Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Childhood Influences

The recent death of Carrie Fisher brought a lot of emotion out among my friends, mostly but not all related to her role in Star Wars. It set me thinking about childhood influences and how much of a role they play in our lives. Part of this is because, well, as you know I saw the films too late for them to form much of an influence, and when I did it was through a prism of political theory which probably isn't very helpful but continues to colour how I view the franchise. Eve did find them a big influence, as did a load of my other friends and so I'm left in a sort quandary, wondering what did influence me as a child.

My teens were heavily shaped by Michael Moorcock's work, and by a plethora of D&D fiction among other books. Musically I was into miserablist indie, bands like Kingmaker and the Manic Street Preachers - I wouldn't discover Goth or the delights of RPGs until I went to university. I spent most of my time lusting after Stormbringer, or having weird fantasies about an enchanted panther skin that meant I could transform into said beastie (from memory this was a particularly convoluted power fantasy where my school had been dragged through into a massive, magical rain forest and far from being a little, cowed weakling I was able to be Mr Independent with my swanky coat).  Beyond that, I was heavily into Marvel Comics, especially the X-Men with a huge amount of love for the original five, and especially Archangel.

But my childhood? I don't really know if I'm honest. The only films I remember seeing at the cinema before I was a teenager were Disney's Robin Hood, The Jungle Book (twice), Return of the Jedi and Back to the Future, which I only got to see because I pestered my Mum enough for her to come to see it with me. Cinema wasn't really part of my parents' lives, in the same way, that Fantasy and Science Fiction weren't. Beyond that the only exposure to film I really remember was when my parents had their annual cheese and wine parties and I was pushed off to perform video duties with a hired VCR and their friends' sprogs. This was usually an exercise in confirming how little I knew about Film as the guests would invariably have seen things like Sword in the Stone and had no interest in seeing it again. For my parents, these things were distractions, they were adults in the old school and had 'put away childish things', from what I recall.

I probably only got into the genres because of my Grampy, and even then I'd read his big fat book of myths before I even knew about the Hobbit or Lord of the Rings. TV was the same, Colin Baker was the Doctor by the time I saw any Doctor Who*, so perhaps I missed out on the 'cower behind the sofa' years, and while I watched He-Man and played with the toys I had, it was never the huge influence that it seems to have been on other people (and my favourite toy was always Lego). To be honest, beyond the moratorium on watching Grange Hill (a children's soap opera which dealt with things like drug addiction and bullying in rather too much detail for many parents' comfort) and a desire to keep my sister and I from watching ITV as much as possible, I struggle to remember much about telly from when I was a child at all.

Books are clearer, not just the classics like Tolkien, Carrol and Lewis, but authors like Rosemary ManningRosemary Sutcliff and others. I even read some SF with a lot of clones in, which were probably what we'd call Young Adult today, but in those days were just children's books. It puts me in an odd situation where death has already claimed most of the people I would associate with growing up.

I'm not sure where that leaves me today, apart from often looking on in confusion as friends fall apart because of the high number of famous people who are dying (sadly I fear the next few years are going to be rough because we're reaching the point where the Baby Boomers are passing over in increasing numbers and us Gen X types are left holding the ball). I understand that they've been inspired by the people who are dying but to be honest, because I don't see death as a great and terrible thing and because, as I said, most of the famous people who shaped my childhood are already gone (or are connected to things in a fashion that doesn't impact on my enjoyment of said things directly), it feels odd. That's not a judgement on them, probably more of a sign that I'm disconnected from the rest of humanity.

*The age of 8 was apparently a pivotal one for me, as that's when I read Lord of the Rings, saw Dr Who, the friend who's birthday treat was see Jedi was turning 8, and I learnt my first swear word because my Dad had his nervous breakdown.

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Urban Fantasy: The Nature of Cities

A boy discovers an ancient tree spirit in his local park.

An angel falls from Heaven for the love of a good woman.

Demons play Blackjack in the back room of a seedy bar.

Wizards walk unseen, casting spells to solve mysteries.

The Fae party hard at an illegal rave, and a young girl, out of her mind on Ecstasy, sees them for what they truly are.

The head of John the Baptist predicts winning lottery numbers for an old man in Catford.


Image result for urban fantasyAll these are things that can appear in urban, or contemporary, fantasy. The basic idea (as I'm sure I've said before) is to explore the 'backstage' of our modern world and to paint in fantasies that make it richer and more compelling. Turn a corner, find something magic. This provides a wellspring of ideas and scenarios. Perhaps the local statuary can be asked for solutions to problems if you know how to invoke them. Perhaps your local park has gate to places unknown stashed in a copse of trees. Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps. This sort of jumping off point isn't just the source of any sort of fiction, for urban fantasists, it's the start of their odyssey recording the weird backstage world of where they live, We express things we would like to find hidden in the background, or that we find annoying, or even downright rage inducing and want to take headon.

There are two approaches to achieving this, which I'll call Generic and Specific. In a Generic Urban Fantasy, the road map to setting creation largely involves taking stock elements and sprinkling them into a real world location. This means that you get vampires in one part of town, werewolves in another, and so on. It might be argued that the most famous, if far from only, version of this is the Dresden Files series of books, where Jim Butcher has literally followed this pattern (ending up with something that feels too busy to me, but which other people enjoy).  The advantage of this sort of world building is that the elements are universal and everyone will understand them - vampires in nightclubs is something that clicks, just as werewolves out in the less settled parts of town does. It is easy to grasp and it feels right, in the same way, that our protagonists being humans with magic powers, free of the disastrous needs and habits of the traditional monster, feels right. That's partly because it allows the hero to have a backstage pass to the supernatural world, they can get involved in anything that's weird and goes bump in the night that's out there, no matter who it involves. It's also, of course, because the reader is human, not a vampire so unless the story is about adjustment, about becoming a monster, the author wants to make sure their audience is comfortable and not conflicted about what's going on. Vampires may be sexy, but who wants to imagine themselves drinking blood, or turning hairy and savage under the full moon? (Okay, probably too many of you answered yes to that, and I sympathise, I'd love to be a werewolf, if it weren't for the beating my wardrobe would take).

The other thing, of course, is that the hero is usually cast into the role of detective; a side effect of that backstage pass and the investigative nature of the subgenre. This may stem from the fact that behind the fiction lies the roleplaying games created by White Wolf Games Studio (amongst others) in the 1990s. These were largely investigative and focused upon playing the monster but also involved dealing with societies that had grown up out of various groups of monsters meeting. So they were detective games as well as political games and in addition to being leavened with a good sprinkle of combat.  In addition, they attracted a number of non-traditional gamers, in the form of women, LGBTQ players and others to the table, which almost certainly led to a knock on effect with regards to urban fantasy fiction.

The downsides of the Generic approach is that they make the worlds the same and that runs the risk of boredom. There's only so much you can do with the various monsters in the world, and unless you start reaching for weirder ones you're essentially tied to a set of beings who exist in very specific forms in the modern imagination (try selling a vampire who isn't vaguely Byronic and see how it goes). The style of story is great for setting up stories but at the same time, it means the characters are never normal people, which means they're perfect intercessors for us as readers but that they are essentially static, they're never going to have a real moment where the scales fall from their eyes and they're confronted with how weird the world actually is.

This is where the Specific model comes in - if Generic is Harry Dresden then we might say that Specific is Richard Richard Mayhew Dick from Neverwhere. Within a specific build, we may still find traditional monsters but they'll be less common and it's more likely that the takes on them will be more individualistic. Think Neverwhere's Velvets or the vampires from The Stress of Her Regard, rather than the off the peg vampire. Often Specific build settings are used for single novels, rather than for series, there isn't any need for the stories to feed into a larger world because they exist only for the duration of the novel. This doesn't mean that they don't have the depth and clarity that a series brings to the table, only that the author isn't expecting to return to them (which is good and bad). So, the Floating Market in London Below is as iconic as the bar in the Dresden Files, or Mahogany Row in the Laundry Files for that matter.

What strikes me, often, is that Specific urban fantasy is tailored to the places it features - you couldn't uproot Neverwhere and put it somewhere else, in Paris or New York you would have to re-tailor it to fit those cities and in doing so create something specific again. Tim Powers' work often wouldn't work anywhere but in the places he puts it and I wonder if there's a difference here in that the Specific creations are often designed to delve into one story, one aspect of humanity rather than being designed to be the detective story with some magic in. This would account for the difference in protagonists too, where the Generic protagonist is the detective, canny, wise, but an outsider, the Specific urban fantasy character is often an ingenue, pushed into situations, worlds, they don't understand by forces beyond their control. .Hence, Richard Mayhew falling through the cracks into London Below because of one act of kindness, or Janis Plumtree being dragged into a scheme to assassinate the Fisher King because of mental health issues. They may not return to the safety of the world they knew, a common feature of urban fantasy is that once exposed to the hidden world you can never go home again.

This focus on specificity makes these novels shine as they explore the nature of the places they're set in, rather than producing something that's smoothed down to simply be a vehicle for a narrative. To take Powers' Last Call for instance, the cards - and their symbolism - and dependence on luck are what made the novel not just urban fantasy but a Las Vegas urban fantasy story. The idea that gamblers had their own, specific kind of magic, added to this, in a way that the more generic nature of magic in long form series of novels does not.

Neither approach is better than the other, though Specific feels more 'literary' to me than Generic. I also do prefer it slightly, as I've grown tired of the idea that monsters can be dropped willy-nilly into settings with no thought as to character or consequence. I also prefer books that are slightly challenging to read (too easy and it gets boring) and often find the detective characters come across as unpleasant idiots rather than people I want to root for. Plus, I like things weird.

Friday, 16 December 2016

Feminism and Writing

In today's post, Cara Mckee talks about feminism and writing.



There are still women who write under non-gendered, or even typically male names (Robin Hobb, and JK Rowling spring immediately to mind), and it still makes sense to do that even though it’s 2016.

Writing is what I do now (blogging at Caralmckee.blogspot.co.uk and mainly writing poems – I’ve been shortlisted in this year’s Great British Write Off). I’m happy to have the opportunity, but I also need work which fits around looking after my children with a husband who often has to work away.

Like much of women’s work, my writing is undervalued. I often get asked to work for ‘exposure,’ something I note a lot of writers get asked to do, although it does seem to be more of an issue for women (in my experience), whose writing is often seen as a hobby, rather than men, who are struggling artists, trying to make ends meet (let’s face it, most writers don’t get paid a lot). Perhaps this is related to book sales, because it is still true that while women will buy books by men or women, men mainly buy books by men, and publishers need to go where the money is. There are plenty of women writers, but less published ones, and of those, they tend to get less attention. I was recently at a workshop on SciFi writing, lots of authors were recommended, but none of them were women. I asked why and was told there weren’t many women SciFi authors because women aren’t really into that kind of thing. I started listing women (because I’m a difficult woman), but to little avail I fear.

The matter of women’s lives is also often seen as light or irrelevant. I’ve seen lots of programmes focusing on the politics of male dominated office spaces, but hardly anything on the politics of the toddler group.

I used to write a column for my local paper for ‘exposure.’ I quit when I realised that the other two columnists (both men, who already worked on the paper) were doing it for the money. I now get paid to write a column for a parenting magazine which was just voted the best new magazine in Scotland. It’s important not to accept having your work undervalued.

I suspect that once we are successful in the next part of gender equality, recognising the value of caring and home-work, and getting more men involved in that stuff, then we might see more recognition for women writers and women’s stories.


Until then I’m going to keep talking about women writers, to let other people know all the good stuff there is to find, emerging poets like Katharine MacFarlane and Iona Lee https://ionalee23.wordpress.com/ brilliant authors like Eowyn Ivey http://eowynivey.com/ and Naomi Alderman http://www.naomialderman.com/ (who also writes games), and awesome bloggers like Maddy at Writer’s Bubble http://writingbubble.co.uk/ and Sara at Mum Turned Mom http://mumturnedmom.com/ and me of course. I’m chuffing awesome. Check out my blog at caralmckee.blogspot.co.uk or find my poems in the latest copy of 404 Ink magazine http://www.404ink.com/ or in Allegro Poetry http://www.allegropoetry.org/p/issue-11.html

Monday, 12 December 2016

Post Brexit Nightmare

Yes, I'm blogging about Brexit again... Or more accurately what I fear will happen after we leave the EU. I hope this is hyperbole, but I fear that it won't be, simply because the calibre of politicians we have is pretty bad.

Let's assume, to begin with, that the negotiations are over in time, that by October 2018 the UK has left the EU. What then? We will essentially be sitting without economic ties, free trade deals or anything else. Those will take up to seven years to sort out, and we're now being warned that trade with our former EU partners is going to become more expensive, while CETA, the trade deal between the EU and Canada took about 20 years. So we run the risk of over a decade without the lucrative trade deals that Liam Fox is so keen to promise are just hanging there like low hanging fruit. My concern here is three-fold. First, as I've said before manufacturing only accounts for 10% of the UK's GDP, second Mr. Cameron's targets for competition in actually making things were India and China, which are basic secondary economies. This is telling, there is no plan to allow us to compete with Canada, the USA, Japan, or Germany. As ever the UK is washing its hands of actually making things, in a move that is an echo of our reluctance to adapt to the secondary stages of the Industrial Revolution or, in the 1970s, to grow our computer industry. The same appears to be true here, there is no plan, for example, to take advantage of our mass of coastline to develop tidal electric power, and then sell it overseas. Or, as we are fairly involved in the arms industry, why not build on our maritime past by developing stealth boats or a new wave of naval vessels? Since we'll be more dependent on the sea post Brexit we could work on developing ways to defend our shipping lanes.

This brings me to the third thing I fear, that leaving the EU will open the UK up to more asset stripping, multinational companies that don't have any intention to do anything beyond buy up our industries up cheap and gut them in the name of a quick buck. If there are factories attached they will be moved to somewhere cheaper (as Kraft did with Cadbury's) and we will only see an increase in the flow of jobs to places like India and China (our two great rivals, apparently). George Monbiot has outlined the dangers facing the democratic world from transnational capital here, far more eloquently and knowledgeably than I can. My basic analysis would be: company gets very big, puts lots of lawyers in pockets, uses said legal professionals to run rings around governments and get their own way. Company bad. Nod head. Get treat.

This sort of activity is nothing new, it's been the norm for about the last thirty years or so, and stems directly from the adoption of neoliberal economics by both Mr.s Thatcher and President Reagan. It's bracketed by the idea that the state should not be involved in the market, not even for long term investment. At one point it was assumed that this would be beneficial, Thomas Friedman's Golden Arches of Diplomacy was written for a reason, even if it no longer holds true. But the reality is that as the corporate sector has grown, it has become less accountable, more likely to greenwash and to sidestep laws it dislikes and to sue governments over decisions that affect profits. For example, Philip Morris sued the Australian government over packaging legislation that carried health warnings. The danger for Britain is that, if we have no trade deals, and if the government of the day deems the EU to be 'difficult' (as it apparently already does because Brussels is playing by its rules rather than wheeling and dealing in the fashion the Three Brexiteers seem to favour) that regulations and taxes to lure investors.

This is bad news. For us, I mean. There'll be no consequence for the businesses, nor I'm sure for Messrs. Davis, Fox, and Johnson. I imagine too that the Prime Minister will sit pretty in those very expensive leather trousers. But for the rest of us, it seems to suggest that the future of work in the UK might be low paid, semi-skilled and based on zero hours contracts, with the blessing of Westminster. It suggests the minimum wage will vanish, that workplace benefits will disappear and that we will sink into the sort of dead end economy that will do nothing for most of us. More, if those regulations cover environmental measures as well, we can expect more air pollution, perhaps even a return to the UK being the dirty man of Europe.

The question then becomes, will the public accept that? Recent polling has shown that the UK will not accept a cut in living standards or wages. But as the things that have caused mass unemployment in some parts of the country (it should be noted that at present the UK only has 5% unemployment, which is considered to be full employment by economists), will not have changed, and most of the UK's immigrants come from outside the EU.... The question is whether on the surface the things that apparently matter most to the people who cared about the Brexit aspect of the referendum will see anything actually change. If not, then there's a problem, especially if a) no new jobs are created and b) food become more expensive.

At this point we might see a slide towards the far right, politically, because hungry, desperate people are more likely to vote for change than something they see as maintaining the status quo (there's evidence the conflict in Syria was caused by a spike in food prices rather than Daesh being entirely like a supervillain and rubbing their hands together while they cackle). From there we might see a spike in racist crime or even attacks on women - in the same way that soldiers attacked women doing 'men's jobs after World War One. The nation slides into extremism because nobody trusts the news because there are no jobs, no food and the country has been sold out to foreign powers... albeit economic rather than political ones. Throw in an embattled health service and declining environment and you have a recipe for revolution and a 'purity' drive (because those are always a good thing, right?)

This feels like it could happen, to me, though as I said it is hyperbole. Or at least I hope it is. My concern, as I hope I've illustrated above is that there is no new politics really coming to the fore. Nobody seems to have a clue what to do once Brexit has been achieved and that worries me.

Thursday, 8 December 2016

Content


Image result for monkey

Just a quick note, as I've gone freelance to ask what sort of things you'd like to see on the blog. I'm conscious that contrary to received wisdom I blog about a fair number of things, from subculture, politics and 'real world stuff all the way to book reviews and gaming stuff.

Is there anything you'd like me, as readers, to focus upon?

I've thrown together a quick survey, so could you do me a favour and fill it out, please?

https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/SW3LT3T

Also, could you give the ads on the site an occasional click, please? (kthnkx)

The Myth of Brexit



Back in June the UK voted to leave the EU by a narrow margin. Since that time, it's been interesting to watch what's happened not in terms of the negotiations or the UK's official voyage in leaving the EU but in the sense of the way that the vote has been perceived. In particular, it has become interesting to watch how the vote to Leave has metamorphosed from a slight majority to an all-encompassing desire to leave on behalf of the nation (just look at the Prime Minister's speech at the Tory Party Conference this year for more of that), and the way that it's become largely about immigration - consider the many 'throw it at the wall and see if we can get away with it' plans the Home Secretary Amber Rudd is trotting out. The way they speak it is as if the vast majority of the country was opposed to EU membership, rather than it being a 4% difference between Remain and Leave. That overlooks that Nigel Farage, formerly of UKIP, has admitted that if the situation had been reversed he would have continued campaigning. That is his right, of course, but the same courtesy is not being extended to the 'Remainers' who are concerned that Brexit will do more harm than good. It is as if the very people who were demanding a democratic voice now want to wipe out any chance of others having the same rights. Just witness Farage's response to Gina Miller's court case against the Theresa May's use of the royal prerogative (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zgIib_Uj1T4) or his hinting at mob violence if Brexit isn't honoured.  


This is deeply troubling as it suggests that there is nothing but disruption ahead and that one side will throw their teddies out of the pram at the first opportunity. Already the electorate in Sleaford and North Hykeham, who are voting in a byelection today, are questioning why we are still part of the EU and a number of people I've seen online have suggested that the leaving process should be as simple as just triggering Article 50 and walking off, presumably into the sunset. This, of course, is a vast oversimplification of the process and only confirms that most of us shouldn't be in charge of running the country. But part of the myth is that it's easy and that we will get our sovereignty back (I'm not convinced of that especially given that the Brexit Secretary David Davis is saying that we'll have to pay for access to the Common Market and that there may be more things to pay for than we expect).

Image result for Farage immigration poster
The other aspect of the myth is that everybody who voted Leave did so out of hatred of the EU and concerns over immigration. Certainly Farage stirred up concerns over the latter with the now infamous poster of lines of people who were 'queueing up to get into Britain'. By the time he apologised for it, the damage was done, immigration and an underhand appeal to both nativism and racism was out of the bag and the apology meant nothing. He had let the cat out of the bag and there was no doubt that a slice of the electorate (the one that contained Thomas Mair) had had their feelings validated. One need only look at the rise in the attacks on EU citizens and people of colour in the wake of the referendum to see that. Honestly, when three European governments are talking about sending police representatives to the UK investigate attacks on their citizens, you know something has gone wrong.

Further to that, it's apparent from research at Warwick University (here reported in the Boar: https://theboar.org/2016/10/austerity-main-reason-behind-brexit-warwick-report-claims/) that the main reason people voted Leave was austerity. It was a way to give the government a bloody nose, nothing more. Most of these voters don't expect Brexit to be followed through on and have already consigned it to the bin marked 'politicians' broken promises'. This is one of the things that differentiates Leave and Remain. The latter largely voted to stay in the EU for similar reasons, some level of belief in the European project, even if that was simply down to trade (personally it was a mixture of things from Human Rights, concerns over environmental issues and the fact that in the age of transnational capital I simply don't believe that a single nation can do anything on its own - we need supranational political structures to fight supranational capitalism). The Leave vote, however, seems to have been fractured into a large number of reasons and if the EU wasn't actually a truly motivating factor, then Brexit will do nothing to mollify the discontent we're seeing in the nation. It feels as if a cancer patient is being prescribed band aids, because that's what seems to be wrong with them. Leaving the EU seems to me to be the course of action that will only entrench inequality and austerity and I'm not sure how we move out of that without taking on transnational capital (which we have just given every reason to vote with their feet and take their manufacturing plants to mainland Europe).

Buzzfeedhave a breakdown of who voted which way which is interesting, and does point to the influence of the Press as a major factor in deciding how people voted.

The case for Brexit feels as if it's been laid over eggs, one hard step and we're going to get mucky feet. While I, grudgingly, accept that the country is going to leave the EU, I greatly fear the future. It feels very much as if we're walking down a darkened lane, just waiting to be mugged or to learn that the safe looking house is full of monsters. Worse, those monsters now seem likely to be us.

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

We Choose to go to the Moon

While reading this article in the Guardian, I was struck by the truth of Monbiot's words about a lack of leadership in our politics, worldwide. We need our own JFK, a person to lead us in a vision for a new world, a new way of doing things, someone to say 'we choose to go to the moon' but with regards to climate change, which is ultimately about the survival of our species.



New ideas are sorely needed, more money for research (bear in mind that of the G7 countries the UK invests the least in R&D of any stripe, and that President-elect Trump is talking about slashing funding to NASA), but more than anything we need a vision and someone to articulate it.

We need someone to choose to go to the moon...

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Weird Ales Volume 2

Hello!

Just a quick note that Weird Ales volume 2 is now available via Amazon.

I don't have a story in this volume... but I did edit it. (Blows own trumpet).

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Weird-Ales-2-Another-Round/dp/1540303403/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UT
F8&qid=1479824607&sr=8-1&keywords=weird+ales

It's full of dark tales, all of which are pub related and all of which are good reads. I won't promise that your hair will stand on end (as I have a feeling that pub prices will do that soon enough).




Thursday, 17 November 2016

Daily Cat 2

The tummy is a trap....


Seriously - it's cute and all, but try to touch it and he'll show you how sharp those claws are.

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Daily Cat

As the world seems to be going to Hell (which may not be any change) I thought I'd post a picture of Himself.


Social Media

So, what I intended to blog about today was social media, but the Trump victory sort of sidelined me. What I wanted to talk about is why I've taken a break from social media, apart from this blog, and why I'm thinking about keeping that way.

And here we are, a week later... (yes I'm that efficient, lol).

To begin with, a small confession, when I do use Facebook, I find that I use it all the time and its hard to keep away from the site. I'm one of those users who keeps checking their feed, posts loads of stuff and often use it as a sort of 'dump my emotions' when I'm feeling low. I also use it as a lab, to discuss issues that are bugging me, whether that's something to do with the real world or just a writing problem. I find it hard to detach from the site, in a way that I don't with Twitter or Google Plus (though I do sort of prefer G+ because it's much more laid back). 

Perhaps it's because of this that I also find it stressful, Facebook pokes my anxiety, often very hard. It makes my feelings of isolation increase too, not just because of the algorithms that means that you only see certain stories, which have already been connected to feelings of depression in studies. I also find it alienating to see a feed that's full of loads of stuff I simply don't care about (Game of Thrones, Star Wars and so on) or memes that are just, from my perspective, moronic. It doesn't help that the things I am passionate about frequently slide off into the darkness, if I post about them. It shouldn't matter but it makes me feel as if my likes and dislikes are somehow less valid than what the mainstream is pushing. It feels as if all the brilliant book series, or anime shows that really pop my socks off are terrible and at times as if I'm wrong for liking them. It's stupid and I know that, but at times it just feels as if I'm staring at a wall of things I don't care about, with people who are more interested in what's cool than what's interesting. It feels as if what we have managed to create in social media is less a place for discussion and communication and more a playground where things are cool and cliques hang around together, all agreeing with each other.

It feels hard to get a good philosophical debate online these days, everyone is so entrenched and its sad that Facebook is actually encouraging that but creating data bubbles. I'm concerned that this is one of the things creating a distorted sense of our world, along with the fake news stories that get passed around. There are also issues around communicating online, where our reliance on body language and facial expression as well as tone of voice, are wrenched away, leaving only words. Is it any wonder we take things out of context?

I'm not sure how we fix this, only that we must. 

Monday, 14 November 2016

Quick Heads Up

I found this online and thought it underlined the political situation quite well. Have a read and tell me what you think.

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/nov/14/neoliberalsim-donald-trump-george-monbiot

The Problem with Media

Recently the Guardian launched a subscription model for its website. At the same time, the Independent has ceased to print copies, and the Times is apparently on the skids owing to lack of sales. The Telegraph seems to be transforming itself into a bizarre tabloid, Private Eye famously talks about the paper's obsession with 'fruity girls' and notes how it's transformed into a mouthpiece for its owners' views on all matters from the bizarre to the sublime.

At the same time the tabloid press in the UK seems to be going through a boom period, as the Guardian asks readers for support, the Daily Mail struts in its influence, confident of sales and advertising revenue. One imagines that even the recently announcement by Lego's recent announcement that they would not continue advertising with them, is scarcely going to raise a panic at the Mail's offices. Similarly the Sun and Express are still riding high in circulation, as the broadsheet newspapers appear to be heading down the plughole.

As a habitual reader of the comments under articles (it's a bad habit, I'm trying to stop - at times I feel like I need an intervention), I've also seen repeated references to the MSM, the Mainstream Media, usually by people who are darkly referring to bias or something that's not being reported. The implication is that there's some sort of conspiracy to keep information out of the public eyes, presumably the sort of story that would prove beyond a doubt that EU Commissioners eat babies for breakfast or that Climate Change is a huge conspiracy by aliens to supplant human life (anything not to have to actually change how we live). In an age where gods and demons are largely discredited, the parts of our brains that look for patterns find them, for the wrong reasons. We seek order and a conspiracy scratches that itch. I am unconvinced that going to sites that are openly biased, and who have nothing to reign them in or provide even a smidgeon of a code of ethics is a beneficial thing, especially in a society that has virtually enslaved itself to the internet and would likely fall apart without it.

The problem is that the 'net creates bubbles and echo chambers. John Oliver touches on this in this video.


Going back to my Climate Change is caused by aliens, I could just lift the entire plot of John Wyndam's The Kraken Wakes and present it as true. It wouldn't be, but I could claim that it is (and sadly if it was, I bet we'd be a lot more interested as a species).

We seem to have lost track of 'facts', we seem to be in a 'post fact' period, which I find terrifying because it means, for example, that huge things (like for instance that Britain created the concentration camp) get brushed under the carpet - because it doesn't fit with the resurgent British nationalism that's washing our past whiter than white. We're trading ignorance for knowledge, and scarily, we don't actually know that we're doing it. I'm not immune to it, especially on matters concerning science but I admit that and I try to better. A lot of other people just pick up the information they see on social media and assume its' true, there's no fact checking or attempts to work out if its true, they take it all on face value.

We have to stop this - we go on and on about how smart we are, so why aren't we using that intelligence?

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Wait What?

Earlier this year I said that my worse case scenario was the UK leaving the EU and Trump winning the Presidency... Apparently, the universe took that as 'cosmic ordering', which I didn't intend at all.

Hyperbolic egotistical silliness aside, it does feel as if this year has been a landslide into terrifying territory on both sides of the Atlantic. We're seeing the rise of the political Right, a shift away from Globalisation and the reassertion of the idea of national identity - despite or because of the growth of monocultural ideals that's been directed through more diversity, the growth of international capitalism and technology. Perhaps the trend towards this has been going on for a while, gathering pace under the radar until finally, it has burst out into the open. The Credit Crunch in 2008 and economic policies from the last sixteen years have hollowed out both the UK and the USA - though arguably on this side of the puddle it's a legacy that goes back to, oh, well a long time (the debate about where the British economy went off the rails is a whole 'nother debate). It does feel as if both results have been the resurgence of the people who have been neglected, even if it also feels as if they don't actually know what they're talking about and as if, as I've said elsewhere, the world has grown too complex to fully comprehend - which is not helped by the internet's polarising effects...

Deep breath.

I'm going to advance a bit of a theory of mine, which I don't think I've advanced on here before, This is the start of the 21st Century in anyway that matters. The last 16 years has been a hangover of the last century, continuing the trends of the 20th Century and forming a sort of period of recovery from the Millennium. Just as it could be argued that the First World War was the real start of the last century, because it brought Socialism, Communism and mass democracy onto the table across the world. It was the start of what we understand the state of politics to be. It could also be argued that the same is true with the Battle of Waterloo and the end of the Napoleonic Wars, which arguably ushered in a more stable debate between Liberalism and Conservatism. This time it feels as if the new division that's being established is Nationalism versus Internationalism. Where we go with that is another question. It certainly seems as if we're likely to see a big war, possibly spiralling out of Syria or out of Russian opportunism if Putin thinks he can get away with attacking Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia (and let's not forget the elephant in the room, Climate Change, will bring fresh conflict as refugees from the countries that suffer the most move north),

I honestly don't know where we go from here. I'm actually kind of scared by the lack of reason that seems to be on display and the retreat to tribalism - this is the first time I've seen an en masse move that will only hurt the people who voted for it. I know the system we have has left far too many people behind (though the cynical side of me does wonder if that's always been the case and it's only a problem now because it's affecting white, middle class, men) and that not a lot has been done to address that - back in the 1980s Liverpool was famously left to 'managed decline' because it was a hot bed of Labour sentiment, and the Conservative government saw no profit in helping it. More recently the Nick Clegg memoir reported that David Cameron opposed building social housing because it 'would make more Labour voters' - this in a country where it is increasingly looking like owning your own home is going to become nothing but a fantasy for most young people.

At present it seems like the people in my country will only get poorer, that food will be scarcer and that the number of people who die from hypothermia because they can't afford to keep the heating on will rise. I suspect that many people in America feel the same. This is the start of the new century, this is the start of the battles for everything we hold dear, with added spokes and wheels to make things more complicated... May the Gods have mercy on us all.

Thursday, 3 November 2016

Review: Dr. Strange



Image result for Dr. StrangeOkay, in addition to reading Injection, Eve and I went to see the new Marvel Studios film, Dr. Strange. While Captain America: Civil War, is meant to have been the start of Phase Three, this feels like it's actually the real start of it, introducing new characters and ideas to the MCU. It's interesting that Stephen Strange is pretty much the closest character we've seen to Tony Stark since the Iron Man films began, he's an egomaniac, who's fiendishly clever but lacking in humility; although that pretty much describes all Marvel's big hitters apart from Captain America. There's more than an element Sherlock Holmes to the way he was presented, with his character being defined by knowledge and intelligence, what he lacks is faith and a spiritual side. He was well realised, and the call out to the events of Civil War was fun, even if it was just before the car crash that kick-started his heroic journey (oops spoilers, I guess). The other characters were well realised as well, though it would have been nice if Rachel McAdams' character had been given more to do (perhaps she can return as Night Nurse?) Also, I would love to see a hospital drama set in a Marvel universe, especially one that dealt with the Battle of New York.

The film is very much an origin flick and this is one of the few cases where it feels like it's needed - Strange is hardly a household name and his origin would be very difficult to pack into a pre-opening credits scene, unlike say the Fantastic Four or Spider-Man. As Marvel seem to be moving in a slightly different direction with this phase, it was important to actually start establishing the mystical side of their universe a bit more, so the film starts to open up that side of things - which I'm sure will also be something we see in Black Panther and in other places (I'm hoping that we'll see Shaman from Alpha Flight, and perhaps some of the British stuff given the obsession Marvel seem to have with Camelot and King Arthur in later films, but I wouldn't bet on it).

I must say that the visuals were amazing but that I felt in places, the Matrix/2001 type reality bending was a bit too much and I could see that younger viewers might find them distressing - if only because they were so weird. That being said, I enjoyed them in a sort of hallucinatory fashion and thought they were well done, adding a nice believability to the 'masquerade' that magic has obviously operated under in the MCU. I particularly liked the reveal in the denouement, of how big the villain, Dormammu actually was, it was very cleverly done.

The action moves steadily, and is dynamic, while the 'putting together Dr. Strange' plot works well, with the elements that make him the hero he is falling into place organically within the film. In the same way the other protagonist's (SPOILER) fall from grace is well handled, and it was good to see them setting that up for the long game. It does feel a little like they shot their bolt by using Dormammu as the first villain, as outside of Mephisto, he's the biggest foe Strange has so it makes it hard to work out where they'll go next.