Matt Haig (2015) Reasons to Stay Alive.

reasons to stay alive.jpg

This is a short enough book to read in one, longish, gulp. It begins with an admission Matt Haig makes about 2014.

Thirteen years ago I knew this couldn’t happen.

I was going to die, you see. Or go mad.

There was no way I would still be here. Sometimes I doubted I would even make the next ten minutes…

One of the key symptoms of depression is to see no hope. No future.

A book about depression need not be depressing. We all nod at the statistics; one in four of us will suffer from a mental health problem. Then there’s the call to list people who suffered from depression to show how normal it is. Matt Haig does it. Gawp at pages 166-168 which list some celebrities. We all know about, for example, Princess Di and Winston Churchill and the black dog of depression. I didn’t know about Halle Berry. I wasn’t shocked. I don’t really care enough to be shocked. I’m indifferent. I’ve a knee-jerk reaction to Tories like Churchill, but depression humanises him. When I hear about somebody committing suicide I don’t find it that weird, or strange. Life is like that. Diseases like depression and dementia are democratic. It doesn’t really matter who you are or what you do, or how much money you have, you can suffer from depression. You can get dementia.

I also like Haig’s admission that depression can be strength rather than a weakness. It’s a perspective that offers futility as a starting point and humility as a finishing point. When you think you are, the worst you can be, then that warped vision sometime allows you to see other’s clearly.  Abraham Lincoln suffered from depression all his life. It wasn’t black and white, but a humaniser in inhuman times. Lincoln, like Churchill, was a leader, not a follower of fashions.

Haig offers Reasons to be strong. We know them, family, friends…but it’s the kind of reminder you get at AA meetings. One slip and its downward. Here we’re talking to the better self that listens and responds.

The trick is to befriend depression and anxiety.

I like that idea. But then my mind goes off on a tangent, if Jesus was to fight Buddha in a square go, who would win?

Haig’s better self needs to write. I get that too. I need to write. To create. And hope there will be somebody to read what I’ve written. The better self, like the lower self, does not live in isolation. Our smallness is our strength. When we lose the path we need to seek others to haul us up. Andrea, Haig’s wife, is the hero here, but so is he. He calls us all to be heroes. As Bertolt Brecht says, ‘Unhappy is the land that breeds no heroes. No Andrea, Unhappy is the land that needs a hero.’  Haig asks for enough room to flourish and make choices. We don’t need more stuff. Reading is a kind of superpower. But the krypton is social networking sites like Facebook. I guess we talk the talk. All the rest is bullshit. That’s a depressing thought. This short book is a delight. Taste it and see. Use your superpower, and read on.

Storyville: The Internet’s Dirtiest Secrets – the Cleaners, directed by Hans Block and Moritz Riesewieck

the internet's dirtiest secret.jpg

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m0003f2f/storyville-the-internets-dirtiest-secrets-the-cleaners

I’m a big fan of Storyville and BBC 4, in general. That tells you a lot about the type of person I am. Big data companies like Google, Facebook, Twitter (Amazon and Apple) mine data points for personal information the same way Archimedes used mathematics and mechanics (Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world) not only to tell us who we are, but what we are, or think we are. This is the shit end of the spoon, or fulcrum.

Whenever one of these tech gods deigns to appear before some select committee in Washington or London— Mark Zuckerberg refusing to appear before Members of Parliament for a third time at the end of March 2018—then they or their minions offer up a salve, they’re doing everything they can to clear up the internet, they’re not publishers, but providers. They take no responsibility, but because they’re good guys they’re going to help us create a brave new world by wiping clean the slates we leave behind.

Here’s the mechanics of it, our digital trace. Zero or One, remove or retain. Epsilon is the lowest caste in Brave New World and they live in Manila. Facebook, Twitter and Google, don’t employ them directly. Alpha tech in California hands that job to Betas, who delegate to Gammas and Deltas, all who take a cut and the poorest paid are those that labour in booths, looking at screens in our digital age. These are our smoking beagles forced to test the safest of cigarettes, that don’t really give you lung cancer.

For every worldwide scandal on the net the number of Epsilons increase, a knee-jerk reaction, until we look the other way. Forget about them. We don’t count them, or look at the ways tech companies like to hide their dirty washing.  They clean the internet for us in the same way the untouchables in India clean away the shit of the highest caste.

What do they do?

They look at porn. Child porn. A six year old girl sucking a man’s dick in a cubicle.  Remove or retain? Yes or No. Twenty-five thousand images a day on average. Maybe more. Do less and it’s the door. Hi-tech knows how to milk the flesh of our eyeballs.

Beheadings. Suicides. Animal cruelty.  Murder. Genocide.

Porn. Porn. Porn.

Hate speech.

Self-harming.

Classify terrorism according to the latest diktats from corporate heads, based on cash.

‘Algorithms can’t do what we do,’ a cleaner explains. Three strikes and the cleaner is out, sacked, offscreen.

Beagles don’t really get lung cancer and cleaners don’t really get post-traumatic-stress disorder and kill themselves. It’s just a job. Somebody’s got to do it.  Poor people don’t count.

Reporting Trump’s First Year: The Forth Estate, BBC 9pm, BBC iPlayer, director and producer Liz Garbus.

reporting trumps first year.jpg

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b0b8lfjh/reporting-trumps-first-year-the-fourth-estate-series-1-1-the-first-100-days

The twin problems of Donald J Trump are entwined. Firstly, he is Donald J Trump. Secondly, he is in office as President of the United States.  This four-part documentary follows reporters in the New York Times as they cover the newly inaugurated President. Much of news in online before it reaches print, as is shown here.

Too late. Trump moves faster than any documentary crew and we already feel we know everything we need to know about him. What should be must-see viewing is in reality a yawn fest.

The Fourth Estate and New York Times, in particular, also have a bit of catching up to do. Dewey defeats Trauman, for example, was a banner on the Chicago Tribune, 3rd November 1948. But Harry S Trauman was elected President. A victory none of the print media that helped set trends then saw coming and for many of the same reasons they assumed Hillary Clinton would follow Barack Obama as the forty-fifth President. They didn’t look closely enough at what was happening on the ground.

The comparisons end there. Harry Trauman was a humble working-class man of the people, who took his nation through the years of the Korean War. Let’s hope there’s not another war, and that’s not a given with such a narcissistic psychopath in charge of the most powerful nation on earth’s armoury, or God help us, Armageddon is a possibility.

The Observer front page on the same as day Garbus’s documentary is shown on BBC 2 leads with the headline UK rabbi in genocide warning to Trump. A sidebar announces ‘Dehumanisation has ended in atrocities. May urged to attack child separation policy.’ We all know what happened on the United States and Mexican border. As we all know about Cambridge Analytica stealing data, Russian interference in the election, gaming Facebook and allegations of Trump being human.  Children at the border were separated from their parents. Some of them filmed crying in child-proof cages. One version of this and I can’t be sure of this because I originally heard it on the radio, while driving, was these were child actors. I’d guess that came from Kirsten Nielsen, one of Trump’s mouthpieces. It was even by Trump standards an incredibly stupid thing to say. The picture of a naked nine-year-old girl, Phan Thị Kim Phúc OOnt, burning from Napalm during the Vietnam War led to a similar world-wide backlash. Trump’s eventual step back is partial and grudged, awaiting applause for his humanity.

Trump builds walls and hides behind them, but he loves the camera to be on him. Ronald Reagan, that old B-movie actor from before the Cold War era, knew when to stop acting. He stepped back from his anti-Soviet rhetoric and didn’t go ahead with planned Nato manoeuvres in 1983, when the Russian’s believed they would come under attack. It was on par with the Cuban Missile Crisis.   Trump cannot stop being Trump.

I had plans to write a longer piece around William Empson’s seven types of ambiguity. I’d sketched some ideas working on Trump’s seven types of idiocy. But really, that’s an underestimate. Trump always surprises us. Not in a good way. A human magnet for misery and for all that’s wrong in the world. Watch this programme if you want to learn about the New York Times. As for Trump…I’m weary, weary of him, but it’s impossible to look away.  That’s the whole point of Trumpism.

the digital economy

my notes.

Setting the scene

Move fast and break things enriches the already wealthy. The Schumpeterian idea is our future for better or worse. Children born now will be the most tracked in history. In some novels only the wealthy can eradicate their digital footprint. Paradoxically, not to be known, is to be somebody. The security risk of tracking devices in our home was touched on here. It’s not just phones, but our fridges, washing machines, kettles, cups. The danger of these being hacked increases exponentially. My guess is the future will be better for many, but us poor people, the largely disenfranchised, will be more easily monitored and controlled How ironic that an old blog post from a Tory MP calling for sterilization of the poor should crop up now.

Key trends in online activity

Risk, BBC 2 10pm, directed by Laura Poitras

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http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b095vnpx/risk

I didn’t like Julian Assange after watching this programme, but I didn’t have to spend six or seven years filming him and his cult of followers, much of the time in the Ecuadorian Embassy, as director Laura Poitras did. It’s unusual for a director to speak directly to the audience with her misgivings about Assange’s motives as Poitras does. It’s the equivalent of actors breaking the third wall, while in character, and speaking directly to the audience from the stage. Poitras feels she’s being played and used by Assange and I think she’s probably right.

Assange reminds me of a slicker version of the moron’s moron in the Whitehouse, Donald J Trump. Ironically, Wikileaks and its founder Julian Assange is fingered as the patsy behind leaks from Hillary Clinton’s email server while she was Secretary of State in the Obama administration and prior to running in the Presidential election against Trump. In 2011, the opening shots of Risk set in Norfolk (England) has Julian Assage having one of his team phoning the Secretary of State and asking to speak to Hilary Clinton. It creates drama for the camera. But if I phone up Buckingham Palace and ask to speak to Prince Charles the likelihood of me being able to do so would be extremely slim. I’d be speaking to one of his  flunkies. Predictably, that’s what happens. Assanges’s flunky speaks on the phone to Clinton’s flunky. But it’s claimed as a moral victory for Assange, because as leverage he claims to have access to 700 000 classified documents, 250 000 United States documents classified as secret. ‘We don’t have a problem,’ he says. ‘You have a problem’ when we release them onto the internet, which he did.

Fast forward to June 2017.  James Comey then director of the FBI testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee that there had been a sustained cyber-attack on the Whitehouse by a foreign power, Russia, that had close links with the Trump administration. Comey was sacked by Trump, allegedly for leaking state documents.

I googled a question. ‘What is Wikipedia?’   ‘Wikipedia is a free encyclopedia, written collaboratively by the people who use it. It is a special type of website designed to make collaboration easy, called a wiki.’

Wikipedia tells me about Wikileaks: [It is] an international non-profit organisation that publishes secret information, news leaks,[6] and classified media provided by anonymous sources.[7] Its website, initiated in 2006 in Iceland by the organisation Sunshine Press,[8] claims a database of 10 million documents in 10 years since its launch.[9] Julian Assange, an Australian Internet activist, is generally described as its founder, editor-in-chief, and director.[10]

 

The group has released a number of prominent document dumps. Early releases included documentation of equipment expenditures and holdings in the Afghanistan war and a report informing a corruption investigation in Kenya.[11] In April 2010, WikiLeaks released the so-called Collateral Murder footage from the 12 July 2007 Baghdad airstrike in which Iraqi journalists were among those killed. Other releases in 2010 included the Afghan War Diary and the “Iraq War Logs”. The latter allowed the mapping of 109,032 deaths in “significant” attacks by insurgents in Iraq that had been reported to Multi-National Force – Iraq, including about 15,000 that had not been previously published.[12][13] In 2010, Wikileaks also released the U.S. State Department diplomatic “cables”, classified cables that had been sent to the U.S. State Department. In April 2011, WikiLeaks began publishing 779 secret files relating to prisoners detained in the Guantanamo Bay detention camp.[14]

 

During the 2016 U.S. presidential election campaign, WikiLeaks released emails and other documents from the Democratic National Committee and from Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager, John Podesta suggesting impropriety against fellow Democratic Party candidate senator Bernie Sanders, among other issues. These releases caused significant embarrassment to the Clinton campaign, and to Hillary Clinton, and is speculated to have contributed to the Democratic Party’s loss’.

The motto of Google is famously, ‘don’t be evil.’ The motto of Wikileaks, ‘We open governments’. The promise of transparency is always an easy selling point. Assange was teenage cyber hacker uncovering those hidden secrets of government departments. These are the guys that are wearing the white hats, cyber writing what was wrong and bringing it to the light.

Google’s dictum, of course doesn’t extend to paying taxes to governments or allowing competition. Algorithms rule the world. What you don’t see is what you get. Google are appealing a 2.4 billion Euros fine by the European competition commissioner for among other things favouring, not surprisingly, its own online shopping services. Facebook were fined 110 million Euros for using Whatsapp accounts as a Trojan horse for data mining individual’s preferences.  Apple, the richest company in the world, which provides much of the hardware to allow the software to date mine, was fined 13 billion Euros for having an effective corporation tax of 0.005% in Ireland. If you want to know how much power Apple has the ‘Double Irish’ wasn’t that the Irish Government wasn’t being cheated of tax, but they claimed they didn’t want the fine levied. The openness of a free society does not extend to the largely American conglomerates that peddle power and claim no allegiance (in theory) to any one nation. Donald J Trump, of course, spent almost all of his campaign funds of $90 million on Facebook fake news and tweaking accounts of potential backers and voters.

When we look at the power of transparency in post truth society, what do we see looking back at us but our own image. Assange holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy for six years, we know he’s a celebrity because we see Lady Ga Ga visiting him. The twin charges of rape in Sweden have been dropped. He claims this as a victory. Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? is a Latin phrase found in the work of the Roman poet Juvenal from his Satires (Satire VI, lines 347–348). It is literally translated as ‘Who will guard the guards themselves?’

Juvenal was referring to sex scandals. Like misogyny and a hatred of government that’s something that runs through these high-tech companies and is in the foreground of the moron’s moron and Assange’s cabal. The guards that the rich Roman’s paid to watch their wives and keep them having sex with others, were the ones they were fucking. Transparency is always a good thing, but let’s start with ourselves. Truth is often not plain and rarely simple. I’m with Assange for greater transparency, but I don’t want less government, I want more. I want to tax the Trumps and those hi-tech boys that deceive us and manipulate the truth and mix it with lies. If that sounds familiar, remember those things called bonds. A bond was something established something you could trust.  There derivatives financial weapons of mass destruction. They were in plain sight. No need to hide them. Transparency wasn’t an issue. Complexity was. But somehow, in one of the richest countries in the world, the poorest members who had the least stake in the 2008 implosion, took the biggest hit and took the blame. Welfare. In a Post-Truth world propaganda has its roots in a lack of transparency, but more in a lack of power. Those without power know what’s coming and how they’re going to be hurt, but can’t do anything about it.  Assange might have opened up a Pandora box, but if you look who is in the White House and look at Russia and Turkey and Syria, what has he done? I don’t know. But I don’t like him. That’s my truth. We don’t judge things rationally. Again and again it’s been proven empirically we feel first and think when we need to later and construct a truth around it.

 

Smile! The Nation’s Family Album. BBC 4, 9pm.

Connelly Clan - 18th August 1984

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b08j8jj3/smile-the-nations-family-album

Produced and directed by the aptly named Kath Pick this programme interested me for a lot of reasons. I’m of the not-another-fucking-baby picture generation that doesn’t feel the need to endlessly catalogue what I’ve eaten or drank or where I’m going or have been on Facebook, Twitter and other social platforms. My mobile phone isn’t very mobile. Half the time I can’t find it. It hasn’t got a camera. I’m not alive to every beep or tweet and need to check my existence in on a phone. There are very few photographs of me. The one above is of my mum and her family.  No snaps  as far as I’m aware of me as a child. I think I’ve another when I’m about 18 and another, passport-size, which I’ve kept and which does indeed make me smile. I don’t want to be photographed. But with mobile phones I’ve never been so snapped. In other words, I’m an old grump, set in my ways and joke, without joking that every baby will come out of their mother’s womb (obviously we see pictures of them in the womb, which are posted online beforehand and we know the sex) and they’ll be able to look back and see every single day, and feel no need to ask the question what was I doing mum?

We have it here, predating the digital era. Yorkshire dad, Ian MacLeod took a picture of his new-born son every day until his twenty-first birthday and still continues to do so. The cost now is virtually zero. Back then printing cost money, real money, and not just time. He uploaded his efforts to YouTube and had over 5 million hits. Get a fucking life, I can say, but it’s not my life.

I liked John Dobson best. His endless snaps of meeting his first girlfriend on a blind date, marrying her and having kids is all carefully documented and narrated in albums. He said his wife was phowrrr when he met her and wowrrr, looking at them onscreen, I tend to agree.  Model figure. Model face. Much the same as my partner Mary once had. Most of us haven’t, but that doesn’t seem to stop us. Or is it really about something else?

I’m hypocritical and narcissistic. I post my witterings here and online for others to read. I wish I’d five million likes on YouTube. I’d see that as a business opportunity to get others to read my stuff and perhaps be able to sell my writing. Writing into a void is the same void others fill with pictures. And if I keep a diary and am endlessly trying to recreate the past how much more useful it would be if I could just flick back and see what I was wearing then and what others were wearing and how they looked.

I looked up a word ‘shrive’. Verb. Archaic. (of a priest) hear the confession of, assign penance to, and absolve. Old English, scifan, impose as a penance, of Germanic origin; related to Dutch, schrivjven and Germanic schreiben, ‘write’, from Latin scribere ‘write’. I guess from the earliest images in caves we’ve been trying to write ourselves into existence. The equivalent of Jack was here scratched into a toilet stall. Perhaps there is a snobbery about people and their phones and endless photographs of nothing much. But although I’m not in a position to judge it is difficult to look away. Hell is other people’s photographs. That’s not changed.

 

Karl Wiggins (2015) Self-Publishing! In the Eye of the Storm!

karl

I’m not sure why Self-Publishing should have an exclamation mark! But I’m not going to argue with an exclamation mark. This book cost less than a pint of beer and more importantly I spent about five hours reading it. I dutifully followed all the links to some impressive Amazon sites that featured self-published authors have set up to sell their novels. I was familiar with some of the names featured. Joe Lawrence and East End Butcher Boy is mentioned, which is a terrific book. Vera Clarke, writer, is mentioned. Linda Cresswell and Denise Marr and the chief executive of ABCtales Tony Cook also get air-kissed. Karl Wiggins has according to Amazon listings self-published seven books. He has gained the experience necessary to give aspiring authors such as myself  advice. And he is generous in the praise of other self-published authors. The problem with Karl Wiggins is Karl Wiggins.

A typical blurb features in the same format several times. Someone is falling over and pissing themselves laughing.

‘…Anyone who …doesn’t mind peeing slightly when they laugh too hard…’

‘…you will have a damp patch in an embarrassing place.’

‘…Due to the laughter you owe my secretary one pair of knickers.’

‘…Best not to read this book on the train if you have a full bladder.’

‘Publishing is easy, but you need to get your name out there.’ The line between selling books and self-aggrandisement, where does it begin or end? Karl Wiggins tells the reader he is no Mark Twain, but he also tells us several times he has been compared to Socrates and Bukowski. What advice would the budding Socrates give Jane Austen, for example? No Facebook page or profile. No Twitter account.  She published her work anonymously and little is known about her life.  I’d be inclined to follow humourist like Twain and his suggestion:  ‘Any library is a good library that does not contain a volume by Jane Austen.’   Take him or leave him, Karl Wiggins is the equivalent of Bernard Manning talking about those coloured chaps with big lips is all he asks. Jane Austen get your tits out for the boys.  ‘…To use piss-taking humour to bring to the fore situations that don’t stack up.’ ‘Oh, the banter,’ as comedian Ford Kiernan as Jack in Still Game is apt to say, before raise his eyebrows to signal dramatic irony to the camera.

‘Can you imagine arriving back on a time machine in the 60’s [sic]  with the quick, ready banter from the 21st century while everyone’s still laughing at a pie in the face?’

Yes, I can, and it wearies me. The sixties were not ruff collars and Elizabethan England. The Rolling Stones as far as I’m aware are still touring. The theory that how the speaker perceives and reacts to the world is dependent on the language they have at their disposal (Whorf’s hypothesis) is not new. Humour was not invented in the twenty-first century as Mark Twain and Laurel and Hardy show.

Other straw men include chavs: ‘I hate toilet seats because they is better than me. At least they have a job’.

The beardie is the kind of highbrow that Karl Wiggin’s despises. He’s skint because of his ‘superior intelligence’. I’d guess an online group such as the Mc Renegades fall into the beardie category: ‘We’re a bunch of Scottish writers who have some things in common. We write for pleasure, not money…’ I write for pleasure too, but I’d be more inclined to follow Spike Milligan’s lead: ‘This book is dedicated to my bank balance’. But as anyone knows the average earning of an author are under £4000 per annum. Even ‘vegetarian bicycle wearing, [I’m not sure what a vegetarian bicycle is or how to wear it] frowning, long-faced, stupid hat, stupid beard, stupid glasses, miserable twat, disapproving wanker into the broken, bitter mind, that is Bearded Hattie’ or people like me, would find that difficult to live on.

Harpie, one of my favourite authors, but one or two punctuation errors such as putting ‘Lizards Leap’ in italics and adding apostrophes [one or the other, but italics for the modern writer is better] gives ready ammunition to Beardies that self-publishing is not real publishing. In ‘Delusions’, she put it this way, her son ‘has gone without to fund my vanity and ego’. Later she says ‘Amazon sales is the definition of fool’s gold.’ But for the self-publishing author Amazon’s algorithm is god. Twitter’s algorithm tells others who we think we are. And the Facebook algorithm is fairground hall of mirrors in which nobody looks at the same thing, but everybody seems to be laughing. This book is a hotchpotch of different elements drawn from different sources. It needs a good edit. Would the real Karl Wiggins please stand up?