Thursday, 22 March 2012

Kony 2012 aftermath or All I got was this lousy bracelet for $30

It's been  17 days since the viral fraud known as Kony 2012 hit us. What have we learned since then. Well for one, I learned a new word, fapping. Until a certain repressed right wing nutter who wanted to scam impressionable young people got rumbled, I had never heard it. I suppose it was G-d's way of  getting Jason Russell, Invisible children co-founder Jason Russell to stop any more suckers from parting with their money so unwisely. My greatest disappointment is the apparent popular culture in the West that allows people with lots of money or fame to take any cause completely out of context, over simplify it and even lie if they have to get a few million people to have a flash in the pan moment that will at most raise a few eyebrows or at worst divert millions of dollars from deserving charities into the hands of those who's agendas are less than transparent or all that well intentioned. 

Slacktivism or clicktivism: lazy activism, leads to many millions of people feeling they have done something, but have in fact done nothing at all. Once the excitement had settled down to a dull rumble of vaguely embarrassed teens and keyboard warriors, the Guardian interviewed three young people who had genuinely believed they were doing good at first. In the piece, all three sum up their feelings as having "been cheated" and even angry at being deceived. Kony is no closer or father from being caught by the campaign, the money raised was destined to be spent yet again on films and wages with only 20% going to the affected country, in this cast the Government of Uganda. That's 80-20 split to the charity with the rest going to a government at least as corrupt and deadly as the supposed root of all evil Kony who hasn't been in Uganda since 2006. Oh and the money went to bullets in case you were wondering. As it happens, since the meltdown of Jason Russell, which has itself gone viral, I strongly suspect many donations have been rescinded or the money handed over will at last have to be used for something good. I'd like to think this vast farce will force Invisible Children to be more open about their finances, but I doubt even this level of scandal will be enough to open the books. 

Now not to long ago, activism meant you marched in the street, went to meetings and were somewhat more questioning of the causes you subscribed to. Today it's far too easy to LIKE something or retweet it and feel somehow, you too have changed the world in a deep and meaningful way. Now if you mean simply to get people to be aware of an issue and make them vote, maybe facebook helps, but those people still have to get out the door to vote. Frankly the truth is far harder. Back then and still now, real decisions and concrete actions only happen when people mobilize and make a real noise. You could join a party and work in it to make your point, you could join an NGO and affect real change in a real place with real effort, you could even , shock!, do something locally with mates in a place you know about. 

Which neatly brings me to the nub of the matter. Local activism is the only real way to make any change anywhere. If you support a charity in Britain or or some other Western state that wishes to help people in Uganda or South Sudan or East Timor, you need local connections with local NGOs that will insure all your good intentions aren't wasted. Local people understand the issues and the complexity of said issues. NOTHING is ever as cut and dried as it seems in the advert or the well meaning protesting actor ( George Clooney) Actress ( Angelina Jolie) tells you it is. These people wade in with half the info for 5 minutes and pull out. They distract from the experts who should have been listened to in the first place and they displace millions in donations away from legitimate charities to flashy ones who were able to con Justin Bieber or Madonna into a photo op. I was particularly offended a few years back when Angie Joly, UN ambassador, was airlifted by helicopter in the middle of a Pakistani village under several feet of water armed with a sari on her head and no food or information or medicine. After a few video clips, she disappeared about as quickly as she had arrived. One US network chose to pre-empt a live UN meeting with the Pakistani Emergencies minister going out at the time, to talk about Angie Joly and her harrowing trip. Poor old minister and his boring laundry list of what they needed and where to send it and where to make money donations never stood a chance. More recently George Clooney has militated in favour of the Nuba people in border region abutting South Sudan. While I agree in principle with his stand, he like the Kony people, though for far less devious reasons, simplified and trivialized the issues at the core of the problem. 

As with the Kony man hunt issue, the plight of the Nuba people is complex and has a deeply rooted historical reasons for being a massive pain in the backside of Egypt, Sudan, America and other states. Can we support the legitimate demands of the Nuba and not harm our access to oil from the frontier region the North ( Sudan) has done all it could to steal from the South. Were it down to people only, Sudan would have kicked the lot of them into South Sudan, but the rich mineral and oil deposits in the Nuba Mountains mean Khartoum has to defend the sovereign right of it poor deprived citizens to stay in a dictatorship. I'm sure left to their own devices, the Governments of the region and IGAD can come up with a solution that will please at least some and this without the misguided ill informed star powered slacktivism. To be clear, if any of you reading this had paid the least bit of attention to the news on BBC or other reputable networks for the last 20 years, you too would be aware of what's happening. All without the aid of Justin fecking Bieber or the dramatic but otherwise ineffectual Madame Joli, or the ill-informed ego maniac Sean Penn, you would  know, just like all the NGO types, civil servants, diplomats, and generally unheralded unsexy people doing the actual grunt work on the ground all these years, who will in the end, be the ones to resolve the issues. 

Speaking of locals and the issues as seen from the perspective of those in the middle of the palaver, I invite you watch this short video from AlJazeera English.  Seems no one from Invisible Children had bothered to ask the victims of Kony what they thought, wanted or if they were even in favour of the effort being done allegedly for them.  You'll notice that at first it's all very calm , then confusion turns to disbelief, then to anger, then to chaos. I suspect they were not best pleased and would have done far worse to the Invisible Children folk if they had tried to run that past them in the first place. What this proves is that films like this and other such top down campaigns are nearly never ever concerned with facts, needs or complexity of those they are allegedly helping.  The end user is in fact NOT the most important person. many of these self appointed White Man ego trip organizations are in fact fronts for wider political agendas or a simple creation of work by dint of claiming that locals cannot be trusted to do any of this by themselves or to even advise. I remember one particularly galling effort that wished to collect as many teddy bears as possible for the children, along with baseballs, bibles and other such things. First of all, what the children in the affected area wanted wasn't bears but clothes, their religion wasn't Christian and if they played a sport it was football ( the real round one. Such basic lack of information and ignorance lead to the collecting of many useless ( tho well intentioned) gifts that on the ground were discarded or sold on for money. How many more years will be forced to endure celebtivism and the new scourge slactivism?  How much money and time will be wasted while real people suffer from real problems that aren't making the radar due to a total lack of cuteness or saleable quasi famous bored person with a twitter account. 

I admire  Comic Relief, and Sports Relief day and such other campaigns at least for the reason that it's one day, lots of filler content where you find out precisely what the money is for, where it's going and who is getting it. Those  who's lives will be affected are directly involved in the begging and will tell you pretty damn quick if you're havin a laugh at their expense for a few quid. If  the charity you like has open books and spends between 30% and 10% on itself and the rest on the stated aims, give. If some celeb sets up separate fund for the Great Ormond Street Hospital... give to the hospital directly. Don't buy stupid bracelets and t shirts or records ( showing my age ),find a more direct way to help. If you want to help breast cancer, don't buy the special eggs or the shampoo with the pink ribbon, give directly to the charity. It's not that hard, they all accept cheques or have paypal. If some prepubescent starlet with the information depth of a puddle asks you to do something, ask yourself if it's not all it seems to be, particularly if they all suddenly get swept up in a frenzy. I was frankly insulted when a reporter on Canadian television chased down the Minister of foreign affairs and asked if he'd "mention something to his boss", like he might not have had a full and complete briefing on Uganda many times over the years, much to my surprise, former president Jimmy Carter was taken in, but not for long I suspect. 

When I was first introduced to politics and activism I was told the following...
1- Question, always question
2- Do your research
3- Seek more than one source
4- Be prepared to change your mind if  you are proven wrong
5- Do not waste your time, use it wisely.
6- No truly good result can ever be achieved in an instant, it takes time.
7- Build your case
8- Be honest, even if it means exposing flaws. 
9- Working outside of the system is fun and very trendy, but getting things done means you join the system.  ( political parties, NGOs, charities and think tanks ) Banners will only get you so far. 

Years ago in school, my wife got to question a lady from Amnesty International who came to the school to raise awareness and money. She arrived in  a silver Porshe 911, had on enough couture to buy a house, a hand bag worth $4,000 and a pair of Italian shoes that started at $900 a pair.  When pressed why she was so well kitted out, she said "My salary allows me this lifestyle". I bet it did. So that's where your donations go. The next question was even better, "How much money do you make and how much are you embezzling?" For her efforts, my wife got detention.  To their credit , most of her mates and some teachers agreed with her.

Kony2012, Sean Penn, Justin Beiber, Angelina Jolie, George Clooney and other such people are guilty of  laziness at best and in the case of Kony2012, self serving lies that were uncovered as quickly as the viral thing took to get going. The victims weren't just the gullible teens who texted their brains out and gave millions, it was the syphoning of attention , energy and money from valid causes and charities that struggle day in day out to get any traction. 
Do yourself a favour today and find a cause you care about, find the best most direct route to help, get of your ass and do something about it.  Don't wait for some washed up star or barely legal flash in the pan to tell you what to do. Seek out those who know, they labour quietly for years and in anonymity to make things better, make their life worth it. You know it wasn't Lady Diana who discovered land mines, but she made them sexy. If you really cared, if you really paid attention, you would have known long before she spoke up. 

Watch Ranczo and other Polish telly online

This won't be one of my normally long posts, as it's about getting a simple message out simply. If you like Poland's most popular comedy/soap Ranczo, you want to watch it even if you don't live in Poland. If you live in the European Union, you can watch direct from the station's website TVP.PL. That means for example, if you live in the UK, you too can log into the page and watch Ranczo and an entire range of other Polish television programmes and news from Poland.

Are you living in the Polish diaspora  in Canada or the USA or maybe Australia? By getting a VPNUK account and setting it to Great Britain, you to can watch all 6 series of Ranczo. As well you'll be able to access hundreds of hours or other top quality historic and comedic programmes.

You get an easy, reliable, stable and safe access to hundred of hours Polish telly you mostly have to hunt for anywhere else. Plug back into your heritage, get a fix of home anytime you want and as a bonus, watch UK telly ( BBC, ITV, 4od, 5 )

Use this simple link to sign up. If you need help, the team at VPNUK will guide with a live chat. Start watching Poland's highest rated soap Ranczo from the beginning, then move on to other shows like Czas Honoru. I've tried other Eurozone countries and in short, if you can read the language you can use the telly web site. Good luck, let us know how it goes, it works for me.

Monday, 5 March 2012

You can't say feckin on Coronation Street

Every couple of months it gets too much and I have to stop watching Corrie. This last Corriecation has been triggered by the appalling rape story line that has dragged like cat sick on the floor  that  even Phil Collinson speaking at the St Mary's Sexual Assault Referral Centre's annual conference, could not clean up. Standing behind the story  despite admitting procedural errors in the trail and the post trial depiction that allowed the victim and the acquitted rapist to be alone with each other. Initially rape reports increased when it appeared that something was going to be done. What happened was exactly less than nothing. Frank the rapist was found not guilty and the Chinese whispers leading up to the trial were enough to cause a crash in rape reports. The further use of the current relationship between Carla Connors and Peter Barlow as an excuse to dismiss evidence was further proof that Collinson was more interested in ott drama than realism or thinking of the repercussions of the story. If a woman is raped, it doesn't matter who she is sleeping with today, even if and I stress this strongly, if she is having an affair. The only question that should have been discussed was if a rape occurred, if it did, GUILTY.  It's hard enough for sex abuse victims to come forward, but to have arguably the most popular show on telly scare off genuine victims of actual real rapes, is a crime. So what if the actress involved publicly let producers off the hook, so what if the Sexual assault centre let the show off the hook, the end result was butt clenchingly uncomfortable maddening telly that told people only one thing. If you're going to rape, make sure you rape a woman who is troubled, having an affair, and what ever you do, don't have any witnesses, that way it's your word against hers. I'm all for justice, I'm all for fairness, but this story line wasn't about a man unfairly accused, it wasn't about some slag throwing herself at some man and regretting it later, it was about a violent attack that a rapist got away with.

If you're watching this week, the aforementioned dastardly Frank is at it again, he gasp, threatens Carla again, very likely also the gormless Sally Webster and is, we're promised, going to be found in a pool of his own blood. If it gets rid of him, fine and good, but I'm thoroughly sick and tired of the over the top drama. A few months ago when Phil ( I used to do Doctor Who) Collinson did the great Tram Crash, I asked myself if it would get back to a more normal Corrie, would they have the more realistic stories that are just as compelling as well as returning the humour to the street. The short answer is no. Corrie has only gotten sillier, opting for the far vistas of American soap where small children are witches, couples on the rocks prefer to torture each other in increasingly bizarre displays of  ratings grab theatrics and the last time anybody did anything remotely nice to another person, they were punished for it. Corrie hasn't just missed it big style on rape, but teen pregnancy as well. In a story ripped straight out of the hysterical Daily Scum Mail, Corrie are banging on about the epidemic of teen births and hopelessly unfit young mothers with no help. The only problem with the plot is that the teen birth rate is at it's lowest in years, and the young girls who have been unwise enough to sprog at such a young age do have and know about a wide range of services they can access. The Daily Mail OMG look at that freshly imagined horror agenda is only part of the problem. There is a Tory tone in the air since at least the last two years. On a street in a town devastated by Her Meanness Margaret ( phtoo) Thatcher, characters old enough to remember what it was like are heard to say things that hint at how the country was better when her nastiness ran the place. My wife having read the omnibus book of Corrie from the start to about 2000 assures me that Audrey Roberts, during the worst of the Thatcher years, had not a kind word about her. If this was properly written , she'd be heard wondering where the death party was going to happen. Sadly, Corrie has taken the opposite view of great writers and is allowing crazy ratings grabbing stories to guide character development. For every realistic story such as Roy's mother being a nasty stick in the mud and all that means for Croppers, we are accosted by fires, murders, rapes, utterly unrealistic Steve and the even more reprehensible Tracy Barlow (herself out of jail on some invented special deal) finding new ways to make us want the segment to end faster than an Adele song.

So why do I watch?  Why does anybody watch?  Well the truth is, if you take the the viewing numbers of BBC 4's Road to Coronation Street, and subtract the proportion of casual curiosity, you are still left with a whopping 15 to 20 million viewers who have abandoned the show.  Phil Collinson admits "We are not broadcasting to people who are very educated and knowledgeable about this subject. We are broadcasting to young people, and it's very important that we draw attention to these things." So it's young people who aren't that bright and otherwise watching X factor? I am part of the vast army of those who have dropped Coronation Street from TV time. When there is so much better out there, why should I and others bother watching. I'd love to get back into it, but the trend is going the wrong way, too many stupid stories, repellent characters and Tory arse licking.

I am however still madly in love with my alternative Manchester based soap, Shameless. Yes they swear. Yes you see ugly naked people doing things we might not want to see all the time, but they are, unlike the folk over in Weatherfield, real. The violence is real, the relationships are real, the jeopardy people are placed in is real. And yet the humour that courses through the entire narrative is so strong that there is not a single plot in the last few years I would have used to sort my pants or clean the cat litter. Frank Gallagher while no longer the centre of attention, still is the one fixed point on the Chatswoth estate that brings plot twists even as late as two week ago. Shameless does in spades, what Coronation Street used to do till about 8 years ago. Paul Abbot's vision continues to fuel top quality telly at C4 while Phil Collinson is driving the original Northern drama into insignificance. While Corrie takes liberties in the name of drama, Shameless looks at unvarnished life in the Estate and translates it into entertaining television without cheapening the experience or soft selling the issues people involved are embroiled in. I won't lie, it hurts to see Corrie go down the shitter like, but I won't miss it if dies from this. Intelligent continuing drama need not jump the shark to stay relevant, they need only to stick to basics, likeable characters, stories that don't make an episode of Doctor Who seem realistic, and most importantly, remember your cast and characters know where they've been. If you take a life long sport hater into a sudden football fanatic for the purpose of a haphazard story, or you make somebody irrationally turn gay or perhaps make a man stab his best mate in the back so the show can have a controversial affair that wrecks a long standing street family, they will let you know. Actors are not programmable drones that will say and do anything that pops into your head. Fans are not going to stick around if you pretend they don't exist, worse yet, established fans won't be happy when you tell them they aren't important. If you ask ans actress who's been playing a role for years to do something her character would never do, you're not just insulting the viewers, but the actress as well. On Shameless when a character runs it's course, he or she leaves, they sometimes come back if the chance exists to get a few eps out of them, but as a rule, the useful life of an actor or actress are measured by the persona dramatis' to sustain themselves in the role. When the stories ran out for the Gallagher children, even if we liked them, they were sent away. Neighbours have come and gone, power brokers and circumstances have changed the estate but never once has anybody been forced to be anything other than what they are. The other way to look at Shameless is to look at it as art. In one scene the Lilian the madame and Kelly the prostitute have a perfectly rational near mother daughter talk about business, all the while this Feliniesque circus of freaks and oddly dressed people parade past busily doing what could only be described as performance art. In another scene, Frank descends into his own mind and channels Pinter or Shakespeare while he jousts with himself.

So while you can't say feckin on Corrie and Jamie Maguire will never suddenly become police inspector, I know which show is the one that's an insult to my intelligence and values. I also know which show will accurately reflect, warts and all the Condemn Nation and the effects of it on poorest of the poor.

Staying on the subject of drama and jumping the shark, Upstairs Downstairs is back and save a bit of lezzing up that was so tame last night I could honestly admit to have done more to my cat,  has stayed the course with well written sub plots that play well into the main theme of the phony war and the decline of the big houses. I must admit to having bizarre fantasies regarding Alex Kingston. I fully expect her to draw a gun or pick up her blue Tardis shaped diary. Tho only one hour long once a week  for only a few weeks, the quality of the cast, the sets and the scripts means I will glued to seat for the foreseeable couple of Sunday nights.Upstairs Downstairs does one thing well that Downton Abbey fails to do, it respects costumes, morals, ideology, facts, chronology, and still manages to be entertaining. Hair and clothing, especially for the women, is based on the fashions of the time and actresses that will not wear the full kit soon learn they can't do costume drama at the BBC unless they are prepared to wear the clothes too. Chronology is also pretty basic and obvious, but clearly not a important enough for Downtown to pay it any heed. Lastly, to give you an idea of how the two shows rate, when my father who lived in those houses down to the silverware in the 1930's, watched both, he muttered constantly about how the Downtown help and family would never have behaved like that, even reaching crescendos of indignation for wasting his time,  but during Upstairs, he quietly does a running commentary confirming the best and the worst of all the behaviour and taste on display be it the family or the servants. It's just a play you say, but when doing these things, especially in the literary classics, you have to be reminded that these films will be going into schools. People will be learning from them. Why, if you can, do you not then make the effort to be as precise as is possible? It's not like it's a stripped down Hamlet with one light, one chair, one skull and a hand puppet. These dramas cost vast sums of money and getting it right is as important as having a fun script.

Another treat you cannot afford miss is the brilliant Inspector Montalbano on BBC4. This adult drama in Italian, is rich in humour and reflects an albeit stylised representation of life in Silvio Berlusconi's Italy.  Salvo Montalbano is a 40 something man married to his work but trying hard to satisfy his  matrimonially itchy girlfriend of 8 years. The relationship plays out in the background as the team led by Salvo tries to get to core of matters all the while not upsetting too many apple carts. Comic relief is provided by the inept desk officer who has a hard time remembering important messages and cannot pronounce names to save his life. As detective fiction, it works best if the viewer understands that by 60 minutes, you likely know all you need to solve the crime of the evening.  If you missed any, BBC iPlayer will be holding onto the films for two months after broadcast AND there will be 10 in total with more to come we hope. Fingers crossed, the axe poised to drop on the jewel that is BBC 4 will not stop the buying of wonderful foreign language productions like Montalbano, The Killing, Spirale or Borgen. Watch it while you can, you know before the powers that be dumb it all down to about the level of BBC 3 or ITV 2.  

If you have a moment, please send a strongly worded message to the BBC that they should leave BBC 4 alone. I mean, if a bunch of people who didn't listen to a load of pretentious twadle on radio 6 saved it, why not the actual lorry loads of actual people who watch the actually well rated science, history and drama on BBC 4.