Log in

Steve's random and often belligerent Journal [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]
Uncle Steve

[ userinfo | livejournal userinfo ]
[ archive | journal archive ]

[Links:| [Unconsidered Trifles] [Post a Secret] [The Independent] [BBC News] [Guardian] [BBC photos page] [Cat Town] [Get Human] [The Slant] [The Onion] ]
[Best:| [The Greatest Fantasy Novel Ever Written, etext] [CD: 'Has Been'] [Patricia McKillip] ]
[Food:| [RealGoodTaste Blog] [cocoa-loco] [Artisanduchocolat] ]
[Charity:| [The UK Wolf Conservation Trust] [London Wildlife Trust] [sweet-charity.net] ]
[Misc:| [The only link to 'Celtic' history/myth you need] [Chambers' Book of Days] [Awesome online board games shop from Canada] [EchoBazaar browser game] ]
[My Pages:| [MY PHOTOGRAPHY] [Facebook] [We Heart It] ]
[Wishlist:| [MY WISHLIST!] ]

(no subject) [Dec. 23rd, 2016|04:26 pm]
Uncle Steve
[Tags|, ]

A politics summary of 2016, and looking ahead to 2017.

Just think: somewhere in an alternate universe the Remain vote won, the UK government isn't playing with actual fascism, the US government isn't made of actual white supremacists, and climate change deniers, and Dominionist Christians, and a military adviser who wrote a book saying he hates all Muslims, Trident and Heathrow didn't get approved, they're not talking about making Farage a Lord and Trump wasn't Time's Person of the Year, the Dakota pipeline company aren't claiming they'll go ahead anyway, the Tories didn't punish the Disabled to the point that the UN had to get involved, the Prime Minister didn't want to make companies list foreign workers to 'shame' them, and Obama isn't handing over the Presidency to an unqualified compulsive-liar narcissist backed by the KKK.

On the plus side, we no longer need to be polite. We're in post-truth, actual-fascist, grab 'em by the pussy land now, and the exhausting task of using logic or reality to appeal to these assholes can be put aside in favour of fighting and resisting. 2017 is going to be hard work, but I'm actually optimistic. Not about what will happen of course, that's going to be horrific, which is why so many of us were taken by surprise: of COURSE Trump wouldn't be elected, his lies and angry attacks were part of the old world falling away powerless because everyone knows he and his followers were finished a decade ago. They're in the dictionary under "Always wrong", we learnt that from the age of 4 onwards, they're the group you patriotically fight *against*, always. Except now, they're not. Now he, and the Brexit fanatics and UKIP psychos and "you're unpatriotic if you disagree with us / all Remain MPs should resign" Conservative wankers and the many hard-right parties in Europe are all increasingly the mainstream, and they've got big support. 2017 is not going to be a sudden relief after 2016, it's going to be a fight against people who are already full of hate and willing to use governmental power to cause harm. They can be resisted, it just takes stamina. At least we don't have to smile at them anymore.

And at least we can be absolutely sure which side we're on. Nothing is grey in 2017. Our enemies are those who said "My anger is more important than your safety." Which is the same as saying "My anger is more important than morality". "Obviously a guy who grabs women and calls Mexicans rapists and wants to put Muslims on a register is BAD, but I'm angry at being ignored right now, so nothing else matters". If you're open to having morals anytime except when you're angry, then you have no morals at any time. And sure, if it was about your family's survival, then that'd be a good enough reason - except it wasn't about that. Trump voters were more rich than not. Nobody in the UK is in poverty because of the EU: the places with the most immigrants are the most tolerant of them. Places like Sunderland voted strongly to Leave, and are now just as strongly for Staying once they worked out that they benefit massively from the EU. This was a *choice* for the vast majority of voters, not survival. And that means we can be energised.

Eva Wiseman on being in a Facebook bubble of liberals: "They say our problem is that we choose only to listen to voices that validate our own. Their answer seems to be "befriend the people who call you a ‘libtard kike’."

Well, I've been outside my lefty liberal bubble, quite often. It stinks as badly as it did in 2000-2008 when I was still naive enough to constantly try to engage and persuade. Don't doubt yourselves: you're just dead right when it comes to this. The voters you oppose, even if they had no hatred in their heart, had at least enough indifference to the suffering of others to have declared it an acceptable price for someone else to pay.

In 2017, politics moves from being a niche interest into being everyone's daily business. You can't look ahead to what the New Year could bring without including politics, because it's about to get inside your personal life like never before. It's already starting - news outlets are looking for "Pro-Trump journalists" to give 50% of the airtime to (they can't find any right now, so they have to go out looking). When you do that, extreme views become more normal because you hear them every day and it seems like they should be given 50% of the consideration. We need to make sure that this, and many other things, don't change what we think is right in the next 12 months.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in the New Yorker: "Now is the time to resist the slightest extension in the boundaries of what is right and just."

You have a lot of allies in 2017, and a job to do. Our opponents are Nazis, racists, and those who are willing to give them any power. Corporations wanting fewer safety regs and lower wages who don't hesitate to provoke working class hatred of immigrants to get them. Climate change deniers and oil company heads hired by someone who thinks that if you've already grotesquely exploited people for money then that's exactly what qualifies you to lead. The rise of the far Right all over Europe, and the UK, and the US. So let's do this. We get the stuff of childhood fiction tales we never thought we'd be able to equal: we get to fight Fascists.

2017 will probably try some shit, but we're good and ready now. There was one day last week when three different friends came up to me and said "your Facebook politics posts are keeping me sane". I write these because therapeutic ranting is what the internet is *for*, and they help me too. The near future will doubtless contain more fuel, but this time we have half a country on our side and the energy that comes from no longer needing to doubt where the line is. Look on this as an opportunity: the disgusting attitudes which have come into our view in 2016 didn't grow quickly from nothing, they were always there and we just pulled back the curtain to see them. It's BETTER to see them, and know what and where to resist.

We have the chance to influence the kind of society we want to live in. We can oppose those who would harm others, who see division instead of humanity, and the rubbish of 2016 just means there is a new-found urgency to get involved and make change happen. It's not depressing, it's invigorating. Alright 2017, let's go.
Link2 comments|Leave a comment

(no subject) [Dec. 23rd, 2016|04:23 pm]
Uncle Steve

One of the challenges I set myself this year (the easiest one) was to read stuff outside my comfort zone. Random, populist, classic etc, but not Sci-Fi. (I read SF too, it just didn't make this list). I joined a book club in a cocktail bar basement of a bookshop, which helped with this a lot. Here are SOME of the new books I bought and read since January:

The Fly Trap - Frederik Sjoberg (Crazy Swedish guy collects hoverflies, really sweet)
The Land Where Lemons Grow - Helena Attlee (Rich woman traces Italian lemon history)
The Black-eyed Blonde - Benjamin Black (Affectionate Raymond Chandler tribute)
Dept. of Speculation - Jenny Offill (BOOK CLUB: Novel written on punch cards, not as good as the hype)
1606 William Shakespeare and the year of Lear - Shapiro (Accessible history for the rest of us)
The Year of Reading Dangerously - Andy Miller (Man actually reads Tolstoy and others)
A Sport and a Pastime - James Salter (Classic erotic/romance novel, but only if you're a white guy in the 50s)
To Bed with Grand Music - Marghanita Laski (Woman decides to find a lover while husband is away at war, sharp and fun)
The Vegetarian - Han Kang (BOOK CLUB: Woman with eating disorder thinks she's turning into a tree. Wildly overrated, hated it. So did everyone else. Then it won the Man Booker)
Adrift in Soho - Colin Wilson (Hanging out with the bums and grifters of 50's Soho)
Faces in the Crowd - Valeria Luiselli (BOOK CLUB: We weren't sure in the end that this wasn't just about Ghost Cats)
All that's worth remembering - William Hazlitt (1800s essayist writes hilariously and angrily about life, monarchy, friendship)
Fire in the hole - Elmore Leonard (Modern short stories including Justified's Raylan Givens)
The Last Good Kiss - James Crumley (Proper dark 70's noir)
Cat's Cradle - Kurt Vonnegut (BOOK CLUB: Humanity dooms itself because its stupid and greedy. Great ideas)
Blackass - A. Igoni Barrett (BOOK CLUB: Nigerian man wakes up white and gets everything handed to him, but will he stay on the side of good?)
The Man in the High Castle - Philip K Dick (I hadn't read it. Not what I expected. Definitely a classic)
The Reader on the 6.27 - Jean Paul Didierlaurent (One of those popular books on the front table of the shop, but was rubbish)
To Reach the Clouds - Philippe Petit (Crazy Frenchman walks a tightrope between the twin towers. Totally compelling, amazing true story)
Post Everything - Luke Haines (Grouchy Britpop misanthrope is rather brilliant now he's writing instead)
The Book of Marmalade - C Anne Wilson (This will make you want to eat all the Marmalade)
SPQR - Mary Beard (MB's big popular History of Rome. Reminded me that Romans weren't that admirable)
Sworn Virgin - Elvira Dones (BOOK CLUB: Albanian woman declares herself a man in traditional way, then goes to US. Really, really superb.)
The Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Atwood (Knew the story but hadn't read it, now I have. Brrr.)
The Lie Tree - Frances Hardinge (Brilliant gothic YA novel)
Detective Stories - Everyman Classics (Omnibus of classic short stories)
Love Stories - Everyman Classics (Also an omnibus of classic short stories)
The Bees - Laline Paull (BOOK CLUB: Follows the slightly SF life of a bee, told as if human. Very trippy, amazingly entertaining)
Train Dreams - Denis Johnson (Pulitzer nominee. Evocative 1920s life of a man working on the train line. Short but powerful)
Where I lived and what I lived for - Henry David Thoreau (Thoreau on why society sucks and we should go live in a forest)
On the pleasure of Hating - William Hazlitt (Four more essays by Hazlitt)
On Solitude - Michel de Montaigne (Amazing that 1500s man can know the modern problems so well. Essays on solitude, books, life)
The Glorious Heresies - Lisa McInerney (BOOK CLUB: Irish families let down by older generations descend into crime)
Travels with Epicurus - Daniel Klein (Old guy goes to Greece, talks about philosophy and getting old. I'm half his age and loved all of it)
Uncle Petros and Goldbach's Conjecture - Apostolos Doxiadis (Fiction about great maths problems)
The Tempest - William Shakespeare (I'd only previously read it in ye olde version)
Art History - A short Introduction (Art History is not what I thought it was, but I like it)
Annihilation - Jeff VanderMeer (BOOK CLUB: Haunting, surrealist author sends team into unknown country, plays with negative space)
Consolations of the Forest - Sylvain Tesson (French dude spends 6 months alone in the Siberian Taiga. Learns about time and freedom. This was an incredible book)
Station Eleven - Emily St John Mandel (BOOK CLUB: Flu wipes out society, travelling theatre wanders the aftermath)
Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day (Mousy spinster meets a starlet and lets her hair down. Lovely, sweet 1938 book with occasional whoops!1938 racism.)
Invisible Cities - Italo Calvino (Storyteller speaks of hundreds of cities, but they're all Venice)
Thrilling Cities - Ian Fleming (Rich, privileged misogynist white dude flies around 1950s world destinations. Definitely 'of its time')
The Maltese Falcon - Dashiell Hammett (So good. So very good. First page is dreadful, and then you're into the best hardboiled Noir ever written.)
London War Notes (British woman writes exceedingly cynical WWII newspaper columns about daily life 1939-45).
Poems that make Grown Men Cry - Simon + S (luvvies pick poetry, annoyingly it's mostly war and death)

Next up:
The Essex Serpent, Why I write - George Orwell, How to suppress Women's Writing - Joanna Russ, The Death of King Arthur - Simon Armitage, Gossip from the Forest, The Name of the Rose. Also loads of fun SciFi happened, including The Quantum Thief and Windswept.

My favourites were The Bees, Sworn Virgin, Maltese Falcon and Adrift in Soho.
LinkLeave a comment

(no subject) [Sep. 8th, 2016|12:51 pm]
Uncle Steve
[Tags|, , ]

Astonishing speech by MSNBC's Lawrence O'Donnell, on the US' history with Native Americans, and the protest at Standing Rock. Just amazing.

"Dakota means 'friend', 'friendly'. The people who gave that name to the Dakotas have sadly never been treated as friends. The people whose language was used to name the Dakotas and Minnesota and Iowa and Oklahoma, Ohio, Connecticut, Massachusetts and other States: the Native American tribes. The people who were here before us long before us have never been treated as friends.

They have been treated as enemies and dealt with more harshly than any other enemy in any of this country's wars. After all of our major wars, we signed peace treaties and lived by those treaties.

After World War II when we made peace with Germany, we then did everything we possibly could to rebuild Germany. No Native American tribe has ever been treated as well as we treated Germans after World War II.

Donald trump and his supporters now fear the country being invaded by foreigners who want to change our way of life, a fear that Native Americans have lived with every day for over 500 years. The original sin of this country is that we invaders shot and murdered our way across the land killing every Native American we could and making treaties with the rest. This country was founded on genocide before the word genocide was invented, before there was a war crimes tribunal in The Hague.

When we finally stopped actively killing Native Americans for the crime of living here before us, we then preceded to violate every treaty we made with the tribes, every single treaty. We piled crime on top of crime on top of crime against the people whose offense against us was simply that they lived where we wanted to live.

We don't feel the guilt of those crimes because we pretended they happened a very long time ago in ancient history and we actively suppressed the memories of those crimes. But there are people alive today whose grandparents were in the business of killing Native Americans. That's how recent these crimes are.

Every once and a while, there is a painful and morally embarrassing reminder as there is this week in North Dakota near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, where hundreds of people have gathered and camped out in opposition to an interstate pipeline being built from North Dakota to Illinois. The protest is being lead by this country`s original environmentalist, Native Americans. For hundreds of years they were our only environmentalists.

The only people who thought that land and rivers should be preserved in their natural state. The only people who thought a mountain or a prairie or a river could be a sacred place.

Yesterday, a Federal judge heard arguments from the tribes against the Federal government's approval of the pipeline and said he will deliver his decision on whether the pipeline can proceed next month. There are now over 93 tribes gathered in protest of that pipeline. That protest will surely continue even if the judge allows construction to proceed.

And so we face the prospect next month of the descendants, of the first people to ever set foot on that land, being arrested by the descendants of the invaders who seized that land. Arrested for *trespassing*. That we still have Native Americans left in this country to be arrested for trespassing on their own land is testament not to the mercy of the genocidal invaders who seized and occupied their land, but to the stunning strength and the 500 years of endurance and the undying dignity of the people who were here long before us, the people who have always known what is truly sacred in this world."
Link4 comments|Leave a comment

(no subject) [Jul. 8th, 2016|12:26 pm]
Uncle Steve
[Tags|, ]

It's boring, I know, and I wasn't going to write about it because you're all sick of politics by now, but someone genuinely just tried the "Theresa May being Prime Minister is feminist" bullshit on me, so here goes. (A chance to use the Theresa May tag I've had since 2010).

If Thatcher didn't do enough damage to the global image of women in politics, and you can't wait for Hillary to have to be pro- every aggressive decision or she'll be called 'weak' (although let's face it, she'll be racing them to the war button anyway based on her record), then let's have this conversation again. Women being in power is not automatically good for women, and Theresa May in particular can fuck off. Here's a short list of why.

First up are some collected by comedian Bridget Christie.


Theresa May:

* Axed the health in pregnancy grant
* Closed Sure Start centres
* Cut child benefit and slashed tax credits
* Shut down shelters for battered wives and children
* Cut rape counselling and legal aid
* Cut funding for CCTV cameras and street lighting making women much more vulnerable
* Closed down all 23 specialist domestic violence courts
* Cut benefits for disabled children
* Tried to amend the abortion act so that women receive one-to-one abortion counselling from the Pope before they go ahead with it" (Okay, the last point is a small exaggeration, but only a small one.)


Theresa May also:

* Voted against equalising the age of consent
* Voted against the repeal of section 28
* Voted against allowing civil partnerships
* Said refugees can't be gay if they have children, so deported them back to countries which were waiting to kill them for being gay.

In fact, deporting seems to be a bit of a favourite topic of May's.

* There's the time she wrongly deported 48,000 students, and the Courts showed she had zero evidence to have done it. (That made the papers if you want to google).
* And the many times she's said she wants the UK to withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights because it won't let her deport people if they'd be tortured or killed at the other end. The only other country not to have signed up to ECHR is Belarus (which is a dictatorship and wants to keep persecuting journalists, minorities and political opponents).

Let's not forget, she's also currently leading the way in

* Refusing to guarantee the right of EU nationals to stay in the UK

which is causing close friends of mine absolute grief right now.

So it's safe to say that being the person in charge of deporting while we negotiate Brexit is... a cause for concern.

Oh, and she also:

* Voted for the Iraq War
* Voted for the Bedroom Tax
* Voted against tax raises for the rich (over £150k)
* Voted against taxing banker's bonuses
* Voted to restrict the Unions
* Voted against restricting the fees that agents can charge tenants
* Voted to increase tuition fees
* Voted for fracking

* Championed the 'Snooper's Charter' allowing the government to view your private data about everything, basically.

* Then there's Yarl's Wood detention centre, etc.



~I don't know for certain it's all 100% right, but I do know most of it is, because I saw it at the time. I imagine her votes can all be checked.~

AND - this is the important bit - AND AFTER ALL THAT...

...I still want May to win instead of Leadsom.

Because Leadsom really is worse. Really. Theresa May is the total opposite of a feminist and if she becomes PM it will be a disaster for women in the UK, but Leadsom would be worse. When it was announced there would be 5 or so contenders, I never thought I'd be saying "I hope we get Theresa May". She's horrific, and yes, once and for all, she's anti-feminist (however many "this is what a feminist looks like" t-shirts she wears).

But I hope she beats Andrea Leadsom, because after Leadsom's "Major economic announcement" yesterday (consisting entirely of "Brexit will be great and we should all be optimistic and start it as soon as possible and just be positive and that's my considered economic plan") none of us are ready for the bollocks that would happen if she wins. She's someone who in 2012 said about small businesses: "I envisage there being absolutely no regulation whatsoever". "No minimum wage, no maternity or paternity rights, no unfair dismissal rights, no pension rights". She's pro-conservative Christianity and anti-gay marriage because of Christian rights, a fan of fox hunting with a photo of Margaret Thatcher in her office. She's got no experience, but an absolute certainty that she knows best and a psycho smile that's totally unconnected to her eyes or emotions. She is the preferred candidate of "Britain First" and UKIP.

So stop fucking telling me this fiasco is "feminist" and I should like it. Theresa will probably win, and... that's just about the better result of two really goddamn awful options.
Link2 comments|Leave a comment

(no subject) [Jun. 17th, 2016|10:26 pm]
Uncle Steve
[Tags|, ]

I wasn’t going to write about the murder of Jo Cox, but I realised I had to say something that I'm feeling very strongly on the state of UK politics now.

I should make money betting on this stuff. I’d never lose. Within minutes you had the usual “mentally-ill loner” “lone wolf” bullshit from outlets which should know better. There are two things worth talking about here: 1) The mental health bit, 2) The “politics didn’t contribute” bit.

@mrjamesmack on twitter: “He literally bought a manual for making guns from a neoNazi website and I'm reading UK media saying it wasn't political.”

@EleanorPalser : “As a neuroscientist and psychologist, I know of no mental illness that specifically causes white men to shoot their political opponents.”

Newsthump (satire) : “There is no proof that constantly spouting violent, jingoistic rhetoric at morons on the Internet causes people to use violence while quoting jingoistic rhetoric, according to “Britain First” this morning.”

@gossithedog : "If a Muslim had killed Jo Cox MP while shouting about putting an agenda first, this would have been a different reporting day."

When someone is so far from the average mindset that committing murder of an unarmed low-level politician seems justified, it’s easy to write them off as “just crazy”. They HAVE to be, to have done it. But the racists and inciters made this happen too. Mental illness typically leaves you *more* sensitive to outside influences: not necessarily violent (people with mental illness are more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators) but you can certainly be more emotionally reactive to threats.

You don’t get to use “Lone Wolf” when he was a long-time member of a far-right group. They gave him encouragement and validation. Britain First talks constantly about “Taking the fight” to the “enemy” and taking “direct militant action”. They harass UK Muslims in the street. They have training camps with people in army fatigues. And they’re tolerated, because we get the same “Enough is enough, we have to do something about foreigners” messages from our politicians now. We didn’t used to, apart from actual slime like the BNP. Now it’s UKIP (who got a LOT of votes at the last election) and opportunistic Conservatives, but especially it’s been because of our gutter newspapers (by which I mean, the two best-selling papers in the UK, and several others). And it’s been going on for YEARS.

Polly Toynbee: (If Leave wins) “Around the world we will be seen as the island that cut itself off as a result of anti-foreigner feeling: that will identify us globally more than any other attribute. Our image, our reality, will change overnight.”

She also says we’re in a culture war of a depth we haven’t seen in a long time, and I think she’s right. This is different. I mean, people knew it was all inevitable in 2008 when the recession hit – they said the whole of Europe would go racist and right-wing for a decade. And we knew we’d get more of it when the Tories won the last election too, that’s why so many of us were on the verge of fucking crying. Not because “the other team” got in, but for the human damage that 5 more years of this poison was going to guarantee.

Right now, UK political discourse is a giant rain of dicks.

We’ve backslid decades. People think Farage is harmlessly eccentric, or mass racism is somehow justified by poverty, but it’s not. It leads directly to hate, and hate crimes. “How could this happen, who could have seen it coming?” Look at the front pages you’ve allowed for years. It doesn’t matter if this one attacker was already a member of an extremist organisation, those very orgs are more empowered in 2016 to speak up than before. They’re being told they were right, and that voting emotionally is just fine. Cameron said today that Jo Cox’s values should be ours in the months to come: “service, community, tolerance”. Oh yes, just the things you associate with the Conservative party. Or UKIP. Or anyone arguing for Leave in the last 6 months online.

Why the hell are we having this referendum at all? The public don’t know enough to make any kind of informed choice on something this geopolitically complex. This is the definition of an issue where politicians with expert advisers should represent us in Parliament and do the deciding. Parliamentary Democracy: it’s shit and extremely unrepresentative in every way but it makes sense on this kind of choice when you know the public will emotionally go racist *despite* the facts. The only reason the referendum was offered was that Cameron had to pander to racists, UKIP, and his own Eurosceptics. It will be his defining failure, but it’s the rest of us who have to live with the way this campaigning has created an acceptance of hate in our culture. You think 50% of the country will immediately drop these attitudes after next week? When politicians know they work so well to secure votes against all logic in elections?

@PurpleSquidCopy :
When do I get MY country back? The country where MPs aren't murdered in the street and we don't put up posters that echo Nazi propaganda?

Look at the – somehow legal – image at the link below of 32 editions this year of the Daily Express newspaper, and tell me: how could this happen? Who could ever have expected it?

Link3 comments|Leave a comment

(no subject) [Jun. 17th, 2016|10:25 pm]
Uncle Steve

I posted a few days ago on Facebook about the Leave campaign having a racism problem.
(Here: https://www.facebook.com/stephen.ball.756/posts/10155188687572619 )
I was angry, and the real picture of voters over the whole of the UK is of course more complicated. Except when it isn't.

Here is a photo of UKIP politician Nigel Farage (who is not currently elected for anything but is still somehow never off our tv) standing in front of UKIP's new poster:

The poster shows a long line of brown people coming to England, and is the most racist thing any major political party has done in the UK in decades. How do we know it's racist? Because it's a lie based on fear of brown people. It shows Syrian refugees fleeing ISIS going from Slovenia into Croatia in 2015, by the way. Not the UK. They are refugees, not migrants, and will not be allowed into Britain, because we have border control. And they will not become EU citizens. So this is emotional knee-jerk nonsense, calculated lies, and racist to the core.

There are ignorant racists in the Leave campaign, a significant number. You can find them online and on camera. But there are vast numbers of working class people as well, and they've voting Leave in incredible numbers. The #3 reason they give is "I don't know a single person voting Remain". Why is this happening? Not their desire for change, that's obvious: they've had their services taken and taken and taken by Thatcher, Blair, Cameron, and they want control. They want first access to the tiny shrinking pool we're still allowed while the 1% double their wealth in 3 years but the middle class disappears and social mobility no longer exists. What is amazing is the lie they've been sold: that it was the EU which took them instead of the Tories and Blairites, and that leaving the EU will achieve anything towards giving them back.

People really believe this, in their millions. They want control, and Farage etc decided that an outright lie (that it is the EU which blocks it) could be exploited. So for a lot of Leavers, those who don't simply "want their country back" to some indeterminate heyday of Britishness, this is about fighting the "Elites". Except... their enemy is Cameron, and if Leave wins it's likely we get a collection of Tory Eurosceptics who are even farther to the right. Leaving the EU solves almost nothing for anyone, except to impoverish the UK economically, culturally and in terms of global bargaining power.

To anybody thinking I'm playing up the racism too much, here's a handy table behind the link to think about when you vote:

Link2 comments|Leave a comment

Birthday! [Mar. 23rd, 2016|09:26 pm]
Uncle Steve
It’s my 40th birthday on Friday. That’s bizarre, since I feel almost ready to be 29, but not quite.

Christian Slater said in an interview years ago “My twenties were brutal, I can’t wait to be thirty”. Well, my thirties were absolutely fucking brutal. I changed a lot, did all the crazy things you’re supposed to do when younger (but that I’d been too shy to start then) and I’ve now finally got enough self-knowledge to go out there and… be too old for most of the groups who are doing things I consider “fun”. Heh.

Last year was hard, so I set myself a lot of projects in 2016. They’re coming along well: socialising more, reading more, seeing more theatre and film and music. Expanding my range. The reading in particular has brought me books I’d never have tried, and reminded me that I freaking love books. That’s going to get expensive, but on the other hand… books.
(Let’s face it, this is me: http://41.media.tumblr.com/172f70c8868b69ad82af9898fca6be4d/tumblr_o1yaagFfe01qiuiebo1_540.jpg ).

40 is weird, man. My brain can’t grasp it. Naturally, I’m responding to this momentous birthday by planning to be in a field with no phone signal for 4 days, possibly waving swords around. Because I’m totally a grown-up.

It does feel a bit like a level-up instead of a burden. I’m certainly… I was going to say more confident, but it’s really just a little bit more Old-Man angrier. So what wisdom can I impart from these advanced years?

* You WILL hit a time when you can’t cope, if you live long enough, and that’s *normal*. Anyone who hasn’t is just lucky and a bit inexperienced.
* Having no financial security long-term is exhausting. Your other privileges won’t save you from this.
* Yes, you actually are measurably much worse-off than your parents, and no, society doesn’t really work well for 75% of people.
* A potential partner’s appearance stops mattering, and strength of character (and especially kindness) becomes really, really hot. Specifically, people who are physically beautiful but emotionally horrible will not be on your radar at all.
* If you try out all the philosophies, seek answers to everything, you’re very likely to come back to what you thought at 12. You were right. Explore it.
* Everything is temporary, and so is everyone. If anybody struts around like they’re a big deal, the beautiful celebrity avatar of perfection, they’ll be old and ignored in 10 years like everyone else. This will sink in even further when the old gods of your Cinema and Music start dying. Your teenage rivals will look small. Anyone you lust after won’t even be the same person in a small number of years. If you see something amazing, act on it immediately because everything changes fast.
* That goes triple for how you’ll view anyone in Government. I used to assume there was a layer of expertise we couldn’t see: there isn’t, they really are that greedy, incompetent and stupid. Yes, they would be fired from any other job, or jailed. This is why people get upset about politics.

So… yeah, I’m more Old-Man angry than I was, but also just confused at where ten years went, and terrified that in another ten I’ll be 50. (Emily suggested that we HACK TIME, but as you know, if you HACK TOO MUCH TIME that can lead to Dinosaurs with lasers and Valkyries with machine guns. Which sounds kinda fun now I think about it https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bS5P_LAqiVg ).

As usual whenever I write a post on here with personal things in it, I want to thank everybody for being awesome. I mean that. Society has changed and we choose our friends-circles to be families now, and the more people I meet, the more I realise how few people are the good guys. You are all good guys. Thank you.

Right, now I’ll be offline for 4 or 5 days straight, so behave while I’m gone!
Link4 comments|Leave a comment

Book Project - January [Jan. 29th, 2016|10:06 pm]
Uncle Steve
[Tags|, ]

I made many New Year's resolutions. Some of them are crazy, but one of the calmer ones needed to start quickly: I had to read two books each month, they had to be in genres I would not normally go for, and I had to buy them from a real shop. I've been sticking solely to Sci-Fi for too long, and there is a world out there for the reading!

January's were these:

“The Fly Trap” by Frederik Sjoberg

I'd assumed the title was a metaphor for human behaviour, as this was what the book was said to be about, but no. It's an actual Fly Trap. Instead of talking directly about humans, the author talks about flies... and then humans. I'd almost wanted a dry, serious book about human nature, but instead this is a lovely and funny conversation from an eccentric Swedish guy who is fully aware that people think fly collectors aren't sexy. His (translated) sentences are packed with wit and dry comedy, and slowly reveal a calm life full of obsession but also love. It's a window into a foreign culture, and totally shocking to a Londoner. People live their entire lives like this! On a quiet island, doing slow things, following in the footsteps of people from the 1800s whose own lives read like some unlikely Jules Verne adventure with a bit of crazy loneliness in it. But the author is so fun to read, so aware of the difficult job he'll have persuading anyone, and so whacky in his own quiet way, that I was grinning just two pages in. (It's the story about the time when he was a stage hand for a theatre, and had to get a live lamb on and off the stage every night, but the lamb was now well on its way to becoming a sheep and this was a problem...)
You will definitely learn a lot of new things from The Fly Trap. Some of them will be facts about obscure dead European entymologists and 1930s explorers, but much more are around the fascinations we all share as humans, and how we choose to get through life. (Also, hoverflies look like wasps. But they're so complicated you could collect them for years and never see anything like the whole range.) This was charming, interesting and definitely unique, and I keep thinking back to it. A very good start to my year of reading.

“The land where lemons grow” by Helena Attlee

Sadly the next one didn't keep up the level of quality. I really wanted to like this - it had lemons! And the beauty of Italy! And Sicilian marmalade! Surely this was a book which would engage people's passions for sunny, tasty, life!
But within a few pages it became obvious that here was a very different thing. It started with the author recounting how she, as a student, "chose to live in Sienna" even though it wasn't quite the right climate for the glimpse of citrus she'd had on an earlier visit. And then, as she moves on to talk about paintings from the 1500s, two things become obvious: 1) This entire book is dripping with so much privilege and wealth it's unbelievable. 2) She isn't going to grab the attention of anyone who didn't grow up with a trust fund. She hasn't a hope of engaging readers in sensual, sharp enjoyment of fruit or Italy because her sentences are written for 50 year-old white academic folk. She's the kind of person who can afford to earn money for years by "writing about the cultural history of Italian gardens". And this is a Problem.
I went from a book about a mad Swede who has very little to say that you're directly interested in, but is so funny and humane and self-depreciating that you're enjoying every minute of it anyway, to someone with a delicious subject I was excited about but who delivered a book where I would frequently realise I couldn't remember a single thing about the page I'd just read. It became an exercise in seeing how people richer than you can live. She went hunting for the plaster casts of the Medici family's rare fruit collection: she wanted to touch them and feel a direct line back to the 1500s. That's great! That's the kind of universal pull everyone would get a kick out of. Items that Princes touched 500 years ago are SEXY! But she's the kind of author who will include a sentence about how she had a cappuccino in a charming piazza before going to see her contact about the casts, and you know what? The reader doesn't care. I dream of trying oranges freshly cut open in warm Tuscan fields, but that remains a fantasy for me now, and most people forever. I grew up with enough money, but I recently lived in areas only 3 streets away from Stratford protest groups made up of mothers protesting council housing, eviction and rents in Newham. Enough money for a foreign holiday is a bad joke to thousands of people in the capital of the 7th richest country in the world, so we need a book which will take us on an Italian adventure instead. Something in Attlee's unshakeably unaware tone meant that I never felt I could replicate any part of her journey, and she mentioned herself too often to let the reader focus on the surroundings. Which is a shame, because the fruit is there to enrich all of us, not just those who proudly list that they have written for 'Country Life' magazine and 'World of Interiors'. Mandarin oranges, satsumas, clementines, *tangerines*, more varieties of lemon and citron than you can count... and the book ends up flavourless and lacking in any juice. Her style improves as it goes on, but the text remains strangely dead on the branch.

And the first book for February was:

"The Black Eyed Blonde" by Benjamin Black

Many years ago I read the sublime 50's noir thriller "The Double Shuffle" by James Hadley Chase. Ever since then I've had a soft spot for classic US crime/detective stories, but I haven't managed to actually read many of them. I've seen the movies of The Maltese Falcon and The Big Sleep, and read those and some others, but apart from this my noir education has been thin. I wanted to look at Dashiell Hammett for this list (and I nearly picked up Red Harvest in the shop) or Raymond Chandler. It was TV which pushed me to do it now, with the end of the brilliant US crime series "Justified" (based on 'Fire in the Hole' by Elmore Leonard) and a tv adaption of the SF Noir 'Altered Carbon' on the way, which someone described as "The best hard-boiled detective novel not written by a guy named Hammett".
But instead of any of the classics, I randomly found a new official Philip Marlowe novel written by Benjamin Black (the pen name of John Banville). It's not only an official sequel starring the character from 'The Big Sleep' / 'Farewell, My Lovely' etc, it's also written to be as much like Chandler's original style as possible, and it really succeeds. Most of the cover quotes are exclamations of surprise at how this feels like his voice, which is a great thing.
From the opening pages when the high-class woman walks into the weary PI's seedy office, you know you're in safe hands. And when you come across the inevitable sexism (almost immediately) it stands out a mile and makes you think. This was written by a Man Booker winner in 2014, it's deliberate. It's what the genre was - or specifically what Chandler's books of the time were. It's like the way every person is smoking in every single scene, unless they're drinking. In what could be just a parade of clichés, the dialogue is excellent - you realise that people judged offence and intent from very different phrasing back then. It sounds authentic, even though every single trope possible is brought out for a respectful polish.
I frickin' loved this. It wasn't deep, but it was quite clever, and enormous fun. It's definitely got me back into wanting more 50's LA Noir. And it's invigorated my reading plan, which moves on next to:

"1606 - William Shakespeare and The Year of Lear" by James Shapiro

A look at the events which were going on and influencing Shakespeare in the year when he wrote both Macbeth and King Lear...
Link2 comments|Leave a comment

Stars look very different [Jan. 11th, 2016|10:11 pm]
Uncle Steve
[Tags|, , , , , , ]

People all over the internet just not getting it.

Do you know WHY David Bowie wasn’t a normal pop star?
It was because he had the wrong teeth. And the wrong eyes.
And the wrong hair, and the wrong voice.
And that if all he wanted was fame, he could have tried to fit in and go with what was popular at the time - but he didn’t, because his weird ideas and weird looks and weird gender and sexuality were what he needed to share. Not fitting in on the 1970s Saturday night light-entertainment shows, but a giant fuck you, delivered in a way that was meant to uplift and inspire. And that opened stuff up, seriously. That meant any ugly loser could do it provided they stared straight into the camera and screamed it loud enough, if their ideas were genuinely awesome. It meant that disapproved-of people could win too. People now don't seem to realise what a straight-jacketed society he started in.

You want the right to a fluid gender-identity today, or recognition that gender is a spectrum not a binary? He literally put it on tv (if not first, certainly the biggest in public consciousness). There isn’t any other artist since who broke new ground on gender or permissiveness who wasn’t influenced by him. And he didn’t stop pushing in the 70s: in 1982 MTV didn’t show *any* music videos by black artists, and Bowie challenged them on-air during an interview. REALLY challenged them, and kept at it when their answers were bullshit.

There are reports of serious personal failings, and of course there were years lost to drugs. But I can also point you to many people who will say “David Bowie saved my life”: there must be hundreds, probably thousands over the years. You heard it constantly if you grew up when I did. I reckon I could find one in *this building* right now, and this particular building is full of frickin' *accountants*. The huge number of people his image and music influenced (and saved – they say “saved” in a different way with Bowie, they literally mean it) are celebrating something massive today, someone who single-handedly moved the boundaries back for everybody. That’s why he’s not just a guy who made nice music from years ago that we remember fondly, but instead enough of an important part of people's lives that they're throwing impromptu street parties this week. That’s why all the crying. By being flawlessly alien, but also a big-toothed completely normal human called David Jones who made mistakes and seemed to only just be holding on, he gave hope to millions. It meant anyone could do it. And he was SUCH a force of inspiration: The Goblin King, mercurial of temper in bizarre eye makeup and hair, circling up around the end of an Escher stairway with a casual step. He spent decades breaking the rules. Look at Blackstar: try to pin down any of the terrifying and surreal images in the videos, we can't even do it with our jaded modern youtube gaze. It still smashes the rules we expect.

And I don't even have a stake in this. I was as straight and boring growing up as it's possible to be while still conscious, and even I thought he was a god. If they’d dragged me to one of his more outrageous 70s concerts I’d have been cringing in the corner, it wasn’t me he needed to save with makeup and dresses and fierce spectacle. But I'm still one of the old guys typing away right now, insisting "You don't UNDERSTAND" to a generation raised on mid-80's Stock Aitken Waterman or 00's corporate chart Rn'B mush. You're just not getting where the walls were, and how much he revelled in breaking them by insisting on being his weird self at all times.

So yes, you will have to put up with posts about him for at least 48 hours, sorry.

(FB version over here: https://www.facebook.com/stephen.ball.756/posts/10154781709927619 )

“How you discovered David Bowie”:
My school teacher decided it was a really good idea to play Space Oddity to a class of 10 year-olds. Most weren’t bothered – by the end of the song I was *devastated*. Music didn't grab me that much before then. Interesting that my first two albums (tapes) I bought once I was old enough to be buying for the music were David Bowie and Queen. (Explains a lot, really). I set about to listen to Starman, Changes, and all the rest. About a year later I became aware that this was the same person who was in Labyrinth (which had only been out for a year or so). In 1993 I bought the 3-disc of his singles ( http://ecx.images-amazon.com/imag…/I/51zrRDegwRL._SX300_.jpg ). Like everyone else, I bloody needed it in 1993. Like everyone else, I still need the entire Labyrinth soundtrack on a regular basis now.
Jesus, I even watched “Absolute Beginners”. And the episode of 90s comedy show “Dream On” where Bowie turns up. And his scene judging the walk-off in Zoolander. Edit: Oh man, and "The Hunger".

Anyone born since 1990 just won’t get how much he blew everything up, and how shit it was before he did. I still haven’t seen “The Man Who Fell To Earth”, the dvd is sitting on my shelf right now. Think I’ll do that tonight.

And these children that you spit on,
As they try to change their worlds
Are immune to your consultations,
They're quite aware of what they're going through

LinkLeave a comment

Star Wars review - SPOILERS [Dec. 31st, 2015|03:36 pm]
Uncle Steve
[Tags|, , ]

Okay, Star Wars SPOILERS below, people, SPOILERS. Don't read on if you do not want SPOILERS. It will majorly impact your enjoyment of the movie, so don't be tempted. See it first. There are SPOILERS in this review.

Review with spoilersCollapse )
Link2 comments|Leave a comment

[ viewing | most recent entries ]
[ go | earlier ]