‘Funny’, Political Correctness & Modern Family humour.


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So shoot the dinosaur if I am not understanding this correctly BUT I am wholly confused about how humour and the topics of gender fluidity [in which I include LGBT as a ‘topic’], ethnicity, disability and beliefs collide. There’s a rule book somewhere that is, from what I can fathom, as fluid as the Gender identity it sometimes defends.

So, I understand the opening premise. That we are all human inside; the universal organism truth of us in which lie the seeds of Equality for All. Clear. And agreed.

And in the immutable words of a 90s Blur anthem, regardless of whether I am a boy who likes girls like their girls like their boys; or a girl whom wishes to be a boy; or a boy who wishes to dress like a girl; whether I have a Koran or a bible or a Torah or a light sabre (jedi numbers in the UK stood at 176,632 in the 201census, the 7thlargest religion in the UK after Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Sikhism, Judaism and Buddhism); whether I have black, brown, olive, bluey white, or any other skin colour or patina you can name; regardless of how I speak – by accent, idiom, dialect or impediment; whether I have all of my limbs or just some of them, flaws, glitches, disease, chromosomal or neural disorders or again, any other condition or illness that renders me ‘imperfect’ in the eyes of the zealots, we are still all the same sentient human creature and should be treated as such.

This is where normailsation or universality should apply, calibrate and enforce itself. At a regulatory, political and constitutional level.  This is the nature of Human Suffrage. And these are societal and cultural truths that need to be enforced if needs be, especially if someone in flouting these human truths chooses to act maliciously against any one party to the detriment of that party and the benefits of themselves.

But the tension point on all of this for me is around humour.

Humour is a kicking post. A buffer to what sometimes feels like an imbalanced world or our own individual tribal and societal failings or myopia. Yes, it is turned cruelly against some people and beliefs – as is every technology humanity has ever created [ and yes I am referring to humour as a technology]. But broadly, humour is as much a tool of the oppressed, the marginalised, the down trodden, the forgotten and the set against as it is a tool of the bully and the racist.

Satire has been used as apolitical weapon for millennia, especially amongst those who felt they were incapable of confronting on equal terms a politic, leader, party, belief or philosophy that they found diminished their equal right to inclusion,  peaceful living in equality with their neighbours.

Is satire a moral instrument? Yes. Whether it is being wielded by some homophobic, racist, right-wing, liberal-hating cyclops, or by some bullying, socially psychopathic vegan eco-fetishist, it is being used to promote a particular moral/immoral/amoral world view or perspective that truly believes in its righteous self. [We must remember that morality, like sexuality, is fluid.]

But it seems that one of satire and humour’s redeeming traits is that it is mostly fired up in favour of the underdog or the insurgent spirit in any given situation.

From the walls of the palatine Hills or the Senate baths; Diogenes in his barrel in the square, the rapier wit of Rowlandson and the satirists of western Georgian society all the way through to the agitating propagandists of ‘pick a world war any world war’, the revolutionary guard of 1968 and the journalists and cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo; humour is a leveller and a balloon popper; a stick with which to hit the stuffiness and humourless, po-pious self-righteous pomposity of those people seeking to rule through some self-ordained permission and assertion.

I love humour. And the more edgy and raw and punk it gets – the more hackles it raises – the more I like it.

Perhaps I just don’t like the smug controlling satisfaction written over the faces of what seem quite joyless people in any given situation.

Agreed. The catch all of the foot-in-mouth ‘truth as bullets’ insensitive twat ‘humour’ of ‘I was just saying what everyone else was thinking’ …displays a crass insensitivity and lack of even a shred of the kind of diplomacy that is a primary facet of any socialised human being. But my greatest issue is that it is frankly usually just lazy. And it is rarely funny. [The greater sin.]

But back to the upside.

A lot of humour for me is predicated on challenging every norm, status quo and given wisdom around identity truth, practice, posture, habit, behaviour, viewpoint, politic, assumption and directive. Anything that seemed to adopt a tyrannical, humourless, bullying self-referential righteousness.

It is there as a relentless counter balance to what is presented as ‘right’ or ‘normal.’

It is at its least a projection on to a higher plane of ‘taking the piss’ – a pastime created to keep people from getting ‘ideas above their station’, ‘too big for their boots’ or ‘too clever by half.’

In recent times once we’d cut out way through the smoky bullying humour of the working men’s clubs of the 1970s, aimed at ‘er indoors, the mother-in-law, women drivers, people of colour, homosexuals, ginger haired kids and the ‘t’ick’ Irish (or the Polish in North American Society) we got to the stand-up revolution of the 1980s.

Barbs and parodies and small humorous cruelties where now aimed at Maggie Thatcher, racist coppers, bent politicians, pig-ignorant gin & jag Middle-Englanders, Kebab Shop Men, gobby builders, Gap Yar students, Hoorays, PR queens, and every other shade of the establishment (who could forget Alan Beresford  B’stard).

Then the Noughties switcheroo mix-up of geo-gender-livestock-foodstuff-education-politics had us all getting more and more confused. Suddenly Left was Right. Up was down. In was out.

One example of this lies in the roots of the recent Anti Semitism row in the Labour Party.  And there ain’t nothing funny about that.

Was a time when supporting Palestine against state-funded [The American state to be precise] Zionist incursions and hegemony in the Middle East was particularly a stand against Israel’s state-terrorism [as it was perceived], not against the Jewish people. That support became an alignment with the PLO, who tripped and passed the baton to Hamas, who buddy up to the Hezbollah, who’re in bed with nascent IS militancy and suddenly a lot of people in the Labour Party are all confused. Pro PLO was not meant to be anti-semitic. But then again was it? If Israel is a secular state, then everyones fine. If it’s the homeland of the jewish people then that gets complicated. Back then Pro Palestine was definitely anti America and Anti Global Money. But it certainly wasn’t meant to be pro Hezbollah; and as for IS, well… Anyway. pick the comedy bones out of that if you can.

And the idea of sustainable lives and living within our means was a good thing. Cheap meat and its industrial production was killing the planet and our health and well-being. A more balanced diet was called for. More vegetables. A more vegetarian diet became suitable and vegetable-led diets are becoming far more normal. But the Vegans got super militant and a lot more aggressive. And suddenly they are the tyrants encroaching on free will. WTF?

And then as the Gay Agenda is usurped by the Gender Agenda, who’s rights come first? LGBT thankfully stepped in as the umbrella collective to champion all rights equally but the Gender Agenda could not be denied. And its confusing out there. [As Joe Lycett, the currently Bi-sexual comedian pointed out on Radio 4 recently, the Gays are controlling the Bi agenda, so Bis have to speak up for themselves.]

Although statistics reveal that 1 in 16 people are either gay or lesbian, we are yet to see what the true number of the transgender population might be.

We also need to allow for what I like to think of as  ‘settlement’ – where the very universal nature of youth’s fierce pursuit of identity might predispose more than are actually truly transgender to pursue it as an option of identity while ‘churning’ through their individual activism years.

Yes. That idea of transgender possibly being a phase– shoot me now for suggesting that just maybe, transgender, like many other things, sometimes politics, sometimes philosophy, sometimes religious, sometimes physical, can be put in the tumble dryer of puberty and the fierce crucible of early identity and come up looking like an absolute, an emphatic truth; and feel that way for some years.

Do I believe that people can fundamentally find themselves in the wrong body? Yes. But equally, do I also believe that transgender has popped itself on the shelf of turbulent identities that youth might reach for? Yes. And that needs to be remembered before we steamroll anything in any direction without letting it ‘settle’. Less haste to the scalpel and more power to the emotional support systems while going through this stuff seems sensible to me.

Veganism and Vegetarianism unsurprisingly also feature heavily in the individual activism years, as they are also most likely to set young people ‘against’ their parents and the existing Order’s politics, beliefs and behaviours.

So what is activism linked to identity and being? And what is activism linked to humanity and existence?

The lazy answer would be ‘its all shades of the same.’ They’re not.

Regardless, that the new tropes of gender, veganism et al are being rendered through the social smack down of the social channels and the twitter model of ‘no right to reply’ leads us to the role of humour and satire.

Tyrannies of social inclusion and exclusion are being undertaken. And revolutions are being foisted on communities and societies.

Small problem is that the gathering norm is coming from the kind of people the humour of the 80s and 90s once set out to liberate.

And the rule book is currently either being used as loo paper in the gender neutral khazi or hung on a hanging tree next to the most recent #metoo protagonist.

Humour is now as likely to target gay rights activists, gender neutral toilets, tech entrepreneurs, hipsters, uber-feminists and fragile millennials as it will the old favourites of Proscribed Religion, philandering and (criminally) bent politicians, oil moguls, bankers, war mongers, child abusers, and Doctor’s Surgery Receptionists.

So does that mean teasing and taking the piss out of transgender is a return to the old days of right wing homophobias; or is it simply humour doing what it always does?

Which brings me to the catalyst for this blog.

Modern Family.

Or should I say my family’s interpretation of Modern Family and particularly the humour involved.

After a particular binge-watching weekend [Bad parenting] we realised that my daughter is sensitive to how women are portrayed in Modern Family. Neurotic Claire. With her over-controlling mania’s and aggression issues. Over-inflated Gloria with her ‘goose honk’ Columbian tone, towering heels and malapropisms. The two Dumfy daughters – one stupid and loose, the other geeky and up tight. So a wholly reasonable perspective and opinion on my daughter’s part.

But she equally seemed somewhat oblivious to the rest of the comedy cavalcade of swipes – the gay stereotypes of Cam and Mitchell and their fatuous statements – “the only gay men to leave LA  on pride weekend because we don’t like crowds” “Oh no, Lesbians” – and hybrid Gay-Asian jokes – “the only two gay men in America to have raised an underperforming Asian child”– the old school, rich white myopia of Jay (he’s a brash crass self-made man with intimacy issues and he did marry pneumatic Gloria after all) and of course, Phil Dumfy’s deeply flawed world view on subjects such as the menstrual cycle and its effect on women – “monstruation” –  his staggering stupidities, fawning salesmanship and general foolishness.

At which point my son chimes in and says perhaps there are gender stereotypes but everyone’s being targeted. And while we are at it, no-one seems up in arms about the prevailing wind in tv drama and comedy of stupid, self-interested, unhygienic, venal, childish male stereotype with a one track mind [whether that be shabby cheap sex, donuts, skipping work, or playing golf.]

We have Brian Griffen in Family Guy; the less said about Homer Simpson the idiot child abuser the better; Richard Watterson, the dad in Amazing world of Gumball demonstrates a staggering level of parental irresponsibility and idiocy; and even Peppa Pig’s father, Daddy Pig, could do with a bath and a fresh injection of brain cells.

The female riposte to this is often ‘well, you guys identify and laugh at those male truisms – and anyway, it’s about time you got skewered after hundreds of years of beating down women’s self-worth and identity – emotionally, intellectually and physically if needs be.’

Fair cop. But if we’re all equal. Surely we’re all up for the rules to be applied equally?

Anyway, where we netted out on Modern families humour imperative was, in my opinion, the right place.

In turns each of the stereotypes is hammered but it is done with a redemptive and cautionary tale ending in mind. Ultimately it says, reach beyond the short-sightedness and human frailty and flaws and we are all equally and without exception allowed and capable of a shot of redemption if we choose to take it.

It is the equanimity of deft cruel parodies, stereotypes and clichés and the purpose to which these comedic cruelties are played that allows all things.

As long as humour is applied equally, and no one stereotype is singled out, then anything goes, the only filter then being to what tonal extremity do you like your humour to play.

South Park far outreaches Gumball in extremity and crass stereotyping. But the premise of using stereotypes is much the same.

But this is a liberal choice. Some would say that as in literature, what constitutes funny it is a question of quality not morality or ethics.

It is the quality of the writing and framing and characterisations in the comedy that should be judged. Not the morality. As Oscar Wilde was said to point out when discussing the morality of a particular book:

“There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book.Books are well written, or badly written. That is all.”

The source code of humour is the human condition, in all of its flawed, raw truth and sometime often-time ugliness and inappropriateness.

Lazy humour tends to just be cruel for cruelty’s sake. Humour that tends to just seek to make people feel less shit by demeaning someone else to make them feel shitter – that’s not only lazy but spiteful and negative. That’s not OK. There is no counterpoint or greater purpose to it.

Even if the purpose is just to put a pressure valve on something that would otherwise explode into something far more destructive, at least it has a role in society.

Humour with purpose is a beautiful thing. Because it reminds us that power in all its forms, shiboleths, hysterical and aggressive assertions, trumpeting identity and righteous untouchables are all fodder for the excoriating blade of wit and humour.

Humour is the raw blunt edge of humanity. And like all evolved practices behaviours and traits, it exists for a reason. As I have said. Humour is a Human Technology.

As Sy Benson, the erstwhile Head Comedy Writer character in the film My Favourite Year promounced:

“You don’t cut ‘funny.’”

He also pronounced on the morality of a philandering Actor’s right to appear on a family show:

We’re discussing morals. We’re talking generations to come here.

To which Alice, another writer, responds:

“you’re not qualified to discuss morals, Sy”

to which Sy intelligently replies

“Up yours with a Mello Roll, Alice!”

Now what are we to do with this? Accuse him of misogynistic and aggressive use of language and making threats with a pastry, and have him arrested? Undertake a thorough investigation to define which ‘hole’ he is referring to, to define whether this is indeed gender specific abuse or a more universal aggressive attack? Shame him on twitter in the absence of context? Send him home with a pat on the head saying time to hang up your comedy typewriter? Or accept that humour like humanity has rough and imperfect edges, points of discomfort and areas of uncertainty, and having accepted that just apply a little wit and wisdom in the judging of it.

Anyone one for a Non Vegan, Camp Comedy Night Out?




Class, satire & the dark art of playing the gallery.


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At a point in history when the nuance, deft politic and human insight of a Castlereagh might come in handy – and the strong hand, fierce purpose and earthiness of a Boudicca wouldn’t go amiss; what do we have?

Jacob Rees-Mogg.

Our representative for the broad constituency of ordinary people in the UK is a comical Toff who seems to have fallen off the pages of Topper Comic (well, the 1970s version).

There is a sublime logic in this as the Brexiteers seem to have decided that, if we’re going to apply a Back to the Future strategy, 1970 seems like a good Back to start a Future from; This obviously falls far short of the idyllic late 1940s and early 1950s that some Brexiteers would rather hark back to, the zenith of our victorious pre-Windrush Post WWII Golden Age, when you could still happily and openly show prejudice against anyone you so chose while playing an Over on the Green under a Spitfire sky, eating trimmed sandwiches of fish paste and cucumber and sipping lemonade and lashings of ginger beer; all played out amidst the buzz of an endless British summer.

There are the upsides: Britain in the 70s was a crash of paisley purple and burnt orange, brilliant Bowie,  Prog rock, Punk, Disco and the chiaroscuro of British Light Entertainment: the brilliant beacons of the Two Ronnies and Morecombe & Wise peppered with the misshit social commentary of ‘Til Death Do Us Part (Alf Garnett being to the 70s what Loadsamoney was to the 80s – both caricatures being an exercise in sharp satire gone horribly wrong.)

But it was also the decade of sclerotic public services and infrastructure, lazy builders, 3 day weeks, dusty industry (why change what’s worked for 100 years), street battles between Right and Left and, of course, Maggie Thatcher, the goddess in Jacob’s temple.

So our champion – Jacob Rees-Mogg – whose first tweet was in Latin. What a knob.

One would hope that the lower echelons of the Daily Mail readership (as they choose to self identify) will welcome having a bucket of cold water poured over them and a toe swung towards their arse for good measure when they realise what’s being done to them in the name of BREXIT.

But I have a feeling they are going there willingly.

This kow-towing and fawning adulation is simply the saloon-car-driving, beige-coated, ploughman’s eating, comfortable-walking-shoe version of the chimpanzee putting their wrist up towards the alpha and bowing their head. Or arse kissing upwards to put it in coarser, more feudal terms.

Far too many of the Great British public are playing out some twisted piece of Tom Brown and Flashman theatre – and gleefully so.

It seems a large swathe of the Great British public are seemingly more than happily prepared to play ‘Jean Ainslie’ to Rees-Mogg’s ‘Graham Dashwood.’

In the film, The Most Exotic Marigold Hotel, the Jean Ainslie character is the epitome of the small-minded, deluded, disappointed and utterly class-fixated snob (a rather smarter and more polished version of Hyacinth Bucket – pronounced ‘Bouquet’ – from Keeping Up Appearances). And Graham Dashwood is the dashing, elegant, intelligent, worldly (and quietly gay) Barrister from a much higher social order.

Everything crushes into one moment where she states in a moment of professed love and adulation:

“In fact I think I’ve been looking for you for a very long time.”

There is the populist voice speaking.

Right now it seems that the Great British public are staring into Rees-Mogg’s eyes and professing much the same sentiment.

So how has Jacob conjured this whorl of feeling? What is it about him, his nature or his background that makes the masses lick upwards?

Well he ticks every box, in many more ways than Boris.

He is of good stock – but not a toff by birth. Tick.

(His father was only made a lifetime peer in 1988. So an ‘arriviste’ by old money standards. And they bought Ston Easton Park in Somerset, not inherited it. So in Alan Clark’s world view on inherited class, Rees Mogg’s family ‘bought their own furniture.’)

Jacob attended Eton and Trinity, Oxford. Tick.

Jacob made an extraordinary amount of money in Fund Trading, so he can claim the status ‘self-made man’. Tick.

But most importantly he ‘looks and sounds’ the part. Double Tick.

Jacob is the epitome of the Comic toff caricature that many over 40s grew up on. He is in that way a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Rees-Mogg realised long ago that image is everything (whilst still at school if the highly confected nature of the Eton College Collections portrait is to be believed). And presentation is nine tenths of the social law.

If you believe that people are still inherently feudal and like the idea of some Brideshead meets Downton Abbey world of ‘them in the big house up there and us down ‘ere doffing our caps’ model of social order and happiness – then you play to that gallery. Starting with your veneer.

Jacob realised the value in looking like you are from central casting’s stable of fragile toffs with a wilful streak and a stubborn self-righteousness born of an irrepressible Right of Entitlement. People look backwards at times of volatility and chaos. They seek older orders and touchstones to reassure themselves – even comic book ones. Nostalgia is a powerful opiate.

But that on its own is not enough. There is a darker, smarter judo move in Rees-Mogg that points to a very media savvy individual ‘playing the moment.’

Rees-Mogg has self-selected himself to be parodied, lampooned and satirised – he has made himself the butt of his own jokes. Genius.

This garish characterisation delivers on two counts. It makes him highly visible and discernible. And it presents him as self-deprecating – a faux proxy for humility in this case.

Everything he does presets him to ‘control’ the satire against him. (Sound familiar?)

So while Boris attracts all of the rockets with his stamping politic and straw-haired buffoonery – and Farage continues to present himself as the self-interested, small minded provincial barracker that he is (noticeably still collecting his MEP cheque and watching the World Cup from another EU subsidised bar in Brussels), Jacob slithers into every vapourous opportunity and out of anything solid or substantial with a whiff of the snake charmer wafting about his overly-combed head (brilliantine wouldn’t go amiss).

He is the quietly sneering, self-preening critic sitting in the corner seat at the dinner party, using the compound effect of his coy theatre of fragile child, his ‘blinking’ intellect and uncomfortable pauses to be eviscerating while seemingly ameliorating.

Some would venture that we get the politicians we deserve. If that is the case then the UK is generally suffering from a desperate case of ‘doffing’ – junked up on the need to be ruled by some retrograde smugness of the ‘Big House’ variety.

Thank heavens for that. There was a danger there for the briefest moment of us looking like an advanced, enlightened society with a clear understanding of the diversity of humanity that shaped us and a clear line of sight on the delicious collision of natures, skills, outlooks and open optimism we need as a nation to evolve and thrive.

But sanity prevails. And with the rise of the Rees-Moggs of this world we show ourselves for the fawning, recidivist, class-riddled, insecure ‘know your place’ society we really are.

Irritatingly I have to take my hat off to him. He knows his audience and their fragile desires intimately. He’s good. Really good.

So I’m off to buy a new cap to doff!

Obesity, dog packs, dating delusions & WTAF!


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So just a quick sojourn into some of the things that have beggared belief this week (in my tiny mind at least).

First up on the No-shit-Sherlock-o-meter:

Plus Sizes increasing propensity for obesity. Well, I never. Who’d have thought that telling morbidly obese people that ‘Fat is where it’s at’. ‘Bigger is beautiful’ and ‘be your big gorgeous self’ would inspire people with a potentially life-diminishing weight problem to eschew any kind of reflection on their consumption, and the nature of why they eat the way they do and just crack on with the triple, super-size tortilla melted cheese, ‘quarter pounder with sleaze’ approach to a dietary regime. And just to top it all off: remove any sizing that points to comparative sizing and markers that potentially might make them ‘feel bad’ about themselves or by which they feel ‘judged’ – thus normalising unhealthy body weights. I understand how one would not want people who ‘struggle’ with their weight to be pariahs in the zero-size eating disorder tyranny of current fashion trends. A bunch of leaf movers tucked into clothes designed for prepubescent boys evading any form of proper nutrition in pursuit of their beach ready body is bad enough. But really? Have we really become so meek? If we have put on too much weight. Call it. Accept the truth. We wouldn’t do this with an alcoholic.

Second up. Suing a dating company for not delivering a rich husband forward slash man of my dreams forward slash potential father. Christ on a bike. What on earth a perfectly intelligent and purportedly mature person thinks will be the outcome of suing a business that peddles ‘perfect love with a minted bloke’ I am not quite sure. I suppose it may eventually stop them from also hiring out the Tooth Fairy and getting the Silver Fox dating monopoly on Father Christmas in future – as they obviously see fantasy product promises and experiences as their forte. How do you sue someone for a fantastical promise? I am really curious. I would love to see the contractual terms – the legally binding document that will have them bang to rights for selling the impossible. However fragile we might be at any given time, have we really descended into a moment where this is regarded as a realistic possibility? All I wonder is…where were her friends?

Thirdsies, the gang culture that celebrates 20 people ganging up and chasing down a lone teenager and stabbing them to death and then claiming bragging rights. What for? A towering demonstration of group cowardice? Top rating for the International slimy Hyena Gold Star? I’d love to see the youtube channel video where these people set out their manly credentials. It probably appears alongside like-minded videos that celebrate Baby Kicking, stealing the wheels of a Paraplegic’s wheel chair and Pregnant Woman Slapping. Is there no-one, even in the utterly toxic and twisted world of gang culture and male uber-violence, to point out that this is not a brag. It’s a pitiful demonstration of the most cowardly kind of attack.

Anyway, that’s it. Bored myself.

So, I’ve popped on my ‘slim look’ kaftan and I’m off to tuck into a Man vs Food scale twenty-stack Burger & Doritos ‘salad’ with triple-Ceasar dressing at the Single Women Seeking Minted Dream Blokes Night at 5 Grand a pop – with a police escort. Wish me luck.

Hashtags, social scolding & the Fragility of Freedom.


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Who’d listen to an apparently ‘recidivist’, feminist academic and some right-wing lite writer of semi erotic literature?

Me. I happily listen to, read and respect (though not feverishly) the positions of both Germaine Greer and Jilly Cooper for exactly the same reason that I read Barbara Ellen, Naomi Woolf and Kathy Acker.

Do I always like what they say? No. Do I find some of it a bit one dimensional? Yup. Do I sometimes react like an overly defensive bloke? I’m certain I do. But do I find a lot of what they say illuminating, transformative and inspirational. All day long. Do their perspectives improve me? Without question.

I read and engage with them for exactly the same reason I like P. Funk, Christopher Hitchens, Family Guy, the Antiques Roadshow, Gogglebox and Byron: for the human colour and texture delivered by opposing narratives and the frictions held within them. They often fundamentally contradict each other – and throw spanners in each other’s engines and excreta at each other’s windows. That’s good. That’s one of the greatest upsides of enjoying Freedom of Speech.

Where would the joy be if we weren’t free to mock Donald J? That’s satire. That’s a healthy reaction. A massive baby Donald is a perfectly acceptable scale of riposte to a man who holds the attention of the world in his twitter-like hand, and shakes his status like a plastic rattle.

As long as it is done openly, in the light of day, spoken with the courage of one’s convictions, in a peer reviewed, open-sided environment with some basic rules of engagement – that’s all good.

But recently, as the darker corners of the #metoo, clean food and transgender campaigns have demonstrated, it can get ugly our there even when you begin with the best intentions in the world. Boisterous debate, informed discourse and heated discussion can quickly be replaced by something far more insidious and, to me, more dangerous.

I am talking about our provisional transition from open debate and respect for free speech (and the accompanying chimpanzee-like pooh flinging) to a narrow, closed form of cod-intellectual ‘social shout-down’ and the deafening absence of the Right of Reply.

There needs to be a tension, a friction in our evolutions – that’s human – and some subjects need to be approached with a degree of disruptive vigour.

There needs to be some punkish and raw fire blown into some social constructs and mores, mostly because they have become sclerotic. And Free Speech is about giving the fire the oxygen it needs.

But for some, Free Speech is seen as a Trojan horse for self-interest, bullying, dogma, schism, proselytising and propaganda. Well, no shit Sherlock. The openness of Free Speech means that, at some point, some very twisted and odd individuals will abuse the ability and opportunity to state their case.

But Free Speech’s defence mechanism against the twisted idiots and cruelty mongers prevailing lies in its very openness – and an environment rooted in an open Right of Reply on a mass scale. In each person resides the right to say No, I disagree, or ‘that is bad’, or ‘this could be better.’ Free Speech is a human block chain system by which we manage the security and integrity of our social, cultural, ethical and moral codes

It requires us all to be open to a reciprocal respect in the exchange. And it requires us to accept that the outpourings of Free Speech may very well make us feel very aggrieved or uncomfortable, and often so.

That’s its point. It is meant to be the valve in the pressure cooker; the thing that mostly helps to stop large swathes of people feeling they have no voice and reaching boiling point.

Free Speech is a good thing. But it does come with rules of engagement, and with responsibilities and accountabilities that we need to accept.

Free Speech has consequences. And we need to accept these in the brutal cold light of day. Framed in human, living terms, – not just in its philosophical and notional or legal and constitutional terms.

What do I mean by human living terms? Just the random and chaotic emotional truths of how people respond to stuff they are wound up about. Feelings can be uncomfortable. Insights can seem loaded. Emotions can be raw. Thoughts can be dangerous. Beliefs can be murderous. Never more so when they are voiced into the world with seemingly little attention or consideration for how they may be received.

But this is Free Speech is it not?

Freedom of Speech also means that we have the freedom to respond or not to statements and polemics however hateful with greater wit, charm intellect or persuasion than that with which they were served to us.

But sometimes the response is brutal, mindless or violent with little opportunity for debate or discourse.

The French satirists of Charlie Hebdo making cartoons of the Prophet can be viewed as either extraordinarily disrespectful smart arses who misread their right to mock with dreadful consequence or brave defenders of Free Speech. Regardless, most would accept that they knew what the extremity of the response might be. That is where courage or recklessness must step up and accept that the consequence of its actions though inhuman or horrific or criminal are none the less potential consequences. Je suis Charlie.

Free Speech is, in itself, open and equal – but that comes at a price.

Firstly, that we have to also listen to preachers and proselytisers of all kinds of shite wanging on endlessly with their propaganda or their misshapen and offensive views. And secondly we must accept that Free Speech is there to defend our right to have a voice, not to protect us against violent, harmful of hateful riposte. That is the role of the laws and systems of our democratic constitutions to uphold that side of the Suffrage bargain – that I am free to state my views and beliefs openly without fear of violent or harmful response. But in real, raw human everyday terms, might a psychotic or a fundamentalist or worse still a foreign government actor ‘get’ to me before the police man or woman (or howsoever they might identify) placed there to protect my Human Right to Free Speech. Yup. Jo Cox paid the greatest price for the freedom to voice our beliefs and politics in an all too human realm of ignorant response.

Silencing voices we do not like the sound and metre of is not democratic. Suppressing opposition is not how an open society operates. But we do it anyway. And sometimes the most successful way to hide something slightly dodgy is in plain sight, in this instance dressed up as a digital pillar of freedom of expression.

Here we return to the issue of No Voice or No Right to Reply and the socio-cultural twitter smack-down of Free Speech

The Oxford Union’s persistent need to silence hate mongers, sexists and racists disguised as authors, politicians, artists, academics or celebrity speakers, citing them as evil, is, I believe, a childish response from what is supposed to be a bastion of enlightenment, intelligence and wannabe stalwarts of the freedom to practice and speak freely.

I expect them to be at the forefront of this issue. Not on the back-foot.

That the Oxford Union cannot a) manage just 1 hour of ‘discomfort’ (the discomforting effect of listening to some twisted manipulator of reason and belief) in a seat in one of the most socially comfortable and privileged environments in the world and b) find the wherewithal to illuminate the insanity and misguided-ness of those people beggars belief.

If the intellectual bastions of a democratic society are too fragile or easily damaged by the turgid minds of the extremist, then we have a problem.

If you believe someone is citing or excusing violence, suppression or prejudice against the person either emotionally, physically, philosophically, spiritually or politically; make your case. Take the podium and illuminate the insanity of their bullshit through reasoned and sometimes unreasonable discourse.

But perhaps therein lies the point. Charlie Hebddo has demonstrated that you have to do this in the full knowledge that the boisterous but ultimately harmless debating society approach to conflict and problem resolution is a luxury that few people have and even fewer respect.

The world does not always respond in the measured, monochromatic mid-tones of a Mid-Western Psychologist.

Maybe that’s the issue for our delicate intelligentia?

You need to be prepared for what humans throw at you. And its messy.

We resort to chimp like shit flinging at the drop of a hat. And if we can beat our chests and rally a crowd of the intellectually lazy, spiritually misguided or emotionally stunted to our cause, chances are, we will, regardless of the veracity of our arguments or the quality of their support.

When we close down or silence those voices (instead of hearing them out and then deconstructing them at scale) we create a vacuum; an absence of natural tension. And history has shown that the smallest, pettiest, most vicious personal human agendas can rise up freely inside a vacuum.

If we don’t like the language or the statements of the likes of Donald J Trump or Germaine Greer, we need to use our own to rebuff them. Not just close them down.

But if we do that in the belief that everyone will play fair, we are ignoring the bestial creature truth of humanity.

Hopefully we are learning to understand that free speech, shaped as it is by the human psyche, is often going to be incendiary, disgraceful, unpleasant or, mostly, disagreeable, (unless I happen to be the person freeing my speech of course).

Free Speech has consequences, for the listener, and for the speaker. In the basest human terms those consequences can be hostile, violent, diminishing, degrading and sometimes criminal. This is the cause and effect of being human. Our beliefs whether communicated through speech, action or gesture will be both proselytised in a raw human manner and received in the same. Often an extreme response cannot be claimed to be truly surprising. Shocking perhaps. But not surprising.

For example:

If I am a man (or, more likely in this example, a sexually retarded fantasist game designer ‘child’ of a man running the upgrade on Grand Theft Auto), who has spouted the twisted belief that every rape ‘wants it’, and, subsequently, I get violently anally pegged by a troubled-turned-violent rape victim in some act of vengeance against my publically spouted beliefs, so be it.

Now that may sound a little extreme but is it wholly unexpected? How could it be? We know that trauma scars people physically and emotionally. A victim of extreme physical abuse can sometimes be driven to consider undertaking vengeful actions. Fact. This is not some movie fantasy of revenge. It would be naive to pretend it was.

So, if I voice an opinion, even as an ignorant provocation, I know what I am saying and my intention in saying it. Does that deserve a criminal or life disfiguring act against me? Or even a murderous one? Possibly not. And there are laws to dissuade someone from thinking otherwise.

BUT it IS a possibility I must consider when I open my mouth and speak, especially on incendiary topics. Because I live in a raw and human world, democratic or otherwise.

We are creatures with a genetic lineage that was shaped across hundreds of thousands of generations before we even thought to set up one camp together, let alone a civilised society. The complexity of what runs beneath the surface of us – what systems we’re running behind the interface of our conscious self – is only just beginning to be revealed by science and psychology.

We are ancient creatures with a modern veneer of civility.  We are, in phone terms, a Nokia 100 with a state of the art Android interface. And Freedom of Speech and people’s responses to it are the raw proof of that.

The language we use when we spout anything – from the sublime and enlightening to the ridiculous and disagreeable – is a powerful technology that we’ve been honing for a while. It has impact and reach. Wrap an opinion or a belief in it and we in effect light blue touch paper. It can be devastating. In some instances Sticks and stones would be the kinder option.

The learned experiences, beliefs and strategies that we use language to communicate are not always positive or palatable ones and they are not always done with a view to the common good (unless in some weird moment you think that the common good might be served by all-white sections of the UK, a transgender ban, and men-only golf clubs!). It goes with the territory.

Human language is a sharp tool that can both help and harm. And like all sharp tools, we need to tread cautiously in how when and where we use it; and to whom. And take responsibility for what happens when we do.

Regardless of the nature or capability of your exercising your right to use language freely to make your point, the main thing again is that it is undertaken with openness and the Right to Reply.

Tyrannical smack downs of someone who says something we don’t like are an unsurprising emotional reaction. Humans don’t like being wrong but, more importantly, are truly dreadful when they are feeling ‘really’ right.

This is less about the mitigation of the wrongness that sometimes occurs in environments of free speech, and more about the application of Righteousness in those events.

Righteousness is a wonderful word for a dreadful human nature. It brings together the spirit of divine complicity (support from on high) in your cause or belief, with a big slather of super conservative institutional rigour and supposed socio-cultural substance (regardless of whether ‘the party’ is of a left wing or right wing disposition).

And righteousnessis the only thing I could call the cultural shift that now has us banning dickheads from publically spouting their dickheadedness in environments like the Oxford Union where they can at least be dis-assembled publically – and the twisted logic that led a large number of smart intelligent people to not only take Margaret Atwood to task on her watch outs for #metoo but to damn her outright with no Right of Reply. Smackdown!

If the ‘Snowflake generation,’ as Millennials are so called, are at the forefront of these shifts, then we simply need to be conscious of that old cause and effect paradigm and be aware that the effect may be equally distasteful .

The Snowflake generation are called as much because they are seen by some as insufferably fragile – children in the world, bred to be easily damaged, hurt or offended by even the slightest harshness in tone, content, belief, polemic or politic. In this world view, everything becomes viewed through the filter of a threat to be shut or shot down.

The proof given is that when people cite something that doesn’t suit their world view, it’s damned or dismissed as recidivist or self-serving. (That it might just be a well founded and timeless piece of wisdom, or intelligently arrived at point of view worthy of consideration seems to be irrelevant.)

And therein lies the cliché. The Smackdown is simply another tyranny to replace other tyrannies. I had hoped we were less obvious but we’re not. The seemingly weak being in fact aggressors in the exercise and application of their fears in the world is a reoccurring human truth.

Tyrants do not like Free Speech. Especially the real kind. Hence the Fake News campaign of one Donald J.  Am I comparing #metoo and Donald J’s Fake News? Yes – but only in the fact that they both have used social networks, especially that of the unsophisticated, stunted responses of twitter (AKA Troll heaven) to silence and shame their detractors.

I am not for one moment venturing that their politics or ethics are similar. Just their tools and the spirit in which they apply them.

They have both adopted the same mechanism – of scolding and damnation – by which to quash what they don’t want to hear.

So my hope is that Free Speech, the real version will a) be recognised for the powerful and democratic tool it is b) respected as something that has consequences for both the speaker and the listener. Both good and bad.










A New Deal on Data.


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Articulating the contract between science and people

By Anna Middleton1, Vivienne Parry2, Julian Borra3


For most of us it is hard to unpick the various declarations, assurances and guarantees made regarding the sanctity of our data. Even the General Data Protection Regulation still feels quite far removed from the everyday lives of ordinary people and is seemingly absent of any consultation with them. People need to both see and hear proof that they’ve been listened to. And they will act against anyone who seems to wilfully dismiss or disregard them – with every right to do so. With Facebook recently under the spotlight, there is tangible alarm about the use of our personal information by others. A breach of confidence or inappropriate access to data becomes really sensitive when we consider our most precious and personal information. In a health sense, what is more personal than our DNA? It’s what makes us ‘us’.

We broadly know that scientists, clinicians and academic institutions collect, store, research and share DNA and medical information as part of the global endeavours to understand human health and treat human suffering. As part of this endeavour DNA information bounces around the Internet on an unbelievably massive scale, in ways unknown to the person who donated the data.

We probably expect ‘science’ is gathering, storing, analysing and sharing our data with respect, transparency and integrity. Whilst we hope that there is choice in this and we hope that we have actively consented, have we ever really discussed this as a collective society? Is this even possible?

Is it widely known that particularly for genetic research it is only possible to interpret what a glitch in DNA means if there are hundreds of thousands of DNA glitches from other people to compare it to. So, Big Data and DNA go hand in hand and are necessary for genomic medicine to deliver on its promises.

But, if science is truly going to serve humankind in the best way possible we need to be clear on the terms of the interaction and transaction with people, on their terms. And to do that we need a simple and clear conversation; to be certain that we can fulfil their demands or at least understand their desires and concerns.

The need for a PEOPLE POWERED conversation


A. The world of data is leaky.

B. Society’ hasn’t yet been part of a clear conversation.

When thinking about A. we have to be honest. Nothing is perfect. No data is 100% secure. No system is flawless. No regulation is absolute. No cache of information is 100% bullet proof – and if anyone promises that, they’re over promising.

This is a given that we have got to accept.

The type of data we are talking about here is the purest most precious kind, fundamental to our identity and existence. DNA and linked medical data – the foundational stuff that makes us who we are. Whilst our data might be ‘de-identified’, i.e. our name and address has been uncoupled from it, ‘anonymity’ cannot be absolutely guaranteed, because health information can always be linked to other personal information that is also on the web, and in our increasingly data-connected world, it is entirely feasible that we could, in theory, be identified from our DNA alone.

Which brings us to the B.

There are a lot of companies and regulatory bodies that broadcast commitments and assurances about data use. But as there has been no collective societal ‘sign up’ – so the pronouncements and commitments could be seen as one-sided. Aside from (relatively small scale) targeted engagement initiatives, there hasn’t yet been a global two-way conversation. No complete consultation. No reciprocity. No serious voice given to the most important people and the principal recipients of the good works undertaken with their data.

This is especially problematic when it comes to trying to get more people to share their precious DNA – their genome – to advance medical research and progress healthcare. Which is why the scientists need to ‘go first’ with starting this conversation.


To move forwards we need:

  • the medical, clinical and academic institutions and the policy makers to clearly articulate the assumptions behind ‘people’s best interests’ and make this available for debate.
  • society to accept the tiny risk inherent in sharing their data with individuals, organisations.

We need the people on both sides to be in this together – mutually accepting and supporting the power of precious data sharing to make life better.


Drawing up the New Deal

Simplicity is key. Two clear parties. Two clear beneficiaries. And equally mutual rewards.


This is a reciprocal people-powered deal that brings both sides together for better. And the people’s voice must be consulted, heard and written into it.

This will require a comprehensive consultation process involving ordinary people from all walks of society.

This should involve Qualitative and Quantitative explorations and interrogations of the topic and the terms of the deal. It should involve experts in large-scale, population engagement techniques.

How do we start the conversation?

We need a starting point for that conversation – an ‘in’; and starting with the genome isn’t it. We know from our own research that the vast majority of the broader public have not yet encountered the term. However, more than 90% of the public are online and feeding their data into the grid. Thus ‘data’ is the conversation starter that can take us to DNA.

The binary algorithms that once sat invisibly inside tech tools that serve humanity –- have now become visible – data has become a ‘thing’. Something we can point at, hold up, scrutinise and hold accountable. Data and its big brother, Big Data, are now discussed, interrogated and judged everywhere from the Senate Commission to Mumsnet.

So, Data; our relationship with it; and with those who harvest, explore and administer it ‘on our behalf’ gives us a rich area from which to begin.

The conversation needs to focus on how science and humanity collaborate and win, together.


Language and Tone are everything. Pub and school gate rules apply (i.e. it can be discussed anywhere and everyone can participate). This is a People Powered Deal. Not a Protocol.This is a simple deal that respects and honours every human’s right to control their own data destiny. And confidently go into an agreement where they believe that the terms will be upheld to the best of everyone’s ability. Which means it must be couched in clear simple terms.


We need the New Deal to be visible to all at every level. This will require a robust channel strategy – so we would also need to test best channels for spreading the word. And answer some pretty simple questions: Is it an event based news worthy event? Is it a web based platform for commitment with visible partners? Is it a socially driven call for better – a clarion call where we give the New Deal to the people and get them to use it as a lever to agitate for better – a movement.


We feel it is time for science and policy to scrutinise their direction of travel – with less rhetoric about the benefits of research and delivery of science (i.e. going in one direction from them to us) and more about serving humankind, recognising that we are all in this together. We, collectively are a partnership and we need the people of society to feel they sit with the scientists so that the journey into human discovery is one made together.


1Head of Society and Ethics Research, Wellcome Genome Campus, Cambridge

2Head of Engagement, Genomics England, London

3Citizen, Founder of Thin Air Factory, London


Birds, language & the Singing Ape


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I’ve been considering a collision of sorts in regards to language and what gave voice to the human species.

And listening to The Queen Of The Night from Mozart’s Magic Flute bought it all to a point.

The three pieces that collided in my mind are Mimicry, Trees and Birds.

In regards to mimicry, I was listening to a Radio 4 piece recently where a scientist was discussing her study of Apes and their gestural vocabulary – and exploring whether the linking of multiple gestures could be viewed as proof of how language developed in us as seen through the window of Apes – a clue perhaps to our ancient passage from gestures emphasised and accented by vocal noises to language as a formal technology. The issue seemed to lie for her in the absence of syntax – the absence of a grammar that unified the gestures into threads, or sentences if you will. She was hopeful that continued and rigorous research would eventually answer this question one way or the other.

If the gestures could be linked cohesively and logically elevated by some form of grammatical logic or structure, emphasised by aural accompaniment, it could be possible to extrapolate that human language might have developed in a not dissimilar way.

Where mimicry comes into this for me is in the simple truth that humans learn language through mimicry. As babies we home in on and focus on the ‘voices’ of our parents – initially as a simple identifier – imprinting them as a source code. Then as we listen we begin to learn the sounds and the range of possible inflections, tones and emotional cadences of language long before we know the ‘meaning’ of those words or the structural engineering that brings them all together.

We’ve all heard a small child burbling away and, to all intents and purposes, having a good old chat with themselves, with all the cadences and inflections of sentence structure and frameworks, and with an understanding of the emotions carried within those sounds but without the faintest idea of any formal understanding or definition.

We share a common ancestry with chimpanzees, apes and orangutans – that of the Hominidae – and we are related most closely to chimps in regards to our DNA. When we explore the relationship between our intellect and that of the Chimpanzee we use mimicry as a tool to do this. A kind of Show and Tell and Learn system.

So if mimicry is a trait; an evolutionary ability developed in advanced apes descended from Hominidae, of which we are the most preeminent, then I sense that in mimicry lies an answer to the question of syntax and structural rhythm.

But who were we mimicking? Where? And Why?

The Birdman of Brighton with his small curiosity bird whistles and warblers set my mind in motion. Remembering the wonderment on my daughter’s face at the ability of the small fired-clay bird whistle to light up the air with its sing-song warble gave me the root human desire I was looking for. Its simply wonderful for a human, child or adult, to be able to sing like a bird. Magical. Like a trap door into a mystical place of ‘otherness.’

And this fascination is not only anecdotal and childlike.

In a more rigorous and scientific realm, Toshitaka Suzuki and his colleagues at The Graduate University for Advanced Studies in Japan have revealed that bird song and birdcalls contain complex syntactical structures – ‘sentences’ if you will.

Though the infectious nature and idea of the syntax of birdsong seems enchanting, linguists see the birds as being very limited syntactically. Studied in isolation, I’m sure they must seem limited.

But the curiosity and conundrum for me is this: an ancient creature such as bird has syntax, whereas our Ape cousins, however smart or developed, currently do not. And humans have the most complex and sophisticated language of all earth’s creatures.

Is it our sophistication and evolutionary abilities that drive this reality? Or a simpler and more ‘creature-like’ trait in us?

For my mind, we have to consider the possibility that if we cannot find the direct linguistic link between our Ape cousins and their gestural noises and our own complex, syntactical language , we must look wider and indirectly – and consider some collisions perhaps.

For example; Humans have a very ancient relationship with trees. We have a simple, symbiotic relationship with them at a primal level: we breathe in what they breathe out – and they breathe out what we breathe in. But the root of us and the roots of them are intertwined over millennia. We have evolved around and within them, developing under the cover of their canopy, drawing from the soil beneath them, hollowing them out as hallowed spaces. Taking refuge in their boughs. Living amongst their branches. Feeding on their fruits. Using their seasonal shifts like metronome for our own existence. Trees are imprinted on us. Which means we could accept one thing as broadly likely: our ancestors would have lived beak by jowl with every shade shape, nature and hue of bird for hundreds of thousands of generations.

We mimic most things when given half a chance. We certainly mimic birdsong – using calls and whistles to provoke reaction from or engagement with the creatures around us.

Why could we not consider the idea that there was an tree dwelling-ancestor in our distant past whose speciality was birdsong mimicry – to attract and to interact with them – either to catch and eat them perhaps, or in the use of them as compasses, weather vanes, soothsayers, or doom-bringers. And consider that those ancestors played a pivotal role in our adoption of the syntactical nature of birdsong. Perhaps they were hugely influential at a pivotal point in our evolution.

This makes complete sense to me. People who spend a lot of time around each other begin to align in all manner of ways. They start to adopt aspects of each other- why not each others communication? Mimicry as part of evolutionary survival over generations must imprint itself – descend beneath the surface of us. There is little reason to believe that the improved nature of our communication between each other would not be adopted by our evolving brain as something useful and therefore code for it. If the nature and syntax of birdsong became second nature to us: if our Ape like ancestors began to ‘pass on’ this ability until it became innate, then I would be able to clearly understand how the ‘Singing Ape’ would develop syntax and start to form the more complex format of communication that we have come to understand as language.

Our ancestors would simply have sharpened this ‘tool’ or technology in much the same way they sharpened stones and sticks.

There is also an ancient cautionary tale in this scenario for me. Something old even in the imagining of it.

Imagine at a point some few hundreds of thousands of years ago, on the great plain, under the cover of some acacia trees, we find a murder of exceptionally clever corvids – crows, ravens, rooks, jackdaws, jays, magpies, treepies, choughs and nutcrackers – and a scrum of our grunty, crass, Hominidae ancestors. They are at the crossroads of time: and they are playing dice.

And here’s for why. The terribly clever corvids have sensed that the Hominidae have something they want. A Prefrontal cortex. The power source of super evolution. So they have tempted our clumsy ancestors into gambling it all for the chance of gaining the sweet ‘voice’ of the corvids, and, ultimately, their ability to fly.

The greater prize? Whomsoever wins the toss of the die, will get all that’s best of the other and ascend to great heights, reshaping the world in their image. And the loser will be damned to be trapped as they are for all time.

The rest, of course, would be evolutionary history (probably).

Lene Lovich anyone?



Vulgarity, having-it & the scratch-card of humanity.


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Image result for Kim Kardashian's Gold Loo


While pondering ways of getting people to embrace a more sustainable lifestyle I choose to look through some research and segmentation reports on lifestyles and consumption.

(For the uninitiated, customer or consumer segmentations are sometime impenetrable studies in the socio-economic and behavioural nature of any given group of society. They are leapt on by communications planners and strategists in the absence of going and actually talking to a human being. The research pieces are the masters of wrapping and trapping swathes of humanity in convenient and malleable lumps. The objective is that all said lumps present themselves in such a way as that all manner of consumables might be thrown at them. The ‘grown up’ ones use scientific profiling, data and charts to bludgeon the humanity and empathy out of the viewer. The groovy ones use catchy pen portraits – much like this piece – to thinly explain something much more complex.)

The thing that struck me was that something was missing. Or should I say someone.  There was little or no reference to the ascendant and highly popular vulgarity gene at work in society. Was a time when to be labelled vulgar was a social death knell. Which given the conspicuous lifestyles of the old rich seemed a little, well, rich to everyone else who wasn’t them. (Something that the writer, Wyndham Lewis, pointed directly at in his book The Vulgar Streak.)

Was a time when if you bought, or even worse, constructed your own furniture,  and bathed in Take-Aways, you were vulgar. And the greatest sin? Talking about money. And being aware of it. Cuh! Dreadful.

So, I got to thinking about the journey to our current position. And thought about some of the milestones along the way. To see if they might shed some light on how best to include our new Vulgarity into a sustainable lifestyle conversation.

It was the piece on the Lidl Effect that got me to thinking. For the uninitiated, the Lidl Effect is a reference to Fashionable Frugality. Frugality that both prince and pauper can ascribe to. The Lidl Effects releases us from the tyranny of quality and status – the tension that comes from being seen to buy Finest versus buying Essential. With the Lidl effect, the focus is on what the smart money does. Streamlined choice is the way forwards. Why pay four quid for Parmesan when I can pay 97 pence? Duh.

Suddenly, with the Lidl Effect, talking scrimping money is a classless pursuit. (Until then, frugality was some post-war throwback to Food Coupons and boiling carcasses.) Vouchers, coupons and savings are de rigeur. Frugality is Now. And some knob who previously featured on the my f%*king red trousers blog will now be found happily discussing shades of economies on a prosecco purchase with the local builder. Majestic had already opened that door. Was a time when your average punter didn’t buy wine by the case – until Majestic. Majestic sold Big House wine purchasing to Small House people. Purchasing that would previously have been done through merchants for the Cellars of the Upper was now being embraced by squires of the Middle – and an in floor cellar wasn’t far behind.

In the past this would have been unheard of apart from in rare circles

Was a time when talking money was vulgar. Only people who didn’t have money spoke about it.

With the new vulgarity, the old unspoken stealth wealth ways of – I know that you know that I know where your shirt comes fromand the region and vineyard of this wine – have become public, with little shame or sensitivity.

Stealth Wealth – the invisible application of your wealth in the world as status – was allowed  only because price was hidden inside provenance: codified. The region or the postcode giving lie to the fact that whatever it was, it was expensive and only known about by ‘people who know’. And it didn’t matter how old the Hilditch & Key shirt was. It was still from Hilditch & Key. In fact stealth wealth celebrated the slightly worn and threadbare as a mark of tenure.

But now, the Ashley & Cheryl approach is to splash it and cash it and the rumbling thunder of the Thunderball and Euro-squillions win is everywhere – and we’re all acting and spending like we’ve already won.

Shiny wins. Shiny car. Shiny home. Shiny children. Shiny holidays. Shiny wardrobe. We are now resplendent as if burnished in the gold leaf of success – but the beautiful disappointment that lies beneath its crisp edged foil is only ever a nail or penny scratch away.

This social scratch-card of humanity has been a long time in the making, beginning some say, with the march of the Georgian and Victorian Industrialists and their ‘damn your eyes w’scots’. And the vulgar excesses of the royal courts and society that rode their coat tails.

Its a swift step from there to the burgeoning Civil Service class of Imperial Britain. As the middle classes expanded, the upper classes contracted, along with their purses and their estates. But the system was evolving, with Public Schools providing the perfect Imperial shapeshifter sausage machine. In aping the sent-away squiredoms of l’anciene regime, all manner of different grades and qualities and bloodlines of child could enter one end only to exit the other as Imperial Mince (in more ways than one).

The creep of vulgarity built slowly and surely at the edges of the Empire where Governors and their households, minor civil servants, local Consuls and the Military middle – think Blackadder – had been thrown together with little other than each other for company. A repeating theme in Somerset Maugham’s short stories is the clash of the elegant old with the vulgar new. Bar the Great War – the last hurrah of the old world – vulgarity was on the up.

(It’s worth noting that mourning the young men of the Great War is a classist affair. Because on those battle fields the last echoes of feudalism and the sons of Imperial entitlement died, chasing epic poems and honour amongst the massed dead from their factories and farms. The greatest crime was the inevitable disintegration of the empire that fired their hearts and minds, and the grandeur it promised to uphold on their behalf. They wuz robbed, guvnor.)

The rise of vulgarity has been predicated on the fall of Class. At every moment, where class got its come-downance, there was vulgarity, in the wings, waiting.

Class got a kicking after the Great War but via the emancipation movement. Working women stepped up and roared. And the world quaked. It then got another kicking in the great depression as the landed and the monied bled entitlement and loose change. Come the second world war there was everything to play for. And the common man stepped up.

In the RAF mess huts, the creeping democratisation and multi culturalism of a new age was struck in the hallowed halls of the Public School boy flyer-hero. The Battle of Britain was as much shaped by the presence of Poles, Canadians, South Africans and West Indians as it was by old Harrovians and Etonians.

In the late 50s, the rise of the Angry Young Man and the highly visible ordinary teenager with their preening and self-publicity struck a further blow.

This rise of youth culture, where rawness and vulgarity were part of the fabric, created a foundation stone for belief in absolute equalities in the Summer of Love, and its populist dissent with all things unequal and belligerent. A belief that The Man (those in power and with much) sent people to their deaths in far off places to protect that power and that wealth and opportunity from the common and the vulgar.

The kitchen sink dramas of Friday Night Saturday Morning and Taste of Honey presented the working class hero in a new, raw splendour. They became aspirational. And the Mods carried the torch for conspicuous consumption and sartorial excellence once reserved for Jermyn Street and the Gentry.

Come the 70s, class hadn’t only ‘dropped out’. Bowie and Glam stole gender bender affectations that were once the sole pleasure of dissolute toffs cross dressing and sliding between the assorted sheets of straight and gay. And once the feather cut and eyeliner had had their way, class got punked. And at that moment, while the old was wheezing on its knees, bloodied and bowed. Pow. The 1980s arrived.

Thatcher’s children and the Yuppy Ascendency got money out there and up there. City brokers and builders chanting Loadsamoney in City Bars was a regular occurrence. A Right of Passage almost. Minor Public School, Independent and Grammar School boys merged into one loafer-wearing scrum playing up to their Major peers –  a Will Carling Hydra, swallowing vowels and Bloody Mary’s in vulgar cars and even more vulgar shoes.

In the 80s, the space between the output of Secondary Moderns and Fee Paying Schools opened up like a wound. But if you had cash, you were gold.

Being Vulgar was part of the new regime. Everyone could trumpet their cash and success. What used to be seen as a Colonial vulgarity (Very American) was now de rigeur. Scrabbling up the status tree was positively encouraged. And the working and middle classes leapt into the fray – closely followed by the credit card companies.

Being tasteless and crass in regards to money was apparently fine. Unrefined was part of the new refinement. And Vulgarity came of age. It was our new normal.

The baseness of our past primitive selves happily spilled into our civilised present. Rudeness and indecency and the slippery rough edges of sexuality were openly displayed and became purposeful and confident – and, if questioned, simply presented themselves as a democratisation of what the toffs had been doing for years. Who were they to call us vulgar. Screw them – we’re vulgar and proud of it. And bar the odd swerve and hiccup, the 90s and the Noughties continued the charge.

The zenith point of our vulgarity? Kim Kardashian worshipping a gold loo, surely – the leitmotif of the human scratch card if ever there was one.

The Vulgarian tribe is pretty much everyone now (unless you live in a recycled house, running on renewables, growing what you eat, home schooling your children and cycling everywhere), and Vulgarians are defined by everything. Every notch on the social slide-rule. Money.  Education. Blood. Fashion. New furniture. Regionalism. Art. Everything is in there in a great big soup of social simmering. Even doilies and avocado bathroom suites have ‘status’ in our post-modern, post-ironic, vulgar, designer world. Everything goes. And we’ve got it all. And if we haven’t, we want it. And there’s always another credit card company willing to finance it at 16% APR. As long as its attached to ‘look what I’ve got and who I am’, we’re sorted.

So the next time I see a research document and a socio- demographic, I’ll be looking for the Vulgarian indexing in there.

If we’re going to have any hope of creating more sustainable lifestyles, we’re going to need to find a way to identify, understand and more importantly, appeal to our outer Vulgarian. And know what a meaningful alternative looks like to it.

And, just saying, it had better be shiny. Just sustainably so.

Of Gods, Software & Human Disappointment


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Image result for human gods

There is an air of disappointment curling around the head of our new god.

Our all-consuming belief in Technology and the algorithmic inevitability of its ascent into one-ness with us renders it a form of deity to many. In its wake we see theological and philosophical texts bursting forth from every quarter, trying to both project its arc through our existence and predict its inevitable impact upon it.

But there is an increasingly vociferous movement rising up alongside it. One that sees fundamental flaws in its omnipotent possibilities and bumpy times ahead rooted in our blind allegiance to it.

Some of these voices come from mildly surprising places. Stephen Hawking, once a believer in a universal singularity – a theory of everything – has shifted the axis of his belief of what we will ultimately know:

“Some people will be very disappointed if there is not an ultimate theory, that can be formulated as a finite number of principles. I used to belong to that camp, but I have changed my mind”

And in turn, he sees bad times ahead for a world where A.I. exists unfettered and beyond regulation. In the great Singularity lies something against nature for humankind that troubles him.

Even Daniel C Dennet in his book, From Bacteria to Bach and Back, is also positing signs of cracks and flaws in the godhead:

‘There are some unsettling signs that we are becoming over-civilised. And are entering the age of post intelligent design. Using our brains to understand our brains.’

He goes on to venture that our willingness to subsume and subjugate ourselves to technology and the escalating potency of Artificial Intelligences in advance of their ability to actual fulfil on our wildest expectations and aspirations is a misguided one.

In the untrammelled and exponentially-increasing expectations of technological revolution and artificial, algorithmically-induced intelligence lies the possibility of ever-increasing disappointment.

There is an inevitability about this that is unsurprising and yet quietly reassuring.

For a god awe is critical. As is adulation. And fear. But no god is complete without disappointment. So the whiff of it at the edges of the newly-accelerating godhead of Artificial Intelligence and a creeping hybrid humanity is actually appropriate. For some perhaps it will be proof of its god-like status.

As with all of the gods we’ve conjured or revealed to ourselves, A.I. and its role in the Singularity is perhaps simply a reflection of our nature, need and desire.

Perhaps we design them that way. For a reason.  We need to be disappointed by gods.

Creating them in our image requires disappointment as the proof of our need for fallibility or flaw in any creature, organism or being regardless of whether they are of an abstract celestial, actual mortal or organic technological kind. There’s no such thing as perfection.

Disappointment seems not only to fulfil a functional role in regards to the nature of the entity. It also creates a signpost to the divine obsolescence in the model – the milestone of inevitable descent, dilapidation, degradation and decline that will lead to the next in the cycle.

Disappointment teaches us that we can fiercely believe, up to a point – but that we must prepare for the downside. It compels us have scenario-planned for the possibility that the deity isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

But that is also part of the package. The scale of reverence, adulation and awe creates a blinding spotlight to throw on the smallest flaw.

Technology is a powerful and omnipotent thing. It has created a new skin of human consciousness – an algorithmic shellac around our previous model of consciousness. Everything is elevated. Everything is illuminated. Everything is accelerated. But in becoming more through it, we become more vulnerable, more fragile because of it.

In knowing more and experiencing more, in reaching further, we expose ourselves. And our flaws are amplified. (Surely the model applied to Zeus – for all of his divine greatness and powers, the formicating, fractious, scheming, self-interested, betraying, vain, capricious, petulant Zeus was simply an extrapolation of our flawed humanity to divine proportion.)

For the Greeks, in their gods much like their theatre, we find a learning module for humanity – where theatre taught us empathy and the potential of feeling – gods taught us humility and the danger of hubris.

Great lessons in life and the universe can be better observed and learned when set apart from our everyday realities. A masterplan. It only falls apart when we confuse ourselves with the gods we create – and choose to ordain ourselves as such.

Pick a culture any culture: Persians, Romans, Egyptians, Franks, Stuarts – we can never quite allow the gods we create to exist wholly apart from us. And those that seized the divine mantle could never  help but eventually reign down on those beneath them in some delusional purge of divinity and dreadful ire – a self-fulfilling  prophecy repeated countless times throughout human history.

Nonetheless, for all of this – for all their flaws and our flawed misuse and mimicry of them, gods have taught us to reach beyond the normal: beyond what is. They have raised us up towards them.

Simply to envisage them we had to ‘place’ them – and that required a feat of imagination. They are an exercise in imagination as much as they are an exercise in reverence and humility. You have to ‘place’ a god in a world apart from the one in which we exist – a different plane or celestial firmament. You also need to design some form of context and divine order for them. So our imagination, one of the most powerful things at work in us versus any other species on the planet, went to work. And its productivity in that order was staggering. Simply put, seeking divine revelation has powered our multiple ages of renaissance and enlightenment.

Through gaining a greater vantage and framing of the gods we shape, we can seek to understand them and perhaps become a little closer to them – to being in their image – like them.

And the most powerful part of all of that reaching? We evolve. Transgressing the given, the immediate and the fixed is how we evolve. And in doing so we explore the flaws in ourselves at a distance.

One of the most powerful things about reaching beyond ourselves, to a place so exposed, so raw, is that by transgressing where we are in the known universe, we step into the unknown. And the unknown is dangerous; it involves risk. And in a state of risk or threat we evolve.

Gods are an evolutionary mechanism in us – forcing us to exercise our intellect, imagination, intuition and connectivity in search of their existence and their seeming capabilities and gifts. And subsequently, in managing their presence and mitigating their excesses in relation to us, we expand our consciousness of our own existence, and the methods by which to improve it.

Through this mechanism we manage the tension between what we do and don’t know.

In writing a manuscript for a book recently I alluded to us being at a tipping point: where the new-future believers see us merging with machines in some orgy of singularity. We will become dispossessed of our mortal bindings – free to skip the light fantastic. We will have become the ultimate software. Ultimately we will be able to upload ourselves into any and every compatible device, receptacle or host. We can copy ourselves quadrillions of times over.

Surely this is a step into the divine? In becoming a wholly transferable entity capable of occupying millions of receptacles or hosts simultaneously, we become no different to the God of the Abrahamic faiths or the multiple gods of Grecian Olympus or the pantheon of the Mahabarata of Indian myth. We can become the thing that acts within everything if we so choose.

In the draft I also point to the possibility of a more balanced relationship between the science and spirituality of us as being the source of our greatest trajectory – a state of being I refer to as the Human Hammock. The Human Hammock provides us with the ability to sling ourselves between the boughs of science and spirituality – to offer a more immediate ability to exist profitably between both the known and the unknown at one and the same time: mentally, materially, physically and metaphysically.

In the draft I point to the possibility that we need to keep both aspects firmly engaged in us, calibrating the degree to which they feature according to need and desire.

I believe there is a benefit to us of keeping a clear hand and cold eye on the Unknown, as it is those things beyond our comprehension, and our hunger to understand and know them better that compels our evolution as a species.

To be clear when I say unknown I do not mean it within the ladder of human consciousness. I am referring to what exists beyond human comprehension, not beyond current scientific knowledge (which exists solely inside human comprehension and consciousness)..

We can ensure that we fix the Human Hammock theory clearly and as absolutely as possible by priming the forthcoming Singularity to abide by biological evolutionary rules.

Though Singularity might lead us towards a more divine state of elevated and liberated consciousness and ubiquity, we should ensure that it remains rooted in the ladder of our pre-existing evolutionary logic until such a time as a new logic supercedes it.

Eventually, in multiplying ourselves to that degree and with that expansiveness, we would indeed become gods in our own image of them.

The circle will have been squared, shifting us through the millennia from Man shaped in the image of gods to gods shaped in the image of Man.

When talking of gods, it’s worth being clear on what we mean by that and the slide ruler of how they represent and improve us and their relationship to us.

Gods or deities are supernatural beings that exist in a place above or outside of that of a normal being. They are divine – revered as sacred – and invocation is an inextricable part of our relationship with them. We invoke them – call upon, summon up, reference, or seek them out as part of the reciprocal contract of their and our existence.

They are supposed to raise our consciousness above the banal and that which exists in our everyday being – to improve us. We can invoke them outside of any chronological or spatial context in the pursuit of something.

There are different bridges that exist between us and them – prayer is the easiest example. But also extreme physical duress or testing is a much-used way to elevate us into a higher consciousness and bring us closer to our gods and one-ness wth the universe. (Shamanism is a great exponent of this.) Extreme physicality is powerful in god world. Add some purpose or cause to that physicality and you are getting even closer.

There is a direct line to the gods through heroic action, where humans show superhuman willing, guile, leadership, courage, spirit or strength in pursuit of a good or ‘heroic’ cause. As the old saying goes, when someone is ‘touched by the gods’ it means the reflections or shadows of the greater faculties of the gods reside within them.

In referencing the relationship between us and them in this way we bring them closer to us. Greater proximity to gods is part of the self-defence mechanism innate in the god model and its culture.

Some classical and ancient texts imbued their god tales with Demi-gods – half human half god – whose heroic undertakings created a picture of greatness that was more accessible to the everyday human being.

This is the default zone between us and the distant realm of gods as we’ve created them. Demi-gods are very very important to keep people engaged and evolving.

Why? Because human nature predicts that if something is wholly out of reach – fully blown bells and whistles gods for instance – we don’t rise to the occasion. In the case of lofty, dislocated gods we just sublimate ourselves to them. We don’t desire to be more like them – we just cower, and we give up and go do something else. Because it is beyond us. Out of sight is out of mind unless they might choose to come down and walk amongst us.

But Demi-gods, now they are far closer to home. If the gods are Gaultier; Demi-gods are Junior Gaultier: the access point for us mere mortals.

The universal love for Wonder Woman (a Demi Demi, given that she is the daughter of the Demi-god queen, Hippolyta, daughter of Ares, the Greek god of War) is proof of our need for our god-like creations to walk amongst us sometimes. It makes their greatness accessible and mimicry of it possible.

I can’t be Zeus but I might take a run at being Perseus or even Wonder Woman – ish.

So gods do not need to always be the pure, super-duper theological or mythological gods of classicism or faith far beyond our ken.  We have the Demi-god to help us move things along. There is little question that we have believed for a long time that there is indeed a ladder to god-like greatness for us.

What a piece of work is man, How noble in reason, how infinite in faculty, In form and moving how express and admirable, In action how like an Angel, In apprehension how like a god, The beauty of the world,

Shakespeare’s Hamlet

So when I speak of gods I refer to anyone perceived as god-like and heroic to us. Someone revered beyond simple explanation, and someone whose words or deeds are invoked by us as succour and guidance.

In that framework, gods with a small ‘g’ come in many shapes and forms.

Starting with our parents.

Our most adored friends can also achieve god-like status for a while.

Then the broader adulations of our youth: Sports people. Celebrities. Music stars. Movie stars. Writers. Artists. Scientists.

We even have the passing phase of god-like stature in the first flushes of human love. The phase in which we are fiercely revered, adored and invoked.

Each of these gods, as with every other, are destined to go on a journey through Awe. Adulation. Reverence. Fear. But each is also destined to disappoint in some way eventually.

As disappointment is an inextricable part of the human journey so it has also become an innate aspect of the gods we shape . In some ways being disappointed by gods perhaps prepares us for disappointment with ourselves. If the gods can be disappointing; flawed, capricious, found wanting, then so can we be – and that is alright.

Disappointment in our gods lessens or softens the disappointment in ourselves.

In that way, gods that disappoint are an evolutionary mechanism that stop us giving up and turning away – defeated by what we aren’t or cannot do. We learn that though disappointment may strike, that’s alright. It was always thus. You can’t get it right all the time and no one is perfect – not even our gods. So keep carrying on.

As for Artificial Intelligence, well, perhaps it has to have a Zeus moment. It has to go and sleep with someone inappropriate, sire a child, create a technological Demi-god (and in the absence of any others I would like to venture R2D2 as that Demi-god) who will eventually challenge the god that helped sire it and lay it low.

Then we can all relax. Go back to ogling i-phone Xs and googling driverless cars, with a quiet knowledge that when they come of the rails, everything is alright. It’s not the end of the world.

Well, not this one anyway.


Disappointed By Gods FOOTNOTE: This topic will one day become a book – of what length I do not know. But somehow somewhere it will. So if anyone’s got any ideas on a publisher – shout!


Pontius, POTUS & the inconvenient truth of ‘Rag Head’ Christianity


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So there I am, perched on a slightly undersized plastic chair in a primary school hall in a  in East Sussex.

It’s the Christmas Carol service

The stage and floor are populated with a shifting mass of variously aged primary school children including my own sweet daughter at the upper end in Year 6.

The reception age children at the front fidget and paw at their own slightly chewed sleeves and faces and selves as if in the throes of climbing out of their baby skins with every word line and note they sing and squawk.

The Carol that captures my attention is one that refers to the cold manger and Mary and Joseph wrapped up against the chilly Bethlehem night. The animals and human’s shivering against the creeping desert cold.

And this is why it struck me.

I wonder whether he of the golden bird’s nest head, notionally in charge of one of the most powerful economies and militaries in the world, ever really considers the long thread that connects his uber-Christian, god-fearing heartland to the descendants of the characters in the nativity play?

I wonder whether, as he sets a geopolitical bomb under the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, it strikes him as absurd that the child of that Virgin Birth, if he turned up now, would probably find himself stripped and shipped to Guantanamo Bay sharpish.

Setting aside the claim and counter claim regarding POTUS’s purported IQ of 156 (rendering him a genius apparently) let’s just say that even placing  Trump’s intellect at a ‘respectable’ level, there are quite a few pointers to more than just an absence of emotional intelligence and cultural sensitivity at work here. (No Shit).

To say there is an incoherent, plastic and highly malleable politic and principle at play here is to understate a little.

But the bit I’m really interested in is this: which Christian myth is he playing in his head when he makes these gestures. That of the russet-haired Jesus of the Renaissance – pale skinned, wan, plying his flock with loaves and fishes? Or that of the reactionary, disruptive and contrarian sage – inviting both Jews and gentiles to convert to his way? Or is his the Christianity of Dan Brown, a lofty, East Coast Coffee Shop version cauterized from any whiff of the rocky, dusty, impoverished and unleavened truth of Palestine and its peoples in 33AD; Jew or otherwise?

I like the Renaissance version just for its aesthetic but the would require me to be able to picture Golden Spun Hair Man swooning over a Titian, which I can’t (though if, like St Augustine of Hippo, Jesus was perhaps of Berber stock, the russet-haired, blue-eyed Jesus could be a possibility) so I’m erring towards the Dan Brown model. I’ll go for Action Christian (I’m sure there is a play figure in this somewhere) with the odd scattering of a conspiracy cooked up by those in power (secret societies and the Papal Prelate) against the masses (God-Fearing Christians just trying to be Jimmy Stewart) for good measure.

Any other version requires him to observe that the source of spirituality in his heartland resides in the rocky hills of Bethlehem and its surrounds. Which means…yup, rag heads.

Disregarding the highly contentious, theologically and racially charged topic of the colour of Jesus’s skin (most likely black or of a distinctly dark tint: not a high point of conversation I sense in an all-white Alabama chapel) the one simple fact is that by all accounts Jesus was what might be called both a Jew and (to quote Action Movie Christian Guy) potentially a ‘rag head.’ And let’s not forget he was also an insurgent acting in some ways against the prevailing religion of Judaism and the prevailing rule of Roman Law to which Herod and his Religious leaders submitted themselves.

So as I sit transfixed by the soaring feats of one tousle-haired 6 year-old girl who is managing to chew her lip, twiddle with her hair, talk to herself AND mouth the words to Away In the Manger all at once, I wonder what it would require of Donald and his heartland to be truly Christian.

(And when I say Christian, I mean the ascetic 34-38AD out-of-Palestine version of Christian Past, freshest in the mind and closest to its turbulent chilly, dusty, poverty-racked beginnings.    I certainly do not mean the bloated, bearded ugliness of Christian Present, slumped in a piss-stained, vomit-flecked corner of the year between early October and New Year’s Day, the tyre tracks of the ‘holidays are coming’ lorry scarring up its arms, cheeks wet with Egg Nog and Aldi Spumante, new i-phone X clutched tight in its cold, dead hand, rictus thumb hovering over the Samaritan’s Festive Phone Number; an expanding pool of disappointment staining the floor beneath it.)

If the Christian Holy Scriptures are to be believed, to follow Jesus in his purest, imitative (meme-like) sense is to flout the prevailing Judaic hierarchy and its over lords. Put another way, to be Christian one must flout the prevailing ruling Judaic principal in Palestine – Herod & The Pharisees (Israel) and also that of its Master, Rome (The United States of America) with its iron-grip on Jerusalem. Confused? You will be.

So, if that is true, is that god-fearing U.S. Christian heartland supposed to be for Trump and his proclamation of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel or against it?  Discuss.

And in the light of the destitute, marginalised, travelling tribes of Syria Palaestria, what’s that god-fearing heartland Christian meant to really think of that Immigration Ban?

A lot of those countries are within or teetering on the edge of The Cradle of both broader Civilisation and particularly the Abrahamic Faiths – and many are ‘one in faith’ with them. To dismiss them or close them out is to act against faith.

And anyway, regardless of whom those countries on the Banned List might sneak around US Homeland Security, aren’t we already dancing with the devil of fundamentalism? – buddied up with a close friend and ‘ally’ whom could fund and place more bombers and lorry crashers in the UK and US than everyone on the Immigration Ban combined?

Let’s set aside the slightly uncomfortable long-term alliance between the U.S of A. and the ever-charming House Of Saud (and its penchant for propagating its theological alliance with the teachings of Al Wahab – Wahhabism – and the violent conversion of those beliefs) and just bring it down to a ‘news’ and views level for the moment. What do we see? What informs our myths and beliefs. And let’s think about those in the light of a manger on the outskirts of Bethlehem populated with three people and a some livestock.

Let’s consider all those pictures we see on the news feeds, of ‘dodgy’ armed insurgents or ‘rag heads’ creeping around the likes of Mosul. (I am sure that I read somewhere that David Ben Gurion was branded a terrorist before he was lauded as a state builder but maybe I’m reading the wrong books.)

When we look at them what do we see?  They certainly look the part for their role in our darkest cautionary tales and propaganda.

Most particularly let’s start with the signature of the insurgent, peaceful or otherwise – lets start with that ‘Rag Head’ – the colloquial derogatory phrase for someone from the Middle East wearing local dress including the keffiyeh.

Now Mary and Joseph would have sported some form of head dress, especially in the long, hard trek to Bethlehem atop a donkey.

Anyone who has experienced the cold of a middle-eastern night will know that wrapping up is a must. And a ‘rag’ for wrapping the head is essential wear.

The Jewish Couple and their child that we worship, living in the Roman Province of Syria Paleastia, would have been, to the unseasoned eye, a couple of rag heads with a baby. Their look. Their baby. Theirs would be no different to the faces we see looking up and out of those boats that bump up on the sandy fringes the Mediterranean and Aegean seas.

Good job they don’t have to come begging for accommodation in Thurrock on a cold winter’s night. They’d probably get a good kicking and shoved in a skip for good measure.

Well mate, they all look the same don’t they! Come round here looking for a hand out!? So we gave them one. Oi!

(As Terry Jones pointed out in his series on the Crusades, our ‘they all look the same to me’ principle has been generously applied to our middle-eastern cousins since records of our ‘relationship’ with them began, leading in the First Crusade to the stalwart Christian Knights and their horde massacring the men, women and children of the largest Christian city in the Holy Land, mistaking them for Muslims. Whoops.)

And given the likely nature of Jesus’s dress and demeanour, if he turned up on a subway train or bus, many ‘god-fearing’ Christian people would be checking the look of his back-pack, suspiciously eyeing the old Nokia N72 in his hand, held together with 10 year old Christmas Reindeer tape – and wondering whether the straps in his sandals contained some form of explosive.

So, as we sing these carols, and these children chew their sleeves, scuff their feet and sing their hearts out, for whom are we singing in the global sense of Universal Human Suffrage? Everyone? Christians? White Western Christians? Jesus? Jesus’s Mum? Palestinians (Jewish & Arabic)? Rag heads? Western Jews? Eastern Jews? Repentant Romans? The Poor? Impoverished society? The disenfranchised? The subjugated? The lost children? The Insurgents? The Lovers? The Dreamers? (OK, I’m slipping into Kermit’s Rainbow Connection but you get my meaning hopefully.)

The madness – the cat’s cradle of power-play Geopolitics, militia funding, Homeland building, oil trading, border bartering, religious polemics, spurious ethnicities, brutal fundamentalism – should defy the simplistic Monopoly Board machinations of Trump. But no. The staggering, ill-informed, over simplification of highly complex issues followed by global ignominy are his forte. Not that he cares. That’s exactly why he applies it. With one proclamation, he dumbs the whole debacle into a Bumper Sticker. He patently feels he’s got a handle on this Middle Eastern stuff. So screw ‘em.

So I return to my wondering. About that myth.  I wonder who he thinks of when he sings lines like Lord. Prince of Peace. Redeemer. Who does he picture? The socio-psychopath in him might be thinking ‘Me’. But the Jerusalem proclaimer? Who does he see in his mind’s eye?

When he sings Little Donkey, does he see bodies scattered along the road to Damascus?The ragged in the refugee camps? Children un-swaddled against the Syrian winter? The people at the outer edge of the middle-eastern census?

Or does he see the muscular Christianity of the bearded, Brad-Pitt-like Jesus embodied in a ‘ripped;’ and luminescent white marble statue in the building of Jesus Christ and the Latter Day Saints opposite the Science Museum in London.

When he makes a proclamation like that, which gallery is he playing to?

The uber-Christians who still believe that ‘Jews are satan ’cos the nailed up the Lawd!’

Or the white picket Christian ideals of It’s a wonderful Life?

Neither I sense.

Iran is the real recipient of this proclamation. POTUS throwing a sandal at the Ayatollahs.  Masterstroke.

Even more impressive that he can do that AND piss off the Pope, the EU, Saudi Arabia, The UN and the Russians and the Chinese all at once. This man may have small hands but he has big REACH.

At which point, as I hum ‘We saw three ships come sailing in’ I realise that in my head I just see a naval blockade. Christ.

Where’s Jimmy Stuart when you need him!

LAX, Moonage Daydreams & the shape of things.


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My eyes water quietly in an airport lounge.

Weeping would be cheating.

Sounds of human hub bub and brou ha ha surround  me:

Splicing chats, rat a tat tat

And flicks and spats

and preening screenagers

Celebrating their worldly traverse

In rhyme, lyric and verse

And perverse youtube addictions;

And leisure wear;

like I care that you could trip the light fantastic

In that much man-made elastic.

Life on Mars fills my ears and the years strip away from me

That I should find myself here

Bleary eyed from a Kauai flight

short-stop coffee docked

And two sheets west of an East Venice Superba sandwich

with my dear William

riffing splits and bits

of ideas on VR and the Doors

That take flight to Mars

And so it closes.

The music overthrows me; overwhelms me now

And a hollow space

Scooped by the small spoon

of Moonage daydreams from my heart.

Between eviscerated and exhilarated

Kooks redeem me

Thumbs in collars clutched

Mary Poppins Glam Rock

Is the truth of me.

Glitter eye. Glitter mouth.

Glitter soul goes south

Into an LA sunset.

Living a bucket list life but fuck it,

With a bit of luck it

might just be a Life worth living

To the sing song dance of my Principessa

and the quiet eloquence of my Prince.

I need to be home now

Because I’m bleeding emotion

And mosquito bites

And being here just doesn’t feel


Andy Warhol looks a scream

A howling dream.

And there but by the grace of whomsoever’s god go I.