Month: November 2010

Distractions


The amount of writing I’ve been able to do lately has been distressingly negligible. I think it shows from the fact that it’s been over a week since I’ve updated this blog.

It all comes down to distraction really. This time of year is always busy academically, but in the final year of a law degree it reaches the point of truly mental, I’ve discovered. I don’t make things easy on myself, I know. I have a tendency to procrastinate, and to bite of much more than I can swallow.

The last few weeks I’ve had to knuckle down though. I’ve had 7,000 words worth of work to submit, as well as a presentation to do. To date I’ve done 3,500 words, and no presentation. Added to that, I’m hard at work researching and writing my dissertation (on the contemporary relevance of the Law of Treason, in case anyone’s interested), ever more deeply involved in Labour, and the Labour society at uni, and of course trying to keep up my writing. All under the shadow of “What am I going to do come June when I graduate?”

Perhaps if I was snowed in, I'd have more time to devote to writing...

I am still writing though, even if it is more slowly. I’ve recently finished the first drafts of a longish sci-fi short about dimensional rifts and military recruitment, and a short story about unicorns. No, I’m not joking. I’ve also been listening to a lot of fiction podcasts. There are so many great ones out there, but in particular I have to recommend Cast Macabre. It’s a relative newcomer, but has some very good little horror stories, and is lovingly produced by Barry Northern to a top quality standard. You should really take a look.

So there’s a snapshot of my life at present. Plenty of distractions, little in the way of tangible productivity. I’ll be fighting with uni work until term finishes for Christmas (and then probably over Christmas too), but I have a few itching projects just waiting for a time window. Windows I intend to make over the Christmas.

Of course, it could massively snow (again), and I could end up housebound in Brighton, with nothing but time to write. And thinking on it I’m not sure that would be a bad thing.

 

Return of the Nasty Party


Lord Young: showing us that beneath the mask of so-called "compassionate conservatism", the nasty party is alive and well.

Since he became Tory leader, David Cameron has been insistent that the Conservatives aren’t the same “nasty party” that were decisively voted out of power in 1997. Since he took power, he’s maintained the facade of compassionate Conservatism, even as he and his government have been instigating cuts which target the poorest sectors of society. Now, hardly any of us were fooled, but they went to great pains to keep it up. Until today, when the mask slipped off completely for a telling moment.

Lord Young’s comments in the Daily Telegraph have been front page news, so most people probably already know what he said, but for those who don’t here is the key part:

“For the vast majority of people in the country today, they have never had it so good ever since this recession – this so-called recession – started…”

He was referring to low interest rates, and arguing that they had benefited those with mortgages. This is, of course, completely ignoring the vast numbers who lost their jobs in the recession, and whose homes were repossessed, not to mention those millions who will suffer greatly as a result of his government’s cuts.

Lord Young has resigned over his comments, but the damage is already done really. It shows the attitude of a Conservative party, and a coalition government, that frankly doesn’t care about the people who it is going to be hurting. All that nonsense about all in it together is clearly rubbish. For the frontbench of millionaires in the cabinet, life is as good as ever, so who cares about the rest, right?

Cameron was fairly quick to denounce Young’s comments, and the enterprise advisor has spent much of the morning cap in hand, apologetic, and looking thoroughly ashamed of himself as the Tory PR chiefs clearly instructed him to. But given the seriousness of this gaffe, and especially considering how emphatically Cameron distanced himself from the comments, why did it take Young until the afternoon to resign?

Cameron clearly wanted him to stay on, despite the offensiveness of his views, and wasn’t going to sack a leading Tory peer. Young only resigned because of overwhelming pressure brought upon him by the media, the opposition parties, and the people of this country. When Cameron heard of the comments, he should have immediately sacked Young. The fact that he did not seems to speak volumes about his own views on the matter, and consequently of his party’s views.

The catchphrase “all in this together” has been ringing hollow since the government first started spouting it, but now it seems like the cat is out of the bag. The Tories haven’t changed a bit. They’re a political group out for themselves, and their only guiding principle is self-interest. Never mind “all in this together”; as we always knew it was, the true Tory catchphrase seems to be “we’re set; screw the rest of you”.

The Elephant in the Room


At the start of this academic year, I bought myself a clock radio, so I could wake up to the radio rather than whatever annoying noise my phone conjures up. Now, in Brighton I can’t get Absolute Radio. I personally cannot stand Chris Evans. So with Absolute and Radio 2 ruled out, I plumped for Radio 4. I quite like the Today programme, and John Humphrys’ voice isn’t an unpleasant thing to wake up to. (Quiet!)

This might seem an odd way to begin a blog entry, but it leads into something more substantial now. This morning I was half awake, listening to a bit about how dire Ireland’s economic state is at the moment, and how it looks like the EU is going to have to bail them out.

I wanted to use a picture of an elephant painted with the Irish flag, on fire, but unfortunately my lack of photoshop skills and the internet's lack of imagination has meant that I can only go with this particularly idiotic picture of Osborne.

Now, I might have missed a bit, as I was still waking up, but nowhere did I hear any parallels drawn between the Irish situation and our own. They suffered in the recession. So did we. They gained a large deficit as a result of bailing themselves out of the recession. So did we. They ended up with a Coalition. So did we. They set out on a program of radical cuts. We have just begun a near identical program.

And here’s the problem. Before the election, back when he was Shadow Chancellor, rather than axe-wielder-in-chief, George Osborne wrote an article in the Times newspaper about Ireland. You can read the article for yourself, but it contains the key quote.

I’m not an Osborne fan. I think he’s a moron, and I wouldn’t trust him with my pocket change, let alone the Treasury. But still, I’d have a lot more respect for him if he could let go of his damned cutcutcut obsession and looked at the bloody facts. It’s particularly galling when he himself laid out the sensible advice back in 2006.

“[Ireland] have much to teach us, if only we are willing to learn.”

And right you were, George. They taught us that sudden, drastic cuts when the economy is still unstable are a bad idea, and can result in a plunge back into recession. Not the lesson that he imagined they would teach us, granted, but important nonetheless. And yet despite eschewing the benefits of paying attention to Ireland and learning from their blunders, he seems not to be willing to learn himself.

It’s not surprising, of course. The Coalition government have set out on a program of economically-destructive cuts, and damn it they’re going to carry it out. That’s ideology. That’s politics. Any climbdown now would be tantamount to the lumbering mutant creature shooting itself in the face. But why are the rest of us not shouting louder about this?

Alan Johnson pointed out Osborne’s raging hypocrisy re: banking regulation, back when the CSR was delivered. But no one is waving Ireland around as an example of him ignoring the red lights and warning signs. Is there some reason for this? Is Ireland a no-go area for some reason?

Whatever, some brave MP (from either side of the House) needs to table a question to ask Osborne- or that Tory-apologist Danny Alexander- to explain why they are now ignoring the Irish lessons which they were so adamant we should learn from.

Yea, Though I Walk Through the Valley of the Shadow of Uncanny


No one can possibly claim these things are not the epitome of all that is evil. And you KNOW they come alive at night.

There’s something terribly unsettling about facsimiles of human beings. I know the uncanny valley is an already well-documented phemonenon, but my God it’s creepy.

I already have something of a fear of shop window mannequins (clothing shops seem to be engaging in an arms-race to see who can create the most disturbingly lifelike examples). So going to Madame Tussauds today was perhaps a mite predictable.

Actually, it turned out to be brilliant. Somehow the waxworks didn’t have the same feeling of terror that shop dummies manage to

Disconcerting, but not entirely sinister.

evoke in me. I’m a bit perplexed by it, to be honest. They were very lifelike for the most part, but I suspect that the fact that they resembled real people made them more bearable (though the Mel Gibson waxwork had a certain psychotic edge to it). The only one that was really creepy was the photographer waxwork, whose photo we spent a good few minutes trying not to get in the way of, before realising that she wasn’t actually a person…

So is familiarity the antidote to the uncanny valley? Try as I might, I just couldn’t imagine the waxworks coming to life at night to murder unsuspecting persons trapped in the museum. Whereas shop mannequins undoubtedly do exactly that when the sun goes down. You all know it’s true.

I’ve written more than a few horror stories myself about human mimics, and there is something that I found inherently disturbing about the idea. I suppose it’s linked to clones, and the concept of individuality. Something not-quite human, but purporting to be, and maybe wanting to be. Do those waxworks and mannequins feel jealous of us? Of our flesh and blood? Would they punish us if given the chance?

Maybe I’m the only one who thinks about this. Or maybe I’m thinking about it in too much detail. Whatever, it’s something that actually frightens me, and I don’t like turning my back on the things. The thought that they might be just biding their time, feigning inanimacy, and waiting to strike lurks too close in the back of my mind.

An Open Letter to Students


My fellow students,

 

Those who attacked Millbank Tower were thugs and cowards, who took advantage of students' anger, and who have damaged the cause that they claim to believe in.

Yesterday I marched with you in London, protesting against the Coalition plans to cut the Higher Education budget by 40%, treble tuition fees, abolish EMA, and a host of other ill-advised and regressive policies. For the most part it was a pleasure to be a part of. We marched from LSE down towards Parliament, shouting slogans (and general verbal abuse of Lib Dems/Conservatives) and waving placards (some of which were a bit mental, but hey, it’s a protest- you’re allowed to be a little mental).

Then, after about 2pm, it all went wrong. The attack on Millbank Tower (regardless of whether it was or wasn’t Tory HQ) was a stupid move. It turned what was a respectful, peaceful demonstration, into a riot. And maybe some of you are looking at today’s headlines and realising what a mistake it really was.

The fact is, that most of the 50,000 students gathered behaved completely respectably, and didn’t engage in stupid acts of aggression and violence. The ones who attacked Millbank Tower and tried to occupy it were a minority, hailing from certain factions of the left and of the student community. I won’t specify who, but I’m sure that all of you who know anything about this are aware of who I mean. And I suspect that a good deal of that minority went to the demonstration spoiling for a fight.

I can understand the anger and frustration that led to it. Everyone there was passionately against the unfair moves being taken by the government, and in particular at the broken promises of the Liberal Democrats. I’m sure that if Lib Dem HQ wasn’t hidden down an anonymous sidestreet they would have seen much more aggression than they actually did. In the end, students were angry about policies that would disproportionately hit the poor, and that anger both boiled over and was taken advantage of by certain elements.

The end result is that the protest has been sullied. The focus is on the minority of violent individuals who acted unacceptably, not the overwhelming majority who behaved more reasonably. I think it’s exemplified by the fact that David Cameron was able to give a statement on the performance of the police and the unacceptability of rioting, and completely ignore the issues that we were protesting against.

And the worst part, for me, was that we had the moral high ground. For the most part, we weren’t protesting for ourselves. The impact of these cuts and policies on present students will be minimal. It’s the future generations who will be disadvantaged, and it was for them who we were marching for.

Please understand that my criticisms were aimed at those who perpetrated the attacks on Millbank Tower, and not to the rest of the students. In particular, those who broke windows, tried to occupy the building, and unbelievably dropped things off the top of the building. I am a student. I am a left winger. But I like to think I’m not an idiot. This hasn’t helped anyone, and has hurt our movement and our aims.

Those who gave in to violence, vandalism and thuggery make me ashamed to have been there. However, all of you who didn’t disgrace yourselves, who peacefully demonstrated to make our voices heard. All of you make me proud to be a student, and to have been on the march which will unfortunately be remembered for the idiocy of a few.

 

Sincerely

Matthew S. Dent

(3rd year LLB student, University of Sussex)

This Day…We March!


Marching for the rights of future students

Tomorrow, we march on the capital.

Tomorrow, thousands of angry students will descend on Parliament to protest the crippling cuts and fee rises proposed by the Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition government. Thousands of voices will be heard crying out for our politicians to hear our voices and listen to them. And for the Lib Dems especially, to remember what they promised in the election.

I will be there. So will over three hundred students from the University of Sussex. I have no idea how many people will be there from other universities, but I know this is going to be something spectacular.

I’d like to point out something in particular: we are not doing this for us. The tuition fee rise will not affect present students. The cuts to the Higher Education budget will, for some of us. But not for me, and not for thousands of other final year students who will be there. We are not marching for ourselves. We’re marching for the generations of students who will bear the brunt of this.

The rises are not progressive. They will dissuade the very poorest members of society from going to university, and transform Higher Education into something reserved for a rich elite. And the massive cuts to the Higher Education budget will decimate universities, resulting in students paying massively more for massively less.

This is why I’m going to London tomorrow. This is why thousands of others are doing the same. This is why I’m asking you to come.

Whether you’re a student or not doesn’t matter. You could be someone who will be applying to university in the next couple of years. You could be the parent of someone who will be applying. Or you could just care about the state of education in this country. Whoever you are, come along and show your support. If you’re interested, take a look at the NUS website for details, and get involved.

Thank you

In Defence of Trade Unionism


Union members and strikers are not the enemies of the people- they are the people!

Trade Unions aren’t usually popular with the media, the government, or the majority of the people. I’m currently watching a facetious debate on BBC’s Sunday Morning Live (debating the issues of the moment with such ridiculous superficiality that you really needn’t bother) about whether Trade Unions are immoral.

It’s a ridiculous question, which is really quite offensive. Are workers rights immoral? Is it immoral for employees to want a fair deal from their employees? Are those employees immoral for not lying down and taking it?

Hopefully you can see the lack of sense inherent in asking such a question. But the fact is that when there’s a strike, most of the general public get really angry at the inconvenience. Why? Well that’s a difficult issue. As I see it, the people who are most opposed to unions are the people whose jobs are so secure, whose pensions, pay and other rights are safe. In short, the people who don’t need unions.

And the right-wing media portray strikers as selfish individuals, lacking the spirit of national togetherness and the flavour-of-the-month “We’re all in this together” (which I’ll probably blog about at a later stage). But really, if we have a sense of national togetherness, shouldn’t we all be out there on the picket lines with the strikers, trying to get fair treatment for their fellow Brits?

I must admit, I don’t automatically support all strikes. If they’re frivolous, or stupid, then I’ll be against them, obviously. But I have supported a lot of strikes, and I’m sure I’ll be supporting many more in the future. I was very supportive of the postal strikes over the last few years. I’m supportive of the BA cabin crew’s strikes, in the face of BA management’s dogged refusal to negotiate. And I support the fire fighters in their strikes.

I grew up on a street next to a fire station, so there were a lot of fire fighters living on my street. So I know first hand how hard they work, and how bad the conditions they work in are. These men, frankly, are heroes, and deserve so much better than they receive from government. Rather than lambasting them for striking, we should be challenging the management and the government that has left them with striking as their only option.

When it comes down to it, Unions are made up of ordinary working people. They aren’t some separate sector of society, some subversive sub-group working against the common interest. They are everyday workers whose livelihoods are threatened by actions of employers and government.

And given the cuts that the government are currently (without mandate, I may add- approximate 15million people voted against radical cuts, compared to 10million who voted for it), it’s going to be the people at the bottom of the ladder who feel the worst impact. This means that unions will be even more important than ever-  and consequently will be even more demonised by the right wing Murdoch media. If Cameron really wants to claim we’re all in this together, he should reform industrial action legislation to ease the stringent restrictions on Unions which result in an all-or-nothing situation. But that won’t happen.

My recommendation to everyone, is that when strikes happen, look a little deeper. Don’t just take what the Sun, the Times and the Mail report at face value. Do some research, and find out what the dispute is actually about. And then consider how you’d feel if you were in that situation.

Oh, and it’s always a good idea to join the Union for your industry. Unions are the lifeblood of an equal society, not the enemy of the people, and they are essential if the rights of working people are to be defended.

Dude, Where’s My Originality?


The Swedish "Let the Right One In" was released in 2008- so why is there already a Hollywood remake?

Remakes. I have serious issues with remakes, particularly in the film industry. And I’m not the only one, the internet is full of people with gripes about it. But now is my turn.

My thoughts on this were prompted by a friendly little discussion over at the TTA Press Forums, about Let Me In, the US remake of Swedish film Let the Right One In. Now, I haven’t seen either film (yet), but I have to wonder at the remaking of a film only two years after it’s initial release. Given the gestation period of films, this must have been conceived around the time that the Swedish film was released.

So why do films get remade? I think Pete Tennant hit the nail right on the head, saying that it does fundamentally come down to money. The American studios realise that if they remake it, they can make a whole pile of money off the back of it. And that’s the primary force behind remakes. If it’s been proved to work once, it’ll work again right?

The same philosophy has been behind a number of originality-based problems in the film industry. Unleashing Rob Zombie on the Halloween franchise, the lacklustre and unnecessary Nightmare on Elm Street remake, the seemingly endless parade of Saw sequels. Even The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (another Swedish film) is being remade in an American image for release next year.

The studios are aware that if they trot out something with a recognisable brand, then people will flock to it based on that alone. Maybe the fact that they invariably turn out somewhere between mediocre and utter crap is unrelated, or maybe it’s a symptom of them not thinking they need to work as hard.

The fact is that original films are harder work. They have to be made better (probably), they have to be advertised harder, and there’s none of the “sheep” guarantee that people will turn out to see it. But they are an injection of vitality to the industry, which sustain it creatively. And they can be done successfully.

My two favourite films so far this year are probably Inception and Kick Ass. You might argue with me as to the value of those two films, but I personally loved them. And they were original films. Well, Kick Ass was an adaptation of a graphic novel, but I’ll allow it. They weren’t remakes of foreign films, or even of old genre classics. They were new stories, based on nothing else than some writer’s imagination. So huzzah.

Of course, there are other arguments for remaking films. There’s the subtitles argument. I myself have no problem with subtitled. Dubbing is always an awful idea, because it somehow always manages to destroy the film. But I like subtitles. Some people, however, don’t. I don’t get it, but whatever. That might be a reason for remaking a film, but I have to say that on its own it’s a pretty poor one. In my experience a film takes something (whether a lot, or just a general sense) from the culture in which it is made, and which it is set. That’s part of the reason that Americanisation has become so pervasive (not a criticism, surprisingly), because Hollywood films are revered the world over. But as soon as you try and transplant a film from one culture to another, you start running into weird problems.

I’m not so much against retreading old ground. J.J. Abrams Star Trek was pretty damn good. I’m a massive fan of Ronald D. Moore’s reimagining of Battlestar Galactica. The remake of V sucked because it was awful, not because it was a remake. What’s important though, I think, is not to forget respect and originality. Respecting the original work, and putting your own original take on it, will go a long way to make it look like less of a money-grabber, and less of an insult to the original.

VideoVista November Issue Goes Live


Yup, it’s that time again. The November issue of DVD review webzine has gone live, with another three of my reviews in it.

House Season 6

This time I’ve reviewed Season 6 of US medical drama House, ITV’s human tragedy (no, not Jeremy Kyle) Bouquet of Barbed Wire, and sea-monster mockbuster Mega Shark of the Malibu.

The astute amongst you may notice that this is the second sea-monster mockbuster that I’ve reviewed in as

Bouquet of Barbed Wire

many months, so please feel free to look up my Mega Piranha review from last month and compare the two. I’d very much welcome any comments.

Oh, and A.E. Grace contributes another two reviews this month, reviewing budget horror films Blood Snow and Death Tube (which will be forthcoming on Tony Lee’s other webzine, The Zone, so keep your eyes peeled for it).

Sticking My Oar In


About a quarter of an hour before this blog was posted, the polls at the US midterm elections will open, and millions of Americans will begin a day of heading out to vote. Now, I’m not an US citizen, and consequently have no involvement in the process- but since when has that stopped me? So here is an outsider’s view on the US midterm elections, in the form of a few thoughts of mine on the matter:

  • Obama is not a socialist

 

This image epitomises America's misunderstanding of politics: OBAMA IS NOT A SOCIALIST!

 

This is the first point I want to make. I am a socialist. Obama is not. He’s also (incidentally) not a communist, Marxist, Trotskyite, Stalinist, Soviet, or whatever else he gets accused of. Hell, he’s barely even a left-winger. US politics always confuse me, because from my perspective it demonstrates a horrendous misunderstanding of so many concepts. Leaving aside the meaninglessness of the names “Democrat” and “Republican”, the US public seem to lack an understanding of what socialism is. Obama hasn’t nationalised the economy. He hasn’t taxed the rich to death. He hasn’t converted the US into communes. Even his healthcare reform (which, as a socialist, I regard as much-needed) has barely amounted to poking the insurance-based system. The panic that gripped the US was that he would create an NHS-style system (which would have been a great thing),  but in actuality, very little has changed.

  • Obama has not destroyed the economy

Does anyone remember 2008 any more? The economy was in the toilet. The world was in recession, due to a global credit crunch which started with the banks in the US. Everyone was frightened for their jobs, worried about their homes being repossessed, and struggling to afford living costs, and it boiled down to poor regulation of the financial sector. Which was the fault of the previous administration. Now take a look at today. The US is not in recession any more. The economy is on the mend. Things, whilst not yet being peachy, are on the mend. This is because of the stimulus packages and policies that Obama has launched. Just think that things could be so much worse. The US leads the world economy, and if they had slipped into depression, then God knows what would have happened to the rest of us…

  • Obama is not up for election

Despite everything I’ve said above, Obama is not important. Not directly, at least. This election is for the House of Representatives and the Senate. America, you are a republic. You are the republic. You’re electing representatives to sit in congress on your behalf. May I make the outlandish, outrageous suggestion that rather than this being a vote between Obama and the Republicans, you take a look at the actual person you’re voting for, and vote for them rather than the colour of the banner behind them? Just a thought…

  • The Tea Party are mad

Last week, British satirist said on a TV show (describing the difference between the Republican Party and the Tea Party) “The Republican Party are very, very right-wing. And the Tea Party are mad”. That’s certainly the view of the rest of the world, but then we aren’t quite as keen on right-wing extremism as the US seems to be. We are scared that Sarah Palin might ever have actual power. The woman is an ignorant menace. And the people who idolise her are anti-progressive (regressive), anti-internationalist, and…well, mad. There are a myriad of quotes I could roll out that demonstrate how ignorant and moronic these people are, but I’m sure you’ve heard them all, and if not a simple Google search can help you out.

To conclude, I won’t tell you to vote Democrat, or any other way. I’d just ask that you vote with your brain. Read up on the candidates. Do some research on what they say, what they stand for, what policies they endorse. And then make an informed vote on that.

Happy voting, America.