Binaries for Beginners

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Binaries for Beginners

I should be working but I’m too depressed, furious, embarrassed and hungover, so instead I thought I’d provide a handy explanation of the concept of binary decisions for all the people on the right and left who clearly don’t understand them. 

Amongst the things that are most making me want to lie down on the carpet and weep this morning is the muppet parade of Brexit voters who seem to be a bit bewildered at what they’ve done, who are terribly confused to discover that voting Leave has led to Britain actually leaving the EU — at appalling long-term financial, cultural and societal cost. They apparently thought they were “showing the establishment”. They thought they were casting a “protest vote”. 

No, you morons — it was a binary. It was In, or Out. Did you not get that? Who did you think would register or admire your protest? The vote was anonymous. Nobody knew how you voted until you bragged to your friends about it. There was no “One In The Eye For The Establishment” box to tick. The choice was In, or Out? How was this hard to understand?

Democracy is not there for you to “have your say” or “show Them”. You can do that if you live in a village of thirty people. With countries of tens or hundreds of millions of voters, the process has to be streamlined. The system therefore provides people with a clear and simple choice. All it asks is that you have the wit to understand that. Which apparently was too big an ask. 

Late last night, fueled by a certain amount of beer and the common Twitter-led delusion that people do — or should — give a crap what I think, I said:

This is a wake-up call, America. There are more tiny-minded xenophobe bigots out there than you think. Get behind Hillary NOW.

The interesting thing is that nobody from the right has come back at me for it. People from the left have, though. One scolded me for being mean to the small-minded and xenophobic. Several lectured me on how evil Hillary is. 

You know what? I sympathize if you’re not entirely happy with either candidate, but nobody fucking cares about your nuanced and virtue-signaling parade of adolescent musings about big banks and corporate politics and how we need a revolution because that would be totally cool. Get over yourself and how awfully individual and interesting you are, and wrap your mind around the fact that the upcoming election is a binary too. If you don’t vote for Hillary, you are effectively voting for Trump. How hard can that be to understand? There’s NO-ONE ELSE. Bernie lost. Neither the Greens nor an independent nor Angie’s Freethinking Groovy Revolution Collective are going to be running the country next year. Do you understand? 

It’s Clinton or Trump. There are not nine options. IT’S A BINARY. 

I am firmly of the left, and always will be. But right now the left is pissing me off almost as much as the right is scaring me. Politics is not about you. It’s about us. All of us. Stop wasting everybody’s time with your sophomoric “look at how sophisticated and edgy my views are” bullshit and get ready to make a very simple choice — because the moderates of the world, the League of Empathetic Sane People, and hundreds of millions of humans of all races, creeds, genders and demographic status, are sick and tired of having their countries and lives and futures fucked up by extremists at either end of the spectrum.

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The Song of Being European     #remain

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The Song of Being European #remain

A lot of people are still tying themselves into extreme pretzels trying to work out whether to remain in the EU, or leave. Because I am infinitely wise I thought I’d boil the issue down, using as an exemplar the life of the AC/DC rhythm guitarist, Malcolm Young.  

1. Complex harmony

Many factors have contributed to AC/DC remaining stadium favorites for nearly forty years. Angus Young's six-string pyrotechnics and stage antics, of course; songs compelling enough to make BACK IN BLACK one of the ten best-selling albums of all time; the tightest rhythm section in history, especially in the gold standard Young/Rudd/Williams configuration; and a crunching, dependable juggernaut of a live show. But the real magic comes from the interplay between Angus and Malcolm’s guitars. The sly, prowling rhythms are distinctive, of course — but in addition, they’re sharing the notes. Rather than follow the standard practice of having one guy thump out the chords and the other put something fancy on top, Angus and Malcolm distribute the notes of all of the chords between them, and then syncopate the result — yielding a richness of texture that few rock bands have ever equalled. 

That’s what being part of a union of countries, is, too. Sharing and distributing the job, the style, the song of being European — each country contributing its unique cultural qualities and helping build something that’s far greater than the sum of its parts. It’s hard. It requires work and vision, and there will be some bum notes. But retreat from this mature collaboration of equals and you’re just some kid playing Stairway to Devon by yourself in your bedroom. 

2. Step up and face the challenges

The last time I saw AC/DC live was in 2009. It’ll remain the last time, partly because the experience showed I am now too old and fragile to spend an evening in the mosh pit of a major stadium gig (it’s like having the crap beaten out of you for six hours); also because it was Malcolm’s last UK performance, on his final tour, and I'm not going to go see AC/DC without him. Nobody but the band knew at that point that he’d been exhibiting signs of early-onset dementia. By this stage in the Rock and Roll Train tour he was forgetting the chord sequences of hits he’d been playing for thirty years, and having to relearn them in the afternoon before each performance. 

Just try to wrap your head around that for a moment. How it must feel, to confront that level of irrevocable frailty within yourself, to have no choice but to acknowledge the cold winds of oncoming mortality. And then to do what it takes to overcome it, and walk out on stage in front of sixty thousand people and do your job like a fucking boss. 

Being a country is hard. Dealing with other countries is hard, putting aside national priorities for the sake of a greater good takes character, and helping find solutions to problems like immigration is part of the job of being a mature country. Malc has now retired from the band — because half the time he doesn’t know who he is any more. Britain should know who it is, and be confident of manifesting its qualities on a European stage instead of hiding in a safe, stuffy cupboard like an insecure, bolshy child. 

Britain — be like Malcolm: stand at the back, not demanding the spotlight, and dig in and work in the face of challenge and adversity. Be so stunningly reliable, such a safe pair of hands, that your band will go on stage with you despite knowing you've got freakin' dementia. Because they trust you to do the thing regardless. Don’t run away like some whining, racist, small-minded Daily Mail-reading cess-pool of lazy, insular tossers. [Editor — you may want to tone this down a bit. MMS — no, I really don’t.

3. It’s not about the money

A number of years ago a journalist asked how long AC/DC would keep at it, implying they were dinosaurs staggering around the touring circuit purely for the cash. Malcolm is said to have replied: “Look, mate, the family’s worth over a hundred and fifty million dollars now. You really think we’re still doing this for the fucking money?”

History has shown time and again that nobody has a reliable fix on the economics of running a 7-Eleven, never mind an entire country. Anybody who claims to know the effect of either being in or out of the EU is deluded or lying. Nobody has a clue what they’re talking about, and their pronouncements are worthless. Yes, it may cost us to remain. It’ll sure as hell cost us to leave. Nobody knows how to do those sums. It’s not about the money. It's about collective dedication and cultural diversity and inclusivity. It’s about being European. 

Before the last ice age, Britain was attached to the mainland. Under the water, it still is. To pretend otherwise is to be swayed by self-serving bullshit spilled by... Well, let’s look at these guys:

Michael Gove — a man who has already demonstrated what a threat to worthwhile social values he is, and whose own father has called him out for telling lies about his childhood to bolster arguments for leaving the EU. 

Nigel fucking Farage — a man who basically like the chairman of some dreary local golf club in the 1970s, running the place with smug, matey bonhomie (and quietly turning down applications from black people and Jews and women) until it turns out he’s been skimming the funds for years to pay for sex with underage badgers.

And of course, dear, bumbling Boris — a cold, smart, arrogant bastard masquerading as a buffoon, who’s been telling lies about the EU for decades and is now turning it up to eleven for the chance to be the worst Prime Minister we’ve ever had.

Everybody wants to be the lead guitarist, to get all the attention, to spend their lives saying “Look at me! I'm special!” The truth is it’s the musicians and countries with the maturity and character to stand there serving the band and getting the job done that contribute most positively to history. Nobody gets to be Angus Young unless they've got a Malcolm standing behind them. 

I accept there’s no reason for you to give a crap what I think, but just in case my position isn’t yet clear: don’t let this trio of lying, self-aggrandizing wankstains scare you into dissolving union with some of the most fascinating, extraordinary countries in the world, losing the chance to help shape a future we can be proud of, instead of embarrassed by.

Be like Malcolm, is what I'm saying.

C'est tout.

[2017 edit: live from that 2009 tour]

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Fathers’ Day

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Fathers’ Day

A few years ago, on a drive up through the Monterey Bay — the trip after which we decided to leave London and come live in Santa Cruz — we stopped for coffee at a tiny town called Moss Landing. From the highway there’s not much to see (there’s not a lot to see in Moss Landing from any angle, to be honest) and the only reason you’ll stop is a line of food stalls by the road, hawking produce from the Pajaro Valley that surrounds it. Suspiciously cheap avocados, artichokes, garlic, a wealth other fruit and vegetables. As I was wandering up and down the aisles I came across something that triggered a sudden visceral memory. It was a small, cookie-like thing, peanuts bound with a pale pink sugary substance. I picked it up, and smelled it, and was transported back forty years, like some low-rent Proust wearing shorts and sunglasses. 

I spent a year of my childhood in New South Wales, Australia, in a small town called Armidale. One day a week I was given a little money to buy lunch at school. My mother made it the rest of the time. She didn’t get into viral-on-Facebook parenting porn like drawing a different picture on each lunch sack, but she put them together with quiet efficiency and love (mainly efficiency, I suspect, because cranking out stuff day after day is a large part of real parenting, and the love is unspoken, and comes with the territory). On that one day a week, I always bought a little box of candy that tasted identical to the thing I found at Moss Landing (I have no idea what it’s called, and it’s impossible to describe the taste except by saying it’s self-evidently not even slightly good for you). It was my favorite thing, and decades later, that’s all I remember. Not the countless times my mother made my lunch. I have no idea what she made. The usual fairly healthy stuff you put together for your kids when there’s not much time, I guess, though in the early 1970s “healthy” meant something different to what it does now. Anything that wasn't provably radioactive was pretty much fine.

Sadly I have no memory of my mother's efforts, but that’s ninety percent of parenting: providing the dependable, forgettable backdrop against which other events and people stand out and will be remembered. Moms are the bedrock of this (still, even in these slightly emancipated times, usually that unseen force that magically creates clean beds and towels and paired socks, in addition to socializing you, and providing a cloud of non-negotiable and (largely) unconditional love that will always have your back, even if at times you wish it didn’t). 

But dads do it too. Quietly, covertly, distantly, even a little bad-temperedly — which is useful, in its way, because when you eventually emerge into the real world not everyone’s going to be nice to you the whole time, especially if you’re being an asshole. Father figures, regardless of their gender, give a different spin on childhood, and collaborate with you on it. You shape and constrain their path through life just as much as they help you find yours. They show you other things, provide additional information and different styles of support, and every important decision they make will have you at its heart.    

To be clear, I’m not talking about me — I’m a fucking useless parent. No, seriously — ask around. I’m talking about my dad (whose love for his family is boundless, and who has relentlessly supported us regardless of how daft we're being), and other dads. They’re not just about bad jokes and mocking your choice of music and being excessively invested in sports and dutifully pushing the shopping cart back across the supermarket lot and refusing to ask for directions and obsessing about work and being grumpy for no obvious reason. Amongst other roles they bar the door against the zombie hordes of your future life and responsibilities, holding that world at bay for as long as they can; but it’s often them, too, who’ll crack it open once in a while, to give you a glimpse at what’s coming down the road; before finally throwing it wide, declaring — “Time to go slay your own zombies, my child. Call your mom once in a while, for crying out loud. Oh, and we’re putting your room on Airbnb.”

At a time when more and more people are brandishing the simplistic and divisive term “toxic masculinity”, let’s remember there’s a non-toxic type, too, and plenty of humans with a Y chromosome (and some without) who are doing the best they can to be a person worth knowing, and loving, and a dad worthy of the name. And that one of those might be your dad, and today he deserves a hug.

Make it brief, though. Don’t freak him out. Especially if he’s trying to watch the game.

 My dad. He's nearly 80, you know. 

My dad. He's nearly 80, you know. 

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If Social Media Was Real Life

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If Social Media Was Real Life

It has recently been announced that from the year 2017, all real-life interactions will be required to conform to models derived from social media. Sign-up forms will be available in schools, Safeway and the DMV. As a public service, I am providing a guide in order to assist you in choosing which medium to adopt. You’re welcome. 
 
LINKEDIN
A group of people sit in an airport lounge. 
The first says: “I have an inspirational observation about how every day is a chance to start becoming the best you can be.”
Another says: “I have a new eBook out. My friend liked it.”
A woman offers to sell them all insights on how to acquire 5,000+ connections, like she has, without ever making it clear why that would be useful. 
A man sits muttering appropriate but impenetrable things about the business he is in.
But all these people are deaf, and blind. And no planes fly from this airport any more. 
 
 SNAPCHAT
 “I’m a teenager!”
 “I’m a teenager too!”
 “I wish I was still a teenager!”
 “I want to sell shit to teenagers!”
 “I’m a teenager!”
 etc
 
YOUTUBE
A young woman walks into a town square with a violin, and starts playing Bach, quite well. 
A man strides up to her and throws a dollar in the hat, gushing: “Your playing is an immaculate confection, a glimpse into the mind of God, a bounteous gift to us all in this glorious shining moment of infinity.”
She frowns, and says: “What?”
Another man arrives and briskly informs the violinist that her intonation is uneven and that because he knows everything about classical music he prefers the 1973 recording by Yevgeny Madeupovich.
Two children then run into the square, accuse everyone of being gay or Muslim or fuckfaces, and start punching people. This goes on for ever. 
Realizing she’s wasting her time, the woman stops playing and instead reminds everyone of the great, great savings available at their local Honda dealership this weekend.
 
QUORA
A tall, handsome CEO in chinos and a nice shirt stands at the front of a lecture theater. He knows everything about start-ups, and once had a conversation with Elon Musk. Earnest young students pipe up with questions designed to show how smart they already are. The man answers their questions correctly. Luckily most of them are about what it's like to meet Elon Musk. 
 
MEDIUM
A pleasant, airy coffee shop. People sit sipping small-batch coffee and nibbling artisan croissants. Every now and then someone stands up and explains for three, five or nine minutes precisely how evolved, productive or pissed off they are. Eventually it becomes clear that the only real subject is the speaker, but everyone keeps listening because once in a while someone accidentally says something genuinely interesting (usually Jonathan Carroll), and also there’s nothing else to do. 
 
TWITTER
A pub, half an hour from closing time — except this bar never shuts. It’s always in that hectic, drink-this-one-quickly-and-order-another period, just before the fights break out.
A man quietly observes that he thinks guns/anti-semitism/being vile to one another might not be a great thing. A bug-eyed lunatic comes running out of the toilets and batters him to the ground. In triumph he then strides to the bar and orders an assault rifle for everyone in the room. Meanwhile, a social justice warrior sidles up to the first man’s prone body and kicks him repeatedly for using a semi colon in his tweet, when everyone knows they are an instrument of oppression and rape culture.
The reactionary loon and SJW wind up getting drunk together and shouting at literally everyone, while a huge group of people stand round the man’s prone body, bleating — “This thing just happened! This thing just happened! This thing just happened!”
Meanwhile, strangers occasionally wander in and try to sell people irrelevant software, services or video games. 
The man eventually crawls out of the bar and limps back to Facebook, where it’s safer. 
 
FACEBOOK
Lots of people stand in a park. It is warm and sunny, but one person looks sad. 
“Something bad just happened,’ he says. “But I don’t want to talk about it.”
A woman says: “Aw, poor you. But that’s a weird co-incidence — something awesome is about to happen to me, and I can’t talk about that either! It’s going to be super-exciting, though!”
“But — what about my thing?”
“You won’t say what it is.”
“But neither will you!”
Another woman approaches. “My life is extremely fulfilling,’ she says, ‘I feel #blessed.” Everyone ignores her. Meanwhile, two men start arguing about something from mutually entrenched positions of unsophisticated dogmatism. The discussion gets very loud, and there’s a danger of people becoming upset. 
But then someone points and says: “Hey — a cute cat!”
Everyone looks at the cat, and smiles. 

Personally, as I’m useless and annoying on all social media, I shall stick to mainly avoiding human contact, as usual. Yes, I should probably get out more. But I asked the outside world and it said "No, we're okay. You're good." So.  

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The Internet Is Full of Shit

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The Internet Is Full of Shit

Time to Read: Far Too Long
Genre: Rampant Misanthropy
Heart-warming Moral: Not Applicable

Christ, it’s nearly February already. 

One of my riskier resolutions for 2016 was to try to be more myself. Now I’ve tried this before and to be honest the reviews were extremely mixed, but it’s struck me that I actually have far too many friends and this might be a way of divesting myself of most, or maybe all, of them. 

So to kick it off in First World style, this morning Medium emailed me with links to "articles" they thought I might find interesting (Medium has clearly never met me). One of them started like this:

“The other day a friend called me and asked me how I’m so awesome. And this made me think, yes, as a service to all personkind, I should share my top forty seven life-hacks for awesomeness: game-changing insights into the kind of transformative fabulousness that enables me to have self-published the Amazon almost-bestseller “I’m Awesome, But In A Cool Way”, as well as recording the “Being Earnestly Awesome” podcast twice a week, and additionally finding time to monetize my awesomeness through my site www.Imtotallyawesomeandyoucoudlbetoomaybe.com. And where better to share this wisdom than on Medium, which is fucking full of this shit?”

Okay, I didn’t really read that. But I could have done. And so I thought I’d outline (in a listicle, obviously, because that’s the only way we can exchange information these days) nine things about writing on the Internet that really piss me off. 

1. People sitting indoors writing think-pieces about how the holy grail of CREATIVITY requires us to engage with life, look after our health, and most of all spend time outdoors — to be read by people who are sitting indoors and have no intention of going out, ever, unless it’s to buy a soy latte. 

2. People churning out listicles detailing the habits of successful entrepreneurs — in which the habits are ones they’ve clearly developed only after being validated by success (and have plenty of cash to finance said habits) or else have simply fabricated in order to sound wise, evolved and serene. So — you spend ten minutes every morning centering in stillness, do you? That sounds nice. Your family must be a fuck sight better-tempered than mine is at seven a.m.

3. And endless humble-brags where people bang on and on about starting, running, and closing start-ups — all of which seem to have been deeply spiritual experiences in which they’ve learned and grown a very great deal. Not just, like, fucked up and lost a ton of other people’s money. Because we never fail. Every resounding failure is a step on the road to success. Not merely a depressing waste of a year or two. That would never do. You can’t build a brand from that. 

4. And titles that start with FIVE THINGS I LEARNED FROM… all centred around the concerns of over-privileged westerners living in the Bay Area: and no, of course I don’t want to learn about the deep instinctual wisdom of itinerant pencil-sharpeners in Turkmenistan or the tax strategies of boudin-jugglers in rural Manhattan — I’m an over-privileged westerner living in the Bay Area, and happy that way. But can we at least agree that some subjects have been done to death, and find new ones? I’d love to see writing that encouraged us to consider the thing itself, rather than endlessly re-examining our experience of it. And the sorry truth is you haven’t learned anything, my earnest friend. You’re just recycling a non-event for the sake of a three-minute-read (and when did we start needing to be reassured, before we embarked upon reading, that it wouldn’t take too much of our precious time?) in the hope this will reinforce your personal brand, when in fact your piece will be flicked through with near-total disinterest by someone having a poo.

5. And bollocks to personal brands, too. Trying not to be an asshole all the time is all the personal branding I’m capable of. And there's a lot of work still to do on that, clearly. 

6. And for the last ****ing time, there are no apps I HAVE to download, nor brunch venues in Bruges I simply MUST visit, and I don’t give a flying fuck what any of the Kardashians are doing or who they’re temporarily married to or how big their arse is these days, and I never will. And Number 27 in your click-bait parade of Haunted Eggcups, Hotels Made Of Brie, or Celebrities Who’ve Dared to Age And Now Don’t Look As Hot As They Used To will not make me soil myself in astonishment. 

7. And software people, stop turning every to-do app into “an innovative platform for teams to communicate in real time”. We already have one of those. It’s sticking your head out of your pod and shouting “Oi, Bob — are you going to write that fucking report, or what?” And stop game-changing things and stop coming up with terms like “scalable authenticity”, because they make me angry and sad. And stop mis-using the word “simplistic” for the love of god or I will come and batter you to death with a pretzel. And stop putting an extra “ic” on the end of the word “minimalist” — can’t you see the irony in making this word longer? For GOD’S SAKE. 

8. And stop offering me life-hacks. It’s just a modish word for “tips”, and thus nowhere near as hip as you seem to think. And the “life-hacks” that other creatives, parents or human beings have for making their existence less of a train wreck are either painfully obvious or never work for me. Quite a lot of time and effort in recent years suggests that I am who I am and there isn’t a damned thing I can do about it. I am irredeemable. You probably are too. 

9. And while I’m losing friends and not-influencing people...

  • Good Folk of Goodreads: you giving your eBook away is not an “event”, so please stop inviting me because all it does is put a little red dot on my app that takes four tedious clicks to get rid of.
  • People of Twitter, you’re completely wrong about everything, except where your views exactly coincide with mine.
  • People of FaceBook, neither science nor religion is infallible — and greater minds than ours have failed to fathom the eternal mysteries — so shut up and show me more pictures of cats.
  • People of LinkedIn, I care about your new book as little as you care about my book: we are like stray dogs baying into an eternal night of indifference.
  • People of Instagram… actually, you win. Nobody ever says anything on Instagram unless it’s nice.
  • Pinterest is okay, too. It haz pictures of ruins and cabins and art and things and stuff.
  • But finally, denizens of Quora: asking strangers how you can become a millionaire by the age of thirty is the act of a stone cold loser; billionaires work unsurprisingly long hours; your $50 logo is very poor indeed; yes, fucking obviously it's worth going to Paris; and meeting Steve Jobs was cool. There, you're done — now go play outside. 

But see: now I’m doing it, too — telling people to go outside. What’s that about? Maybe everybody who’s outside is forever telling each other to go inside. Maybe we should all swap places. Or stay where we are. Or both. Or perhaps there truly is no inside or outside, only a vast ineffable here-ness and an eternal never-ending moment of Now — a bit like standing in line for the Starbucks in Safeway on a Sunday morning. 

I have no idea what I’m even saying any more. There’s no moral to this piece. I’m full of shit too. My advice is to go find a cosy pub and drink heavily for several days. There, I’ve said it. And while we’re talking about sacks of excrement, stop encouraging Donald Trump. It isn’t funny any more. 

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