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


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).

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.

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.

Review: Injection by Warren Ellis

Image result for injection warren ellis
Injection is an Image title, written by Warren Ellis and illustrated by Declan Shalvey - who did Marvel's Moon Knight (which I haven't read, so I'm coming to their partnership cold). Set in a modern Britain, the comic follows five people, who seem to be modern analogues for certain fictional and mythological figures - there's a guy who's pretty much Sherlock Holmes, one who seems to be James Bond, and the third man (who spends a lot of time explaining the difference between a wizard and a cunning man) seems to be Merlin, albeit a Merlin who denies that he is that. There are also two women, one who in Ellis' usual style is hard as nails, if damaged and who is an executioner of sorts, while the other is an inventor and maker who's claim to fame is creating an AI that wasn't based on human intelligence, even though it passed the Turing Test. The quintet is the focus of the story because they did something, creating the 'Injection' - which has made the 21st Century weird.  This weirdness manifests itself in a number of ways, but the first story arc's strongest manifestation comes in the form of a possession by spriggans, old English spirits which the characters insist don't actually exist - the Injection's work seems to have been to make the old new, plundering the collective consciousness of the UK to make mythology real again.

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The arc is scattered, the issues collected in the graphic novel are as much establishing the back story as they are dealing with what's happening now. Even so the details of what the 'Injection' actually is are thin on the ground, as are the ways that it manifests - I assume that anything out of mythology is fair game and readers might see Black Annis or parts of the Mabinogion come to life (though I would bet against a romantic version of King Arthur because the nature of the book feels more primal than that). 

Pulling our focus back, let's look at the world Ellis and Shalvey are detailing - on the surface it's pretty normal, but there are hints of weirdness even in the midst of government, Westminster and White Hall have 'the Department of Time and Measurement - presumably analogous to the Department of Weights and Measures only more sinister - which administers something called The Breaker's Yard. Given that 'not Merlin' is the character connected to this place, It's a 'ghost hunting' or 'monster killing' outfit, which in turn begs the question of whether modern Britain is something created by magic, and the 'Injection' is simply bringing those elements back into play. 

Pure conjecture on my part, but the book opens up questions for me, ones that I'm looking forward to Ellis answering as the series progresses. 

Image result for injection warren ellis
A word on the art, it's moody and dark - fitting the book perfectly as it oozes the uncertainty of the Injection off the page. Shalvey's pencils are clear, you get a clear sense of who everyone is, and cleverly each character seems to have their own colour palette. The depictions of the Injection, of the old reaching into the modern are particularly well done, they remind me slightly of the old Lords of Misrule comic and the creepy way they reach out into modern life.. 

The book feels like Ellis is meditating on the nature of Englishness, all that 'matter of Britain' stuff, and the mythology that we have largely forgotten but which informs the way our nation is today. It's something that seems to be picking up over in Trees, where he channels his inner John Wyndham on a global scale. While I would say that he isn't promoting the sort of flag-waving, animalistic, patriotism we've seen emerge in Britain over the past few months (though 'break the surface' would probably be more accurate - it's always been there but for the most part it was hidden), this is much more thoughtful, a meditation on the roots of our identity as a nation. I quite like it, but I can see that a lot of people would not. 

I would recommend this if you like Ellis' other work and if you enjoy Strange England type stories.