Marina Abramović made me cry. Over nothing.

Just when you thought the corporate world could become no more greedy, and the art world could become no more vacuous, we have both worlds conveniently encapsulated for us in the Marina Abramović Institute.

Abramović is part of a recognisable demographic of artists who consider themselves to be a priceless gift to the world. I’ve seen and met a lot of them and, unlike me, they are mostly wrong. I’d never heard of her until this video was circulated on Facebook accompanied by the customary OMGs about how amazing and life-changing it is.

I can understand the emotion of a surprise meeting with an ex-lover, and maybe it’s just me, but I couldn’t help thinking a combination of “So what?” and “Why?”.

Why not?

Anyway, further to the featured durational work “The Artist is Present”, someone made this blog site “Marina Abramović made me cry” with photos of sensitive liberals blubbing whilst locked in the unwavering gaze of Abramović.
http://marinaabramovicmademecry.tumblr.com/

I try to be open and critical and skeptical, but it’s quite possible I’m just an old cynic. However, I really don’t get the personality-cult thing. I expect a bit more from my performance artists than just sitting there and being amazing.

All that said, the video advert she made for the Marina Abramović Institute got me interested. Having watched it, I began to think that the tone of it suggests a genuine sense of humour. At least I hope so, otherwise it’s deeply worrying.

I suppose it’s the cultishness that is the most disturbing element, the open-ended promise of an unidentified, indiscernible something that turns out to be no more than nothing.

The Marina Abramović Institute set up a Kickstarter crowd-funding appeal and promptly raised over $600,000. Who gives money to stuff like this? And what for? Have a look at the goodies she’s offering, including instruction in the “Abramović Method”. I can’t help being reminded of a certain “religion” set up by a certain science fiction writer.
http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/maihudson/marina-abramovic-institute-the-founders

But it’s not her only source of income, and she may or may not benefit directly from the money raised. Have a look at this video “Work relation 2014 – A film by Marina Abramović in collaboration with adidas”.

Of course, “In collaboration” is telling you it’s not an advert and she’s not a sell-out, although it was made for the 2014 FIFA World Cup™.

Rather like Malcolm Gladwell’s skillful repackaging of already widely-understood ideas, in this film, Abramović points out to us in that team-work is more effective than trying to do everything yourself. The blurb on YouTube claims the work “focuses on commitment, teamwork and the strength found in togetherness—reimagined through the lens of the 2014 FIFA World Cup™”. That is that same 2014 FIFA World Cup™, held in Brazil, that bulldozed people’s homes, changed their laws and squandered billions of dollars of public money. John Oliver sums it up better than I ever could:

Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated? I learned about how a bucket brigade works at primary school age and it’s not something I would go to a performance artist for advice about.

Along with John Lydon, Iggy Pop and Snoop Dogg, it seems all the people we used to see as outsiders are selling out once they get a smell of some advertising moolah, although I wonder how much value a performance artist can provide for your shareholders.

However, the narcissistic personality-cult aspect or corporate sponsorship is not necessarily a problem, if that’s what the art is about, but accepting money and then asking some of (probably) the same people to work for nothing is just taking the piss.

The original classified ad had been deleted now, but the Marina Abramović Institute were looking for people to take professional roles, unpaid:
http://hyperallergic.com/140998/marina-abramovic-institute-seeks-so-much-unpaid-work/

It may not be illegal but it’s certainly unethical. It is an action that preys upon the gullibility of those people who still believe the lie that “it will lead to other things”. Arts organisations are particularly guilty of abusing the trust of other people and most galleries are staffed at least partially by unpaid interns. It’s mutual masturbation, though, as working for nothing is in the hope of getting something for nothing.

However, the people I feel most sorry for are those desperate, misguided wannabes, moved to actual tears by some imagined beatification that they are receiving in the presence of the great Marina Abramović.

It reminds me of the phenomenon observed in the 2008 film “The Mona Lisa Curse” by art critic Robert Hughes. Hughes sums up this kind of vacuous consumption in one sentence. “They didn’t come here to look at the Mona Lisa, they came in order to have seen it.

It’s not about being moved to tears, it’s about being seen to be moved to tears, and hopefully being instagrammed whilst doing it.

Abramović’s latest work is comprised of her doing “nothing” for 512 hours, and has created a bit of a stir because of its similarity to another artist’s work. I love that, apparently this nothing is allegedly plagiarising someone else’s nothing.
http://www.theguardian.com/culture/2014/may/29/art-star-marina-abramovic-row-nothing-serpentine

However, I don’t think the similarity to Mary Ellen Carroll’s work is the point. It seems Abramović™ just has nothing left to say. But rather like the Daily Mail, lots of people love it. At the Serpentine Gallery until 25th August 2014.
http://www.serpentinegalleries.org/exhibitions-events/marina-abramovic-512-hours

I just don’t get it. The “nothing” business is one of those use-once stunts. You can do it once but it can never work again. Personally, I’ve had more than enough of nothing. In fact, I’m full to the brim of nothing.

Anyway, the only elephant left in this room is the question, would I take corporate sponsorship if I could get it and would I claim that was my own way of fighting from the inside? Well, make me an offer and we’ll find out.

Regardless of my own critical misgivings about Abramović’s work, I can’t help feeling that her willingness to solicit income, but with nothing in return, is grotesquely cynical. When artists start using words like “collaboration” in this grossly inappropriate manner, we can no longer trust their veracity, no matter how epic they might make you feel.

Unless, of course, the whole thing is a satirical stunt. In which case, it’s brilliant.

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Soylent Beige – First prize: a week’s supply. Second prize: two week’s supply.

THX1138_fries_supersize

The Great Global Food Fight part 2 – v1.01

You might have seen a recent viral video of a now famous behavioural experiment with Capuchin monkeys, where reproducible and spookily human behaviour is provoked in primates by treating them unequally.

And all the hipsters laugh at the tormented animals.

What does this tell us? Well, it tells us that a sip of water is better than nothing but don’t show off your wine cellar without expecting trouble. It’s the reinforcement of a revolutionary socialist message from the pre-human brain of a monkey. (That conclusion should give any right-wing Darwinists an embolism.)

To move on from my thoughts on artificially grown meat, I would like to introduce something that I discovered whilst “researching” (aka googling) that blog post, Soylent. No, really, a guy called Rob Rhinehart has developed a balanced nutritional emulsion of what he claims is everything that the human body needs to sustain it. Rhinehart and a small band of geeks have raised over $1m via crowd-funding in order to perfect and commercialise the product.

Please take 2 minutes 55 seconds of your time to watch their promotional video, it’s quite entertaining. They say some very weird shit. [Update: the references below are to the original Kickstarter pitch video which has been replaced by a new promo video. I will no doubt revisit this in a later post EE 7/5/14] [Update 9/5/14 – Everyone can relax, I found the original video on YouTube.]
https://campaign.soylent.me/soylent-free-your-body

Their arguments are just as specious as in Sergey Brin’s Google Burger™ pitch although they seem to belong to a different evolutionary diversion of the human genome.

“My existing options for food were limited.” What the fuck does that mean? I wonder what sort of world Rhinehart was living in that would leave him with so little imagination that a rather insipid “shake” would somehow enhance his “options”.

“I wanted more freedom with my time and money.” The F-word. This is the kind of freedom or “choice” that we were introduced to by Margaret Thatcher’s spin-centric style of government, and it’s not the freedom to say two plus two equals four, it’s the freedom to say two plus two equals four minus my administration fee.

It gets better. If you think this is barking then have a look at Rhinehart’s own blog entitled “How I stopped eating food”.

“Food is the fossil fuel of human energy. It is an enormous market full of waste, regulation, and biased allocation with serious geo-political implications. And we’re deeply dependent on it.” 

The middle sentence is spot on, but it’s bookended by invidious doublespeak. Whilst half the world does not have enough to eat, Soylent has been conceived to fulfill a manufactured need that does not exist.

Soylent_beige_2

I kid you not, above is an actual publicity shot from the Soylent website. I had already thought of the title for this blog post before I even discovered this puritanical, anti-food slurry, and voila! there is my imagined satirical take on the blandest of brands actually realised in pastel and white.

Back to the video, David says “I love food, I just don’t need twenty-one nice meals a week.”

Neither do I, fuckface, I need more.

To be fair on Rob and David, at least they’re not fucking hipsters, they are not dressed self-consciously enough. But they are fucking geeks, which is better, but still not good. At least they’re primarily motivated by achieving something more than just mountains of money.

Don’t get me wrong, they’re still desperately misguided, but their product does have a foreseeable and practical application. Not in my mouth but in the mouths of malnourished refugees all over the world. The ones rendered homeless, spouseless or parentless by US-funded wars. It’s a very neat circular symmetry.

Neither of them look particularly comfortable in front of the camera. Maybe if each of them had a Google Glass™ headset they could be made more comfortable with re-runs of Buffy the Vampire Slayer streamed to their peripheral vision. Like many promotional videos, it’s full of misleading imagery, particularly the old bird roasting corn-on-the-cob with some sort of a hand-operated turbine fan. They show a couple of hipsters, one running on a treadmill and one pumping iron in a deserted indoor gym, but I guess the irony is lost on Americans.

David says “Soylent is perfectly tailored to your body and lifestyle.” Not my lifestyle, dog-brain, but then again they’re appealing to their own demographic. I guess they don’t go out much.

I love the idea that these numbskulls believe that it’s a good thing to free your body from eating. What’s next? Free your body from sex? That suggestion would certainly get me out of the bedroom and onto the barricades.

And suddenly, that’s a cue to talk about “THX1138” (1971 dir George Lucas). Yes, THAT George Lucas, famous for the torture that is the Star Wars saga after episode 6.

THX1138 is stylish, depressing but strangely optimistic at the very end. It is a truly excellent film and belies the era that is was made in. Don’t worry, if you haven’t seen it I won’t spoil the end for you, but skip the rest of this paragraph if you want to remain completely unsullied. I forget if I have used any analogies from that movie before, but there are some prescient parallels with many of the grotesqueries that make up our modern world. Wall-sized screens to watch other people being beaten and humiliated, desperate rushing from one unidentified urgency to another, empty reassurances from recorded messages, food in the form of pills and regulated sex. Anything sound familiar?

And now Soylent. The dystopian references stack up faster than you can say “God damn you all to hell!”

I know it’s a cliché about Americans not understanding irony, but do they really not get the negative connotations with “Soylent Green” (1973 dir Robert Fleischer)? I guess Rob & David are not that media-savvy, which seems like a good thing but evidently not.

Free your body? I have no fucking intention of freeing my body from the pleasure of eating. The only thing I’d like to free my body from is shit pushed by geeks, hipsters and snake oil salesmen.

In an interview with Techcrunch (sounds like a breakfast cereal for nerds) Rob says:

“Most of the customers are young men, but there have also been a few Doomsday predictors and people preparing for a societal apocalypse that have tried to order lifetime supplies of Soylent, Rhinehart said.”
http://techcrunch.com/2013/08/01/soylent-1m-preorders/

I hope those dimwit survivalists do live forever, they deserve every joyless minute of it. I’d rather die, and I will. The thought of living in a post-apocalyptic world, no matter how well-nourished, with a load of rednecks constantly reminding us “told yer so, boy” is not a freedom I would wish to choose.

Rob claims he has been living on Soylent for three months and I can’t help wondering how much action his toilet bowl has seen. I’m sure they have included some roughage in their recipe but, by now, he can probably crap through the eye of a needle. “We need your help to create the future of food. We can’t do it without your help.” No shit. No, really, no shit. They’re also trying to deny you another of the most basic of rewarding human experiences, the near-orgasmic pleasure of a huge dump.

I don’t usually crowd-source anything, but here is my own appeal to all my readers. Please stop contributing to these stupid crowd-funded projects, you’ll just encourage them. They should be beaten to death with cucumbers or drowned in grape juice. Please, please, please let this be a fake, otherwise we’re all fucked.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soylent_(food_substitute)

To finish off, here is a thought experiment for you. Imagine the world we live in is an experimental cage rather like the one in the monkey video, and some sort of supernatural, sentient being is performing an experiment on us. Instead of an inequity provoked by the choice of cucumber or grapes, we are being offered Google Burgers™ or Soylent. I wouldn’t know whether to throw either of them back at the hand that feeds me, consume it and risk the boredom of living forever or just lie down and pray for a swift death. That is the potential future we have been shown with these two new food “solutions”.

I feel sorry for J. G. Ballard. The real world is far more fucked up than even he could imagine. I tried reading “Kingdom Come” (2006) but its thinly veiled horrors seemed unsatisfyingly bland compared with the real life experience of Sheffield’s Meadowhall or London’s Westfield. Politicians, corporations and those fucking hipsters are progressively making the writers of dystopian futures redundant by developing a world far more corrupt, cynical and dangerous than could possibly be imagined, even by my namesake Harlan Ellison.

However, I must reserve a special place in hell for the geeks. Their ambition might be more honest than the hipsters, but their conceived future is going to be so fucking boring I would rather not see it. Unlike the Capuchin monkey driven to frustration, tantalised by the denial of a genuinely preferable food, neither of these pseudo-foods would move me to distraction. Although, if I were allowed to make a choice between a Google Burger™ or Soylent, I’d rather have cool shit than no shit at all.

EEx

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Soylent Beige – If you tolerate this, your Happy Meal will be next

Weapon of choice rgaphics 2.003

The Great Global Food Fight part 1 v1.01

This blog post is about a subject close to my heart and I get very emotional about it, so those of you sensitive to cussing, look away now.

Here goes…

I am so over-stimulated by the hoop-la surrounding the first artificially-grown meat burger that I am almost lost for words. There is so much insanity embodied in this event that I feel like I need a lie down already and I’ve only just started typing. I predict a series of posts as lengthy as my diatribe on the Great British Art Debate, only this saga is called the Great Global Food Fight. There will not doubt be revisions but I will put version numbers in the titles.

If you have not seen any coverage, I will not bore you by repeating any of it so check out these links before I begin.
http://www.theguardian.com/science/2012/jun/22/fake-meat-scientific-breakthroughs-research
http://www.theguardian.com/science/2013/aug/05/google-sergey-brin-synthetic-beef-hamburger

FYI Sergey Brin is one of the founders of Google and earns more than Bruce Willis on a four-day week. At the time of going to press, Forbes estimates Brin’s net worth to be $22.8 Bn, so he’s worth his weight in gold.
http://www.forbes.com/profile/sergey-brin/

Well, no, he’s actually worth a lot more than that. More even than his weight in colourless, odourless, taste-free burgers. I don’t know his vital statistics but he looks fit and well-nourished, so if I estimate his weight at 11 stones (about 70 kg) with Gold at a price of $1,310 per oz on 8/8/13, by weight he would be worth only $3.2m. His worth in pseudo-burgers (assuming quarter-pounders, uncooked) would be about $12.5 m.

To be fair on Brin, he does not claim any more for this first pseudo-burger than a proof of concept, and I agree wholeheartedly with his arguments about the common perception of livestock rearing, but his explicitly evident commercial imperative undermines the ethical claims. Here is the weird promotional video he’s had made with a few rent-a-gob scientists.
http://www.theguardian.com/science/video/2013/aug/05/google-burger-sergey-brin-lab-grown-hamburger

At this point ask yourself why is he wearing his Google Glass™ spectacles whilst being interviewed? Are they going to give him a heads-up display about any awkward questions? I doubt it, although he might record a cool movie, or find a cool restaurant nearby, or upload some cool pic-shers of his cool neighbours indulging their offspring with their friends at a cool barbecue next to their cool swimming pool.

If you haven’t seen Google Glass™ before, here is their weird promotional video.
http://www.google.com/glass/start/how-it-feels/

Talking to someone wearing Google Glass™ is the equivalent of talking to one of those ignorant motherfuckers who fiddles with their smartphone but insists they are listening to you whilst asking you to repeat everything. Glass™ may be more sympathetically designed but it’s the same as having a mobile phone taped to your forehead, and less useful. Brin must have a brain the size of a planet but he comes across as strangely disconnected. No wonder. If he’s typical of his age and gender demographic, he’ll be watching porn.

So why is he wearing Google Glass™ during an interview where he does not need simultaneous interaction with the rest of the world? Well, because it’s not actually a demonstration of his commitment to animal welfare but a thinly disguised sales pitch to flog you cool shit.

To return to the Google Burger™ video, the most frighteningly misguided and manipulative pitch is from Richard Wrangham, Professor of Snake Oil at Harvard University, who compares traditional cultures that might starve if their hunters returned without a kill, against fat, white, middle-class North Americans barbecuing 16oz rib-eye steaks on their frack-gas-fuelled grills. Wrangham says “We are a species designed to love meat”. Note the wording. Not “need” but “love”. Not “evolved” but “designed”. He is trying to imply we have no choice in the matter and he is making an emotive argument for consumption, disguised as scientific fact. In other words, bullshit. He also claims that the consumption of meat is what makes us “physically and anatomically human”.

This promo video is a deeply invidious shitpile of propaganda. I have already waxed lyrical about some of the dubious TED talks in a previous post and it pays to deconstruct these presentations in order to get at what they are really saying, or should I say, selling. The entire video is shot-through with that aspirational bullshit that sounds good but is actually both meaningless and dangerous. In the past, inventors innovated and left the analysis to historians, but in our current dystopian present, these hipster-anarchists are promising the realised, life-improving potential of cool shit before it is even proved to be useful or viable. It’s a bubble just waiting to burst, and not just financially.

And who is he talking to? Well, guided by the Google Glass™ trailer, it’s the same homogenously-attractive aspirational nonces that always appear in all the Apple adverts too. It’s such an irony that Apple and Google don’t get on (or maybe that’s just an Illuminati pantomime) since their target market is demographically identical. Those middle-class, self-obsessed hipsters who think that life is a non-stop round of buying cool shit and talking about it to other vacuous wannabes as if any of it is in the least important. They’re all about the same age, spend their time indulging in expensive adventure sports or going to children’s parties, and do not have any of the critical or ethical faculties to question whether they actually need any of this shit or whether the act of demonstrably owning cool shit is enough of a justification. It is a telling critique of these technologies to look at the imagined applications for them. They are, almost without exception, activities of consumption perpetrated by white, middle-class nuclear families with the odd ethnic minority and old fart thrown in for diversi’y.

I am one of the most ardent subscribers to the search engine that Brin co-founded, but no doubt he already knows this. I use Google searches A LOT, and I edit everything on Apple computers so, if Edward Snowden is to be believed, the NSA will know pretty much everything about me already. It’s a fair cop.

Anyway, the image below is what I get for when I do a Google image search for “Sergey Brin” (but he probably already knows that).

Sergey Brin google image search

What does actually annoy me about him is that you can hardly find a photo of him where he is not wearing those stupid fucking Fisher-Price secret agent spectacles. Almost, but not quite. If you want to shift some overpriced cool shit to overpaid suckers, surely a co-founder of Google could have reinforced the message even more effectively by making sure that absolutely EVERY photo of him has them in. In the meantime I have photoshopped the offending ones just for completeness. Click on the image for a full-size screen grab.

Anyway, back to the Google Burger™. Here is the weird promotional video of some paid-for food critic tasting the patty o’ pooh.
http://www.theguardian.com/science/video/2013/aug/05/synthetic-beef-hamburger-tastes-meat-video

All the mainstream media seemed to have missed the biggest elephant in the room and that is the garnish. Call me picky, but what the flying fuck is any self-respecting North American doing serving an eye-wateringly expensive burger without some decent accompaniments? Well, Brin is Russian so I’ll let him off his failure to understand the purity of the hamburger, but stay with me.

The 'Google burger' … it looks like beef, tastes like beef …

I realise this might sound like a rather laboured subtlety but, bearing in mind the obvious lengths to which they have gone to produce the thing, but the presentation of the first Google Burger™ says something fundamental about the mindset of the perpetrators. These over-funded geeks will spend a quarter of a million pounds on a burger that tastes of jack-shit but don’t have the sense to add a slice of melted cheese, pickled gherkins and tomato relish. Even McDonalds can manage that and they’re not exactly holding the high ground when it comes to gourmet excess. What’s more, the bread looks like it’s been scraped off the floor of a veal pen. Image ©The Guardian.

The point being that it is actually irrelevant that this is food, it’s just more Google Product™.

It is said that you eat with your eyes. In which case, ask yourself how the augmented reality of Google Glass™ could enhance this particularly disappointing plate? Well, for me it would have to substitute it with something to eat, but I think that’s a little out of the jurisdiction of an iPhone on a spectacle mount.

It’s not true to say that we do not have enough of, well actually, anything, we just have too much demand for it. What does that mean? Well, it means there are too many people in the world demanding too much fucking stuff. There is a very simple solution to the too many people part, and that is to get rid of some of them. I’m not suggesting genocide of course. At least not yet, but everything could be taken care of with natural wastage and birth control. With an increasing demand for meat and a growing but aging population, why don’t we kill two birds with one stone and introduce compulsory euthanasia and protein recycling?

My solution is inspired by the film “Soylent Green” (1973 dir Richard Fleischer). As regular readers will be aware, I am somewhat obsessed with dystopian movies and fiction and this is a story of how, in an over-populated world, the assisted-suicide human dead are recycled as a foodstuff for the remaining undernourished  population. “In Children of Men” (2006, dir Alfonso Cuarón) there is a commercially available euthanasia solution called “Quietus”.

I’m sure Google will want to get in on that act too. On every act. At least every act that can turn a few billion dollars. They’ll probably go for for one of those one-word aspirational brands and I’d like to suggest Google After™ or Google Release™ or maybe even the optimistic Google Valhalla™. I might be over-thinking this, so maybe just Google Death™.

Here is the voice-command I would use with the strap-on Google Death™ humane-killer as its enhanced virtual reality tried to make my final meal of a Google Burger™ (without cheese or relish) look palatable:

“Okay, Death™. Take me now.”

The problem here is the problem. It is not the right of human beings to eat an unlimited amount of meat, or for that matter consume anything without limit. The same thing applies to energy, but I’ll come back to that in a later post. What is fundamentally misguided about Brin is his attempt to meet a demand with a technological solution when the correct solution is a practical / ethical one. There are too many people consuming too much stuff that requires too many resources. In terms of survival of the species, the human race has been remarkably successful already for at least 100,000 years before the iPad, 10,000 years before cheese-in-a-can, and 1,000 years before fucking hipsters. There is no ethical or practical justification for artificial meat if you do not accept the assumed given that further population growth is inevitable.

There is no human right to unlimited consumption. There is no human right to unlimited procreation. There is no human right to the consumption of meat.

The promo video ends with the phrase “Be part of the solution” and we all know what Sergey Brin’s solution is: selling you even more cool shit so he can make another kajillion dollars. However he’s missing a much more obvious way of being part of the solution and if you’re wondering, a quarter-pounder BrinBurger™ would set you back about $37m.

There is a lot more to come on this topic, so please stay with me…

EEx

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The education system has failed us – private education, that is.

Screen shot 2013-07-01 at 09.34.19

Regular readers will know I am no fan of Boris Johnson (currently Mayor of London), but I must have to thank him for giving me the seed for this particular poisoned tree. I have no hesitation in re-publishing the following link to Johnson being interview by Jeremy Paxman at the Conservative Party conference in 2011. I watch it regularly. The relevant bit starts at 10:22 but I recommend watching the whole thing if you want a good laugh.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TsWmmmbgQnc

It is interesting to look at the Wikipedia entries for some of our current ruling class. The “PPE” that Johnson so derides stands for “philosophy, politics, & economics”. It’s one of those combined degrees for students who are not really up to majoring in any one subject. Basically, it’s General Studies for career politicians. However, despite Johnson’s derision of David Cameron’s (current Prime Minister) full marks at university, a quick look at Wikipedia reveals his own supposedly superior major 2:1 subject being “Classics”,  a sort of Greek Game of Thrones.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Cameron
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boris_Johnson

George Osborne (currently Chancellor of the Exchequer) is not exactly a high-achiever either, and economics was not his major subject. It makes you wonder how he gained such a pivotal role in the government. That is until you read that he is the heir apparent to the baronetcy of Osborne. Ah, a toff. That’s okay then.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_osborne

It’s a bit of a shame that some of these unremarkable talents didn’t spend less of their time at school with their heads up the arse of Plato and more in basic maths and ICT (Information & Computing Technology), then they might have had a better grasp on the use of statistics and spreadsheets.

Osborne’s austerity policies are based upon a discredited economic model using a miscalculated spreadsheet (Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff), recently revealed as being flawed by two professors and a doctoral student at the University of Massachusetts.
http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2013/apr/18/uncovered-error-george-osborne-austerity
http://blogs.spectator.co.uk/coffeehouse/2013/04/the-date-george-osbornes-vultures-are-waiting-for/

Such a fundamental error in a spreadsheet formula (a program that actually adds up all the numbers for you, obviating even basic arithmetic) would fail you in the most elementary of ICT qualifications, but I guess that sort of rigor is not required for a 2:1 in Modern History.

Shame Osborne didn’t give it to one of his own researchers to double-check. Even an intern could probably have found such a fundamental error if only he had thought that it was important enough to bother. But why? It only affects poor people.

I know it’s a very old stuck record to be banging on about privilege and old boys’ networks but things have not changed. The Bullingdon Boys are still trashing the restaurant, only this time we are footing the bill.

William Hague (currently First Secretary of State) also has a first in PPE, cherry-topped with a Masters of Business Administration (MBA). Despite Cameron and Osborne’s smooth-faced sliminess, Hague is by far the most admirable example of a Master of Bullshit Application whose question avoidance could even teach James Murdoch a thing or two.

However, the most spookily fascistic statement is this unimpeachably non-committal but threatening quotation taken from an interview on BBC TV about the, then recent, Edward Snowden leaks:

“The net effect is that if you are a law-abiding citizen of this country going about your business and personal life, you have nothing to fear about the British state or intelligence agencies listening to the content of your phone calls or anything like that.”

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/10108564/William-Hague-British-public-have-nothing-to-fear-from-US-spies.html

Most telling about the above MPs’ CVs is their lack of work experience, I mean real work, not “researcher” ,“advisor” or “speechwriter” which, in British politics, are all pseudonyms for “professional liar”.

I’ll leave my more in-depth observations on the techniques of professional lying to a future post, but this leads me to one of the most glaring examples of paid public servants who have less than a complete grasp of the truth, Grant Shapps.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grant_Shapps

Shapps is a rather surprising choice for Conservative Party Chairman after his less-than-savoury previous career in get-rich-quick schemes operating under more than one alias. I suppose in the UK Conservative party he doesn’t seem all that bad compared with the swivel-eyed fascists languishing on the back-benches, especially given the neo-Nazi “Aternative Queen’s Speech” recently published. Even the lizards-in-human-clothing on the front benches find those bloodless vampires unpalatable. This headline say it all, even the Daily Torygraph thinks they’re loons:
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/10133076/Conservative-MPs-launch-attempt-to-bring-back-death-penalty-privatise-the-BBC-and-ban-burka.html

A very telling quotation from David Cameron, our Prime Minister and champion of the laughably patronising Big Society initiative, referred to comedian Jimmy Carr’s tax arrangements as being “morally wrong”.
http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2012/jun/20/jimmy-carr-tax-david-cameron

It’s a shame the philosophy part of his honours degree in PPE did not cover a little more ground. Taxation is not a moral issue, it is an ethical issue, but it seems Cameron does not know the difference and this is one of the most damning indictments of the people who affect our livelihoods in the UK. They do not know the difference between morality and ethics because they are neither moral nor ethical. These are just concepts they learned about in the dreaming spires of Oxford but have never applied in their brief careers leaping directly from studying to influence with only the occasional summer working in an uncle’s factory.

Shapps is certainly an exception, but his experience in the world of commerce is not something most of us would want on our own CVs. In fact, he was found out to have altered his own Wikipedia entry, no doubt to “correct” it, and also posted a comment on a YouTube video pretending to be a Lib Dem supporter, whilst being logged in from his own account. No ICT qualification for him either, and he’d best leave any espionage to Hague’s impenetrable dome of silence.

Iain Duncan Smith (IDS) (currently Secretary of State for Work & Pensions) also has a less than exemplary academic career, although he did try to “enhance” it before his claim to have studied at the Italian University of Perugia was found to be inaccurate (aka a lie).
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iain_Duncan_Smith

Both IDS and Shapps have at least some real world experience which you would have though would have taught them the futility of lying. You always get found out, and even more so these days with the unblinking eye of Wikipedia collating inconvenient facts in spite of one’s own “corrections”. Which leads me conveniently to the matter of (ahem) statistics. Both of these fantasists have been criticised for willful misuse of statistics by the UK Statistics Authority.
http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/2013/05/duncan-smith-face-grilling-mps-over-misuse-statistics
http://www.labour.org.uk/shapps-rebuked-by-uk-statistics-authority

Proud as they might be of their actual or imagined education, a little more time at the University of Life might have taught them why they are so widely hated by the British public outside the steaming spires of Whitehall. In any other profession misrepresentation, gross negligence or gross incompetence would be seen as causes for disciplinary action and possibly dismissal, but in British politics we are so used to this abuse of power by unqualified bigots that we hardly notice it.

But all of that is just playground stuff, even Clement Attlee (beloved of the those old-fashioned lefties who bang on about the NHS all the time) only got a second class degree, also in Modern History. However, his political view was fundamentally changed by working with poverty-stricken children. It seems he saw something in the eyes of the poor that could not be communicated at preparatory school.

Hague and Cameron are no doubt proud of their achievements but a First Class Honours in Busybodying and a Master’s in Bookkeeping does not make you a statesman. And this is the fundamental folly of what we see in British politics. It has become a career choice, not a vocation. These nobodies are either straight out of university, failed businessmen or disgraced journalists with not a single backbone between them (strictly speaking lizards are vertebrates, but you get the point, Ed). The British Conservative Party is a resting place for people who have no actual value in society apart from the skills of not answering questions and passing the blame onto other people such as teachers, nurses, the unemployed and of course, that scourge of society, single mothers.

However, this post is not about bashing people for their educational achievements, not even Conservative politicians. Mine could hardly be compared favourably but at least I don’t lie about it. That would be both unethical and immoral (just in case you were wondering, Dave). However, I have had 30 years experience our in the real world working and that give you a very different perspective on life and a keen nose for bullshit.

I suggest a new qualification for anyone wanting to claim they represent the people of Britain in Parliament. The curriculum would require reading the entire saga of Harry Potter novels, watching all six seasons of “Lost” and being required to work as waiting staff for the Bullingdon Club. The examinations would involve writing an episode of “Hollyoaks”, filling in a self-assessment tax return and a multiple-choice quiz on the difference between morality and ethics. None of the questions would actually have a correct answer with electric shocks administered for wrong answers.

This would give wannabe politicians a taste of what it is to be a frustrated and powerless witness to the lies, incompetence and insanity embodied by British politics. Tally ho!

EEx

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Let the games begone – lies, damned lies and legacy

Screen shot 2013-06-21 at 10.44.45

I might be a little late to the party on this one, but seeing as the world is about to be set alight I thought I’d better stick my oar in before the the Middle East is razed to the ground (again), and the NSA steal all my ideas and publish their own critical essays. They will know exactly what I have been researching as most of my “investigative journalism” starts with a google search. Don’t you just love the internet? You can write much as you like, with a load of online references to back you up, just as long as you don’t mind the CIA looking over your shoulder.

I know London 2012 was a whole year ago, but my bile has been raised by certain feelings, similar to my own, that are being expressed in that cradle of international sporting excellence, Brazil. When I say “sporting excellence” I do, of course, mean football. We British know that none of the other sports really matter, but we like to make a pretence of “inclusivity”.

Here is a very coherent anti World Cup argument made by some Brazilian bird.

Reuters report 1,000,000 Brazilians protesting on the streets of various cities.
http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/06/21/us-brazil-protests-idUSBRE95J15020130621

I must admit to having ignored large sporting events for most of my life because I am not interested in sport and it just doesn’t pop up on my radar. Also, I can’t deny being convinced of the argument that these huge, signature events are good for the economy, the country and the people because I’ve never really thought about it before. Due to my own indifference, I accepted the popular view. However, seeing Will Self tear a strip off Tessa Jowell MP on BBC Newsnight in July 2011 made me think very differently about the amounts of money involved, the source of that money and the return on investment (ROI) on the promised “legacy”.

It’s all in the face and body language of Baroness Tanni Gray-Thompson at the beginning of the clip. Although she is now a member of the House of Lords, she is not a career politician and has not had the question-blocking and emotion-masking training that your average lizard-in-human-clothes has. She does her best to apologise for the elite element by trying to cover it up with the “hugely positive” aspect of the paralympics. However, Will Self is such a juggernaut of well-informed critical analysis that even Paxo, normally BBC Newsnight’s resident Rottweiler, just steps out of the way and lets him rubbish London 2012.

As far as we apathetic British are concerned, it’s our own fault. It’s not like we don’t have an example from history, Roman author Juvenal coined the term “bread and circuses” in his “Satires” (c100 AD).

However, my own epiphany of spiralling cynicism came when I saw this image (© The Times):

122369082__391543c

It turns out the Olympics is just an exercise in establishing and reinforcing commercial brands, and all at the expense of the the British public. Sheffield’s own poster girl has been raised to the status of a global brand face on the back of London 2012 and then bought up by a range of corporate businesses. The world of corporate sports sponsorship must have been thanking the Lord for delivering a decent bit of totty, and also making her good enough at the actual sport not to be yet another perennial disappointment like the string of pretty-but-mediocre tennis wannabes that Britain is so good at producing.

According to Marketing Magazine, “Ennis’s other recent endorsement deals have included Jaguar, Coca-Cola-owned Powerade, BA, Aviva and Procter & Gamble’s skincare brand Olay.”
http://www.marketingmagazine.co.uk/article/1172068/jessica-ennis-become-face-santander

Busy girl!

To be fair on Jennis, a professional sportsperson’s career is very short and she needs to load up on sponsorship deals now and once she’s retired, she can take the rest of her life to think about the ethics of it while she’s crying all the way to the bank.

She has, no doubt, signed a few non-disclosure agreements (NDA), aka gagging contracts, and it’s a shame we’ll never hear her side of the experience of being a corporate cash-cow. I can’t help feeling that she never looks entirely comfortable in front of that Santander branding wall, and I wonder what was going through her mind during the shooting of those awkward TV commercials with those other sportswear dummies, Rory McIlroy and Jenson Button.

You wouldn’t think McIlroy needed the money. At the time of going to press Forbes reports he’s worth $17.4 million although they don’t say over what period. Like it matters.
http://www.forbes.com/pictures/mli45igdi/91-rory-mcilroy/

I guess after a certain threshold, when you no longer have to worry about the price of a pasty (hot or cold), the numbers start to be meaningless and it must seem like a diminishing return unless you can get more and more and more.

And here is the crux of it, these huge events are simply a way of corrupt government diverting public money into big fat contracts for large commercial organisations, who even had “branding police” patrolling the streets of London making sure no-one used their precious trademarks, such as the words “gold”, “silver”, or “bronze”.
http://www.brandrepublic.com/news/1141137/olympic-brand-police-hit-streets/

Orwell imagined the Thought Police but the reality is far more frightening because it is just as invidious, but so bland.

Closer to home, the legacy of London 2012 has been so valuable to Sheffield, Jennis’ home town, that within six months of the games finishing it was announced that Don Valley athletics stadium, bearing her name on one of its grandstands, would close because the local council could not afford to meet the £700,000 yearly loss it was making. It turns out that watching elite athletes being faster, higher or stronger than us plebs can ever dream of has not been the inspiration of da nation.
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-south-yorkshire-21737772

Lord Coe, ambassador for London 2012, who also grew up in Sheffield, said “There is a legacy there, and it is actually quite a strong one, but this is for a local authority to decide.” Maybe that same local authority should have made a similar decision back in 1991 when it saddled the people of Sheffield with a debt of £685 million, the cost of hosting the World Student Games and when the Don Valley Stadium was originally built. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-south-yorkshire-14134973

According to BBC News, that debt will not be paid off until 2024, another 10 years after it is due to be demolished. What a valuable legacy that has turned out to be, not even including the annual losses the stadium has made. Maybe that £9 billion squandered on London 2012 could have been used to pay off the original debt, and even if the stadium had made a loss of £700k per annum ad infinitum, it could have kept Don Valley open for another 12,000 years. Now that would be a legacy, Lord Coe.

EEx

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Do you want fries with that?

This image was originally posted to Flickr as BK Stacker

After an enforced hiatus from my musings on the state of British culture, you may or may not welcome my return to the keyboard. Either way, get used to it.

I am sure you are familiar with the famous illustration of probability which suggests that if you put enough monkeys in a room with enough typewriters, and leave them for long enough, one of them will eventually write the works of Shakespeare.

Ever wondered what that room would sound like? Well, look no further than Radiohead’s rehearsal room. I’m sure they had much more of the beautiful, tear-jerking pathos of Green Plastic Trees (1998) or Street Spirit (1995) in them, and they could have made a mint out of über-ballads as an accompaniment for awkward, bullied teenagers to contemplate suicide to, but no! Instead we have to have album after album of the irritating pops and clicks that is the sound of primates clutching at straws, serenaded by Thom Yorke’s doleful squawking.

Their latest album, King of Limbs (2011), made my heart send out a great disturbance in The Force, as if millions of fans suddenly cried out in disappointment, and were suddenly silenced by boredom. I have to say that since Kid A (2000), I have had a very uneven relationship with their music.

http://www.thekingoflimbs.com/

Even The Guardian agrees with me. Their review is as polite as it can be, but they take 500 words to say “Haven’t I already got this album?”.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/2011/feb/18/radiohead-king-limbs-first-review

It sounds like all the offcuts and leftovers swept up from the studio floor. I wonder if the band got an intern to knock it out, or maybe it’s a completely manufactured pastiche. Either way, you really don’t need to hear it, although you’ll probably buy it.

I bought the cheapest downloadable version at £6 for a meagre eight high quality MP3s and felt cheated after the first listen. There are several other package variations of the album including a £33 “newspaper” version including the usual random collection of tat that we have come to expect from any Radiohead album.

This is, of course, just another example of franchise art. When artists or musicians hit on a winning formula they repeat it over and over again in the knowledge that people with more disposable income than sense will endlessly subscribe to the diminishing return afforded by the fading glory of a once great talent, terrified by the thought of seeming off-message. Radiohead have been doling out this quirky, too-cool-for-school shite for ten years and no-body dares criticize.

Status Quo produced dozens of albums of more or less the same songs, but that’s okay, and why? Because they are not pretentious nob-heads. They’re just nob-heads.

And it’s the pretentiousness of it that really palls. The promo video Lotus Blossom has cool written all over it. “Choreographed by Wayne McGregor” (Royal Ballet & Random Dance theatre), Director of Photography Nick Wood, who has worked on music videos for Dizzee Rascal, Calvin Harris and Bloc Party, amongst others. Produced and Directed by Garth Jennings (Rambow (2007) & Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (2005)). The credits are so self-assuredly smug it makes me want to vomit in VariCam slowmo, but despite McGregor’s choreography, all I could see in this music promo was Thom Yorke’s characteristic twitching. The towering frisson of its anticipated coolness is only exceeded by the crushing disappointment of actually watching it.

On BBC Radio 4’s Today programme (28/2/11) Alex Poots, Director of the Manchester International Festival, does his best to make excuses for Radiohead but the stink of uneasy, liberal apologist snobbery was almost palpable.

And this is the real crux of the issue. The reason Radiohead have been making the same album for a decade is because no-one says no to them. Most bands have a long lead-in time of critical indifference, which either kills or cures them, but once successful, they can do no wrong. After the astonishing artistic achievement of OK Computer (1997), and its critical and commercial success, the hangers-on do not want to rock the boat and the critics are too anxious about maintaining their own position that they sit on the fence.

That is, apart from BBC Radio 3 DJ Andy Kershaw, who seems to be the only music pundit who has the balls to stand up for quality in music and have a go at the normally unimpeachable monuments of rock tedium that are Tom Waits, Captain Beefheart and Lou Reed. Please download the podcast while you can. It made me squeal with pleasure.

http://downloads.bbc.co.uk/podcasts/radio4/today/today_20110228-1115a.mp3

However, I have to ask myself, what kind of dimwit asks Liam Gallagher for a critical opinion? He is the artistic equivalent of chewing gum, with the intellectual insight of candy floss. His biggest criticism seems to be about the title, although that is the most interesting thing about the album.

http://www.myspace.com/music/blog/2011/2/28/liam-gallagher-criticizes-radiohead

Thank you for waiting.

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Shaving Slices of Salami from a Smurf

Originally published in Now Then Sheffield 29, August 2010.

The so-called Robin Hood Tax (RHT) is a proposed tax on transactions within financial institutions. It does not include transactions by individuals and is estimated to be able to raise up to £200 billion per year based upon levies of between 0.005% to 0.05%. There is an extremely coherent explanatory video on the website.

http://robinhoodtax.org.uk/

This is an example of accumulating many tiny amounts of money into a much more significant whole. I remember hearing the term “micro payment” for the first time in 2001 although it was nothing new. Like many people, I was introduced to the concept of “salami slicing” by the movie  “Superman III” (1983, dir Richard Lester). The salami metaphor can be applied in either direction. A large sum can be made up of lots of small pieces, or small amounts can be shaved off a large amount without being noticed. The proposed RHT would accumulate an enormous amount of tax revenue whilst being an insignificant burden on its target.

The term “Smurfing” was coined in the 1980’s and refers to the practice of dividing large transactions into several smaller ones in order to avoid being noticed by regulatory or statutory bodies who might want to tax or investigate them.

In “SuperMan III” the character Gus Gorman discovers how to collect all the fractions of cents left over due to the rounding down of computer-based calculations. He writes a computer program that gathers them all together and pays himself a fat salary cheque of $90k. Back in the real world, the only people earning that kind of monthly bonus are bankers. Makes you think, doesn’t it? Gorman foolishly buys a sports car and drives it to work at the same employer that he has just embezzled, apparently not familiar with that whole Smurf concept.

In this country tax is a dirty word and most people resent having to pay a single penny. It does not take a genius to understand that without taxation there would be no public services, but the resentment is so ingrained that political campaigns are often based upon promises of lower taxes. In practice each incoming government changes so may rules, regulations and allowances that it is impossible to work out if you are better or worse off. Is this just a subtle, salami-slice of intended confusion or simply the lone Smurf of incompetence? Taxation is inevitable in a developed and urban society, so let’s get used to the idea.

Our newly elected government has just issued a new budget but has not implemented the RHT although it is widely supported and easily implemented in a system which is universally computerized.

Despite the rhetoric of Tweedle Cameron and Tweedle Clegg, who talk about a fairer Britain, the Conservative Party (despite the conjoined, facile LibDem idiot-child) has never been shy of favouring the haves at the expense of the have-nots. By increasing Value Added Tax (VAT) to 20% they have put extra tax on almost everything we buy, and it even taxes the homeless, the unemployed, and those without a bank account. If the price of everything goes up then they can penalise the most vulnerable, directly and indirectly. We’ll call it the General Belgrano Tax and it will sink everyone, regardless of status.

On the other hand, the National Lottery is a voluntary tax, some say a tax on the poor. Well I say it is a tax on people who want something for nothing, and if that’s their motivation then they deserve being parted from their money. It’s actually giving most people nothing for something. However, the National Lottery has one saving grace, despite having no say in what it’s spent on, at least you can choose not to contribute. Let’s call it the Peter Stringfellow Tax and it’s just another form of gambling.

Does no-one else find the thought of government-endorsed gambling repellent? The democratically-elected, holier-than-thou, busy-bodies who believe that they know best for the British people by progressively denying us the pleasures of smoking and drinking, are the same morally corrupt manipulators who are directly and indirectly promoting the extremely destructive and addictive obsession that is gambling. Gambling is the most invidious of vices and these days it’s everywhere thanks to government relaxing its regulation and advertising restrictions.

Having said all this, I have a few a suggestion for a new, voluntary tax initiative that our current government could implement, given that they have already demonstrated their lack of scruples by not implementing the RHT in their emergency budget.

One of the truly astounding phenomena of social gaming is the puzzlingly successful FaceBook game, FarmVille. Pundits criticized its developers when they decided to “monetize” it. For the uninitiated, the word means adding options in the game that need to be paid for with real money. The Guardian published a story about a 12-year-old boy who blew £900 on FarmVille, buying virtual nothings. He squandered his own savings then hit his mother’s credit card without her knowledge. Many of these games are highly addictive, but merely exercises in resource management that promote nothing educational nor lasting, just unfounded aspiration, excessive consumption and a limitless horizon of frustration. The developers, Zynga, have effectively discovered a legal way of stealing pennies from children. Maybe we should called it the Fagin Tax.

Governments could learn from this, and why stop at pennies? This kind of pervasive, chewing-gum, self-subjugation is ripe for exploitation. Which more malleable, easily identified and vulnerable market is there than children? Zynga have found a way of inspiring the same desperate, clutching-at-straws that is gambling, whilst appealing to an extremely impressionable and irrationally addictive demographic. And it’s legal. According to the Guardian, FarmVille has 63 million players. That’s more than the population of the United Kingdom. They are not all children, of course, but if we could shave a penny from each player, every day, we could have that £200 billion of funny-money that the Bank of England has “quantitatively eased” into the economy paid off in a year, and the poor suckers would hardly notice it.

We’d call it TaxVille and it would be a resource management game where you have to balance the nation’s budget. It would, of course, be endless and ultimately impossible but success would be vaguely promised by the buying of optional fantasy add-ons such as Quantitative Easing, Public Borrowing and Proportional Representation.

I am joking, of course, although nothing I have written is untrue.

I believe the Robin Hood Tax is one of the few universally justifiable taxes and should be implemented forthwith, although I have a suggested extension to it that might be implemented:

What the hell, let’s levy micro-payments on every single electronic transaction for every product, service or financial exchange including any transactions that move money offshore! Go ahead, put your money in a Jersey bank and we’ll tax it on the way out and tax it again on the way back in. Every payment into, out of, or within any bank, building society, insurance company, or any commercial organization whatsoever. Neither salami-slicing, penny shaving nor smurfing will enable you to avoid it and it would be a percentage, a very small percentage, which would make it a proportional tax, so the rich pay more. It would trivial, annoying and unavoidable and we’ll call it the Russell Brand Tax. Simples!

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