Friday, March 29, 2013

Fiction into Fact

I spent a good part of this afternoon crashed out on my sofa re watching my favourite war move: Patton, with George C Scott.  I hadn't actually planned to watch it today but, after an exhausting week - I can't believe that it was only four days that I worked this week, it felt more like four months - which left me so tired that I unintentionally ended up sleeping most of this morning away, I felt that I needed to immerse myself in something familiar and inspirational.  Now, I know that it might seem strange that I'd find a film abut a mad, egotistical, right wing US General with a self-destructive streak inspirational, but, in essence, the film, over three hours, tells us how Patton survived a series of largely self-inflicted setbacks to his career and was able, eventually, to triumphantly return to the job he was born to: commanding an army in battle.  But none of this has much to do with the issue I want to discuss.  Whilst I was watching the film again, it struck me the extent to which fiction influences our perceptions of reality.  The fact is that just about every film and TV portrayal of Patton since 1970 that I've seen has clearly been informed exclusively by George C Scott's performance, rather than the real man.  Inevitably, he is plated as a brusque, cigar chomping egotist with a raspy voice.  In reality, if you ever watch newsreel footage of the actual, historical, General Patton, you will find that he comes over as a far smoother personality, with no cigars in sight and, most surprisingly, a nasal, quite high-pitched voice.

But people prefer the fictional Patton - his image somehow matches the achievements and misdemeanours of the real man better than the man himself does.  But the film's influence goes beyond what is now the accepted image of Patton, to include even contemporary popular perceptions of the actual campaigns he participated in.  I've lost count of the number of websites I've come across which cite as true incidents what are actually scenes from the movie.  Scenes which were created entirely for dramatic purposes, in fact, and which never actually occurred.  Once again, the fictional version seems to be more satisfying than the reality.  This seems particularly true with regard to Patton's supposed relationship with Montgomery - the film characterises this as being an intense rivalry, with little love lost between the two.  In actuality, whilst the rivalry existed, it was nowhere near as intense as shown in the film and there was a high degree of mutual respect between them. 

The problem, of course, is that many people take the film at face value, assuming that it is a straightforward biopic.  Except that it isn't that straightforward.  The film uses the World War Two career of the real Patton to provide the bare bones of an examination of the kind of men who successfully fight wars.  It is a portrayal of a man who lives for war - not that he is a warmonger, but rather a man who can only truly have a purpose whilst fighting a war.  For men like Patton, the film suggests, war is a state of mind.  He isn't just at war with the enemy.  As the film shows, he spends almost as much time in conflict with his allies, (represented by the exaggerated rivalry with Monty), his men (the soldier-slapping incident), his colleagues, (the arguments with Bradley and Truscott during the Sicily campaign) and even his own commanders, (his constant clashes with an unseen Eisenhower).  Men like Patton and Montgomery, the film suggests, also understand that war is only possible if it can be glorified, if you can create heroes and villains, myths of honour and sacrifice.  Otherwise it would never be possible to motivate men to fight.  The ultimate irony is that by being successful - winning wars - such men ultimately make themselves redundant, creating a peacetime world in which they have no place.

So there you have it: Patton - a great and insightful film, but don't mistake it for history.  The 'real' events and personalities were far less flamboyant and clear cut.


Thursday, March 28, 2013

Utterly Predictable

Apparently your Facebook 'likes' and such can betray a lot about your personality.  If you list, say The Wizard of Oz as your favourite film then you are likely to be gay, whereas posting the Godfather means that you are intellectual.  You can always tell when it is a slow news day when newspapers and other media outlets feature this kind of 'story'.  I mean, the 'analysis' involved is all a bit facile, isn't it?  It seems to be based on a set of shallow cultural stereotypes - all gay men like Judy Garland films, don't they?  As for the idea that liking The Godfather indicates a degree of intellectualism - that's utterly laughable.  It seems to be based on the idea that having the endurance to sit through very long films requires intelligence. It doesn't, it just requires good bladder control. If The Godfather had a complex plot, there might be some merit in this assumption,  But it doesn't.  If this 'study' had said that liking, say Luis Bunuel films, was a sign of intellectualism, then I might give it more credence.  But the people behind it, and certainly the journalists promoting it, have probably never heard of Bunuel.

However, we live in an age when the media, advertisers, search engines, even governments, believe that we can all be reduced to series of simple social signals which can predict our behaviour.  It's the age of the algorithm, as promoted by Google, where it is assumed that if you have enough data about individuals you can predict their every desire, thought or activity.  Such simplistic reductionism isn't just depressing - it is just plain wrong.  One of the things which really bug me on the net are those bloody adverts which follow you around, from site to site.  They're the result of having made a search for something on Google, with the various Google ads used on many sites responding to your search terms by displaying 'appropriate' adverts.  You've searched for something, so you must be planning to buy it, right?  Wrong.  I search for stuff for all sorts of reasons. usually just plain curiosity.  I don't think I've ever bought anything as a result of a search I've made online.  Indeed, once I've satisfied my curiosity by searching for something, that's it.  I'm no longer interested.  But Google just keeps on displaying those ads which I'll never click on.  Often for days afterward.  Which is actually counter-productive, as it means that they aren't displaying non-related ads I might click on.  But hey - search activity accurately predicts future behaviour, so the algorithm says.  Who am I to argue?  Clearly I must be wrong.

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Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Staggering Through

It's only Tuesday and already I feel like I'm staggering through the week in a state of semi-exhaustion.  Obviously, the continuing refusal of Spring to arrive, leaving us the grip of what feels like a sixth consecutive month of freezing cold Winter isn't helping.  Added to that is the fact that I appear to become invisible when I'm in the office, either that or I've ceased to exist, (although, if we believe Descartes, I must exist as I think, at least, I think that I think).  Either way, I seem to spend most of my office time not being spoken to - particularly by managers who just look through me as if I'm not there.  Maybe I'm not.  I'm certainly not there in mind.  To digress slightly, the apparent lack of any social graces on the part of what passes for management in the modern workplace increasingly irks me.  I always thought that so-called 'people skills' were meant to be one of the core competences for successful managers.  Clearly I was wrong, as these days they don't seem to want to interact with staff at all, let alone manage them.

Getting back to the point, such as it is, on top of everything else I seem to be constantly beset by problems.  If it isn't the car misfiring and generally feeling lacklustre, then it is the anti-virus software on my laptop suddenly throwing up malware alerts.  Actually, the car was relatively straight forward to fix: a tankful of super unleaded petrol rather than the low octane regular unleaded it usually gets has restored its get-up-and-go and has it running as smooth as silk.  The laptop issue was also eventually resolved by completely removing an application I rarely used but which seemed vulnerable to malware.  The problem, in both cases, was the amount of time I had to waste in order to isolate the root problem in order to resolve it.  No wonder I feel so bloody weary!  Still, at least it is only a four day week, with Good Friday a bank holiday.  I have a whole stack of DVDs which intend spending the day watching.  Accompanied by beer and toasted sandwiches, obviously.  Then, thankfully, I have a week off of work, during which, hopefully, I'll finally make some progress with the much delayed next edition of The Sleazecast.  So, just two more working days to stagger through...   


Monday, March 25, 2013

Bloody Immigrants!

It's those bloody immigrants again!  Coming here, taking our jobs, taking our houses, probably taking our women and eating our dogs.  It's about time the government got tough on them!  We can all heave a sigh of relief now that 'Call me Dave' Cameron is cracking down and saying that they can't get on housing lists or claim benefits until they've been resident in an area for at least three years, agree to skin whitening treatment and learn to speak 175 selected deferential English phrases in received pronunciation.  That'll show 'em!  Yes indeed, we're back in that tabloid fantasy land that politicians retreat to when they're desperate to shore up their poll ratings and their policies are in tatters.  It is the place where all of our ills are the fault of some minority group they think they can safely scapegoat.  Never mind the facts, just find someone to blame.  Never mind the consequences, just find some group to demonise. 

Immigrants, especially non-white immigrants, are always a good target - they are sufficiently 'different' to us, both culturally and visually, that they can be easily identified.  Everybody knows who the government means when it says 'immigrants'.  That said, credit where credit is due, this shambolic government has tried a few other groups to scapegoat for its own ineptitude, most notably the disabled.  Remember when they were blaming them for the recession?  The bastards were all claiming too many disability benefits, which were costing good honest hard working taxpayers billions, apparently.  You could see the logic - the disabled are generally pretty easy to identify, (the wheelchairs, white sticks, guide dogs and such are a dead giveaway) - and they aren't an ethnic minority, so you can't be accused of racism by picking on them.  The trouble is that they are a pretty powerful lobby group and most people are naturally sympathetic to them - their disabilities aren't they're fault.  No matter how they dress it up, there's no way the government could ever convince the wider public that disability is a lifestyle choice. 

Unlike poverty, of course.  The poor were the government's next scapegoats, as witnessed by all that 'workers vs shirkers' nonsense.  Incredibly, this seems to have some traction with some of the public who, despite the fact that we are in the middle of a massive economic downturn, seem to believe that the unemployed are idle bastards, jobless by choice.  The fact that huge numbers of them have been made redundant and the lack of economic growth, (thanks, largely, to the government's economic policy), means that there are no new jobs, doesn't come into it, apparently.  Nevertheless, scapegoating the poor was never going to work in the long term - not only are they too much like 'us', but most of us are all too aware that, through no fault of our own, we could easily join them.  So they had no choice but to come back to those bloody immigrants as public enemy number one!  The bastards!  


Friday, March 22, 2013

False Advertising

I saw this poster for the 1975 dinosaur flick The Land That Time Forgot over at the ever excellent Island of Terror blog, and borrowed/stole it for today's post. It fascinated me for a number of reasons, but chiefly because it is so misleading.  Sure, the actual movie has dinosaurs, albeit not as frightening or accurate looking as the ones in the illustration, not to mention a submarine, but it is those other underwater elements which puzzle me.  Let's start with the obvious - that submerged Tyrannosaur.  Whilst it is entirely possible that large bipedal carnivorous dinosaurs could swim, I think it unlikely that you'd ever find one apparently walking along the sea bed.  In the film itself, it is some kind of plesiosaur, which were fully aquatic, which attacks the sub.  But as I said, at least there are dinosaurs in the film, whereas I don't recall there being any giant octopuses, bathyspheres or divers in it.  Indeed, that diver appears to be wearing a fairly modern type of gear, of a kind which didn't see widespread usage until World War Two.  The film itself was set in World Ware One, making the diver somewhat anachronistic.  Not as anachronistic as that submarine, though.  In the actual movie, it is a bog standard U-Boat, but on that poster it looks more like the Seaview from Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, complete with glass nose!

But most perplexing is what appears to be a laser beam armed giant manta ray, which is attacking the sub.  Quite where that came from I don't know.  There is nothing remotely resembling it in the film!  The key to all of this lies, I think, in the fact that this appears to be a US poster for the film, (it refers to AIP as the distributor, whereas, as I recall, British Lion distributed it in the UK).  Clearly, experience exploitation merchants AIP didn't think that the movie's ropey - yet endearing - special effects, including puppet dinosaurs, alone would be sufficient to sell it to US teenagers.  Hence the beefing up of the supposed threats faced by the protagonists.  I also suspect that the anachronistic diver and submarine were an attempt to disguise the World War One setting, which the distributors probably feared would put off their target teenage audience.  Interestingly, although the octopus and bathysphere didn't appear in this film, they do appear in a later film from the same producers: Warlords of Atlantis.  Released in 1978, it even starred Doug McClure again.  I wonder if the makers were inspired by this poster?  Anyway, for the the purposes of comparison, here is the slightly less misleading UK poster:


Thursday, March 21, 2013

A Knock on the Door in the Night

When is this god awful weather going to end and who was knocking on my front door after midnight?  To address the first question - we're now pretty much two thirds of the way through March and it still feels like winter and I'm still being threatened with snow.  This is meant to be the start of Spring for God's sake!  I'm not expecting a heatwave, but some milder temperatures and a sight of the sun would be in order.  And do the weather forecasters help?  No, they do not.  They just predict yet more of the same for the foreseeable future!  It's Easter at the end of next week and, laughably, the start of British Summer Time!  Once again, I'm moved to ask: what's David Cameron going to do about this weather?  He's always keen to cut spending on essential services, but apparently not willing to cut bad weather.  We want fewer cold, rainy or snowy days - do something about it Cameron!  I don't care if it is all part of an EU directive aimed at evening out the weather in Europe and ensuring that everyone has to endure the same amount of climactic misery - sort it!  I don't the Spanish or Italians suffering constant blizzards and freezing cold, isn't about time they were forced to share their sunny weather with us and take their share of the misery?  Come on Cameron. you are always telling us how you are going to sort those European bastards out - well, how about making a start by grabbing us some of the Mediterranean bastards' sunshine, eh?

Now, having sorted that out, let's get to the other pressing question: was it you knocking on my front door in the early hours?  Now, I don't like people knocking on my door at any time, but after midnight it really is beyond the pale.  I know what you are thinking - why didn't he answer it, then he'd know who it was.  But let me ask you, would you answer a knock on your front door, after midnight, when you aren't expecting anyone?  To put it all in perspective, I was minding my own business, sat on my sofa watching an episode of American Dad I couldn't remember having seen before, thinking about going to bed, when there's this knock.  Naturally, I jumped, then, on auto-pilot, went to pick up my keys and open the door to the hall way.  Then I stopped as I recalled what time it was, that I wasn't expecting anyone and that I don't have a security chain on the door.  Was I going to open it to God knows who in the middle of the night?  Moreover, it occurred to me that, whoever it was, hadn't used the, pretty prominent, door knocker, as any regular caller would, but had instead knocked on the wooden surface of the door with their hand, (they are two distinctly different sounds).  So I decided to sit back down and see what happened.  If it was some kind of emergency they would knock again, I reasoned.  Likewise, if it was, for some reason, the police, they would knock again and probably identify themselves by shouting through the letter box.  There was no further knock, so I have to assume that whoever it was went away.  Assuming it was no one I knew, (If it was, surely they would have phoned), it raises the question of exactly what kind of idiot goes around knocking on complete stranger's doors after midnight? 

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Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The Idiocy of Strangers

I can see that this is going to be one of those weeks when I can't settle to post anything substantive here, settling instead for lightweight trivia and meanderings.  Today, for instance, I'm going to ponder on something that came up in a recent pub conversation.  Have you ever noticed how, here in the UK, complete strangers seem to have a burning desire to give you their unsolicited opinions?  For all I know, this phenomena might not be unique to the UK, perhaps it is universal.  However, I can only speak for these septic isles.  Getting back to the point, you must have encountered this phenomena, when, as you are walking down the street, say, someone you've never seen before feels moved to give you their opinion on, for instance, your attire, shouting 'Nice tie, mate. Eh?'  Or it could be your shirt, hat, haircut even, that they just have to comment on.  I've had them telling me how full my briefcase is - 'Bulging a bit, eh, mate!' -  or shouting 'What ho, Biggles' because I'm wearing a leather jacket lined with fake sheep skin, (funnily enough, such clowns aren't so smart arsed during the depths of winter when they are shivering and I'm nice and warm in my jacket).

Obviously, the question is: why?  Why on earth do these individuals think that you are remotely interested in their opinions?  Speaking personally, I can honestly say that I have never been walking down the street, seen a complete stranger, and decided that I needed to shout some observation at them.  I'm pretty sure most other normal people feel the same way.  Are they mentally disturbed?  Or do they feel so inadequate that they think that shouting at strangers in the street is the only way they can get themselves heard? I suppose that this behaviour isn't a million miles removed from the oafs who feel moved to shout 'compliments' at women they don't know on the street.  Although I find this latter activity far more sinister, it always seems just a few steps away from full blown sexual harassment.  That said, making loud unsolicited comments on people's appearance can also be sinister - there's no doubt that it can include a degree of intimidation, as they are trying to call everyone within earshot's attention to you, and clearly implying some form of ridicule regarding some aspect of your appearance.  But what is the best response to these idiots?  Probably ignoring them is the safest course although, when I was younger and stupider I did challenge a few of them.  Responding with 'Do I know you?  No? Then what makes you think I'm interested in your opinion?  If, for some reason, I ever want it, I'll ask for it.  Until then, shut the fuck up.' can sometimes stop them in their tracks.  I would recommend a rapid exit after delivering such a retort though, before they have time to realise what's happened.

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Monday, March 18, 2013

Tweet FA

Somebody unfollowed me on Twitter, (I have so few followers that I tend to notice these things).  The sad thing is that, despite the lack of followers on my account, I can't for the life of me recall who it is that has stopped following me.  Not that I blame them for unfollowing me - my updates have become sporadic, to say the least.  I really can't be arsed.  The trouble with social media is that it isn't designed for anti-social people like me.  Besides, to really use things like Twitter effectively, you have to be online twenty four hours a day.  Thankfully, I'm not.  I'm at work without access to the web for large parts of the day, meaning that, even if I wanted to, I couldn't realistically tweet anything outside of evening hours.  Not only that, but other than tweeting new stories posted on The Sleaze, I really don't know what else I should be tweeting.  I mean, my life is so dull and uneventful it hardly seems fair to inflict it on other people.

Of course, a lack of tweets isn't the only reason for unfollowing someone - I recently unfollowed someone who was tweeting too much and swamping my timeline with stuff I really wasn't interested in.  (Interestingly, despite expecting them to reciprocate, they haven't unfollowed me).  It was my own fault - I shouldn't have followed them in the first place - I only did it because they'd followed me.  The experience of being overwhelmed by a prolific tweeter has left me wondering how those people who follow hundreds, if not thousands, of Twitter accounts ever make sense out of their feeds?  They must be continually blasted with a stream of trivia, narcissism and idiocy all day long.  It's impossible to properly assimilate that quantity of continuously streaming information.  It must simply become a stream of incoherent babble.  But getting back to my lamentable excuse for a Twitter feed, (which also serves as The Sleaze's Twitter feed), I really should make more effort, I know.  Apparently social media is the future for generating web traffic.  Not that I've seen much evidence to support this oft-repeated truism peddled by so called 'SEO experts'.  Maybe it would help if I split the feed up: retaining the existing feed as a personal account and setting up a new one for the site?  Who knows?  Who cares?

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Friday, March 15, 2013

Rock and Roll Pope?

So, what do you think of that new Pope, eh?  A bloody Argentinian!  Well, he'd better not try any of that 'hand of God' bollocks, or he can go screw!  Still, at least he isn't a Nazi, like the last one.  But hey, don't worry because there are now allegations of his collusion with Argentina's late, unlamented, military dictatorship - so we still have a moral stick to beat the Papacy with!  As he's a Jesuit, can we expect to see him start dispensing with some of the Catholic church's more ostentatious aspects - perhaps redistributing some of its wealth to the poor?  I'm not holding my breath.  If nothing else, at least he's chosen a new name - Francis - rather than rehashing any of the old standards like John, Paul, John Paul or Benedict.  I don't know about you, but the lack of originality in Pope names was really beginning to bug me.  I swear, if there had been another Pius, I would have screamed.  You'd think that they'd at least try revisiting some of the ones we haven't had for at least a century - aren't we overdue another Pope Adrian, Sixtus, Callixtus or Urban?  Or how about another Boniface, Clement or Innocent?

But Pope Francis it is - named, no doubt, for Francis Rossi of Status Quo in a desperate attempt to modernise the church by showing those crazy kids that even the Vatican has heard about that new-fangled rock'n'roll.  Maybe that's going to be this Pope's gimmick - standing on the balcony overlooking St Peter's Square thrashing his guitar as he belts out a few Quo covers.  The selection of another Septuagenarian for the Papacy, whilst clearly a brave blow against ageism, is worryingly reminiscent of the last days of the Soviet Union, when they kept selecting old men as leaders.  Old men in poor health, to be accurate, who kept going down with what the Soviet media described as 'a heavy cold', which resulted in them vanishing from public view for several months, until it was announced that the cold had escalated to death.  Perhaps that's why Pope Benedict resigned so abruptly - he felt a 'heavy cold' coming on.

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Thursday, March 14, 2013

Human Rights and Wrongs

Just what does our pathetic excuse for a government have against human rights?  Actually, to be absolutely fair, they're all in favour of human rights just so long as they don't apply in the UK.  Of course, when it comes to the UK, we know what the official line on human rights in general, and the Human Rights Act in particular is - human rights legislation is biased in favour of criminals and too easily exploited by nasty types like terrorists, foreigners and Muslims.  Somehow, by scrapping the Human Rights Act and withdrawing from the European Convention on Human Rights, we can magically protect ourselves from all these evil-doers.  Incredibly, a large proportion of the UK's public seem to support such a crackpot view, seemingly too stupid to grasp that if you take away the 'rights' of criminals, then you take these rights away from all of us.  Perhaps I shouldn't be so hard on these people - after all, they've had the right-wing press ramming this anti-human rights propaganda down their throats for years now.  Is it any wonder they've been brainwashed into supporting their own potential oppression? 

The right's position is predicated on the idea that we can neatly identify 'good' and 'bad' people and separate them into discreet groups, with only the 'good' being entitled to rights.  In the real world, of course, it just isn't that simple - we have no choice but t extend rights to everyone, regardless, as the only thing we can know for sure about them is that they are human.  The right-wing propaganda plays heavily on the fact that, most of the time, the only people we see invoking their human rights are those accused of crimes, thereby giving the distorted impression that human rights favour the accused.  In reality, obviously, the vast majority don't have to invoke our human rights, because we aren't ever in a position where we would need to, but the fact is that we can never know when we could find ourselves falsely accused or victimised by authority.  At which point, believe you me, you'll be vary glad of the fact that the constitution, via the Human Rights Act, guarantees you certain basic rights and freedoms.  

The problem for the right lies in the very concept of everyone having 'rights'.  For them, things like liberty and human rights are privileges which are earned - or rather bought - through economic and social success, or even just birth right.  For them, discerning the 'good' people worthy of such rights is easy - just look at their levels of wealth and power.   That's why they don't like human rights - they are designed to level the playing field and prevent the rich and powerful from abusing their position privilege.  Not to mention regulate our relationship with the state.  It's worth bearing in mind that if the likes of Theresa May get their way, then, in human rights terms, the UK will be left on a par with the likes of China or Uzbekistan.  As I've said before on this blog, how we treat the most reviled members of our society in terms of rights is a measure of how civilised we are.  The simple fact is that by protecting their rights, we are also guaranteeing ours - there is no other way.

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Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Taxing Times

Remember the good old days of the late nineties, when Major's Tory government was clearly on the way out, collapsing under the weight of its own sleaze, and its various showbiz supporters were quaking at the thought of a Labour government?  Hardly a day went by without one of the right wing tabloids publishing a story in which some celebrity or other threatened to leave the country if Labour were elected, citing the spectre of high taxes.  As if that was going to deter any of us from voting Labour.  On the contrary, the thought that a Blair victory might drive the likes of Andrew Lloyd-Webber or Paul Daniels out of the country was a positive incentive to vote for them.  Sadly, in the event, none of bastards buggered off and we're still suffering their presence.  Of course, this sort of thing isn't unique to the UK - only recently Gerard Depardieu left France in a huff over the government's taxing of rich bastards, but we haven't had much of it on this side of the Channel for a while.  Until top geezer, cockney stereotype hard man and West Ham supporter Ray Winstone recently appeared to threaten to leave the country over the issue of tax.

Naturally, my first reaction to the headline I saw about this development was to think it was a case of another working class actor making good and turning Tory-voting class traitor.  But upon a closer reading it seems that, unlike Depardieu, Winstone isn't set to disappoint me.  On the contrary, I was left respecting him more than I had before (even if he does support the Hammers).  It seems that the crux of his objections to paying taxes isn't that he thinks he pays too much, but rather that he objects to the fact that his taxes aren't being spent on things like road maintenance, public transport and state schools.  Which, to me, seems like a rebuke aimed at the government and its economic 'austerity' policy which sees public spending being slashed.  It's things like this which help to restore my faith in human nature and reassures me that I'm not alone in understanding the purpose of taxation: it isn't - as too many rich bastards seem to think, a punishment - but rather a contribution to building and maintaining a civilised society which benefits us all.  Thank God for Ray Winstone!

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Monday, March 11, 2013

Workers of the World (Part Two)

I'm sure that I was planning to post something profound today.  But I'm damned if I can remember what it was.  So, picking up from where I left off on Friday, organising labour internationally so as to more effectively counter the threat posed to us all by international capital, is jut one of the steps we have to take if we are to be able to fight the establishment more effectively.  The reality is that traditional forms of industrial action - strikes - just aren't effective in the world we currently have to live in.  As I tried to argue on Friday, such direct confrontations with employers and the government are simply not productive - particularly when it is a single union involved.  This isn't the 1970s, we can't bring the overwhelming force of the entire union movement to bear any more.  Not that we have much collective force any more, we're so weakened by anti-union legislation and lack of membership.  Indeed, strike action these days runs the risk of exposing just how weak our position is if, as in the case of my union, pro-strike ballots are based on a less than thirty percent turnout of the membership.  Poorly supported strikes with picket lines either non-existent or, worse, ignored, simply undermine our legitimacy.

Whilst I know that it can be argued that low ballot turnouts simply reflect a wider apathy toward voting (as in the PPC elections), and we can always point to the fact that the current Prime Minister couldn't actually manage to get a majority at the last election, this issue needs to be addressed more seriously.  We really need to ask why it is that our own membership feels so alienated that we can't move them even to vote in a ballot, let alone actually take industrial action?  Speaking personally, I'm convinced that it is, in large part, down to the union's failure to properly engage with its own membership in the workplace.  They need to be seen more actually intervening to try and resolve everyday workplace problems and disputes.  Sadly, in my experience, union reps seem reluctant to get involved in anything that might risk conflict with local management.  But even if we can motivate the membership to vote in a ballot, is it reasonable to expect them to lose money by engaging in ineffective strike action?  The reality is that, in our currently weakened state, the union movement has to be smarter in how it handles disputes.  Personally, I've always favoured the strict work to rule.  This has many advantages, particularly against the current background of 'down sizing' the work force.  What, in reality, this means, is that the workplace becomes overly reliant upon 'godwill' in order to function, with many of us performing tasks well outside of our normal terms of employment.  A work to rule in many workplaces, especially mine, would see them grind to a halt.  But there's little employers can do about it - they certainly can't dock our pay as we're still fulfilling our contractual obligations.

However, from the point of view of union leaderships, a work to rule is difficult to organise, implement and maintain.  Most crucially, they aren't as high-profile and don't usually get your face on TV.  They also take time to work.  In this age of instant gratification, it seems the leadership prefers the less effective, but more photogenic, one-day strike.  Ultimately, the only way to effect real positive change with regard to pay and conditions is through political influence.  Sadly, we allowed the 'New Labour' project to effectively bundle us out of the mainstream of Labour Party policy making, (whilst still taking our financial support).  Moreover, public sector unions like mine which disavow any form of political affiliation, have completely forfeited any chance of directly influencing the political process.  Nonetheless, this is where we should be focusing our energies -  on trying to achieve lasting political change that improves the lot of the working man and woman.

There endeth today's sermon!

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Friday, March 08, 2013

Workers of the World

It's an unpalatable fact, one that many people don't want to hear, that wars and battles are generally won as the result of the application of overwhelming force.  I'm afraid that all those films and stories where tiny bands of brave warriors hold off entire armies have lied to you.  Zulu was the exception, not the rule.  The key word, of course, is 'application',  It is no good having the superior force (be it in numerical or technological terms) if you can't apply it effectively.  Which is where things like logistics come in - this sort of stuff isn't glamourous, but it is what keeps armies moving and thereby wins wars.  Believe me, in those rare cases where smaller forces do overcome larger forces, it is because the larger force suffered from poor logistics - if units aren't supplied properly, they can't fight effectively.  There are other things which can determine the outcome of battles: geography, climate and weather conditions being amongst the most important.  But ultimately, it is the ability to apply overwhelming force - through logistics, discipline, organisation and technology - which counts the most.

But why am I telling you this?  Well, I was put in mind of the reality of successful military actions earlier this week by the news that my Union has called another one day strike for a couple of weeks time, this time in pursuit of a pay claim.  Now, I've been out on strike before and lost pay I can ill afford to lose, even when, as now, voted against strike action, but this time I really fail to see the point.  Last time I was on a picket line we had all the public service Unions out with us - to little ultimate effect - but this time it is just us.  We don't have overwhelming force on our side. let alone the means to apply it.  The fact is that our opponents here - the government- do have overwhelming force at their disposal and have shown their willingness to deploy it in order to destroy organised labour.  A full-frontal confrontation of this nature is akin to the folly of World War One when thousands of soldiers were thrown across no-man's land time and time again to no effect, other than senseless slaughter.  All it will do is further erode the Union's support as they keep calling upon some of the lowest paid workers in the country to give up a day's pay for no discernible return.  We have to be smarter than this.  We have to look to the bigger picture.  The truth of it is that we're at war with international capital which has no regard for national boundaries, other than as a convenient means of pitting worker against worker in an iniquitous competition to see who can endure the lowest wages and worst working conditions in exchange for the privilege of working.  The only way we stand a chance against these bastards is for labour to forget its usual insularity and parochial preoccupation with defending only its own narrow little patch, and to organise internationally.  Only then can we work toward ensuring that all workers of the world get a decent wage and conditions and stop the capitalists from pitting us against each other.  Sadly, I don't see it happening any time soon.

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Thursday, March 07, 2013

Selfish Bastard

I appear to be living in some kind of parallel universe where Spurs are leading Inter Milan three-nil in the first leg of a Europa League tie.  Which might go some way to explaining why I've been feeling so out of sorts of late.  I just don't feel comfortable or at ease lately.  Partly it seems to be down to tiredness - I really haven't been sleeping of late, troubled by dreams I can't quite remember, but which I know disturbed me.  Unusually, from what little I can recall of them, these dreams seem to be continuous narratives, often picking up where I left off before the previous dream woke me up.  Added to that is a nagging bout of sinus congestion which seems impossible to shake off.  Then there's the idiocies I'm having to endure at work which, if they weren't so stressful, would be funny.  All of which has left me feeling uncomfortable and irritable.  Not helping all of this is the way in which various people are suddenly making demands upon me, but not reciprocating.  Don't you just hate it when you haven't seen or heard from someone in an age, then they turn up only to want something from you? 

The fact is that, right now, I'd really like it for someone to listen to me and try to solve my problems.  Just for once, that would be nice.  It would also be nice if people didn't get all judgemental when I'm reluctant to give them my time and accuse me of being selfish.  Well, you know something?  I am being bloody selfish - I'm tired of always being there for everyone else and now I want to do what I want to do, when I want to do it.  Anyway, speaking of problems, my ISP (which, you recall, is being sold to Sky) is making it ever easier for me to part company with them sooner, rather than later.  After a supposed 'network upgrade' earlier this week, the connection is noticeably slower, with even small files taking an age to download.  Which isn't surprising, as I've now found that I'm being routed via London rather than a more local server.  How is that an upgrade?

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Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Artless Capitalism

That whole business about the abandoned sale at US auction of a supposed Banksy painting, prised from a Poundland wall in London, raises some interesting questions as to the nature of public art.  OK, I know this isn't exactly topical anymore, but I had intended to talk about this last week, but I got distracted by a shitty work week and other stuff.  Anyway, getting back to the point, the main issue raised here is that of 'ownership'.  When art is created in this 'geurilla' fashion, using public areas (in this case the wall of a shop), who does it actually belong to - the artist, the owner of the wall, or its presumed intended audience, the public?  Clearly, the owners of the building the wall was attached to think that the answer is simple - they own it by virtue of it being on their property.  Which consequently gives them the right to remove and try to sell it.  But I don't think that it is that simple.  Regardless of where the art appears, surely the artist has retains some kind of intellectual property rights over it, particularly if they haven't actually formally sold it to anyone?  Moreover, surely the intent of the original artist must count for something?  When an art work is posted publicly like this, doesn't it imply that the artist intends it to be freely accessible to all?

But, of course, we live in an age when wealth and corporate interests seek dominion over everything.  All things must have 'ownership', they must be commodities which can be bought and sold.   Especially art, which capital insists must be 'privatised' and taken out of the public arena wherever possible.  But is something like the Banksy in question actually continue to be art when removed from its original context?  Arguably, once it is removed from that wall, it is divorced from its original meaning as public art and becomes just a piece of painted plaster.  Also, the attempt at auctioning it was predicated on the assumption that it was created by Banksy.  But what if it wasn't, would it still have had monetary value?   Surely art should have intrinsic artistic value, regardless of its origin?  But, like I said, we live in a world where the wealthy believe only in materialistic values.  The whole concept of art being a free public resource, without any actual monetary value or ownership, is completely alien to them.  Rather than being something to experience and enjoy, it is merely an investment to be locked away and consumed privately.  Bastards.


Monday, March 04, 2013

Up The Arse?

Well, I'm emotionally exhausted after all the drama of yesterday's North London derby.  Make no mistake this was the North London derby, held at White Hart Lane, not be confused with the lesser reverse fixture held at the Enema, or whatever the Gooners call their stadium these days.  Anyway, the result went the right way with three points for the Spurs, putting us back into third place ahead of Cheatski.  Much as I hate the Arse, we now have a situation where I could envisage myself actually cheering them on in their next Champions League match, the second leg of their tie against Bayern Munich.  Now, before you all think that I've gone completely insane, let me explain myself.  Cast your minds back to the end of last season when we finished fourth and, by all rights, should have claimed the last Champions League qualifying place.  However, seventh placed Cheatski, (not even qualifying for the Europa League in that position, they'd been so poor all season), somehow managed to win the Champions League final, (they only had three shots on goal all match and they were all during the penalty shoot-out), and were unjustly awarded the fourth qualifying place so as to be able to defend their title, (which they've unsurprisingly failed to do), leaving us in the Europa League.

Well, if the Premier League finishes with the top four as they are now, Spurs will safely qualify for the Champions League in third, leaving Cheatski in fourth.  Now, if Arsenal (who are still just about in the competition), were to somehow win the Champions League, then Cheatski would be denied the place they thought they'd earned and would be cast into the outer darkness that is the Europa League.  A fitting fate, I think you'd agree.  But to achieve it, infuriatingly, we'd have to accept the Arse becoming Champions of Europe.  Could any Spurs supporter bring themselves to cheer on the old enemy in a Champions League final if it meant screwing Cheatski in the process?  Reluctantly, I have to say that I've come to hate Cheatski so much that I would.  Because, whatever one might say about the Gooners, they aren't Cheatski.  Don't get me wrong, I still detest the Arse, but at least they aren't racists.  Oh, and they don't go around tapping up our players and staff, either, (not since the 1970s, anyway - I don't count Sol Campbell as not only do I refuse to acknowledge his existence after his betrayal, but at least they waited until he was out of contract).  Luckily, though, it's a dilemma I'm unlikely to have to face, as Arsenal will need a miracle to turn around the first leg result against Bayern, let alone reach the final.  But it's a fascinating scenario, nonetheless.


Friday, March 01, 2013

Sky Falling

I knew today was going too well.  The weather felt milder, it was a Friday, the weekend was beckoning, I had several bottles of 'Two Hoots' golden ale cooling off in the fridge.  Then I saw on the BBC News site that my ISP had been sold to BSkyB and would be absorbed into Sky Broadband.  Jesus!  What a disaster!  It took me many years to find a decent ISP that gave me genuinely unlimited broadband at a reasonable price, combined with decent customer service and reliability.  I detest having to change ISP - it is usually a chore and inevitably goes wrong at some point, leaving me with no broadband for a day or so - but this news leaves me with no choice.  Most fundamentally, there is a matter of principle involved here - I absolutely refuse to give money to any part of the Murdoch empire.  I won't buy his newspapers and I won't watch his TV stations, so I'll be damned if I'll take his broadband services.  There is also a purely practical consideration too, namely that Sky insists its broadband customers also switch their phonelines to them.  Again, no way.  I don't especially like dealing with BT for my landline, (my experiences with them have been chronicled elsewhere on this blog), but at least they aren't Murdoch.

But, having made the decision to change ISP, the question is, who do I switch to?   BT's stewardship of my phoneline has been so miserable - characterised by appallingly dismal customer service - my instinct is not to let them also handle (and probably screw up) my broadband as well.  Virgin are out.  I won't have anything to do with any business linked to Richard Branson.  He's as poisonous as Murdoch in my opinion.  Moreover, Virgin Media is actually NTL and I had a very bad time with them when I was a cable customer - poor reliability, extremely bad customer service.  Eventually I threw them out of my house, lock, stock and barrel.  Which is the reason I don't have cable TV any more.  As for TalkTalk, the other main player, I've only ever heard bad things about their services.  All of which brings us to the crux of the matter: the UK ISP market is currently dominated by a handful of players - many of the smaller ISPs, upon closer inspection often turn out to be owned by one of the main players.  The remaining independent ISPs are frequently so small that they offer prohibitively high prices for home users.  Luckily, the migration to Sky won't start for another six months, so there's no rush to switch just yet.  There is a positive side to all this - I can seriously consider upgrading to a fibre service, which my current ISP doesn't offer.  One thing seems sure, judging by the comments on my current ISPs forum, I won't be alone in giving Sky the cold shoulder.

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