Posted in bastards, entertainment, music, musings

Charles “Chuckles” Berry, 1926–2017

To paraphrase Mark Ellen (who was talking about Van Morrison), I would guess there are two kinds of people when it comes to Chuck Berry: those who like his music; and those who have met him. As a black artist whose work had been appropriated, stolen, lifted, plagiarised etc. several times by white artists, Chuck Berry had every right to be a miserable old git. But while Lennon was a very naughty boy when he stole “Here come old flat top”, I’ve always considered it more of a reference/quote/homage than an outright steal, and I don’t think the Beatles thought they were pulling the wool over anyone’s eyes. They weren’t trying to pull a Led Zep.

After all, The Beats had already covered both “Roll Over Beethoven” and “Rock and Roll Music”, and if Chuck Berry had a beef it was with the organised criminals who owned his publishing, notorious as they were for not paying out royalties. Lennon recorded “You Can’t Catch Me” in 1975 for Rock ‘n’ Roll, so Berry was paid back in spades.

Anyway, Berry’s own “Maybelline,” one of the first rock ‘n’ roll records, was heavily based on the song “Ida Red”, which was recorded by Bob Wills in 1938. And “Ida Red” itself included lyrics from F.W. Root’s song “Sunday Night”, written in 1878. In other words, it’s disingenuous of anyone to sue anyone else over copyright, which is really designed to protect artists from exploitation by greedy and unethical corporations and shouldn’t involve artists getting pissed at each other for doing what creative people do.

Great artists steal. (And even that quote is problematic, having been borrowed/stolen, reframed and so on, through multiple iterations. In its current form, it probably owes more to Steve Jobs than Picasso.)

So where does that leave us with Chuck Berry? Watching Springsteen work up and perform “You Never Can Tell” is one of the pleasures of my life; but watching Springsteen stand awkwardly to one side while Berry performs “Johnny B Goode” at the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame, treating Bruce and the E Street Band like just another one of his cheapskate pickup bands, is simply embarrassing.

Berry was an originator, one of the first to make this thing called rock music, and the first to write literate, intelligent lyrics that stand the test of time.

But he was a miserable old git and impossible to like. Which is before you get to the video cameras he allegedly hid in toilets at various properties he owned; or the 20 months he served for transporting a 14 year old girl across state lines for “immoral purposes”. Now you can point to the latter incident and consider the all-white juries and the different times, as they say on the Simon Mayo programme (it was 1959), but filming women with hidden cameras in the toilet is just nasty.

All of which is before you get to the armed robbery rap.

Monstrous ego, shoddy live performances with badly rehearsed pickup bands, sexual offences, armed robbery… Add to this the crime of “My Ding-a-Ling” and I’m afraid Chuckles is just not my kind of guy.

Posted in bastards, musings, Television

The end of civilisation, reality TV style

1480638381-trump-tie-tapeThinking about the assassination of Kim Jong-nam, which involved at least one person who thought she was participating in a TV prank show, it struck me that our civilisation has been in the process of being laid low by our consumption of trashy media.

For sure, we live in the platinum age of TV drama, which is a surprise to me. A few years ago, when ITV shares were a few pence each (9th March 2009: 17.5 pence per share), it felt as if scripted TV drama was going to be a thing of the past, as advertising revenues collapsed and the BBC was chipped away by the neolibs and their tame newspapers.

But enter Netflix, and enter Amazon, and enter HBO, and it turns out that scripted drama has never been better. Left to the likes of Fox/Sky, the US networks, and even the BBC, it would not be so healthy. We’d have wall-to-wall procedurals, and the stuff the BBC makes these days, which seems calculated not to frighten the Daily Mail horses and attract as little attention as possible.

No, when I talk about trashy media, I mean three things, in the main:

  • 24 hour news
  • Talent shows
  • So-called Reality TV

Unlike a lot of my fellow Media Studies professionals, I could never bear to even watch a single minute of reality TV, so I kind of pretended the topic didn’t exist. But I know for a certainty that if I was looking at so-called Western civilisation from the outside, I would see reality TV and talent shows as a sign of the degradation and decadence of liberal democracies, and the wealth and fame heaped upon individuals with little or no talent as emblematic of our debased values.

That Donald Trump, a stupid man who fell into a heap of inherited wealth, who doesn’t know what a tie clip is, could become a household name is something you’d point to as evidence of a degenerate culture. Add to that the fame and wealth of Simon Cowell, a person who wears v-necked t-shirts, and yet was still given a job as an arbiter of taste in music, and you’ve got enough evidence to damn a whole civilisation.

And then there’s the 24-hour news cycle, which, turns out, didn’t mean more news or more depth of coverage or more analysis, but less and less and less, until journalists are churning out a dozen ore more clickbait stories a day and political coverage is reduced to whether someone can eat a bacon sandwich or bow his head at the correct angle when showing respect to the war dead.

Looking at all this from the outside, of course you’d hatch an assassination plot in which you’d dupe somebody into thinking they’re participating in a TV prank show. It’s Art of War 101, right? You’re using the enemy’s own decadence as a weapon.

What North Korea does on a small scale to deal with its own domestic issues, Russia (very much not a liberal democracy) is doing on a much larger scale, having apparently exploited the stupidity and venality of a range of assets in a very long game in order to undermine the ability of the US to oppose it. The game is Smileyesque in its complexity, but it appears to have involved Wikileaks, various online hate groups, and a reality TV star who was able to exploit the inability of news organisations to do their job* and win an election. What Smiley did to snare Karla, Putin has done to snare a whole nation.

Back when Twitter was new, when Facebook was new, some of us naively thought that these new platforms would be for us, that we’d be able to organise and resist using these agile new tools. Cynical voices pointed out that these platforms were owned by corporations, but we thought we knew better. Of course, it turns out that these platforms were far more effectively exploited from the right than they ever were from the left. Because the one thing the left can never stop doing is squabbling amongst its various selves.

And then this week, just when you think that something is up, when the new President is denouncing the media like a newly minted North Korean dictator; just when you think the Western media might start doing their job*, even if it’s too little too late; just then, there’s an explosion of news (and social network coverage) of an event so fucking trivial and unimportant that you can’t believe anyone would be taken in by it for even a single second.

Yes, I’m talking about the Oscars, an awards ceremony in which a small, self-selecting coterie of previous winners votes for a new set of winners in their own image, usually in order to promote a few films that hardly anybody saw. And yet, when someone cocked up and handed the wrong envelope to a presenter so facelifted he probably couldn’t open his eyes wide enough to read the small print on the card, we not only got the immediate reaction, but ongoing coverage of the incident, including Zapruder-like frame-by-frame analysis, as if this was 1972, and this was a break-in at the Watergate hotel.

It was almost as if the media were waiting for something they could switch their attention to, so that they didn’t have to keep reminding people that they’d elected a tie-sellotaping  Russian stooge to high office.

*SPEAK TRUTH TO POWER

Posted in bastards, musings

Shut down, log off, fade away

Mini DV TapeWe are surrounded by digital ephemera.

A while ago now, I reactivated the Facebook account (total of friends = 1), just so there would be one place on the internet where you could find me by my actual name. My timeline consisted almost entirely of my Instagram feed. But I hate Facebook, always have, and as Zuck appears to be preparing to run for office (as a Republican, according to one thing I read), it’s time to kill it. So that’s gone.

I still use Instagram. Although owned by Facebook, it’s fairly harmless, and since I stopped using Flickr (destroyed by Yahoo), it’s the only place I upload photos. But my finger does hover over the button sometimes.

I was attempting to put together a Photos book for 2016 the other day, and I had an enormous number of those red warning triangles, because the “original image could not be found”. Massive database corruption in my Photos library – perhaps caused by my use of CleanMyMac. The photos are there – I can export them and re-import them and fix the triangle issue – but the application doesn’t know they’re there. So that is a massive pain in the arse, and brings to stark relief the eternal problem of what is going to become of all our digital photos in 5–10 years. Apart from low-resolution uploads on early Flickr, I’ve got whole clusters of photos missing.

This came up again when I was rewatching my kids’ childhood DVDs a while ago. A couple of years have gone missing, and one of the DVDs wouldn’t play (though I managed to rip the file off it). I noticed an old MiniDV camcorder at work the other day, which nobody (probably) is ever going to use, and it reminded me that I have a case full of MiniDV tapes with my kids’ (unedited) childhoods on, and I have nothing to play them on.

Digital ephemera. We live in a streaming world. Timelines flick by, news churns 24 hours a day, people are up in arms about one thing after another, ricocheting between issues of import and issues of no import as if it were all the same.

I spent half an hour this morning unfollowing a bunch more people on Twitter. People I like and respect, even admire, but I cannot bear to read their political and news tweets, because they make me feel impotent with outrage, powerless, depressed. Muting keywords doesn’t work because things always leak through, and in the end I came to the conclusion that, for the foreseeable future and for my own sanity, I’ll probably end up unfollowing most of the Americans on my feed, and many more besides.

I’ve said it before: complaining on Twitter achieves nothing; the people you need to reach are not on there; it’s not a substitute for activism. Twitter is for jokes, for people-watching, for aphorisms, art, wit, photos, videos, all of that digital ephemera. But it’s not for politics or climate change, or bringing down capitalism or fighting nazis. People get mad about stuff, sure, but never so mad that they put down their phones and do anything.

 

Posted in bastards, movies, Review

Swallows and Amazons (2016)

photoThis 2016 adaptation of Arthur Ransome’s first S&A book sank without trace as far as I was concerned. I remember reading about the pointless name change from Titty to Tatty, which smacked of the kind of asinine decision that gets made when there are six separate production companies involved. How anything gets made with so many captains on deck, I don’t know.

I rented it on iTunes, and watched with a kind of fascinated horror – mixed with tearful nostalgia for the books I read as a boy and the 1974 film adaptation (which, for the record, had one production company and one distributor). That version featured my schoolboy crush, Kit Seymour, as the “Ruthless” Nancy Blackett, an actress who appears to have been plucked from obscurity, immortalised on celluloid, and then forgotten by posterity. The children in the 1974 film were, for the most part, cast for their ability to handle a boat rather than their training at some stage school. They were clearly non-actors and yet, for all that, were natural enough in their parts. The magic of film is that you only have to capture that one good take.

To be fair to 2016 Swallows and Amazons, then, it couldn’t hope to compare to that slice of my childhood, even if it had stuck to the fucking plot. But these charlatans, these bunglers, couldn’t even do that. Alarm bells begin to ring almost immediately, in the sequence featuring the children travelling up to the Lake District. There’s some nonsense involving men chasing each other around on the train. It’s as if a drunk editor was editing this film and The 39 Steps at the same time, and got mixed up.

Sure, Arthur Ransome was a spy and adventurer who witnessed the Russian Revolution, but we don’t need that biographical nonsense in the film. Its presence is a clear sign that the producers had nothing but contempt for the material and the audience: what could we do to make this shit interesting? The spy crap continues throughout, taking up valuable screen time that should be devoted to the children and their story, which at times seems so neglected it’s reduced to the status of a sub-plot.

And after all this indulgent espionage peril is spooned into the film, like so much thin gruel, it doesn’t manage to whet the appetite. As one reviewer pointed out, the sequence in which the kids lose their picnic hamper overboard is more gripping, by far, than the attempted kidnap by Russian spies of the Captain Flint character – who could so easily have been left as grumpy uncle novelist trying to finish a book instead of indulging his nieces’ pirate fantasies. The food the children manage to procure, in the hungry 1930s, is such an important part of the story that the loss of the picnic hamper is as devastatingly dramatic as this film manages to be.

Still, there are moments. Or, there is one moment. The discovery of the Swallow in the boathouse had an emotional impact that was squandered by the lack of attention that the film paid to the actual sailing. The shame of it all is that, what you really want out of this is the chance to make some of the other books into films: Swallowdale, Winter Holiday, We Didn’t Mean to Go to Sea, Pigeon Post, The Picts and the Martyrs… there are some really good storylines to be had, and all of the books had really strong female characters baked in, with no retrofitting required.

And it’s with the female characters that this film falls tragically short. Nancy and Peggy get precious little screen time, about which I have mixed feelings. The actress cast as Nancy just seemed completely wrong to me. Wrong colouring, wrong age (in year 11 doing GCSE drama, when picked). In a way, it was a mercy, but Nancy is supposed to be the heart and soul of the stories, so it really matters that they go it so wrong. I don’t blame the actors at all. This was clearly a scrambled mess of a production, made by people with no feel for the stories and no understanding of their appeal.

All I want to do now is watch the ’74, to restore my memories.

 

Posted in bastards, Television

So, Farewell then, Amazon Prime

amazon-prime-video-1-800x420

I’ve got a few months to run, since I pay annually, but I’ve cancelled my Amazon Prime subscription. It’s a protest against Britain’s involvement in the Nigeria-Biafra thing, against our support of America in Vietnam and against ‘Cold Turkey’ slipping down the charts. Not really. But it is a kind of protest. Here’s why I’m cancelling.

I’ll start with the most concrete reason why: although I’ve had a lot (too much!) of use of the free delivery side of things, I’ve not really accessed the video content much lately. Partly, that’s because it’s not very convenient. I’ve got an Apple TV, which I quite like. It’s got a good interface, it’s reliable and stable, and most of the things I now watch can be accessed through it. But Amazon have dug in their heels and refused to develop an Apple TV app. They’ve got apps for the iPhone and iPad, and you can watch on your MacBook, but they’ve arbitrarily picked on this one device not to support.

I can still throw stuff from my phone onto the Apple TV using Airplay, which works fairly reliably. Problem is, when I do that, I can’t use my phone for anything else. My other way of watching Amazon content is via the shonky app on my (old) Sony Blu-Ray player. The interface on that is terrible, and finding content is painful and slow.

So reason number one is this: Amazon are playing stupid games with Apple and their lack of support for AppleTV is nothing short of malicious.

Will I miss the actual content? Not really. Some of their stuff is okay, but none of it has that hooky, addictive quality that makes you care if you miss it. The show I enjoyed the most, Bosch, is pretty decent, and beautifully made, but it’s not so wondrous that I’d continue to pay for the service, as inconvenient as it is.

In fact, decent and beautifully made is a good descriptor of quite a lot of Amazon’s content. The Man in the High Castle looks incredible, but as far as character and story go, it’s just not that compelling. Red Oaks is pretty good, but I didn’t find season 2 as charming as the first. Then there’s Mr Robot, which is brilliant, and which is must-see TV, but since it’s not actually an Amazon production, I should be able to get it on DVD.

Which brings me to my most petty and childish reason for cancelling my subscription. The biggest ballyhoo Amazon has ever made about its content concerns The Grand Tour, Clarkson and co’s self-indulgent money pit show. Now, I’m sure many people over the years threatened not to pay their TV Licence because of various things Clarkson said or did. I wasn’t one of them, but I came to hate everything Top Gear stood for, so now I’m taking the opportunity to cancel my Amazon TV licence, because I don’t want to contribute one more penny to Clarkson’s lavish Chipping Norton libertarian lifestyle.

This last reason is petty, and if Amazon were to suddenly about turn and produce an AppleTV app, I might think again. But I’ve waited long enough, so the cancellation is in.

Posted in bastards, musings

Kill All Humans

proxima-stephen-baxter-gollanczI’ve been reading Stephen Baxter’s novel Proxima and its sequel Ultima. I’d been prevaricating about these for a while. I always quite like Baxter when I read him, but I don’t quite trust his prolificacy. Let’s take a chunk of time:

  • In 2006, he published Emperor, the first in the Time’s Tapestry sequence, following it with two sequels in 2007 and a third in 2008. Emperor came in at 368 pages, the first sequel 320, and the final two 336 pages each. So that’s 1360 pages in three years.
  • In 2007, he also published Firstborn, the third volume in the Time Odyssey trilogy, a collaboration with Arthur C Clarke, which was 388 pages. And a YA novel, H Bomb Girl, which was a mere 288 pages.
  • In 2008, he also published Flood, which was the first of two books dealing with catastrophic flooding caused by climate change. 548 pages.
  • In other words, between 2006 and 2008, he published works totalling over 2500 pages, and this period of time is not unusual; it’s fairly typical, in fact.

So I didn’t quite trust that these two novels would be any good, coming as they do amidst his multi-volume collaboration with the late Terry Pratchett, the Long Earth series, which was concerned with the multiverse, or the idea that we live alongside multiple parallel universes.

At first, Proxima seems like it’s going to be a space colonisation narrative, with the twist that all the colonists have been press-ganged into participation. But there is a parallel narrative about a mysterious source of power (“kernels”) that appear on Mercury, which turns into a story about a mysterious Hatch that appears; and then all of a sudden we’re into Long Earth territory and alternate histories. Huh. Oh, and there are artificial intelligences, some of them robotic.

And it’s all perfectly readable and it rolls along, but it’s a bit of a mess, thematically, and you kind of get disappointed that the characters you invested in at the beginning never really get a chance to develop satisfactorily, or that other characters just appear and then disappear without really doing much.

So in the end, I was probably right to feel wary, but these were library loans, so never mind. This isn’t even a review, not really, but it made me think about some things.

Those robots, those AIs.

There’s a Cory Doctorow story that pokes fun at the idea that you would risk actual humans in human bodies in space exploration rather than constructing robot explorers or using AIs. Imagine: instead of having to develop cryogenics to enable human bodies to travel long distances, you send off a ship and then later on transmit (at the speed of light) an uploaded intelligence into an artificial body or robot in time for the exploration to take place.

Because it seems obvious by now that, where humans can be replaced by robots, they will be. Robots don’t need tea breaks, holidays, sleep, maternity leave, or regular pay rises in line with inflation.

So if you’re a human, and I’m assuming you are, you probably want to be in a profession in which you can’t possibly be replaced by a robot. But what is that, exactly? In Proxima, the colonists are aided by a robot/AI that can make soil, produce genetically engineered crops, offer medical treatments and assist in births. So it’s a farmer, a scientist, a doctor and a midwife. Oh, and it could teach children as well.

I’m a teacher. One of the key pieces of jargon in the profession these days is the word consistency. We all need to be doing the same thing. Managing behaviour in the same ways. Following the same classroom routines, setting homework on the same days, issuing sanctions and rewards. It’s easy to dismiss all this as Emerson’s “foolish consistency” that is “the hobgoblin of little minds”, but of course the agenda is far more sinister.

The latest aspect of the hobgoblin is the idea that, within departments, we should all be teaching the same stuff at the same time. A manager on a tour should be able to visit the classrooms while, say, Year 9 are being taught, and find the same lesson being taught by all the teachers. So as well as following the marking policy and the behaviour policy, we’re all expected to subsume our individuality as teachers and just follow the scheme of work… or the textbook… or whatever piece of courseware the corporate education publishers produce.

The first step is, can we replace expensive qualified teachers with cheap unqualified teachers? That’s easier to do if you have a bunch of pre-made lesson plans and schemes of work. But of course, the end game is, can we replace the warm body in the room with a robot and some software?

Bang.

So: raise a glass to inconsistency, to unpredictability, to not planning, to winging it, to charisma, to the messy, disorganised, impossible to programme, human being in the room.

Basel

basel-1We went to Basel. Strange that we’d never been before, because it’s only 88 kilometres (55 miles) away, an easy enough drive. Closer than Strasbourg and Freiburg, about the same distance as Colmar, a little further than Mulhouse. But Basel is in Switzerland, so there’s that.

Anyway, we were thinking of going to the Christmas market in Montbéliard, which is fairly close, but also tough for parking, and someone recommended Basel instead, and an underground car park under some kind of retail space.

We didn’t need our passports. This, in spite of the fact that Switzerland isn’t in the EU, and another reminder that Britain is a shit country with a shitty, xenophobic national character and I wish I didn’t live there. Another piece of good news is that our phones (on the Three network in the UK) continued to have a data connection in Switzerland at no extra cost. The list of countries that you don’t pay roaming charges in on Three is now pretty comprehensive. So Google Maps kept working, and we sat-navved our way into the centre of Basel (Bâle in French), and parked in the underground car park.

One Swiss Franc (CHF) is worth 79 pence, so fairly comparable to the €uro (85 pence). There’s an Apple Store in Basel, so I’ve now realised we could have bought my daughter’s new laptop for 1999 CHF (£1584) instead of £1749. I guess exchange rate smoke and mirrors would take care of the rest. Anyway, some places would take €uros instead of Francs and give you change in Francs, a good deal for them.

But we weren’t there for shopping, and our only transactions were for blow-your-face-off mulled wine, pretzels, and bratwurst. We were there for the market, and the lights, and to wander the streets. I’m assuming there’s one big Chinese town that supplies all the tat for Christmas markets? There can’t be that many artisans making laser cut wooden ornaments and suchlike. We saw truffles for sale at CHF 3.33 per gram (so, um, 33 francs for 10 grams), and enjoyed wandering around the Harrods-like food hall of the Globus department store.

The Christmas market was defended by strategic concrete barriers, and I noticed the police turning away all commercial vehicles from around the area – even a van was not allowed.

Apart from that, what was most pleasant about walking around Basel was the almost complete absence of cars. Trams everywhere, lots of them, quite old-fashioned looking, but charming, and frequent. But everywhere else, you could pedestrian without being molested by the Busy-and-Important motorist types. Now, there are pedestrian zones almost everywhere, but in my experience, you almost never walk down a pedestrian precinct without having to dodge multiple delivery/service vans, and a seemingly endless procession of people who, for whatever reasons, have decided that the No Motor Vehicles sign doesn’t apply to them, and that they are therefore perfectly entitled to drive their car up and down the narrow cobbled streets. Everywhere you go, there are mini Clarksons with sharp elbows and rumbling engines, telling you that they’ll relinquish their cars when you pry their cold dead hands from the steering wheel.

The other really nice thing about Basel was that there were lots of places to sit. I mean, benches and seats and all kinds of sitting-down surfaces were everywhere. And no spluttering exhausts. Sure, your stereotype of the Swiss would have them exceedingly well-behaved, and the streets were remarkably clean and (unlike Berlin) almost graffiti-free, and there were no visible homeless people, all that, but it was just really nice to walk the streets without being annoyed by cars. And cars, as we should all by now have realised, have basically ruined everything. Without cars, everywhere is a nicer place to be. It’s just one of many reasons to look forward to the apocalypse.

 

Posted in bastards, musings

Shifting paradigms while Rome burns

k41. Copernican revolutions

Changing people’s minds is a hard, hard thing. When Copernicus correctly identified our heliocentric solar system, it was not an overnight “revolution” as it is often characterised, but the culmination of over a thousand years of observations not matching the dominant model. The Ptolemaic model lasted from the 2nd century to the 16th. All the observations, all the maths, were telling scientists that their paradigm was wrong. Geocentric astronomy was the “fake Facebook news” of its day. Copernicus simply made the mathematical model match the observations. Even so, his “revolution” did not lead to an overnight change in the dominant paradigm. Copernicus died 20 years before Galileo, who was still persecuted (albeit for political reasons) when he used his observations to confirm Copernicus’ work. It wasn’t until 100 years after Galileo’s death that the Church lifted the ban on books advocating heliocentrism.

So much for your overnight revolutions.

2. Not feeding the trolls

The lesson that people’s minds are hard to change was learnt – with difficulty – in the first years of the public internet and World Wide Web, when forum and chat room moderators first encountered trolling, flame wars, and Godwin’s Law, which asserts that,

“As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Hitler approaches 1

So it went and so it goes. Whether you’re in a 1994 vintage AOL chatroom, or on The Facebook or the Twitter, you will encounter people who are immune to the figurative Copernican maths. Immune to the facts, or science, statistics, the evidence of their own eyes, or whatever else you care to throw at them.

As Robert M. Pirsig put it in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, the only way not to lose this fight is not to enter the arena. In other words, don’t feed the trolls – especially the ones that reside in your own head.

3. We built our own dystopia

Over the past 25 years, those online virtual spaces that were once called things like Second Life, have steadily leaked into the so-called real world and become not secondary but primary. Second Life is now just life. Those online flame wars have become modern political discourse. The made-up facts, the agent provocateurs (trolls), the inevitable comparisons to Hitler, the trading of insults and disrespect, have become normalised. The leopards have broken into the temple and have now become part of the ritual.

Back in 2010, when Twitter was young and the Arab Spring was in its early flowering, I was naive enough to believe that Twitter was a potential force for change we could believe in. Obama, against all the perceived wisdom and seemingly against all the odds, had been elected President of the United States. Smug Britons, who were used to casually branding Americans as ignorant racists, were brought up short by the realisation that it was eminently more possible for there to be a black US President than it was for there to be a black British Prime Minister.

And then there  were the democratic uprisings across North Africa and in the Arab world, and it seemed as if the people were able to organise themselves more effectively with social media tools, and that the tyrants’ days were numbered. Even here, in the UK, it was apparent that smart protestors could outwit the police and bypass the kettling, by sharing instant information based on tweets and maps. The future was here, the future was a flashmob.

But here’s the thing.

Flashmobs, as conceived by Larry Niven in his short fiction, are dystopian. And the tools that allow students and other citizens to organise protests can be used by everyone, including the nastiest people in the world.

And so – like a monster from the id come to life – an internet troll who starts flame wars and is always, inevitably, compared to Hitler has become the President of the United States. That style of online discourse – driven by anonymity, intolerance, and hate – is now just discourse. And your paradigm, my paradigm, about how politics would be changed by social media, is wrong.

I started to suspect I was wrong in 2010 when – in spite of the economic disaster visited upon the world by the bad actions of the banks – a hard-line neoliberal government was elected in the UK. I knew I was wrong in 2015 when – after five years of malicious cuts to public services and widely publicised suffering – they were re-elected with a proper majority.

And then Brexit, and now Trump.

All of the tweets that shared the suffering of disabled people over the bedroom tax, all of the publicity about cuts to the NHS, or housing benefit, or people being told they were fit for work when they were clearly not: useless. No matter how many times you retweet the fact that thousands of people are depending on food banks: it changes nothing.

It’s not just that you’re living in an echo chamber. It’s that everything you say and do online is a waste of time and energy – and it may even be counterproductive. The people who are doing this to their fellow human beings cannot be made to care. They are conscience free and actually glad to hear that unemployed people are having their benefits cut. They are secretly – and not so secretly – gleeful when the bodies of refugees wash up on beaches. They are full of hate, and they are not listening to your facts about the earth circling the sun. Twitter is just another medium designed to entertain and distract you, like a Soap opera, the news, or Game of Thrones.

4. While Rome burns

Is there an answer? I dunno. I’ve been on the edge of giving up the Twitter, not that I tweet much about politics or expect anything I say to even be seen by most people. (I’m muffled by the algorithms, not important enough to appear in people’s feeds.)

But given what a lot of hot air it all is, I’m suppressing the politics on my feed. Nothing anyone says is going to make me any more left wing than I already am. Nothing you tell me about how awful this government (or Trump) is behaving is going to make my opinion any lower than it already is. What do I do with all the upset and the outrage that these tweets create? I’m as powerless to do anything about Trump’s fascist advisors as I am to fix an earthquake in Italy. It’s just more news, and the ultimate effect is to make me feel helpless. So I’m unfollowing all the political twitterers (most of whom don’t follow me, so no impact there) and muting people who are just upset and angry at the moment and therefore venting a lot.

It takes me back to the last royal jubilee and my feeling that people tweeting about the fucking queen when they clearly hate the monarchy aren’t really helping themselves or the rest of us: giving headspace to your foe is to give them part of yourself.

The only thing that will ever have an impact on the powerful and the wealthy is for people to start smashing things up: not on the internet, but out on the streets. And if that happens there will be gas, batons, firehoses and all the other apparatuses of state oppression, of course there will. Because while they don’t give a shit about people, they do care about property. Which is why smashing it up is the only way to get their attention. Everything else is twittering while Rome burns.

Posted in bastards, Television

“I would like to adjust my programming”

ptolemy-slocum-as-sylvester-leonardo-nam-as-lutz-and-thandie-newton-as-maeve-credit-john-p-johnson-hboI was watching Westworld, and it struck me how, like the robots, we’re all subject to our own particular programming, and we’re all trapped in some kind of narrative, leading lives of torment or quiet desperation. The narrative has got us in its grip, and once it has taken hold it is so hard to fight against. Telling the truth, or supplying facts, or whatever else you try to do won’t have an impact on people who are being driven by the power of narrative, no matter how false.

I didn’t post anything about the US election in the run-up, and there’s not much need in the aftermath. What have now become the usual observations apply. Although they’ve now been discredited (UK General Election 2015) and discredited again (Brexit 2016), people were still giving too much credence to opinion polls. I visited my placeholder Facebook page earlier, and there was a promoted link to Nate Silver’s page. Hilarious! As John Oliver’s show might ask: FiveThirtyEight.com – how is this still a thing?

Then there’s the Twitter, which the day after the election was a pathetic shambles of self-pitying complaint. One couldn’t help but wonder, what if Twitter had been around in 1979 for Thatcher (my Vietnam), or in 1980 for Reagan? What would Twitter have made of Dan fucking Quayle? Or Nixon, when he was illegally bombing Cambodia and Laos? As everybody knows by now, Twitter is an echo chamber. There was surely nothing more useless or pointless than the endlessly repeated exhortations to VOTE! Who’s reading those tweets, exactly? Yeah, your followers, who are people who think like you and tweet the same kind of things as you.

You couldn’t fight Trump on Twitter. We’ve known since 1996 that trying to win an online argument is a pointless waste of time. And as for the bulk of Trump’s supporters, those white Middle Americans convinced that Sharia Law is just around the corner, they’re not on Twitter. Twitter’s user base is notoriously static and restricted to a subset of the chattering classes.

Crowing online about how Beyoncé and Jay-Z, or Bruce, or Alec Baldwin were endorsing Hilary while Trump could only manage Scott Baio is to massively miss the point that those ‘deplorable’ Red State people feel nothing but contempt and resentment towards those metropolitan sophisticates squeezed up against the East and West coast. The more you parade your celebrity endorsers in front of them, the more they’re going to vote against you.

Anyway, even though the election season was ridiculously long and tedious, there was never going to be enough time, or enough tweets, or enough celebrities, to undo the damage that has been done – over years by the likes of Fox News. On the one hand, the strident outrage of paid-to-have-opinions pundits; on the other, the whisperers… The eight years of economic pain since 2008; the eight years of naked racism directed towards Obama; the fifteen years of anti-muslim rhetoric since September 2001; the 35 years of steadily declining middle class incomes since the end of the Keynsian post-war consensus.

There’s a narrative out there. It’s in the heart of Brexitland, it’s in Le Pen’s France, and it’s in those Red States, of which there are increasing numbers. The narrative takes the undeniable evidence of people’s blighted economic fortunes, ever-increasing burden of debt, lack of options, and it whispers (sometimes shouts) the blame. These people, with their alien religion, want to introduce their Sharia Law, here, in deepest Wisconsin. Or these other people, who want to stop the police from doing their job. Or these people who are stealing American jobs. Or these others, who want to take away your guns, or your freedom to say whatever the hell you want: all of them are collectively to blame for the shitty way you feel, for the way you feel uncomfortable, or embarrassed, for holding your opinions.

We can’t help it: none of us are immune to the power of narrative. We’re all just helpless robots, programmed to respond. The neoliberal consensus has been programming us all since the 70s, but since 2008 they’ve gradually lost control of the narrative. The banks were blatantly, obviously to blame for the financial crash. But the working classes were blatantly, obviously made to pay the cost. This injustice created a whirling, white-hot vortex of resentment and anger which made people receptive to the quiet comfort of an alternative narrative in which blame was apportioned. So people have followed their programming to its logical conclusion: first Brexit; and now Trump, the rampaging monster from America’s id. Trump is the robot uprising, the one we’re waiting for in Westworld.

Posted in bastards, music

Will no-one rid me of this turbulent Apple Music app?

music-1I was looking forward to iOS 10 for one main reason: I was hoping that the infuriating, vexatious, troublesome Apple Music app would be fixed, somehow. I was even prepared to put up with its new, even-more-fucking-ugly appearance if it would stop annoying me.

(I don’t like the San Francisco font that has taken over the interface of iOS. It’s just as bad as Helvetica, and I hate Helvetica.)

I’ve been complaining for a long time about the way Music shows tracks on my phone that are not on my phone, even though I have checked (and checked and checked again) the option to only show music that is on my phone. But no matter my preference: Music continued to show all music that I had ever purchased on iTunes. Quitting and restarting the app would sometimes fix the problem, but then it would just occur all over again. Telling it not to use mobile data (no need, because I only want to hear music I have already downloaded onto my phone) would also create issues, throwing up an error message telling me to connect to wifi. Why? So it could show/play music that was not on my phone, notwithstanding my preference for it not to do that.

And on and on and round and round we went. Even, sometimes, when it was only showing what was on my phone, the other phantom tracks would still be there, so that tapping on a song in the middle of the Gs would start playing a song from the middle of the Bs. Because, you know, invisible tracks.

So I had all the fingers crossed that the new Apple Music would behave itself.

I especially synched a refreshed playlist on the first day. And then the first thing I notice when I look at the playlist on my phone is a little cloud symbol. Why? Because some of the songs in the playlist are apparently not on my phone. How come? I checked the playlist: nope. These songs are not supposed to be on my phone because they’re not in the playlist.

One problem, I thought was the presence of the phantom “purchased” playlist that Music creates for itself, even though I don’t want it to. I deleted that. This seems to partially cure the phantom tracks problem – at least until you synch your phone again.

So I synched again, deleted the “Purchased” playlist. Same thing. So I deleted that whole playlist, deleted all my music off the phone, and resynched a clean, new playlist with a wired connection. Same thing. So I went through my iTunes, checking every single album for stray “whole album” ratings that were being misapplied to individual tracks. Resynched, this time limited to 800 tracks by least-often-played. Eventually, I have it: no cloud symbols, no tracks that shouldn’t be there, mainly because they’d all been played too many times before. It has taken several days.

Except: I’m out in my car and the podcasts run out and music starts to play automatically. First song to appear on the screen in the car: “All Over The World” by ELO. But it doesn’t actually play, so the phone bounces to another song, and so on.

Well, there are several things with that. First of all, “All Over the World” is not on the synched playlist. It is in my “purchased” items, but not on the phone. It’s in the cloud. Which, specifically, I have repeatedly told my phone to ignore. So we’re back with phantom purchased tracks, except, “All Over the World” is not the first on that phantom list. It is the 28th song, alphabetically, in the unwanted “purchased” playlist. So why was the phone trying to play it? It makes no fucking sense, except in a universe in which Apple are deliberately trying to wind me up.

And so the dance continues. I’m playing music in the house, thinking I’m playing from my 800-track synched playlist. But then a song comes on that I don’t really like and haven’t had in any playlist for a number of years. Yep: another phantom track playing randomly from the cloud, even though it’s not on my fucking phone.

I can’t even. So Apple music continues to be a pile of steaming ordure and yet is so deeply embedded in the system that I can’t kill it. Weeping uncontrollably, shaking with frustration, I say this: I just want to play music I have carefully collected over decades and filtered down to this one playlist that I want on my phone. I just want my phone to behave like a fucking traditional iPod. I don’t want your streaming service, I don’t want your radio, I don’t want your curated playlists, I don’t want the load of old toss that is your @connect feature.

This is so frustrating that I’ve reached the stage of barely listening to music because literally every time I try I’m confronted with this bizarre, unwelcome and unwanted behaviour. It’s like trying to get to sleep and being repeatedly woken by the cat. I want to have a good old listening session, especially to stuff I bought recently, and then some filler track from an album I bought ten years ago comes on and I just want to smash things up.

Over the past month I’ve spent more time dealing with all these problems than I have playing music.

Which is before we even get to the actual playback of the actual music I want to hear. I know all the theories about a properly random shuffle, but the truth is I prefer the “randomness” offered by an alphabetical playback of all my songs. Except, because of all these issues, Music makes this one of the hardest things you can do. Apart from playing songs that aren’t supposed to be there, it always goes to the beginning of the alphabet, forgetting where it had reached.

So, okay. If I concede that that’s impossible and just select, “Shuffle All”, what then? What happens then, as far as I can tell, is that it starts playing the same few songs over and over again – never quite reaching far enough into the playlist to play anything it hasn’t played in the last week or so. For example, I swear to you that I have heard Keef singing “Before They Make Me Run” at least five times in the past month or so, whereas about 700 other tracks haven’t popped up at all.