This is Robert Llewellyn's personal blog. The views contained in here are mine alone and do not reflect the views or opinions of anyone else I work with or for. Just thought I ought to make that clear.

Saturday
Aug102013

Angry Boys

Young men are generally very angry, massive generalisation with many caveats but there’s undeniably some truth in the statement.
I know I was and angry young man but for some reason I'm now trying to understand and maybe even communicate, I wasn't angry about women, homosexuals, immigrants or people who had a different skin colour to mine. 
I was angry with powerful people (let’s face it, white men) who had a genuine influence over the laws that governed my life. 
I was angry with big international corporations who were above mere national laws and behaved in any way they chose with no consequences.
I was angry with politicians of all parties who were crudely influenced by these corporations and did their bidding while lining their own pockets.
I wasn't angry when a young woman explained to me that using the word 'cunt' as an expletive, as in, 'don't be a silly cunt' or 'you dirty cunt' was offensive to her. 
I understood the thinking behind the plea, I understood the male fear of female genitalia and the power possessed therein.
The gut wrenching contradictions a man can experience between love, tenderness, lust, fear, hatred and weakness is a dizzying concoction that takes years to come to terms with.
It made sense to me not to use ‘cunt’ as I had been doing and the word did not pass my lips from mid 1975 until fairly recently, even now I very rarely say it.
I don't feel oppressed by women, I don't feel I am unable to express myself because I’ve been told by women not to say cunt, I feel I understand that the thought process behind the use of such a word is ‘sexist’ or indeed ‘misogynist.’
I am a white man, part of my DNA is without question misogynist, I have misogynist reactions regularly. 
‘Bloody mothers mollycoddling their sons who then turn into deeply misogynist bastards who threaten to rape and murder women they’re scared of on Twitter.’ Might be one such reaction.
I stop myself when I have a thought like that, I have to think through the emotional reaction in a step-by-step logical way. 
I’m a bit thick, I’m talking emotional intelligence, it doesn't come naturally, I have to take it slowly.
I work out that blaming the mother for creating the son who could express such clench fisted hatred is just a continuation of the patriarchal mind-set we are cursed with.
When men behave like tragic sad-acts it’s not women at fault, no matter their involvement in that man’s life. Mother, sister, Auntie, Grandma, wife, lover.
The fault is entirely and without exception the man’s and of course other men who support such bigoted hatred.
What these recent news stories have highlighted is the thrashing fury of powerless young men who have aimed their anger at the easiest, least challenging target. 
These young men are very lost and very, very easily manipulated by a male power base that has, for at least the last 100 years, felt under attack.
As more and more women rise to prominence, proclaim their right to be independent, free thinking individuals who are very skilled at expressing themselves, I fear this kind of ranting male violence will only increase.
It is vital therefore that men who aren't quite as pathetically weak step up to the plate and confront such moronic impulses. Not with threats of violence or retaliatory trolling, however tempting that is.
No, we need quiet, logical and carefully thought mentoring, a gentle suggestion that possibly, it’s not these women that pose a threat to our masculinity or power, but the truly dangerous and far more insidious old male power base which keeps us locked in the pain of our existence.
It is possible to be a man, to be strong, protective and brave and not hate and fear women. It is possible to be a man alongside strong women, not crushed and oppressed by their emotional skills, but equal and unthreatened by them.
It’s not easy achieving such balance, I’m 57 and I’m still struggling to get close but it’s a much better, more positive and life enhancing experience than blaming women for our own failings, weaknesses and errors.

 

Monday
Aug052013

HERE COMES THE FRACK

A few days ago I posted a link to an old video on YouTube that once again asked some difficult questions about fracking.

It contained interviews with a few scientists who don’t wholeheartedly support the rush to ‘cheap, bountiful energy’ and who have studied the data coming out of the USA which could make us more than a little concerned.

One of the responses I got back on Twitter was

Try reading reports by qualified people & avoid hard left propaganda.’

Which I take to mean, go with scientific fact rather than an emotional response based on a biased gut reaction that neatly fits in with your world view.

Fair enough, I had to stop and think for a moment.

Suddenly, such a suggestion pinged a couple of little memory bells

Ping, ping, ping they went.

I was confident I’d heard this argument before.

Could exactly the same be said about the small but noisy and extremely well funded lobby groups suggesting 95% of scientists concerned that burning fossil fuels at unprecedented levels is having a direct, negative effect on our climate?

Surely one could legitimately suggest to such ranters;

Try reading reports by qualified people & avoid hard right propaganda.’

Here, of course, is the big difference.

The massive majority of scientists and well informed people of the world accept, albeit reluctantly, the ever growing body of evidence suggesting it really is human activity that is having an adverse effect on our climate.

The nay-sayers are uniformly funded directly or indirectly by the big fossil extraction companies.

So no one with any political leverage to gain is funding the former, and the most powerful, most short sighted, most profit focused group of people ever to have existed in history are telling us everything’s fine and we should keep burning their products.

Fracking is no different.

There is growing discomfort with this last ditch desperate attempt to ‘stave off the end of fossils’ and it’s coming from all parts of the political spectrum.

No one stands to financially gain from holding back fracking, but the Cuadrilla’s of the world stand to loose billions in potential profits if they don’t drill and burn like a madman on a bender.

The pro fracking lobby has some of the world’s biggest, wealthiest corporations and individuals pumping billions into the debate, bribing politicians, ‘entertaining’ journalists and opinion formers, belittling what could be perfectly legitimate concerns that fracking could have some serious long term side effects.

Surely history has shown us fairly unequivocally, fossil fuel extraction and the uses we put it to has a bit of a down side.

I’m not opposed to fracking because it’s ‘despoiling the countryside’ or the drill rigs and 24 hour flare pipes have an impact in a once beautiful field in Sussex.

I’m not even that concerned about the process and possible earthquakes, the poisoning of the water table. Sure, if you live in the local area this can be fairly devastating, but on a global level, it’s no big shakes.

What is a big shake is it’s still fossil fuel. It’s extracting an inert and inactive substance from deep underground, releasing it, treating it and burning it.

Okay, ‘natural gas’ may burn slightly ‘cleaner than coal’ but that’s like saying burning old socks is cleaner than burning tyres.

You’re still burning stuff, the resultant gases are still going into the atmosphere.

It’s desperate, it’s utterly profit oriented but most importantly it’s lazy.

Continuing to find more and more barking mad ways to extract hydrocarbons stops people innovating, stops investment in methods of large scale renewable energy generation, keeps people locked in the mind set of there ‘being no alternative.’

Fracking is a disaster, there are alternatives, we don’t need to do it.

Only Haliburton, Cuadrilla, Exxon, BP and their buddies in government really need to frack things up as their very existence depends on constant ‘growth,’ ever increasing profits, and massive, gut churning bonuses for the handful of white men who control these behemoths.

For the rest of us, it is without doubt, lose-lose.

Saturday
Jul132013

Chickens First Day Out

Here are some pics of our new chickens. This has been their first day out in the garden. They are still quite timid but seem very content.

Of course I've forgotten what breeds they are, duuur.

 

 

Tuesday
Jul092013

Final Days of the Boomers

I appeared at the Cornbury Music Festival in glorious West Oxfordshire last weekend. Unlike so many outdoor events in the UK, this time the weather was nothing short of glorious.

The festival takes place in the grounds of some massive house with an even more massive private estate, many hundreds of acres of rolling hills, beautiful trees and spacious lawns which even in this very crowded island, all belong to one person.

Ah yes, 4% of the people of this United Kingdom own 92% of the wealth, splendid, what a wonderful arrangement for a caring, settled society.

I was there to do a reading from News from the Squares which is published this September, and also take part in various QI based shenanigans which were great fun. The TV show and Unbound, the wonderful publishing group I work with are inextricably linked through the people who work in both roles, primarily the wondrous John Mitchinson.

Aside from meeting loads of lovely people, answering questions about Red Dwarf and writing books and having a bit of a laugh, I went for a wander in the very relaxed atmosphere while casually observing the large gathering of people who attend such prestigious events.

I say prestigious because, unlike the holiday camps of the 50's and 60's, it's anything but cheap to attend. Due to the neighborhood, the festival takes place in Prime Minister David Cameron's constituency (Yes, he was there and no, I didn't see him)

Cornbury Festival is a middle class event turned up to the max.

I don't say this while trying to pose as some angry, disenfranchised working class activist, I am as bourgeois as anyone attending but it's not often even I get to mix with such a concentrated dollop of the British middle class at play.

Due to my role as 'artiste' I had access to the VIP area. So, within a festival that is by definition and ticket price a kind of VIP event, there is an even more VIP area.

Of course, who should also be in the VIP area but Mr J Clarkson of the Gear of Topness and Ms Rebekah Brooks of the late lamented News of the World and other such prestigious rags.

They are both mates of the current Prime Minister although I didn't see him, I imagine he's keeping his distance from Ms Brooks at the moment even though they are best buds, allegedly.

So, my slight discomfort at being a wet liberal ‘egalitarian’ in the VIP area was considerably increased by their presence. Of course everyone noticed and the VIP set were all a twitter at the appearance of these two corner stones of modern ultra-right-wing politics.

I'm clearly saying nothing of any pending court cases involving Ms Brooks, although I overheard a few shall I say, uncaring and occasionally amusing comments from some of the folk around me.

Other than that, it was all very jolly. Sure, you can get all old school and radical and say that this exclusive event featuring old bands on their last legs is typical of the era.

Of course I can remember when a festival was a political statement, where there was no entrance fee because there was no entrance, it just happened man. But that was in the early 1970's and the police came and closed the whole thing down and people got arrested and there were no toilets and it rained.

So what if I first saw Osibisa, who played at Cornbury, in 1972! Yes, that long go, and they are still at it! All power to them, just like the lovely old Stones fellas who did Glastonbury this year.

It's fine, I don't mind, I'm truly not that bothered about it.

Sure, you could get all youth culture radical and say this is tired old rock industry has nothing new to offer and it's all very Coldplay and samey or J-Zeeee repetitive.

But you have to remember that our demographics have changed dramatically.

In the late 1960’s to mid 1970's the massive bulge in the population, the baby boomers, were coming into their own. The explosion of popular music from that era is still dominant because the old folk who enjoy it are still around and can afford tickets to Cornbury.

In a very few years all the baby boomers will have retired, the ratio of working people to retired people will be so unbalanced it's very likely the whole economy, already on its knees, will collapse in a heap.

I'm only just a baby boomer, born in 1956, the proper full on boomers are already in their 60's but again, I'm as culpable as any bloated banker who once had long hair and wore a peace badge on his Army Surplus great coat.

The fact that tickets for the over 70's attending Cornbury were the first to sell out says it all. At the moment this big crowd have the spare cash to spend the weekend getting pissed and listening to Elvis Costello and Van Morrison, but it won't last long young people.

The old codgers will start popping their cowboy boots and the last power chords will be but an echo in the glorious trees of England.

As I wandered away through the brightly lit night, helped by charming security guards, I couldn't help sensing a light breeze of shame for my generation, some of the most spoiled, greedy, most self aggrandizing middle class bastards ever to squash the posh sod under their Birkenstocks. 

Not all of them of course, most of them are lovely.

Thursday
Jun202013

Fracked Up  

So, Horizon, BBC 2, 9pm, Tuesday.

Professor Iain Stewart presented a 1 hour documentary about fracking. Yes, it was one hour long, it was balanced, it gave both sides of the story, sort of, and told us…… nothing.

The problem for the Horizon team behind this show was the truly brilliant and far more informative documentary ‘Gasland’ which is biased, opinionated, unbalanced and incredibly informative.

You can watch Gasland knowing nothing about fracking and at the end of it you know a lot and you can decide that the man who made it, Josh Fox, is an idiot greenie fascist do-gooder, or a young man with a fresh take on an absurdly short sighted and dangerous industry.

Josh Fox made the Gasland film, the decisions on what to include and the style of the show himself. The result is his fault.

Not the case with Professor Iain Stewart who, I’d like to point out, is a scientist and not a TV producer. The producer of the program, Jeff Wilkinson, will have had a far greater input into what we saw.

So this isn’t a criticism of Professor Iain Stewart or his opinions, I’ve got no idea what they are, we are none the wiser on that point after an hour of television, this is a criticism of the style of the program, the ethics behind it and the evidence that this show came out of the protective bubble of the BBC and their deep terror of being seen as ‘biased.’

For a start, we had to watch Iain driving and rubbing his chin for such extended periods of time it was hard to believe. This was a style choice, this didn’t just happen, this was padding to a degree we are not used to in modern fast cut TV.

We had to endure endless shots from a car driving through rural Pennsylvania, the car driving down long country roads, or even a car driving through English towns at night. At times it appeared to be some kind of advert for Chevrolet or Nissan.

Again, not the fault of the man on the screen, but the baffling choices made by the production team. It was padded out to such an extent the very act of padding was saying something to us.

Was it saying ‘this show is an hour long and we can’t say much, it’s too contentious so let’s pad with moody shots and relevant music clips?’

 I don’t know but I’m guessing they shot a great deal more and due to the very nature of fracking it was possibly more alarming than the top brass at the beeb thought wise to release.

We are being cajoled through various outlets to feel good about fracking because ladies and gentlemen, we are about to be fracked. For the outraged UKIP members who are horrified by wind turbines, just wait until there are 40 drilling derricks on the horizon, surrounded by ten million gallon ponds of highly toxic water.

All the way through the program I got the intense feeling that Prof. Stewart was ready to burst, he was holding back so much. It was the uncomfortable way he spoke to camera, I could almost sense the person behind the camera giving him a stern look. Be balanced, be careful, this is dangerous stuff. Hang on, let’s cut to you saying nothing and driving, that’s safer.

I’m not sure which way he might have gone if he’d blown his top and started ranting at the camera.

‘Look, you pathetic head in the sand anti progress hippies, fracking is amazing! It’s a huge new super cheap energy source that can transform our economy overnight with no side effects! Look what’s happened in America, it’s employed thousands, it’s made gas cheap, it’s transformed their economy!’

or

‘For pities sake, wake up, this isn’t the solution, this is shortsighted madness! We drill and pump and waste billions of gallons of fresh water extracting this stuff, we burn it, we increase carbon in the atmosphere and then it runs out. Remember ‘North Sea Gas?’ Yes it’s easy and a stopgap and a final, last ditch frenzied attempt at keeping the crumbling edifice of the fossil fuel corporations going, but it’s insane.’

So the whole exercise was a massive waste of time and money, we don’t know what Prof Stewart thinks but it’s fairly clear the producers behind the show are from the shrug and head shake ‘what else can we do? brigade.’

 ‘We’re reliant on this stuff.’ Said the Professor standing by the big ships bringing gas from the middle east and Russia.

Simple statement of fact. Not ‘should we be reliant on this stuff? Should we maybe find another way of keeping warm, lighting our homes that doesn’t require us to burn gas, or coal, or nuclear fuel.’

No, that’s unbalanced and opinionated. But explaining, very badly I might suggest, that drilling two miles underground and then pumping vast quantities of water and chemicals of such skin peeling toxicity that no one is allowed to know what they are and then not asking ‘this is a bit desperate isn’t it’ is balanced.

I came away from watching this thinking one thing. Balance is bullshit. I’d rather watch James Dellingpole tell us fracking is awesome, or some dreadlocked activist shouting ‘fracking is the human race pulling the trigger for the 6th time in fossil fuel Russian Roulette.’

Addendum

After a tip from someone on Twitter, I had a quick look at Professor Iain Stewart's Wiki page,  and then at the page of  The Centre for Research into Earth Energy Systems for which he is a member of the board of directors. They do research into Petroleum Exploration and Production, Carbon Capture and Storage and that old favourite 'Clean Coal.' Oh yes, and Geothermal, good job.

There is no need to infer from this information that the Professor is paid by oil companies, bribed to paint a positive picture of fracking or any other scandalous conspiracy theory. However it does imply that he resides in a world where extracting 'energy' out of the ground is seen as 'sensible' 'economically viable' and 'the only way we can do things.'

So, massively biased in favour of fracking.