Friday, 12 August 2011

12/08/11 - Fear of flying?

Flying is something that a lot of people are irrationally afraid of. Irrationally? Well, yes – statistically speaking, it’s pretty much the safest form of travel there is, if you weigh up the number of people who fly versus the number of people who die trying. (The stats skew wildly towards the ‘certain death’ end of the spectrum if your plane starts dropping from the sky, as there’s pretty much no way out of that, but hey.) I’m not so much scared of flying as inconvenienced by it. As fancy as some airlines make it out to be, travelling in a commercial aeroplane is always going to be basically the same thing as trundling along in a National Express coach: you’re trapped in a hermetically sealed tube with nowhere near enough legroom and very little to do besides evacuate your bladder in a bored and listless fashion. And even that is fraught with inconvenience, given the nature of what you’re doing – travelling at that speed, the slightest millimetric steering adjustment from the helm could see you widdling on your shoes. It’s just not natural for people to be that far above the ground. It makes me uneasy.

Planes have a very sensible safety strategy when it comes to info. They have a black box. So if a plane crashes into the ground and decimates all life on board, leaving little but a smoking crater of woe, at least the crash investigators should be able to work out what happened. It’s possible to make something that can survive that kind of impact, heat, vibration and so forth, so why not scale it up a bit? Why not create a reinforced safety cell at the back of the plane into which the stewards can direct everyone in the event of unexpected plummeting? That makes sense, doesn’t it?
Well no, not really. Let’s say commercial air travel is, say, 99.3% safe. (That’s a figure I plucked from the ether, but it’s just to illustrate the point.) There’s very little to be gained from spending all that money on research, expensive and complex materials, crash testing, building new planes, retro-fitting the tech to old planes and so on, merely to raise the safety rate to, say, 99.6%. It’s much easier to let a few hundred people burn. It’s sort of expected that the odd plane crash will happen here and there anyway, no-one really blames the airlines. So why waste their money?
It’s like the Ford Pinto. Remember that? It was an American car in the seventies that had its fuel tank at the rear, with nothing between it and the pointy bolts of the differential; they tended to explode Hollywood-style when they were rear-ended. Ford took the decision to leave it on the market and pay out for the compensation and injury claims on the grounds that it was cheaper than a full recall and redesign. This kind of thinking never really pans out long-term.
(Actually, it’s not like that at all.)

Here’s an obvious point. Underneath your seat, there’s a life jacket. That’s a bit pointless, isn’t it? It’s just there to give you false hope. If you crash into the ground it’ll be of no use whatsoever, obviously, but just think about the logistics of a plane crash – you fall from a great height and arrive at whatever you’re going to hit REALLY FUCKING HARD. And that’s equally true of hitting water. Anyone who’s ever belly-flopped from a high diving board will understand the inherent surface tension that water has when confronted with something large smacking into it. It won’t be an uncomfortable bounce from which you can then gracefully swim, awaiting rescue. It’ll be a big, grisly fucking explosion.
So the logical thing would be to remove these life jackets and replace them with parachutes. If the plane’s in trouble, just open the door and let people get on with it. I don’t know about you, but if I was in a plane that was screaming irretrievably towards the earth, I’d at least want a chance; if I’m definitely going to be vaporised on impact, you might as well give me the option to jump out and hope to float onto something soft.
But no, there’s a very obvious reason why they don’t do this. Life jackets, safety devices as they may be, conjure up images of security, rescue and a logical solution. (And also, to a lesser extent, splashing about happily in swimming pools.) Parachutes suggest that at some point you might need to jump out of the fucking plane. And no-one will enjoy their in-flight bourguignon with the Sword of Damocles dangling over them.

All of this paranoiac guff isn’t to suggest that I am actually afraid of flying. Far from it. Aviation represents an astonishing series of achievements – we can fly like birds in massive heavy machines that look like they should just drop out of the sky, and the technology developed mind-blowingly quickly at the beginning of the twentieth century. We totally take it for granted. No, I’m not scared of flying. It’s plummeting to a fiery death that scares the shit out of me.

So, yeah. I’ve been rambling about aeroplanes because I’m flying off on holiday this weekend, which means there won’t be any more JuicyPips until September. Unless I die in a hideous plane crash, in which case you’ll have to take this ragtag digital suitcase of balderdash as the last will and testament of an unhinged lunatic, or something.

Manchester riots: dramatic footage

Don't watch this if you're of a sensitive temperament. It's super-gritty.

Clarkson beatbox

Powerslide powerslide powerslide powerslide powerslide powerslide powerslide powerslide powerslide powerslide powerslide powerslide powerslide powerslide powerslide powerslide...


Whodathunk it - in the midst of the looting carnage, we found our cities overrun by marauding celebrities! Click here.

Saved By The Bell: Interactive

Kids of the eighties: your favourite new game is here!

Alex & Liam do Walmart

Heh. Their shops are different to our shops.

Astronaut Suicides

Astronauts bloody love going into space, it's their favourite. So what are they supposed to do now the Space Shuttle's been canned...?
Click here, you'll see it's not pretty.

Threw It On The Ground


Fictional logos from film & TV - see how many you recognise. Click here.

Champion Jockey: gaming for pricks

That may seem like a harsh title, but seriously - look at the guy. Ridiculous.

Vegetable SWAT

Tenacious little buggers, aren't they?

Chastising motorists on the M1

Legendary stuff. Look at their gormless little faces...


One of the best things to come out of the August riots. Click here.

New Ladbrokes TV ad

...not really. Good though, right?

Thursday, 11 August 2011

11/08/11 - The August Riots

Well, we had a bit of a scare this week, didn’t we?
The catalyst for the widespread public disorder that swept through London, Manchester, Birmingham and various other flashpoints throughout the country was the shooting of Mark Duggan by the Metropolitan Police last Thursday, August 4th. Without speculating too much on the details of that – I’m sure the IPCC still have much to probe – it stands to reason that a prominent gang member who’s carrying a firearm and is under surveillance by Trident probably wasn’t a totally innocent victim. The rights or wrongs of that aren’t what I want to discuss here, but the subsequent events that held society to ransom, afraid to leave our own homes and fearful of losing everything at any given moment, indiscriminately and without warning.
A ‘peaceful protest’ in Tottenham on Saturday 6th escalated rapidly into massive, unimaginable violence; what began as a march to highlight alleged police heavy-handedness morphed into a violent free-for-all that saw gangs controlling the streets, the authorities overwhelmed and local residents left with no option but to watch their community burn.
The country was shocked. Parallels were drawn between Tottenham in 2011 and similar unrest there in 1985, although it was clear that the vast majority of wrongdoers were too young to remember that; what happened that night stamped out a pattern that would soon be replicated across the country: lawlessness for its own sake, wanton destruction and gobsmacking greed.

Sunday felt numb, like we’d somehow lost the ability to trust one another over the course of an evening. Monday, by contrast, was downright menacing, with palpable tension growing across the city.
I’d been keeping an eye on the news, and observed tension bleeding into action in Hackney throughout the afternoon. Before I left the office, I emailed out an all-staffer advising anyone who lived in Hackney to take care on the journey home as it was looking a bit iffy. Little did any of us know what was to come.
Arriving home at about 18:30, I found my wife watching BBC News. It was becoming increasingly apparent that things were far beyond ‘iffy’. I watched the unfolding news for nine straight hours, in utter disbelief. Occasionally I’d flick to Sky News, depending on who was reporting where at any given time, and at all times I was refreshing Twitter, keyword-searching for various different areas; Twitter was where the real, immediate, breaking news was – albeit muffled with the white noise of hearsay and rumour-mongering – and gave a very clear indication of just how overwhelming the situation was becoming.

The news networks stopped referring to the rioters as ‘protestors’ pretty quickly. It was very obvious to all that none of this had anything to do with the death of Mark Duggan. This feral behaviour was fuelled by pure greed, selfishness and opportunism. (The Manchester Metro’s Wednesday front page subsequently captured it perfectly in two simple words: copycat cretins.) These people weren’t taking to the streets in any sort of noble, logical or rational protest. They were in it for the free stuff, and the chance to smash things just because suddenly it was possible. There’s an interesting psychological analysis that suggests a certain spotlighting of the repressed; that these are people who feel under-represented and downtrodden, that this was their chance to have their X Factor flash of fame and notoriety, that they could feel a moment of power and control. It’s speculated that this is why a lot of rioters didn’t bother to cover their faces – that they wanted to be seen publically doing something that, by the skewed standards of their peers, might indicate some sense of achievement. I’m no psychologist. I’d suggest that it’s most likely that the looters were doing it because they could – they knew that the police strategy would be to contain crowds and minimise vandalism and violence rather than to pursue thieving individuals, so they went out for all they could get.
Basically, they did it because they’re arseholes.
The word that kept being repeated on the news networks was ‘anarchy’, but that’s incorrect. Anarchy is a state of lawlessness brought on by a lack of governmental authority. What we saw in these riots was simply lawlessness derived from a fundamental lack of respect.

It’s comically appropriate that the stores these thugs were looting were so demographically representative; gangs dressed in tracksuits and baseball caps looting branches of JD Sports has a brilliant logic to it, serving to wholly reinforce the fact that this was about material gain rather than to prove any sort of point. ‘Justice!’, they yelled, their arms full of sportswear. That’s not justice, that’s just being a cunt.
One group broke into a branch of McDonald’s and tried to cook themselves some food. Gangs in Salford would later break into Oxfam and Cash Converters, while numerous pound shops in London were hit. It shows a certain lack of imagination, no? There was a powerful photo of a girl in handcuffs who’d been arrested for looting Curry’s. She was wearing a Curry’s uniform. She was looting the shop where she fucking worked...

Ah yes, electrical retailers. If there’s one way to show the authorities that you disagree with their methods with regard to firearms, it’s to smash a few windows in and steal yourself a massive new telly, right? The level of electronic thievery was staggering, with dozens of pictures circulating online of hooded youths carrying enormous televisions, some trying to cram them into their cars or hired vans in full view of the police.
A statistic emerged on Monday that 49% of Xbox 360s on eBay in the Greater London area had been listed within the previous 48 hours. One berk advertised a job lot of forty brand new iPhones on Craigslist. Looters could be found wandering the streets with shopping trolleys shouting ‘anything in the basket, thirty quid each’ – what was in the trolleys? iPads, Bang & Olufsen stereos, high-end goods that they probably couldn’t be bothered to work out how to use. But where they were very focused when it came to sportswear and electronics, the rest of the destruction was entirely random; again, lawlessness for its own sake. A baby clothes shop in Ealing. A costume and party supplies store in Clapham Junction. A barber’s in Tottenham. A furniture business (family-run for five generations) in Croydon. A Gregg’s in Peckham. These buildings burned because, on each occasion, some random prick wanted to show his mates that he had the chutzpah to set fire to someone’s livelihood. Because it obviously takes real balls to throw a petrol bomb and then run away very quickly, bafflingly shouting ‘Justice! Justice!’ like some kind of ghetto Rain Man in leisure wear.

The really scary thing is that there’s no common enemy, no point of focus upon which to hang blame and build solutions. These people live within our communities. There was no terrorist action here, we can’t blame the IRA or al-Qaeda. It wasn’t a natural disaster, so we can’t fall to our knees, shake our fists at the sky and scream ‘tsunamiiiiiiiiii!’. It was kids. Kids who live in our streets. And the only way you’ll spot them today is by their brand new trainers, which they’ll all undoubtedly be wearing with misplaced, arrogant pride.
Oh, and by the CCTV images.

CCTV, as well as crime scene evidence and citizen photography, is how we’ll bring these heartless, despicable wankers to justice. Chatting to a policeman in Wandsworth on Tuesday, I was told that an estimated 70% of the looters would already be known to police, and fingerprints and DNA evidence would inevitably lead to dawn raids and arrests. And this has proved to be the case. But this isn’t just the work of the police; the people won’t stand for this shit on their own doorstep and have been going to extraordinary lengths to retain some sense of normality. Social networking, stupidly vilified by the right-wing media as being the structure for all of the wrongdoing (largely because they don’t understand the tech, and can’t distinguish between the open forum of Twitter and the ultra-secure closed network of BlackBerry Messenger), enabled rapid sharing of information and subsequent solutions. The Met Police started a Flickr stream of rioters caught on CCTV, appealing to the public to help in identifying them. But there’s a lot of red tape to circumvent and walking on eggshells that the police need to do before releasing such images, which is where the citizens shine; a number of blogs were rapidly set up, urging eyewitnesses to share their photos and videos, to name and shame those responsible. When Cameron (eventually) flew back to the country, he made it clear that ‘if you’re old enough to commit these crimes, you’re old enough to accept the consequences’. Social media allowed the public to facilitate this.
A Twitter feed entitled @riotcleanup corralled support, encouraging communities to band together with brooms and bin bags to clear up their ruined streets. The response was overwhelming, the numbers dwarving those of the scum that messed it all up in the first place. It quickly spawned @riotcleanupmanc and @riotcleanupwolv, among others, to form a nationwide movement of people-led positivity in the face of adversity; proper blitz spirit stuff. Remember the camaraderie of London after the 7/7 bombings, the all-in-it-together-ness? I’m not saying that the events are in any way similar, but the pride is a constant. Londoners don’t take that kind of shit, and their spirit rapidly spread across the nation.
The naming and shaming was helped greatly by the arrogant stupidity of the looters themselves, many of whom boasted about their behaviour and acquisitions on Twitter and Facebook and found themselves immediately and inadvertently going viral, incriminating themselves and consequently facing charges.
But it wasn’t all about action; a key mechanic in reducing the levels of fear amongst the populace and restoring things to a level of normality was, quite logically, to just do normal stuff. A Facebook group entitled ‘Going to the Winchester, having a pint and waiting for all of this to blow over’ (referencing the movie Shaun of the Dead, equating the riots with a zombie apocalypse) got over a quarter of a million likes. Another group, ‘Anti-Riot: Operation Cup of Tea’ encouraged people to stick the kettle on and submit photos of themselves having a brew – over 200,000 people clicked ‘like’ for that one. The group ‘Ladbrokes don’t fuck about when it comes to TV brackets’ poked fun at footage of looters in Ladbrokes in Clapham Junction struggling for some time - and failing - to pull a TV off the wall (in some spectacular reporting by Sky’s now-legendary reporter Mark Stone, in which he infiltrated the crowd asking the youths ‘What are you guys up to? Is this fun, is it? Is this fun?’ - click here to see), capturing the zeitgeist of fighting violence with ridicule; this was followed by the Photoshop Looter Tumblr blog, taking the photos shared on the aforementioned name-and-shame blogs and making the perpetrators look ridiculous, bundling in to get Justin Bieber tickets and being bummed by Tellytubbies.

Online solidarity was intense and all-pervading, but it was the people on the streets that provided the most vivid symbols for the news cameras. The Sikhs of Southall patrolled the streets to keep them safe, as did the Turks of Dalston. Staff at The Ledbury chased looters away from their customers with rolling pins. Millwall fans hunkered down in Eltham, chanting ‘No-one loots us’. The man across the street from me in Wandsworth Town, despite everything, was out all night – all night – decorating the outside of his shop, just as he had been for weeks, his tenacity a palpable symbol of defiance in the face of a mindless minority. London kept reminding us that it was inherently good, and kind, and thoughtful, and loving; we’re a decent people – it’s just that the cunts shout loudest. But they cannot win in the face of our relentless solidarity. This feeling was, in turn, tangible across the nation; in Bristol, Birmingham, Manchester, Salford, Liverpool, Nottingham, Oxford, Reading, West Bromwich and Leeds, people railed against the cretinous boors who tried to exploit panic and fear for personal gain. And as we pick up the pieces, we can only hope that every one of these bastards is brought to justice. Not the pseudo-‘justice’ of rioting and public disorder, but proper, actual justice for the common good.

And of course, it was the emergency services that held us all together when we needed them most. Forced to carry out their jobs in horrific and terrifying circumstances, the firemen efficiently dealt with myriad inexplicable blazes that could so easily have killed many, the paramedics and ambulance drivers brought those innocently injured by marauding thugs into super-efficient emergency rooms, and the police... well, they were nothing short of exceptional. When a gang of youths with hammers were outside my flat on Tuesday evening, I called the police for help; a squad car arrived within twenty seconds - a localised example of their massive city-wide operation in London, but wholly representative of just how on top of things they were. The panic and terror of Monday night, with its pockets of trouble flaring up all over the city, was replaced on Tuesday by a sense of calm and quiet; sure, London was like a coiled spring, with tension and menace in the air, but the sheer weight of police numbers forced the criminals into submission. It was heartening to see footage of the Clapham Junction clean-up on Tuesday, with residents cheering and applauding police cars as they drove by.

It was a horrible situation, one that affected everyone in the cities in which it occurred. The indiscriminate nature of it created widespread fear (who would have expected leafy Ealing to be attacked, or the random spread of small independent businesses across the country?), but the truly embarrassing thing was the fundamental pointlessness of it all. These people weren’t protesting with any sort of political or social agenda – they just did it because, frankly, they’re bad people. They spotted an opportunity for material gain, and to commit violent crime with supposed impunity, and they took it; in doing so they highlighted – on a very public, indeed global, level – the very worst qualities of humanity. Greed. Avarice. Selfishness. Malice.
But they also brought out the best in communities across the country. The costs of property damage and looted goods are estimated to exceed £140m, which is hardly what we need in a time of massive financial crisis; from this point, we have an enormous amount of rebuilding to do – and not just in a physical sense. But at least we now know our neighbours. We know that people care. And we know that we’re resilient enough to survive and repel the very worst that such a violent group can throw at us. Because we’re strong together.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

03/08/11 - Disappointment

There are certain things in life that you have to accept are never going to happen.
Getting your own office, for example. That’s the holy grail of the world of work, isn’t it? But for worthless chumps like me and you, it just ain’t going to be. Obviously there are people here that have their own offices – plenty of them – but they’re not JuicyPips’ core demographic; they don’t have time to read frivolous emails and blog posts when there’s expensive furniture to buy and philandering to be done.

The cachet of having walls – glass or otherwise – is what separates the bigwigs from the drones, and for us poor, directionless fools, our trudge through existence will never, ever see us putting our patent leather Italian loafers up on a chunky hardwood desk. We’ll never have anywhere to put a potplant.

Getting out of debt, that’s another thing that's never going to happen. How are you supposed to do that? If you’re anything like me, you’ll have owned something on the wrong side of thirty cars and spent the last couple of decades buying as many CDs and DVDs as you can physically fit into your house on the flawed logic that you ‘can’t afford to go out, so might as well have plenty of entertainment while you’re in’. This will have put you in a fuckload of debt. Now you find that petrol costs £1.50 a litre, beer’s four quid a pint, electricity is [insert arbitrary figure, expressed to create a vivid sense of betrayal], 40% of your paycheck disappears into the ‘deductions’ column and there’s no way of paying back all the stupid fucking money you owe to all the banks. Shit, isn’t it?

Owning your own house? Do me a lemon. Living in London is crazy-expensive as a tenant (the monthly rent on my delapidated 2-bed flat in Wandsworth is the same as it would be for a detached 4-bed house on Whitstable seafront with double-garage and huge garden - how is that fair?), but there’s no way out of it – rent-outside-of-London costs plus commuting costs generally equal or exceed London-rent-costs anyway, so you could rent a bigger house but you’d lose hours out of every day. But the real pisser, of course, is how bloody impossible it is to buy a house. Even with the bare-minimum 10% mortgage, you’re still going to need at least thirty grand up front to get on the ladder in London. Have you got thirty grand in your bank account? No. Nobody has. It’s baffling how anybody actually owns property.

Sometimes, however, life just really kicks you in the teeth. Something that you’d taken as read is suddenly yanked from beneath you like, er, an inelegantly mixed metaphor. You get to Wednesday afternoon thinking ‘brilliant, in 48 hours’ time I’ll be reading JuicyPips; I’ll enjoy that’. And then you find not only that the chump behind it won’t be around for a few days because he's going to a friend’s wedding in Devon, but also that he’s made you read through a whole load of waffling shit that turns out to be lacking any sign of the usual YouTube videos/bizarre websites payoff at the end. Well, that’s fucking annoying, isn’t it? Hopefully this won’t happen next week...

You can take solace in the fact that his attendance at this wedding means he’s missing both the Earls Court Beer Festival and the Gaillac Wine Festival. Is there no escape from the misery of reality?

He's also flitting between the first and third person seemingly at random. What an arse.