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I have a burning need to know stuff and I love asking awkward questions.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

That's certainly one way to deal with an annoying sibling!
Force young people to vote at first opportunity, says think tank

From The BBC

26 August 2013

Young people should be required to turn out at the first election in which they have the right to vote, the IPPR think tank has said. The plans, to be set out in a forthcoming report, involve a small fine for young people deciding not to vote at their first election. They would also offer first-time voters who did not back any political party a "none of the above" option. Labour is reportedly considering whether to back the idea. Shadow Lord Chancellor Sadiq Khan has also said his party might propose lowering the voting age from 18 to 16. IPPR researchers found that the UK has one of the largest differences in voter turnout between young and old people in Europe. In 2013 local elections, an estimated 32% of 18- to 24-year-olds voted, compared with 72% of those aged over 65, the think tank said. It also estimated that turnout for under-35s earning less than £10,000 a year was just 34%, whereas turnout for over-55s with an income of at least £40,000 a year was 79%. According to the IPPR's figures, young people have been hit hardest by public spending cuts, with 16- to 24-year-olds facing cuts to services worth 28% of their annual household income, compared with 10% of the income of those aged 55-74.

Guy Lodge, an associate director at the think tank, said: "Unequal turnout matters because it gives older and more affluent voters disproportionate influence at the ballot box. Turnout rates among the young have fallen significantly which means there is less incentive for politicians to pay attention to them. Young people who don't vote today are less likely than previous generations to develop the habit of voting as they get older, which is why first time compulsory voting is so important." The result was a "vicious cycle of disaffection and under-representation" in which, he said, "As policy becomes less responsive to their interests, more and more decide that politics has little to say to them." Report co-author Sarah Birch, a politics professor at the University of Glasgow, added: "There are many other things that young people are required to do, not the least of which is go to school. "Adding just one more small task to this list would not represent an undue burden, and it could well help to reinvigorate democracy. It would make politicians target first-time voters like never before and give young voters the potential for far greater political power."

[How delightfully ironic – forcing people to express their democratic right. Isn’t that kind of the opposite of democracy? After all democracy is basically about choice isn’t it? You choose which political party to vote for but, just as importantly, you choose to vote in the first place. In democracies around the world you have an undeniable right to vote, arguably you have a duty or even an obligation to vote – after all voting is the lifeblood of democracy. But if you choose not to exercise that right, duty or obligation should you be punished? Is having the right to ‘none of the above’ enough to compensate for the imposition of government into yet another area of citizens free choice? How long before the ‘none’ option is removed? How long before spoiled papers carry the same sanction as not voting at all?

Voting is a choice and should remain that way. You do not get people into the habit of voting every 4-5 years by forcing them to do so the first time. That’s just crazy. All major political parties are seeing their total vote fall for the very simple reason that every year less and less people trust them to do anything more than line their own pockets and continually lie to us about everything they do. Encouraging people to vote by force is nothing more than an act of desperation. It is no more than a farce. If politicians want us to vote for them they’re going to have to something they will find very difficult indeed. They will need to earn our trust.]

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Just Finished Reading: Dracula Cha Cha Cha by Kim Newman (FP: 1998)

Rome, 1959. The worlds press, celebrities and the new jet-set are arriving in the city in ever increasing numbers to witness the social event of the century. The reclusive Count Dracula, previous consort to Queen Victoria, is to marry Moldavian princess Asa Vajda in an attempt widely perceived as the prelude to him emerging back into the world of European power play. Amongst the late arrivals is Irish journalist Kate Reed who previously fought in the English resistance under Dracula’s iron rule. Within hours of her arrival her vampire companions are brutally attacked by a killer of immense speed and strength – yet Kate in convinced that the killer is no vampire himself. With a mystery to solve she turns to her long time companions the elder vampire Genevieve Dieudonne and her long-time lover Charles Beauregard late of the British Secret Service. As more vampire elders are murdered against all logic the suspicion falls on all the powerful organisations represented in Rome – the Mafia, The British, Russian Special Forces, the Vatican, or maybe Dracula himself clearing out the elder vampires to make way for the new and vibrant undead. What few of them realise is that forces older than Dracula himself are moving into opposition to him regaining power and they will let no one or nothing stand in their way – be they vampire or human.

I’ve read Kim Newman before – The Bloody Red Baron – so knew at least something of what I was letting myself in for. What I had forgotten was the delightful and playful way he weaves the real and the fictional into a compelling and highly original, to say nothing of outrageous and hilarious, tale of the power struggles of vampires now very much in the public eye. The basis of this frankly bizarre ‘alternate world’ is that the Bram Stoker story is true (indeed was a subversive and banned book under Dracula’s rule of England) but that he survived the supposed victory of human over vampire, emerged into the light – metaphorically speaking – and began creating a European dynasty for himself and his kind. Vampirism in effect goes mainstream distorting history, culture and economics along the way (part of the continual fascination in the book is the plethora of little details – like raspberry ripple ice cream where the ‘ripple’ is in fact blood – that make it out as a very different world). The characterisation is practically flawlessly handled although the author does sail very close to the wind from time to time but always manages to pull back before comedy becomes farce. There is a real love of the genre here and not simply a jumping on the band-wagon. Newman knows his subject and milks it for all he’s worth. The plot moves at a generous pace and certainly kept me guessing almost to the end. He has created a compelling and totally believable universe where fiction vampires (and fictional humans) co-exist uneasily with the rest of us. A delight and, in consequence, recommended. More of Mr Newman to come I think!

Monday, August 26, 2013

My Favourite Movies: The Mummy

Way back in 1999 when I still went to the cinema at every opportunity I took a chance and saw this movie. Maybe it was because even after all that time I still had fond memories of Raiders of the Lost Ark which this film seemed to be channelling. Maybe it was because it just looked like fun, lots of fun.

The story takes place (mostly) in Egypt at some point between the World Wars. Trying to get enough practical experience to be accepted as an archaeologist is Evelyn Carnahan (played by the delightful and delicious Rachel Weisz) who is presented with a very unusual puzzle box with what appears to be a map of the lost city of Hamunaptra reputed to be the location of untold treasures. Forced to join forces with the ex-soldier who found the map (Richard O’Connell played in brilliant over-the-top fashion by Brendan Fraser) they begin an adventure that no one could have imagined – especially the staid Evy who steadfastly refuses to believe in the supernatural. But that is exactly what they find in the aptly named ‘City of the Dead’. Locked away for 3000 years is the mummy of Pharaoh’s high priest Imhotep (played by Arnold Vosloo who spent most of the movie frowning at those around him) who is accidently resurrected and is very, very annoyed. Setting an ancient curse in motion he plans to bring his ancient lover back from the dead and rule over mankind for ever – unless Evy, her light-fingered drunken brother (played by John Hannah as comic relief), O’Connell and the mysterious Arab warrior Ardeth Bay (played by Oded Fehr) can stop him in time.

It’s funny that sometime film critic Jonathan Ross described this film as ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark meets The Terminator’. It certainly had elements of both – though far more from Raiders to be honest. It certainly had that sense of Saturday morning matinee fun that pervaded almost every scene in Raiders. The Mummy is most definitely a film that doesn’t take itself too seriously, indeed it doesn’t take itself seriously at all. The plot is far from original, the dialogue is cheesy and the plot, such that it is, is so full of clich├ęs that you could watch it a second or third time and make a game out of finding them. I’m sure that the SFX was pretty good for the time but has become very much to be expected over the last 14 years so none of it will raise any admiring eyebrows. The chemistry between Fraser and Weisz is great fun to watch. They certainly had a lot of fun together playing would-be lovers. The comedy elements provided by Hannah and Omid Djalili is mostly slapstick but still amusing and the bad-guy weasel (played by Kevin J O’Connor) is suitably slimy and objectionable. Of course the fact that the film has no great depth makes it supremely easy to just sit back and enjoy the adventure. You certainly don’t have to think about anything. The elements that are even slightly odd or potentially difficult to swallow are explained by a cast member in ‘the-know’ to those less fortunate (which probably means that they are on the shortlist to being an ex-cast member). In this movie what you don’t know will most definitely kill you as will tripping at the wrong moment! The main reason why I still like (and watch) this film after 14 years is, as I keep saying, it’s unapologetically fun, fun, fun. If you treat it as such I’m sure you’ll be in for a good time too.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Thinking About: Babies

There’s been a lot of talk about babies recently and not just because of the recent Royal birth. In the last few weeks a report was published outlining the fact that the financial cost of raising a child from birth to 18 has risen to over £140,000 – how they arrived at this figure I have no idea. This week it was revealed that, I think for the first time, the number of one child families in the UK (or possibly just England and Wales) breached the 50% barrier. Almost immediately calls where heard to encourage parents to have at least a second child for a multitude of reasons. I found this to be quite incredible.

It is certainly arguable that a significant number (if not actually all) of the world’s most pressing issues are as the direct result of human population growth. The strain on resources from water, food, oil and land is caused by the simple fact that we already have far too many mouths to feed. Extoling people to have more children is, to me, at the very least a questionable (if not actually crazy) recommendation. Rather than criticising single child families we should be congratulating them. Rather than burdening them with even more financial responsibilities we should be thanking them for being pragmatic, reasonable, and sensible – especially in these times of fiscal irresponsibility. If families across the world restricted themselves to a single child, or certainly to no more than two, global population would level out before falling back to a more reasonable level. After a few generations the Earth, if it was capable of such a thing, would heave a sigh of relief and the people of that time could spend more time improving the lives of the much reduced population rather than spending more and more of their time and energy chasing fewer and fewer resources.

I like children as a rule. It small doses, at a distance and with the ability to give them back when they start crying, fall over or wet themselves they are a delight. But I also pity them. Any way you look at things, the future is not going to be a very pleasant place for anyone not already in the top 1%. The next 100 or so years will probably constitute mankind’s greatest challenge to its own survival. Still, after being told for decades and bearing witness to increasing evidence of environment degradation, we are doing next to nothing about Global Warming. As technology, especially in bio-genetics, becomes ever more sophisticated we continue to use it to develop ever more efficient ways of killing our fellow man. In the not too distant future someone somewhere, either on purpose or by accident, will release a virus which will inevitably get out of hand a kill millions. In the not too distant future someone somewhere will explode a nuclear device in a major city and kill tens of thousands. Meanwhile for the majority of people on Earth life will become more difficult. Food and especially water will become scarce. Billions will go to bed hungry and wake up angry. Today’s political turmoil will start to look like a golden age of peace and opportunity. This is the world into which people are choosing to bring more and more children. This is why I shake my head and wonder at the mentality of people or organisations who can, seemingly without thinking, advance the notion that we should have more children not less. Thankfully it’s something I don’t need to personally worry about. As someone who is childless and who will probably remain so – for practical reasons as much as philosophical ones – I don’t have to worry about my child’s future. That doesn’t stop me feeling a little sad every time I see a child though. 

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Meanwhile in Japan........

Just Finished Reading: The Etymologicon – A Circular Stroll Through the Hidden Connections of the English Language by Mark Forsyth (FP: 2011)

It all started with an apparently simple question from a stranger – where does the word ‘Biscuit’ come from (twice baked before you Google it). After regaling the poor slob for the next 10-20 minutes of all the connections between biscuit and bicycle and much else besides he managed to escape never to look back. The author, after being sat down for an intervention by his closest family and friends, decided he had a problem which needed to be addressed – by putting all of his energy and knowledge of the English language into a book which he called The Etymologicon.

If like me you’ve ever wondered where some of the words and phrases you hear every day or maybe even use every day come from this is most definitely the book for you. Full of interesting stories (some of which I honestly had problems swallowing whole), the highways and byways of the planets global language – until it’s eventually replaced by Chinese – and revelations of the true meanings of some of the phrases that, on the face of it make no sense at all (my favourite bug-bear is ‘the exception that proves the rule’) this book will make you laugh out loud, nod sagely, bore people to death with language based revelations and generally make a nuisance of yourself for days on end. What it also did to me is deepen the love of the quirkiness of my native language all the more by letting me into some of its secrets and seeing just how random some of the sources are – not only from across the world but by the English mishearing, misunderstanding or simply modifying existing words to ‘make more sense’ and thereby changing them forever. If you never really considered language as a living, evolving thing this book will definitely change your mind on that count!

Above all else this is a delightful cornucopia of trivia, history, human fallibility, hubris, and the messy reality of language in all its glory. Highly recommended for any language geeks out there and for anyone who wants to dip into a work that is pretty much guaranteed to leave you chuckling after a few pages. 

Monday, August 19, 2013

Just Finished Reading: Already Dead by Charlie Huston (FP: 2005)

Joe Pitt likes his independence, indeed he insists on it. After spending his formative years inside a rag-tag group calling itself The Society he has had enough of internal politics, bullshit and in-fighting. But no one can stand alone in the dangerous streets of New York. Everyone needs friends and protectors and they need Joe – to do their dirty work for them. One group in particular cannot be said No to. Running most of Manhattan they call themselves The Coalition and when they ask Joe to do them a favour he readily agrees. After all Joe certainly can’t exactly go around ignoring the wishes of the most powerful group of Vampires in his own city. That’s just a quick way to a slow death. The favour they ask of him seems, at first, very simple: Find a runaway kid with too much interest in the sleazy underbelly of the city and return her to her family unharmed. Of course Joe knows things are never really that simple. For one thing the girl doesn’t want to be found and certainly doesn’t want to return to her drunk mother and a father who has a disturbing interest in young girls. For another the father, one of the richest men in New York, knows that Vampires exist and seems willing to trade on that knowledge. For Joe it’s just another fucked up deal in a fucked up life. But at least he doesn’t need to worry about much in the city that never sleeps. Punks, drug dealers and even zombies don’t faze him too much because Joe is way beyond being concerned about his own life because Joe Pitt already dead. 
What a way to start off a collection of vampire novels! I loved this from practically the first page. Being a huge fan of noir fiction and the vampire genre it was great to see them so well mixed in this very enjoyable book. Huston has a great style that drags you into the story and makes you feel every bump in the road, every smell of garbage rotting in doorways and feel every knife thrust and the resulting spray of hot coppery blood. Yes, it’s that down and dirty. This is certainly no soft and fluffy vampire tale (I have one of those to review later!) but a very adult tale of violence, fear, insanity and horror. It is most definitely not for the faint of heart or the easily offended. It even made me cringe a few times and I’m not exactly easily offended. Other parts where of necessity hilariously funny. One of the vampire gangs was made up of characters straight out of the 60’s and 70’s who seemed stuck in that radical mind-set and the language of political correctness even arguing that the term ‘Zombie’ was offensive to those suffering from the disease but insisting that they shouldn’t be called ‘victims’ because this was a derogatory term! Pitt himself is a character full of conflict and is wonderfully multi-layered. His musing on the form and origin of vampirism is one of the most interesting I’ve read to date. The most interest clan in the novel called themselves The Enclave and treated their vampirism as an almost religious experience and dedicated their very, very long lives to understanding what exactly they had become.

As with all of the best fiction the world created by the author had the ring of truth and reality. The structure of New York with humans and vampires co-existing (though largely unknown to the human population) was very interesting indeed. How exactly you hide a population of 4,000 vampires from discovery and extermination was an ever present problem to all of the disparate vampire groups and was probably the only thing they had in common. I shall look forward to finding out much more about both the psychology and sociology of vampires in future Joe Pitt novels. Highly recommended to any lovers of our fanged friends (or should that be fiends)! 

Saturday, August 17, 2013

...and Cyberkitten is off to bed. [yawn]
Thinking About: Television

About 40 or so years ago my then English teacher tried to do what all good English teachers try – to get a bunch of working-class teenagers to read more or actually just to read something. As part of the process she got us to tell her, and the rest of the class, how much TV we watched during an average week. As the discussion moved around the class we heard from kids who watched 4, 6 and 8 hours of TV each week. The teacher stopped briefly when one kid said 12 hours and she told the rest of the class that it seemed a bit excessive. Then she got to me. During the round-table thing I’d been doing sums in my head and had come up with a figure that took into account the truth, not seeming too excessive and a pinch of shock value. So when she got to me I said 48 hours. She was honestly shocked that one person could sit in front of a TV for two whole days out of each week. What she didn’t realise of course was that the real figure was probably closer to 60 hours than it was to 48.

Back in those days, before I got the reading habit, I’d watch TV from when I got in from school until it was time for bed – so probably somewhere between 4 to 6 hours. On weekends I’d probably watch at least 12 hours of TV a day and that was without watching any sports coverage. Oh, and what made it worse if such a thing was possible is that, back in those long ago days, we only had three TV channels. It wasn’t until I hit my 20’s that we got a fourth channel and a fifth a few years later. These days of course I have access to over a hundred channels without adding any of the pay-to-view stuff. Of course what is ironic about the whole thing is that as the number of channels increased and then exploded I’ve actually been watching less and less TV.

Inevitably it all started with books – which I only really dived into heavily at around 14 years old care of my brother’s friend lending me some classic SF. From then my TV watching probably dropped by at least half or maybe more. It was then that comments about ‘always having my nose in a book’ started. But at least I wasn’t spending every spare hour hooked to the boob tube. Funnily lately I’ve started feeling nostalgic about 70’s and 80’s TV and have picked up a few DVD box sets of my favourite series. Not surprisingly they had nowhere near the reaction to the first time viewing and whilst not exactly boring they seem to be poorly acted, poorly plotted and had terrible special effects. All understandable of course with the 20-20 vision that is hindsight.

In my late 20’s I finally went away to University and during the first year was having so much fun that I hardly watched TV at all except when I was at home during the holidays. I can’t remember missing it. When we moved out for our final two years and had a TV delivered and mostly watched News shows rather than anything else. We became Newsaholics switching from one channel to another to catch any updates. It was around then that 24 hour TV came online and we tried that for a while – we were students after all so didn’t exactly have to get up early – but soon discovered that there was precious little programming available to fill in the extra hours. That came later.

When I started work in the late 80’s I had my own place and the biggest TV I could afford. As a matter of course it went on moments after I came in from work and stayed on till I went to bed. But often it would be on mute whilst I read my books rather than actively being watched. Normally it would only go on during the evenings over the weekend unless there was an afternoon film I wanted to see. These days I have a large – 48 inch – TV in my lounge which gets switched on in the mornings when I get up to allow me to catch up with the world as I get ready for work. Just as in the past I switch it on as soon as I get in from work and generally watch The Big Bang Theory while I’m eating my evening meal. For the next two hours I’m gaming online and after that the TV is usually on mute as I read and listen to CD’s. Weekends are different. When I get home on Friday – early because of accumulated flexi-hours – the TV stays off and doesn’t go on again until Monday morning or if I’m off work it’ll be off until my next work day. If I’m off for any extended period, Christmas say, the TV might stay off for over a week without the least twitch of need or desire. What about TV shows I miss and might enjoy you may ask? I have probably missed some things that I would’ve enjoyed. But I actually can’t think of anything off hand. If something catches my eye I might watch the few episodes then if I’m particularly interested I’ll buy the DVD box set when it comes out. I did this with Game of Thrones for example. Likewise I’ll see Series 6 of Big Bang when it’s released on DVD next month. The big win for me is that way I avoid all of the adverts which I really do hate. It got to the point about two years ago that I simply stopped watching anything on ‘commercial TV’ because of them. Just about the only thing I’ll watch live these days is on the various BBC channels because of their total lack of adverts during their programmes. I have toyed with the idea of ditching the TV all together and just getting something to watch DVD’s on. That might be the next step. It’s certainly something to think about…..     

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Just Finished Reading: The Anglo-Saxon Age – A Very Short Introduction by John Blair (FP: 1984)

This was to be honest a very short introduction indeed only running to a mere 75 pages. Needless to say I started and finished it during a single Sunday a few weeks ago. The author is very clear that, for most of the period under discussion, we can say precious little about what happened and what we can say must be taken cautiously. Very little text survives before 600AD and what does survive is partisan. The archaeological evidence, again what has survived, can tell us something about the spread of Anglo-Saxon burial sites across what would become England – named after the Angles of course – but provides us with no great detail and says very little indeed to decide the thorny question of what happened to the indigenous population after the Anglo-Saxons arrived in ever increasing numbers. Where they assimilated, exterminated or forced to leave to inhabit the edges of the island in Cornwall, Wales and Ireland? It is a question and a debate that may never be fully answered.

What does seem to be clear is that, over 400-500 years various waves of immigration (or invasion depending on your point of view or perspective) arrived on the English shore and set up home here. Inevitably conflict arose and throughout that period dynasties rose and fell, territories expanded and contracted and both heroes and villains fell under the swords of their enemies. This is the area where legend and history meet and intermingle and national foundation myths are born. I was certainly brought up on stories of Alfred the Great, Arthur and, at the end of the Anglo-Saxon age Harold Godwinson. I wonder how many names the present young generation would recognise. Not many I’m guessing. We are, it would seem, increasingly cut adrift from our history and national legends much to our detriment I feel.

Despite its brief nature this is a well written and detailed introduction to the very edge of British history in that twilight moment between the withdrawal of Rome and the arrival of the Normans in 1066. Much more on this fascinating period to come. Recommended. 

Monday, August 12, 2013

My Favourite Movies: The Lost Boys

When their mother Lucy (Diane Wiest) loses out on her divorce she’s forced to move to Santa Clara California, a small coastal resort town, to live with her eccentric father while she finds her feet again. In the mix are her teenage sons Michael (Jason Patric) and Sam (Corey Haim) who take an instant dislike to the place after growing up in Phoenix – and that’s before they find out that their new home is the murder capital of America. The reason for such notoriety is soon in evidence when Michael catches the eye of a wandering teen girl (Jami Gertz) and follows her before she’s picked up by her boyfriend David (Kiefer Sutherland) and his gang of teenage delinquents. What the boys don’t realise, but soon discover, is that David and his friends are vampires who live the teenage dream of sleeping all day, partying all night, never growing old and never dying. Made in 1987 this is a teen movie literally to die for.  

Of course being a late 80’s movie this movie is a very self-conscious piece of cinema both playing homage to the vampire film whilst at the same time subverting the genre. I can’t remember teenage vampires before this film though it might not have been a completely new idea. But you can imagine how powerful the idea was to the 80’s teenagers – the very thought of extending their (at least potential) party lifestyle for ever, living a life – OK technically not ‘living’ a life – without a care and definitely without any responsibility, never having to grow up, never having any responsibilities, never needing a job and all of the crap that entails. Sounds pretty good on the face of things!

Yet the film is far from perfect. The soundtrack certainly rocked which didn’t do the overall feel of the film any harm though it helped to date it a bit (in a good way). The poorest aspects of the film where the young protagonists turned vampire hunters and in particular the Frog brothers (Edgar and Allen) played by Corey Feldman and Jamison Newlander who were honestly terrible – particularly Feldman who hammed things up well beyond his acting skill level. But saying that Lost Boys is a creditable addition to the Vampire movie genre. It has some nice updates to the ideas behind the living dead and wasn’t afraid to have some fun. It’s a bit gory in places – the old bit of flying blood and almost cartoon violence – but nothing too graphic or too visceral. Taken for what it is, a light horror flick with its tongue firmly in its cheek, this is an entertaining film worth a watch at least once – though I’m guessing that some of you will be buying the soundtrack after seeing it so be warned.   

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Thinking About: T-shirts

When I used to work in an office in London I had to wear a suit every day to work. I didn’t mind it too much – except maybe during the summer – but never really liked it. For one thing it made me feel anonymous, just one of the crowd (OK, that’s a complex subject for me but more about that another time). One thing I did to stamp my individuality on things was my choice of ties – bold, colourful or just silly. Later when I move office and city I still worked in a suit but when that job came to an end I joined a tech-support group where suits definitely didn’t fit in. For one thing we didn’t have many direct dealings with ‘the public’ and for another we seemed to spend our out of office time either scrabbling under people’s desks or in server rooms where hanging ties and flapping jackets just got in the way. It’s there that I got into the habit of wearing T-shirts. Then came dress-down Friday….. I don’t think I’ve worn a shirt since – except for the occasional interview.

These days, despite the increased need to meet clients/customers or ‘Points of Contact’, I’m very much a T-shirt only person. I think if I showed up in a shirt/tie combination people would think I’d either had a break-down or was going for an interview I’d kept secret up until then. Indeed over the years in my present job I’ve become notorious or at least noteworthy for my variety of off-the-wall or just odd T-shirts. Even when I’m wearing a top over my T-shirt people still ask what I’m wearing underneath and even one of our contractors was taken to task by her boss for dressing like me too much which he saw as unprofessional. I did have a good laugh about that!

I certainly pick my T-shirts with great care. I certainly don’t wear logo T’s as I don’t regard myself as a free mobile advertisement. What I do wear reflects my personality and my take on the world. I wear T’s I’ve picked up on holiday which I choose again with great care. Often they’re funny or off-beat. I wear T’s of my favourite cartoon characters or from my favourite cartoon series, so Bugs Bunny (a hero of mine), The Simpsons and Family Guy and not forgetting Mutley from Whacky Races. I think I’m most renowned for my SF related T’s I stumbled across in the SF shop Forbidden Planet. Many of them are produced by a company called Last Exit to Nowhere and cover a whole range of movies and TV Series. I have RoboCop, Bladerunner, Alien(s), Iron Man, and Terminator related T’s which always bring a smile to people who recognise them. What makes me smile most is that most people don’t recognise them, though I have had quite a few people smile, give me the thumbs up or even laugh out loud on at least one occasion. My latest acquisitions are Blizzard designed World of Warcraft T’s which, again, go over most people’s heads – which makes wearing them even funnier.

At 53 it seems odd to some people that I wear T-shirts at all never mind to work! From my own point of view I intend wearing them for as long as I’m able. They’re reasonably hard-wearing if you spend the money on quality and are very comfortable in most weathers. There’s also a seemingly inexhaustible supply of different designs in a whole spectrum of colours – so what’s not to like? I’m still wearing T’s that I bought 15 years ago so I imagine I already have enough ‘in stock’ to last me the rest of my life, not that’s stopping me buying more from time to time (my last one a few weeks ago was a Stark Industries one that made me chuckle). So if you see an old foggy in a Bugs Bunny or an ED-209 T-shirt it might just be me……..  So smile and maybe say hello. 

Thursday, August 08, 2013

My relationships in a nutshell........ [lol]

Just Finished Reading: An Introduction to Political Philosophy by Jonathan Wolff (FP: 2006)

Over the past few months I’ve been working up a head of steam to get into reading political books. As I recently discussed elsewhere a mere 6% of my reading is in the field of politics despite having strongly held opinions on the subject (or maybe because of that very reason – why read books on a subject where I’ve largely already made up my mind?).  Taken together with my utter distaste for politicians of all persuasions and my recent decision to stop voting for any of the major political parties my incentive to dive into a politics book has been pretty low. But, partly prompted by a series of books I’ve stumbled across which promises some very interesting political commentary and partially by appreciating that my lack of political depth is a deficiency that needs to be addressed, I’ve decided to bite the bullet and give it a go.

What better place to start, I thought, than a broad introductory work to get me back into the flow of things and bring me up to date with present thinking. Wolff’s book certainly provided that informed and often entertaining entry into the political world albeit from within my comfort zone of philosophy. Well, I had to start somewhere and my comfort zone seemed like a pretty good place to start from. What interested me almost from the beginning was the author’s admission that there are no easy answers to even the simplest of questions. Despite apparently endless discussion and debate down the centuries no one, it would seem, has come up with a cast-iron defence of ideas which many people in the developed west take for granted as being practically self-evident and virtually incontestable – that the State is so completely necessary that it’s non-existence is unthinkable, that Democracy is the best form of government, that Liberty is the virtue par excellence and that all other political virtues spring from this defining principle and that the individual should be the focus of all political discourse as holders of inviolate rights that can never be overturned by a higher authority. Each thought or assumption had a chapter to itself where the author struggled with ideas and defences put up (or torn down) by a host of political philosophers both past and present. The only chapter which appeared to deviate from this format was on the distribution of wealth which concentrated on, indeed seemed to be more of a detailed proposal for, rather than a debate about, the work of John Rawls. I’d come across his ideas before and was rather unconvinced by the whole thing and having to wade through a chapter on the same subject was almost too much for me. But putting one turgid chapter aside this was generally a very good book which, in true philosophic style came to no great conclusion on anything but hopefully stated that at least we understand the problem a bit more now! It did give me much to think about and much to mull over. I had thought that the foundations of western democratic capitalism had been fairly well thought out over the preceding few centuries and that we had a fair idea of what exactly it is we want and how to get it. Apparently not – which I suppose makes the whole thing that much more interesting and important. Much more politics to come.