in and local people. Apparently just because he might (or might not) have lived sevens streets away from someone called Goodge, who had a business partner called Marney, 'proves' that this was the inspiration for Scrooge (and his partner Marley) in A Christmas Carol. (It has already been pointed out that Dickens himself claimed that the character's name had been inspired by him seeing the name 'Scroggie' on an Edinburgh gravestone and the character by his misreading of 'meal man' on the stone as 'mean man'). I really do detest this reductionist approach to art, which tries to deny any artist any degree of creativity - nothing they make can possibly be the result of their own imaginations, they can only ever 'plagiarise' from real life. Only someone completely literal-minded and without a creative bone in their body could possibly subscribe to such a view. Utter bollocks.


Monday, February 06, 2012

Cold Comfort

If it's Monday it must be time for a rant. Bearing in mind that we had some snow over the weekend, I think you can guess what I'm going to rant about: the weather. To be more accurate, I'm going to rant about the way the media, as ever, used the weather to try and scare us all. As soon as they thought there was a chance of snow, the TV weather forecasters started ramping up the fear factor, with their dire warnings of 5-10cm of snow covering the whole country and the massive disruption to travel that would follow. The news programmes followed suit all with their usual hyperbole: if you try and travel in these conditions YOU WILL DIE!!! Local TV, as always, was the worst offender. My local BBC news programme went into overdrive at the prospect of heavy snow, gleefully issuing dire warnings, its presenters visibly excited at chance of a repeat of the chaos of a couple of years ago. Sadly for them, my region largely escaped any snow, much to their obvious disappointment. The lack of snow also didn't stop a frenzy of panic buying in my town centre on Saturday, as people ran around like lunatics, apparently stocking up for a siege. Bizarrely, the only thing they weren't buying was snow shovels - there were stacks of them left unsold in local shops.

Not the failure of the snow to paralyse the country deterred the media from trying to scare us - once it had become obvious that the snow had failed, ice became the new threat: if you try and travel when there might be ice about YOU WILL DIE!!! In the wake of the snow, we still got the inevitable stories of stranded motorists and train travellers. All accompanied by the usual lament from motoring organisations of "I just don't know why they didn't heed our advice and stay at home". Well, those motorists, like me, probably thought that as we're living in the twenty first century, in one of the world's wealthiest and most advanced nations, it wouldn't be unreasonable to expect the authorities to be able to keep the roads - let alone the railways - clear of snow and operational during a short spell of wintry weather. I'm always left exasperated by that 'Don't travel unless you really have to' advice during bad weather. The reality is that most of us do have to travel in order to work, regardless of weather. The overwhelming majority of us don't automatically get a day off if it happens to snow. Besides, if everyone heeded this advice then the country really would grind to a halt, with no shops open, no deliveries, no power, nothing. Not that such considerations bother the media. All they seem to be interested in is starting a panic.

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Friday, February 03, 2012

Onsug and Nightscape

I've spent too much of this week moaning about various things, so I thought that I'd round the week off by telling you about something I like. As you may have noticed, I've been experimenting with podcasting for the past few months, with mixed results. A large part of my inspiration for these attempts has been the Overnightscape Underground (Onsug), an on line radio station in the form of a series of podcast programmes by various contributors, that you can download and listen to at your leisure. Before I stumbled across Onsug, I had the idea that podcasts were complex things, requiring multiple hosts, audience participation and such stuff. However, thanks to Onsug, I realised that the monologue-based podcast could be a fascinating and rewarding format, not to mention cheap and simple to create. So, if you don't like my podcasts, blame Onsug!

But seriously, Onsug is well worth visiting, featuring a huge range of podcasts, covering a variety of topics and featuring a plethora of presenters, not just from the US, but from Europe as well. It's a wild and wonderful place and, best of all, it is all created by 'ordinary' people like us - no bloody celebrities telling us about their tedious lives and plugging their latest albums/films/TV shows/haemorrhoid creams etc. If nothing else, Onsug offers a fascinaing insight in other people's lives. The prime mover behind Onsug is Frank Nora, who also has another project: Nightstation. This a streaming radio station, consisting of 6-8 hour segments put together by Frank and various other Onsug contributors. These include all manner of fascinating open source material, including music, old radio programmes, and adverts, all linked by the host's narration. It really is quite fascinating. I often listen to it as background whilst working on line. Anyway, give it a try. If you listen to it on the Nightstation website, there's a fair chance you'll run into one or more of the presenters and chat to them there. Trust me, it's good stuff and deserves your support.


Thursday, February 02, 2012

Spineless Apologists

I know that earlier this week I said that I was trying to confine myself to one political rant a week here, I'm afraid I'm going to have to indulge in another mini-rant today. That said, it isn't about politics. So I'm not really contradicting my earlier statements. Anyway, what's 'grinding my gears' at the moment is an attitude I keep encountering online, for wont of a better word, we could call it 'sycophancy'. But before launching into a rant, let me give you some background. A couple of days ago one of the web stats services I use suddenly became inaccessible, although its help forum stayed up. This state of affairs persisted for more than twenty four hours, with no explanation from the site administrators on the forum, nor has there been any subsequent apology or explanation for the outage. As this wasn't the first time this had happened, I voiced my dissatisfaction on the forum in the relevant thread, pointing out that persistent outages and no communication from administrators represents an unacceptable level of customer service, even for a free service.

The reaction from other posters was incredible, as they rushed to defend the site, telling me how wonderful it usually was. One apologist tried to convince me how reliable the service was, pointing out it was only the one server which kept going down - and even then it had only suffered major outages three times in a twelve month period! Even more sickeningly, they tried to defend the lack of communication - 'just because nobody is posting here doesn't mean that they aren't aware of the problem and are trying to fix it.' But the point is that users do need to know that admins are aware of a problem and are addressing it. Especially if it persists for more than a few hours. As a site owner, I have to consider the possibility that the service has gone off line permanently, in which case I have to decide whether to remove the (possibly) defunct code from my pages and find an alternative service.

But apparently I'm wrong. We shouldn't ever dare to criticise people for failing to provide the service they advertise. Instead we should sycophantically pussyfoot around them, asking them nicely if they might consider fixing it, if that isn't too much trouble, but not to worry if they don't as we customers aren't really important. Jesus Christ! What's wrong with these people? What do they think will happen if they take a robust critical stance with these service providers? Frankly, I'm doing them a favour by using their services on my site! But no, creeping around them is the order of the day. Indeed, most depressingly, I discovered that the original poster in the thread about the outage had subsequently posted a truly cringe worthy paean of love to the service provider in another thread, telling the world what a brilliant service they provided! Yeah, so brilliant they weren't providing you with any stats and were completely ignoring your requests for help! Grow some balls!

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