Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Fandom ponies up

From the vaults:
[Fandom] is well on the way to deserving as much societal respect as any organised religion - perhaps a tad more, since the dudes in the wookie costumes seem to have a rather firmer grasp of the difference between reality and fantasy than  the ones in cassocks and stoles ...

... If I wanted to play God's advocate for a moment, there is one thing that organised religions have* that gives them an edge over fandom - the collection plate. That is one positive aspect of the faith business - giving to good causes. It might not be the best way of helping others - 'Religion is a very inefficient route to charitable giving (imagine a charity with 90% overhead)' - but I reckon that it's only the lack of a modest bit of social philanthropy that stands in the way of Trekkies and Twilight fans seizing the moral and intellectual high ground from the clerics of various faiths.
There's a long history of media fandoms organizing fundraising campaigns, donating blood, and doing other charitable activities. However, even large and well-established groups such as Trekkies/ers and Star Wars fans usually work with established non-fannish charities like the Red Cross or Toys for Tots. Some may see them as a plague on the Internet, the Brony community has taken their charitable endeavors to the next level by going to the trouble of creating a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt public charity. The Brony Thank You Fund received word from the IRS last week that, after nearly a year of work, they had been granted tax-exempt status. The Fund is currently raising donations to endow a permanent animation scholarship at CalArts, and is the same group that made news last year when they became the first fan group to purchase commercial time on national TV, for a 30 second spot praising My Little Pony and encouraging donations to Toys for Tots.
Slashdot, via

It is an omen. The age of religious exceptionalism is coming to an end. Behold the Four Ponies of the Apocalypse!

*typo/grammatical blooper in my original post corrected.

Monday, 13 May 2013

Apocalypse slightly postponed

It looks as if the chaos inside the Tory party isn't quite as insanely apocalyptic as The Sun was claiming the other day (The Sun making things up - there's a surprise). But things are still looking pretty chaotic chaotic and not very pretty:
By attaching the amendment to the Queen's Speech, the rebels are being particularly brutal. It looked at one point like the move could even force Cameron to resign. According to parliamentary convention, prime ministers must resign if the Queen's Speech or Budget is amended. The last time this happened was in 1924, when Stanley Baldwin was forced to step down and the first Labour government was formed under Ramsey MacDonald. However, since the Fixed-Term Parliament Act, no confidence votes in the government must take the form of a motion starting: 'That this House has no confidence in Her Majesty's government.' Budgets and Queen's Speech amendments no longer count.
 And if this isn't doesn't look like a portent of The End Times, I don't know what would:
David Davis, another who has signed the rebel motion, is throwing a champagne bash for Nadine Dorries in his room at the Commons this afternoon to celebrate her return to the Tory fold and to welcome her back to the ranks of the rebels. 
To the untutored eye it looks as if all Ed Miliband has to do now is sit by the river and watch the bodies of his enemies float by. Let's just hope he doesn't snatch defeat from the jaws of victory by listening to tosh like this and trying to court the votes of the swivel-eyed reactionary monomaniacs who like UKIP, when he should concentrate on wooing people who already lean to the left - like all those disillusioned Lib Dems who mistakenly thought they weren't voting for a Tory government last time round.

Friday, 10 May 2013

A big boy made me do it and ran away

Allegedly, 'Downing Street figures' have been telling Sun journalists that David Cameron is ready to join his party's back bench Eurosceptics and vote for the rebel amendment criticising his own government's Queen's Speech for failing to include any mention of an EU referendum bill.

Extraordinary. Just let that sink in for a moment. Either:
  1.  It's true and the government has descended into farcical panic. The incessant repetition of the mantra about clearing up the mess left by the last government was getting boring, but that was just normal politics - all political parties try to pin the blame on the other lot. But when you start telling your own party (via semi-house-trained hacks) that you're clearing up the mess of your own legislative programme - the one that you announced a only couple of days ago - you've clearly lost both control and the plot.
  2. It's not true and Mudoch wants to get rid of Cameron, by suggesting that his government has descended into farcical panic, presumably in the hope of triggering a putsch from the UKIP-friendly right of the party.
Interesting times. I'd rather pick up dog excrement with my bare hands than link to The Scum, but here's a screenshot to prove that I didn't just dream this whole thing up:

Thursday, 9 May 2013

In the comfort of your home

Unwholesome things lurking in the living room redux. These didn't go away when they stopped colouring wallpaper green with arsenic-based compounds, or beaming Savile and Hall into our homes. There may now be even more creepy things invading our personal space than ever before (or there might be more fear of such things than ever before, which isn't necessarily same thing, except in the heads of Daily Mail readers).

There's a Dr Who episode from 2006 that captures the sense of the banal and domestic turning nasty. David Tennant's Doctor pops up in a 1950's Britain which has been infiltrated by a malignant entity called The Wire, that broadcasts itself into people's homes via the nine-inch screens of their shiny new black and white TVs. The best thing about this episode is the way The Wire manifests itself on screen as a sinister version of the frightfully well-spoken lady from Listen With Mother (Maureen Lipman as The Wire is a superb piece of casting):
Although it's got a period look and feel, this episode taps into a specifically modern sort of paranoia. There wasn't much to fear from a real 1950's telly (except, perhaps, as a vector for paternalistic propaganda), but the fear of an insidious presence in our domestic space is more real for 21st Century people, ever more intimately dependent on connected devices that could potentially be used to spy, steal, or mess with them in any number of disturbing ways.

I guess that, in the real 1950's Britain, a lot of the things that people most feared were "out there" - The Bomb, the Reds, war. Maybe the idea of an enemy within was an anomaly. As The Doctor says, 'Men in Black? Vanishing police cars? This is Churchill's England, not Stalin's Russia!'

Maybe that was how it was. Bad things did happen, but far away and out of sight, on the crumbling fringes of Empire - servicemen, half way around the planet, being irradiated in nuclear weapons tests, disappearances and atrocities in Britain's unreported Kenyan Gulag, but with the kiddies safe at home in the cosy company of Listen With Mother and Muffin The Mule.

Perhaps the outside world is no more hostile than it used to be, but the barrier between it and us has become unsettlingly permeable.

Quotable things from the blogroll

Three random quotes that caught my eye when skimming through my blogroll. First, Reginald D Hunter (via Naked Capitalism):
A class system is what you use to discriminate against people who look like you.
For all your other discrimination needs, just use the new, improved Lynton Crosby/UKIP Axis - it's like gaffer tape for bigots.

Next up, Alex Harrowell paraphrases Cartier-Bresson (I've not yet tracked down the original quote):
Henri Cartier-Bresson said the best camera is the one you’ve got with you. 
Which kind of sums up my current relationship with my mobile phone camera. When the first mobes with cameras came out, I just thought it was a daft gimmick, a solution without a problem. I didn't realise, until it happened, that having a mobe cam puts you in a place that was once the almost exclusive territory of professional photographers. Having a phone camera doesn't make you good photographer and, if your mobile camera is as scratched and low-res as mine, it doesn't mean you're packing a piece of high-quality kit, but it does mean that you've always got a camera with you.

Not so long ago, most folk only used cameras to record days out, family n' friends' celebrations and holidays. Carrying a camera as a matter of course was for pro photographers and photojournalists. These days, I find that most of the quirky, odd, interesting, unexpected snaps I take are taken with the mobe - because it's the camera I've got with me. They're pretty terrible quality, but even if this late-adopter's next mobe is a budget model, like the last, the next camera will almost certainly be better.

The trad family album, dominated by holidays and birthdays, is already starting to look as dated as those Victorian family groups all dressed up in their Sunday best, trying to remain statue-still for the duration of the exposure. Which is, on the whole, A Good Thing - however much you've enjoyed your birthday / holiday / anniversary / whatever scheduled event, it's probably not as interesting to everybody else as the thing that grabbed your attention in the street and made you think 'Wow! Look at that!.'

My mobe cam has become my best camera, the one I have with me when there's something interesting to see and share. And so it's likely to stay, until the coming of the nerdvana/cyber-dystopia where everybody's lifelogging 24/7 via the Google Glass/Borg-style sensory prostheses permanently attached to their heads.

And finally, The Null Device, not quoting anybody else, but being highly quotable in a far-ranging post which manages to stitch together Niall Ferguson's insane gibberings, the Cleveland kidnap case and the far right's all-consuming obsession with trying to combat the untermenschen's procreative powers:
I wonder in how many suburban culs-de-sac in BNP heartland, aspiring Josef Fritzls are now drawing up plans for soundproofing their basements and making notes on the movements and likely racial purity of fit-looking local shopgirls.

Friday, 3 May 2013

Perv Sans Frontières

Another day, another TV personality from my childhood exposed as a creepy groper, would-be rapist and kiddie fiddler. I've no particular fond nostalgia about Stuart Hall, although I may possibly have enjoyed It's A Knock Out when I was too young to know better (my son's currently quite fond of Total Wipeout, the less successful Richard Hammond-hosted modern equivalent, in which a series of contestants try not to fall or get knocked off things in a giant, usually water-filled, soft play area with *hilarious* results, although I'm sure he'll grow out of it).

It's just the fact that Hall and Savile were inescapable parts of TV in the '70s, the wallpaper to our lives. It's a tad unsettling to learn that something like the wallpaper, which you hardly notice from one week to the next, is seriously dodgy. I can't help thinking of the TV pervs of the '70's as a sub-lethal version of Napoleon's wallpaper, lurking, unremarked on the fringes of your living room, being stealthily unwholesome and noxious.

Although millions of people were indirectly exposed to Start Hall, exposure is now only thought to have been harmful in cases of direct contact.

Thursday, 2 May 2013

The first time as farce

Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.
The topical world-historic fact of outsourcing absolutely everything has now come round twice. The first time it was just a spoof in The Onion. This time it's tragedy:
Back in the late 1990s when I first stumbled across The Onion, I found an article that spoofed how one big label was going to stop manufacturing and focus on adverts instead. What they may not have realised at the time was that they were years ahead of their time – predicting the future. It’s as if such brands are now just a mega co-ordinated procurement operation: Outsource the manufacturing to the non-Western countries, outsource your political lobbying to lobbyists, outsource your legal advice to a big city law firm, outsource your consultancy work to one of the big four, outsource your advertising to a big agency, outsource your sales to franchise firms or department stores, stamp your brand on the goods manufactured and on the adverts, and wait for the money to role [sic] in. Anything goes wrong, blame the organisation that you outsourced to.
The corporate sector's most embarrassing exploitation and pollution now happens somewhere safely out of sight and mind, leaving those all-important brands untarnished by embarrassing sights, like factories retro-fitted with anti-suicide nets, for those times when your deniable proxies might accidentally crush your outsourced human resources' will to live.

This model of responsibility-free executive power has metastasised to invade modern governments and public services (both national and local), which, at their worst, seek to maximise their powers to make strategic decisions, hang on to office, spy on their own citizens and dispense patronage, whilst minimising their responsibility for the dirty work of implementation (even when taxpayers and end users end up being squeezed in order to ensure that the government is kept at a safe distance from any proximate responsibility).

Once you've even outsourced your thinking to brand consultants, think tanks, focus groups, marketing consultants and so on, the reality of power mirrors the platonic ideal of the original Onion spoof, in the form of a 'thin shell of branding and mass mobilisation, with a dense core of business and political elites floating free in the vacuum within.'

Then the wheel turns full circle, back to farce, when members of the responsibility-averse elite lecture the poor and powerless about how naughty it is to expect rights without taking on corresponding responsibilities.  You have to admire these people, if only for their brass neck, comedic timing and astonishing ability to keep a straight face.