Category: News

Posts about current news (UK or World)

Bye bye Europe

My first visit was to northern France on a posh camping trip with my parents. We drove down, got the ferry across (to St.Malo I think), and then head to southern Brittany to a pre-erected tent with beds, a fridge, cooking equipment, table and chairs. It was warm, but a different kind of heat than I’d ever experienced a dry, crisp heat, different from the muggy humid heat of a Scottish summer. I was 15.

The next year we did the same, visiting different camp sites (but always with everything ready and waiting for us when we got there), and I also went to Ibiza for a fortnight. What a summer that was, five weeks of holidays!

Then it was southern Spain for many years, with my in-laws owning property in Nerja, and latterly Torrox. Cheap flights and accommodation, guaranteed sunshine, we took as much benefit of those times as we could.

After that my next country was Hungary, a visit to Budapest with friends, then Denmark and Copenhagen for a work conference, and more recently I took myself to Germany to visit Berlin and last year we headed to Sweden for a wonderful long weekend in Gothenburg.

It’s been a few days since the UK officially left the European Union. Brexit was voted for by the majority (a few years ago), and we have a political party who drove it home knowing it would allow them to retain power for a few more years at least.

Europe still exists, of course, but it’s different now. Well, not now, the trade agreements, the laws, the ratification and debate will take some time to come to decisions on some things so for a while nothing will change. Until slowly, the change begins.

I don’t know what those changes will be, it seems likely that we will end up paying more for things than we have in the past. It may mean it becomes cheaper to visit non-European countries, or prices travel out of the reach for many people. It may mean some of the things we have grown used to having are no longer available to us, be they products, services, or just cultural experiences.

I did not vote for Brexit.

I do not know what the future will hold, maybe it will all be fine.

But my real fear isn’t in the cost to me (although that fear is real and valid) but that this is one more step towards a more nationalistic view, the return to the sovereign state, the continued focused on southern England as the ‘UK’, and the slow eradication of all the wonderful regional differences that England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland currently enjoy.

Brexit might be the best thing that has ever happened to the UK, for all citizens of the UK. I doubt it but I’m trying to remain open-minded. However it’s very very hard to do so when we are now governed by a group of people who I do not trust, and have no faith in to act in anything other than their own best interests. They are more interested in being IN power and retaining that power, than any of the responsibilities that come with that.

As Douglas Adams wrote:

The major problem—one of the major problems, for there are several—one of the many major problems with governing people is that of whom you get to do it; or rather of who manages to get people to let them do it to them.
To summarize: it is a well-known fact that those people who must want to rule people are, ipso facto, those least suited to do it.
To summarize the summary: anyone who is capable of getting themselves made President should on no account be allowed to do the job.

And here I falter. I am scared for the future. My future, your future; regardless of where you come from, where you now live, what you work as, what colour your skin is, what religion you follow, what people you are attracted to, what your disability is, how much money you earn.

And again I falter to find the words, and so I turn to others.

Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power. —Abraham Lincoln

The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any. —Alice Walker

We know that no one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it. —George Orwell

In Scotland, of course, there is a different discussion, one driven by the hope for Independence, one revived by the outcome of Brexit, one which calls for a step away from the increasingly blusterous and dismissive noise of Westminster. I’m not sure what the future holds there either.

I’m not sure 2020 is going to provide many answers and this has been my issue all along, it started with the first Scottish Independence Referendum and burbled along with no small measure of bamboozled amazement in the run up to the Brexit vote and beyond.

I woke in a field in Glastonbury to the Brexit news. It sent a shock-wave through the festival that day, dominating the conversation with random strangers bumped into in bars, at stages, whilst eating food. What on earth happened and, more pertinently, what happens next?

And there it is, the question no-one could answer back then, and the one that no-one can answer today; What’s Next? How will things sit by the end of 2020? By the end of 2021? By the year 2030??

It all feels so reactionary, so short-sighted and blinkered and badly considered. No-one on either side can do little more than provide a brief commentary of guesses and blundering nonsense, sound-bites to placate the masses.

Perhaps my real fear is the growing realisation that, despite having million dollar budgets, thousands of workers, and surely no shortage of intelligence (somewhere), the people running the country have little to no idea how any of this will pan out. The growing realisation that all my adult life I’ve presumed that that was their job, to look at the bigger picture, look beyond today and tomorrow, and that they might act with a sense to the greater good, seems to proving false.

How naive.

Poo emoji distractions

A thought experiment/rambling thoughts of the current state of the world and my space in it.

Seriously, I’m not even sure why I’m posting this.

My name is Gordon and I am a contradiction. Like many of you I am aware of the world around me through the media that I survey. I believe climate change is real and that we all need to do something about it. I believe that the rich and powerful are only growing more rich, more powerful, and more arrogant in their beliefs, and that is very much not a good thing.

This is not a post about Trump/Johnson or their ilk, I do not want to talk about entitled rich boys who bluster and lie and care for nothing. These are broken men in positions of power and yet somehow I am partly responsible for letting that happen.

Climate change I can impact in small ways. Like the man who planted a tree a day and rejuvenated acres of desert to forest, the decisions I make everyday have an impact. I eschew reusable coffee cups and bring my own. I have never used straws but now request them to be absent from my drinks. I recycle, I renew, I make concerted efforts to step away from the consumerism train that is ohhh so easy to find oneself riding.

There are other examples of course, small steps taken in the hope that they will collate and gather with others and somehow make a difference, even though we aren’t sure exactly what that difference will be.

So, that’s me. But what of the powerful, the elected, the rich white men who refuse to dirty their hands? How do we call them to account? Extinction Rebellion are on the right path, our governments need to step up and lead, but that requires those rich white men to change habits that would impact them, that would weaken the power they so so desperately crave, not to mention reduce the riches they are accumulating. Regardless, protests are building momentum and the early signs of change are starting to appear.

I return to the personal, how do I balance this all out?

I walk past two large chain coffee outlets on my way to work each morning; Starbucks and Cafe Nero. Which is better to get coffee from? I don’t mean which makes the better coffee (subjectivity be damned) but of them which is the company that is trying to do good in the world, that is holding itself accountable for the things it can control. I’ll bring my reusable cup but what are they doing to contribute to this and, perhaps more crucially, how much of what they say they care about is true?

I recently wrote about my internal switherings and lack of moral standing when it came to getting a new iPhone which, it turns out, was simply a way for me to weirdly justify a purchase of want over need. I’ve spent many years always getting the last shiny iPhone and all the fancy new features which, inevitably, I only really get to grips with towards the end of the renewal cycle just in time to get yet another new shiny model dangled in front of me.

New hardware is one thing, but each year and each upgrade, I’ve experienced the same set of emotions; a building excitement of the new shiny iPhone and, as all I tend to do is shift the software over, the slow burning realisation that it’s just the same that I had been using day to day, the same apps and experiences, just with a new case, or tweak to the battery life.

But let’s look more closely at what’s held within that smartphone, not just the parts and pieces and thingymejigs that Apple are so fond of soft-porning at us, but the apps themselves. I find myself sucked in to the usual social media apps purely because of the number of people I know who use them, so it makes sense for me to use them as well to make connections and have more joyous shared experiences, right?. After all, that’s what the Facebooks of our world promise.

And yet despite all those clever adverts and seemingly well placed intentions it is clearer and clearer that as our society disintegrates and crumbles into the powerful (rich) and the weak (poor), so these apps are conversely growing, merging and becoming so large that, within the spaces they create, they are now facilitating the very splintering of society that the early promise of social networks railed against, nay, promised it would counter.

Perhaps the phrase dumbing down is apt here as the further we delve into social media models and interactions, so we find our own usage of them has driven the problems we see today. News is now a snippet, a word bite with little exposition or explanation. Nuance takes on the weird vagueness of a word from ye olden days that was once common place but is now that thing that used to happen, you know, back then when we used to be patient enough to read a little more on a subject in a quest to better understand it. And today? Well, today we have beliefs and movements that are built on the back of ambiguously worded tweets and to hell with things like facts and proof. Both left and right wings create circular logics which expand and bloom and quickly lose all shape and semblance of their origin.

And it’s in our social media that these things play out day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute and then, before we know it, Brexit day is here and no-one on either side of the political landscape really knows what to do or even how we got to precisely where ended up and, rather than trying to figure it out, simply offer us more soundbites, more vaguely worded morsels (always a giveaway when they use big words), and ever more deliberately oblique informati… (godammit they’ve gotten to me as well), LIES, LIES, LIES.

And behind it all, the entitled, arrogant, rich and powerful white men nod and smirk then return to their private clubs and large houses while everyone else goes home to whatever debt laden building they occupy and wonder how they will make their credit card payments this month and, with all this raging anxiety, look for a distraction and pick up their smartphones….

And lo, they cry CONSPIRACY!

I’m not buying that though, and not just because I’m trying to wean myself of the trends of rampant consumerism…

No, I’m not saying this was all planned out – it would be a massive feat to socially engineer the populace thus, not to mention get the IT companies to play along – and given where we are today, with rising right-wing movements across Europe not to mention actually in power in the UK and USA, and sometimes it’s all you can do not to just stand and gawp as it all unfolds. And then you catch yourself and realise you need to try and do something, anything to help, if even only for your own sanity.

And so you say NO I do not need a plastic straw, and YES I brought my own refillable water bottle.

It were ever thus of course, and no doubt historians are all quietly murmuring along to the strains of a Reich-this, and an empire that. Mankind has always imploded at various points in time, so perhaps it all just feels the more unexpected and fervoured because, as well as the divisions that we have created, we are also simultaneously destroying the very planet on which we depend.

And lo, the end is nigh!!

Ahhh, but is it? As ever civilisation will take a hit and move on and once more find balance and 100 years later the ancestors of those self-same murmuring historians will look back and marvel at the decisions and events that played out and ended up with that particular buffoon as Prime Minister of the UK. Yet the larger fear is that in a few hundred years there will be no historians around to document the end of civilisation at all as the planet will have had its share of us and the remaining humans will be finding out that they are no longer the dominant species on the planet.

And having said all that there is, of course, the realisation that my own little social media bubbles are part of the problem. The polarising views we are seeing are only from those who are making all the noise, the vast majority of people remain ambivalent at best, looking on at various world events with a sense of detachment. Brexit is happening, but it’s happening over there, and with those people, none of whom we trust regardless of which side they purport to be on. Trump is real but only the brashest voices stand up to oppose him and so the cycle continues with voices becoming louder and louder, shriller and shriller, and it’s still just rich white men acting like the little spoiled boys they are. Why shouldn’t they, there are no consequences for them, after all.

So let’s play a game. Single use plastics are the bane of the modern natural world so we are cutting down our use of them. Climate change achievement unlocked. But what of the bane of the modern intellectual world, those flickering screens we scroll and scroll and scroll day after day, hour after hour to distract us from the growing list of horrors perpetuated from behind locked doors by rich white men?

I use Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp everyday. All three are owned by the same company, a company which has gotten shadier and shadier in spite of being hauled in-front of an (incompetent) panel of American politicians, as well as having had some extraordinary revelations on their working practices revealed to the world; yet it continues to grow.

With all of that in the background, and half a mind on reducing the amount of time I spend on my phone/social media, I’ve been wondering what it would be like to ditch all three.

Let’s start with the big one, the main hub of Facebook. I find it most useful for learning about local events and gigs, occasionally for organising an event, and for wishing people Happy Birthday.

If I wasn’t on Facebook the thing I’d miss the most would be the events. Facebook do have a separate app called Local for those though, but obviously that still falls into the world of Facebook which would defeat the purpose here. Equally it can be fun to see someone else you know is also attending and I’ve used that a few times to get together with people at events that I would’ve missed otherwise.

Everything else I do with Facebook, the groups I’m a member of, the memes I share, are all very easily dropped as the value to me is low. That scrolling feed of images and videos is a distraction and little more.

WhatsApp is the main form of communication with all but one of my friends. We have a family chat on which we are regaled with videos of my niece, arrange family get-togethers, and make jokes about jobbies to annoy my Mum (the wonder that is the poo emoji truly knows no bounds!). I have a few other group chats on there which all serve a specific purpose and of all the Facebook owned apps I think this is the one I’d miss the most. Now, if I could get everyone else I know to switch to something else (Telegram perhaps) then that would be great, but the friction involved means it is highly unlikely to happen.

Of the triumvirate, Instagram is the one I enjoy the most. I have long enjoyed dabbling in photography and it’s an easy outlet for the creative juices. It also still remains (that damned non-chronological ordered feed aside) the simplest to interact with and has managed to retain a base level of good feel to it. I don’t bother with Stories all that much but do enjoy scrolling through the images shared.

Ditching Instagram would be the hardest of the three on a personal level then, and I guess I can look to a return to Flickr as a go to place.

But what of it? Pull the plug and revel in the smug self-satisfaction of the entitled? After all, I am an affluent, middle-aged white man, it is my place in this world to do little and reward myself. On the flip side they say it is never too late to change.

And look at where I am now, pontificating over which of the many apps I have installed on my expensive new smartphone, is the least evil. I am Gordon’s sudden realisation of a first world problem.

Yet all of this, ALL OF THIS, is within the bubble I have created for myself, and yes it is a first world problem which means I need to be part of the solution. Yet I cannot speak to the current drug tendencies of teenagers because there is no way for me to know that without extending my bubble. Female genital mutilation? Aside from knowing it happens and is barbaric and awful, what else can I add to that conversation? Abortion, rape, religious prosecution, racial harassment, none of these things am I qualified to speak to.

And yet they are there, in my social media, slipping past from time to time. I have opinions and thoughts but firing MORE of those into social media, well, isn’t that what got us into this damn mess in the first place?

I am fully aware that removing myself, one individual, from social media is a fallacy, a drop in the ocean, it would barely register to any other than those listed as Friends and even then, how many would notice? No no, I am not looking for a self-pitying reassurance that I would be missed, far from it. Instead I am questioning my own inner conflicts, wondering when a stronger voice will take hold and push me to one side or another.

On the one hand I hold my efforts to be mindful of commercialism, my recycling/reusing attempts, and a desire to leave this world better than when I left it (or at least my teeny tiny part of it), and on the other the mind-numbing distraction of the social media which in turn has helped educate me about the need to be mindful of commercialism, that has shown how less is more.

It remains a quandary and I wonder if I’m just not strong enough to take a stand, too scared to turn off my social media feeds and hope that people will still reach out to me. They might, if I announce it, but I have to presume that over time, without the immediacy and front-and-centre attention spots that social media offer, I would slowly fade away like a photo of Marty McFly.

I look wonder what is coming, what the next news report will bring, and I find that that too scares me. It doesn’t feel like this cycle is close to ending, it is still building to a crescendo and hope is all that gives me a sense of lose purpose, scanning the horizon for any sense of a new direction or, perhaps, a knight in shining armour (likely a person who does not identify as male, riding what may be loosely defined as a unicorn, no?).

I’m old enough to know that knight is not coming. I know we got ourselves into this mess and as a single humanity we need to find a way out of it, or to at least reverse the direction in the hope (there’s that word again) of finding some perspective, of returning some balance in the midst of all this upheaval. I’m not hankering for a return to how things were but I deeply desire a future that is different from the one that is looming towards where I stand, helpless and seemingly powerless to do anything except stand and watch whilst it engulfs me.

Until then, I’ll need Facebook to make sure everyone I know is safe and to keep up with the latest news on Brexit, as well as the latest video of a dog trying to catch its own tail with hilarious consequences that end up, after 4 minutes and 56 seconds of rather dull footage being neither hilarious nor consequential in the slightest and with that disappointment I’ll let the next video play in the hope it brings sweet relief and I bury my head deeper and deeper in the social desert.

Until then, I will recycle and re-use, I will buy less and fight the desires of want over need. I will try and spread love and understanding and consideration, I will try and speak up to counter racism, sexism, and all other forms of prejudice should I see them. I will make mistakes but I will try and be better. I will share all of this on Twitter to help amplify the voices of those I support.

Until then, I will bide my time by walking in the woods and trying to capture the perfect image of sunlight through the trees that will look wonderful with the Clarendon filter applied when I post it to Instagram.

And maybe, just maybe, I’ll send a poo emoji message to my Mum.

Such are the end of times.

At least I will go out laughing.

Stop blaming Facebook

“The next two decades it’s gonna be privacy. I’m talking about the Internet. I’m talking about cell phones. I’m talking about health records and who’s gay and who’s not. And moreover, in a country born on the will to be free, what could be more fundamental than this?”
~ Sam Seaborn, The West Wing.

In case you missed the news, it turns out that tens of millions of people have had their Facebook data used by a company called Cambridge Analytics to help skew the last US Presidential election (good summary here). The joys!

Facebook privacy has always been a bit of an open secret, at least to those who work in IT. You can control a lot of the data that you give to Facebook, but every interaction you have adds to the huge amount of data they have access to and, as this particular ‘usage’ demonstrates, it isn’t all that hard to get more with a simple social hack; Hey, which Muppet do you resemble? Tell us your gender and a few other seemingly inconsequential pieces of data … hahaha you fell into our trap!

I am not preaching for a place of innocence either, I’ve filled in many of these daft little ‘games’ on Facebook, I have an active Instagram account where I sometimes include location information, I ‘check in’ to venues, I like and share articles and event posts. All of this adds to the bank of data that Facebook knows about me, and it sure isn’t rocket science to figure out that I’m a white, male, liberal, left-of-centrist who attends a lot of events in the Glasgow area (mind you, you just need to follow me on there to get a sense of any of that).

The details around this current headline grabbing sequence of events are still emerging but, regardless of whether you knowingly took the personality test that Cambridge Analytics posted or not, it’s the darker, blurrier edges of ‘my data’ that are finally making many people sit up and consider the implications.

I don’t think this is the end of Facebook, far from it, but I do hope it’s the beginning of a greater awareness for more people. For many years we’ve had it easy, blithely ignoring things like privacy because, after all, Facebook is a company and companies are held to account by … someone … somewhere, right? It’s another change in our online usage to which many of us will need to adapt; continually checking what data our apps and systems are sharing and who they are sharing it with, fact checking news to confirm if it’s fake or not, a higher state of vigilance than many of us have employed before.

Is this the payback for all those years of ‘free internet’? The assimiliation of all that free data is now coming back to bite us in the bum? Perhaps.

Or perhaps it’s society starting to move fully into the information and digital age, an age our parents can’t fully understand, one built in the cloud and manipulated by the behemoths that occupy those spaces, looking down on us like the gods they think they are.

Viva La Revolution? #deletefacebook? I don’t think so, but #bemoremindfulwithyourdecisions isn’t quite as catchy.

Yes, Facebook could and must do better in this space, transparency would help but I doubt it’ll ever happen, their entire business model is built on this kind of thing but regardless, blaming Facebook entirely is not a new line of thinking. Yes, I think they shoulder some of the blame here but whilst we have the pitchforks sharpened, perhaps we all need to look a little closer to home.


Step 1: https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2018/03/how-change-your-facebook-settings-opt-out-platform-api-sharing

3 Star or bust

Do you believe everything you read? Are you happy to take the opinion of the clearly ill-informed over those who weigh their words and provide evidence both for and against what they are offering?

Don’t worry, this isn’t about Trump.

I’ll admit that I like to have a sense of whether something is good or bad before trying it and find myself reading reviews on purchases, bars, restaurants, books, movies and, well, pretty much anything I consume or use. It wasn’t something I really considered noteworthy until a friend of mine commented that she always asks me what I think of something because she knows I’ll have researched the shit out of it (she’s classy with words that way). It hasn’t always been this way.

When the first consumer sites started hosting reviews it was a bit of a novelty, you could rate something using stars and leave an opinion detailing why you thought it was good or bad. It all felt very much in the spirit of how the internet was (or at least seemed to be) back then, it was a good thing to share your opinion, to give a little back to the growing community of geeks and nerds. Back then, (we)blogs were on the rise and a certain Mark Zuckerberg was years away from entering college.

Of course in those early days Amazon mostly sold books and a few other items, it wasn’t the behemoth it is today, but as it grew, and more consumer sites started to appear, so did the power and influence of the reviews. The more stuff that became available to us, the more we seem to want our say on whether it was bad or good, ohhh and here are a few paragraphs of text on why I hold that opinion.

Today, with a mind boggling number of things available to consume and use available – seriously, search Amazon for ‘torch’ and you get 346,724 results, even if three quarters of the items aren’t actually torches that still leaves 86,681 types of torch! – you soon develop the ability to sort the wheat from the chaff when it comes to reviews, or rather the useful and helpful from the almightily pissed off and BY JUPITERS BEARD everyone is gonna hear about it.

These 1-star reviews are easily identified because they are usually set in ALL CAPS BECAUSE THAT IS HOW BAD THIS THING IS, but at times they are oddly similar in tone to the 5-star reviews which are full of praise and reverence for this most amazing of things that you should buy because IT WILL LITERALLY CHANGE YOUR LIFE IT’S THAT AMAZING!

With so many opinions and views available, I know I’m not alone in wanting a way to figure out what the best things are and over the past couple of years I’ve been continually delighted by the consistency of approach, information, and recommendations from The Wirecutter and The Sweethome, two review websites who take detailed looks at products, test them, review them, review the reviews of them (wheat from chaff!) and give you their reasoning as to why X is better than Y (and if you don’t like X then why you should consider buying Z). Essentially they apply more rigor, science, and patience than I do and as a result I’m almost trusting enough of their considered opinion to buy their recommendation without reading their full review (almost, I’m not a weirdo).

Despite being a regular consumer of reviews, for a long time I’d only ever sporadically written reviews on this blog. It’s just never really been a thing I felt comfortable sharing and the few times I have have been mostly gigs or movies and not massively insightful beyond OMG that was totally awesome because I’ve written them too soon after said gig/movie and I’m still caught up in the emotions of it.

However I have been writing reviews, quite a lot of them, just not here. A few months after I moved to Glasgow I realised I wasn’t really exploring it, wasn’t really trying new places to eat, drink, or visit. To combat that I started using Yelp. For the first few months I used it to search for places to go, but eventually I signed up and started writing reviews to ‘give back’ to some of the places I had visited that I enjoyed, particularly those who had old reviews or no reviews at all.

I’ve been on Yelp for over five years now. In that time I became a Yelp Elite and started attending local Yelp community events (which Yelp recently ditched, boooo) and over the last 90 days the 300 odd reviews I’ve posted have been read over 25,000 times. Far far above the numbers I see here. This still staggers me, that the words I write have been seen by so many people and, I hope, helped them make a decision, one way or another. But as nice as the numbers are, my desire to write reviews isn’t solely about that (I’m not that shallow, honest). No, I write them to give back, to put something back out into a service that I have found useful.

It’s very easy these days, with so many free services available, to take without giving back. Recently I’ve been wondering if, in some small way, this aspect of the internet, this expectation of ‘free’ isn’t hurting the world at large. The more people who drop into that mindset and let it permeate their everyday lives, the more society may start to drift and change into something a lot more selfish. Look out for yourself, screw everyone else.

It does feel like the prevailing attitude these days is “why should I bother, someone else will do it”. I can be as guilty of it as the next person, and it’s not much of a leap from that to a larger world view that is selfish and self-centred, a view that is shaped by the information I chose to take in because it is easily obtained and already part of my world view.

And bearing that in mind, is it that much more of a leap to see why Brexit was voted through? Is it really a surprise that Trump is President?*

OK, I’ll admit the leap I’m making here is a large one; from not bothering to write a review to the fact a country voted in an unintelligent brutish man-child as President. It just seems that, at the moment, the world is turning to all those 1 and 5 star reviews, the ones that can’t be trusted because they are singular of view and devoid of fact, and using them as the basis of how society should be.

Now, maybe it’s just me, but I think most of us want a world that lies somewhere in-between and we accept that sometimes it’ll be a 2-star place, and sometimes it’ll be a 4-star place, but we know that those 1-star and 5-star reviews need to be taken with a very large pinch of salt.

* OK, I fibbed. But I promise I didn’t set out to write about Trump…

Dark is the light

This post is an attempt to process my own thoughts about recent news and my reaction which has been to shy away from any mention of ‘Trump’. Perhaps it’s just fatigue, but perhaps that fatigue is partly my own doing?

Read the news, pick your flavour.

Trouble is what news? And are you getting the differing flavours and view points you need?

Social media pulls us towards people who share our viewpoints, sure we all have a few dissenting voices here and there but those are largely filtered by our choices at the outset. Because of that the opposing views that seep into my social media bubble are far removed from what I believe and all the more shocking for it, yet to others the very views that shock me are the norm, and my liberal leanings are as shocking, bemusing, and downright offensive to them.

Today, with the spectre of Brexit waiting in the wings, America has a man viewed by many (and myself) as wholly unfit to hold the position of President Elect of the United States of America. Was Hillary a better option? Perhaps not, but democracy always comes down to a choice; Trump or Clinton, Europe or not. To the Democrats who didn’t vote because Hillary wasn’t ‘popular’, shame on you (notable stats from those who did vote, Trump won because of white, middle-class votes).

Social media also makes things like the US election much more vivid for those of us not involved. Step back in time and ask was Reagan a good president? When Bill Clinton was elected, did he say things that were questionable? You’d only find answers to those questions if the facts were filtered to you through your news outlet of choice; pick your broadcaster or foldable media (newspaper), either way there was a professional journalist acting as a filter somewhere in that stream of information.

Such filters have always existed but as we now control our own we are free to seek out the truth, however we want to perceive it, regardless of how it is framed we can extract what we choose. That’s all well and good but what seems to be missing, the obvious next step, is any accountability (hell, even a realisation) that we, as global citizens*, have to take some responsibility for how we react to the news we choose to receive.

Outrage can be a powerful force if it is considered and qualified.

For example, I don’t react well when I read about shootings in America. We don’t have a gun culture here in the UK, and I just don’t understand how you can defend gun ownership at all. It would be easy to wade in, spouting hatred at all gun owners, and ridiculing all of the USA for their perceived stupidity for not having dealt with this issue. I could start tweeting the victims saying that they must’ve deserved it, and perhaps they are lucky that they got a quick death. I could fall into the mob led chants and actions that seem to make so much noise, regardless of how many are involved. The hate filled bile that bubbles up in some newspapers.

But I’m aware that my culture and social history isn’t that of an American, so whilst I have an opinion, I’m not going to wade in and add another angry voice (and one that is white and male) to the cacophony. I’m also aware that I am well educated and have enough life experience to have calmed my teenage anger and angst. So I avoid adding to the hate and turn to understanding and, if I can, I look for a compassionate view or a way to find a balance between the opposing views, no matter how far apart they are.

Unfortunately before a balance can be found there needs to be a common ground, a platform within which it is safe to have heated discussions on opposing viewpoints, to share opinions without fear, and from which everyone can leave with a greater understanding and, hopefully, a better solution.

This is all sounding very utopian because right now that platform feels very far away. But if we don’t fight for it idea of it, we will never take one step towards it. We need to be active, we need to be vocal and oppose and act on our beliefs accordingly, with respect, and with an open mind.

And it’s here that I falter. How? How do I make a difference?

Well a few things spring to mind. Attend protest rallies/walks, peacefully. Amplify the voices who SHOULD be speaking on topics, get out of their way and support them. My demographic gives me power in todays society, and I am starting to see the ways I can let others use that. My voice is not important (he says, spouting forth in a blog post), and I should not be speaking to matters of race, gender classification, disability, misogyny, and all other prejudiced minorities.

The past year has made me realise I’m much more politicly minded that I previously thought. Although perhaps it isn’t so much politics that has me pondering my place in the world but the way so many people have been reacting to political events.

From the Scottish Referendum to Brexit to the US Election, there is an undercurrent of hate. It manifests itself in different ways but the effect is the same.

Of course, as you’ll rightly note, my perception of these events might be colouring my view. Things might not be as bad as they seem, or they might be worse. My social media bubble is pointing towards the latter but who knows what future lies ahead of us? A decade from now, will we look back with disbelief at the volume of ire and hatred that was generated, given the impact Trump had as a President, or will we be looking back from a world we don’t recognise, a dark and scared place.

Regardless of the views I absorb, the facts around Trump speak for themselves. How a man who has committed the crimes he has, and holds the views he does, is now the ‘most powerful man in the world’ is beyond my ken. But the fact remains, he is President Elect.

The world feels very dark, but that’s all the more reason to fight, to not stand idly by, and to hold up a light for others.

* Not a great term but my premise is, if you are on social media you are a global citizen, even if your own bubble doesn’t extend that far.

Do what you can

If you don’t have any alternatives, you can’t object.

I’m not fond of making such black and white statements but, driving to work this morning, I heard an item on the news that really annoyed me.

Apparently, immigration officials have been suggesting to gay immigrants who are being sent back to their home country, that they should keep quiet about their sexuality to avoid persecution. Not ideal, I agree, but then on came some spokesperson for some campaign group who stated it was wrong to give such advice as it wouldn’t stop the persecution.

She didn’t (or it was edited out) offer an alternative of course.

So, either the immigrants go back to their  home countries, say nothing about their sexuality and avoid being brutalised,  attacked, and murdered, or…. what? go back and announce how happy they are with their sexuality (which, of course, they SHOULD be able to do) and take whatever happens to them?

The latter option, I’m guessing, is somewhat easier to say than do.

Yes, it is wrong that people are still persecuted for their sexuality. It’s also wrong that wars are waged due to religion (I’m with Stevie Wonder on that one), it’s wrong that people starve to death, it’s wrong that people the rich get richer.

But that doesn’t stop the fact it happens. Yes we can, should, and do fight to improve these things the world over but most campaigners come armed with a different solution, or at the very least a reasonable compromise.

Instructions and ethics

Two things are currently making me GRRRRRRRR quite a bit. One is a minor annoyance that crops up frequently, the other a fairly fundamental gripe with a certain profession.

In reverse order then, my main gripe is with the current batch of moaning politicians who are saying that it isn’t fair that they are having to pay back monies claimed because the rules have been changed and … well it’s just not fair. Cue stomping of feet and many huffing noises (no, not that kind of huffing), like the spoilt children they are.

Now, don’t get me wrong, it is slightly unfair to change the rules NOW and apply them retrospectively. I get that. The thing is, regardless of any rules, if we are all honest we’ve all broken a few rules in our time and WE KNOW WE ARE DOING IT.

So whilst they may have been able to claim for redecorating their kitchen in this seasons fashion, or getting that custom bookcase built to store their precious historical parchments, deep down they must’ve known they were taking the piss.

If they didn’t then it’s worse still, they are completely immoral.

So, yes changing the rules isn’t fair, and whilst I might try and claim a few extra pounds for a taxi ride here and there (on my yearly trip outside of the office), I wouldn’t think “you know what, it’d be much quicker to hire a helicopter, so I’ll do that” and presume that that was ok.

My company, like most, will pay for your dinner if you are away on business. I COULD order caviar, lobster, the finest champagne and finish off with half a bottle of exclusive brandy. I don’t though because that’s just taking the piss. Yes there are other reasons, ones I would like to see reflected back on to the way politicians expense claims work, such as having the knowledge that ultimately I’m spending my own money (the company pays me after all), but ultimately I am presumed to be professional about these things.

Shame we can’t say the same for our politicians.

Ohh and that other thing? Well it’s about places listing ADDRESSES on their website but forgetting that I don’t know what the building is like, nor the fact it’s one door with unclear signage above it. A photo of the premises would help LOADS!

Phew. That feels better.

RIP John Hughes

Being off ill, and spending most of my days dozing, means I’m slightly behind on some things. So I was very sad to hear that John Hughes had died.

I wouldn’t say I was a big fan, but given that I grew up with such movies as Pretty in Pink and Ferris Buellers Day Off, I guess I was a bigger fan than I thought.

To my shame I didn’t see The Breakfast Club until a few years ago, which is both a good and bad thing. Good in that it would probably have coloured my view of life for a while if I’d seen it as a teenager (very easily influenced), good that I probably appreciate it more as a 30-something and realise it is a very clever movie, and bad because I feel like I did actually miss out on something that was, by all accounts, quite a marker in the movie landscape.

Oh well.

Weird Science was the movie that stuck in my mind the most, although that is completely down to Kelly LeBrock, of course. Planes, Trains and Automobiles is still funny and then there is Home Alone. Without doubt one of the best comedy movies of the past 20 years, if you strip away all the schmaltz there is 30 minutes or so of, quite simply, the best slapstick humour I’ve ever seen (including THE best male scream ever).

A sad day indeed.

He seemed to have a gift for capturing the sadness we all feel from time to time, and allowing us to wallow there for a moment before reminding us that life is for living and, frankly, screw everything else. It’s a common theme in all his movies, those moments of introspection and melancholy, without which I don’t think audiences would’ve related as well as they did.

And for those who were fans I’ll point you to this blog post by another fan who ended up being pen pals with Mr.Hughes (via). It’s fascinating.

What a shame he ended up leaving Hollywood behind, perhaps the greatest lesson we should take is how he conducted himself during his life.

It's hard

Listening to the news on the way to work this morning, some chav sounding lassie from some London suburb or other was bemoaning the fact that she found it hard not to bunk off school.

Yes, that’s right. She wasn’t finding it hard to attend school just hard not to bunk off at least once a week.

She said she had once “even” been arrested whilst bunking off which didn’t reflect well on her school, or her parents but it was just really hard not to bunk off. I’m guessing peer pressure is probably the reason but that’s just a symptom of the underlying disease

I’ve touched on this theme before, several years ago, and whilst part of my reaction disgusts me I can’t help that knee-jerk feeling that somewhere, somehow, discipline has been lost, and my contempt for that girl rises to the top.

Do we blame the parents? The teachers? The government? The kids? Probably all of them in different ways and magnitudes.

And the thing that really annoys me is that fixing, or at the very least addressing, the slow decline of moral standards in our society must be possible.

Just, you know, it’s, like, hard.

Why can’t I own Englishmen?

There was a bit of a stramash in the Scottish press yesterday, when a fairly high profile Reverend in the Church of Scotland coming out of the closest and declaring himself a big gay (those may not have been his exact words…). As many of you will already know, religion and homosexuality don’t mix very wel at all, with homosexuality being stated as an “abomination to God” by some.

Yes, don’t worry, it really is 2009.

Big Rab picked up on this news as well, saying:

The whole thing reminded me once again of the excellent “Why can’t I own a Canadian?” letter and the episode of the West Wing on which it is allegedly based. I don’t know if the letter is genuine but it sure covers all the relevant points.

I’m not going to repeat the entire thing here but it’s funny and pointed and you can read the full thing on his blog:

Lev. 25:44 states that I may indeed possess slaves, both male and female, provided they are purchased from neighboring nations. A friend of mine claims that this applies to Mexicans, but not Canadians. Can you clarify? Why can’t I own Canadians?