Tuesday, March 04, 2014

In chaos and riots

"I have great sympathy for the oppressed but I do not expect them to be morally superior to the oppressors. I merely expect them to be oppressed."
Jerome Barkow

A timely post of something that was stuck as a draft for years, now that the argument is being attempted for the use of water cannons in London. So far the Assembly Police and Crime Committee has found there is no case to use them, but with a Tory-led government and Boris as mayor, let's wait and see.


So, riots and looting.
Lots of people are eager to offer their tuppence worth, "send in the army", "it's because of the cuts, youth workers are losing funding, the EMA is being taken away", "mindless thugs", "take away their benefits and housing".

Once again attempts at identifying the problems, usually in an effort to avoid repetition, are often shouted down as attempts to excuse idiots of their idiotic actions. No, how do people get to the point of thinking that acting idiotically is okay? If you aren't interested in the reasons then you are effectively writing off a whole subsection of people and you may as well just arrest any young people in hooded tops who live in estates, and their children and their children's children and so on. Is it more important to perpetually deal with the symptoms or the illness (or sickness to quote Cameron)?

Panic on the streets of London

As Laurie Penny says in the above article: "Violence is rarely mindless. The politics of a burning building, a smashed-in shop or a young man shot by police may be obscured even to those who lit the rags or fired the gun, but the politics are there."

Laurie mentions watching an NBC report where a man is interviewed, asking if the riots achieved anything.
"Yes," said the young man. "You wouldn't be talking to me now if we didn't riot, would you?"
"Two months ago we marched to Scotland Yard, more than 2,000 of us, all blacks, and it was peaceful and calm and you know what? Not a word in the press. Last night a bit of rioting and looting and look around you."

Surely not? When was there a march on Scotland Yard of all places, of over 2000 people, just a couple of months ago and surely when marches are prime time, after the student and union marches we've had in the last year? I haven't heard of it, have you?

Smiley Culture march

Smiley Culture was a reggae star. To quote the linked article "The reggae star, real name David Emmanuel, who grew up in Tulse Hill, died of a single stab wound to the heart in the kitchen of his home in Warlingham on March 15.
The 80s star allegedly plunged a carving knife into his chest when he went to make himself a cup of tea during a police drug raid on his home."

A couple of thousand people, mostly Black, went on a protest march to Scotland Yard to demand justice for another suspicious police-related death.

Deaths in police custody

So there have been 193 deaths in the custody of the Metropolitan police (link to Wikipedia, main source is a Houses of Parliament report) from 1993 to 2010, more than 10 a year for 17 years. No one is going to claim that anyone was rioting and looting as a direct result of Mark Duggan's death during an arrest, but it's indicative of a general atmosphere that exists in the places that most people do their best not to think about. The kids who took to the streets did so out of greed, out of anger, and stupidity, and there was obviously no desire to 'make a statement' beyond the usual machismo swagger, but these are the kids who live in a world of gangs and petty crime, of real and imminent fear of violence and police being a threat rather than a source of help.

So many people are speedy to rebuff the explanations involving poverty and deprivation as if the only sign is literally being too poor to eat and that the kids should have been stealing staple foods if it was about poverty. But why has the threat been made to take away the looters' benefits unless it's implicitly accepted that these kids are at the bottom of our society?
When you grow up in a culture of endemic unemployment, surrounded by the relatively easy money of drug crime, in an area like Tottenham (where unemployment in June 2011 runs at 8.3% compared to the London average of 4.2% based on claimants source).

Is their poverty a literal cause of their looting? No, but it's a reason for fostering a state of mind where such behaviour is seen as desirable, let alone tolerable. Many people have questioned how people can attack their own communities - but what is their sense of community? The insane idea of postcode violence and the idea of the boundaries that creates might help to understand how hostile the world could become, especially if your family is barely that, your substitute family is a gang and the police are hostile rather than helpful. Could the Fairy Jobmother Hayley Taylor help these kids?

Fallout: New Vegas

Here's an old review I found in my emails, thought I'd just get it out there. 

Fallout: New Vegas is often accused of being little more than a retread of the critically acclaimed first person RPG Fallout 3, and the use of subtitle rather than a sequel number would go towards supporting that claim. However, despite the bugs in the game build this is a far larger prospect than any DLC could deliver.

Many of the game mechanics are lifted wholesale from New Vegas' predecessor, with the same First Person perspective, the same menu access via the wrist-mounted pip-boy, the same levelling up system granting incremental skill increases and related perks, the same inventory system and the same VATS targeting.
Despite the many similarities it was the extensive exploration that made Fallout 3 such a special game, the sense of discovery when coming across new buildings, caves or areas and uncovering the stories of those who lived (or used to) within is what drove the hundreds of hours of gameplay that many fans poured into it. Finding a skeleton slumped on an office chair near a note and a pistol on the floor helped to conjure the feel of a world destroyed, where survivors were struggling to get by.

While mainly not trying to fix what wasn't broken, New Vegas introduces some new elements to the mix with the new survival skill helping you to craft new items from component parts, and disassemble and reassemble numerous types of ammo for your weapons depending on your related skill levels. Levelling up is now staggered, with some levels providing only skill increases without extra perks, though you can earn perks from task repetition - killing a set number of mutated insects grants a permanent advantage against them in future.

Compared to Fallout 3, New Vegas is quite a lot harder. Even ignoring the crazy Hardcore difficulty mode (where you need to regularly eat, drink and sleep regardless of combat damage, and ammo has weight alongside the other items in your inventory) the game throws up a stiff challenge when just attempting to get from place to place. In the Capital Wasteland of Fallout 3 the creatures roaming the countryside soon became distractions as your abilities outmatched them; in New Vegas a number of the creatures you meet (including new faces such as geckos and wasp-like cazadors) remain fatally vicious a dozen levels into the game, making companions more of a necessity than they were the first time around. Elements of the Hardcore mode seep down into the lower difficulty levels, such as food and health items working over time rather than delivering instant boosts, which definitely ups the challenge when facing hardened foes. After 28 hours of play I still found myself killed in seconds when I was ambushed by a small group of deathclaws.
Another new element is that of the factions present in the Mojave desert. In Fallout 3 you made choices that affected your karma, choosing to help slavers or decent townsfolk changing your standing in various people's eyes, but in New Vegas you can have different standings with the various groups depending on your actions. Initially you can mingle and mix with any of the groups (excluding the raider types who attack any strangers on sight) but as you decide to align with specific people, you will inevitably clash with their enemies. Karma is still as obvious as it was (stealing and murdering innocents is bad), but the factions' allegiances aren't necessarily clear-cut from the start.

New Vegas is a welcome update of the successful Fallout 3 formula with the emphasis wisely placed on exploration and combat. Any fan of the original will find something to love here, and the new variety of environments and enemies brings a freshness to the game despite the same basic template.

Friday, February 07, 2014

Vanilla Coke - the return (plus so much pop it's sickening)

So, anyone who has had the misfortune to dip into this on again-off again
blog may know that the frequent soft drink reviews sprang up as a result of
the withdrawal of Diet Vanilla Coca Cola from UK distribution, my favourite
chemically flavoured carbonated water drink of All Time. After I sourced
the last few bottles I could find in London, from the now closed
convenience store that used to be opposite the Trocadero on Shaftesbury
Avenue, I set off on a quest to try new drinks and new flavours.

Then, in Spring 2013, Coca Cola deigned to reintroduce Vanilla Coke to
Britain. You'd think that this would be a call for celebration, seeing me
throw the parties this year that I didn't for the jubilee or Olympic Games
last year. But no, because those evil capitalist pigs at Coke in their
infinite wisdom have decided not to bring back the Diet version.

So, after being available for over a month, I finally caved in and
bought myself a bottle of full-fat 6-teaspoons-of-refined-sugar tooth decay
that is Coca Cola Vanilla.

Opening the bottle there is a barely traceable whiff of vanilla, but almost
undetectable. I decided to decant a morsel into a plastic cup to see if a
larger surface area would improve the olfactory impact.
A slight increase but still akin to a whiff of perfume brought to you on
the wind from across an industrial estate's car park.


I'm one of those people who insists they can tell the difference between
Coke, Diet Coke, Coke Zero, Pepsi etc. and I have to say I prefer the
chemically sweeter taste of Diet Coke to the sugar version.
In this case it's no different - there's a dark acidity in full fat Coke
that disagrees with my palate and the slight hint of vanilla flavour
doesn't skew the flavour into a favourable direction for me. Similar to the
smell, the vanilla taste is so slight as make me suspect some sort of
homeopathy was in action at Coke HQ.

Whatever, my dreams are dashed, hope is gone, light put out from the world
etc. etc. etc.

I could stomach the stealing of water sources in developing countries for
their sticky fluid, their implicit acceptance of the murder of trade
unionists and various other global corporation-scale crimes, but bringing
back the Vanilla with no Diet option? Sacrilege.
Also - 53g of sugar in a 500ml bottle. 53g! 58% of your RDA! It seems crazy
that this can be sold without being labelled as a poison.


My ongoing sampling of fizzy pops is starting to wind down as I come across less examples of thus far unsupped beverages, but here's a quick roundup of ones I've tried in the last year:

Fentiman's cherry tree cola
A little hiss once the cap is twisted; the smell is very similar to cola bottle chewy sweets, but with a fruity hint. The taste is pretty much that; very nice, though after half the bottle I had an odd, rubbery after taste.

Barr Red Kola
Open it up, and there's a stale boiled sweets smell.
On pour the fizz dissipates quickly. First taste you get that smell again but more fruity, but the taste is only slight, not overpowering,  with a rubbery after taste and a very sugary feel. The fruity taste is garbled, nothing standing out or separately hanging back. I'm not quite sure how this relates to cola, it's a vaguely fruity pop with little distinction.

Free & easy Sarsaparilla
Rooty smell, as in root vegetables. Gross taste, a rubbery, beetrooty sweetness.
Somehow bitter without being bitter? Confusing. 

Pepsi Max Cherry
Faint cherry smell on opening. Has that distinct Pepsi taste beneath a slightly sickly sweet cherry, almost  feeling like it leaves a teeth-coating residue despite the lack of sugar. 

Heritage diet cola
A bit thinner in the colour than most colas, unsurprising for a budget offering. Fairly weak odour, it smells as you'd except. 
Slight taste, a little cloying despite the lack of sugar, it's definitely well below the par of the main contenders, but it's a sliver above most own brand store colas I've tried.

Belvoir ginger beer
Weak flavour but a substantial heat provoked at the back of the throat. The smell is a bit artificial lemon, the flavour doesn't increase later but the heat dies on.

Fruity once the top is off,  that remains once decanted into glass, but the taste is altogether somethig else. Bitter sweet, with a taste that seems to come from the roof of the mouth. A sickly sweetness lingers there, but it's hard to place the origins of the bitter flavour, it doesn't have the earthiness found in other kola nut colas.
The blurb is odd. Inspired by a 12th century taoist recipe, but with Amazonian Guarana. As it's 98% apple juice I can see with hindsight that the bitterness comes from the acidity.
Can't see myself ever drinking this again. 

Ginger Grouse 
Nice smell, smooth taste with slight ginger bite. Pleasant but maybe slightly too sweet. Citrus is evident but not overwhelming but the advertised whisky is very hard to detect.

Wychwood Brewery Ginger Beard
Smells like proper beer: bitter and acrid. Tastes like beer too, but milder with a sweet gingery mask over the bitter undertow of the barley malt. This is a beer infused with ginger as opposed to a ginger beer infused with alcohol, but this should be no surprise as it states this on the label. Woe is me and my sweet, sweet tastebuds. 

 Crabbies Strawberry and Lime
So, I like Crabbies ginger beer, but the limited Strawberry & Lime version is absolutely and totally foul, the worst combination of sickly sweet and slimily sour.

Crabbies Orange
Another limited edition of Crabbies, this time the orange flavour is unwholesome but not as immediately foul as the Strawberry and Lime monstrosity.

Friday, August 09, 2013

Lies, damn lies and statistics

At 35 I am no longer a young man, and therefore am now just an 'angry man', which is devoid of the political or existential connotations wrapped up with an 'angry young man'.

One of the many things that makes me angry these days is the continued ignorance of vast swathes of the UK populace, and the creepy seeding of this by large sections of the media.

If you've seen any sort of debate about benefits or unemployment in the long years since the current coalition came to power, you'll know that there's a fairly rigid dichotomy of scrounger hating left and Tory hating right.

So far, so predictable, but because so very few of us decide to actually try and find out information for ourselves to inform opinion, I'm finding myself exasperated when every time some right-wing troll insinuates that a Labour/left-wing government loves to keep people on the dole, 'trapped in benefits culture', their left-wing counterpart mainly points out how nasty Tory policy is or somesuch, or maybe points out the lies behind received opinion about the number of people on long term unemployment benefit.

After a cursory Google search I found two pretty non-partisan sources of information which you can use to show unemployment rates Before Thatcher in '79, during the long Tory stranglehold through to '97 and the New Labour smarmy takeover:

This Trading Economics website link presents handy drop-down menus that allow you to see the rate of unemployment between 1971 and 2013, and you can choose the time frame you want to see and the presentation of the figures, it's all very snazzy.

This Office of National statistic link will let you download a pdf outlining unemployment stats from 1881 to the mid 1990s. It goes into a lot more meat than the former link and obviously back much further (though doesn't have the benefit of stats once Labour gained power in '97).

This chart shows what happened, with massive unemployment after the Torys gained power, sustained until the late 80s where it declined, only to jump up again with the early 90s recession, before slowly falling until Labour took over, at which point it carried falling to pre-Tory levels and stayed that way until the global economic crisis burst out in 2008.

You can argue about Labour being in bed with the financial industry that put us in this current mess (I doubt you'd find evidence to suggest either party wasn't), you can argue about ploys to massage the figures (perpetrated by both parties and so as likely to cancel each other out as anything - the ONS report looks at this), but the facts show that if any party is content to have a huge proportion of working age people on benefits, it's the Tories.

So why do the left, at the very least Labour members and MPs who you'd think have a vested interest, seem unable to ram this home each and every time anyone attempts to pin some ridiculous notion to them?

I'm no Labour supporter and have always mistrusted them since they swept in with Tony, that mistrust cemented by their bloody warmongering, but the Tory alternative is turning out bleaker than I remember from the first time around and my opposition to their stated policies and ideals based on actions has never wavered.

In summary - Labour are about jobs (the clue's in the name) whilst the Torys are about private profit, and as any business owner knows employees are likely to be the biggest expenditure of any enterprise, so lay offs are on the table and while there is still a welfare state, those made jobless are forced to claim for social security (provided from National Insurance and taxes they have paid).
In the absence of the voter support suicide that is totally dismantling the welfare state, the Tory machine has been demonising benefit claimants, whilst simultaneously cultivating and maintaining the conditions that keep the proportion of claimants higher.

Here are the stats broken down a bit around the times of the changeover elections, just to highlight the stat movements more clearly:

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Prueba el arcoiris

Levi Roots Fiery Ginger Beer
“Put some music in your glass”

There’s a slight hint of ginger, nothing too strong once the bottle’s opened.
Pours smoothly, barely any fizz to be detected. The odour once in the glass is less strong, if anything, with a slight citrus hint.
The ginger is a background flavour on the first taste, with the lime mellowing it out, though the spice of the ginger lasts for a few seconds afterwards in the throat. The honey doesn’t really stand out but probably provides the smoothness.
It’s very pleasant, but I’m not so sure about the music. It’s a little too hardcore to become a regular tipple, though - sugar, caramel sugar syrup and sweeteners? A little too much, even if it doesn’t taste that way.

Each half litre bottle has 36g of sugar in it, or 40% of and adult’s daily dose. Shazam!

Go to - http://www.reggae-reggae.co.uk - for more info about Levi Roots, the famous jerk chicken sauce man. He’s got loads of stuff now.

Sainsbury’s Iron Brew Zero

The tangy, fruity smell of Irn Bru is evident when cracking the can, and a bit stronger once in the glass. It’s smells practically the same, but the taste doesn’t match.
There’s something a little more ‘normal’ about it, a bit more fruity, the sweeteners making it seem something more like a liquidated boiled sweet than an approximation of Irn Bru - definitely sweeter than the diet version of the original.

It seems odd that a supermarket chain would seek to replicate a sugar free rip off version of Irn Bru, when the diet version of the original is so hard to come by, you’d think there wouldn’t be much demand but I suppose the supermarkets know that price is going to be a big factor - this stuff works out at 3p per 100ml from a bottle.

The reasons for the sweetness may be the sugar-free additive, sucralose.
According to Wikipedia:
"Sucralose is an artificial sweetener. The majority of ingested sucralose is not broken down by the body and therefore it is non-caloric. In the European Union, it is also known under the E number (additive code) E955. Sucralose is approximately 600 times as sweet as sucrose (table sugar), twice as sweet as saccharin, and 3.3 times as sweet as aspartame."

600 times! so there you go.

Meantime Grand Cru Raspberry Beer

I’ve never liked beer. Back in my teens I tried it, of course, but I couldn’t go so far as to ‘develop the taste’ for it that so many grind their way to, basically grinning and bearing it in desperation to be a proper grown up man, like legions of broken-voiced, gangling Pinnocchios. Probably a result of the hops, beer has a mouldy, earthy quality that to me tastes of rot and decay.

Crabbie’s ginger beer inspired me to think about trying flavoured beers, it’s nice so maybe fruity beers and the like would be okay?

What does it smell like? Well, it smells like beer. You know, beer, the foul besmircher of once great men, the sweat of many an elderly public house, the spilled effluence of a night on the town. Awesome. And while the slight, rosy tint hints at fruitiness, it mostly looks like beer too, with frothy head and all.
But what does it taste like? Beer. Weak beer, admittedly, but beer all the same with no actual hint of the berryness supposedly interred within. Regardless of the fancy bottle and label, this tastes little different (to me) than the mass of beers that heave and groan on shop shelves and behind pub bars the length and breadth of the country. Pish.