So I was playing Lego Duplo with the little one the other day and I made her a twin-jet, medium bomber, as you do.
She was very happy with it, and was playing “flying” with it, and then she picked up a discarded piece of assembly from a previous build, and announced that she was going to add it to the plane.
Now nonsensical as this was, I’m always very concerned to not ever make her feel stupid, so I said something like, “Oh that’s a really good idea!” as she did it. And then I looked at what she’d done. And I realised.
She’d only gone and built the bloody AWACS version! How clever is that?
It’s day three now of the Irish Discworld Convention 2015, and I’m sitting in the Plaza of Broken Moons (a.k.a. the lobby) typing this. For those of you who don’t know, IDWCon (as it’s typically referred to) is an Irish version of the International Discworld convention held in the UK. Since it’s held on those years that the biennial international version isn’t held, it provides a handy home for those UK based Pratchett fans who basically want to go to a Discworld convention every year. All of which is a long-winded way of saying that while I’m seeing lots of new faces, I’m seeing lots of familiar ones, also. I’ve got a stand here, in the dealers area (a.k.a. Sator Square), where I’ve been setting not only my new book, If Pigs Could Fly, but the previous one, Game Night, as well, both of which I’m publishing under my own imprint, Wild Jester Press. I’m opposite the rather nice guys from Waterstones Cork, who are selling a whole range of Terry Pratchett’s books as well as other Discworld related books. And I’m next to the equally nice guys from the Discworld Emporium.
Sales so far are going pretty well, certainly better than I’d feared in the run up to the event. (I should stress that there was no-reason for me to fear bad sales. It’s simply that while merely writing a book is essentially to offer your hopes, fears and dreams up for public examination, to then attempt to sell that book is basically to take those hopes, fears and dreams and package them up in form that’s practically designed to allow easy and convenient crushing.)
Assuming sales hold up today, it looks like I will sell out all the stock I bought. (Anyone reading this who’s at the convention – you have been warned! Come to Sator Square and talk to me!)
I’m selling them at €7 a book, or €10 for two, the latter figure chosen partly to avoid the requirement to give out change, something that’s difficult to acquire when you’re not from the Eurozone. But the two for not much more than one offer has turned out to be a really good thing. It’s much easier to sell books when you have more then one and can thus do this kind of multi-offer. It allows you to keep the price up on a single book, something which I think is important to make it clear that this is a quality work that you have pride in, whilst still offering a deep discount to purchasers.
Turned to the wider convention, I’m really enjoying myself, except of course for one unfortunate incident in the bar last night that was clearly in no-way the fault of either the convention organisers, the hotel, or the convention itself. I refer, of course, to England’s rather crushing defeat in the Rugby World Cup at the hands of Australia. Personally, I’m now falling back on the three sixteenths of my ancestry that’s Irish. Come on you boys in… it’s green, right? (And would a chorus of “No surrender to the ECB” be appropriate?)
The hotel is a lovely base for a convention. The staff are lovely, and as for location, okay, it’s in a business park next to an airport, but given that at conventions you never leave the hotel, that doesn’t matter, and it’s awesomely convenient for people who – like me – flew in. It is literally five to ten minutes walk away from the airport terminal. And if you’re worried about aircraft noise, don’t be. Cork airport isn’t Heathrow. (I know. I was born and raised next to Heathrow.)
I’ll leave you with some pictures. Firstly, the lobby, from above, slightly gloomy due to it being an early morning picture on a not terribly good phone camera:
The convention map on the back of the programme guide:
The Opening Ceremony from Friday night, in Pseudopolis Yard.
The breakfast I had yesterday morning (an answer to a question you haven’t actually asked, that question being “What does a vegan eat for breakfast?”, with the answer being, well in a good, decent hotel, this!).
And finally, the most… “special” feature of the hotel. This is a feature that has been the subject of quite a good deal of discussion, because it just doesn’t fit in. While the rest of the hotel is pretty much a restrained “vanilla corporate”, this is… different. So far, I’m come up with two theories:
The architects gave this bit of hotel to the new trainee, and he/she basically went for it, in a big way.
Someone was leaving, and put this in as a prank, and it wasn’t discovered until the plans were just about to be signed off, and it was too late to changed.
Ladies, gentlemen, searchbots, I give you [drumroll] … the toilets:
First off, a statement. I do not consider being a vegan to being in any way comparable to being a member of an discriminated against group, be that persons who are non-white, female, gay or bisexual, trans-gendered, or members of a minority religion. However, for someone such as myself who by virtual of being a white, middle-class, male, cis-gendered heterosexual, ticks every single privilege box going, I think that being a vegan might perhaps in some partial way simulate what it might feel like to be a member of a discriminated against group. Not for real. Just for pretend. A simulation.
That said, I’ll then launch into a second statement that might sound rude, exclusionary, and frankly arseholish:
I sometimes wish that vegetarians wouldn’t turn up at what’s supposed to be a vegan event, like the one I’ve just been to. Although to be fair to them, in this case, it seemed very badly described. (Then again, the people organising it, when speaking, repeatedly referred to it as a vegan event, so I wonder if the “mis-description” was inserted in by the person who wrote the program). Here’s how it was (ambiguously) described:
(I should say, it was still a great event, I really enjoyed it, and I’m very thankful to the two women who organised it for putting it on).
The thing is, I’m not a vegetarian, and I don’t feel I have a huge amount in common with them. I live in a non-vegan world, where I constantly have to moderate what I say, and bite my tongue. When people ask why I don’t drink milk, I have to simply say that it’s “because I’m a vegan”, rather than give the truthful answer that lies behind that, because if I did, I’d upset people. I can’t even really give that truthful answer here, because while this is my own personal blog, it’s still a non-vegan space. It’s still me writing as a vegan in a non-vegan world. (If you really want to know, I’ve attached it as an appendix to this post).
It would be nice, just once, to go to a place where I don’t have to bite my tongue for fear of upsetting someone. But as soon as vegetarians turn up, I have to, because it’s now back to being a non-vegan space.
Vegans tell anecdotes about the times they want to a wedding or restaurant and there was literally nothing for them to eat, and they literally went hungry. We cry that all we’re asking for is for there to be just one thing on the menu that we could eat. Just one and we’re happy. Overjoyed even. Hell, put two items on the menu and you risk rendering us catatonically indecisive, so unused are we to coping with choice.
Meanwhile, one of the vegetarians at this event just told an anecdote about going to a restaurant for a wedding dinner in the US where the punchline of the anecdote was that there was only one vegetarian option on the menu.
As you can imagine, I did somewhat fail to feel his pain.
Yeah, sure there’s a place for outreach, and bigger tents, and evangelism, and inclusiveness, and all that… But sometimes you just want to be among your own kind, you know? Where you can talk about the things that you have in common, and the things that uniquely affect you, without having to bite your tongue for fear of upsetting “the others”.
I’ve been trying to think of an anecdote about this, and the best I can come up with is (again, veganism is only a simulation of discrimination!):
Irish people living in the UK have certainly faced serious, historical discrimination in the past, and quite possibly to some extent still do. But if I was organising an event for BAME (black, Asian, minority ethnic) attendees at a UK convention, and an Irish person turned up, I think I’d be a bit, “Mate, really?”
And if he responded to our anecdotes about the serious and damaging discrimination we’d faced for being BAME with an anecdote about discrimination he’d faced for being Irish that was, by comparison to our experiences, quite minor…
Well I think I’d fail to share his pain.
So to go back to the “simulation” I referred to at the start of this point, when some white people get upset about things like the National Black Police Association, I’d like to think that just maybe I get it.
When you live in a world where you’re always the “other”, sometimes, just for once, just for a while, you just want to be among your own kind.
(Oh and by the way, the title refers to the fact that we ended up having cows milk bought to this supposedly vegan event by the hotel. If we’d all been vegans we could just have told them to take it away. But when a bunch of the attendees are vegetarian, that would have seemed a bit rude.)
* * * * *
The truthful answer…
Cows are mammals, and as with any mammal, they only make milk if they give birth to a child. So to get milk from a cow you have to make the cow pregnant, and when the resulting calf comes out male it’s surplus to requirements and is thus often taken straight away and killed (if not killed it will be raised for beef and then killed after several months). I’ve heard stories of cows that cry for eight days straight after their calf is taken away. I cannot see the moral principle in refusing to eat beef, but being okay with baby calves living a life that in its entirety consists of: be born, be immediately taken away from your mother and taken to a slaughter house, have brains blown out. It’s a life that spans less than 24 hours, which will entirely be spent, thirsty, hungry, scared and lonely. It seems to me that the life of a male dairy calf is about as shit, miserable, and pointless as a life is possible to be. It makes a mayfly’s life seem possibly purposeful, and every single time I think of what we do to cows and their calves it brings me to the verge of tears. That’s why I don’t drink milk. It’s not because “I’m a vegan.” It’s because I cry when I think of baby cows getting their brains blown out in slaughterhouses.
One of the hazards of having a day job, a writing career on the side, and a two-year old daughter, is that it does rather cut into the time you have available to actually read fiction, let alone review it. But I do feel that as an author it’s important to try and “put something back” by providing reviews, so I’m going to start now with some thoughts on something I read recently.
* * * * *
“The Fat Controller’s Busy Day” is a frankly disturbing piece of work, reading – as it does – like Animal Farm might have read had it been written by a reactionary conservative rather than a progressive socialist. The story’s essential plot is as follows.
The manager of Sodor’s railway system, the hereditary baronet Sir Topham Hatt, has been slimming down his workforce, promoting Thomas the Tank Engine to his own branch line while leaving his previous shunting position unfilled. Historically, tender engines have not been required to assemble the coaches that make up their trains. But Hatt now decides to eliminate this labour demarcation, and orders them to shunt.
Three of the tender engines – Gordon, James and Henry – refuse, working to rule, and performing only those duties that they have previously performed. They will pull trains, but not assemble them. On the first day of the work to rule, Hatt asks the fourth tender engine, Edward, to assemble the passenger trains. Edward, who Hatt sees as a “really useful engine”, but whom might less charitably be seen as a management lackey and class traitor, agrees, and as a result is ostracised by his workmates.
Upon hearing of this, Hatt – who is colloquially known as “the Fat Controller” – is outraged. He immediately institutes a lockout, barring the three protesting engines, and initiates an emergency passenger service using Edward and Thomas, a tank engine happy to serve as a strike-breaker. However, more labour is required, so Hatt now recruits a new tank engine, Percy. Percy, a young and naïve engine unaware that he is being recruited into the management side of a labour dispute, eagerly agrees.
The three engines successfully run the emergency service. There are fewer trains than usual, but the passengers are content as they wish to see the three “rebellious” tender engines punished. Eventually, the three tender engines – who have been confined to their engine shed – agree to comply with all Hatt’s demands. From now on they will accept the abandonment of their previous, protected status, and will shunt alongside their tank engine colleagues.
I feel this book is fundamentally misnamed. The Fat Controller has not had a busy day, being as he is a capitalistic industrialist born into inherited wealth who emotionally manipulates his workforce into serving him, and backs this up with an extensive propaganda campaign. I personally feel that this book would have been more honest, had it been titled “Edward the Scab and Percy the Strike-Breaker”.
A little while ago I started1 following @ireland and @sweden on Twitter. Both are examples of what are termed Rotation Curation:
Rotation Curation, also #RotationCuration, is the concept of rotating the spokesperson on a broad scoped social media account. Such a scope can be a location, a country, an organization, a group, and so on. The concept is prominent on Twitter, but has also been ported to Instagram. The concept originated December 10, 2011, when Svenska Institutet and VisitSweden launched Curators of Sweden. The project hands the official Twitter account @Sweden to a new Swedish person every week to manage, with the expressed goal to manifest Swedish diversity and progressiveness through their own personality. [Wikipedia]
Basically, it’s like Doctor Who. Each Monday, a new person gets to run the account for the next seven days. The Twitter handle is unchanged, but they change the name to include their own name, and the icon is their picture with a common graphic overlain.
They tweet what they like: sometimes stuff about themselves; sometimes things about their country. Each weekly curator brings a new angle, shines a new light.
I’m really enjoying reading them both, and it got me thinking. Wouldn’t it be really cool if Brighton had such an account? Not only is it a vibrant city with a bucket load of culture and a strong and alternative identity, it’s got a pretty healthy tech scene to boot.
I’d love to see other people’s views of my adopted home, to get an insight into the other lives going on around me. I’ve only got the one life to live in Brighton, but it would be great to see how other people are living theirs. I think it would be interesting and informative, educational and entertaining2.
What does everyone else think? If you, like me, think this might be a cool thing then please either post here, or tweet me (@jonnynexus). I’m not volunteering to run this, partly because I haven’t got the time, but mainly because something like this needs to have proper backing and not be a one-man operation. But if there’s interest, I could try floating the idea to people who might be able to make it work.
It could happen. And it could be very cool.
1I was vaguely aware of both of them, but when my friend Brian (@natural20) got to be Ireland for the week, I ended up signing up for both of them. He talked about his work, his hobbies, about the importance of storytelling, and did an epic rant about the Catholic church. It was very cool.
2There is a similar Twitter account for the UK (@PeopleofUK) but I’m afraid that this account just doesn’t grab me. I’m not an outsider looking for a “look inside”, as I am with Ireland and Sweden, but the UK is so big that it doesn’t feel like this sort of account offers an insider’s view, either. If a person in Sweden talks about their bus journey to work being delayed, I’ll learn something about the Swedish public transportation system. If a person on our hypothetical Brighton account talked about their bus being stuck on Western Road, I’ll know to take the sea front instead. But if a person in Nottingham tells me that their bus is late, frankly, I couldn’t give a shit.
“What we have is what I always wanted, which is one single question, not two questions, not devo max, a very simple single question that has to be put before the end of 2014 so we end the uncertainty.” – David Cameron, October 2012.
* * *
“If we get a No vote, that will trigger a major, unprecedented programme of devolution, with additional powers for the Scottish Parliament – major new powers over tax, spending and welfare services.” – David Cameron, September 2014.
There’s an old trick politicians use when trying to force an unpopular option down the electorate’s throat. Don’t give them the opportunity to vote for the middle-of-the-road option they actually want. Instead offer them only two choices: an extreme option that you figure they’ll find too risky and radical; and your choice, that they’ll have no option but to vote for through gritted teeth.
Back in 2012, Alex Salmond wanted the referendum ballot to offer two questions that would deliver three options:
Stick with the status quo, with a limited, devolved parliament within the United Kingdom.
Stay within the United Kingdom, but have significant, further powers devolved to the parliament (a.k.a. “Devo Max”).
People could have voted yes to independence and yes to Devo Max, no to independence but yes to Devo Max, or no to both independence and Devo Max. But David Cameron vetoed the twin question option, insisting on a straight choice between status quo and independence. I think it’s pretty clear that he did this thinking that independence had no chance, and by doing so he would torpedo the option that the majority of the Scottish people wanted, but he clearly didn’t: Devo Max.
The problem with this old politicians trick is that sometimes the electorate call your bluff, and it was when – two weeks ago – it looked like the Scottish electorate might be about to do just that, that Cameron was belatedly, “miraculously” even, converted to the cause of Devo Max (a.k.a. “The Vow”).
I guess we can’t know, but I think that if we’d had a two question ballot paper, with an explicit Devo Max option there right from the start to dilute and divide the yearning for self-determination, the yes vote would have been depressed. Perhaps 45% would have been 40%, or even 35%. Meanwhile, I think a big chunk – perhaps half – of the people who voted no yesterday would have voted for Devo Max, along with pretty much all of the yeses. I’d therefore see a Devo Max option, one that you could have voted for as well as independence, getting perhaps 70-75% support.
But, you might ask, how is that significantly different from the situation we have now, where a no option which mutated to a Devo Max option has won with 55% support? Well it is different, in two important ways:
Firstly, Scotland could now be uniting behind an option that three quarters of the voters had selected. Instead, we have a result so divisive that it cannot help but leave a legacy of bitterness and division.
And secondly, instead of voting for a Devo Max option agreed, defined and debated over more than two years, people have instead voted for an off-the-cuff, emergency lash up birthed in an atmosphere of panic and confusion. And not surprisingly, this spit-and-chewing-gum construction is already starting to unravel.
Scots voters were promised the best of all worlds: Cameron, Clegg and Miliband promised them increased devolution on an accelerated timetable with no strings attached, including a continuation of their funding under the Barnett formula; and Gordon Brown promised them that they could have draft legislation ready by May next year.
But that was pre-vote then, and this is a post-vote now.
My prediction is this. Devo Max will either be stalled indefinitely by arguments over English representation or devolution, and calls for constitutional conventions. Or it will come with unpleasant strings attached, such as a significant diminishing in power of the Scottish representation in the UK parliament at Westminster (by turning Scottish MPs into second-class MPs who can only vote on UK wide-issues), and possibly an adjustment in the Barnett formula that will lead to harsh spending cuts in Scotland.
Which will nicely open the way for the SNP to run in the Scottish elections of 2016 on a platform of a second independence referendum, on the grounds that previous one’s result has been rendered invalid by the promise and then effective withdrawal of a no-strings, “best of all worlds”, Devo Max.
Nice one Dave. You’ve certainly cocked this one up.
Firstly, to get the big question out of the way, if I was Scottish, I’d vote yes. Not because I’d think it will be easy. I don’t. I think it might be quite hard – worthwhile things usually are. I’d be voting yes because ultimately I’d rather be a citizen of a small democracy of five million people whose destiny I have a say in, than a citizen of a large democracy of sixty million people whose destiny I largely don’t.
But I would ask one thing of the post-Yes, Scottish people: can we keep Faslane and Coulport as Guantanamo Bay-style, leased sovereign enclaves. (In return for a currency union, use of the Bank of England, and first pick at the House of Commons wine collection).
It’s not about saving the several billion pounds it would cost to move the site, nor the undesirability of storing a shitload of nuclear weapons right next to Plymouth. (I know some might ask how come it was okay to store a shitload of nuclear weapons right next to Glasgow, to which I’d reply that pondering on that question a while might help them understand why so many Scots are keen to leave the union). No, it’s not about that. Personally, I’m in favour of abandoning Trident anyway.
No, the reason why I’d like us to keep Faslane is because it would create a wonderful new setting for stories. Stories need conflict, and nothing generates conflict like a few dozen megatons of someone else’s nuclear weapons stored right next to your biggest city. It only needs relations between the Scottish and rUK governments to deteriorate a tad and you have a wonderful Cold War-esque thriller with a twist.
“With the United Kingdom and Scotland on the verge of war, the last thing Redcap detective Jim Conner needed was a killer loose in Faslane’s nuclear submarine yards. With Prime Minister Farage’s visit only three days away and the five infantry regiments of the Scottish Army poised to attack the sovereign enclave, the clock is truly ticking.”
August 7, 2014 / Jonny Nexus / Comments Off on The Parable of the Regency Anti-Slavery Campaigner and the Regency Health Freak
I’m a vegan, and here’s the thing: people who, for perceived health reasons, follow a plant-based diet and then refer to themselves as vegans – when they’re not, not really – kind of annoy me.
The Parable of the Regency Anti-Slavery Campaigner and the Regency Health Freak
Imagine it’s the 1810s. Slavery is legal in the British Empire, but a small group of abolitionists are fighting to stop it. Jeremiah is one such campaigner. He abhors slavery, and has vowed not to consume the products it produces. In practice, this means that he will eat no sugar, and wear no cotton.
If Jeremiah is attending a social gathering and is offered a dish that contains sugar, he will politely explain that he cannot eat it, and – if asked why – explain that he is an abolitionist.
Then we have Zachariah. Zachariah has no problem with slavery. He quite happily wears cotton clothing made with cotton sourced from slave-using plantations. But he has come to the conclusion that sugar is an unnatural product, and so refuses to eat it. And he’s decided that the best phrase to describe his avoidance of sugar is… abolitionist.
If Zachariah is attending a social gathering and is offered a dish that contains sugar, he will politely explain that he cannot eat it, and – if asked why – explain that he is an abolitionist. (If then asked why he has become an abolitionist and what an abolitionist is, he will give an explanation that is entirely about sugar’s unhealthy properties with not a single mention of slavery).
People’s reactions to Jeremiah’s polite refusal of the sugar dish will be significantly affected by whether or not they’ve had their understanding of the word “abolitionist” corrupted by people like Zachariah.
If they haven’t, if they immediately realise that Jeremiah’s stance is born of a moral abhorrence of slavery, then they will likely respect him greatly for making sacrifices in aid of people he will never meet, even if they do not personally agree with him. And deep down, they probably will agree with him, and his example may start them down a road that will lead to their rejecting slavery and its products.
But what if they have had their understanding of the nature of abolitionism corrupted?
If they assume that Jeremiah is refusing the sugar dish merely out of a desire to enhance his own health, they may react very differently. At best, they will be neutral – unbothered as to whether or not he wishes to eat the dish. But at worst, they may perceive him as rude, selfish, faddy, and perhaps even narcissistic – a man who puts his obsessive attention on himself ahead of the norms of social interaction.
Imagine how it would feel to Jeremiah if, every time he mentions that he’s an abolitionist, he receives the response: “Oh, is that for health reasons?”
“Veganism is a way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose.” – The Vegan Society (who created the word “vegan” in 1944)
I have just had the greatest idea I will ever have in my entire life. Ladies, gentlemen, those who’d rather not say, and small furry creatures from Alpha Centauri, I give you – the ExplainTo Bear!
I’m a programmer, and in programming – and I suspect many other professions – it’s a truism oft repeated that the best way to solve a problem that’s stumping you is to get one of your colleagues to have a glance at it. Why? Because a good 50% of the time you’ll figure the solution out yourself while you’ll still explaining the issue to said colleague, without him or her doing anything more than listen, and occasionally interject with, “I see”, “Right”, “Okay”, and “Got it”.
Which is where my invention comes in. The ExplainTo Bear is a small cuddly toy with a built-in sound detector. When it detects more than a second’s worth of silence a hidden speaker emits one of a set of stock phrases, such as: “I see”, “Right”, “Okay”, and “Got it”. If you’re a manager1 and one of your programmers reports that they’re stuck, all you have to do is hand them the department’s ExplainTo Bear and tell them to work together with the bear to solve the problem2.
The potential of this is genuinely huge, so much so that I really ought to patent it and make a fortune. But I’m not going to, partly because in a world where the UK government is about to write off £300 million of Universal Credit IT spending3 I think this needs to be available to the whole of humanity, but mostly because I’m absolutely knackered right now and I really can’t be bothered.
Knighthood if it takes off would be nice, mind.
1This applies equally well if you’re a ScrumMaster in a company which uses an agile methodology and a programmer reports a problem during the daily scrum meeting.
2There is a type of programming called Extreme Programming, where programmers work together in pairs. This is a bit like that, but you only have to pay one salary.
3I should stress that I’m not necessarily claiming that the impending disaster that is the Universal Credit IT system could be solved simply by someone in charge spending twenty minutes talking to a stuffed toy, but it might have perhaps averted the cock up had someone done such a thing back in 2010, and realised that the plan they’d adopted was complete bollocks.