Sunday, 14 November 2010

Tony Blair - Amateur Sleuth

Tony Blair, erstwhile Prime Mover of this here country of ours, did a big pamphlet all by himself. And with some other people, but mainly him. His macabre, gormless look of repressed sexual longing stared out at everyone from the cover and so we can assume that he put most of the work in. And it's about the job he had before he wrote the book about the job.



People started hiding it, or moving it around to other sections. These were the twee-er types of protester, who presumably had to fill the void left in the lives by the cancellation of Last of the Summer Wine by coming up with other attempts at almost offensively gentle comedy. Some people wanted it banned, because apparently Freedom of Speech doesn't apply to people that you really don't like. Hiding it is also a form of censorship of course, though not a very good one. But it was done en masse as an act of protest, accelerated by a Facebook group.



Now, I'm not massively keen on Tony Blair. I think he's convinced himself of the benevolence of his actions, but then I think that anyone who wants the job of Prime Minister is dangerously insane anyway. Who wants to have all those deaths on their hands? Because being an MP is likely enough to give you direct responsibility for having to lie, and cheat, and occasionally cause a death. You have to OD on idealism to get anywhere near Number 10 or else you'd have a breakdown. 

However I think that the idea to move his book, far from being a 'wonderfully British protest' (which must be why we're such a dominant world power these days) is a pathetic indication of how little ability the average citizen has to influence anything. Some people seemed to acknowledge this, and said 'At least it'll be a bit of fun for us!' Which seems to be paraphrasing Nietzsche to saying 'I stared into the Abyss, and the Abyss stared back...so I mooned the Abyss, and people were like "Yeah, you totally pwned that Abyss!" and the Abyss was like "Dude, I have literally no idea who you are."'

There was also the argument that satire and humour are the best weapons to bring down the political classes. Except that this seemed to presume that the message was going to filter through to Tony Blair, and also to people visiting the bookshop.

NO-ONE, absolutely NO-ONE is going to go into a bookshop looking for the new Mark Billingham and say: 'Why, but this is Tony Blair's book! In the Crime Section! Surely some mistake? But wait, NO! I see it all now! This means he's a criminal! Oh the wool has been pulled from my eyes and no mistake! Thank heavens that some responsible citizen has taken the book and put it here so that I can see that, rather than being the Prime Minister whose decisions I wasn't entirely comfortable with but I kept voting in anyway, the man is a mass murdering zealot! I shall now go forth and devote my life to putting him behind bars!'

But on the other hand, Tony Blair came into the bookshop I work at the other day. He was skipping merrily, as is his wont. 

'Hullo boys and girls, ladies and germs! Isn't it a wunnerful day! he cried, beaming his mesmeric smile across the entire bookshop despite this being a physical and mental impossibility. 

He radiated sunbeams from his anal cleft, and came Factor 50 Suntan Lotion into the face of a small child so he would not burn his soft body by farting UV rays on him. 

'Thank you Tony Blair!' chirruped the small child, who ran straight to the embrace of his adoring mother's hip. Tony saluted the mother, who waves her lace handkerchief at him in celebration at this people's champion. But then the smile disappeared from Tony's face, and disappeared forever.

There was a copy of his book in the Crime section.

'But...'

Tony Blair's upper lip was not stiff. His eyes lost their lustre.



'But...unless I wrote a Crime Fiction book starring myself as the main character hunting down the terrible Sadsama B'Insania and his Cudgels of Massively Traumatising A Series of Prostitutes About the Head and Arms...unless all of that...then that means...'

At this point Tony Blair let out a terrible roar. No words. Just the raw and horrible sounds of a wounded animal. He grew so loud that he woke up Keir Hardie. He bellowed so terribly that God shed a single tear. Looking down from Heaven, Diana immediately cried out in empathy.

Tony Blair bellowed. 

He continued bellowing for around seven to eight minutes.

Then, when he had finally stopped, bloody saliva flecking the floor around him, he curled up into the foetal position around the Non-Fiction 3 for 2 browser, and never got up.

Security Camera footage showed his body turning into ash at around 3.47 am.

Strangely enough, this happened in every single shop people moved his book in.

Actually I'm lying. It happened in none of them. If someone told Tony Blair that several thousand people moved his book, I doubt it'd peturb him more than the many thousands more who went on anti-war protests. Anyone who saw the book in the Crime section and agreed with the sentiment laughed once, possibly saying 'LOL' out loud, and then got on with their lives. The end result was some severely irked booksellers and people who may have been neutral coming to Tony Blair's defence. I witnessed this happen several times.

No-one who was meant to be annoyed was even slightly bothered by this protest. Not that it was much of a protest, just a load of people sharing an in-joke that wasn't sufficiently funny to bear repeating. At best it was a political statement that would entertain people who did not need to be convinced of the sentiment it represented. At worst it was a colossal waste of fucking time and effort that could have been better spent coming up with an actual protest that didn't compromise anyone's values.

But then I am biased. I work in a bookshop. We sell Mein Kampf. Twilight. Harry Potter. The Chopper books. A 'Painful Lives' section. A whole section devoted to religion and Mind, Body and Soul books. I don't think a bookshop's job is to pick what people should read, but to stock what people want to read, even if it's controversial and even if it's utter crap.

So if you think that Tony Blair is a war criminal, perhaps it is time for one of them to write a book about it? There's a market after all, and compiling a list of the evidence could hardly hurt. And hey, it'd give you a chance to show how tolerant you are when Cherie hires people to go around and put it in the Conspiracy Theories section.

Which is, oddly, shelved in between Mind, Body and Spirit and Religion as the filling in some sort of bullshit sandwich.

November 2010.


Friday, 25 June 2010

The Moving Pictures Are Made of Witchcraft

The current batch of televisual advertisements are, as ever, causing despair to ricochet around my headspace. 


People do not like poo. It smells like shite, for starters. So it is not a good thing to include in an advert, even if it is for a product that masks bad smells. People know that the toilet is the place where poo goes. Mentioning the toilet will do. Mention the toilet and we will hide our grins behind our outstretched fingers and whisper ‘Tee hee’ to no-one in particular. Because that’s where poo goes, mainly.

People do not like annoying kids. Annoying kids include those who don’t go along with perfectly reasonable requests, and all other children. The makers of this advert appear to not remember what being a child was like. The Mum should be saying something like: 

‘You want to poo at Paul’s? You know that Paul wants your poo don’t you? And he’s re-routed his piping so he can collect all your poo? Through a little hole in the wall? And he’s building a life size statue out of you. Using your own poo. Now, do you still want to go to Paul’s?’ 
‘Yes.’
‘PAUL IS THIRTY FIVE.’




A lady sees a muffin in a shop window, as you do. It is double chocolate chip, and therefore highly desirable. She wishes to eat it. Nom nom nom. But she is concerned. The muffin from Ye Olde Muff Shoppe might be fattening. And make no mistake, this lady is fat. 

She’s a huge, rotund mass. She looks like a hippo that swallowed a bouncy castle. She’s skipped chocolate fingers and moved onto chocolate arms. She. Loves. The. Cake. Eating this muffin, and I do not exaggerate here, would cause her to weigh so much that next year will last 368 days as we drift away from the sun. This muffin would make Edinburgh resemble Siberia. This muffin is the destroyer of all things, the death-bringer, the End of Days. 

Or, on the other hand, maybe the skinny lady should eat the muffin? 

Look at it. It wants to be eaten. It’s sad that you choose the new Special K ‘Mainly Oxygen’ bar instead, and now it’s all alone. And how are you? You’re thin and sexy are you? Well, that’ll be Kellogg's main defence during the ensuing lawsuit when your boyfriend’s penis emerges from your spine because there's nowhere else for it to go.




I have a challenge for you.

Name anyone called Josh who isn’t a complete penis. 

You can’t. There isn’t one. Everyone called Josh is a twunt. It’s a scientific fact. 

He's the biggest cuckhole in this entire ad up against some very stiff competition.

So giving one of them the time to write his Des’ree meets Embrace style monstrosities and then take it across the entire fucking country is not on, T-mobile, not unless you’re leading them into a quarry that has been mined. 


Go England Football Team! Go! Run like the wind! Know that, besides the millions of supporters who eat pies you have the support of people who are good at darts, rowing, rugby, running, sailing, boxing and loads of sports that aren’t football! You know, football. The game England apparently invented and so have a right to be good at. In the same way you invented concentration camps!
Then Jeff Stelling shows up, and does something you really can’t imagine Richard Whitely doing. The twat from Kasabian turns up to shout some bollocks as per usual, and then the ghost of Bobby Moore appears next to a lion. A single lion. This is technically the emblem of Scotland. And the ghost of Bobby Moore is strangely nonchalant about the presence of a lion, in the same way as the England players appear entirely nonchalant about their proximity to total failure. Possibly they would have tried harder if Capello had called up a lion instead of Michael Dawson.
So: Scottish mascot, Italian manager, Danish lager. And they say multiculturalism has failed.



Ah, the comical misunderstandings of these adverts. But wait, they’re actually saying something deeply pertinent about our culture. There are too many of these misunderstandings because there is so much information around that people will instead talk about things that sound-a-bit-like-but-are-not-quite what you said. Happens all the time. 

Except, no, wait. I remember now. People are thick. They don’t know anything. And when you talk to them about something, and they don’t hear you, they pretend to listen and nod while trying to work out what you just said. Or they have no idea what you’re talking about because they, as I said, are thick. And when they change the subject you have no idea what they’re talking about, because you’re thick too. As am I. 
In the past if I didn’t know something I could always “Google” it, but should I? Apparently there is too much information on Google, and we might get confused, and make strange social faux-pas. So instead we should use Microsoft’s  search engine, which only has three pieces of information on it and they’re all wrong. Honestly, when was the last time you met someone who knew too much? 

Microsoft: It’s easier than knowing stuff.


Then there's the gotomyPC.com advert, which is a potentially useful service that has the misfortune to be advertised as if it is necessary only in times of great idiocy. 



The ad consists of a man, about to do a presentation, who has forgotten his computer. His desktop computer. The only kind of computer in the world. Obviously this is an important presentation, but alas this man has forgotten what appears to be (in whatever strange reality the advert is set in) the key piece of hardware necessary to wow the assembled masses. His desktop computer. The only kind of computer in the world. Also not a portable computer, no. A desktop computer. 

If only some kind of portable computer could be invented, then this man would be able to bring his computer with him without as much hassle. As it is he has to bring his bulky desktop with him to meetings, presumably in his car (which, in Advert world, people will see and immediately ask him 'Is that your car?' as if to say 'But you are a fugly munter, how can you own such a vehicle?'). Surely if one has only one item to bring to a meeting, and it is a large computer comprising several pieces of equipment, it's quite easy to remember? This guy is obviously under a lot of pressure. Someone of that level of idiocy couldn't possibly be in a position of responsibility?


Yes. Yes, they can.

But anyway, this fool has a solution. He will whistle for his intelligent pigeon friends to carry over the computer equipment to the office he is in. Yes. Yes he will. This will work. It's a perfectly normal response to the situation. It's the only response available. 


There are NO OTHER ALTERNATIVES.


In this situation, says the ad, you need gotomypc.com. It's the other alternative. The only other alternative.

So, in an attempt to sell their product, gotomypc.com have presented an idiot who has left AN ENTIRE DESKTOP COMPUTER at his office on the day of a big presentation who apparently has never heard of laptops, e-mail, back-up files, USB memory sticks or cards, not-forgetting-the-desktop, writing it down, flip charts, CDs, floppy discs, mobile phones and NOT BEING A TWAT.

June 2010

Saturday, 5 June 2010

Why Would You Trust a Politician?

We live in a democracy in Britain, but this democracy comes with some conditions. For example the system of government we have abhors hung parliaments, and would much rather have a situation where two parties with conflicting viewpoints agree to run the country together like some sort of public school work experience scheme. 

Apparently getting a hung parliament would mean that the MPs who wanted their belief systems to be enforced would have to do things like intelligently debate, arguing using thought and reason to persuade other people that they had a good idea. This does sound a bit like hard work, so it seems fair enough to completely twist the public vote rather than forge ahead with something that had the potential to be genuinely representative. There doesn't seem to be any actual certainty that a hung parliament would be A Bad Thing, but then there never can be certainty when we frequently don't believe our elected representatives.



Politicians are not widely trusted; they are seen as duplicitous and self-serving, back-stabbing and two-faced. Those who do go into parliament wide eyed with idealistic optimism come out a cynical husk, shattered in the knowledge that they just voted on something which could potentially result in the death of another human being. I know some very enthusiastic and intelligent young people (physically at any rate) who stood as or were interested in standing at the last election. This is presumably how it starts. 

I couldn't stand being an MP. I don't really like people very much for starters. But to have to vote on life or death issues, and act in accordance with an overriding ideology that I might not totally agree with, this does not seem to me the challenge I seek in life, but a nightmare that bores as much as it terrifies. The main problem I have, however, is that you have to talk in such a profoundly stupid way.


'Hear hear!' they cry in the Commons. 'Shame!' they rumble. 'Boo!' they intone.

They actually say 'Boo.' 

The only person I know who actually says 'boo' is my Dad at football matches, and he's given up that pretence now that he knows I swear just as much as he does. For a chamber of people that it supposed to represent Britain why does it talk like a bunch of walrus-shaped old men, hair sprouting like an atomic explosion out of every orifice and pore, who waddle along in puritan black and associate the word 'hose' with cladding for the legs? Cretins don't even talk like that any more.

What's more, the ones that make it into parliament are usually the most tolerant members of parties who can barely contain their antipathy. It's like a hotel where the kitchen staff hate the waiters who hate the receptionists who hate the cleaners who hate the janitors who hate everyone. Staying in this hotel is going to be miserable.

Even if they have to maintain this false sense of civility, could they not at least use words that bristle with potential facial hair? Prime Minister's Question Time would be vastly improved by shouts and cries of 'Aye, right,' 'Well that's utter crap for starters,' and 'Your Mother, Cameron. Your mother.' Slow claps could be employed, as well as people saying 'Bullshit' while they pretend to cough. But no, there's a detachment from any sort of reality, as if becoming a politician involves some sort of detoxing from real life, and this hardly brings Them and Us closer together.

Politicians are distrusted by many, this is not news. But the reason we distrust them is News. Or has been News. I'm drifting.

The Expenses Scandal happened. Everyone went 'Oooh' and pointed fingers as the first controversial Moat of the century happened. And someone went and asked Stephen Fry what he thought, seeing as how he is so clever and that. His reply, which I am paraphrasing, was 'Oh everyone claims stuff on expenses. Most journalists do it, I've done it, everyone does it.'

This didn't take into account the critical difference that the MPs were spending money raised through tax, which the public were hoping could be spent on things like dentists and hospitals and places to do stuff. But how very depressing of the public to start crying foul when it came to their public money being spent on furniture and garden work for the already well-off. Never mind the fact that we went to wars that, from a purely pragmatic and financial point of view, were a really bad idea, but if some prat has built a Masonic Lodge for ducks in his back garden then that's just insulting.

It's sad that it took corruption on an unprecedented scale to make people mistrust politicians, because what that suggests is that people don't focus on the apparently background levels of wrong and just breeze on with their lives.

What annoyed more people? This...
...or this?

Certainly magazines like Private Eye expose a breathtaking amount of duplicity every fortnight and hardly anybody bats an eyelid until a mainstream press finishes licking the ice cream from the container and sets about tub-thumping. We just trust that there'll be food in the cupboard and people being processed and buffeted into entertaining shapes on the telly box. We still value our entertainers more than the people we elect to run the country, at least in terms of financial reward. 

It takes the least well paid member of the England squad about a month to earn what an MP does in a year, and that seems weird. That's why I feel slightly sorry for those fresh faced idealists who go skipping off to place a £500 deposit at Election Club ('Tell everybody'), to know that they went into this with the kind of naive optimism you'd expect from a baby seal who wonders if that blunt wooden object in the sky is going to be its friend. 

You go into the job wanting to make a difference, and you bow and scrape and talk like a nob and end up compromised apart by forces beyond your control. And at the end of it all you're paid less than the bloke Cheryl Cole used to be married to.

Is it any wonder they go a bit wrong?

June 2010

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Why Would You Trust a Journalist?

Newsreader: Good Evening Scum. While you wash yourselves with rags I will be telling you what you may think of things you do not understand.

A man with a funny name was in the news yesterday!

Three people died. 

This is after another incident in Britain where a man with a gun killed some people. Despite numerous reports and warnings each time such an incident occurs, journalism continued unabated, saturating all media in images of a sad man's face. Raoul Moat was a poor person, from the Nooooorth of England. In other words, a textbook killer. 

Why he killed we will never know, but he once detuned his guitar to Drop D, and reached the semi finals on FIFA World Cup. It is likely that he has used the letters M, M and R in some of the words he has spoken or thought, and so is likely to cause autism in children. From this we also know that he dealt in dangerous subcultures. These facts will be iterated until it becomes hard to remember anything else.


We will also drop hint-like-facts such as 'The Police are being investigated for not stopping the man with a sad face and the funny name from killing some people, including himself'. With me now to discuss this and gang up on other areas of society is a newsreader from a rival network.

Newsreader #2: 
Evening.

Newsreader #1:
What do you say to the accusations, backed up with facts, that providing wall to wall coverage of a murderer is actually likely to cause other people to commit similar crimes?

Newsreader #2:
Complete rubbish.

Newsreader #1:
And the presence of facts?

Newsreader #2:
Meh.
I mean, we have a duty to report the news. 
Not the facts, the news. It's what people want. 
To paraphrase something I don't understand:
 'The news doesn't kill people. 
Computer games, 
horror films, 
heavy metal music 
and 
promiscuous 
behaviour 
kills people.'

Newsreader #1:

How do you know all this?

Newsreader #2:

It was on the news.

SEE? SEE? Hah! It wasn't us! In no way do we completely ignore our remit to present the facts in an objective and informative manner, and select the ones we need to support our agenda and turn it into scaremongering, knowing that getting our facts wrong will probably just result in a retraction.

The Modern Journalist is a hard working, dignified pillar of the community, rather than a complacent hack with a spurious mission to find truths that may or may not result in misery for others, or who doesn't think a story is a story unless it starts with them.

It isn't a terrifying thought that these people have power to shape your way of life (despite being unelected) to reinforce the worst in people. We don't shout on down from the boxes to the stalls, 'Off with their heads!', 'Don't elect this hypocrite!', and 'Ban this Sick Filth Now!' while our reporter stands outside the closed building in the rain telling you what has happened four hours ago, no!

We're providing a service.
That's what we do!
Provide a service.
Yeah!
Provide a service.
Repetition helps you memorise things, did you know?
Of course not, we know.
We're journalists!
If we didn't know any better than you the entire enterprise would be completely flawed!
Completely ridiculous! Completely flawed! Completely ridiculous!
Repetition. Mark E. Smith.
Gays Are To Get Asylum!
Muslims Are Changing the British Way of Life!
England Will Win the World Cup!
RAOUL MOAT.
Raoul Moat.
Just in case you didn't catch his name it was RAOUL MOAT.
RAOUL MOAT HAS A GUN.
HERE IS HIS FACE.
IT IS DIFFERENT NOW BECAUSE OF GUNS.
THE POLICE MADE MISTAKES.
RAOUL MOAT.
OLD WOMAN IS YOUR DAUGHTER SAFE TONIGHT?
RAOUL MOAT.
CAN YOU EVEN REMEMBER WHO HE KILLED?
RAOUL MOAT.
GAZZA'S HERE, IT'S HILARIOUS!
RAOUL MOAT.
RAOUL MOAT WASN'T A JOURNALIST AND HE'S DEAD NOW.

I'm paraphrasing of course.

Journalists make fraudulent expense claims too, by the way. Not as big a deal as MPs doing it but it would be nice if the self-appointed moral guardians of the nation practiced what they preached. It isn't exactly a damning indictment, but it's one of a long list of reasons why journalists are terrible, irresponsible monsters.

The main one is this: sure, MPs and politicians are fundamentally untrustworthy, but we sort of know that anyway (It's one of the unspoken truths that are inculcated into us at some unspecified point in our teenage years). But Journalism enacts a strange hold over millions of people every day, much more so than the words of John Prescott or William Hague. It's a daily occurrence, that pulls and twists people in different directions so that, when you have your once in every five years' opportunity to vote, you have had your opinion coerced, reinforced and then cemented into place for you.

The Press Complaints Commission is set up so that only the people directly affected by an article (ie. not someone who read it and had no involvement in the story but who - Hello - got angry anyway), which means that only Clare Balding's complaint against A.A Gill (who has managed to get away with being unpleasant to many people by having a name that sounds a bit like the name of the person who wrote Winnie the Pooh) will be considered. It does have a Code of Practice for journalists to adhere to, but as mentioned this is only enforced when a complaint is made by people directly affected. 

So when Jan Moir wrote a load of confused and factually dubious crap about Stephen Gately's death, the 22,000 complaints received by the P.C.C didn't actually have much of an effect on anything. It isn't as if the sheer volume of complaints in this case has led to any debate as to whether the system should be changed, or that newspapers have stopped or even slowed down in their printing of controversial and often factually inaccurate material since. Linkbait. Get your hit count high with artificial controversy. Everyone does it. Sometimes, though, there's a worrying ambiguity: are the journalists actually that cynical, or do they believe the guff they're peddling?

For example, recently The Daily Star published this article which stated that Rockstar Games were to use their popular Grand Theft Auto series to release a game called 'GTA Rothbury' in the wake of Raoul Moat's fatal standoff against the combined forces of the British Press and Media, and some very annoyed policemen, in the town of Rothbury in the North East of England. After protest the paper took down the article from its website, and was forced to pay compensation to Rockstar (who gave it to charity) and publish a retraction that stated it had caused undue distress to the grandmother of Moat's girlfriend by asking her about the fictional game, and also not checked any of its facts whatsoever before going ahead with the story. Interestingly, this is what the author of the article posted on Facebook in between these events:

"Baffled by the fury of adult gamers. These are grown (?!?) men who sit around all day playing computer games with one another who've today chosen to enter the real world just long enough to complain about my story slamming a Raoul Moat version of Grand Theft Auto! You would think I'd denied the Holocaust!!! Think I'll challenge them to a virtual reality duel....stab....I win!!!"

The author's name is Jerry Lawton and I think all the evidence we need about him is contained in the above paragraph. Considering the owner of the Star made his name in porn, which is probably more dangerous to young people than any computer game, it seems a little bit hypocritical of the paper to complain about a media where what's on screen is not a video of something that actually happened. If porn is your main exposure to sex while growing up, it's possible that you're going to have very misplaced notions about sex in real life. I don't recall seeing any socially responsible pornography where a man stops prior to entry and asks 'You're are on the pill aren't you?' 

Also these people are working to a script. Gentlemen, if you were to withdraw and then promptly ejaculate on someone's chest, mouth or anus without mentioning it beforehand, would you not admit that there is a risk that you may well receive a somewhat confused reaction? Porn is a very misleading portrayal of sex for people who haven't reached sexual maturity. Grand Theft Auto on the other hand, isn't real.

Having digressed, the main point that I hope I was making is that journalists aren't held to as rigorous inspection as politicians, despite arguably having just as much influence over our lives. They can get away with agenda-influenced lies, defamation and gossip. They can influence the mood of a nation. They are incredibly powerful bodies without the necessary regulatory authority in place to keep them in check, because if people get their knowledge from papers, and the papers are full of crap, we are kinda doomed are we not? 

Wouldn't it be better for the P.C.C to be able to act on papers that published factual inaccuracies more severely? Say, 1% of the paper's profit for that day per lie? Because it would be hypocritical of them to say that educational standards are falling if anything they print is utter bollocks with nothing remotely rooted in truth? And it's bad to be hypocritical. I know, because the paper's are always banging on about it. 

Since I started writing this article the News of the World phone hacking scandal has tentatively begun to emerge as a potential example of all of the above becoming public knowledge. Whether it will result in a major upheaval of the P.C.C. remains to be seen, but certainly something needs to be changed just so long as journalism results in genuine danger to the public, because this is a major problem that isn't widely acknowledged as such.

Which is hardly surprising. It's not as if anyone's going to read about it in the papers.

June 2010