Posts Tagged ‘2017 minus’

2017 minus 01: A green light

Posted: 31 December 2016 in 2017 minus, life, personal
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As I write this, it’s about eight hours until 1st January 2017. And, right about now, people are either making or reviewing lists of potential new year resolutions, and then removing items until they’re left with a couple they think they can keep.

I’ve never gone in for the whole ‘new year resolutions’ thing; I’m not sure why, especially since I spent a chunk of my life making To Do lists at work and taking inordinate joy in crossing off the items one by one. 

But new year resolutions? No. Not since I was a kid and maybe not even then; the memories blur with some things until I’m not sure what actually happened, and what I think might have happened.

(And no, it’s not the “it’s just an arbitrary noting of the calendar, and even the calendar is arbitrary” concept that stops me. Oddly, I’ve noticed that people who do say that seem to have no problem accepting birthday presents. And for my mind, you don’t get to celebrate your birthday, or someone else’s birthday, or even the annual commemoration of a death but then also moan about other people making a fuss about one specific day like New Year or Christmas. Not without being even more a hypocrite than we all are in our daily lives.)

I think with me it’s more that while I’m ok with self-imposed deadlines and time pressures, I am – these days – less eager to subject myself voluntarily to other people’s deadlines.

But people make all sorts of new year resolutions. Like saying they’re giving up drinking alcohol. Or that they’re going to lose weight.

Or that they’re going to stop smoking. 

As long as anyone I’m still in contact with has known me, I’ve been a smoker. I started around age 18 and notwithstanding a couple of half-hearted attempts, I’ve smoked pretty much ever since. And, given the above, it won’t surprise you in the least that I’m not about to give up smoking in about 8 hours.

To be honest, there’d not be much of point since I stopped smoking about a month ago, on 1st December 2016. Well, half an hour before 1st December 2016 to be precise. But the decision was made even longer ago, about six weeks before that.

In early October. While in Liverpool.

As I say, I’ve tried giving up smoking before; the last semi-serious attempt was about four years ago. I went ‘cold turkey’ with an e-cig… for a few weeks, and I hated every minute of it. I told everyone at the time that I was stopping, announced it on social media , made a big fuss of it; I thought that peer pressure would help me if I wavered, would keep me off the smokes and oh, I pretended I was ok with it, but close friends knew I loathed giving them up and it didn’t surprise anyone when I returned to the Silk Cut. For whatever reason*, it didn’t work. 

(*Qute possibly, it was that I didn’t actually want to stop smoking.)

OK, skip forward to early October 2016; I was travelling to Liverpool for the funeral of a close friend’s father. I picked up an e-Lites Curv, more out of curiosity than anything else (though I’m open to the argument that I’m post-event rationalising a desire to give up.)  I thought I’d try it out for 24 hours and see. Within 24 hours, I’d come up with a plan that I hoped would work. It was basically this: figure out what didn’t work last time and don’t do that.

So, for once, I was sensible, and set myself weekly targets: I’d continue to smoke, just cutting down the amount of time every day I smoked cigarettes and slowly, day by day, increase the amount of time I used the ecig. The aim was to cease smoking around the house – not in it but even around it – by November 11th, and to stop smoking, to smoke my last cigarette… the night of 30th November 2016.

And so it was.

And so it turned out to be.

Around 11:20pm on 30th November, I walked back to the house, lit my last cigarette, smoked it, stubbed it out as I got near rhe house… and haven’t smoked a cigarette since. A few people knew, and I told a few more over the past month, but I didn’t make A Thing of it for several reasons:

  • Who knew if I’d manage a few days, let alone longer?
  • I didn’t want to tell anyone until I’d gotten over the cravings for a cigarette
  • If I did ‘fall off the wagon’, I could easily self-excuse it if no-one knew, and I could restart the following day, if I wanted.

Well, now it’s been a month, pretty much, and not once during that time have I missed smoking. Not once.

Oh, I’ve missed some of the habits around smoking. Over the years, friends who’ve given up have told me they miss putting the cigarette out. With me, it’s been the opposite: I’ve missed lighting a cigarette. Well, I’ve missed lighting lots of them, but that’s starting to fade now, I’ll admit, as I’ve delevoped new habits, like changing the battery and swapping over a new ‘butt’. And checking the green glow to see if it’s blinking and if the battery needs changing…

Am I an ex-smoker? I honestly don’t know. I don’t feel like an ex-smoker, to be honest. I still feel like I’m taking a break, and merely waiting for the inevitable craving to hit me; there’s a part of me that is convinced I’ll succumb to the temptation. 

But I’ve been waiting for the craving to hit me and it hasn’t. At all.

But yeah, I’m not smoking at the moment, and haven’t been for a month… haven’t been for almost half the time I’ve been writing this series of ‘countdown to 2017’ entries.

So, that’s something.


Thanks for sticking with me throughout this countdown to 2017. I hope I’ve not bored you too much. Not sure if there’ll be an entry tomorrow but there’ll probably be something new on the 2nd.

Happy new year, people, however you celebrate it.

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Originally, when starting this run of blog entries, I intended this entry – what’s turned out to today’s anyway – to be the last one in the series. 

For two reasons, that’s not the case. 

Firstly, and most importantly: as plans stand, I’m going to do what I did after the 2015 general election countdown: keep it going for a bit after the event has ended. I’m not sure for how long I’m going to continue daily blogging, although for various reasons, none of which I’m going to go into here, I think it’s been good for me to get back into the habit of writing something for public consumption on a more or less daily basis. (I say ‘more or less’ because of course, I’ve cheated throughout this run; there’ve been old fiction, and the Saturday Smile entries to give me a break every few days.)

Secondly, and less importantly when it comes to why I’m writing this entry today not tomorrow, on the last of the “2017 minus…” entries, tomorrow’s being saved for something special, something I’ve been hinting at on my Twitter feed occasionally…

and

…and which only a few people know about so far. So, that’ll give you something to look forward to, nu?

What else is there for today?

Well, some more about what’s planned for this place once the close turns midnight in about fifteen hours. 

For the first ten days or so, I’ll probably use the “2017 Day xx” format; seems sensible given the previous few dozen entries and it’ll keep me posting daily. Having that daily countdown, or at least a numerical reminder, was a definite aide to ensuring I posted something every day. I’ve no real plans on what to write about in 2017; if anything springs to mind, let me know? 

There’s nothing I can add regarding 2016 now that others haven’t written about with more skill and knowledge. Maybe later, maybe in 2017 when I can look back and say “that’s when it happened, that’s the important moment above all.” Thing is, at the moment, I don’t think that can be said. We can’t even say what was the point at which the Brexit vote was lost (or won, depending on your view). Nor is there any agreement regarding what was the crucial element was that lost former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton the White House. I mean, I don’t think any other democrat would have done better; come to that, I don’t think Bernie Sanders (only nominally a Demcorat at best) would have come close. But no, even there, there’s no broad agreement what single cost her the election.

Maybe that’s it. Maybe that’s the lesson of 2016: things aren’t simple, things aren’t one thing or the other. Everything, everything, is a confluence of multiple events. There’s no single reason why anything happens. Everything has to be placed in context, and nothing and no-one exists in a vacuum, shorn of other people and events.

Post hoc ergo propter hoc rarely applies in life, at least that’s not the only reason. But if we greet 2017 in any way, it should be that, Ockham’s Razor notwithstanding, simple answers are not inherently good because of their simplicity; they’re just simple. And complex problems require complex solutions. There’s no shame in admitting “I don’t know”; I’d be grateful if politcians and leaders admitted “I don’t know…” a bit more often… as long as it’s followed, of course, with “…but I’m going to learn.”

Thanks for sticking with me thus far.

See you tomorrow, for that announcement. 

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to 1st January 2017. You can see other posts in the run by clicking here.

The more I think about the Voter ID laws proposed for the UK, the angrier I get.

I use the word “angrier” quite deliberately. This isn’t something that ‘upsets’ me, nor that ‘disappoints’ me. No, it angers me. It angers for me for several reasons that I’ll get to in a moment after a nauseatingly sweet story from more than a decade ago, from April 2004 to be precise, that I related once upon a time in another blog when it happened, but it’s too good not to repeat now.

So, April 2004, I’m reading The Times, and Philip – not even 9 years of age – is reading the headlines, getting me to help him with any hard words. Back then, I was determined that he’d have a decent vocabulary growing up, so we’d regularly read the front page of The Times together. On this particular occasion, he picks up on the story that the then Home Secretary was trying to get ID cards introduced, at first on a voluntary basis, but to be made compulsory in the next ten years or so. 

He’s mildly interested in this story even at 8 years old because he’s just got his first formal ID card: a library ticket with his name and his signature on it (!) He’s very proud of that, and I am as well.

So Philip asks a couple of intelligent questions about why ID is needed at all, and then we play a game about what ID he knows I already have. And then, after having examined my driving licence, he asks why it has a photograph on it. The following conversation takes place:

Philip: But even if you have a photograph, someone can still pretend to be you.
Me: Yes, but a photograph makes it more difficult.
Philip: But if someone really really wanted to, they could still pretend to be you, even with a photograph.
Me: You mean, someone would choose to be as ugly as me?

There’s a slight pause before:

Philip: Yes, you’re right Dad. No one would choose to look like you.

At which point I’m coming to the conclusion that they made a mistake when they stopped us parents sending them up chimneys.

But back to the government’s proposal, which have garnered some publicity the past couple of days since they announced them. Basically, what they’re planning is to trial the Voter ID system for the 2018 council elections (at the 18 councils identified as most open to electoral fraud), and then – if all goes well – introduce it nationwide for the 2020 general election. The piece in that link makes it clear that it’s already been introduced in Northern Ireland and it would be remiss of me not to say that a) I was entirely unaware of that and b) I had no idea how it’s working in practice.

That said, Stephen Bush of The New Statesman has written a piece on Facebook giving his views, and I’m struggling to find anything to object to in it; I’d go further: I don’t disagree with a word of it. If it was on the NS‘s site, I’d just link but since it’s Facebook, here’s the entire piece. It’s short, but worth reading.

The government’s plan to pilot the use of photo ID to cut down on electoral fraud has many on the left worried that the proposal is actually a ruse to decrease the number of Labour voters who are eligible to vote. Are they right?
The first thing to note is that while there is a very small number of electoral malpractice cases – fewer than 100 – some of which count as an electoral fraud, they involve matters unrelated to the wrong people voting at polling stations. The most frequent crime is putting false signatures on nomination papers, after that breaking expenses rules, and lastly making false claims about other candidates.

The most recent high-profile cases of electoral fraud involved false claims about a candidate (Labour’s Phil Woolas against his Liberal Democrat opponent in 2010), postal vote fraud (Birmingham, 2004) and bribery and spiritual influence (Lutfur Rahman, 2014).

In none of the cases would a stronger ID requirement have detected or prevented the crime.
Of course, some people will say “but what about the criminals we don’t catch?” The difficulty there is it is hard to see where this fraud is taking place. In all those cases, the result itself was a sign something was up. If someone is rigging results, they are doing so in a way that produces outcomes entirely in keeping with national swing and demographic behaviour. Other than the thrill of the chase, it’s not clear why someone would do this.

What we do know from the one part of the United Kingdom that has voter registration – Northern Ireland – is that it makes it harder for poorer people to vote as they are less likely to have the required ID. That’s why after their pilot (back in 2002) they introduced a free ID card.

There is, however, a strong argument that elections need to command a high level of public legitimacy, making the case for ID stronger. But there is a wide suite of measures the government could bring in alongside this change that would achieve that while lessening the impact of having an ID. They could, for instance, make it so you are automatically enrolled when you pay council tax, a water bill, a heating bill or any other charge that comes with a fixed abode. They could roll out a free photo ID for elections.

But as they are doing neither, it feels fair to say that at best the government is relaxed about making it harder for supporters of its opponents to vote and at worst is actively seeking to do so.

As I say, I can’t find anything to disagree with in there. The main point – that this is a solution for a problem that doesn’t exist – is made. But the final bit is what makes me angry though, takes me from upset to anger: it feels fair to say that at best the government is relaxed about making it harder for supporters of its opponents to vote and at worst is actively seeking to do so.

It does feel fair to say that; in fact, it feels unfair to look at it any other way. The government has seen how Voter ID laws have been used in the US, to restrict poorer voters from going to the polls and have thought “ooh, that’s a good idea, let’s try that here…”

Two things jump out at me regarding the proposal; well, one thing jumps out and then a consequence that I think is inevitable. But first let me say that I, as an individual, don’t have any huge problem with carrying identification. I already carry around several pieces of ID from choice, from my bank cards, to various forms of ID, including my driving license. And on occasion, when it’s been required, I’ve been more than ok with showing my passport as identification. That’s me. And if it was a purely voluntary identification scheme, with a guarantee that it wouldn’t be made compulsory, I’d sign up for a Voter ID in a heartbeat, as I would with any identification scheme.

But that’s the problem: it wouldn’t remain voluntary. For a start, any compulsory identification scheme should be free of charge to the user at the time of issue and usage. If the government wants voters to have identification, it should, amend must, supply that identifation, free of charge. (Yes, I know it’s not ‘free of charge’; taxpayers pay for it, but I’m quite ok with that. That’s why I said “free of charge to the user at the time of issue and usage”.)

Not only would it not remain free to the user – no government is going to pass up the opportunity to charge cardholders for it, and even the cost of a tenner would raise several hundred million pounds – but the UK government – every UK goverbment – has wanted to introduce ID cards for decades. This would be the first step into making identification cards compulsory for everything; it’s a very short walk from voter ID to prescriptions to claiming benefits to… what? You’d have to show your ID when applying for jobs? For exchanging properties? For renting? 

I’m often disappointed in the UK’s government actions; more often I’m upset by them. This proposal angers and disgusts me. 

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to 1st January 2017. You can see other posts in the run by clicking here.

The last bit of fiction for you in this run…

As I’ve mentioned previously:

Elephant Words was a fiction site to which I contributed stories, on and off, for several years. The idea behind the site was simple, based on the old tale of several blind people describing an elephant based only on touch; one described the animal as a long snake, another that it was hard and bony, still another that it was like a tree trunk. Every week, one of the participants would put up an image, and over the following week, people would write a story inspired upon the image alone.

Occasionally, a story didn’t need the image to contextualise the tale, but I always tried to use it to the point that if the image wasn’t there, I’d have had to change something about the story.

Here’s another one of them; an image, and the story it inspired me to write.


EMPTY CHAIRS AT EMPTY PLACES

“Epsilon Theta Radiation.”

The words hung in the air for a long moment before the short, squat man sat at the desk swore, eloquently but softly. The captain rubbed his hand over his face. He was tired, too tired, but he lifted his eyes from the image on his desk to the man wearing the lieutenant’s uniform.

“How bad?” he asked the slim man, standing to attention before his desk.

“Bad enough to affect the best camera we had on board,” the lieutenant replied. “We tried scanning with different filters but there’s so many different strains in the air that… Well, that’s the best we could do.”

The captain glanced at the ship’s chronometer. The dial was orange. The poison even reached out into space, edging its way through the ships protection. An hour and the colour would be pink, and they’d have to leave. Three hours after that and it’d turn red. And they’d all be dead, whether they knew it or not.

“No survivors?” he asked, disappointed at himself for asking the question. If there had been, his crew would have told him.

“None,” the lieutenant confirmed. The captain listened for any contempt in the younger man’s voice and was mildly surprised to find none.

“What did you do with the bodies?”

“There weren’t any,” came the reply from the third man in the room, a lean saturnine faced man, sitting on a chair to the side, and suddenly the captain was wide awake. He stood and came around from behind the desk, staring down at his subordinate.

“Say that again, Commander,” he demanded, then repeated it before the other man could say a word.

“There weren’t any bodies, captain,” the man said, allowing just a trace of excitement into his voice. “Not just there, but anywhere. Not a single body on the planet.”

The captain turned and gripped his lieutenant’s arm. “Are you sure, man? Are you absolutely sure?”

The lieutenant struggled to keep his face impassive, somehow won the battle, and with a voice of stone, reported that his team had scanned, scoured and searched for eighty-six hours and they had detected not a single sentient life form on the planet.

The captain returned to his seat, and fell into it, his brow suddenly covered in sweat.

“They did it”, he whispered. “They finally did it. Those bastards in the science department finally came up with the perfect weapon – to eliminate all life forms, all traces of life forms and yet leave infrastructure untouched.”

He wiped his brow.

“How long before we can scrub the radiation and the planet can support life?”

“With the new anti-rad treatments?” the commander spoke aloud, leaning forward, his face crumpled in thought. “About fifty years.”

“Acceptable,” rapped out the captain, now all business. “Convey my compliments to the science department, Commander. Let Fleet Command know of the success and start transmitting the paperwork around the other ships.”

He smiled for the first time in months, and took another look at the static image on his desk.

Blue water, eh? He wondered briefly whether that was an effect of the radiation bombardment and whether the indigenous population had also been blue; he’d not bothered to check them out before ordering the attack.

He dismissed the other two officers and leaned back in his chair, his eyes straying again to the out of focus image.

Fifty years? Hell, maybe he’d retire here; it looked like such a nice place, after all.

© Lee Barnett


See you tomorrow… 

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to 1st January 2017. You can see other posts in the run by clicking here.

2017 minus 07: Christmas Day

Posted: 25 December 2016 in 2017 minus
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Well, yes, it’s Christmas Day, and while I’ve deliberately not kept an eye on the stats for this seventy-five day countdown thing I’ve been running, I’m pretty sure that this entry will be among the lowest read. Quite understandable, of course; anyone likely to be reading this is almost certainly doing other things for most of the day: they’ll be with family, or out, or at friends, or on their own… point is that whatever they’re doing, catching up with this blog isn’t likely to be foremost on their minds.

Which means I can do anything. I can write anything, knowing that it’s not likely to be read.

Hmm.

Thing is, I have that freedom anyway. Not – I hope – for the same reasons as just stated, but because it’s my blog. I can write fiction, or express ideas, or just fill an day’s entry with repetitions of ALL WORK AND NO PLAY MAKES JACK A DULL BOY, if I didn’t mind stealing from a Mr Torrance of the Overlook Hotel. 

But since you’ve been so nice and stuck with me so far…






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Merry Christmas, everyone…

And here we are. One day before Christmas, eight days before the end of the year…

So something special today, as it’s Christmas Eve.

How The Grinch Stole Christmas – in six parts. The original, never bettered.





Jean Luc Picard gets into the holiday spirit

Most people have a classic as their first single ever bought. Mine? It was RentaSanta by Chris Hill.

And, finally, Tom Lehrer’s A Christmas Carol
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Tomorrow is Christmas; enjoy it as much as you can. There’ll be something here if you’re interested, but no worries if you’re not. 

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to 1st January 2017. You can see other posts in the run by clicking here.

2017 minus 11: Things past

Posted: 21 December 2016 in 2017 minus, life, politics
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While jumpstarting my brain writing today’s going cheep, a few things jumped into what I’m pleased to call my mind: things that were so obviously part of my if-not-daily-then-definitely-weekly life that no longer even peripherally impact me.This isn’t going to be a ‘things were better in the old days’; most often, they weren’t, and besides that’s the second most boring of these type of posts. (The most boring, of course, is that things are always better now‘.)

So, here are three…

Screen Savers Whenever happened to screen savers? Yes, I know they’re no longer ‘necessary’, but they persisted for quite some time after they ceased to be necessary. Then, in a quite astonishingly short space of time, they just stopped being a thing. Screen savers, for those younger readers, were A Thing. Not only A Thing, but A Thing about which you had to think quite seriously about. When someone saw your computer (never as many people as you thought might see it, by the way, sorry to demolish your ego), it was important for some reason or other that you had the right screen saver. Whether it was the flying toasters, or the never ending pipe work, or just a star field, you’d spend minutes – when it should have been seconds – choosing which of the screen savers you’d have on your screen. And – and this is true, I swear – if you were limited in the number of choices, I knew people who’d spend time figuring out how to get around the limitations… just so you’d have something on your screen that a) marked the computer as yours, and b) made you smile or at least didn’t piss you off.

One might suggest that it was solely the advent, and ubiquity, of flatscreen technology, and particularly the end of the cathode ray tube screens that ended the screen saver thing. I don’t agree. I instead wonder if what killed screen savers in the end was two things: firstly the rise of the laptop computer, and especially the immediate nature of the sleep/awake functionality. Suddenly, it didn’t take a minute or so to shut down your laptop, and another minute or so to start up, to resume, again. It was pretty much instant. So no need to leave the screen live; you could just shut the laptop and open it when you needed it. Secondly, and more importantly, the use of smartphones, and especially tablets. When batter power suddenly became the most important thing and genuinely instant access to a working screen/CPU meant that screens were never left on for more than a couple of minutes. 

Online psych tests Back in the days of Livejournal, it was a rare week when one of the memes doing the rounds wasn’t a psych test. You’d click on a link, answer anywhere between 30 and 100 questions and you’d receive an instant diagnosis of your mental state. No one took it particularly seriously, and as a consequence, people openly showed their results… because they were treated as a trivial thing, nothing more nor less important, nor more nor less accurate, than the “which Lord of the Rings character are you?” type things. Even if a result showed that someone was seriously ill and in need of medical attention, therapy and/or medications, readers of the results would usually assume that the result was flawed, or that the person doing the test had fucked around with the answers. 

Maybe it’s the lessening of stigma that has allowed people to be genuine about this kind of thing, and as a consequence, online tests seem to be ‘cheapening’ the work of therapists and psychologists and psychiatrists? I don’t know; I do know that I’m pleased it’s happened; the reaction in their presence, I mean, not the work of therapists and psychologists and psychiatrists. (For my my own personal issues with them, they do an important job, and I know many who’ve been=gutted from them.)

The Big Beasts of UK Politics At some point during my adult lifetime, UK politics ceased to have ‘current’ big beasts. Back in the days of Wilson, and Callaghan and even Thatcher, those who sat around the Cabinet table, and those who faced them across the House of Commons chamber, were acknowledged at the time they were doing it as ‘big beasts’, the powerbrokers in the parties, and in the country; people who through either force of personality or of accomplishment deserved to be regarded as such. At some point during Tony Blair’s premiership, that changed. Blair and Brown remained the big beasts but everyone else was a lesser species of politician. The Torres didn’t help matters in that respect by again seeming to reduce anyone who wasn’t leader – and in IDS’s case even then – to some lesser respected and lesser able category of politician. (I almost typed ‘some lesser kind of politician’ but that’s a bit too on the nose where Tory politicians are concerned.)

While this demotion almost certainly helps the leaders of the party, it does nothing beneficial for the country and indeed arguably damages it. While no one wants a cabinet or shadow cabinet riven with disagreement, torn apart by plots for the succession, by allowing the leadership to be seen as the only grown up around the table, it pretty much buggers the succession for years to come. And in the case of Labour now, the only big beast worthy of the name is probably the Shadow Chancellor. Certainly the leader doesn’t deserve the appellation, though he might do in a year’s time. But not yet.

Three things that it always used to be an article of faith that they’d be there. 

Today was “Things past”. Tomorrow “Things present”. You can try and guess what Friday’s will be…

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to 1st January 2017. You can see other posts in the run by clicking here.