Sing a new song

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One of the key things that has irked me with Brexit is the lack of vision with which the Tory party/Number 10 have gone about things. It goes to show how far we’ve come from the days of Mandelson and his comms capers, spinning anything and everything they could to make New Labour sound like the best thing since sliced bread. Whatever happened to Cool Britannia?

It feels like those within Number 10 today are almost embarrassed of being in power. The lack of narrative and story coming out of there is remarkable. Perhaps it’s the lack of imagination of the leadership at the moment, I don’t know. Certainly Blair and his gang could spin a yarn out of nothing (like Iraq!), but the dour and listless messages that come out of number 10 these days are depressing at best.

Brandon Lewis today, telling Conservative MEPs to abandon all hope of success in the European elections, is absurd. The big problem with Brexit is that there are benefits and disadvantages to both leaving and staying. Some might argue more vociferously for one than the other, but they are both there. The lack of will to propound the positives of Brexit by the Conservative leadership just beggars belief.

Some are trying to argue that a change of leadership wouldn’t change anything. I profoundly disagree. If the leadership started singing a positive song, it wouldn’t take long for the country to start singing along.

Stand up

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Last year I undertook reading Hayek’s dense (but brilliant) The Constitution of Liberty. I must admit, I’ve only read the first third, but one uncomfortable truth for me that came out of it was that for society to work well, it requires the individual to stand up and be counted; to put themselves out there and make a noise.

That’s one reason why I started the daily blogging thing. For too many years, I’ve hidden my light under a bushel, afraid to speak out and too ready to run away from conflict. One colleague even accused me of ‘shy Toryism’, which would be fine if I could identify with the Tories, something I find particularly hard to do these days, even if there’s a reasonable Libertarian contingent in the party.

Time and again throughout my life I’ve let other people take credit for work I’ve done, or not spoken out when I thought things could be done differently.

One thing I have definitely noticed is that since I’ve started blogging daily, I’ve discovered a new-found confidence that I’ve never really known before. And I must say, I quite like it. Pushing myself out of my comfort zone and publically stating what I believe in, has been somewhat transformative.

So here’s my simple tip for the day. Even if you can’t be bothered to start blogging daily, try to find ways to push yourself out of your comfort zone, it’ll help you and, hopefully, help society as well.

We could be heroes

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I’ve always had issues with two types of novel/film: dystopian and zombies. Zombies, because, well, they’re just silly (not necessarily implausible, but in the most part, daft) and require too much suspension of disbelief to work. Dystopian, because it would have meant that somehow the leadership or population ended up heading down some kind of extreme, usually socialist or fascist route and got lost, which is always a depressing thought for me.

Galactic Pot Healer has such a dystopia; a mainly socialist backdrop of state control, heavy-handed police, ridiculously centralised services (Mr Job!) and faulty technology, which all build up quickly around the hero, Joe. Obviously, Philip K. Dick is a master and knows what he is doing, using the situation to force the hero into decisions he might not ordinarily take, but it often requires a crap situation for a hero to appear.

It still amazes me that even though the ‘good guys’ are often fighting the defenders of such dystopian worldviews (1984, Brave New World, Star Wars, The Matrix etc.), a good proportion of the world today would happily vote for parties and leaders that would take society down into the very depths detailed in many of these stories.

I cannot fathom why. Perhaps the rational mind, from which most of these situations would arise (more control, more centralisation etc.) can’t see beyond the immediate ‘benefits’ of what their worldview would lead to. Or they haven’t learned from the mistakes of countries today ruled by angry army types or socialist megalomaniacs.

I don’t know anyone that would, hand on heart, say, “I want to balls up society so much that it stagnates and everyone is miserable and no-one has any food or money.” And yet people go out and vote for parties that would willingly bring this about.

Perhaps they secretly dream of being the heroes to save people from the very misery they inflict on them?

Digital democracy

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I see the Brexit Party are proposing using an app to help people either vote, or express opinions matters to share with their MP. This is something that I’ve long thought would be a good idea.

I guess it wouldn’t be much use if you were ‘on the payroll’ in government, as it were, but as a backbench MP, it could be a great way of ensuring that you are in tune with your constituency, which, in this day and age of liberal authoritarianism, seems to be notional at best.

There would be issues around security, but nothing that couldn’t be overcome with some decent web protocols, programming and a bit of thought.

I keep coming back to the idea of social currency that Corey Doctorow outlined in his book Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom. I did come up with a web idea a couple of years ago (and have since discovered it was based on sound actuarial principles), but most people looked blankly at me when I tried to explain it to them.

It worked on the idea that everyone has a limited amount of Whuffies, social currency that they could assign to people they thought were worthy. Depending on various factors, like length of time assigned to a person etc. the Whuffies could increase in value, much as money accumulated interest, and hence your social worth increased or decreased. And in the best tradition of feedback loops and evolution, the system could morph and grow with reciprocal assignations and ways to increase your stock of Whuffies. I think I even worked a little bit of blockchain theory in there to keep it all secure.

I dare say the economists out there would laugh at the idea, and I’m not entirely sold on it myself, but it was a fun little project. I wonder if, in the future, technology will make us more democratic, or will we head down a more socialist route? As with anything useful, technology can be used for good or ill, but in the same way we have an extended order that generally keeps us order us on the straight and narrow in the real world, it will grow to encapsulate the digital world as well.

Ch-ch-ch-changes

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One of the things I’ve noticed over the years is the human resistance to change. Time and again, no matter what our political, religious or social outlook on life, the old reptile brain creeps in at the first snifter of something new. Is it dangerous? How will it affect me? Will it hurt/kill/eat me? We’re all conservative at heart, it’s how we choose to react to these changes that defines us.

Some people will see anything as a threat. In the past, Galileo was forced to recant his affirmation that the Earth was not the centre of the cosmos. Today, remainers desperately hope for a second referendum so the loathed leavers can eat their words.

I find it sad that a group of remainers have crowd-sourced enough money to take Boris Johnson to court for the ‘lies’ he propounded in the referendum, particularly the nefarious £350m for the NHS. Last time I looked, Theresa May had already effectively fulfilled this promise last year, before we’ve even left. And why just target Boris? It smacks of witch hunt.

And where is the court case against members of the remain community, who predicted dire warnings of recession, housing crisis and more should we vote to leave (not just when we leave), and these were proved to be ‘lies’?

Priorities in filmmaking

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I find it quite telling that while the UK film industry, from my limited viewpoint, appears to be bogged down in left-thinking, anti-Brexit, anti-capitalist mind-think*, one of the greatest neo-liberal Presidents of the USA was an ex-actor.

It always struck me as a bit of an over-simplification, but the simple difference between Hollywood and the Indy scene is their attitude to money. Hollywood is a business, it’s run by free-market thinking types keen to return a profit to make their next film with, the Indy scene by ‘artistic’ types, who have no idea about making a commercially viable product, and who balk at the thought of creative such a vulgar thing as a profitable film.

Down and Dirty Pictures: Miramax, Sundance, and the Rise of Independent Film by Peter Bisking, as well as being a great read, displays the dichotomy well (even if he does slightly blur the sound marketing and commercial sensibilities of the Weinsteins with their more unpalatable traits, although, I suppose, what else could he do?).

I’ve never really understood the auteur mentality. The age-old struggle of any filmmaker is where the money for the next project is coming from. Money tends to create money, so if you want to prove yourself, make a ‘commercially viable’ film. To do this you have to start with the audience in mind. An inventor worth his salt wouldn’t set about trying to improve society by creating a device that didn’t solve a common problem. The problem that the entertainment industry should be looking to solve is simply that people need entertaining. They just want to be carted off to another place, become someone else for a while and enjoy their suffering and success in a nice comfy chair.

I get the feeling, seeing reports in The Hollywood Reporter about the preponderance for data and spreadsheets at places like Netflix, that the industry is starting to overthink things, but that’s still possibly a better place to be than not thinking about these things.

It’s not easy to make a low-budget, entertaining film, but it’s not impossible. But if you don’t start with the audience in mind, you’ll get nowhere fast.

* Yes, I know not everyone, but a lot of people!

Phonophobia

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I was reading in the paper this morning about the fact that many millennial ‘Snowflakes’ are taking to an app for deaf people to speak on their behalf in telephone conversations. The tone of the article was subtly condescending, taking the line that anyone over the age of 25 has never had issues talking to people on the phone. I think this is, as ever, guff.

Until I was thirty I had a horrible fear of talking to people I didn’t know on the

phone, and I know quite a few people who also harbour similar reservations. Sometimes I still have to psych myself up for important phone calls. I would have loved the apps we have today and this particular app from Google when I was younger.

I’ve never really been able to rationalise why I found it hard, but the thought of ringing anyone, brought on minor panic attacks. I was once put on a cold-calling training course. I lasted an hour, such was my discomfort. I suspect it’s because audio-only calls are quite hard work and take up a lot of mental activity (one of the main reasons why talking on the phone while driving is banned).

The underlying argument in the story ran that because the youth of today are used to messaging via the written word, they are losing their ability to communicate. This is plain silly. By the time we’re old enough to have the technology to facilitate hiding behind apps, our communications skills are fairly well developed. But this is based on the full gamut of verbal and non-verbal communication. Speaking to people on the phone is difficult work as you have to work so much harder due to the lack of visual cues. It’s no wonder people find it hard and it fills them with trepidation.

I’m messing about at the moment trying to adapt one of my favourite Philip K. Dick novels, Galactic Pot Healer, into a screenplay (something to while away the commute home). Even back then, when he wrote that in 1969, he was predicting a future with video phones, and I remember as a kid thinking it wouldn’t be long before we got them at home. They just took a lot longer to arrive. And then when they did, only really in the past five-ten years, we were so used audio-only that video felt a bit odd for a while, especially for us who grew up audio only. It’s still quite telling how many people still choose to dial in for video conferences at work in audio-only mode.

I think if I’d had video calling when I was a kid, I would have loved it. My children certainly seem to instinctlively prefer video chat to audio only when they call me. The Gen-Z’ers seem to naturally prefer video chat as it does allow for full and easy communication. And if people struggle (as some of us always have) with talking in audio-only mode, then solutions to help them will be adopted. Us oldies will just have to get used to it, and understand that what went before isn’t always the best thing.

(‘Phonophobia’ is what my Dad used to say I suffered from, as opposed to fear of loud sounds, which is what it properly is).

Second’s out

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With Mr Lidington confirming yesterday that we will be partaking in the European elections, while there is much breast-beating among the leavers, it strikes me this could be a good thing.

I’m no fan of a Second Referendum, both for reasons I’ve explained plus the fact that, if it goes with the rumoured three-way split of No Deal, Deal and Remain on the ballot slip, the Leave vote will be split between the first two and Remain will romp home with their one option (which somewhat offends my Libran send of fair play, even of it doesn’t Theresa May’s) .

But if we use the European elections as an unofficial referendum, voting for Brexit Party if you want to leave, Conservative/Labour if you prefer some some kind of deal, or Lib Dem if you want to remain, we’ll have a great indicative vote, without the danger of Remain getting the unfair advantage in the real thing.

Need to know

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At the moment I’m reading the fascinating book about the brain, Incognito – The Secret Lives of the Brain by David Eagleman. One of the big takeaways for me so far is that the Extended Order, to continue briefly on the post from last week, could be seen as a mirror of our unconscious in the outside world. Our subconscious is a vast network of neurons and memories all stored away and relatively inaccessible to our comparatively limited conscious minds. It’s full of rules and regulations on how the body works, much as the Extender Order controls society with its rules and traditions.

The subconscious, and indeed the Extended Order, is so vast there is no way the conscious mind could ever hope to know all that goes on in there. Indeed, even our explicit memories, those we can access readily, tend to be locked up until we need them. And so the brain operates on a need to know basis. As matters arise in our daily life, so we tap into the stores of memories, both implicit (gut feelings) and explicit (autobiographic) memories.

All the time new contexts and situtions present themselves to us and we seek relevant information depending on what we want to know. Hayek argues that this is why trying to control trade/commerce/economics will always fail, as those put in control of trying to order such enterprises can never hope to know all things in all circumstances.

Always better to defer and decentralise to those that can specialiase in specific situations in specific circumstances in more local settings. Making arbitrary, central decisions that try to cover too many different circumstances will always be doomed to fail.

On Screenwriting – Part 3 – How to improve

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Many people say you should read lots of screenplays. I say this is guff advice. Read some for sure, but in my experience, you will always be disappointed. They are nearly always (what I would consider) badly written, particularly the ones they release around awards season ‘for your consideration’, many of which are either verbose early drafts that ‘read’ better to the layman, or are just so full of the stuff I’ve told you to avoid above that they will make you cringe and wonder how on earth the film was ever made.

You’re better off trying to write your own version of scenes you like from films to develop your own style. This is also a good way to get into the director’s and editor’s heads. Why did they choose these shots? What do they say? How would you do it differently?

And beyond that, just keep writing. Write, write, write. When you hit a road block, keep writing, even if it’s utter bilge, or work on something else. The more you write, the more the brain is engaged in the process and ideas will present themselves from your subconscious (the little guys downstairs doing their work, as Stephen King says).

Follow the rules in the previous two posts and you’ll be streets ahead of the majority of Hollywood hacks. Unless they read this…