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Life

Eurovision

The Eurovision Song Contest was held this evening in Rotterdam. If you’ve never heard of it, it’s the annual competition that launched ABBA into the stratosphere in the 1970s, and was the subject of the wonderful movie starring Rachel McAdams and Will Ferrell last year.

While I wasn’t surprised at the outcome of the competition itself, I was surprised at the reaction to the outcome by a number of people I know.

Before getting around to that, it’s worth noting that in my mind the Eurovision Song Contest has some significant problems.

Because of the number of countries now involved, “Semi Finals” are held – meaning many of the more original bands are filtered out by juries of “professionals” that select the finalists. Unfortunately those juries tend to vote politically – meaning that neighbouring countries vote for each other.

Thankfully half of the vote in the finals is made up by a public vote – which often redresses the balance – but it’s too late for the bands that have already been removed from the competition by the afore mentioned biased juries.

There’s a damning phrase about committees (called juries in this case) – “designed by committee” often means the end result is a watered down mess that nobody actually wanted, but they are willing to live with if it means they don’t have to do anything more.

Getting back to the actual subject of this post, I headed to Facebook and Twitter after the competition finished, and started reading people’s reactions. I was stunned.

“The winner was terrible – nowhere near as good as (insert winner from 30 years ago)”

“Everyone in Europe hates us – what do you expect?”

“Most of the music was terrible – nothing I would ever listen to!”

“Did you see what half of them were wearing? I would be embarrassed!”

I could go on – for quite some time.

I suppose I’m just surprised (and not surprised at all) about the blinkered, insular view that seems to be so prevalent throughout a wide cross-section of people here.

So many people seem to think that their opinions are shared by the majority, because they are shared by the small circle of people that re-inforce their often bigoted, prejudiced, narrow minded, racist, sexist, or outdated opinions on music, fashion, style, culture, and everything in-between.

The social networks have a part to play in this of course – I’ve written about this before – about the algorithmic timeline surrounding people with concordant views. It’s dangerous. Unless we are challenged, we do not learn or grow. Plato wrote about it sixteen hundred years go in his “Allegory of the Cave”. It seems many people still haven’t learned.

How do I turn this around?

Perhaps with the admission that our entry into the competition was really, really awful – and that I loved many of the more spirited, individual acts that performed throughout this year’s show.

I just wish there were a few more people with open minds, and open hearts taking notice of the direction the world is headed, who might make a quiet stand against it with me.

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Life

And, Exhale

I watched the inauguration of Joe Biden as the new President of the United States yesterday evening, and then fell down an internet rabbit hole this morning watching Angela Gorman and Katy Perry on YouTube.

It feels like the United States has suddenly exhaled – and much of the rest of the world has too. While watching footage of the celebrations yesterday evening across America, I remembered news coverage of the election, and of a young mother celebrating in the street with her daughter as Biden was projected the winner – with tears streaming down her face.

It turns out hope is pretty damn emotive.

Of course it’s easy to think of those I know – who so wished for this outcome – as “everybody”. We have to remember that seventy million people voted for none of this to happen. I guess it’s their turn to suck it up. I do wonder if the Trump experiment will stop any sort of republican get into power for a very long time though. People have long memories.

Over here, after having a conservative government for many years, several generations of younger people eventually forced change, and we ended up with a socialist government for the better part of a decade. Of course now those younger people have gotten older, earned their money, and no longer want to share it – they have become conservative, and now don’t want any part of the socialism they pined for during their youth.

I remember my Grandfather once telling me that politics goes in cycles every eight or ten years – that history repeats itself again and again – that change is driven by the young.

I’ve never quite understood why people feel the need to take sides in any sort of debate. I sometimes watch political debates on TV, or read news stories, and wonder quite what happens to people – to fall in step with their “gang”. It reminds me a lot of people with faith in the various religions – being told what to believe, what to think, what to value.

What happened to people having their own mind? What happened to watching, reading, and deciding for yourself?

I think the most maddening thing I commonly see is people complaining that the news is biased – when what they really mean is “anything that doesn’t agree with what I think is biased”.

Anyway.

While writing this, a little voice perched on my shoulder, whispering “you shouldn’t really write about politics and religion, you know”…

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Life

Loud Thoughts on a Quiet Weekend

It’s been very quiet indeed around here for the last few days. After a scare mid-week where my youngest daughter had to do a COVID test, we have stayed holed up in the house for almost the entire time. I walked to the supermarket last night to get groceries, but other than that we have gone nowhere and done nothing.

I’m beginning to understand what Stir Crazy really means.

Of course the huge distraction this week has been history unfolding in America – and I’ve been trying to do my usual fence sitting act – to read and watch a variety of news sources. It’s so hard – trying to have any empathy at all for those I know that think of themselves as republican. Their ideals and values pretty much go against everything I know – and yet I try not to say anything untoward.

While reading an interview yesterday expressing disbelief that so many people believe the stream of lies, falsehoods, and fraud coming from so many in positions of power, I couldn’t help thinking about all the religious people I know, and thinking how two faced everybody is. How is believing in election fraud any different than believing in a magical creator figure in the sky that gets credit for anything good, and is escaped from the argument for anything bad?

People believe what they want to believe, and there’s nothing we can really do about it.

The world is just tremendously broken. Perhaps we’re fortunate that it doesn’t go spectacularly wrong more often.

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Life

Witnessing History

I stayed up most of last night watching history unfold on the other side of the world – watching what surely must be the end of Donald Trump. Now I wonder what will come of the people that listen to him, follow him, and are inspired by him.

I’m only really connected to the unfolding news through the wonderful people I know that live in America. I’ve come to know their various hopes and dreams, and witnessed their frustrations over the past few years.

It’s a strange experience – being on the outside, looking in.

It occurs to me that we are all re-writing our rule books at the moment – or at least the rule books we hope most people follow – the rule books that govern the things we do, the things we don’t do, and the things we never even contemplate doing.

People are quick to blame social networks as an “enabler”. While the algorithmic timeline has played a part in surrounding us with, and amplifying concordant views, I can’t help feeling that most blame is often employed to shirk responsibility.

There is too much entitlement, ignorance, and apathy in the world at the moment. If everybody cared a little more, and had the courage to stand up for what’s right a little more often, the world would be a very different place.

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Life

Comfortable in my own Skin

I decided about an hour ago that it might be a good idea to update my profile photo everywhere – to better reflect what I have looked like for the last six months or so. It struck me while posting it that something unexpected has happened in recent times – I have become more-or-less comfortable in my own skin. In my thoughts too. Things haven’t always been this way.

When I was young, I was always the gawky kid that didn’t quite fit in. I found it difficult to make friends, and then difficult to maintain friendships. I thought about things too much – I still do – and worried about perceptions of actions and words by those around me.

I wouldn’t say I’ve started to care less about what other people think – I think perhaps I’ve just become a little more confident that my view or outlook is ok – that I’m not a lunatic or monster. If somebody else wants to have an agenda, or a mission, that’s up to them – we don’t have to share opinions, ideals, or world-views. Differences are almost always what make people interesting, and a chance to learn from. I suppose the only problem with that is the most vocal are often the most resistant to other points of view.

It doesn’t help that historically I have sat on the fence about so many things.

For years if questioned about my religious beliefs, I would say I was agnostic – because I didn’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings. These days when questioned, I will freely admit that I have no faith or belief in any sort of higher power. That’s not the same as atheism – by the same logic that you can’t prove the existence of a higher power, you can’t disprove it either. Just because you haven’t observed something yet doesn’t mean it’s not there.

A few months ago I probably lost a few friends while defending J K Rowling’s defence of women’s rights, in the face of an opinionated mob weaponising social media against her. When a public response against such attacks on social media was then signed by several hundred of the foremost writers and thinkers of our time, I will admit to exhaling somewhat.

A similar situation happened about a month after the COVID19 pandemic had swept the world. For a time our prime minister was in hospital, being treated for the virus, and the people were behind him. Then slowly but surely, all manner of keyboard warriors and armchair experts started weighing in on every decision, both past and present. I commented about it on Facebook, and spent an afternoon defending even the thought that I might defend our government. Somebody I used to work with eventually saw my point, and commented “see that’s the thing – you’re a nice person – you’re calm, objective, and reasonable – so you expect others to be too”. There were no more comments after that.

Stepping away from blogging over the last few months has caused quite a bit of reflection – about why I write, what I write, and who I write for. Although I have often stated that I write for myself, if you know any sort of audience is out there, it obviously influences you to an extent. I’ve begun to wonder if I now care less about that audience too – not in a bad way – but it’s difficult to express why.

Maybe it’s a realisation that everybody has their own story – their own journey – and it’s not about worrying what others think – it’s more about being true to yourself, and affording others the chance to do the same.

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Life

Rings, Rabbits, and Flying

I’m not entirely sure where this post is going to go. It’s three minutes until midnight on Sunday night, and you find me sitting in the dark of the junk room, typing like mad at the desktop computer, because I should really be in bed already.

I just spent the last couple of hours watching a wonderful video onYouTube with my other half – a Zoom meeting between the Lord of the Rings cast members organised by Josh Gad (you might know him as Olaf, the snowman, in Frozen). While in lockdown he’s been organising cast reunions of iconic movies, and last week was the turn of the Lord of the Rings.

It was so lovely to see the cast back together again, sharing stories of their time on set together, and reminiscing. I won’t ruin it too much for you – just go look up “One Zoom to Rule Them All” on YouTube.

In other news, I watched the movie “Jojo Rabbit” last night, and it’s been on my mind ever since. If you’ve not seen it, please – just do it. I’m amazed that it was ever made, to be honest – given that a US studio signed off on it. I posted on Facebook about it, and wondered if the studio just didn’t understand the message (you’ll realise what I mean when you figure out which studio paid for it, and their political leanings).

I think perhaps the biggest shame about Jojo Rabbit is that the people who most need to see it and realise it’s about them won’t understand or realise – which almost perfectly explains why America is in freefall at the moment.

Anyway. That got a bit heavy and judgemental.

I’ve been playing with the flight simulator some more, and my respect for airline pilots goes up each time I play with it. I’ve progressed on to a very realistic recreation of the Boeing 737. Tonight I “flew” from London to Groningen, and nearly killed all the passengers after missing some air conditioning switches during the pre-takeoff checklist. Thankfully the plane informed me via a violent klaxon while cruising at 20,000 feet.

I’m still not sure how real-world pilots handle the workload. Perhaps they don’t spend time looking for switches and buttons though – perhaps they’ve learned where they are, what they do, and why they are pressing them.

I really need to go to bed now.

This was a late night blog post on behalf of the “writing a blog post in ten minutes because you feel like you should” party.

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Life

Saturday Morning

Yesterday evening I posted something vaguely political on Facebook, and almost immediately regretted it – not because of the subject matter of my post – because of the mob mentality of many of those that responded.

Why do so many people only see the world from their perspective? Why do so few people consider the bigger picture? It almost seemed that many had been bottling up personal frustrations about anything and everything, and had been looking for an opportunity to vent bile.

Although I managed to halt most of the idiocy, and open a few people’s eyes, I can safely say that I never want to become a politician. Imagine what it must be like – where you balance the advice of expert analysis to make life changing decisions, and no matter what you do, a proportion of those effected will suddenly become much more qualified than the career scientists, economists, biologists, or whoever else about whatever decision you have made.

Anyway.

It’s Saturday morning. I’m holed up in the study, tapping away on the keyboard of the twenty year old iMac, writing this into a text editor most people have not seen for a decade. After saving the words I will copy them over to a file share on the Raspberry Pi, and then check them into a Git repository on the internet. From there I will be able to grab them on the PC across the room, and pollute the world wide web with them.

It sounds insane, but it stops me from becoming distracted mid-sentence, opening a browser tab, and jumping down some rabbit hole or other. I know I’m my own worst enemy.

Yesterday I got out of the house for a few hours with our youngest daughter, and went for a walk in the sunshine (read: baking furnace in the sky). We walked over a nearby hill that looks out over town, and then out along the river and back – about twelve kilometres or so. Along the way we saw geese, cows, and all manner of idiotic people disregarding social distancing rules. There seems to be a link with money and idiocy – the 1% that own the river-side houses seemed to be taking no notice at all of any of the guidance – with friends visiting, children playing in huge groups – you end up having to compartmentalise them in your head, and try to take no notice.

I find myself compartmentalising a lot recently.

Today is a quiet day. The washing machine is running, the sun is shining, my middle daughter is continuing to paint miniature soldiers, and I’m hoping to watch the SpaceX launch later. In a little while I’ll call my parents to see how they are doing, and then the day is my own. I’m thinking a video game, or a book.

We all know I’ll just end up down an internet rabbit hole, don’t we.