Category: On the Soapbox

Going Green (not with envy or rage, but in a good way)

Going Green (not with envy or rage, but in a good way)

It has been about two months since my last confession blog post, so it seems appropriate to do another one. For the relatively small gaggle of people interested in whether I’m still alive and well, yes, yes I am.

In the past two months I fulfilled one lifetime dream in travelling to Japan, spending about a week in Tokyo. I was there for work, as Flyhigh Works had a rather awesome booth at Tokyo Game Show; it sure was a work trip! The days were long, but fulfilling, and my feet… my poor, poor feet. I have terrible feet, and standing on them in a roasting hot expo hall for entire days was difficult, and then every evening we’d make our way to Akihabara (a place of blinding lights and lots of places to eat) which would take an hour or more. Each day was wonderful, and then I’d get back to the hotel and be unconscious the moment my head hit the pillow. One night I was actually lying down and about to call my family, only to wake up at 3am with the phone in my hand, the number half dialled.

The highlights of the trip? Plenty of them, really. One was meeting the wider team. You see, the vast majority of our team are in Hong Kong, Japan and Taiwan, so I met the group for the first time. Everyone was great, though language was a barrier, but I was genuinely touched in a final team meal when we all introduced ourselves and said lovely things to each other. It was a very pure moment.

I was, of course, drinking in as much culture as I could, but the combination of work duties and appalling weather on my off day limited the potential to be a proper tourist. That said, the trip allowed me to spend more time with my employers and I think it strengthened our relationship. During TGS itself I did a mix of media / business chats, but also helped a lot with the nitty gritty of the booth. One highlight for me was when a mother and young girl started playing one of our games in which you craft recipes. It’s a very colourful game, and something about the way they both engaged with and enjoyed it, and most importantly shared the experience, was truly memorable.

Oh, and Japanese food is the best.

So that was that. Work is very busy otherwise, but is going well. On a more personal level I’m stepping up my own personal efforts to ‘go green’. I already eat less meat and watch power consumption, but I’m also looking into getting an electric car. I’m sticking at it, but they won’t go mainstream unless big changes happen, which hopefully will be the case in the next 3-5 years. Not only are electric cars expensive compared to petrol equivalents, but buying one is a pain in the arse.

As I live in a flat / apartment, I’m still trying to find out if I can get a charging point for my assigned parking spot; I hope I can, but have a backup plan if not. Beyond that, figuring out how to actually get on the ladder and run the thing is a little overly complicated right now, but I’m persistent. It’s enough of a nuisance, though, that I can imagine anyone looking at the idea casually would give up quite quickly. A lot needs to change to make electric cars accessible, affordable (and I mean actually affordable, for those looking to spend $15,000, not $30,000+) and easy to buy. Hopefully, though, positive steps will keep being taken to make that possible, and I have to say there’s impressive support at a public sector level in Scotland (mostly driven by the Scottish, not UK, government).

I’ve been aiming to go green for years, doing so slowly and, frankly, in ways I can actually afford. It seems more critical now, of course, that the window for preventing environmental catastrophe is getting smaller, potentially just 12 years. It’s easy – and justifiable – to feel pessimistic about our chances, but the only thing we can do is be positive and to get off the fence. Beyond doing my own thing in being more green I’m looking into options for activism. One thing will be potentially joining the Scottish Green Party, once I’ve researched the manifesto, but I’ll also be looking at other things. We also need businesses to be motivated to go green, and they’ll only do that if it’s profitable. Corporations are selfish bastards, so legislation needs to tap into that for a positive end goal – if politicians can find some courage, naturally.

Everyone that cares about the topic should do what they can, at least. Whether that’s political affiliations, activist groups, petitions, or just talking about being green. Everyone can do something.

Anyway, here ends the soapbox. Have a lovely day!

Until next time…

Truth is Definitely Stranger Than Fiction

Truth is Definitely Stranger Than Fiction

As is the norm it’s been a while since I’ve written anything, so I figured I’d give a little update and share a few of my current musings / perspectives / confusions.

In terms of what’s going on with me, quite a lot at the moment. July was relatively quiet all told, but work is now very busy and I’ve got a fair bit of traveling through August and September (the pic is a not-very-subtle clue). I’m excited about that, though know full well I’ll be exhausted by October; it’s fine, I’ll just sleep for a weekend. I’m very lucky that my job involves opportunities to see the world, so I’ll sure make the most of it. In fact this year is ticking multiple things off my ‘bucket list’, so I’m a fortunate person.

I also signed up to a 10K run in November, which is foolish, but the positive side is that my good friend Anthony Dickens will be travelling up to Edinburgh and running it with me. The big loss of leaving Nintendo Life was the day to day chat with the friends I had the fortune of working with. I don’t miss the actual job, to be completely honest, but I miss the daily jokes and silly chat. Luckily I get on very well with my CIRCLE / Flyhigh Works colleagues, but various members of the NL team are among my best friends, and of course I now speak to them a lot less. Such is life.

On a personal level all is good. I have fun stuff ahead of me, but there have also been challenges and tough moments in the past month. As always my family sticks together and the principle of KBO (keep buggering on) is still important. I’ve also been thinking about some changes I want to make, such as getting a bit more politically active, looking to catch up with friends more often and to meet more new people. Living alone is a blessing and a curse. I get to work in my pyjamas and do as I please, but sometimes the silence is deafening and it’s easy to think about the noise my life is missing. But hey, it’s up to me to sort that out, as always!

And the world is still crazy; right now the truth is stranger than fiction. In the UK we have Brexit, which is a colossal fuck-up in-waiting even by the standards of the biggest pessimists. Then there’s the madness of Trump, Putin, Erdogan, and all sorts of cartoonish villains. Just recently I attended an event at the Edinburgh Book Festival in which journalist Luke Harding spoke about his book Collusion. It’s all about Trump and Russia, and some of the facts are mind-bending to the point you’d wish they were false.

And not only are facts stranger than fiction, but for some this is a post-truth age in which they create their own facts, and anything contradicting that obtuse view is ‘fake news’. This is a world where the phrase ‘alternative facts’ exists, after all. It feels like the next decade will be vital, as the icecaps continue to melt, economies are strained and stupid shit happens. We must always insist that opinions can be debated, but facts cannot. The truth and objective facts are not up for negotiation. We should therefore all fight for the truth against those that would prefer to live in denial, ignorance or fear.

And… that all got rather serious! It’s hard not to think about serious topics in a world that’s in constant flux. It’s important not to run from the great crisis points of our era, albeit the right arguments need to be made the right way – with solid facts and, when possible, a smile. We have more in common than not, even if it doesn’t always feel that way.

Thoughts on BBC News – Big Buzzfeed Clone (Occasionally)

Thoughts on BBC News – Big Buzzfeed Clone (Occasionally)

A little while ago I posted a slightly despairing Tweet about BBC News, in particular the state of its ‘Most Popular’ tab and the nature of the articles. About half of the time this section is ‘ok’ in terms of quality and actual relevance of news, restoring a bit of faith in the corporation and – indeed – its audience. The other half of the time it’s full of buzz-worthy nonsense, with articles about selfie addicts, photogenic couples getting engaged (I’m not even referring to the ‘Royal Wedding’!) and collections of old toys getting more hits than, well, actual news.

A few people seemed to agree with my sentiment, but one reply did stick with me as an odd defence – “they don’t control what gets read the most”. Well, that’s the thing, they do. They control what they publish, therefore they have complete control over whether they’re a news business or a hits business.

I’ve complained about the state of current media privately and a bit in public (occasionally on this blog), but I’ve often added the proviso that we get the media we deserve. Very few of us pay for media any more, and I’m in that number. I pay for a Kindle New York Times subscription (that counts as five points on my Hipster card, ten during double points promotions) but browse The Guardian for free. I let The Guardian get a tiny amount of money from me by serving ads (I never ad-block, as ads paid my bills for four years), partly because I think it’s getting worse with each passing year. That’s a vicious cycle, but I feel the Grauniad will keep getting more clickbaity regardless of how many pay to ‘support’ it, because it’ll want to keep the ad money high while cashing in real money contributions. So I accept it’ll make me roll my eyes on a daily basis, but it’s better than most of its rivals.

So that’s two of my news sources, and lower down the list is the BBC. What should make BBC News different is that, actually, it shouldn’t – theoretically – be trying to stay financially viable. Until recently I worked in video games media, and when I wrote about that recently I suggested “I was increasingly feeling like a relic”, as the kind of content I wanted to do didn’t always make the most sense for a business. I would bang on about ‘tone’, and quietly seethe when it dipped under my watch. I think most of the time our balance was fine, but as the months drifted by I felt like I was becoming bad for business, not willing to change fast enough to drive the traffic that keeps the lights on. Traffic was always good, but was I holding it back because I wouldn’t modernise fast enough? Potentially.

But that was a business, as are The Guardian and The New York Times; the latter maintains its credibility more successfully in my eyes, so I pay for it. The BBC, though, is funded by the TV License and is a public body. It shouldn’t have to chase the hits and ratings; in theory it should just try to do its job well.

There are reasons for BBC News going a bit Buzzfeed, online and in terms of some of its TV and radio output. One of these is undoubtedly political pressure. It seems over the past decade in particular, since the Tories came into government, that any renewal of TV License terms has come fraught with coded threats to the BBC about its performance and its content. Because the BBC is effectively reliant on a mix of public money and extras made through the ‘Worldwide’ service and sales of content, it’s caught between behaving as a public broadcaster and commercial enterprise.

So it pays big for some stars (infamously, especially male stars), while having to slash budgets elsewhere due to pressure and restrictions with the license fee. When you watch BBC News or view the website now and compare it to five years ago I think there must have been a real talent drain, especially in day-to-day journalism. I think there are still a few big journalistic beasts that produce fantastic work occasionally, and we still have the likes of Newsnight and Andrew Marr, but the broader levels and standards have (in my opinion) dropped.

As the BBC tries to justify its public funding it seems to fall into the same trap as commercial rivals – grab cheap hits to hold up the real content that performs more modestly. So we see buzz-worthy nonsense blending with real news, and BBC News does far less detailed and investigative work than in the past; after all, longform content costs time and money, two things given no quarter on the internet. Quantity and speed matter more than quality and care when it comes to online reporting. The BBC, sadly, is trying to operate within the echo chamber of the internet, rather than stand apart in an effort to inform, educate and inspire.

It’s not all bad, the BBC as a whole still does many good things and undoubtedly has some great people working hard. I’ll always be a strong defender of the need to have the BBC too, as British culture would suffer major damage if it was lost. I still marvel at all the BBC does for good drama on TV, the music events it organises, the incredible fundraising through its support for Comic Relief, Sport Relief, Children in Need etc. We need the British Broadcast Corporation.

I just wish its News department could back itself to get back to its first duty – to report the news to the highest possible standards. Don’t chase hits, don’t play the online journalism game. Just say “we are the BBC, we work differently”.

Then it’d be even more worthy of our appreciation.

Why I’ll Vote Labour in the General Election

Why I’ll Vote Labour in the General Election

Tomorrow brings the snap General Election in the UK. I’ll be voting Labour, and felt like sharing some perspectives on why before the ballots close on Thursday night.

I have never voted for the Tories, but I’m further away than ever from even being close to doing so. Their campaign has been typified by aloofness, bone-headed policies, naked and cynical opportunism and, worst of all, lies. The party that has governed this country for about a decade tries to shift the conversation from its record and does so through the worst kind of politics – insults, untruths and deception.

There’s a reason the Tories don’t want to focus on their record. They claim to be the party for workers, but that’s an extraordinarily bold-faced lie. They’re the party for wealthier workers and business owners, but think that lifting the minimum tax threshold compensates for everything else they take away. I benefit from some Tory policies like tax, but I despise them, because choosing your vote shouldn’t be about which party boosts your coffers, it should be about what you believe is right.

In years of austerity, which hasn’t done enough to alleviate the UK’s deficit despite that being the apparent goal, the Tories have targeted those that will never give them a vote anyway, and those with the least ability to fight back. Single parents (especially women), low income workers and most disgracefully the disabled have been hit with painful cuts. We’re a country that wastes money on missiles and all sorts of extraneous policies without a second thought, yet will slash and restructure benefits to the most needy to squeeze out modest savings in the budget.

A society is defined by how it treats those in the most need, how it cares for its poor and disadvantaged. Under the Tories those with disabilities have suffered terribly, especially those medically unable to work or struggling to find employment even if they can. The long term unemployed are treated like criminals, becoming numbers in the system of cuts when their stories need to be understood. We have people in full time jobs using food banks because our economy is designed to not give a shit about anyone but the comfortable middle class and above. If you don’t ‘get on and do well’ in a specific way, you have no place in a Conservative Britain.

The Tories know this, so how do they try to win the votes of those they continually fuck over year after year? Fear. They play on anxieties over immigration, paint other parties as ‘imposters’ that want to ruin the UK in EU Brexit talks, and they even politicise terror attacks. The most recent terrorist attack in London came right as the polls showed Labour closing in, so what does May do? Does she remain dignified and Prime Ministerial? No, she politicises terror. Despite being in power she talks like a right-wing opposition, playing into the terrorist’s hands by talking of scrapping human rights if it allows for ‘tougher’ laws.

The Tory’s behaviour this week has been a disgrace, and they weaken us in the face of terror. The reason terrorists use homemade bombs or, if they can’t even do that, drive a car into pedestrians and then attack them with knives, is that they’re weak. They’re laughably weak, but terror is powerful, so they act spontaneously and indiscriminately in order to turn us against our values. Principles of equality, compassion, kindness, justice, art, culture; courage, too, which so many have shown when confronting and resisting their attackers. Terrorists want us to forget those things because they’re pathetic, and they’re envious. May, in a desperate bid to avert an electoral shock, has embraced the fear and, in the process, given the terrorists a win.

Never mind that it’s the Tories that cut police numbers and stretch our defensive and intelligence capabilities. They don’t want to talk about how their failures make police men and women work against tougher odds. When senior police officers call our current PM, former Home Secretary and her government blatant liars, then we have a problem.

So that’s why I won’t vote Tory, but why Labour? Well, the Lib Dems are an irrelevance (and Farron does little to impress me), and under our electoral system the Greens have no chance. Though I live in Scotland I cannot vote for the SNP, as they focus on Independence yet do little governing – all talk and hardly any action.

As for Labour, my feelings towards Corbyn have been all over the place. When he became party leader I was excited, but all the resultant in-fighting in the party was problematic and he handled it poorly. He threw out dissenters and put together a cabinet that (in the early days) was amateurish. McDonnell is a bit baffling and inconsistent, and though I hope she gets well soon Diane Abbott is often a bit of a disaster.

And yet, with the focus of an election and in the face of the Tories, Corbyn and his team (which has improved) has fought the good fight. Rather than a cautious manifesto he produced an outline for a fairer country, thinking to hell with the cynics that wouldn’t vote for him anyway. He puts those in need first, and while not all of the policies are top-draw, the principles behind them and the alternative they offer is enticing.

Corbyn asks us to look forward with hope, not fear. He asks us to have empathy for others, to consider how the country can help everyone rather than how it can help us as individuals. He offers a genuine alternative.

Ultimately, I think the reality is that the polls will be a false dawn, and that the Tories will win their majority. I’ll be devastated if that happens, but it’s what my gut tells me is coming. All I can do, though, is play my part and vote.

Whatever your allegiance, I encourage you to do the same. Vote, as it’s a decision that matters more than ever this year.

KBO – The Only Choice When Brexit and Anti-Truth Politics Loom on the Horizon

KBO – The Only Choice When Brexit and Anti-Truth Politics Loom on the Horizon

Politicians don’t always tell the pure, undeniable truth. Nor are they often outright liars. Politics, as I see it, is a necessary blend of artifice and reality – some like to say we don’t need it, but life without politics is a dysfunctional dystopia. Everything is politics, from the price of the milk to the condition of the roads you drive on, to whether there are enough bins for disposing of your dog’s mess on a walk.

I was a teenager when ‘New Labour’ rose to power in the late ’90s, and I was enthralled. There was such ambition in their actions and it seemed, looking on relatively casually and with young eyes, that it was a truly progressive government trying to make life better. They arguably did so in various ways, with things like the minimum wage, but then the Iraq war happened.

By the time Blair and Bush had pretty much made their minds up, and we’re talking a year or so before the invasion, I was playing in a Supporter’s Football Team. One of my favourite team-mates, a generous and all-round good guy, joined the Territorial Army and, as I was 17-18 at the time, said I should think about doing the same. Easy money, fun training, that was the pitch. I counter-offered: please leave the TAs, I said, as we’ll be at war soon and they might send you. He didn’t think it was likely.

When he came back from the war, he seemed – based on my encounters with him – to be a changed man. He was still warm and generous, but he laughed less. The glint had gone from his eye. I wasn’t the only one who thought this, my parents (also involved in that supporter’s team) saw it too. I wasn’t with the team much longer for unrelated reasons, but it saddened me and I wish I hadn’t lost touch with him. He was starting a new career with the Police and was getting married last I heard (that was a LONG time ago), so I hope he’s having a great life.

The Iraq War, though, was an early example in my lifetime of anti-truth politics. Millions could smell a rat at the time and marched on London to share that view, but the government ignored it. They cited ‘Intelligence’ that couldn’t be shared, and bluffed past revelations that the so-called smoking gun dossier was proven to be full of nonsense. The war happened, and years later – having had access to the materials needed – the Chilcot Enquiry reinforced what many including me had suspected. We were dragged into a damaging war based on exaggerations, half-truths and outright lies.

I felt a lot of anger when I watched some of Tony Blair’s press conference after the Chilcot Enquiry eviscerated his decision making and post-war planning. He trotted out arguments that few would counter outright – Saddam Hussein was a despot that killed his own people, he once had weapons, and he probably had some old chemical weapons lying around even if, shucks, we couldn’t find them. Despite ditching the UN process he tried to imply he had no choice, that the decision had to be made.

It was pathological lying, and I’m not sure Blair even realises how ludicrous he sounded contradicting so much evidence. Yet it was his truth, as he saw it, and he wouldn’t be dissuaded. Thanks to that we had a war, Iraq then collapsed into civil war, and it is now a modern-day nightmare of a place in a day-to-day battle with Daesh (ISIL) and other terrorist groups.

This Anti-Truth approach is everywhere right now, too, and it’s damaging. Those peddling that approach to politics often seem to be so deluded that they believe their own nonsense on a deep-rooted level. Donald Trump makes shit up all the time, but seems to believe it just because he says it. The Brexit campaign had a little more awareness, in that it opted for calculated lies – “there’ll be no chaos, we’ll have hundreds of millions of pounds extra per week for the NHS, the EU will give us a great deal, we’ll be ‘Great Britain’ again”. When the vote for Brexit came and markets crashed, at least they showed they weren’t completely mad – they backtracked, admitted those promises weren’t real, and all ran off from their responsibilities, leaving it to others to fix the mess.

The saddest part of all this? We’re in an anti-intellectual age, where many feel they know better than experts, that an ‘elite’ are making up negative angles for some twisted pleasure. Much of what was predicted after Brexit has happened so far – the Pound continues to fall, real estate investment funds are being locked to stop investors bolting, business are contemplating leaving the City of London, the EU is not keen to give us a sweet deal. Experts said this would happen, yet those with expertise in various areas tell people about this, about what’s ACTUALLY happening, and plenty say they’re negative doom-mongers.

Don’t give us truth, some say, give us placebos so we don’t worry about problems heading our way.

Well, denial isn’t the answer for everyone. Ultimately, it’s important to be blunt and give opinions on problems in the world, and in our small ways try to help deal with the situation. It’s fine to despair occasionally, but at the end of the day this crazy world is the only one we have. If people don’t want truth and logic, tough, some of us just have to find ways to change those attitudes, and to make the best of bad scenarios.

All we can do is KBO – keep buggering on.

Constant Online Outrage is a Useless Replacement for Empathy

In recent months I’ve been having a mini crisis in terms of my work. As someone who spends lengthy working days online I see a lot of the good and bad in online culture, and having been doing this ‘job’ for a good few years I’ve seen a shift in how the internet sustains itself. The economy of the web is not just in dollars and pounds, but in trends and mindshare, and I’ve seen the latter non-currency evolve in ugly and facile ways.

I’m at a good age to have a ‘history’ with the web. I remember when it was young, rough around the edges, and loading a low-resolution video would take ages before it would inevitably just buffer anyway. Usage restrictions were tight, so every page view had to be carefully considered. It was a rather humorous place, despite this dog-owner rolling his eyes at the fascination most had with cats.

That’s changed and the web has evolved, however, and I’m not convinced it’s for the better. Along with reality TV the web became a source of celebrity, and as the internet economy grew it began to monetise itself. With monetisation there was a gradual loss of free-wheeling spirit as capitalisation took hold, at least in the mainstream outlets and pages thrown at us by web browsers, and a terrible thing happened – we realised that we could effectively be anonymous or, instead, a fake version of ourselves.

Whereas in the pre-broadband and smartphone era we consumed the web as readers, now we own it, and with that has come the abundance of selfies and celebrities literally only famous for being controversial. Someone can be very rich without much discernible talent if they conquer social media, and controlling that part of the web earns coverage on the endless buzz sites. And here’s something else I’ve learnt – negativity is what many want in their web content.

I’ve seen it in the relatively genteel world of Nintendo, where an issue that’s controversial gets far more engagement than an article about something positive, and that’s a sad state of affairs. The common factor with that engagement is outrage – people like to be angry, at least artificially, and they like sharing that with everyone else. I’ve occasionally done it myself but trained myself out of it, but for some it seems to be a profession.

The trouble is that many people, based on trends and much of the nonsense perpetuated all over the web, get outraged at the wrong thing. To quote The Guardian’s Jonathan Jones – “Anger is distorting modern life”. We rage against things we can’t change or are largely unimportant, because it’s what everyone else is doing, we’re jealous of the person / thing in question, or a host of other reasons. Plenty then share that rage online, desperate to show how much they care about a particular topic, often while spectacularly missing the point.

The trouble with outrage is that it rarely brings about much change. In the real non-digital world there are countless examples where anger and rage has helped kickstart social change, but after the protests and riots there’s always a lot of real work and compromise that happens. Yet in this era of trends millions latch onto a topic, argue furiously for a few days, then forget all about it.

They’re rarely conversations that we have online, either, and with our artificial online identities we can act without reason and logic. It’s the easiest thing in the world to be outraged, to find something to blame and scream bloody murder about it, and now that’s become a popular way to pass time. As millions do this it becomes the prevalent way social media works, which then bleeds into conventional media. It’s all entirely democratic, of course, but when people complain about the media, for example, I want to say it’s exactly what we deserve.

Sadly, I can’t help but feel that more and more people are taking the selfishness and narcissism that floods the web and applying it to real life. I look at the current state of politics here in the UK, EU and US and wonder what the end game is, as a cynical public then ironically encourages increasingly cynical politicians. We have a Chancellor in the UK who often targets the weak and seems to write budgets on a napkin before casually ditching a policy (with no funding replacement) if the public turn on it, and we have the bizarre reality of someone like Donald Trump being a potential President of the United States. Discrimination and hate are becoming far too effective in politics – as I said, negativity sells.

Yet negativity is a waste. Empathy, an awareness of others that is fundamental to the best of humanity, comes from positivity. It’s easy and lazy to find something to rage about, but it takes effort to empathise and to understand. When extremists blow themselves up it’s easy to blame the religion which they claim to represent, but it’s more important to stand with those being misrepresented by monsters that want to terrorise the public.

The internet is still a platform for wonderful things – it has knowledge, entertainment and the best nature of people in abundance. Yet we need to seek these elements out and make them the leading forces in the web economy. Next time cynicism is the first instinct in response to something, we should double take and reassess. If we’re angry about a selfish rich man with an empty palace, rather than give that oxygen we should promote and support organisations that help the homeless. If an attention-seeking celebrity says something vile to get headlines, don’t give them the oxygen of a retweet.

The internet can still be an incredible force of good, but we need to care about how we use it.