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EUrgh: The Referendum Debrief

The votes have been counted, and Britain is on its way out of the European Union. Today is a volatile day, filled with elation for some, and sadness for others. As a 21-year-old university student from Cambridgeshire, I was destined to be firmly in the Remain camp. But that was not the winning side, and I stand here now needing to take in the reality and consider how I go forward into it.

I did not want this. I wished, hoped, and foolishly somewhat expected Britain to vote to stay in the EU. And that was despite my ongoing cynicism towards this country’s electorate. When Cameron first announced the prospect of a referendum were he to gain power in last year’s general election, I was of the view that this was a terrible decision. Not because I was afraid of one result over the other, but because I wasn’t sure that the average voter would be well enough informed on the potential benefits and risks of each option. Frankly, I’m of the belief that these sorts of decisions should be made by the elected leadership of the country, with consultation of experts and intelligent, calm and measured debate. Of course, this is all possible in a nationwide referendum too. How painfully predictable it was that this was not the discourse of the shambolic campaigning and counter-campaigning that unfurled. Both sides had many legitimate arguments, with strong, well-reasoned ideas of what could benefit Britain. Both sides also had flaws, which if admitted to by both could lead to a knowledgeable, informed public knowing their options, and plumping for one side of the debate based on this. However, rather than proceed to run politics in this way, the run up to the vote was peppered with blatantly misconstrued statistics (£350m a week given to the EU?) and wholly unjustified fear-mongering (WW3? ‘Swarms’ of ‘vermin’?). Some people tried to debunk figures, while others tried to re-humanise The Sun’s victims, trying to get the public to view, for example, a Romanian doctor working for the NHS as a human person, trained as a doctor, rather than a job-stealing, benefits-claiming untermensch with a bomb strapped to his chest on a hell-bent mission to strip away England’s culture and replace it with propaganda for Daesh wrapped around a bowl of borsch.

But, regardless of the campaigns and their strategies, we voted to leave. I want now to clarify that I do not think of leave voters as any less British, any less patriotic, or any less sensible than remain voters, as the vast majority will have considered the evidence and come to a decision which they feel is best for the country. However, I fell betrayed by a governmental campaign that felt the need to appeal to xenophobia and fear by portraying the worst of people. People have been misled, and it’s not their fault.

Moving on into a non-EU Britain, there’s a lot to be revealed before panic should begin. There were a number of strong arguments for leaving the EU, and it is now time to allow space and time for these benefits to shine. In the meantime, there will be economic uncertainty, and there will be animosity. I’m gutted that my immigrant friends will have a horrible few years, and I’m very worried about job opportunities in my chosen career. However, all we can do now is get through the mist, into the clear of the other side. We do not know what will happen, and we do not know how other nations will react. Until we do, the only certainty is that we’ve chosen to isolate ourselves. I for one hope we made the correct decision.

Pewsey: Valed in Mystery

It’s been a long while since I last blogged. But I’ve been uncharacteristically busy as well as characteristically lazy. A combination of the two has really stunted the growth of this blog. Anyway, now that I’m back home with not a whole lot to do, I thought I should probably attempt to write something again. Unfortunately I’ve not come across anything recently that’s made me want to write about it in a slightly sarcastic manner. As such, this will be more of a reflective piece about what’s actually happened in my life in the last couple of months.

This summer I properly began my journey into the world of archaeological fieldwork. Not an unexpected use of my team I suppose, as I am studying for a degree in archaeology. But my university’s field school, at the Vale of Pewsey, will be the main focus of this post. A month in a tent has never been an idea that’s much appealed to me, and I stand by the fact that brick walls were really a rather spiffing idea. But it could’ve turned out to be a lot worse, after all we had real showers. Now, as my first experience of a dig where I was actually taught what to do, it was a lot of fun, as well as being lot of hard work. Starting with a humble post pad, I got a decent run through the world of paperwork, from context sheets to plans with a nice little stop off at the section drawing café. After that came the ditch intersection. Now, I don’t want to bore you with an explanation of that utterly horrible ditch, but I also want you to appreciate and possibly hate it as much as I did. Even though I ended up digging it with someone who would become a good friend, it was not a kind ditch. You see, most of the time in archaeology, if you’re digging a ditch and find some of the natural geology it’ll be the edge of bottom of the ditch. This one however decided that that was a tad too cliché and instead blessed us with 5 layers of redeposited natural to curse at instead. Of course this can be put down to my friend’s ‘curse’ of having everything she touches turn to redeposited natural. Even when I’d definitely found the edge of the ditch, as testified by not one but two experienced supervisors, she tapped it and lo and behold it turned out to be redeposited natural. Apologies for that rambling story, but hopefully you now have some appreciation of how redeposited natural is the worst thing ever. I blame the Romans. What did they ever do for us?

Besides that though the dig was very exciting and important. A very exciting human burial was discovered in one trench (not mine), a range of beautiful Neolithic tools were found (not by me) and a Neolithic building was carefully excavated (not by me, as you may have guessed). But, thanks to my rubbish back preventing me from any actual digging for the last week or so, I got really good at context sheets, and isn’t that what we all dream about anyway?

However a dig is obviously not all about the archaeology, and living in a field with a group of people for a month really does get quite weird. There were some very strange nicknames – Name, Herr Oberst, [5132] and Kev just to name a few – and quite the large amount of drama. Dig parties really can get weird, and sometimes they end with a wise wizard snapping tent poles via intervention from a tall man clearly so jealous of Short Man Syndrome that he wanted a piece of the action. Good for him for smashing those stereotypes though, good on you, you lanky progressive campaigner you. On the other hand I really did meet some properly great people, and I’m glad I did, because without that lot the dig wouldn’t have been nearly as fun. So all in all, some really great archaeology, none of which I got to dig, some brilliantly fun and funny new friends, and drama better than anything the BBC’s ever aired made for a damn good month. Sorry for such a positive post, I’ll try to find more things to poke with a metaphorical stick next time.

A Bridge to the Neolithic

Long Barow

While procrastinating from doing an essay by going on reddit, I came across this article: http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2003/10/13/jumpers about suicide jumpers from the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. It’s an interesting article and a good read, but one particular sentence stuck out. When discussing the repeated requests for a suicide barrier to be installed, Gladys Hansen, apparently the city’s unofficial historian, argued that it’s “A monument, a monument to death”. The reason this piqued my interest so is because it’s eerily similar to what my essay’s on – Neolithic burial monuments. In the Neolithic period, people had very different ideas about how the dead should be treated, where they should be placed to rest etc. In that time the most important aspect was post-death. Whether they were concerned with grave goods – what the departed would need in the afterlife, what would most effectively portray them in material possessions etc. – or whether they were worried more about how they would be placed in the grave, or how they would dispose of the body, all the key decisions were about what would happen after they’d joined the choir invisible. In modern times however, a ‘monument to death’ isn’t a long barrow where the person rests indefinitely, but rather it’s from where they chose to end their life.

The Golden Gate Bridge in this context is applicable only to the heartbreakingly common suicides that it enables. Suicide as a death is an equaliser. Tragic in all cases, regardless of the wealth and social status of the person concerned. Perhaps this is why the ‘monument’ is about the death, and not the aftermath. The monuments built to the dead in the Neolithic had no such focus. They were grand structures, used for other purposes (does a bridge have a secondary use?) where their ancestors could be laid and celebrated. There’s a morbid fascination with the suicides from the Golden Gate Bridge, even stretching to a twisted celebration. What can we take from our interest, and how have our attitudes towards death changed from those in the Neolithic, spending 18 million hours on magnificent structures to commemorate?

Paper, Scissors, Goat?

It’s not long ago (in real terms rather than internet years) that that fun little game Flappy Bird was all the rage. And I do mean all the rage. I’m almost certain you’ll have noticed the phenomenon fly by were you not dropped in the midst of it, but for clarification I’ll explain it. There were some Super Mario-style pipes, with a gap in between. You played as a small bird (that changed colour! Oh the wonder of the modern age!), tapping the screen to go up with the objective being to fly unharmed through the gaps to progress on to the next exciting set of pipes that might be considerably higher or lower than the previous pipes. Oh, and there’s a lovely cartoony NYC-esque skyline in the background to create the perfect ambience for playing a game that a woodpecker could beat you at.

After the excitement around Flappy Bird died down, there came a new video game that tickled the fancy of many. A video game that broke boundaries. A game that showed us that there was a different way. A game that allowed you into another world. A game called Goat Simulator. That’s right goat fans, now you can get answers to the age-old question, what is it like to be a goat? The game allows one to roam around in the guise of the mild-mannered mammal, butting and eating along the way. Here’s a game safe from trolls. Kids love it too.

But I know that for some the burden of knowledge about a goat’s life is too much to bear. Some things are just too exciting, so for you restful types, there’s something to allow you a way into the joyful world of simulator games. Where others step into the shoes of a pilot, train driver or goat, you can sit back, relax, and enjoy the show from the point of view of a humble stone. Yes, you read that right, now stop excitedly jumping around and we can explore the possibilities.

For now it’s only an app, but there are surely big things in the future for this game. Stone Simulator is the pinnacle of technology. Edison, Logie Baird, Berners-Lee, Gates, Jobs. They all dedicated their lives to the advancement of technology available to the humble Homo Sapiens and now we can state with certainty that all the toil was oh so very worthwile.

Stone Simulator 1

Yes, that is a screenshot from the wondrous app.

Serene, beautiful, slightly pixelated. All the things one could ever want for their first venture into stonedom! The green cut out only by the roundish grey protagonist, this is a startlingly captured piece of art. The peaks rising and falling, perpendicular to the wind that only the rock can feel, so strong, yet our hero is unmoved.

But I know what you’re thinking, that looks like it would get dull quite quickly. Well fret not dear friend because we are not stuck with the one view, no, stones are famously 3 dimensional, and to know the ins and outs of the stone’s life we must be treated to the whole picture

Stone Simulator 2

Here we are treated to a changed point of view, that encourages as to do as the stone does, look at the world differently, step into others’ shoes and let your empathy grow. See the stone let itself be covered by grass, shifting our focus to the valley created by the looming monuments to nature that guide the eye into the distance, piquing the desire to explore, and yet the stone’s lack of movement reminds us to sit back and enjoy it before going forth in search of new stimulation.

But wait! There’s more!

Stone Simulator 3

We conclude our journey with a front-on look at the stretched mountain. The bare land, devoid of vibrant plant life, emoting emotions most people would think a stone incapable of experiencing.

I hope you’ll take something away from the adventures of our humble friend, its journey is far from over. If you’re just not content, you too can get acquainted with the agile-minded philosopher on the play store.

Your move, paper.

“A Problem With Society”

In my humble group of friends, there’s quite a high proportion of bloggers. And when one friend and I went to visit another couple of mates at their universities, only one of us wasn’t a blogger. Now this friend has some opinions on blogging, however vague they may be. The main part of his attitude towards the pastime is summed up in his telling me that blogging is “not a problem with you, it’s a problem with society”. It’ll come as no surprise that this quip intrigued me somewhat, so much so that I decided I’d like to blog about his attitude to blogging.

Before beginning to write, I felt I needed to get a bit more from him on the subject, he gave me a few, frankly glorious, quotes which I will use to drive my writing on the subject.

He began by impersonating the typical blogger – “Ooh look at how creative I am” being his interpretation. Now, blogging is often a place to showcase creative talent, or what the author staunchly believes to be creative talent, and although he phrased it in a way a five year old may’ve done, he was probably on to something. It’s a very attention-seeking pursuit, is blogging, done often by those craving not only attention but positive reinforcement. It’s definitely one of the more competitive environments, with thousands offering interchangeable products, a marketplace crammed full of millions of the not-quite-good-enoughs and the everyone-said-it’s-bad-but-I-know-I’m-really-a-creative-genius Kanye West types. My friend’s quotes support this, as he eloquently claimed “everyone thinks they’re a creative genius”, going on to complain that “the Internet gives everyone a stage”. I agree with him on this, it’s far too crowded, lots of people are being stopped from witnessing my creative genius on this blog!

My friend’s next irritation was in regards to bloggers’ hipsterish characteristics, as his annoyance lay in the fact that “everyone thinks they’re bohemian, talking about big/abstract things they don’t actually understand”. Well, I think this is pretty similar to the situation with Russia and Crimea as one party thinks they’re the clever one, and everyone should listen to their point of view because they know best while the others just complain about what they’re doing.

He got a bit distracted after that last thought, looking out of the train window, making observations and changing his attitude towards people in general, mumbling “That building was quite cool, everyone’s quite cool”. His ability to focus really is uncanny.

But then we reboarded his faltering train of thought, we got back on track and he came to a sort of conclusion, with him abandoning his objections to the whole concept of blogging and deciding that it’s “not really a problem”. So now we’ve pinpointed that blogging’s not one of the world’s pressing problems, you can all go on with your fears and worries truly allayed. You’re welcome.

Atlantis, Somerset

Here in the UK, that land of tea and crumpets (oh clichés), we’ve been gifted a rather excessive rainfall in recent weeks. So much so that we’ve lost Somerset to Poseidon. The flooding’s been horrific, with large portions of the UK losing power for weeks, being unable to live in their houses and seeing their property destroyed. And now the floods are nearing London, so it’s time for the politicians who live in the next-affected areas to speak up. Natural disasters like these floods present politicians with a lovely opportunity to battle it out to come across as sympathetic and to paint themselves as the heroes of the situation, the men who can pull us out and back into prosperity. It is for that reason that they’ve been plodding around the country, donning their wellies and pawading (that’s parading through water) on the news apologising for the devastation and promising they’ve got the answers. None of the residents seemed overly pleased to see them however, it’s understandable I suppose, when there are 8 inches of water in your living room, a shiny-headed prime minister would not be your first choice of guest.

Because flooding is a natural disaster and in the eyes of politicians has no human scapegoat (unless you’re David Silvester) it provides the opening for a heroic act without that person being accused of being the reason for the floods in the first place. Enter the prime minister. Dave has informed the nation that despite the months of ruthless cuts to government budget that we’ve seen, money is no object and any funds that need to be spent to drain Britain will be spent. This is a blatant attempt at furthering his own personal popularity with a worrying disregard for future ramifications of this claim. People may wonder why we’ve got a blank cheque for dealing with floods but the NHS is being funded from a uni student’s bank account. Also, as BBC political correspondent Iain Watson puts it, his words could be “deliberately misinterpreted by opponents” and used to weaken his campaign in the forthcoming general election. If the floods aren’t dealt with sufficiently then he’ll be accused of going back on his word. Rash politics in a delicate situation, it’s a risky strategy for a man with such a shaky hold of power, and it could have a detrimental impact on the next election. Of course, the threat is unlikely to come from ol’ Clegg. He too has been spotted in flooded areas in his wellies, pledging to work his fuzzy little socks off to help the flooding. And he may well, but as the Conservatives have more say in the government and have already assured the nation of their intent to spare no cash in sorting the problem, any successes may well be jumped upon by Clegg, who you can rest assured will insist he was key in. Conversely, a failure to drain Britain will be wholly the Conservatives’ fault. He still won’t get elected though. And Miliband? I’m not going to discuss him in any depth, he’s the leader of the opposition and as such he’s been joining in, although bringing disappointment and misery to the areas he’s popped up in rather than relief. He’d be more popular if he were just full of sand. Sand works better in floods than hot air.

So putting the politics to the side for a minute, what do the floods themselves mean for the UK? Well for one it’s been a bit wetter than usual. It also seems to be evidence of the damage that global warming is doing. Of course it’s not like Britain is a stranger to water, we’re surrounded by the stuff, but this may well just be the start of a long period where we have to endure this every year. But it may not be. If the flooding is worse next year, then I’ll take to this blog again in a frenzy of fear and dampness. Until then, be safe in the knowledge that the Daily Mail will keep you up to date with the biggest water-related news stories, as they proved with this piece of journalistic excellence: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/tvshowbiz/article-2560118/Lauren-Goodger-jumps-round-puddle-outside-coffee-shop-friend.html. Get that reporter a Pulitzer prize.

A Bear Constrained by a Cage of Bubbles

The Internet is a crazy concept. It’s like a bear, constrained in a cage made of bubbles; immensely dangerous, and contained in a flimsy attempt at restraint masquerading as effective management. But because it looks like a cage, everyone thinks it’s perfectly restricted and nothing could possibly go wrong. For the record, I am wholly aware of what an odd analogy that is, but it’s a fairly mundane result of the thing known to me as my mind. Earlier today I likened a large quantity of milk and sugar in tea to marijuana in the fact that it’s a gateway to stronger, less sweet tea as marijuana is a gateway drug. Slightly laboured, but you may see where it came from. Anyway, bear with me on this Internet analogy.

Throughout many years, across many countries, under many political systems, censorship has been used. Censorship being, basically, a reduction of freedom of speech. It tends to be most prevalent in fascist dictatorships, where the dictator is portrayed as being kind, wonderful and godly, etc. For example, Stalin’s censorship was so extensive he was affectionately known as ‘Uncle Joe’ and was voted the 3rd greatest Russian of all time in a 21st century poll. Censorship these days can take different forms, one being banned from club penguin for saying ‘Lettuce’, for example.

Lettuce

Maybe there’s some sort of anti-lettuce indoctrination happening on Club Penguin and even saying the word is viewed as some sort of blasphemy. It’s possible that the creators have noticed some people who have never got over the sinking of the Titanic and want to protect them from the distress they could experience from a six-degrees-of-separation-style link from Lettuce to Iceberg Lettuce, to Icebergs, to the Titanic. Maybe ‘Lettuce’ is some sort of code word indicating the discovery of a terrorist plot and the banning of this person is a clearer indication than the confiscation of Richard Dawkins’ honey that the terrorists have won.

Then again, it’s probably some sort of mistake.

Recently the study of Russian history, coupled with last year’s NSA revelations, has led me to ponder how any government, or any collaboration of governments, would go about trying to censor the internet.

Tim Berners-Lee had no idea what The World Wide Web would become. It is the greatest avenue for individual thought, sharing of ideas, and garnering of knowledge that has ever existed. It’s created a culture of instant gratification; it’s led to a world where an instant reaction to witnessing a violent crime is to record it. Any video can appear on it, even one of a beheading carried out by a radical terrorist cell. People from other sides of the world can become friends, or violent enemies, almost instantly. Children can receive comments that can lead them to take their own lives. It could allow the meeting of two people who together may make some of the greatest advancements in the field of medicine that have ever been made. It’s not tangible, but it’s always there, dictating our lives without us noticing, or worse, caring. We are all living under a dictator of sorts, we just don’t mind it.

It doesn’t send out a secret police force to kill you if you speak out against it, but it’s been used to assemble groups intent on destruction and even the taking of life. It’s a subtle dictator, but the generations that have grown up with it love it unconditionally, while those who knew a different life lament its impact. And that impact is unquestionable. It’s the only thing of its kind, and the only dictator to encourage open exchange of opinions, because there’s no way it could lose out.

Every single person can have a corner of the Internet to theirself. Be it a Facebook account, Twitter account or a blog. A personal website or a commercial one. A potential platform for each person to voice their ideas from, an infinitely larger potential audience than any historical revolutionary ever had.

It’s growing not only in number of sites, but also in the aspects of life that it’s transformed. The Royal Mail was formed in 1516. The World Wide Web was invented in 1991. And yet the latter has made the former almost obsolete. Now a major portion of the Royal Mail’s business is the delivery of packages ordered from the Internet. All because the ability to order items from the Internet is so much more convenient. The Royal Mail survives thanks to the Internet’s slow murder of the High Street. Thanks to Google Glass soon no one will have to go anywhere without instant access to the entire wealth of human knowledge, you know, that place with all the cat videos.

The rapid move from a system designed to make intra-CERN communications more effective to a global medium that’s engulfing every aspect of human life is frightening. As such, a way to restrict its reach is something that only exists in the realms of fantasy. Many have attempted to stop some parts of the Internet existing or reaching certain peoples, but ultimately the sheer omnipotence of the system that’s fast becoming the core of life as we know it will enable the bear to easily burst such hollow efforts.

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