Fair Trade

That Stephen Fry letter to David Cameron about the Olympics

A friend of mine recently put this idea forward. It's a good one. Spread it!

If you haven't seen it, Stephen Fry has written to David Cameron about the forthcoming Winter Olympics in Russie, making a comparison between Hitler's 1936 Olympics and Russia's recent passing of some really aggressive anti-homosexuality laws. You can read the letter here.

Fry encourages Cameron and the IOC to boycott Russia over this, and it's a very laudable aim with a weakness: it isn't going to work. Cameron got gay marriage through and he expended a lot of political capital to do so, and now he's got other things on his mind - rebuilding his political capital, pushing the economic recovery, winning in 2015. Whilst he's probably sympathetic to Stephen's point, he's not going to do it. He's not strong enough to push this issue any more than he has without damaging himself in other areas. Some might consider this a criticism, but it's not really. It's a recognition of political reality.

If the campaigners want to change things there's a way they can do it, however. As in all these things go where the money is, and that means the sponsors. There's tens of millions riding on their goodwill. The Coca-Cola company are one of the biggest Olympic sponsors, and they've been involved for a long time. Target them. And here's how you do it.

For as long as I can remember, Coke have marketed themselves as not a drink but as a lifestyle. A sharing experience of all people. Who can forget this advert:

There it is. Their vision. Their brand. Everything that Coca-Cola wants you to think it is. Teach the world to sing. Hold the world by the hand. Buy the world a Coke.

So here's what you do. Remake that advert. A choir of beautiful young people standing on a hillside, singing as one. And then one of them gets dragged off by the CIS police. And then another. And another. The song breaks. Fractures. And that last message: "On a hilltop in Italy, we gathered young people from all over the world". That's prime for changing. Young people from all over the world, except gay ones from Russia. 'cos they're in prison.

Upload to youtube. Put out the press releases. Get it in the press. Get it viral. And wait.

You can have that one for free.

I think it's a great idea. I'd try to make it as close to the original as possible. Maybe even use the original but edit it so that as you watch a few people featured simply vanish as you watch. Then use something like the slogan you propose. It's the kind of thing you could do with pretty much all of the big sponsors.

So yeah, please share this, especially with anyone who might be able to make something like this happen.
Fair Trade

Bitter Berries

Over the last few months I've been fortunate enough to attend a workshop entitle Poetry as Healing. Lead by Chris Tutton, I'm still trying to fully digest what I thought of them and how useful they were to me.

What it did bring home to me was just how useful and alive a library can be. They are a really great idea, and have moved past being simply places to go and read to multi-media community centers, assessable to everyone. Anyone can get a library card. I overheard a pregnant woman being told her new born child would be able to become a member, just as soon as he or she were born. We're so used to them that we forget just how mind-boggling amazing they are. Each and everyone one of us has access to pretty much any book we could realistically want. On top of that there is music of all kinds, the internet, activities, exhibitions, and all of it for free.

As temples of human ennoblement they are hard to beat. Go use yours, enjoy your tax money at work!

This was originally going to be a post about mental states and how, at times, I feel a bit like King Canute trying to hold back the waves of depression lapping towards me, but part of depression is finding it hard to focus. So really, I guess the whole thing is about depression, in a roundabout sort of way...
Fair Trade

I Have a Test Today

Creationists often point to examples such as the bones of the woodpeckers tongue or the Chuckwalla Lizard as proof of intelligent design. Personally I feel all that proves is that the don’t quite understand what evolution means. Literally. They don’t understand the word, let alone the science behind the theory.

However, were a creationist to enter my house and point to any one of the numerous Daddy Longlegs, either living or dead scattered about the place and said ‘Behold! No creature could evolve to be that useless! Proof that the hand of God not only shaped their design, but also that he enjoys the Three Stooges!” well then yes, I would have to concede they had a good point.

These things are rubbish. They are thwarted by shoes. SHOES! Seriously, if tey bump into one it takes them multiple attempts to get past it. I’ve got wind up toys that can make it over a trainer, but these creatures can’t manage it. As I watch they smack against something and, in doing so, loose a leg. Their wings are about as useful to flying as the ones you might find on a sanitary towel, and that whole ‘most deadly point in the world but rubbish teeth’, it’s a myth! They don’t even have a fun pub fact going for them!

I dislike them almost as much as I dislike pandas.
Fair Trade

Brown as a Nut

The new Kings Cross. Truly a glorious new building. Gone are the grimy corners and dead eyed prostitutes of old. Instead there is an inspiring concourse roof, clean surfaces and open space. Ok, so we lost the glorious cast iron walkway from the main station, to be replaced by a fairly soulless frosted glass bridge, all be it with lifts, but all in all the revamp is something of a triumph, despite the fact that I miss the slightly seedy 1970s extension. However, the other day I was struck by an obvious flaw. There is no Burger King. Or McDonald's. Now, don't get me wrong, these are ghastly places to eat, but should you want a cheap burger, fried pie with molten hot filling and a milkshake the new Kings Cross is not the place for you! Sure, you can get designer bean shoot salad, frappe-smoothies, gourmet chocolate and some weird kind of fusion food, as well as several different pastries and coffee blends, but a medium frys? Good luck! I guess it's just not cool enough.

They do have a Cornish pastie place. Which I suppose is nice. However, it proudly says on the wall that their food is prepared in Cornwall. This is supposed to make the food more attractive. How? How is this a good thing? Are there some kind of magical fairies that sprinkle pixie dust on food prepared in that part of the West-County, making it taste far, far better than any place else? Because that's the only reason I can think of to suggest that food prepared hundreds of miles away, frozen, and then shipped into London is in any way better than food prepared fresh and locally. The fact that you make this stuff in Cornwall is bad, not good.

In a similar vein, a little while ago I was at the milkshake place at the Galleria. I looked up at the menu and noticed they had creatine and protean powder available. I thought I'd treat myself to one. So sorry, I was told, but they no longer offer creatine. Confused I asked why not. It turned out that a few weeks earlier someone had said that creatine could actually be bad for a persons health. And so the manager had decided to withdraw it. I nodded, having researched the possible risks myself. I then pointed at the entire wall of sweets, biscuits, cakes and pure sugars, all of which were just waiting to be blended with ice cream and fed to any member of the public who happened by and asked for it. I asked if they had ever heard of the health risks of excessive sugar consumption and it's link to diabetes and could they please pass on my concerns to the manager. They said they would. I left with a knowing smile, but no milkshake.
Fair Trade

Hit Me With Your Rytham Stick

Our local council has recently announced that it will be making it illegal for council tenants to hang flags from their houses. The exact wording it this:

You must not hang or fix signs, banners, flags or other items on the outside of the property; out of windows or to balconies.

They go further on to say this will be implemented with a ‘common sense’ approach. Good news to those wanting to occasionally put up bunting, or a tasteful sign reading ‘Santa stop here’. I feel that this has veny much been aimed at those people who put up a large St Georges flag strung between two windows, which prompted me to write this post as I’ve been thinking about this trend for quite some time.
I utterly despise walking around and seeing these flags hanging from windows or balconies or what ever. One of the reasons is hat I find this kind of nationalism so very un-British. I may be wrong but it does strike me as a rather modern phenomenon which may be why I take an instant dislike to it, but when I see it it just *feels* wrong. I don’t know why there is this eye-rolling, knee jerk reaction inside me, but it’s undoubtedly there. On a primal level, I dislike seeing it. Maybe it’s because it represents unthinking loyalty? Maybe it’s this misappropriation by far right wing thugs and what that represents? It could be link to sport, which frustrates me as it feels like it trivialises the idea of heritage and national identity, while also making me feel some how unpatriotic because I don’t lie watching 22 millionaires destroy a lawn. (Thank you Charlie Boorman.) It could even just be me rallying against ideas of conformity.
But there is also a very rational part of my brain that dislikes the practice. In America the national flag is often proudly displayed not just on civic buildings but on peoples homes too. I have a few friends in the US who flay a flag in front of their houses. But there is a very, very important part of this practice. In the evening they take them down. They have other foreign traditions like washing and caring for their flag. And, perhaps most oddly at all, they tend to not have flags with bit’s added on, like the words Carlsberg or Gillette, both of which I have scene on flags dangling on the side of buildings. In short, they show respect to the flag.
This is probably because they have a tradition of reverence for their flag that we just don’t have in this country. As I’ve said, far as I’m aware hanging these things from a window is a relatively new thing and it seems to me to have been done in a rather slap-dash way. But the idea that taking a flag, hanging it on some washing line between two windows and then just leaving it there, forgetting about it as it slowly goes grey and moldy is in any way respectful to anything that that flag may represent is just stupid. I would go further; it shows an inherent disrespect for it. I’ve walked along streets, looking at these ghastly rags and been reminded of rotting heads on pikes or, due to my rather catholic upbringing, scenes of crucifixion. It’s felt like certain estates are where national flags go to die.
So yeah, stop with the fake pride and patriotism. A bit of washing line and a flag you got at the petrol station that was probably made in China do not strike me as good ways of showing your love for where you live.
On the other hand, who the hell do the council think they are!?
Fair Trade

The Sign of the Four

[Ok, let's talk Doctor Who]

I liked it. A lot. And not just because of all the fanboy nods, from dropping the name 'Valeyard' to lifting dialog from previous episodes. No, I liked it because it was a barn-storming romp! The acting was great, with Smith finally getting to play the doctor as something other than a caricature, which makes a nice change for this season. And Richard E. Grant picked up what could so easily have been a two dimensional villain and created a delightfully malevolent creature able to deliver some *very* tough lines with a chilling relish.

I adore the Paternoster Gang. Watching the evolution and continuation of the relationship between Vastra and Jenny is amazingly touching, and Strax, though relied upon slightly to much for comic effect, could become a truly great character. They deserve their own spin off series.

And by gum I liked the aftermath of the Battle of Trenzalore. It looked like a world of graves. Utterly harrowing, and something I can believe the Doctor wanting to avoid seeing at all costs.

Down side?

Ignoring the usual Who issue of never letting any kind of scientific logic getting in the way of a good story...

Strax got a tiny bit grating. He's good, but no need for some of those lines during times of high stress.
I don't care enough about Clara yet to be bothered by her sacrifice.
It didn't feel like an episode in it's own right. Not even a 'part one'. The whole thing felt like an intro scene for the 50th anniversary. Not a bad thing in itself, but as that's not for another half a year I feel all empty inside!
Fair Trade

The Soloist

I was thinking the other day 'What makes a child a grown up?'

Is it the understanding that you are mortal?
Is it when you first have sex, or are finally a parent?
Does t have to do with giving up on dreams, or believing in them despite all evidence?

And I was thinking about this because I realised the truth. A person is a grown up when they can be in a room with a person who farts and then doesn't make a comment.
Fair Trade

Is This Thing On..?

So, resets...

I understand why the game needs them, I really do. So very many horror stories.

The thing is, I'm not a dick. I don't abuse the system. I don't play abusive characters. Indeed, I go out of my way to generally avoid plot and PvP stuff, mostly because people seem to like the first more than I do and take the latter badly.

I don't want to have to restart my stories. I play mostly once a month. My xp progress is slow (in comparison to many others) but the character development is what I really love. None of the PCs I've played have finished their stories. I can't help it if the society was mental when they linked MC to XP. I've always said it's way to much. We get to much at character creation and to much in play. We absolutely need to adjust what we consider decent numbers, and a rounded character. Frankly, we're greedy.

But I'm not a dick. I generally don't play with people who play like dicks. And so I don't tend to notice the numbers on character sheets. Also - and let me be clear on this - the stories I'm enjoying haven't ended yet. I don't enjoy playing multiple characters, or retiring a character for no good reason. So splatting them because the society I'm a member of can't seem to function without a minimum of 100 xp on a character sheet is frustrating.

I'm not really into things that much these days. Gone are weekend trips across the country, hunting down that elusive XP cap. Other things interest me now. And that's good.

I'm rambling. I don't mind less XP. I'm happy to earn no more than 4 a month (2 for first game, 1 for additional and max 1 for a DT). I'm happy to start with less. (MC x 5. Easy.) But I'd rather a soft reset. (MC + 2 xp per month in play of character.)* If I can imagine a world with vampires, werewolves and mages I'm pretty sure my immigration can handle the idea that while my character did do all the things he remembers, the way he did them may have been slightly different. Soft focus memory is fine by me if you want to soft reset. We manage to come up with excuses all over the place for our characters to turn up at places, or what evre, we can handle fudging things for a soft reset can't we?

Oh, and I'd want to see an 8/4 success draw, not 10/5. ;)

*I just made that number up. No idea if it works.
Fair Trade

Pull My Finger

So, Thatcher...

I keep remembering stories I heard about her. How during a meal a waiter spilled a drink or some soup down one of the diners. Margaret told them 'Oh no, don't complain, he'll lose his job.' Another, told by Cliff Richard about a party at 10 Downing Street where one of the people serving dropped some china that smashed. Thatcher bent down 'Don't worry dear, let me get that for you.' Or one told by Michael Portilo about when, as a junior Minister, he was working on some energy bill for the house of commons. One evening Thatcher asked him how he was doing to which he replied he was worried about the gas bill. 'Oh, that must be terribly hard for you.' She thought he meant *his* gas bill, and she was worried about him making ends meet.

I then try to align all these kinds of stories with the demagogue so many of my friends talk about. And I know she did things that rip the heart out many of my core beliefs. She showed nothing but disdain for 'society' as a concept, preferring instead to focus on the self and calling that freedom, something I do not believe.

But at the end of the day I just can't get away from the fact that I feel many of the current crop of 'big name' MPs, from all parties, wouldn't even notice if a person serving them was picking up smashed china, let alone help.

Those of you who hate her won't care she could show compassion when faced with humanity, instead pointing out how she devastated swathes of this country, and those of you who like her will point to how -in your opinion- she saved this country and society needed to evolve. In the end someone died. And I'm standing firmly side by side with John Donne when it comes to death.
Fair Trade

An Unearthly Child

I believe in a free press. Totally and absolutely. Those in authority need to be criticised and the public need to be made aware of what is happening in the world around them.

So what do I think about the whole Leveson thing?


The simple fact is the vast majority of stories put out by the press are awful. The glory days of the investigate reporter are long behind us. Since the 1980s we've seen a systematic dismantling of our journalistic set up. A free press is a noble idea when those given that freedom use it wisely. So, do they..?

The journalism department at Cardiff university analysed every domestic news story put out by The Times, the Guardian, the Independent, the Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail, representing the four quality news papers and the biggest and most influential mid-market title.

Over 2 random weeks every single domestic story put out by these outlets (2,207) was examined. With the help of the Guardian news desk then also attempted to capture all incoming material that was passed to reporters. When in doubt they attempted to contact the reporters themselves to verify the stories. So, how did these papers use this freedom? And don't forget, these are the *quality* titles, so I'm sure we can all expect a little bit more from them.

60% of stories consisted wholly or mainly of wire copy and/or PR material
20% contained clear elements of wire copy and/or PR material
8% they were unable to be sure of sources
12% could be guaranteed to be generated by the reporters themselves.

The same group found smiler, though slightly reduced, numbers for mainstream broadcast stories.

Lets move on.

We all know about the phone hacking scandal. Of course we do! It was all we could read about for a few weeks in 2011 and it meant that The news of the World, a 163 year old paper, was closed down. And that's why The Leveson report was commissioned in the first place. But why 2011? We can go back even further. 8th March 2003 Steve Whittamore, a PI, had his house raided. The list of stuff found was immense. From 2000 alone the Information Commission found that 305 different journalists had asked for 13,343 different items of information. But that's ok, surely? Reporters are busy, they can't do all the leg work... Of that 13,343 1,998 were to vague to allow any definite conclusion, but the remaining 11,345 were all classified as being either certainly or very probably in breach of the Data Protection Act. This went to Blackfriers Crown Court in 2005 with Whitamore and 3 others. The prosecutor was laying out the case against these 4, saying how they had received payments from papers which included the Sunday Mirror, the Mail on Sunday and the News of the World when the judged stopped and asked a pretty obvious question: Where were the journalists? There wasn't really an answer given... So what happened to the 4 people? Due to a technicality all 4 got a conditional discharge.*

After this trial Whitamore could still faced another charge. The Information Commission had been working on another two year case. It failed. Why? Cost. It would have cost hundreds of thousands and even if found guilty it was possible the defense lawyers would argue the sentence would have to fall in line with the previous sentence: Conditional discharge. Along with Steve there were 5 others.

2006 another case fell apart in Devon.

There was some good news. In a forth case John Gunning, a private investigator, was convicted at Salisbury Magistrates Court when he was caught trying to blag information from BT. He was fined £600.

Let's look at the numbers:

Cases: 4
Defendants: 14 (Several appearing in more than one case)
Final result: £600
Fleet Street: 1 story. The Guardian web page reported the end of the Blackfriers case.


So yeah, screw you Fleet Street! You want freedom, you use it properly!

I'm being a bit unfair. I don't even think of it really as the reporters fault. Since the early 80s the whole thing has become more and mroe about profit. What is known as 'Churnalism' is now commonplace. Reporters are getting laid off all over the place. The networks that used to exist have just disappeared. Reporters no longer know their 'patch'. They just don't have time to get out from behind their desk. They're to busy creating copy. Simply put there are not enough reporters for us to enjoy the glory days of investigative journalism. Go click on a new web site. The front page *will* have 'stories' that are obviously PR copy. It's harder to know what stores come from the Press Association, Associated Press or Reuters without seeing the wire copy, but those will be there too.

People don't get into Journalism to press Ctrl + P under their name, but because we as consumers are happy for to read this garbage it's what the companies trying to make money are going to put out.

The National Union of Journalists are pretty much a joke, as is the Press Complaints Commission. Journalists needed to do *more* for us if they now want the public to give more than a fart in the wind!

Ok, realistically the idea that there can be a political body overseeing the press is shocking. It's a bad idea, badly thought through and it upsets me. We really do need a free press. But we *also* need an accountable press. We should have had hacks facing real punishments for crimes that, as far as I can tell, we're pretty much an open secret. That didn't happen. It wasn't just the journalists who failed us. So did the police and our law makers. Both of these groups were far to close and cozy with the people breaking these laws. And now the politicians want to be shown to be independent because they are worried about losing votes. It may have cooled down now but for a while journos and bankers were the only people hated more than them! So not just dangerous, but pathetic too.

Of course, now the big players are losing money as people check out blogs, news feeds, social media and other sources for their news. If they had those networks that used to exist, with reporters knowing the local courts, getting information from their local police and civil servants rather than from a PR hand out the difference would be obvious. But this false economy, this stripping down of noble profession is now underlining how shortsighted they were.

Sadly I doubt it will ever be rebuilt.

*The judge clearly had wanted to do more but couldn't.