Monday, August 01, 2011

Oh, It'll Take A Photo To Separate Those Two Drivers

Two recent films about motor racing, but sharing, it seems, one design:

Friday, July 01, 2011

Oh, That Is Pretty

The Mountain from TSO Photography on Vimeo.

Dunno about you, but I like a good mountain.
And, of course, a correspondingly good sky above it.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

In Which I Refer To My Gag, And Those Put In Place By Others (Who Shall Remain Nameless, At Least For Now)

As the writer of a radio gag about superinjunctions back in 2010, you're probably thinking I've got an opinion on this currently rather hot topic. And you'd be right.

For those of you who are a bit unclear on how they work, a superinjunction is an injunction which stops someone saying something, or even reporting that they've been ordered not to say it. And regardless of what you think about the issues of privacy or press freedom or Judges making law or the Human Rights Act or whatever, lurking behind most of these cases seems to be one common factor: someone did something they'd rather you didn't know about.

Most of the instances which the press have become very excited about have involved men putting their winkle somewhere they shouldn't have, though in the Trafigura case it was more a question of alleged business naughtiness; but it's still a case of people doing stuff which they know would reflect badly on them in PR terms. Whether it's sleeping with someone you're not married to, or paying someone to place items up your bot, these are things which are likely to make people tut and buy papers and think less of you. Which is why people who have a public image to protect, and sufficient money to afford it, seek a superinjunction.

And it's from this that the more tangled debates stem, and I think this pretty simple thing is easily overlooked in the more messy and interesting-seeming debates which are currently taking place - which is a pity, because all of us have to take responsibility for our actions, and if we do something we're not proud of, it's not the place of the law to hide that. If you're in the public eye, the media will be very interested in everything you do - this is not new, we've seen it since the times of Marilyn Monroe or Elvis, and if you have a propensity for behaviour (sexual or otherwise) which might not do your career any good, you probably have a choice to make about which to pursue.

But if you're going to do something which you'd rather people didn't know about, and someone does know about it, using a legal mechanism to try and pretend it never happened strikes me as both disingenuous and a little bit childish; it did happen - and it's interesting how this is rarely at issue in these cases, it's more a question of damage limitation - and if you thought it was a good idea at the time, maybe you should be adult enough to admit it, rather than trying to gag people who know about your indiscretion? It sounds like the worst kind of denial, like the Dead Parrot sketch or something, shutting your ears to the reality of the situation and hoping that the world will reshape itself to match your delusion.

And this bugs me because I like to remember things which often seem to get removed from the history books: like when the Chinese authorities opened fire on hundreds of students in Tianenmen Square, or Cheryl Tweedy (as was) assaulted a woman in a nightclub toilet, or the way the newspapers criticised Diana, Princess of Wales in the months before her death. All these things often seem to be forgotten or overlooked, but they happened, and it feels like 1984-style Doublethink to act as if one thing's the case (it didn't happen) when you know the opposite is true (well, yeah, it did happen).

In psychological terms, holding two opinions that clash that way is seen as a likely cause of 'cognitive dissonance', that awkward feeling we have when two ideas in our head don't quite sit together; most galling when we realise that our opinion on something doesn't actually square with the facts, but, well, doing stuff and knowing at the time it's not so bright, or realising that after the event, is part of being a grown-up and taking responsibility for your actions.

A prospect which some people in the public eye appear to have a bit of trouble accepting, so I can only hope that the adulation and money helps take the edge off. The poor dears.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

This Looks Classy

Writer and all-round decent chap Jason Arnopp done wrote a film called Stormhouse, and here be the trailer:

Looks good 'n' spooksome, yes?

Do tell your friends about it.

In fact, tell your enemies. Especially if they're 'fraidy cats.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Whereof One Does Not Know, One Should Talk Louder, And Perhaps Intersperse It With Swearing Or Colourful Metaphors

Words people say without knowing their true meaning - an incomplete list:

"[Whitehall] Mandarins"

Your contributions are, of course, welcomed; the Comments section eagerly awaits your input.

Friday, May 06, 2011

Blogging About Blogging Is One Of The Worst Writing Sins There Is...

... the first is, of course, writing a book where the main character is a writer (extra sin points if they're wrestling with writer's block).

However: I'd be remiss (which is rhyming slang for 'taking the...') to just start posting again without acknowledging that it's been an appalling long time, and to apologies and to thank you for sticking around.

Back here now, and I have things to share; not necessarily insightful or adding to the sum of human knowledge, but perhaps mildly diverting or entertaining. At least I hope so.

Okay, self-referential, and believe it or not sincerely apologetic, bit over - I shall get on with writing some posts.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Persona Launches Tomorrow!

I'm very excited to be able to announce that Persona goes live tomorrow.

As you may well remember from my recent posts, Persona is the world's first continuing drama created exclusively for smartphones, giving the viewer a daily 2-3 minute drama series, with new episodes every day of the week.

You can buy the Persona App in the iTunes store (search for 'Persona App Media UK') for £1.19, or you can text PERSONA to 87474, which costs £1.50. A year's worth of episodes for less than a Starbucks coffee.

As I've mentioned before, I'm one of the writers for the first season (starting tomorrow, and running for a month), so if you're interested to see what kind of writing I do when I'm not blogging (and it's part of the reason why my blog entries have been so sporadic recently), I'd really appreciate your support - and of course, I'd be interested to hear what you think of the series (and the work I did on Jane's storyline).

By way of a taster, here's the trailer for Persona, which I hope will intrigue you enough to make you want to see more:

Any questions, please don't hesitate to get in contact (unless you're asking about what happens in the storylines; I'm either sworn to secrecy about the stuff I've been involved in, or appropriately ignorant about the other storylines). Thanks!

Friday, January 21, 2011

Okay Then, Let's Talk About Students And Fees And Taxation

There is, as readers in the UK will be aware, currently an enormous amount of debate about the issue of funding of students in University; unfortunately, much of it is reduced to being debate and nothing else, as the coalition government seems intent on putting through legislation to remove funding, and make students have to pay for their courses (despite recent protests on the streets and pledges from members of the coalition, during the election campaign, to oppose such measures), and so it looks horribly like a fait accompli. And I think it is a very bad thing indeed. For reasons I shall explain.

History lesson, in which the edges of things go blurry and wibbly: in the olden days, if you were lucky or smart (or both) enough to get good enough grades to go to college, you could get your fees paid to do so, and also a grant to enable you to buy books and the like (okay, so much of it probably went on beer and chips, but let's not pretend that all money allocated to a specific purpose necessarily goes where it should: if that was the case, UK taxpayers would have been aware of a 'propping up the banks' aspect of their taxation system in the past few years). After a while, this became means-tested, so that if you were academic but from a family of limited income, you'd get a full grant, or if you came from a family of millionaires, you'd get no grant on the basis that your folks could afford to pay for your rent and food and the like. Or, if you were somewhere in the middle, there was a sliding scale, with the grant expected to be made up by parental contribution.

If you're wondering about my personal experience of this - and all too often people seem keen to look at the anecdotal or personal at the expense of the overall picture, so let's get this clear now - I fell somewhere in the middle; I got a partial grant, which my parents were expected to top up, and my fees were paid. This was probably fair, though at the time I railed against the system a bit, as my local council decided, in the first term of my second year, to go on strike, so I didn't get my grant cheque through until two days after term had finished, so I had a very thin term financially (who, you ask? Sheffield City Council, I reply). Anyway, my parents had to make some sacrifices to support me, and I had to use some money I'd inherited from my paternal grandmother too, but that's how it was for me. And, I suspect, for many others. How do I feel about this? I'll get to that in a moment.

Anyway, back onto the history lesson: during the last decade or so, the idea of the state (through tax revenue) paying for young people to go to college has gradually been chipped away at (oddly enough, coinciding with successive governments striving to get increasing numbers of 18-year-olds into higher education; a cynical man would suggest that they were doing so to keep them off the unemployment totals, but that's a discussion for another time). And the current governmental thinking, in line with the fact that the UK economy was as badly hit by the recent economic crisis (read: the markets being shocked at the impact of market forces),is that students should have to pay for the courses themselves. The maximum amount being bandied around is Ł9K per year, for three years, so Ł27K.

Leaving aside for a moment the fact that - no, in fact, let's not: the fact is, it is a complete and utter disgrace that politicians, many of whom reaped the benefit of the old system, should put through legislation to stop current and future generations of young people having the same opportunities and advantages they had. If any of them had any trace of self-awareness, they'd offer to pay back the money they received in fees and grants, adjusted for the RPI and inflation since that time. As it is, they're all right Jack, thanks for the free money, and now it's time to pull the ladder up. Appalling.

One argument which is currently, constantly, and I believe disingenuously, made is that it's unfair for the bulk of the population, many of whom will never earn as much as a graduate will, to be expected to pay for the education of someone else in this way. Which sounds spurious to me - I don't know about you, but paying in a bit to ensure there are a lot of smarter people, be they in factories or hospital wards, sounds like a pretty good deal to me. Insurance, if you will.

But - and this is the key thing referred to in the title of this post, and one which I believe the coalition government is either unaware of (unlikely, I'm not the blinding-insight-merchant I wish to be) or wilfully obscuring (far more likely, as it raises awkward questions about taxation in general as a system) - what actually happens is that graduates pay tax in a variety of forms, which pays for the education system. And the NHS. And the police. And defence. And government. And, in a strange and confusing recursive loop, the system of taxation itself.

You hear a lot of people - especially politicians on the stump - talk about "hard-working families". And that phrase is very probably true, many people with families are run ragged just trying to keep everything going on a day-to-day basis, let alone on a financial and employmental level, but a lurking and rarely-spoken truth is that families are a complete pain in terms of their effect on public services: kids need hospitals to be born in, parents need support in the initial years and vaccinations to be given, and then there are schools to be attended, street lighting to make sure the kids don't get knocked down by cars, books in schools and libraries to teach the little blighters to read, and then when they hit the teen years, they may even need assistance from the emergency services after they've been out binge-drinking... okay, I exaggerate, but not much. Families may indeed be hard-working (I was an often-indolent child, so I suspect the adjective often applies more to the parents than the children, at least since the days of child labour ended), but they don't half create a drain on the public purse.

As someone with no kids, do I feel the same way about paying for these families as I apparently should about funding people to go to college? No, of course I don't, because I'm not a moron. I pay council tax for the lighting of streets I don't walk down, I pay tax which the NHS spends on helping smokers and drinkers and the morbidly obsese and those born with mental and physical difficulties, and no, I don't feel resentment about that in the slightest. Because I'm able to recognise the fact that paying tax into public services is a great big insurance policy - one day, I may have kids who need vaccinations and schools and lollipop ladies, or one day I might fall over in the street and need an ambulance, and the same goes for all of us.

The argument that 'ordinary people' shouldn't play a part in funding other people to go to college strikes me as a totally fallacious one, for three further reasons:

1) There are very few people in the UK who haven't benefitted in some way from a service which has been supplied as a result of taxation. You may have private healthcare and have been educated at a fee-paying school, but I'll wager you've walked on a pavement, travelled on a road, or walked down a street which has been illuminated by street lights. Show me the person who has never benefitted from a publicly-funded service in their life, and I will show you a millionaire recluse, or a liar.

2) If you're going to argue that people shouldn't have to pay tax for causes which they disagree with, you're asking for trouble. Many people disgree with military action in Iraq, and they'll presumably be entitled to reduced taxation as they don't have to pay the money that goes towards the MoD budget. If governments are going to start suggesting that you shouldn't pay tax on things which you don't like or don't personally benefit from (I think that this is generally known as 'hypothecation'), they'll see a lot of people objecting to a lot of things (I'd start with the fact that the 20 or so bars within the Palace of Westminster are subsidised by taxpayers, but - again - that's a topic for another time).

3) Are the government seriously trying to pretend that 'ordinary hardworking families' will see the benefits of this scheme? They'll still have to pay the same amount of tax (because there's no way that the government will say "Well, the money you're paying to fund colleges isn't needed any more, here's Ł[n] back"). You're not going to get a refund cheque, so let's not deceive ourselves that the outcome of the "I don't see why I should have to pay for..." debate will actually mean more money in your pocket.

In summary, I have no problem at all with paying tax on things I don't - or, to be more accurate, don't currently - use, because a lot of public services are there for other people. Which is fine. I don't mind paying to ensure that there are hospitals and schools and police and libraries and public transport and museums and street lights and roads and so on, but what I do mind is when people pretend that there isn't a need to pay out for these things, just because they're not using them.

And, of course, I mind when politicians try to simplify the debate and obfuscate the fact that most people who pay tax (and that includes graduates, past present and future) are, in some way, subsidising people they don't know who are doing things they won't necessarily feel the immediate benefit from.

It's society, or community: a group of people pulling together, or getting in place the means to pull together, to ensure opportunities for as many people as much as possible, due to sacrifice being spread across the group. Pulling together like this in an organised fashion is, I suspect, what separates us from the animals.

And millionaire recluses, I guess. BlogBooster-The most productive way for mobile blogging. BlogBooster is a multi-service blog editor for iPhone, Android, WebOs and your desktop