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Showing posts from September, 2014

The distant sound of money.

At the Conservative Party conference a policy is announced. It is duly parroted by media outlets. An important question is left unasked. But first, the policy: tax relief on inherited pensions, previously tacked at 55% and now to move into line with income tax. It’s an inoffensive enough policy, as Conservative policies go, not one of the more odious ones specifically designed to help out rich people ones (though, be under no illusions, it most definitely will help out a bunch of rich people), a few will benefit. It also has the handy characteristic of being easily labelled by tabloids as “Death Tax” as in “Osborne scraps Death Tax”. Which is point two, the due parroting: tabloids say Death Tax, BBC report tabloids saying Death Tax, people think whew, glad we’ve got rid of that Death Tax, good times all round. It’s a more of a mouthful to say “Osborne unpins fixed rate of 55% on inherited pensions to normalise them with income tax”. No, Death tax it is. And now we come to the una

The convenience of war

The Prime Minister must be thanking his lucky stars that IS exist. So, for that matter, will the Cleggster and possibly even Milibot (though maybe to a lesser extent). All quietly breathing sighs of relief and raising a glass to those wacky murderers Islamic State. You will recall that, not so long ago, there was a referendum for independence in Scotland, which was pulled out of the bag for the status quo by a little bit of last minute panicking and bandying of promises. I, too, have been known to make promises I can’t keep for the sake of keeping the peace, so I know whereof I speak. They’ll have woken up the morning after and thought “I said I’d do WHAT?” Predictably, depressingly, with a crushing ineivitability, bickering ensued. The whole wearying roundelay of jockeying for position and clambering for advantage creaked along and nobody but nobody said anything concrete about how they were going to y’know, do the things they’d said they’d do. It was looking a touch awkward. There

For want of a mouse

My mouse retired last week. For years it had faithfully tracked, pointed and clicked its way around various monitors without a squeak of complaint. Then, silently, it just started to slip away. Intermittently the left click began to fail, before packing in entirely. I was left with half a mouse, prodding lumpenly at the screen like early man. That right click still worked was a minor torture of sorts, I could do half a job, but couldn’t satisfyingly seal the deal with a left click. I pottered along with keyboard shortcuts and Mouse Keys for a bit, but it wasn’t the same. The computer seemed suddenly alien to me, with a vague feeling of unease I left it alone until such time as I could get a new mouse (which, clearly, has happened, and very nice it is too, a zippier, smaller, younger model, I eye the old mouse, wrapped in its cord and tucked away on the desk, like a penitent adulterer). Strange to have a part of your life excised by something as simple as a left click button. No c

Protest howls and Bono’s yowls.

I note from social media that it’s quite the thing to complain bitterly about the U2/Apple publicity stunt of foisting their new album upon iTunes subscribers. People didn’t want it, they didn’t ask for it, they are only dimly aware of the concept of “deleting” things. It’s easy to mock, so I shall. But this kerfuffle has worrying implications. This is the mediated internet writ large. It’s only a short conceptual leap from this to Apple deciding everything you listen to. Now, it is easy to argue that this is what music labels have always done. Some bands have had careers sat on, been ignored, had albums shelved, the corporations have decided what will be released, what you’ll hear, and against all this the indie (as in independent, not purely as in jangly guitars) subculture has railed. When the internet became a thing, a fact of everyone’s lives, it looked as though the playing field had been levelled. Fans and artists could interact directly, artists could showcase their music

Poll Geek

Due to the pressing constraints of history, this is of necessity the last referendum related essay. Only tangentially but hey, I’m at a computer, I’ve promised myself I’m bloody well going to write something and I’m receiving tetchy signals about how soon I need to get done and go and be sociable, so: The Scottish independence referendum has highlighted the unimportance of polls, by simultaneously highlighting their importance. Bear with me. You know how no-one south of the border was overly engaged until one poll, one single poll out of (at current count 1200) put the Yes campaign ahead by a single percentage point. And then they all went nuts. Uh-huh, we all recall the nuts-going, and a deeply unedifying spectacle it was. So, the importance of polls is this, they supply numerical totals by which people can keep score, they are an easy way to keep track. Once a Yes win became a microbial possibility everyone in Westminster lost, as they say in Scotland, the heid. And now the un

Blurb: a brief diversion

One of the more fraught aspects of doing a spot of writing is occasionally you will be called upon to provide a potted biography. Maybe some writers approach this joyously, for me it’s a horrible chance to look like a prize knob. Who wants to read author blurbs? Nobody, that’s who. Or rather, people will glance over other publications, maybe take note of a website address. The rest comes off as so much self aggrandising nonsense. Who cares what else I do? Yet the terrible urge is to try to write something different from the norm, something witty, something interesting. Which is, of course, ludicrous. Clearly people are already interested, otherwise they wouldn’t be reading your blurb, because who wants to read author blurbs (refrain, repeat to fade) In his wonderful book “Invisible Forms”. Kevin Jackson takes a chapter to have a look at this strange extrusion on the body of writing, and skewers its various incarnations. The depressing truth is that the laconic, jokey, offhand bl

Godwin’s Law

You know Godwin’s law, the most famous of internet axioms: "As a Usenet discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1." It’s one of those eye-rolling tactical gambits. The Nazis? Really? You want to bring them into it? It’s tacitly understood that, once you invoke the Third Reich in an attempt to prove your point, you’ve lost. This is borne out by frothing right-wing commentators and their talk of “Feminazis” and “The Fascist left”. Those incapable of framing a rational argument resort to Hitler, and the sane chuckle indulgently and go and talk to a grown up instead, because there’s just no dealing with them. So it’s disappointing beyond belief that when, in an interview about the Scottish referendum, Gordon Brown clumsily compared the hypothetical condition of the Scottish economy to that of the Weimar Republic, the BBC reporter followed this by saying “which led to the rise of Hitler”. That’s right, a BBC reporter drew

Don’t read the comments

There’s a twitter account you can follow called “Don’t read the comments”. Every once in a while a different tweet will appear in your feed saying simply that, in a variety of ways. It’s salient advice. It’s been said many times, by many people that the impersonality of the internet brings out the worst in people, allowing them to vent spleen and prejudice in a way unthinkable in the normal course of human interaction, to this oft-repeated opinion I would add: particularly in comments threads. I attempt not to, really I do, but occasionally I get sucked back in. The big problem is the urge to answer back, it’s human nature, you see a massively wrongheaded opinion and the urge to correct them, or to call them out on whatever blind prejudice they’re displaying is almost overwhelming. It occurred to me the other day, I was reading a review of Owen Jones’ new book, but said review was on a fairly liberal website, so, in the interests of balance, I wandered over to a right-wing one, just

Stories of the past

One of the things about parenthood is how it yields its secrets on a drip, you find yourself doing things you didn’t anticipate, which looking back seem blindingly obvious. It is, of course, now perfectly clear to me that I was ALWAYS going to wind up reading the Narnia books I adored so much as a child to my eldest though it hadn’t occurred to me until he asked about them. So we’ve been reading them (currently up to Voyage of the Dawn Treader), and he’s been loving it. I’ll confess to less enthusiasm. You’re familiar with Hartley’s line about the past being a foreign country. Well revisiting Narnia has suggested that the past is a fantasy. Read as a child, unencumbered by societal preconceptions, they’re wonderful. Read as an adult and the sensation that you’re being preached at is inescapable, character traits which once seemed absolute and just now leave you feeling the subject has been shabbily treated by the author (poor Eustace, for example, is clearly unhappy, and don’t get m

The rest is silence.

Recently I took a step which for many runners would be baffling, for some revolutionary, for more, downright heretical. For me it was the logical next step in falling back in love with the simple act of putting one foot in front of another I ditched the mp3 player. After years of skipping impatiently through random play, or sitting at the computer compiling running playlists, it’s gone. And I couldn’t be happier. It occurred to me that having music on was simply a way of trying to kid yourself that you weren’t out running, a way of trying to do something else. That music (or that horrible multitasking phenomenon “catching up on podcasts”) was getting in the way. What I love about running is its simplicity. Open the door and go. So I simplified it further. It’s better just being out in the world, after the initial horrible quarter of a mile (which music would get you through easily) the limbs remember what they’re supposed to be doing, you get into rhythm and after a while the brai

When stuck, return to Georges

I’ve recently been re-reading Georges Perec’s Life: a user’s manual. Not surprising news in and of itself. But it does offer some clues to the turn Coastalblog’s taken of late. Perec’s masterpiece is a snapshot in time of a Paris apartment block, his stroke of genius being to examine the lives of everyone contained therein, rather than a handful of protagonists. There is a plot of sorts, but due to the novel’s systematic progress (imagine a cross-section as a chessboard, the novel follows a knight’s passage around the board, an alinear approach which disrupts conventional narrative) the book becomes more about the individual stories (which is, in essence its point, explained by the title). It’s a humane work, allocating chapters to everyone in the building, interested in everything. I’ll not go into detail (do read it, though), as it’s not the book itself that’s the point of this piece, more Perec’s working method, and how it has come to pass that I’m daily writing these small ess

Scots Wahey

As polls tentatively suggest that Scotland might vote Yes at the referendum, an outcome seemingly unthinkable only a few weeks ago, a bout of panic and bluster begins at Westminster. Which made me think, possibly this is why it’s happening. Months ago the No campaign was strongly ahead. There’s not enough space in this piece to discuss the pros and cons of Scottish independence, but what I would point out is that it was all going pretty well if you’re pro-union roughly until David Cameron opened his gob, and it’s been getting worse for them ever since. His tone has been condescending, a groovy teacher telling the kids what they need to do, yeah. And in his wake patronising posh bloke after patronising posh bloke has been queuing up to tell the bally Jocks to stop all this nonsense and simmer down. There have been threats about currency union, threats about Europe, copious hot air and finger-jabbing, ill thought out remarks about border guards, the Union (by which we can reasonably