Monday, 30 November 2015

Monday's Corbyn Cartoon

Such a grim morning. It's 11am and all the lights are already on. Normally November is my favourite month but this past four weeks have been nothing but rain. Not that I dislike rain. Given a choice I'd choose rain over sun. I'm wired strangely in that respect. But an entire month or rain and/or gales... It would be a relief to see a little daylight. Even my solar powered watch has died on me and when I'm not wearing it I leave it sitting on a table where it can be sure to catch the sun.

Today I have to write, only I have no idea what I'll write about. It's not often that is happens that I sit down without some idea I've been thinking about for days. My ambition this week is to tray a new sending a pitch to a magazine I've not yet pestered with my ideas. My job now is to find an idea worth pitching. That's not so easy when it's so dark my body is telling me it's time to go back to bed.

Sunday, 29 November 2015

New Jeremy Corbyn cartoon and a bit about my nightmares

I suppose I should know the name of the storm that's currently raging but, as I explained last week, happy not to know. It feels more primal this way. And speaking of primal: my dreams are getting worse. The previous night's were bad but last night they were genuine nightmares, something I so rarely have. I had at least two last night. In the first, a relative rang to ask me about Plato and the colour yellow. I know nothing about Plato or the colour yellow but recollect muttering something about Platonic ideals. I then found myself in some college talking to him on the phone when a woman told me off for discarding a sheet of A4 without covering it. I swore and left the college but discovered I didn't know where I was. I was in a bus terminal and a woman with bright red hair told me I was in London. I was utterly lost. There was a lot more to the dream than this: including a ride in the back of a taxi in which the driver was amassing a ball of Haribo tantastics, one of which turned into a rainbow striped worm and tried to get into my shoe.

At some point, I  woke up and when I fell back to sleep had the second nightmare. I was rushing to catch a flight from the local airport (which was conveniently at the local railway station). We landed in the Far East and racing through streets chased by locals who had been painted white and with sharpened teeth (I'd been reading an article about George Miller and Mad Max before I went to bed, which at least explains this bit). The whole thing then became a nightmare about Ken Loach films which I can't quite understand or fully remember. It was in black and white and at one point involved my parachuting off a viaduct and landing in a barrel of water where I met a bunch of hippies including a young Helen Mirren.

Needless to say, I really don't understand any of the above. Perhaps if I did, I wouldn't have explained it in such great detail... Any psychoanalysts out there who can see through the mud, I'd be very grateful for an explanation. The bit about the worm really freaked me out.

Saturday, 28 November 2015

A Goodbye Grant Shapps Cartoon...

An otherwise lazy day which wasn't as lazy as I intended to make it when I got up this morning. Wrote every day last week but was feeling it by the time I settled down last night. Intended to have a complete day off, except last night I had a very strange and vivid dream about being at the local market where Tony Beets (from TV's Gold Rush) had a second-hand book stall. It was probably a nightmare, if I'm honest. I could see books I wanted but couldn't afford. By the time I woke up this morning at 7am, I was eager to work. Wrote a bit and then I drew this but the day never got brighter than a dim murk so the effort is 50%. Yet I felt I had to mark the resignation of Shapps, who has always struck me as one of the least pleasant political operators. There's a type of politician who always get my back up. They tend to be the self-made millionaires whose self-made status is founded upon something quite unpleasant. Perhaps that explains the Beets dream whose success is earned through hard work. I've always wanted a beard like Tony Beets and the hands too to prove that I work and I work hard. Yet I have neither. No evidence. Just cartoons like this or essays that few read.

Did I mention how dark it's been today? I think it's time to break out my lamp and dose myself with some happy rays.

Thursday, 26 November 2015

On John McDonnell, spam & not much more...

Welcome to the place I like to think of as The Arse End of Nowhere. I'm again blogging daily in that I've managed to blog for six successive days and a few more before that My new technique of typing straight into the editor window helps. It stops me falling into my best habit of editing for hours. The down side is that this is not how I usually write. This is me at my worst. Unedited. Unpolished. Unstructured.

Today, I recommend my new article about John McDonnell. You can read it over at The What & The Why. There's also a cartoon and a bit of Photoshopping. I was quite pleased with all three.

Meanwhile, back here at TAEON, I'm under SPAM attack. That's the worst of coming back to a blog. I've lost what few regular readers I had but I've gained a place on the lists of sites that Spammers use. I've had four emails today asking me if I'd like bulk buy traffic cones from China. Three fake comments got through my defences and tried to sell you plastic straws (also from China). I also seem to have found myself on some list of business people in the North West and they keep asking me to attend a networking session at some local hotel starting at 6am in the morning. Even if I was a business man looking to network, I would not get up at 6am in the morning. It's an unGodly hour and even if I am unGodly, I'm not getting up that early.

My piece about Dawkins is coming along slowly. Phrasing things just the right way can be pain. I'm constantly trying to anticipate how my words can be misconstrued by people deliberately looking to misconstrue.

Also trying to find a job or work, which is soul destroying given that I only want to write and draw. People my age usually have careers around them or behind them. I just have years of strange and questionable accomplishments. I joke with people that I'll end up sweeping the streets but, really, I think that's probably aiming too high. All the good street sweeping jobs will have gone. What jobs for somebody hugely overqualified for most things, no track record in other things, and a whole lot of skills that nobody would want this end of the country? I couldn't even work for a local newspaper since my skills aren't exactly suited to detailing the drama of a chimney pot falling down. This time next year, I'll be lucky to be living in a tent.

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

On Robert Mugabe, Richard Dawkins, & Jeremy Corbyn

Over at TW&TW I'm talking not too seriously about Robert Mugabe and his wheels.  I even drew a cartoon which took a ridiculously long time to cross hatch...

Meanwhile, I'm again writing this blog post quickly. It will be unedited and published straight to the blog in the spirit of my new blogging strategy.

Today I've been trying to get my mind around the question of religious tolerance with specific interest in the Twitter battle that Richard Dawkins has found himself waging. I'm not sure I'll be able to knock my words into a decent essay but, if I do, I think I'll have explained something that I've repeatedly found difficult to explain. Briefly: I worry that we are losing sense of free speech in the name of tolerance. We have been so indoctrinated by certain liberal values that too many people seem incapable of simple logical thought. Dawkin's is also victim of an obvious anti-intellectualism at work in the UK. Our great scientists and thinkers are lauded in America. In the UK, we barely hear a peep from them until they're being hounded by the slobbering mob, spluttering with half-conceived indignation. It's time that we can have serious debates in this country without people sending up distress flares every time somebody challenges something we take for granted.

I was, however, a bit distracted by the House of Commons. I noted with some incredulity that John McDonnell took out his Mao at the Dispatch Box today. It beggars belief.

My politics are neither to the left nor the right. I like politicians of both sides of the House and dislike with equal impartiality. I've always had mixed feelings about Corbyn. He never struck me as a guy to rouse my enthusiasm but, when he won, I could see why people voted for him. He's not political in the way that Cameron is political. He's difficult, odd, unpolished. I like that he debates, even when I disagree with his points. He feels sincere in the things he says and doesn't fall into the tropes of typical career politicians. He makes good points about subjects such as mental health. Yet he also makes huge mistakes, even if he makes them for the right reasons. Not leaping up and fist pumping when asked if he'd bomb Syria was, in truth, an adult response. Yet the media can spin it too easily. He needed to pump the air and shout 'hell yes' because the media know no other response.

McDonnell made, I think, the biggest political miscalculation since Michael Foot's donkey jacket. If the electorate worry about your Marxist credentials, you do not take out Mao's Little Red Book in the House of Commons, even if the point you are making is a sensible one. The point about the Tories selling our power infrastructure to the Chinese was a good one. McDonnell should, however, have realised that the symbolism of the image is worth more than his words.

Yet the problem goes deeper. That he would quote from the book suggests that Mao figures quite largely in his political thought processes. That should be enough to convince anybody that New Old Labour is not working. I understand why people would how that it could but, really, Labour voters need to decide if they want power or their principals. England and particularly Middle England will never vote for a left wing party. Not because people even understand what left wing means but simply because the media will tell them that 'left wing' means trouble.

In a better world, we would all be deeply invested in politics and unaffected by media bias. However, we live in this world. The media will never allow Corbyn to succeed and there is nothing to suggest that in the next four years the media will become less important in the way people make their decisions. After a four weeks media blitz, Labour will be lucky to emerge with a vote in the high teens. McDonnell's performance today should convince Labour's grandees that this is an experiment doomed to fail. For the sake of democratic politics we need a viable opposition. There's no point wasting four years to discover this sad fact. From where I sit today, whoever leads the next Tory government will be walking into Downing Street. Irrespective of your politics, that's not good for democracy and not good for the nation.

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Turkey, Hitchens & Maher

Funny how events on the other side of the globe change your plans. Yesterday I wrote a light-hearted piece which I hoped would see the light this afternoon. Then the news changed my plans and over at TW&TW I've written a very quick piece about Turkey shooting down the Russian jet.

In contrast to that piece, I'm again typing this straight to the blog. No editing. No polishing. But given a couple of hours extra thought, I'm still shocked at what Turkey has done. Whatever way you look at the mess of the Middle East, you realise that so much of it runs across national borders and into ancient ethnic feuds. Turkey seems to be facing huge problems. It has to decide on which bank of the Bosporus its loyalties lie. I can't imagine many people in NATO feel reassured about today's rash act. The one fault in having a common defense is the assumption that other nations share your values. I'm not entirely sure what values Turkey has at the moment under President Erdo─čan. This is the guy who was jailing cartoonists who dared to criticise him.

'Sharing values' reminds me that last night I watched a couple of very old episodes of Real Time with Bill Maher. Real Time is probably my favourite TV show because the UK has nothing like it. Nothing has the passion but also the insight. It's unafraid of being intelligent but also confused, which is the perfect starting place for debate. It's sometimes outrageously angry and a perfect example was the second episode I watched from the mid 2000s. Christopher Hitchens was one of the guests and there was a wonderful moment he turned to the audience and flipped them the bird, as they say in America. He seemed to love deliberately agitating the audience over their views towards Middle East. Hitchens, you might remember, was firmly in favour of the war.

Sadly, Hitchens is no longer with us. We still have the war. Everything we see today grew out of the decisions we made back then but I try to understand why Hitchens was so wrong. And it does seem to me that he was largely wrong. In many respect, his instincts were correct. Yet, on reflection, it's Bill Maher who seemed to be the prophet, warning us that we had no place in the Middle East. Hitchens was driven, I guess, by a greater sense of moral outrage. He couched his arguments in the terrors of the Saddam regime. He talked about liberating people.

Where he went wrong, I guess, was in having too much hope for humanity and underplaying the malevolent force of religion. I don't suppose it's much of a surprise that it was his atheism that first attracted me to read Hitchens. Few writers have written as powerfully about the faults of religion but Hitchens was far too rational. He trusted that people given freedom would choose democracy. The fact is that rationality is something that can't be imposed and it can't always be taught. As Turkey today proved: sometimes people just make extremely dumb choices.

Monday, 23 November 2015

Talking Anonymous, Cartoons, & Rafa Benitez

Over at TW&TW, I've been talking about hacking and the Anonymous collective.

Meanwhile, here I'm still typing straight into my editor window as part of my new drive to blog more regularly. I've realised that if I do this for five or ten minutes a day, there's no desire to edit, polish, or just labour over the work of blogging. Straight from brain to blog and damn the results. Nobody reads it anyway. Anything that I really labour over will be published elsewhere. Let this be a proper blog.

Today I intend to write about dictatorships. I'm also drawing an illustration which I've about 70% finished. I've decided to stop colouring my cartoons. It was making be pretty depressed. It's other people who tell me that cartoons have to be in colour. It means that I'd changed my habits and didn't bother with cross hatching. Yet I'd forgot that I'm doing this mainly for myself and I love the look of cross hatching. I love the look of a finished cartoon when it's just black and white. A little colour can set it off but I've not been enjoying the long time it takes to draw a full colour cartoon. Cross hatching probably takes longer and is more pschologically challenging but at least I love the result.

So what else has grabbed my attention other than the bloody cold weather?

Oh, yes. Looks like Rafa's going to be sacked by Real Madrid. It's said but expected. Nobody in their right mind would want to manage Madrid. The club has a horrible culture and horrible way of dealing with its managers. Plus I don't buy into Galácticos. What is the point in buying all the best players? There can be no pleasure in winning and every misery attached with losing and even drawing. Surely the point of being a fan of football is that you follow the development of your team. If you're always 'there', at the end point, then where is the pleasure? I also can't stand Ronaldo. I suppose it's one of those great philosophical divisions of our day: Ronaldo or Messi. Myself, I'm a Messi man. Give me the football and sod the mechandising and hype.

Sunday, 22 November 2015

Memes, Thoughts, Livingstone & Corbyn

It seems obvious to say it but a meme is not the same as a thought but I'm saying just that over at TW&TW.

Sunday. Not much to say but I'm typing straight to the blog again. No editing. No polishing to make this flow or funny or even remotely entertaining. This is raw data from my brain to yours, should you exist.

Today I'm writing and later I might well be drawing. Not sure what I'll be writing or drawing but currently intrigued by the notion of being a 'bigot'. A bigot is 'a prejudiced person who is intolerant of any opinions differing from his own.' I saw a video on the LBC website of the Labour party MP John Mann accuse Ken Livingstone of being a bigot. He kept repeating the word throughout the exchange and, by the end, I wasn't quite sure what he meant. I'm not sure that Mann knew what he meant. If being a bigot is somebody who intolerant of other people's opinions, then I'd guess that most people are bigots. It's the basic human condition and I'm thankful that it is. I would hope I'll always be a bigot, intolerant of the opinions of fools.

I'm writing this quickly, with no research, but I assume that bigot has started to be applied more widely. Mann was using is as though accusing Livingstone of holding some outmoded notion of mental health. Ken had said in a recent interview that shadow defence minister Kevan Jones 'might need psychiatric help'.

I have no real thought out position on the 'pschiatric help' comment except to ask if it would have been treated any differently if he's said the guy was 'bonkers' or had 'obviously been hit over the head'? We could quite easily pull language apart and find all manner of affront buried in there. Is a parent telling their kids that it's 'bedlam in here', demeaning the old hospital of the same name? Livingstone's comment was more direct than that, of course, but it's this kind of petty political correctness that is the greatest danger to anybody wanting more civilized debates. If we can't use the vocabulary of 'madness', then we can't really say anything at all except to push it into the shadows and pretend that it's not a very normal aspect of the human condition. Again, I'm writing this quickly and might well be wrong.

The main reason I note this spat is that it's precisely the kind of thing that I assumed would happen as soon as Corbyn got elected. I've said it before and I'll repeat it here again: it's not the big issues that will bring Corbyn down. It will be the squabbles about the correct etiquette around opening a door when both men and women want to get through it. It will be deciding who sits where at the table and ensuring that the lunch isn't offensive to anybody in the room. Corbyn will be defeated by undergraduate politics. And that is a shame because, in some respects, he does bring a welcome maturity to politics. I've enjoyed seeing him make Cameron squirm at PMQs. I also like politicians that don't given glib answers to questions that were deliberately set up to produce a glib answer. I like that Corbyn is breaking the usual rhythms of political reporting. Yet, I also know, he's a disaster for democracy. We have no viable opposotion in the UK and that is dangerous, unhealthy, and plain foolish. In Labour heartlands people will love him but for the voters who float and decide matters, he is not and never will be the answer.

Lastly: hugely impressed by Liverpool's victory last night. Not just the result but the performance gives me hope for the future.


Saturday, 21 November 2015

Weather, Adele and Bob Dylan's scary moustache

Over at TW&TW I'm talking about the weather and the Met Office's new scheme to name our winter storms.

Beyond that, my day has been slightly absorbed by Adele who I tried my best to ignore until one of her songs lodged itself somewhere behind my cerebral cortex. I've been unable to shake it and it's stopped me getting any work done all day. Every time I sat down to write, I could hear the words 'When the rain is blowing in your face / And the whole world is on your case / I could offer you a warm embrace / To make you feel my love'.

It took me about an hour of not really thinking about the song before it struck me that I'd heard heard those lyrics before. I think that's what had been nagging away at me in the back of my mind. Think nasal and gruff. Think Bob Dylan.

I like Dylan but, like many people, love his early stuff and have moments of indifferent and liking about his later work. Never had a problem with him going electric. Blonde on Blonde is probably my favourite album of his, high in my favourite albums of all time. Never really followed him once he went country. Returned to him whenever he goes more back into the blues but there's something about Dylan that scares me just a little. I think it's the mustache. Those thin top lip moustaches do scare me. Even Ron Mael scares me, though I love Sparks.

Unlike Ron Mael, Dylan never really made it through my defences to become one of those cherished artists a person defines their life by. Never been a musician I really keep tabs on. Tom Waits, Sparks, P.J. Harvey, Neil Young, Nick Cave, Paul Simon (though, really too middle of the road for my tastes, I love the sound of his guitar and his early song writing). There are musicians I keep closest to me. I can never hear enough Natalia Merchant. Her voice just intoxicates me. Leonard Cohen I love but not really when he's performing live. Too many tours. Not enough new albums.

Dylan, though, scares me.


I'm talking about the weather over at The What & The Why.

Friday, 20 November 2015

On a day on non-existance

I had another of those difficult days today when, for reasons that I just cannot fathom, the world went completely silent on me.

Normally my inbox is alive with emails of one kind of another. Today: nothing. Not a single one, despite my sending quite a few. It feels like I don't exist.

Hello? Do I exist? I'm sure that I do but, then again, is anything certain?

I wish I was Donald Trump. He seems to exist and, what's more, he's always very certain about it.

No doubt my non-existence is partly down to my losing my 'website designing' job. Or, at least, my job lost me. In truth, it wasn't a job as much as regular freelancing work which, month on month, was paying less and less. I finally decided that the people exploiting my good nature should start paying me a half decent wage for my services. Naturally, when I asked them to, the company decided that my services were no longer required. Interesting how that works.

On the positive side, I have more time to write this month. Next month: sweeping the streets.

Being exploited for your services is, sadly, the way of the world. Unless you are 'at the top' of any line of work, then you really are at the bottom. In a world economy there's always some amateur around the corner willing to undercut the professionals.

Word to the young: set you price and don't deviate. Of course, you're just as likely to end up as unsuccessful as me. But at least you'll still have your pride.


This is obviously also true in the world of writing. Some places do pay. Some don't. Some say they do and then they don't. Some say they don't and then they do.

But most of the time they don't.

It's why the silence feels particularly uncomfortable today. I've been writing solid for three days and have four articles finished that I think are quality. Trying to place articles is like trying to throw a cat up a chimney. Even when you nail the throw, the bloody thing comes back covered in soot and with its claws extended. I don't know why I carry on except I guess people wouldn't recognise me if my face wasn't scratched to hell.

I have to avoid the temptation of dumping 'failed' articles here. I want to be read but at what cost? I'm no charity but the world expects every writer to write for charity. I still occasionally get emails from strangers asking me to draw a cartoon for some website with a huge readership that they promise will give me exposure. When I ask to be paid they never reply. My life in precis form.

Regarding my writing, I'm pretty certain all of this is my own fault. Were I to start again, I would not try to write well or aspire to think intelligently. I would have learned to write quickly and to think little.

But that sounds presumptuous of me. I'm not even sure that I can write or think particularly well. All I know is that I can do neither quickly. 2000 words a day is about my limit if I'm going to polish those words. Polishing is all of the writing or it is for me. The business is hard and takes it out of me. I wish it didn't but it does.

I was reading Orwell (again) today and wondered to myself how he must have worked when there was no word processor around to hone his prose. How must he have done it? How would any writer have written (or how to they still write, given that some do still use typewriters) when the thing on the page is not something you can then pull into shape? I assume he did it through laborious retyping and then retyping again.

Will Self, I know, still uses typewriters. I should really see if I can find anything he's written about his process. Myself: I doubt if I could work that way. I write quickly but edit slowly. Perhaps I should write more slowly and edit very little.

That, I think, has to be the key. Most things I read at newspapers and magazines are clearly written in a rush. Nobody cares that they are. Facts are rarely checked that well, especially at some of the broadsheet's websites. The Independent tonight had an article about De Niro's new film. It looks terrible (Dirty Grandpa)  and was definitely not directed by Larry Charles, who did direct Seinfeld, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Borat and Bill Maher's Religulous.

The Independent has become a woeful website, suffering from the worst kind of Buzzfeed syndrome.

On a more positive note, for a brief moment this week, my name featured on the same page as Will Self over at The New Statesman.

Is it sad to admit it was a career highlight? Well, excuse my French: fuck it. It was.

I rarely swear but always edit. I've broken one rule. Might as well break the other and publish this unedited. Let it be the mess I'll look back on to remind me never to post when I don't exist.

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Atheism, Hitchens, Orwell & Michelle Visage

Over at The What & The Why, I'm talking about the Paris attacks and making broad points about the whole troubled mess. I accept it won't be to everybody's taste but that was deliberately so. My views are atheist, sceptical, but also, I hope, humanist. Despite being cynical about most things, I'm no nihilist. I do believe in goodness, virtues, and human beings. We can do great things only we too often attribute those great things to God or gods when we should attribute them to ourselves. I expected a little flak and there was some criticism but nothing that convinces me that a sceptical approach to life isn't the best.

I suppose I should also have read some Christopher Hitchens before trying my hand at a full-on atheist argument. However, I didn't. Time to get Arguably down off the shelf. Not sure what it's doing up there. It's another of the books which usually sit in the only tidy part of my desk by the side of my monitor. I miss Hitchens terribly, especially at times like these when his clarity and anger meant so much. He was good TV because he was bad TV, in the sense that he was not anodyne or always kind but intellectually fierce and independent. He cut through the bullshit and made me wince at the things he would say. We do too little wincing these days. Or, at least, the wrong kind of wincing.

I have been reading a lot of Orwell recently. I hadn't read his essays in a while, though his collected best are always sitting in that favored spot on my desk. However, my old edition was falling to pieces, with half the pages having come loose. I was recently bought a new copy as a gift, which I'm cherishing and using as a little motivational reading before I start hammering the keyboard every morning. Last week I reread 'The Lion and the Unicorn' and thought it remarkable how little England had changed to the one he described back in 1940. I cannot stop going back to this passage. Something about it has been niggling away at me for days.
It follows that British democracy is less of a fraud than it sometimes appears. A foreign observer sees only the huge inequality of wealth, the unfair electoral system, the governing-class control over the press, the radio and education, and concludes that democracy is simply a polite name for dictatorship. But this ignores the considerable agreement that does unfortunately exist between the leaders and the led.

I've been wanting to write about something that happened when I visited Waterstones in Liverpool the other day; the strange experience of walking in to see a book signing by some American TV starlet called Michelle Visage and then seeing the prices of the newest Penguin books. It keeps reminding me of Orwell, perhaps some secret agreement high up in our culture that ensures that the crass is abundant and cheap and anything quality kept exorbitantly high. I suppose I shouldn't be too critical. Michelle Visage has over 200,000 followers on Twitter. I can't be bothered to break past 200. She is what humanity craves and, I guess, given a choice between following Visage or some supernatural god, I would have reluctantly choose to follow Visage. Damn! Never let it be said that atheists choose the easy route.

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Why long American elections are a good thing

Over at The New Statesman, I'm arguing in favour of the long election cycle in American politics and why we in the UK should begin to take our politics more seriously.

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Cameron's Podium and Clickbait

More things I've been writing. Over at TW&TW I've been talking about Cameron's podium performance. Earlier in the week, I was talking about good newspapers being influenced by clickbait culture...