I used the title of this post once before, as a sort-of-clever reference in a Buffy posting.
This time I mean it a little more definitively with regard to this here blog. I mentioned on Twitter a while ago that given how little I post here now it might be time to think about retiring it. I wondered if voicing that idea would give me an incentive to get back into it, but that clearly didn't happen, so I'm here in a second-to-last post to reflect on what I think I've achieved in eleven years (to the month) of on-again-off-again blogging.
In terms of pure numbers, I've achieved the following:
2,581 posts (plus this one and the final one) here, plus 125 posts at the temporary home I set up to chronicle my time living in San Francisco. So 2,708 in total.
3,304 comments (plus 102 at Suddenly San Franciscan)
Which astonishingly averages at over 20 posts a month - I must have been INCREDIBLY prolific in the early days to make that work considering the recent record.
Content-wise, I've blogged through working at four companies, including the high and low of starting and ending one of them.
Particularly in the early days, I blogged about TV a lot - Buffy was practically the theme of the early days, but The West Wing, Angel, and of course Doctor Who have all figured strongly, with other random items cropping up from time to time. In fact, half-written and stored in my Drafts for about a year is a post called 'Nostalgist In Search Of A Retrospective' which discusses a bit of a yearning I had for a big old rewatch of something from a box set. Its lack of completion probably tells you what you need to know about whether I ever got round to the viewing.
Also in the early days, I had a whole separate section called IMHO, in which I reviewed everything from comics to books to films to TV to whatever else took my interest. The idea was to exercise my critical thinking muscles as much as I could. It worked up to a point...
Over the years I've been mistaken for a TV genius, an Israeli spy, and a lot of people who have a similar name and oddly work in similar kinds of business. I've also been accused of being too gay, not gay enough and a blasphemer who's going to hell.
I've blogged about cats, holidays, new homes, more 'plane trips than I can possibly count, loads of gay politics stuff, quite a bit of non-gay politics stuff, and done a load of posts that were basically just me sharing weird stuff with the world. Obviously I also blogged about meeting and marrying The Mrs.
I revisted ten of the highlights for the tenth anniversary this time last year, so I won't dwell on them again, but feel free to look at April 2011 if the urge comes upon you.
When I started out, it was largely because a bunch of my real-life friends were doing so and I thought I'd see what all the fuss was about. I never imagined I'd take to it as wholeheartedly as I did (for the first x years anyway), nor that I'd find it such a productive and generally positive outlet. Most of those real-life friends stopped blogging a while ago, though Dave has just revitalised his blog as if to show me up for the quitter I am. I don't in any way regret the time it occupied or the often brilliant discussions I had with people through it - there was a very engaged little community here at one point who frequently brightened my days. And indeed nights during that epic stint of insomnia that led to so many middle-of-the-night postings.
So it's been fun, and worthwhile for the most part. But having it sitting here with me posting to it once in a blue moon (if that) feels a bit dishonest - as if I want to be able to say I still blog without any of the commitment actually to doing so. So I shall be shutting up shop. I'm not going to delete it - the world may once again need to know what I thought of Much Ado About Nothing, or find my recipe for gingerbread, or uncover what I was doing in May 2002 for some inexplicable reason, and I occasionally use it myself to look up stuff I know I wrote about. But it will be closed, and I won't be reopening it. I may find some other outlet, or a new reason to start something different, but it won't be More a way of life...
Holy crap this feels self-indulgent. Enough.
New year: New rash promise to self to be better about blogging. We'll see.
2012 got off to a very quiet start - our now traditional dinner party for the friends who live within five minutes walk benefitted from The Mrs and I being unusually organised about things well in advance, but suffered from everyone being a bit knackered. So the usual post-midnight extension of dinner via a big cheese selection and the evening via several rounds of a random game didn't really materialise, and we saw them off around 1am and were in bed by 1.30. I'm sure it was just the general tiredness, but the hyper-hospitable part of me has been fretting ever since that it was a bit of a rubbish evening.
When not entertaining over the break we gave a fair chunk of time over to the new Star Wars MMO, The Old Republic, which The Mrs for one has been eagerly anticipating for at least two years, and which I have to admit is very effectively filling the gap that my complete turning-off from World of Warcraft had left. I'm in no way as gripped by it as The Mrs, but there's a lot to be said for running around swinging a lightsaber and using the Force to throw heavy objects at bad guys. Makers Bioware have captured the feel of the films really, really well.
As of last night a couple of our old WoW-playing mates have come and joined us on our server, we've formed a little guild, and suddenly the social aspect of the game, which is the thing that makes MMOs work for me in ways that most computer games don't (as previously discussed here more than once) has a chance to take off and really make the game come alive. I shall probably be mentioning this more in the future.
In other news, The Mrs has finally been able to talk about the Top Secret Project that occupied much of his time in the latter half of last year here, so I'm happy to be able to bask in a bit of reflected cool.
How do you end a series that started in 1963; that for a generation or more defined the American superhero genre like no other, and that is the only one of the Silver Age Marvel series still being published in its original volume and numbering?
And do you do it differently if you know that you're relaunching it the following month?
I'm not sure what writer Kieron Gillen would have done with the version of Uncanny X-Men #544 in the first situation, because he finds himself squarely in the second, and the 'final' issue of Uncanny he's opted for probably wisely sets the stage for what's to come as much as it reflects on what came before. After all, doing a big elegiac wrap-up of an era that you just know is going to have a "See you next month!" promo stuck at the end is a fairly self-defeating exercise.
The set-up is that coming out of recent X-Men event series Schism, the X-Men are splitting along ideological lines. One side, the side coming back in Uncanny #1 next month, is the team led by Cyclops who believe that the survival of the species requires that every mutant be potentially regarded as a combatant, even the kids. So the kids who are staying, including most notably the new team led by Hope, are aware that they're putting themselves in the firing line along with the adults who are happy to put them there. The central role of youth-as-warrior in the entire history of the team is highlighted extremely well (and extremely subtly) by a reuse of the art from the very first page of issue #1 with new dialogue reflecting the changed situation since. That first issue went on to have Professor X send his teenage students into combat against Magneto. Cyclops is maybe not so far away from Professor X's example as is usually suggested.
This issue goes on to counterpoint the final departures from current headquarters Utopia with the scheming of one of the more interesting 'later generation' X-villains, Mr Sinister, whose long term manipulation of the team, and the Summers family in particular, is revisited, showing by his accurate predictions of their various behaviours exactly how big a threat he can (and inevitably will) be to the entire X-family.
In the course of twelve or so issues, Gillen has rapidly established himself as one of the better X-Men writers of recent years, and this issue, serving as the epilogue not only to almost fifty years of the series, but also to Schism, does the closure thing without making it maudlin, but also opens up storylines for the new start.
I'm not a huge fan of artist Greg Land's current porno-tracing style, though he's toned things down of late, and this final outing actually has some nice moments in it - the best I'll say for it is that it doesn't detract from Gillen's story.
The X-Men have had their ups and downs creatively over the decades, but they've been, and remain, one of the strongest concepts in superheroics, and an important part of my cultural landscape for most of my life. Though I've drifted from comics a couple of times, it's always the X-Men that have initially drawn me back. If they were ending 'properly' I'd obviously be sadder than I am - as it is I'll give Gillen and Land (but mostly Gillen) credit for a well-crafted, dignified close with a hint of the promise of the new beginning.
We recently (ie in the last few months) discovered Minecraft down our way, and oh my word it's fun.
It's a game with no goals but those you set yourself - no quests, missions, minigames or anything like that - just a world you're plonked into in which you need to survive (there are monsters that come out at night, or in any area of darkness), strive and (ideally) thrive. To do this you recover materials from the world around you and use them to construct... well, pretty much anything you like, really.
The game's presented in a wonderfully retro style - all cubic blocks and chunky landscapes - and from the moment you arrive it's yours to do with as you like.
The game's still officially in beta, with official launch next month, and can be played in single- or multiplayer modes. Singleplayer has its charm; you have to live completely on your wits and ingenuity; but I've rapidly learned to love multiplayer. The main reason is that The Mrs is running a server on which some of our old Warcraft friends are playing with us, and because of the time difference, we're only on at the same time occasionally. Which means that when we get on, we get to go and see what the others have been doing in our absence - an enormous fortress in a cliff, a pyramid of sand out in the desert, it could be anything.
Something I've discovered to my surprise is that I'm quite enjoying engineering projects; not a thing that would usually be the case in games or in life. I've been developing a rail network between our various holdings, making use of the switches, levers and power sources built into the game to develop quite complicated switching between lines, and I'm currently embarked on a side project that should be a lot of fun before I go back to develop the rest of the network and build actual stations, etc.
I'm a rank amateur at creating stuff in Minecraft though - check out some of this stuff to see the kind of vision some people are applying to the game (not all of the embedded videos in this page are still there, by the way).
(This started out in my mind as quite focused, but became less so as I wrote it. Apologies for any lack of coherence.)
Thirteen years ago today, Matthew Shepard was lured to a remote rural spot, tied to a fence, tortured and left for dead. When he was found unconscious the next day the person who found him initially thought he was a scarecrow. He died in hospital without regaining consciousness five days later. His murderers each received two life sentences, one having made a deal against the other to avoid the death penalty. Their girlfriends testified at their trial that they had set out to target a gay man, which Matthew was.
Matthew Shepard's murder is seen by many as a defining moment in the long history of anti-LGBT violence. It shocked his own community of Laramie, Wyoming, and galvanised the wider American gay world to address the problem of hate crimes as they affected LGBT people. As a consequence of the Shepard murder President Clinton attempted to add crimes targeting the community (as well as those against people with disabilities and women) to existing hate crimes legislation but was defeated in Congress. The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr Hate Crimes Prevention Act as the legislation was finally called, eventually became law in 2009 and encompassed sexual orientation, gender identity (actual or perceived) and disability to the hate crimes designation.
I'm not planning on debating the thorny topic of hate crimes legislation, but I do feel like discussing the wider subject of plain old hate. Last month 14-year-old Jamey Rodemeyer committed suicide after a relentless campaign of bullying by his schoolmates, the latest in a depressingly long list of queer teens who've seen no way out of their despair but to end their lives. The It Gets Better Project is doing an amazing job in getting the message out that there can be a better solution, but clearly the hill to climb is huge. And the fact is that following his death those schoolmates who bullied Jamey ended up chanting that he was better off dead at a homecoming dance. To my mind that goes somewhere past a bullying mentality and into the realms of ingrained hatred. Among schoolchildren in 2011... which puts all the progress it sometimes feels we've made and are making into context.
It's hard to put into words how directly I sometimes feel this indirect, unfocused hatred. I see politicians like those who want to be the next Republican President of the US lining up to burnish their anti-gay credentials by signing vicious pledges to prevent our relationships being legally recognised, (and standing silently while the audience at one of their 'debates' booed a gay American soldier), I hear the leaders of groups like the American Family Association and the Family Research Council, treated as respectable commentators in the media, spewing hatred against me and people like me without ever meeting me or knowing anything about me. The leader of the FRC, for example, maintains that there's no correlation between anti-gay bullying and gay teen depression and suicide - in his twisted mind it's because LGBT kids know that there's 'something wrong with them' that causes them to kill themselves. (And note that those groups also on principle tend to hate non-Christians, Native Americans, non-white Americans and generally anyone not exactly like them - equal opportunity bigots, basically.)
On this side of the Atlantic this week, in a move I'll happily give him credit for, David Cameron announced that he supports gay marriage, not in spite of being a Conservative, but because he's a Conservative. From the leader of a party which inflicted Section 28 on this country barely more than twenty years ago, this is huge, and taken in isolation could be seen as a very positive sign. But of course there was the inevitable religious backlash (against an updating of a civil status - I see no point on which they have room to comment), and it's in the context of an increase in anti-LGBT (especially T) crime in the UK. So I can be relatively sure that David Cameron wouldn't want to kick my head in just for existing, but I can't say the same of everyone I encounter in the street.
I tend to count myself as lucky - I've only ever been on the receiving end of actual or threatened violence three times because of my sexuality. I've been on the receiving end of personal verbal attacks more times than I can count, and of indirect ones (every time I read the outpourings of the more extreme homophobes) even more frequently. But hate crime laws and an inch-by-inch more theoretically progressive society just don't ever quite rid me of the expectation that at some point I'll be on the receiving end of some form of anti-gay hatred again.
People who are in my Google+ Circles will already know that I got rather depressed when I heard that the legislature in North Carolina had voted to put an amendment to the state constitution to their electorate which would enshrine an anti-same-sex definition of marriage into that document. They're far from the first state to have done so, but given that same-sex marriage is already banned by statute in the state, this just feels unnecessary, vindictive and divisive. It may not pass, of course, but whether it does or doesn't, the thing that depressed me is that there are people who hate me and others like me so much - people who've never met us and know nothing of our lives - that they want to see discrimination against us written into the documents which define the very nature of their union.
I think that a bit of depression is reasonable off the back of that.
But: in the coverage of this I've seen that dull old saw about 'choice' in regard to sexual orientation has been trotted out again. For as long as I can remember my standard response to this is to question why anyone would choose to be a target of prejudice, discrimination, abuse, violence and occasionally murder. To ask what the questioners think is so attractive about being on the receiving end of their hatred that millions of people through recorded history would have 'chosen' it. I've never had a response to this question that made even the smallest sense, so I still have no idea why on earth anyone would think I'd chosen to love men.
I also hear a lot about this 'lifestyle' I've 'chosen', as if something as fundamental as my basic emotional core is the same as deciding to live on a commune, or being vegetarian. Or, I don't know, deciding to attend a church. I know that for many people choices like those are deep and significant ones, but they are choices - lifestyle choices if you will. That's not what being LGBT is.
Chief among the messages about lifestyle and choice I've seen in this debate is the view of Senator James Forrester, the leading sponsor of this amendment, who at a town hall meeting on the subject said "we need to reach out to them and get them to change their lifestyle back to the one we accept".
That's a chilling statement from any legislator in a democracy. It's worse when uttered at an event organised by a group with a mission to get people across America to "vote the bible". The fundamental (and I use the word advisedly) point here is that "changing a lifestyle to one we accept" is not a viewpoint which stops at the destruction of any security gay relationships might conceivably one day be afforded. This is a viewpoint that will trample over any dissenting religion; that will go on to require women return to the status of possession in their marriages, and work to ensure that their reproductive rights vanish. This is the viewpoint of tyrants, not democrats.
But returning to the point that I started from here several days ago, (contant distractions is my excuse), I'm left thinking that this thing about choice could all be looked at from another perspective. If sexual orientation is a choice - it's not, obviously - and I (for example) have chosen to be gay, doesn't that mean people like Senator Forrester have chosen to be (presumably) straight? If it's possible to choose, then that choice must largely be between two or more equally viable options. So all those straight people like the Senator and his ilk actually find men attractive, but have simply chosen to focus their attention on women.
Now that I think about it, that could explain why so many flaming homophobes turn out to be flaming queens :- )
There's a bit of a tradition on this here blog that has seen me occasionally wax a bit lyrical about Autumn, usually at the start of September, when it feels like the season is about to be upon us.
I tend to quote Keats ("Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness" and all that), and talk about how even though it feels a slightly melancholy season, I think Autumn's my favourite time of year.
So here I am doing it again, and finding myself at a point where the melancholy is quite strong. I'm feeling a bit morose at the moment; slightly regretful about some things, and in need of snapping myself out of a bit of a funk.
Which I suppose fits well with a season that's one of the 'change' ones.
So welcome to September, to Autumn, and to the possibility of change
By way of a change from the last few rants:
Courtesy of some channel surfing on the part of The Mrs, he discovered, and found himself enjoying an episode of, The Good Wife, which led to a Season One boxset coming into the house and several evenings given over to a couple of episodes at a time. It's a million miles away from the geeky fare that usually grabs the attention of us both, having no aliens, spaceships, time travel or dysfunctional cartoon families in it, but despite that we're both really gripped by it.
For those not in the know, it's the story of one of those 'stand by your man' wives caught on the periphery of a political/sex scandal and forced to return to her former career as a lawyer when her husband is jailed. Julianna Margulies (really good here) is the wife in question, and the ongoing stories weave between her legal cases, the law firm, her family/home life as she deals with her teenage kids and an absent husband, and the husband's political and legal wrangles as he tries to recover from the scandal and overturn his conviction. There are multiple layers to each of these too, with her new boss being her old law school flame, for example. There's a great cast assembled around the lead, and the individual stories are generally pretty strong.
I'm not going to delve too much into reviewing the detail, because at this point we're viewing stories that are two years old, but I did want to recommend it.
And also to note that having thought about it, it seems to be holding both our interest by existing at a conjunction between two types of TV series we each individually like. For me, it's squarely in the LA Law school, a series I absolutely loved back in the day, and plays in that same 'office politics and relationships mixed with courtroom drama' space.
For The Mrs, I think the secret is in his description of the series to someone as "It's only a legal drama to the extent that House is a medical drama". House, a series he loves and I can't stand, is absolutely one of those that he'll consume an entire season of at a sitting, and I can see where he makes a connection between it and The Good Wife structurally.
We're into the final third of Season One, with the whole second season ahead of us before we're caught up on the US screenings. Worth a look.
On Tuesday night David Cameron, political leader of this country on a mandate of 36.1% of the popular vote and a minority of seats in Parliament, finally lowered himself to return from the holiday we pay for after a mere four days of the worst civil unrest in a generation in his capital city and several others.
When he got back he recalled Parliament for an emergency session and as I noted on Wednesday, made all sorts of vacuous noises about "values... and personal responsibility" and generally acted like the pompous, privileged wanker he is.
Then in the debate yesterday he advocated the use of water cannons, 'baton rounds' (that's apparently shotgun rounds that don't kill people. But can blind them) and legislation to allow police officers to force people to remove hoods if they're wearing them, while also noting that closing down social media channels should also be an option.
Yes - he wants the police to be able to dictate what people can wear, to shoot troublemakers, and to shut down people's access to communication systems. Sounds a lot like the policies of the regimes he was supporting opponents of only a few months ago, doesn't it? How quickly the times change. And don't get me wrong, I'm not in any way equating people throwing off repressive regimes with the Comet smash and grab crowd. But I am equating reactionary political leadership with reactionary political leadership.
I know people who would have wound up slap bang in the middle of a riot earlier this week if they hadn't seen warnings about their area on Twitter. But their safety would apparently just be another victim of Cameron's urgent need to look like he's doing something. Which he isn't. Unlike the thousands of people who organised mass clear-ups of the trashed cities via... what was it now.. oh yes, Twitter.
To understand why our supposed leader's unmitigated catastrophe of a response to this situation, tied to a stunning unwillingness to acknowledge *any* responsibility for it, is so offensive, you have to understand where the man comes from.
And where he comes from is a background of extreme privilege, which led him to one of the most exclusive and expensive schools in the country and time at Oxford University which saw him join the Bullingdon Club, whose purpose is basically to eat the kind of meals that cost more than most people spend on food in a month, get violently drunk, and occasionally trash the premises of various establishments they find themselves in or near. It's a lifestyle rooted in a mindset that reveres excess, self-indulgence and ostentatious consumption, and David Cameron is so immersed in it, it's hard to imagine him even comprehending the way the huge majority of his electorate live their lives - especially as there's never the smallest hint of empathy with *anyone* not just like him on display.
An illustration: this is a man who tried to explain how very unconventional his wife is by noting that she was only a day pupil, not a boarder, at her posh school. That's right: he thinks that *not* being a boarder is an indication of unconventionality...
So this is the man in whose privileged hands all our rights and privileges rest. Whose warped sense of what's normal dictates what we're all going to be allowed to do, say and wear. Whose entire background and upbringing (and of course his actions and decisions) marks him out as of that class who instinctively feel they know better than the rest of us.
There's a certain amount of talk of an 'underclass' in the debates following the riots and looting, which suggests that in some people's minds there's also an overclass.
I wonder who on earth would think of himself belonging in that?
The last few days have been slightly surreal at More a way of life Towers. The Mrs and I were away at the weekend, so only had a rough sense of the trouble on Saturday night from comments on Twitter and a bit of news we saw. Sunday night we got home knackered and crawled into bed fairly swiftly, so it was only really on Monday that a sense of what had been happening filtered in.
And then Monday night hit and suddenly everything got *really* strange. From early evening the news was recounting trouble in various places, but far more, Twitter was full of references to things "kicking off" all over the city. It rapidly became hard to tell what was a real situation and what was just rumour, speculation or plain old mischief. What did become increasingly clear is that the actual situation, wherever it was happening, was spreading and worsening in its ferocity. The footage of that furniture store ablaze in Croydon was, I suspect for others as much as for me, the moment when the real violence of the situation really hit. The sight of the flames entirely engulfing that block, encroaching on the property around it and threatening homes, lives and livelihoods indiscriminately - that was the moment when I felt London was suddenly an odd, alien place. Not a thing you expect after living in a city for more than twenty years.
And all the while the tweets were flying - Lewisham's trouble was online well before it was on the news, likewise trouble in leafy, suburban Bromley of all places. We were in an odd little bubble between three or four sites of conflict, so although it didn't hit us, there were sirens going by in every direction until the small hours, and helicopters passing overhead all night.
What the news was showing was a lot of property damage, and a lot of looting in the midst of it all. Having been away for the start of things, it wasn't until Tuesday that I saw coverage of the peaceful protest in Tottenham on Saturday that at least ostensibly formed the trigger point for the ongoing trouble. It's obviously hard to see the connection between a group of people protesting the death of a man at the hands of the police (and in particular his family's difficulty in getting answers to their questions about the event) with gangs of people on the other side of London smashing in Currys shop windows and having off with a 40" flat screen TV, but an awful lot of column inches have been given over to people trying to make it.
I'm certainly not going to play armchair sociologist, but I'm in no way deaf to the argument that people left shafted by years of political and financial malfeasance and the creation of a society where the people with least end up paying the most to put right the situation created by the greedy and the mega-rich may seize an opportunity to rebel. What is harder to get is why so many of them ended up striking out at homes and businesses in their own communities, damaging the property and lives of their neighbours, many of whom probably share their situation. The only assumption I can make is that they don't feel that they are their communities. Certainly most of those involved who have been willing to be interviewed (that I've seen) haven't articulated their reasons in political or social terms; it's seemed more like it's about an ill-focused 'anger', a sense of exclusion/injustice and being swept up in a mob mentality that ends with them getting 'stuff' that they wouldn't usually be able to afford. And that overrides any sense of fellow feeling that might put the brakes on smashing a window, nicking some trainers, or setting fire to a building people live in. It's hard to imagine anyone who felt they had a stake in their community being quite so carried away.
Conversely of course, the #riotcleanup hashtag brought out those who actually do feel part of the decimated communities (and the wider community - I know people from all over London who descended on the trashed zones with their brushes and binbags yesterday). The pride displayed in Tweets noting that the clean-up had been organised in a matter of hours when it had taken the vile David Cameron four days even to say anything on the situation, let alone come back from his swanky Tuscan holiday, was more than justifiable. The news last night was full of a wide cross-section of Londoners helping to repair their city even while knowing that their work could be undone if Monday's events were repeated. (And note - 'wide cross-section': A surprising number of people seem somehow only to have seen the non-white participants in the looting. I wonder if they were reversely affected when watching the clean-up.)
Yesterday evening, the city felt really, REALLY odd. I walked home down our local high street, where the shops were all closed far earlier than usual (boarded up in some cases), small groups gathered at bus stops and on corners, and there was a strange feeling/tension in the air. I felt that these groups were standing watch - not waiting to take part in trouble, but to prevent it, the way members of other communities had stood up to the rioters and looters the night before. And again, Twitter was full of contradictions - some blatantly false statements about shops being looted alongside the kind of message I could have posted; "I'm standing right outside the shop in question and NOTHING IS HAPPENING". I can't fathom what people thought they were achieving in posting outright lies in such a potentially volatile situation.
In the end of course, the massive police presence quietened London down while other cities bore the brunt, while we spent the night waiting to hear sirens and helicopters again.
And this morning we're back to hearing Cameron mouthing nonsensical platitudes; promising "a society with a clearer code of values, a focus on better parenting and more personal responsibility" and nothing actually tangible while utterly ignoring any of the legitimate questions about his government's policies and their impact on the society he's theoretically leading. While letting the banks away with ever-more-flagrant pisstaking, attempting to dismantle most of the support mechanisms for those least able to support themselves, and watching his Chancellor getting ready to abolish the highest rate of tax for the highest earning.
This is our city. This is our country. This is our leadership. We're fucked, basically.