Notepad on Life

July 12, 2018

Swapping one nuisance for another – was that the plan, GDPR?

Filed under: Consumer,News — - @ 12:30 pm
Tags: , ,

You caused a whole nation to be bombarded with update warnings to the point where we dreaded opening our email browser.

We still can’t access many websites without first clicking cookie consent panels the size of dinner plates.

And now those of us who customarily access American media are finding the door frequently shut in our face.

You are stifling, meddling, a far bigger pain in the backside than the evil which you purport to save us from, and I hate you with a passion.

How fitting and prophetic, then, that the first time I heard the letters ‘GDPR‘, I immediately thought of Erich Honecker and the Berlin Wall.

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July 11, 2018

The good and the bad of my week – observations in transit

Filed under: Family,Kids,Men,Relationships — - @ 12:30 pm
man and child walking near bushes during daytime

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The Good

A lunchtime walk through quiet dormitory suburbs. A young boy and his grandmother walk towards me. He can’t be more than two or three and she is doing what grandparents do, describing in excited tones what their afternoon together holds as long as he promises to be very good.

I might have spotted them in a crowd, without seeing them, but vividly alone against a background of hedges and brickwork, they drag me back almost 60 years, to when I too felt like the centre of everyone’s world; protected and nurtured, my potential a source of endless joy to those around me.

This sudden recall is so powerful that I look over my shoulder after we’ve passed, not once but twice.

The Bad

Home on the bus for the weekend. Two twentysomething glorified alley cats park themselves in front of me, denizens of the call centres that seem to abound around my own workplace.

It transpires one of them has been taking team-building exercises much further than his HR department might wish, with a female colleague who’s not his full-time partner. They had apparently wasted little time on formal introductions.

This strikes a chord with his smirking friend, who’s happy to divulge his own track record in this area – the deceit, the discovery, the eventual reconciliation with his aggrieved girlfriend and how they “both laugh about it now”.

In a post-shame world, all of this gets aired at normal conversational volume, regardless of the fellow passengers who surround them, as if they were discussing going off-road in a hire car, in breach of the rental agreement.

“Feel any remorse?” one of them asks, and the ensuing chucklefest confirms my suspicion that the question was rhetorical.

When this really gets interesting, is when we disembark in town, and go our respective ways. For convention says this is the point at which a lament for lost youth should kick in, and I should glumly reflect on how tame my weekend will be compared to theirs.

Instead, and to my surprise, I feel a certain elation. I am at least going somewhere where the air may well be fresher and cleaner than wherever it is they’re off to.

July 10, 2018

The service economy is becoming economical with the service

Filed under: business — - @ 12:30 pm
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I write:

“As required by my policy, I am letting you know that I will be taking my car onto the Continent from ******* to ********* inclusive, for a family holiday. During that time, we will be driving in Belgium, France and the Netherlands.

Please confirm that the car will be covered during that time and whether you require any further details from me.”

They write:

“Hi

I am looking at your policy and I can confirm this is a premium policy and only covers you for UK use.

Many thanks”

Yes; many thanks to you, too. For absolutely nothing. How could you read my email and fail to comprehend what was entailed by the gap between my understanding of the policy and the reality of its wording? A gap that cried out for a little nous on your part – ah, my customer is going abroad while not properly covered for breakdown recovery. Here is my chance to sell him the requisite additional overseas cover and make both of us happy.

How could you not see that?

I’d name the firm but what is the point? They are out there in their dozens if not hundreds, these days; hiring glorified battery hens who rattle off standardised emails without seemingly giving the slightest thought to whether their communication actually does the job. Press this key for email precedent 12; press ‘send’; repeat.

Either we are now fully reaping the harvest of British education – not my area of expertise, so I merely throw the suggestion out there – or else this is the harvest of micro-management, where employees are kept so tightly confined within the parameters of their job description, that any kind of initiative or lateral thinking is seen almost as subversion.

This is why I no longer shed automatic tears when I hear of businesses and jobs going to the wall. Because I first want to know a little more about the calibre of business that we’re losing.

‘Strengthening the gene pool’, I would suggest,  is as much a corporate concept as an individual one.

July 9, 2018

Going backwards on race

Filed under: race — - @ 12:30 pm
Tags: , ,

Another week, another sacrificial lamb.

There is no suggestion, you’ll notice, that Jonathan Friedland lost his job at Netflix because he was using racial epithets as verbal weapons. It would seem that they cropped up in his speech only because he happened to be discussing with colleagues the use of offensive terms in comedy. They were merely pertinent to a grown-up, non-confrontational conversation.

And now they have led to Friedland suffering the same sanction he’d have faced had he called a black colleague ‘boy’. You know, genuine racism; not the synthetic variety concocted by white people trying to feel better about themselves.

Not that his dismissal was enough. Oh no, his boss, Netflix chief executive, Reed Hastings, had to serve up the word salad that is now mandatory on these occasions, garnished with the usual syntactical spices, like “privilege” and a variation on the increasingly tired not-who-we-are theme.

And this is why I fear we will never come to terms with race. What hope is there of ever reaching the finish line when we insist on repeatedly falling at the first hurdle of semantics?

Truly sophisticated societies are better than this. Wiser than this.

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As a counterpoint to the Netflix story, two interviews this week – both from completely unexpected sources – took me forward a little more on the subject of race. What a shame both interviews are now decades old

Mr T has been a glorified cartoon figure on the periphery of my consciousness ever since he first found fame, but a tumblr meme led me to this clip on David Letterman’s show, going back 36 years. The pertinent parts lie between the 3:28-4:00 and 6:50-7:30 marks….

While the reason for the name is a masterstroke, the story behind the jewellery and the hair turn the interview around. Someone initially hard to like is now an intriguing three-dimensional person, and watching the clip (and reading the comments beneath it on YouTube) I was reminded of that oft-unheeded warning that you should make sure you know someone’s story before you make your mind up about him.

I had similar initial misgivings about this Playboy interview with Miles Davis from 1962. Davis could be as weird and spiky as his post-60s musical output and didn’t always fare well in Don Cheadle’s recent portrayal of him in Miles Ahead.

(On the subject of which, incidentally; if you want to talk race, consider that the film was only assured of financing when they worked a fictitious white guy into the script, as it was felt a ‘black movie’ wouldn’t play well with certain audiences.

As someone who enjoyed Spike Lee’s early work in the 80s without once thinking, ‘This needs a white character…’ I was genuinely dismayed when I learnt this. All our efforts at equality and we’re still stuck here? Yet it passed with little more than whispered outrage in the media. But we’re firing executives for context-specific terminology, so fear not, folks, it’s all good.)

The interview with Davis, however, is candid, explanatory, fascinating and maybe emblematic of a time when people were more free to talk and get straight to the guts of a matter. With the whole issue of race today seemingly multi-layered to the point of being insoluble, the trumpeter reminds us that it has always been a simple thing…

“All Negroes want is to be free to do in this country just like anybody else.”

He also makes an observation which I think is overlooked in white-centric Society, and which, while it might shame me to admit as much, hit me square between the eyes…

“You know two thirds of the people in the world ain’t white?”

How different might this planet’s development have been, I wonder, had those words been painted on early-19th century school walls across Europe?

July 5, 2018

‘Zulu’ row feels like Rorke’s Drift for reason

night television tv video

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For so long, it has been a stirring piece of entertainment. One of the few movies of half a century ago or more that refuses to gather dust, but keeps finding its way onto 21st century TV listings.

Here’s why I keep giving the time of day to Zulu. Because survival against the odds is an inspiring theme. Because besieged men who refuse to buckle is something from which I can derive succour even in my undramatic world. The film’s popularity suggests I am not alone in that.

Among the emotions it doesn’t instil are a renewed conviction in the supremacy of British grit, or a yearning for a return to the days of empire. Because grit, I recognise, is a human quality, not a national monopoly; and because while empires happen to be the way in which the world once came of age, I see that they have had their day, because they came at an unacceptable price and that’s not the way the planet should function.

Part of how that insight came about was the fact that I was able to see the film at all, however. When I read articles or heard interviews concerning the drawbacks of imperialism, I was all the more receptive to them because I had some familiarity at least – albeit through Hollywood’s filter – with the subject matter. Those critiques didn’t exist in a vacuum; they had context which brought them to life.

And that’s what is  so flawed about the thinking that would have Zulu retreat from our consciousness, along with Little House on the Prairie and historical figures like Cecil Rhodes. It’s knee-jerk to the point of childishness; poorly thought-through, and a sorry echo of our fumbling efforts to make nice when discussing race.

You might not want to lionise the mentalities such people or publications represent, but my goodness, we and those who follow us need them as reference points. They show us starkly how we were, how far most of us have come since, and why that movement must never be reversed.

They provide context without which education becomes a shallow, abstract exercise that struggles to take root.

They come for Zulu today, they will come for Huckleberry Finn and To Kill a Mockingbird tomorrow. Does that feel like a better world to you?

July 3, 2018

About that Dubai ‘playground’…

Filed under: foreign,Law and order,Religion,Travel — - @ 12:30 pm
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I was never entirely comfortable with the ad breaks during Channel 4’s tenure as a horse racing broadcaster.

With its royals heavily invested in European racing, blanket promotion of the paradise to be found in Dubai was ever-present, yet it didn’t sit well with what I had read about the United Arab Emirates that starry-eyed international visitors don’t see.

But you can’t fault those who promote these places. Already enjoying the patronage of professional sport, the image of a supercharged Monaco with sand is sumptuously presented, and visually there is much substance behind it.

There springs to mind, however, an excellent piece of advice I once read for Brits going to holiday in America: despite the similarities, never lose sight of the fact that you are in a foreign country, for it is also relevant here.  

However accommodating to western indulgence the UAE might seem, this is still a part of the world where you can be prosecuted for pointing, as a singer has discovered in Abu Dhabi.

“The video, which was posted on Instagram by the singer, showed her singing and pointing her left hand to a mosque that is visible in the backgrounds according to prosecutors.”

Goodness knows into what overdrive Abu Dhabi’s legal system would have launched itself had the tuppenny exhibitionist Marisa Papen brought her own brand of self-expression into town.

Papen posed nude in front of Jerusalem’s Wailing Wall recently, her attempts at justification revealing only a childish inability to differentiate between “stigma” and respect. Yet for all the outrage she sparked, I see no mention of prosecution in the press coverage.

Look, we all like the idea of sand, sea and fine living, but there is something that doesn’t feel right about normalising places whose practices will never mesh with the liberal secularism of the West. Tourists who see only the brochures, and golfers and tennis players who see only the prize money, may like to reflect a little on the company they keep.

June 27, 2018

Sleep researchers should wake up to the law of diminishing returns

Filed under: Health — - @ 12:30 pm
Tags: ,
black ring bell alarm clock

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The tax man is back. Not the one demanding more of our money, but the one wanting more of our time.

Eight hours sleep are no longer enough, says sleep researcher Dan Gartenberg. Eight-and-a-half hours are the new eight hours. Which is news for those of us still digesting the suggestion that eight is the new six.

Yes, I’m a night owl, and if not exactly proud of it, nor am so ashamed of it that the Dan Gartenbergs of this world get a free pass. If I can stay awake on both the bus taking me to work and the one that brings me home, then six hours are doing me just fine, particularly when you consider the alternative.

You see,  those extra hours that these experts glibly suggest I condemn to unconsciousness, don’t exist in a vacuum. I must withdraw them from my bank of consciousness in order to cash them in for slumber.

Given a generous estimate of 20 years being left in my life, two and a half hours’ extra sleep a night depletes by 18,250 hours my portfolio of waking experiences – joy, music, travel, food, sport and books. That’s more than two years.

Even if Dan Gartenberg can promise that the extra sleep will extend my life by more than two years to compensate, that’s just his word against a mathematical certainty. And I don’t even know the man.

No, somewhere out there is a point at which extra days gained exceeds sentient pleasures lost. Unless sleep experts want to become even more irritating than ‘morning people’, they need to identify it.

June 26, 2018

Ocean’s 8 all at sea – this is why they’re not called ‘conversation shows’

Filed under: Cinema,gender,TV,Women — - @ 12:30 pm
Tags: ,
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When Graham Norton first landed his BBC chat show gig, he was asked in a press interview about the talk show genre that made Michael Parkinson great in the Seventies and where it’s gone since.

“Times change,” the Irishman replied. To his credit, he chose ‘change’ over ‘improve’. Last week, I saw why.

On the face of it, he had a banker line-up; the five leading lights in Ocean’s 8 – an all-woman version of Ocean’s 11 – Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett, Rihanna, Helena Bonham Carter and someone I’d never heard of.

In reality, he’d brought the Tower of Babel to his couch. Some of Norton’s shows have veered towards the mess that ensued but this one went straight over the edge. Too many voices all trying to talk at once, with the result that after 15 minutes, while it was admittedly hard to hear whether anything of worth had actually been said, so sure was I that it hadn’t, that I switched off.

It was a wall of shallow, facile noise, but if you’re expecting me to throw in a “that’s women for you” punchline, i have to disappoint you. This could just have easily happened had all the guests been men. Whoever first beheld the zoo radio concept in America all those years ago – seemingly the source of this more-the-merrier fallacy – and decided it was perfect for light entertainment in the UK, did us no favours.

And yet the sad thing is that Norton could have permed two from Bullock, Blanchett and Bonham Carter and probably had a great show – questioning women who seem to have their heads screwed on, giving their responses room to breathe and demonstrating that there is a difference between ‘chat’ and ‘conversation’.

The way Michael Parkinson used to do. Before times changed.

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………

If it’s true what I hear, incidentally; that Ocean’s 8 is a contrivance designed to strike a blow for feminism, then its producers may be looking at an even bigger car crash than Norton’s team.

“Awful,” was one colleague’s review after going to see it last week. “Needed a bloke.”

Agenda before entertainment? I ventured.

“Absolutely.”

And she’s a woman, by the way.

June 15, 2018

Robert De Niro’s grating

Filed under: Cinema,TV — - @ 9:56 am
Tags: , ,

If it keeps one more two-dimensional entertainer off Question Time in future, maybe something good will come of Robert De Niro’s embarrassing outburst at last weekend’s Tony awards.

You want to see the real level of intellectual debate to be found in the entertainment industry? Don’t just limit yourself to De Niro’s flawless rendition of a petulant nine-year-old: behold the ovation it prompts from his audience. Yeah, those are people I really want to be listening to when the conversation turns to current affairs.

I don’t come to defend Trump. Captain Crass he will be until the day he dies, but that needn’t stop him doing a job for his country and in that respect, I’ll judge him when his four years are up.

No, this is about the cerebral paucity and shallowness of many of his detractors. De Niro is one of the greatest actors of my lifetime but yet another in his industry who’s not quite so compelling when being himself.

Not only is there no business like showbusiness, thank goodness, but there’s no fool like an old fool. And that suit needed a bow tie, by the way.

June 14, 2018

Cold War to collusion and no-one wins

Filed under: foreign,News — - @ 9:30 am
Tags: , ,
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I’m no expert but it’s a strange state of affairs in which we find ourselves concerning Russia.

Many of you will remember the Cold War, where remoteness and division ruled, manifested in Berlin Walls and stand-offs over missiles en route to Cuba. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy captured perfectly the infuriating shadow-boxing between two hemispheres stuck at arm’s length, desperately trying to perceive each other’s movements through mist and shadow.

Well look at us now; horrified because Russia is so close, mixing with the West’s main players at the top table and allegedly colluding like there’s no tomorrow.

The aloof ice queen on the other side of the dance floor is now gazing straight into our eyes with her arms draped around our neck. And we’re just as miffed with her as we ever were.

At the very least, this suggests a planet destined never to be at peace with itself.

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