Saturday, June 27, 2015

On Delisting

So the BBC has published a list of all its articles that have been delisted by Google - meaning, articles that people have paid* Google to keep out of web searches.

Publishing these links is an excellent thing to do, as it allows us to take a punt at guessing who requests delisting and why.  As you might expect, most of the delistings relate to court proceedings and criminal offences.

Whenever this topic arises, it's the subject of loud and long lamentation, and for good reason in many cases.  That's quite justified in instances where articles are delisted because they reference

1) People who have committed serious crimes 

Quite a few of these articles relate to terrible crimes, and I think it's fair for people to be concerned about this.  I'm not particularly pleased to see that e.g. rapists could have all mention of their crimes effectively expunged from the record by simply forking over a bit of cash to Google, and you can probably imagine how that ability is very useful for various bad people and organisations.

Note here that I'm assuming that it's the perpetrator or one of his/her relations that has asked for the article to be delisted, rather than the victim.  The latter seems less likely, but it's hardly impossible.

There are far more examples of delisted articles involving  

2) People who have committed minor crimes 

I'm a lot less worried about this.  I have no problem with the idea of people who e.g. get drunk and get into a fight being able to sweep the matter under the carpet.  All of us are human and we can all be terrible shits to each other and make awful errors, and I don't think it's wise or just to keep people on the hook for this in perpetuity.

By "on the hook", I mean the likelihood that any Google search for your name is likely to return an article about you e.g. shoplifting or getting busted for minor drug possession when you were a teenager.  If you've been tried, sentenced and have paid for a minor offence, it seems a bit harsh to me that any future employer, partner or aquaintance is only a web search away from hearing all about it.**

And it's worth noting here the unequal nature of Google searches for individuals, too.  If your name is e.g. "John Smith", "Ann Brown" or "Muhammad Ali", people will most likely have to upend the entire internet to find any online material that references you, rather than the million other "John Smiths" in the UK.   If you're called Trevor Jigglytits De Souza, then a lot of the daft/unpleasant things that you've unwisely said or done will be instantly available.  

Obviously, this level of forgiveness doesn't apply to all crimes and indiscretions, in all situations - I can imagine why a company might want to know if a potential employee isn't mentioning his previous embezzlement convictions, to pick a random example - but it remains a less concerning issue than serious offenders expunging their records.

Another category of delisting relates to

3) People who have said or done embarrassing things 

Quite a few of the delisted articles are about people who have gone missing, for whatever reason.  I can imagine why people might not want the first thing that people can learn about them to be that they did a sudden Stephen Fry act and buggered off to Belgium in the huff for a fortnight in 2004.

There's also a lot of seemingly innocuous articles about TV shows and the like, and I'd suggest that it's not the article itself that somebody wants rid of, but one of the comments underneath it.  Again, if your name is Fuckface McGhee the Third and you once spent a drunken evening typing overwrought comments about e.g. Him Off Big Brother, then your boozy ramblings are likely to be the first thing that people will find on the internet relating to you.

Once more, my sympathy doesn't apply in all cases.  If you're running as an MP and have previously announced that you think Hitler had a point, it's probably in the public interest for that fact to remain on your record.

Nonetheless, I think it's important that we draw a distinction between people who have, on the one hand, made tits of themselves in public, and certain multinational corporations who have accidentally poisoned several thousand Indians to death.  One of these issues is a bit more serious than the other, and it's wrong-headed to treat them both as if they were the same thing.

My generation is lucky in that we're the last that grew up in relative obscurity.  There are, thankfully, no photos of me with that horrible haircut in 1996 floating around the internet, nor are there any snaps of me passed out pissed around a toilet bowl, and there's no public record of that night that I went off on one and made an utter exhibition of myself in that pub in Dundee.  This is a bit of a blessing, and it's not one that people who go out and make arses of themselves this evening will be able to count upon.

It's also fortunate for me that the internet really went big when I was in my early twenties, as anyone who has ever found an example of their angst-ridden teenage poetry at the back of a drawer will attest.  It's a lot easier to put an old bit of paper in the bin than it is to delete it from somebody else's Facebook account, isn't it?

Anyway, none of this should be read as saying that there's no problem with Google offering a delisting service.  There are many reasons why this should be seen as A Bad Thing, helping nasty people and organisations to shuck off the consequences of their own nastiness.

Nonetheless, it doesn't hurt to look at the issue with just a little bit of compassion and human empathy, I think.

*I'm just assuming that you have to pay for a delisting here, but I may be wrong.

**Enthusiastic law 'n' order types tend to disagree on this point but in my experience, even the most unforgiving of hardline justice types suddenly changes their tune on the matter when it's them or their family member that's been arrested for shoving a traffic warden or some such. 

Saturday, June 20, 2015


Q:  If the army of Madeupistan overthrew its elected government, machine-gunned hundreds of protesters in the streets, hurled its opponents into prison and issued mass death warrants, would the UK Government a) denounce the army or b) welcome its leader to Downing Street for tea and biscuits?

A:  It depends on whether the leader of Madeupistan is our bastard, or theirs.

This question is prompted by the leader in yesterday's Times - the full text of it is in comments below, since it's paywalled on their website.

It's a barnstormer of an article really, filled with compensatory coughs and mumbles about human rights and democracy, while in fact pushing precisely the kind of self-important Realpolitik that made Dr Kissinger the beloved figure that he is today.

And to a certain extent, this is fine - I can entirely get down with sentiments like "(we) need to work with the political order as it exists in the Arab world and not as (we) wish it to be", since this is exactly the kind of thing that I've been saying about e.g. Iraq and Syria for years*.  It's hilariously obvious that this form of peace, love and understanding is extended only to allied nations of course, but let's accept that statement as a mild outbreak of common sense for now.

Nonetheless, let's also note that the main message of the piece is - let's suck up to this particular blood-soaked killer, because he can give us lots of things that we want.  This, to put it mildly, is not the message that either the Times or many of the nation's titans of morality in foreign policy typically push.

Let me pluck out a few sentences, just for pointing-and-booing purposes:

"There is no more apt time for David Cameron to press Mr Sisi to respect human rights than in a meeting, face to face.  It is essential that the prime minister do so, lest reformers in Egypt and the wider Arab world infer that they are on their own".

Now, I can think of a few reasons why "reformers in Egypt and the wider Arab world infer that they are on their own" - the recent UK-Egypt investment figures alone suggest that we're entirely happy as a nation for the Egyptian military to crush democratic movements in perpetuity, I think.  The fact that our major political figures have made next to no attempt to restrain the Egyptian dictatorship sends a far stronger message than anything that Cameron is likely to say.

Nor do I believe that a Cameron-Sisi photo-op, with all of the diplomatic kissy-face and joint statements on common interests and co-operation that such things entail, is going to convince "Arab reformers" that the prime minister is just hurting like a motherfucker for their trampled rights.

"If Britain does not have a strategic relationship with Mr Sisi, it will forgo any opportunity to put pressure on him to restore democracy".  

You'll notice that this too departs from the paper's traditional attitude towards engagement with despotic regimes.  The pretence that Sisi might have a passing interest in "restoring democracy", or that David Cameron might put him in a chokehold until he develops one, strikes me as fairly insulting to the public's intelligence. 

Other highlights include boos and hisses for the elected government that Sisi deposed and is now having executed:

"...He unquestionably (deposed an elected leader) with immense popular support against a regime that had abused its authority and driven Egypt close to collapse."

Now, Ayatollah Khomeini's insane medieval revolution overthrew a nasty regime, but you'll seldom hear similar citations of its immense popularity, nor criticisms of the Shah's democratic failings, and for good reason.

We can also note that e.g. Bad Vladimir Putin is very popular indeed domestically, but you don't often hear it said in Times editorials, and you'll never hear that fact used as justification for positive engagement.  Hugo Chavez's party have won election after election for more than a decade in Venezuela, but their proven popularity doesn't discourage the Times from regularly addressing them as if they were a political amalgamation of the great train robbers and the Khmer Rouge. 

"Mohammed Morsi, or the Muslim Brotherhood, won a narrow victory in presidential elections...  (he) should have negotiated a compromise or called fresh elections.  Amid discontent and huge protests, Mr Sisi and the army deposed a plainly failing government...  Large sections of Egyptian society believe that Mr Sisi has preserved the country from civil war and theocratic oppression". 

...Which is an idiosyncratic take on the concept of democracy, and one that would have interesting results if it were applied more broadly around the globe: God help any political party that has the temerity to "win a narrow victory", for example.  I also look forward to the Times' take on future anti-government protestors in the UK and elsewhere, since it tends to treat anyone who so much as waves a placard at Westminster like they're the blackshirts reborn.

Anyway, you get the gist.  I raise this mainly to note - yet again - the bizarre situation whereby any minor celebrity or unknown political activist who so much as sneezes in the direction of unpleasant foreign autocrats or political movements can expect to be pilloried now and for all time for it, but it's perfectly fine and even sensible for the President of the United States to publicly blow the King of Saudi Arabia's corpse.  

We might think of this as the Tony Blair principle - that is, it's actually laudible for Tony Blair to hug Colonel Gaddafi, but any other human being caught making a favourable comment about the mad colonel's haircut will have the offending quote splashed all over any article that mentions their name forever more, including in their eventual obituary.

Well, I know that I have a bit of an obsession with bitching at the Times, but I'd say there's an important distinction to be made here.  Whenever, say, a minor Guardian writer makes some horrifying statement along the lines of "Any final negotiation between Israel and the Palestinians is probably going to have to involve Hamas, since they're a major combatant party", the wails and screams of terror and outrage shake your windows and rattle your walls for weeks...

...But the Guardian and all who sail in her are, at best, speaking on behalf of the nation's cultural elite and for the dying rump of middle class British socialism.

The Times, on the other hand, is effectively the UK's ruling class addressing itself.  If it has a purpose, its role is to clarify and reinforce the views of the government of the day.  If it has any criticism of government policy, it'll always be restricted to encouraging the Prime Minister to just keep doing whatever he's doing, to either a slightly greater or lesser extent.

I'd say that Sisi and his lieutenants are considerably worse human beings than any of the bogeymen who traditionally bedevil the nightmares of Times writers - Chavez, Gerry Adams, Che Guevara and so on.  And here's the nation's paper of record, wagging a finger at us for daring to consider the possibility of giving the Egyptian dictator the cold shoulder.  You can take that as the official position of the British Government, because it is**.

But as with our nation's relationship with Saudi Arabia, you'll wait a long, long time for any of this to provoke the kind of enraged condemnations that we generally reserve for comedians and authors who are incautious enough to use an overwrought metaphor or to back the wrong boycott.


*Although unlike the Times, I've been saying it to discourage further idiotic bombing campaigns and occupations.  

**Again, the simplest solution here isn't so much for Cameron to give Sisi the bum's rush, although I wouldn't weep if he did.  

The easiest and most honest tactic would be for statesmen to drop all pretence that their foreign policies are motivated by morality, human rights or love of democracy, and to admit once and for all that they're moved instead by ignoble expediency at best and rampant, cynical greed at worst.

Sunday, June 07, 2015

More Dispatches From The Trenches Of The Free Speech War

Is it necessary to once again address our Nick and his many manias?  Well, probably not, but I suppose that that's never stopped me before.

This week, the purported topic is Tony Blair's desire to criminalise Holocaust-denial, with swipes at David Cameron's policies on anti-extremism, although as ever it's largely about how much Nick doesn't like students, unnamed liberals and anonymous leftists. Thus, do we end up with the bizarre assertion that Tony's desire to drop the legal banhammer on motherfuckers means that he has now become similar to "the average British or American university".  

Now, we might note that students don't often imprison people that they disagree with; that there's a non-trivial difference between jailing people and just disinviting them from your organised chinwag, and that there's something of a power-and-influence gap between said students, and Tony and his pals.  I myself am somewhat more concerned about David Cameron's thoughts on free speech, than I am about what a nebulous shower of non-specific citizens think about it, since the former has the ability to act upon his threats, and the latter don't.

Sharp-eyed observers will also note that Tony's ASBO-pumping, banning-and-jailing behaviour peaked in roughly 2006 while he was Prime Minister of the nation, which suggests that even if we assume that there's a similarity, it'd be the students who are becoming more like Tony, rather than the other way around*.

And perhaps it's only me, but I also get the feeling that Nick's trying to say that Tony's behaviour is new and in some way unexpected, much like it was back when Nick was previously astounded to discover that Tony is willing to turn a blind eye to tyranny, if it's in his interest to do so.  It's unfortunate because, if Nick hadn't found Tony's behaviour so surprising, he might have noticed that this is hardly the first time that Blair has taken a position at a supposedly progressive organisation, and then used it to push for dafter and more authoritarian policies**.

Anyway, Nick is correct on the broad strokes, and hilariously off-target in the fine detail, as is so often the case.  I suppose that I could go into greater detail on stuff like this:

(Governments) will not let you defend the values of Charlie Hebdo and the shoppers at the Hypercacher at the same time and for the same reasons. You must betray one or the other.

...By noting that Nick has not actually been hauled off to the Gulag for defending anyone's values, and neither have any of his pals.  Until the day dawns when there's a reasonable prospect of Nick being clapped in irons for saying that he doesn't much like the Islamists, we could probably dial down the hyperbole a tad. 

And it's worth noting that while Nick is busy portraying himself as a kind of blobby Cassandra, Scotland is literally jailing idiots for singing offensive songs, seemingly without Nick or his pals noticing.  Were I to do as Nick does, I'd use this as an excuse to claim that Nick and his middle-class, metropolitan liberal pals do not defend free speech in their own country because they are obsessed with attacking convenient targets that do not challenge their smug certainties, and so on.  Since I try not to be a prick unnecessarily however, I won't make a big song and dance about it.

So let's just note once more that Nick's Free-Speech-Hooray!  Drastic-Clampdowns-Boo! stance is correct, and ask yet again - exactly how helpful is it that our most prominent free speech campaigners can't say bluntly that we shouldn't criminalise hateful rhetoric, without also stuffing their statements with irrelevant burble aimed at all of the unnamed badthinkers whom they've always hated anyway?

If Nick's keen to attract support for a key democratic principle that's under attack, maybe it'd be more effective to focus on the people leading the assault, rather than muddying the issue up by bleating about how much you dislike some people who are very much like you, but a bit less pissy about everything.

*Another example of these hilariously arse-over-tit priorities from the World of Decency this week - a Martian who knew nothing at all of human ways and read this HP Sauce post, would have to conclude that Tariq Aziz, Saddam's former deputy prime minister, was primarily a terrible person because he was mates with George Galloway. 

**I suspect that this framing is necessary due to Nick's former endorsement of Tony's idiotic wars, which he addresses in his piece with only the following statement: 

Blair’s recommendation that Holocaust-denial become a crime duly produced the expected mixture of “how dare he even speak after Iraq” reactions.

...Which is certainly an odd way of putting it, implying as it does that an instinctive dislike of people who bomb, invade and occupy other countries is some kind of frightful prejudice. Yes, it truly is terrible that a man can't even make war on other nations for no sane reason, without people holding it against him. 

Thursday, June 04, 2015

The Call Of The Wild, Wild Wasteland

In this temple
As in the hearts of the people
For whom he saved the Union
The memory of Abraham Lincoln
Is enshrined forever.

With Fallout 4 on the way, I've been giving some thought to apocalyptic fiction generally and to why 2008's Fallout 3 worked so effectively and proved to be so popular.

Fallout is a post-apocalyptic role-playing game set in the aftermath of a devastating global nuclear war.  It isn't our world, but rather a version in which all of the fantasies of fifties sci-fi came true.  Popular culture stagnated in roughly 1953, like a version of Marty McFly's parents' Hill Valley but with nuclear-powered cars, zap-guns and robot servants.  For over a century America remains an Eisenhower-era, sci-fi consumer paradise amidst escalating Cold War paranoia and repression, until an inevitable nuclear exchange with China finally destroys civilisation.  The action begins in the radioactive wreckage.

In the first two games, the Great War was pretty much only the backdrop for wickedly humorous, misanthropic Westerns in which the player roams the Wasteland splattering giant mutated insects and aiding or annihilating settlers.  The franchise was bought out by a new development company in the 2000s and their game, Fallout 3, drew on the mythology of this blasted world to create a story with genuine pathos - a violent land filled with aching sadness and nostalgia for a vanished era and a sincere elegy to America itself, delivered from the midst of America's ruin.*

The Great War is central to the action - how could it not be, in the world that it created? - and the game is rich in Cold War imagery and analogy.  This is interesting because the game tackles head-on the contradictions of the Cold War-era United States and mutually-assured destruction, with China and Russia staying mostly off-page.

The vanished America of Fallout 3 was a beacon and rallying cry for freedom, and a globe-straddling, cynical empire with the capacity to extinguish all life on Earth, and it was both of these things at the same time.  The world is a nuclear-blasted wasteland not just in spite of the great patriotic quest for liberty, justice and the American Way, but probably as the direct result of it

The player is then invited to choose which idealised myth of America will win out in the Wasteland, for good or ill.  Will it be the America of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and the lofty ideals promoted in their rhetoric, or the paranoid one of Joe McCarthy, Douglas MacArthur and freedom maintained by force of arms, meaning nuclear brinkmanship?  Like the real America, neither version is what it claims to be and both may well contain the seeds of their own destruction, but the ramifications of this choice for the future of the Wasteland will be enormous.

Practically, this plays out by various factions explicitly drawing on the imagery and ideals of their destroyed Utopia to help them construct a new world.  A fascistic remnant of the American military evokes  revolutionary war-era propaganda by broadcasting a series of "Presidential addresses", delivered in the chummy manner of Roosevelt's fireside chats.  Escaped slaves look to Abraham Lincoln for inspiration, trying to restore the statue in the Lincoln Memorial as a symbol to give hope to all those held in bondage.

There are cranky libertarian farmsteaders, plucky settlers scratching a living from the radioactive dirt and technologically-obsessed military orders, all of them threatened by the feral humans, insane battle robots and mutated monsters spawned by the old world.  The final shot of the game is the statue of Thomas Jefferson in his memorial as a symbol either of humanity's quest for freedom and a better existence or as the harbinger of destruction, depending on how you choose to play.

It's a crapsack world, but hope remains that a better one can be built.  America may be gone but remnants of the glory that was America endure and may yet destroy the few who survived its fall, or even succeed against all the odds.

It's hope that separates Fallout from many other takes on the apocalypse.  When 2000 AD's writers take a serious stab at imagining what it would be like to live in Mega-City One, they have Joe Dredd himself categorically state that This Is Not America but rather an endless dictatorship, and that any hope for another way of life is futile.  The democratic United States is gone forever, a ruinous and despised experiment, never to be repeated.

The player's own selfish actions in The Last of Us demonstrate why humanity will never recover from the viral outbreak that all but destroyed it.  In the zombie-plagued Georgia of The Walking Dead all glimmers of optimism or redemption are illusory, only heightening the horror of the protagonists' inevitable violent demise.  The few notes of hope in 1984 and The Handmaid's Tale are to be found in post-scripts analysing the regimes that terrorised their characters, using the past tense.  The dystopian America of Escape From New York is so vicious that it probably deserves extinction.

The apocalyptic fiction that I like is always essentially a love letter to the present.  Children of Men ends with the laughter of kids at play, the very thing that's so pointedly absent throughout the movie, while faith and human decency are right at the heart of The Road, a story that is on the surface all about despair and atrocity**. 

And that's what Fallout 3 did so well.  In order to really humanise America and its mythology in video game form, it was necessary to destroy America.  In the wrecked cities and abandoned homes, in the children's toys and rusting consumer goods and the fifties soundtrack lie the hopes and dreams of a nation, starkly juxtaposed with the destruction that this civilisation brought upon itself...  And yet life endures, striving to create something better than this horror.  Despair, longing and optimism saturate the Wasteland and lend a kind of nobility to many of its inhabitants. 

Or, to summarise all of this in a short sentence - Fallout 4 is going to rock, dude.

*This isn't easy to do, when all of the player interactions are clunky, the graphics are painfully lo-res, the colour pallete is a muddy mixture of greys and browns and all of the characters and creatures are weirdly stiff and robotic.  It's also true that many fans of the original Fallout games absolutely hated Fallout 3, for reasons too various to go into here.  Suffice to say that many video game fans don't agree with my opinion on why Fallout 3 succeeded and that this post will cause hoots of derision, if it attracts their attention.

**I've long suspected that the hardship of existence in this type of fiction makes it easier for viewers/readers to sympathise with the characters but if it was that easy to pull off, there wouldn't be quite so many failed attempts.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Time Will Tell

So the first draft of history is in and it looks like it's written off Tony Blair's slapstick attempt at playing Middle East peace envoy for the quartet as a failure.  And if we assume that the purpose of "the peace envoy" is to foster harmony and amity between bitter enemies, then I suppose that it has been.

If, on the other hand, you see the main duties of the peace envoy as being

- Giving speeches to Israeli political organisations reassuring them that their opinions are wholly correct and need only to be sold a little more savvily, and issuing the occasional solemn tut-tut noise whenever their government starts smashing up Gaza again, and

- Noisily finger-wagging everyone who will listen about how the best thing to do at any point is whatever the White House wants them to do, and

- Maintaining the reputation of Mr Tony Blair as a political titan, by giving him a suitably statesmanlike backdrop to stand against...

...Well, then I'd say that Tony's tenure has been a rip-roaring success. 

Similarly, there are a lot of LOLS to be had today in comparing Tony's lofty rhetoric to the paltry progress of the peace process, but this surely only works if you assume that "peace" is the point of the process.

Again, if you think that the purpose of having a peace envoy is to convince the Israelis and the Palestinians to come together and to thrash out a painful but mutually-beneficial solution to their neverending pissfight, then Tony has been comically useless.

Mind you, if the actual purpose of the envoy is to make a big, empty song and dance about how you're just questing for peace like a motherfucker, while occasionally squirting a soupcon of legitimacy onto a fairly bare-faced attempt to deliver as many of the Israelis' core desires as possible, so that they incur the minimum amount of meaningful international resistance possible...

...Then I'd say that Tony's tenure has again been a barnstorming triumph, effortlessly achieving all of the key goals that he was set. 

And there's actually a way to measure which of these roles Tony was tasked with fulfilling.  We can look back to 2007 and compare what Tony said he wanted to do, and then compare it to what he actually did do, all the while assuming that he did what he always wanted to do throughout. 

He said he wanted to "try to give effect to what is now the consensus across the international community - that the only way of bringing stability and peace to the Middle East is the two-state solution".  A more modest goal than it may at first sound, given that it's a vow to "try" to do some shit that people think is, like, right.

And what did he do? 

Well, let's just say that he spent rather more time in Tel Aviv telling the locals that they needed to deploy more effective propaganda, than he did banging heads together around the negotiating table, kicking ass and taking names.

All of which suggests to me that far from being seen as a failure, Tony is going to be hailed as a hero in Washington and can now surely walk into whatever thinktank or diplomatic mission he wishes to bless with his patronage.

Time will tell whether I'm right about that, I suppose. 

Friday, May 22, 2015

Humping The Shark

This guy, talking about the latest Game Of Thrones uproar*, is both spot on and spectacularly unfair, I think.

To a certain extent, he's right to call the show basically pornographic, in that it's filled with hilariously gratuitous sex, nudity and cartoonish violence.  The show is ludicrously over-the-top even by comparison with the famously fighty-fucky book series that it's based upon, and that's a big part of why it's popular.  If the tone is perpetually adolescent then, well, I'd say that's not always a bad thing.

This isn't to say that the show doesn't feature some cracking drama, because it really does.  It usually attracts comparisons with The Lord of the Rings but I'd say it's the closest thing to I, Claudius** that I've seen in a long time.

From the outset, it established a huge ensemble cast of intriguingly flawed characters who each have clear aims and interests, then sent them off smashing into one another, causing chaos.  For a show that features dragons and magic, it's admirable how organic some of the plot and characterisation feels, and even the bloody cull of the cast towards the end of the third season didn't feel like shock for its own sake.  It felt like it could never have turned out any other way. 

And without dorking out entirely, I'll add that the most gripping scenes in it are quiet and conversational, as characters say their piece against a placid backdrop of unchewed scenery. Consider Charles Dance's first scene, which succinctly and effectively lays out Tywin Lannister's entire character and his domineering relationship with his children.  Or the compelling moment that can be summarised as blandly as - Jaime explains how he acquired his nickname.  Everyone could see Daenerys's Crowning Moment Of Awesome on the funeral pyre coming a mile off, but we all loved it anyway as a great payoff for everything that had come before.

Much of the cast is exemplary.  Peter Dinkelage has been rightly deluged with big-money film offers off the back of his performance, and Diana Rigg quietly steals every episode that she appears in.

Nonetheless, as the show has gone on, the interpersonal drama has waned and it's now relying on shock value and viciousness to keep the punters in their seats, with diminishing returns.  I'm seeing a few people now wondering why that is, and have a couple of ideas on that score...

- The first four seasons were based upon the best of George Martin's novels, back when his writing was relatively compact and his plots comparatively opaque and straightforward.

This season however is based upon the point where the series takes a sudden and baffling nosedive into what is, unfortunately, utter navelgazing bollocks.  Where once the plot was propelled forward by its own internal logic, now it stands around like it's waiting for a bus, scratching its testicles and thinking about what it wants for dinner.

Seriously, here's a brief, non-spoilery summary of A Feast For Crows and A Dance With Dragons:

- Cersei stands around a lot thinking about how pissed off and frustrated she is.
- Jaime wanders around a lot thinking about how pissed off and frustrated he is.
- Tyrion sails down a river getting pissed-up and thinking about how frustrated he is.
- Jon - pissed off, frustrated, wanders about.
- Sam - frightened, confused, wanders about.
- Arya - confused, frustrated, wanders about.
- Daenerys - frustrated, pissed off, wanders about.
- Boring new characters - frustrated, pissed off, wandering about.
- Most of the other interesting characters - Dead.

Etc etc.  I could go on, but you get the idea.  When all of your main characters are pissed off, frustrated and aimless, you can imagine the effect that this has on the reader.  These two books together must clock in at about three thousand pages and contain between them maybe four or five moments of actual conflict or drama.

Personally, I think this happened because Martin realised that the logic of his own premise meant he'd soon have to write massive battle scenes in which a beautiful silver-haired princess flies around on a dragon burning up ice zombies, and recoiled in horror at the prospect.  I think he decided instead that he'd have a bash at writing the Great American Novel, vastly broadening his scope and turning his entertainingly hokey swords-and-tits action series into an extended meditation on power, war and man's eternal inhumanity to man***.

And this is how we've wound up with e.g. last week's gratuitous rape scene.  Even cutting out enormous chunks of the dull source material, the writers are left with only a few dramatic moments to play with.  Rather than use their imaginations a little, it looks like they've decided to stick with what they have and milk it for shock effect.

This is pretty bad news, and doesn't bode well.

- And let's face it, the elephant in the room here is HBO, the production company.  Recall that when HBO writers were asked to depict Cleopatra in Rome, they decided that the best thing to do would be to make the famed Queen of Egypt an opium-sucking nymphomaniac, with predictable results.

All that needs to be said here is that if HBO were going to remake Every Which Way But Loose, the Clint character would definitely fuck the orangutan in the first episode.


All of which is a roundabout way of saying that, if you ever find yourself asking Why did event (x) happen in Game of Thrones, the answer is probably that the writers couldn't think of anything better to do.

I don't doubt that the show will still be entertaining and exciting in future but really, I think its best days are behind it...  Although they really were very good days, at the time. 

*The current controversy is basically the same as the last i.e. the delight that the show's writers seem to take in having their characters sadistically rape and abuse each other, and whether it's acceptable for such things to be used for shock effect in what is, ultimately, just entertainment.

As always happens in such situations, the public's response can be divided into (mainly but not entirely female) outrage;  thick lads honking on about how Bitches Be Crazy LOL, and the majority of viewers who think it's just a TV show and aren't arsed to think on it further.  

The ladies are in the right on this one as it happens, although being right won't do them much good.  A quick Google search will turn up plenty of clever people explaining why, far more concisely than I could.

**Seriously - would a scene like this look much out of place in Westeros?  Would Caligula, Livia, Tiberius or Sejanus clash with the overall tone?  And even if most of the depravity and mayhem is offpage in both the Graves book and the BBC drama, I doubt there's anyone who didn't take vicarious pleasure in Uncle Claudius executing some sense into the Roman aristocracy. 

***And, as you'll have gathered, man's inhumanity to woman.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Why (x) Means That We Should Support My Politics - Part Two

And so to Scotland, where Tony Blair is probably right to say that Labour, or anyone else for that matter, will never win the electorate back by being "more Scottish" or "more left".

The ludicrous irony is that in many ways*, Labour are "more left" than the Nats and my new Scottish National Party MP is an Australian.  Seriously, she once had a bit-part in Home & Away

Nonetheless, this is irrelevant.  It makes no difference at all whether e.g. the few actually redistributionist measures in the SNP manifesto were copied and pasted from the Labour one.

What matters here is that the SNP have retained the entire 45% of those who voted Yes in the referendum, and added to them.  Barring a series of catastrophic SNP mistakes, they're never coming back to the parties that they once voted for.  Once Scottish voters decide that they fancy independence, it's almost impossible to convince them otherwise. 

The brief explanation for all this is that most of the Scottish electorate have finally tired of waiting for the Labour/Lib Dem/Whatever Parties that they've always wanted, and have decided instead that they can make a better fist of it themselves.  Possibly, the surprising thing here is that it took this long to happen.

God knows, I find their patter annoying, but I urge anyone who can to speak to the new SNP voters and to ask them why they think the Nationalists are a good choice.

None of them are much arsed about e.g. Ed Miliband, but almost all of them will raise the Iraq War and the various porkies it was sold with; Labour's intense relaxation about the filthy rich, and the party's craven fellation of Tory/Ukip voters throughout England.

They believe that they'll never, ever get the policies that they want, if they have to wait around for Labour or any other UK party to deliver them.

Even I think they're right about this** but really, it makes no difference whether they're right or wrong.  They believe it and they're going to continue voting like they believe it, for decades at least. 

And it's not like this has snuck up on us unexpectedly, but it looks like it still needs spelling out.  If Labour members want the current political situation up here summarised in one sentence, it goes like this:   

The New Labour project has just cost you Scotland, your most reliable core support, probably forever.  

Which is precisely why Tony Blair and his ilk should all drink a tall glass of shut-the-fuck-up right about now, rather than offering us their views on how best to win back voters north of the Border.

Because none of this is news - all of this is exactly what Yes voters were telling pollsters last year, and what they said consistently right up until election day.  And as best I can tell, few of the other parties seem to have believed that it was actually true.

And it showed, this last couple of months.  It's difficult to overstate the shambolic nature of Scottish Labour's campaign, but you can get an insight here.  The first big point to note is that its leader Jim Murphy started out with the criminally insane strategy of trying to out-Scottish the Scottish National Party.

In short, this amounted to wandering around making a big song and dance about representing the interests of the Scottish people of Scotland and the Scottish services that Scottish people wanted to see in Scotland and Scotland and Scotland.

And - amazingly, astoundingly! - it turned out that none of the new SNP voters wanted to buy Jim Murphy's low-alcohol lager version of what they could get tastier and sexier by doing Jagermeister shots round at Nicola Sturgeon's house.

This is, in part, because Jim Murphy is almost the perfect avatar of the New Labour machine.  Watching him work is like a chapter from a second-rate Neil Gaiman novel, in which somebody crams the abstract concept of Insincerity into a grey suit, pins a red rosette on it and has it wander the streets shaking hands and smiling like a hungry velociraptor.

Never mind failing to connect with voters, or getting across the message that you're all Scottish, eh no.  Murphy seemed to struggle with the basic task of impersonating an actual real human being.

But to repeat myself, the larger problem is this.  These SNP voters don't want Labour or anyone else to come up with new ways to defend Scottish public services.  They don't want "a new relationship with the UK".

What they want is for those parties to fuck off

Scotland already has a nationalist party.  If voters are telling you that they want an independent Scotland and you have no intention of giving them that, then why in the name of sanity would you think that they'll prefer your jibber-jabber to a party that actually will try to deliver them what they want?

Labour, the Lib Dems et al see Scotland as just one part of the United Kingdom.  They find the idea that someone in Edinburgh obviously has more interests in common with, say, an Aberdonian than they do with another person who lives 45 miles away in Berwick-Upon-Tweed, absolutely ridiculous.

And that's fine!  It is fucking ridiculous!  But if you want anyone to even half-respect you for saying so, you can't also lard it up with a lot of argle-bargle about how you're totally going to stick up for Scotland against the party that you yourself are campaigning on behalf of.

50% of the electorate is obviously unassailable, so it's going to be a long, long time before anyone else wins a major election in Scotland.  In the main, this is because most of the country believes that the non-nationalist parties are a shower of liars and frauds.

The best way to change this situation is to stop pandering by telling voters what you think they want to hear, and to start telling them what you actually think***.

The other option is to dig in your heels and stand around repeating yourself, hoping that your foes will eventually crush themselves under the weight of their own considerable contradictions.  Good luck with that strategy, folks.


*Although in some other ways, they definitely aren't, depending on how we're defining "left".

**I also think they're entirely wrong that throwing their lot in with the SNP will get them the better, more humane country that they want and have said so repeatedly, but it doesn't matter shit what I think about it.

***Step one, to be taken immediately, today - for the love of Christ, fire Jim Murphy.  Labour doesn't need to give Murphy more time to recalibrate his message.  It needs to give him a bottle of whisky and a revolver.

Why (x) Means That We Should Support My Politics - Part One

So, a slim Tory majority it is, and it's impossible to see this as anything other than a mandate for five years of greatly increased viciousness, legislative insanity and crackdowns on phantom problems.  

Assuming that you support policies that are at least mildly humane and would prefer to make Britain a more pleasant place to live, rather than nudging it closer to becoming a series of Croesus-rich gated communities surrounded by a churning ocean of mutual suspicion and recrimination...  Well, it's a screaming disaster.  

It's such a screaming disaster, in fact, that it's going to take two posts for me to make a case for Why Everyone Should Now Agree That It's Time To Support My Politics. 

To England and Wales first of all, where it's long been obvious that a substantial section of the electorate isn't at all interested in programmes that will make their own lives better, but are very keen indeed on vows to smash everyone else into jammy paste. 

Even up here in our supposedly socialist, humanitarian Scottish enclave, there are hundreds of thousands of people who think like this, drawn from every class and creed.  

I've met numerous single mothers and low-wage workers who go to the polls to ask for more violent beatdowns on workshy neds, only to receive even shittier treatment themselves as a direct result, and then return five years later to ask for even more violent beatdowns on workshy neds. Scotland is full of towns and villages where you'll hardly see a non-white face, and yet their inhabitants will regale you for hours about the tidal wave of immigrants blighting their lives.  

And let's not get into a rammy about how this is the fault of, like, the media, innit.  Nobody's forcing anyone to visit the Mail's website every day or to watch Benefits Street, yo.  

People who keep telling you that they want spiteful, resentful policies are going to vote for the most spiteful and resentful candidates that they can find.  And that's in Scotland, where we're all repeatedly told how garrulous and fucking friendly we are, rather than down south where fewer people bother to pretend.

These people don't want Labour or the Lib Dems or the Greens or anyone else, for that matter, to offer a fairer benefits system or to tackle crime* more aggressively.   They don't want to hear those parties' plans for "new controls on immigration", or for anything else. 

What they want is to elect the meanest, most sadistic motherfuckers that they can find, and for all of the touchy-feely parties to fuck off.  

I can't say this strongly enough - if certain voters keep telling you that they want you to turn the DWP into the Gestapo and seal the borders, and you have no intention of doing either, then why in the name of God would you imagine that those voters will prefer your proposals to those of the parties that will beat the poor and shut out all the immigrants? 

Even worse, when you try to court these voters by going on TV and vowing to personally behead seven Romanian benefits claimants a day or whatever, you are alienating your own core voters, potentially forever.  

The viciousness voters will never believe that you're serious, and your own voters always will.  Whatever you gain on the swings of Robust Policies For Hard-Working Families, you immediately lose on the roundabouts of basic human decency.  

Which tells me that the best thing to do is much like that hackneyed piece of advice for getting girls to like you - be yourself, act natural, don't try too hard by faking it.  It's easier to convince people that you're being truthful if you're telling the truth, you see?  

And I'm not even talking about, oh, renationalising the universe here.  I'm saying that you should do what you think is right, and not just what you think people will want to hear.  Sales jobs are a lot easier if you believe that you're selling a good product and - call me hopelessly naive, if you will - I've always found that sincerity has a way of selling itself.

When most people can spot a fraud, putting on an act becomes counter-productive.  I'd say that it's better to just be what you are and to do your best to try to bring the electorate to you.   And if they never come on board, well, at least you'd be able to look at yourself in the mirror.**

Which brings me to yesterday's statement by Tony Blair in which, if I can do great violence to his argument, he is basically saying - if Labour wants to win again, it must stand around noisily advocating for a more polished version of Thatcherism-lite and threatening to kill the workshy, in the hope that sooner or later, the Tories will make an arse of governing.  

And you know, he's probably correct about that, but it calls to mind one of the best descriptions of Littlefinger in Game of Thrones - He would see this country burn, if he could but be king of the ashes.  

It may be true that the quickest, easiest path to power is by triangulating and modernising and all of those other funky-sounding strategies that basically mean "doing the very opposite of what your party is supposed to do".

Whether there will be anything worth governing left at the end of it, that's the question I'm more interested in. 

Next up - Scotland, where the scale of this disaster is actually worse, if anything.


*One of the strangest things about this election, and possibly the last one too - crime was barely an issue.  As you'll recall, crime used to be front and centre, but no longer.  I suspect that this is because the electorate have been fapping so hard, for so long, at the far more hardcore issues of immigration and terrorism that frankly, even the most erotic of stories about serial burglars and muggers and so on are now too vanilla for most folk to work up even a semi-rager.

**Note here that I'm not a member of any political party and I'll probably never be one.  If you are one yourself, then feel free to take my advice, or to immediately bin it.  I'm usually surprised when anyone listens to me for five seconds, and I don't expect any of my suggestions to ever catch on.