Day 884: A Greenpeace of My Mind

03.06.11:

There’s a movie that I implore you all to watch: Werner Herzog’s Grizzly Man. It tells the story of an incredibly stupid guy called Timothy Treadwell who thought that the Grizzly Bears of Alaska were his friends. He treated them like pets, like members of his family… and they ate him.

A true, cautionary tale that we should all draw some important lessons from. One is that wild carnivorous animals are not our friends; they deserve our respect and awe, but to them we are nothing but walking slabs of meat. The other is so self evident that it hardly needs to be said, but I’ll say it anyway: don’t f–k with nature, because nature will f–k with you. And you don’t need Dr Frankenstein to explain that you don’t stand a chance.

I’m in Australia at the moment watching with horror as the so-called ‘Liberal’ party (something they are anything but) openly questions the scientific FACT of climate change. Yep, these elderly selfish cretins are so moronic that they honestly think they can change the amount of CO­2 in the atmosphere, the temperature of the sea and, yes, THE WEATHER by voting against it. Shocking, yes. In the UK, there is a cross-party consensus concerning the science of climate change: there may be disagreements on the methods that should be employed to tackle this future ill, but at least they all agree that it’s actually happening and that it’s all our fault.

It’s time to stop asking what Planet Earth can do for us and instead focus on what we can do for Planet Earth. ‘Stop needlessly filling the atmosphere with carbon’ would be a good start.

There are stark parallels between the Australian Liberal party and Timothy Treadwell. Both think they can trump the laws of nature, both believe that they shoo reality away with a bizarre gust of optimism (it’ll be right, mate) and both think that the scientific consensus of the world is wrong and that they are right – with no evidence, no expertise and no scientific understanding or endeavour.

But there ARE crocodiles, and if you swim in the river, chances are they’ll eat you. Misunderstanding the evidence will not save your life.

But this issue is bigger than crocodiles and grizzly bears, it’s an epic tragedy that will affect the lives of everyone and everything on our lovely little planet. Such high drama is worthy of one fella: the Bard of Avon. So I hope you don’t mind me stretching a metaphor like so much Lycra over a massive pair of buttocks, and I also hope you recall a little Shakespeare from high school…

The Liberal party of Australia have nailed their colours to the mast: they and their gormless supporters have proven themselves to be greedy, easy-manipulated, cowardly, unimaginative villains in the grand tradition of epic tragedies of yore. They are the Macbeths of the political landscape, constantly screaming ‘yeah, but what’s in it for ME?’: grand, obnoxious, selfish and guaranteed to come a cropper by the end of Act V.

Then there are villains equally as hopeless, but not necessarily driven by inherent greed or selfishness: they are the Hamlets of the world, caught short by their inaction, indecisiveness and procrastination. They are the politicians and representatives that have seen the evidence, know something must be done, but don’t have the grit necessary to take the bull by the horns and kick it in the bollocks.

The Hamlets’ monumental inability to deal decisively with the ‘something’ that was rotten in the state of Denmark (The Copenhagen Climate Change Summit of 2009, anyone?) has lead them on a merry path to damnation. They could have done something, anything, but they didn’t – they just put off the decision for another few years. Nice one, guys – it’s not like every day it’s getting worse or nuthin’!

Like their namesake, it’s not just the Hamlets that will pay the consequences of their inaction: it’s everyone around them. Instead of seizing the opportunity to cut out the rot before it spreads, they went fishing. Unchecked, that rot will ooze like black tar all over our otherwise groovy planet, until there isn’t a single human, animal, plant or insect that isn’t affected.

But what I find most concerning are the Othellos of this global Shakespearean tragedy: those that have seen the evidence, burn with a desire to do something about it, can do something about it, but go about it in entirely the wrong way. While not the obvious villains of the piece, they turn out to do just as much damage, moreso perhaps. Greenpeace, I’m looking at YOU.

Greenpeace is the poster boy for the environmental movement, but, sadly, it singularly fails in its task of – there is no other way to put this – saving the world. By that I mean the world as we know it, of course the good ship Earth will outlive all of its present life-forms (including us), but (given the choice) I would prefer that ‘our world’ lasted another 100,000 years rather than a mere 100.

How should Greenpeace go about saving the world? By focussing all of its efforts towards stopping the damage we are doing to the atmosphere and encouraging people to have fewer kids. That’s it. Simple, but by no means easy. A noble goal that anyone in their right mind would support.

But what’s this? GM crops? Nuclear power stations? DDT? Whaling?? No offence guys, but who given the scale of the rather monumental task ahead, don’t you think that you should be, you know, concentrating your efforts? If we allow the Macbeths of the world to continue to wreak havoc on a global scale, there won’t be enough crops, genetically modified or otherwise, to feed the unsustainably-increasing population of the world.

Then again, I may find it an unnecessary distraction, but it’s not the division of Greenpeace’s labour that I have a real issue with. I guess pushing for sustainable farming and preserving virgin rainforests have their benefits to the overall scheme of avoiding all things Armageddon.

My real issue is Greenpeace’s inability to push the Hamlets into action and whip the Macbeths into submission. Note I used the word ‘inability’ there: it’s not like I think they don’t want to, it’s that I believe they can’t. Why? Because they keep kicking away the one weapon that they desperately need to slay the Tony Abbots of the world. That weapon, ladies and gentleman, is SCIENCE.

Greenpeace has an uneasy relationship with science. They seem to see it as an enemy, possibly because Greenpeace activists are, by-and-large, drawn from the Storms of the world rather than the Tim Minchins.

While Greenpeace continues to battle scientific consensus and the very foundations of scientific reasoning, the impasse will remain, while the impasse remains the atmosphere ain’t getting any cleaner.

Greenpeace’s quixotic battle against Genetically-Modified crops is one of their more bizarre and counter-productive crusades. Joining forces with the likes of The Sun newspaper and David Icke, they denounce GM crops as ‘Frankenstein Food’ and make claims (utterly refuted by all scientific studies) that it causes cancer.

Newsflash, people: you know dogs? Yeah, dogs: those annoying yappy shit-machines that bring love and support to the olfactorily challenged?

Genetically. Modified. Wolves.

Over thousands of years of selective breeding we now have a magical cornucopia of doggie breeds, from the Chihuahua to the Doberman. We did that! Humans! Meddling with nature! Woohahahaha!

You know Brussels sprouts? Those nasty little orbs of solidified fart that your auntie forces you to eat at Christmas?

Genetically. Modified. Cabbage.

As is cauliflower. And broccoli for that matter.

If it wasn’t for humans meddling with the forces of nature, Chihuahuas and Brussels Sprouts would not exist. And neither would Friesian cows, Clydesdale horses, Vietnamese pot-bellied pigs, garden strawberries, Granny Smith apples or King Edward potatoes. We made ’em all, through years of selective breeding, modifying the genetic code like crazed Dr. Frankensteins intent on world domination. But with CABBAGE!

Have these marvellous inventions increased the amount of suffering in the world? Have they caused untold damage to the delicate global eco-system? Have they wiped out civilisations, pulled apart communities or given people cancer? No. No, they haven’t. Is Greenpeace’s objection to GM crops based on any scientific reasoning whatsoever? No. But what they are saying is this: scientists are not to be trusted, go with how you feel about something, not the actual evidence.

Nice one, Greenpeace! So let’s ignore the research carried out by NASA, Universities all around the world, the Met Office and the Royal Society in favour of our gut instincts. You can see where this is going…

And then there is the spectre of nuclear power. Now while I agree that the world would be a much more lovelier place if it wasn’t for nuclear weapons, I cannot say the same about nuclear power. 75% of France’s power is nuclear. If they upped their ante on renewable power and got everyone to convert to electric cars, they could be the first carbon-neutral country in the world in just five years. Not bad for a country of 63 million people.

And why should we not be using nuclear power? Because it is perceived to be dangerous. But how dangerous? As unhealthy as making men dig in South American coal mines? As dangerous as a Qatari gas tanker filled to the brim with ultra-flammable fuel sailing through Somali pirate waters? As bad for the environment as deep-sea oil drilling? As bad for the economy as relying on the tyrannical regimes of the Middle East for our electricity? According to all the available data, no. According to Greenpeace, yes.

Again after Fukushima (as after Chernobyl) there was much pulling of hair and gnashing of teeth from the environmental brigade, and (as after Chernobyl) their apocalyptic fantasies failed to come true. More coal miners died in the Pike River mine disaster in New Zealand last year than died tackling the partial meltdown in Fukushima. Let’s put this into context: this plant was hit by one of the five biggest earthquakes in recorded history. It was then hit by a 14 metre wall of water: an unprecedented attack in the history of nuclear power.

And what is the reported death toll from the clean-up operation? One. Yup. One person shuffled off this mortal coil – and that was from a heart attack. There is a leakage of radioactive isotopes around the immediate area, but can we please put this into context? 25,000 people died on that awful day in March, and so far not a single person has been killed by radiation poisoning. The Fukushima exclusion zone (at its height) was 20km around the plant. Compare that to the 80-square-mile (210 km²) “kill zone” surrounding the blown Deepwater Horizon oil well in the Gulf of Mexico. So far two people have been hospitalised by radiation poisoning in Fukushima. 500 people have been hospitalised in Europe from eating ORGANIC CUCUMBERS.

I can’t stress this enough: just because nuclear power is complicated, it doesn’t mean it is inherently more dangerous than coal, oil, gas or even – yes – ORGANIC CUCUMBERS. Fossil fuel – even when NOTHING GOES WRONG – is substantially worse for the miners, transporters, the global economy, local environment and, of course, the whole bloody planet.

Nuclear power could save us, save the whole goddamn world, but is Greenpeace pushing for investment, research, safety procedures, more plants? No. They’re pushing to have no plants whatsoever. Why? Because scientists ain’t to be trusted.

Isn’t that EXACTLY what batshit crazies like Tony Abbot, Sarah Palin and THE ENTIRE FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY are saying? Don’t trust the hard science, don’t peruse the facts, just come up with your own judgement based on how you feel.

This makes me furious – and I’m not even a scientist. I haven’t spent my life drilling ice cores in the Antarctic, corralling weather balloons, studying glacier retreat in the Himalayas, analysing meta-data from temperature monitoring satellites all over the world… I haven’t done anything to make you live longer, invented anything to make your days more entertaining nor perfected a formula that will make you more comfortable. Scientists have, and despite the fact that we’re an ungrateful bunch of bastards, science is not going to give up on us – it’s going to keep on searching for a cure for cancer, working out new and wonderful ways for us to communicate, it’s going to keep the internet running smoothly, our planes in the air, food on our shelves, power in the grid and our air-bags ready to spring from nowhere and save our lives.

This isn’t Lord of the Flies. If we burn down This Island Earth, a helpful ship isn’t going to come and rescue us. There isn’t going to be a Deus Ex Machina ending to all this, since if there ever was a Deum (which I doubt) he packed his bags and left this place a long time ago my friend.

The environmental movement, if it is to drown out the non-committal drone of the Hamlets and the ignorant bluster of the Macbeths, must begin to use scientific data more honestly. Stop cherry-picking, stop ignoring pertinent and demonstrable facts just because they don’t suit your world-view; and for heaven’s sake, stop appeasing these c—s in the oil industry by giving them ANY room to manoeuvre.

At the moment Greenpeace, like Othello, is its own worst enemy. They are playing right into the hands of the oil barons, by believing half-understood rumour over demonstrable fact. If only Othello, instead of slaying Desdemona, just listened to her – trusted her – they could have teamed up, destroyed Iago together and exploded his nefarious scheme.

But Othello, like Hamlet and Macbeth, ends in tragedy. He doesn’t listen to reason, he doesn’t even bother to independently examine the evidence, he just acts on impulse, emotion and a twisted sense of personal justice. We don’t have time for such games. The stakes are too high. The anti-science bias of the environmental movement has to end, and it has to end now, for all our sakes – even those who are too pig-ignorant or pig-headed to see what’s coming.

Day 885: The Frog and The Scorpion

04.06.11:

It cracks me up that so much positive emphasis is put on stuff that is ‘natural’.  Talk to your average punter in the street and they’ll invariably make the assertion that the more natural something is, the better.  The fact that arsenic, earthquakes and cancer are 100% natural and that most things human beings do is pretty goddamn unnatural seems to idly pass them by.  We should be getting back to nature, they say, whereas I say – much in the manner of Kate Hepburn in The African Queenthat ‘nature’ is what we are here to rise above.

Nearly everything you do in your waking life is magnificently unnatural, and rightly so.  You get up and eat cereal covered in cow’s milk (eek!) – which is rather unnatural.  You then brush your teeth with unnatural fibres, put on clothes woven with unnatural materials, get in your unbelievably unnatural car, drive on an unnatural road, go to work in a completely and utterly unnatural building and sit on your unnatural computer all day unnaturally communicating with similarly unnaturally-inclined people all over the world.

You come home, pet your unnatural dog, eat your unnaturally heated dinner off a plate that I’m fairly sure didn’t grow on a tree and watch stuff on your comprehensively unnatural widescreen TV before – if you’re lucky – doing some devilishly natural things in the bedroom.

Let me break this scenario down: we shouldn’t be able to drink cow’s milk.  Most people in the world are lactose intolerant beyond the age of around four.  No mature animal in the natural world drinks milk squirted out of another species.  Your toothbrush is made from oil found up to a mile below the surface of the Earth and I have to say I haven’t seen too many cats drilling for oil recently (despite what Eddie Izzard says).  The same is true of the nylon and polyester in our clothes and the fact we wear clothes in the first place – do chimps wear pyjamas?  Only when they’re selling PG Tips.

As for cars, roads, buildings, computers, the internet: hells bells!  How much more unnatural do you want to be??

As I said yesterday, your dog is not natural, it’s a genetically modified wolf.  You think that in the natural world bees make a ridiculous amount of honey for FUN?  More than they would ever possibly need?  Of course not: we did that, dicking around in our apiaries, poking around with their queens and generally meddling with powers we cannot possibly comprehend.

Woohahahahahaha!

What other animals own Playstations, fly aeroplanes, race each other on the backs of other animals, play sports, read books, brew beer, trade money, go skydiving, undergo chemotherapy, use contraception, launch telescopes into space, pay taxes, look after the disabled, produce Mars bars or go Scuba diving?

Are any of these things natural?  No.  Are any of these things good?  Hell Yes.

But for some reason (marketing, I’d say) the world ‘natural’ has become synonymous with ‘good’.  Funny how when things are perceived as good they are called ‘natural ingredients’, whereas they when they are perceived as bad they are ‘harmful chemicals’.  What’s the hell is this NaCl doing on my chips…?!  Grr…

The most unnatural things we do are associated with medicine.  In the natural world, an impoverished family has a child, it dies.  In the natural world, if a child is born blind, it dies.  In the natural world 1 in 3 human births result in the death of the child or the mother.  We don’t live in a goddamn natural world.  And thank f—k for that!

The horrible truth is that the ‘natural’ reaction to the news that your wife has been unfaithful is to kill the other guy and give your wife a damn good raping.  Civilised?  No – not by a long chalk, but at least it would be ‘natural’.

I can’t state this enough: civilisation is not natural.  You want nature?  Check out the warring tribes of Papua New Guinea, the thousands of Indian children who die every year from diarrhoea or the systematic rape of woman in Darfur.  I’m sorry, says the scorpion as he sinks to his death, it’s my nature…

Isn’t it interesting that while the Catholic Church is happy to condemn the unnatural-ness of contraception, they have little to say about how incredibly unnatural welfare states are.  The very same welfare states that ensure the survival of unwanted or poverty-stricken children produced as a indirect consequence of the Church’s unwarranted annexation of the reproductive systems of half the human race.  Half, mind you, and – of course – it’s never their half, is it?

While the Pope is content to live his life steeped in unnatural trimmings – and I’m not just talking about his hat – and go so far as to profess SUPER-natural abilities, he (and many religious and prejudiced people of his ilk) see the completely 100% NATURAL fact that a good number of us humans are attracted to members of the same sex (as are a good proportion of dogs, sheep, penguins, fruit flies, etc…) as ‘unnatural’ and therefore ‘immoral’.

Just in case you really believe that humans invented homosexuality for a laugh (possibly with the intent of making Baby Jesus cry), I would really like you to read up about our closest cousin, the Bonobo: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bonobo.  I think you’ll find the information under the heading ‘Social Sexual Behaviour’ most illuminating.

And if that’s not enough for you, the good people at Wikipedia have put together a marvellous list of all the gay animals it can get its grubby little hands on: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homosexual_behavior_in_animals.  Be warned, it’s not a comprehensive list: there are at least 1,500 species – mammals, insects, birds, lizards – you name it – that, for one reason or another, sometimes prefer to bowl from the pavilion end.

This bumbling adherence to the mantra of “natural = good, unnatural = bad” is overly-simplistic, morally abhorrent and intellectually bankrupt.  It needs to be stopped, forthwith!  If people find the idea of two men going at it hammer and tongs distasteful or are haunted by the fact that given a certain angle and a certain light they themselves might be ‘turned’, they should just admit it – to hide behind the old lie of ‘it’s not natural’ is not just cowardly – it’s demonstrably wrong.

But in this world we live in, so desperate are we to condemn others for the choices made for them by Mother Nature, so pathetic our need to one-up each other, that we have made the word ‘unnatural’ synonymous with the monstrous, the perverted, the subversion of civilisation… when it should mean anything but.  As Hobbes pointed out a long time ago, life for humans in our natural state is brutish, nasty and short.

We live in a world of pernicious memes: viruses of the mind.  And while ad men conning us with their ‘100% natural ingredients’ is just a bit of fun, the flip side of that way of thinking takes us to some very dark places indeed.  In short, some natural things are great, others are not so great.  The same goes for unnatural things.  You can’t, and shouldn’t, use something being ‘unnatural’ as an reason to espouse fear or hatred – especially when the activity in question occurs all over the natural world.

The maddest thing about all this is that when you think about it long enough, nothing we do is really that unnatural: everything on this planet is made of naturally-occurring elements and isotopes.  We just find new combinations and uses for them… using our highly evolved brains and opposable thumbs.

In fact, the only thing we can talk of as being 100% unnatural isn’t to be found here in this old plane of reality.  The only truly unnatural thing is the supernatural.  And as such – thankfully – it only exists as a quirk of the human imagination.  But (naturally!) that’s another story…

Day 886: An Open Letter to Tourism Minister Martin Ferguson

05.06.11:

After the death threats I received for slagging off the Cape Verde police force on this very blog, I learnt a pertinent lesson: don’t say what you really think until you’ve left the damn place.  I was therefore saving my torrent of abuse concerning the Australian government’s wretched treatment of tourists until after I was well shut of the otherwise good land of Oz.

However, after finding out it’s going to cost me $255 to extend my AUSTRALIAN TOURIST VISA (which I shouldn’t need in the first place), the dam has burst.

The fury leaping out of my fingertips must be converted to 1s and 0s and plastered all over the net before I explode.

The Aussie Tourist Visa (that’ll be $29 please, thanks KA-CHING!) lasts just a paltry three months.  Then you’re supposed to fly to another country and back to renew it for another three months.  If you can’t be arsed doing that (unsurprising when the nearest OTHER COUNTRY from Melbourne is at least four hours away on a jumbo jet) you’re hit by a admin fee that is actually MORE THAN the minimum penalty for being caught drink driving.

If I’m to read between the lines here, I would have to suggest that tourists in Australia are less welcome than drink drivers.  Ygads.

First up, I want you to realise something: last year, more tourists visited Bulgaria than visited Australia.  You think that’s bad?  More people visited Syria than visited Australia.  But then you can get a visa for Syria upon arrival.  See where I’m going with this?

There are, of course, salient geographical reasons for Australia’s dismal tourist figures: Australia is, after all, miles from anywhere.  Getting to Melbourne from Europe means sitting on a minimum of two planes for a minimum of 24 hours.  Needless to say, it’s not somewhere you go for a weekend break.

Coupled with the wince-inducing strength of the Aussie dollar (take any price and double it. Then double it again.), the logic of being the ONLY WESTERNISED NATION IN THE WORLD to require TOURIST VISAS from Europeans just utterly beggars belief.  Yes, you don’t need a visa to visit Argentina, a country the UK was at war with in the 80s.  But you do need a visa for Australia… a country that puts our Queen on their banknotes and our flag in the corner of theirs.

I hate hate HATE having to apply for a visa to visit a country.  99% of the time it instantly marks a state out as being nasty, oppressive and totalitarian.  There are 142 countries out of the UN 192 that do NOT require a European tourist to purchase a pre-paid visa.  Those that do are in the minority: they include such luminary and enlightened countries as North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Belarus, Angola, Libya, Turkmenistan, Guinea, Somalia… and Australia.

I can’t stress this fact enough: I have been to every westernised country that exists in the world and not one of them required me to ask permission of the government to pop in for a visit.  Except Australia.

Are Europeans likely to come here by mistake?  Might they take that ill-fated left turn at Albuquerque and end up in Alice Springs?  Maybe Australia is terrified of being swamped with the flotsam and jetsam of the richest and most powerful countries in the world [insert lame convict joke here].  Is it because Australia is so insecure, so tentative in its footsteps on the world stage that it would prefer to linger in the collective subconscious as Crocodile Dundee’s delightful Aboriginal-loving kangaroo-saving larrikin without having to suffer the indignity of people coming here finding out it’s not like that at all?

Indeed, the only logical conclusion one can sensibly reach is that Australia doesn’t want, much less need tourists.  Like the boat people (and the Aboriginals if only they weren’t – you know – here first) Aussies would much rather you buggered off back were you came from.  Which is not just sad, it’s self-sabotage on a scale that would make your average West African dictator blush.

And – dear lord – have you seen the ads?  The ‘come to Australia’ ads.  OH. MY. GOD.  They give me visions of entering the Australian Tourist Board Marketing Department to find a room filled with baboons wistfully daubing the walls with their own faeces.  See for yourself:

Let me make this quite clear: we are not talking about working visas here, we are talking tourist visas.  Australia makes around $17 BILLION a year from tourism.  I don’t know if the government is too arrogant or too incompetent to understand what a whopping great chunk of cash that is, but I can’t help but feel pretty damn unappreciated for all my hard work over the last ten years periodically dragging money from my British bank account and peppering it like candy around the dance halls, dives and brothels of ol’ Melbourne town.

Lest not forget that the Australian tax payer did not pay for my education (thanks, Blighty old chum), I cannot claim benefits, the dole, working tax credits or train to be a master of falconry while I’m here.  I cannot work, I cannot claim free medical care and if I’m hit by a car, it will cost me (or my insurance company) $779 just to be taken to the damn hospital.  No, really – the ambulances here aren’t free.

In contrast — and by ‘contrast’ I mean ‘ARE YOU FRIKKIN’ SERIOUS??’ — an Aussie tourist can pop over to the good ship UK any time they want, they don’t have to ask for prior permission(!), they can stay up to six months (visa free), can visit pretty much every other country in Europe while they are there (visa free) and get hit by cars all they like because the ambulance dragging their mangled remains back to the hospital is paid for by the Great British taxpayer.

This is because in the UK we don’t just like tourists, we LOVE tourists.  They’re like little mobile piggy banks dispensing fivers around the realm, fivers that we didn’t have to invest a packet of our tax money to generate in the first place – tourists are a net gain for my country, your country, any country.

I’m not saying this situation is unfair, the fact that UK is enjoying the fruits of a massive boom in tourism over the last fifty years is not something I’m ever going to disparage – long may it continue.  But the way the Australian government treat its tourists is stupid.  Plain and simple, totally and utterly, mindbogglingly and heartbreakingly stupid.

So, in short, Mr. Ferguson – you are a treasonous dog who is diddling the good people of Australia out of their much-needed tourist dollars.  Visa requirements for tourists from prosperous western nations should be scrapped immediately and a six month entry stamp should be the norm.

Oh, and if you want your long-suffering tourist board to produce an advert that wouldn’t make Basil Fawlty scoff at your embarrassingly barnyard attempts at advertising, put a European in charge.  Actually, put ME in charge.  With a decent budget, a small film crew and a handful of good looking actors, I could make each and every feisty travel-lovin’ European sit up and beg for buttermilk.  Australian buttermilk.

Graham
Melbourne, Australia
June 5 2011

Days 949-962: 10 Things I Hate About U(K) – Part 1

07.08.11-20.08.11:

Occasionally I get messages from malcontents who find themselves offended by negative comments I’ve made about their country on this blog. It goes without saying that you can’t please all the people all of the time, but I wouldn’t want you thinking that I’m blinded by some misplaced sense of patriotism into believing that the UK is the be-all-and-end-all. It’s not. My League of Nations list is (as I admit in the pre-amble) tremendously subjective, and the fact that England comes out on top has more to do with my family and friends than it does any sense of rabid nationalism.

With that in mind, and with last week’s riots leaving a bad taste in our mouths, I thought I’d take this opportunity to give the UK a damn good dressing down.

Before I start, let me just say that the UK has many, many things going for it. However, I stand by my opinion that the British just don’t seem to get how good they have it when compared with the vast majority of other countries on the planet.

Sure, Newsweek can select Luxembourg, Norway and Switzerland as the “best” countries in the world… but when it comes to literature, art and good old fashioned rock n’ roll, us little Englanders, Scotchers, Welshers and Northern Irelanders kick their arses from here to Timbuktu.

Having said that, if we could just iron out a few little niggles, the UK could be a much, much better place…

1. Public Transport

Considering we are dealing with the country that invented the steam engine, you’d think we’d have half a clue how to run an halfway decent public transportation service. But we don’t.

I would say that as far as the worst public transport service in the world is concerned, I’d have to tie the UK with the US. In short, it’s a frikkin’ embarrassment. Hell, at least in Guinea public transport is cheap. Unlike the London Underground, the trams in Manchester and what’s left of the Liverpool rail network which cost a small fortune. But that’s nothing compared with intercity travel, something that should be cheap and easy, considering most big British cities are located within walking distance (if you’re walking a marathon) from each other.

British intercity trains are horrifically overpriced – 260 quid for a return to London from Liverpool (a two-hour journey) – they rarely run on time, are often overcrowded, the toilets have a nasty tendency to fly open mid wee (and the “door-close” button is conveniently located out of reach of the toilet itself), the staff are notoriously rude and unhelpful, the companies running the trains are cowboys with a monopoly (laughing all the way to the bank no doubt) and the unprofitable part of the railway network – the maintenance of the track – is paid for by us gibbering idiots, yup: the taxpayer. Madness, utter madness.

That’s not to say the coach network provides much of an alternative.  With the exception of the no-frills Megabus (which does a decent job of WYSIWYG), most of the country’s intercity coaches are operated by a monopoly called National Express. No competition (there are no other national coach companies and the trains are too expensive for 83% of the British population to afford) means that they can deliver a piss-poor service, charge over the odds and get away with it – something they’ve been getting away with for years. When I say that only Greyhound USA is worse, that’s hardly a compliment. It once took Mand and I ELEVEN HOURS to get back from London to Liverpool on a National Express bus.

I think we could have done it faster on horseback.

The fact that it’s cheaper for five people to buy a car, tax it, insure it, fill it with petrol and drive to London and back than to take the train is testament to how bloody awful the situation is. Your car could be stolen and burnt out upon completion of the journey and you’d still be better off than the five who spent over 1000 quid between them on the train.

But driving would mean driving down Britain’s god-awful motorways. Not that the motorways are poorly maintained, I’d argue that they’re not, it’s just that motorways in the UK are more like lorryways with an occasional car problem. Thanks to the short-sighted, piss-poor and quite frankly corrupt policy decisions of the Conservative government in the early 60s, our motorways, also paid for by the taxpayer, are long flat concrete bitches of the massive haulage companies that are no doubt using their mountains of gold coins as an indoor ski slope.

The British Haulage Industry's Winter Holiday
Literally.

Ever heard of a chap called Ernest Marples? You should have. He ruined your life. Most people blame Dr Beeching for the utterly incomprehensible cannibalisation of the British railway system in the 1960s, but it was dickwit-in-chief Ernest Marples who was the puppetmaster. Take it away, Wikipedia:

Beeching had been appointed to his post as head of British Railways by Marples. Marples was not just a government minister; he also owned a construction company, Marples-Ridgway, whose main concern was constructing roads. They contributed to several motorway projects during the 1950s and 1960s and also constructed the Hammersmith flyover in London. When it was pointed out that being transport minister as well as a road builder might be construed as a conflict of interest, he agreed and divested himself of his shares in Marples-Ridgway. However, this was to his wife, with a clause to buy back the shares at the sale price when he ceased to be a minister: something not disclosed at the time.

Oh really?  So let me get this straight: guy owns ROAD BUILDING company, gets job as government TRANSPORT minister, avoids accusations of conflict of interest by giving his shares to his wife, takes back his shares once he’s personally destroyed TWO-THIRDS of the British Rail Network (the only viable competition to HIS F—KING ROADS) and ensured his road-building company’s position on the gravy train for life. Now give me another wheelbarrow full of taxpayer’s money, my wife needs a new fur coat.

Ernest Marples
Ernest Marples: A Thief and a Liar.

What a irredeemable bastard. Then again, you vote right-wing, you deserve everything you get: which will (invariably) mean the interests of wealthy individuals, companies and corporations trump your petty little needs every time. I can’t be the only one who notices that… Anyway, so here we are, fifty years on, our trains cost more than what most of us earn in a week, our coaches are several shades of god-awful and our motorways are gridlocked (since the freight that used to happily travel along the railways can’t travel on non-existent lines, apparently).

Oh, did I mention that even though there are very few surviving branch lines, the tax-payer STILL has to pay for the maintenance of the THOUSANDS of now unused bridges, tunnels and viaducts that criss-cross the nation?  If a single loose brick falls onto the windscreen of a car passing underneath, it’s the great British public who will pay the damages. So we have a situation were we are paying to maintain infrastructure that we have pretty much NO WAY of getting ANY money back from whatsoever! Brilliant!!

Plus, thanks to Marples, North-East Liverpool has no railway anymore – in fact, there are over FORTY closed railway stations in Liverpool: the highest number of any first-world city in the world.  This means that in some of the most deprived area of Liverpool it’s next to impossible to get to work… unless you walk (in the rain), cycle (in the rain) or get the bus filled with screaming, gobbing, swearing, fighting schoolchildren as… oh yeah, we have no school buses(!). I don’t have to paint a picture of how unpleasant these 8.30am buses are, I’m sure you’ve got a good idea and it probably doesn’t involve Moonlight Sonata and caviar on the Orient Express.

Ninety years ago, Liverpool had a better, faster, more integrated and (bizarrely) GREENER public transport system than it has today. The same can probably be said for most cities in the UK. Progress anyone?!

A little suggestion: how about a new rule that companies are responsible for paying for bus and train passes so their employees to get to work? It would see a constant, reliable income for Public Transportation systems (even if the employees choose to drive instead) and discourage companies from employing people who would need to make a three-hour commute every day – you know, local jobs for local people? Smart.

Oh, and while you’re at it, re-nationalise the bloody railways. Even America — land of gullible poltroons who believe that corporations are their friends and that the government they elect is their enemy — has a nationalised rail service. Get with the program, you dithering Limey knuckleheads.

Oh, and if you’re wondering what happened to that rotten bastard Marples:

“In the early 70s … he tried to fight off a revaluation of his assets which would undoubtedly cost him dear … So Marples decided he had to go and hatched a plot to remove £2 million from Britain through his Liechtenstein company … there was nothing for it but to cut and run, which Marples did just before the tax year of 1975. He left by the night ferry with his belongings crammed into tea chests, leaving the floors of his home in Belgravia littered with discarded clothes and possessions … He claimed he had been asked to pay nearly 30 years’ overdue tax … The Treasury froze his assets in Britain for the next ten years. By then most of them were safely in Monaco and Liechtenstein.” (Richard Stott, ‘Dogs and Lampposts’, Metro Publishing, 2002, pages 166 – 171)

No doubt he was twirling his evil little moustache all the way.

2. The Architecture (since 1958)

I’ve written at length about the bum-scroff that passes for architecture around the world these days, but it really does boggle my mind and break my heart that Great Britain, the same country that spent a good 1000 years cooking up some of the most delicious buildings in the world should see fit to throw all that glorious heritage away and follow the nightmarish visions of that bastard crackpot Swiss pied piper of all things bleak, totalitarian and downright ugly – Le Corbusier, a man I have about as much respect for as Hitler. Which is to say, none.

Le Corbusier
A madman, yesterday.

So damn the renaissance, the neo-gothic and the art-nouveau, there’s a new kid in town – a cool kid that’s made of Asbestos and Legionnaire’s Disease, smells of piss and looks like a nuclear fallout shelter – a nuclear fallout shelter built in a hurry after they have already dropped the bomb. It came in over budget, the roof is leaking, the windows don’t open, the people inside are being slowly cooked alive, the lift is broken, the solidified mashed potato that constitutes the interior walls is crumbling away and to top it all the damn thing is just so goddamn ugly it makes Susan Boyle look like the Venus de Milo.

Susan Boyle
If Susan Boyle was a building, she’d be every building built since 1958

I wish I was describing one single god-awful edifice, maybe tucked away in the Outer Hebrideswhere nobody will ever see it, it wouldn’t be so bad. But I’m talking about every building designed and built everywhere since 1958. Hell, you might think they’re beautiful, but then you’re presumably from Mars, were born without eyes and have wet dreams about Susan Boyle.

Hand in hand with the horror of our modern arseifaces, we have to give equal condemnation to the town planners … they should be flogged, covered in jam and fed to the wasps. Not content with scarring the very fabric of our historic towns and cities with the totalitarian horrors of the Mancunian Way, the Bullring and Leeds city centre Hotwheels circuit (not to mention the shameful demolition of the Euston Arch), they are also responsible for the god-awful shopping centres, the screwball thinking that towerblocks are a good idea, the car-centric concrete jungles of the 1960s and the disgraceful cloning of our towns… wouldn’t it be nice if every high street looked exactly the same eh? NO. NO IT WOULDN’T YOU CROWD OF MASSIVE RETARDS.

British Street
Attack of the Clones.

These vandals – this dark conspiracy of big business, lazy architects, megalomaniacal town planners and corrupt politicians – have irreparably scarred the once-beautiful cityscapes that previously graced our green and pleasant land.  You can get a whiff of what once was if you stroll around Belgravia, Rodney Street or The Royal Crescent – and get a sense of what could be if you visit the magnificently restored St. Pancras Station, but at the end of the day, it seems that The Powers The Be have better things to spend your money on – wars, probably.

Before 1958, we would build warehouses that are so good-looking they are now UNESCO world heritage sites, we would build power stations so iconic that they would go on to grace the cover of a Pink Floyd album, we built extractor towers so fabulous that they barely look out of place on a street of prestige buildings. Now, however… urgh…  I don’t want to go on with this, you get the picture.  It makes me too miserable.

3. The Depression

Talking of being miserable, crikey we Englishers are a miserable bunch, aren’t we? Sometimes it seems like we’re only happy when we’re having a jolly good moan.

Victor Meldrew
Moaning is fun, kids!

But there’s a major downside to this affliction (other than being teased by the rest of the world)… real depression is often overlooked and sadness is often misdiagnosed as something you can only cure with drugs.  Hence the somewhat depressing (that’s probably not the right word) number of Brits on anti-depressants.

Ecstasy Gurning
…and sometimes Ecstasy.

The general malaise that hangs over the good ship UK is something that has bothered me for a while, and there are two things that I think would help: a ban on building stuff out of bloody concrete (I’m serious) and a concerted effort by our politicians to end their idiotic bluster about competing economically against China(!) and instead push for laws, reforms and acts of parliament specially tailored to the explicit aim of ‘improving the happiness of the nation.’

You know what has been proven to improve the general happiness of any given nation? A small and shrinking gap between rich and poor.  Since 1997, the rich/poor divide in the UK has grown exponentially… as has our general misery. This is no coincidence.

It looks like if we want to improve the general contentment of our electorate, it would be wise to whack up the tax rate on the super-rich and yes, fine, let them leave the country if they must… but add a twist:

1) Whoa whoa whoa!!  You’re not taking that UK passport with you!  Put. It. Down.  Step away from the passport, you traitorous dog.

2) If you’ve left us for another continent and then decide you want to work in the EU in the future, you must apply for a working visa, like every other alien.

3)  The support from British Embassies (paid for by John Q. Taxpayer) will be withdrawn. Good luck getting out of that Congolese jail, ya tyrant billionaire!

Ahhhh, I feel happier already.

4. The Schools

There’s a mad system in this weird little country I visited while trotting around the world and I’d like to share it with you.

In order to get your kid into a good school – thereby setting him or her with the best possible chance in life – you have to pick a football team. Yeah, that’s right, a football team. Even if you can’t stand football! You then have to attend every single match that team plays for a year. If you’ve pretended to be a really big fan and not looked too bored or criticise the owner of the club (who may or may not be a known facilitator of paedophilic activity), little Johnny will be allowed to go to this school.

Fail in this charade, and little Johnny goes to the shitty comprehensive five miles away and proceeds to get his head flushed down the toilet every day for the following five years, since little Johnny is either fat, gay, ginger or clever… all capital crimes, according to the law of the playground.

The schools in question, one should point out, are not paid for by the football teams and they’re not private either. These are publicly-funded schools, paid for by the tax-payer. What’s even more ridiculous is that these schools are under no obligation to employ any teachers that don’t support the correct football team, something that’s quite a whacked-out arbitrary requirement… and one that would be deeply illegal in any civilised country.

Accrington Stanley Fan
Accrington Stanley Fans Need Not Apply.

But then the UK is obviously not that civilised, since, yes, that is the ‘weird little country’ to which I referred. Just replace “football team” with “religion” and “match” for “service” and “owner” for, well… “owner”. How it is a good idea to separate our children into tribes based on what Bronze Age creation myth their parents (through an accident of birth) find themselves subscribed??

I’d love to be a gay teenager going to a Catholic school: it would make my day to hear how un-natural I was, that I’d be burning in hell once I died and that the bullies are right to bully me (I need fixin’!). I’d love to have no teacher I could confide in because I’m 14 years old and pregnant and thinking of having an abortion. I’d totally love it if I was told, in SCHOOL, that Aids was bad… but not as bad as condoms.

Although these real-world dilemmas are rendered moot by the horrors that play themselves out on the streets of Northern Ireland every night. Enforced segregation in ANY OTHER WALK OF LIFE is ILLEGAL – WITH GOOD REASON, with the exception of our schools. Take a deep breath and analyse those words… with the exception of our schools. Yes, a school in the UK has the right to deny me a job even as a caretaker if I don’t partake the ‘right’ religion.

Change “religion” for “skin colour” and you MIGHT JUST SEE why this system is so utterly abhorrent. Make no mistake about it: it is Apartheid. Apartheid blessed by the system, paid for by John Q. Taxpayer and legally free to discriminate in a way that not even the BNP is allowed to discriminate. Against children.

Martin Luther King
“I have a dream in which apartheid is illegal… except in schools!”

This post is entitled “Ten Things I Hate About U(K)”, but the cruel, inhumane, idiotic, openly discriminatory nature of the British School System alone could be “Things” 1 to  10.

5. Chav Culture (Innit)

From a country that exported its language and culture all over the world (not always forcibly!), chavs are nothing short of an abhorrent stain on the fabric of British society. I mean, what’s the use of a chav? At least troublemakers like the punks, mods and rockers had good music. These chavs dress like morons, talk like morons, act like morons… and embarrass the hell out of the 99% of the British population that are decidedly chav-nots.

To the uninitiated, a chav is a young British citizen who dresses in hooded tracksuits, wears a Burberry cap and sports tacky gold jewellery from catalogue shops that wouldn’t look out of place on a pantomime dame. Dressing like a clown is a rite of passage for all young people, but I can’t help but feel like all the good ideas (bike leathers, zoot suits, mohawks) have been done. So here we are: an entire generation that’s run out of ideas and is (understandably) bored with their lot. It’s amazing what utter bobbins can pass for being ‘cool’ in any given generation.

Chav
A Chav, yesterday.

This boredom manifests itself in myriad ways – causing a nuisance outside the corner shop, hocking up and gobbing on the pavement, listening to repetitive generic crap on their iPhones (and forcing everyone else in a 3 mile radius listen to it too) and just being generally anti-social spoddy little toe-rags.

But I’m not just knocking the young here – chavic behaviour have been around since I was a kid. My real problem is with chav culture. That bolshie, anti-education thinking which brags its stupidity and attempts to make a virtue of ignorance. I can’t stand it. Being a dickhead is one thing, but being proud of being a dickhead is just… pathetic. And what has chav culture contributed to society? I really can’t think of a single positive, except perhaps to give us chav-nots something to make fun of.

But I would much rather it be the case that what we do make fun of is not so chinge-worthy for the rest of us.  When I was younger I remember watching Jerry Springer and thinking “Ha! That’s hilarious! Stupid Yanks”. I will discuss how patently NOT stupid the Americans are later (when I talk about the British Film “Industry”), but at the time it did seem like that kind of trailer trash television was a peculiar cultural facet of our cousins on the other side of the pond. Of course, since the advent of Jeremy Kyle, we know that not to be the case.

And when chavs go abroad on holiday, their ‘culture’ ends up representing Britain to the world… and it’s not a pretty sight. When you’re talking to a foreigner or you’re a stranger in a strange land, you wind up representing your country by default.

The last thing any country needs are a bunch of boozed-up England shirt-wearing troublemakers running rampage through the streets. Chav culture ends up tarring all us Brits as dribbling guttersnipes who dress like Floridian retirees, are barely comprehensible, are usually drunk on Bacardi Breezers, have a tendency to fight in the streets, indulge in casual racism and are full of snarls and nastiness.

What a terrible advert for my otherwise green and pleasant land. It’s like every personality trait I find repulsive and irritating rolled into one massive ugly fungal infection – a fungal infection that’s running around telling everyone it’s British.

I would rather be stereotyped as a blustering buffoon in a bowler hat, a sexually repressed misanthrope always moaning about the weather or a uptight Fawlty hitting my car with a branch. When your only boast in life is that you could have been good at something, anything… but chose not to be, you’re not going to get any sympathy from me. Society might fail you… but don’t fail yourself.

Talking of Scroobius:

DING DONG! Reasons 6-10 are delayed due to leaves on the line. Gimme a couple of days…

Days 974-984: Conspiracy Nut Cornflakes

01.09.11-11.09.11:

I was a kid in the eighties. I grew up with the distinct possibility that at any moment the Russians might take a dislike to the latest Madness single or something and destroy the entire world. Films like Red Dawn and When The Wind Blows didn’t help. My brother Alex and I would waste entire summers digging fallout shelters (which invariably ended up as two foot deep puddles of mud) and learning to fend for ourselves in the field across the road, seeing if we could live off ‘rations’ of sugar and ketchup sachets stolen from Little Chef, you know: just in case.

And then one night, suddenly and unexpectedly, the Berlin Wall collapsed. All that fear, all the paranoia and all the neuroses that the Cold War had instilled in my and my parents’ generation had gone. The sword of Damocles that had dangled menacingly above my head throughout my formative years vanished. Whoosh, kaput, hooray.

Soon afterwards I turned 11 years old. The nineties had begun. From then until the age of 22 I lived life free of that horrible feeling, the feeling that everything and everyone I know and love might be taken away at any time with the push of a button. The feeling that somebody who I don’t know, who doesn’t know me, might well murder me and my family for no other reason than madness, utter madness.

All I needed to be is in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Life rarely gives many certainties, except death and taxes, but as the IRA dwindled away, the possibility of me being senselessly blown to Smithereens by a faceless menace seemed to diminish as the years went on.

From November 1989 to September 2001, things got better and better. The more I learned about history and politics the more I became convinced that, in the words of Bill and Ted, the best place to be is here… and the best time to be is now.

Compared with the adolescence of anyone born before 1900 (why are all 14 of my siblings dead?), anyone during WWI (why are all my friends dead?), anyone during WWII (why are all my people dead?), any one of the Baby Boomers (why is every living thing on the planet dead?) or any of the Generation X-ers (imagine being a teenager in the eighties – ack! The humanity!).

Compared to that lot, my (MTV) generation had it made: great music, great films, great video games, satellite TV, the INTERNET… we were still some distance from World Peace Day, but for me, getting drunk and annoying girls in Liverpool, everything was peachy.

And then 19 psychos, armed only with airline tickets and box cutters, changed the world.

Like millions of others, I had stood on the roof of the World Trade Centre before it was destroyed. But unlike millions of others, I was in Ahmedabad just days before the 2002 massacre. When I visited Bali later that same year, I spent every night in the Sari Club. A few months later it was gone. As was the Casa de España in Casablanca, a place that me and my friend Dan frequented on our trip to that city.

I had been to the wrong places, just not at the wrong time.

I travel a lot, it’s statistically highly likely that stuff like this is going to happen, but what really bothered me was that same creeping dread I experienced as a child – the faceless horror that could take everything from me – was returning… and then the bombings in Madrid and London brought it home that, like in the 1980s, nowhere was safe.

Anybody who has been following my progress over the last couple of years can imagine my response to that feeling. I, like the good people of NY who swept the streets after 9/11 and the noble Londoners who continued taking the tube to work after 7/7, refuse to be terrorised. I refuse to retreat back into childhood, start jumping at shadows or freaking out every time I see an Arab with a backpack. In a battle of wills between me and Osama Bin Laden, you know what? I won. He and his group of murderous idiots and psychopathic zealots didn’t stop me travelling the world. They didn’t even stop me visiting Afghanistan.

But there are people out there who are suitably terrorised and freaked out. For the last ten years they’ve been fighting a losing battle against the forces of reason, attempting to push a square peg into a round hole, getting the hammer out because the pieces of the jigsaw don’t fit. Like the mother watching her son in the parade and wondering why everybody else is marching out of step with her Johnny, they suffer from tunnel vision, only see what they want to see and ignore all the evidence to the contrary.

They are the 9/11 conspiracy theorists.

I find them an annoyance, but not a particularly dangerous one: unlike climate change conspiracy theorists who are doing real-world damage to my only planet. So I’ve not really talked about the 9/11 ‘truthers’ or their crazy notions on my blog. I didn’t really want to give their lunatic views a public airing, not least because they’ve got the entire internet to write up their crackpot theories (mysterious how nobody stops them eh?) and I can’t be bothered vetting all the abusive comments I would (not doubt) receive.

But sometimes people bring the fight to you, and you know I’m more than happy to defend my corner.

So, grab your popcorn and adjust your reading specs, here we go…

On the 25th August 2011, “Joe” wrote:

For the most part you’re spot on, but how do you deny the 9/11 truthers? Buildings don’t pancake unless they are demolished with explosives, building 7 didn’t get hit but it dropped perfectly into it’s own footprint. There was NO plane in the pentagon or on the ground in the Virginia field. You do understand the first law of thermodynamics right? Planes don’t vanish on impact. America went to Afghanistan within a month, no trial, no discussion, nothing. Since when does anyone KNOW who committed a crime with no ACTUAL evidence. The invasion of Iraq was completely based on lies, and no one denies it. We have been fighting a boogie man for over 10 years now, for what?? Do you really believe this al-queda (which is a known CIA asset, as well as bin Laden) outfit is so powerful that EVERY rich and powerful nation on earth can’t stop them in a DECADE! It only took four years to stop Hitler! We find bin laden, the very REASON we have blown trillions of dollars and ended hundreds of thousands of lives, and we KILL him without questioning him!!? Then show NO proof and within a day throw him into the FUCKING ocean!! What kind of protocol is that!? I think you are a very smart and experienced person, so how could you possibly believe any of this? You admit that the powers that be lie all the time in your blogs, so why would you believe any of this crap when it’s so blatantly obvious?

To which I replied:

I “deny” the 9/11 truthers for the same reason I “deny” mother goose: because it’s absolute hogwash!!

The world is run by inept, ignorant and barely-qualified politicians… NOT moustache-twiddling James Bond-villain-esque criminal masterminds. Then again, I don’t know which proposition is scarier…!

Which stirred up the hornet’s nest.  Joe wrote:

So you think a ballsy gang of ubermuslims are the real supervillians? outwitting the world, always a step ahead of the intelligence agencies, able to run a commercial airliner into the pentagon (the most heavily fortified building on earth with the capability of shooting rockets out of the sky) and make it vanish upon impact. These James Bomb esque baddies are so well organized they don’t even need banks or money (the CIA is capable of freezing anyone on earth’s assets, something they have done to many a dictator and despot) , they must communicate telepathically as well (considering the coalition of the willing basically has a monopoly on transmitted communication and has been intercepting com since pre WW2) and i guess they have a clone army of super soldiers considering they have withstood the 200,000+ man strong force of America Inc and her lapdogs and mercenaries (the most expensive, powerful, and technologically advanced fighting force in the history of mankind) for over 10 years.

that makes more sense to you than some VERY powerful men who control the oil industry, the banks, the military industrial complex, and world business wanting to grab more power?

Oh bugger it, methinks, let’s give him the benefit of the doubt.  He might yet be sane…  So I replied:

  1. Since I don’t live in the Marvel comic universe, I don’t believe in supervillians. The very concept is as laughable as Dr. Evil’s sharks “with frikkin laser beams on their heads!”.
  2. ‘Always’ one step ahead? Once was enough my friend, once. 9/11 was a pretty low-fi operation.
  3. The Pentagon can shoot rockets out of the sky? Really?! I thought they retired Reagan’s Star Wars project. But still, rockets and planes are two rather different things (rockets, being packed with explosives, tend to blow up when you hit them, planes don’t).
  4. Magic! The plane vanished did it? Where you there? Did you sift through the debris? Are you an air-crash investigator? And where, pray tell, are the people who were on board? Would you mind explaining to me (or even better – their families) where they are? I’m sure they’d like to know…!
  5. The CIA can freeze anybody’s assets can they? That’s news to the bankers in Switzerland, the Cayman Islands and Nigeria. I better tell them.
  6. If the Americans have the monopoly on communication, why on Earth did they invent the internet? Shot themselves in the foot there, methinks. You better watch what you say on this site, ‘they’ might come and get ya! Like ‘they’ came for the makers of ‘Loose Change’. Oh, hang on… no, no ‘they’ didn’t. Silly ‘they’. Missed a trick there, like not being able to assassinate Castro… when he was in a coma(!).
  7. Not sure what you’re getting at with the ‘clone army’ malarkey, but if you’re talking about Al Qaeda, well, they’re not exactly Darth Sidious are they? Last time they tried to blow up something in the UK, they ended up getting their car bomb towed and setting themselves on fire. As for the Afghans, they’ve been kicking the arse of empires since 1841. They even chopped off Sean Connery’s head, which is more than Blofeld ever did.
  8. Yes, there ARE some very powerful men out there. The remarkable thing is that they are ALL utterly rubbish at keeping all the horrible things they do a secret… but they are incredibly good at getting away with it. Why? Well, I don’t know, Joe… maybe it’s because people are too busy wasting their time pursuing mad conspiracies that make no sense. We have NO EVIDENCE that 9/11 was an inside job other than hearsay and conjecture… don’t forget: we’d only need ONE piece of concrete evidence to bring a court case against Bush and his cronies, one whistleblower, one disgruntled employee, one payslip, one receipt, one unambiguous photo, one little piece of CCTV footage…

One little thing to bring down the entire Republican party, Halliburton, Lockheed Martin… and oh what a joy that would be. Sadly, that one little thing doesn’t exist. There’s nothing, even after 10 years. Not a dicky bird. This is the same government that couldn’t even get away with stealing a few bits of paper from the Watergate hotel. And while people’s attention is focussed on this garbage, the REAL conspirators get away with in BROAD DAYLIGHT!!

Honestly: you can look their activities up on Wikipedia and everything!

Some homework for ya:

  1. Union Carbide. Bhopal. Investigate.
  2. Find out where the $60,000,000,000+ worth of Iraqi ‘rebuilding’ contracts went. The Iraqis would love to know.
  3. Coca-Cola. Colombia. Murders. Nasty. Get them to pay compensation to the widows.
  4. Find out why on Earth some ex-Nazi rocket engineers were paid by tobacco companies in the 70s to manufacture doubt in the popular imagination that smoking leads to lung cancer (Hint: they did such a good job, their arguments are STILL being used to cast doubt on the otherwise irrefutable science of climate change).
  5. BHP Biliton, War in Zaire (DR Congo), copper prices. TELL PEOPLE!
  6. Find out Who Killed The Electric Car. Hate them forever.
  7. What links Agent Orange with the American farming industry?
  8.  So when did Donald Rumsfeld exactly leave the board of Halliburton, it being a blatant conflict of interest, of course…
  9. Which American politician (and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, bizarrely enough) flew out of Jakarta mere days before Indonesia invaded East Timor?
  10. Talking of East Timor, what was it that Australian foreign minister Alexander Downer said when people were being massacred on the streets and Jose Ramos-Horta pleaded for help?
  11. Find out how ONE MAN reduced the value of the British pound by 25% IN A DAY.
  12. Give me a rough estimate of how much money the Nigerian government has stolen (by its own admission) from its own people since 1967.
  13. Find out who gave Ethiopia the bombers to destroy Massawa in Eritrea… and why.
  14. Tell me some of the high-jinks the Portuguese got up to before leaving Mozambique.
  15. Exactly how much of Italy’s media is owned by its Prime Minister?

That’ll do for a start. I have more.

I thought that would be the end of it, but then I haven’t been frequenting too many conspiracy forums recently… I kinda forgot that you can’t reason people out of a position they haven’t reasoned themselves into.  Joe wrote:

  1. You must believe in supervillians if you think a rag tag gang of afghans with a budget of about 1/100000th that of the US and her allies is capable of holding the whole damn world hostage
  2. Not once, 5 times that day (supposedly) and then for 10 straight years. Do you really believe a few arabs with box cutters could really subdue 5 airplanes? the 100s of people on those planes sat aside and just let that happen? Come on, you can’t even get into a cockpit on a commercial plane, never would’ve happened
  3. I didn’t say from space, but of course america and especially the pentagon itself has anti missile defense systems. A plane is much larger and moves much slower than a missile, therefore they shouldn’t have had any problem whatsoever taking that plane down well before it maneuvered (while flying over Washington, DC) to street level and crashed into a relatively short building. a basically impossible feat
  4. Do yourself a favor by looking at a photo of the perfectly round hole in the pentagon and the “wreckage” that was in the field. Then type “plane crash” into google photo to see what an actual plane crash looks like. I don’t have to be an aircrash investigator, the only qualification you need is sight to know that there ISN’T a plane in the pentagon or on that field. As for the families, they were probably killed, just like the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and Afghanis.
  5. Yes, the CIA def can freeze assets. They recently froze syrian president Assads’, Gaddafi’s, gbagbo’s (ivory coast), mubaraks, Saddams, the list goes on. They do it whenever they want to. There is no telling what their real agenda is or what kinds of backroom deals they make with various world leaders but there is no doubt that if they deem it necessary they can and will
  6. I know you’ve been to Egypt, Turkey, and China, three places (among many) that have restricted the internet (in Egypt’s case completely shut it down, which fueled the revolution). The internet isn’t exactly the free speech untouchable force it’s played up as. Governments shut down websites all the time.
  7. I mentioned the clone army because only an infinite clone army would have the manpower to force a 10+ year war with the entire G20. We aren’t fighting Afghanistan by the way, they are actually our “ally” in this endeavor, our “enemy” is some faceless ghost army of terrorists that can be everywhere at once and have endless supply lines the world over
  8. There is an absolute MOUNTAIN of evidence. 1000s of structural engineers, physicists, first responders, eyewitnesses, military insiders, computer simulations, the entire history of steel buildings (never has a steel building fallen because of fire, NEVER), common sense (why did building 7 fall? why no planes? why would the building fall perfectly into it’s footprint? (something ONLY possible with a controlled demolition) who had the most to gain? (Dick Cheney (as you must know) was the CEO of Halliburton the day before he swore into office. Of course i don’t have to tell you Halliburtons role in all this is. You’ve seen loose change, you know about the pipelines across afganistans and how the taliban didn’t want to play ball, i know you understand the abhorrent greed of mankind and the insatiable drive for more, more power, more money, more oil, more control. Why wouldn’t these top tier assholes want to consolidate all the power they could?

I think you have a bit of a fairy tale idea of real world justice. The 9/11 commission posted it’s results within a month, accepted no independent investigations, and closed the folder forever. Why wasn’t anyone at BP charged with a crime after the gulf of mexico spill that killed 11 people and still ravages the south coast of America? Why wasn’t bin laden brought to the Hague or DC and put on trial for his crimes? why wasn’t a single banker indicted after the 2008 economic collapse after it became common knowledge that they were engaged in a plethora of illegal business practices (in fact they were rewarded to the tune of trillions of dollars of no interest loans)? Why? because the system is rigged to favor the elite, by the elite. If you don’t believe the elite are looking out for themselves then you must be delusional. Would you help you’re family out if they were in trouble? Do you take care of your friends if you can?

Your list of atrocities only proves my point, those in power will ALWAYS take advantage of that power and do whatever they can to keep it. Morals be damned. Just look at the entire history of mankind, its a running theme. To say that the corporate/banking elite are all just a bunch of idiots, bumbling around with theie combined trillions of dollars, tripping over their own feet, is patently ridiculous. Politicians? Yea, for the most part they probably are pretty dumb, but those guys aren’t making real decisions, they are lackeys, henchmen, PR spokemen, actors (Ronald Reagan was literally an actor before he became president).

Every year the top echelon of elites meets as a group called the Bilderbergs, (as you may know), behind closed doors, with no media coverage. What do you think they are talking about? How they can make the world a better place? If so, they are doing a pretty shit job at it

Well, I really couldn’t be bothered refuting each point separately, so I thought I’d just target the most nonsensical part of the whole silly conspiracy theory: the idea that not a single person who was involved in this cover-up would say anything to anyone, even after ten years.  So I wrote:

STOP STOP STOP. PLEASE. THINK about it. Just THINK.

If 9/11 was an inside job… how many people would have to be in one it? Give me a rough figure. 1,000? 10,000? 100,000? These people would have to ALL be utterly amoral psychopaths whose motive was what… power? The iron law of oligarchy states that powerful people don’t share power… so then money? Okay… let’s say money. There’s a lot of them, but lets say they just escaped en masse from Arkham Asylum.

Now if ONE of these people talks the whole thing is shot to shit, and everybody goes to jail… for the rest of their lives. We’re not talking corrupt bankers here, or Bono cooking the books so he pays no income tax, we’re talking the wilful murder of 3,000 AMERICAN CIVILIANS. This is death penalty level crime we’re talking about.

Now work out how much it would cost to keep every single one of those people quiet for 10 years. How much would it cost to keep YOU quiet about the biggest conspiracy the world has ever seen? $1,000,000? Damn you’re cheap! There are businessmen and politicians involved in this who earn that amount A DAY. So how much do you pay them? $1,000,000,000? Sound fair? Let’s say they demand a cool billion every year. Let’s say there are 1,000 of them in on it (a modest figure, I’m sure you’ll agree, given the scale of this thing)… that’s a TRILLION DOLLARS A YEAR for TEN YEARS just to keep people quiet… because any one of them could AT ANY TIME grow a conscience (or need more money) and blow the whistle.

TEN TRILLION DOLLARS… for WHAT? So they could invade IRAQ? Even though Iraq had NOTHING to do with 9/11? Even though the combined worth of Iraq comes to… wait for it… $117 BILLION a year… hang on, what about Afghanistan?? Well (being one of the poorest countries in the world AND HAVING NO OIL) it’s worth a good $14 BILLION a year, so shall we call it $130 BILLION all up…

…and we’re spending $1,000 BILLION a year on BRIBES??

That’s the conservative figure… how much does it cost to keep Wikileaks quiet? I’d love to know.

IT. MAKES. NO. SENSE. !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

You can’t grasp how ridiculous the ‘truthers’ proposition sounds to somebody who has a degree in Poltics and Modern History and has travelled as extensively as I have. You might as well be arguing that the world is flat or that an eclipse is a dragon eating the sun. IF there is ANY truth in what the ‘truthers’ claim, why doesn’t one of the more wealthy ‘truthers’ make a civil case against the US government? Anyone with a bit of wonga can do it. But they don’t, do they? Why is that Joe?

Maybe because it would require REAL EVIDENCE and a ACTUAL MOTIVE for the US govt to be behind it… and, as yet, NOBODY has provided me (or any of the millions like yourself who obsess over 9/11) with either.

It may make you sleep easier at night to believe that you live in a universe in which everything happens for a logical reason, but that doesn’t make it the case. The 9/11 hijackers had the motive, the opportunity and the ruthlessness to go through with one of the most spectacular terrorist attacks the world has ever seen – and hopefully will ever see. All they needed was a few flying lessons, nineteen plane tickets and some box cutters. Scary eh? Tough. That’s the way the world is: shit happens… it doesn’t necessarily follow that the shit was put there by the Men In Black to enslave humanity and feed us to the space lizards.

As I tried to get across in my last reply, there are REAL messed-up things that politicians, governments, corporations and businessmen have done and are still getting away with. As I travel, I meet people who want to talk about how every major event or every famous person’s death is a conspiracy (JFK! Diana! Elvis! Evolution! The Moon Landings! Climate Change!), but very few who want to talk about what the Sudanese government has done in Darfur in the full view of an indifferent and apathetic world.

Hell, maybe you and the 9/11 ‘truthers’ are part of a conspiracy to distract people from talking about what’s REALLY going on…

Go on, it’s the space lizards, isn’t it?

I KNEW IT!!!!!!!

To which Joe wrote:

Well Graham, I guess there’s just no convincing you. Usually i dont bother trying to convince anyone because i figure if you believe the “official” story then your just a believe what your told kind of person. I think your stuck on the disbelief that people would be evil or careless enough to do it, but just look at your list of “real” atrocities. Every single day people in power take horrible advantage of people, genocides are very real, slavery is very real, the oil industry really has decimated the Nigerian Delta, the Fed Reserve really did give (print out of thin air) over 1 trillion dollars to the same banks that wrecked the worlds economy. These aren’t even denied and no one does anything. How much convincing do you think it takes to get a soldier to fire bullets into a crowd of protesters in Syria? Mindless people do what they are told, against their own beliefs and morals, every single day, every day of history even. They don’t have to be “paid off” they just want to maintain their status quo, get their paycheck, not ruffle any feathers. As an independent person (remember that i also took a 2+ year epic journey around the globe) you dont get it, but most people want to be part of a “gang”, be told what to do and do whatever it takes to fit into it. Also i think your stuck on “it’s the government”. The real powers that be are the international bankers and corporations, that are above any one countries jurisdiction. If you think those assholes have ANY morals whatsoever then your just lying to yourself.

If you think killing 2000 Americans is some major line that had to be crossed, consider the fact that over 6000 have died in the wars so far. 3 times more have died than the original attack. How about the 100,000s of Iraqis and Afghanis (innocent bystanders many of them) that have died. Nothing is “better” in either country in 10 years. What the hell are we doing there? Obviously nothing good. (Even you admit 60 billion dollars of the “rebuilding” money vanished) It’s all a farce. But i will just stop, because if you can’t see the nose on your face then who am i to show you a mirror. No offence.

So i’ll just leave it be at this point. I highly recommend you do some more research, all of the answers are out there, very easy to find if you want to

There’s a point at which your eyes are rolling so far to the back of your head there’s a good chance you might detach your retinas.  I was rapidly approaching this point.  With the ad hominem attack of  me being a “believe what you’re told” type of person ringing in my ears, it was no more Mr. Nice Badger…

At the end of the day, I’m asking you to provide me with solid evidence and you’re asking me – in true conspiracy theorist-style – to take your word for it based on no evidence whatsoever other than opinion, conjecture and idle speculation.

And then you sign off with ‘the answers are out there’ like its an episode of the X-Files, yeah…. so’s Russell’s Celestial Teapot, but I’m not going to waste my life looking for it.

Sorry my friend, but as Christopher Hitchens quite rightly points out, claims that can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.

And that’s where this conversation (which, quite frankly, I tire of having) ends.

But Joe didn’t want to leave it at that.  Funnily enough, he found it hard (impossible, maybe?) to explain the exact mechanisms for keeping all those people quiet, and herded me instead to watch a bunch of 37 second YouTube clips: essentially adverts for the 9/11 truther’s “product”.  Which seems to be… bullshit.  Joe wrote:

I assumed that you were capable of doing your own research (and would trust what you found more wholly) but if you want some actual evidence then I can provide you that.

The top 40 reasons http://911truth.org/article.php?story=20041221155307646

Here is a recently released video with the backing of 1500 architects and engineers about WTC7 that proves it was a controlled demolition. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0z6LMGXDZnI

more thermite evidence http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ezIU6ZxYU3A

the pentagon? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mcWT2lQszEE&feature=related
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BmP2Vy8K0i0&feature=related

The planes had no windows
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jRC4lCQuBmcfeature=related
and apparently weren’t in the air
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B2QAh0rBrew&NR=1

Senior Officials, Government employees, People who were on the 9/11 commission don’t believe it

Just go through all of the info on
http://www.911proof.com/
http://www.911truth.org/

It seems like you made up your mind a long time ago about this issue, maybe there are some new bits of information that you are unaware of.

The reality is the history of mankind reads as one endless power struggle between the elites. Ghengis Kahn rode across the Central Asian steppe slashing and burning his way to Europe? Alexander the Great convinced his country to march into Turkey and lay siege to its cities on the way to Egypt and India. The Caesars murdered everyday during their reign, as did the Goths, the Ottamans, the Moors, the Franks, the Germans (did Hitler have to pay off all of the Germans to be convinced the extermination of the Jews was ok?) the Brits, all of Western Europe raped, murdered, and stole their way through the Americas, and today corporations and governments economically pillage the world (I’m sure you’ve heard about all of the help the IMF and the World Bank has brought to the developing world). Why? Because its the very nature of mankind, it’s how it’s always been, and most likely always will be.

That’s got to be the non sequitur to end all non sequiturs.  I couldn’t resist. I wrote:

Jesus Christ: The planes had no windows! They weren’t even in the air!

AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. Oh, gimme a break!

As you keep re-iterating time and time and time and time again, your argument boils down to this:

a) governments did bad things in the past (go on about ancient Rome)

b) governments continue to do bad things today (go on about American foreign policy)

Therefore… (drum roll please)

c) the US govt masterminded the 9/11 attacks

What? Eh? Hang on… erm? WHAT? You even sign off with “its the very nature of mankind” as if that’s going to convince me that it’s why no journalist IN THE WORLD fancies winning themselves the Pulitzer Prize by exposing the BIGGEST CONSPIRACY THE WORLD HAS EVER SEEN!! Wooowowowowoooo!

You might as well say:

a) pirates did bad things in the past (go on about Blackbeard etc)

b) pirates continue to do bad things today (go on about Somalia)

Therefore… (drum roll please)

c) pirates cause global warming!!!

You’re so immersed in this fantastical world that makes Battlefield Earth seem logical and you just can’t see how utterly bonkers it all sounds.

And you send me links (WordPress don’t likey too many linkys – maybe they’re in on it toooooooo!) to websites stacked full of (again) biased opinion, conjecture (it COULDN’T have happened that way… I don’t think!), hearsay (this guy, right, he’s an engineer and even HE SAID IT – explain THAT, Poindexter!) and a really annoying habit of ignoring any evidence that doesn’t fit the conspiracy theorist narrative.

The ‘forty reasons’ link is hilarious! Thanks for that! Here’s an example of how utterly invalid the points are…

6) Did cell phones work at 30,000 feet in 2001? Maybe not, but the PHONES IN THE BACKS OF THE CHAIRS DID.

38) “Al-CIA-da?”
The longstanding relationship between US intelligence networks and radical Islamists, including the network surrounding Osama Bin Ladin.
 Oh look, they’re talking about the CIA assistance to the Afghan Muhajideen in the 1980s – BEFORE BIN LADEN EVEN ARRIVED IN THE COUNTRY. Hey, Stalin was our ALLY in WWII, and then the Cold War happens… ha ha, look at the stoopid sheeple believing in the Cold War!! Tsk! It was all smoke and mirrors!

In short, IT IS NOT EVIDENCE – none of it is. It would NEVER STAND UP IN A COURT OF LAW, it would NEVER BE PUBLISHED IN A PEER-REVIEWED SCIENTIFIC PAPER.

The best you can hope for is the National Inquirer and a few paranoid, tinfoil-hat wearing fruit-loops on the internet who BY GOD I never want on my jury… unless I’m guilty of cause ;-)

Again you’ve failed to adequately explain a motive (they’re just EVIL! They don’t need a motive!), where all the money went, why there’s no paper trail, why they didn’t just “make” AT LEAST ONE of the hijackers Iraqi or how on earth the US govt keeps this under wraps when you and I both know that two people can only keep a secret when one of them is dead.

Not ONE of the intercepted 9/11 pager messages published on Wikileaks said “Phase One Complete. Plan for invasion of landlocked resource-poor Central Asian basketcase on schedule!” Maybe the governmentals use that telepathy what they learnt from them Aliens in Roswell, eh?!!

:-D :-D :-D :-D :-D :-D :-D :-D :-D :-D :-D :-D :-D :-D :-D :-D

The arguments you use are exactly the same as climate change deniers and the young Earth creationists. I can sit a climate change denier down with a Nobel-prize winning scientist who can show them all the evidence in the world that climate change is real, man made, happening right now and something we should be damn worried about – and it STILL won’t change their mind. I can take a young-Earth creationist to the Natural History Museum and show them fossils from millions of years ago and they’ll STILL think the world is 6,000 years old.

Like them, NOTHING I or ANYBODY can say or do will persuade you otherwise.

However, you could persuade me: all I’m asking for… is evidence.

Why can’t I persuade these people? Because that’s what you and they WANT to believe. Climate Change is scary. Evolution is demeaning. Better to just stick your fingers in your ears and go lalalalalalalalalalalalalala.

9/11 truthers like yourself are exactly the same mindset. You WANT to live in a dystopian world in which rich Western governments oversee the wholesale slaughter of 3,000 civilians LIVE ON TELEVISION and get away with it. So long as you get to feel like you’ve got the magic powers, the vision, the intellectual vigour to know what’s really going on, and you can badger people online and in the pub with the old “everything you know is wrong!” fallacy. And WHY do you find the “9/11 was the govt” theory so appealing? Well, according to psychologists, because it’s what you would do.

Yep, conspiracy theorists seem to score higher on Machiavellian mindset tests than people like me. But it’s not like I don’t have any Machiavellian thoughts (we all do), it’s that I’m humble enough to know there would be absolutely NO WAY I could get away with it. The sad thing is, conspiracy theorists are the ones who think they could get away with it, an arrogant inflation of their own (and by extention, others) abilities to pull off the most horrifying acts of violence and walk away scot-free.

From your own comments on this site, you appear not to think much of humanity: you talk about human nature being essentially evil and you say (perhaps sarcastically, who knows?) that 2000 Americans “is a drop in the bucket”. (I’ll assume you mean ocean… it could be a small bucket).

These are the opinions of a psychopath. And while you subconsciously project your murderous desires onto a terrorist attack like 9/11: the REALLY scary thing is you consciously believe that you could get away with it, therefore it follows (in your mind) that the government could.

That’s worrisome. You should really get some help with that.

—————————————————————————————————————-

You started this discussion by asking me how I can ‘deny’ the 9/11 conspiracy nuts. Maybe I should explain.

I don’t have a religious/spiritual/faith bone in my body. I really don’t. That’s not to say I am a nihilist, I most definitely am not. I just find it incredibly difficult (more like impossible) to believe anything I’m told unless it passes a quick and easy mental test:

1) Does it sound plausible?

2) Is there any solid, unbiased evidence to support the proposition?

Needless to say, for me, the 9/11 truthers fall at the first hurdle. It sounds as plausible as Elvis working in a KFC on the moon. As for the second extremely reasonable question, the evidence is painfully flimsy, all based on bad science and conjecture… and almost comically biased.

But I think everybody runs through that same mental test, and you know what? For some people it must sound plausible, for some people the evidence presented on hysterical websites is all the evidence they need: hell, it fits their bleak, paranoid world-view that we’re all cogs in a vast machine – a vast machine that wants to sell us Coca-Cola or something.

But my brain will never be wired that way… I dunno… possibly because I’m not a psychopath?

Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. The 9/11 wingnuts don’t even have ordinaryevidence, even after a decade of obsessing over every last element of that dreadful day in September. All they got is a one-way ticket to Palookaville.

You’ve had your say and I’ve allowed you to post your utterly bonkers links which users of this site may click on if they wish. Unless you have something new to add to this conversation – (and I’m talking something that could win you a Pulitzer), I won’t be approving your next reply.

You see, I have the power to approve people’s replies on this site, since I pay for it and maintain it myself.  I can also edit people’s replies.  And then Joe surprised everybody by writing:

You know, after reading your solid rebuttal I do admit it DOES all sound a bit silly. Maybe I’m just a little naive, you know, and the habit of stuff like ‘Loose Change’ to ignore the inconvenient facts, cherry-pick evidence that suits its (for-profit) agenda and take quotes out of context is really starting to make me question my entire opinion on the matter.

The ‘Machiavellian mindset’ thing you posted was very interesting, and I have to admit I do have a tenancy to think the worst of people and that everyone has a price. I guess I am a little paranoid and yeah, you’re right, I kinda wanted the government to have masterminded 9/11 – I don’t know why, possibly because it would confirm all the bad things I think about everybody who isn’t me.

I’m also concerned by something I noticed while surfing conspiracist websites… a definite anti-Semitic tone, one that has a tenancy to deny the holocaust (or say it ‘was no big deal’) and claim that a shadowy cabal of Jews are responsible for all of the world’s ills. It’s very similar to the rumours that led to the Pogroms in Russia and then the Holocaust itself, and that worries me, especially as my great-grandfather died fighting the Nazis and I’d hate to belittle his sacrifice by supporting the beliefs of right-wing fascists and racists – the very people he gave his life fighting against.

I found this brilliant article on the cracked.com website: http://www.cracked.com/article_15740_was-911-inside-job.html Cracked is pretty funny, but it really helped me to see things as they really are, rather than how I would want them to be.

Anyway, I just wanted to say THANK YOU for setting me straight, I’ll try in future to have a little bit more trust in the inherent goodness of humanity (after all – we’ve made it this far haven’t we?) and a little less time badgering people to believe in stuff that is — I admit — pretty far-fetched. I’ve been reading up on some of those issues you mentioned in a previous reply and I honestly believe that my time would be better spent spreading the word about stuff we SHOULD be getting angry about, and — more importantly — bad things that are happening right this moment that together we CAN do something about.

Take care and safe travels,
Joe.

PS. I did warn ya! ;-)

Oh, okay then… I wrote that last one myself.  Joe’s real last reply was (predictably) more links to YouTube videos and websites that gnash their teeth and holler about global conspiracies, with (as always) nothing but conjecture, cherry-picked evidence and the conceit of the paranoid mind to back them up.

But before I go, I just want to ask you something.

Q: What links Nazis, holocaust deniers, Soviet apparatchiks, climate change deniers, corrupt policeman, tin-pot dictatorships and 9/11 ‘truthers’?

A: A determined and concerted effort to take things out of context to fit their twisted world-view. 

Winston’s job in 1984 was an editor of history: he would physically black out facts in books and newspapers that were in contradiction to Big Brother’s narrative (one that, in the context of the novel, changed with political expediency).

It’s easy to do: I’m a professional video editor, I know what you mischief you can make with a clever snip here and there… you can change the true meaning or intent of just about anything.  Imagine Jonathan Swift’s A Modest Proposal taken in isolation from all of his other clearly satirical works: it would be the ravings of a madman – a homicidal, cannibalistic madman.

If the only song you knew by John Lennon was Happiness is a Warm Gun  you would probably never guess that he was an avowed peace activist and that the song is either clearly ironic or a sexual (and possibly narcotic) metaphor.  As far as I’m aware people shooting real stuff with real guns didn’t make John Lennon happy – in fact it made him dead.

If all you knew of Nelson Mandela was that he was sent to jail for attempting to blow up a train, and the context of apartheid South Africa was missing from your narrative, you’d possibly be wondering why he was ever let out of his cell.  You’d crap your pants when you found out he was made President.

If the only clip of Star Wars Episode I you had seen was Darth Maul pulling out his double-ended lightsaber, you might be fooled into thinking Episode I was actually a good film.  It wasn’t.  Watch this re-edit of The Shining that makes the scariest movie of all time look like a heart-warming comedy.  Clue: it’s not that difficult.

In short, context is everything.  But for your local conspiracy-theorist (and the list of their fellow nasty badgers above), context is something to be suppressed, an irritation to be edited away – and there seem to be enough willing Winstons in the world happy to go along with it.  Maybe the government attached a rat to their faces once.

Conspiracy-theorists want you to ignore all the evidence to the contrary and fixate on a select line that fits their pre-conceived narrative – and so we find ourselves at the mercy of the tyranny of soundbites.  If you look at what the Nazis did with Nietzsche’s works, you’ll see how pernicious this practice is.  Watch out for it.

In any conspiracy rebuttal piece or video, you will notice a very different tactic: they invariably fail to show you the full video, the full interview, the full set of photographs – making it impossible to take the material out of context.  For every one photograph that the conspiracy nuts hold up as some sort of talisman of all truth and logic, the rebuttalists are more than happy to upload twenty that show what actually happened from all different angles.

This is important – it shows the conspiracy theorists for the deluded hypocrites they most certainly are.  They accuse the government (or whoever) of ‘covering up the truth’ and then proceed to use the exact same tactics that a ministry of propaganda would use in order to get its nefarious message across.

We all need to draw a line in our minds between what is true and what we wish were true.  Otherwise that line can become blurred; hence the number of people who go on X-Factor firmly believing that they can sing when even the deaf can see they cannot.  In order to draw another person into your wish-fulfilling delusions, they need to share the same desire for it to be the case: so you’re probably not going to get very far with me.

I hold a fairly strong belief (backed by evidence, of course) that conspiracy theorists are all of a particular mindset.  One that is generally paranoid, border-line psychopathic and Machiavellian to a greater extent than the general population.  If nothing else travelling to over 180 countries around the world has re-affirmed that not everybody is out to get me – most people are inherently good, law-abiding citizens who will go out of their way to help a straggly wayfarer in distress.

And until some Earth-shattering revelation is made by Wikileaks, the BBC, the Independent newspaper or two renegade journalists working for the Washington Post, I will never seriously entertain the mere possibility that those people brutally murdered on September 11 2001 were killed for any other reason than nineteen paranoid, psychopathic and Machiavellian bastards bought their golden tickets to the ancient and hollow lie that is the Elysian Fields with the blood of 2,977 innocent lives.

Conspiracy Nut Cornflakes David Icke
And David Icke says…….

The central belief of every moron is that he is the victim of a mysterious conspiracy against his common rights and true deserts. He ascribes all his failure to get on in the world, all of his congenital incapacity and damfoolishness, to the machinations of werewolves assembled in Wall Street, or some other such den of infamy.

– H. L. Mencken, 1936

 

Day M80: A Hitch In Time

16.12.11: Christopher Hitchens died yesterday. Bugger.

Unlike the deaths of John Peel or Douglas Adams, it didn’t come as a shock: it was no secret that Hitchens had cancer and that it was terminal, but it’s a kick in the bollocks all the same. Militant atheists like myself have lost our most persuasive, eloquent and impassioned voice.

Richard Dawkins is a great author and a great explainer of science (The Ancestor’s Tale is one of the best books I’ve ever read), but I can see how he rubs people up the wrong way. He often loses his patience with his opponents and gets frustrated far too easily in debates. Dawkins is a clever man, I sure he’s aware of these shortcomings, so it’s no wonder that he said he regarded Hitchens as a (sort of) mentor.

With a glass of whiskey in one hand and cigarette in the other, Hitchens always came across as measured and diplomatic: even when coming out with the least measured and least diplomatic Hitch-Slap against his opponents. His genius was not necessary what he said, but like a great cricketer, it was all in the delivery. With a calm demeanour and a clever turn of phrase he could steamroller his adversaries into a corner and tie their argument in knots.

And, lets face it: he was cool. Given the choice of Dawkins, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, Pat Condell or Christopher Hitchens, I know which one I would rather spend a night out on the lash with.

I’ve been flicking through the obituaries and its difficult to come up with something original to say about Hitchens, other than he was a one off. One thing that is relative to this blog is that Hitchens had travelled extensively in his lifetime, usually to places reserved for peace-keeping troops and journalists in bullet-proof vests. This was something about Hitchens that was picked up by the travel section of the LA Times, whose otherwise gossamer-light article threw in a couple of pieces Hitchens had written about England and Bombay. They ended the article with the words ‘There’s much more, of course, to be gleaned from his works for those who don’t mind their travel writing spiked with plenty of outrage and opinion.’ This made me chuckle.

Most people hate it when travel writers actually have an solid opinion on a place or go off on some mad rant about the abuses they encounter while in countries other than their own. Seems to be the way of the world these days: don’t ruffle feathers, don’t speak your mind (unless you do it anonymously on a Yahoo news page), please keep off the grass, thank you. When Lonely Planet dropped a link to this site on their Facebook page earlier this year, after the first few positive comments, I got a some shock horror reactions from people who were mighty offended by negative things I’d written during The Odyssey Expedition about their countries (which was one of the reasons I wrote “10 Things I Hate About U(K)”).

Apparently what I should have said about Pakistan is that it’s a wonderful place, very neat and tidy. A place where they treat people with dignity and respect, human life is sacrosanct and has really, when you think about it, been nothing but a gift to the world. But if I wrote that I’d be a sycophant or worse, a liar. If you want goofy ‘OMG! Everywhere is just, like, you know, so AMAZING!’ then you’ve come to the wrong place. If you want travel writing spiked with plenty of outrage and opinion, then I’m more than happy to pick up where Hitchens left off.

Sadly, picking up where Hitchens left off in terms of his militant (yet eloquent) atheism is going to be somewhat more of a challenge. Getting atheists together is often (accurately) described as being a lot like herding cats. We lack the charismatic charlatans that are part and parcel of religion (there’s little money to be made out of them thar atheists), and now more than ever we need competent public speakers who can show in word and deed that it’s possible to be a good person without believing in the sky fairies of yore. We need more brave souls willing to publicly rage against the injustices perpetrated by the tyrannical (or tragically misguided) followers of fanciful, not to mention moralistically flawed, Bronze-Age texts.

The death of Christopher Hitchens is undoubtedly a huge blow to the forces massing against the monolithic and despotic religions that afflict our otherwise beautiful little planet. But the good news is that the damage is done. Over the last ten years, atheists, sick and tired of the atrocities perpetrated by the True Believers of the world, have started coming out of the closet like never before. On this journey, I’ve met atheists from Panama to Palestine, from South Africa to Saudi Arabia, from Kerala to Kentucky.

Atheist books sit on the New York Times bestseller list for months. The Irish government has openly criticised the Vatican. The Church of England is tearing itself apart over the issue of gay priests. The revolutions in the Middle East this year were overwhelmingly secular. People are turning to atheism in record numbers: which is why the Pope has been so vocal against us in the last couple of years (more vocal than he’s been about the paedophile priests he willingly enabled). Perhaps he fears the coffers that line his palace (and his clothes) with gold are going to start to dry up.

But that shows we’re winning. The dam has been breached and no amount of Polyfilla is going to plug the gap. In a recent study in the USA, it was found that atheists knew more about religion than people who regarded themselves as religious. This is no co-incidence. Like a vampire dining on the blood of the poor, religion feeds off ignorance, fear and poverty. The more educated we become, the more empowered we become. We’re sick and tired of the undeserved privileges afforded religions, the barefaced hypocrisy of so-called ‘holy men’ and the arcane and barbaric laws that they support.

Of course, 9/11 was a major catalyst for this sea change in attitudes. On that day the world was slapped awake and many saw for the first time the ugly vomit speckled face of religion at its most murderous and vile. Religion has survived several onslaughts over the years, but this was different: in one masterstroke, the architects of 9/11 proved beyond a shadow of a doubt what atheists like myself had been saying for years: that the world would be better off without religion.

And what would a world without religion look like? Well, we have a case study: at the end of World War II, in order to achieve a peace with Japan, the USA forced Emperor Hirohito (after a nuclear bomb or two) to renounce his divinity. Do you see what they did there? They robbed every mad-as-a-bag-of-cut-snakes Kamikaze pilot and every Japanese soldier willing to fight to the death… of their religion.

What happened? Did the world end? Did the sky fall in? No. The Japanese put down their weapons and started making cars and PlayStations instead. Today, Japan is one of the least religious countries on Earth… thanks to the USA, one of the most religious countries on Earth. I wonder if Alanis Morrissette would think that ironic.

Compare Japan and the USA over murder rates, crime rates, poverty statistics, productivity, happiness, longevity, infant mortality, education… you name it, Japan comes out on the good side, usually by quite a long way. Hell of a case study eh?

If Sam Harris started the fire with his book The End of Faith and Richard Dawkins fanned the flames with The God Delusion, Christopher Hitchens turned up to the party with a billycan full of petrol. Hitch may be gone, but the fire he helped set is going to blaze for decades yet.

One day, the last stone from the last church will fall on the last priest, that vast hollow musical brocade of lies, subterfuge, hypocrisy and corruption will wither and die, the relentless pounding of the boot of religion on the face of humanity will cease and desist. It’s as inevitable as the tide.

It’s a shame that Christopher Hitchens won’t be around to see it.

But if you want to be around to see it yourself, for the sake of all that’s unholy, pack in those bastard cigarettes.

Day M83: How To Write A Blockbuster – Part I

19.12.11:

I’ve been spending my days and nights (mostly nights) on board the good ship Southern Pearl practicing the ancient art of writing. I’ve been writing my blog (of course) which will one day become my book (it’s now pushing 750,000 words, so it’ll have to be edited down somewhat – James Joyce’s Ulysses is only 250,000 words). I’ve been writing Programme Bibles for TV shows you may never see and writing film scripts the names of which you may never see in backlit marquees. I don’t mind, I just enjoy writing. And then inflicting said writing on my family and friends.

Writing, especially fiction writing, appeals to my love of two things: puzzles and logistics. Since I was a kid I’ve loved puzzles. It’ll come as no great shock to anyone that my favourite video games when I was growing up were the point n’ click adventures of Golden-Era LucasArts.

When writing a screenplay, the puzzle revolves around how you get your characters from the set-up to the dénouement without invalidating the title. This is were logistics come in, and why writing fiction seems to me very closely related with what I’m doing with The Odyssey Expedition: I’ve got to think of clever, speedy, interesting, but overall logical ways of getting from point A to point B to point C and so on.

For most of my stories I have a series of hooks, which, while they are awesome ideas for individual scenes, have to lead naturally from one to the other. You give a lousy reason for going from big scene to the next, you find yourself in the territory of Episode 1, Transformers 2, Pirates of the Caribbean 3 or Indy 4: you just end up pissing off the audience.

Figuring out these links, for me, the most fun part of writing. They might come in the middle of the night or sitting on the toilet or while riding on the top of a lorry through the badlands of Northern Kenya. The thing is that once you make the connection, once you run through all the usual pitfalls in your head and it still makes sense, it just seems so bloody obvious in hindsight. Of course that’s how they escape! Of course that’s what makes the plane crash! Of course that’s why the baddie left that clue! D’oh!

It’s like a whodunit in which only you can work out the solution.

Sadly, Hollywood seems stuck in an ultra-conservative glut at the moment, with all the remakes, reboots, sequels, adaptations floating around I’m amazed when we get a single original concept for a film squeezing through each year. The only big one from last year was Inception.

Some of the greatest films of all time: Citizen Kane, Casablanca, North By Northwest, All About Eve, The Apartment, Midnight Cowboy, Star Wars, Alien, Indiana Jones, The Terminator, Back to the Future, Pulp Fiction, The Matrix, Memento and Crank were NOT adapted from something else, they were original ideas specifically created for a specific medium: film. Original ideas seem in short supply in Hollywood today, which is why American Television is running rings around the silver screen.

So I reckon there’s no better time for you to have a crack at writing a blockbuster. I’m sure you’ve got ideas floating around your noggin and you’ve got time in your life to read my ramblings so you can’t be that busy! There’s no reason why, with a bit of help, you can’t knock out something resembling a Hollywood film from back when they were good (ie. the Twentieth Century).

The thing about film scripts, and why writing them is a much better idea than writing a book (if you’re a lazy procrastinating sod like me), is that you don’t ever really sell a script, you only option it. If it’s a smokin’ hot script, you could get, say $200,000 just for the option rights. But here’s the best bit: if the studio doesn’t make the film within two years (say) the option rights revert back to you.

So then you can option the same script again for another $200,000 to another studio. There are millionaires living in Hollywood who have had no script of theirs ever made into a movie. Seriously.

Because I’m such a great chum, here are some tips and strategy that I’ve gleaned from reading various books on scriptwriting, attending scriptwriting courses and watching thousands of films. You’d pay $500 to go to a seminar to be told exactly what I’m going to tell you now, for free. Think of it as a Christmas present for sticking with The Odyssey Expedition blog over all these years.

If I manage to inspire you to write a film that makes a billion at the box office, don’t forget to mention me in your Oscar acceptance speech.

Day M84: How To Write A Blockbuster – Part II

20.12.11:

The Premise

First up, work out the basic premise in your head. Don’t worry about making it all make sense just yet, just worry about the main features of the story. At the very least you should have a strong set-up, a strong dénouement and a good title. Unfortunately for you, the best movie titles of all time, Ice Cold In Alex, There Will Be Blood and Snakes on a Plane have already been taken, so you’ll just have to think of another one.

But in the States they called it 'Desert Attack!'. Groan.

At this point, if all you can think of is a single scene, you should really consider writing a short movie instead.

The Audience

This is important, possibly the most important thing about scriptwriting.

You need three things to tell a story: a story, a storyteller and an audience. Otherwise you’re just talking to the wall. It’s interesting that British people take so long to figure out you need an audience: Americans get onto this fact a lot quicker.

Before you write a single word, ask yourself “who will be the audience?”

If the answer is “art-house patrons” then congratulations! You’ve narrowed down your target market to less than 1% of the cinema-going public.

The British/Australian/Canadian/New Zealand film industries struggle enough, they don’t need even more crap clogging up the system and scaring off investors. Be realistic: it costs a MILLION DOLLARS to make a ‘cheap’ movie. For your idea to become a reality someone will have to feed, clothe and house dozens, maybe even hundreds of people for up to six months… AND THEN have to re-coup the all the money or you’ll never work in this town again etc.

As each person in the UK goes to the cinema (on average) once a year, your film about a woman who lives in a council estate in Salford, gets beaten by her husband and then kills herself is going to present something of a problem. Your magnum opus will be up against the likes of Spielberg, Clooney and Stratham.

If your idea is as niche as a novelty sex toy that only works if you’ve walked on the moon, you’d be MUCH better off writing for TV. You’ll not need to obsess over cutting a profit, you’ll reach a wider audience than you ever would via the cinema, you’ll reach the right demographic and hell, Stephen Poliakoff, Matthew Graham and Steven Moffat are three of my favourite writers. When it comes to capturing close, intimate, character-driven drama, TV is a far superior medium than the cinema.

Here’s a quick test you can run in your head: is this storyline something I’m likely to see in a soap opera? If the answer is yes, to paraphrase Layer Cake: you’re in the wrong f—ing business, son. If the answer is no, great! Welcome onboard, let’s write a blockbuster movie.

For your blockbuster to bust blocks you’re going to have to write to your audience. Regular cinema goers are heavily weighted towards 13 to 35 year old males. You’ll have much more luck selling your script and becoming an overnight millionaire if you target that key demographic. Failing that, if your audience is ‘children, but parents will be entertained as well’, this is also acceptable, especially if you’re writing for Pixar.

Just Start Writing

Okay, now, before you do anything else: START WRITING.

This is the hardest bit of the whole process. Just write, write anything, just fill the pages with words.

This is a bit like when you start to learn to drive and the instructor says ‘just drive’ and directs you onto the main road. Nerve-wracking I’m sure, but the kick-the-baby-out-the-nest-so-it-flies method is pretty much tried and tested around the animal kingdom, so of course it applies to driving lessons and creative writing as well.

Correct Formatting

An incorrectly formatted script will not be read by anyone but your mum.

In order get the formatting right, download a copy of Final Draft. If you fancy having a go on your own, the only font you’re allowed to use is Courier 12pt.

Your script should start with the words ‘FADE IN:’ tabbed over to the far right. Then you’ve got the scene heading, always written something like this:

INT. MORGAN’S HOUSE – DAY
EXT. MORGAN’S HOUSE – NIGHT
I/E. MORGAN’S CAR – THE NEXT DAY

You must put whether the scene is INT. (interior) or EXT. (exterior) or I/E. (both) and make it clear whether it is day or night (a throwback to the days when each of these set-ups would require different film stocks). You can also get away with using CONTINUOUS, MOMENTS LATER, MORNING or EVENING.

Then you’ve got the ‘blackstuff’: the action. If you want to conjure up a fantastically detailed world, write a book. The blackstuff should be kept to a minimum, as in Shakespeare. Apparently, the scripted directions for the 20 minute long flying fight scenes in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon consisted of two words: “They Fight”. Details are up to the director, not you.

When a NEW CHARACTER is introduced his or her or its name is written in CAPITALS. Ditto for SOUND EFFECTS.

When people speak the correct format is:

GRAHAM
This is the correct format.
Final Draft will do this for you automatically. It’s clever like that. It’ll also allow you to add (V.O) after the character name for Voice Over, (O.S) for a voice Off Scene, such as on the other end of a telephone line and (O.C) for Off Camera, for somebody in the scene whose face you maybe don’t want the audience to see.

You can also add a ‘wryly’, but I’d suggest you keep these to a bare minimum. A wryly is a scripted direction on how to say something.

RIPLEY
We’re all going to die.

HUDSON
(sarcastically) <– this is a ‘wryly’
Well that’s just jolly spiffing isn’t it? Man.

Bit pointless? Yesh Mish Moneypenny, I wouldn’t bother unless absolutely necessary, give the actors and director some credit. Each page of your script will equate to about 1 minute of screen time, so you should aim for about 100 pages. You have to write “FADE OUT.” justified to the right of the page at the end. That’s it, really.

So that’s all your major formatting points done. Keep your first draft diabolically simple. Write the script in chronological order and keep the dialogue plain and functional. You’ll be mucking about with it later.

If you get stuck on how to bridge the gap from one scene to the next, just skip the gap for now. Just get down everything that’s in your head on paper.

Your First Draft

What you’ll end up with will be 100-odd pages of something so shockingly bad you wouldn’t want it to use it as a doorstop lest you offended the door. This is your first draft. DON’T WORRY, they’re always bloody dreadful. Nobody in their right mind would turn the first draft of a script into a film.

I said "in their right mind", didn't I?

Okay, now the real work begins. You’ve got your malformed, illogical, boring lump of clay. Now I want you to mould it into something beautiful.

Day M85: How To Write A Blockbuster – Part III

21.12.11:

The Re-writes Begin…

There are certain rules you have to stick to in order to write a successful movie script. If you would prefer to ignore these rules, write a novel instead. The rules of movie making are pretty much set in stone and you’d have to be either very brave or very stupid to break them.

Reservoir Dogs follows the rules. Casablanca follows the rules. The Godfather follows the rules. The Shawshank Redemption, Being John Malkovich, The Big Lebowski, Little Miss Sunshine, The Matrix, Gran Turino, Platoon, Raging Bull, Inception, Annie Hall, The Wizard of Oz… no matter how clever you think your favourite movie is, chances are, if it turned a profit at the box office it follows the rules.

You want to see a film STICKS IT TO THE MAN and THROWS THE RULE BOOK OUT THE WINDOW…?

You don't. You really don't.

Okay. Every film ever made tells the same story, which is… (drum roll please…)

Somebody Wants Something,

But They’re Having Trouble Getting It.

Identify who the ‘Somebody’ is, what exactly is the ‘Something’ they want and what exactly the ‘Trouble’ is lurking in their way, and hell, your script might be actually getting somewhere.

The story of this ‘Somebody’ will have Three Acts. Preferably no more, and definitely no less. If you must, you can dick around with the chronology (Memento, Pulp Fiction) later. Preferably in the edit suite.

The Three Acts

Act One

Act One is your set up. You must introduce your Somebody: your protagonist. Spell out what he or she wants and give us some idea of how he or she intends to get it. We should meet (or at least be aware of) the antagonist within the first few pages. Act One should cover the first 30 pages of the script.

If the protagonist isn’t revealed to the audience before the end of Act One, then you’re in trouble. You can, if you’re VERY lucky, manage to switch protagonists (Marion Crane/Norman Bates in Psycho), but this rarely happens, because it rarely works.

But the important thing is you MUST have a protagonist or the story will not work. Star Wars Episode I lacks a protagonist, which is just one of the many reasons why it sucks so bad. Some ensemble films (Magnolia, Traffic, Crash) have more than one protagonist, but the rules are the same: identify what their problem is, and spell out how they intend to overcome it. Ensemble films are notoriously tricky to get right, so I wouldn’t bother: in any case, they rarely set the Box Office ablaze.

Act Two

Act Two is the journey. The protagonist MUST make a conscious decision to embark on this journey themselves (they then take the audience with them: if they’re tricked or simply following somebody else journey, they’re not the protagonist!). We have to see the protagonist develop and face challenges issued by the antagonist in getting what he or she wants. By midway through the movie, the protagonist should be flying high. Then it all goes horribly wrong.

By the end of Act Two, all should be lost. Your protagonist must seem as far from his or her goal as they could possibly possibly be. This is the turning point of the film, not just in terms of plot, but also in terms of character development. It’s now that the protagonist realises, like the Rolling Stones, they may not always get what they want, but if they try sometimes, they might get what they need. Act Two should cover around 60 pages.

Act Three

By Act Three the protagonist has changed as a result of the journey. This gives them the tools, confidence, wisdom, whatever, to overcome the antagonist. It can consist of between 10 and 30 pages, but don’t overdo it, it’ll get boring very fast.

By the way, a tragedy (such as Being John Malkovich, Amadeus or Macbeth) runs along the same route except the protagonist gets what he or she wants too early on… when this happens, they become the antagonist. They’ll learn their lesson too late to do anything about it and lose everything by the end of the story. For a masterclass in this kind of character arc, see Walter Whyte in Breaking Bad.

For an example of exactly how not to do it, see Star Wars Episode III.

Archetypes

In a two-hour movie, especially if it’s the kind of action-orientated flick that might actually stand a chance of making millions, your protagonist will invariably be an archetype. Pretty much every great character in cinema history from Rick Blaine to Charles Foster Kane to Vito Corleone to Andy Dufresne has been a archetype. There’s nothing wrong with this: it’s still perfectly possible to get your subtle nuances across.

Save The Cat

The next thing you need to do is “save the cat”. Unless you’re writing the script for a film in which we all already know the protagonist (James Bond or Indiana Jones), we don’t know this guy, why the hell should we care what he wants? We have to like him. This is pretty easy to do, you just need a scene in Act One in which they (perhaps unexpectedly) do something heroic: ie, save a cat rather than eat one for lunch. It’s not like cinema audiences don’t want to manipulated.

Main Character vs. Central Character

Every film (with the exception of ensemble pics) has a main character and a central character. They can be the same person (Neo in The Matrix, Popeye Doyle in The French Connection, Forrest Gump in, er, Forrest Gump). But if you want to be clever you can make them separate people (or entities).

Consider: Mozart is the central character in Amadeus, the frikkin’ movie is named after him. However, we watch events unfold through the eyes of somebody else: in this case the jealous, vengeful Salieri. The same thing happens in King Kong, Ferris Bueller, Immortal Beloved and Atonement.

Generally speaking, the central character is what drives the plot forwards, but we see the story through the eyes of the main character. The major difference (and why this technique is used so often in historical movies) is that the main character can (and does) change during the course of the film, the central character can’t. Kong will be Kong until the day he is shot off the top of the Empire State Building, but without Kong nothing in that movie could possibly happen. Ferris Bueller isn’t the main character of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, it’s Cameron that changes: he’s the one who trashes his dad’s car and says he’s happy to face up to the consequences. The film is actually about Cameron.

Even a film where it looks cut and dry, like The Shawshank Redemption, pulls this trick on you. At first glance, Andy is the main character, but think about it: he never changes. Red changes (think of the final parole hearing scene), which makes him the main character — we also see the events through his eyes, not Andy’s. This is one of the reasons Morgan Freeman was nominated for Best Actor, not Best Supporting Actor.

Sticking with Stephen King’s Different Seasons for the moment, in the story The Body (which became the film Stand By Me) Chris Chambers (River Phoenix in the film) was the main character, which worked fine in the book, but when translated onto the big screen it just didn’t work. Director Rob Reiner decided to pull a switcheroo and made Gordie the main character instead, and went on to create one of the most-loved movies of all time. Again, we see the film through Gordie’s eyes and Gordie is the character who changes at the end, not Chris.

As in Stand By Me, you’ll often have a group going on a journey together, but notice there’s still only one main character: Luke Skywalker, Frodo Baggins, Mikey in The Goonies etc.

It’s the comforting lie that Hollywood has been (very successfully) peddling for over a century: the fallacy that people can change.

But if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.