Saturday, June 28, 2008

Don't drink and drive or you WILL be branded with a hot iron!

Apologies for the lack of witty title but I really couldn’t think of one at this point in time. I want to just make a few comments about some of the draconian government initiatives which sometimes are tantamount of fascism.

I’ll start with a particularly annoying advert for drinking and driving. First of all let me just say I do not in any way condone drinking and driving, I think it’s a stupid and dangerous thing to do and I think the law should be firm on it. However what I don’t agree with in this case is the way that government adverts try to imply you will be socially outcasted and ruined financially if you do it. What’s a stronger message than saying you will die? That’s the point they should probably put across to people rather than implying that you will get caught and be marked for life.

The content of this advert is as follows:
The TV ad focuses on Matt, a young man out for a couple of quick drinks with some friends, as he's deciding whether or not to have a second pint before driving home.
As Matt is deciding what to order his world freezes and the barman he's about to order from suddenly transforms into a succession of characters that Matt would encounter if he's caught drink driving. Matt is powerless to do anything as he sees a police officer asking him to step out of the car for a breath test, a solicitor explaining that he's going to get a 12 month driving ban, his boss explaining that it's company policy not to keep employing someone who has a drink drive conviction, a used car dealer offering him a very low price for his car because he has to sell it quickly to pay a hefty drink driving fine and Matt's partner, angry and distressed that Matt has lost his licence, his job and his car.
Finally, the barman appears again and puts the question to Matt - "So, what's it going to be?" (taken from:

The way this seems to flow is that he’d be better off dead as he’s basically screwed for life. What would have been more fitting would be showing Matt committing suicide at the end or as a homeless drunk vagrant. It’s just really patronizing and should really include a government minister wagging their finger at you throughout its run and repeating “don’t you dare”. It does ultimately represent the worst case scenario but I don’t like being coerced in such an overdramatic way. It’s like saying “become a drink driver and people will always hate you and avoid you”.

There was a similar ad out for drug driving which showed a man, having lost his license, turned back into a child and all his mates avoiding him as a result. I always find social manipulation of this sort the most hard to swallow. Maybe they should have an advert for paedophila too which shows a convicted paedo being branded on his forehead with a hot iron and being thrown to a pack of ravenous Daily Mail readers. In fact he doesn’t need to necessarily be a paedo, the way these campaigns of terror seem to run it could be any miscreant being branded here for any particular crime.

It’s a shame that a hard hitting campaign like this has to be made really. I know people will rebut my points saying it’s the only way to get the message across to people that drinking and driving is a stupid thing to do. But surely there’s a better medium than this? It's like Reefer Madness all over again.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

One man's Dictator...

It has not failed to capture my attention recently that another term of Robert Mugabe’s brutal rule in Zimbabwe is about to be ushered in. The seemingly eternal president has once again managed to bully his way to the premiership by threatening supporters of his opponent Morgan Tsvangirai, and of course Tsvangirai himself.

The sad thing about the whole affair is that we, the western world who have seemedly pledged to end all dictatorial injustice in the world (that’s the official line at least), are just sitting back and doing nothing, well except for strongly wagging our finger disapprovingly. Well that ought to stop him won’t it? It’s a pity that Zimbabwe isn’t oil rich otherwise we’d have been in there like a shot.

Instead we seem to spend our time on economically strategic action rather than morally or humanitarian strategic types of intervention. Let’s be fair here Saddam Hussain did have a bad human rights record like Mugabe. The only difference of course was that we delayed our intervention (to be blunt also we didn’t go in to save the Iraqis from him did we) until a good decade after he had committed the worst of his atrocities. Who knows maybe in 10 years time we may cotton on to how serious the situation in Zimbabwe is and take the

delayed initiative although too late to save anyone and just in time to screw up the country completely (if that is at all possible, as to be fair that would be a big job for any meddling nation).

It’s as plain as daylight that the Zimbabwean elections have been rigged and the people threatened to vote for Mugabe lest they face having already meager food supplies cut off, or family members taken away etc. It’s also clear to see that Mugabe has managed to mess up the whole countries infrastructure with his megalomaniac tendencies. This of course brings me to the issue of the white farmers being thrown off their land. This was a terrible idea as these people whether you liked them or not knew how to keep the land prosperous. After all as many people have told me (some who once lived there) that Zimbabwe was the “bread-basket of Africa” and to think that one man driven by the same race-hating anger which he was protesting against has managed to ensure that the prosperity is lost is nothing more than pathetic and saddening.

Of course you can call me biased because I am white and British but that doesn’t mean the facts are any different. Why the other African nations let alone someone from the UN, EU or USA haven’t done something sooner is beyond me. It’s hard for us (Britain) to intervene as there’s so much bad blood from the imperial times but we

should try doing something still, especially as we attempted to come across as such enlightened humanitarians in war. It’s hypocrisy to take up a humanitarianism cause to one (not as recently atrocious) dictator, as we did in Iraq, and to ignore one who’s doing worse in the here and now. We really need to sort out our priorities. Also what about Kim Jong Il!?

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Oil Be damned

As many of my countrymen will have noticed of late, there have been angry rumblings about the prices of petrol. The prices quite frankly have begun to spiral out of control, as it doesn’t seem all that long ago that the idea of paying over one pound per litre of unleaded fuel was deemed madness. However, now my local petrol station it can be seen that the price is now £1.17 and rising. In fact only about 3 months ago when I set off on my long road trip to Cardiff (which I take every now and again) I found that it cost about £1.14 at the most expensive. To think that the price is still creeping up at this rate is somewhat worrying.

But why are we paying so much is what people cry. I personally find that this is down to a number of factors such as the price of oil per barrel (See! the Iraq war was not a good idea for getting more oil was it!) and government taxes etc. I don’t propose one single reason for this happening although I am suspicious of the fact that all the major oil companies are still posting record profits in spite of their higher costs. This is what makes me angry at the corporate world, and especially the oil companies, is that because they offer such a frequently needed product they feel that they can form a cartel (someone prove to me that it isn’t because I don’t see how it can’t be) and profiteer from the everyman.

However I don’t intend to squarely blame the company as that’s a limited and rather easy target. I feel people themselves are to blame for accepting this treatment, and giving in too easily to the higher prices at the pumps. I’ve seen plenty of petitions on Facebook and circulated through e-mails that suggest a way of instigating consumer power over the petrol companies but because too many people just have to use their car (normally a gas guzzler) to drive a mile down the road to pick up their kids or buy a loaf of bread, means that this never works, why not walk?

Admittedly it is hard to blame people who use their cars for their livelihoods as that would just be stupid to expect them to suffer for the sake of others. What I can’t stand is when people have to use their cars for everything and then complain if petrol is too pricey and yet not offer any action or solution.

This is why I hope that we have another petrol shortage like we did in 2000 as only then will we learn that through serious and meaningful action we are not at the mercy of the price-setters. It would also nice to get one up on the greedy or selfish people who add to the problem. If you don’t intend to do anything about it then don’t complain about it!

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Five become more contemporary?

Having now returned to the leafy suburbs of Bromley and a house with Sky TV, I noticed that the children’s classic book series The Famous Five has been remade as a contemporary cartoon series on the Disney Channel.

As I read these books as a child I was naturally curious how it had been approached. As many people who grew up with these books will remember, the books involved a group of 4 upper middle class children (all privately educated at boarding school of course!) and one upper middle class dog (for some reason given the status of a person in spite of not being able to talk and having fleas) going on jovial mystery solving adventures in the 1940’s countryside on their own, eating slap up lunches of cakes, sweets and lashings of Ginger beer. Naturally the books seemed to describe a life style which seems archaic, rather lavish and really quite charming in its way. Ginger beer was the real head scratcher for me as I tried it once or twice and thought it tasted vile; certainly not refreshing or even a treat, still each to there own.

Also there was a certain old school middle class complacency involved in everything which happened. Like for instance the children could stumble upon money laundering rackets or a hidden treasure from the middle ages etc. It was all quite conventional crimes or adventures, nothing like drug running or foreign prostitute smuggling, just twee kinds of crimes. They also somehow managed to not break any laws whilst enacting their vigilante justice (well save for trespassing but it was all seen to be in the greater good).

Unfortunately from what I’ve discovered is that none of that is true any longer as everything seems to have changed. For example it’s not even the same children; it’s their off-spring (well I’m not too sure about the dog). The worst thing about is that the usual diversity considerations are all thrown into the equation as well as the token American character to appease our cousins across the Atlantic, who apparently wont touch something if it hasn’t got a character who calls a pavement a sidewalk. Honestly we cope without token English characters (which is a good thing considering Daphne in Frasier who seems to be from 1950s Manchester rather than today’s).

Apart from pleasing all ethnic profiles, the show is given more up to date crimes such as DVD pirating (those devils!) and also the children are well versed with modern gadgets such as mobiles laptops etc.

So if the characters are different who are they?

(information taken from Wikipedia)

Unfortunately the whole idea of the characters living in modern times and being adrenaline junkies, or gadget fans means all the charm is lost and doesn’t extract a glisteny eyed view of a seemingly perfect world where kids can eat sweets until they burst everyday, there is no fear of stabbing and paedophiles and everyone speaks with a charming regional accent or the queen’s English. Of course there are criminals but even they seem to have a sense of fair play, in that they don’t tend to abuse children (save for the occasional clip round the ear) women, or kill people, the threat of death is still there but it’s a low threat at best. Naturally I know the world was never this idealised but who cares as it was a pleasant place to escape to.

In spite of all the changes I noted on my one viewing that some things never change and that goes for the way that these kids talk in the new series. For instance the phrase “a negative nanny” appeared which if I know contemporary English doesn’t really fit into modern slang. Still it’s better than “LOL OMG ROFL” finding its way in to the mix.

At one point I also wondered if Timmy the dog had been replaced with a chimpanzee, which I was rather ambivalent about as on one hand it would prove a funny example about how modernizers try to cash in with exotic or ridiculous characters. On the other I’m pleased that they stuck to a traditional animal sidekick.

Overall I would have to say I don’t think the modern version will last. I know I could be wrong but there really is no charm or sense of adventure that could be found in the books or previous TV adaptations, it all seems a bit Scooby Doo now. Maybe the reason these books worked in the first place was because they were out of touch with reality. Then again Harry Potter and His Dark Materials suggests more than anything that that is what children probably want from fiction. The modern world is hardly escapist in the end.