Armed and ignorant

The old saying is that nothing is so dangerous as ignorance.  But with Wayne LaPierre, head of the NRA, we have an ignorant idiot who is also armed.

In todays Telegraph, he is quoted as saying “We don’t want America to become like England, where some of that nation’s outstanding rifle competitors keep their hobby a dark secret from their neighbours for fear of social disapproval,” said Mr LaPierre. “We’re not going to let the anti-gunners push us into that zone.”

We’ll leave aside the fact that the head of British Shooting described his statements as “absolute rubbish”.  Why is it that whenever the NRA come under fire for their moronic, pathetic defence of the age old right for patriotic Americans to be easily able to kill children using assault rifles, they point to the UK as justification?  Why us?  It is, of course, a useful indicator of their sheer, planet-sized ignorance that they refuse to this place as “England” when they mean “the United Kingdom”.  The UK is a slightly complex beast, being made up of four countries (depending on your point of view) but the overall concept is fairly simple to explain and understand.  A five year old could grasp the concept, unless they have just been shot in the face by someone who has exercised their Constitutional right to walk into a primary school loaded down like Rambo.  It is, of course, beyond the understanding of the head of the National Rifle Association, but then, that level of stupidity comes with the job.

After Sandy Hook, we had the age old discussion about gun control.  The NRA fell back to its usual standbys, blaming Hollywood, videogames, Obama, little green men etc.  Falling back on power fantasises about killing burglars in their homes (ask Oscar Pistorius how that one turned out).  They also said that the immediate aftermath of the tragedy was not the time to have this discussion on gun control.

At the time of writing, since Sandy Hook which happened in mid-December, 1852 Americans have been killed by guns.  (This site keeps a live tally.)  So, about 30 deaths a day since Sandy Hook.  One every 48 minutes or.  It would seem at first glance, that if we were to take the NRA line that “now is not the time for discussion” then,with one death every 48 minutes, there never will be a time for discussion.  Then I had a thought.

If you support the current state of gun control in the United States then you support the killing of children.  You believe that 20 dead kids is a reasonable price for your own personal freedom to pretend that you can freely take another life without consequence.  Ordinary US citizens have proved, time and time again, that they can’t be trusted not to go out and shoot up schools and shopping malls. When a five year old misbehaves, you take their favourite toy away from them until they learn to behave properly. Yet you don’t think this is the case for gun owners.  The right to carry a gun stops at the right to shoot someone else in the face.  You want to protect your Second Amendment rights?  Well, it says you have to be part of a well-regulated militia, so go off and join the Army.  If you want a gun, be a soldier.  The moment you stop being a soldier, you lose the gun.  You want to go hunting, hunt bear.  Not something that couldn’t hurt if there were ten thousand simultaneously flying at you – like quail or duck.  (I mean, seriously, you are hunting a duck?  What is it going to do, use its bill to suck you to death?)  Oh and you can’t drive to it and blast away – you want to hunt, then we’ll drop you in the middle of the Oregon forest to do so. If you want to use a statistic in favour of less gun control and it is wrong, you lose, automatically.  Debate is not shouting louder than your opponent.  If you manage to make Piers Morgan look reasonable and rational, then you are clearly on the wrong side of the issue. Every single one of the current arguments on gun control are based on a) money, b) pathetic power fantasies, c) rampant selfishness and d) a child-like tantrum that the “wrong” President got elected by the “wrong type” of people. And yes, I do know what you are saying when you say that.

Discussion over.  48 minutes?  More like 48 seconds.

Is “Cobra” the most 80s film in history?

Just watching “Cobra” and it seems to me that it is the most 80s film ever made.  Not because it is set in the 80s (obviously it is) but the style, the characters, the script… just about every trope and cliche that it is possible to put into a film makes it into Cobra.

So far we have

  • Sylvester Stallone as the title character which is a cop. A cop who doesn’t play by the rules, but god-damn he gets results
  • Brigitte Nielsen
  • Stallone’s boss hates him, but tolerates his methods, because of the aforementioned results.
  • Cobra lives in a beach front property.
  • Alone.
  • And entertains himself by cleaning his gun.
  • While wearing his mirrored shades
  • Having first shifted a load of Latinos out of his parking space.  They were just sitting there.  In a car. Next to a beach.  For no reason.
  • His partner wears a flat cap.  Unironically.  He almost dies.
  • The bloke who played Sledge Hammer has a minor role.  Can’t get more 80s than Sledge Hammer.
  • Prominent pictures of Ronald Reagan
  • The soundtrack appears to consist of power ballads and saxophone solos
  • There is a montage.
  • Accompanied by a power ballad.
  • Ultra-violence, which is commented upon by one of those liberal media reporter types.
  • Who gets punched in the face. Because this is the 80s, God-dammit.
  • Cobra never takes his gloves off.  Even when in his own house.
  • OMINOUS SYNTHESIZER CHORDS!
  • Lots of sounds of guns being lovingly assembled and reassembled
  • Including an entire montage
  • Also accompanied by a power ballard.
  • Cobra drives his own customised car.  Which makes lots of noise, but doesn’t actually go all that quickly.
  • As evidenced in a car chase where it can’t catch one of those Tetris shaped US sedans of the 80s.
  • The solution to everything is shooting people.
  • Each bad guy is offed with a one-liner
  • 87 minute running time.  (3 minutes longer than Evil Dead II, 8 minutes less than Mad Max 2.  When did films get so long?)
  • Cobra shows his sensitive side and romances the girl by putting a ballad on a jukebox.
  • Fashion shoot! (For character development reasons, of course)
  • Female lead character invites male lead character to bed – soundtracked by yet another power ballad
  • It is dumb. Like, really stupid.  You know how Arnie and Stallone were one man armies in the 80s? It is because extras would line up to be mowed down. Literally, just running in front of machine guns.  There is a bit where Stallone is on the back of a pick-up, killing everyone with one shot.

Basically, the only film that can match it for 80s-ness is Police Academy 3.  Because that features not only jet-skis, but is quite blatantly shot in a location other than that depicted – unless they’ve moved the CN Tower* without anyone noticing.

Shame Cobra isn’t, on just about any level, a decent film.

* Easier to see in the film itself, but in that image, you can see the concrete structure of the CN Tower in the background behind the white building

The impossibility of avoiding spoilers

I’m currently watching the whole of The West Wing from the start and blogging my thoughts as I go.  So HERE BE SPOILERS FOR ALL SHOWS UP TO SEASON TWO EPISODE SEVEN.

Well, speaking of spoilers, you may have noticed that I haven’t done much in the way of images or links.  Unfortunately, that is how it is going to stay, because in the three attempts I have made to look up something related to an episode, I’ve managed to run into spoilers.  Not from the articles, but from Google Instant Search autocompleting for me – and YouTube Related Videos.

So, yeah, thanks for that Internet.

I’ve got a queue of things I’ll write about, but in my viewing I’m up to S2E7, “The Portland Trip”, set entirely during a cross-country plane flight.  A little bit of a holding episode, as no-one really gets what they want – apart from Bartlet who gets CJ to wear a Notre Dame baseball cap as punishment for a sarky comment about their American football team.  As I watch episodes on the train to and from work, there were several moments where I had to cough in order to stifle laughter.  “Oh look, photo op” was brilliant.

One of the spoilers I ended up reading was that Josh and Donna do seem to get together – which is clearly inevitable after this episode, where Donna is dressed for a date but pulled back into work and complimented by a tipsy Josh.  So even though I know the punchline, the setup should be fun.

I’ll write more about the end of Season One / start of Season Two in a bit, given that they were pivotal to the whole series and, well, because they were three episodes in a row which made it onto my list of Favourite Things In TV Ever.  As the show is really in its stride,  I noticed several things have been quietly dropped.

The key one, for those who have watched, is the loss of the character of Mandy.  I’ll not say it was a shame, as one of the most prominent characters at the start of Season One was invisible by the end.  I don’t think it was the fault of the writers or Moira Kelly who played her – she just never seemed to fit in.  Was she an antagonist for Josh?  If so, why stick her in the West Wing, rather than working outside against them?  The whole “piece of paper” subplot that took up an episode or two seemed like a last throw of the dice – I was thinking “of course she is going to write what Bartlet’s weaknesses are – that would be her damned job.”

Mandy only did what Sam did in an episode – explore an alternate position.  Sam did it and kept quiet in order to wind up Mallory – and she has quietly disappeared too.  I expect she will be back in some form, but that relationship seemed to be building up before hitting a brick wall.  Mallory wasn’t even at the hospital after the shooting.

Finally, Sams relationship with Laurie, the call girl was cleared up very quickly, too.  Half a season of “will this get out to the public? We’re screwed if it gets out to the public.” and then suddenly “It is public.  Oh, well.”  No aftermath, no goodbye, no revenge against the waitress “friend” who sold the story for $50,000.  Obviously it couldn’t keep going forever, but it would have been nice to have had a conclusion.

Zoe seems to have disappeared too, with Charlie making some comments which seem to indicate he on the market.  There is a blog about those two that I need to get around to as well.

7 episodes down in the season, 22 to go.  I assume we’re going to get into the meat of the arc now, with a new Senate and Congress after the Midterms. Aynsley Hayes in on board, which I’ll write more about separately.

Acting with a capital A

I’m currently watching The West Wing for the first time, in order, right from the beginning and blogging my thoughts on it.  I am currently up to Season 2, Episode 5 so HERE BE SPOILERS.

Opinion is split on the Richard Curtis film, Love, Actually.  It is schmaltzy, a bit dumb and a hell of a lot of wish fulfilment.  To be honest, I quite like it as a film.  It is funny, entertaining and cheers me up.  There is one scene in particular that I remember well purely for the effect it had on the audience in the cinema when I watched it – the scene where Prime Minister Hugh Grant (played by Hugh Grant) admonishes the visiting President of the United States.

It is complete fantasy of course, but actors and writers love it.  First off, actors get to Act, a big set-piece where they can command the attention of the audience.  Writers love it because they can put their own words directly into the characters mouths without having to worry about nuance.  A speech is a moment where the audience is addressed face to face.  Some people don’t like them, especially when what is being said runs contrary to their ideas or opinions, but the power of a fictional speech to tell a true story is undeniable.

The West Wing isn’t afraid to go for the big grandstanding moment.  I’ve said before that I haven’t been the biggest fan of President Bartlet as a character because at times it has been hard to believe that he could have survived the cutthroat of politics to get elected.  However, when Martin Sheen is given A Big Speech then he really does give it the beans.

In the best examples so far, the writers have given the Speech not in a political context, such as a scene set at a rally or a fundraiser, but as a moment of interaction where some poor minor character, an extra even, is brought in for the purposes of sitting there while the main cast and writers unload at them.  In the episode “The Midterms” (S2E3) Bartlet demolishes a right wing radio host for her views on homosexuality.

It is a great moment, beautifully scripted and delivered.  But it feels a little out of context – we haven’t been introduced to Jacobs beforehand so seeing her demolished feels a little cruel – her comeuppance should be earned.  Similarly, that this happens in a room full of talk radio hosts seems to be kind of ignored – wouldn’t it be all over the airwaves the following day?  Also, most issues which – to these European eyes – seem pretty black and white tend to be dealt with by having characters debate the issue, either amongst themselves or with the supporting cast of the week.  Why should this issue be chosen to let the writers address the audience directly, rather than something equally contentious, liberal and (to my mind) clear cut.  Why this over gun control or the death penalty, both of which have been discussed in character?  Was it the safe option?

I suppose it demonstrates the good and the bad of having a character make a Speech.  Couldn’t help grinning at the end though, especially with the “that is how I beat him” payoff line.

The West Wing – Supporting Characters

I’m watching The West Wing for the first time and decided to keep a record of the journey through.  So for anyone who has not watched the show and intends to do so HERE BE SPOILERS FOR SEASON ONE AND SEASON TWO UP TO EPISODE 3.

Let me be clear – the performances from the leading cast are superb and nuanced.  Characters who are hard to like to begin with (Toby Ziegler, that would be you) become favourites as time goes by.  But the thing that makes the show so watchable is the supporting cast, especially the army of PAs, assistants and secretaries in The West Wing.

I don’t want to use the words “minor characters” because they are so important.  I love Mrs Landingham, the Presidents secretary who is clearly the matriarch of the administrative staff, alternately arranging and admonishing everyone who comes into her orbit, regardless of rank.  “No, Mr President, you cannot have a cookie, because you were snippy.”

Margaret, assistant to Leo McGarry seems a little bit too ditzy for my liking.  But my real hook into this was the interplay between Josh and his assistant Donna.  This can be the highlight so far, as they back and forth at incredible pace.  Part of me wants the relationship to develop further (and there seem to be a couple of hints that it might) but on the other hand, I quite like it the way it is.  There is a wonderful exchange between the pair in S1E6 where they are discussing the excess funding from taxes, and after it seems Josh has the upper hand, Donna later extracts the most beautiful revenge.

To be honest, these characters feel the least “real”.  They turn up, do something amusing or give a little moment and then disappear.  I think this is what makes them so entertaining – a little pause in the fast pace, a little grounding and normality.  Whenever one of them has a line longer than “X on the phone for you” then I already have a little smile in place at a forthcoming joke.

Thoughts on The West Wing – Season One

I’m watching The West Wing for the first time and decided to keep a record of the journey through.  So for anyone who has not watched the show and intends to do so HERE BE SPOILERS FOR SEASON ONE.

You know you are in safe hands with a story when you realise that the writers are a step ahead of you.  Not a million miles, but not so close that you can see things coming.  I was, I don’t know, about ten episodes in to Season One when I was thinking to myself – are they really going to be like this for the rest of the run?  This… wussy?

Obviously a complex series featuring at least six principal characters and a dozen smaller, yet important characters is going to have to spend time setting things up and introducing the audience to them.  But the first few episodes, fun though they were didn’t seem to be getting anywhere.  And to be honest, I thought the main problem was the President, who was less the Leader of the Free World, more like a kindly grandfather.  I couldn’t, at any point, see how the hell this nice guy had made it through the cutthroat world of politics to the top job.   There had been only one line that showed any kind of steel – when Bartlett argued with his Vice-President, Hoynes, the latter asking why Bartlett treated him like crap, the President uttered the words “You shouldn’t have made me beg” and I thought “finally!”

Except the writers knew this and were stringing me along.  The polling results come in, everyone is tired and treading water – suddenly the Oval Office explodes with anger.  They realise they are just floating along, dealing with their own personal issues and too scared to try anything, always looking to compromise and it is killing their administration and their re-election chances.  Leo McGarry stops feeling sorry for himself about his alcoholic past and turns into the hardass character that a Chief of Staff should be – especially one who persuaded Bartlett to run in the first place.

(It is mildly distracting, however, that McGarry sounds like Moe the Bartender from The Simpsons.)

Stepping outside the story and into the mechanics of making American TV shows, I do wonder if the change happened because the writers knew they had a successful series.  It happens in Episode 19 which production timing wise is close enough to perhaps have been affected by outside influences.  It also marks the point where everyone stops being touchy feely nicey nicey and starts showing the edge that got them elected in the first place.  To be honest, as enjoyable as the show had been to that point, I think it needed it.

The West Wing

The West Wing is one of those shows that I had been meaning to get around to watching for a long time.  It has even sat on my hard drive for the best part of a year.  I’d always said that I probably needed to watch the whole thing from the start, having caught an episode and really enjoyed it, but figured that to continue watching was to jump in halfway.

I’ve decided that I’ll be blogging my viewing on and off, just to see how it goes, really.  I’m three episodes into Season 2 and seeing as I’m writing several years after the show has finished HERE BE SPOILERS.   I’ll mark the postings with spoilers as well.

I have no idea why it took me so long to get around to watching this show.  Well, apart from piling through stuff like Castle and The Adventures Of Brisco County Jr.  And Elementary.  And The Wire.  OK, I do know why it took so long, but as someone with a healthy interest in politics, especially of the American kind, this show should have been at the top of my list.

I’ll not go too far into a recap, but it starts in the first year of the administration of Democrat President Jeb Bartlett (Martin Sheen) and focuses on the various issues, trials and tribulations that he and his team face.  These can be major geopolitical events (crisis in Pakistan threatening war, deciding a proportional response to the shooting down of a US military plane , to the personal (Chief of Staff Leo McGarry and his battle against alcoholism) and the minor (getting a Bill through Congress).

This is a show with talking.  Lots and lots of talking.  No gun play, no big explosions – just talking.  Or more appropriately, walking and talking.  The signature motif is the walk, where characters spit high quality fast paced dialogue at each other while wandering around the White House, seamlessly moving from one character to the next.  You have to pay attention to the plots and connect the dots to previous episodes (handily recapped at the start of the show).  The dialogue is not natural, in the way that the best dialogue isn’t.  It is just too intricate, too fast and too damned witty to be anything but rehearsed.  It is naturally delivered, but kind of like how everyone in Friends had a beautifully timed bon mot just waiting for the opportune moment.  There is a lot of repetition of words and phrases, not least between Josh and Donna but the show trusts its audience to keep up and doesn’t demand anything other than you pay attention for a bit.

I think that is why I love it so much.  Like the very best TV, it demands you treat it with respect, pay attention and trust the people behind it to entertain you.  I’ll write more about the issues raised, the characters and so on.  Suffice to say, when in the pilot episode one of the characters suggested that the President riding his bicycle into a tree should be described to the Press as “coming to a sudden arboreal stop” I instantly knew that I was in for the long haul.

The European Hokey Cokey

I haven’t blogged for a while, despite having plenty of things to try and find time to write about.  Well, not so much write, but rather type an endless stream of invective, abuse and swearwords as this current Coalition Government set about demolishing everything that made Britain a decent country, the safety net of the NHS, the respect for the poor, the disabled.  They’ve pretty much stopped hiding it.  This Coalition Government legitimised lying to Parliament (well done Nick Clegg!), lied under oath to Leveson and stand to profit hugely from selling off taxpayer funded institutions to themselves.  Or their mates.  They even demonise people on benefits as fraudsters while allowing a man who ripped the taxpayer off to the tune of £40,000 back into the Cabinet.

Of course, my anger isn’t eased by the knowledge that they will be kicked out at the next election, seeing as they are up against Ed Miliband, the human equivalent of beige.  Getting angry at him personally is like getting angry at, I don’t know, porridge.  Or toothpaste.  The problem is that Ed has never actually had a job outside of politics.  He was brought up with politics and sees everything in terms of a political calculation.  Therefore he doesn’t actually stand up for anything, because he doesn’t believe in anything.  Labour has abandoned any principles it has trying to aim for some kind of middle (in actuality, Right) ground.

Anyway, a couple of days ago David Cameron announced that, should the Tories be re-elected, that he will hold a referendum on Britains membership of the European Union.  This is, of course, one of the big issues for the Tories since the early 90s.  More than the economy (twice as fucked as it was when they came in power) more than defence, or the NHS, the real thing the Tories care about is “Yerp”.

Cameron has been forced into this by UKIP.  The UK Independence Party are the equivalent of the US Tea Party, loud, obnoxious, funded by the rich and supported by the selfish.  The Tories will happily steal candy from a poor baby (“how dare they have treats funded by my tax money?”) but UKIP will punch it in the face afterwards “for looking a bit foreign”.  The UKIP view of the world can be summed up in the following image.

The British Empire in the 1920s.

The caption says “The British Empire in the 1920’s” but it is effectively how UKIP and their Tory supporters essentially see the world now.  Britannia, despite all the evidence to the contrary, rules the waves.  Europe is still full of Krauts, Huns, Frogs, Dagos, Spics and millions of others who would all be speaking German right now if it wasn’t for Churchill and Our Brave Boys.

UKIP are a bunch of hypocrites.  They hate Europe so much, that they’ve taken £2m from it in expenses and keep standing for election there.  The undemocratic EU dictatorship has 12 UKIP MEPs, whereas the UK mother of all Parliaments, home of Great British Democracy has… none.  UKIP epitomise the very worst of Brits abroad.  I don’t mean the sort of idiotic lager louts you see in Magaluf, but the ones who buy a holiday home in Tuscany and then complain when the Portuguese cleaner simply refuses to learn proper English and to follow instructions even when repeated to them Quite Loudly Indeed.

(It is important to point out that UKIP as stated on their website, are not racist.  They just hate Europeans as a whole, and not any particular race.  So not racist.  Xenophobic.  But definitely not racist.  They also say that they are Libertarian, which as any fule know, is an utterly bonkers idea that can be reduced in two minutes to “Fuck you, got mine”.)

There are two main strands to the anti-EU argument.  The first is that it is an undemocratic dictatorship that has sovereignty over UK issues. This is answered easily – the EU Parliament is elected by the people in elections run via Proportional Representation, which is a much more democratic way that the UKs First Past The Post system.  The members of the EU Commission are appointed by the Parliaments of the respective countries, so with the Parliaments being democratically elected, we can put that argument to bed.  Laws pass down from the EU to the member countries, who have signed treaties ratified by their Parliaments to allow them to be put into practice.  Some countries – of which Britain is one – has negotiated various opt-outs to these laws.

So you see just how undemocratic the whole thing is.

As for UKIP believing in the sovereignty of the UK Parliament, here are two things.  This referendum is to appease UKIP.  UKIP, as previously stated, have no MPs in Parliament.  They have stood in a General Election and failed to get an elected voice.  They are, effectively, a lobbying group, albeit one which has managed to exert an incredible influence over a democratically elected Government.  I can’t think of another unelected organisation that has such an influence over Government, well, not now that News Corp are keeping their heads down for a bit.  Second, this UKIP idea of parliamentary sovereignty manifests itself in.. a referendum of the people which bypasses Parliament altogether. So the party which believes in democracy and sovereignty of Parliament is in fact an unelected lobby group that doesn’t want Westminster to have a say in our membership of the EU!

The second anti-EU argument is that all sorts of rules are imposed by Brussels on Britain.  Take, for example, the Working Time Directive.  Nigel Farage: “We urgently need more EU reform, not least of the working time directive“.  William Hague: “The Working Time Directive is doing enough damage as it is to British businesses and public services.”

But what is the Working Time Directive?  Well, it enshrines, in law, the following things:

  • A maximum working week of 48 hours, unless the employee agrees to voluntarily work more
  • A minimum 20 days holiday in a year
  • A maximum of 13 working hours in a single 24 hour period, unless, again, the employee agrees
  • Rest periods every six hours

There is some other stuff, but you will note that the Working Time Directive is there to protect employees.  They can’t be forced to work insane hours under threat of dismissal, nor can they be forced to work year round.  The key word is “forced”, as employees can choose to work long hours and can withdraw that consent at any time.

It also doesn’t force employers to do anything like providing free creches full of kittens and mandatory sedan chairs for their workers.  All the Working Time Directive does is let a worker have a little bit of choice in this work-life balance thingy.

These workers rights are what the Tories and UKIP want to remove.  Not rules on how straight bananas can be, or any other made up bullshit.  They want to reduce holidays and increase working hours and fire you if you refuse to comply.

So the next time you hear the words “Working Time Directive” coming from a Tory or Nigel Farage, ask yourself this:

  • Which part of me being able to choose to work more than 48 hours a week is a problem?
  • Which bit of me being entitled to 20 days holiday a year is a problem?
  • Which bit of me having a mandated break when doing a long shift is a problem?
  • Which bit of me not being forced to work over six days a week is a problem?
  • Seeing as I can voluntarily choose to do any of the above, exactly which specific bit of the Working Time Directive is the problem, exactly?

Now you may have guessed that I support Britains membership of the EU.  I have a little bit of sympathy for David Cameron.  He is basically running an unpopular, minority Government and needs the support of the whackos and nutjobs in order to have a chance at re-election.  I don’t have a lot of sympathy, mind, as the shit he finds himself in is of his own making.  Cameron is clearly walking a tightrope as membership of the EU is absolutely vital to the British economy.  They are our biggest trading partner.  We leave, China, India and United States will simply trade with the EU.  EU countries will pull investment from Britain as it will cost them more.  Our own goods will cost more to make, because we buy it all in.  And we flogged most of the utilities to the French anyway.

The entire basis for this referendum is insane.  It jeopardises everything – vote to leave the EU and say hello to high prices and goodbye to many forms of employment protection.  What angers me is that so much of the argument are driven by either naked greed or by hypocrites.  The Daily Mail will argue against – owned by a man who is exiled for tax purposes.  The Telegraph will argue against – owned by two brothers in a tax haven that they try to run like a fiefdom.  The Sun will argue against, owned by an Australian who became American for tax reasons and run from a company in the Cayman Islands.

And these shitbags will try to give us lessons on Britains place in the world with a level of lies that will make the anti-AV campaign look like a paragon of truthfulness.  (Which reminds, how is that Leveson thing panning out…)

Ultimately, I just don’t understand what the beef with Europe is.  Britain joined the EEC before I was even born.  I’ve grown up with it.  I’ve seen that Europe isn’t full of shifty foreigners trying to extract revenge for “The War”.  I’ve seen it as a place to go to, to live, to work, to visit. I like it.  It isn’t just me – an entire couple of generations have grown up connected to Europe.  To me, saying we shouldn’t be part of it is like saying we should withdraw from the Internet.  It occupies the same mental space as the debate on gay marriage.  “It exists, it can’t be wished or legislated away. Why are we even debating it? Grow the fuck up and deal with it.”

Therefore what I can see is the lies, the delusion and the hypocrisy.  The lies about what Britains membership of the EU does.  The delusions from UKIP of the position of Britain in the world. The hypocrisy that the Tories are saying the UK is better apart from Europe, yet Scotland shouldn’t have independence because common interest is stronger.

I can see that, right now, there is a hell of a lot more wrong with the UK that needs fixing than our relationship with Europe yet all we could end up talking about is a sodding “Yerp” from now until 2017.  That an undemocratic, xenophobic party who want to strip people of their protections is exerting far too much influence.

And that worries me.

Why the Republican Party lost the election – in their own words

“You’ll find that conservatives outnumber liberals in America by 2 to 1” – Mitt Romney foreign policy adviser, BBC Five Live, believes that 48% is twice as much as 50%

[I could not believe] “the majority of Americans would do this…It’s a perplexing time for many of us right now.” – Sarah Palin, quoted in the Guardian has trouble understanding something.  Again.

“The Obama administraiton concentrated on the issue of free contraception instead of what women want, which is the economy and jobs” – Alice (somebody), Republican strategist, when interviewed by Jon Snow on Channel 4 News, blames Obama for not securing his opponent more votes

“I don’t know of anything in that agenda that we would want to drop.” – Gary Bauer, President of American Values, in the Washington Post

“He [Romney] is a successful businessman and voters don’t like successful people” – Person interviewed by Channel 4 News at the Romney/Ryan party in Boston

“For purposes of forging a bipartisan agreement that begins to solve the problem, we’re willing to accept new revenue, under the right conditions.” House Speaker John Boehner makes a case for the winners to adopt the losers policy

“No doubt the media will insist that Republicans must change, must sprint to the center, must embrace social liberalism, must accept that America is destined to play a less dominant role in the world,” Fred Barnes wrote on the blog of The Weekly Standard. “All that is hogwash, which is why Republicans are likely to reject it. Their ideology is not a problem.”

Five ways the mainstream media tipped the scales in favour of Obama – Fox News, the most popular cable news channel knows what the problem was.

 

So there you have it, in seven actual quotes.  I haven’t cherry picked some random Twitter rant either, these are people put up for interview in the New York Times, or international TV.  The problem for the Republican Party is that is simply doesn’t exist in the real world.  Instead of Keep Calm and Carry On, they have a motto of Deny Reality and Make Shit Up.  That was the entire plan for Romney and Ryan, just simply lie their way to the White House.    The problem with saying “vote for me, I’m not That Guy” is that people will look at you and say “OK, so we know what he is, what are you then?” (See how successful that strategy was for David Cameron in 2010.) And all there was was a multi-millionaire sociopath and a swivel-eyed lunatic.  Between them, every time they opened their mouth, another whopper would fall out and they hoped to just sail serenely onwards without anyone noticing.  They resembled Comical Ali, insisting the Americans were losing a war as the tanks rolled into Baghdad behind him.

To be fair, some Republicans do Get It.  But they’ll be shouted down, as a party of Angry Rich White men continue to only appeal to other Angry Rich White Men in a country that has a dwindling supply of them.  Two states voted to legalise marijuana, two legalised gay marriage.  Latinos, blacks, young people and women all voted overwhelmingly for Obama.

And as long as the party is funded by the lunacy that is the Tea Party, the evangelists and the Koch Brothers, long may it continue.

Does the Maps screwup show a bigger problem?

So iOS 6 is out and everyone is having a pretty good laugh at Apples expense.  Partly because the usual cycle involving a Golden Boy has left the point where they can do no wrong and heading towards where they can do no right.  Partly because the Maps app is suffering the sort of derision that effectively kills something at birth.

To set the scene, previous versions of iOS have had Map and YouTube functionality provided by Google.  This has now stopped as the licence has run out.  Apple has decided to supply its own mapping software using its own map information.  This information is flaky at best, just plain wrong at worst.

Google Maps has been going for nearly a decade.  Google have sunk billions into it, with Street View, Google Earth and all that.  The idea that Apple could simply replace it with their own version and users would be happy is insanity.

It doesn’t come down to money either.  Apple and Google have large amounts of money.  Money soothes all ills in business, and the licence could have been renewed.

Where the problem lies is attitude.  The tech industry likes openness.  It loves interconnectability, right up until the point where a technology has taken root and then, what tech companies love most of all, is a monopoly.  It doesn’t matter how the monopoly is configured, from Apples closed iOS garden to Googles’ wide open space, every inch of which is covered by CCTV.  But once they have got there, then the monopoly must be maintained.

This is why one of the major technology battlegrounds currently is the courts.  Everybody is suing everybody.  Apple is suing Google, Google is suing Apple, the phone manufacturers are suing each other, the phone OS makers are suing each other.  Companies win some, lose some in an attempt to protect their monopolies.  Apple don’t want to give Google more power over users – money, yes if they have to, but control… no.  Monopolists crave control.  Once you have control, the money flows automatically.

Unfortunately, all the monopolists and proto-monopolists are missing a valuable point.

Users don’t give a damn.

The tech world is, certainly compared to a decade ago, massively open and interoperable.  I am a SharePoint guy for a living, yet at home I work on an iMac and develop SharePoint stuff using a Parallels VM.  I use Facebook and Twitter from Chrome on my Mac, IE on the VM and Tweetdeck on my Android phone.  I love Nokias in the late 90s and early 2000, then I loved Android from 1.5 onwards but now I’m looking at shifting to iPhone when my contract ends in about 6 months.  I know iPhone people who are looking at going the other way.  We’ll still be able to browse the web, send email, send tweets, update our statuses.  The browser, OS and phone used to do this doesn’t matter to a user.  Hell, I use Facebook using the mobile browser when on 3G as the app is bloody awful when not on a wi-fi connection.

So while I may be using a monopoly in one aspect of my online life, it isn’t controlling any of the others.  In fact, I’m using it because it inter-operates with everything else.

I’ve seen it argued that some monopolies are good – and to an extent, I agree.  Certainly when it comes to an OS, having a strict baseline to work from can be very beneficial (a program written for Windows will always work on Windows, for instance).

But at some point, monopolies die.

IBM were the monopolists in the 1980s.  Microsoft in the 90s.  Internet Explorer had 90% of the desktop browsers, now it is down nearer 50% (ironically, as the program got better, its market share has gone down.)  At various points over the past 20 years, it seemed like RealPlayer, Netscape, MySpace and Flash ruled the world.

Sometimes they get outmanoeuvred.  Nokia were the kings of the jungle in 2006, and then Steve Jobs walked onto a stage, introduced an iPhone and made an entire industry almost irrelevant in just 45 minutes.  Sometimes they shoot themselves in the foot.  Twitter is currently overhauling its API infrastructure, locking out the very developers that produced the hundreds of clients for smartphones that fed the site.  (Would it have taken off so fast if there was just one client and no open API?  Ask Google+.)

But usually monopolies die because they place the company above the users.  Apple took over the personal computing world in a decade because of its relentless focus on products that users not only wanted, but needed, at a time when the competition was focused on locking users in.

Forget the “disappointment” of the iPhone 5, seismic shifts come along very rarely and it is still the leader others follow.  Forget the Cult of Jobs and Apple becoming a “normal” company in his untimely absence.  (It always was. Billion dollar companies are not individuals.  There is no “Cult of Michael O’Leary”, is there?). The Maps debacle is an indicator that Apple is beginning to lose that laser-like focus.

What Apple should have done was sucked it up and paid Google the cash.  It can’t seriously hope to catch up to Google Maps in the next half decade, assuming that it does recover from the PR debacle that might strangle Maps at birth.  I’m not even sure Apple should spend time sending cars around every street in the world. What, ultimately, is in it for them? Google Maps will probably be replaced in a decade (probably by something that only exists right now in somebody’s head) and trying to start the process is like taking on Muhammad Ali in his prime instead of when he was on the downhill slope.  It is easier to deliver a final killing blow to a weakened opponent that to swing the first punch against a strong one.

Of course, I’m not going pronounce the death of Apple.  (I’m merely going to leave that phrase in there for the search engines.)  But it does seem they are doing the thing that has led to the demise of many before them.  Give someone something new (e.g Siri) and they will forgive mistakes along the way.  Replace something very good with something that offers none of the benefits (when it even works) and introduces a lot of new problems is a big mistake to recover from.  I have no doubt the tech world will forget about it in a few months time and iOS will continue to lead the way but the seeds of doubt are now planted.  And that is a tricky weed to get rid of.

Users don’t have brand loyalty, no matter how many fanbois you think you have.  (In fact, the more uncritical followers you have, the faster your eventual demise.)  Users don’t mind monopolies, but they do find ways to break out of them when they need to.  Users aren’t stupid, but they are dumb – keep giving them the good stuff and you have them forever.  But give them the chance to look elsewhere and they will be off after the next shiny thing put in their vision.