Scotland, Bombs and Book Sales – Speed Blog.

stopwatch

I’ve got too little time and too many possible topics to write about this week, so I’m going to attempt a speed blog. From the start of the next sentence, I will attempt to cover the title subjects in 30 minutes writing time (which will be a lot shorter reading time). As I finish this paragraph, my computer clock reads 10.35am. You will just have to believe me… and my time starts… now!

Scotland

So they said ‘No’ then, and what happened? Almost immediately the hastily compiled promises that swayed the debate started to unwind and become compounded with much wider, and much more complicated matters, of regional and national devolution. The leaders of the ‘No’ campaign claimed an ‘emphatic’ victory. Emphatic? I think just scraping 56% of the voting population is far from emphatic, which is described by Google as ‘expressing something forcibly and clearly’. I think a better adjective to use would have been ‘adequate’ preceded by ‘just about’.

That said, they did win, and for those of us who were up for a bit of constitutional mayhem (shake em all up, I say), we can at least hope that if the millionaire white English boys go back on their promises, we will get our shake up, but in a much less organised and civil way.

I’m running out of time for this section (10.41am), so I will finish by saying that I actually like some of the ideas about devolved powers to regions and nations within the UK. As I said, anything that just goddamn changes things around here has to be welcome as a start. But no one can promise anything about how things are going to work, because no one, as I am aware, has the power to look into the future. So if we start getting asked questions about constitutional reform, just remember, no one really knows, no one will really ever know. If we don’t go for it at some point, we will never find out, and things will stay the same, suiting the few at the cost of the many. They will try and scare us, threaten us and bully us into keeping things the same. Sod them. Time’s up. Next!

Bombs.

Two nights ago America started bombing Syria. Not just any old bit of Syria, specifically the bits with ISIL/IS/ISA/whoever the hell it is they are meant to be fighting in it. Of course, that’s how bombs work, they are discriminate, with excellent targeting that in no way kill innocent people.

It’s hard to speak up against this latest round of violence because of the stark and shocking news stories of hostages and beheadings that have been drip fed out of the region over the last few weeks. It is all equally as saddening to me. The violence on both sides sickens and disappoints me. Already we have an American General warning that this will be a ‘long and sustained’ conflict. That is the headline story on our public news channel. Why would they want us to know that? Why would they want their enemy to know that they think it is going to be a hard and complicated campaign. It hardly strikes fear into an adversary to tell them that you don’t think you are up to the task of a decisive victory. For some reason, there must always be a campaign of western intervention in the Middle East. As one ends, another starts.

That’s not to say that there isn’t a genuine crisis going on in Syria, but it is so intrinsically linked with what Western leaders have done in the past, is throwing more violence at it really going to help? Earlier this year, ‘peace prize’ Obama announced he was arming the ‘moderate’ Syrian rebels in the fight against Assad. There was much mirth about the definition of ‘moderate’ rebel fighters. Some ridiculous amount of US dollars and military support was pumped into the region. Within weeks this name-changing group had emerged and apparently ran a line through Iraq and Syria with superior force and the ability to take, control, and sell oil for millions of dollars a day on the international market (who exactly is buying it from them?). I wonder if the two things are connected?

Time’s nearly up for this section. Needless to say, I am sceptical about the whole campaign, and soon we will be joining in (Cameron is recalling parliament this Friday). Great. More life and public money wasted. They can’t help themselves. Not for a moment do I believe their primary objectives are for humanitarian reasons. Not for a blink of an eye.

Right! 10.54am, leaving me 11 minutes to write the next bit and check it over!

Book Sales.

As I’m sure readers will know, I published my book ‘The Dimension Scales and Other Stories’ earlier this year (April 22nd to be precise). It has been an equally exciting and harrowing experience. I realise now that the internet, while being the great connector, is also like a massive public shopping centre full of closed doors. Anyone can have a premises, but getting people to look into it and see what you’ve got on offer is a lot easier said than done.

The book has received good reviews, but moderate sales. It is extremely hard to get it noticed and circulated in a market that is swamped with titles. This isn’t deterring me though, but it does mean I have to try various strategies and spend nearly as much time marketing as I did writing the thing in the first place. Add to that the fact that I am trying to get my next book written, and occasionally I end up having little breakdowns. (nothing serious, just artistic fear and loathing).

So! The latest round of attempts is to reduce the price again and see what happens. Some authors give their books away for free to get noticed and build an audience – I’m not quite there yet, but is now available for a mere $0.99 or 77p.

The advert for the book is on the top right of this screen – it takes you to the Amazon page, but the book is available on iTunes, Barnes & Noble, Nook and Kobo. If you haven’t had a look, please do. And if you think it looks a bit interesting, why not buy it and find out? Or failing that, share it with a few people and see what they think. This whole ‘going viral’ thing isn’t a natural phenomenon. People will spend lots and lots of time and money in some cases, to get noticed. I would like to think that this can happen by mutual support alone, without the need for spamming and expensive advertising.

If anyone has any networks or channels that can help me get this ‘out there’ please let me know or just feel free to do so. I have quite a strong Twitter following and am happy to mutually exchange links and shout-out’s to those who have a creative endeavour of their own (within reason – no explicit or gratuitous material. You would be surprised how much of that is being peddled).

End.

And that’s it! The clock says 11.03am, so I will sign off with two minutes spare and do the fastest editing ever. I hope you’ve enjoyed my speed blog and I apologise if it is a little rougher around the edges than usual!

Goodbye.

 

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Syria. A good day for democracy?

A funny thing happened when I came to write this blog last week. I had just written my (now previous) blog on out TV viewing habits (available here: https://garryabbott.wordpress.com/2013/08/31/the-rise-and-demise-of-the-boxed-set/), but felt unable to post it due to certain more serious stuff going on in the world. The blog was all ready to go but it just felt exceptionally unnecessary at the time when we were poised on the edge of another conflict. So, I decided to shelve the fluff blog and look at Syria, see if I couldn’t get some thoughts together.

It was the day of the commons vote, and I was trying to pick my way through the bafflement of it all. I was (and still am) acutely aware of the myriad voices speaking on the matter, most of which carry more authority and knowledge on the issue. So, I didn’t want to add another opinion piece, pulled out of thin air, to the strata of loose opinion that is already out there, and instead decided to look specifically at the question itself, the question being:

What do I think about Syria? (specifically, what can I think?)

Bearing in mind that this was before the surprise vote last Thursday that ruled us out of conflict in the UK, I will paraphrase here some of the notes I made from the never-released blog (and when I say notes, I am literally trying to read my own hand-writing). Following this, I shall just offer a little update, now I know what happened last week.

***

(original blog, Thursday 29th August, afternoon)

The question isn’t what do other people think about Syria, the question is what do I think about it?

At this point I am totally flooded by a sense of ignorance, resorting to snippets and tit-bits gleamed from the news and other people’s social feeds.

A vocabulary emerges for people who like me, have not specifically researched the issue but who have rather ‘allowed’ the research to find them semi-distracted and sub-consciously absorbent.

The words that spring to mind immediately are:

Assad, regime, rebels, Damascus, terrorists, Islam, oil, Turkey … And now (with this latest development), chemical weapons, UN, resolutions, weapons inspectors, arms, Russia, China, allies, USA, Obama, Hans Blix, intelligence and so on.

But what do I think about Syria?! To be honest, I know next to nothing about it, and what I do know, I only think I know. I’m not getting all philosophical, metaphysical about it or denying reality here, it’s just true.

So, I could say that the Western interests are forcing its hand to intervene in the ‘civil war’, and that the stability of oil supplies and wider business interests in the region is actually closer to the true motive for intervention than any humanitarian concern. But I have this niggling feeling that Syria (like Libya) are not huge sources of oil production, or tactically as important as say Iraq or Afghanistan. But I don’t know any of this, I can’t even cite my sources.

Another possibility is that our leaders really do ‘draw the line’ on the use of chemical weapons, as hypocritical as that seems to me. I could justify this idea though, because I can imagine how the rich and powerful could foster a twisted morality whereby the reasons and the scale by which you kill people become less important that the means by which you do so. A kind of honour-amongst-thieves scenario. Yes, we happily go around killing civilians, but with drones and missiles, not with gas. Etc..

But I can’t be sure, who can other than the handful of people making these decisions? And even then, if they are ‘convincing themselves’ in order to make the organised killing of humans more palatable to their conscience, how can we trust that there thinking is clear and reasonable?

Another problem is that I can find a counter claim to every accusation made by our leaders, simply be reading the retorts of the involved parties. When a spokesman from the Assad regime says this whole thing is a set-up by the West to draw them into conflict, why shouldn’t I believe them? I’m not saying I do, but it’s not like the CIA haven’t created or encouraged ‘trigger’ events before, so why shouldn’t we entertain the idea that they are doing it again? After all, if the regime don’t want to be bombed into tiny pieces by the West (and I’m guessing they don’t), why would they do the one thing that looks certain to guarantee it? It would almost make sense for the none-specific ‘rebels’ to stage this, in order to bring about this set of circumstances. But who knows? I don’t.

Given the thought process I’ve just briefly set out, are our MPs really able to make such informed choices? If they deny evidence produced by those who rule them and want war, would they not be branded unreasonable and risk losing the little power they have been allowed to keep?

If an answer is incompatible with any logical puzzle, it cannot be a solution to anything. A bit like ‘Jeopardy’, the American game show where the answer is stated and then the question must be guessed. But in this version, the question and answer must constitute a positive truth. So the answer could never be ‘a unicorn’, because the only question could be ‘name a mythical flying horse’, which would constitute a myth, a negative reality as such. For me, ‘war’ as we know it (not self-defence), will never be the answer to a positive reality question. It will never justify any possible question that can be asked. This is why no amount of thinking or debate, or evidence, should ever lead us logically to military intervention. Which leaves us only with other factors, less honourable intentions.

***

So that was my blog, but I decided to wait for the vote before posting it, and as I guess you know, our house of commons voted against any military action in Syria. Big hooray yeah? I think so, but then…

It was hard to fathom at first, as I sat listening to the live house of commons session. An amendment was made to the bill by Labour, specifically Ed Miliband, that called for a second vote at a later time once the weapons inspectors had actually finished their task of you know, inspecting weapons. I must admit at this point I was confused, having been out all day and only just sat down to hear the process, I wasn’t aware of the structure of debate. As far as I could tell, whatever happened, there would be a second vote after the UN had published its findings, which I thought was at least better for our elected representatives to make an informed choice.

So, as I listened, Nick (what-is-the-point-of-me) Clegg was defending/explaining (badly) how it would work if a second vote was needed, and quite rightly being questioned by a stream of confused MPs as to why a need for the first vote, if a second vote was going to happen anyway. As usual, the pointless voice of Clegg evaded and danced around the question, while constantly assuring them that the result of the first vote wouldn’t be taken as licence to act. So why the vote at all? I wondered, as did most of the house, it seems.

Then, the house withdrew to vote on the amended version, and the amendment was defeated. Immediately the house withdrew to vote on the original bill, and it was only at this point I started to grasp that this meant no second vote, if this was passed, we were as good as signing up for the conflict. I tried to reconcile why it was then that I had just heard Clegg defending Miliband’s own amendment to his own party members, but before I could unpick this, the vote came back and the original bill was also defeated! Cameron said one of the most clear things I have heard him say, that it was obvious the house didn’t want to take action and that he would therefore respect that, and that was that. No war!

But wait! Was this a victory for Miliband? Well, no. If his amended bill had of gone through, the vote for war would have happened again the next week, which by then, no doubt, plenty of ‘compelling’ evidence would have been compiled. So Miliband, Clegg and Cameron all had a position that led us to war/intervention, whatever you want to call it (killing people, basically). It was only the surprise overturning of both bills, by rebels in both parties I expect, that prevented all our leaders (opposition and all) from getting what they wanted. Conflict.

So now, am I meant to be happy with this? I get a suspicious shudder when I think that actual ‘democracy’ happened last week, because I have learned not to trust the power people, and now don’t know if I should just be happy, or wary. I’m certainly weary.

I can’t shake the feeling that something good happened, but that there will be repercussions. And I don’t mean, more chemical attacks etc… Conflict is conflict, solving it with conflict, that doesn’t add up. I mean, in our processes that allowed us to actually say ‘no’ this time. And then (the even more suspicious side of me) worries that this was engineered in order to show a glimmer of democratic control at a time when so much vile and damaging domestic policy is being shoe-horned in against the will of so many people, and no real opposition exists. But hey, at least we aren’t going to lob some missiles at another country right?

What has happened to me that makes me think everything our governments do is so suspicious? Even when it is something I want? Is it me? Is it paranoia?

No. I don’t think so. I am perfectly able to conceive of a world where the kind of inequalities I see, the kind that lead to conflict, disease and death, are not present. And in this world, the only factor that is different, is the lack of the ‘kind’ of people that are running things currently, and the systems that support them and that they utilise, i.e. massive financial backing. Sorry, MASSIVE FINANCIAL BACKING and access to machines of war, that just isn’t made available to the rest of us, because if it were, we just wouldn’t accept the lots we have been granted, across the world.

That’s what I think of Syria, I think. I hope that the suffering is alleviated by greater wisdom than we seem to posses at the moment. I hope that ‘Nobel peace prize’ Obama is defeated in his congress vote to happen soon, but I guess he won’t be. I hope we do not get consistent with the shame and pressure we should be pouring on all the leaderships of our democracy who tried so sneakily to dupe us into conflict, and that we stand up more often to be counted against the multitude of sins that are taking place both at home and abroad by people who would convince us they are helping us, while they are really feeding off us.

But then, I hope a lot of things.

 

The death of a script & knowing when to move on.

After my absence (ten days in Menorca don’t you know, with a few days of sloth either side), I thought I would kick off my blog entries again with a little more about rejection. Ah, rejection, my old friend.

                You see, dealing with rejection comes hand in hand with life anyway, but I’ve found even more so when trying to pursue a career in the creative arts. I’m sure you will have at some point heard the familiar story of a now-famous author who collected rejection letters by the box load, the pop and rock stars that were turned down by some retrospectively stupid talent scout. Well, that’s because it’s true no doubt. There must be a handful of people who tried something first time and were given licence to continue by some purse-string, but I would guess it is the few, not the many.

                The more important question I’ve found is how you deal with it and what you make of it. There seems to be a number of stages and responses that occur, whether you like it or not, normal, human responses to someone telling they don’t think you (or your work) is good enough:

DenialYes it is good enough! The person has obviously had a taste transplant or wasn’t paying close attention! They have all the potential-spotting potential of a grapefruit!

Woe Oh god. It’s not good enough. I’m not good enough, basically. I may as well give up on everything, ever.

ResolveSo, one person doesn’t think it’s good enough? I need to try someone else then. Do I trust the future of my work to one person I’ve never met, who for all I know, didn’t even read/hear/see the thing? Keep on at it.

AcceptanceYeah. It isn’t good enough. I need to start again and make it or the next project better.

                Can you guess which two of the above are my recommended options in this situation? That’s right, resolve and acceptance (in that order – resolve has to give way to acceptance eventually, if rejection is still happening). Not saying that I’ve eliminated denial and woe, they are instinctive reactions, you can’t stop them, but you can deal with them.

                To use an example that spurred me into writing this brief exploration of rejection, I’ve just had two rejections for the same sit-com script from two different production houses.

                The first was the BBC. They have a submission window twice a year now where you can send off your scripts for any genre/platform, along with the thousands of others, and hope it progresses through the review stages. First stage, where 80% of all submissions fail, is a scan through the first ten pages. If nothing jumps out, slaps the readers face, tweaks their nose and says ‘I’m fresh, unique and exemplary!” – you won’t get past this stage. Which is fair enough. This is the stage my script failed at. Which again, is fair enough. After this stage, if you are lucky, the remaining 20% of submissions get filtered further by more detailed reading and second opinions, and they are eventually left with just 1% being taken further, and even then there is no guarantee it will get past the first development meeting and even get made.

                Unfortunately, being one of thousands rejected at stage one, you get absolutely no feedback, other than the generic ‘don’t be disheartened, it just didn’t grab out attention this time etc…’. So, I have no specific advice to build on here. I understand why they can’t offer this though, they really do have a lot of scripts to read.

                The second rejection I received was from an independent production house, responsible for most of the better radio comedy on BBC4 at the moment, and a huge chunk of the television comedy legacy to come out of the rallying, alternative 80’s and beyond. This was what I like to call positive rejection. I received a letter, specific to me, referencing my script name and the characters in it, with actual feedback about the reasons for not wanting to take it on.

                Before I go into those reasons, here is the programme synopsis, can you spot why it failed?

“Set in and around the offices of small-town weekly newspaper ‘The Herald’ in the fictional market town of ‘Dulton’ in the Midlands. The Herald and its small team are thrown into turmoil with the arrival of a new editor, Barry Barryson, an American with a mysterious past who seems to have walked straight out of the ‘Daily Planet’ and into rural England. Barryson wants sex, scandal and scoops, but these things are in short supply in a town where planning application for a new lamp-post is front page news.

                Senior journalist James Boon is the old guard of an easy life and easy journalism. The arrival of Barryson rocks his world, and he doesn’t like it. Together with his junior journalist Erica Roberts and photographer Steveo Brough, he is determined to oust Barryson or at the very least, ignore him and his crazy ideas and hope he eventually goes away. In the meantime however, the paper must go on! That cow that thinks he’s a horse won’t interview himself.

                 ‘The Herald’ will revolve around the main cast of Boon, Erica and Steveo while Barryson wanders in and out of the action with frantic speeches and bizarre ideas that set the pace and story of the action. It will focus on the dynamic between the core cast within the coverage of the various twee local news stories that arise in Dulton. Other characters will come in as necessary for each storyline, but never at the expense of the core cast who will drive the episodes with their banter and reflections on events, rather than being overly ‘situation’ based. Boon is the dominant voice, the real leader of the group, who believes himself to be senior in both years and wit to his junior colleagues. In this he is at least half right, but as with all great schemers, his plans often go awry.

                In this pilot episode we are introduced to the cast through the arrival of Barryson and the reactions of the existing staff. Future episodes will continue to run the core plotline of Boon’s attempt to oust or avoid Barryson, while introducing individual plots based on various overblown local news stories.

                This idea was inspired by a weekly newspaper in a small town where I used to live that literally ran an article once on a cow that thought it was a horse. It was published weekly, so if anything exciting really did happen, you had to wait a week to read about it. This paper and others like it are a constant source of comedy plots so I think ‘The Herald’ has potentially a long life-span without fear of falling into cliché and forced situations.

                Coupled with a vibrant dynamic between the main characters and their individual stories, I believe this is a formula for a successful radio comedy along the lines of BBC Radio 4’s ‘Cabin Pressure’, and will appeal to a similar demographic.”

                Okay, so without the actual script to read (available on request by the way), maybe this isn’t enough to go on, but I will give you a clue – it was the crazy American editor. At least, that was one of the reasons cited in the rejection letter. His presence, his character, just wasn’t ‘believable’, I’m told, and I agree.

                The positive feedback I received was that the opening scene was ‘better than most’ and made the producer laugh. The opening scene featured the existing staff of the newspaper talking amongst themselves, and as I was writing it, I felt at ease with the dynamic. Unfortunately, this scene led up to the arrival of the new crazy American editor, bursting into their lives, and basically disrupting my easy dynamic and setting the tone-o-meter to ‘whacky’.

                This may have worked for other production houses – think of the IT crowd with the two bosses (played by Chris Morris and Matt Berry respectively). They were both ‘whacky’, ‘whirlwind’ characters who owned all their scenes and scoffed in the face of believability… but it wasn’t the producers of ‘The IT crowd’ I had sent this to, and even if I had, would they want to pursue another show with that kind of force present in it, having done it so well already?

                So do I re-write (again) this script sans whacky American editor? No. I don’t think so. I think it’s time to move on. This was only my second attempt at a sit-com pilot script, which I had already adapted from a TV script to Radio, figuring that the overheads of radio production would make it more likely to get looked at (a tip I still think is correct). The original TV version had its own round of rejections some time ago, and all in all, this idea is now a few years old and it’s sad to see it limping to its demise, one rejection letter at a time, when I could just take it out back, and blow its brains out.

                I have reached acceptance, and now it is time for something new, learning the lessons that this script has taught me, absorbing the advice of the industry professionals who have offered it, wrapped as it was in rejection, and pouring this into the next project. Of course, this script will lurk in the background, and may even surface again one day, but even if not, it will be just as important as my successes, for it will have informed them and shaped them by its negative presence.

                I suppose there is some kind of metaphor in there for more important things in life, but that wasn’t the point, but if you want it, take it… I don’t care. Eat my metaphor.

                Thanks for reading.

                Ps – If anyone wants to read the script of ‘the Herald’ – please message me. You are welcome.

                P.ps – If any ‘budding’ writers are reading this, one thing I need to mention, while this script was being submitted and I was waiting for a response, I didn’t sit idle – Sit-com scripts are just one aspect of my work, and the best advice I’ve heard when submitting work is to forget about it until you get your response. In the meantime I worked on several other projects, and that is the key. There’s no point writing one thing and then waiting for several weeks or months to find out it has been rejected. Send it, move on, send it, move one and so on. 

The slippery slopes of privacy and data.

“If you haven’t done something wrong, then there’s nothing to worry about.”

We’ve all heard that right? When there’s a debate or a scandal happening about privacy or identity, like the emerging saga of the ‘Prism’ systems in the USA that have been harvesting our private data and allegedly been giving access to our intelligence services, thereby circumnavigating the legal process we have in this country for access to private data.

It seems like such a straightforward rebuke, a simple piece of logic. If you haven’t done anything wrong, or are not planning to do something wrong, then why should you be worried about the idea of the state accessing your private communications? At the end of the day, all they are going to find is that your ‘data’ is innocuous, innocent interactions about your daily life, of no consequence to national security.

The problem, for the unthinking who take this view, is that what we decided is ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ when it comes to the state, and whether we are subject to the authority of each and every law, is one of the oldest and most highly debated topics of philosophy, because it is one of the oldest and most highly debated issues that exists in humanity as we know it. Questions like, “why should we obey the state?”, “Who gave them authority over us (and when)?”, “When did I agree to these conditions and give my consent?” are as old as Plato and beyond.

And they are very important questions that lead to very interesting, if not clear, answers. In the example of ‘Prism’ and its fight against terrorism by harvesting our data, a few imaginary scenarios should start to highlight the problem.

The first one I will call ‘The Extreme Inheritor’ problem. Simply put, at some point at a future election, an extreme party manages to secure power. By extreme, I mean a party that has hard-line views. They may have only been voted in on one issue, but now they are in control of the whole state functions. And what do they inherit? An infrastructure that allows them to gather, filter and view all our correspondences on all our various online interactions. How will they use this data? Even if we believe the current administration to be a fair and just custodian of this information, only using it for the kind of threats we agree with, how can we be sure the new keepers will do the same? They may want to search out sympathisers who stand against their extreme view (which by matter of degree, given their position, is highly likely), and bring sanctions against them. They may have a very different concept of justice than you do, and what you thought was right and wrong before, has become inverted or has significantly shifted.

The next ramification could be a ‘Temptation Shift in the Custodians’. In this scenario, the existing administration discover, naturally, the new powers available to them, the scope and possibilities that it brings. Now that they can conceive of and examine the new options that arise from the powers granted to them, they are at least aware of the possibilities. To find a suitable analogy, suspend your beliefs, or lack of, and think of it as a ‘road to paradise’ that we discover, but we also find that it runs through all the temptations of hell. Do we trust the current leaders to not give into the temptations, now they travel so close to them and are in touching distance? How long can they travel down the long road with the whispering demons promising spoils and temptations in such close proximity? Would it not have been better to find a road that does not run this way at all, or if unavoidable, only runs past hell on the least occasions? Even if this road is shorter, is it worth the risk?

The third and final possibility is the ‘bribery, threats and collusion problem’. I have seen defenders of this invasion of privacy making comments like “If the government look into my online communications, they will probably knock on my door and tell me to get a life!”. Basically saying that the majority of us live such dull and uninteresting lives that there can be no value in any data gathered. Who would care that you were visiting your elderly relative that day? Or that you have a new partner? Or that you work for a cheese factory? On the face of it, this data may seem innocuous enough, supposing that you believe your life will forever not be of worth, that the world may never change around you, and that you will never be in a position to be bribed or threatened. Say however, something does change (heaven forbid), and you become aware of some corporate negligence that had led to the deaths of your colleagues, and you wish to report this. If there was an interested party who would prefer you not to, they now know your family arrangements, your loved ones who you hold dear, and the extent to which you would go to protect them. This is a small example, and you may think, not very likely. But as we don’t know the future, as terrible things happen naturally and by design, to think ‘it will never happen to me’ is just ignorance. It may never happen to you, but I warrant that anyone can be in the ‘wrong place at the wrong time’ regardless of how boring a life they aspire to lead.

The objections I imagine, will be made along the lines of ‘checks and balances’. Some agents, above moral corruption, will conceive and enforce measures in order to prevent the powers being abused. Yes, we may sail close to the rocks, but a ‘reliable navigator’ will make sure we never stray too far. This objection has at least two faults.

In the case of the ‘Extreme Inheritor’, remaining with the nautical theme, we would have to rely on the mutineers who have now taken over the ship, maintaining the ‘reliable navigator’. The likelihood of this is as unclear as the agenda of any group we can imagine taking power in the future. Most, if not all, administrations usually start their terms in power by making any constitutional shifts to the frameworks they operate within, usually in order to favour themselves and their causes. Often these changes, concerning as they do a host of specific and convoluted legal and bureaucratic decree’s, go unnoticed by the general electorate, and like most decisions, are not passed by referendum. It is easy to imagine the extreme inheritor blatantly or subtlety removing the checks and balances that were designed to prevent them abusing powers.

The second objection to the ‘reliable navigator’ in the case of the ‘Temptation shift of the custodians’ practically runs along the same lines as the first, though may be less dynamic and as a result more subtle as the temptation shifts towards the new position. I would argue that this is the most likely and most worrying scenario, as unlike the ‘extreme inheritor’, a shift of this sort would necessarily be made gradually and secretly, so as to maintain custody of the powers without protest. The aim would be to almost imperceptibly degrade or transform the role of the ‘reliable navigator’ over time, until it is now only reliably navigating us down a route we didn’t originally want to follow.

A further objection would be the case of ‘statutory underpinning’ or something similar, that aims to ensure that no succeeding government can tinker or change the operations and positions of the ‘reliable navigator’. To make them ‘locked out’ like black-box technology, a kind of immovable and unchangeable moral foundation to wit all future humanity must adhere to. To this I would say that we are over-reaching our temporal influence. To imagine we can set dictates now for the future of humanity, that will last as truth beyond such a time as our own generations have long since perished, is an absurd notion. To put in motion a boulder down a mountain because we live at the top and our villages are well clear of it, when we have no knowledge of the life in the slopes below, is irresponsible, presuming you have any concern for the future of our race.

To briefly bring this back to the real world examples, we also have questions of security versus commercial interests. The material gathered about our lives will undoubtedly be of great commercial value to private enterprise. You may not be concerned about receiving tailor made adverts to your desktop based on your browsing habits (as happens already), but even so, what if this data sheds enough light on our group habits as to allow price-fixing models and the distortion of the market beyond what we already endure now? This is more a case for political science that philosophy, but it is worth mentioning here as another example of unforeseen consequences.

I hope here to have shown the folly of adopting the ‘greater security means less liberty’ argument by highlighting what high risks such a statement, at least in this case, could lead to – namely a reduction both in security and liberty. It has too great a capacity to be ultimately self-defeating and we should not set such a risky precedent. If it has already began, as it seems to have been, it should be reversed immediately before these risks can be manifest.

Lobby versus Lobby. My guide to Lobby.

Firstly, some definitions:

Lobby (n, Food):

A hearty stew often made from the leftovers of previous meals and any vegetables that are in danger of going out of date if not used. A low cost and efficient use of ingredients, popular in the North of England for those on a budget, or those who just want to make the most of what they have.

Lobby (v):

An apparently legitimate practice of accepting payments or other benefits in kind in order to influence parliament and introduce or affect legislation beneficial to the sponsoring party.

I much prefer the first definition of ‘Lobby’, it doesn’t leave such a bitter taste in the mouth. Coincidentally, these definitions shared by a common word do go some way towards highlighting the division that is becoming ever present in our riot-ridden societies.

For me, a bowl of Lobby conjures images of bubbling pressure cookers, soft white bread, and big chunks of meat amongst the limp yet tasty vegetables all suspended in a rich, thick gravy. The frugal use of perishables and left-over’s to create such a rustic delight characterises a very British rendering of the working-classes ability to make the most out of the little they have: Chin up, on with the overall’s, back to work, and on way ‘ome, pick up a loaf an we’ll av some lobby with what’s left of Chicken from roast eh?

I can imagine the BBC article, “Lobby: Austerity Food Special! How this hearty Northern dish can help you out through hard times. Our reporter Brian Beluga writes about the week he ate nothing but Lobby to see if this could be the answer for a hungry Britain.”

                In true BBC lifestyle, er, style, at some point in the week, the intrepid reporter would mention that “combined with some left-over Caviar I had in the back of my fridge, and washed down with some, nearly flat, Chardonnay, by Wednesday I was getting quite used to Lobby twice a day, but was craving a little variation”. The Lobby itself would probably be “A mix of what I had in the fridge that day, nothing else, all boiled up in a big pot. Luckily, I had rather a large joint of Venison and some rare-bread Pork left over, that was my meat, and what’s this? Courgettes? Artichokes? Aubergine? Okra? Asparagus? And some good old potatoes. At this point, I wasn’t just ready to spend a week on Lobby, I was looking forward to it!”

By the end of the article, after a small bump in the middle of the week where the reporter allowed himself a “comfit duck leg or two from the conference buffet, so as not to be rude, you understand”, the reporter would proudly proclaim that he had managed a week of living like a poor person, calculate the cost of the lobby (by carefully weighing each ingredient, allowing for lack of freshness and discounting accordingly) as being less than 2p a day, and a respected dietician (because the article tells us so) would give some vague appraisal of his health, saying that it perhaps lacked fruit, but was in general quite nutritious. And we can all be happy that, if we have not started eating it already, Lobby was the food we should use to console ourselves for being poorer than the journalist who wrote the piece.

But of course, in the interest of fairness, and possibly the recent revelations about Lords and MPs accepting money on behalf of fake lobby groups to influence our countries laws and policies, we are now treated to another ‘idiot’s guide’ to lobby, but this time, don’t try to dip your spoon in it, unless it is silver and you were born with it in your mouth.

Yes, the pre-predicted ‘lobbying’ crisis is now in full swing. David Cameron, being the astute fellow he is, warned a few years back that this would be the next scandal to hit parliament. I don’t know what tipped him off, maybe it was the fact that he and other senior members of the parties were constantly being asked to stand around on balconies at champagne receptions and talk to representatives of specific interest groups who had somehow managed to appear in front of them, guided by a fat Lord or MP who had insisted they spare at least five minutes to ‘hear what they have to say, I hear that these pay-day lenders are having a rough time in the US, and it would be a shame for the UK not to be the kind of country that allows such a necessary credit to flow for those who need it most.’… or something similar.

So what is Lobbying? I ask myself, and turn to my not-at-all state endorsed/influenced news vendor the BBC to explain, as it does so here:

“Lobbying in order to influence political decisions is widely regarded(?) as a legitimate part of the democratic process. Lobbyists are firms or individuals that are paid to influence such decisions.”

Oh good! That’s clear then. They are a legitimate group of people with money able to influence the democratic process. That’s good. I suppose that means if I ever find myself with a bit of cash and a cause, I have the same access to my elected representatives to push my agenda and that of other like-minded people. I knew there was something missing from this democracy that was making me feel alienated from it and totally unrepresented: Money! So, how much will I need, BBC?

“£4,000 to lobby for business interests in Fiji.”

                Well, that’s not really that helpful. I don’t know much about Fiji and I certainly don’t feel like spending that kind of money on it. What else? How about say, pushing the solar energy industry interests?

“Make that… £12,000 a month. I think we could do a deal on that.” – Lord Cunningham.

But actually, as much as renewable energies are probably needed, I don’t run an energy company so that’s not much good to me. What the problem is here, obviously, is that the prices and issues vary so widely we need some kind of I don’t know, regulation, in order to make the process a whole lot easier to understand and a little less morally bankrupt sounding. So lucky us! Now it has been exposed, that’s what we can look forward to:

“A register of lobbyists … would assist MPs in making sensible decisions about who they should be talking to (and ensure) greater transparency about the workings of Parliament”. – MP Robert Buckland.

Brilliant news. So if the likes of Mr Buckland get their way, we will still have private individuals and groups with access to wealth paying for undue, unethical, morally repugnant influence over the democratic systems, but at least we will know who they are, because as you and I know, we are forever perusing the published lists of members interest registers and so forth, as is our inalienable right as citizens. If something pops up on a register somewhere, online or accessible through nothing but a simple freedom-of-information request (which I know we are all forever submitting), and we think it is a bit dodgy, then we will be able to wait a couple of years and then vote the individual out of his seat… if we live in that constituency… or vote out the party he represents…if you believe it is a problem systemic to that party…or we can…?

So who do we turn to in order to solve this crisis of confidence and vested interests rife within our democracy? None other than Nick Clegg! (what a guy). He and the Prime Minister are “determined” no less, to stamp out this practice and reform lobbying, just as they were three years ago, just as Clegg was determined not to introduce tuition fees, just as Cameron was determined not to privatise the NHS (which is happening right now), just as the both of them were going to introduce the ‘right of recall’ for the electorate to banish corrupt or incompetent MPs (still waiting). So we can rest assured that this problem will get resolved just as all those other issues did.

It is unthinkable that the likes of Cameron, Clegg and Miliband have not at some point found themselves chin-wagging to a complete stranger at some fund-raiser about some business-specific tax or legislative issue that it would be really handy to get rid of or amend, and ‘oh look! I seem to have decided I want to donate to your party also… I know you haven’t seen me before, but your right-honourable(!) ‘friend’ over there says that we would really get along if we spent just a little more time chatting together…’. Cameron knew it would be the next scandal because he, like all the others, knew that it was, and is, rife in the halls of Westminster and beyond, and worse of all, they aren’t even really pretending that it isn’t. I get nervous when politicians stop pretending that there isn’t a shit-load of corruption and bribery going on and just admit it – because nothing ever happens. So what, a few MPs and lords that no-one really knows about are going to retire happily from duty with all the money they have made by unduly influencing parliament for the last few decades? I’m sure they will be mortified. A new ‘register’ will be created to show who is paying who what and for why, and we are meant to be happy that this practice still happens and that they have taken ‘decisive action’? All the while, this is just the stuff we know about – let us presume that this is the visible tip of the iceberg, and people still want to chant the old mantra – ‘It (UK democracy) might not be perfect, but it’s the best we’ve got…’ when you dare to venture that the whole system is working against the majority and is unfit for purpose… what else is going on that we don’t, and possibly may never know about? Or do you really believe this to be the antithesis of the problem? That corruption in this country only reaches ‘Fiji’ on the scale? (the scale by the way, goes something like this):

(From Most Corrupt to Least Corrupt)

  1. Lying about wars
  2. Recapitalising failed and corrupt private industries with taxes and then pretending this never happened and blaming it on the welfare state and public services.
  3. Causing the deaths and despair of hundreds of thousands of disabled and economically/socially destitute people as a result of the above and the reformation of the welfare state.
  4. Allowing major businesses to exploit tax loop-holes introduced by the same accountancy firms contracted by the government to write the tax rules who are simultaneously advising the corporations as to how to break them.
  5. Lying about expenses
  6. Fiji

And again, these are just the ones we know about.

My favourite quote in today’s coverage of this not-so-new-but-all-of-a-sudden-current scandal was this:

                “What would really solve the problem would be to make it a criminal offence for any lobby group to offer cash,” – Jonathan Tonge, Professor of Politics at Liverpool University.

This really is my favourite quote, because I agree with it,  but it will never happen and I doubt you find many MPs asking for the same. For me, no MP, Lord, or senior civil servant should have any other interests outside of the little task of running the country. None, whatsoever. But this would be absurd! How can MPs survive on as little as £65,000 a year? I mean the Lords don’t get paid, except for expenses, which include up to £45,000 purely in housing costs, let alone the £150 or so each day, just for turning up (expenses of course, not a salary, that would be WRONG!).

The media circus will dance around this for a little while, some legislation will be promised and maybe even introduced (all be it in a watered-down, unworkable and largely symbolic way) and we will all just carry on usual. We forget that we are just animals on an island who at some point decided that it was easier to work together if we voted to resolve disagreements and set our priorities, but instead, over time, rather than voting on decisions, sociopaths convinced us that it would be easier to vote on a person who could just make those decisions in your stead. From that point on we were doomed to suffer the whims of the powerful who keep many of us just happy enough to forget that we can remove them in whatever way we want, not just within the framework that they control and contort to their own ends. If we decided the whole rotten bunch of them need to go – go they will. There are 62 MILLION of us, and only around 1500 mp/lords. I think we would win. Wouldn’t it be nice if they remembered that now and again and stopped being such corrupt bastards?

As always, I’m sure there are the honest few who would never dream of allowing themselves to be corrupted, bribed or influenced, but they must know that it is going on all around them. How can you operate in such an environment? How can you not make corruption the top of your personal and professional agenda if you ‘believe’ in democracy? How can you prop up the likes of such people? Where are the whistle blowers? Where are the great reformers? Hello? Are you out there? Because if you are, a lot of people would probably vote for you if you stood up to these landed, privileged, career politicians and spoke some truth to power on our behalf. I look forward to your candidacy and your manifesto that promises to shut down the party donor systems, shut down the lobbying systems, prevent elected representatives having any other interests other than that of the electorate, introduce a true recall system, embrace technology and the power of the referendum to return responsibility to the citizens and just represent us, don’t rip us off or repress us, just represent us.

It’s not much to ask for, is it? So in the meantime, let’s just tuck into a bowl of lobby instead, it’s much better for you and it doesn’t cost £12,000 a month.

Any unaccredited quotes can be found in these articles:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-22749803

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-22742327

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-22739943

Live music is alive in Leek

This bank holiday I had the pleasure of attending and performing at ‘The Situation’s Big May Birthday’ event held at the Foxlowe arts centre in Leek.

For those not local or aware of those words what I have just said, ‘The Situation’ is a live music promotion group based in Leek, spearheaded by Simon Edwards and Steve Hamersley. The ‘Foxlowe’ is a beautiful 18th Century manor-house type thing (note the precise architectural analysis here…?) which was remodelled in the early 20th Century and is a grade II listed building. Leek is a small market town in the Staffordshire Moorlands at the foot of the peak district.

So, now you know what I’m talking about, I can take each in turn. ‘The Situation’ have been going for several years now, hosting regular events at various venues, always pushing to get live and original music back into people’s social schedule. I first played one of their nights around four years ago at the now closed ‘White Swan’ (a beautiful old building with a great function hall, which has alas been sold to Wetherspoons so they can come in and leech as much character and personality from the building and surrounding area as possible, but that’s another story) with my former band ‘sMelt’, and as I remember, it was well attended and a great night was had by all. Since then, like all ventures, they have had their fair share of challenges, from poor attendance, to sound set-up, to venues being closed etc… but they have relentlessly continued building up their name and reputation, seeking out new bands and civilizations, and going boldly where no local promotion company has gone before. Excuse me, went a bit Trek then.

Well last Sunday’s ‘birthday bash’, featuring 19 acts in 12 hours over three stages, I think, was their defining moment so far. The culmination of their persistence and passion to get things moving, the day was well ran, well attended, showcased a dazzling array of local, national and even international  bands (some Canadians in the form of Fist City added this element) and the sound was spot on. I will briefly mention that the weather was also beautiful, which is fortuitous, but I don’t think Simon and Steve can take credit for that unless they have fostered some secret mad shamanistic skills I’m not aware of. They had the excellent idea of setting up two stages at each end of the main hall so that as one band played, the other set up, keeping the day on schedule, punchy and joined up throughout. In the early stages they kept it to acoustic acts set up outside on the Foxlowe’s beautiful exterior patio and grounds which gave the early audience chance to settle in, relax, and break themselves into a day that picked up pace from about 4pm onwards with the onset of the ‘ping pong’ bands in the main room stages.

So yes, this was a good day for live music and a good day for Leek. I’m unqualified really to review the acts, I’m a musician not a reviewer, but it was an eclectic mix, ranging from the angelic tones of acoustic act Dominic Morgan (a young local lad who plays everywhere he can – he has an amazing work ethic and voice, he will go far) to the femme punk catchy-bastard sounds of ‘Hooker’, the excellent and raucous ‘Fist City’ (with their army of tiny supporters), the prog-folk Strauss & Strauss ( I think I just invented that genre?), and of course, my band Gravity Dave. Not to mention the excellent Gasoline Thrills, The Downloads, Vertigo Fish, Health Junkies and all the other brilliant bands that dominated the day with new, live and original music.

In a Kevin Costner moment, Steve & Simon told me, “If you build it, they will come”, which has been their philosophy from the outset and is now paying dividends. All I could see was happy faces, all I could hear was new and exciting music, and they had a good few titanic real-ales on to boot, which is always a good thing. So well done one and all. It can be done and it has been.

It makes sense because in Leek there seems to be a disproportionate amount of bands and artists for the size of the place, and thankfully, a similarly disproportionate number of pubs, several of which are capable of hosting live music. However, the scourge of cover bands tends to make up the larger part of local music, and there is a whole section of Leek (the Market place) which at night is turned over to a weird kind of mini city-centre bar/club life, inhabited by many fighty and shouty people, shepherded and watched over by the best part of the moorlands police force each Friday and Saturday night. I should add here, that the ‘Foxlowe’ used to be one such venue under the guise ‘The V Bar’ – which was noted for its sticky carpets, crap music and fighting. Since then, it has been bought by a community group who have turned it into the most excellent arts centre, cafe and venue, demonstrating that it can be done, communities can reclaim their culture from the lowest common denominator. Which is why it needs the rest of us (I would argue, the vast majority of) none shouty-fighty people to organise and attend nights like this. Unfortunately, venues are being lost and Leek suffers from a lack of transport links and accommodation to open it up as a regular night-spot for live music lovers. Some of the accommodation may soon be answered by the development of  a Premier Inn, unfortunately at the loss of yet another old, vast and interesting building (The Talbot), but at least it could make Leek a weekend destination, and if it does, I think live music should be at the forefront of its tourism trade, along with its excellent artisan and independent shops, markets and real ale pubs. There is even talk of the train lines re-opening, linking it to Stoke station, and therefore the rest of the country, which economically would put Leek back on the map. Fingers crossed the council don’t  mess it up.

I’ve also had the pleasure of being involved in an annual music-festival in Leek, ‘Leek Summer Jam’ which has ran for four years and played host to thousands of guests, hundreds of acts and generated income for dozens of local businesses. We’re having a year off this year while we decide what to do next, but it makes me breathe easy knowing that that there are guys like ‘The Situation’ still keeping the flag flying for live music and arts in Leek, and the country – many of the bands playing on Sunday were from all over the country, including Manchester and London, so as the words gets out, the ethos of Leek’s love for live music should spread across the UK, and who knows, maybe the world! (well there was that Canadian band… and an Irish chap…)

So I’ll sign off now after having the pleasure of writing a positive article about something well conceived, well executed, and of real value to the culture of Staffordshire and the country in general.

Links:

The Situation FB Page. You should find all the info you need about the bands mentioned and links:

https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Situation/113561162062815

The Foxlowe website:

http://www.foxloweartscentre.org.uk/

Leek arts festival website (ongoing throughout May – but this kind of event would have happened either way, still, check out what’s on):

http://leekartsfestival.co.uk/

And of course, my band’s website:

www.facebook.com/gravitydave

All the acts:

Image

Attending an Anti-Capitalist Road Show.

So, last night I attended an ‘Anti-Capitalist’ Road Show (http://www.redmagic.co.uk/anticap/index.htm) at the Foxlowe in Leek (http://www.foxloweartscentre.org.uk/) which featured 5 musicians treating us to an evening of subversive music.

I have to admit, I didn’t know what to expect and was worried it would pander to the left of the political system that I’m not very fond of either (the idea that if you’re not ‘one’ thing, you’re the ‘other’ as if the only alternatives in life are left or right doesn’t chime with me…) but actually it did nothing of the sort.

The performers treated us to a nicely balanced mix of the evocative, satirical, comical and in some cases stirringly angry sentiment about the state of things, the reality of the situation, the reason we were there.

The acts were, Peggy Seeger, Leon Rosselson, Grace Petrie, Janet Russell and Jim Woodland. I was encountering them for the first time, but they have some credentials between them! Strikingly, Leon Rosselson used to perform on ‘That was the week that was’ back in the 60s, while Grace Petrie was recently featured on BBC Radio 4’s ‘The NOW show’ but two weeks ago. That demonstrates really the generational range that, admittedly, Grace was doing a large part towards creating, but was present and vibrant in the set.

Okay, so there was a leaning towards folk, acoustic tweeness here and there, and I can’t imagine this format being the kick-start to a younger generation of subversion which we will need if things are ever going to change, but it was good reinforcement for people who felt that way, to hear their worries, anger and hope encapsulated in easy to digest, sing along ditties and anthems.

Highlights for me included Leon’s ‘Looters’ songs that cleverly linked the London riots to the British empire’s history of looting. There’s a great line about all we ever exported being, Cricket, The Bible and the Royal Family: http://www.myspace.com/leonrosselson/music/songs/looters-91952569

Peggy Seeger, though lacking her singing voice last night (apparently, I thought she sounded great), satirically posed the question ‘How do you sleep at night?’ to the rich, who replied something along the lines of, ‘Very comfortably thank you, in fine linen and silks, why do you keep asking us that?’. (http://www.peggyseeger.com/)

And Grace Petrie bellowed out the moving ‘They shall not pass’, about the Spanish civil war: (it can be found here http://gracepetrie.com/music/mark-my-words/)

Anyway, the night was interesting, clever, and more importantly it said something important. We are not tied to one way of thinking, when the opposition so closely resembles the power we reject where do we turn? There are more of us. Never accept the idea that there is no ‘alternative’ – anyone who ever tells you that is lying or misinformed. I suspect the former when it comes to economy, taxes, bail-outs and benefits.

Try and catch this road show if you can, that’s the main thing.

Garry

(Here are some other links you might like!:)

http://www.harbourtownrecords.com/russell.html

http://jimwoodlandsongs.wordpress.com/