Friday, June 23, 2017

One year on: Britain is still in denial

The rusty cogs of government have finally begun to creak into life as the Brexit negotiations begin, and people finally have to put their money (some say £350 million for the NHS and some say a £100 billion EU divorce bill) where their mouth is.

A lot has happened in just a year since the shocking result. Of course, there was division and anger and then just confusion over what Brexit means. There was a new Prime Minister in Theresa May, who promised not only Brexit but Red, White and Blue Brexit, which would surely give the EU stationers some minor headaches finding the right colour paper. Finally, there was another twist in the tale as May then called a snap election expecting the kind of majority that Thatcher would have licked Michael Foot’s arse on TV to get.

Then another shock, May lost her majority after fronting one of the most lacklustre campaigns in living memory, maybe only tying with the kind of complacency of Hillary Clinton’s Democratic campaign. Rupert Murdoch then voided his bowels (he’s at that kind of age now) and the increasingly divided Britain was left with a hung parliament just over a week before the big bad negotiations with the wicked sneaky Europeans.

Of course, the brave white haired Knight, David Davis whose blood actually pumped red white and blue (a medical condition I’m told), lured the wicked foreigners into a trap by handing them exactly what they wanted on negotiating a trade deal only after the terms of divorce were set. Little did they know they were now exactly where he wanted them….

Or so some people would like to believe because despite the shocking incompetence shown by the leaders and negotiators Britain has still not accepted that it’s not going to get a better deal than what it has. Britain was already a privileged member of the EU with a lot of bargaining clout and was seemingly a leader considering its voting record on EU legislation often came out in its favour. However, of course, a lie repeated enough times about unelected democrats, angry fishermen, complaints from people who just could not get their heads around the metric system and “something, something those Polish are stealing our money, jobs and benefits”, here we are just as clueless as we’ve ever been.

Now we will lose all that influence we had, and we’ve already pretty much lost any reputation we had for being cool-headed and calculating. Britain will only get a deal where it has to lose something and not this tailored appeasement some Brexiters believe in. “They need us more than we need them”, they say showing a flimsy level of understanding of cooperation that Britain has been famous for in recent times and also of the nation’s diverse and globalised economy. Either way, concessions are going to have to be given back to the EU to secure our future relationship, which begs the question, is there really any point to all of this?

Of course, now some people are starting to catch on slowly as prices rise and businesses start to stall their decisions, waiting for an outcome. Unfortunately, Britain hasn’t realised it’s about to waste a huge amount of time and money that it’s ironically really going to need once the costs and effects of Brexit really hit home.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Strong and stable chaos

They say a week is a long time in politics and this week more so than usual.

A lot has happened if you think that last Saturday there was very sadly a terrorist attack in central London. Theresa May the Prime Minister then made an authoritarian-sounding speech about dealing with the terror threat, talking about clamping down on the Internet and seemingly throwing out the traditional liberal values of British society in order to secure (at least the perception of) safety.

Then came the election on Thursday and the message seemed to be clear. It was a monumental error to call a vote at this time (and so close to the Brexit negotiations). The Labour party surged in the polls and the Conservative majority was wiped out. The PM’s party despite still being the biggest in parliament now doesn’t even have enough seats to form a government in its own right and a coalition or deal is necessary to rule.

This then brings us to the present moment, where despite her no-nonsense approach to terrorism and desired crackdown on the public to prevent all terrorist activity she is prepared to do a deal with the Democratic Unionist Party, which has a very dubious history. The DUP was founded by the firebrand evangelical preacher the Reverend Dr Ian Paisley and has had strong connections to the Ulster Defence Association a violent unionist terrorist group in Northern Ireland. The Party also holds truly antiquated and bigoted views on social issues in society.

To say this is an ironic twist in these strange times is, of course, an obvious conclusion, but it takes some serious cognitive dissonance to be able to preach zero tolerance to all terrorism one week and then do a deal with terrorist sympathisers before the week is up. It’s made even more ridiculous by the fact that the cynical and lacklustre campaign by the Conservative party heavily criticised Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn for having a dialogue with the IRA in the 1980s (which as it turns out a lot of politicians on both sides of parliament were doing, albeit mostly in secret).

Obviously, it’s clear that principals are out the window and that power and holding on to the premiership are more important to Mrs May. This is probably only temporary as even her own party look like they’re about to turn on her and moderate conservatives (including the openly gay Ruth Davidson and David Mundell) will most likely be cringing at the backward views their new partners have on homosexuality amongst other things.

It’s been said a lot that the biggest irony is that the strength and stability that May parroted at the beginning of the campaign has led to chaos and weakness and of course it is true. Nevertheless, it has been a source of schadenfreude after hearing so many lies and so much cynical posturing for the last couple of months.

The question is of course what happens now? There are many things still to do such as deal with the issue of austerity going forward and the gigantic thrashing dinosaur in the room (luckily for the Tories the DUP allegedly don’t believe in dinosaurs) is of course Brexit. It’s hard to know how these will progress going forward as the blinkered view of a hard Brexit seems to have proven to be poison at the polls and there can be no doubt that people are tired of austerity after 7 years and a spluttering asthmatic economic upturn as a result of it.

I’m certain of one thing. Theresa May is finished as the Conservative leader. Like them or loathe them the Tories do not tolerate failure and I’m sure they are warming up the iron and sharpening their knives for a good old ousting. As for where this leaves Britain, that is unclear. The country obviously is experiencing something of a shift even from last year as the much-maligned youth vote actually came through for once.

Brexit hasn’t even started yet and it’s looking shaky as the hard-line rhetoric seems to have failed and the EU seems at least passive to any threats of walking away with no deal. It’s not really clear who is even in charge of that anymore with May and her inner circle looking like lame ducks. A final question hangs over Northern Ireland which of course could be greatly affected in the upcoming negotiations and what a deal with the DUP means for the Good Friday agreement. Who knows, we might even end up with another election this year.

It’s not sure how it’s going to pan out but I think that luckily we’ve seen the end of Strong and Stable as a mantra for government campaigning.   

Sunday, January 22, 2017

And now for your amusement: Some alternative facts

A new era started on the 20th January 2017 with the Inaugaration of the 45th President Donald "big hands pussygrabber" Trump.

So far it's taken less than 48 hours for something stupid to happen as Sean Spicer Trump's new press secretary chastising the gathered press for reporting the fact that Trump's inaugural address had worse attendance than Obama's eight years ago, accusing the professional journalists of false reporting.

Later Kellyanne Conway one of Trump's senior White House aides later rushed to the aid of Spicer claiming that the flustered Press secretary had been reporting "alternative facts."  Of course the fact that outright newspeak was now part of the White House's official press policy didn't go down very well.

This of course has been better reported elsewhere so here follows a few alternative facts of my own as we now live in a world where anything is true if you believe it hard enough:

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

What does Brexit mean?

What does Brexit mean?

Brexit means Red White and Blue because, you know, the flag and that.

Brexit means Cricket. The EU is just not cricket, whilst Britain is and literally invented cricket. This should be a self explanatory reason for leaving it. The EU is more like petanque or Korfball.

Brexit means British self determination. That's right no silly French or Belgian people and their soft smelly cheese will start telling you what shape your bananas will be anymore. In fact you will have no representation in European affairs at all! Who can be bothered with boring MEP elections anyway and the hideously undemocratic EU commission? No instead everything will be checked over by our wonderful House of life-term Lords and the hereditary monarch as it always has been. God save the Queen!

Brexit means Exacting control over our borders. That's right! No more can immigrants come and exploit soft touch Britain by stealing our jobs and claiming benefits at the same time. No more Europeans coming here and stealing our healthcare! Although it seems that the rest of Europe has universal healthcare too, but you can never be too careful! But still despite paying taxes when they work here we can block them from claiming any benefits. That'll teach them for being foreign!

Brexit means dig for victory! Like our plucky grandparents during the Blitz we're going to have to grow our own fruit and vegetables because we sure as hell won't be getting any from stupid old Europe. Oranges could prove a challenge.

Brexit means Exit. From the EU of course. Finally now Britain can stand tall uninhibited by such restraints as free trade, freedom of movement, EU subsidies, zero tariffs on exports and imports, access to a crisis relief fund etc.

Brexit means Independence. That's right now the EU may not be a state as such but by leaving it we want a special day with colourful balloons, fireworks etc like they have in the USA and Latin America. I know most countries now celebrate independence from us but we want balloons and a parade too!

Brexit means block up the Channel Tunnel. What can I say, the people have spoken and quite a few favour this. Sure immigrants might then take to using boats but we can probably build a wall around the south coast. Walls are a popular immigration control today. After all we've got all those old World War II forts just sitting there doing nothing.

Brexit means Bulldogs. Yes that's right bulldogs, tottering wheezing inbred national animals of Britain that they are.

Brexit means the Blitz! We showed Jerry what for in 1941, so we can do it again. How dare they insist we play by the rules of their club! We withstood the firebombs of the East End, so we shall endure their crafty German negotiation. Oh  and we beat Germany in the world cup in 1966! Never forget!

Brexit means street parties. Because Britain loves a good street party. Let's hope the council don't mind, but I fully expect the civil servants after being freed from EU red tape will transform back into the life loving productive and helpful characters we remember before 1975. Right? Because they were different before we joined the common market? Weren't they?

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

The people have spoken. Does that mean they're necessarily right

Having worked in PR and  before I've seen a lot of liberties taken with statistics. "100 people say this." "10,000 people can't be wrong," etc. Suddenly when you add a number bigger than 50 that takes on a suddenly more statistical credibility, whether or not its right or not. I think this group forget 11,339,446 voted for Hitler, 17,410,742 voted for Brexit, 59,000,000 voted for Trump (ok I'm not saying Brexiters or Trump supporters would have voted for Hitler, well not a large majority of them anyway) which is significantly more than the average PR story sample but in these cases we're often met with a coverall excuse to implement the tactic. The people have spoken.

Let's put this into context.

Democratic engagement is huge within social media and online polls. Sure they are open to abuse if not managed properly but they are showing more and more of an idea of what people in a certain group actually think no matter how biased or socially undesirable that might be due to anonymity. For too long what was once a mythical goals the 'real thoughts of the public'. While public opinion is starting to be understood better whether we like it or not, there is of course a darker side.

What started with trivial things like Ed Balls on Strictly come Dancing and Boaty McBoatface has gradually escalated into a Neofascist baby being elected to the White House and an impossible request from the British electorate for a more sovereign country (I'd like to remind people Parliament is already sovereign in the UK) out of the common market which somehow makes as much if not more money, oh and to run everything just as well and cheaper without any immigration. Huge numbers voted for this but does that mean that they're right or justified in making this kind of decision or wrong but in an earnest way.

People have been used to getting exactly what they ask for in the media for a long time and it's become the expectation. You don't like someone you vote them out the big brother house or Xfactor or jungle or whatever. However it's done impulsively for instant gratification, with entertainment. And yes now I am comparing voting for Trump and Brexit as a way to get instant gratification.

We don't let children vote because they'll vote for someone who'll promise them ice cream for every meal. We all know that wouldn't work out well in the long run but if someone is promising you something you want right now the temptation is very high. Also there is no consideration that the person might be lying. What worries me is that a lot of people seem to be doing this although of course not for something as crude as this example. There's also desperation where a group has to vote for something bad because there is no other choice which is a big confounding factor.

So if the people have spoken, do they fully know necessarily what they are asking for? Now this is where I have to add a caveat. I have supported direct democracy for a long time and I have been taken a little aback by how quickly things have moved in that direction in 2016 and at the erratic results, although I still remain optimistic that this is the way things will work. However there are conditions to how this should go.

Firstly education. To vote on important issues you need to understand the subject inside out. No, just reading the papers is not enough. Understand biases and try to see things from the perspective of the other where possible before making your final decision. Critical thinking is important.

Secondly foresight. If you make a big decision that changes the country, world or lives of millions you need to live with the consequences. How will that affect you and everyone else (only focusing on your social, political and economic familial group is not enough)

Thirdly not to take every political promise at face value. Maybe they're lying about that £350 million for the NHS? Is what they're saying achievable or feasible despite appealing to something heartfelt that you want? Can they meet this promise?

Is this doable? Right now no I don't think so. We live in the so-called post-fact age where people see following IFLS (I Fucking Love Science) as legitimate science cred despite having the scientific depth of an edition of Cosmo and using Tasty quizzes where they claim to know which tattoo you'll get based on a McDonalds order as something to show off to people about. We have some work to do it's fair to say. However the potential is there. We just have to slow down and accept that making decisions is hard and political decisions have to be less unilateral

Ultimately in a perfect world the people will speak and it will lead but at the moment the people are perhaps making those in charge wonder if asking the people and letting them speak is in their or anyone's best interests. And that surely will lead us backwards.

The Apprentice: Proving grounds of the new elite?

We say we're tired of experts and of people who claim to be smarter than us. So why do we have so many commentators like this and why did we elect someone like this to the White House (I said claim remember).

To put this in context let's look at a couple of examples.

I was thinking about the weird connection between Katie Hopkins and Donald Trump, besides the anti-Muslim rhetoric. Both were in fact involved with the Apprentice a topic I've written about more than once on this blog. A program where cocksure blowhards are brutally put in their place by failing spectacularly at simple but convoluted business tasks, with Hopkins representing an example of a contestant and Trump in fact portraying the big boss. Why have we given people from the Apprentice (a show which openly mocks the big headed bravado of smarmy business idiots) such influential positions in society. Just because Trump got to smack down the ego-maniacal sales-people doesn't mean we should put him in charge of the world's largest economy, just so he can smack down some slimy career politicians, right?  Also we probably shouldn't give Katie Hopkins (a literal embodiment of an internet troll) hotline access to mass media through newspaper columns or mainstream radio surely? Well we have and that's where we are today. Why have we given these big headed although straight talking clowns the highest and most influential positions?

Surely we've proven the most cynical sociologists right by elevating reality TV stars like this. Say what you want about how out of touch and elite academia and experts may be but at least they have a bit of statistical credibility to their claims of expertise. Besides which the other so-called experts, the career poltician class have spent years basically ignoring advice they don't like because it doesn't carry good political currency (David Nutt anyone?)

In fact it's worse than just the irony that we claim to hate experts but then elect people claiming to be experts or learned who have even fewer qualifications than the boring but probably otherwise practical political class we've come to hate. Say what you want about Donald Trump and Hopkins but you'd probably have a more interesting conversation with them than perhaps Jeremy Corbyn, Philip Hammond or Hillary Clinton. Yes you'd be spitting out your drink in disgust at the poorly thought through "common sense" bile they spew but you could probably have a cracking argument with them. The others would probably just not talk to you because you're a member of the great unwashed or would bore you silly. However that's not the point of a politicians. They are there to run the country, state or whathaveyou. This is a boring technical job and whilst charisma can turn the wheels of politics its not enough on its own.

I think when it comes down to it people get frustrated with politics because it's slow and indecisive but now with a lot of governments suddenly thrown into panic by the geopolitical and economic situations, with no time to think through the long term, we are seeing just how erratic people and politicians can be. Surely we shouldn't be promoting people who favour heart over head.

Is looking after our own the only priority in life?

One of the major criticisms of your government taking part in a major humanitarian effort is the common "we should be taking care of our own first" before worrying about the people with severe problems.

I'm going to politely disagree with this idea and argue that in today's world that kind of closed-minded nationalistic (or tribal) attitude needs to give way to a more pan-global world view.

Many countries want to retreat towards isolationism and damn the consequences of the outside world. America does it. The UK does it. Russia most definitely does it. Secessionist countries like Catalonia do it and overall it probably should stop.

To argue that your needs and your families needs are more important than anyone else is a naturally programmed idea. We will all fall victim to this thinking in our lives but this doesn't mean we shouldn't aim to overcome it.

The idea of nation states was really solidified in the 1800s. Old colonies were becoming new countries and occupied countries found a sense of national identity through their occupation. Additionally wars across Europe and the Middle East, as well as far East Asia created the world picture we see today on the map.

Ultimately perhaps we should stop looking within and start looking outwards. The international world has always relied on a bit of interconnectivity and whether you like it or not that interconnectivity and interdependency is growing and isn't going to go away soon. No nation is an island (figuratively! I know my nation literally is an island and this leads to all sorts of problems in cooperative thinking) anymore and if we keep fighting for nationality in this day and age I worry we will only end up destroying one another.

Now of course there is no denying that you or your government should take every effort to make sure that your aid be it money, logistics or even military support is actually going to make a difference rather than destabilise the country or it's economy, or even shore up the personal finances of a dictator. Supporting others isn't without any criticisms as it is true that in some situations it aids corruption or even inhibits self reliance but sometimes the alternatives are far worse.

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Cameron crashes head-first into satire

The head on collision between reality and satire finally took place today, resulting in the merging of the two into one entity. I am referring to David Cameron's "assault on poverty" which was declared today at the Conservative Party conference in Manchester.

Satirical newspaper NewsThump has simply published their reaction with pretty much the same headline as the BBC because there's little warping of reality necessary to make what has been said sound ridiculous.

To say Cameron walked into that particular punchline is damning with faint praise. Considering his leadership is already seen as being particularly harsh against poorer families, with tax credit cuts across the board, increases in food bank use and benefits cut for the poorest under-25s being approved under his leadership.

The rest of the speech seemed to be punctuated with another ideological attack on his opposition counter-part Jeremy Corbyn, declaring him a Britain-hating, terrorist sympathising, security threat. I'm sure if he had time he would have also called him the an enemy of the free world, and a member of Al Qaeda.

Funnily enough, the comparisons with Bin Laden didn't end there as Cameron referred to how Corbyn made a comment alluding to Bin Laden's death as a "tragedy" ( Corbyn was referring to the fact he wasn't brought in alive to face trial, more on that here).  It's very similar to his previous tweet claiming Corbyn is a danger to the economy, your family (yes yours!) and national security.

The lack of dignity in this attack on Corbyn who so far has done very little beyond getting told off for not singing when he was maybe supposed to and being honest about his apathy about the monarchy and royal protocol. Despite the fact some of these views are shocking to some he otherwise has seemed quite benign and not motivated by the shit talking. Therefore the constant abuse and divisive comments just imply that Cameron and the Conservatives fear him. He does seem to be a man who won't simply play the game like other politicians so perhaps that's it.

The conference is now over but there's still plenty of time for Cameron to blame Corbyn for sinking the Titanic, assassinating Kennedy and planning to blow up Parliament in 1605.

Either way what has come of the Conservative conference has essentially made a satirical writer's job redundant but then politics in the West has been going this way for a while. After all look at Donald Trump in the US.

I'm left with these questions:

1. When did Private Eye's writers trick Cameron into letting them write his speeches?

2. Does Cassetteboy even need to bother with today's speech?

3. Will Jeremy Corbyn's singing voice impress Simon Cowell?

4. Does the NHS still exist or is it now a small medical cupboard at the back of London Kings College Hospital with a sad looking cardboard sign?

5. How do poor people feel about this war on them?

6. Will Cameron use Trident against poverty?

7. Will this whole thing be glossed over by the Great British Bake Off final which is conveniently on the same evening?

Friday, October 02, 2015

Blockbuster Video: A warning from History

A blockbuster originally started out as the name of a bomb designed to level a city block in wartime. Since then it has become associated with a major commercial cinema hit. This then became the name of a once booming video rental chain empire, an empire that came crashing down in 2013 in the face of complete technological obsolescence, irrelevance and Netflix. 

Blockbuster’s hubris during the rise of Netflix is now legendary after the company turned down the opportunity to buy its burgeoning competitor due to fears that it would undermine its core rental business which is now a historical curiosity in the same way as TV rentals. Hindsight being 20-20 this is a great lesson for any modern media or technology company. Never underestimate your own relevance.

I share this cautionary tale as we face the inevitable decline of televisual and media empires. The media empires have existed more or less the same way for about 50 years. Print and broadcast dominated the schema. Then in the 1990s the Internet flashed into existence and now in 2015 this hegemony of the old media giants is not so sure. It is true that old-media and new media do interact. TV stations now use on demand services and online news pages but there is a problem.

Old media wishes to keep distributing its media on its rigid terms, which in the global world of the Internet is madness. Yes people can, will and should pay for what they consume online however this makes it all the more important to make your product accessible and your price attractive, fair or people will simply access it on their terms whatever. That is how information flow is now.

A massive irrelevance in today’s world is the idea of releasing media in specific geographic zones. I for example as a Brit cannot access American content online when Americans can. There is no, nor was there ever, a reason this should exist. The content is the same and the language is more or less the same. However if someone should try to engage with the content officially then they hit a brick wall. What then? They go to a free –normally illegal- provider. This is a waste as you lose the ability to track your viewers and any revenue you might have gained from them had an equitable system existed.

Rights holders and local laws attempt to restrict the free movement of entertainment media but this is now as effective as trying bail out the Titanic with a spoon as far as stopping them from doing so goes. They often do this in good faith by following what they know but this ignores the revolutionary economic models that they are facing. People in general can circumvent content controls, pay walls, and even sources of funding for creating their own media as has been demonstrated by torrent sites, YouTube and even Patreon. The same content is not in the hands of the same few and media organisations need to realise this now or face oblivion. The revolution has already started.

My own favourite Sport is Formula One for instant and has missed every chance to reach out to grassroots fans using free media such as YouTube, Twitter and Facebook preferring to share content with its fans on its fee-for-content terms only rather than embracing ad revenue for views (it would get a lot). Music and film companies constantly try to block fair use of their content on sites like YouTube used by video-makers in good faith and perhaps opening new future audience channels in the future through spreading awareness of their product. It’s the same with TV producers who block international viewers from their content. You’ve lost a legitimate and measureable audience member. Companies are so focused on short-terminism that they’ve missed the fact that there is a gold-rush with big rewards available going on right in front of them.  

I personally believe that my generation will be the last generation where old media will survive in its current way. Future generations will expect if not demand that media be free to access wherever and at a fair price as there is no way the genie can be put back in the bottle as far as barriers to geography, usage or pricing go. There is always a way around and any attempt to place your content in tight confines will be seen as draconian or worse irrelevant. Either way people you may want to appeal to won’t engage.

If they wish to continue into the future then companies and company leaders need to realise that the old economic models are changing and their own existence is at stake right now!