Wednesday, January 27, 2010


Today half the internet is in a state of wild-eyed, priapic excitement over the latest whatever-it-will-be that Steve Jobs reveals today. Geeks all over the world have been metaphorically shaving their legs and sliding on their sexiest underwear in preparation for this moment. (I may have done some slight gender mixing in my sexual metaphors there, but I'm sure you'll cope)

I on the other hand, am less breathless and and doe-eyed. Not because I don't suspect that the i-whatever will be something pretty cool, but because I have become steadily more and more bitter and twisted by the unquestioning drooling and fundamentalism that spreads amongst the population whenever Steve Jobs speaks.

Firstly, lets get over the stuff that Apple does well. They produce cool new products that tend to be ahead of the field. They are also seemingly the first tech company that recognised the value of design and style, and that you can actually spend money on making things look really good as well as just functioning well.

What they really do best though is marketing. Not just producing stuff but convincing many, often thoughtful, people that to own an i-thingy is cool and somehow sticking-it-to-the-nasty-microsoft/PC-man.

But, it's a massive and incredibly rich multinational corporation. You're not supporting some struggling hand-to-mouth co-operative when you buy an Apple. They sell more computers than anyone else. I'm sure they also sell more MP3 players than anyone else, and increasingly are taking a huge slice out of the mobile phone market. It's as if Pepsi had managed to convince everyone that to buy Pepsi and not Coke was some kind of independent-minded, deeply liberal thing to do.

Apple consumers (and you are a consumer, not a style guru), will go around telling everyone how amazing their ipod/macbook/iphone/whatever is this week's gimmick is. You don't get that from other people. You don't hear people who use Windows raving about how amazing their OS is, or people who have a Dell or an Acer or something go on about their computer, but Apple users never bloody shut up about it. Is this because the current Mac OS is better than the current MS OS? No. There have been some very very shit versions of Windows and there have been some equally shit versions of Mac OS. An OS is a like a language - you feel slightly more comfortable using the one that you first used, but you can learn to use another if you chooose and one is not inherently better than the other. In the main, Mac OS does some things better than Windows and Windows does some things better than Mac OS. Big deal. Some people prefer Coke to Pepsi, others prefer Pepsi to Coke. Get over it. You have a computer. It's a product just like any other. And, I might venture to add, an expensive one at that. For whatever reason pretty much everything made by Apple costs significantly more than it's non-Apple equivalent. Given that they have a willing army of evangelists ready and willing to openly masturbate (metaphorically) over their products, they don't even really need to spend anything on advertising so they ought to be cheaper, but no.

I have to hand it to Apple, honestly. They do make good stuff, but this marketing trick is absolutely amazing. I half-expect people to start showing up at the door offering copies of Watchtower and telling me how Apple changed their life, and how Steve Jobs is their personal lord and saviour.

But when I see people I respect and like who've obviously been suckered into the role of willing tool in extending the reach of a massive multinational corporation it makes me sad and makes me want to slap them (gently - I like these people, remember) until they snap out of it.

Apparently one of the possible names for today's big unveiling is the i-con. Seems really appropriate.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Poster boy

A bit of a follow-up to last week's rant about Cameron and co.

You too, can have fun with modifying the wild-eyed, slapheaded, "look at me I'm not wearing a tie, I'm that cool" Dave Cameron poster here.

Bloody cold today, of the "hairs on inside of ones nose freeze up within 3 seconds of stepping outside" variety. If you're not familiar with the hairinnose scale of temeperature it's about -28 at the moment, and it's nearly noon when I type this.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Whatever happened to the BBC?

These days, thanks to the miracles of modern technology and that, we can get two BBC channels on our TV all the way out here in li'l ol' Csikszereda. (The same technology means we can no longer get the very local channels like Csiki TV and Szekely TV, which is kind of weird, really, but I guess that's globalisation for you)

Anyway, these channels are BBC World (which is the news channel) and BBC Prime, which has recently been rebranded as BBC Entertainment. I'm assuming that the rebranding came because lots of people were asking "is this really your prime output?". It may well of course be, and that all the BBC actually shows these days are interminable shows about antiques, "The Weakest Link", and seemingly thousands of soap operas with "Holby" in the title. Every now and again I flick over to see, but it's always some awful rubbish. The only time it gets watched is in the early morning when Paula watches the kids shows on it. These are actually quite good (at least compared with the alternatives she has available), though all of them seemingly ask her to guess something (which window to look through in Tikkabilla*, which coloured house someone will visit in Balamory, which teletubby will get the TV beamed through their stomach, etc), which is something she's not yet comfortable with. Perhaps it's something that you get along with breast feeding in the UK, but here I try to chivvy her along "Which window do you think it will be?" but she's having none of it "I don't know". "No, I know you don't know, but guess". "I can't know". "No, I know, just guess", by which time the camera has already zoomed in on the square window so she then says "The square one".

(*Tikkabilla, by the way, is clearly just the children's programme formerly known as Play School, but rebranded to be more hip for today's web 2.0 generation. New name, dolls and teddies replaced by small purple dragon, etc etc.)

But, anyway, I digress.

So, BBC News, has really gone downhill, and is depressing me. This is the channel that the hard right calls "leftist", but is in fact, as far as I can tell these days very much rightist. Some examples:

1. Yesterday, they invited someone from the Wall Street Journal to comment on the Massachusetts election (and provided no information that the WSJ has over the past few years turned into a hard right wing rag of the lowest order, nor any balancing viewpoints). This guy proceeded to say that the reason Obama was losing popularity was because he wasn't reaching across to the other side, which as far as I can tell is patently false, and if anything his problem is that he's spending too much time trying to appease Republicans. He's not reaching out to the mad Limbaugh/Beck/Palin extreme end of the Republican party, well, because they're all barking mad, and how the hell would you reach out to them? Promise to bomb Iran and jail people for using birth control if they agreed to say not such nasty things about you?

2. Just before Christmas the woman who does the business section on the morning slot was discussing the possibility of a strike by British Airways cabin crew. "It's really important that BA win this" she said (and that's a word for word quote, since it stunned me so much that I can still hear her saying it). Firstly "BA" does not equate to "BA Management" as she implied, and also what kind of reporting is it to say out front that the workers needed to be defeated? I know she's the business correspondent, but still. How left wing is all of that?

3. Today's top story was that the Chinese economy was moving ahead of Japan's. Haiti was barely even mentioned. I know it was a week ago, but it's still a huge story and one that is a bit more important than China moving up to second place in some kind of imaginary world economic league table. Euronews, by the way, has been fantastic on Haiti. Really good reporting, important information (journalists have been banned from the airport now, by the way, which is not something I've heard on the BBC), and great testimonies from people there (Haitians and relief workers).

4. They are really pissing me off with their pro-occupation stance whenever the issue of Israel - Palestine comes up. I mean compared to any US media outlet they come across as balanced, but they're really not. (And in fact an independent report a year or two back, confirmed this feeling of mine that they are more favourable to the Israeli government position than anything else)

So, what happened to the BBC? And what will become of it under the next government? It's all very depressing.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Romania in the grip of violet flame conspiracy

Just to balance the last post I made, at least in the sense of showing that the British system isn't the only one that is built on a steaming pile of bullshit, Romania is currently going through bizarre political fights over some kind of hocus-pocus "energy attacks" and rings of purple fire and witchcraft and tons of other weird new-age claims and counter claims

There's a news article here and the story is covered in much more amusing depth by Craig over at Bucharest Life - yesterday and today. It's all very amusing/ludicrous/slightly terrifying that these people represent the political elite in this country.

The Last Big Lie of Thatcherism

It's probably apparent where I stand on Thatcherism to anyone who's read much of anything on this blog, so I'll not go into it in any great depth - I'm not a fan, basically. [This shouldn't of course be read to imply that I think Britain had it worse in the 1980s than Romania, for example - obviously we didn't, and compared to Ceausescu, Thatcher and her odious cabinet of scum, were not even in the same league. Nor should it be read to imply that I somehow think that war-criminal Tony Blair was somehow a beacon of positive change. He, after all, is a Thatcherist himself]

However, when one argues about Thatcherism with people who do think that it was all a good thing, there are a number of things which get raised as examples of what she did that was positive. One of the main ones of these was that she (and her team - it's not really all about her specifically) ushered in neo-liberal economic policies, which I personally never saw as "a good thing", but which now has been shown up to be a house of cards that has collapsed in spectacular fashion. That's one aspect of Thatcherism that has, at least, been shown up for its disastrous consequences rather than its supposed benefits (you'll note that, Nicolas Sarkozy, for example, who came to power preaching a Thatcherite economic revolution for France, has been very quiet on this issue since Lehman Brothers went down).

The second argument is that she crushed the unions and stripped them of their power. This required the idea of unions themselves to be demonised, which was accomplished (with the aid of a compliant media) very successfully. However, unions are (and always have been) a vehicle for organised labour, and the concept of the powerless joining together to give themselves a voice seems, to me, to be something that should be celebrated rather than demonised. Do unions have problems? yes. Are unions and the idea behind them problematic in themselves? No. So, yes, Thatcherism disempowered the already powerless. Difficult to see how this was a benefit to anyone, honestly - even "management", for whom organised labour ought to be a partner and something vaulable and helpful rather than an obstacle.

The third and last big lie of Thatcherism was that it ushered in a newly meritocratic Britain. A class-free Britain in which people could rise to success regardless of their position in society. This has been the one enduring "success story" of the Thatcherite ideology.

But look at Britain's next government:

Here they are in all their classless glory. Here we can see David "Dave" Cameron, George "real name something like Tarquin" Osborne, and other members of the shadow cabinet that will almost certainly be elected to lead Britain later this year. In the front row you can also see the cartoonishly bumbling upper-class-twit-of-the-year, and current Mayor of London, Boris Johnson. Essentially a bunch of people educated at Britain's most expensive public schools and subsequently Oxford. And now we have a meritocracy? I hardly think so. [It should also be pointed out here that Blair also went to some massively expensive and exclusive private school, so this argument was blown out of the water some time ago, but because he was - in theory- a Labour politician, this was overlooked]

And now, "Dave" has come out with his latest statement (on teachers) revealing his understanding of the world and how things work. To summarise, teachers need to have gained high degrees from a "good university" (whatever that is, in Cameron speak). Teacher training in Dave's world is unimportant, and no-one who gets a lower degree or one from a not-so-good university ought to to be allowed in the classroom. Now I do have a professional opinion on this (as a teacher and a teacher trainer), which is that it's absolute fucking garbage, but putting that to one side, lets see what it reveals about this meritocratic society that we've apparently been living in since those heady days of the 80s.

The only people who talk like this, for a start, are those for whom the concept of meritocracy is sort of a nice thing to keep the plebs happy. I remember once overhearing one of my few incredibly snobbish private-school-and-oxbridge-educated acquaintances tell someone that a mutual friend had "a random degree from some mickey mouse university" (that's an exact quote, as despite the fact that this was over 20 years ago, it really stuck with me). That's how these people talk. Anyone not in their exalted coterie, is basically non-existent, and of no real value whatsoever. By revealing his (a) complete lack of understanding of how teaching actually works - and what works in teaching; and (b) "good university" biases, Dave also reveals that despite the attempts to portray himself as a man of the people, he is locked into his own little world characterised by that photo up there.

Does all this mean that he will be a bad Prime Minister? No, though he obviously needs an education adviser very badly. Does his background exclude him from government? No. Does he have any idea how normal people live, what their concerns are, how things could be improved for them? I very much think not.

One could even argue (not that I would, but one could) that he would be a good prime minister, based on the fact that he's been told from an early age that he ought to be in charge of things, and has been prepared for this throughout his education. And that we, those who didn't have his highly privileged background, have been subtly told all our lives that there are a class of people who are better than us and ought to be in charge. But please, let's forget all this shit about meritocracy. The last big lie of Thatcherism is just that - a complete and utter lie.

Finally, to sign off this angry rant, especially for Dave, who probably thinks this is a good song, though he's also probably never really understood it, is something for him to tap his feet to:

You'll never live like common people,
you'll never do what common people do,
you'll never fail like common people,
you'll never watch your life slide out of view

Monday, January 18, 2010

Where is Kauf anyway?

Csik/Ciuc has a new large, ultra-modern supermarket (in case the title doesn't tell you, it's Kaufland). It's dead fancy, but no doubt many of the more interesting things that are available will soon disappear when the owners realise that nobody in Csikszereda has a clue what they are and therefore won't buy them. Already the fresh basil that was available for the first week or so has vanished, which is a great shame, and I fear for the continued availability of fennel. (I have discovered through the sudden availability of this exotic vegetable that it has a Hungarian name, which is édeskömény (or "sweet cumin" in my direct translation)

It's an odd experience finding oneself in such a place here in this dusty and isolated one-horse town. Before Christmas I was in there and they were blasting out Slade's Merry Christmas Everybody over the speakers, which was a real moment of familiarity/fear that one day the EU will reduce everywhere to some carbon copy of the UK.

Anyway, I recently heard a (possibly libellous, so I'm not repeating it on here) very disturbing story about how Kaufland obtained planning permission for this particular branch, so I'm hanging back from returning.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Christmas is over...

...which I suppose means I better make an effort to do some more blogging. I'll try and get back on it this week.