Friday, 22 July 2016

Important Conversations

22 February 2011. I set up a blog. When you set up a blog, no matter how you paint it, you have to have a certain level of conceit. You have to believe that people are interested in what you have to say. Therefore, what you have to say has to be interesting. That is why I set up a blog.

This is my final blog post on here. Over the five years I have been running it, I have covered quite a broad range of topics and I'd like to think I have tackled them in ways that most people haven't considered. All too often, I fall into the trap most people do. That trap is you hear a story, read the headline statements and lean on the immediate feeling. Stepping back and calmly understanding the situation is far more tricky and tends to expose uncomfortable truths. That is mainly what I wanted this blog to be, as well as a place to have some fun.

Hypocrisy was a big issue for me. I think it is the most prevalent flaw in our society and it is the least acknowledged. People were outraged at the rampant crime in the 2011 London riots but were okay downloading songs and films illegally. They were okay saying that the rich should contribute to the poor but are unwilling to make such sacrifices themselves. People are okay using hate as a method of stopping other forms of hate. I could go on. I felt it was time that those were things, along with plenty of other topics, that we discussed.

Conversations are important to have. Insights should be gathered at all times. I fear that the idea of open and free discussions is a dying art and it is off the back of such discussions that the world has come so far.

What Martin Luther King had to say on civil rights was incendiary when he said it. His words and actions came to cost him his life but it improved the lives of so many others. As uncomfortable as it is, it was important for Nick Griffin of the BNP be allowed to speak his mind. It halted his party's ascendancy, as their racist notions were fully exposed. Sunlight proved to be the best disinfectant. That moment wasn't that long ago but the notion of speaking our minds and sharing our ideas is already being attacked.

Certain agendas are being entertained, while others are being effectively erased. We are resorting to calling people racist, sexist or any other kind of hateful title as a way of shutting them up. If you think that is the best course of action, let me give you a practical example as to why that's wrong. Those people who have genuine concerns, ones that are not motivated by any hateful idea, got so sick of not being listened to that they determined to vote for someone bold enough to speak what they think. On such grounds came the political rise of Donald Trump. If you're part of that crowd who shouts down people for having an opinion, you are the soil in which the most prominent demagogue of our day grew. 

Stop shouting down conversations. Embrace other ideas and if you disagree with them, only do so with facts. Don't resort to suppressive speech or name calling. If their idea is nonsense or not in keeping with society, time will kill it. Dismiss it and it will grow in the dark as a deep rooted weed.

In 5 years or so, I've shared a lot of opinions on here. It has helped gain me a reputation of metaphorically dropping a grenade. Some of the reactions have been less than decent. Fortunately, I'm not a decent man, so it doesn't really wear me down. What I would say to anyone who wants to blog or share their opinions, you will need to be tough. Accept that if you have the right to share your insights, so do others.

We live in an era of unprecedented communication. Let's enjoy that and have those important conversations. They can be tweets, blogs, vlogs, stories, journals, opinion pieces or commentary articles. How they are had does not matter as much as the fact that we have them.

Add your mind to the conversation and, most of all, speak up.

Friday, 15 July 2016

It's Okay...

A lot of people will tell you to be different. In the 21st century, that's quite startling. Supposedly, we are in an era of unprecedented social progress. It's a lie. Certain agendas are being furthered, mostly off the back of anecdotal whining, while others continue to be dismissed. Mainly because they don't fit the narrative of those other agendas. Well, I am here to tell you that there are plenty of things people lie about when they say that they are not okay. They don't deviate from the truth out of malice. They just don't understand. They are not bad people; remember that.

It's okay to be sad. It means you're human. Amazingly, if you called it depression, they would show you respect and support you. Call it sadness and you need to get over yourself. The real sad thing is people can't see past that contradiction. They will tell you that you need to be happy. You need to be positive. No, you don't. Whatever gets you through the day is what you do. People can extol their way as better but that's like someone telling me Hawaiian pizza is the best. For some, yes. For me, no. Everyone is different. It's time we accepted that in every facet of life.

It's okay to be downbeat. Being upbeat purely to appease others is a lie. If they love you, they'll love you for who you are, not what you can pretend to be. If they can't accept that, they probably aren't the people you should have in your life. It's like a gay person keeping a homophobe for a friend.

It's okay to not have an opinion on something. That doesn't make you an enemy of a cause. The statement "If you're not with us, you're against us" takes many forms but it is a bullying, polarising tactic that is fundamentally hateful. Anything that forces you to do, say or think something is interested only in itself and not you.

It's okay to be in the minority. Sure, it means you don't get your way now but you might do one day. A minority used to read comic books. Now, a majority watch comic book films. A minority used to not read books. Now, a majority have read Harry Potter.

It's okay to not like something. No, that doesn't make you weird. There is no such thing as normal. To get what is supposedly normal, you take everything, everyone, and take an average. That means your weird is part of that normal.

It's okay to be who you are because God, nature, circumstance and choice made you that way.
It's okay to have your troubles because you can take them, even if that means asking those around you to help.
It's okay to see everyone else get what they want and you not get it. Such things happen to everyone. This means you're not alone but in the best company.
It's okay.
You can be you and you will get through this.

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Why Did ISIL Attack Islam?

28 June 2016: Ataturk Airport in Istanbul endures bombings and shootings, exceeding the lethality of a similar incident at Brussels Airport.

3 July 2016: Baghdad endures a terrorist assault that makes the Paris attacks pale in comparison.

ISIL claimed responsibility for both. There can be no dispute. Islamic State is now in open war with Islamic nations. The question is why? Why did ISIL launch terrorist attacks against nations that, while not complicit, have the nearest links to their fundamentalist ideology? The answer didn't lie in the explosions, the bullets or the body count. It was in the reaction.

These two attacks mirrored incidents that had happened not long ago. Iraq's capital city was subject to a multi-faceted attack, akin to those witnessed in France's capital, Paris. An airport in a capital city is subject to a series of assaults; a fact that could easily be attached to Brussels and Istanbul. The difference between is how the West reacted. What was our reaction after Paris and Brussels?

We swarmed over social media to show our solidarity. We changed our profile pictures to have flag filters to offer our moral support. We put up posts to show we stood with the French and Belgian people. We sang their national anthem. We mourned with them. We were one with them.

What did we do for Iraq or Turkey? Minimal posts. No profile picture filters. Limited outrage or outpouring of grief. It got swept under the rug fairly quickly. The Baghdad attack doesn't feature on any of the top read stories on the BBC website. It has only been 3 days. The Paris attacks were still very strongly in public's consciousness 3 days later and beyond.

This proves a core belief that ISIL preaches: The West is hypocritical. It does not care about Muslim lives. It does not care about Islamic beliefs. It cares only about itself. When you look at it, the pathway from someone who is on the fringes of fundamentalism to a fully radicalised individual is easily traced.

Then it becomes clear. Once that individual is radicalised, they seek refuge and identity with those who match their anger, their hatred of the hypocritical Western regime. Baghdad and Ataturk weren't just terrorist attacks; they were recruitment drives. And we, the people, handed them the best advertising campaign with our relative apathy.

You can stray from the Paris & Brussels attack and choose something closer. The Orlando shootings. It resulted in the deaths of 49 people. The Baghdad attacks resulted in a body count of 250. From all forms of media, journalistic and social, the Orlando shootings picked a lot more coverage. The near radicalised individual would think that the West values the life of one gay American above five Iraqis. It's not true but it's not a long stretch to see how they might jump to that conclusion.

So why did ISIL attack Islam? To prove the evils of their enemy. To draw in more soldiers. To be the insidious force they have always been. And they will say that their victory wasn't won in bloodshed. It was won in the relative indifference we showed towards the loss of human life.

Sunday, 3 July 2016

The Death of Democracy

Robert M. Hutchins said "The death of democracy is not likely to be an assassination from ambush. It will be a slow extinction from apathy, indifference, and undernourishment." He was wrong. Democracy is in its final throes and it is dying in the most noisy and flailing of ways. It is being strangled by a minority that, somehow, is louder and more powerful than we care to admit. It is being euthanised under the banner of the 'greater good' and a 'better society'. Allow me to give you the post-mortem before the patient's inevitable demise.

How did democracy die? Symptoms started to show in the EU. In 1992, Denmark voted on the Maastricht Treaty. It said no. They were made to vote again. In 2001, Ireland voted on the Nice Treaty. It was rejected. The Irish Government made them go again. In 2005, an EU Constitution was put before the people of France and Netherlands. They did not accept it and by clear cut margins. The respective governments and the EU ignored them. Governments wilfully ignoring its citizens and either asking until they got their way or implementing measures against their will; there is a name for that: Dictatorship.

The disease spread in Greece. A democratically elected government, voted in on the platform of anti-austerity, walked into the EU Council and demanded that the will of its citizens be respected. A new deal had to be crafted. Austerity had to be eased. The EU, with every single commissioner, MEP and support staff do not get near the numbers that voted in the Greek elections. Yet, somehow, this supranational body had the power to shrug at those democratic demands and say "No" to them.

Who came running to defend the democratic will of the Greeks? No one. Tough. We were all okay with bullying one of the oldest nations on this planet into implementing the very program they had opposed. We were fine with their majority being ignored. The EU wasn't a tyranny, it was just politics. Social media stayed relatively quiet about it. We had no issue with the EU and the IMF threatening bankruptcy against a country that was already in deep poverty. We watched them crush their will and make them financially crawl, even to this day.

Maybe we thought it would stay in Greece, so it wasn't our problem. It didn't. We got to the 2015 elections and the result came in. The Conservative Party had won the most seats. In a Parliamentary First-Past-The-Post system, that was how governments were picked and had been for over a century. If people didn't like that, there was a chance to change the voting system in 2011. It was rejected overwhelmingly. 2015 gave us a government that a lot of people didn't like. So they protested in the streets, which is their right, if not a bit odd because it was protesting against a democratically elected government. It was a protest against people voting? Putting aside how stupid it looked, that wasn't the big problem.

It was that people felt like they couldn't admit that they voted Conservative. You could have had 101 reasons to vote any way you felt and plenty of them were valid. You could not, however, declare that. Irrespective of your rationale, people who did so were castigated. They were told that they were making the rich richer and the poor suffer. They hated people on benefits, apparently, because they assumed that they were feckless. They were considered hateful people and, perversely, they would be treated hatefully for voting that way. Because Project Fear is the wrong way to campaign but Project Hate is the way to change your mind.

Then the UK had the EU referendum. The outcome was Brexit. 52% voted to leave the EU. The minority didn't take it well. Protests were started, a petition demanding a second referendum be held was initiated. Democracy had a phantom margin of error and this was cemented by the minority stating that the vote had been won by racists, xenophobes, islamophobes and the uneducated. How dare these people drag us into the wrong answer, they would state. The idea being that politics involves the absolutes of right and wrong, rather than the reality of what is subjectively best. Legal experts look for loopholes, because a manipulation of language and scenarios are considered more democratic than the masses casting their vote.

Democracy is dead. Not through apathy. Not through indifference. Not through a lack of nourishment. Plenty were involved. It's rarely the big things in the body that kill it. No, it's the tiny little things that eat away at people. So to is it with democracy; the minority are killing it. Democracy is meant to be where the will of the majority is enacted. The last time we saw a democratic country actively enact the will of the minority, it was South Africa during Apartheid.

But we're okay with that. We didn't like the democracy we had. We strangled it with a refusal to accept its outcomes. We buried it under aggressive language and bullying. Then, on the tombstone, we wrote "It was for the greater good."

Friday, 24 June 2016

Brexit - The Ugly Fallout

23 June 2016. The United Kingdom votes to leave the European Union, ending a 43 year membership of the trading and political bloc. And the fallout begins...

The inevitable politic landscape shift has begun. The Prime Minister, David Cameron, has resigned. Calls for the Leader of the Opposition, Jeremy Corbyn, to stand down have been issued, due to the insipid campaign he ran. A motion of no confidence has been issued against him.

The economic and socio-political standing of the United Kingdom is unknown. Truth is it didn't matter which way the vote went. Economics and politics are always unpredictable. If you voted on that, either way, then you're a fool. That was a red herring that both sides were willing to use.

There is an immediate aftermath that needs addressing though.


The above graphic isn't the only one to advocate the notion that the older people have dropped the younger generation in it. The Independent was broadcasting such statistics and implying that pensioners should not had the right to vote this way.

Let that sink in. We have a national newspaper comfortable sharing the idea that a section of society should have their democratic rights diminished. That would be the group who have been in it the longest, contributed to it the longest and have the most experience of living in the EU. What the actual hell?! Could you imagine if the graphic suggested black people had dropped white people in it? Or that women's votes should be less valid than men's votes? All because the outcome has not gone the way that you wanted it. Scandalous.

This is a one way ticket to fascism, which is a grand irony because a lot of Remain voters have accused some Leave voters of that very same sin. The UK is a democracy. One person, one vote. To preach anything else is an enemy of equality.


When I woke to find out the result of the EU referendum, my next stop was social media to see the reaction. It wasn't good. It was downright ugly. I am astounded at how comfortable people are to label those who voted Leave as xenophobes, racist or Islamophobic. There is no evidence to support this. All people who say this have is anecdotal evidence from social media. I'm amazed that I have to explain to them that you shouldn't believe everything you read on Facebook.

Xenophobes, racists and Islamophobes have a common trait. They are okay with saying hateful or disparaging things against a group of people without merit. If you are engaging in calling Leave voters these things, you are no better than them. A friend of mine put it better than I ever could. He said "The intolerance of the 'liberal' elite who preach tolerance has always amazed me."

Vicious name calling might be the freedom of speech, a democratic right, but it certainly doesn't uphold the sanctity of the right to vote. It is bullying. If you think that is how political arguments are won, then you are Project Fear & Hate personified.


Scotland and Northern Ireland (and London, although that will be irrelevant in this section) voted overwhelmingly to Remain in the EU. The Brexit win has already led to calls for a second Scottish Independence Referendum, one that has been put "on the table" by Scottish First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, already. There are some who are suggesting that people were foolish to vote Leave because now those nations will leave the UK.

Firstly, to vote one way in an effort to pander to one tenth of the UK population is the very antithesis of democracy. It is a completely fallacious argument.

Secondly, why is that a bad thing? Are we honestly against the idea of democratic self determination? If you voted Leave, surely you're fine with Scotland or Northern Ireland deciding whether it wants to be part of another union or not?


You may hear the scare stories of the value of pound sterling plummeting. It really doesn't make much difference, contrary to what most people believe. The pound will recover. In the mean time, a weaker pound is better for exports, which brings more money into the country. Sure, if you're planning to go abroad, foreign currency will cost more. In the grand scheme of things, it is another red herring monies gained and lost in swings and roundabouts fashion. It will fluctuate and it will stabilise. Don't let the City or the FTSE trick you into thinking it holds our way of life in its hands.


The Brexit success has led to a string of similar possibilities. France, The Netherlands, the Czech Republic and Austria are all pushing for their respective in-out referendum on the European Union. There are some who would shame the Leave voters with a 'look what you've done' attitude.

Let me put this very simply about the possibility of such referenda happening in other countries: It's not our problem and it is nothing to do with us!

I've branded a majority of these hideous reactions from Remain voters as the actions of 'sore losers' and I've been told that had Leave lost I would be a sore loser too. Maybe but I'd like to think that I would respect the vote, whichever way it had gone. I didn't vote Tory in the last General Election but I accepted the outcome. I certainly didn't label the people who did vote Conservative as hateful people, who were only invested in protecting their own interests.

You don't have to like it but you do have to accept that it is the democratic will of the people. It has not been skewed by a quirk in an electoral system. It was a straight shootout and Leave won. Do not try to twist democracy because it didn't suit you. Trying to set up a petition for a second referendum or trying to shame people for voting the way they did is a flat out assault on democracy.

The vote is done. The decision has been made. It's time to accept that, drop the hateful rhetoric in both directions and move on.

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

LGBT & Islam - The Test of Tolerance

When news of the Orlando shooting came, it shook the world. To put it into context, it was the 136th mass shooting incident in the USA in 2016, a fact that I worry we've become desensitised to. What made it stand out was the horrifying body count: 50 dead, 49 wounded. Add on top that it was targeting the LGBT community, a group that has made such leaps and bounds in acceptance and societal equity in the past decade, and it becomes a gaping wound in the efforts to make a tolerant and diverse civilisation.

This could be dismissed as a lone wolf incident, mainly because it is. This is, however, a reminder that, in Western society, we are trying to blend collectives that have very opposed ideologies and cultural roots. That causes friction. A tension found in people's habits, behaviours, beliefs and characters. Such things won't be easily harmonised.

We have recognised the manner in which LGBT people were treated was unfair and we're on the path to redressing that imbalance. As such, the LGBT community enjoy far more freedom and, with that, an increased presence, voice and visibility.

We have also recognised the plight of thousands of Muslim migrants and refugees. These people have been chased from their homes. Their countries have been ravaged by war. The West is the only place they can flee and we stand as the only people who can truly help them.

That means the West, a largely Christian/Atheist collective is due to get a huge influx of Islam into the mix. That doesn't mean we're inviting fundamentalists or radicals into our lands en masse. The extremist elements of ISIS et al have been dismissed as just that. To call all Muslims ISIS would be to call all Christians the KKK; a frankly ridiculous notion. Yet, Islam brings with it an uncomfortable reality in light of the Orlando shootings.

The fact is that homophobia and Islam are bedfellows. Tolerance is not part of that mix. Nine Islamic countries attach the death penalty to homosexuality. Those nine being Afghanistan, Brunei, Iran, Mauritania, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, United Arab Emirates and Yemen. In 57 Islamic countries, homosexuality is a crime in 37 of them.

To further illustrate the point, in 2013 the Pew Research Center conducted an investigation into opinions on whether homosexuality should be accepted among Islamic nations. The outcomes were pretty clear on where the consensus is. Taking one country in the study, Malaysian people over the age of 50 scored the highest, with 11% thinking that homosexuality should be accepted. When the same question was put to the 18-29 year olds of Malaysia that figure dropped to 7%. No Islamic country scored higher than that and the patterns suggested that attitudes did not necessarily improve with the younger generations.

Now we have a real test of tolerance in society. We are tearing down the barriers for LGBT people, while opening our doors to more and more Muslim migrants. Western society has prided itself on being progressive, bringing groups that stood in opposition together and finding some kind of harmony. It's certainly not perfect but, for example, relations between opposing genders and different races have improved from where they were a century ago. For those who say we have a long way to go, I'd remind them of how far we have come.

I say all this because I want to warn people. Orlando will not be the last time we see an assault on the LGBT community by an Islamic radical individual or fundamentalist group. People fear change and plenty are willing to kill in an effort to stop it. Lincoln was killed because he wanted to change slavery. Martin Luther King was killed because he wanted to end racial segregation and oppression. Every worthy cause has come at the cost of innocent blood.

Does that mean we should back down from the test? No. Absolutely not. Shoving every Muslim we can find back into Islamic nations would only breed extremism. We're certainly not going to tell gay people to dial it down. We've come too far to be taking backwards steps now.

What we have to do is show tolerance to all that keep the law. Islam may condemn homosexuality but they have the right to not like it, as long as they allow others to live it and love it. The two sides can have completely opposing views. That is the liberty and right of citizens in Western society. We can condemn with words and ideas, not bullets. We can support with love and compassion, not hate. If we can do that, one day, we might have a harmonised society.

The uncomfortable truth is such change can't be done by hashtags and memes. History has taught us that it will cost blood and tears. But every principle worth living for is also worth dying for. Hopefully, our children and children's children will look back in years to come and see how we stood firm with the LGBT and moderate, tolerant Muslim communities, saying to those who would use violence and death to polarise us that nothing unifies like a common enemy: the enemy of a tolerant society.

Friday, 13 May 2016

The Full Life Deception

Spend any time on social media and you will encounter a meme much like the one above. It encourages you to live a "full life" or something akin to that. It is designed to motivate you in finding what you love, embracing new experiences and being all that you can be. It is almost always married with a picture of natural beauty or awe inspiring environments. In the snappy quote and the powerful imagery, the deception that is taking place is brilliantly disguised. A lie that we have been sold so skilfully and we've bought at the cost of delusion and disappointment.

The lie is that life can be made full by a series of defined experiences, decreed by someone or something unidentified to this day. They tend to veer around locations to visit, passions to be pursued and vocations to be fulfilled. While all those things are worthwhile, it is an ugly and arrogant suggestion to say that anyone's life is not what it should be. Life should not be about bucket lists, ticking them off like they are achievements on a games console.

This is the deception we are being sold. It is the idea that what happens in someone's life somehow doesn't contribute to it, unless it is an Instagram friendly moment. Not everyone will travel to exotic locations. Being a glorified tourist does not mean you have a fuller life than the person who enjoys the close company of his family and friends. 

Not everyone will do an enviable job or even a profession that they enjoy. Being in a notable or noble vocation does not mean you have a fuller life than the person who knuckles down doing something crappy to pay the bills, putting a roof over their children's head, food in their stomachs and clothes on their backs.

Not everyone is naturally talented. Some have to rely on hard work to get to the point where they are able to survive comfortably. Their lives are not diminished by the lack of mental acuity they have. A full life is not the preserve of the bright, the brilliant, the rich, the risk takers and the reckless. It is had by all.

Life is a journey of experiences and every single one has value. Even the horrid ones. Because the full life idea is a lie; one I am completely sick of. It is not a full life that we should crave. It is a good life.

What defines a good life? It is not the miles we cover; it is not the certificates or accolades we collect. It is not the wealth we accumulate or the people we associate with. Ultimately, it will be the character we create in the cauldron of choices we call life that will determine whether our life was good. If it was good, our hearts will be full. Our lives will have felt rich. Vast monuments built by men and nature will pale in comparison to the joy felt in the warm glow of a friendly smile of a loved one.

Do not let the world tell you that you are not living a full life. You may suffer trials but the biggest shadows require the most wondrous mountains to cast them. They are not demons. They are not torture. They are your experiences. Own them. They will make you who you are and there is nothing in this world more special than that. You are the author of your life, the storyteller completing their first draft. Discover it. Embrace it. Live it.

And don't let anyone tell you that what you live is anything less than a full life. Just make it a good one.

Sunday, 1 May 2016

Captain America : Civil War - a review

Let's cut to the chase. Is this the best Marvel movie ever? No. For me, Winter Soldier sits proudly atop of that pile, with Guardians in a very close second. It is, however, an excellent film and is Marvel's most mature entry to date. It is unafraid to tackle heavy duty issues, such as the consequences of the character's actions and the journeys they have taken.

In saying that, Tony Stark's story arc, through this film and the franchise as a whole, is proving to be the most interesting. We started out with a cocksure weapons maker who saw the light. Now we have a world weary Tony who is burdened with the bloodshed caused by him, directly or indirectly. It's not often we see a hero have to deal with the aftermath of his heroics but Robert Downey Jr does it with real depth. He's not a man getting stronger from his trials. He's getting more fractured by it, which makes him all the more fascinating. If talk of him being willing to do more Iron Man films is true, Feige should be tying him down to that contract ASAP.

Steve Rogers falls into the more predictable storyline. After tearing SHIELD apart in The Winter Soldier, structure instituted by politicians makes him suspicious and causes him to rely on the only thing he trusts, the friends he fought with, namely Bucky. For a man who is trying to do the right thing, he is willing to do a hell of a lot wrong to save his friend. It is what you expect of the man though, so no real surprises there. Bucky, on the other hand, offers a brilliantly honest appraisal of who he is and what he has become. Despite his effective innocence, he is still haunted by the evil he has been involved in.

Of the other characters, the Russo brothers give them all chance to breathe in this film, which has its pros and cons. Some of them are necessary. Black Panther steals the show with an effective introduction and motivation throughout. His standalone film is far too far away for my liking after this.

Scarlett Witch gets good time to develop but it does appear to be aiming towards a longer arc because it seems to serve little purpose in this specific film. The same could be said of Spider-Man, who is superbly played by Tom Holland. His contributions in the action sequences are immense fun but the exposition introducing him slows the film down. Again, it appears to be a way of cutting out the need of an origin story for Peter Parker in Spider-Man: Homecoming. This film shouldn't be doing heavy lifting for other films and the pace suffers a bit for it.

It is nit picking to an extent because it is still a top notch film. Marvel have set themselves an impossibly high standard and are always more liable to fail by comparison. That shouldn't mean we dismiss their entries as bad. Captain America: Civil War will sit near the top of the ranks of the Marvel Cinematic Universe for a long time and Feige is right to trust the Russo brothers with the Infinity War films. It is also a signal that it is time for a change of direction, as it is starting to feel a tad stale. With Doctor Strange looking like a complete left turn for the MCU, followed by the second Guardians film, I have no concerns that such a change is being implemented.

As for my favourite parts... the action sequence in the airport is outstanding. Creative and funny, all while exploiting the variety of powers around, it certainly wasn't a 'colour by numbers' scene. The thing I think should be commended though was how the stakes felt immensely high without any 'end of the world' scenario being involved. The final battle in this film is one of the most stressful things I have watched. I am talking up there with watching Bane batter Batman in The Dark Knight Rises. I remember feeling sick to my stomach, thinking "He's going to kill Batman!" Civil War put me in that same zone, which is to be commended.

Overall, Civil War is great film with tiny issues of pacing and, much like Age of Ultron, being weighed down with servicing the bigger MCU arc. Other than that, I think it lives up to the expectations. DC will be looking on and wondering why Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice didn't get nearly as close to the mark as Captain America: Civil War did. With that said, it still doesn't feel like the stand out film of the year, nor the complete comic book movie we hoped for. X-Men: Apocalypse and Suicide Squad get to step up next. Game on.

Thursday, 28 April 2016

I Don't Believe In Happiness

I once sat in an interview with a man I greatly respect. He looked at me with a smile on his face and asked "Happy?" He may not have known what happened in my head during the one second pause I took to answer. I thought about telling him the truth but then that would lead to a well-meaning but ultimately demeaning interrogation. So I replied with what I knew he wanted to hear. I said "Yes, thank you."

A bare faced lie. Normally I would say my talent for prevarication is pretty poor. This time, however, and especially with this topic, because it is the answer everyone is looking for, they buy it with limited effort on my deceptive part.

My answer, had I been willing to put up with the predictable reaction (one that I am fairly confident most readers will offer too), would have been "I don't believe in happiness."

People will tell me that happiness exists whether I have faith in it or not. This is not about knowing of its existence. I don't believe in it like I don't believe in politicians to effect lasting change, an England football coach to bring home major silverware or a rom-com to genuinely entertain me. I think it is a principle so prized by people when it is full of fallacies.

A friend of mine who has done the Three Peaks Challenge told me that climbing the mountains is not the hardest part. Yes, it is a struggle but there is something worse. Going back down the mountains. You'd think with gravity helping you, it should be far easier but that isn't the case. You have to be more careful and more in control. The joy of arriving at the top is short lived. The trek down is arduous.

Why do I bring it up? Because that is what happiness is to me. It is standing atop a mountain, enjoying a glorious view and an overwhelming sense of achievement, only to know that you're going to have to get down some time soon. Happiness is a ledge that seems above all that is bad but it is crumbling beneath your feet until you fall into inevitable misery. And the fall is the worst thing. Once you're down in the ravine, it's not so bad.

I know what you're thinking. Surely you should want to be happy? Don't your family and friends make you happy? Why wouldn't you want to be happy?

If you have thought those questions, then the interrogation has already begun. Let me explain why your questions, no matter how well-intentioned, should make you ashamed.

You see, if I turned to you and said that I wanted to be a woman, you wouldn't question that. You would support my decision to go through major surgery that presents a possibility of death and life changing consequences. Yet I say that happiness isn't for me and that is okay to question. It won't kill me. It won't even put me at risk of death but you can be supportive about one and dismissive about another, irrespective of potential adverse effects of either.

Then you dangle my family and friends in front of me, as if using them as a guilt trip into accepting the treacherous happiness is an acceptable thing to do. If you took that similar line with someone who announced that they are gay, telling them "Think how your family would feel", you would be called homophobic. You might say that one is born that way and the other is a choice but I've written about this before here. Just because it is a choice doesn't make it of any less value. Being religious is a choice. Choosing to be vegan is a choice. Who you date, what you do for a profession, who you vote for is a choice. None of those should be derided because choice is a human right.

And that final question... "Why wouldn't you want to be happy?" I've already answered that but you're not willing to accept that. With that statement, I have hit the killer point on the predicament of preferring to be sad.

The problem is the near guaranteed rejection. You see, if someone who prefers melancholy tries to explain why they feel the way they feel, it is dismissed. They are told that they are being silly, ridiculous or ungrateful. When I have done it, they tell me I wasn't always a 'sad' person. That just makes things worse. It shows that they don't know me. They were probably dismissive at those stages of my life too.

As for saying, I wasn't always sad, I ask them when I was.

Was it when:-
  • I was bullied in school
  • Not supported by teachers in school
  • Served a mission for my faith for 2 years and hated every soul destroying second
  • Sacrificed for friends and strangers trying to make things better in my faith to be left forgotten, tired and broken, to get no reward in return
  • In all the jobs I have done which I have not enjoyed

I watch people get encouraged when they try their best, even when what they've done is of a poor standard. Then I try to do something and it is very easy to criticise me. At this moment, I find myself between a rock and a hard place. Either I take it on the chin and it continues or I speak up and I'm told to man up.

Man up... what an awful phrase. Because men should bottle up their emotions because they are not valid unless they are conducive with the destructive banter.

Look, this is not a cry for help. I don't want cuddles or someone to talk to. If you offer those things, you really have missed the point.

What I want is people to allow me to be sad, grumpy or whatever you call it and just let me be. Stop lecturing me on being more chirpy or being grateful for what I have. I am grateful but if the only way to show that gratitude is soaking it in joy, then it would be painfully disingenuous.

Some would say "How do you think that makes the people you care about feel?" If I am a slave to someone's emotions, then am I really happy? The kind of happy that you're comfortable with because it conforms to your ideology. You know what that makes you? A bully. You may say that it is a good cause but it isn't. It is akin to Americans invading a nation to impose democracy. Yes, democracy may be good in our eyes but not the nation that is left in blood soaked rubble and ruin.

I don't want happiness. The only consistent thing about it is how it lets me down. If you knew someone who let you down time after time after time, you'd stop being their friend. Happiness is a lurking betrayal, waiting to strike. I don't want it. If you can't understand that, fine, but at least be understanding. I don't try to take happiness from you. Don't force it down my throat. It wouldn't be real anyway. It would only make me sadder.

Monday, 25 April 2016

Brexit - Why I'm Voting Leave

Putting myself in the same group as Nigel Farage, Michael Gove and Boris Johnson isn't something to do lightly. I liken it to the Allies joining with Russia in World War II. Yes, despicable as the company may be, the common alternative is not acceptable to me. I don't do it with glee. I do it having considered the facts, trying to scrape off the hyperbole and cutting to what matters. Having done that to the best of my ability, I have concluded that I will vote for the UK to leave the European Union.

I am not interested in the statements made by either campaign. Remain and Leave have both assumed that their job is to become the most impressive Project Fear outfit. They have indulged in a heavy amount of guesswork and thick slices of scaremongering. That, sadly, is the nature of politics. It is an incredibly emotive topic and thus the name calling and mudslinging is in full flow. Hell, I started this article effectively the same way but those three men won't care because they have my vote. Not by anything they have done, mind you.

To see how Europe works for and against people in this country, you only need to contemplate the contrasting fortunes of two cities in the north of England; Liverpool and Hull.

Liverpool was made European Capital of Culture in 2008 (a title that will belong to Hull in 2017) and, since then, the city has blossomed from the investment that has come its way. Liverpool, for all the tired stereotypical gags, is a vibrant city with plenty going for it. Any Liverpudlian who says staying in Europe is a bad idea would struggle to argue their case to their fellow citizens.

Hull, however, has seen Europe decimate its standing. Built on the fishing industry, the regulations that came in from Europe regarding fishing have left the city economically on its knees. I always find it intriguing that when Thatcher and her Tory government shut coal mines down, despite them being completely non-viable in financial terms, they were castigated all the way to her grave and beyond. Europe destroys Hull's industry and... nothing. Brussels rolled along. No pickets or real protests of note. We rolled over for that one. Either that or we just don't like Hull.

These two cities demonstrate that the European Union can be good and bad for us as a nation. I'm not attaching myself to the people of Hull over Liverpool. Not at all. I'm an egalitarian, in the sense that I dislike everyone equally. There are a few reasons, however, why I have come to my conclusion and they seem to be issues the media are not discussing.

Greece is the first reason. No, not because I don't want us to pick up the bill for a country that had no concept of how to tax and spend properly. That is their problem but they wouldn't be the first to do that and we, the UK, would be hypocritical to point that finger. It is something else. There are a deeply unsettling series of events that happened in the build up to Greece accepting the austerity measures it has now imposed.

The European Union had tried to get Greece to impose austerity measures, which were so extreme that it was a near privatisation of the Greek nation, with the EU being the private equity firm purchasing it. The IMF then colluded with the EU to enforce these measures. This was in spite of the democratic wishes of the Greek people who demanded that excessive austerity ended.

Whether austerity measures should have been implemented or not is irrelevant. The fact that the EU commands such sway that it can comfortably crush the will of a nation is not something I wish to be part of; namely a bully super state. Membership, especially once in the Eurozone, is so treasured that Greece was willing to risk anarchy to cling onto it. The reality is the best option for Greece would have been bankruptcy. As ugly as it sounds, it would have been a few years of pain but it would have allowed the Greeks to rebuild. Instead, they have been forced to their knees and made to crawl. If you honestly think this is the last time the European Union will do this, you're wrong. They tried it and it succeeded. They've done it before, they'll do it again.

The IMF is just one example of how the EU could put us in positions we don't want to be in. Barack Obama visited the UK in April and seemed to jump on the Remain bandwagon immediately. Some might say that Obama has nothing invested in how the UK votes. After all, what difference does it make to the USA what the UK does?

The answer can be summed up in four letters: TTIP.

The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) is another article within itself. The short hand is it tries to equalise the differences in trading and business regulations between the EU and the US. The thing is that it is heavily slanted towards the US culture. Profit first. Less regulation. Dollars before democracy. While we share many things with our American partners, there is plenty we disagree on.

The TTIP is something that will be imposed upon member states. Why would the US be okay with the UK, the 5th biggest economy in the world, wriggling out of that imposition? Obama, for all his eloquent oration, is fundamentally a politician who represents the interests of his nation. I don't blame him for being skilful with his words. I just don't trust them either. And I certainly don't trust the EU with ensuring that the terms of the TTIP will be fair to all member states, nor match the philosophy we have in the UK.

Next up is the increasing stupidity and imperialistic attitude of the European Court of Justice (ECJ). There are some truths that have been dissolved by this institution because they don't match their ideology. Women have been proven, by empirical data, to be safer drivers than men. Despite the misogynistic remarks that state the stereotypical and inaccurate opposite, it is a fact but the ECJ ruled that insurance companies cannot offer cheaper car insurance to women based solely on their gender. That is idiotic. And if you really are a sexist man and believe it is unfair, what if the data in a decade swings the other way and shows men to be safer drivers? Then you would want it to play in your favour. It is an enforcement of rights that are backed by nothing but a PR image.

How about this truth? When you are a prisoner, you have lost your entitlement to some rights. The right to freedom, for example. The ECJ, however, says that prisoners have not lost the right to vote. That's right, the people who broke the law get to have a say in who should make law. It is akin to allowing a paedophile to have a say in the hiring policy of a school. It is utterly moronic but the ECJ has spoken.

To make things worse, the ECJ rulings circumvent the UK's veto. While we think we can stop EU laws we disapprove of, once the ECJ has set a precedent supporting it, the law has to be enforced. It is a massive, immovable loophole in our legal system that we cannot stop. 

To make things worse, not a single member of the ECJ is elected. They are appointed by member states. So if the majority of the EU is swaying one way and we want to go another, they can drag us back with the mighty ECJ. Put this into perspective, you have to kill four people before an unelected party becomes the President of the United States, someone who can shift the entire legal direction of that nation. This has never happened. In the EU, they install unelected officials who can determine the legal direction of multiple nations every 6 years.

There are other examples I can give. In this country, there has been a movement to demand that VAT be removed from tampons. The Government were mocked for reducing it to 5% and offering that money to women's charities. The problem is the Government can't take the VAT off them because the EU marked them as a luxury item. Therefore, a minimum VAT must exist on them in accordance with EU law.

Farmers are instructed to restrict the amount of goods they produce to maintain a false market in the food industry. Fishing, as the people of Hull know, has gone through similar restrictions.

Immigration is a double standard. Someone from the EU can walk in but someone from, say, Canada needs to be earning above a certain amount or be sponsored. While some will say that light immigration controls are a good thing, I would respectfully disagree. I have seen the tensions of societies when multiple cultures mix. Controlled immigration is not only about being responsible about those who come in to the country but ensuring all are catered for once they are here. Japan, Australia and Denmark have some of the strictest immigration laws in the world. Social Justice Warriors are not smashing up their keyboards over those countries. Why should the UK be any different in ensuring immigrants can support themselves and assimilate into our society?

The talk of jobs going is nonsense. Leaving the EU does not necessarily dissolve any trade or business partnerships. On top of that, we can set more preferential trading terms with countries outside the EU because we can determine the tariffs. That would have been a handy fiscal tool to have when China was dumping large quantities of steel on to the market. Too little, too late for Tata Steel and the rest. What I'm saying is what will be lost on the swings would be gained on the roundabouts.

I don't know a time when the UK was not part of the European Union. When it was established, it was to create a trading bloc that would negate any sense in going to war. Now, it is a power hungry political machine. That's not what we signed up for. It is like we got into a business partnership with someone and after a while realised that we got married under the radar.

I don't like how things are. Just like a lot of Scottish people do not like being ruled from Westminster, I don't like being ruled from Brussels (as a model of consistency that I endeavour to be, I supported Scottish Independence too). Something has to change and I honestly can't see how I, one man in the street, am better off because of the European Union. 

Ask yourself. Are you happy with the status quo? If you are, I would encourage you to vote to remain in the European Union. If not, isn't it time we tried something different?

Friday, 15 April 2016

TV shows you should watch: Suits

Mike Ross has one of the most brilliant minds. He can remember everything he sees and can process it like he is a biological Google. Unfortunately, he hasn't utilised that skill all the best, leading him to spend time with shady company. So when a chance encounter lands him in a job interview with one of the top lawyers in New York, an opportunity to rise above comes his way.

That lawyer is Harvey Specter. I call him a lawyer, he's more a poker player with all the swagger of a sports star. Seeing the huge potential in Mike, he agrees to hire him, despite him not having a law degree and the tiny detail of it being illegal.

And so it goes. The premise is one they keep coming back to as the point of tension and drama in the show. That's not what makes it stand out.

This show is all about its characters. Razor sharp dialogue, quick fire banter and insightful, punchy statements are standard in a show swimming in all that is sassy. What you come to realise is you love them all, even though they are all scum bags. You root for them. You feel their pain. Honestly, when something starts to go wrong, you feel sick and want it to stop. You keep watching in the hope it will turn out okay.

The first few seasons of Suits can be found on Netflix.

Recommended watch: The pilot is a solid 90 mins but I would give it 3 more episodes on top of that.

Thursday, 14 April 2016

TV shows you should watch: House of Cards

Based on the book and UK TV mini-series, House of Cards was one of Netflix's first self produced shows. It could have been a tired American retread of the UK show but it developed into its own beast. Quite a magnificent one too.

Kevin Spacey plays Francis Underwood, the Democratic Chief Whip, who has a promised position in the Cabinet snatched away from him, dashing the hopes of him and his wife, Claire, played with icy precision by Robin Wright. Off the back of this betrayal, they set in motion a plan to take revenge on all who oppose them. And the Underwoods are willing to do whatever it takes to win.

The quirk of this show is Kevin Spacey's Francis talks to the viewers directly, voicing his thoughts and even giving us annoyed side eye glances. In theory, such a device should take us out of the moment but it doesn't for this show. The reason being is we are watching it for Frank, as they call him. Sure, there are plenty of other interesting characters and some shocking sub-plots but we watch to see if the Underwoods will win. Despite their despicable nature, we want them to win.

Recommended watch: Stick it out until you've watched episode 1 of season 2. One of the all time great WTF moments you'll ever see on TV.

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

TV shows you should watch: Boston Legal

James Spader is one of the most watchable actors out there. Here he is a dark delight, playing Alan Shore, an eloquently verbose lawyer with capricious morals, alongside William Shatner as the law firm's crazy owner, Denny Crane.

This show is nuts. It consistently breaks the fourth wall without being too panto about it. The cases vary from a black girl suing Broadway for refusing to cast her as Annie to a therapist launching a suit because he was sacked for believing in UFOs. Ordinary cases do come along but ordinary this show is not.

It is quick fire in its dialogue and yet deeply thoughtful in its statements. Spader is frequently allowed long monologues, disguised as closing statements in court, that put the world to rights. Shatner is having the time of his life being a senile old man with far too much money (yes, yet again, he is playing himself).

It was a show that never got the respect it deserved, despite winning plenty of awards. Give it a try. There are 101 episodes to enjoy and you never want them to end.

Recommended watching: 3-4 episodes should be enough for you to know if it is your thing.

Monday, 11 April 2016

TV shows you should watch: The Shield

Forget what you know about police shows. This was the best there was and there ever will be.

Following a fictional precinct in LA, it features various story lines involving beat cops, detectives, the hierarchy and, primarily, a corrupt Strike Team. Vic Mackey, head of said Strike Team, keeps organised crime in the area in check by keeping them in his pocket or in the ground. His blood soaked, avarice laced crusade is the main crux of the whole show.

When I say blood soaked, I am not exaggerating. This is one of the most violent, gritty shows you will ever see. Just when you think that the show can't go any further, they find two or three more notches. The violence is never used to be sensationalistic. It is reflective of how dark a path Mackey and his team keep going down.

It isn't afraid to tackle other hard hitting issues. The individual turmoil a gay man experiences within law enforcement. The political machinations of the police. The divisive attitudes surrounding race. Even autism in children is tackled. This is a show that is not afraid to ask the difficult questions about the world in which we live and offers no black and white answers. Villains are heroes, vice versa and every shade in between.

If you like your TV happy and skippy, this isn't for you. But if you want unrelenting drama and action, if you have a stomach to handle the depravity and destruction this show is willing to share, then you'll find 7 seasons on Netflix without a single bad episode. No padding. Just hard hitting story that twists like viper and stings like a scorpion.

Recommended watch: After the pilot, if you're not hooked, you'll never be.

Sunday, 10 April 2016

TV shows you should watch: The West Wing

Aaron Sorkin has written many great scripts. The Social Network, A Few Good Men and Moneyball, to name a few. Hell, if that man wrote a Chinese menu, I'd pay to hear someone read it. In The West Wing, however, we have the man's magnum opus.

Focusing on the President's staff within the White House... nope, that's about it. Sure, a few things do happen but in the first two seasons, major plot lines can be counted on one hand. This is a show that proves that character driven drama can be just that. TV shows can be about creating people so interesting that you just want to spend time with them.

The intellectual insights these people have on the world challenge what you think. Snarky, sharp and smart, it could easily become a preachy show about why Democrats are right and Republicans are wrong (a trap Sorkin fell into for another one of his shows, The Newsroom). It isn't. It is about these flawed, brilliant people who try to make their country a better place. If politics was always like this, you'd have far more faith in the government of the day.

If you don't want to invest yourself in a show based on the scant amount I can offer, just YouTube some of the best clips. There is an ocean of them. That's because The West Wing is about great moment after great moment. Not just in a season but relentlessly through every episode.

Recommended watch: When President Bartlett has his first moment on the show, you'll probably be hooked. If not, give it six episodes.

Saturday, 9 April 2016

TV shows you should watch: Person of Interest

First in my series of articles of TV shows everyone should watch is Jonathan Nolan's first foray into TV, namely Person of Interest. With a pedigree of scripting the Dark Knight trilogy on his CV and JJ Abrams backing him up, this show had a lot of promise. Now, as it nears its 5th and final season, it will almost certainly continue to be a tour de force in storytelling.

The premise is relevant to our time, in that it is built off the reaction to the 9/11 attacks. Harold Finch, a brilliant computer whizz, has developed a Machine that can assimilate all surveillance that the Government collects and use it to anticipate terrorist attacks before they happen. Except an unexpected ability kicks in. The Machine starts to anticipate pre-meditated violent crimes and provides hints to the potential victims and perpetrators. Finch, riddled with guilt or a sense of morality, can't ignore it and recruits washed up CIA operative John Reese, played with monolithic coolness by Jim Cavaziel, to help him stop the crimes before they happen.

At first, the show seems to be a standard procedural with a near sci-fi twist. Find out who the Machine has identified and save or stop them before it is too late.

Then, after a dozen episodes, it becomes clear that some characters who appeared to be one offs were actually pieces in a bigger game of chess. Organised criminal gangs, a group of corrupt police officers, vigilante groups and an ever lurking big bad become more prominent. Soon, stand alone episodes step aside for serialised arcs that are far richer experiences for the viewer.

Yes, it has plenty of action, dark humour, tragic twists but one thing that makes this show stands out is its allegoric warning of what the world is becoming, especially under the possibilities of an artificial intelligence that isn't too far from reality. If you like your action shows to be intelligent, this is the one for you. See if you can unravel the conspiracy hiding among the episodes. Trust me, when it is revealed, you realise they have been slapping you in the face with it for three seasons.

Person of Interest seasons 1-3 are available on Netflix as of posting.

Recommended watch: Give it ten episodes. Nolan played the long game with this show and so should you.