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(no subject) [Feb. 12th, 2017|11:48 am]
Uncle Steve
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Last year I set out to read MANY NEW BOOKS and review them. I succeeded in reading the kind of things I would not have tried before, and some were really great, but the reviews didn't happen. I'd meant to put this one up 12 months ago so am storing it here instead of just deleting it.

Adrift in Soho - Beatniks, Bums and Bohemians - Colin Wilson

I actually met Colin Wilson, in November 2003. I’d only just realised then that he was the celebrated “angry young man” author of The Outsider and also this novel, because I’d first read his 1987 bonkers sci-fi gem “Spider World: The Tower”. That was a book with everything a 12 year-old boy wanted: post-apocalyptic world, telepathic giant spiders, small group of human rebels with laser guns. Apparently Roald Dahl had suggested that Wilson should write a Lord of the Rings for teenagers, and Spider World was his effort. It was *terrible*, of course, but also iconic with some ideas and potent images which rose so far above the material that I never forgot it. I suspect he did though, because he seemed bemused and surprised when I presented him with a hardback at a conference 15 years later. He’d gone into his slow decline of believing every bit of batshit paranormal wubbins anyone wrote, and was at an Alternative Archaeology Conference for his book “From Atlantis to the Sphinx” (which did a great job of summarising the state of that genre at the time, the heyday of Graham Hancock and those guys). Sadly his absolute credence to all things New-Agey made the later Spider World books unreadable, but the first two are remarkable in places.

Anyway, I could barely believe that ‘Adrift In Soho’ was written by the same person. It’s magnificent, and razor sharp. True, it came out in 1961 when he was just 30, but once again he’s given me what will become one of my favourite books.

Set in 1955, it chronicles his clearly quite-autobiographical exploration of Soho aged 19ish. Soho isn't as sleazy as expected though, and seemed to be more filled with bums and street philosophers than the sexier extremes it got the reputation for later. The main character Harry is very innocent and a little naïve, which might have contributed to that impression, while being incredibly well-read in philosophy and desperate to work out how to feel alive in the world.

As a description of the mid-Fifties it’s fascinating. That even extends to which details the author dwells on as part of his own prejudices from the time – food is always important and described in detail more often than we would now. Navvies are everywhere, and drinking is done several times a day by everyone. There is a lot to think on regarding office jobs vs. real freedom, and whether you need to opt out of the system in order to be free, or not. In the end, one fraction of Wilson’s own philosophies are far too Nietzschean for my taste – part of him thinks there’s only a real purpose for men who master the world and make things happen, and while he does explore 'doing no harm' and retreating as well, he’s massively arrogant without realising it. But then… white educated Englishman in 1960.

The novel is so honest in places that I thought the Prologue was a preface by a different author, talking about their own life, instead of the beginning of a fiction. He captures the moods and young stupid mistakes of everyone very well, and delivers sensations from grubby to enormously uplifting. This is a brilliant novel, and a wonderful portrait of Soho and Notting Hill in 1955. I just discovered that Colin Wilson died having collected an absolutely massive library, and from the piercing hunger for books shown in this novel, I'm not surprised.

And now I find out they're making a movie in 2017: http://www.adriftinsoho.com/
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(no subject) [Jan. 29th, 2017|12:15 pm]
Uncle Steve
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When Trump got in, people tried to reassure me that "it's just talk". And my response (after listening to those who know) was "You have to believe he'll do Every. Single. Thing. he says." The wall, banning Muslims, all of it. That is how demagogues operate, especially when they have an actual Nazi advising them and (according to aides) directly writing these executive orders.

It's why people were protesting so early: he'll do it, but also Just Saying It is *lethal*. 'Just saying it' directly causes attacks and deaths. We don't need to link the spike in hate crimes to the Brexit vote, or wonder whether a mosque in Texas which was burned to the ground hours after the Muslim ban announcement was directly caused by Trump emboldening the racists that day. We know there are decades of data showing that talk like this from politicians causes attacks.

Even then, I can ignore the small stuff. That his statement on Holocaust Remembrance day doesn't mention Jews or anti-Semitism even once, but that was the day he chose to put an immigration ban on refugees. That the entire idea of the ban is un-American, and the opposite of what the Statue of Liberty and American Dream represent. That he has lied on camera every day he's been in office, and constantly fixated on himself, his image and the enemies he sees all around him. Trump being a narcissist bully advised by really dangerous assholes isn't actually what freaks me out. It's that he's the type who really will do these things, and that in the past few weeks he's repeatedly asked why the US can't just use its nukes. And said we should have kept Iraq's oil, but maybe we'll have 'another chance'.

If I stop worrying about the future and just look at what he's definitely done already then we get past the evil and on to the Earth-shatteringly Stupid. I want to be really clear on this point:

*The Muslim ban is the single stupidest policy I have seen in my political lifetime*.
(And I lived through both Dubya and David Cameron.)

I'm not against it just because I'm a liberal and humanitarian, but because it's REALLY breathtakingly dumbass on every level.

The countries covered by the ban have *never* caused any terrorism deaths in the US. Not one, ever. Zero-point-zero.
The number of people killed in the US by islamic terrorists each year is on average 2, often 0. (https://twitter.com/astroehlein/status/825388473649594369).
He mentioned 9/11 three times in his opening speech, but the ban doesn't cover any of the countries involved in 9/11.
It also doesn't cover countries where he does business, which sounds like impeachment to me.

If you wanted to boost ISIL recruitment, you couldn't have made a more effective action than this ban. It's the dictionary definition of a policy which will strengthen the US's enemies while not saving any American lives at all. It's not just that it has huge unintended consequences, it also doesn't achieve any of its *intended* consequences. It's the kind of stupid you could only get by putting a narcissist, a hyper-conservative and an actual Nazi in a room and letting them write Executive Orders without any supervision (which is exactly what's happening, apparently).

Thankfully, pretty much the whole world isn't having any of this incredible bullshit. The protests and lawsuits are starting already. Within 24 hours Canada began accepting asylum applications from US green-card holders, and protests are happening now at JFK and planned for everywhere tomorrow.

Theresa May the British Prime Minister... repeatedly refused to condemn the ban. The leaders of loads of other nations didn't hesitate, but she was too busy selling arms to Turkey to pretend that we will ever stand up to Trump now that we are totally dependant on him for a Brexit trade deal. She looked incredibly weak. One Twitter user said it was "the biggest act of cowardice by a serving PM they'd ever seen", and I'm not sure I disagree. Her silence is shameful. Any Brits with dual citizenship are affected by this ban so she should have a position, but no. Silence in the face of tyranny. Even *Dick Cheney* was against this idea when it was brought up in 2015 - Britain is now seen to have less moral backbone than Dick fucking Cheney. (EDIT: UK folk aren't having this - "TheresaTheAppeaser" is now trending on twitter. She's done really badly here. JK Rowling tweeted "May making her 'strong statement about the role of women' there, by standing simpering next to a powerful racist." May eventually managed to say she "does not agree" with the ban but wow, too late.)

If the PM won't do it, we'll have to hope the people (in many countries) join the Democrat and Republican politicians to stop this insanity fast. It looks like they will. New York Taxi drivers are striking, lawyers are working for free in the airport - set up with laptops in the JFK McDonalds. Banners are being draped and thousands are chanting "LET THEM IN".

The public give me hope, but 2017 is off to a dark start. Policies like this are nauseating. I never thought we'd get actual fascists. The Muslim Ban might have been the stupidest idea, but the most evil policy he suggested was to 'list the crimes committed by immigrants'. That is... I don't have the words for it. It's not the same as punishing criminals or taking action such as deportation. It's reading out a list to the public every week which links immigrants and crime. No context - no mention of whether this is just 1% of the local crime, or what else is going on in that community. Just some names, and weekly hate for immigrants. This is textbook fascist separation of you from the foreigner, and it's chilling (and once again achieves precisely nothing in terms of making Americans safer).

They said "Don't judge him on the speeches, wait to see what he does". Well, we've seen him now.

Fuck this guy.
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(no subject) [Jan. 25th, 2017|07:29 pm]
Uncle Steve
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More people today telling me I mustn't "disrespect" the Brexit vote, it's "democracy" and so on. Well, I disrespect it about as much as it's possible to, so let's go into why.

Here is a list of reasons why Brexit is a giant bunch of bullshit:

- The Conservatives, while being investigated for electoral fraud after being given power by just 24% of the electorate, called a non-binding referendum to settle an internal party discipline issue.
- Cameron never expected to have to follow through with this, because he didn't expect to get sole power after the previous Coalition. He also genuinely didn't expect Leave COULD win, right up to the end.
- The Leave campaign was headed by MPs cynically using it to further their careers. It has since come out that not one of them expected to win, and several of them actively didn't WANT to win, only to use a close loss to boost their own power.
- The non-binding referendum went ahead. In legal terms it was an opinion poll with no existence in law.
- The entire campaign period was filled with proven lies by Leave MPs, and stupid scare stories of strong-arm punishment budgets by Remain.
- The Leave campaign was also filled with racism from the start, peaking in Farage's indefensible "breaking point" poster.
- Leave promised repeatedly that we could control immigration and still stay in the single market. (That was never going to happen, because the EU would be finished about 2 hours later). It didn't happen when Switzerland or anyone else asked for it, and it certainly won't for us.
- Dan Hannan, Leave campaign: "Absolutely nobody is talking about threatening our place in the Single Market"
- Owen Paterson, Leave campaign: "Because only a madman would actually leave the market"
- Boris Johnson every single day: "We can have both! Both! We can have everything. And all the money. Whooo. I'm a banana. Take back control."
- (As a journalist Boris Johnson had been lying about the EU for ratings for years. He was sacked from the Times for entirely making stuff up. He constantly promised the impossible during the Leave campaign.)
- The vote was to stay or to leave: no distinction on whether to have hard or soft Brexit, single market, customs union, immigration controls, anything.

- On the day 37.4% of eligible people chose catastrophic change to the rest of the country. You do not make any big change on a 52/48 vote. You can't even strike with those numbers.
- This poll (it's not a vote) was required to be taken about as seriously by anyone as the Boaty McBoatface poll.
- People also reported that they chose Leave as a protest and didn't actually want the outcome or think it could happen.
- Others said that they were protesting austerity and wanted to hurt David Cameron by the only means they had, or that they were entirely motivated by racism, or that they didn't understand what Brexit was.
- Most importantly, a lot of Leave voters wanted to Leave but stay in the single market. It'd only take a few % of them to make it the majority, and the number looks to be more like 20-40%. The vote to “Leave” was for a vague, undefined thing.
- Within weeks the totals appeared to have changed so that the majority of people wanted to Remain, especially once the financial implications were known.
- Slowly people realised that the EU wasn't causing them any hurt at all and that years of neglect by the UK government weren't going to be reversed by making the current Tory party more empowered. (Some of us knew this before the poll.) Some had wanted to save the NHS - that promise was abandoned within 24 hours, and the new government would doom it faster than ever. (Again, some of us knew this ahead of time.)
- They were sold a lie that keeping the foreigners out would improve the economy. It was a lie. It also gave all the racists permission to come out of the background. Areas with the fewest immigrants are the most racist, but ironically are also the places least affected economically by immigrants because there are hardly any there.

- Since Article 50 (which was never designed to be used) refers to the country's constitution, UK constitutional law says that MPs must vote to overturn a previous Act (the one where we joined the EU).
- This is what the Supreme Court said yesterday. Parliament is sovereign, MPs always vote to change anything this big. Everyone knew this.
- When judges said it the first time, they were called ENEMIES OF THE PEOPLE by racist newspapers.

- Promising people on a leaflet that the referendum result will definitely be followed doesn't mean shit.
- The UK has a Parliamentary Democracy. In that, MPs are better informed than the public. MPs listen to views, then have a duty to decide against them if it's for the good of the country.
- This is especially true if the campaign was built on lies, or if there is evidence that their choice was uninformed or misled.
- Or the 2-year period would leave us crippled and we don't have enough civil servants to even do the paperwork in that time.
- Or the US now has a protectionist President it didn't have during the poll and our chances outside the EU just shrank drastically.
- Or we would lose our banking passport system and destroy finance in London, the only bit of our economy which works.
- Or it would damage how the rest of the World view us and harm our relationships with many countries (too late).
- Or the decision would cause the breakup of the UK because Scotland and Northern Ireland aren't having this nonsense.
- Or if the majority of the country (including those who didn't vote) have always wanted Remain, and 52/48 from a racist, lying campaign is the definition of "too close for big change".

- There is therefore no mandate for Hard Brexit at all. It was never asked during the poll, the majority DON'T want it and never did, and MPs have a duty not to sabotage the country regardless of the poll result because we’re not a direct democracy. If we were, we wouldn’t have safe seats and first-past-the-post and gerrymandering.

- The Supreme Court decision probably won't stop Brexit: Labour have said they'll vote with the Conservatives to make sure Article 50 is triggered.
- No-one knows quite why they'd do that, since Labour voters were strongly Remain and the party's position was Remain.
- They especially don't know why Corbyn (who was a symbol of hope to some precisely because he never played the compromise game) would just go along with Brexit when he is all about workers' rights and Liam Fox has said stripping workers' rights afterwards is what will make us "competitive".

- And this is why any of this is still relevant. The Tories are suggesting that JUST BY COINCIDENCE they will use Brexit to turn the UK into a Tory Paradise tax haven with no rights for workers. And no environmental protections - "on a level with India" was mentioned, again to be 'competitive'. And pulling us out of the Court of Human Rights and binning the Human Rights Act. This will probably all happen regardless of what type of Brexit we want, and it's the big danger to watch. Brexit means less money for the poor, fewer rights, fewer protections. Of course it never meant more money for the NHS or hope for the poorest. Brexit hands us to the Tory millionaire MPs who have spent their entire working lives voting for money to go to corporations and the rich at the expense of the poor.
- But Labour will vote this stinking thing through, because they don't get the message that UKIP and Tory voters won't go back to Labour when they can have the real thing, and Scotland will never go back at this rate, or the fact that Corbyn was put in to *oppose*, so they'll keep chasing votes they lost years ago which they can't win back this way anyway.

Here's that article from last year showing that the British public are totally wrong about immigration, incredibly strongly influenced by lies, and basically wrong about everything:

And here is a chart showing how many people want hard brexit. Hint: not many.

The tiniest sign that Brexit might be further examined or voted on instead of just immediately actioned is branded "Against the Will of The People". If you like checks and balances, they say you're unpatriotic and undemocratic. Which is the final straw for me, because if you're that stupid then I can't even tell you how your idea of "Democracy" (instant unquestioned implementation of majority rule or mob rule) was so far off actual Democracy that the Greeks had a separate word for it: http://littleatoms.com/society-world/trump-brexit-and-mob

So when you tell me to “respect the Brexit vote”, you’re going to get a large raspberry noise in return. It was a poll, for something not very defined, after a racist campaign of lies.

The good news is, the PM is about to reveal an actual Brexit plan. The second she does, half the Tory party will be against it and the in-fighting can start. She can’t deliver an end to Freedom of Movement without Hard Brexit, and not enough MPs or the public want Hard Brexit. Instant carnage. Get the popcorn.
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(no subject) [Dec. 23rd, 2016|04:26 pm]
Uncle Steve
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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.
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(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.
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(no subject) [Sep. 8th, 2016|12:51 pm]
Uncle Steve
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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."
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(no subject) [Jul. 8th, 2016|12:26 pm]
Uncle Steve
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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.
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(no subject) [Jun. 17th, 2016|10:26 pm]
Uncle Steve
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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?

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(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:

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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!
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