Before i Forget : Simon Jones's blog

March 2008


General and PoliticalTuesday, March 18th, 2008, (4:05 pm)

I was watching the news last night and as usual it featured a report from the war in Iraq. “Boring boring boring” I thought to myself as they showed scenes of American soldiers riding in armored vehicles, guns at the ready. The reporter talked of the numbers of victims there have been since the war began five years ago. This lead me to wonder why it is we never really see those victims in reports like this. The figures were shocking, but nonetheless they’re only numbers and in that sense I wondered how connected any of us could be to the reality of the horror behind them.

Of course, we see plenty of pictures of the fallen soldiers (nearly 4000 so far), but those pictures are usually head and shoulder shots that resemble something from a high school yearbook. We never see their lifeless bodies covered in blood or scorched from a bomb blast. We also rarely see scenes of death that show any one of the vast number of civilians who have been killed or maimed in this war which seemed to lose its way some time ago.

It’s not that I want to see disturbing pictures of the horrors of war, what decent person would? But as I struggle to recall what it is we’re actually supposed to be doing out there, I find myself thinking that the lack of truth being beamed into my living room has brought me to the point where I actually consider the Iraq war news to be “boring.” That made me feel somewhat guilty. After all, there are soldiers out there getting killed and civilians dying in even higher numbers, and here I am thousands of miles away ‘bored’ with that news, almost uninterested in the fate of those involved in any significant way.

The American media isn’t allowed to show the coffins of fallen soldiers returning to the States. Such images would weigh heavy on the collective conscience of the nation, and therefore perhaps lessen the Presidents resolve to “finish the job.” However, the reason for the “job” turned out to be at best misguided, and at worst just a downright lie. And today the reason for war now seems to be a mixture of political double-talk and an obligation to stay there and at least fix what is very clearly broken.

How dare I consider the Iraq war “boring.” How dare I sit there and pay no attention to the fact that somewhere in America today a family will get a visit from military personnel to tell them their son/daughter/mother/father has been killed in Iraq. They’ll get a funeral, a flag, and “thanks from a grateful nation,” but their loved one will never return, and for what? Really, for what?

The war isn’t sexy anymore. The media grew tired of reporting the seemingly endless bad news from Iraq some time ago. That was never more evident than when Anna Nicole Smith accidentally offed herself in a hotel room last year. The whirlwind of coverage that followed eclipsed all coverage of the boring ol’ Iraq war, and for days pictures of Anna Nicole and her ample chestage lead the news cycle as if breathing a sign of relief from having to peddle out the same old boring and depressing news about how many people died that day in the far away war.

Now, of course, there are the Presidential Primaries, so once again the oh-so tediously repetitive news from Iraq can be set aside for poll numbers with whizzy graphics, lofty speeches, and lengthy debates. Heck, you might even be forgiven for forgetting that there are thousands of troops out there fighting for… something.

But what if the media started to show us something other than the militarily endorsed imagery from Iraq (and for that matter Afghanistan too)? Lets imagine that for just one week the news delivered us uncensored images. When a car bomb rips through a crowd of shoppers tearing their bodies apart, instead of just showing us men standing around the charred remains of a burned out car, we see the immediate aftermath. Horror, death, pain and misery, beamed live and uncensored into our living rooms as we sit there eating our dinner.

After a week of seeing the awful truth, would we be demanding explanations as to what we are actually doing there and how it is we came to be there in the first place? Would we be pounding on the doors of those in Washington and London demanding answers to tough questions they would really rather we didn’t ask? Or would we simply complain to the news networks for showing us ‘that’ while ate our dinner? Would advertisers threaten to pull the plug on their money if the networks didn’t stop showing images that had the masses reaching for the remote control to escape the horror?

I’m not suggesting that the media should bombard us with horrific images from Iraq, but for the war to be seen as “boring” is surely not putting the issue in its rightful place. Perhaps even the blind flag waving that was evident at the beginning of this war might have been tempered a lot faster had we seen a little more of the fact and a little less of the fiction.

Even now as I write this I find myself torn over what image I might use in this piece. I could easily choose a generic shot of soldiers with guns, or even one of the many images of planes full of coffins draped in the American flag. But I’m somewhat reluctant to pick one of the more graphic images showing the death and misery that is actually commonplace in war torn Iraq right now. I find myself considering the reaction of you, the reader, to a picture showing something you didn’t want to see.

But then that’s my point. None of us want to see these pictures do we? The media can’t and won’t show them to us, and on the whole we’re fine with that. But the flip-side of this is that I’ll sit there watching TV then change the channel from the news to something else, not because it is awful (which it often is), but because it’s boring. Boring that is, until a pop star goes mad or a heavily chested blonde celebrity dies.

Iraq war news from the BBC
Iraq: Five years on by NPR
What President Bush said five years ago
I will be home (A soldiers wife’s story)
Beyond words
Hearts and minds
War re-branded
Will it ever end
2000 Dead
Children of the ruins
David Leeson’s photographs from Iraq

GeneralFriday, March 14th, 2008, (11:13 pm)

“What can I get you?” Asks the girl behind the counter at starbucks. I try to avoid Starbucks wherever possible, but sometimes you just want to sit in a coffee house and it’s not like there’s a spectacular choice here in the UK, especially at 6:30pm on a Friday.

“I’ll get one of those I think.” I say as I point to the poster of the daily offering on the wall behind the counter. Enjoy a Cinnamon Dolce Latte, is says. It looks okay, though that whipped cream is probably not the healthiest choice I could make, but then it’s Friday, so this is the weekend, and weekends are set aside for indulgences, right?

“What size would you like, love?” She asks. I’m not great with choices. It’s a terrible affliction for a person living in this day and age to have. Mocha, latte, flavor, size, stay in, or to go, these are all choices and even if I’ve had plenty of time I still find myself feeling caught like a rabbit in the glare of a cars headlights as it speeds toward me.

“Oh.. err…. well now I can’t remember what the sizes are. You have funny words for them don’t you?” She picks up the mugs and shows me with a broad smile and theatrical pose. Her colleague adds that she just calls them small, medium, or large, “Because people understand that don’t they.”

“I’ll get the small then, or tall if you like.” I say. She repeats my order and her colleague tells me the price. “Can I pay with my card?” I ask. “Oh I don’t know, should we let him pay with his card Jeanine?” She mischievously asks the girl making the drink who just laughs. “Yes love, you can pay with your card.” I put it in the machine and she says “Lets have your number then hun.” The girl making my drink breaks out laughing as the cashier follows that with “I mean put your pin number in the machine, but you can give me your number if you like love.” More laughter as the barrister exclaims “Carly, you’re terrible you are!” Ah yes, the Friday evening flirt. Fridays are great aren’t they.

I take my drink, which has been up-sized to a large by the way, and find an armchair by the window. This particular Starbucks is inside a Borders book store so I’ve picked up a copy of ‘The Gum Thief‘ by Douglas Coupland. My plan is to read at little of it, but in reality I’m just here to chill out for a while, so I’ll probably not read much at all before returning the book to the shelf and heading home.

The familiar coffee house machine noises fill the air as the barrister calls out various drinks in a loud voice to people waiting at the end of the bar for their drinks. She probably doesn’t need to shout that loudly, but for all I know it could be a company policy to holla out the names of tasty sounding drinks in an effort to implant the menu into our subconscious.

I read the first few pages of the book. I like Douglas Coupland, though I have the attention span of a 3 year old in places like this. I’m watching people scurry past in purposeful strides, looking at the couples wondering how they met, and yes, I’ll confess I’m also checking out the pretty girls looking in the shop window across the way.

The book is interesting, maybe I’ll buy it and read more of it while lounging on my couch over the weekend. That sounds like a good idea. Oh but ouch! It’s £10.99! A paperback book surely can’t cost £10.99! I wonder, is it this price because it’s a good book, or is this the price of books these days?

It’s a Grand Prix weekend too, the first of the season in fact, so the truth is that my couch time over the weekend will likely be spent watching formula one race cars drive around the circuit in Melbourne, Australia. I’d like to think I could watch the race then read the book, but who am I trying to kid.

A fat lady waddles past the window. I don’t mean to stare but my goodness that is a huge ass! How does a person drag an ass that big around with them? It almost looks as if she’s got other things stuffed into the side of her pants there. I wonder, are fat asses more comfortable to sit on than regular asses? I appreciate this really isn’t highbrow coffee house thinking, but that really is a huge ass and as she walks it looks like a pillow fight taking place under a blanket.

A man in a suit walks past holding a bunch of flowers. He looks very serious which makes me wonder if that’s an apologetic bouquet rather than a romantic gesture? In the other direction two girls walk together both thumbing their mobile phones and not talking to one another, they’re oblivious to the young man walking past them, his head turning to check them out from behind as they pass him. He then sees me looking at him and we both look away, busted!

I take a sip of my drink. I’ve been trying to figure out how I can drink this without getting the whipped cream on my nose. “Tall cappuccino, tall lattee.” Shouts a barrister.

It’s getting much busier now. I think I’ll read some more of ‘The Gum Thief.’ Maybe I will buy it. But then again it’s £10.99! Oh decisions decisions.

Starbucks gossip
Starbucks ‘f*ck off’ logo
The Gum Thief by Douglas Coupland
Douglas Coupland’s website
Another reason to hate Starbucks
McCorporation Nation
Long hours little pay
Atomic Cafe
It’s seven thirty

SportsFriday, March 14th, 2008, (2:11 pm)

Football isn’t a game that appeals to me, a fact that often sets me apart from your average english ‘bloke.’ Nonetheless though, it’s a crime that after all these years living in the burbs of one of Europe’s most football frenzied cities, I had never been to match, if only for the experience. Last week I finally put right that particular wrong and went to Anfield stadium with Philly to watch Liverpool beat West Ham, like they stole something!

Football, or “footy” as it is known in these parts, is as much a part of British culture as the monarchy, bangers and mash, and double decker buses. I’ve tried to love the game, but for me there’s simply no spark there. I’ll enjoy a key match now and again, and the world cup can be fun, but I can always think of better ways to spend 90 minutes of my life. That aside, I’ve long said that I’d like to go to a match, and living so close to Liverpool, Everton, and Tranmere Rovers there’s simply no excuse for not seeing at least one game, but it’s taken me until now to actually do just that.

Along with fellow footy match virgin, Philly, and accompanied by his sort-of-kinda step father in law, Steve, and Steve’s Dad, the four of us headed to Anfield stadium last week to watch Liverpool play West Ham, or if you would rather use the footy vernacular, ‘The Reds’ play ‘The Hammers.’

Steve and his father are hardened Liverpool supporters who hold season tickets in a different part of the stadium to where Philly and I were going to be seated. For this reason, and perhaps because they had already grown tired of my sarcastic approach to football talk, they quickly left us at the main gate to find take up their seats while we battled the masses in the club shop.

We emerged a few minutes later suitably adorned in Liverpool hats and scarfs that convincingly disguised us as life-long fans enabling us to blend in as we thread our way though the crowds to turnstile S in search for seating block MX, row 4, in the main stand.

We find the correct line to stand in and eventually squeeze through the impossibly narrow turnstile that would exclude many an American from entering the grounds. Given the state of clubs animosity toward its relatively new American owners I wondered if the skinny turnstile might be a new measure, a ‘scouse‘ “welcome and thanks for nothing” perhaps?

Anfield stadium isn’t like the stadiums I’ve been in before. It’s an ugly concrete block that has all the style and charm of a public toilet. But as we make our way through a sea of red hats and scarfs to our seats, the functional and utilitarian feel gives way to a more atmospheric air, not the excited high spirited climate I had expected, but more of an expectant throng that is perhaps more akin to something like a minors strike rally.

Philly and I are sat in the very corner of the main stand, right next to the West Ham supporters in the other stand. As the players come onto the pitch the cheering and jeering picks up. The Liverpool fans sing in crowd chorus their anthem “You’ll Never Walk Alone” while the West Ham fans sing the less iconic feeling “I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles.” It’s 8 o’clock, and the match kicks off.

Now this is where a true fan could tell you who was kicking the ball and how they were playing. My summery would be far less detailed. The players were quickly running around and kicking the ball and we, ‘we’ meaning Liverpool of course (come on, I have a Liverpool hat and scarf now so I can say ‘we’), nearly scored a very quick opening goal. As the game continued Liverpool seemed to be playing much better than West Ham, but then what the heck do I know? All the action tough was huddled around the West Ham end of the field as ‘The Reds’ made repeated goal attempts.

Being so close to the pitch I recognised a few players after seeing them on TV. The Liverpool captain, whose name I have honestly forgotten, took a couple of corner kicks, and some guy called something-or-other Torez scored a hat trick much to the delight of the fans and the two fake fans sitting in the corner.

At half time I wished for scantily clad cheer leaders and some kind of half time show, but instead people left their seats returning a few minutes later with steaming cups of tea and hot dogs as some lady in a wheelchair on the side of the pitch holding a microphone talked about disabled kids or something. Hardly the cheerleader I’d hoped for.

The match resumed and this time it was down the other end of the pitch as the teams had changed sides. Now we couldn’t really make out what was happening, but nonetheless we stood up and oohed and aahed appropriately.

At this point the West Ham fans began mercilessly taunting the Liverpool fans. Throughout the game the banter between the fans had, much to my surprise, been extremely good natured and given the controversial situation surrounding Liverpool’s unpopular American owners the West Ham fans took every opportunity to chant “USA, USA, USA.” At one point they were all pointing at us chanting “Where’s your famous atmosphere!” which I have to confess I was wondering myself. The home team was by now winning 3 nil and their seemed to be little excitement.

In the end, as good as the game itself was, (‘we’ won 4 – 0) the whole experience was made that much more fun by the banter between the fans in the stadium. Picking on one particular Liverpool fan who they had labeled as ‘fat lad,’ the West Ham supporters came up with repeated amusing chants. At one stage the ‘fat lad’ left his seat and the West Ham supporters began chanting “He’s going home for his dinner!” He returned a few minutes later to the chant “He only went for a burger!” The Liverpool fans laughed at that and applauded ‘the Hammers’ supporters. As the final whistle blew the fans stood to applaud the players as they left then turned their attention to the visiting opposing supporters to applaud them. It was a friendly gesture which actually seemed to sum up the entire night.

The experience didn’t make me into a footy fan, but I enjoyed the night perhaps more than the Liverpool fans who all seemed to walk home in a rather boring ‘job done’ fashion that felt like a trudge home after a day down the mine. I’ll go to another match though. I’m told the European games are good so I might try one of those games. Lets hope they bring a little of their weather with them too!

Liverpool fans rage against American owners
American owners tighten their grip on Liverpool
Liverpool fans threaten American owners with financial boycott

MusicWednesday, March 12th, 2008, (6:06 pm)

I’m sure you all know how this goes, but every so often a song can really grab you can’t it? You end up humming it as you go about your day, tapping your feet while you make a cup of tea, and nodding your head while you sort out your morning mail. Well this song is currently in my head, I love it, and that seemed like a good enough reason to share it with all of you.

The song is called ‘Walk You Home’ by a British band called Passenger. It’s an upbeat number which sounds like it might be just another love song, but listen closely to the words!

Passenger

GeneralMonday, March 10th, 2008, (9:14 am)

It’s Monday morning, the whole week is ahead of you and you’ve probably got a ton of work to do, right? In that case then it’s the perfect time to play Asteroids!

Sorry, you will need the <a href="http://www.macromedia.com/go/getflashplayer/" target="_blank">Flash Player</a> to play Asteroids.

This is a classic game and like so many other classic games it is, of course, classically pointless. The idea is to shoot the asteroids and not get hit by any of the rocks in the process.

I used to play this on the BBC Micro way back wen BBC Micro computers were the standard computer for every teenage boy. Not being an altogether standard teenage boy I didn’t have one, but my friend Olly did so I set up camp in his bedroom and played Asteroids, Revs, Thrust, and Elite until my high school education was in total ruins! Ah yes, those were the days!

Click ‘play game’ to begin, then use the space bar to fire and the arrow keys to move.

Game on : Pacman
Game on : Space Invaders
Game on : Pong
Game on : Simon

GeneralSunday, March 9th, 2008, (8:47 am)

If your breakfasts have become a little boring lately, how about adding a hint of the wild west with gun shaped eggs!

Urban Trend, a Hong Kong based company, have come up with gun shaped egg fryers for… well actually, who knows what for? There are 4 firearms to choose from and should you wish for your eggs to have more of the home-boy gangsta feel to them you could instead try the Uzi shaped fryer.

As fun as gun shaped eggs might be, I think that Urban Trend could have done better to tap into the religious market, producing cross and fish shaped egg fryers. Add a little Holy toast to the mix and suddenly breakfast has become a total bless-fest of wholesome morning goodness.

Gun shaped egg fryers
Virgin Mary Holy toast
Jesus. Look at the time!
Angry persons kitchen knife holder

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