Thursday, 31 December 2015
I don't know quite what to say about 2015, other than for me it felt like a rite of passage. For the first time in many years, I genuinely have no idea what the New Year will bring for me - only it will bring change, and I must now for better or worse, learn to embrace a new way of life. I won't lie, it's fairly daunting. I don't believe in God according to any religion, but would nonetheless ask Him or Her if they're listening to please hear my prayer for 2016.
Agnostics and atheists pray too.
For myself.... I would ask they please grant me the strength to meet my new challenges and find new purpose with positivity and humility, and to leave demons in the past where they belong. To beloved friends I've lost touch with and only see in the odd survey of a newsfeed or exchange of comments, I hope to catch up with some of you in 2016. Friendship truly means more to me now than it ever has, even if I don't know quite how to show it. There are many people I'd like to speak to, but don't know where to begin. First and foremost, I wish health and happiness for my two beautiful girls Lucy & Poppy, who are truly more wonderful and vibrant than anything this grumpy old soul ever deserved.
For the world.... my prayer is for reason, equality & humanity to emerge victorious over all the hate, greed, prejudice and injustice we see around us - in every walk of life. "Do unto others as you would have them do to you". If everyone even vaguely tried to live by that rule, regardless of opinion or preconception, regardless of their religion, wealth, position or class, what a place it could be.
The world can alter in a heartbeat, as quickly as our own lives change. I think it's important to take stock of coming changes before they've been made, not once the damage is done - tomorrow may be too late. Don't bury your head in the sand. More than anything else, each one of us has a responsibility to the next generation of people living on this planet, whether we have children or not. If you see things grossly wrong with the world that's being left for them, stand up to it, any way you can - no matter how thankless or lonely it may often be. Don't let them break you.
Happy New Year everyone. Here's to new beginnings.
Wednesday, 30 December 2015
|Residents captured the collapse of this 300 year old bridge in Tadcaster, Yorkshire.|
Sometimes it gets quite tedious, continually criticising this Tory government. It would be nice to occasionally feel compelled to write about something cheerier, or to be able to say they've done something positive for the country.
Trouble is, time and time again they simply do the unthinkable.
Already battered by Storm Desmond earlier this month, the UK is currently facing unprecedented flood damage - yet more evidence climate change is going to be one of the greatest threats facing our world in forthcoming generations.
Many have been quick to point out that despite growing awareness of that global threat, Darth Osborne hacked away at the budget for UK flood defences just like he did everything else protecting normal, everyday citizens.
The Environmental Agency in Nottingham apparently even rejected offers of free flood defences from a local firm when the level of danger became evident. No doubt concerns of "red tape" were prioritised above peoples' desire to save their homes:
Even I'd find it a bit of a push to blame Tories for bad weather - though in fairness, some of them are probably still blaming gay marriage (and no doubt Jeremy Corbyn too). However, it undeniably IS their arrogant/elitist insistence on inflicting "austerity" that's directly responsible for the level of damage and destruction caused here - you get what you pay for.
That by itself should be a wake-up call, or at least give pause for consideration. Maybe (God forbid) an apology, or a promise from the government to help any way they can?
Nope. To add insult to injury, Osborne now refuses to waive VAT charges on flood repairs.
Instead of providing a much needed tax break that would at least slightly ease the burden on affected residents and businesses, this greedy Tory government licks its lips - salivating at the prospect of expected £150million profits off the back of disaster and misery.
On top of that, they've slashed investment in renewable energy sources, dragged us into another war in the never-ending quest for middle eastern oil, and also just green-lit controversial and potentially dangerous fracking initiatives across the UK - despite all the promises, all the widespread opposition. They quite literally don't give a damn.
I honestly don't know how we can tolerate this. It begs belief.
Sunday, 27 December 2015
|Steve McFadden as Fleshcreep, in Jack and the Beanstalk at The Hawth in Crawley (2015)|
This afternoon I did something I haven't done for a very long time: I went to see a pantomime.
Oh yes I did. (Had to be done, apologies.)
I genuinely can't even remember the last time I was in the audience to watch one: I've appeared in many more than I've ever sat through. However, now having a two year old daughter (and an extended family who simply love the campness and tomfoolery of it all), I decided this year to not be the archetypal grumpy old man sitting at home refusing to join in, and came along with them to a matinee performance of "Jack and the Beanstalk" at our local theatre, The Hawth in Crawley.
The "big name" for this particular production turned out to be none other than the absolute kingpin of British celebrity pantomime culture, Eastenders' Steve McFadden. A man notorious within the industry as being one of the very highest earners, his better known pseudonym of Phil Mitchell commands astronomical pay-cheques the likes of which most of us will never ever see.
In fact, Mr McFadden's salary for a few weeks of festive chicanery will be more than the average UK earner makes in 7-8 years of working full-time.*
The gravity of that is just immense. I for one simply cannot get my head round the idea that one recognisable actor (who with the greatest respect, has hardly led the most varied or interesting career) should earn more in a single Christmas season than the average person does in almost a decade of their entire adult life.
In addition to his main salary on Eastenders.
It's absolutely grotesque.
Mr McFadden is by no means alone. It's one of those "accepted" industry norms that all theatre performers are well acquainted with, myself included.
Of course that also meant I knew full well the hard-working dancers and ensemble, the puppeteers/stilt-walkers and technicians, set and costume designers, the band, the theatre staff, even the other lead roles who lacked a prerequisite name-tag, all of their salaries combined for the entire run probably wouldn't even cover half the Mitchell brother's panto wage. The kids who made up the ensemble numbers wouldn't have been paid at all.
I cannot deny that leaves a very bitter taste in my mouth. It did as a cast member, and it did just as much today as an audience member. Perhaps it's the socialist in me. I do see it as the most gross and deplorable inequality. As so often in every aspect of our society, it's the "little people" who do all the hard graft, creating inordinate wealth for a minority whilst only receiving the barest and most disproportionate remuneration: often barely enough to get by. This rule of thumb, like countless other aspects of mainstream UK politics has been deemed "simply the way it is" by the controlling parties - no further justification is deemed necessary.
|I've played the odd panto villain myself... |
Sadly my Abanazar's wage packet wasn't quite as oversized as the hat (or that of the "celebs" involved)
It's as if by making a corruption so brazen, so widespread and frequent, it somehow ceases to be such. (Or at least ceases to be viewed as something the "little people" can change.) I find myself wishing every single "faceless" performer/technician/creative working in the industry today would stand united and refuse to tolerate it; the people at the top would undoubtedly reassess the situation and share the wealth a little more evenly, were they left with no platform from which to amass their own vast fortunes.
That is, of course, what unions are all about. And is why our current Conservative government are in the process of trying to irreparably cripple them.
Back to showbiz though, in the 21st century age of post X-Factor arts/culture, those at the top of the industry have no need for concern. The performers' unions are powerless. The industry is no longer seen as a profession, or even a vocation subject to the same rules and regulations as everybody else. When just about everyone and their brother considers themselves an aspiring singer/actor/presenter/artist/musician, and there's consequently a queue round the block of people willing to suffer any manner of degradation in return for their "15 minutes" or a shot at stardom - fairness, ethics and working rights cease to matter.
Like many professional performers, I'm immensely saddened how the cult of celebrity carries far greater currency than the art-forms do themselves these days. I would much rather see a spectacular and well-crafted piece of theatre performed by genuinely talented unknowns than a disjointed incoherent mess loosely held together by the periodic appearance of a one-trick pony off the telly.
I'm apparently in the minority though, judging by the trend of UK ticket sales year after year.
Of course, many will say the inflated fees attached to celebrity pantomime roles are simply a case of supply and demand, like everything else in a "free market". After all, it's celebrity involvement and presence on the bill that guarantees a vast majority of bums on seats (applicable to a lot of musical theatre as well these days), so some might argue those celebrities are directly responsible for the fact anyone else makes an income at all. It's very comparable to theory of "trickle-down economics", eg: a warped perversion and far kinder spin on what is essentially divine right or feudalism, eg: entitlement and elevation justified by no more than birth or circumstance.
No-one's saying those at the top of any important institution shouldn't earn well, or enjoy greater wealth and luxury. There are virtues to the capitalist model that have spurred mankind to areas of great success and practicality, and created order amidst chaos. Aspiration and betterment are important aspects of functioning society. However, it's a model now totally derailed and hijacked by an acutely different mentality: namely the legal ring-fencing of outrageous and disproportionate greed. No-one's saying the elite can't have more, but they don't need SO much more. Not when our entire economies are depressed and literally crumbling around us. That goes for sportsmen and women, musicians, actors, politicians, businessmen, even royalty.
Oh yes, the panto... it was fun in places, there were a couple of good gags, some very impressive on-stage giants/trolls, the backdrops were pretty, and the band were great. Not that we could see them. (Maybe I'm biased due to my background and favoured genre of music, but I always like to see the instrumentalists - if music is featured in a live performance, they're as integral as anyone.)
Steve McFadden? Well, as many of his offhand gags referenced, he's apparently wasted owing to his training at RADA (Royal Academy of Dramatic Art), the veritable Eton of UK drama schools. However, I found it rather an odd boast, considering the man tends to gabble his lines in a seemingly endless wave of virtually indistinguishable guttural cockney noises absent of any diction whatsoever. Or occasionally even consonants. He's personable enough, and has a voice like razor blades being dragged over glass that's highly suited for a pantomime villain, but an inspired or even vaguely impassioned performance, it was not. I definitely wouldn't go and see his King Lear.
Most of the cast were passable, but I'd be lying if I said any performance blew me away. A bit amateurish, under-rehearsed and unimaginative, if I'm being painfully frank. Distributing lightweight tennis balls in act two. telling the kids they were huge garden peas we could throw at the baddies was a nice touch - but it also opened the door to an anarchy the actors were hard pressed to act through from then on to the end.
Sadly, it was only too obvious where most of the budget went. It wasn't the beanstalk.
* Based on the average UK earnings published in 2014 of £26,500, and Steve McFadden's reported earnings of £200,000 for the role of Abanazar in Aladdin, 2011.
Wednesday, 23 December 2015
|The somewhat controversial "broadsword" lightsaber of Kylo Ren.|
Apparently more committed nerds than myself have been debating this one on forums for a full year now, but as the entire world goes Star Wars mad (more than I would have expected), I can only say I'm thoroughly despondent at what Disney and J.J Abrams have done to our new Sith Lord's trusty lightsaber.
"A broadsword lightsaber?? Sacrilege!" I cried out, like a monk discovering the Playboy channel. It honestly felt like a grievous insult, or a beloved family member had just been violated in open view of, well, everybody in the world.
A bit dramatic maybe, but you catch my drift.
I haven't managed to catch The Force Awakens yet (I have tickets booked for Dec 29th), but I'm chuffed to hear everyone saying it's so good. However, I do know this one thing will stick in my craw as might a large hedgehog.
WHY OH WHY DID YOU MESS WITH MY LIGHTSABER??
|It's fair to say I'm a bit of a Star Wars geek.|
This is a wall in my home.
NB: For the record, I did NOT feel this way when Darth Maul's double-bladed lightsaber was introduced in The Phantom Menace. In fact, I thought it rocked, and was probably the best bit of the whole film. (Suffice to say, it would have been wonderful if our red-faced alien ninja friend had used it to dissect Jar Jar Binks in an extended torture scene. "Meesa like that idea.")
There are several reasons I find the broadsword lightsaber so offensive.
First and foremost, if it ain't broke, don't fix it. There is a vast Star Wars sub-culture existing beyond the films in comics, books, cartoons, video-games, and I for one have never seen such a fundamental aesthetic messed with so brazenly.
Secondly, the European "broadsword" was in stark contrast to many other regions of the world, where slimmer and lighter weapons were favoured: specifically like the sabre (ahem, the correct English spelling), the scimitar, the rapier, the cutlass, the katana etc - all of which could be argued are more "graceful" one-handed weapons, clearly absent of a large hilt. The huge two-handed sword with giant cross-shaped hilt is far more characteristic of brutal, bludgeoning knights swinging about wildly to penetrate heavy armour: a bit unnecessary if your sword happens to be a concentrated laser beam that cuts through steel like butter. I can see why it made sense on the basis the dark side is all about wild untapped fury and brute force, but still... no, just no. They already get Force-tastic upgrades of telekinetic choke-holds and fingertips that emit lightning.
Also, whereas swords with hilts had always existed, there's a lot of evidence to suggest Christianised Europeans of the middle ages definitely favoured the huge oversized hilt, specifically because it made the sword look like a cross; much in the same way the cross became the blue-print for churches and other buildings. It undoubtedly has a distinctly Christian flavour: again something that has no place or relevance in a Star Wars movie.
|If the Catholic Church announced Jesus was a Jedi, it might in fact boost their ratings.|
|Aw... how cute, conjoined baby lightsabers.|
Totally ineffective hilt when you're fighting with
frickin' laser swords though.
Whereas the hilt of a normal sword is quite practical, that's because if it makes contact with you while you're swirling away in the heat of battle, it's not going to give you a piercing big enough to fit a tube of toilet paper, or provide quite the same smell of seared flesh.
On the other hand, Kylo Ren's lightsaber might double as an excellent handheld flambé - particularly if the mini-sabers can be operated independently.
|Now that's an accident waiting to happen.|
In fact, why not a handheld mesh of lightsabers in an all direction 360 degree angle? Seems eminently practical.
Of course, once you move into the realms of the ludicrous, you've opened the floodgates to all manner of ridicule and silliness. Which, I suppose, one could argue Star Wars already is, but we'll put a pin in that. What we demand is rational, serious silliness.
So, my romantic notions of the noble, graceful lightsaber of what was (according to Obi-Wan Kenobi in Episode IV) a "more civilised age" have been forever tarnished by some of the reactionary images doing the rounds. Some of them made me chuckle - but my fear is I will never be able to watch a lightsaber duel again without recalling them. That sucks.
|The Saber of Uncertainty looks like it could actually be quite useful around the home.|
But not you, Disney and J.J Abrams. No, I hold you directly responsible for this most ignoble corruption, however good the movie is. God damn you.
Don't mess with my lightsaber buddy.
If that wasn't bad enough... if I hadn't seen enough defamation of the mighty blade, then someone sent me this. Some things can never be unseen.
|Laser surgery at its most traumatic.|
Sunday, 20 December 2015
This article in The Guardian presented me with a dilemma. Rarely, I can't actually decide which side I'm on.
We've undoubtedly turned into a nation of consumers, and it's grossly affected attitudes in all walks of life. Thanks to Ofsted and governments of the past 10+ years, teachers are the ones in the firing line when students don't perform nowadays; it's really quite warped. Responsibility of the individual has been eroded, and the result is mollycoddled students can treat teachers/academics with little or zero respect. They effectively see them as salesmen or store clerks, and can consequently blame "poor service" for their own lack of achievement. Students going into higher education need to realise they are paying for the opportunity to get a degree: not "buying" a degree itself.
However on the other hand, if you're going to force students to pay such exorbitant fees for the privilege of education - fees that will likely place them in debt for all foreseeable future and/or run their families into financial difficulty, damn right they're entitled to expect competent administration, teaching and amenities! Students ARE paying for a service, and if education is a commodity bought and sold like everything else, that in turn gives them consumer rights. No two ways about it.
It would also be foolish to suggest there aren't in fact lazy, uninspiring and corrupt teachers/professors & institutions out there feeding on students with aspirations like a cash cow. I know (for a fact) that's sometimes the case.
The problem as always comes down to politics - the general ethos of society. Those of us on the "Loony Left" seem to be the only ones who recognise certain areas of our society do not belong in the realm of profiteering and corporate markets. Eg: our health service, education, emergency services, our judicial and penal systems, the armed forces, our government itself - these entities desperately NEED to be free of vested financial interest. It is literally the only way to stem corruption and work towards a better society for all.
Those are the things our taxes should be paying for: not propping up banks to continue the cycle of elitism, not to pay grossly inflated salaries of fat-cat businessmen with established links to government, not to pay each and every MP in the House of Commons a salary of £70k+ per year along with every claimable expense under the sun??
Those on the Right will argue this that and the other, blame foreigners / terrorists / scroungers / liberals etc, shout about the importance of free markets, social order, geopolitical realities etc, but it's all just bluster. What they're really doing is trying to justify why they should be so well rewarded and others should be treated like human garbage. Or they're so blinded by corporate/media propaganda, that they foolishly somehow believe the financial and government elites give a damn about them.
They do not, we are mere offal to them. People at the top will always mistreat and exploit those they conceive beneath them, unless they are actively prevented from doing so by law or regulation. It's a sad reality of humankind.
"Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed." - Martin Luther King, Jr.
One day soon my daughter will be off to school, and I want her to have the opportunity of higher education if she so chooses. If things continue this way in the UK, if we keep heading towards the U.S model of relentless unimpeached capitalism, the renowned British education system (once the envy of the world) will be irrevocably closed-shop for any but the rich, and students will in turn become increasingly privileged and spoiled - absent of a genuine desire to learn, just a sense of entitlement.
That should terrify every last one of us.
Thursday, 3 December 2015
As usual, having been made to feel like some kind of fruit-loop for questioning official versions, I've been scouring the internet for videos and independent news reports from sources even the most bullish right-winger would have difficulty in dismissing.
This is an interview with Sam Ramidani, who is not only a refugee from Saddam's regime in Iraq (with first-hand experience of the regional politics), but is/was also a senior lecturer at London's Metropolitan University. He is an educated, rational & intelligent man, and I guarantee he knows a LOT more about this than the average person sitting at home in front of Sky news.
This footage was posted three years ago.
I'll say that again. THIS WAS POSTED THREE YEARS AGO.
Watch it and tell me everything has not panned out EXACTLY how he feared it would: from the specifics of Russian involvement as consequence to encirclement, western/NATO interjection in Syria, the role of austerity and economic depression, and what would happen if it began to look like the USA could not control Syria.
If you don't watch the whole thing (though I would recommend to, for fuller understanding), watch 11:24—14:42.
Western trained Arab speaking troops posing as Syrian fighters, specifically provided with high-tech weaponry. "Blackwater". Very disturbing stuff that fits a quite convincing narrative.
More chilling than anything is a prediction that if the U.S are unable to remove a Russian sympathising regime from Syria due to Russian military intervention (as has now occurred), the U.S would pursue the utter destruction of Syria - preferring to leave it in ruins than allied and resourceful to "the great enemy".
Three years ago.
It's funny how often the chain of events turn out exactly as the "conspiracy theorists" predict, isn't it?
(Written shortly after the vote for the UK to join the war in Syria)
There are a lot of outraged people on my social media feed right now, and I echo most of their sentiments. There's not much really for me to add.
However, there is one point I feel should be acknowledged, whether you agree with the decision for the UK to go to war, or not.
I was recently called for jury service. Of course I cannot discuss the case I served as juror on, but suffice to say it was a complicated issue with conflicting evidence. It was a heavy responsibility that lay on our shoulders simply to determine ONE person's guilt or innocence, and a very sombre affair. The idea for any of us we might "get it wrong" was a simply appalling notion that didn't bear thinking about, and we were consequently only too keen to hear what each person had to say.
There were no school-yard bully tactics. No factions, no pressuring to agree with any given opinion, no insults or belittling of those who thought differently: we actively wanted to hear if anyone had a perspective that might shed new light on the general consensus. There were no financial or political benefits for us, deciding one way or the other.
More to the point, each one of us present was only too aware of the seriousness/moral implications of WHY we were there. There was no party atmosphere. There was no whooping and no clapping, no matey pats on the back for having delivered a rousing, well rehearsed speech. No raucous, inappropriate cheering more suited to a Sixth Form common room. And more than anything else, there was NO JOY WHATSOEVER in the verdict we were required to make, either way.
The way the majority of MPs behaved in the House of Commons today whilst debating action as serious and as consequential as war, was nothing short of monstrous.
It is not a game show, or a sporting event.
The sheer fact the same institution that belittled the SNP for applauding their colleagues upon maiden speeches can now so hypocritically and emphatically behave like a bunch of gleeful and overexcited adolescents when faced with the proposition of something as awful as indiscriminate murder and destruction, is quite simply beyond me. You'd think they'd won the lottery.
These people should not be leading our nation. Not at all.
Wednesday, 2 December 2015
Now a few weeks on, even my amateurish insight and forecast on what would soon occur seems to have been "bang on the money". A terrorist attack, and a proposed war a matter of days/weeks later... where have we seen this before? Erm, just about every time a western nation wants to go to war or quell dissent, but first requires the outrage and ethical justification of their "liberal and free" populations.
I'm sorry to any who the notion might offend, but regardless of "conspiracy theories" or their validity, anyone who truly believes the UK's proposed interjection in Syria has anything to do with human rights, right & wrong, or the safety of UK citizens etc is little more than entirely (mainstream media) indoctrinated.
Everything they think and rationalise is based upon deliberate right wing propaganda (more effectual and prevalent perhaps than even the Nazis managed), and the exact desired effect is normal people who conceive themselves to be educated/moral/upstanding etc get on board with simply ludicrous assertions. Just like the Germans did in the 30's. Assertions that don't even make any sense. There is more than enough proof ISIS are/were a western funded group used for war by proxy, just like Bin Laden and Al Qaeda before them. Before any of this recent s**t-storm, Barack Obama even made a scarcely-reported slip up in a speech to congress when he clearly stated ISIS troops were being coordinated alongside U.S forces (I actually posted it). There are countless items of evidence out there in black & white that demonstrate the paper trail linking the military industrial complex and our western governments/media, but average people just won't see or acknowledge it. They simply can't fathom the enormity of such geopolitical subterfuge.
"The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled off was to convince the world he didn't exist".I'm not religious, but it seems an appropriate simile.
Sometimes people need to simplify things, not get bogged down in deliberately complicated political/propagandist rhetoric. Look at the bigger picture. If you build bombs and weapons of mass destruction, you need them to get used so taxpayers have to keep funding them - otherwise eventually they will be seen as redundant, and a vast waste of money. People will instead demand they have things like ample schools, hospitals, and public services.
So what do you do?
- You establish fiscal links and control over the media: TV channels, news, radio, newspapers, celebrity culture - you control the taxpayer's perspective.
- You establish control and grant vested financial interest to those in the established political ruling class: fund their political campaigns, give them the backing it requires to get them into office, effectively put them in your pocket. (Somebody like Jeremy Corbyn, who can't be bullied or placed in the pocket of big-business, consequently becomes public enemy number, whom they must ALL discredit and deprecate at all costs.)
- You take control of energy: the ability for people to live their lives, feed their families, heat their homes, travel etc. You create an everlasting demand for a depleting and monopolised resource, terrify them with the prospect of losing it (instead of developing renewable supplies), and you gain control over all their vital amenities.
- Finally, you place your umbrella over the one thing linking them all together: the banks, the manufacturing and financial institutions - the new ruling class who can consequently get away with all manner of failure and/or abuse without fear of reprisal. (Not satisfied with that, you then propose something called TTIP which effectively puts your underlings outside the jurisdiction of law.)
With all the pieces in place, what the bomb-makers have is a license to effectively dictate policy, and demand their media mogul & political subjugates create an endless back-story. They make their plans, and fit/manoeuvre global events to their narrative: one that normal everyday people can palate. They are free to target any relatively unknown and misunderstood region of geopolitical value with natural resources and financial incentive that the populous have, rightly or wrongly, been led to believe is an elusive "enemy". Why is it the UK didn't drop bombs on Ireland when it faced severe threat from the IRA? It didn't fit this modern narrative of undefined "war on terror" - which is a bit like declaring a "war on mild disappointment", and equally as ridiculous a notion. It's a license to bomb, a license to remove dissent, and a license to restrict civil liberty.
Beyond all the other bulls**t, it really is as simple as that. And if you think I'm some crazy man; if you doubt or deny the validity of these absolutely critical and most telling links between high-ranking industrial and governing institutions, get on your laptop and do some research, I dare you.
In fact, I double dare you.
If you see all these pieces of the puzzle fitting together so neatly and still think it's all just "coincidence", you my undisclosed friend, are arguably a moron.
This cycle will never change until people wake the hell up. The people of Syria are not our enemy, ISIS is the enemy, and you don't use a bazooka to kill a rat in someone's kitchen. If you do, it's because you have a vested interest in rebuilding their house.