Travel broadens the mind. Travel is good. I love travel. There is nothing like that feeling you get when you arrive in a new city on the other side of the world. Everyone should travel.
But…….is it too easy these days?
I saw this travel shop in North Street, Brighton. The picture is of Ko Phi Phi, an island off the coast of Thailand. Ko Phi Phi has to be very close to paradise yet now we can gawp at it as we trudge through the sludge of an English winter. We can enter the shop, buy a ticket and queue up along with thousands of others to sit alone on the top of the hill and gaze out at this natural wonder.
I visited Ko Phi Phi in 1991 when I arrived as part of the Europa 92 round the world yacht rally. I was asleep in my bunk when we arrived and was awoken by what I assumed was a tractor engine. I imagined we’d arrived in some horrendous industrial port but when I popped up my head I saw this fantastic tropical island. The noise was from the enormous engines that the locals attached to their canoes. Later, I was chatting to an English sales rep from a marine engine company. He told me that they sold the engines with silencers but that the Thai’s removed them as they loved the noise.
There was a story where, I think it was Phineas, liked to go hiking on his own and commune with nature. He discovered a wonderful patch of Marijuana and he would sit there crossed legged, smoking a joint and watching the sun set.
Then, one day as he arrived he saw 3 other lone hikers all approaching from different directions. Each had thought that he alone knew of the secret marijuana patch. They all ran for the marijuana and grabbed a much of it as they could and ran off. And the last line of the story is “…and that was the end of the secret marijuana patch”.
One of the Fat Freddy Cat stories is also apposite. As Fat Freddy says: ‘Tis but an infinite stroke of eternity’s brush this stretch of beach, this stick of Thai and they, m’dear!
Last night I watched Cemetery Junction, a film by Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant. Based in the 1970s the film tells the story of three friends who handle their lives in three different ways. One has his head down at a manual job and just wants to live his life. One is trying to get on but, while he has a “white collar” job, he is disillusioned by the mundanity and inhumanity of the work. The third is a rebel who usually resorts to punching someone. Gervais plays a father and Merchant has a cameo. The bosses daughter becomes romantically involved with one of the friends and her dream of becoming a photographer and traveling the world sparks his decision to make a break. Though the plot is fairly pedestrian Gervais and Merchant adorn it with some great dialogue, vivid humour and a passable rendition of Slade’sCum On Feel The Noise.
The backdrop is the world of my youth. Housing estates, ghastly wall paper, old Ford Escorts and overgrown foliage. This got me reminiscing. 35mm cameras, slam door trains where did it all go? Why do we now disdain that wall paper? Why are we suckers for the “new shape” BMW? Why is it that there are no patches of wild amidst our housing estates? Nostalgia no doubt but come on! In 40 years time nobody will give a stuff for iPads or Onesies either.
Browsing around this morning I came across the work of Australian photographer Dean Bradshaw. Some very impressive work. Some of it akin to realist paintings. Mr. Bradshaw is a comercial photographer who creates images for advertising and his Startrac work is amazing. These images are perfect. The lighting fantastic and the people frozen in time like manikins. The images could easily be mistaken for paintings but the accompanying video shows how Mr. Bradshaw created them. Photographing the actors in studio conditions with as much care as any Vogue shoot he deposits them onto a background with software tools. While Mr. Bradshaw’s skill with a camera is key the makeup, scene preparation, lighting and software are also critical to the final image.
The Internet is littered with references to Soviet era censorship decrying the doctoring of photographs as a sinister indication of a totalitarian regime. Here Nikolai Yezhov has been removed from a photograph of Stalin.
Yet it’s common knowledge that all magazines now doctor pictures of models to remove blemishes, enhance features and usually make models skinnier. Others have blogged about these excesses where models have lost or gained limbs through the ineptness of the photoshop operative.
There are now online tutorials available to assist the amateur and last September the Daily Mail ran an article showing how artists are modifying photos to create hybrid images; half doctored photograph and half digital fantasy.
The images created by Mr. Bradshaw show how artists and technician can control the whole environment and, even though they use real people and cameras the result is pure fantasy. In a world where these images are ubiquitous and backed up by messages exhorting us to buy associated products it’s no wonder we end up prizing stuff over the environment, people and time. I think it was Norman Mailer who observed that the Soviet propaganda machine was nothing compared to the Western marketing industry.
Today BBC TV news had an interview with Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev who complained, in his Australian accent, that Palestinians were shooting missiles into “our cities”. A quick reference to Wikipedia reveals that he was born Mark Freiberg in Australia and emigrated to Israel at the age of 22. This seems not to be atypical. Recently I heard another Israeli official with a British accent and most of the Israeli settlers I’ve heard interviewed have come from the United States.
Nice. Very nice. It must be great to be born in a liberal Western democracy where religious and political freedom are guaranteed and diversity promoted; to then find your “spiritual self” and fuck off to Israel to go on International TV and start spouting off about how the local people are firing missiles into “our cities”.
Wikipedia states that Mr. Regev was a prominent member of the Socialist-Zionist youth movement, Ichud Habonim, and was active in the Melbourne University Jewish Students Society and this is the trouble with people whose recent ancestors come from other countries: They tend to be wankers. They idolise a nation that never really existed. The second generation Irish of Boston drink green Guinness, bang on about “the craic” and (in the past) threw money into buckets in pubs to fund the IRA’s bombing campaign. The second generation Scots walk around Heathrow airport draped in bloody Tartan and stinking of Whisky. The second generation British brag about the SAS and the second generation Pakistanis in Britain follow an idiotic fundamentalist version of their religion which is at odds with the freedom they enjoy in the UK.
The descendent of emigrants can develop stupid romanticised ideas of how their supposed home country should be. When all they do is go on holiday and make a nuisance of themselves this is tolerable. When they “return” to Palestine/Israel and start taking yet more Palestinian territory for their “settlements” and aiding the attacks on a people who have been under occupation for over fifty years then they become a problem for everyone.
Mr. Regev is a idealogical fanatic. Here he is quibbling about who is a journalists to try to legitimise air strikes on buildings occupied by journalists and here he is trying to evade allegations that Israel used white phosphorous against civilians.
A previous Talking Bollocks article documented him talking bollocks while attempting to justify continued settlement activity. His mechanical, preprogrammed and self supporting rhetoric is reminiscent of any fundamentalistsIslamist. That Israel appoints such a person to be an official spokesman is indicative of the lunacy which allows Israel to claim to be a liberal democracy while simultaneously settling foreign land with religious fundamentalists.
We now have another ceasefire and that can only be good news. However it is not enough to call for the Israelis to stop attacking Gaza or for Hamas to stop firing missiles into Israel. These are merely the overt and violent forms of aggression prevalent in Palestine/Israel.
While the ceasefire holds the Palestinians will be forced to continue to live under occupation in the West bank or under siege in Gaza while yet more starry eyed religious tossers arrive from abroad to take yet more of their land. The BBC World Service reported that between the start of the Oslo peace process and the date that it collapsed Israel doubled the number of Jewish settlers on Palestinian land – What incentive have the Palestinians to negotiate under those conditions?
The settlements activity is provocation for future conflict and while it continues Israel remains the aggressor and the Palestinians the victims. If there is to be peace in the area it will not be hammered out by ideologues but by pragmatists. Israel would do better to appoint ordinary Israelis to positions of power rather than wankers like Mr. Regev.
My mind has been slightly addled the last few days and I’m not sure where some ideas came from but I think it was he who described technology as a parasite on humanity. This tied in with the ideas of a friend who suggested that we are now so reliant on technology that we are becoming cyborgs without a physical interface.
Today, I read in The Economist that Alper Bozkurt and Tahmid Latif of North Carolina University are experimenting with cyborg parasites which can be used to help in search and rescue operations. A cockroach is fitted out with a little circuit board allowing remote control guidance. The circuit board also carries a microphone and camera.
Obviously this could be very useful in search and rescue…….or spying. I’m sure that police, intelligence services, military and the corporates will all be keeping a keen eye on this type of work. If it turns out to be practical, we will, no doubt, see these things crawling all over the walls of Embassies, foreign military installations and our own homes.
The increasing speed of technological advance is amazing but I sometimes wonder about the consequences. I think it’s generally accepted that Capitalism is better than Socialism at promoting invention and innovation. The key to this is probably the concept of limited liability which has enabled much of the western world’s success.
But the downside of this success has been the growth of massive unaccountable multinational corporations. It’s interesting that Western Multinationals are unaccountable but Chinese corporates are often owned by Sovereign Wealth Funds making them accountable to the Chinese government but I don’t want to get into a discussion on the merits of State Capitalism.
So far, we seem to have decided that the innovation and the standard of living which it has achieved is worth the rise of mega corporations but I wonder if this will always be true. More and more it seems that we get more stuff at the expense of our liberty.
We now have fantastic cars, amazing hand held computers, flat screen TVs and all the other stuff but very little time to enjoy it. I remembering reading a comment somewhere that most basements of middle class Americans have unused aqualungs or sky diving gear and Britain is heading that way.
Sure there are some great technologies on the horizon but are these future wonders worth the loss of control of our governments to corporate lobby groups? Is yet more innovation worth the steady privatisation of commercialisation or public space?
What do we value more: Bigger TV screens, the platooning of our cars, cyborg cockroaches or democracy?
A friend asked me if I thought there was any difference between tolerance and indifference and theorised that tolerance just meant that you didn’t care. Then I heard someone on the radio criticising British society as tolerating this or that and saying that mere tolerance wasn’t enough. We needed to be more embracing of whatever was on her agenda. Race, religion, sexuality….I can’t remember what.
I believe that tolerance is different from not caring and that tolerance is worthwhile in its own right and even imperative.
Living together as tightly packed as we do, sooner or later we will encounter someone who does something which irritates or offends us. Anyone claiming never to be irritated or offended by anything is lying. May be the music is too loud on the train. Maybe we hate that everyone is so quiet on the train. Maybe someone parks on the grass verge or arranges for No Parking notices on the grass verge.
The modern world is full of irritants and to claim that people should just embrace all this is ridiculous. It is a natural reaction to be irritated and offended so the question is: Should we become angry, should we try to embrace everything or should we be tolerant?
In 1987 an American artist named Andres Serrano created a photograph named Piss Christ. The photo depicted a crucifix submerged in urine. My reaction was that this is more of this “Is it art” bollocks which kicked of with Marcel Duchamp’s work “Fountain”. Perhaps the photograph does have merit and I have missed the point but, to be honest, I can’t be arsed to care. As an atheist I am vaguely irritated by such bollocks as I see it as a crass attempt to insult or arouse indignation amongst Christians. However, I shrug and regard this Serrano bloke as a bit of a twat and leave it at that. It does no harm and if Jesus is the son of God then he doesn’t need me to look out for him. Many Christians of course are extremely insulted by this photo and the artist received hate mail and death threats.
Which brings me to today’s news. Someone has made an amateur video, which is suposedly insulting to Muslims, and put it on Youtube. This in itself is an idiotic assertion as there are thousands of videos on Youtube insulting every religion, race, class and every other category of people we can imagine. As Paul Merton said of Madonna while stifling a yawn: “oh, no, we’re being shocked again”.
One Youtube video named “Innocence of Muslims” has caught the eye of the masses in the middle east and they are busy rioting, murdering and destroying premises. Many are also busy shouting racist and violent vitriol, burning the American flag and attacking people who they believe are a bit like the people they think might be responsible for the video. At least one man has died due to this madness. All in the interests of mutual respect you understand.
It is a cliche that travel and communication make the world smaller. It’s not true. The world is as big as it has ever been but travel and communication mean that ideas travel around the world instantly. Technology has enabled people with rigid, entrenched and/or devout beliefs to view material created by people who live on the other side of the world and neither know nor care about their beliefs. If we are dumb enough then we can spend our whole lives being offended and, judging by the comments on Youtube, many people do exaclty this.
The trouble is that our psychology has not kept pace with our technology. We view material online which we regard as insulting and we react as if the material is real and present. It is not. It is mere imagery. It is colours on a screen and noise from a speaker. To misquote René Magritte: “This is not an insult”.
In the modern world more than ever before we need Tolerance. We can all be offended every day if we try, but why try? The Innocence of Muslims on Youtube currently has 26,131 dislikes! Why? Why look? Why even click dislike? We are fools to take offense from a video made by a nobody on another continent who does not matter unless we make him matter. Who, in effect, does not exist unless we recognise him.
When I was young I was pretty much part of a sub-culture of punks and hippies. We railed against “the system” and it’s intolerance of the way we dressed or the music we listened too. We should not be judged by the way we dressed, we complained. Pretty soon I realised that most people within this sub-culture were themselves intolerant of the way other’s dressed and the music they listened to. We sneered at disco and, if a man wore a suit then he was part of the system.
Intolerance still exists in British society. Among right wing bigots of course but, more troublingly, amongst some on the left who promote gay rights and opposition to racism while they yell Fascist at anyone promoting economic austerity or taking pride in Britishness.
In an overpopulated world where different ethnic and religious groups exist side by side we don’t need to love everyone or to be indifferent. We don’t need to give up our deeply held beliefs. We don’t need to compromise or to respect the ideas of idiots. We don’t need to accept cultural relativism or cultural imperialism.
We may all WANT everyone to hold the same values as us but what we NEED is tolerance.
Overall, I think that the British are pretty good at that.
The Olympics are over, long live the Olympics! I was interested to see that the medal table for the Paralympics. Ranking by total medals, China was at the top, then Russia then Great Britain and then The United States. Well done all of them. I have to admit that the Paralympics have made me view the “disabled” in a different light. These guys are far more energetic and determined than I will ever be. Indeed, the ubiquitous overexcitement fist waving and overzealous exhalations of victory by the disabled has liberated me to dislike disabled sportsman as much as I dislike any other sports bores.
I have to admit I was surprised to see China at the top as, though I knew they’d made a big effort, I hadn’t realised that they’d made a big Paralympic effort. Russia too. Looking down the medal table got me thinking. Always dangerous……
Plucky little Cuba and New Zealand down there with 17 medals. Good for them. Not as great an achievement as China or Russia but……..hang on…..New Zealand and Cuba have miniscule populations compared with China and their economies are not nearly as great.
Obviously rich countries will do better as they have the lolly to throw at the games. The real test is not how much money you have but what you make of it. I collected some data and created a table which lists countries and their medal totals. I added a column for the country’s Gross Domestic Product which, for those uninterested in economics, is a measure of a country’s wealth. I added another column for a country’s population. I then added extra columns for “ratios” which I calculated by dividing the country’s total medals by it’s GDP or population and then multiplying by a fudge factor to get the numbers into a readable format. (ie. Not so small that they are lots of leading zeros).
More specifically the Population Ratio is the total medals divided by population and multiplied by 10,000,000. The GDP Ratio is the total medals divided by GDP and multiplied by 100,000. I then added extra columns showing ranking by Population Ratio or GDP Ratio.
I should say that I had “issues” obtaining information for all countries. China seems to score Hong King separately, Britain has it’s usual schizophrenia about whether it is The UK or Great Britain and “the former” Yugoslavia seems in a constant state of flux. However, I cobbled the data from Wikipedia together the best I could (well, as quickly as possible) and made a few assumptions.
The results are quite revealing.
Cuba and New Zealand’s efforts are actually more impressive than China, Russia, Britain or the USA. New Zealand ranks 1st by Population Ratio and 11th by GDP ratio. Cuba ranks 5th by GDP Ratio and 13th by Population Ratio. Other notable items are that Fiji is 4th by GDP ratio, Ireland is 3rd by Population Ratio and Iceland 4th by Population Ratio.
And Britain? Well we didn’t do so bad after all. Britain is 1st by GDP ratio and 5th by Population Ratio. On the other hand, India’s performance was dismal. Bottom by total medals, by GDP ratio and by Population Ratio.
Drove home today down the A23. Crossed under the M27 and took a right at the mini roundabout into Mill Lane. Under the bridge and put the pedal to the metal intending to swing out into the overtaking lane and hammer up the hill as I often do. A brief thrill before getting home that I’m sure many Brightonians also enjoy. However, it seems the powers that be have deemed this dangerous and have arranged for the middle lane to be painted out with white traffic separation lines. One must now progress in single file – Hey ho. It was nice while it lasted. No doubt this was done for safety reasons and who can argue with that.
One problem with employing professional road safety staff is that they feel obliged to go around making things safer. No, hear me out. By this I mean that they will arrive at their desks on a Monday morning and wonder what they can improve this week. However, they will not have a clear target of exactly how safe society should be and since there exists no corresponding organisation going around making things more dangerous the net result is a gradual ratcheting up of rules, controls and general restrictions on individual freedom. Health and safety gone mad as it’s known colloquially.
I give the road markings as one example but this affects all areas of our lives. The human race is engaged in a gradual process of domestication. Think about it. Europeans and North Americans can’t even visit India without becoming ill. Like monkeys reared in captivity we cannot now survive in the wild. This is why men crave danger. This is why people go bungee jumping. This is why young men kill themselves performing dangerous stunts.
This domestication especially affects our work lives where large corporations develop codes of conduct and dress codes. How did we reach the stage where our employers can dictate our etiquette and attire? It’s mind boggling.
Yesterday I became a little emotional at work. Not much. Just a bit. I considered that someone had not performed their work properly and this was preventing me performing my work while I was under pressure to meet deadlines. I did not shout, I didn’t insult anyone. Perhaps I swore, I was definitely more forthright than usual. Having reflected a while I now realise that my behaviour may have been considered “unprofessional” by a senior manager present. He noted that there seemed to be emotion around this; the implication being that the issue should have been raised in a calm manner. We should have sat down and discussed it coolly.
Many years ago I returned from working in Africa and could not figure out what the fuck had happened to the IT industry. Most people seemed unable to understand technology yet they pontificated confidently on the subject and held down highly paid jobs. I now realise I had been absent during the “professionalisation” of the industry.
All industries go through various stages as they mature. First an inventor, then a craftsman, then a professional. The inventor understands his work inside out because he created it. The craftsman understands most of his work because he loves it. The professional understands just enough of his work to make money. I had left England as an IT craftsman and returned to find IT run by professionals. It was the Blair Bullshit era when the government was led by the likes of Mandelson and Campbell and the whole of Britain was Talking Bollocks and raking in the lolly.
Since that time I have learned the stuff that they teach people who do not understand IT in order for them to work in the industry. PRINCE2, ITIL, COBIT. Like the highway code, people may be trained in this stuff so that they can operate the controls without having a clue how things functions or knowing where they should be going.
So now, IT is like every other “profession”. Staffed mainly be people who don’t care about their work. People who take no pride in what they do. People who are capable of ensuring that the right emails are cc’d to their boss while other emails go unanswered. People who assess requests from colleagues according to the benefit to their careers. Think about it: What is more unprofessional, doing a crap job or losing your temper that someone is not doing a good job?
These allegations are not aimed directly at my current colleagues. A foul temper is as bad as incompetence (Jones first law?). However there does seem to be a general trend in large corporations to suppress emotion. But passion is an emotion and if your work without passion then your results can never be more than mediocre. Corporations strives to suppress our individuality. Their goal is to embed intelligence in the process so that numpties can be employed for peanuts. In the words of John Lyndon: “They made these feelings go away, a model citizen in every way”.