Sunday, August 27, 2017

Important reminder

You can sing the words 'I Am The Protagonist' to the main melody of Crockett's Theme from Miami Vice.

Important to know.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

The Fisher King of hitmen is back. John Wick: Chapter 2

To a hammer, all problems look like a nail.

And Maslow's Hammer is pretty much the tragedy of John Wick: Chapter 2, at least I believe that the film would have it so.

Film has adult themes, discussed below the poster.

The film, enjoyable as it is, is essentially the same as its predecessor, only bigger, flashier and more preposterous. Once again, retired hitman John Wick's unresolved grief issues are poked in a raw place; one more time his considered response is to kill everyone responsible for his pain.

I have the strongest feeling that Chapter 2 wants to present this as tragedy, in the classical sense of a great figure being undone by what what makes them 'great'. In this case, the tragedy of a man trained to kill people in a wide variety of ways whose response to personal crisis is to.... well, you get the picture.

Consider that the film goes out of its way to present John Wick as a legend. Leading lights of the criminal underworld and its international league of assassins swap stories of his exploits, indulge him, sometimes even defer to him. He's not just a gangster - he's the grieving Fisher King of hitmen, mourning the death of his wife (and the pup from film one) and now the destruction of his house to boot.

And consider too, that a perfectly cast Keanu Reeves owns this 'still waters run deep' schtick like no-one else in the business. The film is asking you to root for him, just a little, even if only by comparison to everyone else in the film.

The problem with setting him up as a tragic figure in the narrative is that the material can't sustain it. For JW to be some sort of fallen samurai or antihero, there would have to be some element of ethical struggle accompanying his actions.

But, to put it in the language of Dungeons and Dragons alignments, what we have in John Wick: Chapter 2 is a Chaotic Neutral, verging on Chaotic Evil, character taking down a Lawful Evil criminal empire, purely for personal revenge. Even when he's presented with alternative solutions that don't involve killing, he doesn't hesitate to take the direct route. And there's nothing great or tragic about that because there's no inner conflict. At best, it's just pop nihilism.

Chapter 2 is a beautifully shot and choreographed action B-movie, but it overreaches when it tries to portray its protagonist as more than what he is. And that's all I really have to say about it.

Friday, August 18, 2017

What's the Welsh for noticeboard?

It's hysbysfwrdd (thanks, Google Translate)

Because here's what will hopefully become a load of links about charities and campaigning in Wales as an aide-memoire.

The benefits of bilingual marketing by charities in Wales (Welsh Language Commissioner)

The Welsh language and volunteering (same)

A whole load of top-line social services statistics 2014-2015

Cliff Richard led astray by sorcery!

Like a bad sign hanging over me, it seems I can't carry on writing about the charts of 1976 unless I deal with Cliff Richard's Spring top ten hit Devil Woman. So let's attend to the witchy elephant in the room.

Even by the 'anything goes' standards of 1976, Devil Woman is a deeply odd song to have been placed into the hands of noted Christian bachelor Cliff Richard. Now, if you're expecting any cheap shots at the expense of either category, look elsewhere. That's the least interesting thing I could write about here.

But it is true that the preposterous lyric about a young man being seduced against his will by a practioner of the dark arts doesn't, on the face of it, fit with Cliff''s public persona at all. Which in turn makes the song such an object of curiosity.
The fact that it's Cliff - wholesome rollerskates, mistletoe and summer holidaying Cliff - being led astray by sorcery gives Devil Woman a presumably unintentional transgressive energy, making it unlike anything else in his back catalogue. The conflation of evil and female sexuality expressed is bizarrely, wrong-headedly compelling in a way not often seen outside Dracula.

Of course it helps that the song itself is a stonking piece of occult rock boogie, with the funky keys and bass in the intro being worth the price of purchase in their own right.

In short, there's a whole lot of cognitive whiplash goin' on here, wrapped around a proper tune. It's very strange in the way that only really straight stuff can be. And it speaks volumes for the power of the results that the only contemporary I can think probably better suited to sing Devil Woman would be that great doom shaman Ozzy Osbourne.

Don't believe me? Check out this performance, featuring some great intrepretative dance and the politest 'ugh' in rock and roll, which by Mr Richard's standards is practically gonzo.

So, what does all of this say about 1976? Well, for starters and most importantly, it tells us that its tolerance for misogyny was much higher than we would accept these days. Even more so than Sailor's A Glass Of Champagne, Devil Woman's gender politics consign it to being a period piece rather than a tune for the ages. No-one today would get away with it, and quite rightly so.

Culturally, it also reminds us that a lot of 1970's rock was powered by the co-option of the blues (or at least motifs from the blues) - the ethics of which is a whole other conversation - but if Cliff was doing it you can safely assume that by the middle of the decade it had become very mainstream indeed.

It's also a another answer to the recurring question in these posts of whether pop was in crisis in 1976. Pop, fuelled by funk and disco, was doing surprisingly well, thank you very much. But when Cliff freakin' Richard was riffing harder than pretty much anything else in the charts short of Thin Lizzy, it's clear that rock - not pop - needed to take a long hard look at itself.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Summer campaigning links

Bit of a bias towards strategy and planning on this one, as that's where my head is to some extent at today.

Training resources on systems, power, leadership and campaigns from the New Economics Organisers Network.

Design thinking (read: campaign strategy resources) via Beth's blog and the Greenpeace Mobilisation Lab Campaign Accelerator model.

And bucketloads of more planning resources via the DIY Toolkit

Heroes Journey story-mapping ooojimy from the Dancing Fox

Jenny Ross from Bond on theories of change

Collaboration cards toolkit

Campaigning boardgame? Yes please!

8 top tips for planning a march/protest/equivalent event (Hatcher Group)

Article on non-linear planning in Nonprofit: Absolutely Fabulous which is particularly helpful on the catch 22 of data - you need data in order to commit resources to a project but you need the resources to get the data...

My boss Alice Fuller on how our organisation developed its local campaigning strategy (Prezi presentation)

The Powercube - a new way to understand power-relationships.

What does a globally connected, thriving, capacity-building ecosystem for modern advocacy look like? (Report from Greenpeace Mobilisation Lab)

Approaches to Co-creation (Joanna Levitt Cea/Jess Rimington, SSIR)

Civic engagement as a way of life (Kirsten Grimm/Emily Gardner, SSIR)

Huge list of UK politics datasets

Asset mapping - using community's strengths to foster social networks (National Voices)

Presentation from Chris Rose on Why Campaigning Matters which is also a lucid exposition on the Rosean model of campaigning with full speaker's notes.

Hahrie Han bonanza! Full video of talk on 'Organising or mobilising to build power'  plus reflections from Jim Coe, Natasha Adams and Tom Baker.

And it's a bit meta, but here's a link to more summer reading links from Tom Baker at the Thoughtful Campaigner.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Quick link: Hugo Awards 2017

A quick link here to this year's Hugo Awards, announced last night.

Congratulations to N K Jemisin, who won Best Novel second year running for The Obelisk Gate, the sequel to last year's victor The Fifth Season (review here). I haven't read TOG yet because I have to be in the right mood for something a little on the grim side, but as I did very much enjoy its predecessor I'll be looking forward to checking it out in the weeks to come.

Also glad to see Ada Palmer pick up the Campbell Award for Best New Writer (review of Too Like The Lightning and Seven Surrenders still germinating).

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

8 short notes on the poo emoji cushion

1. I've nothing against emoji in general or their cushions. I get that a symbolic language needs a scatalogical vocabulary too.

But why does anyone need a mass produced plush symbol of poo in their life? 

2. It's not cute. Don't tell me it's cute. 

3. The poo emoji cushion (PEC) is not transgressive. Are the owners perhaps planning to reenact scenes from Pink Flamingoes? Of course they aren't. That's because it's toilet humour at its most banal.

4. It's tailor-made for people to hilariously troll their 'friends'. Who will burn it the moment their back is turned.

5. Did I mention the smile? The way the PEC gawps vacantly at you from every second shop window. Brrrr.

6. At least Mr Hanky had the decency to only turn up at Christmas.

7. The PEC perhaps makes some of kind of parallel universe sense (?) as a plot to put a minion of Nurgle (the Chaos God of Pestilence and Plague from Warhammer 40K) on every sofa in the country. But that's not a world I want to live in, brothers and sisters.

8. Its only possible redemption is as a protest campaign tactic. If Arrested Development fans sent bananas to the network and stopped it being cancelled, imagine what impact sending poo cushions by the thousands could have on your target?

Monday, August 7, 2017

Health-geekery Summer 2017

I've been engaging in the traditional summer activity of catching up with my reading - so here's a list of links which will doubtless grow over August.

Re-find of the week #1: the Regional Voices Who's Who Guides for health and social care in England.

Re-find of the week #2: Transforming community neurology - a new commissioning brief for community neurology services (Neurological Alliance) together with patient experience survey from March of this year.


Where to look packs for STP areas
NHS England press release on additional funding for some STP areas
Report on STP's from the IPPR
NHS Support Federation campaign info on STP's
Tragic death of Greater Manchester man highlights patient:GP ratio of 14 or 15K:4 or 5 GP's (Manchester Evening News)
NAO report on health and social care integration

Accountable care systems

Grauniad article


National Audit Office report: commentary from the MND Association
2013 and 2015 reports from the Wales Audit Office
Video introduction to CHC and personal budgets from NHS England.

NHS other

How commissioners are using the Social Value Act (National Voices and Social Enterprise UK)
Research on staff attitudes and stress levels from the Point Of Care Foundation
New report on importance of occupational therapists from their Royal College
HQIP report on quality of acute non-invasive ventilation care
Definition of person-centred care from the RCN
Cross-party campaign from Norman Lamb MP for a convention on health and social care.
Stephen Hawking speaks out on the NHS (as reported in Guardian)
Statutory guidance on involving people in their own care

House of Lords report on the long-term future of health and social care
Kings Fund on this year's priorities for the NHS and social care (a bit late to add here, but...)
BMA data on bed use in the NHS


State of Caring 2017 (Carers' Trust report)
Carers' Trust report on supporting older carers
Think Local Act Personal on supporting working carers

Financial costs of neurological conditions

Research into the financial cost of Parkinson's released.
Alzheimers Society launch campaign to end the 'Dementia Tax' (and if you've forgotten the election campaign already, here's an explanation)

Oh, and while we're on dementia, shout out to DEEP: the Dementia Engagement & Empowerment Project.

Social care

The state of social care in GB (Leonard Cheshire report from 2016)
Messages from various key players for the current Government (chiefly, sort it out pls)
CQC report on quality of adult social care 2014-17

Disability rights

Govt accused of breaching UN convention in its treatment of disabled people (Indy) and link to relevant page of UNOHCHR Committee on Rights of Persons With Disabilities.
Scope blog from Hannah Deakin - people treated me differently when I became disabled (also link to TED talk)
Social model of disability (as defined by Scope)


Can health and social care ever be truly integrated? (Macmillan Cymru on the long-term review of health and social care announced for Wales in November last year)

Is a 'what matters conversation' a carer's assessment? (Prof. Luke Clement - the Prof isn't a fan of the Social Services and Wellbeing Act, as you can also see from this 2015 article.)

Consultation and White Paper: Services Fit For The Future (includes governance, participation and accountability issues)

Northern Ireland

Belfast Live - 7 out of 10 unpaid carers admit to feeling lonely or socially isolated

BBC coverage of the health service savings consultations launched by the 5 Trusts, parts one and two.

Round-up of political responses to the consultation.
NICVA editorial 
There is also an interesting joint statement on the consultation from various medical colleges here.


Which I'm now singing to the tune of a certain number from Grease 2, so help me.

All In This Together: website about co-production in Wales (aforementioned White Paper big on co-production) with lots of articles and links for the general reader.

National Voices one page diagram on co-production.

Think Local Act Personal on co-production avec resources.

Related: Six Principles For Engaging People And Communities (NHS England People and Communities Board) expanding on the NHS' Five Year Forward View and its 2017 update. Plus further recommendations from the Board on how to do this.

Northern Ireland

NICVA position paper on Brexit as it affects NI has some useful positioning on health

More Brexit

Brexit Health Alliance formed to safeguard arrangements for research and health-care should the UK (as expected) leave the EU.

Nuffield Trust - Getting A Brexit Deal That Works For The NHS

Archive schmarchive

From the depths of the to-be-read/viewed pile

Survey of specialist palliative care in care homes 
Habinteg Accessible Housing Policy Update
The UK Strategy for Rare Diseases
Nuffield Trust report on benefits (or otherwise) of moving care out of hospital
Nuffield Trust (again) on delayed transfers of care
Owen Jones interviews the late Gordon Aikman
NHS Confederation thoughts on Wales for the 2016 elections
December 2016 annual report and guidelines on end of life care in Wales
Welsh Government statement on neurological conditions March 2017
The Health and Care of Older People in England 2017 (Age UK)

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Vorrh! (Huh!) What is it good for?

Well, it was a good joke the first time around...

[some spoilers ahead]

Brian Catling is an artist and poet who has expanded into fiction, which probably explains a lot about The Vorrh, his first novel. It's poetic, impressionistic and filtered through Catling's own interests, idiosyncracies and predilictions.

It's also a sprawling, incoherent beast of nearly 600 pages that - if it didn't astound and horrify as much as it does - would at times be ejected out the window with force.

The Vorrh of the title is a Conradian heart-of-darkness rainforest in a fantastic colonial Africa, the name borrowed from Raymond Roussel's 1910 avant-garde travelogue Impressions of Africa. Roussel himself features in the book as one of the main characters, under the reductive alias of The Frenchman.

The forest is a place of revelation, mysterity and insanity, as well as a source of income for the settlers of Essenwald, the timber town at its edge. Catling uses both as a common thread for five overlapping stories, although one of them, concerning Victorian photography pioneer Eadweard Muybridge is barely Vorrh-related at all and seems almost to be a palimpsest of an earlier work.

Well, I did mention this was a sprawling effort, didn't I? 

It might be written in the fantastic mode, including magical weapons, angels, wise women, mythical beasts and cyclopses (Catling loves him a cyclops), but The Vorrh is a long way from the genre mainstream, however it's been marketed. Far better points of reference for the reader are gothic horror and magic realism, both of which I'm fortunately very much down with.

For a couple of good reasons, this is one of those books I dare say I will end up reading again. First, there are some plotlines in The Vorrh which are beautifuly told, working as short stories (existential horror, usually) in the broader narrative. The sections involving Roussel, making a creative pilgramage to the forest, are universally good.

Second, there's a lot going on here, as you might expect from a professor and polymath like Catling. He's happy to throw in a reference to this or that esoteric, technological or historical datum every few pages, such that I inevitably didn't get them all first time around.

But, and you have probably sensed some buts on the way throughout this review, this is one of those books where the author is clearly throwing a lot at the wall and seeing what sticks. Not all of it does - the dream monologue of the dog is a particularly low point, and generally the sex is your average bad literary sex. The prose too, verges on the purple at times; Catling's poetic instinct to try and knock every sentence out of the park is endearing, but not every description, not every metaphor works.

Not much of the plot is wrapped up by the end either. The presentation of the Vorrh as a part one of a trilogy might be more commercial contrivance than fact, and I suspect we're probably dealing with one epic 2,000 page novel here.

Tropes and traps

It's also hard to not write about The Vorrh and not address the challenges inherent in writing an 'African fantasy' from a white European perspective. To his credit, Catling rises to the challenge: his perspective is pretty clearly anti-colonial, and to the best of my admittedly limited knowledge no specific cullture is being bowdlerised in the name of fiction. The strand of the novel involving Roussel is a good critique of literary tourism, among the many other things that it is.

So a lot of obvious traps are avoided. Yet there are still problematic tropes here, in particularly the use of the forest and its inhabitants as a stand-in for the African Other: mysterious, magical, dangerous and unknowable. Catling isn't immune from cliche in his African magic either, and his use of a white character who goes native in one of the stories makes sense in context but is a bit of a tired substitution. Plus, the only black protagonist a) is a bit of a bad 'un b) is impressed into servitude c) dies.

None of which to say that The Vorrh isn't a good book, in some places an excellent one, nor to say that Catling isn't aware of the issues - I believe he is and has tried to make sure the novel includes its own critique of these stereotypes. But this may be a sticking point for some readers - each of which will reach their own judgement as to how much he gets the balance right.