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!  

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Run for your lives! Jeremy Corbyn is coming!

Lovers of freedom everywhere rejoiced this week as the world now has a new bogeyman to fear. Bin Laden proved a hard act to follow as far as bearded terrorists who want you, your family and your country dead go but luckily a new challenger has stepped in.

Jeremy Corbyn represents a threat to your family security, a threat to national security and a threat to economic security. These aren't my words. These are in fact the words of PM David Cameron's own twitter account after Corbyn's victory. If this seems ridiculous it's because it is and to make the situation more surreal Russia went on to mock the PM's fear mongering.

Do I like Corbyn? I don't know yet. Do I like what he stands for. Actually yes. Why? He actually seems to want to represent people and help people and seems to represent a bit of a change in a sea of dull complacent familiarity. But for the opposition he's perfect. He's got a beard. He could be portrayed as a terrorist for his history of marching on protests, and to far right people he's practically a communist. Not even Bin Laden was a communist. It's like Christmas has come early (or on time if you enter a UK supermarket about now).

The media has been quick to stir that pot since his victory on Saturday. The red top press has quickly capitalised on a moment yesterday when Corbyn remained silent during the national anthem at a memorial to fallen soldiers.

Here is a quick summery response to this:

1.The anthem is dull and should be replaced with something that actually talks about Britain and not the Queen.

2.What do you expect from an agnostic republican?

3.Since when is silence disrespectful?

4.This is a clear case of divide and conquer that panders to petty us vs them tribalism.

In relation to the last point some rightly noticed that the tabloids made this their top story while ignoring important factors such the cut to tax credits that affect thousands of families (check) and yesterday's cut in inflation, which are probably more newsworthy and actually highlights severe government failings.

I could write a whole article on the Sun's reaction myself considering the hypocrisy of a publication that phone-tapped the royals and is owned by a man who is perhaps not the biggest fan of royalty in general appealed to the masses by disingenuously feigning outrage at a supposed snub of the Queen?

But as usual why let the facts get in the way of a good story. Jeremy Corbyn hates the Queen too. You love the Queen right? Of course you do because you're a good boy or girl. You love Queen and Country. You love your kind leaders and you of course hate Jeremy Goldstei... I mean Corbyn. Or at least that's what the press is telling us, while giving us a comforting pat on the head with one hand and pointing to monsters we should fear with the other.

Monday, September 14, 2015

I support the idea for assisted dying but not right now. Here's why.

I realise I'm a bit late to the party but here are a few thoughts about the now rejected assisted dying bill. (As usual all thoughts are my own)

To be honest I'm in favour of assisted dying. If you won't get better and you know it and that is what you want to do then I have no problem with that. I would do it myself. It must always be a person's choice they must be able to clearly make that choice clear. That however does not mean that I am in favour of assisted dying right now. And I'm actually relieved that it didn't pass at this moment and I'll explain why.

People love to throw around the expression slippery slope, in this case, as if that people will inevitably move towards euthanasia or to the impoverished pressuring their older or sicker family members to discreetly and voluntarily die. I think the first idea is too morally linear and there are so many people who still seem to believe that people shouldn't have control over their own life and death, preferring instead to delegate it to fate, god or whatever. Believing in this idea of an infantile humanity that cannot take charge of its own destiny seems to me very retrograde and I just don't agree with it. If a person is of sound mind and knows there is no holding back the inevitable let them do what they want. It is actually the second point about families pressuring their family members to die that troubles me more.

If you want to talk about real slippery slopes we need to look at the UK's gradual steps towards removing support for the chronically sick, the old and the disabled, as well as a more worrying stride towards private healthcare. If we managed healthcare properly balancing carefully between preventive checks and education on health matters as well as comprehensive relief from the burdens of care and costs thereof I could support assisted dying tomorrow. The fact that we are now sliding towards more costs for illness and even something as heinous as the American system that financially penalises the sick (although makes for great television ala Breaking Bad) and the disabled is troubling even without the idea of assisted dying.

Being sick isn't your fault and shouldn't be treated as such; neither is being disabled or having a terminal illness. Charities pick up a lot of the slack (from experience I cannot highly praise St Christopher's enough) for people suffering at the end but we should be providing more non-profit and government support for these issues. However until we decisively move away from the current model which we seem to be having imposed in the UK we shouldn't have assisted dying.

Thursday, September 03, 2015

What short memories we have

I think it was around 2001 that I remember the last real crisis of immigration between the borders of  Britain and France. Back then it was the Sangatte refugee camp that came under the spotlight. The press reaction was similar to this year, taking a somewhat militant and xenophobic view of the idea that Britain would be swamped as if the island itself was some kind of overcrowded lifeboat. Think Titanic perhaps. Being an impressionable 12 year old as I was back then I remember being a bit scared of the foreigners.

Well, here we are in 2015 and we've seen a summer of similar stories tinged with anger due to increased police necessity and disrupted holiday plans (never come between an Englishman and his holiday abroad seems to be the message put across). The situation is eeriely similar to 1999-2002 but one thing now seems to ring true in both. Both are directly after brutal and bloody civil wars.

Last time it was the Kosovo conflict and NATO's somewhat pointless (in hindsight) adventure into Afghanistan, with Yugoslavs and Afghans representing a big proportion of the people coming. This time round its the Syrians escaping an increasingly out of control civil war in their homeland.

The point that really stands out is that Britain seems to like to bury its head in the sand when it comes to the reasoning of why and rather focuses on the what. By this I mean that people are singularly focused on the fact that a lot of immigrants are here rather than why.

The why in fact is the saddest thing as many of these people are coming here to escape madness, but as usual we conflate it with people coming to steal our stuff or overwhelm our infrastructure. The second point is a point of genuine concern for any country but we have to escape this view that all immigrants look at England as a land where the streets are paved with gold (spoiler alert: they aren't) and is there to be exploited. We still have the perception of the benefit scrounger hovering around these poor people. The UK isn't even the country with the most European immigration. Countries like Germany, Spain and Italy get hit far worse and it's not surprising considering their proximity to the immigration flow.

Even worse is if one casts their mind back to the 1930s when Britain made a pretty limp effort to help Jews escaping Hitler's persecution. Once again excuses were made and a blind eye turned to the genuine fear and suffering being experienced. Funnily enough papers took a similarly militantly anti view to the people escaping the holocaust to Britain and yet we seem to have conveniently forgotten that and rather have focused on the fact we liberated some concentration camps (a bit too late really).

I find it more frightening that some people older than me have still got the views of the 12 year old me. The news reporting around the time of 1999-2001 was pretty scary to an impressionable pre-teen and it made me paranoid as a result. Obviously younger people who don't remember that will probably feel the same and it could tinge their perception of foreign people as a result. Worse still is that people who do remember last time haven't been able to put two and two together to realise that big influxes of immigration like this only seem to happen after big civil wars.

Britain has to shoulder a bit of blame for the reasons why people are coming here. Afghanistan is pretty self explanatory but Britain is in a way responsible for what has happened in places like Syria and Iraq (Iraq is also pretty self explanatory). A lot of the middle east is as it is today because of our country's imperial ambitions. After the fall of the Ottoman empire, Britain and France carved up the Middle East into the landscape we can more or less see today. Let's be honest it was disastrous in hindsight.

The point being, look at the facts and it's not surprising that we're facing a mess like this today and we should really be helping these people out. True, the best thing to do would be to prevent the situations that allow countries to fall into this state and also a big fight needs to be fought against illegal people trafficking but that doesn't mean we should abandon these obviously desperate people now. You never know whose help the British people might need one day. Let's hope they have as short a memory as us.