Sunday, June 26, 2016

To my shame, Brexit and the Idiot Platform

I spent a coach journey home in Radiotopia, listening to Benjamen Walker's Theory of Everything and Love+Radio; specifically, The Future, Platform of the Real, and The Silver Dollar. In Platform of the Real, John Herrman refers to sites like Facebook as platforms, and, as the episode closes, says they're now the venue for culture - it's a nuanced point, detailing the changing relationship between creators, the media industry and audiences, but it was that simple statement that struck me, and, as the title of this post states, shamed me.

For the past two mornings, I'd been wallowing, laying in bed, scrolling through Facebook on my phone, sinking lower and lower. Where normally there'd be a stream of banality and babies, the algorithm was now full-on Brexit. But, disturbingly -- though, unsurprisingly -- it was populated by the more reserved of my 'friends', being anything but; the anguish, regrets, and pledges for the future were hard to read, reflecting much of what I'd been dealing with since Friday morning.

We were staying with friends in London this weekend, in close quarters, and the scenario of us all on phones, "Did you read this?" "Yes, did you see that?" between rooms, all on the platform, just exacerbated these feelings, from my point of view.

Then I cracked. Lamenting to those around me wasn't enough.

I too shouted at the void.

I had posted late Thursday, blandly, reliving the horror of that other recent election night, sick with it afresh, and, in retrospect, assured that tomorrow would see the sun rise on the status quo. Now, I attempted to redact that with fresh sentiments, in one of those posts of a few lines that takes an hour to write, such is glut of things to say, that no words can keep up with the inner diatribe.

And then I got called out. From another circle, outside the EU, importantly. Nothing awful; just a question: what's the matter with you?

I felt embarrassed. What was the matter with me? I needed to get a grip. I'd listened to BBC Radio 4's More or Less five-part program on the referendum on the coach trip to London. I knew it wouldn't be the end of the world. And yet I was one of those people. And others -- many others! -- had seen. And, worse still, as I tried to justify myself -- both the initial statement, and subsequent shout -- the enormity of my ignorance began to sink in. The frequency with which I consume traditional news sources has been dropping for years, but I looked upon the current state of my knowledge with fresh, ashamed eyes.

Loathe though I was to admit it, the platform was my culture. I was one of them. To be summed up by one hardly-insightful statement on a podcast. And, even more disturbing, many of the people I respect were doing the very same thing, from a more informed position, undoubtedly, but there just the same.

As I listened to the rest of Platform of the Real, this sense of dread, about the future of media in particular, started to take hold. It seemed to be a problem slipping beyond the control of any of the traditional checks and balances. Then my mind drifted back to The Future, and, referring to the mid 2000s, what they called the Rise of the Idiot. I could see post after post in a gallery someone had shared that morning: absolute vitriol, and in the real world as well, with people sharing their coming face-to-face with hate, just days after what many now clearly see as a mandate to hate.

And how can we safely oppose them? Daryl Davis, interviewed for The Silver Dollar, recounted unquestionably-great successes by, one on one, giving people a platform to be heard, and replying in measured tones, over time. But that was a long time ago, and this Rise of the Idiot seems a problem on an entirely different scale. What to do, in the face of this mob? I too want to stand beside my friends in a pledge to do more, but feel woefully ill-informed and awash in the hate.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Potential versus fame, or Be all that you can be versus Be more of a somebody

I just finished listening to Episode #9 of Millennial, entitled "Becoming More of a Somebody" and it's brought up a lot of conflicting emotions. Right at the top of them is that this is the sort of thinking that comes from growing up believing that you can do anything, which seems so much more prevalent today than it was in the 80s. (Which is the broadest of generalisations, I realise. I feel like stereotypes were so strong back then, with real power.) I found myself thinking that Lee, one of the three awarded the much-sought-after Kroc Fellowship, got it because he'd done something else; that NPR didn't want another enthusiastic, but -- in terms of varied walks of life and work -- inexperienced voice on the radio. Lee'd taught. Maybe something in his pitch or his approach was new to them, and they liked it.

The idea that everyone is a somebody is something I live now, every day. Working for a SEN charity, it's a given. What follows from that is helping people reach their potential - another phrase I don't think I really understood before seeing how people can be beaten down, through actions and words, obviously, but also through simple assumptions, to the point where they don't even know what they're really capable of, let alone believing they can achieve it. So you're helping them recognise and reach for that, and, ultimately, hoping they'll find a place in a community, and some happiness.

But it can also be a crippling idea.

For years I didn't have any strong feelings about what I wanted to do. I chose Computer Science as a field in my last year of high school, and accepted the first position I was offered upon graduating. I was earning good money in a stable job before I really had time to worry about it; something that the Millennial podcast has helped me appreciate, in retrospect. But that lack of strong feeling persisted, and then the "Be Somebody!" platform of the Internet arrived. Things like Geocities were almost exclusively soapboxes. And that's the danger I'm referring to. For me -- and Megan Tan obviously, given the title of that episode -- being somebody meant being somebody with something to say, and recognised as such; someone to stand out from the crowd; that there are somebodies and then there are SOMEBODIES, which, while obviously a contradiction, I found insidious.

It's the wanting to have something to say, wanting that creative spark, that put me in such a quandary for so many years. I was taking vocational tests, worrying about the colour of my parachute, searching for my passion, for my 'thing'. (Unfortunately, I didn't actually try anything, like joining clubs or volunteering my time.) I think a big part of why much of that has quieted in recent years is that I've finally come to realise that life isn't just about creating. It's also about doing; about, well, living. (Call it living by example if you want, although that makes me feel a bit uncomfortable, like I'm in church again.) For example, just by being there for someone, every day, or even once a week, gets that message across, that they're somebody, in a way that I could never express through essay, poem, short film, etc. And it gets played back to you, of course: I know I'm somebody because I see it in the faces of the people I help, the people I love. I don't know why it took me so long to understand that. Likely, it's that I wasn't doing enough, to get that positive reinforcement.

And it isn't that I'm now free from doubt. After listening to an episode like that, I'm still going down rabbit-holes: "I've experienced so much," "I could bring so much to a radio show," "What should I create?" And then I laugh and hop on my blog.

Monday, February 29, 2016

Moments in Henley-on-Thames

Lost in heartache? Immerse yourself in art. It's cliché, but I was reminded of that advice last week while in Henley-on-Thames. I had a few days off, and spent much of it on that stretch of the Thames Path, and in the River & Rowing Museum.

As I recall, the advice suggests that such exposure will lead one to the inevitable conclusion that human suffering is ubiquitous, and, importantly, survivable. What came to mind, after exploring some of Hockney's works, and reading Murakami's focused memoir, was how a more general sense of connectedness and wonderment can also come from those sorts of moments.

David Hockney: from the beginning takes up but one room in the River & Rowing Museum, and, at first glance, didn't seem like much. Close to three hours later, I left, my head abuzz. From the collection highlighting his fascination with water to his narrating footage of his creating an etching and having it printed, I found the selections absorbing and compelling. My favourite was A Bigger Splash (1973) - all 105 minutes of it, and worth every one. I loved its pace and simplicity, and the way his works came alive in it - the live-action mirroring of The Room and Beverly Hills Housewife, for example, and growth of Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures). And to think that all this was created when my parents were in the prime of their youth. I can't explain why that thought kept circling my head. It was all so vibrant, crackling with an energy all the more apparent in the measured stillness; in a word, it felt modern.

And the day before, I'd spied a tantalising, stylised road to the horizon on the cover of a Vintage edition of Haruki Murakami's What I Talk About When I Talk About Running on a rack in the bigger Oxfam shop in Henley. Walking the Thames Path, listening to the wildfowl, and the terse instructions from a coach astride a bicycle - gosh, that's awkward... Cycling coach doesn't work... Nor does becycled coach, I'm sad to say - to his rowing student, as they both easily outpaced me in a matter of moments, I was reminded of Murakami's joy in running without music. As he comments, one can't help but feel privileged - in my case, as I looked out over patchwork sunlight on the distant marsh. And, simply put, it's inherently uplifting to read about someone harnessing that much energy - both physical and mental - particularly at the age Murakami is writing about (and at the age I'm reading it!).

In summary, I'd hoped that the opportunity for a few days away in a new place would be a short vacation of sorts, and, between the outstanding weather, beautiful surroundings and chance encounters with art, came away with so much more.

Friday, January 29, 2016

I think I've got the care bug...

What's happened to me? I'm honestly unsure. I got back from a 3-11pm shift last night completely charged up. And then today I wrote the organiser of a work trip in March - to take students to a Cardiff Devils' game! - about the possibility of helping out - despite the fact that it's a 4pm-midnight shift, and I'm already down for an 8am-3pm shift that day. Whether I'd regret it on the day is an open question, but that I'm even contemplating it... It's, well, mind-boggling.

I'm completely unused to thinking about work this way.

And it isn't just work. More generally, I find myself wishing I had more time to volunteer. There are so many great organisations and causes right here in Gloucestershire, like The Butterfly Garden, that I still haven't given time to. And I do still have some free time. But, the thing is, I know myself: I need time to recoup; otherwise, those folks I'm trying to help simply won't get my best. I'm hoping my stamina will increase as I get used to this lifestyle, but the fact is that I've spent decades sitting around at work, and then at home on my own pursuits; it's a work in progress.

Then there's other time that is free, to a point. But those evenings - and every second weekend - are, well, really important to me. I've made a lot of mistakes in my personal life, but if I had to pin down the biggest, it'd be failing to properly invest in my relationships. Back then, it wasn't about any causes I was supporting - it shames me to say that, up until a few years ago, I was living entirely selfishly - but that tension is the same; and I don't want to lose sight of what's most important to me, hands down.

Phew. That got a bit heavy. Sorry 'bout that.

Another concern is that my current roster of charities really represent squeaky wheels, of a sort. In a nutshell, they responded quickly and often to my early offers of help. They're all great, and so I'm now struggling with the idea that I should probably step back from a few - particularly some of the weekly commitments - so that I can devote time to other causes. It's particularly difficult because the motivation is mostly selfish: I want to try new things. I landed my current job that way, and a big part of me wonders what else is out there that I might like and be good at; it'll likely be related to social care, but, my goodness, what a breadth of roles that covers, even with my limited understanding.

In summary, I need to either a) prioritise where I really want to help, or b) get my mind and body fit, so I can spend those days off more effectively, or c) clone myself... Or d) all of the above.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Ask your MP to support the Pavement Parking Bill!

December 4 is a big date for the latest Pavement Parking Bill! It's scheduled to have its second reading. As Guide Dogs have said, it needs 100 MPs, in Parliament, supporting it; a big ask!

Please write to your MP, asking for their support. I've included my letter below; feel free to pillage it as much as you like. :-)


Hello Mr Chalk,

My name is John Jarvis, and I live at
[REDACTED- Make sure you include your full name and address, including post code! --JJ]

I know that you are concerned about the pavements of Cheltenham: just this summer you stated that improving their quality has to be a "top priority." Pavement parking is one of the main causes of damage to paving slabs, and is a major obstacle to not only the sight-impaired and blind -- as you experienced first-hand on your recent blindfolded walk -- but also families with pushchairs and those on mobility scooters.

In 2013, Guide Dogs released 'Parking Attitudes', which showed that 54% of those surveyed admitted to parking on pavements. Shockingly, over half of those people admitted to doing so despite considering the problems their parking decision would cause pedestrians. Certainly my own experience of guiding sight-impaired citizens around St Mark's and St Paul's in particular has reinforced this message: we simply cannot rely on others to park in a manner that isn't not only limiting, but also downright dangerous, for a great many of our fellow citizens.

Therefore, I hope I can count on your support of the Pavement Parking (Protection of Vulnerable Pedestrians) Bill 2015-16 at its second reading, now scheduled for Friday, December 4, 2015.

Kind regards,

John Jarvis


Update 08/04/2016: As you may be aware, the bill failed to pass its second reading. Mr Chalk had written me beforehand with his reasons for not supporting the bill; it was a well-reasoned letter, I must admit.

The latest news is that Guide Dogs is once again asking for your support! This time, they're looking to keep the pressure on DfT - and its Minister, specifically - to provide details on this research that's been promised, including when it will begin.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Peddling that lottery dream, or I feel dirty

I feel dirty.

I was scanning my RSS feed of the CBC's top stories when this title caught my eye: "How to plan your financial future after winning the lottery."

Initially, I just snorted and moved on. But then I stopped. Upset. Irritated. Why is my (old?) national news site wasting my time with this cruft? Surely the portion of Canadian tax dollars used to publish this pipe dream could be better spent? I mean, it turns out that it's a Canadian Press story, so I guess most of the work behind this story is funded by and serving corporate interests, but, still, the CBC is hosting it, right?

Just skimming the OLG site is enough to bring the corners of my mouth down. Again, I feel dirty. I mean, I can't be the only one who feels the glad-hands behind these sorts of statements (emphasis mine):
That is a description of OLG's mandated activities. Beyond that is the scope of our operations and the significant benefit OLG's revenues and our business activities bring to the social and economic life of Ontario. As you journey through different areas of this website, you will find ample evidence of the themes that guide OLG's day-to-day activities: integrity, social responsibility, world-class entertainment, a 'customer first' mindset, safety and security, strong community partnerships and investments, openness and transparency, and pride in history and tradition.
And, digging a little further, to their mission (again, my emphasis):
Second, OLG's net profit goes directly to the Government which uses it to support such services as the operation of hospitals; education, research, prevention and treatment of problem gambling; amateur sport through the Quest for Gold program; and local and provincial charities.
Am I the only one who would like to see the Ontario Government simply fund that stuff directly through tax dollars? I know, it's terribly simplistic, and the lottery has been around for a very long time, but, again, I just feel dirty. Hayek would probably say that the complexities of these problems, and the best means of supporting their solutions, are beyond the comprehension of any one of us; that we need to focus on the abstract indicator of profit to light our way, as it were. (I'm still trying to bottom his economic theories out, including the context surrounding their genesis, and whether the dawn of globalization in the 80s had him qualifying any of it.) But it just seems wrong: funding, and fuelling -- through all sorts of media -- these pipe dreams for the betterment of society.

Ultimately, and, likely, naively, I wish these energies could be applied to efficiently allocating our tax dollars, increasing or decreasing taxation as required.

Friday, May 08, 2015

Unfriended, and won't someone think of the children!

I had a very odd experience this evening. As is the way of these things, two distinct events, by their coincidence, have both increased in importance in my head.

I was walking home from the cinema, discussing the movie Unfriended with my partner, when I heard a "Hey you!" from across the street. I ignored it, and continued to press some silly point. The shout was repeated. I looked across the road and saw four kids aged between, maybe, 9 and 12. (I'm absolutely terrible at this sort of thing, mind.)

What followed was very confused, because: 1) we were attempting to communicate across two lanes of traffic, 2) I'm pretty sure they were using a British expression for some sort of tit-for-tat game with the soccer ball one of them held, and 3) I wasn't really listening very well, because, hello, there are some kids over there, yelling at me and gesturing like they're going to throw that ball into busy traffic!

And then they did!

And... I was going to say, over the honking, screeching traffic of my imaginings, but that isn't what happened. Over the cars that silently stopped and then moved on once the ball was out of their way, they shouted, "Throw it back!"

I guess one of their number must've run across the street to fetch it at some point, because, even as I launched into my "Boys..."

I'm not kidding, I really think I said, "Boys."

"You can't play in traffic! Someone will get hurt! Honest, this isn't a game!"

That last bit's a direct quote; I remember because part of me was thinking, "Really? Really? That's the best you've got?" I was just so upset and wrong-footed.

Even as I threw myself to these young wolves, I saw they had the ball again.

Until they threw it once more. With similar results. (Thank goodness!)

I was beside myself at this point. I think they could tell. I don't remember what I said, in response to their entreaty to follow their lead, but I suspect it was more of that terribly-compelling stuff about getting hurt.

When I look back on it now -- and after the post-mortem (not literally, thank goodness!) with my partner -- I'm sure their ringleader -- who didn't appear to be the oldest, interestingly -- was genuinely confused by me. Whether it was my accent, or that the guy in a hoodie actually turned out to be his dad, I couldn't say.

They then left us alone, amazingly (with hindsight). Even after a cyclist, who'd passed us as I was twisting my ankle on a curb -- I hadn't even watched where I was going, such was my concern for these budding misanthropes -- came back our way and, kicking their ball with him, said, "This is where you steal their ball." His expression screamed, "Wow, you don't get this much, do you? Might want to keep your head there, mate." I don't know whether they ever came back for it.

But it might not have gone that way, under other circumstances. I assumed I was the guy who would just ignore that sort of lot; that I certainly wouldn't provoke, nor even invite banter. But apparently I was wrong. Apparently, my outrage at such blatant public endangerment can reach dizzying heights. Either that, or my threshold for speaking out has dropped considerably since last I checked.

Which, honestly, is a probably the case, and a big surprise.

It's that most pedestrian of things, though, isn't it? I'm getting older. I cannot possibly relate to these kids. I couldn't conceive of acting with such blatant disrespect for others at that, or any, age. If I did, and it ever got back to my parents, a hiding would've been the least of my worries. I mean, obviously the air's thick with a failure to parent here, but, as hinted at earlier, again my coincidence presses with likely-false significance.

During Unfriended, I couldn't help but think that many of the compromising positions the central character had been caught in were, in the grand scheme of things, not so bad. Survivable, certainly. And here too is my complete failure to relate. That to unplug from a persona that's been completely razed is just as impossible as picking up and leaving a 'real' life when you're under your parents' roof.

Which all points to an underlying worry: how do you raise a child in this environment? How do you instill in them, sensibilities about the consequences of posting a video of their peer paralytic drunk in their own mess, or of throwing a ball into traffic? I'm being a bit facetious here, of course: I think I have a handle on the latter, but the former isn't so simple; it's tied up with all sorts of things, like when do you buy them their first phone? Are the instincts that I've developed, from my own childhood on -- "Shut that off and go out 'n' play" -- going to impede my own child's ability to make and nurture relationships, or worse, ostracise them?

I keep thinking that a neighbourhood of like-minded parents with children around the same age as mine would be most helpful. (That, or at least another generation of one or both of our families in very regular contact.) But then I remember that I don't really know any of my neighbours now, and many of those who I do have to interact with minimally, I don't like very much. But the point stands: this just doesn't seem like something one can do on one's own.